Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Four Rounds - I Could Be Gone For Days

I went out and played nine holes tonight in preparation for the Macmillan Longest Day Challenge on Friday. I was cautiously optimistic after Sunday and had hit the ball half decently at the range last night. However as seems to be the case these days, a few days after a lesson and with everything seemingly bedded in nicely it goes horribly wrong. Not just a little wrong, with a few mishits, but wrong on a grandiose scale with slices out of bounds and shanks from nowhere.

I have to say it could be a very, very long day on Friday and at this rate the lost ball count could be close to three figures by the end. I did get some semblance of normality on the practice ground after my nine hole horror show but I don't feel as if I'm addressing it as I was at the lesson and certainly don't feel the turn back is anywhere near what I was achieving on Saturday. It might be a mental thing as I did get some good shots away when I focused on slowing everything down.

Oh well, even if I hack it around it's all for a good cause. It isn't too late to give should you desire (and we'd be grateful) so click on the link in my last post set up by our captain for the day Hywel Lloyd. Now where did I see that spare box of old X outs?

Total number of lost balls in 2010 = 43

Sunday, 27 June 2010

The Clouds Are Lifting

Well that was an interesting week. I couldn't hit a ball last Sunday in my Volvo Matchplay at Maidenhead and shanked around 18 holes. There were some positive signs on the practice ground and by Friday I was hitting it pretty well again. How does that happen. However given that my form has been more patchy than the England footballers, I'd already booked a lesson with Steve Cox at Sand Martins courtesy of my wife who works there and pulled a few strings to get a slot and I'd decided that the monthly stableford was a shank fest waiting to happen.

The good news was that although I'd eliminated the shanks over the course of the week, Steve could see immediately the cause and the fact that there was another one around the corner. In essence, my address position had become lazy and I was too hunched over and as a result my weight kept/could move forward during the swing and present the neck of the club to the ball at impact. Having got my position sorted we looked at an old problem of getting the club trapped on the way down. Steve has got me turning much better now and has given me a drill to try and get the club more in front of me as I hit. All I have to do now is quieten the leg action and hip slide and I'm laughing. When I did as I was shown the results were amazing and the contact and direction was pure and straight.

I went to the range this morning to work on what I'd been shown. It was hot, hot, hot and a large bucket was more than enough. I picked up my new Myjoy Icons from Ali (club pro at Royal Ascot) on the way back. They are a rather snazzy and patriotic red, white and blue. They look the business.

I made a conscious decision that I wasn't going to watch the England v Germany game and that I'd go out and try and put my improving (not quite there yet) swing into action on the course. It was stupidly hot but I had the whole place to myself. Bliss and it meant I could try a few things out without fear of holding anyone up.

I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised when my opening 5 wood with the new swing soared majestically and landed safely on the green for a solid par. It was followed by another at the second and a huge drive (well for me) down the 3rd only left a wedge in. By the time I'd played the 4th I was level par. I hit another great drive down the 5th and my hybrid left me just short in two. The flag was at the back and so I was looking at a simple chip and two putts for par. Of course I proceeded to chunk a chip and then three putted.

I made a good up and down for par at the 6th and then bogied my way to the turn. There were some good strikes but I missed the greens too often and my short game and putting had melted in the blazing sun. I hit another good tee shot at 10 and then pulled a 9 iron left. I three putted the par 3 eleventh. The ball striking was still pretty good but I just couldn't find a way to make a score. I did hit a poor shot at the 13th for a bogey but hit another good drive at the next. I had 152 left slightly downwind. I planned to hit an 8 iron (I usually hit those about 130 yards) and let it bounce on. I must have put a souped up super charged swing on the shot as it sailed over the back!!!!

I managed to lose a ball at 17 courtesy of a snap hook. I was getting very tired by then in the heat and it was a very quick and snatchy effort. I hit another huge hook at the last but found that one although I could only advance it about 100 yards.

At the end of the day (as they say in footballing parlance) it seems I made the right choice to get out and play. Thanks to Steve I've got something solid to work on this week as I prepare to embark on the Macmillan Longest Day Challenge. It really is a great cause and if you're reading this check out the previous blog entry and the link to make a donation. Now if only my putter and my chipping had been anywhere near as hot as the weather then I'd have been a very happy Homer this evening. I just need to trust the new swing and cut out a few silly mistakes and the handicap will start to tumble. It's in there.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

A Real Challenge

OK here's a question for you all. What do you do when you've got an acute dose of the shanks and can't get the ball anywhere near a fairway or green? The answer is agree to play in the Macmillan Cancer Longest Day Golf Challenge.

For the unitiated, this basically involves playing four rounds of golf in one day. No buggies are allowed so you have to walk every step of the way although electric trollies are permitted (if you can get the battery to last four rounds.). Its to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support who provide an invaluable service for those suffering form this wicked and callous disease, and perhaps more importantly give practical support to the families who have to deal with the illness and the affects.

I did it last year with fellow Royal Ascot member Hywel Lloyd at the Downshire GOlf Club near Wokingham. This year golf is coming home and we're doing it on our own patch.. He's taken the mantle of captain got a team of four from the Golf Monthly Forum to take up the challenge at Royal Ascot Golf Club on Friday July 2nd. It sounds simple. What could be better than playing golf? Well let me tell you that we are starting at approximately 4.30am and don't envisage finishing until 9.00pm. Given the current state of my game I could get through several dozen balls by the end and may need a torch for me to complete the challenge.

Hywel has set up a justgiving page which links into the Macmillan website and I know money is tight but I'd love as many people as possible to give whatever they can spare. I know from practical experience when my father was alive and suffering with cancer just what a help these people really are. Not only are they helping people all over the UK on a day to day basis but they are actively researching into better forms of treatment and ultimately a cure.

Thank you for your help. Please mention this blog to as many people as you can (what do mean you haven't already). If I can get 50 followers I'm going to put £100 of my own money into the pot too.

Monday, 21 June 2010

More Depressed Than a French Footballer

I'm glad the Royal Ascot Race Meet has been and gone for another year and that peace and normality can return to the club. I've not practiced much this week (coaches parking on the practice ground, reduced layout and hours spent in traffic getting in and out of the club) but went to the range on Saturday in preparation for the 1st round of the Volvo Matchplay (four ball better ball) alongside fellow Ascoteer Hywel Lloyd. It wasn't great but acceptable especially in a matchplay arena where my score wasn't overly important. So far so good.

We were playing at Maidenhead Golf Club, on a course hosting it's club championship final round so I knew before the off that the course would be playing tough. Using my "Homer Logic" and knowing that all Maidenhead has in terms of warm up facilities are a couple of nets, I thought I'd pop into the driving range located on the outskirts of the town where I usually go and work on my game. Oh my god!

If there's ever another of these "ask the experts" sections in a golf magazine or online, I'm going to write in with a doozy of a question. What do you do an hour before your tee off time when every, and I mean EVERY shot is a shank? I thought it only fair to warn my partner when I got there but he seemed unflustered and I think thought I was over-playing it. We met the opposition, a 14 and 16 handicapper and set out.

The first is a straight away par 4 of 358 yards and I've creamed a 3 wood off the tee. Maybe it was just a glitch. I'm standing over the second shot with only 118 yards to the flag and 9 iron in hand. I'm then chipping out from the trees to the right of the green as I pipe one straight right. We won the hole and I hit another great 3 wood at the next and was left another 9 iron in. I'm sure the golfing gods were teasing me. Anyway, it found the green and I holed a great six footer for the win. I made a great up and down at the 5th from a greenside bunker for a half and an even better from way left of the par 3 6th from under the trees and with a steep bank between me and the hole. We were 3 up and cruising.

By the time we came off the ninth I was a gibbering wreck and we were back to only 2 up. I was topping, slicing and shanking all over the shop. It was the original horror show and made Dustin Johnson's meltdown in the last round of the US Open seem good in comparison. It really got to the point by the time we'd reach the 14th where I stood over it like a rabbit in headlights and had no idea where it was going and to a degree whether I'd hit it at all. It's the worse feeling I've ever had and I felt so embarrassed. It didn't help that Hywel was single handedly trying to keep the opposition at bay. They made a birdie two at the 182 yard 16th (no shame in losing to a two) and then I nearly came to the party. I found the fairway on 17 (483 yard par 5). Just play it short, pitch on and make 5. I could almost have kicked it on for 3 but instead decided to try and shank a hybrid as well. One down.

I got onto the edge of the last in three but the writing was on the wall when one of the home team made a 5. I needed to hole from 20 feet and although the pace was good it broke left and we were out. I was a mess. I was embarrassed for Hywel having to partner me, the opposition for having to put up with searching on every hole for my wayward shots, and embarrassed for myself to have played that badly. I won't be playing the stableford on Saturday as I can't suffer another round of pain like that.

I went to the range tonight. It's fairly obvious that my weight is moving forward during the swing so there is no way on earth that the club can return to its original position at impact and that the hosel will always meet the ball. All I have to do now is find the fix. I've been trying to get a quick lesson from my normal teaching pro Grant Sayer (ironically based at Maidenhead Golf Club) or Paul Harrison from N1Golf who I used a few times while Grant was out of action. Both are fully booked and I'm hoping my lovely wife can call in some favours with the pros at Sand Martins where she works and get something for Wednesday. I've a half day so in theory can get out of work, train and cab to the club and have a lesson by 1.45 at the latest. An hour working on the cure (I hope) and back in the bar by 2.50 and just in time for the England game.

It's an old story, blog readers. Your hero seems to be making good progress (5th in the last medal with four double bogeys) and was playing well since. Then the fiendish Dr Hack infiltrates my game and lays a booby trap to railroad any attempt to push on towards single figures. Fear not though as Homer is made of strong stuff and I will be back soon.

Meanwhile I'm off to polish the ball marks off the hosel of my clubs.

Total number of lost balls in 2010 = 39

Monday, 14 June 2010

Farewell for a Week

Well that's it for another week at Royal Ascot. The course is officially down to twelve holes to accommodate helicopter landings for the racing from tomorrow on. Although the club and course are still open to be brutally honest it's such a battle trying to get anywhere near the place before or after the racing that it makes it a bit of a nonsense and waste of time. The practice ground is shut (coaches parked on it) and so I can't even go and work on my game.

I'm playing in the first round of the Volvo Matchplay, a fourball better ball knockout, regionalised to start with, culminating in area and then nation finals. I'm playing with Hywel (my faithful buddy). We were drawn at home but have had to switch the tie to our opponents club at Maidenhead because of the racing. I've played there a few times so know my way round but the course is hosting their club championships at the weekend so I'm expecting the greens to be uber fast and almost up to professional speeds. It's my birthday (presents and cards can be sent to Royal Ascot Golf Club for my collection) on Wednesday and I've been treated to an Odyssey No 9 putter. I'm tempted to use it on the fast greens but commonsense says to get use to the feel of it first.

I've not been putting well with my old TaylorMade Rossa blade especially on the shorter ones and have had my eye on one of these for a good few months now. I played eighteen holes yesterday afternoon on my own for a bit of practice and early indications are that its going to be a sound investment especially from 3-6 feet. I played pretty well and went out in 20 points. Granted there was no pressure but I struck the ball well. I made a good par at 10 and should really have made a sand save par at 11 but over-thought my stroke with the new stick instead of focusing on the speed and line. I then had a poor run from 13 through to 16 where I only got one point per hole. I hit the green at 17 and then finished with a good par at the last. I didn't swing great coming home and so there is work to be done but I'm hitting the range this week to try and groove something that is repeatable.

On a positive note, there has been some great feedback about the Golf Monthly Forum Day last Wednesday including some excellent comments on the state of the course and the greens in particular and the quality of the food. Many thanks to everyone at the club who helped make it such a success.

And that is it for me at the club until at least the start of next week. I hope the racegoers don't desecrate my second home (aka the practice ground) too much and that the greenkeepers can get out and about with the reduced golf traffic and do whatever they need to do to keep it looking and playing as well as it is. If I find something magical at the range I'll be sure to let you know

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Old Faces, New Acquaintances and Same Old Story

I have been busy over the last few weeks organising the 2nd Golf Monthly Spring Meet and it was held yesterday, as last year at Royal Ascot. A gathering of twenty four avid golfers arrived with a few casting a wary eye over the clubhouse to seek inspiration for the weather to come. The Golf Monthly Forum (click on the link at the side of the page) is a wonderful melting pot of ideas, opinions and adventures about the game of golf and definitely worth a look. This event was graced by players from all over the country including Norwich, Liverpool, Cornwall, Leicestershire, and the South Coast and after introductions, bacon baps and coffee it was off to the first tee.

I have to say a huge thanks to Royal Ascot for their hospitality, especially Sheila Thompson for her patience with all my queries and having to move the date (several times), the greenkeeping staff who had the course in pristine condition and the captain and committee for letting us get the full flavour by using the white tees. In addition a special thank you to Ascot legend, committee member and all round good egg Tommy Goode who did a wonderful meet and greet for each group on the 1st tee.

From a personal perspective, I had a wonderful days golf in the company of three enthusiastic gentlemen from Camberley Heath, East Horton and Dulwich & Sydenham. We all had varying degrees of success. I was in the second group out and so there was still a sizeable audience watching. One of the forum's attributes is its banter which can be fierce and those gathered were quick to put the pressure on. I dug deep into my memory banks and fired a five wood away. Mercifully it went straight and a friendly members bounce meant it finished just short of the green and I could walk away head held high.

In fact my head was pretty high for most of the first nine holes. I was pretty steady early on and then made a very unusual two at the par 3 sixth hole having hit a five iron to about ten feet. I wobbled on the 8th where I wasn't in contention for nearest the pin (or indeed nearest the green) but managed a par at the 9th to get a creditable 19 points by half-time.

I'm not sure where it went wrong though. I managed a solid enough par at the 10th and made a bogey (nett par) at the next. At the twelfth I hit a poor drive and was blocked out so hit a wedge over the trees to leave what should have been an easy 7 iron in. I pulled that, duffed a chip and walked away with point thanks to a single putt. I didn't score at the next thanks to a three putt and having hit my best drive of the day at the fourteenth proceeded to chop my way down the hole to not trouble the scorer again. By the time I made two points on the last hole I'd come home in a measly twelve points for a grand total of 31. Still it's not the done thing to win your own event. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!

In the end an 11 handicap raider from the West Country called Tony Reed (Pokerjoke as he's known on the forum) went away with the spoils with 40 points. There were two scores of 38 including the guy from Camberley Heath in my group (Anthony Lawrence) who had a superb 21 points coming home also off a handicap of 11. He was really steady all the way to be honest and a few wayward putts cost him the title. The 3rd place prize was won by a guy from near Leicester who spookily enough was also an 11 handicapper and who had 20 points coming home.

The most pleasing part of the day though was the feedback about the course, particularly the greens and how true (if not overly quick) they were and the welcome, hospitality and layout of the course. A lot of guys had returned from the inaugural event in 2009 and could really see how the course had come along and the first timers to this years event were all pleasantly surprised. Most thought it was a true and fair test and to be honest you can't want for much more.

I had played a practice round on Tuesday with a postie from Liverpool and a guy from Bude in North Cornwall who had travelled up to play in the day. We made up a four with a guy from near Heathrow who had come along on a recent members open day and who was keen to have another look at the course before the main event. It was a brilliant round in terms of the fun even if the quality of the golf was lacking.

All in all it has been a great couple of days golf. Thanks again to everyone who made the effort to travel down and play and to everyone involved with Royal Ascot for making it happen. From my own viewpoint, things are going to be a bit quiet. I'm knocking it around with my regular cohort Hywel Lloyd on Sunday as we prepare for our first round match in the Volvo Matchplay which is a national fourball betterball knockout event. It starts off locally and we've got a draw at Maidenhead against a 14 and 16 handicapper on a course that is hosting their club championship that weekend. Maidenhead has a reputation for quick greens anyway so these could be something else. Other than that I'm not bothering to run the gauntlet of racegoers to try and get to the club so will use next week to work on all parts of my game elsewhere. Who knows, I might even find something that can work for both nines and not conk out after 11 holes. Ho hum.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Finally, Finally, Finally (But Still Not Quite)

Regular readers may care to sit down now. I finally managed to put a competitive round together although it wouldn't be Homer's odyssey without finding a way to make sure I didn't win. It was the Centenary medal today and I finished with a net 72 (+2). Not bad you might think and to a degree you'd be right. But sadly if the putter had not decided to have a lie in and I'd not decided to throw in four (yes four) double bogeys I'd have been home and hosed. I was paired with a good friend Alan Cutler who is a mean 15 and a guy I hadn't played with before called Gary Lewington.

It seemed too good to be true the minute I sent a majestic five wood soaring high and straight onto the first green. My confidence lasted until the moment I hit the first putt and barely got it halfway to the hole. My second missed left and I'd turned a safe par into a bogey. I hit a great drive down the second and although my five wood second went a little right it was actually a good break. The second fairway is particularly dry with a lot of bare lies and it can make hitting a wedge shot very tricky. With plenty of grass in the light rough I had a good lie and found the green in regulation. However, after hitting a good putt from 25 feet away I left myself "one of those" downhill and about four feet. No prizes for guessing the outcome. Another dropped shot. Another decent drive at the third (ok a little left but playable) left a six iron. I hit it great and it found the green about fifteen feet away. The approach putt wasn't a disaster but left another testing three footer and the truth is I didn't give it a chance. I didn't think I could make it and I put a terrible stroke on it and I'd three putted the first three holes having not hit a bad shot tee to green.

I had taken my three wood out of the bag to swap to a 52, 56 and 60 degree wedge combo to tackle the thickening rough. It is usually my go to club for the fourth so I was forced to hit driver which was pretty good. I left myself 72 yards and was between clubs. I decided to choke down on the 52 degree wedge and stuck it to about ten feet and left an uphill straight putt. Finally the putter stuttered into life and I made a birdie. No sooner had I got the wagon back on the road then I stumbled down the fifth hitting a poor drive into the rough and an over ambitious second. A bogey was inevitable. I hit a good four iron down the sixth which finished pin high just off the green and despite a good lie I failed to get up and down.

I've been playing the seventh quite well recently (that's the kiss of death) but hit a horrible hook off the tee. I was lucky enough to find a decent lie and could take the risky shot on over the environmental area (OB hazard). I hit it well but pulled it left of the green and faced a delicate chip over a bunker downhill to the flag. I took the 60 degree and hit a great recovery which finished a foot away for a simple tap in par.

And then the double bogey monster rolled into town. A terrible (and I mean terrible) sliced approach into some juicy rough at the par 3 eighth meant I had to really hack at it to move it. All I could do was stick it in the greenside bunker. I got it out but it was a long way from the hole and two putted. I was seething standing on the ninth and smashed my driver away. I hit it well but tugged it into the light rough. I had 167 to the front but had to move it right to left to avoid the large tree in my path. I took a four iron which in hindsight was too much but hit it well onto the back edge of the green. A pity the flag was some thirty feet (downhill) at the front. My putter decided redemption was required (or facing a spell in the naughty cupboard) and I lagged it stone dead. Out in 41 which was bang on my handicap. It could have been so much better and it wouldn't have been stretching a point to say +3 or 4 gross would have been a fair return.

We've all read the magazine articles and heard it on the TV but having worked out the halftime scores, I started thinking about what could have been and what I needed to do. What is they say about staying in the moment? Cue a poor tee shot into thick rough and a hack out. I only had 138 to the front and so was thinking about a seven iron onto the dancefloor and escaping with a bogey. A wicked bounce left into a bunker put paid to that and I'd racked up another double.

However, chalk one up in the boucebackability column. I missed the green left at the short par 3 eleventh but hit another exquisite chip and holed the putt for par. However no sooner had I got myself back into contention when another double at the twelfth came and bit me on the arse. I hadn't hit a great drive and was in the right hand rough under a tree. I took several practice swings and the branch behind me didn't interfere at all so I decide to go for the green. However as I swung, the wind blew and I caught the branch with my swing and managed to scuttle the ball about fifty yards into some very, very thick rough.. I hacked it out short and then chipped on and two putted. Bugger.

Another dropped shot followed and standing on the fourteenth I knew I needed to make some pars and quickly. I hit a great drive and a solid five iron and two putts later had secured a much needed par. I managed to make one at the next but not without making life tricky. I missed the fairway left and topped my hybrid. I hit a five wood short and left and was 77 yards away. It would normally be a 56 degree wedge but into a breeze and from rough I clubbed up and hit a stunning wedge to six feet and rolled the par saving putt in with aplomb. I was feeling confident and stood over my second at sixteen thinking that I'd take no more than five and that if I hit the five wood in my hand well might even snaffle another par and be right in the thick of it at the sharp end of the round. I'm not sure what happened. My GPS device said I had 169 to carry the bunker which should have been a doddle with a five wood and I made a great connection. It came out a little low from the light rough and for a second I thought it was going to either land short and hop the bunker or make it on the fly. In the end it landed short, hit the bank rolled all the way along the top and back in. My recovery came up short and a poor chip left way too much to do and I'd racked up another double bogey from nowhere.

I did chalk up another credit in the fighting spirit ledger when I hit the green at the seventeenth for par. I thought that a par down the last might have put me in with a shout of a top five finish but once I'd hooked my tee shot I was fighting to avoid yet another double. I hit my second sown the right into the light rough and there was no way I was taking the shot to the green on from nearly 180 yards over water. I laid up to the 120 yard mark and then proceeded to pull my nine iron approach. Double still looked favourite but a good chip under pressure and a five foot putt salvaged a six.

It was a really enjoyable round. Alan played well in patches after a disastrous opening hole and Gary was a joy to play with and was going great guns until his wheels came off on the sixteenth. As for me, I was pleased to have struck the ball so well. One of my aims when I started this blog was to be more determined during competitive rounds when things started to misfire. It's been a long and rocky road but I think today showed that even with three dropped shots courtesy of the putter and four double bogeys I can still shoot a good score. It'll be interesting to see where  finish once the afternoon players come in but I think I should be in the top ten of my division.

It's the Golf Monthly Forum day at Ascot on Wednesday and I'm entertaining a few guys from there on Tuesday so I'm pleased I've run into a resemblance of good form. I hope I can keep it going particularly for Wednesday so I can show some of the guys from the forum that I can actually play the game. As for my putter, it's still in the bag. FOR NOW!

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Not Even Ticking Over Really

It's been a frustrating old time. I couldn't play in the Stone Cup over the bank holiday weekend although managed to get out for a round late on Sunday and again on Monday. I have to say I wish I hadn't bothered with the Sunday round. The wind was really strong and it made playing well and scoring a tough ask and suffice to say it was too stiff an examination for me. With the rough suddenly thickening up at an alarming rate I seemed to spend most of my time looking for my ball. Not a fun experience and to be honest I'd lost the plot by about 14.

I managed to play a lot better on the Monday and was striking the ball well but struggling to make any putts despite changing to my original Ping Anser 2 putter for a bit of an experiment. It was one of those rounds where there weren't many bad shots in terms of slices, fats etc but I just couldn't make a score.

It's been pretty manic in work too which means I have only managed to hit some balls yesterday. That however was a much more enjoyable experience as I implemented a slight swing change given to me by a very talented golfer on the Golf Monthly forum which incorporates some of the basics of the stack and tilt method of swinging the club. Whilst I'm not going completely over to that dark side the turn of the left shoulder down towards the ball means I'm actually getting into a much better position and if last night was anything to go by the striking was a lot more consistent.

I'm playing with my pal Hywel on Saturday. It could be interesting and I apologise in advance if you're behind us as it seems he's taken on board some of these thoughts too and has been busy practicing. I'm in the Centenary Medal on Sunday which I'm looking forward to and then I'm entertaining three guys off the GM Forum on Tuesday in preparation for the return of the said forum on Wednesday for the 2nd GM Golf day. It looks like we've 24 playing which is a nice number and I hope the weather stays warm and dry.

Hywel and I have also entered the Volvo Matchplay Championship and have got a home tie against two guys from Maidenhead off 14 and 16 which I'm looking forward to. If we play as we normally do in matchplay we could have a good run at this, certainly in our section of the draw. Hywel is also looking to enter us in a four ball better ball event at Tyrells Wood. I think he's flushed with success following our Jubilee Cup win and I haven't the heart to tell him I've probably peaked for the next two years!.

Plenty of golf to enjoy then and the good thing is none of the immediate events (medal apart) is too serious so I can have some fun trying the new swing out without and pressure. I'm not sure what to do during Ascot week but I don't think I'll battle the crowds to try and play on the reduced layout. It might be a good time for a swing MOT and some practice and hopefully the second half of the season will show a marked improvement.

Total number of lost balls in 2010 = 32