Sunday, 26 September 2010

Climbing the Walls

I'm not a happy soul. I've been laid low with a heavy cold since Friday and had to pull out of the monthly stableford yesterday. I felt so bad I couldn't even summon the energy to go to the range or work on my short game and spent most of yesterday asleep. I'm pretty fed up as I thought after last week there were definite signs of improvement and was looking forward to a good performance.

I have managed to get to the range this afternoon. To be honest it probably wasn't the brightest idea I've ever had as I still feel really achy and weak and so although the quality of the strike was good my direction was a bit off. I tried to focus on making a shorter and more compact swing, partly to try and alleviate the excessive movement I seem to have in my swing at the moment and partly to try make a solid swing despite feeling so rough.

I'll see how I go but hopefully I'll get a couple of sessions at the range this week. The problem I have is that I can never see where the balls are landing in the darker evenings if I hit more than a 7 iron partly because of my dodgy eyesight and partly because the range lighting is never that good. It becomes a real issue if I want to work on my game in the winter. If I hit a driver, I can tell which direction it started in and whether it was moving in the air but have no real idea of how far or where it actually lands so it makes the whole process a bit of a mockery. Of course, there will be times when the course is sodden, it's pouring and there isn't a competition on where I can get out and hit balls in the daylight at the weekend so it isn't all bad.

I've got a game booked at Sand Martins on Friday with Budely (Paul Sweetman). It'll be good to play a different course with him instead of taking each other on at Ascot. We had talked about going away for a long weekend this summer but with Paul being made redundant this went onto a back burner until next year.

My lay-off has given me a chance to read the latest magazines. Of course the Ryder Cup is the hot topic and after much consideration I'm going for a Europe win 15-13. I don't think it will be as easy as many have predicted and feel that Europe will need a 3 or 4 point lead going into the final day singles in order to hold on and reclaim the trophy. I plan to take the bragging rights off Paul early on Friday and spend the afternoon in the Sand Martins clubhouse watching the foursomes. On Saturday it'll be a roll up with the usual Saturday morning suspects and back home for another afternoon ensconced on the sofa. I think I can probably fit a quick visit to the range on Sunday before the singles start after which I'm putting the wife on regular tea making duty and staying put.

All in all then not much to report. I had hoped to be rejoicing in having met my target of single figures after a glorious Summer but as we all know that never looked like happening. Still we are entering the last quarter of the year and so there's still time. I'm already getting frustrated that I can't get any holes or practice in after work now and my lack of a proper golf fix this weekend has left me going "cold turkey". I even had to endure the pain of a trip to several garden centres yesterday despite my protestation of feeling unwell and being laid up in bed. It better not be another winter like last year as there are only so many rows of pansies a man can look at.

Time for another lemsip and a look at the forecast for next Friday.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Is There Anybody Out There???

I know that the blog is being read and I thank you all for your time. However it would be great if some of you could occasionally post some responses or tell me what you'd like to see me cover. There is an icon at the bottom of each post for you to click on and write away.

All comments, good bad and even downright rude will be gratefully received. Get busy and tell me what you really think!

Back To Reality

Having had a great day out it was back to normality today in the monthly medal. I was partnered with Alan Cutler and John Munday and were off nice and early at 8.30. I've played quite a bit with Alan and he's usually dangerous off his 14 handicap. I hadn't had the pleasure of John's company on the course for a long time but he is very steady off 7 and is usually well up there in most events.

I hadn't been overly happy with my game at the members/guest day yesterday and so wasn't brimming with confidence. It came as something of a shock to the system when I stuck my tee shot at the first into the heart of the green. Knowing how quick the greens had been yesterday I was circumspect in my approach but made a solid par. It was squeaky bum time at the next though. I hit the tee shot well but it was very, very, tight to the trees and out of bounds and none of us saw it land. I hit a provisional and I was getting concerned when I couldn't see it. Fortunately the hole was playing down wind and it had managed to make it all the way to the corner of the dog-leg. I still managed to three putt when I got the green for a six.

Things were going too well and a double bogey six at the 3rd having hit the right hand bunker brought me down to earth. I parred the 4th and 5th and made a four at the seen of my nearest the pin triumph the day before at the 178 yard sixth having found another bunker off the tee. By the time we reached the turn I'd gone out in 42 which was only one over my handicap and so I was still in contention.

I hit a reasonable drive at the 10th and had 177 to the back flag position. I hit a good six iron and mentally congratulated myself as the ball was in the air and heading towards the green on the good execution. It landed on the middle of the green and I was getting ready for a safe par. However it kept on going and tumbled off the back. It found a good lie but with no green to play with and the green sloping sharply away from me I did well to get it to stop within ten feet and made a 5.

And then the trouble started. I hit a rubbish chip from the left of the 11th into the bunker and made a double bogey. I hit my second over the back of the 12th but had lagged my putt up to a foot away and seemed destined to make a safe and respectable 5. It's never that clear cut with me and I pulled the putt way left. I have to admit I did lose some of my competitive edge after that and even a great chip from 30 yards left of the 14th and converting the putt for par couldn't inspire me.

At the 16th I pushed my drive. I could have played safe and run one down towards the 100 yard marker but having nothing to lose decided to try and hit a right to left draw with my five wood. It was a high tariff shot and the fact that it sliced left to right and plunged into thick ferns tells you all you need to know about the merits of trying such a shot. The ball was lost and I ended up with a 7. The lost ball count increased down the last when I carved a tee shot right and out of bounds and finished with an ugly 8 and signed for a nett 79 (+9).

The funny thing was I hadn't actually hit the ball badly and definitely hit it more consistently than yesterday. I just seemed to fritter shots away and never really managed to get anything going. I've certainly had lower scores hitting it worse than today. I couldn't hole a putt and had more than my fair share lip out or shave the hole. I can't really complain though. My ball striking isn't too bad (6/10), my putting is decent despite the blip at 12 (8/10) but my short game has deserted me AGAIN (2/10). The season is more or less over now except for the monthly stableford and medals so I'm going to start thinking about my winter programme. There is a huge swing change I need to make (I lift my spine angle on the downswing which makes it so hard to constantly repeat the swing and make solid contact) but it's so ingrained after all these years I'm not sure if I can ever actually eradicate it. I need to find a simple chipping method as I've made a simple shot way too complicated and scrambled my tiny brain into the process. Plenty of work ahead but the rewards will be worth the effort. At least that's what I'm telling myself.

Total number of lost balls in 2010 = 68

A Grand Day Out

It was Members/Guest day at Royal Ascot yesterday. I think I am safe to say I'm probably the only member who until 9.00am yesterday morning hadn't even met his partner let alone played with him. My guest was a young 24 handicapper called John Sneddon from near Welwyn Garden who I knew via the Golf Monthly Forum and who had jumped at the chance when I offered a place online.

We went out to play a few holes so he could at least get to know some of the layout. I doubt I filled him with much confidence when I hit my tee shot on the first off the white markers right towards the trees never to be seen again. My tee shot at the 2nd wasn't pretty either but I settled down after that. I think John was a little anxious and the fact that the greens had been made ultra fast with some dastardly hole placements didn't help much. We played the first thirteen and went back in time for lunch.

The format for the main event was fourball better ball off full handicaps with a shotgun start. We started on the 13th which John played well to ensure a safe two point start. We were ticking along by the time we got to the 15th where John hit a great tee shot with his 3 wood (he doesn't use a driver). I was a little to the left of the fairway and saw him hit his second which sounded great but I couldn't see where it had gone. I was well chuffed to find out he'd only gone and hit the green in two. So much for a 24 handicap. He duly two putted for four points and we were off and running.

He then started to struggle for a few holes and it was left to me to try and carry the side. Regular readers will know my former partner Hywel became very adept at that role and regularly carried my ineptitude with him. However it was uncharted waters for me. We did alright and didn't commit the cardinal sin of not scoring any points between us. There was a nearest the pin prize for Ascot members on the 6th. I hit a decent shot which came in off the right hand bank and finished about 12 feet away and was good enough to nudge the marker closer. I didn't for one minute think it would be good enough but it was just nice to find the green for a change.

My long standing war with our par 3's is far from over but I definitely won the battle yesterday. I parred the 6th following that tee shot but also parred the long 1st and got a four at the others with the exception of the 8th where a wonderfully struck 7 iron finished 5 feet away and I managed to convert for a birdie.

John has only been playing for a couple of years and this was the first time he'd played in anything like this. I think he did brilliantly and was superb company on and off the course. He has a tidy swing and hits his 3 wood miles. He needs to brush up his chipping and putting (don't we all) but he'll soon get down much lower. After the round we enjoyed a gorgeous three course meal before the prize giving. We'd finished with 42 points in the end and although respectable was never going to be enough. In the end there were three groups on 46 points so we weren't too far back. I thought we'd just be sitting and clapping politely so was pretty surprised when I got called out to receive the prize for nearest the pin. I think it's the first time I've ever won one of these so I was well chuffed.

My day and evening got even better when the raffle prizes were drawn as I managed to win a fourball voucher to play at Windlesham Golf Club near Bagshot. Although it's just down the road it's one of those courses I've never played very often and I think I've only been there once when it first opened. I've got until next June to use it so I think I'll wait for the warmer weather next year.

All in all it was a grand day out. My thanks to John for making it a very enjoyable game and to the club for their catering and prizes and I'm looking forward to next year.

Total number of lost balls in 2010 = 66

Monday, 13 September 2010

Not Bad - But Nowhere Near Good Enough

I played the Masters event at Royal Ascot yesterday in glorious Autumnal sunshine. However the golf never quite matched the weather and it was definitely a tale of two rounds. Let's just say it was a poor start, rallied, dipped, rose again and whimpered out. More up and downs than a Disneyland ride.

You are never going to be in contention when you start with two double bogies although it could have been so much worse at the first. I hit the tee shot way right towards the out of bounds and we all heard it hit wood which is usually a death knell. I'd just teed up another ball when the group ahead waved to indicate it was in play. I couldn't capitalise and my chip was a little long (it was a blind shot mind) and I couldn't get up and down. The double at the second was due to incompetence on the green and three putts.

I managed to rally and made par courtesy of a chip and putt at the fifth and by the time I'd put my tee shot at the par 3 sixth to five feet and converted the birdie chance I was back level with my handicap. I dropped a silly shot at 8th but only needed a par at the 9th to be out in nett par. I wandered off eventually with a six (another double) thanks to an awful drive and a poor bunker shot.

Never mind I thought. A par at the next to regroup and consolidate and we'd back on track. I hit the fairway and all seemed fine. I hit a great second but turned it over a touch and it pitched in the trap. Another horror shot from the bunker only just got it out and I was back riding the double bogey train again. By the time I'd hit my bunker shot through the green at the 12th and out of bounds (and lost the ball into the bargain) there was no coming back to anywhere near a level par score and it was about damage limitation. Sadly there was precious little of that and I limped home in a nett 78 (+8) and took token satisfaction that I was leading my group at the halfway mark.

After a swift lunch break we were back out. My opening two bogies immediately put me two shots better of than the morning round and by the time I hit my tee shot at the 4th into the rough I was still ahead. The second into the 4th wasn't great and it landed just short of the bunker. There was a huge thud as I fatted the chip into the sandy stuff. I tried to be a smart arse with the escape and left it in the bunker and eventually racked up a 7. Plonker!

There was some good stuff including a great chip and putt at the fifth. I even found the green again at the 6th but decided things were going too well so three putted. I managed to make a par at the 8th but even though I was a shot better down the 9th I was still one shot higher than the morning round. Ironically the ball striking was so much better but the chipping (which I'd worked hard on the day before - what a waste of time that was) and the putting was rubbish.

When I got up and down for par at the 10th I thought nothing of it as there wasn't much left to play for. I hit the green and parred the next and chipped and putted for a par at the hardest hole on the course. I was pleased but it was too little too late in the bigger picture. However I was pleased to hit the green at the long par 3 13th for a par and sunk a great twelve footer for par at the next. I found the green in regulation and made two solid putts and I'd suddenly played the first six holes of the back nine in level par. Well hello!

I obviously scared myself and three putted the next for a messy double bogey to make sure the run exploded. However I managed to chip and putt the long, long 17th (218 yards) for another par and found the fairway with my last tee shot of the day. I hit my second right into thick rough. No problemo I thought. Just chip it out, knock it on and take a six and it would still be a personal best for the last nine holes. However my rescue shot hit one of the saplings and dived off into oblivion, never to be found again. After a penalty drop I chipped out for my fifth, found the green and managed to hole out for another double bogey which left a nasty taste in the mouth.

It was one of those days where I couldn't find any sort of consistency. However I was leased to find out my nett 71 (+1) was the fifth best score of the afternoon and that I finished 13th out of 33. I even managed to get a small cut for my efforts in the afternoon.

In the end there was no Fellini magic. However I do feel there are plenty of strong foundations to build upon and that I just need to find a way of keeping the short game simple and a repeatable technique for the bunkers. Still, onwards and upwards (or downwards for my handicap)

Total number of balls lost in 2010 = 65

Fellini Day

Anyone who is a fan of the Federico Fellini films will know about chance and coincidence. I had a real Fellini day on Saturday. I'd decided not to play in the roll up as it was tipping down and I had a 36 hole competition on Sunday in the Masters (invitational event open only to competition winners in the preceding twelve months).

I'd set out to Sand Martins late morning as they have a superior short game area to Ascot's and it was sunnier than when I'd got up (and saw it pouring down). I got halfway there and the heavens opened so I aborted and came back home, had some lunch and watched the Man Utd game instead. It was a cracking game for the neutral. Once the full time whistle blew I decided to give Sand Martins another and spent a happy hour working on my short game.

When the wife came to pick me up I had a few balls left. Her boss (my wife works at Sand Martins) was hitting on the range so she wandered over to talk to her. My wife's boss (are you still with me?) is the partner of Andrew Hall who owns Sand Martins and is also a top coach and is often featured in Golf International. Now I'm standing there doing my own thing and suddenly he wanders along and starts giving me a couple of tips. Cue a free one hour lesson and some simple but integral swing pointers to work on. Basically my swing problems seem to be path orientated and so he had me trying to hit fades to give myself the feeling of the club being more in front of me at impact.

Surely this was a sign and that his devine words of wisdom would pay off on Sunday in the Masters....

Thursday, 9 September 2010

New Taylormade Irons

As you might have gathered over our journey together, I am a bit of a magpie and get easily drawn to shiny new kit. Not necessarily to buy you understand but to at least try it for myself (and my blog readers) and see if the club matches the hype.

I'm pleased, very pleased, to announce that Taylormade have just launched their new version of the iconic Burner irons, the Burner 2.0. According to the launch video these are the most playable version yet (well they would say that) but are aimed at anyone from a 5-25 handicap. The longer irons have a higher kickpoint to get them airborne and are more forgiving and the shorter irons have been designed with a more compact head, less offset and smaller cavity for more control.

Here is a link to the gallery.

I've also got a few pictures to whet your appetite

These are being marketed as the longest Burner irons yet. Again they would say that as distance sells. Looking at the lofts though it's not hard to see why they go so far. A 45 degree wedge was an 8 iron not so many years ago.

That said, I am a self-confessed Taylormade equipment whore so these are very exciting. I think they will be a lot better looking than previous Burner models but will never be as good as say the Mizuno forged clubs which are always sleek and sexy. They are due to be launched in October but I don't have a price yet. I'll be doing my best to source a demo version as quickly as I can as I can already hear my credit card calling!

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Different Week - Same Old Story

I played in my regular Saturday morning "greedy" yesterday but had a bit of a shocker. However a lot of it was due to circumstances beyond my control. It was Ladies Captain's Day and so the ladies had the tee booked from 9.00 am until midday. As a result all the normal Saturday morning cliques all rushed to get off early. When I got to the club around 6.50am there were already hordes on the 1st tee and swarms gathering on the putting green. By the time we set out at around 8.30 the course was rammed. Unfortunately, some of the groups we usually avoid are notoriously slow and it took 4 1/2 hours to play a social three ball. I have to be honest and say that by the 11th my concentration was shot and I lost interest. It took so long between shots that when it was my turn to play I was so glad to have a chance to hit the bloody thing I just stepped up and whacked it. No pre-shot routine, very little thought, and zero enjoyment.

I struggled and didn't hit it great although my front nine was decent enough and I was level with my handicap although I should point out that I was enjoying a rare outing off the forward yellow tees. I did alright in patches but there was no rhythm and my tempo was off so the ball striking wasn't great. However I must say there were some that enjoyed themselves. The winner amongst our group, Anthony who plays off 26 managed to get a stonking 43 points and at the same time managed a personal best score. Well done to him, even if he didn't buy me a drink with his winnings!

I played with Budeley (otherwise known as Paul Sweetman) today. I hit the ball far better in terms of ball striking but had a really frustrating day. I kept putting myself in good positions and then missing the target with only short irons in my hand. It didn't start great with a great contact on the first shot of the day. Unfortunately I blocked it straight right and out of bounds. I ticked along nicely until the par 5 fifth. Standing 116 yards away facing my third shot I hit a horrid hook with just a nine iron in my hand. I then managed to turn a safe six (and two points) into a double bogey (and just a single pointer) with three putts from nowhere.

I had a nightmare down the next as we were let through by a fourball. You all know what it's like. You want to get cracking and so rush your shots. Suffice to say I left my first bunker shot in the trap and then hit the next too long. A chip and a putt for another double bogey. I was on the double bogey train at the next although the bare lie I had for my third didn't help. I did finish the first nine with two pars courtesy of a chip and a putt at both.

The back nine was steady and I was level with my handicap until the 15th where I lost a ball. I hit a good drive into the light rough on the right. I took out my 5 wood and hit it great but it just clipped the tree some twenty yards ahead. Neither Paul or I had a clue where the ricochet went and we never even heard it land. And so it continued. I hit a great 3 wood down the 6th and then hooked my second and duffed the chip (another double). Even on the last there was no respite. A good drive went slightly right and sat in some wet rough. Ever the optimist (ok I had a new 5 wood and wanted to hit it) I topped my shot some 50 yards. I stuck my next into a better position and left only 120 yards to the green. It should have been so easy. However being Homer I managed to put a rubbish swing on it and stuck it way right of the target and into the pond. Not a great finish but I did manage to beat Paul which meant he had to stump up for the tea and toast afterwards so it wasn't all bad.

I've had a week off and so I'm back to work tomorrow. Still with a dodgy forecast for most of the week 'm not too upset. I'll get some range time in as the swing is nearly there and then play in the roll up next Saturday. After that it's the Masters on Sunday. Thirty-six holes of medal golf. Still, it's only open to competition winners over the last twelve months so it'll be an elite field. I'm not overly optimistic as I seem to be building a reputation of flattering to deceive but we'll give it a go. Onwards and upwards (a bit like my handicap!)

Total number of balls lost in 2010 = 62

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Interesting? Just a Bit

I spent yesterday afternoon at at golf clinic hosted by Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomery which included a Q&A session as well. He started of by explaining how he sets up to play a shot, including the techniques he uses for moving and shaping a shot, his thought process and pre-shot routine. All pretty standard stuff at these sort of events.

However, it was the Ryder Cup that everyone was interested in and in particular the reason Paul Casey wasn't picked and Harrington was. The first thing of interest was that Monty expects Lee Westwood to be able to play all five rounds at the event. Given that Westwood is not due to start hitting balls following rehab from his injury until Monday it only gives him two weeks to find some decent form and prove his fitness. If Westwood doesn't make it, Casey will be drafted in. The reason Casey wasn't picked initially came down to one discussion between Montgomerie and his vice-captains over the winning putt and who they would want to be standing over a four footer to win the cup. Given his three major titles and reputation for being one of the best pressure putters around it was a deciding factor.

Monty also revealed that he thought Corey Pavin would pick Tiger Woods and probably the next three in the order of merit to make up his wildcard picks. He also said that he expects it to be a very tough match and that home advantage may be the deciding factor.

When pressed on his own future he said that he really wants to get back to playing on tour next season without any distractions. I asked if he had any plans to join the senior tour in three years time. He said no, definitely not as he has had enough of the hassle of travelling. He is exempt until 2015 when he'll be 52 and reckons he'll call it a day when he reaches that age if not before.

Also, there is a protocol that if any member of either side is injured or ill and can't play the singles tie on Sunday that the captain has a name in a sealed envelope with the player he wishes to pull out from his own side. Monty revealed that he won't even be telling his vice-captain's who he plans to pick and has said he wants the envelope returned to him unopened if it isn't required so he can personally destroy it so that the name of the golfer he in essence doesn't think can win his match is never revealed.

So, all in all a very revealing day. It's certainly whetted my appetite for the Ryder Cup even more and I can't wait for it to start. I'm praying Westwood will make it through as I can see him being a lynchpin for the team although I also think if there was any doubts, Monty would know by now.