Saturday, September 10, 2011

How Great Golfers Think, Ch.5 - Segmenting (during practice)

Where my last post discussed the ideas of segmenting a round into "mini-games" to make it easier to reach a goal and focus on the task at hand, chapter five doesn't leave it there. The chapter also discusses using segmenting in practice to hone our skills. In discussing segmenting a round, a round is divided into "fractions". In segmenting for honing a skill, we divide the skill into "parts".

As an example, the chapter discusses how skill in chipping might be broken down. I'll pull from the chapter here . . . the first skill you work on "might be the line the ball starts out on. The next could be the height of the chip, then how close it came to the landing spot you intended it to." Then, ". . . whether the ball rolls out or checks up. Then you could look at whether it comes up short or if you hit it hard enough to roll a few inches past the hole, meaning that the shot had a chance to go in." Finally ". . . would be your emotional state. Are you hesitant, anxious, confident?"

The workbook section for this chapter suggests looking at the weakest part of your game then breaking it into components that are small enough to work on and make improvements. At this point, I'd say my weakest part is approach shots. When I can hit greens, I'm generally not going to make worse than par. But there are days I just have a hard time hitting greens, even when I'm keeping the ball in play off the tee.

So how would I break down improving at my approach shots? Perhaps it would be something like this:

  • Making clean contact, ball first, divot after the ball.

  • Hitting the ball the right distance, not too far, not too short . . . misses pin high. This is distance control with the swing, but also proper club selection.

  • Hitting the ball on line.

  • Shaping the shot (draw, fade, high, low) for the situation at hand.

  • Emotional state: am I committed to the shot and confident in my decision?

I'm at the point where I'm not too bad with the first two, so perhaps I need to start with the third one. My misses do tend to be pin high, but I'll often pull my shot to the left. Only slightly less often when I miss, I line up too far right and either end up hitting a straight shot or "compensating" and hitting an extreme pull-hook.

The next time I'm out practicing, I'll keep this breakout in mind and report back here.

How Great Golfers Think, Ch.5 - Segmenting (on the course)

Chapter five introduces the concept of "segmenting"; basically, "segmenting" is breaking up your task into smaller pieces to make it easier to accomplish. The concept of a "mini-game" or segmenting a round of golf into groups of holes (usually three-hole stretches) is something that's fairly common . . . common enough that a single I was paired up with randomly on the course a few days ago started talking to me about it.

The interesting thing about this chapter is that it doesn't necessarily recommend the three-hole grouping. Instead, it could be six holes, or nine holes, or one hole. The workbook, in fact, mentions that Jack Nicklaus instead of breaking a round up in to evenly sized pieces thinks of a round in terms of "opening holes, difficult stretches, easy stretches, and closing holes". That's a great way to think about it. That's almost the way I'd break up the course where I usually play: Par-line Golf Course in Elizabethtown, PA.

It's not the greatest course in the world; in fact, this season it's been in particularly bad shape between heavy rains, followed by extreme dry spells, followed by heavy rains. But it's 10 minutes from my house, and I can generally go out as a single any time my crazy schedule permits. The people there treat me well, and even though it's not the greatest golf course ever, I can generally find something interesting every time I play there.

In any case, this is how I might break up my round into mini-games on the Nicklaus model for Par-line:

  • #1 & #2 - Opening holes

  • #3 & #4 - Fairly easy stretch

  • #5 - A hole that stands on its own . . . it seems like it should be an easy hole, but it often isn't

  • #6, #7, #8 - Fairly easy stretch

  • #9 - Probably the most difficult hole on the course, but if you hit the fairway, it's not bad

  • #10 & #11 - Fairly easy stretch

  • #12 - An odd par three

  • #13, #14, #15, & #16 - These aren't that hard, but require some well-placed tee shots

  • #17 & #18 - Closing holes

So looking at that breakdown, there aren't really that many "hard" stretches. Really, if you can get your tee shots in play it doesn't seem like it is that hard of a course. And actually, now that I'm playing a driver that I've been fitted for and I'm hitting more fairways with more distance, my scores have actually been dropping. Lately, if I'm not shooting relatively low, it's because of my putting.

Again, looking at the above breakdown, I feel like it would be reasonable to shoot at least one-under for each of the "easy" stretches above. I also think it's reasonable to think no worse than one-over for the other groups, which means that I could feel like anywhere from 68 to 73 would be a reasonable score for me on any given day. In fact, my last real round I played there was a 73, where I took a double-bogey on #1 with a penalty, a bogey on #18, and had a weird hole in one of the easy stretches where I topped the tee shot but stayed in the hole for a chance at par but lipped out the par putt for bogey.

Next time I get out to that course, I'll try to keep this segmenting plan in mind and report back how it works.