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The Joy of Playing a Half Set

Wayland's Third Hole

There’s nothing like walking a golf course. The clubs clanging off each other, the blood pumping, the mind clearing. Like a mountain climber, the golf walker must consider what they wish to carry on a given round. Beers (or… soda…) provide a weighty start and a light finish at the summit. A pessimist might stash away too many golf balls, the optimist, too few. In the fall, an extra layer or winter hat might require space in the bag, too.

But what about the golf clubs? The heaviest, most cumbersome tools that, unless the day is really bad, survive the entire 18 hole walk. But what if some of those were left in the trunk?

Leave the even-numbered irons, bring the wedges (and the cannolis).

I played 36 holes at two different courses on a November day that felt better suited for a date in July (I should have packed sun screen). I walked both rounds. For the first round, I lugged my 14 clubs on a wonderful Donald Ross design at Sandy Burr. I used nearly every club on a sojourn. As I previewed at the scorecard for my second round at Wayland Country Club - a 6000 yard par 70 - I thought it might be a nice change of pace to leave some clubs in the car. I rarely hit 3-wood, so I figured, let’s put the driver in the trunk and force myself to hit 3-wood off some tees. I pulled my even numbered irons, leaving me with the 5, 7, and 9 irons in the bag, along with the 52 and 60 degree wedges. A putter and hybrid rounded out the half-set.

Not only was the bag lighter, which I was grateful for, but the round of golf was more thought provoking. The course wasn’t terribly interesting. On the first hole I had a 6-iron yardage into the green, sadly my 6-iron was soaking up sun vitamin-C in my trunk.

Suddenly, my senses were heightened and my process was altered, all because I was missing a hunk of metal in my bag.

Will the wind help a 7-iron get there?

Do I choke down on a 5-iron and risk going long?

Long of the green looked bad, but the opening to the front of the green would certainly welcome a low little running shot. Then a tinge of doubt, Do I even have the ability to hit that shot?

I decided to err on the side of being short of the green and hit the 7-iron (a classic New England golf choice). The bit of wind at my back might push the ball onto the front edge of the green, if not, I’ll be short and chipping up the hill.

If my 6-iron was in the bag, I pull it, hit it, and don’t think much about this flat, boring, simple opening hole. Without a few irons and my go-to 56 degree wedge, the game challenged me to think about the shot at hand, and figure out how to advance the ball thoughtfully. After the first two holes, which were flat and laid out like sausages - straight and right next to each other - the third hole forced my hand and made me think about my tee shot. I decided to lay back with a hybrid; a good tee shot would leave me a full 9-iron to mini-volcano green. The half-set can make your palms sweat standing on par 3s when there’s water short and you have to swing a little bit harder to cover the hazard. The 8th hole at Wayland CC did that to me. Thankfully I kept my ball dry and landed it on the green.

The half-set also forced me to think about green sites differently. The thought process is one thing, but the execution and mindset of the shot changed, too. When I have the “perfect” club into the green, I sometimes slip into the thinking about where I don’t want to go, because the possibilities are endless. However, when I have the “wrong” club in my hand, I’m more focused on where a good shot will end up, encouraging positive swings. Essentially, I was golfing. It’s so easy to slip into the routine of finding the yardage and hitting the shot with swing thoughts and Instagram clips streaming through my head as I stand over the ball. When the selection of clubs is limited, it forces me to just focus on moving that little ball forward in a more creative fashion and using whatever land you can to help you while understanding the land i want to avoid.

If you’re looking for a new way to enjoy an familiar course or alter the way you think about the game, play with a half-set. You might be surprised at the positively that creeps into your thinking and the pleasant surprises you’ll find during your walk.

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