Last year, my USGA index skyrocketed to embarrassing heights and I scrambled for excuses in this year end post of 2012. And then I played the same type of schedule in 2013 and dropped down to my pre-season goal of a handicap in the 8’s, finishing at an 8.8. So I guess all my logic from last year didn’t hold water. Out of about 35 rounds, at least 20 were on courses new to me and I shaved 4 strokes off anyway. Only five rounds crept into the 90’s, and two of those were in February when I only had one working wrist. But only two rounds snuck into the 70’s, one of which won me $200. So now I’ve settled into a low 80’s threat in the midst of what are supposedly my prime physical years (though at the moment I look more like the “before” pic). So then what changed?
Well it’s not like I started playing any easier courses. It’s not like Colorado, Missouri and Washington are any easier than New York, Nevada and Georgia. 2013 included a round from the tips at Troon Monument, a couple in driving rain and then several summer days out in the 110-degree heat. I know what changed though, and it hit me around the 6th hole at South Shore Country Club during my 4th of July trip to Boston. Just hit more greens. Simple as that. As sketchy as my putting is, I won’t 3-putt everything. Well, theoretically. Off the green all sorts of crappy outcomes await. Chunked chips, skulled bunker shots, whiffed flop shots, tree branches, sprinkler heads, gopher holes, puddles, dog poop, etc. But there’s a reason they call the green the “dance floor”. It’s a perfectly manicured stage with nothing but the natural contours of the earth to keep you from the hole.
Hitting more greens got a lot easier when I realized it’s safer to just aim for the middle of them. Instead of pin-seeking and bringing all the aforementioned hazards into play, aiming for the bullseye gives the greatest margin for error. Miss left or right, long or short by even 10 yards and you’re still putting. Just take a look at the stats. In the eight rounds recorded on this blog during the year up until that round in Massachusetts, I hit 30 out of 144 greens, or 21%. In the nine rounds I wrote about since then, I went 56/162, or 35%. And that’s not even including the round at Ocotillo where I hit 14/18 greens, but didn’t write about it so I don’t know if I can use it as evidence. Adding 14% to my GIR percentage equates to about 2 extra GIR per round. That’s two extra birdie putts, how can that not help lower scores? It just took 27 years for this bit of common sense to click finally.
The other thing that I know factored into deflating my handicap was just good old-fashioned competition. My friend Steve and I bet a case of beer at the start of the year to see who could get to 50 birdies first in 2013. Well, no one even sniffed it, but I won with about 38. Now instead of a one-under-par coming as a pleasant surprise, I actively had it as a goal in the back of my head during every round. When Steve raced ahead early in the spring, it only made it that much easier to bear down and focus. You play differently when you want birdies, I discovered. You play the entire hole from green to tee, finding the most efficient route to the pin. You rethink the riskier shots, like going for a tough par-5 in two and instead opting for a safe layup. You definitely do not leave birdie putts short. And the most important thing is that this was a bet that made every round enjoyable from hole 1 through 18. Even on my worst rounds of the year, I kept my head up and had fun because a birdie at 18 to shoot 94 counts just the same as one on the first hole en route to a 79.
Year 3 of the 10 I’ve given myself to play 18 in every state is now closed. By most measures it had to be the most successful of the quest so far. I met my goal of getting a handicap into the 8’s. I even crept ahead of the pace by playing in 6 new states this year, and 9 overall. I saw lots of old friends while traveling to golf courses in four time zones and actually made some new ones.
My job sure made things much easier when I was given a new role traveling to all of our offices over the next couple years. Luckily, we have offices in many states that are new to me, and in desirable areas. That’s how I got rounds in Missouri, Colorado and Oregon. And my ever-growing Southwest miles stockpile proved useful on weekend trips to Washington, Virginia and Massachusetts. I also got another round in Las Vegas, a couple in California and of course many here in Arizona.
And looking back at my predictions, I did end up at 3 of the 5 states I thought I would. The Championship Experience package through the Hotel Murano in Tacoma, Washington is so good a deal you’d swear there’d have to be some kind of catch like spending the 2 nights in a haunted room or something. For less than the price of a round at Pebble Beach, you get three rounds at unbelievable scenic courses, including 2015 US Open host course Chambers Bay.
After a successful first Hacktus Open in Las Vegas in 2012, I managed to get most everyone back and up to Breckenridge, Colorado for the 2013 event. I couldn’t get the defending champ back, however, and now the trophy is an ugly gecko that I think I won only because no one else wanted it. But that week up in the Colorado ski towns of Vail and Breckenridge, as well as lower in the mile-high city of Denver only cemented my desire to move to the Centennial State.
The Northeast and mid-Atlantic are quickly becoming my favorite regions to travel to. A few days in Boston was nowhere near enough time to take in all of the history that’s taken place in that old town. The Freedom Trail is awesome to experience and is such a great way to get a bird’s eye view of what the time of the Revolution was like. And a weekend in southern Virginia was even less time to cram in twice the history. From Williamsburg to Yorktown to Richmond, this state has got to be the richest in the country in terms of memories. There’s the first colony in Jamestown, the heart of the Virginia Dynasty in Williamsburg and Richmond that saw Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe all serve two-terms each in the White House, and the Confederate capital of Richmond along with numerous Civil War battlefields such as Petersburg. Ever since I set out to read a biography of every president, the little details of history are even more exciting to see in person now. I’m only on no. 6, John Quincy Adams, but the lives of these men were all incredible. Every trip back east means a chance to see more of America’s early past and I relish every opportunity. The golf’s pretty good, too.
A quick side trip to Kansas City was the only trip I really dreaded, given my limited previous experience in the town was a stomach-turning trip to an A&W restaurant and a Royals game in 105-degree temperatures. Fastforward seven years and the place is amazing in the fall. The colors in the numerous parks and on the trees lining the golf course rival anything in New England. And the World War I Museum set a new standard as far as I’m concerned. They should only sell three-day passes, because only then would you be able to capture the breadth of their collection and presentation.
The year’s over. I’ll take a shot at previewing 2014 later, but for now I’ll let the images of 2013 linger just a little longer. I’m lucky to be able to travel and see all these different parts of America and I can’t wait to pack up the Club Glove again next year.