Chasing my dreams one shot at a time
Greetings from Ft. Myers, FL. Here is the latest from the past few weeks on the road.
During the last week of time off from the tour schedule, I flew up to Syracuse, New York, for three days to promote the Symetra Tour’s Credit Union Classic Presented by Wegmans (Aug 1st-3rd). The purpose of our visit was to help drive community interest through local media and prospective sponsors. Travel buddy Laura Kueny and I visited three local radio stations, one local morning television show, and spoke at a luncheon for past and future tournament sponsors. We were the guests of the tournament chair and our friend, Mike Vadala. Mike, who is president of Summit Federal Credit Union, is passionate about women’s golf, and he is far more involved than most tournament chairs. He gets to know the players in the event and stays in touch with us throughout the year. By bringing us into Syracuse, Mike provided Laura and me the tour version of grad school. I learned a great deal about the effort and collaboration that goes into every detail of tournament planning, and I had the opportunity to observe how Mike, his tournament director Bill Motto, and the Symetra Tour business officer David Lafrennie go about establishing partnerships with sponsors. I came away with an appreciation for the behind the scenes prep for our events and a better understanding of what I can do as a player to grow the tour. This short trip was a valuable learning experience.
I flew back to Phoenix for one final weekend of practice, then was off to Florida to begin this long stretch of consecutive events. The first event was last week in Sarasota, which is probably my favorite stop on tour. This city looks and feels completely different than the rest of Florida… which might have to do with why I like it so much. Set right on the gulf coast, it is known as the art capital of the state. I will let my pictures from the week do the explaining.
To set the scene, here is an aerial view of Sarasota (no, I did not take this). The downtown area is on the bay near the top of the photo. I stayed on the right half of the circle in the foreground on the small channel you see separating the circle from the key. We were a short walk to the beach and a shorter walk to the shops & restaurants on St. Armand's circle.
The best part about Sarasota is my amazing host mom, Sue Morris. This was my second year at Sue's home. Sue and her husband, Dick, founded the Sarasota Film Society and built two movie theaters in town. Sue and I have established a tradition of going to see a movie at their art theater, Burns Court Cinema (similar to The Flicks in Boise). This year we saw The Lunchbox. I give it four popcorns.
On Wednesday of tournament week I played in the Crab & Fin Pro Am with (from left to right) Debby Spicuzza, Becky Carlin, and Barbara Stuart. This was the most fun pro am group I have ever had! I always enjoy playing with an all female group (a rarity in most pro-ams), and this crew was no exception. They were not only hilarious, but fantastic players as well. And for the first time ever, my pro am team actually WON! Well, we tied for low net & got second by virtue of a scorecard playoff... but it still felt like a W. Barbara also won closest to the pin. This was one of the highlights of my week.
The only thing missing from Sarasota was good golf. We played a fantastic course, Sara Bay CC. This is a signature Donald Ross design where every green looks like an upside down bowl. Playing to the proper landing area on each green is key if you want to stay on the green and not short side yourself. I started off on a high note Friday, shooting a fine round of level par and ending the day inside the top-10. Unfortunately that was where I peaked. I came out on Saturday trying too hard to play perfect golf, which is the quickest way to NOT play perfect golf (if there is such a thing?). I was a mess on the front nine, missing greens and then failing to get up and down. I calmed myself down and started hitting better approach shots on the back nine, but then could not drop a single putt to get momentum going. I shot a disastrous 80 and followed it up with a 78 on Sunday. The good news is you learn far more from the bad weeks than you do from the good weeks. This week, I learned what situations tend to cause tension (see: wanting perfect golf) and what my tendencies are when tension creeps into my new and improved swing. I also realized how my mindset tends to change from the practice round days to the tournament days- I found myself playing not to lose instead of playing to win. I was making defensive plays around the greens and not chipping and putting with the confidence I had earlier in the week. My strategy for this weekend is to pretend that each hole is a single match against a friend. This should bring out my cocky, competitive mindset that always leads to my best golf and help to take the focus off the number on the scorecard.
This week’s tournament site is Cypress Lakes CC in Ft. Myers. I once again lucked out with my housing assignment. My host, Jan Lee, lives right on the gulf! I am absolutely loving all of this beach time. I don’t think there is any better way to clear the mind and heart than a run along the water. I am so grateful to these kind people for opening up their homes to a wandering golfer.
The 2014 Symetra season is now fully underway. Here is the latest on my last six weeks:
I started the year off with a T54th (71-75-73) finish in Mesa, AZ. This tournament was highlighted by a first round that included seven birdies, five of which came on the final five holes. This was a record number of consecutive birdies for me, and especially fun because it happened with my former Husker golf team, parents, family friends, and coaches watching. I played fairly well for three days, but being +6 on just 2 of the 54 holes cost me.
The next week, the Symetra Tour brought its talents, i.e. ability to end droughts, to southern California. The rain soaked Volvik Championship at Industry Hills in L.A. was shortened to 36 holes and required a Monday finish. I shot a frustrating 76-75 to finish T66th. I showed signs of great ball striking, but the trusty flat stick let me down. At this point, I was really starting to see the changes in my long game taking shape.
I packed up my car and hit the road for Florida on March 14th with tour friend Laura Kueny. We knocked out the 2,300 mile journey in just three days, even managing to squeeze in nine holes in Dallas along the way. I've decided the key to any long road trip is a lot of good laughs... and when my own (self-proclaimed) hilarity runs dry two hours into the trip, the best place to turn is the Pandora comedy station. Laura and I entertained ourselves for at least 750 miles with the likes of Robin Williams and Louis C.K stand-up. I highly recommend this to all travelers!
Lake Wales was our first stop in Florida. Laura and I stayed with a wonderful host, Tom Austin, right on the Lake Wales CC golf course. The graciousness of a host like Tom, who provided fun dinners with neighbors and came out to the course to cheer us on, truly takes the edge off of the nomadic life. I had another week of solid ball striking that was yet again not reflected in my final scores. I shot 75-73-74 to finish T55th. My highlight reel from Lake Wales did, however, include two eagles; one after knocking it on a par 5 in two, and one hole out from 116 yards on a par 4.
With all of the emphasis I have been putting on my swing changes in the past few months, my short game was simply a bit neglected. Even with solid ball striking, missing a few up and down opportunities and having a couple 3-putts every round makes it difficult to shoot under par. So, I shifted my focus to short game during last week's prep days. I practiced a lot of lag putting, played up/down games everyday, hit bunker shots, and chipped on every hole during practice rounds. My efforts were rewarded with rounds of 70-69-73 and a T15th place finish. I even went bogey free in the second round! I was disappointed to not have mounted a charge on the final day, but sometimes you have to take success in baby steps. This week's small victories and the time spent with my name on the leaderboard gave me a lot of solid experiences to build on in the future.
My major focus remains on the process and how I can get better every day. I am proud of some of the improvements I have already made this year. For example, I came up with a solution for the sluggish starts that plagued me in the first two tournaments. I altered my warm-up routine so that the last thing I do before going to the first tee is "play" the first few holes of the course on the range. I toss down a ball, talk with my caddy about a potential yardage and preferred shot type, then go through my full routine to specific targets. I went from averaging +1.4 on the first two holes in Arizona and California to averaging level par on my starting holes in Florida.
Another area of my game that has shown marked improvement is driving distance. While the Symetra Tour's method for measuring driving distance is far from perfect (they measure your distance on just two fairways for each tournament), it does give a general idea how much I have stepped up. Last year my listed average was 228 yards, ranking me 133rd on tour. I am now averaging 246 yards, ranking me 61st. I believe this has made a significant impact on my par 5 scoring, where I now average 4.86, and on my greens in regulation stat, where I have jumped from ranking 96th on tour in 2013 to 56th in 2014. To think it has only been three months since I made my swing changes, I can't wait to see how these numbers get better with some more time.
I now have three weeks off to spend in Phoenix before the bulk of the season begins. I plan to focus my attention on rebuilding feel and confidence around the greens and working out hard in the gym. The next stretch consists of nine events in a ten week span, so the goal is to hit the road feeling as strong as possible physically and mentally. I am incredibly excited about where this year is headed!
An inside look at my journey in professional golf
Have Maddog's Blog delivered directly to your inbox: