The SLDR Mini Driver: A New Way to Play the Opening Holes at Twin Oaks

SLDR S Mini Driver_3_4

Like all of you, I’ve had my trails playing the tight four-hole opening stretch at Twin Oaks.

I’ve probably played them 20 times or so now, achieving mixed results. Dozens of lost balls have gradually coaxed me into a less aggressive strategy that doesn’t make for as many birdies, but it makes for a lot fewer bogies. I’ve taken a bit of a survivalist mentality about the opening combination of two short par-4s, a long par-5 and a mid-length par-3.

I had a bit of a breakthrough on this stretch, however, two weeks ago thanks for a breakthrough in TaylorMade’s R & D department.

I was carrying TaylorMade’s new SLDR Mini Driver for the first time. The Mini Driver is a club between a driver and a 3-wood. It’s a driver with a 260cc and a Speed Slot, designed to provide the accuracy of a 3-wood off the tee while providing the distance of a driver, or just shy of.

TaylorMade gave me an advance chance to experience the Mini Driver, and I took to it immediately. My first shots on the range were dead straight, and I found I was able to hit it about 260-280 yards, sacrificing only 20-40 yards from my driver.

With this new weapon stashed in my bag, I approached the first tee at Twin Oaks. The opening dogleg doesn’t play to my draw, but I’ve learned to basically get by punching a 3-wood out left, just past the tree. Well, two weeks ago, I pulled the Mini, which is ideal for shorter par-4s, especially tight ones.

In short, I hit my best drive ever on this hole. I took it 280 yards right up the middle, leaving me about 50 yards. Due to a two-putt, birdie eluded me, but I felt like I was onto something.

Unfortunately, I pulled my tee ball OB with the Mini on the difficult par-5 2nd, but I executed the drive on No. 4 to just shy of the two fairway traps to set me up for another par. I got around the opening holes in 2-over, which may or may not be my best, but it felt different. This felt like success I could repeat, and hopefully drop a few putts the next time.

The Mini Driver comes in lofts of 12, 14 and 16 degrees. The lofts are supposed to remove sidespin from the ball to produce straight shots and thus more balls in the fairway.

At a media event for the Mini on Monday at La Costa Resort and Spa, TaylorMade’s Brian Bazzel, Senior Director of Product Creation for Metalwoods, explained the performance benefits of increased loft.

“If you take a player who hits a 10-degree driver and has lots of side spin, look at what happens when they hit a 16-degree driver,” he said. “They square up the face more often and decrease the sidespin by almost half. When you do that, you’re speed goes up, you efficiency goes up and suddenly you’re hitting it farther and hitting more fairways.”

Bazzel says shorter hitters in particular can benefit from increased loft.

“What’s most obvious from the research is the biggest benefit of high launch, low spin is for slow-swing players,” he said. “They already have low spin. We just need to get them to loft up and hit it higher and the yardage gains are there. They’re actually the ones leaving the most yardage on the table right now.”

Putting the Mini in of course means taking a club out. Bazzel says that decision will be different for each player depending largely on what loft their driver is and then gapping appropriately after.

But Bazzel says the evolution of club combinations in golf bags has already begun.

“Throughout every swing speed, you’re going to see a new club combination and bag makeup that utilizes the technology to achieve more distance. The average driver loft on Tour has gone up one degree to 10.5 degrees and several 12 degrees are in play. Their bag has completely changed, just in one year.  The longest iron in the bag now often will be a 5-iron. You’re going to see those changes being reflected in recreational players from what they see on Tour.”

Don’t be surprised if it shows up in a bag of one of your playing partners soon. The club went on sale in May and retails for $279.           The club is designed for enhanced performance off the tee, but can be played from the fairway as well. Bazzel says he’s still discovering the shots that can be hit with it.

As for me, my driver is out and the Mini is in. I’ve been experiencing a bit of the driver doldrums recently and the Mini has proven an excellent remedy.

For more information about the Mini, contact your JC pro and see if it’s a club that fits into your golf bag of the future.

JC Golf: Golfers Gone Wild Celebrates a Milestone

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         What do you get when you combine more than 200 golfers, 1,500 hot wings, 36 holes of tournament golf and throw in a few kegs of beer and a band?

You’ve got Golfers Gone Wild, the wildly popular spring tournament at Twin Oaks that will celebrate its fifth anniversary on April 11th.

The tournament is a JC Golf concept that originated at the Rancho Bernardo Inn but has found a home at Twin Oaks.

Tournament director Scott Butler says the tournament has developed such a following that he gets asked about the date months in advance.

“People look forward to it now,” Butler says. “It’s a lot of hard work for us, but it’s a really fun day for the golfers.”

The toughest trick for the staff is turning the golf carts after the 8 a.m. shotgun to get them out for the 2 p.m. shotgun, Butler says. What happens in between for the golfers is part of what makes the tournament unique.

In the course’s beer garden, a band is playing and food and beer are being served. Hooter’s girls dole out around 1,500 hot wings. Meanwhile local breweries – this year it’s Ballast Point and Mother Earth – provide beers for tasting and Hornito’s does the same for tequila.

Golfers seek to sample some of all of it via a “passport” they’re encouraged to complete.

Butler says the beer garden experience makes the day as much as what happens on the golf course.

“It’s just a fun tournament that is different than what most people associate with a golf tournament,” he says. “This is more about the atmosphere of the event than the actual golf.

“We want people to just have a good time.”

As for the golf, Butler says the unique set up of the course includes two holes on the par-3 17th. Called “Seeing Double,” the hole provides a closest-to-the-pin contest to either pin.

Of the more than 200 golfers that participate in the day, a few choose to play 36, Butler says.

“Only the brave actually play both,” he jokes. “Historically we get about four foursomes that will play both.”

For the price – $55 a player, $220 a foursome – Butler says the tournament is an incredible value for players.

“To be able to enjoy at all that for $55 is a really good deal. It’s crazy.”

A few spots remain for Golfers Gone Wild. You can sign up at http://www.jcgolf.com or by calling 760.591.4700.

JC Golf: A Lesson About Lessons – 7 Tips for Maximizing Your Golf Lesson

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Photo courtesy of golfeneur.com

Before I left the house to interview Troy Ferguson and Paul Miernicki of Twin Oaks for this post, I did a quick Google search about this topic and it returned surprisingly little.

Could it be that for all the golf instruction information available in our connected world, the most under-taught part of a golf lesson is the lesson process itself?

For those who’ve never had a lesson, I think this information will provide insightful and highly valuable. But even if you’ve taken lessons for years, I still think there’s something to be gleaned here, especially toward the end when Troy and Paul talk about creating lasting change with your lesson.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. I know many who have reverted to old habits after a few weeks and didn’t muster the resolve for long-term change. I’ve been there myself.

Troy is the Head Golf Professional at Twin Oaks and Paul is the Director of Instruction. Paul has been an instructor for 16 years, 10 with JC Golf.

What follows are their combined thoughts on how to get the best results from lessons, meaning preparation, execution, review and, perhaps most important, post-lesson practice.

FYI: The base lesson is 30 minutes, so we’ll use that as our point of reference.

 1.   Know What You Want To Work On

It may seem obvious, but the first lesson of lessons is to know how to ask for one. Besides the general areas of full swing, short game and putting, it’s incumbent upon the player to be specific and honest about what needs to be addressed.

Mental issues that commonly come with the natural struggles of the game can even be a lesson, but a starting point has to be identified.

“The more specific the better,” Miernicki says. “And actually taking on one thing in a lesson is plenty.”

Ferguson says a good instructor will limit a lesson to one or two areas, but many players make the mistake of trying to overload the lesson.

“It’s 30 minutes and you can’t fix it all,” Ferguson says. “If alignment is your issue, for example, you need to work on a alignment for a week or two.

“If it’s your grip, you need to focus on your grip. There might be a multitude of issues that need to be addressed individually. That takes time.”

But Miernicki says there’s victory in merely striving for change, citing the mantra, “If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting.”

That’s a change many golfers don’t ever embrace and play lesser golf because of it.

 2.   Disclose Any Health Issues or Known Physical Limitations To Your Instructor

Especially as players age, their swings are often limited by what their bodies will allow. These limitations are often obvious, but sometimes not.

To diagnose a swing properly, the instructor has to be able to diagnose the player. Being forthright about any ailments or issues assists both the player and the instructor.

“Body type often dictates swing,” Ferguson says. “Shoulder injuries in particular can be very limiting. But those also are some of the people that need the most help to be able to continue to play and enjoy the game.”

In some cases, the instructor may be able to recommend swing changes or adjustments that better protect the player’s health. Or sometimes therapies or stretching regimens can be recommended to assist with such issues as decreased flexibility.

In every case, full disclosure is best for everyone involved.

 3.   Have Realistic Expectations

A golf lesson is the start of a process, not a magic bullet.

Part of that process is realizing what can be accomplished.

“You can’t be a scratch golfer when you shoot 90 now and you have an hour a week to work on your game,” Ferguson says. “You’ve got to adjust your expectations.”

And this is where Miernicki is bluntly honest about what can be expected.

“If I’m asking you to do something really new, you’re probably going to get worse at first,” he says. “That’s just the reality. Guys seem to struggle with that idea more than women.

“Eventually you will improve. My ultimate goal is for you to leave happier than you arrived.”

Ferguson says a good set of questions to ask yourself before committing to a series of lessons are these:

1)  What do I ultimately want out of the game of golf?

2)  How much time do I have to commit to that goal?

3)  Given that time, are my expectations realistic?

“Expectations may not meet reality,” Ferguson says. “This game is hard. You don’t learn it overnight.”

 4.   Come Ready To Learn, and Trust the Process

Knowing what you want from your lesson is one thing. Telling the instructor what your lesson needs to be is another.

There’s a lot of information publicly available about the golf swing, but people sometimes misidentify or misconstrue what their source is actually telling them.

You come to an instructor to hear the truth. Now it’s time to listen and be prepared to hear it, accept it and provide feedback toward correcting it.

Trying to guide or override the lesson only hinders progress, Ferguson says.

“You need to trust what the instructor sees,” he says. “We’ll get people who think they have identified what’s wrong by reading Golf Digest or looking at a YouTube video.

“Often the issue they’ve identified, or the fix, isn’t their issue. You need to come in with an open mind.”

Ferguson likens teaching pros to other “pros” people commonly have in their lives.

“When your mechanic say it’s your radiator or your doctor tells you it’s a torn knee ligament, you don’t second guess them and say it’s something else,” Ferguson says.

“You’re welcome to a second opinion, but at the moment, this is your expert and your need to respect that.

“There’s no perfect golf swing and no perfect golf instructor, but they’re trying to find what will work best for you. Trust that.”

 5.   Relax. Lessons Are Fun. So Have Fun.

It’s normal for the first few minutes of a lesson to replicate first-tee jitters. Don’t sweat it, Miernicki says. Forget it and embrace the process. But above all, enjoy your time.

“You’re not here to be on Tour. Relax and let me entertain you. I’m in the entertain business. Let’s have some fun.”

Bad shots provide as much feedback as good one. Take the good with the bad, but Miernicki says the good shots are the ones that aren’t treasured enough.

“We all focus too much on our bad shots. Focus on success. Focus on fun.”

6.   Provide Feedback

Ideally your improved results will mostly be doing this for you, but Miernicki says perhaps the most important part of his lessons are the 5 minutes he specifically designates at the end for review.

He wants his client to verbally express what has been learned and how.

“If what I’m saying isn’t what you’re hearing, I need to know,” he says. “We might need another approach.”

Most important, proper review leads to retention, which leads to repetition and the player being able to replicate the results on their own.

“My goal isn’t for you to play golf for me,” Miernicki says. “My goal is for you to play golf for you.”

7.   Making It Stick

Ideally, what’s covered in a lesson should be repeated and practiced once or two on the range in the next week, or, as Miernicki prefers, in a nine-hole round.

Along the lines of limiting practice to a concentrated amount, Ferguson says the first practice done post lesson should be done with a small bucket – 35 balls.

Why?

“Practice is about the quality of practice, not the quantity,” he says. “You will value the shots more if you’ve got a small bucket. When people have a larger bucket, they tend to just beat balls.

“If you only got 35 balls, if you hit a bad one, you’re more likely to step back and try to self-diagnose and focus on the next one. That’s how you improve.”

Ferguson says the sure way to waste a lesson is to just “give to two minutes the next time you’re on the range.”

To that end, Miernicki says most golfers have been taught how to properly use their range time. Too many flail away with one club before just moving onto the next.

He says for most average golfers, the perfect number of range balls is 60.

“Think about it. If you shoot 100, that’s probably 40 putts. That leaves 60 shots. Practice those 60 shots, and that doesn’t mean hitting driver 10 times in a row. How often do you do that during your round? You don’t.”

Miernicki says the best practice is a simulated round, meaning replicating the sequence of shots played on the course.

Retaining learning from lessons and improving practice habits are two of the biggest keys to improving, Ferguson says, but it takes time and commitment for those things to become a habit.

“If you don’t make that commitment, you’ll just go back to doing what’s comfortable,” Ferguson says. “That’s not how you improve.”

To schedule a lesson with Paul at Twin Oaks, please call 619.368.2269.

Note: the first lesson is half price.

JC Golf: JC Golf Spotlight Hole – No. 15 at Twin Oaks

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One of the unique joys of establishing a long-term relationship with a golf course is the development of pet scoring strategies on certain strategic holes that, over time, almost become like secret recipes.

For instance, were I to give my scoring strategy for the dogleg-left par-4 15th at Twin Oaks in recipe form, it might go something like this.

Go easy on the rescue off the tee. Aim for the upper fairway and let the ball settle nicely into the lower fairway, just short of the pond. Then give it a full gap wedge with a dash of backspin into a receptive back-to-front sloping green. Finish with preferably one putt, but sometimes it takes two. Recipe can make birdie, but mostly makes par and the occasional bad batch – a bogey.

Just as tastes differ, so do strengths and strategies, but the beauty and fun is finding what works for you.

I had a wonderful opportunity during my round at Twin Oaks on Wednesday to sample the array of ways to approach No. 15.

For those who haven’t played it, this hole is a sharp dogleg left with a pond and two fir trees lurking on the left. The fairway is tiered with collection bunkers looming at the end, about 250 yards out.  The hole plays to 350 yards from the blue tees, 332 from the white.

The variable here is wind coming from behind the green, which we didn’t have on Wednesday. With that wind, no one’s getting home in one here.

But on our windless Wednesday, Austin, a strapping 20-something and the big hitter in our group, nearly pulled off the driver’s dream at this hole, which is risking the water and reaching the green with a power draw. His ball settled just below the greenside bunker on the left.

I faithly executed my tried and true, which left my playing partners fretting for a water ball, but my Titleist stopped short. Always does.

Then the two senior members of our foursome, Johnny and Peter, hit driver and 3-wood, respectively, from the white tees to both find the upper fairway with a bird’s-eye view of the green.

Four different approaches, three different outcomes, but each shot executed to each golfer’s optimal outcome. Easy game, huh?

Well …

I’d love to report four birdies. Or three. Or two. Or one.

Alas, regrettably, they all got away. Two pars, two bogeys and four golfers shaking their heads. Last names are being withheld to protect the innocent, save for Johnny Georgedes from Poway, who has played No. 15 for more than a decade and still professed an affinity for the hole post round.

“I like the fact the designer (Ted Robinson) designed it so you can play it with anything from a six-iron to a driver,” he said. “And as I’ve aged, that’s what I’ve transitioned to. I hit my driver about 235 yards now. I play it between the two center traps and then let the hill take it further. And if it doesn’t, I’m 135 out playing on a flat lie.”

Georgedes has a reason for preferring that second shot besides it being an optimal wedge distance.

“I just love the look of the hole from the up there,” he says. “It’s a really pretty shot looking down on the pond. It’s a very aesthetically pleasing golf hole, especially when you score well, but even when you don’t.”

Twin Oaks Head Professional Troy Ferguson says the versatility of No. 15 makes it one of the great strategy holes in JC Golf. Ferguson says the options even include, for those who play a fade, hitting it at the water.

“Take your 130- to 150-yard club and hit your pull-slice and you’ll end up hitting your second from a perfectly flat spot at a comfortable distance,” he says.

For some golfers, that would be eight- or nine-iron off the tee, which means everything above wedge truly is an option.

But Ferguson mostly espouses playing the hole straight away.

“Your best bet is to just hit it straight and long and let the contour of the course work for you,” he says. “ If you push it right, the hill likely will kick you into the upper fairway. If you hit the right fairway, you might end up on the lower left fairway. Either way, you’re set to go pin hunting.”

Players who decide to hit driver and go for the green need to weigh that decision, Ferguson says, in part based on how their round is going and factor in past success.

“Play to your strengths and build on what your game has been telling you all day,” he says. “Don’t expect to be able to hit a big draw around the corner if you haven’t been able to hit a draw all round.

“No. 15 offers you the opportunity to play whatever ball flight you have been playing all round.”

      JC Golf would love to hear your favorite strategies and success stories for No. 15 at Twin Oaks. Feel to post a comment and share your experiences at http://www.jcgolf.com.

One for the Books: A Look at the Course Record at Twin Oaks

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      While doing some reporting for a future piece on Twin Oaks Golf Course in San Marcos, I discovered that we’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of the course record being shot.

Blaire McKeithen carded a 61 last January during Farmers Insurance Open pre-qualifying, which takes place again next week at Twin Oaks.

Anyway, for those who play Twin Oaks regularly, I thought it’d be fun to post the scorecard from the record round, and Twin Oaks Head Golf Professional Troy Ferguson graciously provided it.

Ferguson makes an interesting observation about the record round:

“People look at the yardage (6,535 from the back) and think they can overpower this course, when it’s really a course-management course.  The card for the course record doesn’t have one eagle on it.”

So, for the record, here’s the record:

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     That’s a lot of red. Gives us all something to shoot for.

Course Review: Twin Oaks

ImageNo. 9 at Twin Oaks. Photo courtesy of JC Resorts

Overview

         As the name suggests, Twin Oaks is a tree-lined local favorite in San Marcos. Despite the trees, however, the course allows you to swing more freely than the name, and the first impression you get from the opening holes, might lead you to believe. Twin Oaks is a mid-length course where driver-wedge is a common club combination if you’re striping it off the tee. Birdies and even eagles can be found here on a good day, but perhaps the best thing about a round here is that sunshine is prevalent. Nearly every round I’ve played at Twin Oak has been bathed in sunlight with a gentle, and occasionally gusty, breeze that keeps the course comfortable.

On the Range

         Make sure your wedge game is dialed in. You’ll hit plenty of them, even if you’re only driving the ball reasonably well. You’ll be flying it in to many of the holes here.

Hold Onto Your Hat

         For various reasons, including pace of play, most courses ease you in with a few relatively easy opening holes. Not Twin Oaks. When you step on the first tee, you’re hit with the toughest part of the course first.

         Because of tight, tree-lined fairways, there’s a premium on accuracy for the first four holes. In fact, it’s not a bad idea to bag your driver here and hit hybrid or long iron. You can easily go OB here and add strokes to your card in a hurry. Better to keep it in play and trade 20 yards or so off the tee for a spot in the fairway and hopefully survive this otherwise benign opening stretch mostly unscathed.

Turn It Loose

         The par-5 No. 5 is a true grip-and-rip hole and a preview of what much of the rest of the course is like. Plenty of room to operate here, so hit it long and maybe get home in two. Anything over par here feels like a major missed opportunity.

         The remaining 5s, and some shorter par 4s, particularly No. 8, are holes where a big drive can pay big dividends.

Double Check Your GPS

         No. 7 is the trickiest par-3 on the course. Club selection to this tiered green is huge here and also takes some calculation. Pin location, wind speed and tee box position – they move it all over the place – all play a factor here and can mean hitting anything from sand wedge to seven iron. Choose carefully, swing confidently. When the pin is on the lower tier, you can use the ridge as a backstop.

Take a Picture

         As dastardly as No. 7 can be to play, it’s a real beauty when the Lilly pads are in bloom and provide a pleasing floral accent to the hole. Hopefully you won’t be looking for your ball beneath them.

Caddie Tip

         No. 9 is a downhill par-4 with a creek carry to an small green. When the wind is blowing in from the west, factor an extra club, or even two, on your approach. The hole is normally plenty scoreable, but if the pin is back-right, take par if you can get it and be happy about it.

At The Turn

         If you’re in need of a snack for the back, 2 Oaks Pub offers a unique treat: homemade potato chips. Grab a bag for the back and enjoy.

Whatever You Do, DON’T Hit It Here

         The back begins with a longish par-3, usually played with a strong crosswind. Miss left or short, but DO NOT push one into the bunker of the right. It’s a tough up-and-down, made nearly impossible by the overhanging tree that covers half the trap.        Note: Careful on a recovery shot from the left side because those have been known to find the trap as well.

You’ll Want To, But Don’t …

         Hit driver on No. 15, a severe dogleg-left par-4 that plays up to 350 yards. It’s tempting, especially if you hit a draw, but there’s little reward for the risk of unnecessarily bringing huge water on the left and sand dead-ahead into play. Sometimes there’s something to be said for letting an easy hole play easy. Just float a rescue or iron out right and be happy with a wedge shot into a receptive green.  Your round may be able to use a painless par at this point.

 Don’t Let This Hole Hit You on The Way Home

         The par-5 No. 16 can trip you up in you’re not careful. Maybe it’s the off-set tee box, but tee shots have a way of going right here and either end up OB or tree-trapped. Left is no picnic, either, thanks to a bunker complex. If you’re hitting it great and straight, by all means fire way. If not, checking down to something that gives you 220-250 yards in the fairway may be your play. Avoid trouble off the tee and there’s little left to worry about besides an occasionally tricky pin position.

 Best Chance to End Up Buying A Round for the House (Hole-in-One)

         You can make a case for No. 3, but I’m going to go with the straightaway No. 17. It can play up to 194 yards, but often plays much shorter and has a green with several receptive pin placements. You can be aggressive with this one.

 You’ll Break 90 if …

         You avoid big trouble early in the round and spend the rest of the day playing catch up, although you can certainly do it on the back.

 You’ll Break 80 if …

         You can steal a birdie from the opening holes and take advantage of the very score-able par-5s and 4s.

 But You’ll Probably be Happy With …

         A scorecard full of pars and a few solid birdies, particularly if one of them is on the par-3 No. 7. There’s a something especially satisfying about getting a two there after negotiating the water, wind and a green with a huge ridge in it. If the pin is on the lower tier, you can have fun watching the ball filter back to the hole and maybe give you the shot of a lifetime.