Stay on Course

A local golf pro’s secrets for playing the greatest game



Photo by Mike Olliver

Playing golf can be challenging, even maddening sometimes. But before you toss your clubs into the water, Bob Dolan, the head golf pro at Chevy Chase’s Columbia Country Club, wants you to know this: It’s natural to feel frustrated by the game.

“Golf requires a lot of perseverance,” says the 51-year-old Dolan, who has been working on his own game since he started playing at age 10. “You have to just stay at it.”

A Poolesville resident, Dolan has been teaching golf for 30 years, spending the past 18 at Columbia Country Club. He has won numerous teaching awards, and Golf Digest has named him one of the top teachers in Maryland each year since 2007.

Dolan says that sticking to a training philosophy has helped him to continue playing competitively in about 10 tournaments annually and to maintain a zero handicap. That philosophy, which he shares with his students, includes practice dedicated to the short game, visualization techniques and attention to fitness and nutrition.

Even on bad days, Dolan “presses on,” and his efforts are often rewarded. “I stay committed to the process,” he says.

What he does:

Works on His Short Game

Dolan generally tries to squeeze in practice for at least an hour once or twice weekly, focusing on his short game—chips, pitch shots, putts and sand play.

A favorite drill involves picking a type of shot, tossing three balls into the air and then attempting to hole the balls in six shots from wherever they’ve landed. For example, if Dolan decides to practice a pitch shot, he may flip three balls in the rough and then try to hole each ball with one pitch shot and one putt.

Golfers don’t practice their short game enough, Dolan says, even though it’s critical. Practice improves the ability to perform with scoring clubs—anything used within 150 yards of the hole—and therefore improves scoring, he says. “Golf is a game of scoring, a game of getting it done.”

Gets It on Tape

Dolan videotapes his swing about twice a month. He keeps in mind pro golfer Nick Faldo’s fluid motion and focuses on the elements that create a good foundation, including his grip, setup and posture.

Dolan says focusing on creating a good foundation keeps him from over-thinking or tinkering too much with his swing, which can cause problems. And the taping enables him to see if he’s maintaining the correct motion. “There’s a big difference between feel and real,” he says.

Strengthens His Core

Dolan does an hour of Pilates once or twice weekly. The Pilates exercises build his core strength and aid trunk rotation, which is “the engine of the golf swing,” Dolan says. “If you want to hit the ball great distances, you have to work hard on the core.”

Visualizes It

To avoid over-thinking on the golf course, Dolan tries to keep his focus on the immediate target and the path he wants the ball to take. Before a tournament, he plays practice rounds on the course so he can visualize how he’ll play each hole. While playing, he then visualizes each shot before he hits the ball.

Committing to the target and visualizing the shot helps Dolan stay in the moment. “The visual component of how to play the hole creates a calmness,” Dolan says. “I’m comfortable that I prepared properly.”

Warms Up

Dolan stretches his fingers and wrists back and forth for about 30 minutes before he plays. He takes several swings with a training tool called the Orange Whip. And before tournament play, he walks on a treadmill or uses an elliptical machine for about 20 minutes.

By loosening his muscles first, Dolan prevents injuries, including painful golf tendonitis in the wrist, in which the tendons become inflamed.

Eats to Compete

Dolan eats protein and fruit, such as a turkey sandwich and an apple, before playing a round, and snacks on bananas or an energy bar. He also drinks water instead of sports drinks, which make him jittery.

Eating and drinking before playing produce a calm, lasting energy that helps Dolan perform at his best.

Leah Ariniello is a Bethesda-based writer who frequently writes about health.

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