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The Magic of Heavy Metal in Golf

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OK, it’s time to come clean. I know the clean cut image of a child of the ’80s and a serious golf nut don’t exactly go hand in hand with playing bass in a rock band and being a metal-head, but that’s in fact what I was. Now, you won’t be able to Google any images of me sporting leather pants, spiked wrist-bands, or God-forbid a mullet. And while my band, The Air-Flow Souls, did churn out one cult hit (Y.A.A.), we never made any official recordings. And the only truly big gig we had the opportunity to play, opening for the then wildly popular hardcore punk band 7 Seconds, we turned down due to our lead singer’s realistic fear of having things thrown at us while onstage. So just in case you’re looking, you won’t likely turn up any golden footage of us on YouTube either.

Ahhh, the good old days, though. Driving my ‘74 Plymouth Duster to golf matches and listening to the classics of heavy metal by the likes of The Scorpions, Iron Maiden, and Y&T. Or standing on the range or the putting green, hour after hour, hooked up to that old Sony Walkman while the metal anthems of Judas Priest, Saxon, and AC/DC kept me company (and out there) despite my father’s insistence that it was nothing short of rotting my brain. There are some who might think the head-banging rhythm of one of popular music’s more aggressive inventions wouldn’t seem an inherently natural thing to want to be bombarded with while you’re trying to putt for birdies and pars, but the fact was it worked for me and I know I’m not alone.

So I bring this up, not simply to take a stroll down memory lane, but because there is now actual evidence that heavy metal not only wasn’t contributing to any decline in gray matter, but it might actually have been at least partially responsible for some of my finer moments on the links. If you’ve been paying attention, you’re likely aware of the USGA’s decision a couple of years ago to ban the playing of music during competition based on an interpretation of an existing rule. Rule 14-3 states that a player may not use any artificial device or unusual equipment that “might assist him in making a stroke or in his play.” In its interpretation, the USGA claimed that listening to music or a broadcast while making a stroke or for a prolonged period might assist a player by eliminating distractions or promoting good tempo. Really?

When I first heard this, I, like a good number of my members, thought, “Here were go again. Under the guise of protecting the game, The USGA, golf’s occasionally cantankerous governing body, seems at times bound and determined do away with about just about every non-traditional invention that comes along and adds a bit more fun to the game (square grooves, belly putters, long putters, driver heads as big as Volkswagens, etc.), and here was just another prime example. And in my mind, at least, this was where they’d finally crossed the line. So I had to go in search of evidence, because I needed to know whether or not there was any research backing up their decision to pick on my precious metal anthems.

We often witness professional athletes in other sports using music to pump themselves up, calm themselves down, or even help to synchronize their movement. But since most of these athletes are pretty young, I’d instinctively written that off as an affectation of youth. Either that or savvy business-folk are seizing an opportunity to get their products into the public eye with the aid of all-too willing (and compensated) accomplices. As it turns out, though, there is a mounting body of research highlighting the benefits listening to music can have on performance in areas ranging from running and cycling to weight-lifting. Certain music can increase arousal levels, raising your heart rate and blood pressure, helping you to lift more, push on, or train longer.

Fast and loud, bass-driven music, with a tempo range somewhere between 170 and 190 beats per minute, is perfect when gearing up for a workout. It has been proven particularly effective with running, where synchronizing your stride pattern with the tempo has been found to increase endurance by as much as 15 percent. The results of this research lead Costas Karageorghis, one of the leading researchers on the psychological and ergogenic effects of music, to claim music as the one “legal performance-enhancing drug.” When it comes to golf, though, the current interpretation of rule 14-3 means that it isn’t legal, at least not while you’re playing. And elevated arousal levels aren’t always ideal when it comes to some activities that involve fine motor skills, so was the mean old USGA actually barking up the wrong tree?

Well, at least one recent study attempted to measure whether or not music could enhance a golfer’s performance. Researchers examined the effects it had on putting, and in the end they concluded that most music had an almost magical effect on performance, with smooth jazz being the most effective. In the study, 22 Division I college golfers listened to five different types of music (country, classical, rock, jazz, and hip/hop), as well as no music, while putting 20 times under six different conditions. Both male and female golfers scored best when listening to jazz and worst when listening to rock music, hip/hop, and finally no music at all. Men scored almost two putts better listening to jazz versus no music. They averaged their poorest scores while listening to hip-hop. And the ladies?… Well, they performed worst with no music or rock playing and best with jazz as well.

So as much as I didn’t like it, when you consider this, I had to conclude that maybe just this one time the USGA had a point. But since I wasn’t about to just do away with my Whitesnake collection, I figured I had to find a legal way to keep enjoying it while employing the magic of it for myself and others. As it turns out, music has a couple of other nifty little side-effects, and they have to do with all that reminiscing I forced upon you a few paragraphs ago. There are many studies out there now highlighting music’s ability to both enhance the storage and recall of memories while affecting mood. Now I’m not going to get into the neuroscience of it in this short space, but if like me you’ve ever remembered an exact time, place, or event and how you felt when a certain song comes on the radio, then you know how well it works. So when I considered these things, alongside it’s now proven performance enhancing abilities, I saw my opportunity, and I decided to develop a training tool to augment my competitive students’ preparation for events.

I call this tool an enhanced visualization video. It’s a highlight reel of clips that I film of players hitting full shots, shots around the green, and putts (putts that go in) of varying distances that I pair to a favorite song or two that they have to both the mood and tempo we’re striving to attain during competition. Players are instructed to watch them a few times a day during a quiet moment and, if they listen to music during practice, listen to the same songs and/or songs of a similar mood and tempo that they enjoy. If you have an iPhone and the included iMovie app, they’re really quite simple to make. They’re also incredibly effective once you start employing the practice regularly. Many players find that they even start to incorporate the replaying of these songs in their heads, or even quietly humming them during their pre-shot routines (a practice I encourage) once they’re actually in competition. Try to stop that USGA!

So while that old Duster ended up being donated to the high school auto-shop when its engine finally gave out, and the Walkman fell out favor for a Discman (and ultimately an iPod), fortunately my affinity for that classic music never died. And though we can’t use it during competition, we can all use music to help enhance our preparation and increase the level of enjoyment we get out of the time we spend doing so. The key is to match the mood, tempo, and intensity to the activity and what you are hoping to achieve… and to make sure it’s something you enjoy. For me, much to my wife’s dismay, The Magic of Heavy Metal evokes memories of a time when I enjoyed some of the best golf of my life. And so despite the fact that studies might first suggest a bit of smooth jazz, when I want to really roll the rock, there’s nothing like some good old fashioned Rock’N’Roll.

See if it works for you.

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Mike Dowd is the author of Lessons from the Golf Guru: Wit, Wisdom, Mind-Tricks & Mysticism for Golf and Life. He has been Head PGA Professional at Oakdale Golf & CC in Oakdale, California since 2001, and is serving his third term on the NCPGA Board of Directors and Chairs the Growth of the Game Committee. Mike has introduced thousands of people to the game and has coached players that have played golf collegiately at the University of Hawaii, San Francisco, U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Davis, University of the Pacific, C.S.U. Sacramento, C.S.U. Stanislaus, C.S.U. Chico, and Missouri Valley State, as men and women on the professional tours. Mike currently lives in Turlock, California with his wife and their two aspiring LPGA stars, where he serves on the Turlock Community Theatre Board, is the past Chairman of the Parks & Recreation Commission and is a member of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Turlock. In his spare time (what's that?) he enjoys playing golf with his girls, writing, music, fishing and following the foibles of the Sacramento Kings, the San Francisco 49ers, the San Francisco Giants, and, of course, the PGA Tour. You can find Mike at mikedowdgolf.com.

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Jason Day’s performance coach, Jason Goldsmith, joins the 19th hole

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In this episode of the 19th Hole, Jason Goldsmith of FocusBand talks about how the breakthrough technology has helped PGA Tour stars Jason Day and Justin Rose to major wins. Also, host Michael Williams gives his take on Tiger Woods’ return to golf.

Click here to listen on iTunes!

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Courses

Ari’s Course Reviews: Oakmont Country Club

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Editor’s Note: Ari Techner is a well-traveled, golf-course connoisseur who’s setting out to review the best golf courses in the world. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are his own. 

Oakmont Country Club. The name alone strikes fear into the heart of any mortal golfer. Oakmont has a reputation for difficulty unmatched in the golf world; it’s fear forged in the public’s eye while watching best players in the world struggle during the U.S. Open every 10-plus years or so. There is a notion that Oakmont could hold a U.S. Open just about any day of the year. This is not a course that needs to be tweaked from its daily setup to test the best in the world.

All that said, a close look at the course reveals that there is so much more to Oakmont than just difficulty. Since around 1950, MANY courses have been built with the dilebrate intention of holding a U.S. Open. Most, if not all, of these courses are filled with water hazards, extremely long holes and very little variety. Oakmont is the exact opposite of that, and this is what is at the core of its greatness.

A view from the ninth fairway

Oakmont Country Club first opened in 1903 and was designed by Henry Fownes, who built it because he felt the other courses around Pittsburgh were not difficult enough. The course was constantly tweaked in the early years by Fownes and his son William. Both Fownes were accomplished players with William winning the U.S. Amateur in 1910 and serving as the playing captain of the first U.S. Walker Cup team in 1922.

Trees, or no trees?

The 18th tee

The course was extremely influential in the development of early golf courses in America. It was equally influential in future years by setting trends that have changed the way many other courses have evolved. When Oakmont opened, it was built in an open field and had no trees on the course, adding to the links-like flavor that Fownes wanted from his visits overseas. In the 1950s (after all the Fownes had left the club) Oakmont added thousands of non-native trees to line the corridors of the holes, a look that was a heavy trend of the time. This work was mostly done by Robert Trent Jones, who also modified the bunkers to fit more of his style of the time.

The course continued to evolve over the years with the bunkers being restored by Tom Fazio… but the trees remained. In preparation for the 2008 U.S. Open, Oakmont cut down thousands of trees, returning the course to its open, windswept origins. This was very controversial among the members, and much of the work was done in the middle of the night in the off-season so as not to cause a big stir. After 2008, thousands more trees have been cut down, opening all of the amazing long views across the property. You can see almost every hole on the property from just about every spot on the course. Oakmont was the first course to embrace this massive tree removal and it has turned into a trend with hundreds of classic courses removing their non-native trees and going back to their more open original layouts.

Oakmont is the only course that Fownes designed and I believe that contributes greatly to its uniqueness. Fownes’ version of difficulty did not include artificial water hazards, out of bounds or excessive bunkering fronting greens, and it did not rely simply on longer-than-average holes to challenge the golfer. Instead, it has an amazingly varied mix of holes that challenge the golfer in a variety of ways both mentally and physically. Overall, the course requires you to be a straight driver of the ball, a good iron player and to have a deft short game and putting touch. You also need to be able to think your way around the course while you execute the shots you choose at a high level.

A good variety

Oakmont has its share of length with long par 4s, such as hole Nos. 1, 10, 15 and 18, the monster par-5 12th and long par 3s such as Nos. 8 and 16.  What sets the course apart to me, however, are the short holes and the holes that require strategic decision-making off the tee. These include short par 4s such Nos. 2, 11 and 17 and mid-length par 4s including Nos. 5 and 14.  These holes can be just as difficult as the long ones, and they require a completely different skill set.  The short par-3 13th and short par-5 9th (plays as a par 4 for the U.S. Open) round out what is an amazing set of shorter holes.

A view of the ninth fairway from across the Pennsylvania Turnpike

The course uses the natural movement of the site very well and has a tight, extremely walkable routing despite being bisected by the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the bottom of the hill in the middle of the property. I particularly love the fallaway greens at 1, 10, 12, and to a lesser degree 3 and 15 where the front of the green is higher than the back. This is a unique look that you do not see in the USA very often. Without the little backboard that a back-to-front sloping green provides, you must hit the ball solid or execute a well played run-up shot to hold the green. The short par 4s temp the long hitter just enough to make them think about hitting driver, but wayward shots are punished enough to make most think twice. The 17th, at a little under 300 yards, could be the hardest hole on the course, and yet it is definitely drivable for the right player who hits a great drive. The small and extremely narrow green requires a short shot be hit the perfect distance if you decide to lay up to the right down the fairway. Hit it even a little short and you end up in the aptly named “Big Mouth” bunker which is extremely deep. Hit it a hair long or with not enough spin to hold the green and you end up rolling over the green into one of a few smaller bunkers. Carry the bunkers on the left side off the tee into the sliver of fairway up by the green and you have a short, open shot from a much better angle into the fatter part of the green. Such risk/reward and great use of angles is paramount to Oakmont’s genius.

Green complexes are…complex

The green on the 18th hole

Oakmont also sports one of the best sets of greens anywhere in the world.  They are all heavily contoured and very challenging, yet playable. You can certainly make putts out there if you are putting well, but get on the wrong side of the hole and you are left with an extremely difficult, but rarely impossible 2 putt. They are also very unique due to Fownes only designing one course, as they do not look like any other classic course; they have a feel all their own. They are mostly open in front, coming from the correct angle, and they have many squarish edges. They also cut the tight fringe far back into the fairway, which aids in run-up shots; it also gives a great look where the green and the fairway blend together seamlessly.

The bunkering is also very unique and very special… and they are true hazards. Find yourself in a fairway bunker off the tee, and you are likely wedging out without much of any chance of reaching the greens. The green-side bunkers are fearsome, very deep and difficult. The construction of the bunkers is unique too — most of them have very steep and tall faces that were built up in the line of play. Oakmont is also home to one of the most famous bunkers in golf; the “Church Pews” bunkers — a large, long rectangular bunker between the fairways of holes 3 and 4 with strips of grass in the middle like the pews in a church. There is also a smaller “Church Pews” bunker left of the fairway off the tee on hole 15. Hit it into one of these two bunkers and good luck finding a descent lie.

Ari’s last word

All-in-all, along with being one of the hardest courses in the world, Oakmont is also one of the best courses in the world. It is hard enough to challenge even the best players in the world day-in and day-out, but it can easily be played by a 15-handicap without losing a ball. It is extremely unique and varied and requires you to use every club in your bag along with your brain to be successful. Add that to a club that has as much history as any other in the county, and Oakmont is one of golf’s incredibly special places.

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Courses

Coming Up: A Big Golf Adventure

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My name is Jacob Sjöman, and I’m a 35-year-old golf photographer who also enjoys the game we all love. I will be sharing some experiences here on a big golf trip that we are doing. With me I’ve got my friend Johan. I will introduce him properly later, but he is quite a funny character. According to Johan, he is the best golf photo assistant in the world, and we will see about that since this is probably his biggest test yet doing this trip. Previously on our trips, Johan almost got us killed in Dubai with a lack of driving skills. He also missed a recent evening photo shoot in Bulgaria while having a few beers too many… and that’s not all.

Anyway, the last couple of days I’ve been packing my bags over and over. I came home from the Canary Islands this Sunday and I’ve been constantly checking and rechecking that we’ve got all the required equipment, batteries, and that the cameras are 100 percent functional and good to go for this golf trip. I’m still not sure, but in a couple of minutes I will be sitting in a taxi to the airport and there will be no turning back.

Where are we going then? We are going to visit some of the very best golf courses in New Zealand and Australia. There will be breathtaking golf on cliffsides, jaw-dropping scenic courses, and some hidden gems. And probably a big amount of lost balls with a lot of material produced in the end.

I couldn’t be more excited for a golf journey like this one. Flying around the globe to these special golf courses I’ve only dreamed about visiting before gives me a big kick and I feel almost feel like a Indiana Jones. The only thing we’ve got in common, though, is that we don’t like snakes. Australia seems to be one of the worst destinations to visit in that purpose, but all the upsides are massive in this.

First, we will take off from a cold Stockholm (it’s raining heavily outside at the moment) and then we will do our first stop at Doha in Quatar. Then after two more hours, we are finally heading off to Auckland on the north island of New Zealand, a mega-flight of 16 hours. I believe that could very well be one of the longest flights available for a ordinary airplane. I need to check that.

Flights for me usually mean work, editing photos from different golf courses I’ve visited, writing some texts, editing some films, and planning for the future. Last time, though, I finally managed to sleep a little, which is a welcome progress for a guy that was deadly scared of flying until 2008.

Now, I am perfectly fine with flying. A few rocky flights over the Atlantic Sea to Detroit helped me a lot, and my motto is now, “If those flights got me down on the ground safely, it takes a lot of failures to bring down a plane.”

Anyway, I hope you will join me on this golf trip. Stay tuned!

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