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Winter golf: Breaking the monotony

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Let me paint a picture of my New Year’s Eve for you: The snow is gently falling outside of my window and a small but lively group of close friends are gathered around a raging fire. Tunes are in the air, cocktails are in hand, and the roughly 1,300 children that seem to be in my house have finally settled into a movie on a different floor. Sounds delightful, right?

Wrong.

All we kept talking about is how much we wanted to play golf. Last year Kansas City was on the verge of becoming Dallas, with an average December temp north of 45 degrees and highs in the mid 60s — I had friends who played five times between Christmas and New Years. This yea,r we were all monitoring the forecast with December 30th as our only hope for a round (with a high of 42). Even though we hit our high, the inch of snow we’d gotten on the 20th hadn’t yet melted from the fairways. No golf during a week off work = a bunch of unhappy dudes.

Even more frustrating for me is that I left the season playing as well as I had in 15 years. Other than the last three holes of my last round (still trying to erase the memory of my drives on the Nos. 16 and 18), I’d been no more than six over on 18 for a couple months on my “real” rounds, and been dancing around par on every nine I’d had the chance to play. Now I’m pounding balls into a net and looking for a decent set of rock skis on eBay.

The horror.

Which brings us neatly to the point of our column: How do I keep what is an inherently boring activity (hitting golf balls into a net), into an experience that holds my attention span for more than six swings.

I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m working on a swing change over the winter (sometime between a back surgery and a couple years of ignoring golf I stopped clearing my hips), and by all logic that alone should keep me interested. But as I’ve already made the major changes, my instructor and I are now working on more minor tweaks (our emphasis this last time was largely on ball flight and trusting my ability to work the ball left to right) that require the visual feedback of watching a ball head towards a target to be effective.

So what do I work on when hitting the ball into a net?

1. Tempo

The first thing that I’ve been focusing on is tempo. In my 30+ years of playing golf (as largely a feel player), nothing, other than maybe jarring a bunch of putts, affects my day-to-day golf scores like good (or bad) tempo. This year, I dove headfirst into John Novosel’s Tour Tempo system, buying the app for my iPhone and working with it pretty extensively.

In the interest of full disclosure, I feel I’d better mention that John is a KC guy, and his sons were in my fraternity at KU (I still see Scott, his youngest son, occasionally out and around KC. He’s a rock-solid dude who walked on to my beloved Jayhawk basketball team his senior yeah and unexplainably become a momentary Japanese rap phenom a few years after that). I’d been hearing about his Tour Tempo book for years and never really looked into it because I wasn’t really playing much (let alone practicing). But this year, as I was struggling to reclaim my game, it really helped.

In 20 words or less, it’s a series of tones that lock you into a proper tempo ratio. One thing that has to be said, though, is it’s kind of an all-in app. If you’re listening to it, it’s almost impossible to work on something else in you swing, because it takes over your head. Therefore, my tempo drills have taken a back burner during my swing change, and I’m finding it very helpful to get back to them to cement my “new” swing.

2. Making “perfect” contact

I’ve approached this in a couple different ways. The first is through tracking my impact with my clubs with either impact tape or a dry erase marker. I play Ping i20s with Aerotech Steelfiber shafts, and I’d be lying if I told you I haven’t hit a few shots on the course that I though I pured, watched fly perfectly through the air and land a couple feet short of the stick for a kick-in birdie, only to look down to see I missed the ball quite a ways on the toe. While the technology that allows this to happen is awesome (especially when a gentleman’s wager is on the line), the lack of feedback on mis-hits can be detrimental to an indoor practice session.

Obviously, using impact tape doesn’t require much explanation. Buy some impact tape, put it on your club, and track where you’re making contact. If you don’t have any impact tape, however, similar results can be faked with a dry erase marker. Color the face of your club and hit the ball. The ball will take the marker off your club where it makes impact. Recolor the club and repeat. Now granted, this can lead to a bunch of colored practice balls (insert joke here), tends to lead to marker all over the hands, and is slightly ridiculous to explain if your wife walks by when you’re doing it, but it definitely works.

The second way to track contact is by hitting clubs other than your gamers. Let’s be honest, I’m probably not going to pull out my dad’s old Kenneth Smiths for a July money game, but when you’re pounding balls into a net, they’ll give you some pretty rock solid feedback as to whether you’ve hit the sweetspot or not. I can’t look you in the face and tell you that messing around with an old Staff Tour Blade or a Macgregor Tourney is going to help you come spring, but it has helped me break up the monotony of hitting the same Ping 7 iron over and over. Plus, it’s kind of cool in a golf-hipster sort of way.

3. Cheating

Just kidding (kind of). I’ve hit enough of a wall that I’ve decided to start cheating my practice sessions with a simulator. As I’m not independently wealthy (or single), the idea of investing in a Trackman or FlightScope was a no-go, which put me firmly in the Optishot camp. It’s barely out of its packaging and has been a fun little toy thus far, but I’ll hold out on a full review for our next column.

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction & Academy” forum. 

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Dan Gedman was born in Chicago and grew up in Kansas City, which makes sense as he currently splits his time between those two cities. A director by trade (commercials, long-form and the occasional rap video), Gedman is one of the owners of Liquid 9 -- a Chicago-based production company. He is the father of 3 (8, 5 and >1) and the husband of one. He's also a proud Jayhawk, which is much cooler during the winter and spring than it is during the fall. His current home course was designed by Donald Ross in his experimental phase, and starts with a 240-plus yard par 3. Therefore he's generally (at least) one over before he hits the second fairway.

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Ping Engineer Paul Wood explains how the G400 Max driver is so forgiving

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Paul Wood, VP of Engineering at Ping, joins our 19th Hole to discuss the new G400 Max driver, which the company calls the “straightest driver ever.” Also, listen for a special discount code on a new laser rangefinder.

Listen to this episode on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes.

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WATCH: How to Pull a Shaft from a Composite Club Head

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Composite club heads are increasing in popularity with golfers thanks to their technological and material advantages. For that reason, it’s important to know how to pull shafts from composite club heads without damaging them. This video is a quick step-by-step guide that explains how to safely pull a shaft from a composite club head.

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10 Years Later: Why the assistant coach has made college golf better

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It’s been 10 years since the NCCA Legislation began allowing assistant golf coaches to perform on-course coaching in college events. Today, 94 percent of the top-100 men’s golf teams have assistant coaches, and the coaching pool is stronger than ever, with individuals such as Jean Paul Hebert (Texas), Jake Amos (South Carolina), John Handrigan (Florida), Robert Duck (Florida State), Donnie Darr (Oklahoma State), John Mills (Kent State), Garrett Runion (LSU), Zach Barlow (Illinois), Bob Heinz (Duke), and 2017 Assistant Coach of the Year from Baylor, Ryan Blagg. The list includes a guy with 20+ PGA Tour experience (Bob Heinz), several former college standouts and some National Championship wins (Jean Paul Hebert – 1, Runion – 2, Amos – 2).

In the 10 years since the expanded role of the assistant golf coach, the National Championship has still been dominated by major conference schools, with only three non-major conference schools earning a spot in match play (Kent State 2012, and Augusta State in 2010, 2011). Of course, Augusta State went on to win both of its appearances in match play, earning back-to-back national championships under Coach Josh Gregory.

One of best examples of the success of assistant golf coaches is Chris Malloy at Ole Miss. Malloy, a graduate of Ole Miss, began his coaching career as the women’s assistant golf coach at Florida State. Shortly after, he was working with both programs and had an immediate impact, which included helping the men win their first ever ACC championship. Shortly after, Chris took over as the men’s golf coach at University of South Florida, transforming the team into a National Contender and a top-30 ranking. Today, at Ole Miss, Chris has done the same thing, transforming a team and a culture in three years, earning a spot in the 2017 NCAA National Championship at Rich Harvest Farms.

Although to date, mid-major teams have not fared consistently on the national level. The system of assistant coaches has proven to be an excellent tool in broadening the pool of candidates. Last year’s National Championship featured six mid-major schools with half being wily veterans, and half being a product of the assistant coach route; Michael Beard of Pepperdine served as the assistant at Arizona State; Bryce Waller of University of Central Florida served as the assistant at the University of Tennessee; Bryant Odem of Kennesaw State served as the assistant at the University of Wisconsin. It will also feature teams like Oklahoma State, Baylor, Virginia, Oklahoma, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Purdue, which have coaches who have benefited from their experience as assistant coaches in their roles with these programs.

Practice Facility at the University of Central Florida

Practice Facility at the University of Central Florida

The pool of candidates for coaching positions today is deeper than ever. Athletic Directors are blessed to be able to interview several good candidates for almost each job. The result for the players are fully engaged coaches who bring passion and desire to improve each of their programs.

Bowen Sargent, the current head coach at University of Virginia and former assistant coach at the University of Tennessee under Jim Kelson, started coaching when the rules only allowed one coach. In the 10 years since the rule change, Bowen believes “it’s a positive change for sure. Having two coaches allows for a better student-athlete experience and for them to have more access to their coaches.”

Coach Bowen Sargent of UVA, along with former players Denny McCarthy and Derek Bard at the US Open

Coach Bowen Sargent of UVA, along with former players Denny McCarthy and Derek Bard at the U.S. Open

The diversity among coaches is also greater. Today’s juniors have the option to play for a skillful player such as a Mike Small at Illinois or Casey Martin at Oregon, or Doug Martin at Cincinnati, or even a world class instructor like Bryce Waller at UCF, Ben Pellicani at Limpscomb or Casey Van Dame at South Dakota State. Waller, an excellent instructor himself, has lead UCF to three National Championship appearance in 7 years. Likewise, Ben, a Golf Digest top-40 under-40 instructor who spent several years learning from Mike Bender has been instrumental in transforming Limpscomb into a national contender, participating in their first ever National Championship in 2017. Lastly, Casey who spent several years under Jim Mclean, then as the assistant at University of Tennessee, has transformed North Dakota State Men’s and Women’s Golf, with both teams currently ranked in the top-100 in the country.

Ben Pellicanni of Limpscomb University helping to read a putt

Ben Pellicanni of Limpscomb University helping to read a putt

Athletic Directors are also starting to put more funding towards golf resources. The result has been an explosion of golf-specific training facilities across the scope of college golf. Many mid-major schools have top-notch practice facilities, including places such as University of North Texas, University of Richmond, University of Central Arkansas and Illinois State to name a few.

Golf facility at the University of Central Arkansas

Golf facility at the University of Central Arkansas

The tremendous pool of coaching candidates has also benefited other levels of golf. For example, 2014 Assistant Coach of the Year Chris Hill is now the head men’s and women’s golf coach at Concordia University, a Division 3 School near Austin, Texas. In his two years as coach, he has already lead the program to seven tournament titles.

As time passed, I believe that we will see a change at the NCAA Championship and it will include a growing trend towards mid-major universities not only earning spots at the National Championships, but having success like Augusta State. The person at the head of one of those programs is likely to have come from the assistant coach ranks and should be thankful for the rule change, which lead to these opportunities.

Please note: As of writing this article, only 6 men’s teams in D1 do not have assistant coaches. They are UTEP (51), McNeese (84), Nevada (88), Richmond (89), Cincinnati (92) and Tennessee at Chattanooga (96).

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