Old Man Golf - Finding the Fairway
This fellow came in from his Sunday golf game.
His wife met him at the door. “Hello dear!” she said, “How was your day?”
“Well, up and down,” he said. “Harry and I had a good breakfast, and then I started off on the first hole with a birdie, and then two pars. I got another birdie on five and finished the front nine one under par! It was the best nine holes of my life! But then, on the 11th hole, Harry had a heart attack and died. It was terrible!”
“That's awful!” His wife said, “You must be exhausted!”
“I sure am!” he said. “The entire rest of the day, it was hit the ball, drag Harry, hit the ball, drag Harry!”
When things are going well, it's easier to keep on keeping on.
So the first thing I wanted to do in the development of Old Man Golf was to get the ball from the tee box to the fairway with a good chance of hitting my second shot on, or at least towards the green.
So what are the skills and strategies I can use to insure I hit more fairways?
First, I need to accurately, and honestly, access my ability to hit my driver. So I checked in at my local driving range and slapped a bucket of balls all over the range. What have I learned? Nothing. Well, maybe I learned that hitting a bucket of balls without purpose is pointless. Upon reflection, I realize that I don't really aim. It's pretty hard to aim at something 200 yards away, so I put the ball on a tee, stood behind the ball and lined up to my target. Then I took another tee and put it a couple of feet in front of my ball, in line with my target. Then I aimed at the tee in line with my original target. On the golf course you can pick out a leaf or a blemish in the grass.
Standing fifteen feet behind the ball and looking down the line, I visualize the ball rising into the air and landing on the target. When I move to address the ball, I line up on my tee and glance to my target. Wow. It looks really different. No wonder everything goes right. So I back up and try again. Check the line, address the club face to my short target, and look up to the long one. Trust the short target.
There's Value in Intention.
I have been approaching the ball on the tee hoping I will hit it in the fairway. When I address the ball with the intention of landing the ball in a certain area, things feel differently. On the range with a intention of a target, even though I'm still all over the place, I at least can see that most of the time, I seem to be slicing the ball to the right of the target. If you're slicing the ball, the club face is open at the instant you strike the ball. Let's take a look at the science involved.
This is a golf ball.
There are between 300 and 500 of these dimples on each one. The USGA doesn't limit the number of dimples, but the most common number is 336. These dimples aid the flight of the ball. When the ball is struck squarely, it leaves the club face spinning backwards. That backward spin helps the ball rise into the air and go further. As the ball cuts through the air, the air flows all around the ball. Without dimples, the air flow would come around the ball and leave a wide wake that would create drag and slow the ball down.
When you watch NASCAR, the cars are right up each others tail. They call it “drafting.” What's happening is the lead car is actually pulling the car behind it in it's wake.
The dimples of the golf ball interrupt the air flow and close the draft wake much faster. Why? Science. But that's what's happening, so if you can strike that ball perfectly it's going to go further.
And those lovely dimples on the ball that make it fly further down the fairway when you do everything exactly perfectly will pull that ball 40 yards into the woods when you make the least little error.
Back on the range
I start to realize that when I slice my driver, it is much more pronounced that when I hit my five iron, and even less when I hit a wedge. Why? Science. The further the ball flies, the more likely it is to veer off course. So now I need to balance accuracy with potential distance. What club can I use to hit the ball as far as possible and still land in the fairway? I started with my seven iron. I'm not a very long hitter, but after a couple of dozen balls I find that I can fairly consistently hit the seven 140 yards and land each ball within 30 yards or so. Most fairways are going to be at least that wide, so there is a good start. So then I began working my way up the bag. My six and my five irons added a little distance, but also added a little width to the spread. But my four iron! My four iron shots went about 170 yards, and actually narrowed the width of the spread. I would say that the four iron shots were within 20 yards of one another. Maybe it was the practice I got working my way up, or maybe it's just that club feels best in my hands, but whatever the cause, I have developed a lot of confidence it that club. When I moved to the three iron, I was not striking the ball well at all, but by then I had hit 150 balls or so and fatigue had gotten the best of me.
My next range trip I left the driver in the bag and started with my eight iron, working up to my four iron. My distance and consistency was holding up to my previous experience.
Science First - Now the Math
So now that we have explored the science, it's time we turn to the math. My goal is to play bogey golf. That means I get one extra stroke on each and every hole. That “par” business is set for those few golfers who can maintain a zero handicap, and play “scratch” golf. That ain't me. If I have a club that I can confidently hit 160 to 170 yards, why would I ever hit my driver at all? Even the par fives, lets say 500 yards, if I hit two shots at 170 yards each, I only have 160 yards left to the green. And theoretically, I have two more shots to get there if I can two putt. And the biggest payoff is that even though I'm not swinging the big boy driver at the tee box, I'm putting the ball in the fairway and not looking for it in the woods and using shots to get back in play.
Moving on Up!
And as long as I have my ego in check, I noticed another little thing. I had always thought the color of the tee boxes were defined by either age or sex. The blues were for the big boys, whites for normal folks, gold or green for the old farts and red for the ladies. But when I went to play for the first time to apply some of my new techniques, I notice that right on the score card it separates the tee boxes by handicaps! This moves me forward a tee box, and makes my 500 yard par five a 430 yard par six! Math tells me that two good four irons would leave me an eight iron away, with three more shots to get it in the hole.
At this time I must admit that the practice on the range has improved my game all around, and my drives are beginning to be more consistent. And for the first time ever, I am considering investing in a few things that I think will really help. I don't have any hybrids, so I am looking at picking up a used 3 hybrid (18 degree loft) and giving that a try. I am also seriously considering getting a range finder. I have downloaded a free app on an old iPhone 5s and I'm going to give it a try next time I'm playing a round. I have learned that knowing the distance to not only the green but to the traps and other obstacles would be really helpful. But that sounds like another article, so stay tuned.
Old Man Golf - Strategy #1
But to recap – to find the fairway I start by making sure I am aiming at something with intention. Then I go to the range and identify my longest, straightest club. And lastly I swallow my pride and take advantage of the rules of the course to increase my chances of lowering my score. And when things are going better, I'll be more likely to keep on playing and dragging Harry when necessary.
See you on the fairway!