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TeeTime: Get Your Sticks and Yourself in Shape for Golf

By Matt Hombach

Living in the mid-Atlantic region, most golfers tend to pack away their clubs in early October and don't dust them off again until around Masters week in April. Many golfers foolishly expect their games to pick up where they left off in the fall. The truth is, after nearly a six-month layoff, it takes time to knock the rust off your clubs and off your game.


Everybody Loves a Classic
Constellation Energy Classic officials announced last week that golf legend Arnold Palmer will be the Tournament Spokesman for the Fourth Annual Constellation Energy Classic running September 11 – 17 at Hayfields Country Club in Hunt Valley. Palmer is no stranger to Baltimore--one of his first professional victories came at the 1956 Eastern Open at Mt. Pleasant Golf Course.

Tiger's New Best Friend
While Tiger and Swedish model/nanny Elin Nordegren don't have any children yet, they've got the next best thing. Tiger's wife presented him with a Border Collie puppy named Taz as a Christmas gift. After the way Tiger putted on Sunday at Augusta National earlier this month, I wouldn't be surprised if the pampered pup was allowed to use his master's putter as a chew toy.

By this point in the year, you may have already suffered through several disappointing practice sessions on the driving range. Maybe you've trudged through a disheartening early season round of golf where you didn't even come close to breaking 100.

The good news is you have the whole summer and early fall to get your game up to snuff and even try to bring down your handicap a few strokes. Now's the perfect time to start over and give your golf equipment and game a good going over.

Get a Grip

One of the equipment issues often overlooked by golfers is dirty or worn grips. If grips aren't tacky enough, the club can easily slip or turn in your hands on the downswing. In most cases, this won't send a club careening onto the clubhouse patio like Judge Smails in Caddyshack, but the clubface could turn off line near the point of impact and cause a woefully errant shot.

Most pros will tell you that avid golfers should change their grips once every year or so. Check your grips for wear by looking for any smooth or hard spots or obvious cracking. If you see any evidence of wear, it's time to re-grip.

Re-gripping your full set of clubs is a relatively inexpensive proposition. Your local pro shop or big box golf retail store can easily take care of it. If you prefer, you can actually re-grip the clubs yourself. It's a fairly simple process and makes for an easy weekend afternoon project.

Even if your grips aren't worn enough to warrant replacement, they are surely due for a good cleaning. Sweat from your hands and dirt from the course or inside your bag will adhere to your grips, causing them to lose their tack. Use a sponge and soak them down with warm, soapy water, then towel dry.

You'll be amazed at the difference replacing your grips, or even just cleaning your existing ones, will make. It's like having a new set in your bag.

Grooves and Shoes

Besides checking your grips, take a moment to clean out the grooves on the face of your woods, irons and wedges. Spend a few dollars on a good groove cleaner next time you're in a pro shop and keep your grooves clean throughout the season. Grooves filled with dirt and mud will limit the amount of spin you can put on your ball with a full shot. Clean grooves will ensure you get maximum spin and more consistent shots.

One final housekeeping item for the early season checklist is to replace the soft spikes on your golf shoes. Too many golfers wear the spikes down to nubs before they replace them. Just like your grips, you're due for a new set of spikes about once a year.

Jump Starting Your Game

Once you have your golf equipment in shape, it's time to focus on your game. Bok a lesson with your local PGA professional or teaching pro early in the season; reviewing the fundamentals of the stance and swing and picking out a few areas of your game to work on will pay off considerably next season.

Practicing on your own is obviously a big part of improving your game. While it's tempting to just head out to the driving range and begin pounding balls, starting at the practice green and working on your chipping and putting will pay bigger dividends for you. It's important to start out slow and avoid putting too much pressure on yourself to be in midseason form in April. Forget the score your first couple of times out playing: Simply enjoy being on the course and try to string a couple of good holes together.

After a few rounds and practice sessions, it's time to get more serious about shooting better scores. But this time of year, it's more important to just enjoy the game of golf and relish the fact that golf season is here again.

Matt Hombach works for Nevins & Associates, a marketing and public relations firm that handles several clients from the golfing industry.

Issue 1.1: April 27, 2006