March 14, 2003
This was one amazing winter. I can’t remember not playing golf for this long. The snow-packed season kept Cape Region golf courses closed for far more than the usual week or two.
This week I met with Butch Holtzclaw, the head golf professional at The Rookery Golf Club outside Milton. I asked for tips about restarting one’s game after a long winter layover.
Holtzclaw was happy to oblige.
First, he stressed the importance of working out off the golf course, to prevent injury and increase mobility. “A proper diet and a good exercise routine will help in getting back to the swing of things.”
Next, he suggested that Cape Region golfers should start on the putting green. “Work in close and work your way out. The greens are going to be slower than you remember, so it’s important to regain your touch before you play.”
Holtzclaw said to remember that the greens are often not only slow, but also a bit rough, too: “They’re going to be inconsistent. You just have to keep that in mind.”
After recovering touch with the putter, the next move is to practice wedge play, for a good reason: “The first thing that goes when you don’t play for a while is your feel. Because the short game depends on feel, it will show the fallout of a long layoff. That’s why you’ll need more work on this than, say, your driver. I’ll hit half wedges, ¾ wedges, and full wedges, to regain my feel and tempo.”
If you’ve been playing for a long time, you’re probably going to keep your basic swing mechanics, Holtzclaw said. “Most people’s swing will look about the same, but they’ll have trouble with their tempo at first.”
Holtzclaw reminded Cape Region golfers that while it’s still cold out, the ball simply won’t travel as far. “You should take more club than you would in the summer.”
The late winter/early spring turf is also frequently soft, or both soft and wet. Holtzclaw said to choke down on the club a little for soft conditions, and to use an extra club. “Since your feet will sink into the ground a little bit, you will be closer to the ball than you are used to.”
As for wet conditions, Holtzclaw said that golfers need to remember to hit down on the ball, and not to try to scoop the ball with the clubface. “Golf is a game of opposites. Hit down to make the ball go up. If you don’t, you’re more likely to skull or top the ball.”
Holtzclaw stressed that mid-March and early April is not the time to assume you will play just as well as you did last October. “If you haven’t played for a while, it’s important not to be critical of your game. Play for fun, not score. This mental approach will help you from being frustrated and fixated with your score.”
Even so, it’s a good time to set goals for the 2003 season. Make your goals obtainable but challenging, Holtzclaw said, and set aside enough time for both practicing and playing.
And, of course, there is always the opportunity to take a lesson or two from one’s favorite local PGA golf professional. As Holtzclaw said (shamelessly, I might add), “A good professional can pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses in your swing, and work with you to find a solution to improvement.”
Local pros are using new tools to help their students. On March 12 Holtzclaw used his new video digital coaching system for the first time, and said he liked the results. “I think it’ll help a lot. We taped the swing, and it was a real surprise to my student to see what his swing actually looked like.”
For some of us, being able to see our swing would be a scary prospect, based on what our playing companions have already told us. Brave souls and others can reach Holtzclaw by calling 302-684-3000.