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Game Improvement: Take the #ScratchBySummer Challenge!



The Palmer hitting bay at Cool Springs Sports Complex. (MATT GAJTKA/PGN)

BETHEL PARK, Pa. — It’s no exaggeration to say that I’ve never been more ready for a golf season.

Even when I was playing on the Weirton Madonna High School varsity team — there was no JV, just in case you thought I survived a tryout — I would use the spring and summer to build to a peak by the time the competitive season rolled around in the fall.

In a lot of ways, that’s just reality for a golfer who lives north of the Mason-Dixon Line. As rustically fun as winter golf can be, cold, wet and snow-covered is no way to go through life on the course.

But whether we’re talking about the volumes of quality instruction available, or the bevy of opportunities to sharpen our skills indoors — or both, as detailed in our most recent PGN Feature — excuses for slow starts are at an all-time low in the history of this sport.

That can be a perverted bit of bad news for those of us who like to manage expectations before, say, Memorial Day. Certainly there’s nothing wrong with high standards, but they’re inversely proportional to joy if pushed too far.

You know what, though? As long as we stay in a growth mindset, there’s no reason to resign ourselves to subpar results before the summer solstice. (Wait, subpar is good in this game. You know what I mean.)

And like I said, there are more than enough ways to get better, even when the weather doesn’t cooperate. If you’re new to the area, the weather can be rather fickle until we get to June. Case in point: It’s snowing outside my dining-room window as I write this.

I reinforced this lesson Wednesday, my lone off-day of the week, when I ventured south to the Cool Springs Sports Complex. After a couple months of speed training and a surprisingly powerful range session at PGN sponsor Sunset Golf, I wanted to dial in my wedge distances.

It was the kind of day that put the ‘Cool’ in Cool Springs, but I scarcely noticed under the roof at one of their TopTracer bays, which I rented for an hour — taking advantage of the early weekday rate of $30. It’s the kind of place where a data junkie like myself could spend all day, but 60 minutes was more than enough to figure out where I’m at in terms of ball speed and carry.

The whole experience reminded me what was possible in a short span. As a father of two small kids, efficiency is critical if I want to improve … or at least not get worse.

Ironically, though, I feel as my time windows to practice and play have gotten shorter, my progress has accelerated. Maybe it’s just some added focus from the knowledge that my opportunities are smaller than they used to be. Or maybe a lifetime of repetition is piling toward a tipping point.

Either way, I’m feeling frisky. With the calendar flipping to April and my handicap returning to active mode, I figure it’s time for a challenge to push things along, both for me and hopefully for you, too.

I want to be #ScratchBySummer.

Before you scoff, let me explain the parameters.

First of all, I realize I probably won’t be able to play the amount of golf needed to take my handicap down from 3.5ish to zero by the time we reach the longest day of the year. Even if I played absolutely out of my mind for several weeks, the handicap system is meant to move slowly, in order to give a more accurate representation of skill level.

So, in lieu of actually needing to budge those stubborn digits downward, I propose something different. By the time we reach the first day of summer, June 20, I want to play at least three (3) ‘scratch-level’ rounds.

What’s a ‘scratch-level’ round, you might ask? I’ll define it as matching course rating number on the scorecard, which is supposed to be what a zero-handicap golfer ‘should’ shoot at a given course on an average day.

As far as I know, I’ve reached those heights just once in my golf career: Aug. 30, 2019 at Moon Golf Club. I shot a 3-under 69 that day, which — if I round to the nearest whole digit — matched the course rating (68.9) from the back tees.

This was a fun day. Birdie on the last to break 70 for the first time. (MATT GAJTKA/PGN)

So, all I have to do over the next three months or so is duplicate that feat … three times. Hey, shoot for the stars and you’ll land on the moon, right?

At any rate, hopefully this will give me more accountability, both when it comes to practice and the self-assessment that follows each trip to the course. It’ll add some pressure, which is what I want to experience more and more, so I can get better at handling it.

In the spirit of this challenge, I ask you something, too.

What will your score-related goal be, whether it’s for the next week, month or the entire golf season? Make it tangible so you can track it. Maybe it’s a certain number of greens in regulation, or total putts in a round. Maybe you just want to par or birdie that hole that always gives you trouble.

Your definition of #ScratchBySummer can be whatever you want it to be. Only you know what would be within your grasp. It’s best if you have to stretch for it.

Regardless, in 2021, let’s all put our pride on the line. Speak your improvement into existence!

UPDATE, April 2:

Some of you have chimed in on your #ScratchBySummer goals!

Tweet us, Instagram us, Facebook us … or leave something (tangible) in the comments below.

A 15-year veteran of sports media, Matt Gajtka (GITE-kah) is the founding editor of PGN. Matt is a lifelong golfer with a passion for all aspects of the sport, from technique to courses to competition. His experience ranges from reporting on Pittsburgh's major-league beats, to broadcasting a variety of sports, to public relations, multimedia production and social media.

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