What a year for golf. As I mention at the top of the Golf section of my site, this past year I got a bit obsessed with improving my game. I decided a couple things: 1) I needed a hobby 2) Golf was it and if I wanted to really improve and have a chance to hit great golf shots, I needed to devote myself to it now (while I’m still “young”). I started the year averaging an 18 hole score of 92-94 but easily shot 98 and 100+ rounds, too. Back in April I set a goal of breaking 80 by the end of the year.

It started with a playing lesson last Thanksgiving and I was hooked. I started watching the European Tour events on weekends, Golf Central at night, I set up a golf twitter list to follow the players, placed clubs around the house, bought books, set up a practice area in the garage, bought a swing app, devoted time to golf-specific fitness, analyzed the crap out of my own golf swing and the swings of pros, and hit a ton of balls.

The past two weeks I played 5 rounds and saw all the work over the past year really pay off. Although I didn’t break 80 this past year, I made some major improvements in my game. I went from a 19/20 handicap down to a low of 16 and settled at a 16.7 (17). I shot in the 80s 3 out of the last 5 rounds going 85,84,83. My confidence is up, I’m hitting some great golf shots and I’m excited to see my game improve in 2012. Like I did throughout the year, below is my year-end wrap up of golf game.

The start of the obsession

As I mentioned, it started with a playing lesson down at River Strand in Florida. I can link a lot of my obsession to that amazing course. 27 holes + an outstanding practice facility. Every time we go down there to spend time with family, I also get to feel like I’m transported to a golf camp where I can put in some work on my game. I’ve had an interest in golf for a couple decades, but never played more than a few times a year. After the playing lesson I decided to change that.

When I started, my swing was homemade. I thought like everyone else that you need to scoop the ball to get it in the air, that your arms and shoulders do most of the work, that taking a divot behind the ball was just fine (the pros take divots so whats wrong), and that I’d never ever hit a draw. EVER. Its not that my swing was terrible. It looked fine. But I came over the top, I was all arms, I was disconnected, I didn’t use my body, I didn’t lag the club, I didn’t have a consistent setup and routine. I actually had more of a stack and tilt swing. Basically, I was a weak, push slicer and when I really tried to get into one, I pulled the ball. Forget talking about course management or short game or confidence. I was like the majority of golfers out there shooting in the mid 90s.

But if I’m gonna to do something, I’m gonna try to do it the right way. During the playing lesson, I started to see how a good posture, bringing the club down the line and not inside and trying to drop the arms, will really help the golf swing. And, I decided I’d do it mostly alone without an instructor.

Learning about the golf swing

Hogan and Davies Golf BooksBeing analytical, I decided that I needed to know the mechanics of the golf swing. I started by picking up the golfers bible – Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons. This book lays out the five main parts of the swing from the grip to the follow-through. It talks about the feel of each step, illustrates the position of the hands, arms, etc. and lays out suggestions for how to improve. Hogan even mentions that if you follow his routine and practice, you can break 80 in 6 months. I kinda took that on as a challenge. I read his book cover to cover a few times and referenced it almost weekly throughout the year. It gave me the kind of knowledge about the swing that I needed to understand why your arms work a certain way, why the ball reacts a certain way and helps me every day.

I also read and watched anything golf related. I picked up a couple other books – Hank Haney’s book was one of them – and read every instructional article in the magazines I subscribed to. The 7 nights at the academy special golf channel ran last year was awesome. I taped and watched them over and over. I also looked at slow motion video of pros. I’ll get into that later.

Practicing

For the first half of the year I spent time at the driving range. Lots of time. My rewards card got up to a point where I could play 3 rounds of golf for free. I didn’t start keeping track of my progress until April, but up to that point, I was learning and reading and trying new things. I prescribed to the Hogan methods religiously in the beginning. I was also swinging the club and working on grip and posture in the middle of the living room.

Real Feel Golf Mat and Bridgestone practice ballsBut then I realized that going to the range at night and on the weekends all the time, still didn’t give me the opportunity to practice as often as I wanted to. In June I bought the Country Club Elite golf mat, which is one of the best golf mats you can buy to simulate real grass. The mat is thick and unlike other generic mats, allows you to hit down on the golf ball. You know if you hit it fat, thin or perfect. I set up a hitting area in the garage that can be quickly set up and taken down. At that point, I started hitting balls almost every day and the mat paid for itself in a week.

I attacked my practice sessions with purpose, hitting 100 or so balls a night, but working on specific aspects of my swing. I also purchased recycled Bridgestone balls, the same balls I use on the course so the feel would be consistent. Since I wasn’t working with an instructor, I needed a way to tell if I was doing it correctly. In the garage I only have feel, sound and 7 feet of ball flight, so I needed video to verify if what I felt was actually a good swing.

I downloaded the V1 Golf App and fell in love. It was a simple interface to capture swings in full speed and then allow you to go frame by frame. I used my iPad and iPhone to capture the swings. I probably have over 150 swings loaded, but recorded over 500. I would swing a few times, watch it, tweak my swing, record, watch it. Over and over. It was invaluable to my learning. I’m looking at a new app that allows me to take FO and DL video simultaneously, which would be cool in 2012.

Swing changes through the year

Year end swing comparisonI changed my swing a bunch this year. So many times that Andrea uses it against me now when I get upset at my progress. Early in the year I was a devoted Hogan follower and to a certain extent I still am. How could you not be. But I took it too far in some places. I had a very flat backswing in the early months and really fired my hips back. Hogan stressed firing those hips and that they can’t go too fast. So i did. But that caused timing issues. Then I moved to a more up right swing, but that caused me to go over the top even more.

I adjusted my posture. At first, I was narrow. I felt I had better contact and up until Jun, I was hitting balls with a more narrow stance. But I was leaning my shoulders toward the target on the downswing. All that did, was make me unstable. In the summer, I moved to a more stable posture, wider base. I was hitting awesome golf shots. I was moving my left knee out over my left leg to initiate the downswing and I looked great. Then I had someone I trust look at my swing (via video not live) and they suggested I bend more from the hips. Well, I did and I bent too much. It took me 2 solid weeks to reshape that swing and posture. By the time I arrived in Florida at the beginning of November for a quick weekend away, I had grooved what I thought was a good swing.

Swing evaluation at GolfTec

I’m not sure why I didn’t do this earlier. GolfTec has an awesome setup. You get rigged up with sensors on your hips, shoulders, back and everything is wired together with video to analyze your swing at every stage. I took some swings and then had an hour long discussion, going over the numbers and video. What I found out changed the way I looked at my swing and finally put me on a path to the swing I’m going to have in 2012.

We noticed I was WAY too bent forward, which was likely causing my back issues. We also noticed that my right foot comes up off the ground too much, that my club isnt lagging enough and is kinda casting and that my hips are spinning out way too fast. He gave me a couple of drills to help my posture, and a bump and pump drill to work on bumping the hips left and pumping the arms down simultaneously. We shortened my backswing, too, to keep it compact. This synched up my body and arms and completely changed my swing. After the eval I hit balls on the range and had never hit them that well. I had a smooth shorter swing, that produced a draw. I used it throughout the weekend, hitting some beautiful golf shots until my left hip was so sore I couldn’t really use my legs well and the swing kinda fell apart. But it proved I was on the right path. And whats funny, the path is closer to the swing I was doing in June than the swing I had when I arrived in Florida in November. I should’ve stuck with it.

Using golf to stay committed to fitness

Over the past year I got more dedicated to improving my fitness. I needed to for my health, but I used golf as the motivator. I bought Craig Davies book Golf Anatomy, which breaks down the muscle groups and their function in the golf swing and also lays out 70+ golf-specific exercises for everything from Stability/Mobility to Strength and Power. I read the book and used a few of the exercises in my workouts, but it wasn’t until after Florida in November, that I decided to create a full plan.

When I saw how weak my legs were, I decided that I needed to take a few weeks off from hitting balls and focus on working out. I put together a multi-day workout plan that consisted of strength and power days, mobility and balance days, as well as flexibility. I focused on explosive power moves for my legs and developed circuits to get me through the workouts efficiently. What a huge difference I am seeing already. My legs are more powerful and do not get tired or sore as easily, I have more stamina during a round and I just feel better. And we’re only 2 months into it. Fitness will play a big role for me in 2012.

Choosing a better ball

Bridgestone e5 and B330-S ballsI decided that if I was going to devote a lot of time to my swing, that when I get on the course I need to be prepared and that means choosing the right ball, staying hydrated and fed, and just making sure that I have all the tools I need on the course. I know I’m not a PGA Tour star or hell, even a mini-tour player, but golf is a mental game and its a fun game and being ready to play is important.

It started with the ball. I’ve always tried to balance cost with playability. At the beginning of the year I played Callaway Big Bertha Diablo. Sub $20 ball. Then moved to the HX Diablo, a Golf Digest Hot List winner. Its a distance ball and a good one. If you want more distance you need that ball. But during a playing lesson in July in Florida, Corey Pion taught me a knock-down shot from 65 yards out. The shot was designed to generate spin on the ball, bounce check once and stop. By change, I had been playing a Bridgestone B330-S, probably because I lost all my Callaways. I hit the shot perfectly, it bounced, checked and even spun back slightly. It was awesome. At that moment, I realized the value in playing a ball that allows for control around the green.

I researched my options and with the help of Golf Digest’s Hot List, I found the Bridgestone E5’s. A two piece ball but with a urethane cover like the tour balls. The E5s (a sub $30 ball) almost the same level of spin as some of the $40+ tour balls. I bought some and was instantly sold. I was able to put spin on the ball and get them to check on the green AND I didn’t lose any noticeable distance. The ball flight was penetrating and the balls just landed soft and stopped.

This past trip to Florida I found some Bridgestone B330-S on sales for only a couple bucks more than the E5s, so I tried them. And wow, I thought the E5s had a ton of spin, these are insane. I know my swing is even better now and I’m hitting down on the ball, but I had some shots where I was actually able to watch the ball hit and spin backwards. Even off the green in some cases. I don’t know that I’ll continue to use the B330s until I get ot a point where I only lose 1 per round, but its an awesome golf ball.

Switching the shaft on my driver

Aldila Shaft for my driverMy driver has always been a sore subject. If I hit it just right, I could get 250 or 260. But it was so hit or miss. For most of the year it was due to a bad swing. The over the top slice swing. But as I started to get my irons more solid I still struggled with the driver. I decided that I would get a new one at the end of the year. I had hit a few drivers during rounds, such as the Diablo Octane and the Titleist 910 D2. Gorgeous ball flight and 275 yards on some shots with those clubs. But as it got closer, I didn’t feel my swing was where it needed to be for me to want to get fit for a new driver. So I investigated changing the shaft.

Up until the point I did my research I had no idea how huge an impact a shaft made. When I looked into it, I found out the shaft on my driver was made for Senior/Lady swing speeds. Lady! I called Edwin Watts and they said come in and hit a few balls on their simulator and they would recommend a good shaft. When I hit a few, Jason looked at me and said “Your swing speed is 115 mph…. you should never be hitting a Senior flex shaft, you need an X-Stiff shaft.” They had one in the back, Aldila NV 75 X-Stiff. Installed it for me and was ready the next day.

When I started playing with it I instantly realized I had been making this game harder on myself. I was crushing the ball, with nice lower flight, great hang time and shots that tracked 275-280 or more in some cases. And not a single slice! I hook the ball a bit now and I certainly push it, but thats swing stuff, not shaft stuff. My confidence with this club is off the charts right now and I can’t believe I waited as long as I did to get this fixed. I’m marking more ‘Long’ fairway stats on my cards than ever before, something I need to fix, but still very cool.

Staying hydrated and fed on the course

Nuun electrolyte tabletsStaying hydrated and fed on the course is important. Yes I like to go out and have a beer on the course, too, but especially on hot days, I like to drink a lot of water. I tried Nuun tablets earlier this year on a trip to Florida in the middle of the summer and they were amazing. No issues all week. Easy to use, they dissolve in minutes and taste good. I use them during the week and when I’m traveling, too. They have a much better taste than Gatorade or some of the other sports drinks and you can easy drop a tube of them in your bag.

On the course I also started bringing out Lara bars and bags of mixed nuts. I was really surprised to see how much better my game was late in the round when I started to bring these out on the course. I’m sure some of it is mental, because I feel like I “need” these out there now. But good protein, hydration and energy during a 5 hour round is pretty important.

Grooving a swing and getting confident

This last trip to Florida over the Christmas break was the best golf I’ve played. I had a quick lesson with Corey on Friday before my first round and he gave me one of the greatest tips for a pre-shot… pumping the arms down twice and then swinging through to a full low release. I used it many times since. He also looked at my swing and confirmed that my new posture and swing was looking really good. Posture was great, tempo was really good, I’m coming inside straight inside now and I’m balanced. Couldn’t have been better for my confidence.

I played some really great golf over the weekend. It was fun to be able to hit some pure shots, feel the ball hit on the middle of the club then feel it dig through the turf, chunks of beautifully manicured turf flying as I watch the ball jump of the club, climb, draw a little right at the flag, hit once then stop cold. Watching some of my drives fly 275-280, straight down the fairway with a hang time that allowed me to pick my tee up before it hit the ground, that was awesome. Just feeling more in control with my swing and my game and having the confidence to play good golf. I no longer worry about water or hazards. I know they are there and I try to avoid them. But I don’t fear them. I can pick my target and hit my shot. It doesn’t always go where I want it, but I have the confidence to try.

Goals for 2012

Continue to make progress each and every day. Breaking 80 is still a goal and one I want to achieve very soon. By the end of the year I want to be a 12-14 handicap golfer and depending on how much I play, I really want to be a 10 by the end of the year. But that means I have to play a couple times a month.

I want to continue to dedicate time to fitness and really stay committed this year to better health, which will help my game. I want to build on the consistency of the end of the year and start hitting more GIR and more fairways. I need to work a lot on putting. Eliminated 3 putts (and penalties) this year is the only way I will break 80. You can’t break 80 and 3-putt.

I plan to build a practice schedule that combines strength training with indoor practice during the winter. I’d like to play golf or go to the driving range once a week and I will devote time to putting inside and chipping in the backyard.

But most of all… this year is about getting my mental game sharp. I get way to frustrated with myself. My expectations take over and when I have a bad hole or a bad shot, I get really down on myself. I need to recognize what I did wrong and let it go. I’m not getting paid to play, I pay to play and I need to stay serious to improve, but I need to have fun. If I do that, I will be able to recover from bad shots easier and that will help my scoring.

I couldn’t be happier with the work I’ve put in and the results I’ve seen this year. My improvement from the beginning of the year to now is pretty substantial. You can see in this one side by side shot above that just in the last 6 months, I have made major changes to my swing and my ball striking reflects that. Its looking like a fun year of golf ahead in 2012.

I don’t know if this little guy helps me play better or not, but having a little Westie headcover on my bag now is a lot of fun.
Westie Headcover

About Me

I'm the Vice President of Digital Innovation and Mobile, which is probably the coolest job title out there. You can learn more about my work in emerging technology on the About or Work Pages.

As for this site, it's a place where I can jot ideas down and share some of the stuff I'm working on. The views are my own and some of them might not make much sense, but hey, that's part of the process. I'm also working toward being a single digit handicap golfer, so I post a lot about my golf game.