Monday, June 20, 2011

On the Reservation

It is starting to get hot in Phoenix. I had to cajole Chad Feldheimer into playing golf this weekend. He wanted to tee off at 5:30 in the morning, but I eventually talked him into playing late in the afternoon. We were joined by the Gardener for a 3:30 Saturday afternoon tee time at Talking Stick Golf Club - North Course. Talking Stick Golf Club is owned by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and operated by Troon Golf. It is part of the Talking Stick Resort and Casino complex in Scottsdale on the Indian reservation.

The North Course is 7,133 yards from the black tees and plays to a par 70, which means there are only two par-5 holes, instead of the normal four par-5 holes. The course rating is 72.7, which is high in relation to par, but the slope rating is only 125, which is low given the length of the course. There are six par-4 holes over 445 yards and the par-5 holes are 552 and 582 yards. The fairways are wide open and there are not a lot of greenside bunkers, which partially explains the low slope rating. The course was in relatively good shape and the greens were very fast, although bumpy because it was so late in the day. Some of the greens were burnt out because there was a water main break and the greens were not watered for a couple of days in early June.

I started off with three pars and shot a 39 on the front 9 with one birdie on No. 8, 4 pars, 3 bogeys and one double-bogey when I lost my ball in the desert. I parred the first hole on the back 9. No. 11 was a 261-yard par 3! I hit my driver right of the green past pin high and the ball trickled into the desert for an unplayable lie. If the shot had been 3 yards shorter it would have ended up in the collection area and I may have been able to chip on the green and make par. Instead I made a double-bogey. I started to leak a little oil at that point and was not driving the ball well, but I was hitting my irons straight and long to save par or bogey. On the 194-yard par-3 16th hole I knocked the tee shot to about 2' and had a gimme birdie. The final two holes are the 582-yard par 5 and a 471-yard par 4. I bogeyed 17 and needed a par on No. 18 to shoot 79. I hit a good drive and a pudgy 3-hybrid and made a good bogey to shoot an even 80. It is really hard to complain about an 80 so I won't.

The Gardener has been kicking my butt the last few rounds. He had an off day and shot bogey golf, but it should not hurt his handicap index because you only count your best 10 scores from your last 20 scores. Chad Feldheimer was hot and cold and shot his normal 78. I think he was a little worried that I might beat him the way I was playing. Chad hit a couple of shots that embarrassed him, including rolling a 3-wood about 80 yards, chunking a wedge and pulling a 9-iron about 20 yards off-line, but he also made some great par saves along the way (and a few of those 8' rakes on the green).

Next week I am going on vacation to Montauk on Long Island with SO and all of my family that lives back in New York. We rented a house on the Montauk Downs public golf course that looks great so I am looking forward to playing some golf on vacation. St. Andrews is only a month away and my game is rounding into shape.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Stately Raven of the Saintly Days of Yore

After playing well on Saturday, I was excited about playing Sunday with the Gardener. We had a late afternoon tee time at the Raven Golf Club at South Mountain. The rate was $30 per person! The Raven was well-known in Phoenix for its desert flowers and landscaping and its unbelievable customer service, but it fell on some hard times during the recession and is now under new management. OB Sports took over management of the course a week ago. Although the fairways were very green and the putting surfaces were in good shape, the course suffered some frost damage this winter and was showing some signs of neglect and lack of funds. The course does not have any ball washers because it had ball washers on the golf carts. The temporary golf carts were very spartan and did not include GPS, ball washers or club washers. We did have a cooler with ice that I used to clean my golf balls and clubs. Hopefully, OB Sports will be able to bring the course back to the standards set previously.

The Gardener has been playing really good golf recently. His handicap index is down to 9.6! He is consistently shooting in the low 80s. He hits these soaring drives that seem to fly forever (and he is generally pretty accurate off the tees). We played from the tournament tees, which are 7,078 yards with a course rating of 72.8 and a slope rating of 130. On the front 9, we were both hitting our drivers really well. I was matching him drive for drive, although his tee shots were more majestic and my tee shots were low draws with a lot of run. However, the comparison ended after the drives. The Gardener was hitting laser approach shots and I was either missing the green or hitting it so far from the flagstick that I need a five iron instead of a putter to get the ball to the hole. I three-putted at least 3 holes on the front 9 and ended up with a 47! The Gardener shot a pretty steady 41. I thought I played better than a 47, but the scorecard does not lie.

Then lightning struck! On the back 9 I continued to drive the ball straight and long. While I will admit that the summer fairways in Arizona can be pretty hard, I was hitting my drives about 260-270 yards and had 2 or 3 300-yard drives! I was still not as accurate as I would have liked with my irons, but I was stroking my putts well and leaving myself with tap-in par putts. On the 179-yard par 3 14th hole into the wind, I hit a 4-hybrid with a baby draw that landed and stopped about 5 feet from the cup and I made the putt for birdie.

Nos. 16, 17 and 18 are a 453-yard par 4, followed by a 593-yard par 5 and a 428-yard par 4 finishing hole. I parred 16 and 17 and I was even par on the back 9 going into the 18th hole. I pushed my drive a little right on No. 18 and I was about 190 yards from the hole and partially blocked by some trees with water to the right of the green. I thought about trying to fade in my 3-hybrid and then decided (in a moment of golf maturity) just to hit the ball straight and left of the green taking the water out of play and hoping that I could chip up and make the putt for my par. I chipped to about 6 feet but choked on the putt and left it short for a bogey and a one-over 37 on the back 9 for your normal 47-37 score of 84. My playing partner continued his steady play and shot a 41 on the back 9 for an 82.

Leaving the course, I was thrilled and the Gardener pointed out that it was a good thing that I shot the 37 on the back 9. That was a really interesting point. If I shot the 37 on the front and followed that with the 47 I would have been kicking myself all of the way home. This way I saved my round and ended with a great back 9 that has me all excited and wanting to get back on the course as soon as I can.

Back on Course

As you can imagine, when I do not blog it is because I am not playing well. On May 15, my handicap index was an even 10 and I was dreaming about a single digit handicap index. My next three rounds were 93, 92 and 91 and my handicap index jumped to 10.6. Although my scores were not very good, I was hitting the ball much longer, but I was hooking the ball pretty badly. I think that my club face was open previously but I had learned to compensate and hit the ball straight, although the open club face caused me to lose distance. I have now "squared" the club face so I am hitting it longer, but I have to re-learn how to hit it straight with a square club face.

On Saturday, I played with Digger at Moon Valley Country Club. I have to come up with a new nickname for Digger because he is no longer taking pro-size divots and pissing off the course superintendent. Digger has also lost about 45 pounds, is exercising religiously and is looking very svelte. I am thinking that "Grinder" is a good nickname, not because of his golf game, but because of his day job. Grinder is one of those clients that can wear down the other side in a negotiation through sheer will power and stamina; when Grinder digs in on an issue, there is no changing his mind and ultimately the other side just folds.

Grinder and I both played really well, hitting fairways and greens. We walked the front 9, but Grinder developed a blister on his foot and we took the cart for the back 9 (good call because it was getting hot!). Grinder broke 90 for the first time in a long time (or maybe forever) and I shot an 83 with a consistent 41 on the front 9 and 42 on the back 9. Although the Moon Valley course is not in great shape, the greens were really fast and true. I was rolling my putts really well. I did not leave as many putts short of the hole and actually was rolling the ball a foot or two past the hole when I did not make the putt. I moved the ball back to the middle of my putting stance so that I am accelerating through the ball and hitting it more crisply. Before, I was playing the ball off of my front instep and by the time my putter got to the ball I was either decelerating or just plain "yipping". I still need to be careful to make sure that the putter head is aligned properly, but I see the square face better when the ball is aligned in the middle of my putting stance.

Every round is an adventure on the golf course and I am never sure which player will show up at the first tee on any given day, but at least today some of the adjustments I have been making were working. But tomorrow is another day.