Monday, 30 May 2011

Script For A Jesters Tear

"So here I am once more in the playground of the broken hearts

One more experience, one more entry in a diary, self-penned
Yet another emotional suicide overdosed on sentiment and pride
Too late to say I love you, too late to re-stage the play
Abandoning the relics in my playground of yesterday

I'm losing on the swings, I'm losing on the roundabouts
I'm losing on the swings, I'm losing on the roundabouts
Too much, too soon, too far to go, too late to play, the game is over
The game is over"

Thanks to Marillion for putting into words everything that pretty well summed up the way I felt yesterday afternoon having completed my second round of the Stone Cup. If you'd read my previous blog, you'll know the story to date and that I had left myself much to do.

I'm losing on the swings is so apt. I actually struck the ball even better than I did on Saturday and had managed to avoid any form of cataclysmic meltdown on the final stretch. I'm losing on the roundabouts. Despite playing better in terms of getting the ball around, the conditions were much tougher than the previous day with strong and gusty winds making it very hard to select the right club and to score well.  I'd decided to play as the forecast for the Bank Holiday was typical for an English long weekend with persistent light rain and a moderate breeze from mid morning on the cards. I figured best to get my second round done in the dry rather than the wet.

I knew I had to go low to mount any challenge to a top ten position. In fact I positively screamed from the blocks and drove the first green for the second day running for a par, made a par on the second and got a safe bogey (nett par) on the 3rd. Having hit a 3 wood onto the fairway at the 4th to leave 92 yards I seemed well set for another par. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I managed to pull the shot left. It missed the putting surface, careered off the steep bank and out of bounds. As I don't get a shot (stroke index 16) I didn't score. Still no harm done and I had points already in the bank from the first few holes so no need to hit the panic button.

The next three holes were a cacophony of errors which left me struggling to play to my handicap for the first nine and definitely meant I wouldn't match my front nine haul of 19 points from my first round efforts. I did manage a good chip and putt on the 8th hole from a similar place to the previous day where I'd made a mockery of an easy recovery so chalk one up for Homer! In the end 16 points wasn't a bad return. One bad shot had cost me really. The fourth is a real sleeper hole at only 320 yards but it is so easy to walk away without making your par.

The ball striking on the back nine was for the most part much, much better but yet again I somehow managed to find a poor lie, just run out of position or not quite execute fully. As per the front nine there was one real destructive shot. It came at the 178 yard par 3 13th where I hooked my hybrid left, with a bit of left on and then some left hand spin for good measure. If you saw how thick the vegetation is down the side of the hole you'd know it was a lost cause even contemplating looking for it. Hey ho.

As the lyrics say, "Too much, too soon, too far to go, too late to play, the game is over." I knew I wasn't going to shoot anything near good enough to challenge. The wind was freshening all the time and in the end had a real effect on the flight of the ball and really negated the improved ball striking. In the end it was another rather limp 31 points for a grand total of 62. Definitely not what I had planned and in my own mind, probably not a fair reflection. Three or four badly executed shots and maybe the same number of unforced errors over two days but other than that I was more than happy with the way I hit it.

I have to be honest blog followers, it is really getting me down now. How long must I suffer a lack of return on my investment in terms of lessons, practice and good ball striking without seeing any end result. I'm seriously thinking about calling it quits. Suddenly the quest for Homer's Odyssey of single figures seems such a long way away. I'm closer to going up to 14 (unheard of for me) than I am of coming down to anything approaching my goal.

The good ship Homer seems to be becalmed and in need of a helping breeze. I've put my thought out to the great and the good on the Golf Monthly Forum ( and the general opinion is I'm trying too hard and thinking too much. I tend to disagree. Yes I'm pretty intense about my golf but I'm not standing over every shot with a thousand swing thoughts going through my head. I am actually an oasis of tranquility over the ball but somehow between taking the club back and making contact there is the odd breakdown in communication between brain and muscles and I hit a card wrecker of a shot. It is how I get rid of these from my game that is the key to me coming down.
Some have said have a break. No chance. The good lady will find plenty of chores for me if I stay at home. Some say don't play competitions for a while. Again not really a starter if I want to get back the shots I've added to my handicap to date. Others say don't take it too seriously. Well if you ask those I played with over the two days, I was as relaxed as I could be, even in the depths of my first round meltdown. I tried to keep positive and cracked a few jokes to stop the voices in my head yelling at me (am I the only one who has these voices when they play?).

I don't know the answer. All I do know is I'll be back next week for the roll up on Saturday and the Centenary medal on Sunday. You can't keep a good man down.

"Now sad in reflection did I gaze through perfection

And examine the shadows on the other side of the morning
And examine the shadows on the other side of mourning

Promised triumphs now a wake
The fool escaped from paradise will look over his shoulder and cry

Sit and chew on daffodils and struggle to answer why?
As you grow up and leave the playground
Where you kissed your prince and found your frog
Remember the jester that showed you tears, the script for tears"

Well I'm done with crying (metaphorically). Time to wipe away the tears, dust myself down and move on. We're coming to the meat of the season now. It is in there. I promise you. In fact it is ready to burst forth and when it does it may, just may be the start of something big.

The F Word

Fed up, Frustrated, Foolish and a few more choice words beginning with the letter F pretty much sum up my feelings after this weekend. It was the Stone Cup at Royal Ascot this weekend. It is one of the club's majors and is a stableford format where you can play any two of the three days of the long bank holiday weekend.

I went out on Saturday and played with my normal partner Mike Stannard, Anthony "Kerching" Ayres and Colin "Wyatt Earp" Osborn. Things started smoothly enough, in fact better than that. I hit the first green with consummate ease for a rare opening par and although I dropped a shot at the next, I got that one back with a rare birdie at the 5th. Clearly the real Homer had been switched with a doppelganger. This mysterious impostor even hit the 6th green with a majestic four iron. Regular blog followers may have seen my recent post on that particular hole (if not check it out to see what I mean) and the fact that it's my nemesis. Not today. The real Homer did make a guest appearance at the short par three eighth where he missed the green left thinking the gusty wind would bring the ball back and then making a nonsense of his chip shot back. However by the time he walked off the ninth hole, Flair was another F word that could have been used. 19 points and one under my handicap.

A poor hole on the tenth negated these early inroads but another rare par at the hardest hole on the course, the twelfth, had the round back on track. Things were going well and Fun Homer was out to play. All was well in in the world. I made a great par on the 14th hitting a wondrous 4 iron between two trees and onto the green from the right hand rough and two putting with ease. My drive on 15 found the first cut of rough and I was in great shape. One under my handicap, playing well and an easy second shot to come.

What F word can I use to describe what happened next. Frightening, Fragile or Foul. Take your pick. I hooked my second shot left and despite the best efforts of the group it was a lost ball. No points and back to one behind my handicap. Not a problem. You can't win the Stone Cup in the first round but you can definitely lose it. Now I'm no psychologist, but I'm pretty certain when I stood on the 16th tee I wasn't dwelling on the misfortune of the previous hole. I knew where I wanted to hit it and aimed for that point. The execution however was poor and it hooked left and out of bounds. My second ball stayed in play but I never threatened to trouble the scorers.

Fixated or Focused. Hard to tell really standing on the 17th. I knew I needed no worse than a four (nett par) to get this wagon back on the road. However the swing had Fled and the real Homer had entered the building. Another huge hook left sailed into the trees out of bounds and when the reload followed suit Homer was in Edvard Munch's world - The Scream. Alone and Frightened.

In the end I did manage two points down the last to creep home in 31 points.

Flipping heck. A round that had promised much and again Failed to deliver. It's an old story of good ball striking being undone by needless and unforced errors. Oh well, I'd just have to put in a stellar second round to mount a challenge. Famous last words or not......?

Sunday, 22 May 2011

The Generation Game

So it came down to this. One putt on the 18th green. After an epic encounter stubbornly fought between two foes it came down to this one shot. The sky was greyer than when we had begun. The green seemed a more emerald hue and the fluttering flag more pronounced against the skyline. I lined my ball up on the green and slipped my lucky coin back in my pocket. This was my time. Surely after all these years, all the heartbreaking near misses, my golfing nemesis would be vanquished. I squatted some five feet behind the ball and looked for that elusive line to take my ball to the bottom of the cup. I addressed the ball, enwrapped in the moment as the putter made contact with the ball and sent it on its journey. And the ball…………………………………..

The 18th Green at Wimbledon Common
I can still remember that first time my dad took me onto my first proper eighteen hole course. I had recently cashed in my national savings certificates to become the proud owner of a half set of Petron Impala golf clubs. I had been lucky enough to receive a tartan patterned pencil bag as a birthday present along with a pair of stylish black shoes. My glove was that pristine brightness you only get from leather, particularly if it is in a fetching pale blue. I had a dozen Wilson Blue Ridge balls waiting in my bag to be struck mercilessly from the tee in a blur of golfing talent, destined to split the fairway.

I was strangely quiet in the car on the journey to the course. It was a good thirty minute drive in my dads yellow Princess but the journey was a blur. I was going to play a proper course. One with bunkers, tee boxes that were neatly mown, fairways cut and defined against the rough ready waiting to chastise a wayward shot and greens that were fast and true, with borrows full of guile. After all those Sunday mornings at the driving range, those group lessons in the school holidays getting to become one with the interlocking grip, all those rounds at the local pitch and putt with my friends, I was finally going to play proper golf.

I can remember it as though I had played the round only a few days ago. I had never felt such a churning, primeval sensation as I stood on that first tee and pegged my ball up. My three wood, for so long a trusty friend at the range, now felt like a scaffold poll in a vice like grip as my moment had arrived. A pat on the shoulder and a word of encouragement from my dad and I was ready. I swung the club and made contact with the ball. It wasn’t the fairway splitting shot I had dreamt off on the way there. In fact it was nothing more than a 30 yard top but I didn’t care. I was a proper golfer.

The round seemed to last forever. That was probably more because we had to keep letting the groups behind through than me taking my time to savour it. 142 shots later the final putt fell and I had done it. Real golf on a real course.

That was my introduction to golf. Proper golf. Funnily enough my dad seemed to play less and less after that as I played more and more. He had a lot of pressures with his business in the economic turmoil as the 70’s gave way to the 1980’s. I joined my local club at Wimbledon Common, thanks largely to my dad being an ex-member and doing a lot of lobbying, unknown to me, to be let in at the tender age of 12. We still played together maybe a dozen times a year and although my handicap was tumbling I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t find a way to beat him.

Sadly my dad passed away a good few years ago and although it must be 25 years since we last played together he remained an inspiration to me throughout my golfing adventures. He was there to listen as I regaled him with stirring stories of bold approach shots and tenacious birdies. He’d offer a word of hope to lift a black cloud of despondency after a bad round when I should have been soaring with eagles but found myself floundering with turkeys.

Even today, whenever I see a father and son event being held, I wish I had made the effort to encourage him to join me in one of these. Not for the winning. Just for the joy of spending one last time with my dad on a golf course. One last chance to talk about life’s tribulations as we meandered through the tree lined fairways heading towards that cold drink at the 19th.

And there we were back on the eighteenth green. Would it be a playground of the broken hearted again. My dad stood there impassively, his eyes perhaps screwed a little tighter. Had the situation dawned on him? Had he realised the outcome was no longer his to control? Or was he just trying to read my putt in the fading light? The ball was well on its way. Nothing stood between destiny or despair.

................ And the ball went in.

Tears welled in my eyes. This was a Ryder Cup and British Open encapsulated in one tiny putt under a dreary sky. I had beaten my dad at last. I wanted to shout out “I’ve won!!!” and run around the green with my arms aloft. I wanted to go into the bar and order drinks all round. Instead, my dad took off his cap, shook my hand and turned to me with smile and said “Well played son. Best get home for dinner now, you know what your mum's like!"

If it wasn’t for him I’d never have found this fickle mistress we call golf. She will hold you close to her bosom and warm your soul with hope and dreams and then splinter your heart and vanquish your aspirations with a snap of her steely fingers. Either way it matters not a jot. For showing me the game of golf I thank you dad.

Me and the old man
 (In memory of Bill Bedborough – RIP Dad – still miss you)

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Mid-Term Reflection

Now that the savage winter, enforced snow breaks, and playing in sub-zero temperatures to frozen greens are a distant memory and the course is beginning to come into full glory, it's time to consider what I've achieved in the first few months of the season.

Many would argue not much. To some degree they would have a point. With an ailing short game it was impossible to score well early on but I wasn't hitting it well enough anyway for that to be a major factor. Yes it contributed, but if you can't hit fairways and greens you can't post a score. However, I put a lot of hours, effort and determination into making a big change (for me at least) over the winter and to stop my hips sliding as opposed to turning, and working on compressing down on the ball much more. Once the warmer weather arrived in the early Spring, it started to come together and I really began to hit it great but failed to translate ball striking into scoring.That is where the poor short game came back to bite me on the bottom.

Chipping is such an easy part of the game and yet for months and months I couldn't play these shots. Fat, thin and even the odd shank, I had them all. It wasn't until the start of April when I had a short game lesson and started work on the Linear method that things have improved. My short game is still as fragile as the global economy but at least I have positive mental thoughts now instead of panicking. I'm not sure if there such a thing as the chipping "yips" but I must have come close.

As the months have rolled on my game got better and better and I was really beginning to feel that there was a score waiting to burst out. On the downside while I was waiting for it to make an appearance the handicap finally clicked over to 13 (currently 12.8) and so is another shot away from the single figure dream. Of course, in true Homer style just as the game began to peak, family business has come very much to the fore, especially in the last two months or so and golf has taken a back seat. Now I'm free to enjoy it again the bubble has burst, the hip slide fault has returned (probably due to a lack of playing or practice - golf has never come easy) and I feel I've taken two steps back again.

This probably sounds like a woe is me whinge. It's not. No really. If I was going to give myself a mark for the season to date then in roll up games it would be B- but if we're talking about competitive play then it would have to be a C- as I've flattered to deceive and not really performed. As that doyen of sports commentators Stuart Hall once put it "I dabbled with the palette without painting the full picture." However in matchplay in particular and pairs events as a whole I have turned in some much better rounds with the comfort blanket of a good patient (some would say long suffering) wingman alongside me. It has given me much more freedom and the golf has seemed to flow a lot better and I've produced arguably my best performances to date.

There has been far more to enjoy than get upset about. Any round is a good round as I've still got my health and the ability to play the game I love so dearly. Maybe I am my own worse critic. Maybe I'm overly harsh on myself. Some might say I put too much pressure on myself. To some degree perhaps I don't enjoy the good shots as much as I should but I am definitely trying to be more of a glass half full type of guy on the course these days. Hit it, find it and hit it again.

So what about the next few months? Hopefully the game will get back to an even keel again and the ball striking will return. The course will undoubtedly become harder as the fairways firm up, the greens get quicker and the rough becomes lusher. We are starting to run into prime competition time now with all the big events coming up and so I like to think of myself as having paced my race and that I haven't peaked too early.

The short game still remains "work in progress" but the immediate aim is to get my shot back and at least go back to 12 again although to be fair it is quite nice getting the shot on the 17th. At 218 yards off the white tees and with out of bounds tight left, it isn't an easy hole especially if there is a good card going. Ironically since getting the extra shot I've started playing it worse than I did before. There must be something in that.

All in all, there are more positives than negatives. While there is definitely room for improvement and the report card would have to read like it did in my schooldays "must focus more and try harder" the spirit is still good, the momentum is on the up and as D-Ream once said... Things can only get better.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

A Hackers Guide To Royal Ascot - Hole 6 (Bluebell)

We're nearly a third of the way around the course now and have come to second of the par 3's. Looking at the yardage alone it seems a much easier proposition than the opening hole and the stroke index of 14 would seem to confirm this. Don't be fooled. This hole is a real sleeper. It can be a real card wrecker and is my own personal nemesis.

The website describes it as: "An aesthetically pleasing short hole that due its angle plays longer than is shown on the card. A four leaf clover shape of green means you could be on the surface having to putt off it. Play to the centre of green every time, a par is very acceptable." You play over a little valley to a green that is slightly uphill from the tee.

This is one hole that sucks any confidence I have out of me. It isn't a long hole, measuring just 178 yards off the white tees and has a generous green to aim at. However this one hole above all others has caused me no end of heartache and misery.

The biggest obstacle on the hole is the out of bounds both left and right. It really doesn't take much to find them. Anything sliced or mis-hit right will usually fail to clear the tree line and a reload is almost inevitable. The right hand out of bounds stops at the end of the trees to the left of the picture and so if you can get it high and long enough you should still have a shot. However that shot will usually be from thick rough over the only bunker on the hole to a green with severe undulations so it isn't anything to relish.
The out of bounds on the other side is some ten yards left of the cart path and seems to magnetically pull my ball towards it with regularity. Maybe it is mental and the demons have gotten into my head but I tend to hit more hooks and pulls here than anywhere else on the course. Just for good measure, there are also a couple of streams short of the green too so if you do happen to hit it a tad fat or scuttle one along the ground they will gladly gobble up your little white ball.

Assuming we have struck our tee shot well and found the green the challenge isn't over. The green is 35 yards long and so anything coming up short to a back flag will have a long, long journey and will have to contend with a large slope on the right side and a steep borrow from the left. Even a shot hitting the middle of the green can have lots of questions asked of it. Should our approach have found the single bunker situated to the right of the green, it will take something rather special to get it close as the large mound will make it hard to stop the ball and will throw it away from the intended target.

It hasn't always been a tale of doom and gloom here. I've won a nearest the pin on Captain's Day before, sticking my tee shot to within a foot or so. However it does have a history of battering any semblance of a good start out of me and it isn't uncommon for me to walk away with a 5 or worse and wonder what I did to deserve such a kicking.

I have to say it is one of the prettiest holes on the course, especially in the Spring when the trees are blossoming and the daffodils are out behind the back of the green. There are also carpets of bluebells in the woods on both sides (hence the name). Don't be fooled though by it's pretty nature. It is definitely another hole that has teeth and isn't scared to show them.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

A Blessing?

Golf has been forced to take a back seat again this weekend as I've had to attend to family business. To be honest it was probably a blessing in disguise. I played on Friday afternoon and although I had the course to myself it was abjectly poor. I couldn't do a thing right and confidence was low.

I was due to Play Roger Wing, a 10 handicapper of notorious consistency in the Weatherill Cup (Summer singles) on Saturday morning. He's a lovely chap and I had been really looking forward to our game for several weeks but a 2.00am phone call had me careering down to an A&E department in London and I was still there as sun broke over the white brickwork of the hospital. Sadly I had no option but to concede as the tie had to be played by today and with the monthly medal taking place it was impossible to rearrange at such short notice. I pulled out of the medal today as the lack of sleep, another journey back to the hospital this afternoon and my dire form was hardly an enticing cocktail of circumstances in which to pit my handicap against the course.

However there is a note of positivity. After catching up on some much needed rest yesterday afternoon I ventured down to Maidenhead Golf Centre to see if I could sort out the affliction to my game. Regular readers will know I've lauded long and loud about the quality of my ball striking in recent weeks and a talent for finding ways of not compiling the score the quality of the shots had deserved. Friday saw the ball striking go back to the bad old days and the cause was fairly evident. The old, old habit of sliding the hips instead of turning them and getting overly active with the legs (disco legs as my teaching pro calls them) has come back to haunt me.

I went back to the old drills Paul Harrison my coach had shown me before focusing on keeping the hips on a more level plane and turning more instead of sliding. There were real signs of improvement and I made a small change to my posture which had me in a much more neutral but solid and athletic base. There were still too many shots where the hips slid but overall the ball striking was so much better.

After a long lie in this morning it was back to the range before heading back to the hospital to make sure everything was fine (on both counts). I was hitting it a lot better and there was improvement over and above what I'd achieved yesterday. Even the driver was more on track than of late. The swing still isn't as it was. I think in hindsight I may have over egged the short game practice following my lessons and neglected any swing work and so it was an accident waiting to happen.

Far be it for me to be accused of being a practice freak, I've decided that we know the fault, have worked on the fix and that the only way to test it properly is to get out and play. I intend to get out and play several sets of nine holes after work this week and all things being equal get out of work early and play in the midweek stableford on Friday.

Sometimes life gets in the way and you have to look at the bigger picture. For now though, everything seems to be back on an even keel and so I can "enjoy" the golf again this week without my mind being elsewhere. I hope I can put my game back onto a steadier footing and take the enforced break this weekend as a chance to re-evaluate my technique, recharge the golfing batteries and come back out of my corner ready to take the fight back to the course and my handicap. Seconds out......

Monday, 9 May 2011

Two's Company

I played in a club match yesterday against Caversham Heath and was partnered by Derek Williams. He and I have played together in these affairs before and were putting our extensive 100% record, played one, won one, on the line. I love these club matches. Whilst they are competitive, the winning isn't the be all and end all and it is all about having some fun, meeting new people and enjoying the game. Yes, the club does play in other types of matches where the result is the crucial thing and those games have a part to play in our golfing calendar and it is always great when the club does well. However as one who will never be good enough for selection for any of these sides on current form at least, I'll content myself with these friendly encounters.

I had arrived early primarily to get some practice in. I'd had to miss the stableford on Saturday for domestic reasons and so hadn't hit a ball in anger since the Jubilee Cup on Bank Holiday Monday. Whilst I was on the practice ground (or Bedborough Field as it's known) a junior sauntered on and started to hit shots. Every one was high, long and straight and with minimal effort unlike the contorted body shapes I was throwing to try and make reasonable contact. He wandered off and I thought nothing more about it. I'm sure many of you are already ahead of me but this whippersnapper was one of the opposition pair that Derek and I would face. He was a 15 year old off 11 handicap which meant he had to give me two shots and Derek six. He was partnered by a great Liverpudlian guy and I knew that while the golf would be tough, the atmosphere would be cracking.

I started off pretty well making a chip and putt for a par. I knew it could be a long day when this youngster stood on the 1st, all 229 yards of it, into the wind, with a 3 iron in his hand. He came up about ten yards short but chipped stone dead. I chipped to about six feet and my putt dropped with the last ounce of strength left on it. One more revolution and it wouldn't have got there. I hit the 2nd in regulation but then three putted to gift them the hole. A solid par from the youngster at the next put them two up. However, I made a birdie at the 4th to reduce the deficit and Derek won the next to get it back to all square.

Both Jim the Scouser from Caversham and I hit the front edge of the 6th. Derek carved it wide and faced a tricky chip from rough over the bunker and the James the wunderkid found sand. Both Jim and I three putted from 25 feet and James couldn't get up and down from the bunker. Derek set up to hit a high lob which was a high tariff shot but pulled it off and the ball landed eight feet away. He duly holed for the only par. Hitting the green in regulation is clearly overrated.

It was all square at the turn and we all made par at the 10th. Derek hit the green for Team Ascot at the 11th but three putted to let the opposition escape with a half. However he won the next and began a golden spell of golf for him and us as a pairing. He hit his drive into the trees on the corner of the dogleg on the 12th. The only way he could make progress was to play the shot left handed. It was the kind of shot my icon Seve would have played and it seemed fitting after the news of his death that Derek took the shot on and pulled it off with such aplomb. He then hit the green and made a nett par which was enough to steal the hole. Daylight robbery. He won the 13th with another improbable chip and putt from the wilderness way right of the green and then took the 14th with a shot and by the time we halved the par five 15th we were dormie three up. My partner managed to close the game out when James could only make a par four (impressive at it was) and his five (nett four) got the half we needed.

It was a cracking game played in the right spirit and although Royal Ascot ran out comfortable winners, the return at Caversham Heath in September promises to be no easy ride. On a personal level my golf was very patchy although a few times I had taken on the risky shot while Derek had taken the pragmatic line. Given that it was matchplay and the individual score really didn't matter, I probably shouldn't be overly critical. I came in when needed especially on the front nine. My driving was poor although my iron play was pretty good especially as the wind was making club selection very tricky. My putting was streaky but I only had 30 putts in total and there were two three putts in that number. I'll put some work in on my swing this week and see what happens going forward. However I'm happy to bask in my new playing record with Derek, played two, won two. I can't wait to do it again soon.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Seve Ballesteros

Once in every generation a man comes along that dominates the game of golf. For me that was Seve Ballesteros and it was he alone that made me take up golf. Raven haired, lean, with dark brooding eyes, he had a burning desire to win every time he teed it up, I watched on TV, captivated as a youngster, as he came a brilliant 2nd to Johnny Miller in 1976 and then three years later finally won the Open for the first time.

By then I was already playing myself and in my own mind would always be Seve. No matter how hard the shot or how desperate the match situation, like him I always thought I could triumph. The only difference was he had the talent to deliver. No other golfer was responsible for catapulting European golf onto the world stage. He became the first European to win the Masters in 1980 and then repeated it with another win in 1983 at the start of reign of dominance of that event by the best Europe could offer.

However perhaps the most iconic victory was his 1984 triumph at St Andrews and that jig of delight on the 18th green after making a birdie which ultimately was enough for victory. It became a trademark of Seve's and he even had a tattoo of the picture on his arm.

By then Seve was in his pomp. He was the one golfer the Americans truly feared and had become a byword for talent, flair and doggedness. Like most geniuses he was a bit of a maverick and courted controversy, particularly with tournament rules officials and the media with his forthright views. However with a club in his hand he was mercurial.

It wasn't just his individual playing career that was sensational. His refusal to know when he was beaten transferred to the Ryder Cup and he was the fuse that blew the US domination away. As a player he formed a terrific partner with Jose Maria Olazabal who looked upon him as an older brother and arguably saved his own best golf for when he partnered Seve. It wasn't just on the course though, Seve was also a leader in the team room. He was part of the team that won for the first time since 1957 at the Belfry under Tony Jacklin's guidance in 1985 and again two years later when they won on American soil for the first time. He famously said "I look into their eyes, shake their hand, pat their back, and wish them luck, but I am thinking, 'I am going to bury you " and he usually did.

As a Ryder Cup captain he was every bit as determined to win as he had been when he played and he led the team to victory on Spanish soil in 1997. It seemed there had to be Seve clones as he was here, there and everywhere always in the heart of the action. The tears in the eyes of the great man as Europe triumphed showed exactly what it meant to him.

As a huge Seve fan it was agonising to see him struggle with his game in the latter part of his career and like a boxer taking on one too many fights I wish he had quit at the top rather than becoming a caricature of the golfer we all knew.

It was a huge shock when the news of his illness came out and typically he fought it with tenacity, grit and a lot of humour. Even as he battled the disease, he still found the strength to set up the Seve Foundation in connection with Cancer Research UK to raise money for research into brain tumours. I was saddened to wake up to the news this morning that he had finally lost his fight but will always remember him as THE golfer of my generation. Without him I wouldn't have been touched by this magical game and all it has given me. The word legend is bandied about way too often these days but Seve really was a true legend as well as a fine gentleman and inspiration. RIP Seve.

Monday, 2 May 2011

A Brave Defence

In the end it wasn't to be, and the Jubilee Cup won't be coming home to Homer. Subject to ratification, it looks like the Sundance Kid  (Matt Davis) has ridden in to town again and saddled up with Wyatt Earp (Colin Osborn) to take the spoils. Playing off three quarter handicaps (meaning Matt was off 14 and Colin was off 9) and given the wind was as strong and gusty as it had been all weekend, their 44 point total was mightily impressive.

With only a few groups left to come in by the time I left, it will take something very special for Matt and Colin to be beaten. They recently one the Winter League competition too and so they are forming THE pairing to beat.

I was playing with Mike Stannard, a fellow Fulham fan and a man in a rich vein of form having recently enjoyed a handicap cut to 11. My game was showing signs of life and I was cautiously optimistic of a reasonable showing. The first at Royal Ascot is tough. If you want to know how tough check out the "Hackers Guide to Royal Ascot - Hole 1" for all the pitfalls. Suffice to say at 229 yard and with out of bounds, bunkers and a pond to contend with it, is not an appetising first shot. Did I mention the wind? It was blowing straight into our faces and with Mike not getting a shot off the 3/4 handicap format the pressure was on me to make sure I used mine wisely. Lo, I only went and drove the green. That doesn't happen often even in calm conditions. I even made par and the boys were off and running.

When I got up and down for a par from a bunker on the second, chipped and putted for a par at the third we were already three points up on our handicap. I was level par. It must be a dream. Reality kicked in on the relatively easy 4th and we both dropped a shot. Schoolboy error in this format. However I got that straight back at the 5th with a great pitch from left of the green and two solid putts for par. I even hit the heart of the green at my nemesis hole the 6th. I was only one over par. Mike came to the party on the last three holes of the front nine and we had gone out in a whopping 22 points. Game on.

I carried it on on the 10th with another par although I didn't get a shot. Damn this 3/4 handicap lark. And then the wheels came off. I lost my ball after the tee shot on the par 3 11th missed left. It didn't look in any danger but could we find it? Not a sniff. Mike had a horror show in the bunker and we didn't score a point. I made a brave ten footer for a nett par on the next to keep some momentum and found the heart of the green on the 13th for another par. Mike stepped in at the 14th for another two points. On the 15th he smoked a drive and only had an iron into the par 5. A birdie or better and we were back in it. I had hooked my drive and was faced with a shot from the 14th fairway between two trees.

Mike's approach was well struck but missed the target pin high. I was going to play it conservatively but decided he'd be good for a par at worse and so gambled on going for it. Big mistake. A rubbish swing saw my 4 iron slice to the right, hit one of the two trees and disappear. Another lost ball but Mike made par so it was worth the risk. I got another solid two points at the next and on the 17th I was short of the green off the tee. I hit a decent chip, given the pressure, to within two feet. Unfortunately the putting bubble burst and I missed it for another dropped point. I hooked my 3 wood off the last tee trying too hard to make a par for three points which we desperately needed to have any realistic chance. In the end I had to lay up short of the green, and although Mike made a par five, he didn't get a shot so it was another two points. I had a shot from 15 feet to save par and clinch the three points but in the end it missed right.

In the end, 37 points was a fair defence but after such a blistering start, it was a little bit of a whimper on the back nine. However I am delighted at the way I played. After so many false dawns, so many "it is coming" comments and so much hard work it was great to get the reward scoring wise for way I hit it. I've got a lesson on Wednesday evening and so we'll attack the short game again. After that it is the monthly stableford on Saturday and for the first time in a while I actually feel confident. It'll probably be the kiss of death now but I feel I've turned a corner. Bring it on.

WInd Of Change

It's been a great long weekend and I've finally played some decent golf. I took the opportunity on Friday to play golf rather than watch the Royal nuptials (that'll be the OBE gone then) and it seemed like every other male had the same idea. I played with my old mate Paul "Buddly" Sweetman and fortunately we got on the 1st tee just before the hoards. It was heaving.

It's always fun when we play. It's always serious as there is always lunch on the outcome but there is always a lot of enjoyable banter too. Paul is a very capable 12 handicapper and with his legendary buttery soft hands, he is a short game wizard and so can make up for a lot of errors with his chipping and putting. It was a nip and tuck game and I pulled away in the middle of the back nine with a rare birdie two at the 186 yard 13th and followed it up with a chip and putt par. I let it slip on the last two holes and I was holding a slender one point advantage going down the last. Paul played three good shots to make the green. I responded in kind. Paul two putted for a par and I hit my first putt two feet past and couldn't hole the return and so honours were even. I got the drinks and Paul got the food. Happy days.

I was due to go out with the normal suspects on Saturday but felt decidedly unwell and so didn't play. Given how strong the wind was blowing it wasn't the worse decision I've ever made. I decided Sunday morning was short game time and spent a useful couple of hours working on my chipping and putting. The Linear method for chipping I'm using is better than the error strewn short game I had before but still isn't great. Fortunately I've a lesson on Wednesday so we'll make some progress.

I decided to brave the wind on Sunday afternoon to get some valuable practice in before trying to defend the Jubilee Cup (four ball better ball event) with my partner Mike Stannard who has been playing great recently. I thought I owed it to him to at least contribute somewhere along the line. Boy it was hard. The wind made club selection a mockery and scoring was difficult. The good news was that the putting practice seemed to work and I one putted the first four greens. I struck the ball well in places but also had some poor shots. Playing on your own is always tricky as there isn't the banter or competitive spark to feed off. Mind you the course was empty and so I got to play a few practice shots around the greens too.

Being a relatively short hitter, the wind can make my life very hard but the good news is the ball striking is coming on. With the practice in the tank, I felt ready to defend my title. The bad news was the winds were forecast to be as strong if not stronger. Maybe they would blow in a change of fortune scoring wise and finally I could realise some of the promise recent rounds have shown. We shall see.