New Year's Resolutions

Our New Year’s Resolutions

We tee off 2023 with a goal that features three simple words. Take a guess

By the Fire Pit Collective Staff

On New Year’s Eve, our daughter, Alina, suggested we each write our goals for the new year. This was earlier in the night, when the fire was still tame, before the dancing line and the circus animals arrived, when things were still making sense.

Alina, most pointedly, did not use the word resolutions. Just goals. Our son, Ian, handed me an index card and a pen as if it were a scorecard and a wee pencil for filling in the numbers. Here you go. My fourth and last goal required only three words and you undoubtedly have already guessed them: Play more golf.

That’s in your top four, right?

As fate would have it, here in Philadelphia on New Year’s Day, the weather was unseasonably warm. There’s a nine-hole course a mile or so from my house where I play a lot of my golf, the St. Martins course of the Philadelphia Cricket Club. Yes, I have typed those words before. In 2023, I hope to type them more.

I arrived by myself and was relieved to see a course that was mostly empty. I looked at the Orange Whip and my golf bag in the trunk of my car, not sure which one to grab first, in my eagerness.

I once asked Tiger Woods if, when manufacturers sent him new clubs, he was ever so eager to test a new toy that he went straight to it, without a full and proper warmup. I can’t tell you precisely what he said—this was at Doral—but I know what his face was screaming: No, dude. I would never do that.

I got out my Orange Whip and made my warmup swings. An Orange Whip is a good way to start the year and any golf day. I know this is true because my close personal friend Vijay Singh begins all his golfing activity with an Orange Whip. If there are three golf products I believe in, if I would ever attempt to write an ode to golf by way of brand names, I would be deep into Ecco shoes and Ping Eye2s and Orange Whips. Oh, and Monday Q clicks.

I stepped onto the 1st tee of this course with 19th-century roots. Why am I so drawn to the old in golf? Usually because it’s better and simpler. I have been singing about the wild 3rd green at St. Martins for years, telling anybody who will listen how it is a classic example of 19th-century green design. More recently, I learned the green was built by bulldozer in 1963. In the new year I will talk less.

New Year's Resolutions

I stood on the first tee for my first swing of this new year in an elevated state, excited for this new golf year as I am excited for every new golf year. But this year packs an extra something for me. I am semi-committed to trying the Venetos Method, a shorthand I am giving to the methods taught by a unique California desert teacher named Jim Venetos. Based on the videos and his writing, I think it’s pretty obvious that man is a genius with a gift for simplicity. He says of the new and popular laid-off position at the top of the swing, “Please don’t do this—it’s completely ridiculous.” Matt Fitzpatrick, you do you, but it’s not for most of us. The Venetos swing is not complicated.

Aim the clubhead where you want the ball to go.

Close your stance.

Close your shoulders more.

Fix your weight on your left foot.

Keep your body still and make a round swing with your arms, coming in shallow and from the inside.

Nutted my first shot of the year, about 220 yards, up a hill and into a cool wind.

So, as I’m learning it: aim; close; close more; weight forward and get still; swing the arms and make it round.

Over the course of nine holes, I made my first 7 of the year. Also my first 6, my first 5, my first 4 and my first 3. If this year is like the last nearly 50, I will make a 2 and also an 8, but golf promises us nothing.

I told you about my dedication to the Orange Whip. I would like to say here, with you all as my witness, that I will practice my short putting more in this new year. The bar is low in that category. I would also like to ask Tiger about the value of a closed stance, for golfers of a certain age. I see that he has been getting more shut over the past decade or so. Vijay too.

I was wearing jogging clothes and was never cold for my hour-long nine-hole jaunt. I had caught, to borrow a phrase, the warmth of the day. Years ago, I was interviewing a Phillies pitching coach, Johnny Podres. I asked him what he did in the offseason, in upstate New York, way up in Glens Falls. He said he went ice fishing. I asked, “What time of day do you do that?” Because fishing, typically, is an early-morning activity. He said, ”We like to catch the warmth of the day.” John was a poet.

He pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the Jackie Robinson-Gil Hodges era. Hodges was the New York Mets manager when he died at the end of spring training in 1972, after a round of golf with three of his coaches, one of whom was bullpen coach Joe Pignatano. Joe and Gil commuted to Shea Stadium together from Brooklyn and played a lot of golf together, too.

That last round did not work out well for Hodges, who was 47 but looked older. (Hodges was a great man but a heavy smoker.) So there is such a thing as a bad day on the course. But that’s the exception, right? An extreme one at that. I once played golf with Pignatano, and that was a great day. One of the last things Bing Crosby said was, “That was a great game of golf, fellas.” A good day for Bing, until it wasn’t.

At 2 p.m., on the St. Martins course, I could see a half-moon rising, in reflection. I cleaned my muddy ball in the icy water that had filled the cup of the 5th hole. I made my first par of 2023 off a hooking 15-foot putt that made a sudden and unexpected turn at the end. Why do hook 15-footers go in more than slice 15-footers? I don’t know, but they do. Not that my sample pool for this statement is so vast.

I don’t think anybody really regrets spending more time on a golf course. I mean, of course, it’s like anything else: within reason. If your golf time is going to hurt your family life or your job performance or your financial health, you might want to think about some other resolutions first. But for most of us who like golf and are reasonably healthy about it? Play more golf has got to be a good thing.

Sometimes, the St. Martins course can be stunningly beautiful. The land heaves and it has some lovely, mature trees and some devilish greens. Afternoon sunlight loves this course. But on New Year’s Day it looked sort of washed out. It was mushy and the divots were a mess. I had more mud on my socks than some jockeys after racing in a flat. I three-putted the 9th for a bogey. But you know what?

It was all good.

No. 4: Play more golf. — Michael Bamberger

Laz Versalles

Laz Versalles: Honor Black golf

It was an eye-opening year for me. In 2022, I was lucky enough to travel across the country filming a docuseries called Migrations, which explores the culture of Black golf in America. 

As we were filming our pilot episode in Los Angeles, I met Gus Robinson and Susan Henderson, who are leaders and organizers in many of the African American clubs and tournaments here in Southern California. Gus has become a mentor of sorts, and Susan, who is the editor and publisher of the Mountain Views News, an inspiration. 

My resolution for 2023 is to be more active in the vibrant African American golf scene here in Los Angeles. I joined the Chester Washington Golf Club and look forward to competing and socializing with Gus, Susan and others who I’ve met over the past year at Chester Washington and the Maggie Hathaway par-3, places that have been traditionally overlooked by the powers-that-be in golf. 
Chester Washington isn’t my only club. I’m also a national member at Northland Country Club in Duluth, Minn. It is the best “golden age” golf course in Minnesota and a place I love dearly. It’s also historic because it was the first place an African American competed in the U.S. Women’s Open. Her name was Ann Gregory. My second resolution, and more of an institutional goal than personal, is to help the club commemorate Gregory’s accomplishment so that people know her important role in the game at a special course.

Monday Q Info

Ryan French: Eliminate the chipping yips

For the first time in the nine-plus years I’ve had kids, I played a good amount of golf in 2022. Toward the end of the season, I was hitting it well, like really well. But when I missed a green, the anxiety would mount. I hoped my ball would end up in the rough instead of on the tightly mown fringe, knowing a fluffy lie would give me more margin for error. If you have never had the chipping yips, and I wouldn’t wish this one on anyone, you know the only outcomes are a skull or a chunk. It’s a helpless feeling, and my plight has given me so much more respect from the pros who have battled it in their careers. I know how much it bothers me; I couldn’t imagine dealing with this if golf was my livelihood.

There is some hope, however. A couple of weeks ago, I was playing at Shadow Creek (thanks, Mark Baldwin!), and Jhared Hack, a pro, was our caddie. He gave me a quick lesson around the putting green, and I didn’t make a single yippy stroke. Hopefully, it’s the beginning of a great 2023.

Greg Louie

Greg Louie: Execute a three-part plan
I want to play a minimum of eight rounds of golf with the pops this year. I got two in during the Christmas holidays, and I’m hoping for a bunch more in 2023. Also, with our ongoing partnership with Golftec, I would love to take some lessons and finally address some bad swing habits I’ve had my whole life. My biggest goal is to get fitted for new golf clubs. I’ve always played with used sets or hand-me-downs, so I think it’s time for me to be a big boy and invest in my own set.

Matt Ginella

Matt Ginella: Go low at the Goat

I started my quest for a New Year’s resolution by looking up and back. I looked up “New Year’s Resolution,” and per Wikipedia, looking back isn’t a good idea.

“A 2007 study by Richard Wiseman from the University of Bristol, involving 3,000 people, showed that 88 percent of those who set New Year resolutions fail.”

It doesn’t take a wise man to imagine the success rate of a golf-specific resolution is even less than 12 percent. But hope springs eternal, and in the face of discouraging data, I’m still committing to a goal of breaking par at Goat Hill Park.

What does that entail? The 4,500-yard, par-65 municipal track that sits on the slope of magical land overlooking Oceanside is anything but “easy.” The greens are small and run fast, misses are punished by the false fronts that often lead to what feels like a slow death. There’s a demand for shaping shots both ways. Punch it low, consider getting high (it’s legal in these parts), turn up the music, turn down the noise. I’ll be taking it one shot at a time.

As for the other relevant facts: My index is 7.0. My low Goat score is 66. I’ve recently been fit for a set of Titleist clubs, I’m battling the yips with the putter, and I’ve purchased my first training aid: Jim Sowerwine’s Inside Approach. At first glance, the smart money is on the 88 percent. But time is on my side. And Bandon, my 5-year-old son, won’t stop asking for me to take him to the Goat, which is a win already and the golden excuse I need to justify more trips to the range. If I’m going to get this done, it’ll be because I’ve dug it out of the dirt.

Jake Muldowney

Jake Muldowney: Get the competitive juices flowing again

I played competitive golf from age 12 to 26. From junior golf to the mini tours, I loved the feeling of 1st-tee jitters. I’m 36 now, and the only competitive event I’ve played in the last 10 years was the 2019 Southern Oregon Am (1 under in qualifying, bounced out in the semifinals). I feel like 2023 is going to be the year when I knock the rust off. Practicing with a purpose is a truly enjoyable experience for me, and I look forward to reinvigorating the competitive spirit.

Jordan Perez

Jordan Perez: Get back in the swing

My first goal mimics the most basic one out there: Play more golf! The unluckiest coincidence of 2022 had to be that while my friends were finally gaining interest in golf, I could barely play. I’ve opened up about my battle with scoliosis, and although I had surgery to correct it in 2009, I dealt with debilitating side effects in 2022. Pinched nerves would come and go, making it difficult to mitigate the pain and strengthen other parts of my body. The gym and long walks, my go-to remedies, were no help. I couldn’t swing a club without feeling like absolute garbage.

At the end of 2022, I devoted myself to improving my mobility and pushing myself to the limits. I had tried yoga but wasn’t a fan, yet it has been my saving grace and the best physical therapy. On New Year’s Day, I swung a club for the first time in months, and I felt OK! I’m grateful to have found some upside in this recovery process. I’m going to take it slow, but here’s to more bogeys and new memories with my friends as I brainwash them on golf. 
On the work side, I was excited to cover my dream event at Augusta National Women’s Amateur and write about the history of video games. That meant getting out of my comfort zone and working up the courage to ask tough questions. It’s challenged me in the best way, and I look forward to the challenges that await in 2023 — both as a player and a reporter.

Alan Shipnuck

Alan Shipnuck: Treasure every second

Sitting down at my keyboard, I had planned to say that my resolution for 2023 is to play more golf. That shouldn’t be hard: My GHIN shows that I teed it up a paltry 16 times in ’22 (not counting the 100 Hole Hike at the Hay, during which I made an ace for the ages). There are a lot of reasons for my lack of golf: I published two books, one of which came with tons of controversy; helping to build a media company is a nonstop endeavor; being a single dad to four teenagers (and a dog) can be all-consuming; coaching high school basketball is a big time commitment. Realistically, the year ahead is going to be just as busy.

I may or may not squeeze in more golf, but my resolution is to enjoy it more. Last year I was often frustrated by my ragged ball-striking, which is ridiculous given that I rarely played and never practiced. So in 2023 I’m going to treasure every second on the course. I shall be grateful for the good shots and made putts and laugh off the inevitable miscues. In the end, the numbers on the scorecard are mostly meaningless. Golf is about camaraderie and being in nature and challenging oneself. My challenge this year is to remember all of that and have gratitude for the respite this great game provides.

Aaron Adkins

Aaron Adkins: Conquer the Collective

Last week at the driving range (for probably the sixth or seventh time in my life), I figured out “golf.” My self-taught swing is finally where I want it to be. I’m ready to play the best golf of my life. My golf resolution for 2023 is to defeat every colleague at the Fire Pit Collective. Hopefully my adversaries have set lofty goals to improve their games to the point they will present a formidable challenge.

Mark Baldwin

Mark Baldwin: Show up ready to go

Each round of golf should feel like a new year. But too often the 1st tee carries the baggage of the previous round, or a shank from the warmup. (Yes, I hit them too.) The truth is the 1st tee is a building block in the tower of my game’s improvement. To achieve my goal of winning golf’s fifth major in 2023 — the Barracuda Championship — my resolution is to show up on the 1st tee more often.

Last year I was fortunate to compete in two PGA Tour events: the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and the Barracuda. I made the cut in both, and for 65 holes I had an outside chance for a top 10 at Pebble Beach. Now the question is, how can I build on those experiences in a new season? Golf improvement comes in a variety of ways, but for professional golfers, improvement needs to be demonstrated in the vise of competition. In the new year, I’m trying to feel the squeeze of that vise more often. This doesn’t mean I have to be on the 18th tee at Pebble Beach on Sunday with the cameras on. It means challenging myself frequently and creating stakes for more shots. It sounds simple, but my most important golf resolution is to play more golf. 

The stresses at the end of any tournament can be draining, but I made two mistakes late in the tournament at Pebble Beach that might have been avoided with improved focus. An objective for 2023 is to improve my on-course mental stamina. During the busy season in Phoenix, I’ll make a few birdies in the first six or nine holes, run into a couple groups on a tee, and call it a day. But professional golf tournaments are a marathon, and we’re called to tee it up when it’s inconvenient or enjoyable and hit shots after long delays. Sometimes finding strategies to keep yourself engaged and interested on the course are as important as the swings themselves. 
This brings me to my final point: keeping great company. I expanded my contact list significantly in 2022. It’s easy to play with whoever’s around when it’s convenient, or to say yes to every invitation. But golf takes significant time, so why not put a little extra into finding the right partners? In the new year, I hope to surround myself with players who help make the game more challenging and more rewarding.

John Nichols

John Nichols: Get to a 7

Last year was my first full year as a father, and my game suffered. I went from playing two or three times a week to only finding the time to swing the clubs about once a month. I’ve never made a New Year’s resolution. I just never felt motivated enough to participate. But for the purpose of intentionality and to hold myself accountable to my goals, I’m participating here. I wrote down a number of goals, mostly personal, but here are two that are golf-related.

The first one should be easy: Play more golf. Duh. The second one will be much more difficult. I want to become a single-digit handicap. In particular I want to be a 7, which means I will be posting a lot of scores below 80. I’ve been playing the game for a little more than two years, and I was a 14 before my sweet little baby girl ruined my game. I played one round where I was 7 over and I felt like a God. I want that feeling back. Yes, it’s a lofty goal. Maybe even ridiculous. But if you ask my mom about me, one of the first things she’ll tell you is, “He’s never taken the easy route.” So why would I start now?

Bennett Kohut

Bennett Kohut: Grow relationships and friendships

After graduating from college in 2022, I was able to dedicate some time to golf and the relationships I’ve developed through the game over the course of my life. Golf has been a big part of my relationships with my grandfather (the reason I love the game today), my brothers, friends, colleagues and parents. My dad always likes to say, “There isn’t a better way to spend four hours than playing golf with a loved one.” In 2023 I want to play more golf than I did in 2022 to make sure I not only improve my game, but also the relationships the game has created and will continue to create for me.

Marco Escalante

Marco Escalante: Regain that lost power

I consider myself the world’s most OK athlete. From football to hockey (of the roller variety), I’ve played them all. Won some and lost a lot more, but the thrill of competition is a feeling rarely matched. When I first saw golf I thought, “Get this snoozefest off my TV!” I was in my early 20s and working at NFL Network, mad that this boring game was taking up air time. I’m missing Pardon the Interruption and Around the Horn.

Of course I would regret uttering those words when the golf bug finally got me. Safe to say, I became obsessed. But probably not in the traditional way, like if I was a kid and started learning the history of the game. I loved that I could go out and get away from the stress of everyday life. Not sure how replacing that with the stress of golf makes sense, but it worked. I played every weekend. In the twilight after work three times a week. 

The mental aspect of the game spoke to me. In every other sport, someone is trying to prevent you from scoring. Not the case with golf. You’re also allowed to start in the best position possible, the ball on a tee and the hole in front of you. You’ve studied the course like a batter would a pitcher. You know the rewards and risks for putting the ball in a certain spot. Just like life, it’s you versus you. And how will your mind handle the inevitable bad breaks?

I broke 100 for the first time 54 weeks after I picked up the game. It felt great. Add in a few tournament wins over the next few years and I was in heaven. Eventually, my progress slowed and even regressed, and what I need to do now is focus on power. My drives are shorter than most, to say the least. After fully committing to a swing change last year, I am hungrier and more eager than ever to improve my game. So this year I will try my best to regain some of my lost power. I don’t need to hit it 300, but it sure would be nice to creep within 60 yards or so of that. Oh, and I heart golf.

Ellen Cannon

Ellen Cannon: Stop with the mind games and just play

My goal every year is to play golf at least once every month at home in Delaware, and I’ve been able to attain that goal in each of the past six years. We don’t post scores to GHIN between Nov. 14 and April 1, even though the weather is fairly mild. On Jan. 1, it was 56 degrees and sunny, so naturally I played. January is in the books. One month down, 11 months to go. 

Another golf goal/desire for 2023 is to return to Australia to visit friends and play the fantastic golf courses on Tasmania and King Island that I have read so much about. These courses hadn’t been built when I lived there, and I want to play them. 
I have other goals—reduce the number of my three-putts, improve my short game—but those are just part of being a golfer. One annoying habit I want to break is to stop being so self-conscious about my play. I’m an average golfer, maybe a bit better than most of the ladies I play with. My problem is that I play horribly when paired with people I don’t know. I know most people don’t care how you play, or even notice, unless you’re slow, don’t know the rules, or behave badly. That’s not me. So my big goal for 2023 is this: Stop thinking and just play golf. Paging Bob Rotella!

Colt Knedler

Colt Knedler: Make it to match play … and beyond

I have one: Make it to match play at the 2023 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at Sleepy Hollow Country Club. Well, let me rephrase: Make it to the Round of 32 in match play at the U.S. Mid-Am, because nobody wants to lose in the first round (R64) after surviving the 36-hole stroke portion of the event. Gotta win at least one! And OK, I’m not exempt into the 2023 U.S. Mid-Am because I have no WAGR standing or hold any trophies that would get me in so I’ll have to qualify. (Clears throat.) In 2023, I will compete in qualifying for the U.S. Mid-Am.

Benni Wescott

Benni Wescott: Rediscover that Zen feeling

I have never set a legit golf goal. This is my first and I am looking forward to pursuing it.

Since moving to Southern California, I’ve played more golf in the past three months than in the past five years. At Methodist University, where I earned a PGA certification, I played golf at least four times a week. In those days, golf was fun, competitive and blister-inducing. After graduating college and beginning a career in the golf industry, I played less golf, which is ironic but not uncommon among those who toil in the golf space. 

Playing so much at Goat Hill Park recently has reignited the flame. The golf bug is crawling back. We’ve all felt it.

Goat Hill Park is similar to the course at Methodist, which is called “Downback.” They’re both super short, have small greens, and get you thinking as you plot your way around the property. The Goat has taken me back to some of my happiest golfing days.

One of the things I love most about the game is that Zen feeling, which kicks in when I play well. I never made the team at Methodist (twice missing by four shots), but when I got close, I experienced a bit of that high.

My goal this year is to find that Zen feeling more often. To get there, I have resolved to play at least once a week, practice more and play in more competitions. Being in Zen mode is hard to obtain because it takes a lot of time and commitment, but it’ll hopefully return a few times in 2023.
It’s nice to be back in golf’s grasp.

Mark Godich

Mark Godich: Tame the beast at Hackberry Creek

From the tips, the par-5 home hole at Hackberry Creek Country Club measures a seemingly benign 485 yards. But numbers can be deceiving. I’ve been a member at the suburban Dallas club for almost two years now, and I’ve come to love pretty much everything about the place. Everything but the 18th hole.

The fairway runs parallel to the creek for which the club is named, and the perched green sits across the water. Two gaping bunkers protect the left side. Wander too far right with your tee shot, and you’re blocked out for your approach. Fair enough. The fairway is plenty generous. Some are long enough to blow it by the trouble and down the slope, leaving a second shot across the creek of about 220 yards. (Andy, one player in our group, did just that a couple of months ago. He stuffed it to 5 feet and made eagle. We still hear about it.)

For us ordinary folk, the problems start with the layup shot. It is no run-of-the-mill layup. The creek is wide and the brush-covered bank angles gradually from the water, which only adds yardage to the approach. Two penal bunkers protect the right side; flirt with them at your own risk. Even then you might be 140 yards out. The middle of the fairway is crowned, so a perfectly good second shot might get repelled left. Favor the left side and you might be faced with a shot of anywhere from 150 to 170 yards into the prevailing southwest wind. I’ve never had less than 125 yards in — to a diabolical green with no bailout area. Long and right are no good (sand). A ball that lands 5 to 10 yards shy might roll down the steep embankment and back into Hackberry Creek. Or get ensnared in the pot bunker. When the pin is tucked on the left side, the narrowest section of the green? Forget it.

I have played this hole 100 times or more, and I have come to hate it. A 10-handicap these days, I have birdied it exactly once. I often wonder if Byron Nelson thought only he would be playing the damn thing when he designed the par-5 back in 1986. (Lord Byron did see fit to construct an alternate green left of the creek.) But whoever said golf was easy? And who doesn’t love a good challenge? This is why we play.

So in 2023 I resolve not to allow myself to be beaten down by the beast that is the 18th hole at Hackberry Creek. Stop the bitching. Play hard. Make good swings. Hole a putt. Write down a score. Rinse. Repeat.

See you on Thursday, my new friend.

What’s your golf resolution for 2023? Email us at [email protected]

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