Monday, 28 March 2011

You've Got To Feel Sorry For Him

Well it was Jack Jarrett Trophy time at Royal Ascot on Saturday. A pairs event off three quarter handicap it was a stableford competition with both scores counting and the highest combined total winning. I'd picked Mike Stannard, a relative newbie to Royal Ascot but a long time friend from Golf Monthly's forum and like me a 12 handicapper This meant we'd both be single figure golfers, at least for one day.

I had already warned Mike online on Friday evening that I hadn't hit it well at the range that night and that the outcome on Saturday may not be pretty. However on the practice ground we were both surprised, nay scared at just how well I was hitting it. Of course we should have known.......

Mike started magnificently with a glorious drive into the heart of the first whilst my effort went left. He made par and I managed a single point. He couldn't say he hadn't be warned. However I redeemed myself at the next with a par but then undid the good work with a hooked tee shot into the environmental area and another dropped shot. He compensated with another par. This was the flavour of the day. I'd have a bad hole, make an unexpected par at the next (as I did at the 4th) and then have another bad hole.

Mike did have his own aberrations. Standing in the middle of the 7th fairway he managed to hit a pull straight left into the hazard and ended up making six. I on the other hand had pulled my drive and was contemplating fading it over the environmental area and back to the green. Had it been the Saturday roll up  I'd have gone for it. However I took a pragmatic approach, and played safe assuming my partner would find the green or its proximity from the short stuff. Wrong. In the end we were out in 29 points. Not horrendous but not a winning score.

The back nine started in a similar vein. I parred the 10th hitting a long drive (for me) and an easy 9 iron into the centre of the green. Mike however trumped that with a second shot that was stone dead for an easy birdie. I was unlucky at the 11th. My ball went left into the bunker but was wedged right under the face by some idiot leaving the rake lying there. With no chance of getting it out playing towards the green and only being able to get one foot inside the trap, I eventually did quite well to come out to the side and just off the green. A poor chip meant a five for a single point which was a bit harsh as the tee shot hadn't been that bad.

I have to confess that by this stage it was clear that despite Mike's heroics we weren't at the races in terms of winning and my concentration levels started to wander. There wasn't anything on the best individual score and it wasn't a qualifier for handicapping purposes. I hit some good shots in the remaining holes but there was some rubbish in there too, especially the chipping.

In the end we amassed 58 points for 19th place (out of 37 team) and mid-table respectability. However when you consider Mike had 34 of those on his own off three quarter handicap and you get a measure of how steady he was all the way round. I do feel bad that my own inability to string two good holes together held him back and you have to feel sorry for him having such a millstone to contend with. However I do think there is the making of a very good matchplay team (just as well as we're representing Golf Monthly in the Volvo Matchplay tournament) as he is usually steady and I can come in every now and then.

Regular readers will be aware of Butch Cassidy and his partner Sundance from our Saturday roll up (Martin Davis and his nephew Matt). Well, they donned their masks again, rode into town and stole the trophy with an impressive 75 point total. Actually our roll up is a tough school as second place went to two more regulars, Colin Osborn and Anthony Ayres (aka Kerching as he scoops the pot on a regular basis off his dodgy 26 handicap) who fired a very commendable 71 points.

From my own point of view, despite the inconsistent nature of the scoring, the ball striking for the most part was actually very solid and it is only the old chestnut of the crap short game that held me back. Fear not my avid blog readers. I've bitten the bullet and got a chipping lesson sorted for Saturday afternoon with my normal teacher Paul Harrison from N1Golf at Maidenhead Golf Centre.

I don't think it's going to take him long to get me back to basics and using the right method but I think the battle is going to be erasing the mental scars this chipping fiasco has left. I'm so confused about technique, ball position, wrist hinge, weight and posture it's a minor miracle the club is going back and coming down and making any sort of contact at all. I need him to treat me like a beginner. One simple to use method and no swing thoughts.

Congratulations to Butch and Sundance, and well done to my partner who at least managed to generate an honourable team total almost single handedly at times. I can't promise I'll be any better next time out partner, but I promise that I'll give it my best shot. It's probably a good job the transfer window is shut!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

A Hackers Guide To Royal Ascot - Hole 4 (J H Taylor)

Having negotiated what for many is a very tricky introduction, especially in competitive play off the whites, we come to the 4th hole, a relatively short par 4 measuring just 320 yards.

The hole is named after J H Taylor, five time Open Champion and designer of the original Royal Ascot course and the hole features his trademark design feature, a bunker stretched across the  fairway on the approach to the green.

According to the official guide to playing the hole taken from the website: "Respite at last, a chance of a birdie. Lay tee shot up before the replica J H Taylor bunker, trust yardage to pin as bunker foreshortens the approach shot. Green has a lot of subtle borrows, usually turns more than you think."

The tee shot needs to be aimed down the right edge of the fairway to allow for the contours to take it back into the centre. Care is needed not to run out and find the bunker around the 260 yard mark but even more so the thick rough that protects the right edge of the hole which in the Summer can be extremely penal. You can afford to go left and there is actually much more room on that side than it appears standing on the tee. There is a dead tree at the end of the teeing ground but it shouldn't really come into play although it can focus the mind, especially if the opening few tee shots haven't set confidence levels soaring.

Having hit your tee shot, you should be left with just a short iron in your hand. The green is fairly large by Royal Ascot standards but slopes severely right to left and from the back down to the front edge. You need to aim for the right hand portion for a flag positioned in the middle or left hand side to allow it to gather down. However don't over compensate and pull the approach. There is a bank on the left edge and the ball will release and roll down and there is an out of bounds fence only about ten yards away waiting to claim another victim. In the Summer it is very easy to find yourself having to hit another after the first one has disappeared outside the confines of the course. There is protection on the right too in the shape of two bunkers. Go in these and you are faced with a very tricky escape which will be downhill all the way. Definitely a place to be avoided.

Assuming everything has gone to plan and we've negotiated the tee shot and our second is on the green, there is still much work to be done before you can mark your par or even birdie down on the card. With the slope there really isn't anything resembling a straight putt to be found anywhere on the green. If you are looking at a downhiller, you'll need the nimble touch of a safebreaker to tease your ball to the hole. If you've got an uphiller, it can be hard to convince yourself to hit it hard enough for it to make the full journey. Suffice to say, a lot of members three putt here on a regular basis.

However, get the approach right, especially if the greens are holding and you can make a birdie and soften any pain felt over the first few holes. Get it wrong and what should be such an easy hole becomes a bit of rebel. Like all the holes on the course, it has a bite. I've seen four putts on more than one occasion and even see one poor chap who was playing in our Member's Guest Day take nine after being in one of the right hand bunkers in two. He caught the bunker shot far too clean and it shot straight out of bounds. After his penalty drop he got it our for five. However gravity took over and the ball rolled off the slop to the left and he was forced to chip back up onto the putting surface. He did quite well getting it to within ten feet. His first putt was only about two feet away from eventual salvation in the cup but as I've already alluded, there are no straight or easy ones and this one didn't scare the edge of the hole. He made the return but there were mutterings all the way to the 5th tee.

So there you have it. A classic design, and a simple looking hole on paper but a far stiffer test in reality. Having played the first four holes how's your score looking? Personally anytime I can walk off the 4th green and be level with my handicap (in a medal) or have 8 points (in a stableford) I'm more than happy. Don't be fooled though, there's still a lot of golf left to play.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Something Fixed But Still No End Product

I had a day off work today and had planned to dedicate myself and really work on my chipping and putting and maybe play a few holes before hitting the practice ground to work on shots from 100 yards and in. However being a lazy so and so, the lure of a Monday morning lie in without the stress of getting ready for the daily commute was too much and I didn't awake much before mid-morning.

In the end I got to the club about 11.30am and hit the putting green. I have to say the malaise that is my chipping shows no signs of improving. I have to be honest and say I'm getting myself tied in knots now and it is a real mental blockade. I know the theory perfectly but the problem has gone on so long and I've tried so many ways of fixing it that I can barely take the club back and through. My head is full of chocolate frogs and I'm sure the chipping yips are imminent. Suffice to say I wasn't out there very long and it wasn't pretty.

The call of the bar and lunch seemed too good an opportunity to miss. I hadn't played yesterday as I'd woken with a sore back and it still wasn't feeling great but decided as the course was pretty quiet that I'd go and play nine holes and see what was what, and maybe hit a couple of balls from around the greens. I made a four at the first so no damage done and made a good par at the next hitting a great 8 iron from 127 yards to within eight feet but just missing the birdie. A solid five at the 3rd courtesy of a decent pitch from right of the green was followed but a regulation par at the fourth hitting both fairway and green.

The swing felt a million times better than on Saturday and I seemed to have so much more time to swing back and through and give myself plenty of room to make a good pass at the ball. A decent drive at the 5th was followed by a mistake. I hooked my second into the left hand bunker about 100 yards short on this par 5. It was on a downhill lie and I had one leg in the bunker and my right one was outside on the downslope. I manged to make a good connection and it found the green and I made a solid two putt par. I missed the green right at the 6th into the bunker right and hit a good recovery to about twelve feet but couldn't save par.

I hit a mare of a tee shot way right on the 7th. My recovery was good and my third found the left side of the green. Two putts for a well rescued nett par. I should have parred the shortest hole on the course (139 yards but playing only 124 today) but pulled the tee shot. The chip was heavy and I missed the 6 foot return. I dropped another shot at the 9th. Having found the greenside bunker left in two, and splashing out to fifteen feet I then three putted like a real lemon. All in all the 17 point total was pretty good, especially compared to recent weeks. There were some good shots, some return of a decent tempo and much to enjoy. As the back wasn't too sore I decided to push on and play the back nine.

I hit a pulled drive at the 10th and was along way back and needed a 5 iron to get home. It never threatened the green and was short and right. A perfect time for the fragile chipping persona I have to melt. I hit it fat and jabbed the next on close enough to hole a squeaky putt. Luck ran out at the 11th though. I hit a rubbish 4 iron way right, even missing the large bunker right of the green. The ball was on a bare muddy lie and my pitch lacked any authority and just held up in the long grass on the front edge of the bunker. I got it on the green and happily took my two putts to get out with a horrible double bogey. The twelfth was a case of nearly shots. My tee shot clipped the large oak about 100 yards off the tee (slightly right) which took some impetus off a well struck shot and it just made the rough as it dog legs back right. The hybrid just clipped a few of the branches from the trees that line the right edge of the hole and it dropped into the bunker about twenty yards short . The bunker shot came out well about fifteen feet short and the putt just lipped the edge of the hole. Still a five is always welcome there.

I managed to find the green at the 13th with a much better struck 4 iron than the last one on the 11th. I made par. On the 14th I decided to move the ball position a fraction further forward to try and generate some more height as everything was low and running. Functional but not pretty. Ding Dong. I piled one away and was left with only 177 yards (par 4 430 yard hole). Sadly I hit a huge hook with the four iron but recovered with a high softly landing pitch from a good lie in the rough in front of the 15th tee and made a five (nett par).

I kept the ball position slightly forward for the shot on the par 5 15th and hit another great one. I decided to hit a 6 iron for position and only had 118 yards to a back flag position. I hit it heavy and landed on the front fringe. My first putt was good but left leaving a 6 footer which I missed with extraordinary ease. Another well struck tee shot at the next was followed by a duffed hybrid and another 9 iron than missed the green this time to the right. I hit a good chip (well for me at least) and had a shot at a five (nett par) but again didn't really scare the hole. I hit a wide on the 17th, short and well right. I managed to hit a gorgeous recovery to eight feet getting the ball to fly high and land softly but couldn't make the putt again. Another dropped shot. I can't wait until I get another shot back on my handicap (pretty imminent on current form) as I'll get a shot on the dreaded 17th again. Making par everytime on a 218 yard par 3 is a big ask and frankly I'm not up to the job. I'll be quite happy when I can make four (nett three) and walk away.

Another good drive on the last seemed to confirm the change in ball position was a sound move and the 5 wood follow up shot left me ideally placed 98 yards short of the green in the middle of the fairway. It should have been a smooth wedge but I caught it thin and it found the back bunker. I hit a good recovery but with the green sloping back to front, forward spin and gravity took it some ten feet by and I had to make do with a closing 6. I had limped back in fourteen points for a 31 point total. Not a disaster but not really what some of the ball striking suggested either.

I guess one has to take the positives out of any round, especially one enjoyed in shirt sleeves and sun and on a work day too. The driving seemed much better once the ball position was adjusted and early on the irons were very sweetly struck. I found a fair bit of sand but got out well including a tricky lie on the 5th. The putting was poor although in my defence I had put my old Odyssey White Ice #9 in for a bit of trial. Suffice to say Trigger's old broom, a.k.a my Ping Anser 2 (same head but shortened shaft and new grip) will be back in the bag for the reschedule Jack Jarrett on Saturday. However the pragmatist realises that there are still too many unforced errors and that a lack of credible short game is hurting my score. If I miss a green through poor execution (or misplaced drive initially) then I rarely get up and down.

This is where the mid-handicappers at the club who win regularly or at least always score reasonably, let alone the single figure guys, excel. It's time to bite the bullet and get a lesson sorted. If I can clear the fog that engulfs my brain everytime I'm faced with a short chip (fifteen yards or less) then maybe, just maybe I can scramble better. If I'm faced with a longer shot where I have the chance to make a longer swing there is more chance, although no guarantee, that I'll commit more and make a passable effort. It gets boring to type and must be getting tiresome to read, but short game blues are still holding me back. I've decided Sunday 6th April is D-Day and I'll book a lesson somewhere. Then with the right technique, renewed confidence and more time in the evenings with the clock changing I'll be back bigger, meaner and more capable of saving par. Homer is on a mission.

Stay Of Execution

We were due to play one of Royal Ascot's honour board events on Saturday, the Jack Jarrett Trophy. It is a pairs event, combined stableford scores off three quarter handicaps. I was playing with my friend Mike Stannard, newbie to the club, fellow Golf Monthly Forum member and now my partner in the Volvo Matchplay event as part of the Golf Monthly team. However due to a heavy overnight frost, the course was back on temporary greens and despite promises of a quick thaw, the decision was made to postpone it for a week.

I wasn't overly fussed about playing on temporary greens and so went home with the intention of hitting the practice ground in the afternoon to find something, nay ANYTHING resembling a chipping action. However Mike had decided to chance his arm and come up on the off chance that the course was back on full greens. It was and I decided to play with him rather than practice on my own. I bumped into Matt Davis (Sundance) from our regular Saturday swindle and club pro Alistair White was also looking for a game. A fourball was arranged. We decided to have a match and Ali and I took on Matt and Mike.

I started off well with a solid enough drive left of the green and made a four. An errant second out of bounds at the next from a bare hanging lie put me out of contention but Ali made a pros par with the others in trouble. From there I clicked. I made a long overdue par at the 3rd finding both fairway and green in regulation. On the 4th I pushed my drive right and had to move the ball left to right to avoid a staked tree about ten feet away. I hit it perfectly to about eight feet and just missed a birdie but the par was good enough to secure a win. By the time I'd chipped stone dead for a par at the next we were two up.

As quickly as the form had arrived it went again. Out of bounds at the next following a horrid hooked tee shot and tree trouble at the 7th meant Ali was having to work overtime and make pars to keep the lead intact. He succumbed to a net birdie from Matt at the 7th to halve our lead. The eight was halved and Matt made a fighting nett par to match Ali's par four and at the 9th to give us a slender lead,  one up, at the turn.

My poor ball striking continued and I really did nothing of significance to help my partner. Mike on the other hand was driving the ball great and had got a hole back at the 11th after hitting the green and when he and Matt won the 12th too they were in the lead for the first time. Ali made a solid par at the 13th and at the next found the fairway bunker left. I was in good position having got a decent drive away at last. My approach finished just short and right. The opposition were both short. Ali hit a great shot from the bunker to within a foot for birdie. I made a par (nett birdie) but somehow Mike found a way to match me and he and Matt were still one up.

They should have gone two up at the next (15th) but contrived to make silly errors and so a par was enough to get a win and tie the game. We all hit great drives up the 16th. I was slightly right (playing safely away from the out of bounds that runs down the left of the hole and is very adjacent to edge of the fairway) and my 5 wood approach missed the green to the right. I was faced with a short pitch over a gully to a tight pin on the back right of the green. I can't say I hit it perfectly or as planned but somehow it hopped, bobbled and rolled to within three feet and I sunk the putt to give us a slender lead. Mike and Ali halved the 17th and so it was off down the last.

I hit another decent drive as did everyone else and we all hit good seconds. Everyone was within a few yards of each other and about 100 yards out. Matt pulled his approach left onto the fringe of the green. Ali came up a bit short on the front third of the putting surface. Mike stepped up and nailed a peach. High and true it was undoubtedly his shot of the day and it ended up about four feet away. No pressure on me then. In the end I hit my wedge well but a tad thin and it was twelve feet past the flag. Ali couldn't make birdie. Matt only made a six and so it was down to me. If the putt dropped we won. It was downhill, slightly left to right as I saw it and so I aimed for the left lip. In the end it was almost dead straight and it shaved the left edge and I had to settle for par. Mike had his testing four footer to win the hole and save the match. He made no mistake and an honourable draw was the result.

I have to say I was bitterly disappointed with the way my game trailed off in the middle part of the round and even though I managed to come in at a vital time on the 16th I never felt in control of my swing. It was a case of what might have been again really and to be honest it was a good thing the Jack Jarret was postponed. At least I've got some more time to tweak the game a little. My partner had a few wobbles to and so I don't think we would have threatened the prize table but at least we haven't peaked too soon. This week could be our week instead.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Competition Time - Last Call

You still have until 31st March to have a guess at what you think my 2011 stroke average will be (all full rounds played in the year excluding matchplay events) and win yourself a brand new Titleist wedge to your loft and bounce specifications

All you have to do is post your guess at the bottom of the page with your name and the exact (e.g 86.67) figure. What could be simpler? Get involved as the clock is ticking.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Stuck In 1st Gear

After the exuberance of Saturday, yesterday was the morning after the round before. I played in the Monthly Medal with Matt Davis (aka Sundance from our Saturday roll up) and Ken Martin with whom I've enjoyed many enjoyable rounds with both on the new layout and in the halcyon days inside the racecourse on "the heath."

I didn't actually start off that badly and was one under my handicap after two thanks to a great up and down from the back of the 2nd after my approach was too bold. It wasn't quite in the same league as Ken who rolled in a 25 footer across the entire length of the green for a wonderful birdie. I wasn't striking it as well as I had the day before and when we were caught in a heavy downpour playing the 3rd and had to stop and get the waterproofs on, my tempo seemed to slip away. I'm not sure it was messing around with the umbrella, trying to keep grips and hands dry or the fact I just wasn't as on song as Saturday but I was working overtime to keep the score intact.

By some fluke I was still under handicap standing on the 6th tee. I chose a 4 iron as the rain had stopped and I could swing unrestricted from the waterproof top. It didn't help and I pushed it right and wasn't sure if it was in bounds or not. My provisional definitely wasn't as I hooked that left. I was potentially playing five off the tee and that shot missed the green long and left. Fortunately the first ball was in play but in heavy rough close to the out of bounds barbed wire. I had a restricted swing and could only move it a few feet. I chipped on and two putted for an ugly double bogey. I dropped another shot at the 8th missing the green to the right and worked hard to scramble a five (nett par) at the 9th to go out in 43 or two worse than I should have been.

The swing wasn't firing. Everything was a struggle and it was more of the same on the back nine. It was a succession of missed fairways and greens and I was having to work so hard to try and recover and keep the score going. Another double bogey at the 11th really hurt courtesy of a putt that lipped out. Actually it did a full 360 degree circumnavigation, decided it didn't fancy the drop and popped back out. Bugger.

Another double followed at the 14th thanks to an errant drive left and an enforced penalty drop and although I played the 15th and 16th well enough, I missed the green right at the 17th for another dropped shot. To add the final touch of ignominy, I three putted the last in front of the clubhouse windows (and the usual suspects) for a final double bogey to finish. In the end it was a smelly 45 back and a total of 88 strokes less my 12 handicap for a nett 76 (+6) and 20th place in the division.

Ken was his usual genial self and whether it was a good or bad shot he never seemed flustered. After his fast start (he was one under gross after two) he faded a little and suffered a bit on the short putts coming back. Matt was going along very steadily and seemed destined for a good finished and a well deserved (and overdue) cut but came unstuck in bunkers at 14 and 17 to finish with a nett 69 after a round that promised much, much more.

However I don't think with the best will in the world could I have won yesterday. We all know the saying "if it's your day...." but Tommy Goode took that literally. He stood up on the first, driver in hand and unleashed a fine drive. It found the green, kept on going and dropped for a hole in one with his first shot of the day. Magnificent stuff in itself. However Mr Goode wasn't finished there. Oh no, not by a long chalk. He then proceeded to play the first 14 holes in level par (and off a 12 handicap - bandit!). He had a horror down the 5th with a double bogey undoing the good work of the ace. He bogied the 7th and bounced straight back with a birdie at the 8th and did the same thing at the start of the second nine, dropping a shot at the 12th and then getting a birdie 2 at the next.

Sadly he dropped six shots in the last four holes. Well, he is getting on and all this excitement isn't good for him at his age. However there was little danger of him ever being caught and his 76 (nett 64) capped a truly remarkable round of golf. Well played sir.

So what are thoughts about my own game? Not much truth be told. The tempo simply wasn't there and it never ever felt as smooth as it had in the roll up. Of course I accept that in a medal event where every shot counts there is added pressure, but the swing good enough and even the trusty putter was cold. Granted the heavy shower as I got into the meat of the round didn't help but it's not an excuse. There were some decent shots but nothing that really made me think "I hit that well." However on a positive note it is still a lot better than most of the 2010 medal rounds I played where my best score was a nett 75 so we can see progress.

It is the Jack Jarrett Trophy on Saturday and I'm partnering my mate from the Golf Monthly Forum and relatively new Ascot member Mike Stannard. There seems to be some confusion, certainly amongst those I spoke to in the 19th, about the format. I was under the impression it was combined stableford scores per team but others seemed to think it was a better ball format. Either way, I hope I bring my Saturday game to the table or Mike is going to be very tired carrying me all that way.

I'm off to the range tomorrow for a bit of practice and to see if I can recreate the positivity. Failing that I'll rub a ball against Tommy's driver before I tee off at the weekend and see if the magic rubs off.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

At Last - Progress

Well after months of telling you my game was coming, a good score was imminent or that I was so close to hitting it well I finally came good and posted 37 points in the Saturday roll up and that included not scoring on one hole (the 17th) and only managing to amass one point on the 1st, 4th and 13th. The other fourteen holes were the epitome of consistency. In the end it was good enough for second place in the group and I pocketed a few quid for my hard work.

I had hit the ball well last night on the range but having fallen foul of so many false dawns hadn't allowed myself to get overly excited. However it may have been the natty pink and grey outfit, the promise of some sun or planetary alignment but I oozed confidence standing on the tee. In fairness the tee shot with my 3 wood was good but I just turned it over right to left a bit too much, it took a hard bounce of the path and ended up in the rough left of the green. If the truth be known I played a rubbish pitch which came up short and so started with a measly one point.

I got that back on the next where three good shots found the green and the birdie putt from twenty five feet scared the hole. I made nett par on the next, but found a bunker right of the 4th green and despite a very good escape I failed to make the right to left putt from eight feet to save par. I hit a rare beauty down the 5th and followed up with a five wood that left me pin high. A duffed chip slowed me down and I ended up with a six (nett par). On the par 3 6th I again found sand but again escaped well and this time there was little chance of missing as the ball rolled to within six inches. I even managed to secure a birdie at the 8th and by the time I'd made a par (nett birdie) at the 9th I was out in a massive 20 points (or two ahead of my handicap).

The back nine was more adventurous and I had to make some good shots to keep the score ticking over and had a few elements of good fortune too. I made a par at the 10th, and a nett par at the par 3 11th but hooked my drive at the 12th (toughest hole on the course). It was a case of getting over excited and the swing tempo was way too quick. I was lucky to have a path through the trees and then managed to hit a good pitch into the green. However I was even more fortunate at the long par 4 14th. having hit a screamer (no really!) I had a 5 wood left from 201 yards into the wind. I hit it and it was flying right off the clubface. Now I can't be certain if I had put drawspin on it to make it come back but lets just say the odds were slim and it seemed destined to go straight right and out of bounds in the environmental area that flanks the fairway down that side. However there was a very large tree between the speeding projectile and disaster which it struck with great force and dropped straight down and with an unrestricted view of the way forward and no overhanging timber to contend with. Granted I still had 188 yards left but my hybrid didn't let me down and I got away with a nett par.

I even managed to save enough good fortune to make an audacious par at the last. Having hit a hooked drive (too quick again) my 5 wood second did go straight right this time with no tree to help. However it managed to clear the trees in the out of bounds and landed close to the path the greenstaff use to get between holes in a great lie. I had a simple pitch back onto the fairway and then popped my 56 degree sand wedge to within a matter of inches from 87 yards. I had 17 points coming home for 37 in total, which is one better than my handicap.

All in all I have to be happy with the performance. I left a few shots out there but also rode my luck. Some of the ball striking particularly in the last six holes wasn't the best but given all the gloom and despondency I've had around my game for a while it is good to beat my handicap. I just hope I didn't use all my good luck up for the medal tomorrow.

However I wasn't finished and after a quick bite to eat it was off to Sand Martins Golf Club to avail myself of their short game area to try and find a chipping action that worked. I'd picked up a tip off the Golf Monthly Forum about hinge and hold. Put simply there is more hinging of the wrist than I have at present and you hold off the club through impact (keep it pointing to the target with the face upwards). I have to say the hinge part was working well but the holding off part was difficult and alien. The good ones were terrific and there is definitely a lot more control and spin but get it wrong and it will either fly off the green as you thin it or land two feet in front of you as you hit it fat. It was definitely an hour well spent. I can't put my hand on my heart and say I've become a short game guru but it does give me a firmer foundation to base some dedicated practice on.

So what more is there to say? Not much really. I'm a very happy golfer itching to get started in the medal tomorrow. I hope it isn't a one off and that this is the start of some purple patch (if only for a couple of weeks) but I'm realistic enough to realise anything can happen with a card and pencil in my hand. That and the forecast is for rain. Oh well at least I can sleep soundly tonight and think I can play this bloody game, if only for one fleeting round.

TaylorMade Demo Day

I went to a Taylormade Demo day at Bird Hills Golf Course near Maidenhead on Thursday, lured by the opportunity to try their latest wares. As they are entering the forged iron market for the first time I was keen to try these new models as well as give their Burner 2.0 irons a thorough going over. Alas, despite all the hype when I got there all they had to offer were their new R11 and Burner Superfast driver range.

Now I've already given my views on the R11 here (White Knight or White Elephant) and came to the conclusion that as a tinkerer of my swing and kit anyway this muli-adjustable driver would be a step too far and the wrench for making changes would be glued to my hand. However as an open minded sort of guy I decided in the name of research for you all to give it a go. I hit some with my own club and the Taylormade boffin set it up 1 degree open but left the base plate neutral. It was good but felt dead off the face. Now the range balls at Bird Hills are ropey at best but there was just no ooomph. Off centre hits were definitely not as good as my own club.

There was a big demand for the R11 and so I willingly gave mine back but decided to go with the new Superfast. This isn't adjustable but has been designed with a longer, lighter shaft to promote quicker clubhead speed and therefore longer drives. Like the R11 it is a white headed design and it really does stand out behind the ball and make the alignment of the club so easy.

This is much more like my Tour Burner and I felt a lot more comfortable with it. However BE WARNED. It does make a real racket and there were several shots that left my ears ringing. Again it could be the calibre of the range balls (read pebbles) but it was deafening and very off putting. Golfers amongst you may remember Nike's early foray into the driver market and their Sumo model which left ears bleeding in driving ranges up and down the country. This is louder!

On performance this is a good honest driver. It hasn't got all the bells and whistles of its grander R11 sibling but it does fly well with a nice height. I used the 10.5 degree loft with the stock Matrix XCON 4.8 shaft. I did try the 9.5 in regular but it produced a poor ball flight and I tried the 10.5 in stiff but it wasn't suited to my swing speed or apology of a golf swing.

So what did I deduce? In truth not much. There is a lot on offer with the R11 but it could take a fair bit of tinkering to find the optimum set up and that the standard shaft may not suit everyone. It is an okay bit of kit but with a hefty price tag. My advice would be to certainly consider a custom fitting session if you want one of these adjustable type drivers and the R11 is your weapon of choice. The Superfast on the other hand is a decent enough club. I really like the white face although the extra markings on the crown of the club are a little off putting, at least initially. It does go well and if you do miss the middle it is more forgiving than the R11.

Personally, whilst I applaud the innovation of the white head, the realms of possibility with adjustable technology and the functionality of both clubs, neither really set my golfing world on fire. At least I still have the forthcoming release of the irons to look forward too and the credit card was able to breath a sigh of relief.

Monday, 7 March 2011

A Hackers Guide To Royal Ascot - Hole 3 (Thistle Carry)

Our round moves onto the first par four on the course, a 366 yard (off the whites) hole, stroke index 8. The defining feature is an environmental area some fifty yards in front of the tee box and which requires a drive of about 180 yards to reach the sanctuary of the fairway on the other side. This environmental area is a no go and any ball landing there must be left as it is home to Great Crested Newts, a protected species. Their discovery during the course construction caused a lot of worry with regular communication with DEFRA and concerns at one point that the layout of the course may have to be changed drastically.

According the the Royal Ascot website it's " A shortish par 4 that appears easy on the card, not so. Requires a cleanly hit drive over a wide hazard, the short route being down the right. A string of bunkers guard the fairway, but a large green does await"

The biggest challenge is clearing the hazard. There is a large bunker right that is a favoured spot especially as the ground around it has been designed to gather a ball running out of steam and funnel it into a sandy resting place. There are also three bunkers down the left but as that route requires the longest carry off the tee (although affording a much shorter approach to the green) it is only in the remit of the bigger hitters.

Having got the ball safely into play (or played under penalty from the drop zone if not) then there isn't too much to worry you. There is a big bunker on the right edge of the green, and another hidden from your view as you survey the shot to the left side. The green itself is quite large but has a distinct slope from left to right throughout as you approach it and it is never an easy green to guarantee two putts on

As you can imagine, most of my disasters have come courtesy of a misbehaving driver and failing to make the carry. I've just endured a string of four successive rounds where I've hit horror drives and my shiny Pro V has ended up if not "swimming with sharks" then "paddling with newts" One of the funniest things I've seen on the hole came courtesy of my old sparring partner Hywel Lloyd. Bearing in mind there is a maximum of fifty yards between the tee and the hazard, he managed to hit such a savage hook that it veered left before reaching the confines of the environmental area, ran across the front edge and came to rest neatly in the centre of the adjacent 7th fairway. He hit an iron over the hazard, chipped on and almost made a career par but had to settle for two points and nett par instead.

There have been cases of players hitting their drive and the bridge over the area coming to the rescue with the ball hitting it and bouncing straight over. Sadly I just don't seem that lucky. Even when I have made the carry I have fallen foul of the bunker front right and either re-enacted the old Hamlet cigar advert from the 1970's (if you're old enough..........) and kept chopping away at it or I've fallen victim to the severe slope especially in the front third of the green and seen potential pars disappear with three putts.

It is a beautifully crafted hole that really does offer most golfers the chance of par but can also put the skids on any good score very quickly. Fail to make the drive and a double bogey is a good outcome and scores of seven, eight or nine aren't uncommon. Give it the respect it deserves.

Made The Team

I recently entered a draw on the Golf Monthly Forum with a prize of entry into the 2011 Volvo Matchplay and a chance to represent "Team Golf Monthly". As I'd already asked Mike Stannard from Royal Ascot to partner me and enter it anyway, I put us forward in the pairs draw and I found out today we're in. That means free entry and a possible trip to the finals in Vale de Lobo in Portugal if we progress through regional and national finals.

I haven't got all the information through yet and the draw isn't due out for a good while yet. I played in it last year with Hywel Lloyd, a former Royal Ascot member. We were drawn away at Maidenhead and despite having the most embarrassing round ever on a golf course where I shanked and topped my way round each and every hole we only lost one up thanks to his brave play and even then we had a chance down the last to take it to extra time.

The first few rounds are regionalised and so its a good opportunity to play some other courses, usually for a very discounted green fee. I'm sure the magazine will be focusing on our progress and hopefully we'll do them proud. It's a very generous prize from Volvo who have given the magazine six places in the individual event and six in the pairs. There is already a lot of banter flying around about the lucky winners. I have to be honest and say I've a good partner as Mike is usually fairly steady and matchplay suits me as I tend to have the odd bad hole but not only can I trust my man implicitly to get me out of jail but one bad hole isn't the end of the round in terms of a score.

Hywel and I gelled as a great matchplay team. His length was a great advantage and if he had his putting boots on as well he was hard to stop off his 18 handicap and so I could play with a lot of freedom and attack and when my game was on as well we were a tough act to beat. Indeed we had a number of matches against other Golf Monthly Forum members and remained unbeaten. Mike is a fellow Fulham fan so we know a bit about being the underdog and I plan to use that to our advantage. If all else fails I have a couple of pairs of real "Bobby Dazzler" shoes that I can put together with an outfit to make Ian Poulter blush and go for guerrilla tactics.

Rest assured I'll let you know where and when the first round is and that I'll be putting plenty of practice in beforehand. I'll hone that short game and warm the putter up and hopefully go a long way for Team GM.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Better But Worse

I played in the big roll up at the club this morning. This is normally a competitive arena with fierce golf and fiercer banter and where a lot of the better players in then club play. Our group started off the tenth as the first was pretty solid and to be honest I have never liked starting the course that way around even though it was originally intended to run that way when the course was built.

I didn't hit an inspiring opener which was a smothered low hooky thing that didn't go very far although I did hit a good recovery just short of the green and made a net par to start. I have to be honest and say I played quite steady despite my reticence for starting on the back nine and was level with my handicap standing on the 15th thanks in particular to a good up and down from the back of the 13th after a thinned tee shot with way too much club in my hand anyway.

I hooked my drive at the 15th and as we were the only ones on the course (back nine anyway) opted to play back down the 14th fairway and leave an approach in rather than risk carrying all the thick rough and the ditch that runs across the fairway from a thick muddy lie. I hit the shot well and had a angle for my approach with a 7 iron in hand but pulled it left of the green and on the bank by the left hand bunker. I only had to get the chip running to find the slope on the green and take it to the hole and of course I committed the cardinal sin of not hitting it and leaving myself a downhill 12 footer which I missed and so dropped a shot.

Much like yesterday I started a run of single point holes on 16 and 17 and hit a ropey drive on the 18th which sailed perilously close to the right hand out of bounds. I hit a decent recovery and had 186 yards slightly downwind. I am usually a conservative player and would have pulled a short iron out to lay up short of the water but somehow found myself looking over the shot with my hybrid in hand. No idea why. I hit it great from a good lie in the rough but it started to fade right on the breeze and headed towards the pond. I didn't see a splash and when I got there is had made it and was about ten feet short of the green on the bank. I hit a good chip to within three foot for a fighting par and finished with 16 points which was a big improvement on the paltry 13 in yesterdays stableford.

When we got round to the first there was a queue and so the pace of the round slowed but I made a good four (nett par) to keep the score ticking over. For the second day running the 2nd hole didn't play ball and I was lucky to walk away with a single point. Playing the 4th I had a 7 iron in hand and the flag was at the back and it was into the wind and from 137 yards was confident of finding the dancefloor and making par. I hit it sweetly but turned it over. It was a bit of a squeaky bum moment as there is a big bank on the left of the green and it isn't unknown for balls to hit that and go out of bounds. Fortunately it landed softly and the ground is still wet enough that it didn't make it but a similar shot in May or June may have resulted in a reload. I chipped on to about twelve feet and the proceeded to three but for the first blow out of the round.

For someone who has berated his chipping, it was pretty good as far as my lowly standards go and I made a good up and down at the 5th for par and hit a very good lofted approach from short of the 7th and converted a tricky six footer for a par save. I dropped a shot follwing a missed green at the 8th and closed the round with a solid enough nett par at the 9th for 15 points coming home and a total of 31 which surprisingly was good enough to be the best in the fourball and five points better than the stableford twenty four hours before.

However as the title indicates it wasn't all good news. There were considerably less well struck shots today and a prominent hook developing and that is the enigma. I hit it better yesterday and come almost last in my division and hit it far worse today and outscore the group. I guess I want my cake and eat it and want the quality of yesterdays ball striking with the scoring of today and as we all know isn't how this game works. Do I take comfort in the fact that I was able to get it round or do I feel disappointed in the manner I did it? I can't say I'm happy and one green in regulation all round probably tells a story in its own right although I clearly course managed my way round reasonably especially as it was playing long in the damp and windy conditions.

Call me weird but do you know what I actually got more of a buzz from the round yesterday. I felt I was hitting it better and just couldn't make anything happen through my chipping and putting. I need to sort the hook out that has crept into my game. I suspect I'm getting the club trapped as I swing down as that is a long standing issue that often rears its ugly head and usually a sign I'm swinging too flat. I'm sure a couple of range sessions will put that right.

It's back to the grind of a working week tomorrow and I can't say I'm looking forward to it. I'd rather be out working on my game and playing but we can't have everything. It's been another ultimately frustrating weekend in terms of end products but I've had an absolute blast with all the guys I've played with and especially in the 19th afterwards. No matter how good or bad a round is, the sanctuary of the clubhouse and the cameraderie of fellow golfers always makes the pain and heartbreak that bit easier to bear.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Not The Least Bit Bothered

Played in the monthly stableford today. I was in the first group out on a pretty chilly overcast morning, playing alongside a real Royal Ascot stalwart Ray Grubb and a guy with whom it's always a pleasure to play with Gary Wells. Ray had done the calling at the Bingo Night at the club last night and had slightly over lubricated his voice (had a few!) but it didn't seem to affect his game. Gary on the other hand was struggling especially on the front nine where he amassed a total of 6 points. To his enduring credit though the worse it got the more he laughed. Even more to his credit, his rallied on the back nine and played very close to his handicap for those holes and began hitting it well. What a stupid game.

Ray was Mr Consistent and the hangover didn't affect him. He was doing really well and definitely in contention until an unforced error at the 16th and a missed green at the 17th put the skids on. He even managed to stick a ball in the hazard in front of the tee box on 18 and was forced to play three off the tee but walked off with a bogey 6 (nett par) after a tenacious birdie with the second ball and finished with a creditable 34 points which will be close but no cigar.

And so, what about me? Well the tally of 26 points (13 for both nines) really doesn't tell the story. The quality of the ball striking in general was very good although I did seem to be fighting a bit of a hook on the front nine. I got off to a solid start at the 1st but a duffed tee shot at the next really was the catalyst for the inevitable nul points on the hole. From then on, I seemed to manage to put myself in trouble from nowhere. I missed the green with a short iron at the 4th and at the next recovered well from a poor drive to leave me an 8 iron from 127 yards. I pulled another one left and it managed to find a resting place by the back of the bunker on a bare downhill lie with no green to work with. With my ailing short game, the duff into sand was inevitable.

Similarly on the 7th I struck the tee shot really well but turned it over too much right to left and it found the out of bounds by about a yard. I did rally though and closed the front nine with two pars. The 9th in particular was playing very long and it took a well struck driver and everything I had with a 5 wood to find the target and two putted from ten yards.

The back nine was really a case of more of the same. A decent start at the 10th after a poor drive and good recover was negated at the next. My tee shot went left (just for a change) into sand and landed in a small depression in the sand making the shot much trickier. It rattled off the front edge and the chip back was weak. Two putts later and I was marking down a five from nowhere again. And so it goes on. I hit a good drive at 12 and the hybrid second shot was hit perfectly. Unfortunately I had started it too straight from where I was standing and it hit a tree limb and dropped straight down. I recovered onto the green and three putted for a point. Having got single points on 11 and 12 I followed it up at the next three holes with single point scores. DOH! The thing was the quality of the shot was great but the unforced errors on and around the green meant that with all the will in the world I wasn't going to put a score together.

The 16th was playing into the wind. I hit a good drive and had 217 left into the green. With nothing to play for and a 0.1 handicap rise safely banked I pulled out my three wood to take the shot on. I flushed it perfectly and it cleared the bunker some thirty yards short and made the putting surface finishing no more than twenty feet away. The three putt was almost written in the stars. Even at the 17th things didn't change. I missed the green just to the right and found another downhill lie on the edge of the bunker. Fortunately there was a hint of grass under the ball and got it to within four feet but missed the putt.

Just to rub salt into an already gaping wound, I hit a glorious 7 iron approach into the last to finish within five feet of the hole and set up a birdie putt and a chance to claim some kind of fleeting glory. The fact that it didn't even sniff the edge of the hole probably tells you everything you need to know.

That's another 0.1 back onto the handicap and 13 is looming large. Do you know what? I don't care. I know I'm hitting it well. I grant you that every now and then the direction is off but on the whole they are going where I'm aiming. It isn't as if I'm hitting big banana slices or snap hooks and loosing balls left right and centre. I just can't put a score together. It's that simple and why I'm not the least bit bothered.

I have to say Ray and Gary made it a wonderful mornings golf and we whizzed round in about three and a quarter hours. The course played long but is recovering from the recent wet spell and the greens putt well but are struggling with some moss in them. I'm going to knock it round in the early morning roll up tomorrow and hope that that'll be the round where it all comes together. It's so tantalisingly close and that's the great thing about golf, there is always tomorrow.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

My Brain Is Sore (And My Eyes)

I'm a diabetic and as a result have to undergo an annual eye check up. It basically involves drops being inserted into each eye to enlarge the pupil and an X-ray of the back of the eye. The problem is the effects of the drops can last three to four hours and make focusing difficult hence the reason I took the day off. I went back to bed initially but by lunchtime the sun was out and I was itching for a game.

I knew the sight hadn't fully recovered but boy did it look weird in the glare of the sunlight looking down at a bright white sphere against a green backdrop. I was going to use it as an excuse but I wanted to play some holes to try and get myself to trust the work I've done at the range and believe that the swing works and is sufficient.

Against all odds my tee shot at the first was great (the whites were moved way forward onto the daily tee box) and the 4 iron finished just shy. I duffed the chip (which would become a recurring theme) but made a nett par. I was just short of the second (par 5) in three and duffed a chip there as well. As many of you will know the third has become a nemesis hole with the last four drives landing in the environmental area. I don't know for sure if the dodgy mince pies were making me swing in a better rhythm or I was just playing well bit today I hit a great drive. Granted the approach was ordinary and short and the chip only functional but another nett par was in the bag. I hit a woeful drive on the 4th to the right and pulled my approach. The chip barely made the green and so it was an opportune moment for the putter to start working and the fifteen foot putt saved par.

The ball striking on the front nine on the whole was good. I played on my own and so didn't know if I was more relaxed but everything did seem to slot into place. Had I had a short game of any description I'd probably have come close to my handicap. However a dropped point at the 6th after failing to convert a tasty bunker shot from the right hand trap was followed by another at the 8th where I missed the green left. I hit a horror drive at the 9th smothering it low and left and having laid up short of the ditch compounded the problem by missing the green right into sand. A woeful six meant I was out in 15 points.

At this point I met Bash and Colin from our Saturday swindle and they joined me on the back nine. Let's just say none of us set the golfing world alight. I started off steadily down 10 but then had a real bad run of single point holes from the 11th through to the 15th. I did make a good five at the 16th with a good drive and second shot to the edge of the green but again the short game didn't give me a chance to make a putt. I hit the green on the 17th but like the 1st it had been moved to daily tee box and so knocked forty yards of the shot. I hit two reasonable shots down the 18th and missed the green left with my approach. I chipped on again and made a six (nett par to finish).

So what did we learn. Well firstly playing with eyes that can't focus or react to bright light isn't an intelligent idea and it hurts and makes looking for your shot as you hit it very difficult. Secondly I am very close to wrapping a wedge around something hard very soon in frustration at my chipping inadequacies and lack of technique. The more I think the poorer it gets. If I don't think I don't focus and so don't perform. Its a circle of misery and I need to break the chain very, very soon.

On the plus side there were still signs of improvement and when I didn't think too much the swing does flow. What I'm getting at is that it's all in my head. How we get it out or quieten the nagging voices of doubt (as appropriate) is the big question. If I can get the mental side right akin to a short game lesson and we are going to be a contender soon. The irons are good and the putter is warming up nicely. At the end of the day though it was nice to get out. The course has dried magnificently since the deluge over the weekend and was in decent condition.

It wasn't to be in the end and a front nine that promised something ultimately gave me nothing but more issues surrounding the short game and my inability to think clearly and to execute. It is a conundrum and I know (as well as everyone telling me) that I probably think way too much about it. It is stopping this thought process that's the issue. However what can you do. I can't tell my playing partners it's the voices in my head or the men in white coats will be waiting by the 18th green.

Off for a lie down and to cogitate on the problem further.