Thursday, May 25, 2006

Flowers for Algernon: The Golf Edition

My golf game can be defined as consisting largely of the vast valleys between Algernonaic heights of golf enlightenment. You know what I mean--those rare times when your swing seems to take over on its own and hitting the ball perfectly and with great command seems like the easiest thing you've ever performed. You can't WAIT to hit the next shot because it's so damned easy.
But then, inevitably, the magic evaporates. You're left holding the husk of understanding, trying to pump life back into that husk, trying to get back the magic, but it's gone.
I've learned that you have to take what understanding you can from those inspired moments, and then forget them. Magic will take care of itself--since it comes and goes at its own whim--and there's no point in trying to bring it back. If you can remember what you were doing in your swing that made it work better than what you had been doing before, then study it. But don't cry for the lost magic--it will return again at a time of its choosing. Be happy when it does, but also be happy when you're grinding away in the valleys, trying to figure out how your swing works. Your handicap won't go down by waiting for magic, but it will while you dig that swing out of the valley's dirt.

Monday, May 22, 2006

To forgive or not to forgive

There have been times in my golf life upon which I have looked back and wondered, "What in happy horseshit was I thinking?!" Case-in-point, my dabbling in the world of forged blades.
Blades are not impossible to hit. If you're swinging well, you can play just as well with them as with any other club. The problem was when I was swinging well, it was usually on the range. And range performance doesn't translate to the course. Actual golf, when played for score, is a much more random and unruly beast than swinging on the range. I made the switch back to uber-forgiving clubs (Ping Zings) a couple of years back and don't regret it a bit. I've recently been looking at an even more forgiving set, '94 Callaway Big Berthas.
I'm a solid 12 handicap, but I feel the more forgiving club I can play, the better. Actually, when talking about forgiveness, we're only really talking about long and mid-irons. Short irons, be they cavity back or blade, play about the same, because in both types, the club's face is so much closer to horizontal that the center of gravity ends up being in about the same spot.
I had the rare gift of taking a novice golfer through the paces of buying a complete set of used clubs at Roger Dunn. When I saw a used set of '94 Berthas, I told my friend (as I wiped the drool from my face) "Buy those." He hit them, I hit them, and they really are super forgiving, even more so than my Pings. Of course, they were regular flex, so the soft tip wasn't as precise as a stiffer shaft, but all-in-all, I was very happy that my friend lucked out and found those clubs. He tried putters, woods, wedges and bought a full set of everything. When we got to putters, we went straight to the "used" bin, and found some incredible deals. We both thought the Baby Ben Bettinardi putter (marked down from $200 to $50!) was quite the deal. He agreed and even paid me for my troubles with a Baby Ben Bettinardi putter. As for the '94 Callaways, they can be had for a song on eBay, so as soon as I get a job, I'm picking up a set, ooky stares from my wife be damned!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Expectations, the scourge of western civilization

Okay, the G.I.R. thingy didn't work out (or rather, my ability to hit more than three G.I.R.s didn't work out). I only hit three, but kept it under 90, but only by two measly strokes. Granted, I was playing for the first time at De Bell in Burbank, so I was scuttled somewhat by lack of local knowledge. I'm going to play there again next weekend, so I won't have my lack of local knowledge to blame.
Here's a question I'd like you readers to answer: when playing with different clubs, say, a buddy's borrowed set while on a trip, do you usually play better or worse? I recently played with a buddies Cobra SS irons and I hit them pretty good. They had regular shafts, where my Ping Zings have stiff, which begs a question: are my Ping shafts too stiff for my swing? I've never been professionally fitted, and at around $250 to have it done, it isn't going to happen anytime soon (I suppose when my ship comes in, I'll get fit and buy a Sky Caddie on the same day. Of course, after buying my wife an exquisite piece of jewelry. Or at least, I'll let her think I bought her the jewelry first.)
So from a shaft fitting perspective, it's equally likely that I'm playing overly stiff shafts. Oy, I thought I'd put all this club buying shit behind me. I've got much too many things to obsess about--spec scripts I need to write, job to find, self to convince myself doesn't exist, which Fender or Gibson knock-off electric guitar to buy (I'm leaning heavily towards an Agile Les Paul knock off, they've gotten great reviews on Harmony Central. Plus, there's no way I'm going to Guitar Center or Sam Ash to play one. Firstly, they don't carry Agiles, and secondly, I CANNOT STAND when the guitar salesguys hover over you as you play. I feel naked, and since my playing is at the novice level, it's just too frustrating to play in front of them. I know, I know, you're saying, "Get over yourself little man." But it's just human nature to feel castrated in that situation, and since I spend most of my mental effort trying not to be castrated by the actual competitive world, I don't feel like going to the guitar shop and coming so close to castration when the guitar is supposed to be fun.)
So, back to shafts, I think my Ping shafts may be too stiff. So you know what I did? I went and swung my wife's clubs, which have Senior flex shafts (known as "A" flex: interesting sidetrack. Back in the day, "A" flex stood for amateur, and no one in the golf industry has felt like changing it.) The swings felt great. Fast, easy, little effort. So, tomorrow, I'm going to do a head-to-head comparison at the ole' range. If the Gramps shafts win out, it could be curtains for the Pings, though I am LOATHE to part with them. I'm attached, you know? They've suffered right along with me, but then again, they may have been responsible for a lot of that suffering. So DAMN them to HELL.
Which brings me to another subject and another question for you, the reader. Why is it that people become attached to things? Like the shirt that Uncle Bob gave you during that summer on the Cape? The recipe Mom gave you before she died? A Christmas ornament Grams and you painted when you were five? What does all this stuff MEAN? Mom is dead, and making that recipe in her honor isn't going to change that? Right? This is a tough question I've struggled with ever since my Mom died 20 years ago, but it applies to any kind of regret or sentimentality. After all, the recipe, or the shirt, or the ornament are just a symbol for something in us that we can't let go of, but was is it? I suppose if I could answer that question, I'd probably be on the road to... well, I'd be on the road, which is a something.


Friday, May 05, 2006

KZ Golf and what to buy

I went on a job interview with KZ Golf, a custom pro-line manufacturer. I didn't take the job because me and "sales" are like Superman and kryptonite--just doesn't mix. But they were a really cool bunch who believe every word on their website. You see, the Big 5--Nike, Titleist, Callaway, Cobra and Wilson--rely on advertising to get you to buy their products. Whether or not you shoot better scores is irrelevant, because, they know if you don't play well, you'll blame yourself, not their clubs. Enter KZG. They only sell their clubs to retailers who can custom fit you to the gear. I've never been fitted, so I can't say if fitting really is as important as fitters claim. I did have a Ping fitting, and they recommeded I play upright clubs (green dot), but the one time I played a buddy's green dot set, I hit just as you would expect to if they were too upright--slices all the way (and I NEVER slice.) Still, I'm DYING to go through the fitting process, but it'll have to wait until I, at least, have a job. And if you think you might want to buy KZG stuff off eBay, whether used or new, don't bother--if you can't get the clubs fit to you, there's really no point in buying them (which I learned at the job interview.)

I may have mentioned this before, but aside from a fitting, the only other golf item I really, really want is the Sky Caddie. Trying to guess yardages is a pain-in-the-ass, and I would love to see how much better I play if I had accurate measurments while I played. Sadly, new Sky Caddies are $350, and you have to buy a yearly subscription (anywhere from $20 to $60.) Now this is an item, unlike the KZG clubs, which I will wholeheartedly buy on eBay. They usually go for around $300, but hey, fifty bucks is fifty bucks.

I'm playing tomorrow at De Bell in Burbank. It's a "sporting" executive, which means there are par 5s, but instead of relying on distance to pose the challenge to par, the course uses doglegs. For instance, I think there's a 450 yard par 5, which, under normal circumstances, would a fairly easy hole. But, De Bell has thrown-in a right turn just short of the drive's landing area, so you'd best be accurate. But the radical bit of info I recently learned is this--QUIZ: there is a strong correlation between which of the following: a) driving distance, b)driving accuracy, c) putting, d) sand saves, or e) greens-in-regulation? The answer is "e", G.I.R. More than any other factor, how many greens you hit has the most significant correlation to score. And this holds true for pros as well. To break 90, you have to hit at least 3 G.I.R.s; 80, you have to hit at least 8 G.I.R.s; 70, you have to hit at least 13 G.I.R.s Cool, huh? Here's the article from Golf Digest's website:

By Lucius Riccio, Ph.D.
Golf Digest
May 2006

Of all the statistics in the game, only two really matter when it comes to determining score: greens hit in regulation (example: you hit a par-4 green in two) and putts. Breaking 80 usually goes with reaching certain benchmarks in these areas. To help you get there, Shelby Futch, who heads the Golf Digest Schools, has provided some quick tips (below). My job is to show you the numbers.

Most golfers think putting is the biggest factor in scoring, but greens in regulation (GIRs) are much more important. So important, you almost don't need to look at anything else to predict your score. The most useful score-analysis tool I've developed, called "Riccio's Rule" and first published in Golf Digest in 1987, predicts score based on GIRs: Score = 95 – 2 x GIRs. The chart below, based on this rule, shows how GIRs relate to score:

The above is a chart that didn't load, but here's the info in it (G.I.R.=average score):
1=93, 2=91, 3=89, 4=87, 5=85, 6=83, 7=81, 8=79, 9=77, 10=75, 11=73, 12=71, 13=69.

Here's a quick way to remember the effect of GIRs on your score: "Three greens break 90, eight greens break 80, and 13 greens break 70." That prediction is fairly accurate for any single round, and within one stroke about 90 percent of the time when you take the average of four or more rounds.

So that's our first part: To consistently break 80, you should average eight or more GIRs. Take a few recent scorecards, or record your next few rounds, and average your scores, then average your GIRs. Compare your results to the chart at left. I bet you're right at, or very close to, where the chart says you should be. But if you score better than your GIRs would predict--say, you hit four greens but average 83--you probably have an extraordinary short game. You need to focus on hitting more greens. If you score worse than your GIRs would predict--say, you hit seven greens but average 85--then your putting is weak, or you tend to have blowup holes, which throw off any system for predicting score.

So, it would seem that paying attention to G.I.R.s is more important than avoiding 3-putts. I'll be putting this insight to the test tomorrow and will let you know how it worked out.

Here's a depressing thought: I now know of three people who went from rank beginner to scratch golfer in one year: Greg Norman, Earl Woods, and Mike, the fitter at KZG.