As if winter in the Northeast would never end, I'd convinced myself weeks ago to quit thinking about anything but the driving range. But suddenly, March arrived in New Jersey, the temperatures spiked, cleared away the mountains of snow, and there was hope my home course would open as scheduled on March 12.
So what happened on March 10? Some of the heaviest rains we'd seen in years. It was a real shock then, that I called the pro shop to see how bad the course was hit by the storm when they told me it was full steam ahead for a regular opening. Caught off guard, and with no time to fixate on the first round of the year, I headed out for a casual, just-have-fun day on the course.
Now that it's arrived, I realize that with a new season comes hope of better golf, as well as fears it will all go wrong. With most of the country out of the deep freeze and spring fever cranking up, I offer up my resolutions for the 2011 golf season.
Fitness, First and Foremost
I've undergone a pretty nice weight loss since the start of the year, and I'm looking to really accelerate my progress by walking the golf course. Through one round, I've walked 18 holes without any problem. At this time last year, 26 pounds heavier, it was a real chore to get around the course, as I'd tire badly by the end of a round, even in a cart. I've got a pair of Ecco Biom shoes, which are apparently designed for comfort and should help as I vow to walk the course whenever it's possible this season. I'm currently looking for a suitable golf bag and possibly a golf cart, but the budget for those will be determined after my upcoming Vegas vacation.
Stay tuned as I periodically chronicle this process throughout the season.
Stretch, Stretch, Stretch
It's sort of tied to the fitness resolution, but having suffered back troubles the past couple of years, I know that not only do I feel better when maintaining a stretching routine, but my golf game is so much better. Having the opportunity to meet a Titleist Performance Institute instructor and play a round with him late last year, I got a clear picture of how the golf swing can only be as good as the position your body lets you get into.
This year I need to stretch on days I play (15-20 minutes before getting to the range), after I finish a round to cut down on soreness the following morning, and most importantly, on a daily basis. Just like weight training for strength, gaining flexibility is an ongoing process. Last year I tried to get into yoga and liked it. A basic stretching routine should help get to the point I can get more out of the yoga.
Quit Monkeying with Equipment
The offseason seems to be prime time for club fiddling. Too much time spent reading about every new piece of gear on the market. Hours spent wandering aimlessly at golf shows and superstores. Buckets upon buckets of balls hit at the range trying to determine which of these five drivers will be best. In 2011, I'd like to set my bag by April and stick with it. When the putts stop falling, it's not time to go from a blade to an Anser, it's time to fix my stroke. When the driver is flying cockeyed, it's time for the range and a lesson, not a trip to the basement to find a cure under a new headcover.
Hit More Fairways
My golf game has always been cut from the "grip it and rip it" cloth. Bomb the driver, go find it. My theory was that I'd be better off with a wedge in hand than a 7-iron. But thanks to a great lesson last year that focused on fixing my alignment and in turn getting my swing in much better shape, I enter 2011 with more confidence than ever before. Suddenly a 7-iron feels like a short iron again, which in turn takes pressure off the tee ball and will allow me to opt for fairway woods and more controlled driver swings than in the past. I've tracked my stats and know that keeping the ball in play off the tee yields more pars and cuts down vastly on double bogeys (and worse).
Play More Tournaments
Last year I joined the working man's country club where I'd worked through college, mainly because I liked the challenging course and enjoyed the unpretentious atmosphere (plus, I'm a newspaper man, I can't afford pretentious places). But the clincher was the chance to play in the club tournaments, everything from the Saturday morning two-ball to the club championship. Unfortunately, I played exactly one event in 2010, and it was a debacle from the start. In 2011, I need to get into the tournament setting, feel the mindset that you can't call it quits and head back to the driving range if you start the round with three bogeys and a double in the first six holes. I need to figure out how to maintain a good golf swing and a good frame of mind throughout 18 holes, and the best way to do it is to play for competitive golf.
Get More Consistent
In 2010, my handicap dipped to a career low, 6.1, thanks to several good scores on courses with tough USGA course ratings. Never did I feel like a six. I still expected to shoot low 80s, sometimes cracking 70, but other times ballooning past 90, especially on an unfamiliar golf course.
This resolution is basically a culmination of all the others. I know that through better fitness and stretching I'll be able to build a more consistent, repeatable golf swing, and that my body will be able to hold up throughout all 18 holes. Too many times last year I'd get to the 14th tee one or two shots over par, yet close horribly and finish at 80. With better conditioning, more accurate play off the tee, and the mental game sculpted by playing more meaningful golf, I think this should be the season I stop focusing on my handicap and legitimately become a golfer who routinely scores in the 70s.
Since it's a column about resolutions, it's only fitting that I set one tangible goal for the year. In season's gone by, breaking 80 was always the benchmark I set for a good round. But I've never broken 75. I'm going to take it a step further and say that this is the year I want to break par for 18 holes. I've had multiple sub-par nines, so it's should only be a matter of taking these resolutions seriously and turning that into not only a career round, but hopefully the best, most consistent golf of my life.
Ron Varrial is Metro's Managing Editor, Print and Digital. He is also a regular contributor to TheSandTrap.com, where you can find more of his thoughts on golf.