I have been playing golf now for twenty-five years. Looking back, it is amazing to think about my journey and my process for learning the game. Through the years I have worked hard, logged long hours and brought a passion to the game that has made my journey exhilarating. The process of growth has been both challenging and deeply rewarding. The game has taken me to many interesting places and introduced me to some great people along the way. I feel fortunate to have played at a high level and now be able to help others with their games.
I grew up playing Pacific Grove Golf Links on the Monterey Peninsula. The par 70 layout features small undulating greens originally designed by Jack Neville, the same architect who did Pebble Beach.
Looking back, PGGL was a fantastic place for a youngster to learn the game. With the small sloping greens, I learned the importance of a tidy short game. The tree lined fairways on the front nine and the exposed coastal seascape of the back nine also taught me how to shape the ball and control my trajectory.
Up until the age of 11 I had a five club set (9 iron, 7 iron, 5 iron, three wood, driver and putter). I loved to practice my chipping game with my 9, 7 and 5 irons and would spend hours chipping with the three clubs.
One day the pro called me into the golf shop and asked if I wanted a wedge. He cut it down for me and put a new grip on it and I hurried out to the practice green. That was one of the most fun chipping sessions I can ever remember. I could do whatever I wanted with the ball. I was hitting super high flop shots, low skipping spinners, one bounce and stoppers; I could even hit shots that spun backwards from 40 feet off the green.
After acquiring that first pitching wedge, and then a few years later my first 60 degree lob wedge, I felt that I could do anything with a ball around the greens. I do not remember losing too many chipping and putting games to the other juniors who challenged me.
I have used a total of three different putters during my life. My first putter was a blade Cleveland Classic that I still use today. Using this putter for the first seven years of my life, I established a solid putting foundation and developed a great awareness for the club, touch, feel and precise face contact. I believe that this was the best gift a junior golfer could ever get if they wanted to hone their putting skills. Thanks mom and dad…
Scorecard 1) Score of 75 at 12 years old. Scorecard 2) Score of 69 - first time breaking par - 14 years old. Scorecard 3) Score of 67 one month after the 69.
With a strong short game, I was able to win many tournaments during my pre-college years. I represented two Northern California Junior Cup teams, finished runner up in the California Junior Amateur losing in a playoff to Spencer Levin, placed second in the Northern California Junior Amateur and made it to the first round of match play in the United States Junior Amateur Championship.
By the time I got to college, my short game and ball striking was proficient enough to compete on the traveling team. I won my very first college tournament in Greensborough, NC and went on to capture the Pac-10 Co-Freshman of the year honors with Alejandro Cañizares.
I was fortunate enough to be on an outstanding college golf team with driven and motivated players whom I learned a great deal from. During my Sophomore year, we won the 2004 NCAA Division I National Championship.
With a great short game, I could contend and win tournaments in college with average ball striking displays. I won individual medalist honors by six strokes at a stacked field for UCLA’s college tournament by one putting my last 10 holes in a row during the final round. I also won the San Francisco City Amateur without a single three putt over the course of eight rounds.
Despite my great short game, I realized the importance of the long iron and driving game. College tournaments could still be won with a stellar short game, but I noticed that the best players did not have any weaknesses. Watching and playing with Nick Watney, John Merrick, Spencer Levin, Peter Tomasulo, Ricky Barnes, Ryan Moore and Hunter Mahan, I noticed how well they played their long irons over everyone else. I also noticed how they hit a powerful and controlled cut shot off the tee with their driver.
I had battled a miss to the left up until this point. Over time, it became extremely important for me to shape my swing so that missing left would not be an option. I knew that a ball that overturned too much left-to-right was a better alternative. This ball flight would typically fly higher and less off line than the alternative.
I began the process of experimenting with my swing to find a solution. One day during my senior year of college I was watching film of my swing and noticed that my hands came into impact higher than where they began at address with a lot of face rotation post impact (from a DTL position). I noticed that this was drastically different from the pictures of the great ball strikers I had seen during the moment of impact.
Although not fully understanding it at the time, this discovery was the first step toward leading me to what I believe is important today.
After graduating from college and turning professional, I qualified for the Canadian PGA Tour. I finished my first year in the top 100 Order of Merit and realized my childhood dream of playing in the AT@T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Taking a good look at my game however, it quickly became apparent that my ball striking was holding me back.
Lacking confidence in my ball striking, I hopped around to numerous swing coaches. Although most of their intentions were good, I spent a lot of time rebuilding my backswing. During this time, I lost a lot of my feel for the club head. I got caught up with the cosmetics of the swing but not with the driving cause behind consistent ball striking. After three years as a professional I became frustrated, angry and tired with the game of golf. I departed from the professional arena but not from the game I loved.
POST TOUR GOLF
After leaving professional golf I set to understand what makes great players great in each aspect of the game. I have implemented these changes myself and would never give something away that I have not already tested and experienced myself.
Besides loading power and energy, I could care less about the way in which I take the club back. I have instead built my swing around impact and have let my backswing develop as a result of where I want the club to travel through the hitting area. I do not feel like I need to hit balls prior to a round to find my tempo, rhythm and ball flight. My worst miss is not near as sideways as it used to be. Similarly, I cannot remember the last time I hooked the ball.
This past year I won the Monterey Bay Chapter Year End Championship for PGA Class A and assistant professionals. I had not practiced in over three weeks coming into the event and shot a first round 70 followed by a second round bogey free 67. My scoring has been more consistent than ever before with very little range time.
My new golfing exploration has taken me to the other side of the golf ball. In doing so, I aim to put my principals to the test as a humbled beginner to better help my students in their learning process. I believe that it is a coaches responsibility to practice, play and compete. With all the technology and information about the golf swing that is available today, there are a lot of golf instructors who may sound well informed but lack an understanding of the learning process.
In a time where more people are quitting the game than ever before, it is important to nurture development and enjoyment while exploring alternative methods for learning. Golf is challenging and time consuming. What if it could be engaging and worth while?
Stay tuned for future posts on my left handed golfing journey.