Thursday, 27 January 2011

White Knight Or White Elephant

Golf columns and internet threads have been choker with the discussions on the arrival of the latest driver incarnation from Taylormade in the form of the all white R11. However they aren't alone Cobra are another manufacturer who've come out with a white headed beast, ably promoted by their fashion icon Ian Poulter.

As you can see there is no getting away from the fact that it is white. Experts from Taylormade will have us believe it is designed to promote easier alignment and therefore straighter shots. However that isn't all you get for your £329. It is fully adjustable. Now this sort of technology has been around for a while now and in Taylormade's case goes back to the moveable weights of the R7's but was further enhanced in their R9 model which let you adjust the face to open and close it at set up to hit a draw or fade as required. Of course most of the other manufacturers have produced their own versions and changeable drivers are the new big thing to ride into town. However this latest offering has raised the bar. You can not only change the face angle, but you can now adjust the loft and the centre of gravity.

I'm all for innovation, but has this gone a step too far? Logic says there has to be something in it to justify all the R&D costs and that it will appeal to the average golfer. Is that really true though or is it another case of us hackers wanting to emulate our heroes and all that glistens must be (white) gold. How many of you have forked out large wads of notes on a driver promising longer and straighter drives and once the honeymoon period is over find it's not better or worse than the one before, or even the one before that. Think how many lessons you could have bought. How much better would your game be?

I've never really bought into any of this adjustable driver spiel. To me it's aimed at golfers with ingrained swing faults who want a quick fix for their slice and hook. Harsh? Maybe but I'd rather have a swing I could rely on rather than the crutch of a technological aid. The other thing is I'm a notorious tinkerer with my game at the best of times and can often be seen on Royal Ascot's practice ground hitting balls. I'm pretty damn sure that if you give me one of these shiny white beasts I'd spend most of my time with the adjusting wrench in my hand tweaking and trying every conceivable set up variation. Heaven forbid that I should hit a bad drive. It couldn't possible my laughable excuse of a golf swing. It has to be the arrows and not the indian.

There's another issue as well. You spend hours at the range deciding what works best for your game and roll up on the 1st tee in the monthly medal. You pull this bad boy out of the bag and your partners are transfixed by its beauty. You tee it up and promptly carve it right into the tundra. The rules are quite clear. You can't change the set up or playing characteristics of any club during a competitive round. So now you're wondering, was that the club or me. That'll do wonders for your confidence on the next tee.

So am I just getting old and grumpy? Quite possibly. I have to confess I'll no doubt have one in my hand sometime soon just to see what all the fuss is about. Purely out of curiosity you understand. I even entered a couple of competitions to win a custom fitting session with the R11. Would I have gone? Too right. As I said I'm all for innovation. Give me a big 460cc headed drive compared to the tiny persimmon woods of thirty years ago. Indeed if you go for a custom fitting for either a driver or a set of irons the results can be a revelation. Get the right shaft for your swing and the loft and lie angles set up and it becomes (in theory) much easier to hit repeatable shots.

The R11 is making big news. The pros are using it and it officially comes to a shop near you in the next week (rumour has it some American Golf stores already have it on sale). I'm sure for a lot of golfers, it will take the fear out of driving the ball and for many will be a blessing. I'm sure there is more to come. The rules on what can and can't be done are notoriously strict and manufacturers are all looking for that next bit of design magic to give them a market lead. However until they bring out something that is bio-mechanically attuned to my game and can predict which error strewn swing I'm going to pull next from my locker and adjust the set-up automatically as I make my shot then in the words of the Dragons, "I'm out"

Monday, 24 January 2011

Competition Time - A Reminder

It isn't too late to enter my competition to win a Titleist Vokey wedge of your choice and it is free to enter. I know a lot of the members at Royal Ascot have been reading the blog recently so come on guys have a guess. You more than most know my game and so could have "insider" knowledge. All you have to do is guess what my 2011 stroke average for all games (social and competitive but not including matchplay events) will be.

The original thread is here and you can register your guess there or I am more than happy for you to have a punt at the bottom of this one. You have until 31st March to make a decision and if you have already entered you can change your mind up until the deadline.

Good luck

Total Indifference

You know how it is. You're at the practice range on a Friday night hitting it as badly as normal and then WHAM you flush one high, long and straight. Now what did I do there? Did I take it back a little more inside? Whatever you did it happens again and again. Maybe it's finally clicked.

I rocked up for the normal Saturday roll up in positive mood. A good friend (and fellow Fulham fan) Mike Stannard from the Golf Monthly Forum had joined as a new member and so I was introducing him to a few of the usual suspects from the early morning gang. I had this "new move" sorted and everything set fair. Well that wasn't strictly true. The weather forecast online and on TV had said cloudy but dry so why was I waiting to tee off in a light, constant drizzle having not bothered with the waterproofs? It did stop although would return intermittently throughout the round. I'd even hit some balls on the practice ground and the new move was working well.

As we started the greens were on temps as we'd had an slight overnight frost. I sunk a long putt at the first for par and despite hitting an iffy drive down the second, an outrageous hole out from 10 yards for birdie put me in red numbers and under par. A par at the next continued the trend. By the time we reached the 4th the greenstaff had put the flags back on the proper greens and inevitably I immediately made a bogey. I managed to lose a ball at the next but my infamous short game was having a rare good day and despite not hitting many great shots I made the turn with 20 points.

The back nine was a trial. I seemed to lose my way very quickly and this "new move" was turning into nothing more than another false dawn. It wasn't helped by the fact that whenever I drove the ball well I then threw in a poor execution and would cost myself points or even more annoyingly three putt from nowhere. The back nine was an ignominious disaster and a measly 10 points. The less said about the last the better which involved several visits to the woods, a lost ball and an ugly end to the round. Mike, the newbie recovered from early nerves and beat me with ease but neither of us were ever in contention for the pot.

I played yesterday with my old mate Paul Sweetman a.k.a Budly. I was in less positive mood and had packed the waterproofs in case. Naturally it was dry the whole way round. I didn't hit the ball great and the weak slice/fade that had blighted my game on Saturday reappeared early on in the round on Sunday. The most frustrating thing of all is that amongst all the rubbish there are nuggets of golfing talent coming to the fore.

However the short game and chipping and bunker shots in particular had regressed to arguably an all time low which considering the depths they've been to takes some doing. The problem is once the confidence in these simple to execute shot goes it just filters back through the rest of the game. Paul played some of the most consistent golf I've seen him play for a while and apart from one or two duffed chips scored pretty well. I was trying hard to hang in and make it a competitive game. I hit a great 5 wood from 216 yards at the 9th to set up par and that reduced the half-time deficit to three points with Paul going out one under his handicap in 19 points.

I actually started to play a bit at the beginning of the back nine and made a rare par at the 12th thanks to a great pitch from the rough to 11 feet and a putt that tried its hardest to squeeze out. A par at the next followed. From there the wheels really came off and a combination of bad technique, poor execution and bad strategy meant I rarely troubled the scorers from the 15th hole in.

And what does it all mean? Well in simple terms all that glistens at the range isn't golfing gold. Whilst what I was trying to do had some merit I don't know why/how it isn't working regularly and think that I need to really stick to what I'd been working on. I know that I'm reverting to spinning my hips out to quick and the impact position I worked so hard to achieve regularly in those freezing cold range sessions has deserted me.  The funny thing is I don't actually care. I seem to have so many of these "eureka" moments and each seems to bring another promise of glory but in reality is another chapter in golfing disillusionment. From now on I'm going out and what will be will be. I am really looking forward to getting back up to 13 (should only take another four competitions on current form from my 12.1 position).

I can't rely on the short game to save me and so unless I'm driving well and hitting greens I'm never going to be in a challenging position for a while. Naturally I'm fed up but I'm starting to get too long in the tooth to search for that pot of golfing gold. I'm prepared to have one final chipping lesson as I need something but after that unless it goes seriously wrong (shanking etc) then I'm putting my faith in dubious talents and getting on with it.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

A Hackers Guide To Royal Ascot - Part 1 (Minchin View)

Royal Ascot is the oldest golf club in the area, dating back to 1887. It now plays on one of the newest and best courses in Berkshire opened for play in 2005 but for many years was housed inside the famous racecourse. The new course, no more than a par four away from the resplendent modern grandstand is a much tougher test than the old course. It is still maturing but already has played host to professional and county amateur events and is a good test for golfers of all standards.

Minchin View
The course starts with a par 3. From the yellows it is only 163 yards and represents a gentle introduction to the round. However off the white tees it is a brutal 229 yards long (stroke index 10) and is a savage start especially with a competition card in your hands.

For most members a one over par 4 (usually with a shot) represents a fair start. Standing on the elevated tee, the line of trees from the right are strategically placed at about 200 yards and will catch anything drifting to the right. Out of shot here but clearly visible on the course guide (below) is a pond to the left which often does regular business for anything pulled or hooked. Standing on the tee though it is actually quite hard to see it and it is a case of out of sight out of mind until after impact when the ball is veering left. Did I mention the out of bounds right? It runs down the side of the hole until the line of trees but is only twenty or so yards to the right and it really doesn't take a very wayward shot to find it.

The ideal shot is on the left hand edge of the line of trees jutting out as the ground falls away right to left towards the two left hand bunkers. Anything too straight will fall towards a sandy grave. Should the ball run right to left and miss the front bunker there is also a small ditch (water hazard) although to be fair it needs a bit of a long hooky shot to find that particular danger.

The official guidance taken from the clubs website is:
"From the medal tee a stiff opener, playing 229 yards but slightly down hill. Take one club more than you think. Don’t ruin your round here keep it in play, avoid right rough."

So to sum up so far, we have a very long hole. It has out of bounds close to the right hand side. It has a hidden pond and trees that jut out and it slopes towards two deep bunkers. Feeling confident? If you can't reach the green, the hackers guide recommends taking something you can hit relatively straight and about 190 yards. It is a long and flattish green and so the chip on shouldn't pose too many issues. If you are going for it you do have the option of landing it short as the ground is normally firm and it will release. Don't be too straight though as it will fall away. Take your four and get out of there in a hurry.

I have managed to get my round off to the flyer with a birdie on a couple of occasions but there have also been some nightmares. My highest score on the hole is 7 (four over par). I have been out of bounds off the tee, had terrible problems getting out of bunkers and had plenty of issues with the pond on the left. However I take solace. Whilst a 7 is never a great way to start, Royal Ascot veteran and venerable member Tommy Goode managed a 13 in a club competition. Suffice to say he didn't need his acceptance speech on that particular day.

It is a hole that commands respect and really does focus the mind from the outset.


I am pleased to announce that I've reached my target of 50 followers for my humble blog and as promised I will be making a £100 donation towards Help for Heroes when payday arrives (27th).

Thank you so much for your loyal support and I hope you are enjoying the journey so far. However, please don't sit back, get involved as I'd love to hear you ideas on how to make this better. Also, if I get to 100 followers I'll give another £50 to Help for Heroes so keep getting the message out there.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Carry On Golfing

Farcical, ludicrous and unprecedented. No, this isn't a description of my performance in the monthly stableford at Royal Ascot yesterday. I only need one word for that, inept. I'm referring to the chaotic scenes yesterday involving the changing of the course during a competition and general confusion which made the event resemble a Carry On film for the laughable way everything was handled.

I am usually the first to say what a fantastic job the greenkeepers do for the club and how well our competitions are run but yesterday was plain awful. The flags had been on the proper greens for normal play on Saturday but overnight into Sunday morning there was a heavy frost and they decided to put all the flags onto temporary greens for the competition and make the event a non qualifier. I'd no problem with that at all.

What then followed is hard to verify as I was just about to go out. It appears that some of the members complained that the greens were thawing rapidly and that they should be reopened. It seemed that a decision was made to make the booked tee times from 8.00am until 10.30am a competition on its own using the temps and that anybody rolling up wouldn't be able to play the stableford but could enjoy the course as fully open as conditions allowed (three greens were still closed and on temps). Again that made perfect sense to me.

So there we are playing the competition and my partners and I get to the 15th green. Looking casually down the 16th as we waited to putt out I saw the flag was on the proper green. Surely not.  A look at the 17th confirmed it. The greenkeeper had moved the flags before the whole of the field had played the course effectively meaning some had played a different course to those coming up behind. The problem was then compounded when we found out that the group putting out on the adjacent 6th green as we teed off down the last were not only part of the roll up section but had been allowed to enter the competition anyway and had enjoyed the flags on almost all of the normal greens to date.

Not surprisingly there was much consternation in the bar. Most thought the event should have been null and void as there were three separate courses in play (18 temps for the early starters, the last three holes on temps for some and the majority on normal greens for the late starters). I accept that it was a non-qualifier anyway and so handicaps wouldn't be affected but there was still the normal pro shop vouchers on offer for the winner. In the end the scores stood and my rubbish back nine and a total of 28 points was only good enough for 39th place.

Mistakes were made but thankfully even the most seasoned of members can ever recall anything like this ever happening before and I'm sure the lessons of the decisions made will be learned. Life will go on and our members, like those at many other clubs are normally at their happiest when they have something to grumble about anyway! On a plus point, given the heavy rain we had on Friday and early Saturday morning falling on already saturated ground from the melted snow, I was amazed at how dry most of the fairways were. It is testament to the work done by the greenstaff throughout the year to ensure the drainage is functioning as well as it can. Of the three greens I putted on, I holed a great 12 footer on the 16th, a 6 footer on the 17th and a testy 4 footer at the last so in my opinion they are in great nick.

What a carry on.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Up Against It

I played the clubs New Year competition yesterday. The format was teams of four, stableford, with the best three scores per hole to count. There was the option to pick your own team but I was too late in entering to do that so was in a randomly drawn ensemble. I was with two delightful lady members, Pat Wallis and Linda Campling, playing off 18 and 33 respectively but the downside was that the other gent down to make up the fourth was a no show. That meant we had no safety net and every score would count. Given the way I had played on Friday things didn't look good.

Almost inevitably I had a mare down the first two holes. On the second in particular I managed to make an 8 from the middle of the fairway and with only 133 yards left for my third. A big hoink left was followed by a duffed chip into a bunker, a thinned shot over the green, a chip on and two putts.

I manage to regain some composure until a hooked tee shot out of bounds at the 6th for another zero in the points scored column. I'd manage to score a point per hole to that stage and kept the run going at the 7th thanks to a howler of a second from the middle of the fairway. It is straight in at number one in the worse shots of 2011 countdown. However I did manage to resemble a decent golfer by making great chip and putts for pars at the last two holes of a sorry front nine and a woeful 12 points.

My two partners hadn't fared much better and I'm guessing I'd dragged them down to my level. However we were having enormous fun and so the bad shots never seemed to matter. We'd realised from the outset that we were never going to win and so just took it as an enjoyable social round.

The back nine started with a couple of two point (net par) holes. However I managed to get myself in what can only be described as "tree trouble" off the tee at the 12th and eventually holed a tricky three footer for a single point. The 13th is a devilish par 3 and belies it's stroke index of 17 (supposedly the second easiest hole on the course). At 186 yards and with a big dip in front of the green to swallow up anything mishit or short it requires an accurate tee shot. I hit a blinder, slightly right but moving nicely right to left in the air. I was a yard or two from finding the green but hit the very top of the rise on the dip and the ball died where it was. I hit a good chip to about six feet but missed the putt. Actually it was a pretty poor apology of an effort if the truth is told.

I came up short at the next but made a nett par and then managed to par not only the par 5 15th but the long 425 yard par 4 16th. This is another hole I historically struggle with primarily because there is out of bounds all the way along the length of the drive and only about ten yards left of the teeing ground. As my stock bad shot is a hook from right to left you can see the problem. Anything sliced or pushed right is blocked out by two big oak trees and played from lush rough. I usually aim on the left hand oak and hope for a straight one or with a bit of draw which amazingly is exactly what I hit, right on cue. It left 216 yards to the middle of the green. As the saying goes "he who dares Rodney" and with nothing to lose in terms of a winning score I launched my 5 wood. Man, ball and club met in perfect harmony and the ball sailed high and straight(ish) and finished pin high on the left hand side of the green. Two putts from 25 feet and a rare par.

I hit a great 5 wood off the tee at the 17th and again it drew in the air. I thought it had made the right hand bunker but when I got there it was a few yards short. Having duffed a few pitches earlier in the round, confidence wasn't coursing threw my veins but I hit a decent enough shot to around 8 feet. Having not made any putts of note I had given up hope and so sent it forth in hope rather than belief but it made the drop for another par. Of course no round of mine would be complete without a bad finish. I hit a short tee shot and a rubbish second to leave myself in thick rough about 200 yards away with a shot over water. Being pragmatic I came out to 93 yards (I was trying to leave 100 really) but only had a simple approach. Simple unless you hook it way left into a bunker.

The 18th green is right outside the clubhouse windows. As we were the last group out, there was a large and eager audience watching from the warmth of the 19th. I hit a beautiful bunker shot to about 5 feet and was looking forward to a small coup de grace but forgot to make the putt.

In the end we weren't last. I rallied sufficiently on the back nine to finish with an individual score of 28 and a good score of 16 for the harder back nine holes. The two ladies were a joy to play with from start to finish and there were some good shots played by all of us.

I wanted to play today but with a heavy overnight frost, the greens were back on temporaries and I didn't fancy it. I went to the range instead and like everything I seem to do golf wise it was a mixed bag. I worked hard on my posture and weight distribution and when it was right I delivered the club to the ball in a really strong impact position. When I got it wrong it felt like I wasn't transferring the weight back through and everything was hung on the back foot resulting in a weak slice. On the plus side the driver and 3 wood flew like a dream.

Back to work for the first time since Christmas Eve tomorrow so back to limited practicing in the dark in the evenings. There is the first stableford of 2011 to look forward to next Sunday and a social roll up on Saturday. With some positives to build on lets hope 2011 will be a stellar year.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Happy New Year

Belated happy new year to everyone. It's great that the poor weather is behind us and for the most part we are all back out on the course. Royal Ascot is fully open and has coped admirably with the problems caused by the snow and in particular has drained impressively well.

2011 is going to be a big year for the blog. There are going to be lots of prizes on offer in various competitions including a Vokey wedge to the winner in one only open to followers. Other prizes include golf jumpers and premium golf balls. On the subject of competitions, congratulations to Joe Fear (blog follower and regular contributor to the Golf Monthly Forum) who successfully guessed I'd lose 74 balls in the course of my 2010 golfing year. There is a dozen Titleist Pro V balls in the post to him as I type.

In a regular feature I'll be giving a "Choppers Guide to Royal Ascot" which will highlight each hole in turn, with the ideal way to play it, the way I do, which usually bears no resemblance to the former, and let you in on a few highlights and disasters that have befallen club members and guests alike. Of course they'll be the regular run down on how my quest for single figures is going. Homer's Odyssey - The Sequel gets under way next week with the first stableford of the new year. We start at 12.1 (dangerously close to going up to 13) but with the prize still firmly in view. I'll also be letting you know about any new clubs I try. As always I'll give you a direct and honest report and cut through the advertising blurb. Of course the only way to find out for sure is to hit them yourself. Always try before you buy. As usually it'll be great if you can get involved and leave comments on what you think about the world of golf on Planet Homer.

I hope 2011 brings you everything you and your family hope for and that your drives are long and straight and your putts find the bottom of the hole every time.