Captivated by the Challenge of Championship Courses

In golf your strengths and weaknesses will always be there. If you could improve your weaknesses, you would improve your game.

Harvey Penick

As I dip in and out of watching the early rounds of the Farmers Invitational, I know that it has been something of a desire for many to play our local Torrey Pines course. I know the familiar coastal views and the lush green fairways appear even more majestic now that we cannot travel in hordes of rowdy fans trailing Tiger, DJ and Brooks to rival our Phoenix Open golf bros with this COVID-19 fan restriction, but the course still appears to be challenging from what I have seen on TV so far. All those in contention for the lead (or even a share of the lead at the least) have one thing in common: they’re all playing the same course and facing similar challenges.

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The Course is Both Challenger & Competitor

I see the course as both challenger and competitor. It has been designed to not simply offer too many “gimme” holes in the form of easily reachable in 2 par 4s or simple par 5s that are just a mere 15 to 20 yards longer than the longest par 4 on the course. Course design of late has seemed to taken a less is more approach that somehow leaves most Saturday and Sunday golfers seething with some sort of sadistic sensation of seeking more as their course designs dumbfoundedly develop desires as they both defeat and dissatisfy the average duffer at the same time. In other words, plenty of folks are not getting plenty of pleasure out o these course designs but they keep coming back for more like gluttons for punishment.

It is simply by design now and more apparent when we see championship courses that might have boasted of a challenging par 5 last year that the tournament committee has unanimously and hilariously opted to convert to an extensive par 4 for this year’s tournament. Course design typically pits a full roster of FedEx Cup chasers against the course and its course designers and groundskeepers. Those pin placements are so intricate and whatever clipping or trimming level that they are using for these greens with this mixed in sand are enough to keep your head spinning from day to day. But whoever created island greens or bunker-guarded greens just plain has some aggression issues that need to be worked out. I can only imagine what it does for these guys seeking FedEx Cup points who have braved courses from Dubai to Mexico in the off season, only to face the return of the PGA Tour season with a kickstart in Hawaii and the newly-COVID-cleared West Coast Swing kickoff at Torrey Pines (and we’ll see from there).

So what does that mean for us so-called regular golfers?

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Past Championship Courses Still Present Challenges

I played Carlton Oaks many times before I realized that it had hosted PGA and Canadian Tour Qualifying Tournaments, NCAA Western Regional and Championship events, Junior World, The American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) and many other professional, collegiate and amateur events. One guy remarked when I got my first par on the course a few years ago that scoring well on that course and keeping it in the low 90s is feat within itself for a weekend golfer. I shrugged it off, but then later I began to realize how much playing practice rounds and multiple tournament rounds does to a golfer’s advantage within a week.

I guess if a few of us played the same course again and again, even something like Carlton Oaks, we should see some marked improvement over our scorecards, too. Some would get a better feel for the course in general, other would hone in on those special touches around the green to get that to work for them. In other words, we would have time to tackle the course based on past and present experiences and make note in our own little yardage books that very same hole where the fast greens veered to the right now have a sudden speed drop within 2 inches of the hole.

Rock Bottom Golf

Chisel the Course into Chunks

Armed with that knowledge, I would probably shave a few strokes off here and there. My problem is that it took an article in Today’s Golfer to open my eyes to what a round of golf really come down to in terms of strokes. “Golf’s Most Wanted Shots” opened my eyes like I said to how much short game focus would be required to shave strokes off the scorecard quickly and repeatedly.

Golf Shots as Today’s Golfer expertly broke down

The main shot of any round is putting. Say what? Every hole doesn’t require a drive off the tee. Every hole doesn’t require an approach shot or layup. But each and every hole requires you to putt. So, if that’s the case, improve your putting skills and start to improve your scores. Combine wedge shots, chip shots and bunker play and you have another 13 strokes or so added to 35 putts which makes for 48. Well, man, I shot that on the back 9 alone a few times on a good day.

What I am saying is that we look at the game from the wrong perspective. We tend to rally behind DJ, Brooks, Tiger and a few others because they crush that ball off the tee and send us into a frenzy over what is not even a major factor in the scoring calculation of a full round. Driving counts. It just doesn’t count as much as we make it seem like it should.

If you are serious about your game, sooner or later you’ll play Ben Hogan.

If we chisel down the course into chunks, then we can approach each hole with analysis and anticipation. We can design a strategy (Plan A) for if we take care of business and launch a solid tee shot into the fairway at approximately 200+ yards. But, if need be, we have a recovery strategy (Plan B) where we select a long distance hybrid after a weak tee shot landed us at an odd angle 180 yards from the green and just off the fairway in the early signs of the rough that our fairway woods won’t be able to cut through at all. That way we keep the emotions out of it. That way we don’t lose it and toss clubs into lakes or trees. We simply assess the results of our last attempt and make an adjust prior to taking action with our next attempt. Other ideas on how this can help lower scores are out there in the blogosphere.

Conquer the Course: Hole by Hole

If we could do that for every hole, review and revisit it as we play, and remain calm enough to continuously refer to it, then I believe that we could see results trickle in over time. It’s just like that elephant that the consultant spoke about during your last strategic planning session or team training that you attended. You’ve got to take it one bite at a time, so chunk that 18 holes into sets of 3 holes. See each hole within that set as a separate attack plan with a sequence of anticipated actions in mind.

I have included part of my process for planning my play that i used in 2017 and 2018 as I began to approach golf with a different mindset. These are visuals that I use based upon the current scorecard available on www.greenskeeper.org and most discount tee time sites. This process helps me develop my attack plan hole by hole in a planning mode that I try to translate onto the course without losing my way or getting too cocky if it’s going good. Much like other golf bloggers out here, I can admit when I lose sight of the goal or focus on the immediate action in the moment.

As I continue to work on my game, I am going to watch Brooks and DJ clobber those tee shots. I am going to shout and howl when that titanium plate makes contact with that dimpled synthetic ball, sending it to heights and distances that even send the most popular golf shot trackers out of orbit. But I will know deep down inside that I need to watch those putting techniques from the types of John Rahm, Patrick Reed, Kevin Na and Webb Simpson

Rock Bottom Golf

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