Saturday, January 28, 2017

Positives from Torrey Pines

I don’t get to play this weekend at Torrey Pines. I did my best and feel really good about much of what I did this week in San Diego, but at the end of 36 holes, I had made a few too many mistakes and hadn’t putted well enough to get to be a part of the final two rounds.

On Thursday, I felt really good as I set out to tackle the famed beast that is the South Course. I knew the course would be extra demanding with soggy fairways and dense, wet rough, but I felt ready for it. Beginning on number 10, I hit great shots on my first two holes and started with two solid pars. On the long par-four 12th, I narrowly missed the fairway in the left rough and gouged my second shot out into the fairway some 60 yards short of the green. From there I was simply too aggressive with my wedge shot to a back pin. I flew it past the hole because I knew it would spin back on the soft greens, but it took one small hop and got all the way into the rough over the back of the green. I did my best from there to chip to 15 feet and two-putted for a double-bogey. I hadn’t really hit any terrible shots, but my mistake with the wedge was punished. I stumbled through the next two holes with a sloppy bogey on the par-five 13th and a three-putt bogey on 14, so I stood at four over par through five holes. I was rattled and disappointed, but still determined and confident. I missed only two greens the rest of the day—a strong accomplishment around that course—and played the next 13 hole in two under par to post a reasonable first-round score of 74 (+2). I was very pleased with my attitude and my performance after the tough start.
On Friday I moved to the North Course, which, despite a recent renovation to add length and change the green complexes, plays a bit easier than its neighbor. The winds picked up on Friday, however, so there was still plenty of challenge. I again put myself behind the eight-ball early. After two good swings and an opening par, I hit horrific pull-hooks off the next two par fours. Both found hazards and led to a double-bogey and a bogey, respectively, so I found myself three over par through four holes and in trouble for the second day in a row. I hit another lousy tee shot which led to a bogey on the sixth hole, but over my final twelve holes, I played beautiful golf from tee to green. I actually gave myself opportunities to get back in the tournament, but I couldn’t convert my birdie chances on the greens. I ended up fighting back for a one-over-par round of 73 on Friday, but my +3 total left me three shots out of a weekend tee time.

Despite the disappointing end result, I will take so much encouragement from this week. My iron play was very solid and at times exceptional this week. On the South Course on the Thursday, I hit a three hybrid 224 yards to seven feet on the par-three 16th and then hit a five iron 190 yards to three feet on the par-three 8th. On the back nine of the North Course on Friday, I nearly hit the hole on both par threes with a five iron and six iron. The five iron was from 204 yards downwind, and from the tee it looked for sure like it was going to go in. Another stat that speaks to how well I was hitting my approach shots is that despite both courses playing very long, I missed only one green in two days after driving it in the fairway. I am extremely encouraged by much of what I saw at Torrey Pines.
What do I need to do better? I need to eliminate big mistakes and putt more consistently. I missed ten fairways in two days, and that’s really not horrible around those two courses, but three times I missed the fairway wildly into situations where I either had to take a penalty shot or couldn’t reasonably advance my ball to the green. I need to clean up those misses. I also need to putt more like myself more often. Putting is a challenge on the soft poa annua greens of the South Course, but I was sloppy with my pace a few times and missed a couple of short putts that I expect to make. I also three-putted from 15 feet once on the North Course and failed to convert a number of make-able birdie putts as I tried to climb back into the tournament. I know I can clean up these two areas.

I hate to be traveling on a Saturday, but I am excited about our destination. We are heading HOME. The year is young and I am still incredibly excited about playing and competing, but three weeks on the road is enough to make me crave a few nights at home. I’m going to take next week off, and I’ll work on my game, continue to work on my fitness, rest up, and get ready to go on another three-week stretch.

I really do feel great about my game and the direction everything is heading. It's going to be a great year! Thank you for following and caring about me. Please keep it here to enjoy the ride with me.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Feeling Strangely Prepared at Torrey

It has been a weird week in San Diego. It's been cold, rainy, and windy. I played a pro-am on the South Course at the Torrey Pines--the tournament's host venue--on Monday, but by the seventh hole of the day I had lost feeling in my hands, so I can't say that I got a lot out of that. I put in some nice practice on Tuesday and played nine holes on the North Course, which I will play on Friday in the tournament's second round, but again, I was just cold and a bit out of sorts most of that day as well. On Wednesday I felt a bit more normal, but I was an alternate for the pro-am and didn't get in, so rather than playing any holes, I just had a couple of nice practice sessions. So to be honest, I have hit very few good shots on a golf course this week. That's a little disconcerting, but I feel strangely at peace.

Though I haven't really gotten my game to click yet this week, I'm happy with the way I've been going about my practice. My swing drills have felt good, and I've also put in some quality time working on my putting. My short game has been sharp lately, too. Both courses at Torrey Pines require really solid ball-striking, but even more than that, they require determination and the ability to grind out tough pars. I think that's why I'm at peace. I feel ready to display both of those characteristics.

Though the mornings will be chilly, the forecast promises beautiful weather for the tournament. The golf courses are long and soft with thick rough, so there will be a nice juxtaposition between the views around me and the golf experience in front of me. The views will be peaceful, serene, beautiful, and soothing. The golf will be an intense challenge that requires focus and grit. I find beauty in that, too, though!

It's weird to say given that I've not hit many good shots in the last three days, but I'm very excited to take on Torrey Pines this week. I'm going to be patient and tough. I'm going to be focused. Most importantly, I'm going to have fun. I get started at 9:20 PST on the tenth tee of the South Course. Keep it here for an update from the tournament. Thank you for following me!

Monday, January 23, 2017

A Week of Positive Things in the Desert

I'll start with the bad news. I made some horrible swings and lost my way a bit at times during the final round, and I ended up finishing 77th--last among those who made the cut. My golf felt yucky at times on Sunday, and I was really disappointed because I felt great heading into the final day. At the end of the week though, I'm remembering the things that made me feel great more than the disappointing elements. It was definitely a positive week overall.

After traveling from Hawaii to La Quinta, California, on Monday, I put in two light but thorough days of preparation on Tuesday and Wednesday. I was feeling good about my game heading into the tournament, and I was ready to face some rare challenges in the desert. Cold, rain, and wind all threatened each day of the event, and though we ended up missing most of the tough weather, it still made for an interesting challenge having to consider the elements at a tournament that quite often feels like playing in a perfect bubble.

I was ready for the challenge when I went out to the course on Thursday. I began the three-course tournament at La Quinta Country Club. It was uncomfortably cold when I started and there were periods of light rain, but, like I said, I was ready for it. I came out hitting the ball really nicely. I had great looks at birdie on each of my first four holes but didn't get any putts to fall. I played along steadily with pars on each of my first eight holes. I made a mistake off the tee on my ninth hole and then messed up around and on the green on my twelfth to make two bogies. Through 13 holes, I was birdie-less and two over par at an event where scores typically are quite low. I didn't panic, and I still felt ready to play well. I birdied three of my last five holes on day one to post a one-under-par 71. It was a good finish.

The day two forecast was even more ominous, but again, I felt prepared for the challenge. The Tour moved tee times up an hour in hopes of beating the worst of the weather, so I began my second round early in the morning on the Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West. I had to rely on my short game a little bit on Friday, but I was solid around the greens. Despite not being particularly sharp with a lot of my shots, I was bogey-free and four under par through 14 holes. I hit a very poor wedge into the par-five 15th and dropped a shot there, but finished the day with two more great up and downs for pars on the last two holes to post a three-under-par 69.

On Saturday, I moved to the tournament's host course, the Stadium Course at PGA West. The Stadium Course is a Pete Dye design, and though the landing areas are actually pretty generous, the course is quite visually intimidating and is very punishing of big misses. I played very solidly from tee to green on Saturday. In fact, my only two bogies were both the result of a three-putt. I was a little off on the greens on Saturday, but as winds picked up quite a bit on my second nine, I made nine consecutive pars to post a one-under-par 71 and make the cut on the number at -5 for the week.

Then Sunday happened. I hit some crappy shots and putted really poorly and ended up with a 77 to finish the week at even par. But, mixed in there on that disappointing day were some really great shots. I nearly holed a wedge on the 12th hole. I hit a five iron to four feet on the intimidating 13th hole. On the par-five 5th hole, I hit a three wood to about 15 feet into the small, well-protected green. In addition to these shots, I drove it beautifully all day. The end result was really disappointing, but there we plenty of encouraging things even on Sunday.

Statistically, we have the Tour's "stroked gained" metrics from rounds played on the tournament's host course, only, so I have data from my third and final rounds. My driving was incredibly positive, whereas my putting was horribly negative. In between, the numbers show that my iron play and short game were both slightly negative, but in both cases, these numbers are skewed by a few horrific shots that were actually outliers for the week. I feel like my wedge play was a bit off and my putting was miles off last week, but otherwise, I was very pleased with how I played. I'm excited to keep building on the good stuff.

I'm now in La Jolla, California (just north of San Diego), for the Farmer's Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. I'm excited to return to Torrey after skipping this event last season. This event uses both the North and South courses at Torrey Pines on Thursday and Friday before moving to the famed South Course for both rounds on the weekend. These are big, long, demanding golf courses, and I am going to be ready for them!

Thank you so much for following and caring about me! Keep it here for an update from Torrey Pines.

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Great Week in Hawaii

In a variety of ways, the last week has been the perfect start to the 2017 portion of the PGA Tour season. Alicia and I were able to soak up seven-and-a-half days of perfect Hawaii weather, and we had a blast doing it. Additionally, I was able to shake a few layers of competitive rust from my game and delivered a very encouraging performance on the course. It’s always a bit sad to leave Hawaii, but as we fly back to the mainland today, we are feeling extremely happy about the week we’ve just had.

Off of the golf course, Alicia and I really took advantage of the chance to do “Hawaii things.” We swam with the happy fishies, worked on our paddle-boarding skills (though we spent a lot of time sitting on our butts because of the shallow water and sharp coral beneath), hiked to the top of a volcanic crater, did some wave “surfing” in an ocean kayak, enjoyed reading and breakfasts on the beach, and ate enough pineapple to make our mouths hurt. It was a really fun week!

On the course, I am really pleased with a lot of what happened. I was brilliant at times in all areas of the game. I didn’t have the consistency that I will look to develop as I get into a rhythm, but I showed a lot of promise.

I opened the tournament with a score of 69 (-1) on Thursday. I was a little wayward off the tee that day, but I battled hard and still had a chance to post a good round. Unfortunately, my tee shot on the last hole of the day ended up going out of bounds. It was a poor drive that I pulled left of the fairway, but it was a little unfortunate that it went out of bounds. It actually bounced over a harmless fairway bunker as it made its way off the course. I was a little rattled by that finish, but still, I had done a lot of things really well on day one.

In round two on Friday morning, my erratic driving continued a little bit. I wasn’t wildly off, but on Waialae Country Club’s firm and narrow fairways, I was far enough off to be constantly playing from out of position. Fortunately, I had a great attitude and a hot putter in round two. Despite not driving the ball well, my confidence was never really rattled. I kept believing I was going to hit the next one well, and I did hit some good drives over the course of the round. More importantly, I felt great on the greens. I rolled in four birdie putts from outside of 20 feet including a 60+ foot putt on the 16th hole. I posted a second-round 66 (-4).

I liked the way I played on Saturday in the third round, but on a day when seemingly everyone went pretty low, I could muster only a one-under-par round of 69. I did several things well on Saturday, but still missed a lot of fairways, and, for the first time all week, missed a couple of short-range putts that I expect to make. Still, I finished the round feeling good about my game.

On Sunday, I had flashes of brilliance. I hit some perfect iron shots, and that was very fun. On the downwind par-3 17th hole, I hit a 6 iron from 199 yards to less than three feet. Then on the into-the-wind par-4 8th hole, I hit that same six iron from 163 yards and it landed just a couple feet short of the hole before releasing out eight feet past. On the very next hole, my last of the tournament, I hit a four-iron from 195 yards into a slight wind to less than three feet. It was really cool to see such good iron shots. Actually, my last four full swings of the tournament all produced really great shots. It was a good feeling. I didn’t play perfect golf on Sunday, but each time I hit a poor shot, I followed it up with a good recovery shot. My short game felt really sharp by Sunday, and I made of couple of good par-saving putts to keep my scorecard clean. With a birdie-eagle finish, I posted a final-round 65 (-5) and moved up the leaderboard a little bit to finish tied for 27th at 11 under par. It was an exciting way to finish a great week.

Statistically, I don’t love my numbers from the tournament. I hit less than half of the fairways, and my approach shot statistics weren’t great either. I actually feel like I drove the ball much better over the weekend, but I still missed a lot of fairways by a narrow amount. In terms of my iron play, I definitely hit a lot of poor shots this week, but it was a really good sign to see some great ones on Sunday. I feel good about the way I’m swinging, and I’m confident that my consistency will improve and lead to the better stats that I’m aiming to see.

My short game and putting stats were quite good, actually. I hit some rusty short game shots early in the tournament, but overall, I was very pleased with my work on and around the greens. I will look to keep sharpening these two areas, but I am very pleased with the starting point I achieved in Hawaii.

Right now, I am heading to the California desert for the old Bob Hope Classic—now called the CareerBuilder Challenge. This event features a pro-am format and is contested over three courses before the final round is contested at the Stadium Course at PGA West. The pro-am format makes for long rounds during the competition, so I am excited to continue to prepare intelligently. I will put in some work on my golf game and in the gym, but I will also prioritize being fresh and clear for the tournament rounds.

It was an amazing week in Hawaii. We had a lot of fun and did a lot of great work. I’m excited to build on that and keep improving.

Thank you for following me and for your great support. Keep it here for updates from the desert.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Feeling Ready in Hawaii

We've packed so much fun into our first three days in Hawaii. It is so great to be here!

In addition to preparing for the event, Alicia and I have also:

-Been to Pearl Harbor with our friend Billy Hurley to see the Naval Destroyer on which he served for three years.
-Hiked to the top of Diamond Head Crater in the dark to observe the Sunrise from 800+ feet above the Hawaii coast.
-Sat on the beach to read our books just 150 feet from the little cottage where we're staying.
-Practiced our balance on stand-up paddle boards in the Pacific Ocean. (One of us did a handstand on a paddle-board in the water. I'll let you guess who.)
-Watched dolphins swim and play.

Doing these things has me feeling so great. I have put in great work at the course, too. My game is feeling ready. I tee it up at 12:10 Hawaii time for the opening round, and I'm excited to go play. I know that I am prepared to play well, so I'm going to go play with confidence and deliver my best on every shot. It's going to be a great week.

I'll give you an update as the tournament progresses and I'll try to post some pictures from our adventures. Thank you for following and for your great support!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Great Offseason; Ready for a Great 2017

Hmmm… So much for that commitment to keep my blog updated over the offseason. I’m currently on a plane to Hawaii to start the 2017 tournament season, so I can officially say that it is no longer offseason. I have some catching up to do.

Fortunately, the catching up that I am talking about is on my blog and not in my golf game. I had a really productive break that featured a nice blend of soaking up time with family, working on my game in traditional ways, and adding a couple of new and exciting things to my preparation. It all has me feeling re-charged, energized, and optimistic for what 2017 and the future will hold.

I’ll start with the new and exciting things. I started working with a physical trainer in early December. I have always tried to prioritize health and fitness as a big part of preparing to be my best, but despite feeling like I was in great shape, certain movement patterns in the golf swing have been difficult or impossible for me. I went and had a great two-day meeting with a golf fitness expert, and he has helped craft a workout program for me that will accentuate my strengths and help to address some of the limitations that have been challenging me. I won’t go into any biomechanical detail here, but I have definitely learned a lot and am really having fun doing workouts that are specifically aimed to help me perform better on the golf course. One of the most enlightening things is that fitness is not always about training harder, faster, and heavier. Rest, recovery, and mental clarity are important components to be physically at my best, too, and I am learning to be intentional about achieving them. In just one month, I can already tell that having this trainer helping to guide my physical preparation is going to make a big positive difference for me.

The work that I am doing with the trainer greatly complements the work that I Mitchell and I are doing in my golf swing. Improving my mobility in certain areas and stability in others through the training is going to help expedite the improvements that I will make. I spent some great time with Mitchell over the break, and we are continuing to improve together. I’m becoming a much more consistent swinger of the golf club, and I’m excited to keep getting better.

I also made a trip to Southern California over the break to visit the Titleist equipment test site. I spent a great day on the driving range getting my equipment all dialed in and spent an incredibly valuable few hours with Scotty Cameron’s great putter fitter at their studio. I didn’t make any big changes anywhere in my bag, but there are a few little tweaks here and there that I think will make a very positive difference. I also learned a lot about myself and my tendencies, particularly with the putter. For example, if I’m not intentional about engaging my core muscles during my setup, my body will move slightly to seek balance just as I start my stroke. When I do engage my core, my body stays incredibly still and allows for maximum consistency. Similarly, on the range, I learned that if I don’t trust that a club is going to go high enough, that’s when I make some of my poorest swings. We tweaked just a couple of my clubs to ensure that I never have to wonder if they will go high enough. When I trust that the club will get the ball in the air, I make a committed swing. I didn’t actually change very much about my equipment, but the things I learned at Titleist are valuable lessons for me.

I also did some traditional work on my game. I put in my first two “full” days of work just this past Thursday and Friday on a quick preparatory trip to Florida, but I was mindful of having little bits of practice most days during my offseason. It will take me a little time in good weather to sharpen all the finer points of my game like my feel on and around the greens and my distance control, but I feel like I did a great job of improving mechanically over the break. I’m confident that I’ll be able to dial in the feel components quickly. I was able to have some friendly matches this past week, and though I showed some signs of rust, I did most things really well and felt great on the course. I am really excited to get on site at a tournament and to prepare and compete!

Off of the golf course, it has been an amazing offseason. Alicia and I enjoyed the holidays very much with our families and really relished spending a prolonged period at home. We made some cool improvements at our house, too. I had been using our small third bedroom as an open-space gym and golf room, but it was quite small for that. In December, we embraced our attic, and in doing so added two new rooms to our house. We moved all of the stuff that had accumulated in our garage into the attic, turned our two-car garage into a great gym, and turned our third bedroom into a wonderful office. We love it! But most of all, we enjoyed just getting to relax and spend time with family, friends, and each other.

We are both feeling really great and are preparing to do big things in 2017. Alicia is working to make the world better through her job at the Center for Sport, Peace, and Society. She also has embarked on a lofty campaign that she has coined #BetterEveryDay in which she will do 100 push-ups every day in 2017 as a way to show that a commitment to being better can be as simple as making a choice and sticking to it. Follow her campaign on Twitter and Facebook. By the way, my commitment to be #BetterEveryDay is to trade in 15 minutes of mindless media consumption for at least 15 minutes of reading a book or something academic each day. It may seem small, but we are committed to being #BetterEveryDay. Join us!

2017 is going to be a great year! I’m excited to get the golf started this week at the Sony Open in Hawaii. I guess my claims to keep you updated here on my blog aren’t very trustworthy, but I’m going to try to do better. I really appreciate you caring about me and keeping up with me. I will return the favor by giving you good updates from the tournaments. Great things are coming. Keep it here to enjoy the journey with me.

Thank you!

Close Calls and More Progress

I'm playing good golf, and it's really fun! I haven't been able to put enough consistently good play together yet to have a good...