Sunday, May 22, 2016

Round Reflections: Four Club Follow-up

So yesterday I explained how I chose my four clubs for today's challenge.  I chose my 6-iron, 8-iron, 60-degree wedge, and putter.
This tournament challenge was a tough one. I'm happy with the clubs I chose, but honestly I did miss having more wedges and a few more irons in the bag. Interestingly, it wasn't the longer holes I had issue with (I played those very well), it was the shorter ones. With longer holes I swung easy because I was mentally prepared for the fact that I would most likely be short. Short holes, however, really get under my skin. It's tough to make a full swing with a high loft wedge, but I find it equally hard to grip down or make a half swing with an 8-iron to try to keep it short. So with only an 8-iron and 60-degree wedge, I was between clubs often today. This is a problem I seem to have every week, however. Especially the first tee, playing only 105 yards to the middle. I have yet to hit that green. And the 8th is a short hole with water to the right playing only 95 yards to the middle. Today I hit the 60-degree, my shortest club in the bag, and I was still behind the green, as I have been every time!
This isn't to say that I am a big muscle or anything. It's true I am in better shape than I have been in a long while (considering my pregnancy and long recovery), but I think today the weather may have helped things along. It was warm and not at all humid or breezy, which made the ball fly a little farther. The two greens I hit, one with a 6-iron and one with an 8, I did not expect to as in past rounds I've had to club up to get there. It actually was a delightful morning and I loved being outside; I may have even started my lovely sock tan again.
I also felt rushed, but an excited to play kind of rush. It took me a few holes to settle myself in and stay focused on the present. With the four club challenge I fortunately found myself distracted from doing any math today (even when I hit two back-to-back pars and thought I would be turning things around from the back to back triple bogeys I started with). Once I was not so rushed I really felt like I stayed in the moment well today. And so it was a fun surprise after to see that my score was only one shot worse than when I played two weeks ago. Considering the constraints on this week's play I felt pretty good about that.
I can still putt better and chip better next round. In particular, I want to figure out how to practice chipping indoors more effectively, maybe even with real balls. I find that because I get so used to chipping with the whiffle balls, when I actually play with the real golf ball it comes off the face very hot. I've also been lazy about practicing full swings lately (well, in my defense it's been raining a lot so putting is easier to do during nap time) and I want to get back to doing more of that so that I can hit more greens! Putting is hugely important but GIR is key to low scores, and I want the lowest I can get.
Off again next week for a fun me-and-hubby only trip, so I have some time to work!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

How I Prep for a Four-Club Challenge 

This week's league play challenge is to use only four clubs for the whole round. I love these types of challenges. I sometimes had my team do this, and it was always very interesting while providing fun variety. 
Having only four (including putter!) really forces one to learn to trust their decisions. You can't be between clubs if you only have one club to choose! You also learn to get creative with the clubs you bring. There is a popular belief in the artistic world that placing constraints can actually unlock creative potential.  If you've ever watched a pro golfer who seems to play like an artist (I'm thinking about that recovery shot Bubba Watson made at Augusta in 2012 from behind the trees that boomeranged all the way around to the green - magic), they learned over years and years of experimenting with these types of constraints. It's great for growth as a player. And since it's more than just one club, you get to be a little more practical than Kevin Costner
Choosing the four clubs takes some thought. You definitely don't want to just wing it, and you can just go back home to get the rest of your bag if you regret your choices. 
I first think about the type of course I'm playing. Is it short? Long? Narrow? Open? The course I play each Friday is an executive course so all par threes. Makes it easy to eliminate woods and driver. On days it plays long I sometimes reach for a 7-wood on a few holes, but I am actually more accurate with irons even if I don't reach the green, and I should actually play that way more often anyway. So I won't fret about not having my long clubs. I'll select an iron for tee shots that will reach some of the holes but leave me short on the longer ones. 
Since it's a par 3 course, two-thirds of my score should be putts following the rules of GIR. So putter is staying in the bag. I also love sometimes chipping with the putter and so it can serve a little more than just on the green. 
Next I think about the types of lies I've experienced in normal play around the green. Usually they are pretty tight, and there are lots of little hills around some of the greens. So I'm going to keep my 60-degree wedge for all pitches and lobs to the hole. 
The fourth club I'm still debating with myself. I've taken full swings from the tee with my pitching wedge so I might use that, but since I can also use an 8- or 9-iron around the green I might use the opportunity to round out my bag with something that can fill some awkward distances I might encounter depending on where they put the tees. This is the only one I'll let my gut decide come morning. 
So my four are: 6-iron, 60-degree, putter, and either 8-iron or PW. 
Otherwise, a sunny day is predicted after almost two straight weeks of chilly rain. I'm very much looking forward to that. I'll be back after the round to reflect on the experience!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Golf Fitness: How I Use The Gym To My Advantage

I had to take this week off from Friday league play, but on the plus side it allowed me to go to the cycling class at the gym that is always at the same time so I usually miss it. I would ALWAYS rather be golfing though, so even though it's a pretty great class, that works fine for me.
Being a stay-at-home-mom has turned me into a bit of a gym rat, I'm a little embarrassed to admit. Over the winter, sometimes going to the gym was literally the only thing I would accomplish that day other than the standard tasks of caring for the little one. At first I simply signed up to get a little "me time" in my day, and to get the kiddo out of the house and socialized. I still didn't know if I would be healthy enough to play golf this summer (although exercise did help me out tremendously) or if I would be able to find a way to make golf work financially.
As a result I became the type of exerciser that just wanted to be good at exercise. I treated being at the gym like a sport. There was no point to it other than to try to feel like a badass in front of complete strangers. I dove deep into the fitspo pool on Instagram and Pinterest. I had workout plans from body building websites and tried to emulate the training routines of fitness models I found on Pinterest - but all it did was make me more anxious about whether I was going to see the same results as professional fitness models. It was nice to feel sore, but I didn't feel like the function of my body improved such that the quality of my life improved.  I mean no disrespect to actual body builders or fitness models by sharing what I experienced, it just wasn't for me. But at the very least it got me in the habit of going to the gym 4-5 days a week.
My gym experience took a major step in the right direction once I made the plans for my golf season, which was about two or three months before play would begin. Suddenly, I had an outside-the-gym purpose for my workouts. Exercise felt once again like a supplement to my sport, not the sport itself, and this awoke anew the athlete in me and really refreshed my intentions for working out.
Tour pros are workout fanatics. Conditioning has become a fact of professional golf life. It is also hugely important at the collegiate level too, which was a challenge to schedule with the players as their days were already very packed with golf, classes, and school work. But stronger bodies are able to withstand the elements and play better golf. Many college tournaments involve walking 36 holes in a single day (in heat, humidity, rain, wind, name it) and a player who hasn't been exercising hard will not last.
And so, having a very good base level of fitness can tremendously help even an amateur golfer. For me, I chose to retool my workouts to prioritize cardiovascular endurance and functional strength. I dropped much of the heavy lifting  since I didn't want to risk an injury from over exertion (although I do like to still do a few sets of squats with a decent amount of weight, 75-90 pounds). This isn't to say I allowed myself to work less hard, I just gave up the idea of working out like a body builder in favor of working out like a golfer. I also had to release myself of the vanity aspect of exercise; it no longer mattered whether I achieved a certain "look" anymore. All that mattered was whether my body felt better while performing on the course.
So here's a look at what my week of workouts entail now:
  • running at a slightly difficult pace for 1.5 miles on a treadmill, which works out to about 15 minutes for me. I do this 3-4 times a week.
  • Barre once a week. Wait, you might be asking, didn't you say you didn't want to achieve a "look" anymore? Isn't barre for girls who want to be super skinny? Well, you're right that barre is very popular among women who want to be long and lean like dancers and the barre subset of fitness does try to promote that as a reason to go. But golfers have a lot they can gain from this form of exercise, too. In particular, barre emphasizes glute, hip, and core strength, and also posture, which makes for a strong swing. By being barefoot I can feel my feet getting stronger and balance improving, which helps with golf as well. Plus, to get that dancer look you have to go to like, four to six classes a week and do basically no other exercise. I go once a week, and lift as heavy and push as hard as I can. This beefy lady ain't turning into a waif-like dancer anytime soon, but it's valuable functional fitness and makes me happy.
  • At least one day of some sort of cardio interval training. My favorite is to run and row. On a treadmill, I run .5 miles. Then I row 150 meters on the rowing machine. Then .4 miles on the treadmill and 150 meters on the rower. Then .3 miles run/15o meters row, .2 miles run/150 meters row, and finally .1 miles run/150 meters row. I time it and keep track week by week to see if I improve. Some times I push harder when I run and use the rowing as a break, other times I sprint through the row and bring the heart rate down during the run.
  • Squats, lunges, deadlifts, in many varieties. When done properly, these are great strength builders for golf. I keep it pretty basic and do 3 sets of 10-12 reps. I also listen to my body and don't push to lift heavy if I'm just not feeling it that week.
I also think yoga and Pilates are great exercise for golf, but I haven't the time to attend those classes. I also found that my wrist injury prevents me from enjoying yoga fully, as I can't do vinyasas as I used to.
This plus sensible eating is a good plan for me. I may not be as thin or fit as I was at 18, but for an amateur golfer with a toddler it does the job well and my game feels great.
Some may disagree with me, but golfers should avoid the type of workout that pushes you to complete the exercise even if it means sacrificing form or risking injury. This includes CrossFit. Several years ago I did CrossFit regularly with my husband, and the impressive short-term strength gains were not worth the risk of joint injury. I lost count of the number of CrossFitters I knew (both at our gym and others) that had some sort of shoulder, knee, back, foot, etc., injury that they incurred from CrossFit itself. Those are the types of injuries that wreck a golf game, sometimes for good, and I just didn't think it was worth it. I prefer the holistic, slow-gain approach to fitness that preserves my body for the sport I love.
Finally, if you don't know where to start, I highly suggest finding a trainer even just for a little while to get you going. Explain you want to be a stronger golfer and ask for functional exercises over sculpting exercises. Don't expect results overnight but stick with it and track results over time.
Do you have any exercise tips for golfers? Share them with us!

Monday, May 9, 2016

On Restlessness and Self Pity

I don't miss working. I miss my work. I miss the relationships I had with my players, the purpose and importance I felt, the camaraderie built through early mornings and travel, the challenges of managing a team and the ups and downs of competition. I miss being called "Coach" and striving to be the best one I can be. I still can't believe I was paid to do what I was paid to do.
When we moved and I decided not to look for work right away, it's because I knew I don't like working. I knew that because my heart has to be in my work for me to be happy, that I wouldn't like just any desk with a paycheck if I could be home with our little one instead. I decided to use this change to look inward for a while, learn the area and the jobs around me, and see if I could pivot to something else if need be. It's not like there are tons of college golf coaching jobs out there anyway; they only open once in a blue moon.
I beat myself up about feeling self-pity for this stance, because I recognize that it is a privilege to be able to make a choice about whether to work or be at home. Not everyone can do that.
It's just that I go through waves of restlessness, questioning what I'm doing with my life. What am I adding of value to society? How long is too long to let my resume lapse?
It got particularly bad these past few days as I see the seniors from my former team posting photos after their last rounds. The hugs from their teammates, the bittersweet feeling I know they're wrestling with, the promise of a bright future. I miss being with them at these times and feeling that energy, that sense of completion of a long four-year journey. The ones graduating this year were my recruits, and I would have loved to see how they blossomed this year (they always blossom senior year in some way!).
And I also get that mothering is important. I love my child and I dig the pace of my life right now. He's learning to say "I love you" in a little baby/toddler voice now and it pierces my heart in the BEST of ways. I sleep better now than when I worked. I eat better now than when I worked. I exercise more now than when I worked. And more importantly beginning this summer I am golfing more than when I worked, if you can believe it.
Maybe the hardest part of the adjustment is feeling like your reach is suddenly so much smaller. Before, my actions rippled through many other people. Now, my reach and impact is much more reduced.
The important thing I always remind myself is that nothing lasts as long as it seems to last when you're wrestling with it. Eventually time moves along and looking back you'll always wonder why you were so impatient. Kind of a stop-and-smell-the-roses type thing. So that's what I'm trying to do now. I won't have this stay-at-home life forever, and in the course of a lifespan this period of time is such a short chapter that eventually I'll feel silly for being so impatient. Even if I want to allow myself to feel restless now and then.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Round Reflections: Getting There! And Six Tips For Playing in the Rain

I only three putted once today, and  it showed in my score! Six stroke improvement, even in the rainy conditions today (my hands were getting pruny!). I hit two greens officially, but I was barely off the green two other times out of the nine holes, so I'm feeling pretty good about how that's coming along, too. And I had some amazing wedge play, especially one lob shot on a tough downhill slope on the eighth with a 60-degree wedge. It had a lovely backward spin, bounced lightly three times, and stopped 5 feet from the hole. Perfecto. 
I switched back from my old(er)-school Ping blade putter to my Odyssey Two-Ball putter and I'm very happy with how that felt today. I thought I had better feel with the Ping in terms of knowing whether I hit it square, but the weight of the Two-Ball helps me feel like I can accelerate through the stroke better, which helped on longer putts today.
There was a 90% chance of rain today, and fortunately the nastier stuff on the radar didn't come our way. But it did rain a constant flow of heavy drops which was a challenge.
If you prepare, playing in the rain can actually be fun. Here are some of my tips for playing in the rain:
1. If you haven't yet, invest in the highest quality golf rain gear you can afford. A suit (pants and jacket) is preferred in my opinion but at minimum a jacket is a must.  I wore my Nike Storm-FIT suit and stayed completely dry. Golf rain jackets are designed to accommodate your swing rather than constrict it, and the fabrics do the job. Try several on at a golf retailer to see what you like and consider it a 5-10 year investment!
2. Towels, towels, towels. I like to use the super-absorbent kind that are sold for detailing cars. Assume that you might need a fresh towel every 3-5 holes depending on the rain. Keep the fresh towels in a gallon zip-lock bag in your bag so they don't get wet before you need them.
3. Keep your grips dry! This is what the towels are good for, obviously. It might feel tedious, but it's SO important. Have a towel when you select the club, keep it handy through your pre-shot routine, and wipe it down once more after. Wet grips slip in your hands during your swing which can open or shut the club face at impact. (I heard my dad's voice over and over today telling me to "keep your grips dry." He was always loading my bag with more towels before high school tournaments!)
4. Fresh gloves at the ready. Again, to prevent the club from slipping. Keep these in a zip lock or protective case (some brands are sold with plastic sleeves to store them in) as well. An errant shot on the fifth hole due to a wet glove forced me to scramble from the trees 50 yards from the green today (resulting in a bogey) but as soon as I put on the new glove I was good to go.
5.  Fresh socks, again in a zip lock bag, to change at the turn. Dry feet are happy feet, and happy feet play good golf.  I didn't actually need to do this today as it was only nine holes, but any time I plan to walk 18 in the rain I do. 
6.  Have fun! In my case, a day golfing in the rain beats a morning inside changing diapers. Of course, don't play in lightning or severe rain (even if the Good Lord would never disrupt the best game of your life). But part of the joy of golf is connecting to nature in any of her conditions, something which I only am really realizing now that I'm playing for fun again.
Next week, I hope to be back at it but I'm going to have to find a sitter since my neighbor will be out of town. Fingers crossed that I'll be able to find someone!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Mother's Day Golf Gift Ideas

Dear Children of the Women in my Weekly Golf League,
Your mothers kick some major tail. Many of them are still what you might consider beginners, but they are a heck of a bunch to play a round with.
I hope you realize this game gives them an opportunity to be a competitor, to keep an athletic edge. It's more than exercise, it's the hustle they seek to stay sharp. Sure, some just want to play and gab with friends, but most others are very serious about winning their flights, or earning the cash payout from chip-ins. Leaving the course they go back to being wives and mothers and grandmothers, but for nine holes each Friday, they're competitors.
With that in mind, let me be honest with you: you can do better than flowers, or candy, or even jewelry. These are all nice gifts, sure, but your mom's a golfer. Golfers love golf things. And I can tell that the way these women live with the responsibilities of life at the forefront, so their equipment and golf accessories take a seat waaaaaaaaay in the back of all their other priorities. These momma's equipment need an upgrade.
So do your golfing mom a big one and get her some new golf accessories. Something shiny, sharp, and new. Personal touches are encouraged. For example, the Christmas after I got married, my sister gave me a personalized ball marker with my new last name on it. It came in a shiny little golf-ball shaped holder, which I still keep it in. Now every time I mark my ball, I get the positive feeling of thinking about my sister. Plus, it's way cooler than a crappy, dirty penny.
Let your mom think happy things about you every time she is on the course by giving her awesome, thoughtful golf gifts! Here are some ideas:
  1. Personalized zipper pouch: fill it with tees, divot tools, club head brushes, etc. This one is from Clairebella, where they have tons of designs to suit any style.personalized-zipper-pouch
  2. A pretty new polo with some sass and style, especially if she hasn't bought a new polo in a while. Personally, I think Cutter and Buck is a classic brand with flattering styles that are also priced well for giving as a gift. This is a graceful polo she can wear on the course and off!cutter-and-buck-ladies-three-quarter-sleeve-DryTec-polo
  3. The prettiest water bottle she ever did see. I LOVE my S'Well water bottle! I use it non-stop. It can keep cold drinks cold and hot drinks hot, and it fits perfectly in the bottle compartment of a golf bag. Love, love, love. And this design is GORGEOUS. (Your mom's playing partners: "OH MY GOD I LOVE THAT WHERE DID YOU GET IT?" Your mom: "Oh, my darling son/daughter for Mother's Day." Playing partners: Mute from amazement, probably won't be able to even finish a round.)swell-insulated-water-bottle-dark-forest
  4. A ball marker bracelet with some fun bling. A bracelet can be extremely functional: no fiddling for the coin in the bottom of her pocket, no straining to snap the tiny one off of her glove, no switching a hat clip from hat to hat based on her outfit. Something like this one would be good (but of course have it suit her style!)abigaile-lynn-ballmarker-bracelet
  5. A cute new club head cover to freshen the look of her bag on the cheap. Pick one in her favorite color or that matches her bag. Knitted ones never go out of fashion!just4golf-navy-multi-diamond-knitted-driver-headcover.jpg
Go forth, dear children, and don't make Mother's Day boring. There's still time to get her a golf gift that will add some pizzazz to her game and make her think happy thoughts of you all season long!
Yours Truly, GolfBecca