Tuesday, March 31, 2015

ReGripped Goes To The LPGA Kia Classic

Hi everyone, my name is Pete and I have always enjoyed watching and following the LPGA tour. One of my top moments was watching Annika Sorenstam play in an LPGA event at Kingsmill and seeing her absolutely destroy the course along with the rest of the field. As much as I love the PGA and Champions Tours (and to a lesser extent, whatever the Hogan/Nike/Nationwide/Web.com/Cheetos Tour is currently named), the LPGA is tops in my book. As the tour makes its West Coast swing near where I live, I knew I definitely had to check out the LPGA's Kia Classic.

The tournament has been held in several places around SoCal over the years but has recently settled at the Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad California. Aviara was designed by The King himself, Arnold Palmer and features a lot of elevation changes and bulldozer elements.

Seriously, look at this course, all of those waves and mounds. Its a surprise if you ever get a level lie on this course, even with a great drive. Bulldozer courses aren't exactly my cup of tea, I have come around to favoring the Coore/Crenshaw model of building the course using natural landscape features rather than creating them. That being said, I would LOVE to play this course, it looks really fun and challenging. 

Case in point, I can't remember the last time I saw an American course with a DOUBLE green!

It is in the same breath fascinating and bananas, especially when you have groups playing the green at the same time. This setup is not necessarily a surprise as the mantra for the LPGA is "See Why Its Different Out Here" (with the appropriate hashtagging for our Twitter-age) and that philosophy was apparent all throughout the tournament.

All of those flags represent players on tour and suffice to say they come from all over. The tour, while initially a US-based, has firmly embraced the global nature of sport and spends a significant portion of their season playing all over the world from Australia to Thailand and beyond. Sports like the NFL and the NBA are trying to crack the tough nut of a global presence but the LPGA could show them a thing or three about how to run a truly global league.

I arrived at the course in the morning to find that for the final round on Sunday they were using split tees and for most courses this isn't an issue but Aviara's 9's are really segmented so you really have to choose one 9 over another and then hustle to see other groups going through the other 9. I decided to concentrate my energies on the back 9, which is full of water and beautiful shots like this:

Really, water is everywhere, you are either shooting over water:

or shooting around several bodies of water. 

Above the 18th which is one of my favorite holes on the course. Salt water marsh to the left, lake to the right leading up a green with a waterfall which is a heck of a closing par 4. The other favorite hole is a drivable, downhill par 4 16th which has water on the left but tons of playability to the right and it was awesome to see all the pros go for it, including Michelle Wie who drove the green with a 3 wood (!?!) and almost sunk the eagle chance.

Speaking of Michelle, wow what a player! She has had her ups and downs as a player and whatever you think of her putting style (basically forming a rectangle with the putting green) her power through the hitting zone is undeniable. Not only is she fascinating to watch up close but she is a great person, singling out kids to give balls to in-round and generally having fun. The same goes for a lot of players. Danielle Kang and Sandra Gal were having a great time and that type of enthusiasm is infectious. This again is another example of why the LPGA is "different", the players are approachable and fun. How they play the course is how you probably will play the course (rather than the bomb and gouge technique that is prevalent on the PGA Tour) and they players are all distinct  rather than faceless, Oakley wearing pros. 

Of course, the LPGA does have similarities with the other tours. The superstar groups are, well, superstars. HUGE groups following Stacy Lewis, Lydia Ko, Lexi Thompson and others with electricity in the air for great shots or nearly-great shots. I only started going to golf tournaments beginning last year after a long golf layoff and it is surprising that some of these super groups have their own dedicated security personnel but I noticed that with Rickie Fowler's group and Michelle's group. Upon reflection, its not that surprising but the earpiece/security-types were in attendance at the Kia Classic.

The most impressive golfer was no question Lydia Ko. She.Just.Doesn't.Miss. Its insane, she is a machine (in the best possible way). Tiger had passion and fist pumps and was dominate and Lydia just goes around destroying records and courses. Its tough to believe she is only 17 yet is number 1 in the world, has over 20 rounds below par IN A ROW and oh yea, keeps winning tournaments against the best women players in the world.  

The strength of the LPGA was on full display this week at the Kia Classic. Cristie Kerr won with an amazing 20 under pay and is 10th in the world. Mirim Lee came in second and is 6th in the world. Lydia Ko was third and of course, is number 1 in the world and the list goes on and on. Each week the best play LPGA events and the cream rises to the top. Can't wait for the first major of the season, the ANA Inspiration tournament in Rancho Mirage California. Should be great! 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

ReGripped Gets a Lesson- Week 3 Hard Work Pays Off

I have never liked gyms. I feel they are too passive, you are running on a treadmill, you are lifting weights for what? Sure you get bigger muscles, etc. but I like activities where I am playing a sport, something tangible.

In my previous golf life, I always played golf. Sure I practiced on the range every once in awhile, working on this aspect or that new thing but for the most part playing a lot helped my game than the range.

After having been away from the game for awhile and trying to get back into it for the last year, it was clear that playing wouldn't just cut it. I would play, hit a few good shots and be miserable the rest of the round.

After lesson 2 at Angeles, I was given a brand new swing. If I am going to be serious about improving, then I needed to get to work. So all week between lessons I went to my local driving range (5 minutes away, a rarity in Los Angeles commuting) and worked on the swing. Every night, refining swing thoughts. I was prepped for lesson 3 and my short irons are really coming along.

The driver, well that is another matter.

The driver has always been my achilles heel but since I had no idea what was really going on with my swing on the long clubs, my teacher John hooked me up with Trackman. I am sure a lot of you know about Trackman but it was my first time with such a device. It gave me all types of numbers (some of which I still don't understand) but more importantly, it told John exactly what I was doing and how to fix it.

Mainly this involved flotation devices.

The real key to a good pro is to find what swing thought clicks with you personally and then drilling that into you. Swinging around this floatation device helped get the right swing thoughts in my head.

How effective as this device? I went from a 240 yard drive with a slice to a 270 yard drive with a draw. A huge improvement in one lesson. Of course, I need to work hard on the range getting this swing into my muscle memory (and of course, if my wife will let me spend that much time on the range).

However, seeing tangible results drives me to practice more and to get better at this game. All thanks to John and Angeles National!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

ReGripped Gets A Lesson- Week Two

Is this the week it all changes? Twenty plus years of balls fading to the right, taking one club more than most, scrambling with my short game because my long game is a mess? Is this the week that I turn it all around and start hitting like a pro?

Well if it is, it is going to take some work.

For years I have been using a particular grip and a particular swing. I had been focused on Freddie Couples Timing and Tempo that I lost sight of the actual mechanics of the swing.

John my teacher started building my swing one inch at a time. First the grip, then the takeaway, then the follow through. Building blocks upon building blocks and completely away from my normal swing.

I knew I would have to spend some serious range time in order to incorporate all of these tips and set about trying to internalize the swing on the range. Its been uneven so far but the ball flight (straight and boring) is exactly what I want so when it does work, it really works.

How will this translate into lesson 3? Stay tuned! No matter what happens with my swing, the Agave Bar will be there with awesome food and drinks!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

ReGripped Gets A Lesson- Week One

Do I play golf? Why yes I do. Do I sometimes go the driving range and hit balls? Hmm now that you mention it, I do!

Do I take lessons to actively improve my golf game thus bettering my enjoyment of said golf? Not since the 90s. That is the sad truth of the matter, I know the mechanics of the swing and have an eye for helping other people but I actually haven't done anything to sharpen my own swing in a little less than two decades.

After a couple horrible rounds of golf recently, I thought I would get my act together and take some lessons. Luckily Angeles National (one of the best courses in SoCal) was offering a month of lessons at a real reasonable rate; so for the month of March, I am taking lessons and reporting to you, dear readers on the results.

Week One: Short Game

A big green bucket of balls greeted me and my instructor John Ray Leary at Angeles National. John is a very personable fellow and his demeanor reminded me of my favorite teacher of all time back in the days when I was young and good.

John's theory is that the mechanics you put into place when you are chipping and pitching hold true through the rest of the golf shot so we spent some time lofting up balls to a practice pitching green.

The short game has always been one of my strong points (I get into trouble off the tee a lot and have to scramble for pars, something I was adept at earlier but now, not so much). John is great in imparting visualizations about the swing and I took to his instruction like a duck to water.

Most of us aren't pros so we don't spend a lot of time hitting balls every day but at least for me, hitting many balls over the course of an hour was really great just to groove things together and see where the inconsistencies pop up. I bet if I spent 1-3 hours a day on the range, I would be much better playing on the weekends but unless someone steps up to the old endorsement plate for a 15 handicapper, I don't think that is happening any time soon.

The course itself is gorgeous and reminded of pictures I have read in a book one time in line at the airport on my way somewhere of Palm Springs  and while I was concentrating hard on practicing, I also had one eye on actually playing this track. One day soon, for sure.

I am already feeling better about my game after one lesson (confidence gained through repetition and patient instruction) and can't wait to see what next week's lesson holds!