Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Where in the World?

One of the great things you get when you do these blogs is the ability to track how many people look at your work and where abouts in the world they come from. It seems to biggest source of  traffic is from my home club which is refreshing and however you come to my humble efforts charting the incompetence of an enthusiastic "Chopper" and golf in general you are very welcome.

However looking at the stats for this week alone, I've attracted interest from around the world. Not withstanding big golfing hotspots like the UK, Ireland and the US, there have been hits from Iran, Slovenia, Italy etc. I seem to be "big" in Poland and down under in Australia too. G'day. Wherever you are from, it'll be great if you could leave some feedback on the posts I make. Maybe you empathise with the way I lurch from one golfing disaster to another. Maybe you disagree with the way I approach the game. Maybe you could even help this "almost" lost cause. Either way, I'd love to get some comments and dialogue going and who knows maybe some more followers. I've added a Twitter link too so if there is something on here you want to share with your golfing Tweeps just click and post. It's so simple to use and so there is really no excuse now not to get involved. Wherever in the world you are, it's good to see you here. Don't be shy and say hello.

Field Of Dreams

There are some people out there that really cheese me off. You know the type. They play any number of different sports and are extremely proficient if not downright good at them all. I've dabbled with a few in my time. I was a reasonable goalkeeper in my youth,  and a game if not particularly skilled full back later in my career. I kept wicket well enough to maintain a regular second XI berth but usually batted at number 12 (club average around 4). As a kid I was a solid team member for my local athletics club and would do a job in cross country and 800 and 1500 meters and get some valuable points in team matches. I've was even a half decent pub league darts player with a few 180's and a 155 finish to my name. The point is whilst I was "reasonable" I was never really good at any of these. The main reason was I was too lazy or distracted to practice or train properly or efficiently.

To a certain degree it has always the same with golf. Granted I had much more natural aptitude for it and got down quite quickly as a junior until I got to those halcyon days (almost thirty years ago) of being a low single figure player and an assistant pro. However even then, the only way I could maintain that level was to practice and play daily. Once I realised I couldn't make a living from the game and found women and beer I stopped practicing. My golf became worse and I lost even more interest and so a cycle emerged. I'd not practice, play badly and lose interest. Repeat until a point where I gave up altogether.

The point of this "This is your life" reminisce is simple. Whilst I have no pretension of getting down to low single figures I'd love to get down to a 9 or 10 handicap again. The only way I can do that is to work on my game A LOT, and work on the right things. I have regular lessons which are helping keep the bad faults in check and my short game is in post-op recovery at the moment but has come off the life support. It is getting better.

One of the best things about my club is the members. There is a big group of regulars and their humour is savage. I've acquired the moniker of "The Pro" for the amount of time I spend on the practice ground as opposed to playing. It's been said that I am always out there. There has been much comment on whether I spend too much time tinkering and looking for something I'll never find. How much is too much practice?

Some of the wags, ok, some of the smart-arses have even started to dub the practice ground "The Martin Bedborough Practice Field" and are joshing that I should charge other members to use my private facility. Maybe they have a point. I could make a tidy profit. The point is, the clubs practice facility is important to me especially in the summer. It is my "Field of Dreams" and although I don't see images of dead golfers talking to me, it does inspire me to find my best game. To that degree it is working. I am getting close to producing some quality golf for 18 holes and not just one nine or a run of holes.

A lot of those given me a ribbing are those annoying people I mentioned at the start. They play golf well (many are low teen or single figures) and although they play regularly, and some a lot, they never seem to suffer big dips in form or need to work at their games. Sadly I was and never will be with work and family life to deal with as well, one of those. Golf has never come easy. I do believe you get out what you put in and so thankfully I should be getting the just rewards soon. It has been a solid winter's work and the ball strike is so much better now. Get a short game and stop making errors and this time next year Rodders I could be a contender. Mange Tout. 

In the meantime, if you feel the need to practice and "The Pro" is in residence don't forget your fee to use my facility. I'll see you on the "Field of Dreams" soon.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Things Are Getting Right Up My Nose

I'm enjoying the nice long weekend to and the decent weather to boot. What more can a golfer ask for? I actually managed to slip out of work on Thursday afternoon (thank you flexi time) and hooked up with Anthony "Kerching" Ayres from our Saturday swindle for a game. I didn't play great but used the round for some good on course practice. Anthony however had a sterling game and shot a personal best 89.

This weekend is the Haig Cup at Royal Ascot. It is a two round event but you can pick which two days of the four days (Good Friday to Bank Holiday Monday) you want to play on. It is a bogey competition. Apart from that word being a source of classroom merriment as a child, a bogey event is basically a matchplay game against the course. If you get a nett birdie, for example making a par on a hole you get a shot on, you win the hole. A nett par (after any shots received) is classed as a half and anything more than that the course is deemed to have won that hole.

I played my first round yesterday morning. Getting to the first tee about 7.45 it was swamped with golfers looking to get out in the coolest part of the day and get their first card in. I was playing with my great golfing pals, Mike Stannard (12 handicap) Colin Osborn (also off 12) and Matt Davis or "Sundance" as we know him who has been cut after a stellar April (and now off 20).

I have to say there is a certain pattern emerging in competitions and it is getting right up my nose. I am hitting the ball pretty well and the early stages yesterday were no exception. No drama down the 1st and a fairway piercing drive down the 2nd. I then pulled my second shot into the fairway bunker left. A hanging lie saw me find the greenside bunker right and I walk off with a six, admittedly a halved hole, having wasted a shot. I compounded that on the next. I hit a great drive to only leave 99 yards in. I'm standing there with just a wedge in my hand and manage to hoick it left of the green and into the bunker. I then try and get too smart with the recovery and leave the first escape in there. I walk off with a 6 and a loss from nowhere. The pattern continued when I three putted the 4th for another defeat. The course is 2 up on me and sniggering itself silly.

I then managed to get one back with a good par at the 5th and stole a rare par at the par 3 6th which regular readers know is a real nemesis hole. I hit a good 4 iron into the heart of the green and two putted. Standing on the 9th I'm back to just one down. I hit a good drive a little right which missed the large fairway bunker but left me with just a 6 iron in from a slightly downhill lie. Now admittedly I didn't put a great swing on the shot and it was pushed right but I didn't deserve what happened next. It landed on the trolley path and shot 45 degrees straight right and flew across the putting green and was well and truly out of bounds. Another hole lost but one errant shot harshly punished. I'm beginning to think if it wasn't for the bad luck I seem to be getting lately in competitions I'd have no luck at all.

Mr Angry was beginning to rise again and was simmering on a low heat by the time I reached the 12th tee. I'd found both the 10th and 11th green in regulation and then managed to three putt both times to snatch a half from the jaws of a win. However I did redeem myself with a rare par 4 at the 12th with a good chip and a single putt. The good mood wasn't to last and a defeat at the next and a lost ball courtesy of a wild slice off the 14th meant I was suddenly three down. I managed to steady the ship but finished the round three down to the course. Coming back in,  we found playing with me must have paid off in some fashion as "Kerching" had played a career round. He'd played the first nine holes in one over gross and finished the whole round in 80 off a 24 handicap and was sitting there at +9.

To be fair to him, he's one of these guys that has wanted to get cut for a while but never managed to do it when it mattered in a club competition. It never stopped him taking the money on a Saturday morning although to give him his dues he always got the chips in with his winnings. However such a performance will give his handicap a serious nose bleed after it has been calculated and whether he goes on and wins the overall prize or not it was still a super round.

And so what did the new dawn bring today. Well apart from the weather being even hotter than yesterday not much from me really. I played my second round of the Haig Cup with the same group as yesterday. To be honest I wasn't really that focused and knew I couldn't win and that the best I was playing for was a decent score today and a bit of pride.

The mood wasn't improved by a loss at the first when my tee shot went right and I could only hack short of the green in two. It takes a rare kind of idiot to repeat such basic errors as missing the 3rd green from 100 yards but I did so today. Granted it went into the right hand bunker this time but a miss is a miss. I wasn't helped that there was hardly any sand in the bunker and my club skidded on the hard base of the trap and the ball shot over the green. I made two solid pars at the 4th and 5th and despite putting my tee shot at the 6th into a bunker felt cautiously optimistic I could get it out and give myself a putt for a half. It came out well. Too well and over the green. By the time I'd duffed the chip coming back I'd lost another hole. I lost another at the 8th. I hit the ball flush with a seven iron to a 143 yard flag which is a 7 iron all day long for me. Not today though and it waved at the green as it flew over it. Bugger.

With absolutely nothing riding on the back nine and not even battered pride at stake I found it hard to get any competitive juices running. I did make a lovely par at the 10th finally hitting an approach shot straight to within 8 feet but failing to convert the putt. I got a half at the next and then yet again I got punished for only a slight error in judgement. I tried to take a fraction too much off the dog-leg from the tee and it came down perilously close to the tree line guarding the right edge of the fairway. Of course when I got there it had landed right at the base of a tree with hardly any room to make a swing. I moved it about five yards forward and then put my next in the bunker. I hit a good recovery to 6 feet and finally, finally made a putt for a battling five, nett four and a half. I lost the next three holes through a mixture of even more bad fortune, two poor swings and a general dis-interest in proceedings by this stage.

My misery was compounded when I hooked a tee shot out of bounds on the 17th tee with a hook and then proceeded to put two out of bounds off the 18th tee with a slice. In the end I finished a miserable 6 down on the day and 9 down overall. I won't know where that puts me until Tuesday at the earliest but it I'll be looking a long way down the results sheet to find my name. Mike Stannard had a great round today and managed a personal best in competition play at Royal Ascot of 79 with a great birdie four at the last. The downside to that is that he's likely to get a handicap cut and so be off a lower handicap when he partners me for the Jubilee Cup next weekend which I am currently holder of (although not with Mike as my partner)

So what can I take away from my two rounds apart from a glowing red face and arms. Well on the face of it very little. However I have to believe that sooner rather than later, I am going to get some reward for the ball striking I'm producing and get away with some loose shots so that I can finally string a score together. Don't get me wrong, if I'm slicing, topping it, hitting fat or generally playing rubbish golf I'd hold my hand up and admit I'm not  playing well enough. The annoying thing is I'm driving it much better of late, my new short game is finally emerging from the darkness and I am making good contact with 90% of my shots. It is schoolboy errors and a lack of focus and concentration that is holding me back. I need to get the putter warmed up (and decide which one I want to keep in the bag) and work on the chipping and putting.

I think I might need to give this book another read. I need to try and alter the mindset away from worrying too much about how well (or not) I'm playing in a competition and try and relax more. The problem is I seem to make the same basic errors in social rounds as well and so it isn't a case of trying too hard or putting too much pressure on myself. I do feel lady luck hasn't shone down on me either but I firmly believe you make your own luck sometimes. Get rid of the mistakes and maybe the putts will start to fall instead. We can but hope.

However it isn't all doom and gloom. There are two more days before work beckons again and another round is booked for Monday. Therefore in summary and in honour of the bogey competition this weekend and my schoolboy humour, it's snot as bad as it could be!

Monday, 18 April 2011

A Hackers Guide to Royal Ascot - Hole 5 (Brewers Pond)

The round is well under way and hopefully we've managed to come through the tricky opening holes relatively unscathed. I always feel, particularly in a competition, that if I can walk off the fourth green level with my handicap I've had a good start and have a firm foundation to kick on with. I don't mind being one behind my target as the fifth hole at Royal Ascot is a par 5 and potentially gives the player a good opportunity for par or better.

This hole is one of my favourites as it set on its own and you can't see any other hole on the course until you reach the green. You have to walk from the 4th green down a narrow path with a pond to your left. At this time of year it is teeming with wildlife and usually has lots of birds and their fledglings happily swimming. It is pretty short as far as par 5's go and is a slight double dog leg, meandering right to left off the tee and then left to right as you approach the green. There is always a tranquil air to it with horses in the fields behind the tee box and the sound of the geese and ducks coming from the pond.

The course guide on the website describes the hole as:
"A double dogleg par 5 to a heavily contoured tripled tiered green. Drive towards the fairway bunker you can see from the tee. If you fancy taking the green on in two take plenty of club, trees and deep rough extend on your line to within 10 yards of the green. If laying up, play towards the left hand fairway cross bunker, this will open the green up for the third. Don’t putt it off the green."

In all honesty, even in high Summer the fairway bunker on the right of the fairway is pretty redundant even for the big hitters and usually only poses a problem if you've leaked the drive right into the thick rough that lies in wait. Don't be put off by the out of bounds to the right as it takes a pretty wild slice to actually reach it, but if you do, be careful as the fence marking the perimeter is electrified to keep the horses in the neighbouring field in their rightful place. Probably best to consign the ball the the golfing gods than trying to reach it even if it can be seen.

There is also an out of bounds fence down the tree lined left side which is far more in play especially for those prone to a hook. There are some small trees and thickish grass to try and stop the ball flying off the extremity of the course but it doesn't take much to overdo it and have to reload.

From the tee, the ideal line is on the fairway bunker ideally with a hint of draw. The fairway cambers from right to left and so anything landing with a bit of run will kick on. This means that for some, they are suddenly presented with a quandary. A good drive will only leave between 230-250 to the green and it is definitely reachable. However to find the sanctuary of the green requires a shot over the edge of thick rough to the right side of the hole and flirting with two deepish bunkers guarding the right of the green. Anyone going for it but aiming on a conservative line will need to carry a bunker short and in the middle of the fairway, negotiate a severe downslope towards the apron and another deep bunker guarding the left side of the putting surface and the surrounding thick rough.

For most it is a three shot hole and offers the best chance of making a safe par and maybe even a birdie. From a good drive, the second shot should be aimed towards the bunker on the left side of the fairway to give yourself a shot down the full length of the long three tiered green. Care needs to be taken to avoid both bunkers set about 100 yards short though as the fairway is one of the driest on the course and the ball will run throughout the year.

Having put your second shot into the ideal spot, the approach is all about the pin placement. The green is 38 yards long and has three distinct tiers and so it is vital to try and find the correct level. It can be one or two club difference between front and back depending on the wind. Again care needs to be taken to avoid the bunkers as they are pretty deep by Royal Ascot standards and the contours of the green will make it hard to stop the ball close. The second bunker to the right of the green in particular is quite nasty and actually hidden from view as you play your shot.

Assuming you've found the green safely, the examination isn't over. If you've not put the ball on the correct level you will be faced with a very testing putt. Without question the toughest putt of all is to leave the ball at the front when the flag is on the back level. Not only are you faced with two tiers to get up and a long distance putt, but the green then falls away on the final tier and so it makes stopping the ball close to any back flag position even harder. Two putts here are always taken with gratitude and it's a sharp exit stage left towards the next tee.

It seems such an easy hole and in truth it usually is, particularly when you look at the stroke average in competitions. However as I hope you are beginning to appreciate all that seems easy at Royal Ascot ain't always so. I've had some good scores on here. Playing in the Winter League a few years ago, I was giving one of the opposition a shot at this hole. I'd hit a good drive and my second had cleared the bunkers in the fairway, rolled down the slope behind and finished about forty yards short of a flag placed no more than five yards onto the green. I decided to play it as a pitch and run and took an 8 iron to check it on the brow of the hill and run onto the green and hopefully adjacent to the cup. On this occasion, planetary alignment and the birth of a new star somewhere in the solar system meant the shot worked to perfection and I holed it for an eagle.

I was somewhat confident as one would be that we'd be taking this hole. My opponent was in the thick rough to the right of the green about thirty yards away. I like to think he took inspiration from my effort as his chip flew dead straight bounced, checked and stopped about six inches away for a birdie. Hole halved in (nett) three.

On the downside, most of my disasters have actually come from close in. I've lost a few out of bounds left and right but it is one of the most generous driving holes on the course and so I don't often have too much of an issue. My problems usually come from finding the two right hand bunkers. Both are deep and with the green being long and narrow there really isn't much green to work with wherever the flag is. As a result I am usually way too cute in the execution of the bunker escape and leave it in the sand or else get a bit twitchy and catch it too clean and over the other side. I've racked up some big numbers from being no more than twenty yards from the flag this way.

It is definitely a hole I mentally tick off as being able to get one shot back against the scorecard but like so many others it does have a potential sting in the tail. Get it on the green, take two putts (not a given) and get out of there quick.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Mr Angry

It's not been a great weekend golfing wise and the spectre of the return to work looms large and menacing on the horizon. I'm not sure why but my head hasn't really been right for golf this weekend and my heart's not been in it at all. It started off badly in the Saturday roll up and a lot of silly errors in the early holes had me fuming. Of course as we know the angrier we get on the course the worse the golf gets and it becomes a circle of destruction.

For most of the front nine and the drive down the 10th that was certainly the case. I wasn't enjoying it, didn't really want to be there and couldn't get anything to click. However I managed to hit a beautiful 4 iron into the 11th green and made par and I did begin to strike the ball better for the remaining holes. However I have to say it was still a real struggle to focus on my swing although I did enjoy the last where I hit three perfectly executed shots to set up a closing par.

In the end it wouldn't have mattered if I had been the most focused and committed player on the course. Anthony "Kerching" Ayres cleaned up with a huge 43 points. To be fair he did set a personal best and so clearly played well and took the form into the monthly medal today where he came second in his division and set himself up for a long overdue handicap cut. However to have matched that I'd have needed to score something like a 77 (+7) and that wasn't never on the cards.

Ironically I woke up in a much calmer place today for the monthly medal. I struck the ball well in my warm up and wanted to go out in a very positive frame of mind and see if that blinkered "today is my day" approach would drive me on. It was a sound theory that lasted two holes. I missed a tiddler of a putt through carelessness on the first and took a snowman (8) to record a lovely triple bogey on the second. My drive had just stayed in bounds down the right and I thought an 8 iron would clear the out of bounds fence in front of me and get the ball over the corner of the dogleg and into play. Sadly it ricocheted off a fence post back over my head and well out of bounds and never seen again. Mr Angry was back.

In my defence I then wheeled off three straight pars to rectify a lot of the damage. However there was a long wait on the par three 6th which is a nemesis hole at the best of times. All this loitering gave me way too much time to think and I hooked my tee shot. On the plus side it hit a tree which stopped it flying out of bounds. On the down side it bounced back into the stream that wanders across the hole some 100 yards off the tee. I had to take a penalty drop. I hit my next onto the green and naturally three putted to rack up another triple bogey.

I spoke at length last week about a miracle par at the 7th hole from way left off the tee down the 3rd fairway. I got another par there today of equal magnitude. I hit my hybrid off the tee (which was the club that had got me into trouble off the 6th) and managed to get it straight with a hint of draw. Of course this brought the large oak that guards the left side of the fairway into play and prevented me going directly to the green. Being a fearless chap, that is to say, totally cheesed off with his round and couldn't care less what happened, I decided to hit the hybrid again and aim to hit a large running hook around the tree.

A hook goes right to left. This didn't and went left to right and sailed over the back of the adjacent tee box on the 8th. Faced with a difficult shot over a bunker to a tight pin which looked really smell I opted to aim left and the front edge of the green. In the end the ball finished about five yards off the putting surface and about fifteen feet from the flag. I hit it the putt great and it never looked anywhere other than in the hole. I parred the 8th and 9th too and so went out in 43 shots which was only a couple over my handicap with two triple and one double bogeys in there.

Another par followed thanks to a great 9 iron to eight feet and although I three putted the next I really thought I could still get close to a nett level par round. How wrong can you be. A pushed approach and duffed chip at the 12th cost me yet another double bogey. A wild slice off the 14th tee and three more putts clocked up another but my misery was compounded on the next. I hit a reasonable drive slightly left. My second was a push right into the rough but everyone in the group had a good line of sight of where it had gone. When we got to the vicinity the ball refused to be found. Faced with the prospect of walking some 150 yards back to where I'd played from and the course stacking up behind anyway, I decided that I wasn't in the hunt to protect my handicap and reluctantly opted to card a No Return (not post a score). I don't like doing it as it isn't the done thing but with the pace of play so slow and Mr Angry threatening to self combust it seemed the sensible conclusion. Inevitably I immediately lost all interest in the game after that and limped home with a final double bogey on the last to complete a sorry tale.

Although this would seem a tale of woe and self pity, but there were actually some really positive points to take away from the weekend. I managed to string a good run of pars together on both days and my driving yesterday in particular was very solid. At times the iron play was also very good which hasn't always been the case lately. I do know that Mr Angry and golf don't mix. As the weather is set fair for a few days I might try and get a few holes in after work and see if a bit of evening golf lowers the blood pressure and does wonders for my swing. Meanwhile, I'm off to meditate and listen to whale song....... deep breath and relax!

Thursday, 14 April 2011

McIlroy's Meltdown - Hope For Us All

Now the dust has settled on the Masters, it's time to sit down and have a rational look at what happened. From my settee and as a golf fan, particularly a European Tour fan what happened to overnight leader Rory McIlroy was true "car crash" telly. It was horrible to watch it being played out shot by shot and yet was compulsive viewing.

What effect will such a huge implosion have on this young mercurial talent? One hopes that the psychological scars won't run too deep. He's known already in his short career for his cavalier, shoot the lights out approach, and I hope he continues to do so. However I think the only true way of knowing will be if he ever gets into contention again in a Major, either leading or just off the pace going into the final round. I think he'll be fine on the regular tour, both in the US and in Europe but the microscopic attention his game will be under at the next one at Congressional GC for the US Open and even more so at the Open at Royal St George's in July may be too much of a burden for his young shoulders to carry.

We've seen before the likes of Garcia come agonisingly close to winning one of the games top prizes only to falter at the final hurdle. Arguably he's never recovered from losing the 2007 British Open in a playoff and has never really competed on the final day since in any of the Majors.

It was a pulsating final round at Augusta and for a long time almost impossible to call the winner. With McIlroy's demise I desperately wanted Luke Donald to come through and win but his double bogey at the 12th ultimately cost him. I loved the audacity of his chip in after his approach to the last hit the flag and rolled off the green but it wasn't to be. Tiger Woods, still a golfing genius or pantomime villain depending on your allegiance reminded the viewing public of how good he can be under the white hot pressure cooker of the final nine of Masters Sunday. Again it wasn't to be and his chances were ruined on the greens, so long his bastion, and his inability to make putts over the last few holes.

The Aussie Geoff Ogilvy made a huge charge at the start of the back nine to come into contention, but ultimately you have to salute the eventual winner Charl Schwartzel. It takes a rare talent to birdie the last four holes of any event let alone to seal your first Major win. He played fantastic golf all day and was always within touching distance. He's another golfer arguably not yet at his prime who may find that after winning one, another follows soon after.

However we've got to go back to McIlroy. As a mere hacker, I can take some comfort, however macabre, that even the best can have a meltdown. We've all been there in club competitions, particularly the monthly medal, where we've been ticking along nicely. Suddenly from nowhere we have a "McIlroy moment" and card a horror score. Like the young scamp, the round falls apart and each hole becomes an exercise in futility, pain and angst. Just for once it was good to see, albeit one of the good guys, suffer in the same way I do most weekends.

What can we learn though? Well, in the most part the thing that separates the top professionals is what the Yanks call "bouncebackability" and the way they can forget a bad hole and focus on the next shot. It's definitely the one thing a club golfer fails to do above anything else. Easy to say, so hard to do. I guess the other great thing to bear in mind is take your punishment. Having chipped back onto the 10th fairway, had McIlroy laid up to a favourite wedge distance with his skill he might have limited the damage to a single shot, two at most. It was one time his cavalier approach cost him dear and I hope he learns from it.

And there you have it. The first Major of the year living up to its usual hype and providing a thrilling evening in front of the box. I can't guarantee the monthly medal at Royal Ascot will be as eventful on Sunday but I'm sure there will be McIlroy-esque tales of despair and Schwartzel like stories of brilliance. Who knows which camp I'll be in?

Monday, 11 April 2011

Unlucky For Some?

Sunday dawned bright and sunny. Determined not to get caught out again I ensured there was a liberal coating of sun screen applied before venturing out for the monthly stableford. The neck, head and arms were still pretty red and sore and I didn't want them to get any worse. For the fashionista amongst the blog followers, Sunday saw me in a lime green Adidas shirt with zip front, black trousers with lime green pin stripe and trim, black shoes and lime green and white glove.

If Saturday had been a tale of two halves then the monthly stableford kept the storyline going. However as regular reader will know, I usually start well and fade into the pack, a bit like my bets in the Grand National and Masters. I had a great draw playing alongside Stevie Houghton (off 7) and Ed Murphy (he's heard them all before, playing off 17) and was in a positive frame of mind. Even when my tee shot found trouble at the first and I was forced out sideways and dropped a shot immediately to my handicap I wasn't concerned. I'd made 5 in the roll up the previous day and come back so I knew it was in there.

What I thought was there and what I produced on the sun drenched course however were two different things. A three putt at the 2nd stopped me getting the lost shot back immediately. From the centre of the 3rd and only 118 yards in I hit it fat and short. I went over the back of the green at the 4th and lost a ball at the 6th which was a polarisation of how I'd played it the day before. I even replicated the tee shot on the 7th and went way left but sadly there wasn't to be a Houdini like recovery and I had to make do with a bogey (nett par). I failed to score on the 8th after I thinned my bunker shot over the green but did manage to get two points down the 9th. Where were the heroics of Saturday? My score was lame. A meagre eleven points and much work to be done.

If the roll up had been about spontaneously collapsing, today was about a phoenix rising from the golfing ashes. Thanks to my renewed short game confidence I chipped and putted for a par at the 10th and although I gave a shot straight back at the 11th, I made a rare par at the next following a fairway splitting drive and a four iron to ten feet. Although the tee shot at the long 186 yard par three thirteenth was an ugly thin it found the green for another par. I pushed my drive right on the 14th but had a shot between the two large trees protecting that side of the fairway. I decided my 3 hybrid would keep it sufficiently low and give me the best chance of getting near the green. I hit it sweet. Low with a touch of fade it pitched short, skirted the left edge of the green, rolled off the contours to within eight feet. Granted I hit a lousy putt but it was another par. I secured my fifth par in six holes at the 15th and things were looking good. I knew the buffer zone was out of reach and that the handicap would finally be going up but I was playing well. It was just a shame it had taken ten holes to get going.

I had a bit of a chop down the 16th and gave a point back and gave another back at the next. Finding the green from 218 yards is always a tough ask and I rarely make par at the 17th. However now my handicap has gone back up, I'll be able to relax knowing the four I made there would actually be a nett par and good for two points. I hit another good drive at the final hole. I should say that I drove the ball really well, hitting 50% of the fairways in regulation. It is arguably the most erratic part of my game and so it was nice to have it working for a change. Of those fairways I did miss, none were by much and all were very much playable.

I followed the good drive with an exquisite 5 wood to leave me 88 yards to the front flag placement. The problem I'm having is trying to decide when this Linear method can be used for fuller shots such as a pitch like this and when I should just put a normal 3/4 swing on it and be done. In the end I did neither and shanked it straight right. Fortunately it didn't find the pond. I saved that for my next shot. In truth the shank threw me and the chip was played way too quickly. I hit it fat and sent the ball to a watery grave.

It wasn't the finish I'd hoped for although the 17 point total represents one of my better back nine performances for some time. All I have to do now is marry a normal front nine with the consistency I had shown for the last nine (we'll forget about the 18th). In the end my 28 point total was never going to save me from a handicap increase.

That increase has taken me up to an official handicap of 12.5 or 13 in real money. I get a shot now on the 17th. Am I disappointed? No-one likes to see their handicap go up but the harsh truth is that I've been struggling for a long time now. The short game had decimated those rare competitive games when I threatened to do well and there wasn't the quality of ball striking or the ability to create or protect a good score. Everything was a struggle almost from the off. However, historically whenever I've gone back up I usually get a good finish (top three) fairly soon afterwards and so get cut again. It's almost as if the extra shot emanates an air of calm and that the knowledge that I've that one shot left in the bank to use late on at the 17th means I don't try and push so hard with inevitable consequences. We'll see. It's the monthly medal next week and so hopefully the ball striking and short game will go from strength to strength and this is a mere pebble on the road back down towards my ultimate goal that remains a single figure handicap.

Looking Good, Playing Bad

With the sun finally gracing us with its presence and the mercury rising nicely I'd taken advantage and had been playing and practicing well. I was looking forward to a good showing in the usual Saturday roll up and had donned a rather dapper blue outfit, (light blue shirt, navy blue trousers with light blue pinstripe, with matching hat and glove) and given my brand new Footjoy Myjoy shoes an airing to finish the ensemble. Check out these bad boys

Looking like that I needed to play a bit. To be honest for the front nine I did too and the ball striking was as good as it had been in a while. However as always there's a catch. Although I was getting into great positions, I couldn't find a green from 130 yards and in and pulled and pushed a number of approaches early on and frittered shots away left, right and centre. However I galvanised the round from the 5th hole onwards. I parred it with ease and found the dancefloor at the 6th with a 5 iron. Hitting the green itself is something of a landmark on recent form but to do so with a short(ish) club is pretty good for me and testament to the way I am starting to compress down on my shots more.

I even managed an audacious par at the 7th. I hooked my hybrid badly and it was on the 3rd fairway. With the environmental area to the left and a large tree looming if I took the green on directly, options were limited. I didn't fancy the huge carry over the hazard and even if I'd made it the lie in the rough would have been in the lap of the gods. Going straight meant taking the tree on and from the lie I had elevation was always going to be an issue. That left playing to the right. Going that way meant I could take a more lofted club, take the edge of the tree on and worse case scenario be over by the 8th tee with a chip on. However being just a friendly roll up where's the fun in that? With visions of my idol Seve Ballesteros flashing though my mind, there was only one shot I could play wasn't there. The huge running hook, starting it way right of the tree and bending it around and letting it run out. The way I saw it, nothing ventured. I pured the shot. It couldn't have been any sweeter and went like a rocket, turning like a thoroughbred entering the home straight and rolled up to within 10 feet of the green. I followed it with a sublime chip that cosied down by the hole and tapped in for a "routine" par.

By the time I'd walked off the 9th I'd pocketed 17 points and all but made up for the silly errors that had blighted the first four holes and I was comfortably leading my particular three ball. Looking good and playing mighty fine.

What followed was an abject lesson in chicken counting. It started off reasonably at the tenth and eleventh with no major issues and there I was standing in the middle of the 12th fairway with 188 yards to go. The sun was shining, my new shoes were looking good and I was swinging well. I hooked my hybrid approach left and even though the lie wasn't great, I had faith in the Linear chipping technique I'd adopted and which had been serving me well. Of course, this was the moment it eloped with my putting stroke and I duffed it into the greenside bunker. I got it out to five feet but the putter went ice cold and it missed with ease.

From there the round unravelled in spectacular fashion. I shanked my wedge shot from less than 100 yards at the 15th when a good shot may have set up birdie. A double bogey was the result instead. The 16th was an another bogey after hitting it right off the tee. The 17th was perhaps the cherry on the icing on the cake and I managed to top the tee shot about 50 yards along the ground. I can't remember the last time I topped a tee shot and it actually came as a real shock to the system. I didn't bother troubling the scorers on that hole. I did manage a six (nett par) down the last but the damage had been done and I'd limped home with a meagre 12 points for 29 point total. Bertie Big Balls in his shiny shoes didn't look so clever now.

Actually in the cold light of day there were some good points as well as some negatives. On the down side, I got very burned in the sun and my neck and arms were pretty painful by the time I got home and the Aftersun cream was applied liberally and often. Another downer was the severity of the crash when the swing had been behaving for 11 holes. Whether the sunburn and heat played a factor I don't know but it does seem to be a recurring issue on the back nine holes.

One big plus was how comfy my feet were. These shoes were straight out of the box and never worn but were like a pair of old (if shiny) slippers. I am a huge Footjoy fan and if you ever have the funds I can heartily recommend their Icon range. However, putting sartorial elegance to one side, the most pleasing aspect had to be the way I fought back on the front nine from dropping three shots to my handicap in the first four holes. Usually the head goes, the tempo increases and I lose shot after shot. Today I seemed more focused and things flowed. I think in no small part, the fact that I actually had confidence in my short game again, meant that if I did miss a green I could at least be reasonably confident that three would be the most I took to get down.

In the end, it was another £3 going west into the kitty and I was left to rue what might have been. However there were still more pluses than minuses and the small matter of the monthly stableford to play in on Sunday. All I had to do was trust my swing and the pressing issue of deciding what to wear. Anyone know Gok Wan's number?

Monday, 4 April 2011

Chipping - The Linear Method

I had my chipping lesson with Paul Harrison at Maidenhead Golf Centre on Saturday. Much overdue and eagerly anticipated. I explained the fact that although I understood the recognised chipping technique of weight forward, hands ahead of the ball etc, the truth was the brain had long since been scrambled on the nuances of wrist hinge, swing path and body turn. I'd ended with a head full of chocolate frogs and couldn't stand over any length of chip shot without the golfing brain going into meltdown.

I'd expected to Paul to go back over old ground but he wanted to try a different approach. It is called the Linear method and was developed by a guy called Gary Smith who is one of the short game coaches to the England sides. Basically it involves standing square to the target with the feet, hips and shoulders and more importantly with the club shaft vertical and the hands level with the ball and in front of the sternum. From there it is about taking the club back in a straight line (hence linear) and using a full rotation of the body as the engine room to execute the shot.

There is an example below of the principles from Gary Smith himself. Although he hits a longish chip/pitch in the example, the principle remains intact all the way down to little shots from the fringe of the green


In essence then it is about keeping everything centralised, with the hands delivering the club back to square and really making a turn through to drive the arms and stop the duffed ones. I've got to say I'm not adept with the turn properly yet. When it is good and flows it's great but sometimes I don't turn enough and the shot lacks crispness and authority and doesn't fly as far as I would want. It is definitely a work in progress but it really has for the most part taking the dreaded fat shot out of the equation and the number of thins through the other side of the green are also greatly reduced. I need to work on distance control and the basics, which will be the focus of my practice this week but once it falls into place and I trust it I can start to save many shots around the greens. That in turn puts less pressure on the approaches into the green which in itself takes away the vice like apprehension of having to try and find a fairway off the tee. It filters all the way back and hopefully the whole game will flow much better as a result.

It really is chipping for dummies and seems to me a much simpler approach. I've signed up for the full DVD and so we'll be seeing how that pans out in due course. For now it gets a big Homer thumbs up.

Sunny Periods, Clouding Over Later

As much as the title suggests the local golfing weather, it is a more accurate description of my game on Saturday. It was a roll up with many of the usual suspects in attendance and a reasonable sized field. I have to say I wasn't fully committed as I had/have a lot going on away from golf, and Friday won't go down as a fantastic day and I was dealing with residual fog from events unfolding.

That aside I started off reasonably well for once even if the ball striking wasn't as crisp as I'd like. I hit a lovely 7 iron into the third to set up a par and when I parred the next I was actually a shot under my handicap and continued to be so until the 6th tee. Now I don't know why certain holes behave in the way they do but this one in particular goes through definite peaks and troughs. I can have weeks on end where I'll hook it out of bounds left, carve it right, either out of bounds on that side or best case scenario into the juicy rough beyond the trees lining the hole. Other times I can stand there and for a few weeks I'll hit the green with consummate ease. At the moment we're in a trough and my 4 iron was awful. High wide and not very handsome and never to be seen again. Nul points for that hole for me please.

Another shot went at the short 8th and there was a tad of frustration and anger in the drive at the 9th. It flew off the clubface high, straight and with the venom of all my frustrations (on and off the course) bundled into one fearsome swipe. It only left a 5 iron into the green into the face of a stiffish breeze. Naturally being me I couldn't find the target and had to make do with a bogey (nett par) and 16 points for the front nine. It was good enough to be leading my fourball though.

Sadly the back nine disintegrated into its usual sublime mix of mediocrity, bewildering incompetence and the occasional flash of golfing genius. On the 12th I pulled my drive left into the ditch that runs to the left of the hole on the corner of the fairway. A penalty drop was followed by an over exuberant recovery which found the bunker some thirty yards short of the green. Bugger! However I then produced a majestic recovery from the beach to six feet and holed the putt for a fighting six.

After that brief highlight the rest of the round was a bit of a scramble with poor drives or indifferent approaches always putting the game under a pressure I couldn't match. My misery was complete when I managed to dunk my ball into a watery grave at the 18th to finish without troubling the scorer down the last. 27 points in total had promised much at one point and delivered little. To be honest I wasn't really concentrating too well and the mind was miles from the course. I managed at times to slow the swing down to a blur and never really got it travelling online. All in all a bit of a nothing game but brilliant company and the opportunity to clear the head a little.

However my days golfing wasn't over. I still had my long overdue chipping lesson to look forward too at Maidenhead Golf Centre. I was as excited as Wayne Rooney getting a hat-trick but without needing to fill the clubhouse with expletives. I was a man on a mission!

Sunday. The day of rest.  Not in my world. Armed with a super duper new chipping technique, chipping for dummies, I was up the practice ground by mid-morning to start the long road to short game salvation. It is still early stages and so we're not getting overly excited but the prognosis is good. I took it onto the course. Well to be honest it was just me and the course. Not a sole to be seen and so I had the run of the place.

I hit some good shots on the front nine, the majority being my driver which was an unexpected bonus as it is usually a cantankerous beastie. The scoring wasn't great. I managed to go left at the 6th as opposed to right on Saturday but the same result, out of bounds. 16 points for the first nine holes but to be honest I wasn't really keeping to much of an eye. I was happy working on my game as I went, sometimes putting two balls down in different lies and giving the new chipping technique a gentle run in on the course as opposed to the sanctuary of the putting green.

The back nine perked briefly with a good drive at 12 leading to a chip and putt par having gone over the green with the approach. Chalk one to the chip-meister. I followed with a fine five wood into a stiff breeze that landed and stopped in the heart of the 186 yard par 3 for back to back pars. I creamed a drive on the 14th too and to be fair got excited. I thought I could get home from 157 yards (it was downswing OK) and it finished about 10 yards off the green. The chip wasn't so hot here (1-1) and so I dropped a shot. Safe par at the 15th too and then the run ended. I limped home with my tail somewhat between my legs as the fine form disappeared on the Spring zephyr wind.

The swing was good in patches but everything was hit with a big right to left arc. I'm sure I've gotten too flat again. Still I've a flexi afternoon tomorrow (Tuesday) and so time to hit some balls and sneak out for a few holes. I'll work on the chipping for a couple of nights too and get the new technique ingrained.

All in all I think those clouds are clearing and the sun is coming back out.