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Gear Up for Golf Season

By Matt Hombach

Finally, it's Masters week. Golf fans, basking in front of their televisions in the sights and sounds of tournament coverage from the beautiful Augusta National Golf Club. Combine those good vibes with longer days and warmer temperatures and Baltimore golfers get whipped into a frenzy this time each year.

Like baseball teams in spring training, hope springs eternal in April for amateur golfers. They declare that this will be the year they dedicate themselves to improving their game. This is the year they out-drive those other blokes in their foursome and start shooting in the 80s every time they play.

While most golfers start the season with great expectations, too many of them wind up their season early in August. They get frustrated by lack of improvement and punish their clubs by stowing them away in the garage until the following spring.

Set Realistic Goals
As the head golf professional at Rocky Point Golf Course outside Essex, Jeff Bell sees players start the year with the best of intentions, ready to step up their game. Too often, they become frustrated within a just a few weeks because they set unrealistic goals.

"If I have a golfer tell me in the spring they want to take 10 strokes off their game in the next four to six months, I am quick to bring them back down to Earth," Bell said. "Taking four to five strokes off your average score is a more realistic goal for most golfers, but it's still very difficult."

Develop a Plan
Bell works with dozens of golfers each year to map out a plan for improving their games. The plan requires commitment and consistency that few have the spare time or dedication to make.

"To really improve your golf game, you need to consistently practice at least twice a week and play at least once," Bell said. "I do my best to work with each golfer that comes to me to gauge how much time they can afford to dedicate to practicing and playing and then build a goal and a plan around that."

Other elements to the plan included lessons in which Bell and the other pros at Rocky Point can make swing corrections and give golfers ideas on drills they can practice on their own.

"All the lessons in the world won't do you any good unless you work on what you're taught after the lesson," Bell said.

Focus on the Short Game
According to Bell, the best way to lose those few shots off your score is around the green. Golfers spend too much time trying to crush their new $500 driver on the range and just "putt around" as an after thought on their way to the parking lot.

Analyses of golfers' scores have shown that 80 percent of strokes are made from 100 yards and in, yet most casual golfers neglect to practice their short game.

In regards to putting, Bell notes that golfers wonder why they don't make more putts, but when he watches them on the practice green, they leave 90 percent of their putts short. They don't even get to the hole.

"Too many golfers worry about the line of the putt and not the speed," Bell said. "Putting is all about speed. If the ball doesn't make it to the hole, it has no chance at all to go in."

Besides putting, golfers also need to make time to educate themselves on how far specifically they can hit their lob, sand and pitching wedges. Bell advises players to use the yardage markers on the range to get specific information on how far they hit each of these clubs. With the distances down, it will make a big difference in hitting wedge shots closer to the hole.

So be realistic this year. Channel the spring enthusiasm for golf into creating and maintaining a consistent practice routine and schedule. Try to practice more than you play and focus on your short game. Bell and other pros will agree, that's the only true path to lower scores.

Mulligan from Last Week
I whiffed a bit last week when giving the rundown of professional golf tournaments in Maryland. I overlooked a second Duramed Futures Tour event in the area. The Hunters Oak Golf Classic takes place a week before the event in Gettysburg, Pa.  The name of the event tells you it is held at the Hunters Oak Golf Course in Queenstown, just over the Bay Bridge. The playing dates of the event are August 17-19 and you can get more information at www.DuramedFuturesTour.com.

Issue 2.14: April 5, 2007