The Short Half of Golf

Golf is structured in two parts. I don't mean the front nine and the back nine. What I do mean is the long of it and the short of it.

On your typical par 72 golf course there are 10 par-fours,  4 par-threes and 4 par-fives. Half of the strokes allotted to par are to get the ball to the green (the long of it). The other half of the strokes allotted to par are to get the ball in the hole (the short of it).

Par-3: 1 shot to get it to the green, 2 more to get it in the hole.
Par-4: 2 shots to get it to the green, 2 more to get it in the hole.
Par-5: 3 shots to get it to the green. 2 more to get it to the hole.

Unless you are either really good or very lucky the chances of getting the ball on the green in less than the allotted 36 strokes are very slim. The typical amateur golfer shooting in the 80's or 90's may never have fewer than 36 shots to reach the green. That same golfer may regularly have fewer than 36 putts.

So you may ask, "What's the point?"

As a golf coach not just a swing instructor it is important for me to get my student's to focus on the Short Half of Golf. Even so most of my students want to hit it farther. There is a reason most practice areas in the country are called DRIVING RANGES! Spend just an hour or so at a typical golf course driving range and you will see hardly anyone practicing out of the bunker, chipping onto the green or putting. You will see a lot of golfers slicing, hooking, topping and whiffing their driver in a vain attempt to hit it better and longer with the big stick. All to get more out of the 14 times they will use the big dog.

Why aren't those same golfers trying to get better with the clubs they are going to use for the rest of the 70 or 80 shots they are going to attempt on the golf course?

I am making the case here for making golf all short half. I do not mean that the game should only be short par threes, but that is a good place to practice. If you make the game all short half you can make your practice all short half. You can play an all short half game on the courses you now play!

How long is the short half? The answer depends on the length of the golf course you play. The length of the course you play should not be much longer than 36 times the distance you hit your 5-iron or hybrid. PGA tournaments, played by the best golfers in the world, are usually played on courses shorter than the distance of a top pro's 5-iron times 36.

Let's say you hit your 5 iron 140 yards including roll.  135X36 = 4860 yds. So any set of tees around 5000 yards gives you a chance to hit your best score ever. Providing you never use a club longer than your 5-iron.

For your first time playing a 'short half round' with your friend, hole number 1 is a pretty tough 325 yard par-4.

Your playing partner pulls out the driver hoping to stay out of trouble, slices the ball into the weeds and trees 170 yards off the tee into trouble. You grab the trusty 5-iron knowing you can't hit it far enough to reach trouble and strike a fearless shot 130 onto the fairway. For the second shot you are away so you hit first. Now a 6-iron struck pretty good but only 120 yards. Your friend has no choice but to hit it sideways to get it back to the short grass he muffs the shot out of the deep grass and gets to keep his turn to shoot. His third shot does reach the fairway. You are both on the fairway, you are 75 yards from the green in 2 and your friend is 125 out in 3. So even after his longer drive he is away.  His 4th shot comes up short, your 3rd shot is on the green! You have a pretty easy hit and run with a 9-iron onto the middle of the green. His 5th shot is a pretty good chip but he still 2 putts for a 7. You putt right up to the hole for a tap-in 5 and go one-up.

Your thoughts heading to the next tee are, "Just a little better putt and I par the hole." His thoughts are, "I hate this game, now I have to hit another damn driver."

Sitting in the bar after the round, settling up the wagers, you buy the drink because you took all three Nassau bets. He remarks, after sipping his losers scotch , "I can't believe you beat me hitting those dink shots off the tee, I out drove you on every hole!" Your response is a bit harsh, " I know. I just wish I would have chipped and putted a little better." Winners scotch does taste better.

The next day you are both at the range. He is sweating and cursing, hitting a large bucket of balls with his driver, while you chip and putt after hitting a couple of dozen iron shots.

Do we play when we play golf?

Have you ever read the definition of play? How about this for a definition of play as a verb, borrowed for the internet;
engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.
 Is it possible to play golf that way? Have you ever seen anyone actually playing golf that way?

As adults, maybe we take it all too serious, perhaps we have forgotten how to play. I think we know how to play. If you have ever spent time at a bowling alley during league play you have certainly seen adults playing. Ever watched adults playing softball, baseball, tavern pool, frisbee, or fishing? The list goes on and on. Why do we see so much joy during those activities and so little during golf? 

Most of us wouldn't ever do those other activities if they weren't fun. So why do we golf? Certainly it is not for a 'Serious or Practical' purpose.

My grandfather used to tell me that I couldn't choose to play golf well but I could and should choose to have fun while doing it. Sometimes it seems nearly impossible to choose to have fun while I golf. It can be difficult to have fun when the play is slow, or when you are playing poorly. I remember playing with my grandfather when I was about 12 and having a horrid game. I was grumpy, angry and frustrated. Graps asked, "Why are you being such a #%$$?" My answer was because I was playing so bad. His response, as always, was brief and to the point, "Why be upset, you're just not that good!"

I play those words in my head whenever I play poorly. I try to use it as motivation to get better. A reason to practice, a reason to have fun practicing. I did learn that even though I couldn't choose to play well I could choose to learn to play better. Oddly enough the more I strive to get better the more fun I have. 

Now if I could only find a way to get the other golfers to play faster.  

Goal Setting

Back to Basics

After several months working to get back to a low single digit handicapper and eventually to scratch, I seem to be moving backwards. I took some time to process the journey I have been travelling. Looking backwards I can see that the trip has not been a straight one.

Like most of my students I allowed the desire for short term gains to influence the overall journey. In other words, I kept changing paths. For a while I was strictly conventional, then a bit of stack and tilt crept in, followed by a relapse into "natural golf". I ended up with a swing focusing on style rather than substance. Somehow, I forgot the purpose of the journey was to prove that the simple "Turn - Turn" swing could get a golfer to the best golf of their life.

I spent a little time on the range the other day going back to the beginning. Neutral set-up, “Turn – Turn” swing, rhythm and tempo. Results were great. On the flag with my wedge and in flip flops too! 

I think it is important to examine what caused me to alter my path. DISTANCE!!!

Like everyone else I started looking for more distance instead of lower scores, disaster. I reread the early part of my book and remembered that distance was the last of the key outcomes. 

1.   Smooth full turn around a fixed axis, creating powerful weight shift with the proper sequence of movement.
2.   Consistent rhythm and tempo
3.   Controlling the bottom of the swing arc. . .hitting the ground exactly where I want.
4.   Predicting and controlling the ball’s flight.
5.   Distance. Be long enough and just long enough.

When the focus moves from the first four outcomes to the fifth outcome (distance) too early in the journey, those first four skills are not automated and habituated so they must begin to fail. That is what happened to me over a very frustrating and discouraging few months. Each outcome-skill must be developed and habituated in the correct sequence. This is a very valuable lesson for me as both a golfer and an instructor, I must be patient with myself and help my students be patient with themselves.

My Grandfather would always tell me, "Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly!" Of course, he didn't mean that one should keep doing it poorly, or even get better at doing it poorly, but to understand that greatness is always preceded by failure. He would also say that one of the most powerful impediments to greatness, is to be "pretty good".  The time, effort and money it takes to get from "pretty good" to great, can be overwhelming.

Those truths are really hitting home on this quest to scratch. I am seeing glimmers of greatness but mostly is see myself getting better at doing it poorly. I can score better, but not actually play better. However, I do believe now that it is possible for the casual golfer to become a 0 handicap, and I believe I can be there before the end of summer.

Following the direction of my own book, I have begun the mastery process on me, a pretty poor student. To get to the mythical place of the '0' handicap index I have some tough obstacles to overcome.

1. Time
2. Effort
3. Money

Those are the key ingredients to any and every endeavor. I can commit plenty of #1 and #2 not so much #3 so my plan must fit that constraint.
  • I am over 60 years old, not an obstacle, at least not one anyone can do anything about.
  • I am overweight, that is an obstacle that effects performance a little, but since I ride it's not too big of a factor, still I want to lose 40 pounds.
  • Physically fit???  Not bad, but I have limited flexibility in the lower back, that is an obstacle. Doing a lot of stretches, using my Pro-relax electrical stimulator. I have the strength for golf but not the flexibility.
  • Ability. I have eagled every hole on my home course except 3 of the par 3's. Only one hole in one in my life. That means I have the ability to score low.
  • Skill. I believe skill is the automatic habituated high-quality application of ability.  That only comes with repetitions, hitting lots of balls on purpose and with a purpose.  Lots of time in my hitting area in the garage.  Probably will still only play once a week, maybe twice on occasion. 
The question is, "Can a casual golfer be a scratch golfer?"

The answer is, "Why not?"