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Goals

It’s important to set goals in all facets of life. Getting that promotion, losing that freshmen 10 that’s 20 years hanging on, maybe becoming a better spouse to your significant other…all goals aimed at bettering your current condition. Creating this blog was even a goal. Setting goals for your golf game is equally essential in improving your level as a player. Breaking 90 or 80 are real milestones when reached can be deeply satisfying. The beer always taste that much colder when you finally break through and reach a goal. Not to mention, you join a fraternity when doing so.

Throughout the years I’ve set many goals in relation to my game. The goals get progressively more difficult as you climb the ladder in achievement. Breaking 100 legitimately, that was such a great feeling. Then 90 fell only weeks later. 85 was a bear for some reason, but satisfying. 80…a mental bastard, beyond frustrating. So many 80, 81 rounds right on the precipice. On one occasion, par on the 18th would yield a 77, if only I had played the easy par 5 fearless, instead, another 80. The ride home, solemn and morose. No one spoke, my three buddies didn’t really know what to say. It’s like we were on our way to a funeral. Soul crushing. Luckily, I broke through the next time out with a 78 on the same course, the monkey flung headlong off my weary back. The barriers are daunting and mentally taxing till you do it. Breaking par? I can only imagine it’s like standing at the gates chatting it up with St. Peter. You aren’t in, but you aren’t necessarily doomed to hell either. First, I broke par playing 9. A solid 34, nerve wracking as I fought darkness till the bitter end. Literally, I had to guess where the hole was from about 5 feet on the last hole, saving par. My son’s high school golf team there to urge me on. Breaking par for 18, akin to 80, except you have to submit yourself to immolation. A strict denial of what it is you truly desire, just trying to put the ball in the hole. My hands had a slight tremble as I stroked the last putt from 10 feet to card a 70, standing over the ball I realized where I stood. Able to shake the onset of instant paralysis.

As I continue to push myself, I’ve set new goals and my level of frustration has reached a dizzying altitude. Scratch golfer and a player capable of shooting in the 60s, that’s where I’ve set my aim. Seems easy enough right? My handicap had dropped to 2.9, a bad 9 became a 40. 38s and 39s more the norm. I could see it, my game was coming along, strides made in all areas of play. Then it happened, I hit that invisible wall. Is it possible to want it too badly? I’ve been reading books on scoring, most notably, Ray Floyd’s. Convinced the barrier is entirely mental. Failure to maintain a consistent level of concentration, one shot at a time as they say. Too many long inward conversations about what I should be doing scuttling performance. This quest is a maddening journey punctuated by stunningly grotesque pitfalls of failure. Such is life. If anything the self inflicted wounds heal and my resolve is hardened. Knowing you will achieve something is half the battle. Honestly, it’s the most difficult piece to place in the puzzle.

As I make my way around the game, I’ve found the social aspect to be even more important than ever. Not necessarily a shy person, I constantly challenge myself to be more friendly when I’m out on the links. What I’ve found is that there are some truly amazing people out there if you care to engage. Often a simple "hello", or a "nice putt" on the practice green will open the doors to new experiences. When my son is playing junior tournaments, you typically give a "hello" to your child’s playing partners parents who are along for the walk. Some choose to be social, others not down for much more than cursory conversation in this fast paced society we live in. On a recent tournament trip to Florida, I met a very interesting fellow from Ohio. His son was a fine player and was paired with my son for the second round. Judging a book by it’s cover is a personal failing in my estimation, but I can’t deny…looking at the guy I didn’t think he’d be such a wealth of golf knowledge. We shared some great stories about our kids and how they progressed to this point, meandering into conversation about our own games. The walk as they say, was unspoiled, we didn’t have our clubs to ruin it. I asked him his handicap, astounded that he was a +1.9. A true golf rat addicted to the drug, choosing to earn a living working at a local course. The biggest fringe benefit, unlimited free practice and play. We talked about our playing struggles and at one point I just blurted out…”tell me how you got there, past the gate, becoming a true player”. These are the nuggets that fuel a breakthrough if you let them. His advice was simple. He said, “you are already a player being a low single digit guy, now you have to fine tune your skills making scoring automatic. Most people never break 90 if they play by the rules, they don’t have the commitment or the time to get there. You can do that without thinking now. When’s the last time you worried about the 90 barrier? If I had to guess, shooting an 85 is a rare horrible round at this point. To go low, find your yardage.” I didn’t quite understand, “find your yardage?” So I asked, “yardage? What do you mean?” At that, he smiled, “find the yardage you are most comfortable. If it’s 105, practice that shot till it’s unconscious. But don’t just practice 105, practice 95, 105, 115. You won’t always hit it to your spot on your approach or drive, so you need margin for error. Not to mention, if the hole is uphill or downhill the 105 will turn to 115 or 95 respectively. So if a hole is 370, take the club off the tee that leaves your yardage…say you hit your 3 wood 255-265, that’s the club to take off that tee, it will leave your yardage, the area you can get it close from because it’s where you’ve committed practice.” Seems simple, almost obvious. After all, that’s what pros are really doing, trying to get the ball to a yardage they are comfortable with, taking the guess work out whenever possible. The difference, they have more than one yardage to score from, but hey, you’d have more than one too if you had the time to practice.

So now, I’m giving this bit of new knowledge a go. His recipe calls for two practice buckets when going to the range. One basket is for “your yardage”, the other for all the other clubs. I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes. As of now my handicap has crept up a bit, almost a full stroke higher (haven’t implemented this practice plan yet), but I’ve shot some low rounds the last few weeks, so hopefully it will regain it’s southward trajectory. Always looking to improve, so I will continue to solicit advice from players in the future. It’s how we learn and grow, reaching milestones attaining our goals.

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