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Fore!

It's no secret that I love golf.  I love to play and yes, I love to watch professional golf too.  I am a huge fan of both the PGA and LPGA tours.  I know golf has been described as "a good walk spoiled".  I've also heard it called as exciting as watching paint dry.  Well, if that's how you feel, this page probably isn't for you!  If you are a golf fan, I hope you find this page interesting, entertaining and thought provoking.  If you've never played golf, maybe this section will encourage you to give it a try.  Just remember, golf can be challenging and frustrating, but can also be extremely satisfying when you finally do hit that perfect shot.

First a little about my history with golf.  I was somewhat taken to the game as a teenager.  A friend of mine who lived close by got interested in golf and it looked like fun.  I was about 16 at the time.  The first place I played was a course in Greece, NY (my hometown) called Latta Lea.  It was about two miles from where I lived and we actually rode our bicycles there carrying our clubs across the handle bars.  I'm not 100% sure, but I would say this picture below was taken around 1978.  I actually "found" that Acushnet Golden Bullseye putter I am using in a trash can at Durand Eastman.  I watched a guy 3 putt the last hole and found the putter in the trash can outside the snack bar.  I pulled it out and have had it since.  I've shortened it and regripped it.  I actually tried using it for a while in 2011 but didn't like the feel. 



It was a par 3 course with holes that averaged about 120 yards.  Looking back now, with the game I have today I could probably play the course with a eight or nine iron and my putter, but in those days I carried a Driver and 3 wood and 3-5-7-9 irons and a putter (I actually still have that putter too!).  I used some of my paper route money to buy the set (used at a garage sale of course).  The "woods" were made of some kind of plastic, the irons dented up and the grips worn.  I have a little athleticism so I never really stunk but I was of course totally clueless.  We played during the summer and my friend even built a bunker in his back yard I'm sure much to the chagrin of his mom and dad.  Golf was fun and I never really took it too seriously in those days.  After graduating from high school, I started to play on longer public courses.  I bought my first set of new clubs in 1978.  I thought I was a touring pro with a real golf bag and head covers.  I still have the 5 wood from that set.  My favorite was a place called Durand Eastman (where I found the putter).  The course still is around, but it is dramatically different from when I played.  I enjoyed playing but could rarely break 100 and never even had a sniff of the 80s.  I never played while at the University of Buffalo even though there was a public course across the street from the Main Street campus.  I would pretty much go from Labor Day to Memorial Day without touching a club.  During the summer I worked swing shift and would play after work when I worked midnight to 8 am. Of course, that was usually after a stop at Romig's Tavern for my "breakfast of champions" that consisted of a couple Genesee drafts and a couple hot dogs.  My game was stuck between 95 and 110 but it was ok to me. It was a fun thing to do with friends and I never imagined myself as a professional or even that much of an amateur.  In addition to playing at Durand Eastman, I would also play at a place called Churchville Park.  Unlike Durand, Churchville was generally flat.  I had actually ran several high school cross country races at the place while I was in high school.  Here I am playing at Churchville in the summer of 1980.  As you can see, they didn't have much of a dress code besides having to keep your shirt on. (note the matching glove and running shorts as well as the high socks - it was all in style in 1980 lol)!




After joining the Coast Guard in 1983 I really got away from golf.  I don't think I played more than a couple rounds between joining in August 1983 and returning to the lower 48 after my tour on the USCGC Ironwood in August 1987 (I didn't play a single round in Alaska - in fact, I left my clubs at my parents house in New York).  Just an aside - I do know that I played on August 5, 1984 because I distinctly remember coming into the clubhouse and watching the end of the 1984 Women's Olympic Marathon.  It's funny how you can recall certain things like that.  From 1987 to 1991 I was stationed at Marine Safety Office Louisville, KY and was determined to pick up the game again.  I went so far as to buy new clubs (Dunlop "Diamonds" with newfangled metal "woods").  Sadly, no one at my unit or anyone else I knew for that matter played much golf.  Around that time I met my wife and she had absolutely zero interest in the game at that time.  I might have played 10 times during that four year tour - pretty much all at municipal courses in Louisville.  It wasn't much better during my time at graduate school at the University of Virginia.  The University had a wonderful course called Birdwood.  I think I played their twice or maybe three times with a couple of the guys in my grad school.  Over the next ten years while assigned to the Marine Safety Center, Marine Safety Office Pittsburgh and Coast Guard Headquarters I might have averaged playing three of four times a year.  It was only after I was assigned as the Commanding Officer at Marine Safety Office Huntington, WV that I actually started to play at least 10 times a year.  The office worked very hard but if we could find a couple hours on a Friday afternoon a number of us would hit one of the local courses.  I actually broke down and bought new clubs (Nike Irons and a Taylormade r5 driver) in 2004.  One of my guys referred to my vintage 1987 clubs as my "ancient Chinese secrets".  By playing a little more I was a threat to par or birdie holes, but there were still too many "holes" in my game (along with a lot of double and triple bogeys and three putts!) and while I could routinely break 100, I still was no closer to the 80s than the parking lot.  The only way I was going to break 80 was to quit after 14 or 15 holes.

All that started to change when I moved to the Louisville area (again) for what would be my last assignment.  I still didn't play much my first couple years here (2006-2007), but in 2008 I started to play about weekly at Tanglewood Golf Course in Taylorsville, KY.  I joined the club in 2010.  In 2011 I played over 125 rounds as well as hundreds of extra holes (I would repeat holes if there was no one around - which is often!).  As I played more, my play improved dramatically.  As of this writing, I have a legit 8 handicap and have shot several rounds in the 70s.  My best in 2011 has been a 73.  Tanglewood is not a long course (6202 from the white tees), but it is narrow (the average fairway is between 22 and 25 yards wide and most have a fair degree of slope) and somewhat unforgiving, especially if you hit it right.  The greens are smallish and going long is death on just about every hole.  It's a course that puts a premium on control (particularly self control) and shot making.  When I first started playing there I tried to use power but quickly leaned that while if you pull it off the rewards are great, but the penalty for missing is severe.  There are several "high risk - high reward" holes but I've learned over the past few years that the rewards really don't outweigh the risks.

The funny thing is that after a couple years I believe I have reached what I call for lack of a better term, a "homeostatic plateau".  If I am going to move to the next level, I am going to have to find a way to break through.  I am convinced of one thing - it isn't my actually physical ability that it holding me back.  I can hit the ball just fine.  What I need to do is solve the mental side of the game.  Like most amateurs, I have some alignment issues from time to time as well as occasional serious course management issues (that's a nice way of saying I have occasional brain farts) but these can be solved as they are basically mental lapses.  Sometimes I'll have a shot, be totally uncomfortable and hit it anyway with a predicable result - a poor outcome.

I should mention that I have walked more than 99% of the holes played starting in 2011.  I have used a pedometer and know that I over the past two years have walked well over 2000 miles.  Walking as opposed riding in a gas or electric powered cart are two entirely different games.  When you ride in a cart, golf is a game; when you walk, it becomes exercise and a sport.  Here I am in August 2011 waiting on the eighth tee at Tanglewood.  Just like Churchill Park, there isn't much of a dress code at Tanglewood either.  Looking at the picture, I probably look more like a caddie than I do a golfer.  That's fine with me;  I'd love to caddie for a professional golfer at any level sometime.  I think I know enough about the game and the rules to be effective (as well as not getting my player dq'ed).  Heck, I'd do it for free just for the experience.



I am not exactly a friend of the golf club industry since I don't buy clubs very often.  I currently use a Taylormade Burner 2.0 driver (with "Regular" shaft), a Taylormade RBZ 3 wood, a pair of older Nike Hybrids (22 and 26 degree); r7 irons (6-7-8-9-PW); a Adams Gap Wedge; a pair of Cleveland wedges (50-8 and 56-14); a Dunlop 64-12 degree wedge and an old no name putter that seem to work for me (although I have put a Golf Pride grip on it that works for me.  Although I carry 14 clubs, I've carried as few as 7 as an experiment and really find it doesn't hurt that much.  I use a Sky Caddie although I know the yardages at the places I play quite well (hint: don't blindly trust the yardage stakes anywhere).  My problem is that I still need to "dial in" my irons a little better.

Since I started walking I have dramatically improved not only my own physical condition (as would anyone who carries a 20 pound bag over 1000 miles in a year) but I have improved my golf game.  Walking forces you to take some time after a bad shot.  I actually don't want to play with anyone who is riding while I walk.  I have a hard enough time getting into a good tempo and a cart throws me off.  Yes, I understand that there are some people who simply are not physically able to walk the course.  I know that without the use of a cart they would be out of the game for good.  I certainly hold no ill will against anyone who uses a cart regularly for any reason; I just as a general rule don't want to play with them.

Walking a few thousand miles carrying my clubs (as well as playing over 15,000 holes over the last four years) has not only taught me a lot about my own game, but also a lot about golfers and golf in general.  I hope you'll read on to learn a little about what I've picked up.  This is presented in no particular order:

(1) Over 99% of golfers are great people.  Unfortunately it's that (less than) 1% that ruin it and give golf a bad reputation.  The golf industry wonders why people aren't taking up the game (that's another subject).  It only takes one encounter with a group of loudmouth, obnoxious drunks to turn someone off - possibly forever.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoy my malt beverage as much as the next guy (and maybe even more at times), but there is a place and time for everything.  Rude behavior is never in vogue. 

(2) Most players are NOT (that) slow.  Just so there is no misunderstanding - lets define "slow" as taking more than 4:15 to play 18 holes for a group of 4.  As an aside, I don't think I play "fast" yet it takes me about 2:30 minutes to play 18 holes by myself walking - and that's really taking my time on most shots (of course, my definition of taking my time is still quick).  If Chandra plays with me, we finish 18 walking in around 2:50 to 3:00.  We frequently pull away from twosomes with a cart.  It is a complete myth that riding in a golf cart is quicker than walking.  The only time I believe this is true is if the course has long distances between holes.  Anyway, the problem with slow play (at least as I've seen) is that it only takes one group to mess up the whole course.  Think about it.  If you are driving on a one lane road, you can only go as fast as the car in front of you.  There is an easy solution to this, but since most golf courses aren't exactly overrun with golfer's these days, kicking someone around who is a cash paying customer probably isn't going to happen.  On the other hand - most players are NOT FAST either although most people I talk to think they are.  Considering that slow play may be the number one problem in golf today, I have devoted an entire section to it. 

(3) "Slow" Play happens the most in two places.  The first place is on the tee and the green.  It never ceases to amaze me how long some people take to tee off or to putt.  I look at some players and they look like, as my wife likes to say, "lost dogs in a meat house".  They wonder about for who knows why.  Another big contributor to this is the insistence of some people to strictly play in turn.  Are you kidding me?  Unless you have a decent stake on the line, standing around waiting for one of you playing partners to get to their ball when you are ready to play is crazy.  I guess they see the pros on TV and want to emulate that.  The other major cause of slow play (and the number one reason at my course) is looking for lost balls.  If I could run the zoo for a day the first thing I would do is cut the grass everywhere to less than 1.6 inches (the diameter of a golf ball).  I find balls all the time within five yards of the fairway that got buried in the rough.  First, missing a fairway by a few yards should not be cause for a huge (stroke and distance) penalty nor should it be impossible to  find your ball.

(4) The longer you spend on a shot the better the chance that you'll mess it up.  At least for most amateurs.  Seriously, I see guys take multiple practice swings, "evaluating" the conditions (I love people who toss grass in the air - if you see me doing that it's because I am clueless on the shot and am trying to buy a minute to think of something) and maybe even saying a prayer right before hitting an awful shot.  Maybe I play a little too quick sometimes, but I do know that the longer I stand over a shot the worse it will come out.  I find this especially true with putts.  I find that 99% of the time I am never lined up better than when I first address the ball.  

(5) It is not easy to hit a really good golf shot.  There is so much working against you.  Professionals on TV make it look easy because they are not just good, they are great.  They didn't get that way sitting the in clubhouse drinking beer either.  When you really drill a tee ball or really stick one in close, it's OK to really enjoy the moment.  Of course, a 275 yard drive and a 7 iron four feet from the pin is no good if you can't make the putt!  (I kind of stole that from Dan Jenkins in "Dead Solid Perfect") You have to be able to finish - holes and rounds.  Sadly this is not always a strength of mine.

(6) There are a lot more double and triple bogeys being made than birdies and eagles!  Of course that's one of the things that make golf great.  You can play horrible all day but if you birdie the 18th hole it was a great round.  At my course, I would guess the average score on most (if not all) holes is well over bogey.  Sometimes I find balls while walking (and I find A LOT of balls) that I can't for the life of me figure out how they got there.  I have seen a lot more guys deposit balls into the lumber yard (remember Caddyshack?) than I do stick it next to the pin.  I tell people new to the game all the time not to get discouraged with making double bogey.  I like to think I play pretty well and I consider any round that is double bogey free to be a GREAT round.

(7) You really do "drive for show and putt for dough".  I am not a long hitter.  Yes, I am strong enough to hit the ball 250+ yards, but when I swing that hard my accuracy suffers dramatically.  I play my best when I shorten up my back swing and look to hit the ball between 220-225 yards (straight) off the tee.  I have concluded that provided you can hit a minimum length (probably around 180-190 yards on my course) but keep the ball in play you are far better off than someone who hits 250+ but is in the woods two or three (or more) shots a round.  Hitting three off the tee after a lost ball/ball hit OB on three or four holes a round is not the way to score!  While I still miss too many up and down opportunities, I think I do a pretty good job of "taking disaster out of the equation" most of the time.  While I may average about six greens in regulation per round, I am within 20 yards of the green typically 16 or more times.  The ability to get up and down is what really separates good golfers from superior golfers.  Hitting the ball 400 yards in two shots and then taking three shots from 20 yards is depressing and downright stinks under most circumstances.  Remember, the scorecard only measures "how many" not "how".  You shouldn't be the least bit concerned what club someone else is using.  That said, remember that:

(8) Distance control with irons is critical.  That is if you really want to score.  The straightest shot in the world is no good if it comes up 10 yards short or if you air mail the green.  Although I don't like to practice, this is one area that I have worked at.  Sadly, I still have about a 10 yard range on my short irons (7-9) and even a little more on my longer clubs.  I know I need to dial this range down.  I'm getting closer on 8 and 9, but it's still a bit of a challenge on 7 and up.  If there is no one around, I will stand between the 100 and 150 markers and hit half a dozen balls.  There are advantages to being willing to play early or on days when the weather is less than optimal.

(9) The wind really does affect putts.  I don't know how many people have told me that wind means nothing to putting and your short game.  They are 100% wrong.  Wind will definitely have an effect on longer putts, especially as they lose speed.  It is also difficult to maintain balance when the wind is howling.  Of all potentially adverse weather conditions, wind is the number one killer (well, besides electrical storms - they are a REAL killer).  I can deal with heat and cold and even rain and snow, but being buffeted about all day by the wind really can take it out of you.

(10) It's not the hammer, it's the carpenter.  Provided you have decent equipment (and by "decent" I mean the shafts are straight, the grips good and the lofts not all wacky from abuse) it's a matter of using it properly.  We have a guy at my club who I'm still not sure if he was bragging or lamenting that he spent close to 2000 bucks on his clubs and he can't break 90.  Not that I have that much room to talk, but his awful swing and extremely poor physical condition probably have more to do with it!  There are a lot of "Parking Lot Pros" out there for sure!  I don't know how many people I've talked to who are convinced that all they need is the latest advance in clubs and they'd be ready for the tour.  The same goes with balls.  I often use Titleist Pro-V1s because I find so many of them walking the course (obviously being used by people who should consider a cheaper alternative!).  If I have to buy balls, I like Bridgestone e6's and Titleist Velocity's as they seem to fit my game.  I guess the bottom line here is that you don't need a 1000+ set of irons and the latest and greatest driver.  If you're like me, you are willing to play clubs that are a couple years old that can be found on places such as eBay.  I bought my current irons (r7's) for 149.00 new on eBay in 2009.  I remember them when they first came out going for nearly 700 bucks.  The same goes with my r7 driver.  Again, I bought it a couple years old for 129.00.  It was 299.00 when it first came out.  One final equipment thought - it never ceases to amaze me how many guys brag about using stiff shafts.  What is it about guys and stiff? (j/k)  I've played with one of the longest hitters at my course and he uses regular flex shafts and low compression balls.  Another long hitter actually uses a woman's flex shaft and he kills the ball.  

(11) You don't have to be good to have fun.  Some of the people I see having the best time on the golf course probably aren't coming anywhere near breaking 100.  So how can they be having fun?  Simple - it really is true that a bad day golfing beats a good day working (or almost anything else for that matter) every time.  Besides, it's hard to have fun if you turn golf into work.  Playing well is hard work.  You need to check your yardages and really think about every shot.  Even if you are cruising along parring every hole you know that it only takes one bad swing to come crashing down to earth and you know you're going to eventually do it but until it happens the continual concentration can actually give you a headache.  Yes, you put pressure on yourself which takes away the fun.  I probably have more fun shooting a carefree 85 than a 75.  I'm kind of kidding there a bit but it really is important not to take it TOO seriously. I don't care who you are; you are going to have days where nothing works.  For a pro that means shooting an 78; for a guy like me it means having to birdie 17 and 18 to break 90.  In some ways I think a "good" horrible round is a necessity and it "cleanses" you and your game.

(12) Most people (myself included) would rather play than practice.  Let's face it, practice is boring.  The funny thing is that it's also what you really need if you want to get "to the next level" in anything, not just golf.  Of course, 95% of people I see tee off with absolutely no warm-up (when I play alone I am often guilty of this too!).  What's even worse is that I've found that...

(13) Practice DOESN'T necessarily make perfect.  That is unless you practice the right things.  Like the says goes: "be careful what you practice because you might get really good at the wrong things".  If you are going to practice, it has to be more than just whacking at balls on a range.  I don't know how many guys I've seen who can kill it on the range and can't do anything on the course.  The problem is that most ranges are very wide.  When I do hit some balls on a range it is always at a target, not just hitting away.  I like to practice on the course.  Since I like to play early, there is often no one around.  One thing I will do is hang around a green after completing a hole and practice some short game shots.  I also like to walk back out to between the 100 and 150 stake and practice approaches.  I just don't like ranges.  Call me a geek if you want, but I've taken my video camera and recorded some shots on the range.  It's amazing how easy it is to see things like poor alignment or having the ball positioned incorrectly in your stance and how they hurt your shots.

(14) You only need one really good shot to have a good hole.  Unless you lose your ball or otherwise take a penalty, you really do need just one good shot to have a good hole.  I don't know how many times I've hit a mediocre tee shot and crummy approach shot that I followed with a great pitch to make a par on a par 4.  Of course, at the same time one bad shot can destroy a hole.  You can be playing a par 5 and hit a great tee shot and lay up and then fluff a wedge short or worse blade in over the green and before you know it be jotting down 6 or 7 when a couple minutes ago you had been thinking birdie. 

(15) The absolute round saver is a one putt bogey.  This is especially true if it looked like you were dead.  Just when you and your opponent(s) think you are dead, you stick a killer chip in close and save bogey when they thought you were looking at a double or worse.  Talk about a momentum saver/swinger.

(16) There are three score killers - Lost balls, penalty shots and three putts.  I find that if I can avoid these I can break 80.  Unfortunately they are very hard to avoid!  It only takes one loose swing or sculled chip and you're jotting down a double.  I have determined that about 90% (or more) of these killers are caused be mental errors.  You have to "keep your head in the game" if you want to score.

(17) Golf is a huge momentum game.  When you are playing well you tend to continue to play well.  You get "lucky" bounces.  You make six foot putts.  When it's going the wrong way nothing goes right.  The good thing is that it can only take one good shot to turn it around.

(18) If momentum is important, tempo is paramount.  It's hard enough to get into a good tempo and even harder to keep it.  Naturally I play my best when I play alone.  Why?  Because I can control the tempo of my play.  I don't have to wait for anything.  That said, I don't think people you may play with are purposely trying to sabotage your game.  They have their style of play and you have yours.  Ever wonder why pros like playing better with some people than others?  If I play with others, I like to play with people who play "ready golf".  That means if they are ready to go and you're walking over to your ball they will hit even if you are away.

(19) You are either improving or getting worse - you rarely stay the same.  I break my game down into six areas - Driver, hybrids, mid (5-6) irons, short irons (7-8-9), wedges and putting.  I guess what I am saying is that your game is constantly evolving (and not always in the right direction).  The key to playing well is to have as many of these facets on the upswing as possible.

(20) You don't really have to be much of an athlete to be good.  As long as you can keep the ball in play, if you are good around the greens you can beat the big strong guy who has the touch of an elephant any day.  I've shot in the 70's and never hit a ball longer than 218 yards (Sky Caddie measured).  What I did do was only take 26 putts that round and pulled the same ball I teed off with on the first hole out of the hole on eighteen.  Of course people ask how far can you drive - it just seems cooler than "what's your average putts per round?"

(21) There is nothing wrong with using a Sky Caddie or other such distance measuring device.  I have been told that if you know the course you shouldn't need such a device.  What a crock of crap.  Unless you are a scratch golfer, you need every bit of assistance you can get.  I actually find the shot measurement feature to be the most useful thing about my Sky Caddie.  If you have a good handle on distances, you can hit with a lot more confidence.  One thing to consider though - if you are going to use a measuring device like a Sky Caddie, you must test it out.  My suggestion is to "Mark" the ball at the 150 stake and hoof it to the center of the green and check the distance from mark.  It should be 150 but it probably won't be.  Remember GIGO - Garbage in garbage out.  If the surveyor was off, your device will be off.  It also helps if you know how far you actually walk per stride.

(22) You need to keep some notes.  No, you don't need detailed books like pros use, but you need to know/note what you've done so you don't repeat mistakes.

(23) You really do have to "stay in the moment".  Hey, every shot counts.  If you're going to say you broke 100 with a 98, no one cares that you took a couple "mulligans" but if you are going to claim you shot 74, every shot counts.  Shooting in the 70's doesn't allow too much margin for error.  79 is 7 over par which means you have to par (or birdie) 10+ holes with no double bogeys (or worse).  It's not as easy as it looks on TV.

(24) You have to commit.  Commitment isn't just for relationships.  If you are not totally committed to a shot there is a really big chance it will not come out as you hoped!  If you don't think you can make a shot, it's probably because you can't.  If it really matters, you are far better off trying the shot you know you can make than trying something you aren't sure of.

(25) You have to play your own game.  There is nothing you can do about your opponents or just the people you might be playing with.  By sticking to what you know you can do, you have a much better chance of coming out ahead in the end.

(26)  You can't learn to play golf from a book or magazine or video.  Once you have the fundamentals like grip and stance down, the only way you are going to get better is to get out and experiment and practice and find what works for you.  Don't get me wrong, I've picked up plenty of ideas from books and magazine, but it's up to the player to integrate them successfully into their game.

(27)  Most golfers meet at least one definition of insanity.  That is that they continue to do the same thing over and over hoping for a different result.  The good golfers I talk to are always looking to improve their game by making adjustments as necessary.  In reality, I have determined that the player who is able to adjust best to the conditions will always come out ahead in the end.

(28)  Unsolicited advice is a fact of golf.  It amazes me that people who barely know me somehow feel that I am interested in their unsolicited advice.  I just try to be polite but I have NEVER received any unsolicited advice that was of any help to me.  Remember - what works for one person probably won't work for you.

(29)  Women still get no respect.  It amazes me how many people completely disrespect women on the golf course.  I'd rather play with my wife than most guys I know.  We have a fairly small number of women who play at my course but my general observation is that they are all what I call "players".  By "player" I mean they are no nonsense, get it done golfers who (at least in my observations) don't lollygag around.  What they may lack in brute strength they make up for around the greens. 

Lastly (30) You will NEVER really figure the game out.  No one ever has.  You might think you have, but right about that time something will happen and you will come crashing down to earth.  Your "wounds" will be completely self-inflicted.  The absolute best players in the world occasionally yank one into the woods or air mail a green or muff a chip.  Why on earth would any amateur think they are immune to such things.  The whole key to any success is to realize that you aren't a machine and just keep calm and continue on.
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