Sunday, 25 April 2010

On the comeback trail

Like all those politicians seeking re-election I'm finally on the comeback trail. After a self imposed sabbatical following last Sunday's disaster I had a lesson yesterday and hit the range today. I saw a guy called Steve Cox from Sand Martins in Wokingham. Truth be told, it was booked by my wife who thought she was helping after I tried to get a lesson with my normal coach but he was fully booked. Damned inconvenient. Doesn't he know who I am! Actually it's a testament to how good he is.

Anyway I'd heard good things about Steve and he'd heard about me, my quest and my problems and was keen to see if he could help. I hit a few for him to watch and he put a couple of swings onto the video camera. The good news was that despite a total ineptitude towards the game last week, a lot of the basics are in place. My posture was a bit hunched and the stance too wide and so they were easy fixes. The main fault the video highlighted was that I was coming down way too much on the inside and driving the legs too soon and to hard. In simple terms the arms, body and leg action was all out of sequence. If it worked I'd hit a good shot. A lot of the time I'd drive too hard with the legs and spin the hips out and the club would be way open hitting huge slices or losing power. If the leg action wasn't too active I'd be playing catch up with the arms and so the hands would get active to try and square the clubface and the inevitable hook would ensue.

Problem identified but what about the cure. He got me to stand a little closer and taller, narrow the stance and flex the knees to correct the posture issue. As a drill he also got me to address the ball with this new posture but with my feet together and to make a 3/4 swing back and through. Too fast or any leg drive and I'd lose my balance and look like a numpty in front of everyone else on the range. No pressure then.

He also wanted me to get the feeling of the arms being more in front of the body and so got me to try and feel as though I was hitting over the top. Normally this would hit a horrendous slice but from my position way inside would actually get the club more in front. This worked great during the lesson, but once he had gone I started hitting a bundle of shanks.

I went to the range today to try and get it right. There was some definite improvement but also another bundle of shanks so I've definitely not got the answer yet. I feel another few evenings home on the range beckon. The good news was that I did take advantage of the excellent short game area at Sand Martins and spent the best part of two hours chipping, pitching and practicing my bunker play. I admit it wasn't what I was there for and I probably should have shown more diligence to the task in hand but I feel like I've turned a real corner with the short game woes I had (on top of the long game woes).

I did manage to get a booking with my normal teaching pro for next Sunday and was going to have him look at my long game for second opinion. However, the short game is the key to reducing my handicap. Trust Homer on this. I'm going to have a lesson on bunker play as yesterdays efforts were decidedly C+ at best. Whilst at Maidenhead Golf Centre today I was approached by the guy that I had a lesson with way back at the start of all this called Paul Harrison. He wanted to know how my game was as he hadn't seen me practicing for ages. I went through the loss of form, back injury etc and he offered me a lesson too.

I'm a little concerned that I'm getting too much information from too many sources. However I know Paul is a very technical coach and he'll be good for getting me to feel the right position on the way down and stop me coming from the inside. Grant Sayer is my tried and tested coach and has transformed my short game and so it makes sense for him to keep that side of the game ticking over. I'll probably go back to Steve at Sand Martins towards the latter part of the season so he can video the swing again and chart the progress.

I do feel a little more enchanted with the game again and hope the work I'm putting in will produce dividends. I'm determined not to take technicalities with me onto the course and to really just bash it and see (trust my swing) in competitions and see where we go.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Finally reached the bottom

I'm not sure who said it, but one of my favourite quotes is "the longest hour is the one before the dawn". In that case, the sun must soon be rising as I finally sunk as low as I think I can on a golf course today. I was only playing a friendly game with my mate Hywel. The course was deserted and the weather was stunning and so I was determined to banish all technical thoughts, bash the ball, find it and bash it again until it went in the hole.

My golfing pain was unbearable. I have no idea standing over a shot whether I'm coming, going, been or went. My posture feels wrong. My hands feel like they've never formed a grip in my life and I can't tell where the club is or what it is doing in the fraction of a second it takes from start to impact (yes I really am swinging that fast!!!!). To sum it up, I got to the 13th green today and I was quite prepared to walk in. I've never walked off a course in my life (except of lightening) even as a petulant junior hacking his way round. I didn't and the golfing gods mocked me further on the very next hole.

I hooked my drive at 14 and was lucky to find an almost perfect lie begging a five wood to smack the ball greenwards. I duly obliged and put a rare decent swing on the shot. I left myself around 80 yards which is normally a good distance for my 52 degree wedge which is a trusted lieutenant when all else is failing. I hit it okay but only got it to the front of the green and faced a very quick downhill left to right putt with a good three foot or so of break. As I said the gods were mocking. I put a great stroke on it and it was dead weight and hit the hole dead centre for a par. Inevitably after that it fell apart as it had done before.

And that's my golf finished for a while. I plan to have at least a week without touching my clubs, including playing at practicing (even putting). It doesn't mean Homers odyssey is over. It just means the ship has sought refuge to ride out the storm. I'll try nine holes next Sunday afternoon and see how it is and then have a think.

Once you are at rock bottom everything becomes a positive. I'm on the floor golfing wise but like any good hero I'm preparing to pull myself off the canvass and come back fighting. The dream ain't over yet

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Different Day Same......

After the relative success of my game at Sand Martins yesterday it was back to reality in the April medal. Those that have been following a sorry story recently will know that I'd only planned to play today to honour my commitment as I had a drawn tee time and that I planned to take a break from the game to see if my missing mojo would return.

The day didn't start well. The competition was delayed by almost an hour as a shroud of mist (definitely not volcanic in origin) lingered over the course reducing visibility at times to about fifty yards. Once the sun got to work though it burned off in no time and we were under way. I went to the practice ground to warm up but my initial efforts did not match the glorious sunny conditions. I had no expectations going onto the first tee and was determined that whatever would be, would be. That mindset was tested after shot one which was a horrid snap hook that headed towards the pond and thick rough and was never seen again. My provisional found a rubbish lie behind some trees and my pitch and run inevitably ran into a bunker. By the time I had holed out for a glorious 7 I was +4 after one.

I did par the 3rd and 4th and hit a great drive and reasonable second down the par 5 5th to leave about 150 yards to a back pin position. I hit what I thought was a good six iron which didn't carry the greenside bunker. An over exuberant sand shot over the green and a chip back on and I'd racked another double without seemingly breaking sweat. I managed to jump aboard the bogey train for the rest of the outward nine and by the turn had used eleven of my twelve shots in a stunning 46 (+11) to the turn.

Things couldn't get any worse could they? Well as I've posed the question the answer seems inevitable. I hit a lovely snap hook off ten into the garden of the property backing onto the course. Another reload. I did however make a par with the second ball to limit the damage. Just to prove to myself and my partners that I had a rough idea what I'm doing I hit the green at the tricky 186 yard 13th for par. And then the rot set in and any remaining flicker of enjoyment went as I took a double bogey 7 at 15 and then a triple at 16 including a missed putt from inside a foot (as if it really mattered). I did manage to save my best drive until last and managed to make a modest 6 (nett 5) on the par 5. Once the maths had been done it was an inward 47 for a marvellous 93 which was a nett 81 and 26th in my division.

So nothing much has changed. I'm still not enjoying my golf as I hate hacking it around any course. I got another 0.1 on my handicap making the goal of single figures that little bit harder to reach and I managed to get sunburned too. I'm playing with my regular partner Hywel tomorrow and then I'm having a week off. No practice, no lessons, no playing. Not even going to work on my putting. I'm hoping a clean break will allow the negativity that is crippling my golfing brain and the excessive moving parts in the swing can be vanquished into a quickly forgotten memory. At least the weather is set fair. Now where did I put the sun cream?

Total number of lost balls in 2010 = 10

Friday, 16 April 2010

Grand Day Out

I had a round at Sand Martins Golf Club just outside Wokingham today. It's a private members club owned by top coach Andrew Hall and is just shy of 6000 yards off the yellows. It's also where my wife works and she got a decent deal on green fees and made sure everyone knew I was coming so I got some rather nice preferential treatment including a free bucket of range balls and strokesaver.

I am always excited about playing a different course and the anticipation is whetted at Sand Martins as the drive to the clubhouse cuts through a number of holes and you can see the course laid out in front of you. It looked a picture today in the bright sunshine and with the fairways freshly mown.

I took my good mate Hywel along, as much to say thanks for carrying me in recent weeks in matches and our friendly roll ups during my recent dip in form. I got there early (the wife had a lot of work on and wanted a bright start) so I had a good mooch around the place. I wandered into the pro shop and was greeted by the assistant Matt who I knew from the Downshire (a pay and play between Bracknell and Wokingham) where he worked. We had a chat and I wandered down to the range. There are mats at the moment but there is a wonderful grassed area that the members can use in a few months time. Next to it is an excellent short game area where you can play off grass to a proper green that is maintained to on-course standards and a large (and rather deep) bunker. I bashed a few balls to get loose (and was surprised that I managed to get a few away okay too) and hit some chips and moved onto the putting green which I thought was rather slow.

Hywel arrived, we booked in and were behind a mixed fourball playing a greensome so weren't going to be held up too much. The 1st is a dog leg left playing 388 yards. I hit three wood trying to miss the pond right and the range left. I hooked it and was concerned I'd tweaked it onto the range but it was safe. I missed the green but made a solid 5 (nett 4). The 2nd is a funny little hole. It's only 302 yards but has was left and right and in front of the green. Not sure where we were hitting we both hit too much club and went left but stayed dry. I had a full swing amongst the trees but Hywel was up against a trunk and had to chip out. I only had a lob wedge left to a pin only just over the pond. I only just got over and it held on the bank. If it had been Augusta last week I'd have been wet.

I was actually playing steadily. I still had no confidence from shot to shot that I knew how I was going to hit it and where it was going but made a few pars and bogeys and was 3 up by the 8th. It's 173 yards on the card and it was downwind. I hit a 5 iron and it looked great in the air. It landed to the right of the green and it was only then that I realised there was a small pond there. I hadn't bothered to check the strokesaver. Bugger. As if to compound my misery further, I hit the 9th in regulation while Hywel went through onto a bank and was faced with a downhill chip. He only went and chipped in for a birdie. I duly 3 putted.

Sand Martins really is a game of two halves. The first nine meanders in a nice parkland setting although the numerous ponds and bunkering means it's a strategic course rather than one that can be blasted into submission. The back nine however has a much more links feel to it and each hole seems encased by banking (think sand dunes) and there is more necessity to get the ball running towards the greens rather than trying to fly it there. The strong breeze also made it a challenge. I actually drove the ball quite well on 10 and 11 but missed the greens for bogey (net pars mind). In fact, because you didn't need driver every hole meant the 3 wood was seeing some action and was behaving. I guess there is a lesson in that but given that Ascot needs length to reach some of the 400+ yard holes and there are several holes that have a significant carry, driver is usually the only option unless it's playing downwind.

The 16th is one of the signature holes. It's a 503 yard par 5 with pond left around the 230 mark and a huge bank to the right (where Sand Martins nest hence the name). As I was two up at the time I hit 3 wood off the tee to make it a proper three shotter and hit a great drive. There is a collar of deep bunkers left and right to catch unwary second shots but I threaded a hybrid perfectly to leave a wedge into the green. Hywel hooked a drive, found it, chipped out and then missed the green left before chipping some twenty yards past the flag. Two putts for the win. Suddenly to putts to halve the hole as he outrageously holed the putt. He won the 17th too which was a downhill par 3 playing 155 yards over a pond. I went right and missed the pond but found a drainage ditch and he hit the green.

The 18th is another par 5 of 502 yards played down a fairway that is banked on the right and tree lined down the left. I hit probably the worse drive of the day short and right on top of the banking. I was going to hit three wood again and play it sensibly but bravado go the better of me. Fortunately when I got there it was a flat lie and I got a hybrid to it and got it back into pay about 150 yards away. The green sits in a little hollow protected by a large tree right and some mounds and hollows. Sadly Hywel also hit his two poorest tee shots and hooked two balls way left never to be seen again so it was a comfortable passage. Good job too as I hit a horrid fat 5 iron into the green and ended up making 6.

The bar staff made sure we were looked after too and it was nice and also strange to be a visitor to a club yet treated as well as the members. We also had lunch on the wife's bar card so freebie burger and chips each (very nice too) was a bonus.

It is a great course and well worth a visit if you're in the Berkshire area. The only complaint I had was the conditions of the greens which were very woolly and slow and rather bobbly (reminiscent of the practice putting green) and they didn't look like they had been cut for several days. I did see the greenstaff working on some and it looked as if they were spraying which may explain why they were like that but it was a real shame. It felt like you really had to hit the putts hard and some would race four or five feet back and then bobble especially around the holes or they would finish several feet short. It was the only gripe, albeit a significant one. However the rest of the course was beautifully presented and I'll definitely be returning. Once the greens are up to scratch it'll be a good test and playing to your handicap is definitely not a given.

And do you know what else? I enjoyed it. I didn't worry about my swing (too much) and almost just hit it round. Yes I got annoyed at the bad ones but there were no real horror shots. I'm playing the medal tomorrow and arranged to play a roll up with Hywel on Sunday and so maybe, just maybe a bit of the old mojo is coming back.

Total number of lost balls in 2010 = 8

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

What to do next?

I put my tale of sorrow and despair out onto the Golf Monthly Forum (well worth checking out for all things golf at http://forums.golf-monthly.co.uk) and the general consensus is to have a break from playing and practicing. Easier said than done I'm afraid as I really am a golfaholic but I can see wisdom in their words. I've a couple of games booked, including a trip to Sand Martins in Wokingham which I've been looking forward too for a while and playing with my old mucker Hywel Lloyd. I've also got a 9.00am tee time in the medal on Saturday. I'll honour my commitment to the competition and see if either of these two rounds gets my golfing juices flowing again.

What to do if not though? I've already gone backwards in terms of Homer's odyssey and the quest for single figures. My recent injury hasn't helped and the course beginning to come into full bloom will make it even harder to leave the clubs at home and not submit to the call of the practice ground or putting green. I still think the game is in there to get down. That's the good news. The new more determined Homer I spoke about at the start of this adventure (what do you mean you didn't read it? - get with the programme) is winning as my recent slump would have seen the head drop and things degenerate into a complete pit of doom, despondency and sad to say, pique on the course. I'm trying to remain patient and wait for the odd good shot although my limits of endurance do feel severely tested at times. The second part of my quest (bet you wish you'd read the opening blog now!) will be much harder to achieve. It doesn't mean I've given up on it but have become more realistic in the fact that you can't get one without the other in terms of a good swing and the rewards that could bring.

Thanks to all the GM guys who bothered to post their thoughts. It may be that the Royal Ascot members will be seeing less of "pro" for a little while but rest assured when I come back I'll be hungrier and more determined than ever. If I do well over the weekend it will all have been some macabre dream and we can carry on as normal

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Lost my mojo

Following on from my tale of woe yesterday, I'm afraid things haven't improved and for the first time in ages I didn't even have the inclination to play, much less enter the monthly stableford. I'm beginning to get caught in a circle. I love the game and so want to play. I then have a poor round. I can't find a cure on the range. I'm not keen to get a lesson as I want to move away from too much practicing (I hit way too many balls in the Summer of 2008 looking for a perfect, repeatable swing and spent too much time focused on the short game last year). I try to go out and just play but then hack it around again and so the circle remains unbroken.

I went to the range this morning, as much in desperation and hope, and although there were some good shots, for the most part it was more of the same. There are way too many moving parts and it's a million miles away from how I hit it on the range over Easter which I thought would have least stayed with me for one round.

I don't know the answer. If I don't play I regret it, especially when the weather is as good as it has been. If I practice, I get frustrated because I'm not hitting it well. If I play I'm still swinging badly. Problems, problems.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

No Fun

Played a friendly game with my mate Hywel Lloyd at Ascot. He was not a well bunny after a night on the beers watching the golf. It was a glorious day and shirt sleeve weather. The course was an absolute picture with the trees in blossom and the daffodils in full bloom. And that is where the good stuff ends.

I went to the range last night to try and find the cause (and a fix) to my bad swing and came away angry and frustrated. I'm not turning properly and the swing feels totally wrong but I can't find the cause or the cure. It's killing me on the course as I'm losing so much power and distance.

We had a little match, without any stakes, and to be honest I got it round rather than played. I'm not driving well, putting too much pressure on long irons and woods to make up the difference and missing too many greens when I do get in range. I chipped better than of late and my putting was solid so there are some positives.

The point is I'm not enjoying my golf. Tuesday was fun as it was nice to meet Dave and Tony from the Golf Monthly Forum but my game was well out of sorts. I'm reliant on Hywel in matches and pairs events and feel I'm letting him down and holding him back. I can't give him much of a battle most weekends even though we halved the game today. I'm down for the stableford tomorrow but going in with no positive energy.

So where do I go from here. As I've posted before I did hit the ball great at the range last weekend after my recent back problems. I was building up some momentum at the start of the year too before the snow came. It's all been stop/start but whenever I've started again I feel I've taken two steps back. I'm tempted to get a lesson but I was hoping it would fall into place and I could play my way back. Don't get me wrong, I'm not hitting it all over the place all of the time (some wild drives today though) but I'm frustrated that the swing is so lacklustre after putting so much time into making improvements over the winter. I don't think it's fair to blame my back for the lack of turn and think these are old habits coming back to the surface.

We'll see what tomorrow brings. It never seems quite so bad if you're playing poorly but it is warm and sunny and the weather is set fair tomorrow. At least I can settle down and watch Westwood and Poulter fly the English flag at the Masters and hopefully one of them will come out on top tomorrow.

Total number of lost balls in 2010 = 8

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Back on course (but not on course, of course)

Well I'm back out playing but sadly the decent form I had at the range over the Easter holiday has deserted me (no shock there) and I'm still searching for anything resembling consistency. I played at Royal Ascot with fellow member Hywel Lloyd today and took on two guys from the Golf Monthly Forum who are en-route to a day out at Walton Heath tomorrow with Ping. The chosen few are being custom fitted for a new Ping driver on their Tour Van and then get to play Walton Heath in a Golf Monthly v Ping challenge. On top of that rising tour star Danny Willett is going to be on hand to pass on valuable tips.

Hywel and I were defending an unbeaten record in forum challenge games. Our two visitors started off nervously. One of the guys, Dave Joyce had played the course before when we took on the might of the Golf Monthly editorial staff in a challenge some two years ago but Tony Nicholls was new to challenge. In the end it was one of those really great games where no-one is playing out of their skin, except for Hywel who had ridden into town and was masquerading as a golfing bandit, and there was never more than one hole in it.

To be honest Hywel was virtually taking them on single handed as I wasn't swinging well at all. Whilst on the range it was easy to swing within myself, protect the back and therefore make a better turn, today it was back to an old story of a quick tempo, flailing limbs and some good shots smattered with a fair portion of mediocrity. The writing looked to be on the wall for our record when Dave hit the 17th (218 yard par 3) which was playing into a decent breeze. Fortunately my wing man was on hand to make a great par 5 up the last which considering it is uphill, over water to the green, played directly into the teeth of the wind, and was a win or bust moment in the match was a great finish.

In the end a halved match seemed the perfect result. Tony can go to Walton Heath with some confidence about his game. Dave can catch up with "Caddying for Dummies" tonight as he is Tony's bagman tomorrow. Hywel can sneak out of town with 41 points including a no score on 17 and I can rest my aching back which is now starting to feel the effect of playing.

I desperately need to do some remedial work on my swing but might leave it until Thursday. It's my first day back in work since Thursday lunchtime tomorrow so I doubt I'll be in a good frame of mind to be constructive about my practice. I can only hope that the better weather will herald a change in fortunes. We'll see come the weekend.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Better News at Last

Finally! The pain in my back continues to subside and I've managed to get to the range and hit some balls. I'm actually hitting the ball better than before the injury. Coincidence? Maybe. I'm not sure if it's a culmination of an enforced rest, swinging within myself to protect the back, or making a better turn, again sub-consciously trying to prevent further damage. Whatever the reason, I was hitting the ball wonderfully well especially with my driver which has stubbornly refused to behave in 2010.

There was an interesting thread on the Golf Monthly forum about the merits of hovering the club on tee shots and whether this helped or not. I was always brought up to have the club grounded but thought I'd mess around with the idea the range. I have to say, it's a lot less bovver with a hover. I couldn't believe it. It made the whole takeaway and turn much smoother and I was getting much more consistency, better ball flight and longer distance. I'll definitely be trying it out when I finally get to step back onto a course.

I went to Royal Ascot today. There is a competition this weekend (play two rounds over any four days of the Easter break) called Haig Cup which is a bogey competition. It's a bit like stableford but in essence it is matchplay against the course. If you get a nett par you have effectively halved the hole. A nett birdie wins you the hole and a bogey is one to the course. Obviously the idea is to be up at the end of the round.

I was looking forward to playing in it but figured it was too much too soon after the injury to rush back. Instead I spent a few hours on my chipping and putting. I'm slowly getting more comfortable with my chipping and I think I just need to trust the technique and set up and let the shot flow now. It's still not perfect but things are moving forward. My putting is still weak although to be fair I haven't really dedicated any time of note to it yet this year on the practice green. I've been working on the stroke at home but it's not the same thing.

I was quite envious of those playing today as the course looked a picture and the greens looked good albeit from a distance. I'm tempted to have a wander up tomorrow and maybe go off late afternoon for a few holes. I'm playing with some guys of the forum on Tuesday who are on route to Walton Heath on Wednesday to represent Golf Monthly in a challenge match against Ping. The lucky few will get a custom fitting session for a new driver (which they get to keep) and the Ping team includes emerging tour pro Danny Willett.

Things are finally beginning to happen. It's been a trying first quarter of the season and I feel I'm playing catch up in my quest. Hopefully though with the fixture list starting to fill up I can get out regularly and start chipping away at the handicap which has crept up to 12 so is currently heading the wrong way. The longer nights are coming too so more chance to play. Time to put my foot to the floor.