Hope Springs Eternal

Finding a way to go low after a frustrating year for scoring.

Be careful telling the golf gods your plans. They have a twisted sense of humor. Last New Year’s Eve, while drinking too much red wine, I uttered to myself that 2021 was going to be the year I took the governor off my golf game. I was going to go low and do it a lot. I wanted to win again and I believed I had found the game to do it. Want to guess how that turned out?

It’s creeping up on late July and the golfer I was last Summer is now just a mirage in the rearview window. Other than not scoring well, life is pretty great though. My business is growing and we have our second child on the way next month. Not a bad set of excuses for poor swings and missed putts. However, it has been a frustrating first half of the year on the course.

In 2020, I played the best golf of my life. The pandemic helped to fuel a renaissance in my golf swing and for the first time in a few years I became a solid competitive golfer again. Naturally, I had high expectations for my game in 2021.

Last year, my handicap index plummeted and I found myself shooting under pars scores regularly. A feat that as of early July 2021 had escaped me during this trip around the sun. I’ve been grinding to get back there though.

It’s hard to pinpoint what has gone wrong exactly, but the most obvious culprit seems like a lack of practice. During the pandemic, I was able to spend many more days on the range and working on my game in the late afternoon. As bad as things were around the globe, for my golf game it was a magical time. This year, I’m self employed and an expectant father again. Those are blissful titles, but not nearly as conducive to scoring under par.

2021 hasn’t been a total wash though, I’ve certainly played my fair share of golf and have even taken a few fun trips to some wonderful golf destinations. It’s just that I had higher hopes for my scores. Lately, I’m reminded of why I quit keeping score for some time after our first child was born.

Like a bad addiction, I couldn’t keep myself from measuring the state of my game. There is something about hitting the ball well that makes me want to know that number again. It always starts as good ol’ fashioned excitement from playing better, but every time I sniff scratch the slumbering competitor in me starts waking up again. I still want to see if I can find that next gear and perhaps even win a few tournaments. It’s a mindset that is primed for disappointment.

I don’t get to enter too many tournaments these days, but our weekly club fourball is a nice substitute for proving my abilities. It’s real golf and there is certainly real money on the line. After a whole bunch of disappointing golf this year, it has been those weekly games that have provided me motivation for some needed swing changes. I had a hunch that if I could learn to release the club again then I might be able to score better. Turns out I was right.

I’ve always liked hitting a cut but sometimes that little fade mutates into a bad slice. I can usually control it, but it’s not so much fun to play with when things go awry. Going to that shot shape was a way to develop a swing that doesn’t need much maintenance and I’ve found all sorts of ways to make it work. Every so often though, my deep swing flaws buck their head and I get stuck going sideways.

With our baby due in only a few weeks, I figured now is as good a time as any to try some swing changes. Due to my lack of practice time, that means working through those tweaks while I’m playing. My attempts to release the club and turn the ball over have yielded some nice results, but there is a Frankenstein’s monster snap hook in there that flares up when I experiment with hitting draws.

Even though that snap hook has cost me some double bogeys of late, I’m seeing some serious improvement through my irons and wedges. My handicap is trending down again and entering into last weekend I could sense a red number may be within reach once more.

There are few things I enjoy more on a Friday afternoon than playing golf and when the ball starts going in the hole it’s a fun way to kick off the weekend. During last week’s outing, my swing changes started to click into place and my trusty old Scotty Cameron began to get hot again. Despite some iffy tee balls that went a bit too far left, I was flagging it all day and making lots of putts. My game was good enough to linger around level par all day.

At my home course, the routing has an interesting flow to it. For the first six holes you have to hold on tight as they are undoubtedly the hardest, then there are some some opportunities to score before coming to a risk/reward filled finale. With a few good breaks and some bold swings there is a chance to make a run deep in the round. After keeping things steady all day, I knew I might be able to get my score under par coming home.

With a birdie on the 15th hole, I got back to level par again. Good things were happening and I was intent on letting that continue. In recent months I’ve been listening to audio lessons on an app called Imagine Golf and it has helped restore my confidence. Having that extra level of self belief is so important for shooting low scores. When I made pars on the challenging 16th and 17th holes I came to the last with full focus and determined to get the birdie I needed.

Our 18th hole is a long uphill par five. It’s as straight as a string but in order to score well there you must navigate an avenue of towering live oak trees. It’s a cool way to finish the round and birdies are certainly gettable there. Finding the fairway is half the battle and when I did so I could sense my odds of being under par improving with every step.

I smashed a three wood towards the flag for my second shot. I had a feeling it was just short of the surface though. Arriving at the green I found my ball in a good lie in the front bunker that was guarding the pin. With a confident blast from the sand, I hit my ball to inside five feet. I had an uphill right to left roll for my lowest round of the year.

I don’t take practice strokes with my putter anymore. I can’t remember if it was Dave Stockton or Bob Rotella that authored the tip, but I just try to see the line and get up and roll it on intuition. That approach has paid off handily over the years and it did so last Friday too. I made five birdies that day and the best of them was that slightly breaking five footer at the last.

When I made that putt for 71, I realized the my latest swing scheme might just pay off. It was a fine feeling to birdie the last hole, but the implications were bigger than just a more enjoyable post round beer. With that short putt dropping, I finally felt like my premonitions from New Year’s Eve may still yet prove true.

My son will be here in just a few weeks so there is certainly a looming golf hiatus on the horizon. However, when I rolled that ball last Friday, I felt like I had found something. If I can just get a few more reps I might be able to go low another time or two before the baby comes.

This is a golfer’s never ending sense of hope. One little taste of success makes me want to go chase it for months on end. I don’t have that much time right now, but there is a big four-ball tournament in town next week. Now that things are on the mend, I may just have to ask my wife for one last chance to compete. You never know what can happen out there.

Thanks as always for reading Mid-Am Crisis. If you enjoy these musings be sure to subscribe to the Mid-Am Crisis podcast as well! It’s available on all your favorite listening channels.

This week I had a chance to chat with golf artist Lee Wybranksi. Lee is best know for his stunning paintings that become event posters for all the major championships. He’s been particularly busy with seven majors in the past year due to the pandemic. We had a great discussion about his artwork and passion for the game. You can check that out below!