Saturday, 27 March 2010

Musing

An enforced weekend off as my back is showing no inclination to improve. I took my putter out of the bag this morning on the off chance that I could go to the club and practice or at the very least use my Pathfinder on the living room carpet. Not a hope. The first sign of getting close to the address position sent shards of pain shooting through my back and down my right leg.

What to do. Well fortunately I'm well stocked on the latest golf magazines and as most of them are previewing Augusta I thought I'd put my Heretic Homer hat on and come up with my predictions. Augusta is always a toughie. If it's dry and the greens are firm then it will suit an accurate driver who can play from the fairway and hit greens. I don't think you have to be obscenely long but you do have to put it in the right place. If Mickleson brings his driving game then he'll be a contender. Westwood is probably one of the best tee to green but I think his short game and putting will find him wanting. Els is running into some form (which is nice to see) and JB Holmes has power to burn and will be hitting in short sticks to a lot of the greens. However for the fact that he is slow to the point of slumber to watch I hope he doesn't win

That leaves the Tiger factor. Is he ready? Of course he'll be ready. He doesn't step onto any course unless he thinks he can win but I think the inevitable press attention, pressure to perform and maybe even the negative reaction from some of the crowd means there will be no fairytale return. My tips are Tim Clark who I think has a fine all round game and Geoff Ogilvy who is long, and has a great putting touch.

I think for the second major, there will be only one favourite with the bookie. Tiger and Pebble Beach are kindred spirits and he'll be back in the flow by then. However I don't think he'll win. Given the way the PGA set their Open courses up with the thick rough I think driving will be paramount and length will be a necessity. For this reason and for the fact that he knows what it's like to contend on a Sunday and having come so close in the last few, I'm going for a Westwood victory. If I was hedging my bets then I think this is another opportunity for Leftie if he can control the driver especially with home town support for the popular Californian.

By the time we get to St Andrew Tiger will be drooling at the chance to play arguably his favourite Open track. However I think St Andrews is one of the easier courses on the rota and so it opens it up to a lot of players. I think we are seeing a renaissance in European fortunes and I think it will be a European winner. Stenson is solid and Westwood will again feature but my tip to finally get the monkey off his back is Sergio. He can play some sublime golf tee to green and has had the experience of being in the mix. With Seve making an emotional goodbye too I think it will be the inspiration he needs.

And that brings us to the USPGA at Baltusrol New Jersey. Tiger better have the fans onside by then or he'll be in for a very rough ride. This traditionally is perhaps the most open of all the majors and who can forget Y.E. Yang and his hybrid into the green last year and the look of disbelief on Woods face. I think the US will get a home grown winner and I think it'll be one of the old hands. For someone who has had his swing described as "an octopus in a phonebooth" Jim Furyk is one of the best ball strikers and most consistent performers. There are doubts over his length but his recent win over a monster course shows that course management over brute force can still win the day.

As I've got my predictive head on, for those that haven't heard much about him, keep a close eye on a European Tour player called Sam Hutsby. He came second at Q school and had a number of strong finishes in the events he played last year. Only 22 and a Walker Cup player this guy is destined to win. I'm probably slightly biased through my connection with the magazine but he's sponsored in part by Golf Monthly and their editor Mike Harris is predicting exciting things ahead. Definitely one to keep an eye on and if he can get a solid first full season on tour will go from strength to strength.

It'll be interesting to see how the majors pan out and I can't wait to watch them. I just hope my back gets better soon so I can get out there and imagine that putt on the last is to win the Open.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Bugger (and other Anglo Saxon phrases)

I've hurt my back. Not a twinge of upcoming old age but the good old fashioned sear of pain and the inability to walk upright thereafter. I got out of the shower this morning (sorry if you're eating and that image has put you off) and started to dry myself and there was an almight shooting pain down the lower part of my back slightly right of centre. It was blood agony. I couldn't even get my socks and shoes on but like a consumate professional struggled into work.

I've been dosing up on the ibuprofen today and managed to get a brief physio session (a benefit of working in a hospital) which nearly reduced me to tears but did take the edge off. It's one of those real nasty ones that no matter how you sit or stand it's always niggling away. I've got some decent painkillers now and a hot water bottle is doing the business. I'm pretty hacked off though as I was going to go to the range tonight as I haven't hit a ball since Sunday (badly as regular followers will know) and wanted to do some work on the swing.

I've got a roll up game booked for Saturday morning and I'm due off at 9.10am for the monthly stableford on Sunday. Neither are looking promising at the moment. I know I haven't been playing well but the course is starting to look good after the hard winter and the greens are pretty speedy but true (even after hollow tining). Just as everything is getting going this happens. I guess it's the golf on the TV tonight and a flick through the golf magazines. I'm not a happy camper

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Sunshine after rain

I couldn't believe the difference in the weather today. I went to the club mid-morning to work on my ailing short game and start to grooving my putting now the greens are more consistent (not waterlogged or under snow). I was actually surprised how quiet it was. I could easily have wandered out and got a leisurely eighteen holes in without a problem. However the new improved 2010 Homer is more focussed and I planted myself at the putting green.

I had already decided to use a very good practice aid called a V-Easy http://www.v-easy.co.uk/. Basically it's a simple device that fits onto the base of your grip and is designed to keep the wrists and arms quiet in both the putting and chipping stroke. It was invented by a club pro called Bob MacArthur who is based at Martin Moor Golf Club in Lincolnshire. I tried it out indoors last night, much to the chagrin of the wife and it was helping.



It took a little time to get to grips with it as my address position still wasn't as it had been after my recent lesson but once I'd got myself into a much better set up the V-Easy made it simple to just rock the shoulders and arms back and through. There was a pleasing click on every shot as it made good, solid contact.

It was warm work and I was actually in shirt sleeves! It didn't take long before I removed the stabilisers and rode solo. Immediately self-doubt and confusion crept back in. Those familiar chunked and thinned shots were sending the balls to all parts of the putting green. Fortunately I was alone and there weren't too many passing strangers coming off the ninth to witness my pain. In the end though it got better and better. I am now back in a happy place with my chipping and was hitting it very well. I think the secret is going to be to use the V-Easy at home in the evening and try and get some sort of retention of how the set up and shot should feel.

Having got the chipping sorted it was onto the putting. I've actually been putting quite well apart from some distance control issues. I checked my set up using a putting mirror and was happy with that. The V-Easy confirmed that I wasn't breaking my wrists and I think the problem has come about from "peeping" too soon. Once I looked at where the ball had been for a second after impact the judgement of distance become more natural and was much better. I still need to work on the short 3-6 footers as I'm getting caught between wanting to rap them in firmly and hit them with a touch more borrow and be a little more circumspect.

All in all it was a very productive session. If you are having a problem with your putting the V-Easy is available at places like American Golf (distributed by Yes) or you can order at a very good internet site run by a good friend from the Golf Monthly Forum at http://www.improvemygolf.co.uk/

Not long now until the clocks change and I can get out in the evenings to get the killer short game my quest for single figures needs and to go out and have sun fun playing a few holes after work. Shirt sleeves in March. Surely not a sign of a decent summer?

Saturday, 20 March 2010

How to really test a friendship

Today was the Jack Jarrett Trophy at Royal Ascot. A pairs stableford event with both scores counting and the highest combined score winning, played off 3/4 handicaps. Let me start by getting my excuses in early (you can see where this is heading can't you). I've been struggling with a cold for a few days and everything was aching. It was a horrid day with heavy squally rain and the course was pretty wet from the persistant overnight drenching.

I played with my good mate Hywel Lloyd and to be fair apart from feeling a bit grotty from the cold, I was reasonably confident especially as I hit the ball well down the range midweek. It didn't start as I'd hoped as I duck hooked my opening drive into the pond short left and made a 5 (I'd normally have rescued a point but didn't get a shot off 3/4 handicap). My partner from just short then chipped long and three putted for a solitary point.

Things did pick up at the second when I hit a great wedge from about ninety yards to three feet and converted for a birdie (nett eagle) and muchos points and we looked to be back on track. How wrong I was. I was in the greenside bunker for two at the third and walked off with a seven. A thinned bunker shot way over the green, thinned chip back into the same bunker, heavy bunker shot and two putts. How my partner smiled at my performance. NOT!

A drive out of bounds at the 5th and 6th holes (one right the other left) was partially redeemed by a par at the 7th and 8th. Hywel had been struggling himself early on but he made a great par at the fifth and another with a great up and down at the ninth. It was fairly obvious by half-time we were never going to win.

Hywel really stepped up to the plate on the second nine and made another up and down at the tenth for par and repeated the trick at the next. I came in with a point per hole. He made par at the next too after bombing his drive and I made a steady in unspectacular net par to finally feel like I was bringing something to the table. Sadly that was to be my last meaningful contribution as my game faded into a sodden disaster zone although to be honest I'd sort of lost interest and concentration by that point. Hywel though manfully continued to carry me on his back and we limped home with a measly 51 points of which I contributed a paltry 19 (4 of which came on the second courtesy of the birdie).

Truth be told I've been in a filthy mood all afternoon. I can handle not playing well if it's a medal or stableford as the only thing that'll happen is I'll get another 0.1 back on the handicap. However I really feel like I let my mate down today big time. He scored pretty well off the reduced handicap and although he didn't putt great and he wasn't overly happy with his ball striking (did I mention the 288 yard drive at 16 in the wet) and got no backing whatsoever from me. I think he had the hump in the clubhouse and to be fair I can't blame him.

I'm sure he'll get over it and we'll come good once the warmer weather gets here. I'm not going to make excuses I was rubbish. I hope that a day in bed under the duvet will have me feeling well enough to go out and hit some balls during the week and maybe get a friendly round with Hywel next week (if he's talking to me by then). I've no idea who this Jack Jarrett character was but I won't be looking after his trophy this year.

Total number of lost balls in 2010 = 8

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Home on the range

Buoyed by the warm sunshine and a hectic day in work I decided to make a trip to the range tonight. I went to the Downshire Golf Course near Wokingham instead of my normal range and the change of scenery seemed to work wonders. I had one of those rare sessions where the swing was working well and the ball was under control.

Following on from my horrendous driving in the medal on Sunday I decided to really work on hitting the big dog. I was smoking them. A low penertrating flight and with a mere hint of a draw. I couldn't have been happier with the way it went.

I've got another practice session planned for Friday and we all know that the golfing gods will mock me. I can sense another session where the swing behaves and I hit the ball well and lo, I stand on the first tee in the Jack Jarrett at 8.10 on Saturday and my swing will revert back to a cat and dog fighting in a tumble dryer. Still we'll cross that bridge when we get there. For now I'm a contented golfer again and looking forward to getting my handicap cut again soon. Only the short game to sort now. Bring it on.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Better but nothing to get excited about

There is always something uniquely satisfying about having a day off from work and knowing you'll be going to the golf club for a game. After waving the wife off to work, I enjoyed a nice long lie in and eventually got to the club around midday with the intention of working on my chipping which is still giving me grief. After a fruitless session where I made no forward progress I adjourned to the bar for some lunch.

Suitably fed and watered I wandered out about 2.00pm to an almost deserted front nine. Although sunny, the wind was still keen although nowhere near as fierce as yesterday but the scoring conditions were still going to be testing. If the practice green was anything to go by, the ones on the course would be as quick as they had been in the medal yesterday.

Clearly without a card and pencil in hand there was a lot less pressure but I started off much better than the previous day and even managed a bidie at the second with a great pitch from around 75 yards to within two feet. The putter was enjoying a rare hot day and I single putted the 5th, 6th and 7th to save par twice and make a bogey at the short but challenging 6th after a poor tee shot short of the green and a pitch that flew in the wind and didn't check on landing and ran through the back.

There is a deja vu moment coming. I started off the back nine poorly and hit a poor tee shot at the par 3 eleventh way right but then redeemed the mistake with another good pitch but missed the putt. However when I carved my tee shot way right at the next I started to fear a repeat of yesterday's shenanigans. However it wasn't to be and I made a par at the long par three thirteenth thanks to an up and down and then hit a fairway and green in succession at the next. I even finished with a fairway splitting drive and a two putt par up the last.

Frustrated that despite a number of scrambles it was more a case of solid putting than chipping it stone dead I wandered back onto the chipping green. I've had a eureaka moment and a simple change to my set up and a more simplistic address position seems to be bearing dividends. I only managed about twenty minutes practice but really felt at the end as though I finally had some semblance of control over the club. Sadly work beckons tomorrow and I can't even throw a ubiquitous sickie or I'd be back up there working on it. All I have to do is remember what I did when I next get a chance to play or practice.

Total number of lost balls in 2010 = 7

Going backwards (driven to distraction)

I played the monthly medal yesterday which was also the qualifier for the Royal Ascot Cup (matchplay) in very difficult conditions. There was a very strong wind which had made the greens dry and they were very, very quick. In fact the wise old heads in the club reckon they were as quick as at anytime since the course opened.

I was partnered with two integral members of the club. One was Mick Mills, who has christened me "pro" for the amount of practicing I seem to do. He's always wonderful company to play with and his exuberant personality is normally only matched by his outlandishly coloured trousers. I was a little disappointed in his blue and green tartan pattern which were somber compared to some he's worn (think John Daly). The other member of our group was one of the club director's Andy Davidson or Sir as I called him (you never know when a bit of deference will help with lowering the subs!).

My day did not start well. The last thing you need to be doing in a medal is throwing shots away so an opening tee shot out of bounds on the par 3 first and subsequent triple bogey start was not a good sign. I recovered well enough to hit the fairway and green in regulation at the par 5 second but a three putt didn't help the cause. I finally managed a par at the 4th and then a good up and down at the 5th got things moving. I even managed another up and down at the 7th (stroke index 2) and by the time I'd made a routine par at the ninth I'd gone out in a respectable 7 over gross which considering the first hole and the strong wind was pleasing.

And then the wheels came off. I hit a horror drive into the thick stuff on the right of the tenth for a double bogey. Nice. A good sand save for par helped steady the ship and then I lost all control with the driver. A big slice on twelve was followd by an even bigger one on the fourteenth that cleared the thirteenth hole. Only about forty yards right. The only score I seemed capable of was double bogey and so it was a real shock to the system at the seventeenth to actually hit a stonking 5 wood at the 218 yarder. Admittedly it was downwind but I've never been long before and I guess the shock was too much for my short game and I hit a ropey chip. I did manage a great drive down the last but fittingly it finished with a three putt.

I wasn't alone though and a lot of the field struggled in the wind. In my own group, Mr Mills had used his handicap allowance up by the 3rd after a nice 10 down the second and a 7 down the third. He'd already had five penalty shots and nine putts walking onto the fourth tee. To be fair he never dropped his head and kept playing and cracking jokes. Sir (or Andy to his friends) also had an iffy front nine but came back much the strongest of the group and played some consistant golf as the wind got stronger.

The upshot of it all is that I inevitably got another 0.1 back onto the handicap and so I'm officially 12 again and definitely heading in the wrong direction. Having looked at my statistics on Scoresaver 2 (a great bit of software and well worth getting if you want to see how your game is fairing) it is obvious that having only hit 42% of fairways this season my driving has been a root cause of my bad scores. I don't know what it is though as it only seems to be on the back nine that I'm having trouble. I hit 5 out of 6 fairways on the front nine and only one on the back (at 18). The stableford last month was the same. 4 out of 5 going out and 1 out of 6 coming home and that was at the 10th.

Why is it going wrong. I think the answer is a combination of trying too hard , a loss of timing and a quickening of the tempo resulting in a good old fashioned yahoo at the ball. Tempo is something I had been working really hard on last year with my teaching pro and we were getting much more consistancy. Ironically I don't have a problem with my fairway woods or irons. I'm not going to press any panic buttons just yet and we'll see how it goes. At least the "pro" managed to beat the joker.

As Churchill said this isn't the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning. The bad weather and sodden course are consigned to history and I need to focus on my short game and working hard on keeping my tempo with the driver as the round progresses. It's only a blip and any score under par has me back to 11 in a flash. Onwards and upwards.

Total number of lost balls in 2010 = 7

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Chipping for Dummies

Played a friendly game with my old mucker Hywel and a couple of guys we joined up with on the third. Another Heinz round (57 varieties of golf) with some excellent drives, wedges that covered the flag, irons that zipped with backspin and some total and utter garbage particularly on the back nine.

However the biggest problem is my short game. I had a lesson last week and thought I had it sorted. I was suppose to have a practice session to bed it in on Wednesday but the lure of eighteen holes was too strong. Came to play today and it was as bad as ever. I even went out to practice it this afternoon to the calls of "pro" from some of the resident club comics who had already seen me come in from my earlier exploits and was now back out working on a miracle cure. It is still a problem. The issue seems to be in the address where my left shoulder is much higher than my right which causes everything to work back away from the ball and the line of the shot. My teaching pro got me standing on a downhill lie to feel the difference (getting me to lean into the slope) but like a fool I'm finding it hard to replicate once back on a flatter surface.

Chipping is such an easy facet and is something I use to be good at and relish practicing. How can I have got so out of shape and ingrained so many bad habits. I'm in danger of losing it like this guy. Still it's the medal tomorrow and the redeeming fact is that if I do have an off day at least I get a shot back
"Will you get in the damn hole"

Total number of lost balls in 2010 = 7

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

It's coming (and going too)

There is always something satisfying about having an afternoon off work to play golf. I had a half day and so was on the first tee by 2.20pm and not a soul in sight. It was cloudy, breezy and bitter when the wind blew. However it has done a wonderful job of drying the course out since I played on Saturday. I had gone to the club today with the intention of a quick nine holes to keep my game ticking over and then onto the putting green to work on the changes to my chipping from the lesson on Sunday and give my putting its first workout of the new season.

I started off brightly. I pushed my tee shot at the 1st into the right hand trap but splashed to about ten feet and two putted. I hit a good drive down the 2nd, a solid second and a fine approach to about ten feet again. A fairway hit and a green in regulation. What was going on? A three putt curbed my enthusiasm. Mind you I stiffed my third from around seventy yards at the third (I'd driven into the right hand fairway bunker and had to lay up) to put a spring in my step. On the 6th I hit a majestic 5 iron with a hint of draw to the heart of the green for a par, made a sand save on the 8th and hit fairway and green for par on the 9th.

I was having a great ball striking day but isn't it always the way that when you have a lesson, you never get to try it out on the course? I wasn't missing too many greens, and when I was they were into bunkers, and so hadn't really had a chance to see how my chipping would stand up. I decided that as I had the whole back nine to myself I'd carry on. Well it seemed rude not to. Play or practice. Was there any real choice?

My drive at the 10th was a bit out of the neck but found the mown grass and I hit a towering 5 iron to around fifteen feet for a solid par. I hit an even better 5 iron for my tee shot to the 178 yard par 3 with a hint of draw which pitched and stopped around 6 feet away. I hit a weak first putt but made par. Reality kicked in and a single putt for double bogey got my focus back at the 12th.

The ball striking continued to be solid. I hit my worse drive of the day (a big loopy slice) at the 14th but hit a good 5 wood to about 40 yards short of the green and played a sweet 58 degree wedge to a tight front pin and put it 5 feet away to save par.

Having got home and looked at the numbers there was some very good news. I hit 50% of the fairways (which is one of my weaker parts of the game) and 44% of the greens in regulation. As my year to date GIR figure is a miserable 21% it shows a marked improvement. My ball striking is getting better but the bad news is the number of putts. There were 34 today including three, three putts. My distance control is poor and my short putting is tentative at best. We all know that as one part comes another goes but putting use to be my bedrock. I had a putting lesson last year and feel another is on the cards soon. I did take myself off to the putting green with the intention of working on it for half an hour but the wind was whipping up and I was frozen after about ten minutes and adjourned to the sanctuary of the clubhouse.

It's the monthly medal on Sunday (Royal Ascot knockout qualifier) and I'm cautiously optimistic of a decent showing. I'm also in a quandary. My regular partners are all otherwise engaged on Saturday and I'm in two minds whether to join one of the roll up "greedies" and get a round in or whether to have a lie in and head to the putting green to try to reach an understanding with the flat stick. My heart says play and my head says practice.

Total number of lost balls in 2010 = 7

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Short Game Resurrection

I finally had my long awaited chipping lesson today with my regular teaching professional Grant Sayer at Maidenhead Golf Club on their excellent short game area. Grant has spent time with some of the worlds top coaches including David Leadbetter and Denis Pugh, which has allowed him to gain a great insight into the swing, and the ability to play the game. He's been my teacher for just over two years and has changed my swing from an ugly upright thing, to a more rounded and repeatable action which has seen me drop my handicap from 20 to 11 with the odd medal and stableford win along the way.


Grant Sayer - Saviour of my game!

His mission today was simple: Get me to chip again without hitting a dirty fat chunk in front of me or scuttling it through the back of the green. We spoke about my perception of the problem and he watched me hit a few to a flag about 8-10 feet on the green. Inevitably I holed out with my second effort but then went through the full repetoire of fats and thins.

The good news was that it wasn't actually that much of a technical issue and was more a problem with address and alignment. Basically my shoulders were tilted front to back (left higher than the right) and although I was aligned square to the target I wasn't really giving myself room to move through after impact. Grant took me to a downhill lie and got me to address a ball and feel the way I lent into the slope. He then got me to repeat that feeling on flat ground so basically my shoulder line was on a much more level keel. We narrowed the stance a touch and opened the hips feet and shoulder line. With the more neutral set up I was able to make a much shallower swing and clear through after hitting it.

He did however have one more trick up his sleeve. He got me to address the ball with the toe pointing into the ground and the heel of the club slightly raised so the hands were much higher at address. He moved me in closer to the ball and asked me to swing. The feeling was similar to putting and was equally as good as  the shots I'd been producing. The rationale behind this set up was to make it impossible (well harder anyway - I can muck up any shot given time) to hit it heavy. He asked me to try both and decide what felt better. I've opted for the toe down approach as I feel it'll give me that extra margin for error once I put the new short game into practice out on the course and in competitive play.

I went out this afternoon to the putting green at Royal Ascot in a biting wind to work on it. What a revelation. It has simplified the whole technique and made it much easier to focus on just my landing area. I just need to make sure I rotate through after impact and don't let the arms work faster than my body. Within a very short space of time I was holing out from about 10 feet and then went to a different hole very close to the edge of the green. It  was these fiddly ones where you only have to get it moving forward and landing on the green that were a killer when you lacked confidence. With a 52 degree wedge and my trusty pitching wedge it was easy to do and I even holed a couple of these. Just to prove it was no fluke I even chipped to a hole at the far end of the putting green. It was at least 20 yards with a slope about three quarters of the way to the hole. Out of twenty balls I got thirteen within eight feet and of these eight were within the "magic" three foot circle. Not great but a solid foundation on which to work.

I've got a half day of annual leave on Wednesday and so I can see another hour or so working on it alongside my putting stroke although I have to say I'm tempted to slide out and play nine holes. I'm hitting well and can be confident now that if I miss a green we have a fighting chance to save par. I guess we'll have to see what the boys and girls at the Met Office say first.

My short game is rising like a phoenix from the flames. Single figures is up and running. Thanks Grant!

Saturday, 6 March 2010

A different way - but is it the right way?

I'm following two very interesting projects at the moment on two separate blogs. One is about two 28 handicappers who have set a target of being scratch players within five years. One guy in particular (known as Tiger) has so far concentrated mainly on the short game (and a few lessons for the longer swing) and he's only played a full eighteen hole course once. His partner in crime (Bogie) has been less active to date but is looking forward as we all are to the warmer weather to start his own quest in earnest. Check the blog site out at http://www.projectscratch.co.uk/

The other blog is about Mark Perring a 12 handicapper, (so very similar to myself in terms of skill levels) who has set his sights on also becoming scratch but then taking it further and potentially playing as a pro. He is a very disciplined route in terms of practicing and has been for tuition with top coach Scott Cranfield so obviously is very dedicated to his goal. His progress can be followed on his blog at http://operationscratch.blogspot.com/

It seems there a a lot of us all seeking the same thing here and all attacking it in different ways. Tiger figures that a deadly short game will save him shots when his less consistent long game lets him down. Mark is pursuing his vision with top level coaching and a rigid practice regime and I'm somewhere in the middle. I'm having coaching and working on my swing and short game but not putting in as many practice session or hitting as many balls as the others seem to be.

We all know that there is more than one way to hit a golf ball and it would seem more than one way to attack single figures (in my case) and a goal of scratch golf. Can each way work? Does one of us need to change our approach? Is my less is more method better than hitting hundreds of balls and grooving the swing? Is a fearsome short game or tuition with a world renowned coach the way to go?

I guess the question remains, can we do it. Both Mark and Tiger have posted on their blogs that they have received a lot of negativity, particularly from the Golf Monthly forum (a place never short of an opinion) that it isn't achievable and that Mark in particular is on a hiding to nothing. Surely though we all want to be the best golfer we can and that scratch must be our Everest.

My goals seem pretty modest in comparison. I want to win one of the Royal Ascot prestige events (and get my name on the honours board) and reach single figures. It's actually the first part that will be the hardest. As with every club, there always someone who seems to have a career day, be it a 45 point stableford or a great score in one of the big ones. My handicap should sort itself out in terms of getting to 9.4 or lower once the season really gets going and I get my short game sorted. Ball striking wise I'm happy. I'm just "directionally challenged" with my approach shots at the moment.

I urge you to check both these blogs out. They are fantastic reading and both offer polarised approaches to the same quest. Go on, there's nothing on the box anyway.

Out and About At Last

Finally, we're back on a fully open course. To be fair it's not in bad condition. It's a little wet in places but the strong breeze of the last few days has really helped it. Mind you that wind was positively Baltic this morning, one of those that goes right through the old bones. Still I was out and it was a chance to finally use my new clubs fully for the first time.

It was only meant to be a friendly two ball with my mate Hywel. He played the London Club yesterday with a group from the Golf Monthly forum and won the money with 38 points off the whites and so I was expecting trouble. However on the putting green waiting to go out we were challenged by two Ascot stalwarts to a game. I was confident my new clubs would behave and that my partner was in form and relished the challenge.

I'm sorry if you're a regular reader but it's a case of more of the same. Good shots in terms of ball striking peppered with some poor approach play and a ropey short game. For some reason I decided my Taylormade Itsy Spider putter needed an outing. Why I don't know as the Rossa had been behaving impeccably but there you go. From the first green I had no real confidence with it (it's already back in the spare bag and would be on the naughty step if such a thing existed for golf clubs). A case in point is the second hole, a reasonable straight forward 535 yarder with a dog left right. I hit a good drive, and pull a 5 wood to lay up in front of the cross bunker. However I pulled it left into the bunker about 105 yards from the green. My Sky Caddy says 118 to the back flag and I hit a lovely clean shot high and true and shooting for the flag. It draws (yes I know, from a bunker, I was scared too) and lands in the greenside trap. I get there and this isn't a fried egg lie. Its fried, and then some. A JCB couldn't have got it out and I walk off with a seven having not struck the ball badly.

I think the simplest and kindest thing to say about my partner was that yesterday must have taken it out of him as he had a shocker. To be fair he's normally fairly consistant and so today was a blip. I was hitting great but missing too many greens and we were 5 down at the turn. On the 10th I hit the fairway and was 147 to the back, into the wind. I took one extra club than normal and hit a six iron. It was a thing of glory and why I bought these new clubs. Perfect contact, with a penertrating flight and a hint of draw. It pitched six inches from the flag and stopped three feet away. The putter behaved for a joyous birdie. The wind really got up on the back nine and it was a slog all round. My driving tailed away if I'm being honest and we were toast by the 15th green.

I'm off for a chipping lesson tomorrow. My teaching pro Grant Sayer is back and fit after surgery and so I'm hoping his CPR on my short game will be the final piece in the jigsaw. I simply have no confidence at the moment and will either hit a sublime chip reminiscent of Seve in his heyday or chunk it in front of me, with the odd thin across the green chucked in to keep it interesting. I need to find more greens. That much has become clear in my statistics for the year (only 15% of GIR this year). However with a half decent short game at least the opportunity to get up and down and score would be there more often. Oh well, there's always next week to look forward to (Medal time again).

Total number of lost balls in 2010 = 6