Sunday, 31 January 2010

Moving on

Well that's January over and done. It seemed to fly by although there wasn't much opportunity to get out and play. Progress was hampered by the big snowfall at the start of the month. I was due to play this weekend but there were temporary greens on every hole and the ground was rock hard meaning that everything would have been a lottery. I opted for a range session yesterday and today.

Yesterday was one of those. Sheer frustration. I know what I'm trying to do and what I want to achieve but had no real idea where the club was at any stage in my swing. It was out of sequence, the tempo was lousy and the technique lacking. Not a happy camper. Today was better in patches. I felt as though I'd been swinging too much with the arms instead of swinging the arms, turning and releasing through. Some improvement but all that work I'd done at the start of the month on tempo has completely deserted me.

Rather than self diagnose I've booked a lesson for Tuesday evening. My usual teacher is out of action following a knee operation so I'm going for a lesson with another pro at the driving range I know. I had a lesson with him to cure the dreaded J Arthurs before Christmas so he knows a bit about my swing, my aims for the year and what has been going wrong. He also does a lot of work on the mental side and I was going to use him later in the season for some mental training anyway.

And there we have it. Only two full rounds played. One competition entered and a 2nd place finish. No handicap changes and a swing that still won't behave. At least we're closer to the long nights and warmer weather.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Fings Wot I Learned

Well bless my soul. It only turns out my humble 34 points was good enough for second place in my division in yesterday's stableford. Now while the course was wet, particularly in places, and so played long, I didn't think it was that brutal but CSS was 71 and there were some really low point totals.

Unexpected as the result was it got me thinking about what I'd learned so far on my odyssey.

1) However good or bad you are hitting on the range its what you do when you get on the course that counts. There are lots of scratch players on the range.

2) Keep your mind empty. I'm not sure if it was the fact that only had 4 points after four holes yesterday but I wasn't thinking about what I "need" to do on upcoming holes or having that annoying voice in my head chattering about differentswing thoughts. I literally took one shot at a time

3) Putting practice at home can help. My wife bought me the Pathfinder
http://www.improvemygolf.co.uk/acatalog/Pathfinder_Putting_System.html for Christmas and I've been doing a lot of work on my stroke especially from 6 feet and in. I only had 31 putts and didn't 3 putt once

4) Keep grinding. For those that have read my very first post, the aim this year is to be more competitive. No more giving up or watching on as someone snatches the prize. I feel that my approach has been vindicated, at least in part. After such a shabby start, I would normally bemoan my poor play, lose interest and fritter points away coming home with some embarrasing total. Yesterday I kept plugging away and it only took a great pitch at the sixth to act as a catalyst. I didn't even drive the ball that well on the back nine. However I did make some putts and kept it in play and came home in a respectable 20 points

5) Short game, short game, short game. Putting was A+. Pitching was B- (hadn't practiced it much). Bunker Play was C (in two and got them out well to about ten feet but couldn't make the putt). Chipping D-. Very poor technically. What I've learned from my first point is that however many balls you hit working on the long swing, fundamentally its the shots from 100 yards and in that's going to get me to single figure utopia

6) There's still a long way to go!!!!!

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Keeping My Head Above Water

A day of firsts today. First round of 2010 on a full course (no temporary greens). First competition and the first chance for the new, more competitive Homer to be released. Mind you the signs weren't that great. Having drawn the first tee time at 8.00am and having arrived in darkness at just after 7.15 there wasn't much prospect of going through my usual pre-round routine unless the club had installed floodlights on the practice ground overnight. I resorted to some stretching and took half a dozen balls out to hit with an 8 iron about 7.40 just to feel club on ball.

For those that don't know Royal Ascot (and anyone is welcome to join me for a game) the first is an intimidating par 3 of 229 yards off the white tees (stroke index 10). There is out of bounds to the right, a pond short left, a line of hedgerow that sticks out on the right about thirty yards short of the putting surface and the ground slopes right to left towards a bunker left of the target. Welcome to your nice easy start to the day.

Another first as it was my honour. Having come up short yesterday in the damp conditions with a 5 wood I opted for a 3 wood. I hit it well with but still ended up about twenty yards short. I hit a good pitch and run to the back edge about fifteen feet from the flag. Then the problems started. A fiery first putt left a testy 4 footer which I failed to convert for an ugly double and a solitary point.

Still the new Homer wasn't going to let that get him down. I stood on the 2nd, a dog leg right, par 5 with OB tight down the right hand side. Picking my target on the left edge of the fairway I drew my driver back. I struck it beautifully. No change that, I flushed it. Trouble was I also hit it straight right. Reload and a lost ball. Even my new hardnosed persona was a little put out and I failed to trouble the scorer on the hole. By the time I stood on the fourth fairway I was in a spot of trouble. Still I only had 112 to the flag from the middle of the short stuff. A pushed 9 iron later into a bunker, a reasonable bunker shot to 8 feet and a missed putt I had the grand total of 4 points from 4 holes. Hardly the stuff of single figure handicaps.

And then I started to play. I was using the new Callaway Tour i (x) I had been given to trial for them (part of a GM Forum giveaway) and having hit my tee shot at the par 3 sixth way right I was faced with a pitch from wet rough over a bunker to a pin at the bottom of a slope. Fat and it was bunkered. Strong and it would hit the slope and run. Opening my 58 degree wedge it flew high and soft and landed perfectly at the top of the slope. It spun on landing and gravity took it down to within a foot of the hole for a par. I repeated the trick with a 95 yard wedge to 4 feet at the 7th for another up and down and limped out in a total of 14 points.

I hit a great drive at 10 to set up a routine par and made an ugly bogey on 11 (although I got a shot) with a rubbish chip. Another great drive down 12 was followed by a huge hook left with a 5 iron. When I got there it was sat on top of the wet leaf litter which was hardly an appetising prospect but somehow I managed to play a great chip and run to around 6 feet and the putt kindly obliged. I was way offline at the 186 yard par 3 13th (in fact I was about six inches from a hole in one on the temporary green!) but got onto the green and drained an outrageous ten footer to save par again. Steady if unspectacular until the 17th tee (2 points per hole) I came to one of my nemesis holes.

Another tough par 3 of 218 yards (SI 13) it has OB tight left and elephant country right. I usually take a four and run. Five wood in hand I aimed as usual for the right hand trap hoping my usual snap hook had disappeared like the snow. It was more hooky than I wanted but it kept its head up and found the putting surface. Two putts later (and a tiny fist pump) and I'd got a par. A poor drive down the long par 5 eighteenth meant I had to play for a 6 (nett five) which I got.

One of the things I am really working hard on is trying to take it one hole at a time and not worry about what has been and what could be. I have to say I achieved this really well today although how much my ropey start and poor front nine had to do with it is an unanswered question. Will I still be able to do it if I know I'm playing well with a good first nine score?

And the conclusion. Well I was still clubhouse leader in my division as I left about an hour after I finished. I hit the buffer zone so there was no damage to my handicap. My driving is inconsistent, my chipping rusty but I guess the thing is I ground a score out which is one of the big aims for the year. Not a bad way to start.

Fairways hit = 6/12
Greens in regulation = 3/18
Number of putts - 31
Sand saves = 0/2

Total number of lost balls in 2010 = 2

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Strange Day

If you had asked me at lunchtime about my golf and ultimately my goals for the year, the reply would not have been pretty. Frustrated, I'd come home from a terrible range session where every iron shot seemed wrong. Most were weak slices (not a normal shot for me) and there were no two consecutive shots that seemed to go in the same direction. Strangely the longer clubs and in particular my 3 wood and driver were behaving impeccably.

I'd already decided I was going to play nine holes at Royal Ascot if only to see for myself how wet the course was before the monthly stableford tomorrow morning. It was with little expectation that I teed my 5 wood up on the white tees at the first. I hit a decent enough shot, a little right and short, but it hadn't been an embarrassment. I hit a great pitch and putted out for par.

As I continued, I managed to get the ball into play off the tee but it became obvious my irons were still letting me down. A pushed 5 iron at the second, a fat approach at three and a pushed wedge at four had done nothing to improve my mood. Add a mis-firing short game into the equation and scoring was not pretty. I'm glad its not medal tomorrow.

I did managed to make a decent par at the last hitting a good drive down the right side of the fairway and a low 4 iron onto the front left of the green. At least I could feel I had made progress. As it was still light enough I decided a little short game practice was in order. Working more on a rocking shoulder motion and trying to keep the wrists passive I felt I'd made a couple of tiny steps forward.

Its hard to put a finger on what's wrong with my swing and in particular my irons today. I'm hoping it was just a bad morning at the range or at least if not, the problem is only small and a quick lesson will fix it. I'm not looking to set the world alight tomorrow and have no expectations to necessarily play well. The new more determined Homer will get his first outing and I'll be grinding for every single point but I'm realistic enough to realise my game isn't where it would have been without the snow putting a kybosh on everything.

It will be good to get out and actually play a full game and on proper greens (I'm done with temporary greens thank you very much). I know the course is very wet in places and so keeping it on the short stuff and taking advantage of winter rules will be key. Not putting any pressure on myself might be way forward as well. Either way I'll be sure to let you know, warts and all, how the first competitive round of 2010 went.

Happy golfing

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Two Steps Back

The sun was shining, it was warm and I was up for the work. What could possibly go wrong? Whilst I'm probably being over critical, todays range session was not great. There were way too many inconsistant shots, fading off right, turning over left and just the odd moment of joy as I got one to rasp straight and true from the sweetspot. I never felt in control of the swing throughout and the frustration I felt yesterday from the enforced layoff was still there today.

I'm hoping that the course may open again next weekend so I can just go out and play. Maybe I'm worrying too much about the swing again and need to just "grip it and rip it". However the forecast for the week doesn't look great with more rain due so I'm still dubious about my chances of getting out.

On the plus side I've got a flexi afternoon off work on Tuesday so I might go and hit a few balls at the range. I have a feeling I was trying to work on too many things at once and fell between several stools. I need to work on my initial takeaway I think as per my recent lesson. I was trying to concentrate on that, turning properly on the inside of my right foot and swinging with a slow, smooth tempo. Way too much for my tiny brain. It's annoying that one of the teaching pros watched me on the 5th and said I was striking it great and today I struggled to put two consecutive shots together. Still no-one said golf was easy.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Finally.....back to swinging a club

At last. Managed to finally get to put club to ball down at Maidenhead Golf Centre. Not quite the horror show I thought it might have been but I wasn't swinging as well as I was on the 5th when I last managed to practice. There are still a number of ongoing issues. I'm working on the takeaway and grip change as per my lesson on January 4th and I know I wasn't making a particularly good turn. Contact with the ball was pretty reasonable but I was "directionally challenged" and seemed to be hitting a number of big hooks. I'm frustrated that my hard work has been compromised but feel that I'm ready to play well if and when the course ever re-opens (famous last words). I'm going back tomorrow to work on it so I'm hoping it'll click back into place.

To be honest it was just nice to be out and not running the gauntlet of the local supermarket on a Saturday morning. I managed to swing past Royal Ascot on the way home. The first two holes are still frozen and the back nine requires scuba gear as it's heavily waterlogged. No play until at least Monday and even then I think they are being optimistic.

I did manage to look at the 2010 Footjoy catalogue in the pro shop. Those who know me will be aware that I have a Ian Poulter like collection of shoes but to be honest I was disappointed in the majority of Footjoy's 2010 offerings. It looks very much like they are going for the trendier, younger end of the market. I'll have a closer look in the next few months but initial impressions are not good.

Watched the golf from South Africa earlier and it was great to see Darren Clarke back to form. One of golfs real nice guys who has struggled in the last few years with his game but has battled hard to find something that works for him. I really hope he does well tomorrow and it would be nice to see him win again.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Green grass has been sighted

Whisper it quietly but the snow is going. Royal Ascot remains under a blanket of white and not looking to be open, at least not tomorrow. I imagine it will struggle to deal with the excess water and so likely to be flooded in places. The glass half full in me is hoping it'll be ok as I've got a game pencilled in for Sunday, but the glass half empty guy on the other shoulder is shouting louder and telling me to stop dreaming.

Either way I'm off to find a range that's open tomorrow and get back to work on my swing. The frustrating thing is I was making real progress and beginning to hit it well and on a regular basis before the latest interruptions. I'm not sure what to expect tomorrow but just hope I haven't lost too much impetus. I hope you get a chance to get out and swing whether on your course if its open (lucky so and so) or down your local range.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Snow Good For Anything

This is getting silly. It's been a week now since my lesson and I've only had one range session to try and implement the changes. Things are so bad I've even found myself in places like Currys and Sainsbury's with the wife. Couldn't even use the "sorry got to work on the new swing" get out of jail card.

Still it has given me a chance to get to grips with my Christmas pressie from HID. She got me the Pathfinder Putting System
http://www.improvemygolf.co.uk/acatalog/Pathfinder_Putting_System.html which basically is a foolproof way of telling whether you take the putter back and through properly using magnetic pegs. And what did I learn? Well as I mentioned on the Golf Monthly forum (http://forums.golf-monthly.co.uk//showflat.php/Cat/0/Number/187701/an/0/page/0#187701) I tend to have a loop and hit the outside back pin but then manage to go through straight. General consensus seems to be that a) its probably just my natural style, b) if I'm holing out well then why worry c) I'm thinking way too much about it. The really annoying and frustrating bit is that if I take the troublesome pin out I putt great and rarely hit any others.

The cold freeze has given me a chance to peruse the internet. Several things worth looking at blog wise. Two guys who are definitely up for a challenge are striving to get from 28 to scratch in five years or less and are charting their progress. Can it be done? Well if you log onto
http://www.projectscratch.co.uk/ you'll be able to see for yourself.

Another guy by the name Nick Swan from Hampshire has eyes on the Club Championship this year having come oh so close in 2009. He also wants to get down to a 5 handicap in the process and is blog
http://www.golftribe.com/Default.aspx is full of advice, plans, and golfing titbits.

Finally, I've started to get back into some reading. Golf related as you'd expect. I've been reading Dr Bob Rotella's books including "Your 15th Club" and "Putting out of your mind".



As you'd expect from someone that Padraig Harrington acknowledges helped him become a three time major winner, there is some really good stuff in there and its explained in a way that makes perfect sense even to me. If only I could get out and put some of it into practice. I'm waiting on the postman to deliver Harvey Penick's "Little Red Book" which has received some glowing praise from the wise old heads on the Golf Monthly Forum. Once it arrives and I get a chance to digest it I'll report back.

I hope wherever you are the snow is finally beginning to thaw and we can all get out and enjoy a game again soon. In the meantime do what you can to keep the golfing boredom at bay and whatever else you do - don't get sucked into the supermarket.

Monday, 4 January 2010

The Hard Work Starts Here

When does ambition become a dangerous addiction. I only ask as there must be a logical reason I was standing on a frozen practice ground at 10.00am this morning. The temperature in the car on the way there hadn't risen above -5 and even the thermometer by the putting green was hovering at -3.

Still, the lesson had been booked months ago and I wasn't going to let frozen turf and sub-zero temperatures put me off. Homer's journey had started and today was going to be the dawn of a new beginning for me. As regular followers of the Golf Monthly Forum will know I've invested a lot of time with Grant Sayer (my teaching pro from Maidenhead GC) on tempo as a starting point of some other swing enhancements. Basically I needed to slow my swing into something that didn't break the sound barrier everytime. I was therefore pleasantly surprised when he said he was impressed with the progress I'd made.

However as always there was a downside. My left hand had become too weak and my initial takeaway was too flat and moving too far inside. He explained the problems this would cause (which correlated to the bad shots I hit) and we went to work. Strengthening the grip was easy but we also worked on taking the club back in a much straighter line before making the turn. It almost looked as though it was going back hooded (shut) although in reality it wasn't. We also used the well known Leadbetter drill if planting the butt of the club in the navel and gripping down the shaft and getting the feeling of the stomach and hands moving back together.

All in all there wasn't as much wrong with the swing as I thought. Yes there are still lots of things wrong but building Rome in a day and all that......... I have a couple of drills to work on so we'll see where it takes me. Grant is out of commission now until March with knee surgery so I'll have plenty of time to get it right before he inspects it. Off to the frozen tundra of the practice ground tomorrow to give it a go. Might even try and get a cheeky nine in even if we're on temp greens.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Winter Golf - Worthwhile or Not?

Played a friendly fourball at Royal Ascot today with two of my regular partners and one of my golfing pals Hywel Lloyd (aka HTL from the Golf Monthly forum) who has now joined Ascot as a full member.

The course itself was in reasonable shape. It wasn't too muddy which given the thawed snow and recent rain was a surprise. However the greens were all frozen as were the bunkers and we were on temporary greens all the way round. Is it worth the effort? I enjoyed the company but found the game itself a lottery with the small target to aim at, an inablity to get a ball to stop or hold, even with a well struck shot, and putts that jump in the air as they roll.

It was good to be out and the weather was sunny and bright and the temperature pleasant. I was able to see how my range work transferred to the course and at least hit some drives and irons in game conditions. Definitely a work in progress. Some reasonable drives, several howlers and a short game in need of an MOT. It didn't feel like a proper round though and there definitely wasn't the concentration or any level of intensity to my game. As the freeze looks to continue I find myself facing a quandary. Do I persevere with getting out onto the course and put up with the temporary greens and the unpredictability of bounce or would I be better off at the range working on my game?

My heart tells me that there is nothing like being out on the course and to embrace the challenge knowing that every shot counts but my head says it can't be good for my game, especially my chipping and putting. I do count myself lucky in being able to have the problem especially as many in the North, Scotland and Ireland are going the golfing equivalent of stir crazy with courses shut for the foreseeable future.

The great British Winter. Don't you love it?

Friday, 1 January 2010

Year of the Homer

My name is Homer Simpson. OK that’s a small lie, but it is my nickname and like the cartoon hero my golf can be like sipping a cold Duff beer one minute and a real DOH! moment the next. This isn’t one of those blogs documenting a golfers desire to reach the nirvana of a scratch handicap or to play a level par round for the first time. If I’m brutally honest, there isn’t the natural talent and I don’t have the time required to dedicate myself to such a pursuit.

However before you reach for the mouse to wander off elsewhere in cyberspace, this is a journey. It’s a tale of a golf addict (there I’ve said it) who truly believes that he has the potential to become a single figure golfer and who lives and sleeps for the next game, practice session or lesson. So what’s my aim? Well there is going to be a new, meaner ruthless Homer out on the course this year. I’m fed up of clapping politely as someone else walks off with the trophy. I want to win as much silverware as I can this year. Too often I’ve started well only to limp home like a three legged dog. I’m also capable of throwing an event away in the opening holes and then realise too late that I can play the stupid game and come home under a full canvass. As you will discover, I’m the type of golfer that can make a double bogey when a birdie seems easier. When I’m good I’m okay but when I’m bad it can be xxx rated. Its January 1st 2010 and my handicap is 11.3. How low can I go? Don’t be put off by the new mean persona. Golf is and always should be fun and an excuse to enjoy pleasant scenery in good company.

What I hope this blog will be is a fun place for you to spend a little time on a regular basis. Follow my progress and hopefully you’ll be kind enough to pass on your thoughts and comments as we go. I’ll let you know if I have an epiphany with my swing and recount the glory and tragedy of my golfing exploits. I’ll also introduce you to some of the characters at my club (every club has them) and share some of lighter side of this great game we both love and hate in equal measures.

Come with me then as I take the first faltering steps on my journey. 2010 is the year of the Homer