Tuesday, July 24, 2012

got in 18 holes yesterday

Shot a 109 (58 out, 51 in) yesterday on a 70.1/133 course.  Handicap has dropped 0.2 to 32.4 (per my spreadsheet tabulations).  I decided at the outset of the round that the longest club I'd play would be a 7-iron... wanted to really focus on reducing penalties (following the scoring outlined in this post).  And that worked out well... only had 6 shots lost to penalties (ie 3 bad shots, 3 drops) for the round which is much improved vs. the 16 lost shots I racked up playing 15 holes on the same course a couple weeks ago.

The score kind of shows it, but it seemed like I spent the front nine "warming up" for what ended up being a decent back nine.  I had a good run on the first six holes of the back nine:  5 bogeys and 1 par.  Blew up a bit the last three holes.  Anyway, on the whole, I feel like I'm improving, just need to keep plugging away.

Some things to think about for next time:

  • Before playing, hit a full token's-worth of balls on the range AND spend at least 10-15 minutes on the putting green to get a feel for speed.  Will probably need at least an hour for this kind of warm-up, so maybe think about playing only 9 holes vs. 18 (don't want to get fatigued on the last few holes; also can't be out there all day).  Generally want to avoid "warming up while playing".
  • I'm liking the penalty-avoidance approach, so I'll probably stick with the idea of playing 7-iron and below (or at least leave all drivers, woods, and hybrids in the car).  Will add length over the long-term as distance starts to become one of the longer poles.  For now, consistency and side-to-side accuracy are my biggest issues.
  • It'd be good to get in a double-token range session at some point before the next scoring round, focusing on long game side-to-side accuracy (no slices!).
I brought our new iPhone (first smartphone), intending to log shots, check yardage, etc, but ended up not using it after the first hole.  Will try again next time, as it's good to be able to check yardage to various points while playing... just need to get used to feeling it in my pocket.

Still need to find those AT journals.  They're down in the basement somewhere, just need to go digging.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

launch monitors and simulators

Per my layman's spreadsheet calculations, my handicap is 32.6.  I have quite a few things to work on with my golf game, but I think the biggest one is improving long game accuracy.  I think my distance is reasonable... it's mainly the side-to-side (hook-to-slice) spray that chews up strokes (especially when it's into the trees, lateral water, etc).  One of the things I really want to get a handle on is shot dispersion per club... ie the bell-curve-like distribution for each club in terms of distance AND spray.  This information would no doubt help confirm club selection and target line for a given shot during an actual game.  With a rich set of distribution statistics, I'd have a better idea of my chances of hitting a specific target (like, oh I don't know, the green) with a given club, and how hard I should swing that club.  These stats would also provide a performance baseline to compare to later on, allowing me to actually see measurable change in accuracy over the long term (hopefully for the better!).

Anyway, so I can take this baseline dispersion measurement by going to the driving range and whacking 100 balls per club (not in one session... talk about rubber arms) and get a "rough idea" of both distance and side-to-side spray, but "rough idea" just ain't my style.  I need something ideally electronic and easily log-able (something transferable into a spreadsheet) and accurate in terms of measurement, though to-the-inch accuracy isn't super crucial to me, as we can always increase sample size to eliminate the noise you get with inaccurate measurements.  So I started looking up golf simulators.

Now, before I get knee-deep into the golf simulation discussion, I hope it goes without saying that, after a few hours of googling, I'm certainly no expert in this.  I may have some terminology wrong, might not have seen all of the various simulators out there, etc.  But I would think a recap of this sort would still provide some benefit.  Anyway, continuing...

In a general sense, I think of a golf simulator as being a "launch monitor" hooked up to a golf video game... where the "launch monitor" portion consists of all the hardware and software involved in determining club and/or ball movement characteristics shortly before/after time of impact.... and the "video game" is the environment into which the "virtual" ball is launched (terrain, wind, water, hole location... basically the course map).  In other words, with each stroke in the simulator, the launch monitor ultimately provides ball data (speed, direction, back spin, side spin, etc) to the video game, and the video game can then present the human player with the visual arc of the ball flying through the air, bouncing/rolling on the green, and so forth.

Some points about launch measurement technology:  A number of launch monitors/simulators sense only a portion of the club/ball parameters and make best guesses (via physics equations, etc) as to the remainder.  It really depends on the type and arrangement of sensing hardware involved.  I would tend to think that the more characteristics that are directly sensed vs. estimated, the more accurate the results.  From what I've seen, most launch sensor technology boils down to 3 groups:  infrared, high-speed camera, and Doppler radar.  The club-mounted Insight iTrainer is one exception that comes to mind, using (I think) accelerometers and gyroscopes to track club movement, essentially estimating (vs. directly sensing) most of the actual launch parameters.

Some companies sell launch monitors as stand-alone products (eg Trackman, Flight Scope, Zelocity), where the club/ball data is output to, for example, a laptop or smartphone.  However, the majority of the companies I saw sell full-up golf simulators, where the launch sensing stuff is only a portion of the full package, and you often get to choose from dozens of virtual courses to play, have the ability to control weather, play other people, etc.  Some companies (eg GSA) offer simulator sub-components for people who might not want to fork over a large chunk of their life savings for the complete package.  Speaking of which...

A lot of these products cost a lot of money.  Many cost multiple tens of thousands of dollars.  The intent and likely result is that most of the customers are probably commercial businesses (golf bars, pro shop fitters, etc) or wealthier individuals who want a top-of-the-line experience.  However, there are also some products that you can get for under $1000.

Anyway, here's a quick list of companies:

Full-up simulators:

Full Swing Golf
GolfTek (not sure if Greens On Screens owns GolfTek or is merely a reseller)
GSA (sells whole packages or piece-meal components)
High Definition Golf
Holiday Golf
ProTee United
Sports Coach Systems
Visual Sports

Launch monitors:

Electric Spin (Golf Launchpad features a tethered ball, interesting)
Ernest Sports
Flight Scope
Foresight Sports
Sports Sensors

For my specific needs, I'd be more inclined to go with a stand-alone launch monitor, and a lower-end one at that.  Currently thinking along the lines of the Insight iTrainerMini.  It doesn't directly measure any golfer-relevant statistic, but it estimates many of the ones a golfer would care about, most importantly (at least for me) the shot dispersion components of distance and spray.  And I can take it to the range or on the course.  At $200 it might be a risk worth taking.  Something like the Trackman III would obviously do a fantastic job, but at $15k or more, that's way out of my price range given my current commitment level with golf.  Maybe one day...

For folks who want to be able to play an actual round of golf anytime, but can't afford to spend $10k, $20k, or more, a product like the OptiShot might be the way to go.  It measures club and ball data via infrared sensors buried in the swing pad (where you tee the ball), and at $400, doesn't seem like a bad choice.  Only downside is you can't take it outside.... well... I suppose you could, but don't expect to play long in the rain!  The Par2Pro site has some good comparisons of the more "affordable" golf simulators like OptiShot.

Speaking of Par2Pro, as I was looking around, I ran across a few pages/sites which had some great information or were otherwise interesting.  Here's a last link dump of those:

GolfLink article
great GSA physics discussion
Hacker's Paradise review of Optishot
iGolf: general discussion on simulators
Livestrong article
Ottawa Golf forum
Wikipedia: "indoor golf"

In a nutshell, there are a lot of options out there and lots to research if this is something you'd be interested in.  Personally, if it costs substantially more than an annual membership at a local club, I'd be having second thoughts... but for the more hard-core golfers out there who are looking to shave only a stroke or two (vs. 30+ in my case), paying for that extra level of accuracy/detail could certainly be worth it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

in the works

A couple items:

·        I hiked the entire Appalachian Trail (Georgia to Maine, 2167 miles) back in the summer of 2001.  It took me nearly 5 months and was a fantastic experience.  I kept a hand-written journal of the trip as I went along and I’ve been thinking that it might be a good idea to get the whole thing typed up on the computer for better preservation, etc.  So one of the things I hope to begin (once I can find those journals!) is transcribing those entries here.  Supposedly there’s a way to back-date a blog post, so, by the end of this effort, there should be 120-something new blog entries dated between May and October 2001.  Coming soon.

·        I’ve been looking into golf simulators for the past couple days and hope to have a post shortly relaying some of what I found.  There’s actually a pretty wide variety in terms of price and what you can get.  In the meantime, here’s a cool video for a simulator which is way out of my price range (though, as Ray says, the way computer hardware goes, this level of capability might be pretty cheap in 5-10 years).

Monday, July 16, 2012

some practice ideas

I played what I'm calling the "fairway game" for the first time yesterday at a local course. Basically, at each tee I'd whack 5-10 balls, then go pick them all up and head to the next hole, keeping a log of how many fairways hit vs. missed. (For par 3 holes, I'd count the ball as being "on the fairway" if I got the ball on the green or on the fairway-type cut in front of the green.) So in 9 holes, I hit 55 tee shots, and got a whopping 18 of those 55 shots on the fairway. That's less than 33%. Normally, I would've expected something closer to 50%, but I don't know, I just wasn't feeling the swing yesterday. So I've set the bar low for next time :-)
I've generally been wanting to focus practice on long game -type shots recently, as I think that's the weakest part of my game... mainly because I lose so many balls with the longer shots, and the penalties add up. Another few long game practice ideas:
  • Tee-to-green shot count: For each hole, how many shots necessary to get on the green from the tee? In other words, this is like normal golf minus putting. The hole is done once we’re on the green. This would probably be a 2-baller, maybe 3 if it’s not a busy day at the course.

  • Green-in-regulation game: Same as tee-to-green count, but balls are dead once a Y/N is determined for GIR. So, eg, on a par 4 hole, each ball is hit a max of two times. If it’s on the green in two, that’s a Y for GIR, else, N. This could probably be a 3-baller.

  • Approach-only GIR game: Make every hole effectively a par 3. In other words, begin par 4 and 5 holes on the fairway with 100-200 yards to the pin. One shot to the green per ball. Count up the number of balls that end up on the putting surface. This could probably be a 5-10 baller, depending on how badly I’m spraying that day.

Of course, there always the driving range, as well. If I could find a driving range with green-like targets, that’d be awesome.

One overall goal here is trying to figure out shot distribution per club type. Mainly so you know which club to use when, and how hard to swing that club. But then you can track that distribution over time to (hopefully) see improvement… ideally it gets more and more focused/narrow.

As an example, say time/resources were no object… on a 120-yard par 3 hole, shoot 100 balls off the tee and then go measure each ball’s birds-eye-view X/Y location in feet vs. the pin (where, say, a coordinate of [-5,+20] means 5 feet left of and 20 feet behind the pin). Plot that distribution. Then, at some later date, do that shot test again to see if your distribution has narrowed (it’d be great to have the same pin placement, but that’s unlikely). But, obviously, finding the time/resources to do that sort of thing is hard, so we do what we can with what we have.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Dan Plan

A few weeks ago, I stumbled on The Dan Plan (excellent CBS Morning Show segment here) and was instantly hooked. Portland, Oregon resident, Dan McLaughlin, quit his job in April 2010 so that he could work on his golf game with the ultimate goal of earning a spot on the PGA Tour. Sure, that sounds cool enough, but what pushes it beyond thunderdome is that he had virtually no experience with golf beforehand. Living off of the $100k he had saved from his job, along with minor donations from followers on his site, Dan spends 30+ hours a week practicing/playing golf, ultimately aiming to make the Tour by the 10,000 hour mark (a duration of 6 years). As of this writing, he has roughly 7,000 hours remaining in The Plan and has dropped his handicap to 6.1.

A potential dark cloud on the horizon, however, is that apparently his savings nest egg has been burning faster than he originally planned. Last I saw, he thinks he has enough money to get through at least one more year with no problem, but given that he’s only 2 years into this, seems like he’ll have to come up with a solution fairly soon to see this thing through within the originally planned timeframe.

So, given all that, what are his odds of actually making the Tour? Can he do it? And within 10k hours?

My take: Dan appears to be working his tail off trying to improve his game, and he has made a significant amount of progress in just two years. Coming from having never played golf to a 6.1 handicap is tremendous. He obviously has massive amounts of determination, and has arranged his lifestyle around this single pursuit (as the video said, he only has two pairs of pants). That's fantastic. I’m also on board with the idea that "talent" (circumstantial genetics) is overrated, at least with the game of golf, and that making the Tour is actually possible for a lot of people via nothing but extended, focused practice. So, do I think he can do it? Yes… BUT… there are two critical resources I think he'll need more of to make this dream a reality: money and time.

This dwindling funds issue could be a big showstopper if he doesn’t start addressing it now. He has mentioned ideas of starting a Kickstarter campaign, but I have my doubts that would raise the amount of money really needed. Seems like at least a part-time job is almost unavoidable at some point in the next year or two, as much as he might not want to face that prospect. This will no doubt slow the rate of progress, as that's 20ish hours less per week to spend focused on golf. Which leads to my next point:

Even if money weren't an issue, I still think 6 years from zero to hero is just not enough time. If "success" is becoming a PGA Tour rookie, then consider how many years it took for an average PGA Tour rookie to make the Tour. 10-15? Maybe more? How many hours of deliberate practice? Napkin math says 20 hours a week for 10 years gives you 10k hours, but I suspect 20 is a low weekly estimate. Eg, as a golfer nears PGA Tour rookie status, I'd think hours per week starts approaching 40... especially for the mini tour circuit (eg Gateway) and Web.com level (and how many years are spent at those levels by average PGA Tour rookies before reaching the PGA Tour?).

Maybe this is too conservative, but I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up being the case that, if Dan does eventually reach the PGA Tour, the first HALF of his training years will have been spent lowering his handicap (like he's currently doing) with the second half having been time spent playing tournaments in the minor leagues. Any chance Dan will be playing mini tours by the 5k-hour mark? You can technically start entering these tourneys once you get below a 2ish handicap, so I suppose he has a chance. But then to get from there to the PGA Tour in 3ish years? And what about all of those intangible non-practice hours (the ones outside the 10k number)? Don’t they carry some importance? How many more of those would be needed beyond what could be crammed in the originally planned 6 years?

I would think a more realistic approach (one with a higher probability of success) would be to, as I said, 1) get a part-time job to have a steady income stream and take care of the money issue and 2) be prepared (mentally, financially, otherwise) to train for a longer time than originally planned. Even if it took him 15 years to make the Tour, that's still a fantastic story (book deal, eh?). How many 45-year old Tour rookies have there been?

Best of luck to Dan. It’d be great to see him succeed.

Friday, July 13, 2012

500 words on golf penalties

So after a death-by-penalties round at local course a few days ago, I looked at the official rules on hazards, drops, etc:

The way I understand it now:  Aside from water hazards, anytime you can’t find a ball, you should technically take a 1-stroke drop at the same spot from which you originally hit.  If that spot happened to be off the tee, then you can re-tee it.

Thus, to keep play moving along, if you hit a ball in the woods, tall grass, etc and worry you might not be able to find it, it’s probably a good idea to immediately hit a provisional shot to act as your penalty drop shot in the event that you end up not finding that original ball.

In the event where you take a shot without hitting a provisional, but then can’t find your original ball, not sure of the official ruling, but it seems like most people say, to avoid having to walk back to the spot from where you originally shot, you can just take a 2-stroke drop within a couple club lengths from where you suspect the ball exited play.  This is effectively the same result as hitting a provisional to your drop location (in terms of stroke cost and ball location).

As an example, say you shank a ball into the woods off the tee (stroke #1).  You place a new ball on the tee (stroke #2), and then hit another shot out onto the fairway (stroke #3).  At this point, you’re laying 3 on the fairway and will be shooting your 4th shot from there.  However, if you happen to search for your original ball and actually find it in the woods, you can play it from there and just pickup your provisional ball and pretend like you never hit a provisional shot.

Second example:  You hit your ball off the tee a good distance toward the hole but it lands in some tall grass (stroke #1).  For whatever reason you choose to not hit a provisional shot.  When you get to the grass, you realize there’s no way you’ll find your ball, so you take a drop where you think the ball entered the grass (strokes 2 & 3).  At this point you’re laying 3 in a playable area just outside the tall grass, about to shoot your 4th shot.

Balls lost in water hazards are apparently one exception.  You can either re-hit from the same spot (effectively the first example above) OR take a 1-stroke drop close to where the ball crossed the plane of the water.  Your drop shouldn’t advance the ball beyond that hazard entry point, though (eg dropping on the other side of the pond is illegal).  So, replacing “tall grass” w/ “pond” in the second example above, once you take your drop, you’re laying 2, about to shoot your 3rd shot.

Anyway, that’s my current understanding / interpretation of the rules.  I’m certainly no USGA rule pro, but I suspect this approach is closer to true penalty scoring than what my group typically does.


So, yeah, "roots of grass". I had a list of names but nothing was really standing out... I started thinking about "grassroots", "indie"... that sort of thing. Not going for the Mary Jane angle or delving into the world of lawn care service provision. Anyway, we'll roll with it and see how it goes.

I've had the idea of starting a blog for awhile and finally thought I'd give it a whirl. I've been mildly active on Facebook for a couple years and thought a blog might be a better way to post my thoughts in a more passive way (ie you have the option to come here and read rather than having my posts presented to you whether you wanted to see them or not... though friending / de-friending [Facebook] is an option, I suppose). This is also maybe a better arena to write longer posts, go into deeper detail, etc.

Anyway, my general thought at the outset is that I'll just post whatever I fancy at a given time. Very open-ended, few commitments. Not sure of frequency. We'll just let the dogs run and see what happens. Am I looking for fame? I don't know... it might be more the case that I feel like I can express myself well via writing and want to dabble with the notion of "being a writer". Another avenue to a more fulfilling life... and maybe a water tower filled with gold coins. I like trying new stuff. Anyway, babble, babble. On with it!...