I promised some anecdotal golf advice in this blog in addition to professional and amateur analysis. Since we are in the midst of the “Silly Season”— as of this writing, the biggest golf event on TV is the Shark Shootout — it seems like a perfect time to recall a story from my competitive golfing days.
A little background on me: I played three years of varsity golf for Olentangy Liberty High School in Powell, Ohio, north of Columbus. Our team was a bit like the Atlanta Falcons — sometimes mediocre, sometimes great, sometimes steady, but never quite advancing out of the first round when the playoffs started. I was never the go-to guy on the team, but I was always steady. In my senior season, my score counted in every single tournament, and my scoring average was just north of 79. That was also the season that my handicap went sub-4 for the first time. Competitive high school golf is something I miss on a daily basis, and I relish the chance to play in any tournaments now.
Along with those accomplishments, I was also known for some less-inspiring play on my team. I once shot 63 on 9 holes my freshman year on the JV squad, and followed that up with a 77 on 18 less than two weeks later. I also developed a reputation for shooting 45 on the outward nine and 36 coming in; consistency, as it were, was something that eluded me over the course of a round.
I already gave the anecdote about the time I blew a 1-under through 15 holes start to shoot 77 in the county tournament my senior year. I learned from that experience that winning is, simply, hard. So for this edition of “tales from my high school golf days,” I am going to go to the same Delaware County Cup Tournament, just one year earlier.
My high school was located about a Bubba Watson power fade from a country club that allowed us practicing privileges, as well as limited matches and tournaments. In fact, I worked there for a summer. It was a golf course I mostly enjoyed. What do I like in a golf course? Wide fairways and giant greens (it is clear why I love links golf so much).
During my junior year, it was our team’s turn to host the end-of-the-year tournament between the high schools in our county (Thankfully, this didn’t include Dublin Jerome, which is a high school that is located mostly around a golf course you may have heard of, Muirfield Village. Those kids were hitting golf balls in the womb). Naturally, we hosted the event at our home course by the school, Kinsale Golf and Country Club.
Needless to say, our team felt good about the event considering we played the course so many times. I remember my mom also decided to come out that day to watch.
My day started on the back nine, which wasn’t particularly pleasing to me, because the back nine starts on a tight par-4 (see: earlier where I describe my favorite type of golf course). I made an easy par to open, however, and things were off to a good start. The opening par-4 was followed by another drama-free par on the dogleg-left par-5 second. Things were looking up, or so I thought.
Standing on the 12th tee (my third hole of the day), the tension was noticeable. This was the last tight par-4 for a while, and if I could just get the tee shot in the fairway, I might be on my way to a great round. I made my swing and my tee ball faded a bit more than I would have liked into a small area that was technically someone’s property, and thus, out of bounds.
My blood pressure spiked.
Teeing three, I made no changes and hit the same baby fade into the out of bounds area.
Uh oh. I am reeling now.
Thinking there is no way I would hit three in the same spot, I re-teed and proceeded to hit it so close to the second shot that the balls were probably touching. Three out of bounds.
Embarrassment and anger are kicking in.
The fourth one definitely wasn’t going right. Instead, I overcorrected and knocked it out of bounds to the left.
I finally changed clubs (yes, a caddie probably would have done that for me sooner), and kept the fifth drive in the fairway. At this point my mind was blank and I was basically numb. One of the biggest events of our season, and I was going to put up a score worthy of John Daly or a trip to Hiawatha (if any of my former teammates are reading, they know what I am talking about). Needless to say I told my mom she didn’t need to stick around to see me make anymore numbers that looked more like football scores than golf scores.
When I tapped in for my 9-over-par 13, something funny happened though: My tension melted away. The nice thing about a six-man high school tournament is that only four scores count. At this point, I figured my score wouldn’t count, so what was there to be nervous about? I might as well try to enjoy myself.
What followed was maybe the most easy and consistent 15 holes of golf I have ever played. After the 13, I exhaled all the tension and stress and was able to just play golf with no fear. I made two birdies and two bogies and finished at nine over, an 81. Not only did my score count, but it was one of the better scores on our team that day.
What does this story teach us about the golf swing? Tension, doubt and nerves are all detriments to good golf. The very best are able to channel that tension into a state of calm that allows them to make free and clear swings. How many times have you taken a second attempt at a putt with no fear, only to see it find the bottom of the cup? How many times have you struck it perfectly on the range, only to be hopelessly lost on the course?
The culprit? Nerves, and the tension they create.
Recently, my golf game has turned a corner and I am playing my best golf since that senior year of high school. My only change, an extra waggle to relax the muscles in my arms, shoulders and upper body.
Tension is the great destroyer of golf swings, and I am a testament to that. Before you go trying to overhaul your swing, make an effort to relax yourself on the course. A relaxed golf swing is the basis of a great golf swing.