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The WEEI Country Club
07.30.09
The Slump Stump

By: Pro from Dover

The Boston Red Sox are hoping they can salvage a lousy July this week. Their offense has been non-existent from top to bottom of the order. How can that be? How can Youkilis, Pedroia, Drew, Ortiz, Varitek and rest just fall into a huge slump at the same time? These guys are professionals.

The answer is: it can happen to anyone in any sport at any level at any time. Unfortunately for the Sox, there’s a simultaneous meltdown.

(A related old time baseball observation from Casey Stengel, “I prefer good pitching over good hitting because pitchers don’t get into slumps.” Casey had never heard of Steve Blass, but that’s another story.)

Well, what about your golf game?

Irrespective of your level of accomplishment in the game, you likely run into a period when the wheels simply come off. (For us, it happens in mid summer.) You have been playing at a comfortable level posting scores within a few shots of what you expect for several weeks.

Then, out of nowhere, you can’t come close to your norm. The clubs feel like crow bars. The ball looks like a BB. The cup looks like a shot glass. It’s like you’ve never played the game before. Every adjustment you make amplifies another problem. You’re lost.

Many beginner players cite frustration with lack of progress as the reason for quitting. We have a friend who started out pretty well and was rapidly closing in on breaking 100. He finally did a couple of times but then backslid to the point where he couldn’t come close to 100. Completely exasperated, he quit the game.

In the wake of his British Open championship, Stewart Cink acknowledged that he had hit a bad patch at the Players’ Championship in May. He had missed a short putt and things began to unravel. So what did he do?

Two things. For years he has been using the belly putter and he discarded it to return to a standard length, traditional one. He then worked on his putting to develop an (almost) yip free grip and stroke.

The other thing he did was take some time off. He put the clubs away and did other things.

In baseball, you see managers sit slumping players for a day or two. They even keep players out of the batting cage. That’s to let the player step back, catch his breath, NOT think about every nuance of the swing, and start over.

When in a slump, analysis paralysis sets in. Imagine, if you will, thinking through the intricate moves you have to make to tie your shoe laces. Not just how you hold your hands or which way the laces cross but how you bend over, which fingers you grasp the laces with, how much you bend you fingers, how hard you pull. All the elements of the simple exercise that we never think about now become the focus of your thoughts.

Friendly (and not so friendly) competitors have been known to ask opponents just before they hit if they inhale or exhale as they are pulling the club back. Think about that for a moment.

So, you’ve hit the wall, you can’t put that ball within 50 yards of your intended target. What should you do? Here are some possible remedies to consider:

  • Literally, take some time off. Don’t play for a week or two. We have friends in Northern California where they can play all year who intentionally take off December and January just to avoid getting stale. A break from the game even in the short New England summer can cure the blahs.
  • Hit the range. Get back to basics with your swing. One drill is particularly helpful. Envision your favorite course and play it. Hit your driver, figure what you need to get to the imaginary green and hit that club. If you’re wide of the target, hit your wedge. Then play the rest of the holes. Obviously, you won’t be putting but the variety of clubs and swings you make can help get you back on track.
  • Go to your teacher. Sometimes reminders of basics help enormously. Perhaps your grip needs adjustment or your tempo is off or you’re misaligned. The pro or your swami who knows your game can set that straight in a short session.
  • If you always play at the same course, go somewhere different where a variety of other types of shots and clubs may be needed. The difference is refreshing.
  • Change your group. Sometimes we fall into a rut playing with the same foursome. Play a round or two with different folks.
  • Consider adding or changing some equipment. We belong to the “It’s the Carpenter Not the Tools Club”  but a different feeling and looking driver or putter can lift you out of that quagmire of inconsistency. And if your slump happens at this time of year, deals on clubs abound. Check out the offers at WEEI Country Club.
  • Quit, sell your clubs and buy a boat but remember the old saying about the two happiest days in a boat owner’s life.

Of those options personal experience has taught that a little time away from the game is usually the best cure followed by a check up from the pro. You return eager to play and rely on muscle memory to swing the club rather than mental gymnastics.

As for the Sox, you can’t sit down your starters for a week so you have to cross your fingers, let them individually take a day or two off and hope the pitching staff throws shut outs.