Time Management

I’m on a flight to San Francisco. My clubs are freezing to death under this aircraft. I’ve ordered golf balls to be delivered to my hotel. And I have a round with a friend scheduled for Saturday morning.

While up here, I’ve been writing my workplan for my job. I’ve been going back and forth between that and a few other projects, checking my email, skipping through music, and preparing for tomorrow and Friday. It occurs to me that I’ll be working harder over the next few days than I usually do. So, working until 9:00pm my time doesn’t seem sustainable. It’s time to update my blog.

But, before I get into the meat of it, I want to share with you my two goals for the year:

  1. Update this blog more frequently; and
  2. Play in at least one qualifying tournament for a USGA championship.

Both of these are heavy lifts for me because 1) I don’t have a lot to say that’s interesting to me, much less anyone else, and 2) I’ll have to continue playing my butt off over the next couple of months in order for my application to even be considered. I’ll worry about that another day.

Today… Time for Nine

The golf powers that be, in an effort to increase participation in golf, have begun promoting several ideas that will,  hopefully, change the way old fogies like me think about how we play. The Tee It Forward and Time for Nine programs, unlike the While We’re Young campaign, ask golfers to change some fundamental philosophies on how golf is to be played. I’ve long been for playing from the appropriate tee box (and, let’s be honest, you probably should be playing from the one just in front of the one you think is appropriate) and for moving away from the “ladies” and “seniors” tees terminology that prevails, to this day, on golf courses. Time and time again, I’ve spent hours behind a foursome that proudly plays from “the tips” because either they “want to get their money’s worth” or they think they’re Greg Norman and then get frustrated when they can’t reach a par three. It sometimes drives my playing partners crazy when I say that I’m playing from the middle tees – especially since I’ve never played better than I am right now. But, no, it’s no fun for me to hit 3-irons into every par four. So, I tee it forward…

And yet, playing nine was a much more difficult sell.

It wasn’t always like that. Me and my dad used to go out on Sundays and play a quick nine while I was learning the game. I know we had to have played a full 18 on occasion but I don’t remember doing that until I was in high school. We’d go out to Cleveland Country Club (which, I’m sad to say, doesn’t exist anymore) after church, buzz around the course in our cart, and be home for the evening service. Now, it helped that CCC only had nine holes but there was the option to play 18. We didn’t take it, though, because there were other important things to do that day.

But, then, I started playing golf by myself and with friends. We’d go out on Saturday. We had a full day to play. And we’d take it. The only reason we would play just nine was if we it was too hot – and it was never too hot – or if we had a date – and we never had dates. In high school we would play as much as we could until the sun went down. Sometimes that was 12 or 11 or even 10, but never just 9. Playing nine holes was for old men and kids. Not us.

Then came college golf, a time when more is more, when playing golf was a mission and there was no way to play too much. But, on a short day, we’d play a “cut nine” (holes 1-5 and 15-18) only because we spent part of the day on the range – never ideal.

This same attitude towards playing only nine holes remained (remains?). I love playing golf but, just like those guys playing the tips, I only want to do it if I can get a full round in. That is: until last year.

I went out to play with some beginners on the White Course at East Potomac Golf Course in DC. It’s a short course of par fours and threes, the longest is probably 360 yards. Not much of a challenge but it’s a lot of fun. We got nine holes in and then went to the club house to have a burger and beer. It was a blast! I learned that I enjoyed getting around the course quickly and having some time in the day to do other things. I think I even went to Lowe’s afterwards just to look around.

Then I played Langston, one of my favorites, and had time to just barely get in nine holes before I had to be somewhere for a friend. Got nine in and then spent my afternoon helping her out.

I played a quick nine when I went home a few months ago. Then I played tour guide of my hometown with my girlfriend, something that was very important to me.

I started a round out at Glade Valley in early January. It got too cold and I had no problem at all leaving the course sitting pretty at 1 over.

I’m getting a bit didactic here, but I want to make sure that you know I’m starting to practice what I preach. Life is perfectly fine if I just get in nine.

Now: Obviously, I’m a die-hard golfer – there’s really not much I’d rather do – and I’ve learned that playing nine holes is a god send for a busy schedule. But, there’s a catch.

It works well only if you’re actually busy afterwards. Beware the resentment trap. Don’t get discouraged that you lost time to doing nothing when you could have been playing golf. Schedule something right afterward – or else, play 18. Playing nine is something you can do; it’s not something you have to do.

The USGA is on to something here and golf courses around the country are making it possible to pay for nine holes again. It’s not going to solve the slow play issue, but it certainly will make it possible to get in more golf each year than you might have. And that’s a good thing.

Here’s a list of courses that Golf Digest has put together that offer nine hole options.

Bethpage State Park, Black Course

A few weeks ago I played a round of golf on one of my bucket list courses: the Black Course at Bethpage State Park on Long Island, NY. It’s hosted two US Open championships (2002, 2009) and a Barclay’s (2012). The course is listed as one of the toughest in the country. And, Golf Digest ranks it number 42 on its list of top-100 courses in 2013. Pilgrim golfers from all over travel to Long Island to play one of the few affordable tracks on that list. That I got to play it is a gift that will be difficult to repay.

I’ve been playing golf regularly for around 20 years. During that time, I’ve played over 100 golf courses with friends and strangers alike. I’ve been paired with people that, at the end of the round, I wish I’d gotten their number so we could play again some time; I’ve been paired with people that I couldn’t get off the golf course soon enough; and I’ve been paired with people that made the round all the more memorable.

Golf, unlike other sports, forces you to be sociable. You can go about seven holes without saying a word to your playing partner but, eventually, someone’s got to talk. You’re out there for four hours (at least!) with no one but you and a couple strangers.

My round at the Black Course was made possible because of a connection a golfing buddy of mine has with a former employee at Bethpage. Without that connection, we would have been on Long Island just attending a wedding (a perfectly fine reason to go to Long Island and I certainly would have gone had not the promise of playing one of the finest golf courses in the land been made). However, we got an 8:30 tee time on the Saturday of the wedding and were thrilled about it.

We arrived well in advance of our tee time and spent some time buying tschotskes in the proshop. My buddy got a headcover embroidered with the famous sign posted behind the first tee box at the Black. I got several scorecards, pencils, ball-markers, yardage books, and some other things I’m sure — for my best friend, my dad, another golfing buddy, and just in case, some extras.

When we went to the starter he pointed us to our playing partners — a father and son from just down the street. They quickly discovered, without even asking, that my buddy and I were from out of town and about to embark on this journey for the first time. We weren’t coy about it. I think we took pictures off the first tee for 5 minutes before we even thought about teeing it up.

For those of you who have only seen the Black on TV — as I had only seen it — when Johnny Miller says that the fairways are tight, he ain’t kiddin’. The first fairway looked about as wide as my thumbnail from the tee. And it started a mere 200 yards away from the tee. The only choice was a driver. I missed the fairway but, through some geometry, was able to get a par after a layup on the second shot.

I’m not going to walk you through my round. That’s boring and far too visual for my descriptive abilities. However, I’ll provide you with my main takeaway.

The two gentlemen that we played with could not have been better playing partners. They knew we were out-of-towners and knew that this was a special round of golf for us. It well could be our last time on the Black and they made every effort to make it enjoyable. They gave us some advice, but didn’t give the course away. It was clear we were there to experience Bethpage, not to be hand-held through it. On blind shots, they offered some guidance; on other holes, they let us look at our yardage books and figure it out for ourselves.

Mostly, however, for me, at least, they let us enjoy it together. My buddy and I had been talking about getting up to Long Island for years. “We should go up there and stay at our friends parents place.” “When do you think you can take a weekend? We’ll spend it in the car in the parking lot.” “You think we’ll get up there this year?”

Now, after waiting, we were on the golf course of our dreams! During our round, we joked about how difficult it was. We stood there staring at some stunning golf scenery. We counted off our yardages and talked about the shot we wanted to hit. After making difficult putts, we looked at each other as if to say, “Holy crap, that was a tough par.” It was perfect. Our partners made it so.

In golf, the best playing partners are the ones that enhance the experience. It’s a social game. Like with any other social event, the person you experience it with matters. We’ve probably all been at parties, at work functions or meetings, at a restaurant, and had to “deal with” rude, obnoxious, overly self-centered, loud, angry, negative, and otherwise unbearable patrons, co-workers, or guests. We remember them as such and we don’t ever forget them. That’s a real bummer.

On the other hand, when we get to experience golf and life and work with generous, positive, good-natured, and courteous people, it makes even poor rounds, dinners, projects seem much better.

I hope that I’m the second — offering advice when necessary, providing positive feedback, having a beginner’s mindset, and smiling.

Oh, here are some pictures from the course.

2013-08-10 08.15.04 2013-08-10 08.13.56 2013-08-10 10.14.56 2013-08-10 10.26.43 2013-08-10 10.50.30 2013-08-10 11.02.59 2013-08-10 11.16.44 2013-08-10 11.37.50 2013-08-10 12.33.55 2013-08-10 12.43.26 2013-08-10 12.54.23 2013-08-10 13.39.01 2013-08-10 13.45.55 2013-08-10 15.01.32 2013-08-10 15.02.06

$#!% Storm of a Week or What Golf Teaches Us About Dealing With Tough Times

You know what happened and I’m not going to bring up the details.

I’m playing golf tomorrow morning. It’s, very literally, the one thing that can take my mind off of anything. It’s my moment of zen that lasts four hours. I golf when I’m down; I golf when I’m up; and anywhere in-between. Tomorrow is one of those golfing when I’m down rounds.

I read an article, passed around the twittersphere, earlier this week by the Fred Rogers Company that talked about looking for “the helpers” during times of tragedy. Listening to Mr. Rogers giving advice to parents for talking with their children about communities in crisis nearly brought me to tears. So poignant, indeed, were his words that article after article after article after article after article were written about them. And people helped, I think in no small part, because of his advice.

Living and working in the DC area makes it tough to help in a concrete way those folks in Boston or Texas. So, I think I’ll offer my two cents on what golf can teach us about dealing with difficult times. And, there’s a metaphor here if you’re patient until the end…

At the Masters, Tiger got an unlucky break. On an approach shot, the ball hit the pin and ricocheted into a water hazard. His reaction to it was to take a drop and play the next shot. He didn’t throw a hissy-fit, yell, slam his club into the ground, punch his caddy in the face, or otherwise go completely apoplectic. He could have, that’s for sure, but he didn’t. Why?

Because those types of things happen all the time in golf. For every lucky bounce you get, it seems like a bad one happens on the next hole. A hole out from the fairway on two; a lost ball on three.

Here’s what I try to do when I hit a bad shot or get a bad break: act like it’s a normal shot. There’s no reason to get upset and throw a temper tantrum. The ball is already at rest, and I’ve already hit the shot. There’s nothing I can do now except to go hit it again.

Giving voice to the bad, making a scene, and working myself up can only carry over to the next shot. The last thing I want is to be standing over my ball pissed because it’s in the trees. I have to give my full attention to the shot at hand. I can’t do that if my mind is filled with vitriol because of that bird that squawked right in the middle of my backswing.

Don’t let one bad shot ruin the hole. Don’t let one bad hole ruin your whole round.

However, on a good shot, I give plenty of voice to that — even saying to myself, “Good shot, Luke.” Sometimes I go a little overboard and tell my playing partners that I’m impressed with the shot I just hit. It may sound like I’m being a conceited jerk but really I’m just celebrating something that I’ve worked hard for or, better yet, something that I just got lucky on!

When others hit a good shot or get a good break, I always make sure to praise their effort and the result. Why? Because it’s important that others hear that they’ve done well and that I recognize their accomplishment. And it’s important, not just to them but, to me. I need to say those things because they give me a positive feeling on my next shot.

Hint: you never ever (ever) say anything when someone hits a shot with bad results. They know the results aren’t ideal; they don’t need to be told. Also, you wouldn’t want to hear anything after a shot you’ve hit was lost forever in the trees. Just let it be.

This sounds a lot like my mother’s favorite pastor, Joel Osteen, who would say don’t dwell on past mistakes but look to the future and what is waiting in store for you. There’s great advice in that. In life, when things are seemingly falling apart, recognize that it is what it is, clear it from your mind, and make the next move.

Say thank you to the guy that says, “Great shot!” after you hit a shot with good results. He’s your helper.

 

Anchored Putter Ban – My Two Cents

The PGA recently decided that it was against the proposed ban on the anchored putting stroke. The USGA responded. That’s the news.

I think this is a great opportunity to discuss the history of this ban (and others). The USGA recently proposed a rule change that would go in effect January 1, 2016. The ban is on anchoring the putter to your body while making a putting stroke. Here’s an infographic to help. Many PGA tour players, including Keegan Bradley, use this method. Phil Mickelson’s used it; Ernie Els uses it; Ian Woosnam; the list goes on. Thousands of amateurs use this method as well. In fact Dave Pelz, the short game guru, recommends using the method on short putts and a more “traditional” method on long putts (I don’t have a link for that. I just remember it from one of the Golf Channel Academy’s he hosted). It’s becoming more and more popular with the kids because the anchored style helps quiet other movements typically made during a putting stroke.

The USGA argues that anchoring is not consistent with the spirit of the rules of golf, specifically Rule 14-1. The gist is that, as Nick Faldo eloquently put it recently, “It’s called a golf swing, not a golf hinge.” Another argument is that, seriously, it looks funny. And, truthfully, it’s only in the short swings that this technique works — you wouldn’t, for example, anchor your driver to your belly and expect to pipe one down the center 250 yards. The proposed change to Rule 14-1 would, in effect, provide a bit of consistency through every shot on the course.

Opponents of the rule change suggest that the USGA, once again, is making an already difficult sport more difficult. By taking this option away from amateurs, some have said, people will be leaving the sport in droves because it’s far too difficult. The change will lead to people getting called cheaters, would be golfers staying away from golf because they can’t get that darn putting stroke down, golfers who’ve used this method for years will leave the game.

I played a round of golf a couple of weekends ago with a 20-year-old junior college player that uses an anchoring style putting stroke. He said that his putting has improved dramatically since changing to the belly putter. Like many junior golfers, he hit the ball a ton, far past me on every drive; he had no patience for hitting solid iron shots; and 100 yards and in, it was a guaranteed missed green. But, what struck me is his putting. He made one putt over 4 feet. In 18 holes he made one 6 footer. He missed countless 2-3 foot putts. In no way, shape, or form was he frustrated by this. After all, his putting improved dramatically since changing to the belly putter. To say that I was shocked is an understatement.

Before that round of golf, I was indifferent to the rules change. I hadn’t been convinced that a rule change was necessary or unnecessary. There’ve only been a few major champions to use that style and no one argued that they won because of prowess on the greens. Can you name me a great putter that uses the anchored style? Hint: no.

But, what to do about this kid? His putting improved and, yet, he was awful on the greens. watching him miss a 4 footer three inches outside and long by 2 feet, smile, nervously “tap in” – nothing was a tap in that day – and walk off the green as though this was something normal, made me ask myself, “What is wrong with the USGA?”

I’ve been a USGA member since 1994, going on twenty years here. They host some of the best championships out there; they’re affordable enough that, if you are a golfer of any stripe, you can qualify to play. They very much are the guardians of the rules of golf and have led the way in research on sustainable golf course design. They support a program that aims to speed up play, asking players to play from the tees that best suits their game. The mission and their overall actions demonstrate that they hold the amateur golfer in the highest esteem and consideration.

Recently, though, it seems like they’re going for the opposite. I was disappointed when they banned square grooves – technology that can generate more backspin on impact and leads to greater accuracy out of tricky lies. People flocked to golf stores and websites to purchase square groove wedges because it helped players keep approach shots on the green. I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt on this one, though, because it’s the technology that leads to that ability (sort of…).

But, outlawing a swing is a little far fetched. I don’t believe that people will leave golf because they can’t use the anchored putting stroke. I don’t believe that professionals who use the putting stroke will fall from the top of the world rankings to the bottom when they have to use a more “traditional” stroke. I DO believe that golfers that use the anchored style will enjoy the game less – and that’s a problem. The more putts they have during a round of golf, the longer it takes – that’s a problem. People that were already complain about 5 hour rounds will be apoplectic about taking 6 hours out of their Saturday afternoon and likely will play less rounds every year – that’s a problem. Long story short, increasing the number of strokes on a golf course is not good.

The PGA Tour is making the right call in rejecting the proposed ban. The USGA should rethink its decision “for good of the game.”

Publinx Replaced With Fourball

Not that anyone asked but I’m positively thrilled with the decision by the USGA to change the championship roster beginning in 2015. The US Amateur Public Links has been around for a long time but, at this point, it’s basically the same competition as the US Amateur. Sure, some tour greats have won it, including one of the hottest players on tour, Brandt Snedecker (2003), but that doesn’t mean that we need to keep it around like it’s luggage handed down from our grandparents. Sometimes, it’s time for an upgrade; something a little more snazzy.

That’s why I’m thrilled with the announcement. For those of you who are just as confused by the term fourball as I am:

  • two teams of two players
  • each golfer plays his own ball through the round
  • A team’s number of strokes for a given hole is the lowest individual number of strokes of that team’s players on that hole.
  • Stroke play (the first 36 holes of the tourney): scores are added normally and the 32 teams with the lowest scores move to match play where
  • each hole is won by the team whose member has the lowest score on that hole, and that team is awarded a point for the hole. If the teams tie for a hole, the point for the hole is divided between the teams. At the end of the match, the team with the most points wins.

Further excitement: for men, the handicap limit is 5.4; for women, it’s 14.4. This opens the tournament up to an enormous number of people. What’s more, the team members don’t have to belong to the same club, live in the same state or country, and they can be substituted up until entries are closed.

Put all together, it means that I will likely get to qualify to play in a USGA tournament with my best friend and favorite golfing buddy.

Yesterday’s ruling was the most exciting ruling of the year. Yeah, that’s right anchored putting style, I’m including you here.