Interview with Chris Smith, Speedgolf World-Record-Holder



(photo courtesy of Wood Sabold)

Ahead of the Speedgolf World Championship on October 26-27 at Bandon Dunes, caught up with Chris Smith, Portland, Ore., who not only is in the field, but holds the single-round Speedgolf world record of 109.06 (65 in 44:06 at the 2005 Chicago Speedgolf Classic).

Smith, 50, is a golf teaching professional. We asked him about his world-record round, training, how Speedgolf affects traditional golf, and more.

What makes up the ideal Speedgolf course?

A perfect Speedgolf course in terms of what would make it fast would be to have the greens very close to the next tee box, which is often the case at Old Mac. Flatter the better because that saves energy.

Do you lose many golf balls or have any particular strategy to avoid losing your ball?

I don’t hit it far enough to lose many golf balls in general in golf. If you don’t hit it long you better hit it straight! (laughs) I would fit into that category. I hit it long enough to play a Speedgolf course. And, I think most speed golfers figure out pretty quick they’re better off hitting it not quite as far, because running sideways, zig-zagging, looking for golf balls is not good, so I think a general strategy or philosophy for Speedgolf would be to try to hit it short and straight, all things considered.

How has holding the Speedgolf world record affected your professional career?

I don’t know if it’s changed me professionally. Professionally, primarily I coach, teach and then consult on the side with Nike Golf and some other entities. Keep in mind, I meet people everyday (laughs) who don’t even know what Speedgolf is, let alone that I’m the world-record-holder. It certainly hasn’t hurt me professionally and really what it’s allowed me to do is use a lot of what I’ve learned, playing Speedgolf at a high level, and translate that into my teaching and coaching. For example, playing less deliberately, less cautiously.

I do talks and presentations on how to optimize performance and I use my Speedgolf accomplishments as examples of how that kind of training and that kind of approach can help people in different realms, not necessarily Speedgolf, not necessarily golf, but in a lot of different things, so, yeah it’s certainly helped. I wrote a book in 2007, which was based on an article I did for Golf Digest in 2006. Christopher Smith’s book, “I’ve Got 99 Swing Thoughts But, Hit the Ball Ain’t One” and accompanying audiobook, “Better Golf: Whole Brain Learning” are available on his website:

Do you spend more time on the range or at the track?

Depends what’s broken. I actually just got back from a track workout. I have to be very careful what I do from a running standpoint now because I’ve got a few miles on my odometer. I have very little cartilage left in either of my hips, basically arthritic. So, I’m a big believer in whatever you’re trying to get better at, the best way to get better at “that”, is to do “that” so I take any opportunity I can get to actually play Speedgolf – which is the ultimate training because it combines the running with the golf. If that’s not available, then I will replicate in my run what would happen in a round of Speedgolf, so a lot of stopping and starting and when I practice on the range I will practice with a club and the shot that I would probably be hitting. All my training for the World Championship will be geared toward what I think specifically will happen those two days at Old Mac and at Bandon Dunes.

Do you actively monitor your heart rate as you play Speedgolf?

I don’t, but I probably should. (laughs) I know a lot of people do. You’re trying to go as hard as you can and then when you get to your next shot, not take too long to recover, and then, very critical, hit a good shot. It’s not just people sprinting, slapping shots around, because otherwise people would shoot 120, which really isn’t very interesting. The fitter you can get, the faster you can run and more importantly, the faster you recover when you get to your next shot, so you take less time to recover and still get in a good golf shot.

From tee to green, does how you play the hole evolve in your mind like it does for a regular round, just at a faster pace?

Well, you’re thinking about your next shot more than in traditional golf, because your next shot is literally only seconds away. Let’s say you’re playing the first hole at Old Mac (par-4, 304 yards). You hit your drive. You grab your bag and you’re running 200 to 300 yards toward your drive and you have to start to calculate feet and visualize about how far you’re going to hit your next shot depending on distance, pin placement, conditions, uphill/downhill.

The greatest thing about Speedgolf is, let me put it this way… All these supposedly fabulous laser GPS devises, uh, there’s one that we all have that works way better and way faster and it’s called your mind body system. It’s amazing what you can do with less than precise yardages, less than a full set of clubs just relying on your system.

In normal golf you hit a shot and it could be five to ten minutes before you hit your next shot and you have a laser or a GPS and it does all the work for you, and you’ve got all your clubs. Speedgolf is a phenomenal way to train for regular golf, because it’s the perfect example of making your training more difficult than the actual game.

Can you describe your World Record round?

2005 in Chicago. We had an event for several years at Jackson Park Golf Course, which is a public course that’s existed for quite some time. It actually had some USGA events back in the day. Very flat. Very short. I’d say close to 6,000 yards, no more. We’d always have fast times there, with some good scores.

I was in a particularly good frame of mind. Was I fit? Yeah. Did I hit some good shots? Yeah. I was very patient with myself. I was very tolerant of bad shots. It was a very enjoyable round. I think we all tend to beat ourselves up, especially if we’re good players and we need to have more empathy toward ourselves and I did that day.

It was a funny round. I made a lot of birdies and a lot of bogies. I tend to plod around making pars, a birdie here a bogey there. That day was good.

It’s a par 70 golf course. I shot 5-under-par in 44 minutes and six seconds. I had six clubs.

Actually, I have a couple pretty cool mental images. The last hole at Jackson Park is a short par-4. It’s less than 300 yards, I don’t know, it might be 275-280. You’ve got out-of-bounds to the right and trees down the left side. I hit my tee shot to one foot there. I almost made it. I tapped in for eagle, 65. It was a cool way to finish.

So, yeah, I can say I was in a state of mind that was very conducive to playing good golf: patient with myself, tolerant, empathetic. No expectations, you know, which is easy to say, but I just allowed things to happen. I made a double that day and I made some bogies. It was a good round. I’ve had a lot of good rounds like that, but not in competition. That happened to be one in a top position with scorekeepers and whatnot, so yeah, it was cool. I’m proud of it.

I think someday, someone’s going to take that down, but it’s going to have to be the right golf course. It’s not going to happen at Bandon Dunes, I don’t think. I think Bandon’s too hard. It’s too challenging, especially here for people who don’t know how to play links courses. Nonetheless, records are meant to be broken, so, someday soon.

Did you know at any time during the round that you were playing for a world record?

I was just playing one shot at a time and not looking ahead, not looking behind. Another great thing about Speedgolf is what every sport psychologist is always trying to help people with: Stay in the present. Well, when you are playing Speedgolf you are in the present, because if you hit a bad shot, rather than having time to think about it or worry about it, your next shot is literally seconds away, so you are in the present. Everyone from the Buddha to Dr. Bob Rotella is trying to get people to stay in the present and enjoy it.

That certainly helped, so, no. I wasn’t thinking about the score until the end. I knew I was playing pretty good. Every once in a while I’d look at my watch, just to see what kind of pace I’m going at, but there wasn’t a target up there.

Do you find yourself comparing rounds you play now to that one?

No, not really. Accepting change and accepting time, accepting aging… It’s something we all have to deal with. I look at Arnold Palmer playing golf now, in 2013. Does he compare that to how he played in the 60s? He can’t. He’s got to find different reasons to play, different reasons for enjoyment.

I don’t know if my golf game’s any better or worse than it was back then. I’m definitely slowing down. I think I can get fitter between injuries and illness, but it’s been a pretty tough year-and-a-half or so, but I also know my body is asking me to do different things.

It’s all a part of growing, evolving. I’m just going to do my best. As long as I have given my best, then that’s all I can ask. Things are constantly changing and I think we begin to suffer (laughs) when we fail to see the impermanence of everything. Easier said than done, but that’s the direction I’m trying to move in.

BONUS AUDIO: More Q&A with Chris Smith. Click play on our Soundcloud player below.

Interview with Chris Walker, 2012 Speedgolf World Champion



(photo courtesy of Wood Sabold)

On October 26-27, elite speed-golfers from around the world will visit Bandon Dunes Golf Resort for the 2nd-Annual Speedgolf World Championship. The 36-hole competition is held at the resort’s Bandon Dunes and Old Macdonald courses.

The reigning champion is Chris Walker, Woodlands, Tex., a former member of the Notre Dame golf team who now plays professionally on mini-tours. At last year's championship at Bandon Dunes, Walker shot 76-77 with a total time of 1 hour, 50 minutes and 28 seconds. blogger Nick Martin recently caught up with Walker for an interview.

What sets Bandon Dunes apart from other courses at which you've competed?

I have competed at Bandon Dunes in both Speedgolf and regular golf. The thing about Bandon is there are times I don’t even feel like I am on planet Earth. Bandon is so secluded that there isn’t much distraction, besides the scenery. It’s is a special place to me, especially after winning last year’s world championship there. At Bandon, regardless of how you are playing, there is always a moment where you look out to the ocean, and for that split second you are absolutely at peace with the world. How can a moment like that not make Bandon a place unlike any other?

Do you have a favorite course at Bandon Dunes?

I have played all four 18-hole courses. Each is unique in its own way. But for me, it has to be Bandon Dunes. It’s where I won my first world title and it will always be special to me.

When you compete at a new course, do you play at a traditional pace first or is it always at speed?

Practice rounds are where we play at traditional pace. You want to make sure you collect as much information as you can before the Speedgolf event starts.

How have things changed for you professionally since winning last year?

For me, Speedgolf is an escape from the grind of playing professionally on mini-tours. I have new goals that spread across both my regular golf schedule as well as my Speedgolf. It is an exciting time for me to be coming back to Bandon.

Have you done anything differently?

My training regime is more finely tuned toward running, but really that’s about all that has changed.

How do you prepare for an event?

I like to play. Bottom line – I want to be out on the course. A quarterback can only watch so much game film and do so much strength training. They want to be out on the field where games happen. Being on the course allows you to find a rhythm leading up to an event.

Do you prefer a links style course to a different style (e.g. parkland or mountain)?

I would say a link better fits my game.

Does your strategy change based on the style of course?

Always. The key is to keep the ball in front of you and take advantage of the opportunities that come your way. Not to keep using football analogies, but it’s like when a QB uses the phrase: “I took what the defense gave me.”

In Speedgolf you have to take what the course gives you. You’ll hear golfers say things like “Oh, that’s a green light pin,” meaning it’s an opportunity to be aggressive. Each course presents its own opportunities for scoring. Some easier than others, some harder.

Are you looking forward to the Championship?

I wake up every morning excited that it is one day closer. “Looking forward” would be the understatement of the year. Haha.

What is your training regime?

My training regime consists of daily running, workouts, and golf practice. I generally will try and get Speedgolf rounds in twice a week as my schedule allows.

Do you spend more time at the range or the track?

I spend more time on the range. I am a golfer far more than I am a runner. My Speedgolf strategy will always be to outscore my opponents and gradually bring down my time.

When you go for a run, around town for example, do you carry your clubs?

I never have brought my clubs with me. There is a sports complex near my house where I will do some of my training. A few times I have taken a 10-pound dumbbell with me so I can get the feel of some extra weight in my hands.

When you're training, do you prefer to run on grass exclusively or does it matter?

I always prefer to run on grass. With Speedgolf, I will very rarely be running on anything but uneven grass surfaces.

Is there any comparison or correlation between Speedgolf and the Olympic Biathlon? (The Biathlon is a Winter Olympics event combining long distance cross-country skiing with rifle target shooting)

No doubt. To me, the principles of both are very similar. We are trying to hit a golf ball to a very specific target and a big part of that is being able to control breathing and increased heart rate. It takes very similar skills to that of the Olympic Biathlon.

Do you actively monitor your heart rate while you’re playing?

That has never really been something I watch while playing. I do wear a watch that measures time, distance, heart rate, etc. But for the most part my focus is trying to get the ball in the hole.

Do you ever slow down your pace to keep your heart rate within a certain level or is it just a constant push?

I always tend to slow down as I approach my shot, especially putting. I want to bring my heart rate down enough to be able to utilize a fluid golf swing. I would say putting is the most difficult task when it comes to having an increased heart rate.

What attracted you to speed golf?

Speedgolf is a very freeing experience for me. I have played tournament golf for 14 years now. Most of that time consists of playing in threesomes and foursomes. Rounds can last anywhere between 3.5 to 5.5 hours. For me, Speedgolf is a freeing feeling that I have not really had the opportunity to experience. It is nice to know that I am out there all alone and can go at my own pace.

Were you a runner or golfer first?

Golfer. 100%.

After you hit the ball, are you thinking about your next shot, or is it more cat and mouse?

It’s funny, for all my golf career I have heard and read about how it’s impossible to stay focused for the 4.5 hours that a round of golf can take. Sports psychologists urge golfers to take the time in between shots to let their mind wander and then refocus before the next shot. Speedgolf completely flips that notion on its head. Not only is it possible to focus for the 40-50 minutes a round of Speedgolf takes, it is a necessity. You absolutely have to be thinking constantly about the next shot. There always has to be a strategy of thinking ahead. Failure to do so, especially at a challenging course like Bandon Dunes, will result in continuous circumstances where the golfer will find themselves in troubled spots struggling to make a par or bogey. Generally, I will spend an hour or so the night before a round of Speedgolf studying a yardage book for the course and formulating a game plan that will allow me to keep the ball in the right spots on difficult holes while being in position to succeed on holes that may present an opportunity to make birdie.

From tee to green, does the hole evolve like it does for a regular round, just at a faster pace?

Yes and no. I would argue that in theory it basically evolves like a regular round. You hit it off the tee, go find it and hit it toward the green. It’s all the same, right? Well, in a regular round, I will have the time to get an exact yardage, know where I want to place the ball, and strategize a specific shot with a specific club to accomplish that goal. In Speedgolf I basically have to make an educated guess with yardage, I have only six clubs, and I am working with a lot less information such as the pin location, etc. What Speedgolf requires from me that a normal round of golf sometime doesn’t is a tremendous combination of feel and creativity. I know I am trying to get the ball close to the hole with limited information and a club that generally does not fly that distance. For me, this is where I come alive and really have a blast. I love creating something from nothing. And Speedgolf will certainly put you in situation where that is necessary.

What do you do when you lose your ball?

Speedgolf has a few specific rule changes in regards to a lost ball. When a ball is lost, the player may drop the ball on the line of entry in which the golfer believes his or her ball to have crossed. The reason the rule is different from the USGA’s rule for a lost ball is because in Speedgolf, the penalty would result in stroke, distance, and time. This is almost like a 3-shot penalty. So for Speedgolf, the rule must be adapted to account for the time factor.

Do you even lose many balls?

It occurs every once in a while. I lost one ball last year in the world championship so it does happen. The key is to realize when to stop searching and move on with your round to conserve time.

How many tournaments do you compete in every year?

Speedgolf-wise, I will do three this year. Regular golf, maybe 20-25 events.

Is there a type or style of golf course layout that is better or more conducive to Speedgolf?

Not necessarily. Every golf course presents its own challenges. That’s what can make Speedgolf unique. If you want lower scores, a more straight forward, flat layout will produce lower scores and faster times. But part of Speedgolf is adapting to the course that you will have to play that week.

It seems that a links course would lend itself more to a Speedgolf style. Is that the case?

On paper, yes. And if you asked the players, they would probably prefer that style of course for Speedgolf. But generally, we’ll just play the course we are giving.

Would you like to see more people in the sport?

Yes. Speedgolf draws on people with both golf and running backgrounds. Everyone who competes brings to the table their own unique skillset that allows them to be successful.

Has Speedgolf influenced traditional style golf in any way – aside from, maybe, pace of play?

I would argue that Speedgolf has increased my ability to be creative in my normal rounds. For many, Speedgolf is proof that you do not have to take a great amount of time to hit a quality shot and shoot quality scores. At our last Speedgolf event in Portland we had rounds of 70, 72, 72, 74, and 75. Plain and simple, those are good numbers no matter what the pace.

Would you like to see golf courses dedicated exclusively to Speedgolf?


If you could design a Speedgolf course, what would it look like?

I would like to design maybe a combination course. Maybe the front nine would be up in the tree line with some narrow, shorter holes. Then once the turn is made the course really opens up into more of a links style. Longer, well-bunkered holes would make for a difficult finish. I like courses that have holes with different personalities. I don’t want to see a bunch of cookie cutter holes. I want to stand on the tee and say, “Wow, this isn’t what I expected to see this hole doing.”

What would be different?

I would make it a point to have a stretch of 3-4 very difficult holes in a row. Something like 8-11. Then right after that, have 3-4 easier holes. That way, in the mind of the golfer, they reach that 8th tee and say “Okay, here is the round right here. If I can grind out there four holes, I will have some birdie opportunities coming in that I can take advantage of.”

What would be the same?

I wouldn’t want to do anything extreme to the terrain. I have played some really hilly courses and I don’t feel like those are conducive to Speedgolf scoring.

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