Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Golf Monthly Forum Meet - Blackmoor Golf Club

The culmination of my golfing activity this weekend was the Golf Monthly Forum Meeting at Blackmoor Golf Club in Hampshire on Monday (27th). Established in 1913, it has matured over the past 98 years into one of the top 100 courses in Britain. It was originally laid out by renowned golf architect Harry Colt, whose maxim was: ‘The real test of a course: is it going to live?’ Blackmoor certainly has and is one of the 43 courses featured in the 2008 book ‘Creating Classics – The Golf Courses of Harry Colt’. The course consists of two loops of nine holes created from heathland, with fairways surrounded by heather, pine, birch and oak trees. Colt’s design principles have stood the test of time as golf is still played over sixteen holes designed by him. Blackmoor is home to a number of amateur and professional competitions, including the Selborne Salver which attracts both international and Walker Cup players. It is also a course often used by Hampshire Golf Union for their County Championships and from 1997 until 2003, it was a regional qualifying course for the Open Championship where golfers from the UK, Europe, America and Africa began their quest for ‘The Claret Jug’.

Forty four golfers from varying points on the compass travelled into the heart of Hampshire for the day. The format was a nine hole team event in the morning and a singles stableford off 7/8ths handicap in the afternoon. The temperature was still blistering but the sun wasn't as bright as it had been the day before at Camberley. I was partnered with a very good friend Robert Smith (or Smiffy as he is known on the forum) and two of his golfing mates. I've played many times with Smiffy and he has a wicked sense of humour and being off the same handicap as me meant it would be a competitive day between us.

The opener is 332 yards long but has a ditch in the optimum landing area at the 235 yard mark before going uphill to the green. It isn't a tough opener, at least under normal conditions but with a large contingent of the field still to go out and watching from the balcony, it certainly wasn't "normal." In the end I hit my five wood well, almost too well as it ran and ran stopping just short of the ditch.

The greens were undoubtedly amongst THE fastest I've ever putted on. The club had hosted one of its  prestigious members competition the day before and the greens had been ironed to speed them up further and the pins were placed in as close to their premium locations as possible. It was set up as hard as it would have been for a professional event. The greens were scary and full of guile and intrigue. To be honest some of the pin placements, particularly at the fifth could make you look very silly. I had a six footer from above the hole and then had a similar distance back the other way. I had hardly breathed on the putt. It really makes you appreciate just what a test it is for the professionals at places like Augusta.

I played the nine hole team event like a bit of a chopper. The decent swing and glass half full optimism of post Camberley had been swapped by a quick and jerky swing producing snap hooks and big pushes. Add in several three putts and the scorecard wasn't pretty.

I was determined to put on a better performance in the afternoon. I've gained a certain reputation on the Golf Monthly Forum over the years and so I felt a strong desire not to embarrass myself in front of so many of my peers. The online humiliation would be brutal and lengthy and so ignominy was to be avoided at all cost. Naturally I made a real pigs ear of the first to get the campaign off to a real flyer and didn't trouble the scorer.

We all settled down. Smiffy's mates Alan Bannister and Greg Lindley (both off 11) were hitting the ball well although Greg in particular was struggling on the greens. We'd decided to play for £2 per man on the front nine score, £2 the back nine score and £2 per head on the overall points tally plus 50p for birdies so there were high stakes up for grabs. I was doing reasonably until I came to grief at the uphill par 3 6th. I missed the green right into the bunker. I failed to get out first time and my next attempt had no sand under the shot and the ball went miles over the green. By the time we had reached the turn it was tightly locked with Alan and I on 14 points, Smiffy a single point back and Greg a little adrift on 10 mainly due to his putting woes.

I started the back nine in the same way as the front and chopped my way along it to fail to score again. With Smiffy and Alan both picking up points it was game on and I was now losing. The 15th at Blackmoor is rated one of the hardest par 3's in Hampshire. Playing 198 yards, it plays down a narrow chute to a well bunkered, uphill saucer shaped green that also runs from front to back. The prevailing wind is also into the players face. So hard was the challenge that the organiser was offering a prize to anyone hitting the putting surface and staying on it.

Alan went first and was short. Up stepped Homer. I'd originally opted to hit my 3 hybrid but having seen how short Alan was I decided to club up to my 5 wood. Come on Homer. Nice and smooth. It came off like a peach. Straight and true it pitched into the front edge took a hop forward and stopped no more than ten feet away. The group waiting to putt out on the 14th and those walking off the 16th both applauded my effort. Show me the prize. The birdie putt was a mystery. I saw it with about a foot of break and dead weight. This thing moved miles and it never got to the hole before tailing off. With Smiffy and Alan holing out for a par the pressure was on. I stroked it in dead centre and held a narrow one point lead in our group

The last of the par 3's is the 17th. Playing 164 yards it's played to an elevated green over thick heather. Oblique bunkers left and right call for an accurate tee shot. The heavily contoured green presents a difficult putting challenge. As if the other sixteen we'd just played hadn't. Still a point in front I hit a 5 iron to the left edge of the green. Leaving the flag in I hit the best putt I'd made all day to roll it in from twenty feet. I could taste the victory and see the cash. Alan had hit the green too but it had felt all day as though you were only trying to lag putts stone dead so I never expected him to make it. Make it he did to cancel out my charge for glory.

The last goes downhill and then back up to a green in front of the clubhouse. I hit a good drive but missed the green left into a bunker twenty yards short. Alan unleashed a corker and his second found the green. Having made a hash of all my bunker shots playing this one in front of the baying masses up on the balcony called for a bit of bottle. Please don't thin it or leave it in there. In the end it came out well if a little short of pace. However to reiterate just how fast the greens were as if we needed reminding, it landed on the left of the green and rolled downhill across the width of the green to leave a 25 foot severely sloping right to left putt. In the end I over read it, didn't commit and came up eight feet short. Alan also came up short but made a five. I needed the putt to take the cash. It missed and to be fair the draw all round was the best result.

In the end Alan and I finished with 29 points (although it would have been 31 for me off full handicap). Not great but in the scheme of things it was good enough to see me finish twelfth overall and only seven points off first place. Bearing in mind I failed to score on four holes in the afternoon it showed that for the most part I was playing quite well.

Surprisingly out of a field of 44 players including a PGA professional and a few single figure players only myself and one other managed to hit and hold the 15th green. Happy days and there was a big smile on my face as I collected my prize. A huge thanks to everyone who organised the day, to the club for presenting the course at it best and toughest and to all the forum members I met old and new for making it a brilliantt day.

I have to say the Golf Monthly Forum http://forums.golf-monthly.co.uk is the place to go for a lively discussion on anything golf related. It doesn't discriminate between ability, kit or where you play and offers you the chance to talk to like minded people. It also hosts some cracking days out at great courses so get involved. You never know, you may be lucky(?) enough to get drawn with me.


On Sunday it was off to Camberley Heath to play in a Golf Monthly Forum mini-meet. Golf Monthly is the number one magazine in the UK and hosts the best interactive golfing forum anywhere on the internet and the members frequently host events around the UK to meet up and play. I started one two years ago (held at Royal Ascot) primarily for those in the South and the Midlands to play in as a lot events were being hosted in the North or in Scotland. For a lot of the forum members these were prohibitive in terms of cost and travel.

This year the big "Southern" meeting was booked for Blackmoor in Hampshire on Monday 27th but as a large contingent were travelling down over the weekend, two mini-meets were arranged at Bearwood Lakes and Camberley Heath by forum members who played at these clubs. The forecast was for scorching temperatures and for once they weren't wrong. it was the hottest day by far this year and to be honest was probably too hot for golfing comfortably. Still with a favourable green fee rate negotiated and the chance to play a fantastic course I was prepared to suffer for my golf.

I had met our host Anthony Lawrence before and knew one or two of the others. Introductions were made over a pre-round drink and the pairings sorted. Established in 1913 Camberley Heath Golf Club was designed by the legendary H. S. (Harry Shapland) Colt. His legacy is an outstanding heathland course, where natural contours have been used to enhance the "strategic golf experience".

We were off the whites which meant a stern 6215 yard test in blistering heat. There is no gentle introduction to your round with the first being a 406 yard par four dogleg to the right but with an out of bounds down the left. Teeing off from high above the fairway it is a spectacular opening. I pulled my opening drive and flirted with the out of bounds and although I hit a good recovery a duffed approach left me starting with a double bogey and a dropped point.

The guys I was with were brilliant fun we were very similar handicaps. None of us had played the course before and so it was a case of the blind leading the blind even with the help of a course planner. We all played some good shots and all came to grief at various points. My personal highlight was making a par at the monstrously long par 4 fifth hole measuring all of 495 yards. I corked my drive and followed it with a great 5 wood which ran through the back but a decent chip and a solid eight foot putt were enough to secure the most pleasing of pars.

By the time we had reached the well stocked halfway hut situated by the 10th green the heat had taken its toll on all of us. Despite keeping fluid levels topped with copious amounts of water we still needed a sit down in the shade and a rest. It was a close run thing score wise although I had my nose in front by the odd point.

I was getting tired and my swing was getting loose. I hooked my tee shot on the par five 13th left into an unplayable lie. I took a penalty drop and fired my recovery over the crest of a hill not really sure what was on the other side. What lay there was a downslope full of heather, a signature of the course (and home to adders) but my ball escaped and was in the light rough. My approach came up short and I hit a weak chip but I rolled a great long putt in for a six. I was well chuffed thinking I'd rescued two points only for my celebrations to be cut short by the others pointing out I didn't get a shot there. They even smiled as they broke the news.

Still I managed to get my own back, inadvertent as it was (honest). The 16th at Camberley is a short par 4 of just 302 yards but what you can't see from the tee is a pond that sits some fifty yards short of the green. I'd already opted to hit three wood and lay up to optimum pitching distance but two of the group went at the green with driver. One hooked his drive but played a provisional which he flushed. One guy went for it but didn't catch it. I had a course guide in my back pocket but had been too tired to get it out and look which would have pointed out the hazard immediately. The provisional ball was swimming with fishes but he had found the first ball and the guy who had also gone for it was now teetering a yard or so short of the water. Suffice to say I wasn't popular although it was all in jest.

By the time we got to the 18th we were all running on empty and could see the sanctuary of the clubhouse. The problem was the last hole involved a drive over a valley full of heather and then an approach semi blind up a hill to the green perched at the top and in front of the clubhouse and the very busy patio area. I'd actually played quite steady golf over the last six or seven holes of the round and so thought I'd a chance of stealing the pot of cash on offer and so opted to play safe with a three wood to the bottom of the hill. The others, with little to play for all got the big dogs out to blast as close as they could to the green 323 yards away.

In the end, the slope to the green negated all of their drives even though each had been sweetly struck and my three wood had gone just as far. I pitched up with a wedge and two putted for a closing par. However once the maths had been done over a welcome pint my 34 points, good as it was, could only finish third and Anthony our host, came good with 35. Golf Monthly Forum regular Chris Kissane (known as Murphthemog) also had 35 points too but lost with a worse back nine score.

The course was fantastic and it's another virtually on my doorstep that I'd never played. Thanks to all the guys who made it a great day and to Anthony for his generous hospitality. I'll definitely be back again and the day was a wonderful pre-cursor to the main event the following day at Blackmoor. I had hit the ball well and so confidence was actually on the up and I was definitely in a glass half full type of mood.

I'm Available For Hire

Sometimes when you see the draw sheet for the monthly medal or stableford at Royal Ascot you know before you've even hit a ball that you are going to have a good time irrespective of how well or badly you play. The monthly stableford last Saturday (June 25th) was one of those days. I was paired with John Munday (a decent 7 handicapper) and Tommy Goode (a strong 11 handicapper). John and Tommy are real stalwarts of the club and usually in the middle of all the banter in the 19th and both possess a quick mind and quick wit. There is never a dull moment with these two on and off the course and neither are short of a word or quip. Happy days.

My golf didn't start off too badly. Suitably relaxed I started off with a nett par and then a gross par down the 2nd for three points. However my game is blighted with unforced errors at present which seek to disable my scores as efficiently as any known computer virus. Forced to lay up at the 3rd following a pushed drive I have 84 yards left. I hit it perfectly but a fraction long and it rolls off the back of the green. Poor execution or poor distance control? Either way it left a tricky chip and I couldn't get it close enough. A point dropped.

So the scene was set. On the par five 5th I've only got 118 yards for my approach in and push a nine iron into the bunker and then fail to take any sand with the recovery and send the ball sailing over the green. Another point goes west. Seeking a fast recovery I hit a great shot into the heart of the 6th only to three putt. In the end it contributed to a lowly fifteen points going out. However both John and Tommy had experienced similar ying/yang starts and so I wasn't so poorly placed. Certainly not disgraced and actually striking it very well in general terms less four poor shots that cost the lost points

The back nine in truth was a similar tale. Par at the 10th was followed by a horror down the 178 yard 11th. I topped my tee shot (I can't remember the last time I did that) and then missed the green from a filthy lie. A duffed chip into a bunker and the writing was on the wall points wise for the hole. I couldn't convert anything and mistake followed mistake and I went on a run of single point scores from the 12th to the 15th which was only halted with a great drive at the 16th and a crisp 5 iron pin high. A good chip and a putt that stayed just short was enough for a nett par and two welcome points. It didn't last and I was back frittering shots at the 17th. I hit a great closing drive down the last but as if to sum the day up pulled my second shot which just ran into the thickest of thick rough and required a chop out. I salvaged a six for two points but it should have been better.

In the end my 27 points was a fair return. Tommy matched it but John played some blistering golf on the back nine to finish on 38 points which was enough to secure Division 1. We had a real good time together, got round comfortably inside four hours and dodged the odd stray shower. There is a real theme building up here. Over the period of the last year or so, it seems that one of the group I'm paired with in most medals or stableford will have a good round and invariably challenge for a top three spot in their handicap division. It has even filtered through to honours board events too. Sadly it hasn't rubbed off on my own game but I'm seriously thinking about hiring my card marking skills out to anyone looking for a handicap cut or some prize fund. I'm open to offers

The ball striking was pleasing although I didn't make any putts. My chipping is still a weakness and in and out but it is the ability to snatch bogey and double bogey from the grip of par or better that is an issue. Is it all in the execution? I'm not standing there thinking about technique so maybe it is. Maybe I'm just careless when I get within 150 yards and assume it is an easy shot and so don't focus as hard as I might on a tight drive or tricky recovery. Either way it is a blight on my game that needs eradicating and fast. The handicap continues to soar perilously close to 14 but in general terms the golf isn't indicative of that sort of mark. Work to be done me thinks.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Volvo Matchplay - Stalled Engine

Thursday (June 23rd) saw my regular partner and fellow Royal Ascot member Mike Stannard and I play our first round match in the Volvo Matchplay. This is a nationwide knockout matchplay competition with the early heats being regionalised and Grand Final being held in Portugal. We'd secured our place as invitees through Golf Monthly magazine who had kindly been offered six free places in the competition by Volvo the tournament sponsor and so we had the added pressure of upholding the honour of the GM Forum which had already been vocal in their support.

We had a home draw against two members of nearby Mill Ride Golf Club, John Ellis playing off a 23 handicap and Keith Loader off 7. Our spy in the camp had already told us that Keith was exceptionally steady and that when John was on, he could be very hard to handle. That said, Mike is usually a pretty solid partner and I tend to loiter with intent and come in as and when needed. We are a pretty tough nut to crack.

Mike and Keith traded early blows by hitting the tough opening par 3 and making solid par. I joined the action on the second where my approach to the green was luscious and all over the flag stopping about ten feet away. Keith had a long putt from the back of the green which he left about five feet short. My birdie putt shaved the edge and Keith tidied up. All square.

Team Golf Monthly were taking a novel approach to better ball matchplay. Instead of both trying to compete on the same hole it seemed that Mike and I would find trouble on alternative holes. He secured another half at the third when my drive found the rubbish and I reciprocated on the fourth when he missed the green. We finally took a lead on the fifth although it was a case of Mike being last man standing as the rest of us all had issues at some point down the long par 5.

We extended our lead again at the eighth when Mike made a tricky six footer for par but it was short lived. The ninth was playing into a stiff breeze. I had found the long rough off the tee and could only hack it out and Mike had caught a bad lie in the semi rough. Keith had found the fairway but was still two hundred yards from the green but hit a fantastic wood to find the putting surface. Neither Mike or I had any reply and so we led one up at the turn.

Things were looking positive when we won the tenth to restore the two hole cushion courtesy of pars from both Mike and I. Both John and I weren't playing our best golf but Mike and Keith were going toe to toe and exchanging pars on every hole. Even when I did hit some decent shots it seemed like Mike had already got the half and I couldn't quite find anything to kick start my back nine or to help extend our lead. The clearest example of this was the par five fifteenth. Having found the green in regulation, I hit an excellent birdie putt from sixteen feet and it was tracking the hole all the way until it reached the cup. Clearly my Titleist ball had a fear of the dark as it took a long hard look at the inside of the hole and decided it didn't like it in there and found a way to edge past.

Mike did sterling work to make yet another clutch putt at the sixteenth to leave us dormie two up. When Keith missed the green left at the 218 yard par three into the greenside bunker it seemed that a four may be good enough. Both Mike and I missed the green right. My partner hit a rare bad shot but I found the green some eight feet away with an uphill putt. Keith came out of the sand but only managed to get it to within twelve feet and faced a quick downhill putt. It was a must make to save the game. There is an old adage about never assuming your opponent will miss in matchplay but I had to be honest and say part of me had a warm feeling inside about the state of play. That lasted the four or five seconds it took his ball to leave the putter head and drop in the hole. I now had to make my putt which suddenly looked a lot longer. I hit it where I wanted and it ended up behind the hole. I'm still not sure how it could get there without dropping but it was back to one up and one to play.

Surely a par at the last would be enough. Keith and John had the honour and both got the ball away. John was short and right but was receiving a shot. Keith unloaded a great drive. Mike hit another fairway and I pushed my wood right into the right hand rough. Mike and John both played up. Mike found the fairway but Keith tugged his second left into the edge of the heavy rough. I was blocked out and could only progress my ball to the two hundred yard marker. Sadly John hit a poor shot and went to out of bounds and so was effectively out of the hole. It did cross my mind to take the green on and flirt with the pond on the right edge of the putting surface but common sense prevailed. It was a mile out and playing straight into the breeze. I laid up to 114 yards and hoped to get up and down.

Keith came out of the rough but only found the front edge of the green. I hit a nine iron in and it looked great. It was all over the flag and stopped seven feet away. Wedge play is probably Mike's strongest suit and so I was looking for him to get his close. Whether it was tiredness through carrying me for so long or just a bad swing but he put his approach through the back. We had drawn a small gallery from the bar to watch the closing act. Keith left his first putt a good three feet short. Mike chipped to about four feet. My putt was sidehill breaking left to right but not overly fast. I hit it where I aimed but it didn't keep its head high enough and dived across the jaws of the hole. Mike had a putt to win. He hit it perfectly but it hit the cup, rolled around the edge and was spat back out. I'm still not sure how it didn't fall. That left Keith with a putt to take it to extra time and he duly made it.

Sometimes in matchplay you get a feeling you have a chance on some holes. Today, Keith had been in awesome form and we never really looked like being gifted anything. It was par, par, par golf throughout. It was back to the 229 yard par 3 first. John hit a horror but Keith hit a decent shot which found the fringe on the front right hand side although the flag was back left and so faced a long second. Mike hit his tee shot well but pushed it a hair and found the right hand bunker. No pressure on me then! Fortunately I managed to find the same right hand fringe as Keith but slightly further away.

Mike hit a truly awful bunker shot, semi-shanking it so it was now a straight head to head. Keith versus me. I putted first and although the ball never scared the hole I cosied it up some three feet away. I think we all thought it would be a half in three and off to the 20th. Unfortunately nobody told Keith the script. From all of twenty five feet away he putted from the fringe. Even with the flag still in the hole the ball was dead centre and dropped for a most unlikely birdie and the win. It was the first and only time Jon and Keith had been ahead all day.

I felt really sorry for my partner who shot under his handicap and still came out on the losing side. However, taking away the two holes he lost a ball on, Keith had played the other seventeen in level par and had played the last five (including the extra hole) in one under gross. There is steady and "steady". Fair play to the guys who were brilliant company to play with and good luck to them in the next round. However I can't help feeling we were mugged somewhere down the stretch. Golf is always a game of ifs and maybes but there were several putts from both Mike and I that may have dropped on another day and would have been the difference. That's golf, but make no mistake we will definitely be back next year and looking to progress.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Redemption And The Birth Of A Golfing Superstar

In this digital age we are lucky that world events are beamed directly into our living rooms 24/7. Sadly these images are sometimes of death and destruction, some through natural disaster and sometimes through mans savagery to fellow man. Last night though I had the chance to sit back and enjoy something truly wonderful. A man coming of age. A man growing up in front of our eyes. A man getting redemption from a sporting tragedy that would have crushed many of his peers.

Rory McIlroy didn't just win the US Open last night. He tore the record books apart and obliterated a star spangled array of the worlds top golfers. The US Open is renowned for being uber tough. Par or just under is usually good enough to win. The course is usually set up with fearsome rough, super fast greens and pin placements sadistically placed to fool rookies and veterans alike. For this 22 year old from Holywood (how fitting is that) in Northern Ireland it didn't make a difference. From day one when he blistered into a lead he played the sort of golf only Tiger Woods in his pomp would dream to match. He was simply awesome. An irresistible force.

I have to be honest there was a nagging doubt in my mind watching him tee off on the first last night. What would happen if he made early mistakes as he had at the Masters in April. Would it all unravel again? It took three shots and an opening birdie to confirm that nothing would be further from the truth. He seemed to relish the chance to banish the ghosts of the 10th hole meltdown he had suffered. Was it just me or did he grow in size as the round progressed?

And what of the US crowds? Usually they are all for the home grown winner and are pretty vocal in their support for "one of their own". However with McIlroy having such a commanding lead and in imperious form wasn't it a joy to see them take him to their hearts and roar him home. I know he has played a lot of golf out on the USPGA Tour but even so, hats off to the fans too.

Already the comparisons with Tiger Woods have begun. Surely a bit early yet. There is even talk of Rory being the one to eclipse the number of major wins held by Jack Nicklaus. Again, hold the phone Dora, that is way off. Without a shadow of doubt this guy has a swing to die for and a fearless attitude of an old fashioned gunslinger. That said it is still only the first major and as many others have shown, including the much missed Seve, getting many more doesn't come easy and doesn't become a given. They have to be earned.

Fortunately he has a great team behind him from Chubby Chandler his manager, through his caddy to his parents who have down such a great job in making sure the young McIlroy has kept his feet on the ground following his meteoric rise since turning pro. However as Graham McDowell found last year, everyone will want a piece of him now. He has truly arrived on the golfing world stage as a true icon of the game. Its newest superstar has been unveiled

It is all these trappings that make me wonder how easy he'll find it to cope in the aftermath. With the next major being the Open at Royal St Georges expectation and media frenzy will be off the scale. This is where his manager will earn his bucks making sure his charge can focus on preparing as well as meeting all the new demands on his time.

However for the armchair viewer wasn't it a sight to behold. A golf course and the top names brought to their knees by the unbridled brilliance of Rory McIlroy. If the 10th hole had been his undoing at Augusta, the shot he played into the treacherous par 3 at Congressional was spell binding. A six iron that cleared the water, landed with a feather like touch and rolled back to within six inches of a hole in one. To be honest it would have been the cherry on the icing on the cake had it gone in. Of course deep down we'd have loved a tight finish but how could you be bored with the way he plotted his way around and refused to play anything but full on golf.

And so the European Tour dominance of the world of golf continues. I'm not sure what European Tour kingpin George O'Grady is putting in the water but they keep churning out the results. All eyes will now turn to Kent for the Open. Whilst I would love to see the McIlroy fairytale continue, I fear he may find the media circus a bit of a strain and can't see back to back major wins. From my comfy spot on the settee I'd love nothing more than Westwood to follow another good performance at Congressional and finally get his own major. If not then there are a dozen or so European players alone that you could make a good case for. Whatever happens I hope we get another brilliant tournament like we've enjoyed this week.

As for McIlroy, I've a feeling the head may be a little delicate this morning but I think we can allow him a wee dram to celebrate.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Course Review - Windlesham Golf Club

Set just off junction three of the M3 near Bagshot, the course was designed in 1994 by former Ryder Cup Star and leading Seniors PGA Tour player Tommy Horton. The round itself was free courtesy of winning a fourball voucher in the Royal Ascot members/guest day raffle last year but the forecast was poor with the threat of heavy rain showers all afternoon. Having never been to the club despite its proximity to Ascot I had no idea what to expect.

You get a feeling of the quality of the club as you pull in and the extensive practice facility comes into view. This has both a grassed area to clip shots off which was well maintained and had plenty of lush turf and mats for use in the winter as well as a covered teaching facility. It also has a short game area with a two tiered green and two practice bunkers that would shame the on course ones at many other clubs. The welcome in the large, clean clubhouse is very warm and visitors are made to feel welcome. The changing facilities are spacious and clean. The pro shop is large and well stocked and the staff are polite and helpful.

I played with Bash, Sundance and Kerching (Martin and Matt Davis and Anthony Ayres) from my normal Saturday morning crowd and as we stood on the first waiting to tee off the clouds rolling across the valley did not look kind but it was dry for the opening shots. The first hole was 437 yards off the yellow tees (445 off the whites) and you aim towards the brow of a hill and a marker post. We all got good drives away to the marker or just beyond and from there you can see what remains. It dog legs slightly to the right and the second is a long shot over a picturesque lake with a fountain set in the middle.

Having over 220 yards left, the choice to lay up was a simple one and it left just a smooth wedge onto the green. Two putts later I'd made a 5 (nett par) and the round was under way without any drama.

The course has two loops of nine which bring you back towards the clubhouse. Despite being 6650 yards off the whites and 6261 off the yellow tees we used, do not go there expecting to bomb your way round with driver off most tees. It has been well designed to test every golf shot in your repertoire as well as making you engage your brain with a requirement for careful course management.

The 2nd was an indication of this playing 373 yards off the yellows. It has a ditch around the 230 yard mark and the whole fairway narrows at that point. Anything too far left is blocked out as the hole turns left and anything too far right is blocked by trees.

We were lucky as we played out the first nine in that the only rain we had was in the form of light drizzle and it was only intermittent. In fact it was more of a chore having to slip the waterproof on and off each time but it was humid and so it was too warm to leave it on for long when the rain blew over. I'm one of those golfers that loves playing a new course but sometimes struggles with not knowing the layout and exactly where to position my shot. My putter was cold although the greens weren't very quick, thanks in main to the heavy rain in the days beforehand, but had some very subtle borrows which made even the short putts a test. They were receptive as you'd expect and quite large so the right club selection to avoid long putts is critical.
The front nine closes with a very pretty par 5. It is quite short off the yellows (467 yards) and is no monster off the whites (498) but requires a good drive to carry a lake and to set up the next shot. As the course planner says " It's all about the drive. Should I or shouldn't I with the carry over the water at 210 yards against the prevailing wind through a tightish gap. You will need to concentrate and be sure of your drive. Once negotiated make use of the right side of the fairway as you hit over the second ditch".

As it happens I hit an outstanding drive, played a good five wood and only had a simple wedge into the green. Although not the longest hole, once you turn right past the lake, everything is very much uphill and so the hole does play longer than the yardages suggest. I made a welcome par.

As we got to the 10th tee, the rain become a bit heavier. Not torrential but a steadier drizzle. The starting hole on the back nine is a lovely one too. You tee it up high above the valley, by the clubhouse, and the hole falls away down the slope. It is definitely one of the prettiest holes on the course. It definitely inspired me to hit another straight and true drive although I then managed to make a mockery of the hole taking five more to get down from only 143 yards in.

Sadly by the time we'd teed off on the 14th, the heavens had finally opened and it was hammering it down and was getting hard to play good golf. Despite the best efforts of umbrella, full waterproof suit, towels and wet weather gloves it became a bit of a battle for survival and so became difficult to appreciate the holes for their golfing test. The 14th is a pretty little par three of only 166 yards from the competition posts or 150 from the yellow pegs. The green is some 34 yards long and so we were lucky that the flag was at the front which made choosing the right club easier. The 15th is another hole that requires good course strategy. Only 334 holes from the yellow markers it offers the big hitters a chance to get close to the putting surface which makes the second a question of club selection and may require a finesse shot to the target. The sensible play may be to club down with a 3 wood or long iron to leave a full shot in with the approach.

Similarly the 16th has a ditch across the fairway. It should be easily cleared with a 3 wood or driver. I wasn't sure of my yardages and hit a rescue club off the tee which stopped a yard or so short thanks in main to the sodden grass. In hindsight it is definitely a hole to take on. It is only 300 yards from the whites and a meagre 288 from the yellows. It does have a narrow green and there is a bunker cut right into the front off the apron which again makes hitting the correct yardage essential. Another very pretty hole but one that can catch the unwary out very easily.

By the time we reached the 18th the elements had won the day. All our gear was wet and it was becoming hard to hit good shots on a consistent basis as the rain became even heavier. Even the tee boxes and greens were struggling to cope with the deluge and had a few puddles forming. The last is another par 5. This one is a true three shotter for the average player and is a dog leg right and plays uphill back to the clubhouse.

The tee shots needs to carry the brow of a hill and both sides of the fairway are protected by large mounds on either side giving it a bowl like feel. The second shot has to be played over a mound and is blind and the ball will try and follow the side of the hill and run to the right. The third shot will be with a mid to short iron up the hill to the green. It is a very clever hole and is a fine way to end the round.

I have to say despite the course being very close by it was one I'd never played but will definitely be returning to. It would be nice to play it again in dry conditions and I feel confident now about where I need to position the ball to make a score. In the end both Bash and Anthony did really well to finish with 34 points each while Martin Davis and I succumbed to the conditions and both trailed in with 28 points apiece.

The clubhouse is very spacious and well set out and the bar stocks a wide range of beers and wines. There is plenty of seating including a nice conservatory overlooking the course and it has The Nineteenth Restaurant for those wanting a proper meal and fine dining afterwards.

 All in all, Windlesham offers a fantastic venue to any visiting golfer and at the moment offers a very competitive membership deal with no joining fee. The test of golf itself is tough but fair and the course is very much what you see is what you get and doesn't try and trip you up. The clubhouse is modern and clean and the practice facilities are excellent. I would suggest looking at the website www.windleshamgolf.com and booking a game. You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

On The Right Path

I had a lesson last night with my teaching professional Paul Harrison at Maidenhead Golf Centre.

It's been a while since we had a look at my full swing as we've been putting in the hard yards on the Linear method of chipping. I still had an issue with this, particularly on the very short chips and so we split the lesson in two with a fifteen minute refresher on the short game and the rest giving my full swing an MOT.

Chipping wise I am struggling when there isn't much distance between the ball and the flag, say just going over a collar of green to a tight flag a few paces on. I couldn't get it right or find a swing speed to execute. It turns out I'd been over complicating things again and moving my weight about, not only too much but in the wrong direction through the shot. After simplifying it back down I feel more confident over the shot. I dare say on the course it will be a different proposition but we'll wait and see.

Having cured one problem it was onto the main swing. I've been striking the ball really well of late and so I was nervous about Paul making any wholesale changes especially with a few trips to different courses coming up and the first round of my Volvo Pairs knockout with my partner Mike Stannard next week (representing Golf Monthly into the bargain). He watched me hit a few and was reasonably impressed. It seems the swing itself is pretty functional at the moment and the real issue he had was with my address position. My posture had slumped a little and my arms were tucked in towards my chest which meant I wasn't really giving myself as much room as I might to make my turn.

He has gotten me to stand much more upright in a more athletic position with a softer knee flex and the arms extended out more (without over reaching). It was such a simple and subtle change but the result was massive. I feel as though I have so much room through the hitting area. It has got rid of a lot of the misses left which Paul explained was down to being so cramped at impact. It is an area that is easy to let bad habits come back into and so I need to pay particular attention to my posture at any practice session I do. He has shown me on video how I should be standing and has suggested I take regular pictures of my posture to make sure I am not slouching and the hands aren't tucking in.

This is what we're aiming for

Other than that little tweak I am pleased to say the overall swing has passed its MOT with flying colours and whilst we both recognise it isn't perfect or even textbook, it has the makings of something repeatable now. I went back to the range tonight to work on it and I have to say the prognosis is good. I feel that the ball is perhaps a few yards longer (hard to tell with range balls) as I've more room to come down and through onto the ball and it is definitely coming off the clubhead nicely. If there was a down side it is trying to find a balance between extending the arms correctly and over-stretching particularly with the longer clubs and the driver especially. When they were good they were fantastic but some felt awkward at address and the outcome wasn't pretty. This is where the over-reaching crept in.

All in all then a very worthwhile exercise last night and time well spent tonight. I need to keep working on the driver, but if we can get this on song then I've a feeling there is another good score looming large. It's just a shame that the forecast for my round at Windlesham on Friday is less than favourable but it's a round of golf, on a working day, so I think we can put up with a bit of rain and wind. And it's a freebie. To be honest I'm buzzing and really can't wait to try it out on the course. Naturally the chances of translating it from range to first tee are slim, but the lesson has re-energised my self-belief and the fact that Paul is so pleased with progress to date and confirmed we're a long way down the right track has made all the effort seem worthwhile. Cue one Happy Homer.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Hybrid Hunting

As I alluded to in my last post my Taylormade Burner hybrid has been misbehaving for a while and regularly produces huge hooks left, usually resulting in the ball being lost or at best in a difficult lie. So much for it being a rescue club. The issue stems from the fact that it sits slightly closed, cunningly designed to give a draw bias. The problem is my teaching pro has got me swinging on a much better swing path and so I generate draw anyway and so the bias only adds to this hence the big banana shots left. I've not had much confidence with it for a while and the time had come for a change. Enough was enough.

The 07 Burner - definitely out of favour
 I have to be honest and say given the opportunity I love to try latest gear out and I am a real magpie for anything shiny and new. The weather here in deepest Berkshire has been pretty abysmal today and you can definitely tell that lawn tennis is back in town (doesn't it always rain at Wimbledon?). However it gave me the perfect opportunity to spend some time looking for a new 3 hybrid.

I must confess I am a Taylormade fan and so I was immediately drawn to their offerings. I'd discarded the R11 model having tried it at a previous demo day and really not liked it in any set up. As a renowned tinkerer anyway the adjustable flight setting was always going to prove to difficult to resist. Any bad shot would have to have been the set up of the club and not the end user and the wrench would have been permanently in my grubby hands. That left their latest Superfast model which like the R11 is white on the crown with a black face and designed to promote better alignment

I really wanted to like this club with its sleek design and whiteness which really does make it easier to pick the ball out and ensure it points where you want it to. Sadly though the RE*AX SL 60 shaft in both stiff and regular flex was just too light for my quick swing and it was a nightmare to control. In truth it only took about ten balls to realise we were never going to get along.

Not to be deterred though I went for last years version of the Superfast which had a more traditional black head. It came with a RE*AX 60 Superfast shaft and given how the newer model had behaved I opted for the stiff version to start with. The results were better but not great. In truth my other Taylormade clubs are all regular shafted and I've never been told at any fitting or demo day that I needed stiff flex specifically. Maybe the regular would do the trick.

In the end the regular flex was a step up but not really what I was looking for. Now I had a problem. Taylormade had let me down and I was forced to fling myself to the mercy of all the other manufacturers. So many models and so many variations. In the end it came down to three. The G15 and I15 from Ping and the Cobra Baffler Rail Hybrid. I did try offerings from Cleveland, Titleist and Mizuno but to be frank, although the Titleist performed the best of these, it didn't look right to my eye behind the ball and I never stood there with any confidence. Translate that to the course and I could see myself doubting my ability with it and I think we can all guess how that would end.

Eventually it came down to a chose of two. The Cobra is a very good hybrid and will suit a lot of golfers. It has a good ball flight, looks great behind the ball and is very forgiving. The rail on the sole will make it very easy to cut through longer grass and so will be ideal for shots from the rough. However it didn't quite make my last two and it was a straight shootout between the Ping G15 and the I15.

I have always been a big fan of Ping gear despite being a Taylormade gear whore and I've already written on here about coveting the I15 irons and so I guess there was an air of inevitability about the final two. The G15 is a peach to hit and is very versatile and forgiving. The high ball flight may not suit everyone but the distance it produced was very much on a par with my Taylormade. I tried it with the Aldila Serrano 85 hybrid shaft in both regular and stiff flex and it was the stiff that performed the best.

In the end though the daddy of them all was the I15. It was awesome in terms of distance, at least ten yards further than any other model I tried using the Mamiya AXIVcore Tour Red 85 shaft. The regular was good but in the end the stiff flex fitted me to a tee. Ball after ball sailed high and true with a lovely penetrating flight and a delicious hint of draw.

So I've a shiny new hybrid in my bag. It does look a little lost amongst a sea of Taylormade clubs but on the day it was the best of the bunch and as we all know it isn't about what it looks like or to some degree how it plays, all that counts is the number on the scorecard. It has one degree more loft than the Burner it's replacing but I can live with that as it flies further. I can stand there with confidence now without fear of losing the shot left all the time and as confidence is such a big part of my golfing psyche I can't wait to get out onto the course to try it. I'll be hitting the driving range this week as my golf club will be in the midst of the Royal Ascot race meeting and so getting in and out of the club is a nightmare and it's best to give it a very wide berth. However I'm off to Windlesham Golf Club on Friday and relishing the prospect of the first proper shot with it.

All in all it was a very enlightening experience and a very enjoyable one. If you are struggling with your longer irons, I thoroughly recommend you look at a hybrid. There are plenty of makes and models to choose from and there is bound to be one out there for you. As for me I'm tired but very happy with my purchase and it does look enticing sitting in my golf bag next to me as I write this. I think this will be the start of a beautiful friendship.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Back To Earth (With A Resounding Thump)

Not a great day on the course today. The swing was all over the shop, the mind wasn't on the job in hand and I couldn't get anything going or find any sort of spark. Fortunately it was only the usual Saturday morning roll up and so there was no damage done to my club handicap, although the roll up guys cut me two shots for winning last week so I was playing off 11 today. At the end of the day two shots made no difference and it was woeful, especially the front nine.

It had all started so well with a chip and a fifteen foot putt for par at the first. Then the rot started. I hit a drive out of bounds on the second. A truly woeful swing. I steadied the ship at three and four but missed the green miles right from 147 yards with my approach at the fifth. I duffed the recovery into a bunker, and then forgot the "splash" part of a bunker shot and hit it way too clean and over the green into deep rubbish and failed to score. I hit another poor, poor tee shot on the 6th (did I ever mention my loathing for that hole?) for a lost ball and no score. I did manage to redeem myself out of sand when my tee shot at the eighth missed the green right and I escaped to four feet and holed out. A terrible three putt at the ninth cost me (it was a hole I don't get a shot on off my new roll up handicap) and all in all it added up to a measly 11 points.

Things didn't improve down the tenth when the drive went left into long rough and I could only hack it forward about twenty yards and then missed the green with my next. Even when I hit a good shot as I did on the par 3 eleventh, with a 4 iron finding the heart of the putting surface, I contrived to three putt from no more than twenty feet. What a muppet.

I made a good up and down at the next which helped and found the front of the green at the par 3 twelfth and this time the putter behaved. It was my driver that was mis-firing. I hit one way right off the 14th tee and was lucky to find it and luckier still to get a shot. The sweet spot went missing off the fifteenth tee too. However it was the missed green from 131 yards with just and 8 iron in my hand and a duffed chip that were really to blame for not scoring on the hole. By the time I reached the 17th I was running on empty. My mind wasn't on it (had it ever been "on"?) and the swing was all over the show. Ironically I found the green at the long 218 yard par 3. Guess what followed? Correct answer. Another three putt. I managed an acceptable 6 (nett par) at the last for a dismal 25 points. No cash for Homer this week and it was back to shelling out.

The good news is I think I know what the fault is and so it's off to the range tomorrow to work on it. If it doesn't come back I've a lesson booked for Tuesday which was going to be looking at the mental side (shot preparation, swing thoughts etc) but can easily be switched to a swing assessment. Then it's a case of working it through before going off to play Windlesham on Friday http://www.windleshamgolf.com/

It's my birthday on Thursday (45 years young) and so I went out and treated myself (ok I used some birthday money) and bought a new carry bag. Being a bit of a Taylormade fan (brand whore) I went for their new R11 bag.

It looks great, is nice and light and has plenty of pocket space. The guys in the pro shop at Royal Ascot did me a deal on it and priced matched the best internet price I could find so everyone's a winner. I'll be trying it out for the first time at Windlesham on Friday so I need to find a decent golf swing to do it justice. At least the retail therapy numbed the pain of today's round. Hopefully I'll get it cracked again tomorrow. I'm also off to look for a new 3 hybrid in the morning as the current Taylormade Burner has been mis-firing for ages. It sits closed and I can't stop hooking it so I'm off to find one with a more neutral set up. I love testing new clubs so it could be a long morning for the shop assistant! I'll be sure to let you know if I find something I like. I love this birthday lark. The Queen's got it right and I think I need two birthdays as well if only to keep up with my spending on golf gear.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

May's Report

As some of you may be aware, I keep a track of my performances on a rather nifty piece of software called Scoresaver 2. www.scoresaver.co.uk which helps me keep tabs on what parts of my game are going well and which are a damp squib and causing me to lose shots. Yes I was a train spotter in a former life. There is a serious side to it and I give my teaching professional Paul Harrison a breakdown so we can see where it's all going a bit "Pete Tong" and structure our lessons accordingly. On course it takes no more than ten seconds to record the information and a couple of minutes to download it into the system.

Enough of the spiel, what did May bring?

Key stats for Martin Bedborough (Hcap: 13)

Fairways Hit: 42% (Hcap Std: 15)
Greens In Reg: 26% (Hcap Std: 12)
Putts Per Round: 32.14 (Hcap Std: 12)
Sand Saves: 9% (Hcap Std: 20)
Birdie Conversion: 15% (Hcap Std: 12)
Par Scrambles: 17% (Hcap Std: 18)

The numbers in brackets are a guideline contained within the system to give you a ball park figure on how your numbers match up compared to your handicap. On first sight, some of these figures would appear shocking especially the sand saves and par scrambles. On the one hand I'll be the first to hold my hand up and say I don't spend enough time in the sand to make significant progress and that I lack a consistent and reliable swing in bunkers. On the other hand my defence is that I'm going through a learning curve with the Linear Method of chipping which includes bunker play and so it is an ongoing work in progress. Also, I have to say the standard of the bunkers, particularly at Royal Ascot lately has left a little to be desired. There is a definite lack of uniformity with some having plenty of sand in to play an explosion shot and others seemingly so, only to find the club hitting the integral base of the bunker itself and skidding with inevitable consequences.

The par scrambles too don't tell the whole story and again is down in the main to adopting the Linear Method. For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, here's a very good link that shows you the basics (this is the pitch shot but the chipping is just a scaled down version) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XzLzmRPmxJU

It's championed by Gary Smith, a Golf Monthly Top 25 coach, advanced fellow of the PGA, England coach and coach to various county sides.

I've not managed to conquer it fully yet especially in competitions and so my short game remains as fragile as England's back four against Switzerland last week. Still if good old GMac can go into meltdown at Celtic Manor there is hope for us all.

Out of the rest of the numbers, only the driving is below my standard and has always been an issue for me. Ironically it is one area that has been on the up lately. Royal Ascot is very much a course that requires you to keep it in play to be able to make a score and it is definitely something that has moved on. which of course leads to greens in regulation (GIR) being easier to find.

So what does it all add up to? Well for the most part it shows that my game is gradually coming back. The ball striking has been good for a while and finally I'm beginning to take advantage. Of course the biggest area of disappointment is the short game. I recognise that a good, nay, a mediocre, short game will always save me a number of shots. Given the depths of despair I was in with my chipping, I'm already way ahead of where I was but it is a long road ahead. Of course by now you'll know I have a penchant for practice and so I'm sure with some hard work (and some faith in my ability) this area will improve. I'm due a lesson next week anyway and so I really want to work on the short game some more. On a side issue, if you do take the trouble to watch the video link, I'd be interested to hear your views. Is there mileage in this different, yet simple approach or is it just a bonkers idea for those that have lost the plot.

And there you have it. May is done and dusted and we're getting better even if the numbers don't necessarily add up. I'll be reporting back for June and lets see if we can continue the forward momentum. Onwards and upwards.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

A Screeching Halt

Well like the gloriously warm spell of weather we've been enjoying here in Berkshire, my golf game came a to a screeching halt. Cold, overcast and breezy this morning for the Centenary Medal at Royal Ascot I was first out in the draw and so led the field off.

Now a lot has been said about my golf in competitions. I've been accused of trying too hard, thinking too much and putting too much pressure on to play well, get a handicap cut and move towards Homers Odyssey of a single figure golfer. I've not really been thinking too much at all lately as the last two rounds have been social rounds with no baggage and lo, I've played well. Today I was determined to go out and do what I'd been doing to good effect and not think about the round in any context. Enjoy the good shots, forget the bad and let the score take care of itself.

A noble vision that lasted one shot. My opening drive was carved right and narrowly missed going out of bounds. However I was forced to play backwards which I failed to do with any aplomb. My third shot, (on a par 3) found the sand and the escape wasn't great. There were low expectations standing over the putt but the putter was as hot as it had been yesterday and I canned an absurd twenty footer to rescue a five.

In truth the round today never really got going. I was trying to just play the shot without thinking too much about implications or score, much as I thought I'd done in the last two rounds. However in truth I wasn't thinking enough, or in particular, paying enough due care and attention and so threw shots away like confetti in the breeze. I missed the third green from 120 yards for a double bogey, and despite then making two pars and an acceptable bogey four at that pesky 6th hole (par 3) I threw another two away at the 7th. I had found the fairway and then hit an out and out rank poor five iron. I basically nobbled it 100 yards along the deck into the rough. The recovery overshot the green and the chip back barely made the putting surface. Two putts later I was writing down another double bogey on the card.

I thought I'd throw another double in on the next. The tee shot found the bunker and it had nestled just inside the back lip of the trap. With one foot outside the bunker and the back edge of the bunker to avoid it was a tough, tough shot. However just for once I pulled of something a bit special and it not only came out perfectly but was only about fifteen feet from the pin. Two putts to salvage a bogey. Three putts later we're recording a five for another double.

If that was bad then the ninth was just messy. I hit a good drive which was a fraction too tight to the fairway bunker and it duly found the sand. Not a problem thought I as I wandered up to play my next shot. If the bunker shot on the last had been tricky with one foot out of the sand this was a doubly difficult problem with a high risk tariff. It had literally just fallen into the sand from the side and I was faced with standing outside the bunker, with a downhill lie. Just get it out you fool I hear you say. The options my friends were limited.

There is a ditch that traverses the fairway and was about thirty yards away going forward towards the hole so anything going forward would need to clear that or be played delicately to avoid rolling in on the fast running fairway. Coming out sideways would need a good shot to get over the edge of the bunker and would still only have one foot in the sand. Problems, problems. In the end I opted, wrongly in hindsight, to give it a go with a 7 iron with the intent of catching it thin so it would come out low and potentially have enough velocity to bounce the ditch. The execution was lacking and I hit it right off the toe. It ran straight right like a scalded cat. I dropped another into the sand, extricated myself to the side with the one leg in escape route and went to look for the original shot. Surprisingly (NOT) it was lost and so a third consecutive double bogey brought to an end a shocking front nine. I had only hit a couple of actual bad shots but had been so lax in my thinking over the ball that I'd frittered shot after shot after shot away. My purple patch had hit the skids.

I decided that on the back nine I'd adopt a more pragmatic approach. More care and attention without trying to be over analytical or over thinking the execution. I hit a good drive at the 10th and only had a simple eight iron in from 129 yards. I missed the green left but did manage to chip and two putt to salvage a five (nett par). I overshot the par 3 eleventh with a five iron. It was downwind and my shot did land on the narrowest part of the green and so it wasn't a great surprise. The chip back wasn't great but no real harm done in terms of the second half score.

The tee shot at the 12th had cost me yesterday but today I went on a more direct line opting not to take the dog leg carry on. Perfectly struck I had a perfect lie and a four iron approach. For the first time in ages, well two games, I went into meltdown again. I pulled the 4 iron left into thick rough, hacked out into a bunker and then air mailed the bunker shot through the green. A duffed chip, a half hearted second one and two putts meant a vicious snowman (8) on the card. Not pretty. Golf is a truly ridiculous game. I topped my tee shot on the 187 yard 13th no more than one hundred yards and hit a mediocre shot on to the green. I was at least twenty feet away looking at a sharp right to left breaking putt that was downhill towards the cup and so going to be like greased lightening. To be honest the heart had gone out of my game following the trouble on the last and so inwardly I was resigned to three putting. I hit it well but it was travelling way too fast until it found the hole. Dead centre and dropped straight in, no questions asked for a "routine" par.

I got back on the double bogey train at the next courtesy of yet another duffed thirty yard pitch shot which of all the facets of the game is normally one I don't have an issue with. By now, the medal card was wrecked and interest was waning. It probably reads as though I was having a howler. In fact the actual ball striking for the most part had been good, certainly on the longer shots but it was from close range that the problems were occurring and I was just being so wasteful. Even trying to think more on the back nine hadn't really helped.

By now my brain had switched off. It was like an old Western town just before the final shoot out with the tumbleweed blowing through

However it must have worked as I made a birdie at the par 5 15th hole. I left myself another thirty yard pitch shot but played this one perfectly to within six feet and made the putt. Stupid bloody game. I was forced to lay up at the 16th as I had pushed the drive right and couldn't go for the green. A nine iron from 126 yards went to within four feet for another relatively easy putt and another par. I even hit the green on the long par 3 17th (218 yards) and made another par. Sadly though the round would end as it had started with another double bogey and it all added up to a rather messy nett 79 (+9).

It looks bad and probably reads bad too. I said in my previous post that the "no pictures on a scorecard" saying would come back to bite me on the bottom. People will look at the score on face value and not realise there were some good shots in there. There were far too many bad ones too but overall I wasn't as devastated as perhaps I might have been in recent months.

However it does beg the question what went wrong. Why this screeching halt after a lot of good golf? Well we all know form is fleeting in this game but it does only seem to be in competitive play that I can't perform to anything like my true potential. Where does it go wrong? I tried adopting a more relaxed approach, perhaps too laid back in todays case. Granted there wasn't too much in the way of banter today. The company itself was excellent but both my partners were intent on trying to make their best scores possible and a medal round is never going to have that same devil may care atmosphere as a friendly game with some mates. It's about harnessing the relaxed approach though and trying to play well without thinking about how to do it.

I'm off to give this book a read.

I'm becoming more and more interested in this side of the game now. Clearly it appears I have some kind of mental block that is stopping me executing in competitions even when the swing itself for the most part is functioning within acceptable parameters.

I've obviously got what you might call "competitive baggage" somewhere in my psyche and the ability to produce card destroying shots from nowhere. I need to find a release valve or a trigger to stop this happening. It strikes me that most of the guys that play at my club, and I guess most others, find it easier to accept the bad rounds, enjoy the good ones and play with a certain degree of freedom. Perhaps it's the Odyssey itself causing the problem. Maybe single figures is out of my reach. Certainly with the handicap in full retreat it would appear so. However I don't think it's the case. I know I'm on the right path but what I need are ways of working through the mental side. I'm sure this book will help. I'm a big Rotella fan and have read a couple of his other tomes which made sense and were explained things in a way even a fool like me could understand.

Royal Ascot Golf Club is forced to scale down operations to accommodate the crowds that flock to the Royal Ascot race meeting, a landmark event in the English social calendar, and so there will be no more competitions until June 25th which is the monthly stableford. In between times I've a lesson with my teaching professional, Paul Harrison, and I'm going to be working on triggers and mental exercises on the course to dump this baggage. I'm not quite going into the murky world of sports psychology but thought it might be interesting if nothing else to at least dip a toe in the water. I fear I'm a lost cause. We'll just have to wait and see but for the moment let's see what Dr Bob has to say. Chapter One........

Show Me The Money

I played in the normal Saturday morning roll up yesterday with the usual suspects at my club. The weather was glorious and I was unusually buoyed by my performance on Monday where I managed to shoot a personal best score. The roll up is good old, fashioned social golf. Granted we all put £2 in the kitty and there is usually a first and second prize, but it's all about the fun. The humour at times can be tougher than the golf but they are all great guys and I always look forward to playing.

I started off poorly for once, given recent form. I skied my drive to leave myself well short of the green, pitched on and then three putted for a single point. Not what I had been looking for. I needn't have worried unduly as I then went on to par the next three holes before making a sumptuous birdie at the 503 yard 5th. Fairway in regulation. Check. Second shot to position A+. Check. Decent lie. Negative. Having hit a great lay up to the perfect wedge distance the damn ball was lying in an old divot. I hit down on it and although it came out low it was the perfect distance. One bounce, a lot of check spin and there it was lying next to the hole like an old ginger Tom in front of the fire. It left a simple five foot putt which went in dead centre.

Now we've spoken about my ability to conjure up problems from nowhere before. As your guide through Homer's Odyssey, warts and all, I'm pleased to announce I found a new way to not score any points on a hole. I pulled this new trick off playing the par 3 6th, my nemesis as my recent blog will testify (http://threeoffthetee.blogspot.com/2011/05/hackers-guide-to-royal-ascot-hole-6.html)

I hit a decent 4 iron that just caught the right hand bunker. No problem, just get it out, two putt, take a bogey and one point and move on. Not today. I'm not sure how I managed it but I hit the ball twice. Once on impact and then as I followed through, propelling it off the front edge of the green. Naturally there is a penalty and no reward for trick shots like this and even though I rolled in a great eight footer it made no difference. I played the 7th like a fool and dropped another point but got it straight back by hitting the green on the short par 3 8th hole and knocking in a twelve footer left to right downhiller for a rather cheeky birdie. I smashed a drive down the 9th and almost hit it too well into the ditch that crosses the fairway at the 290 yard mark. Granted it was downwind and downhill but a timely reminder that the hazard can come into play at this time of year. Out in 20 points and only scoring on eight holes. Happy Days.

My mood was enhanced even further when my 9 iron to the 10th was spot on and left just three feet to negotiate for another birdie. I missed the green left at the next into a bunker but came out pretty well (for me) and rattled another single putt in to save par. My luck ran out a tad on the next though. I thought I'd hit a perfect drive cutting off a fair chunk of the dogleg and clearing the trees that block progress. However when we go there, I had not only failed to do so but the ball was nestled unplayable at the base of one of them. Chalk up a six for a lonely one point. Damn!

I needn't have worried. My putter was on fire and having missed the green left at the difficult 186 yard par 3 (somehow recognised as the second easiest hole on the course) and having only hit a mediocre recovery I rammed a huge curling putt from all of fifteen feet for another par save. As they always say, no pictures only numbers on the card. Mind you that will return to haunt me.

I made a pigs ear of the 14th, thinning a simple pitch shot through the green and having to rely on another single putt to salvage a point. My driving has always been a bete noire but for the most part had behaved impeccably. I launched one down the 15th into the perfect position and as it was downwind decided to go for glory and hit the green on this par 5. In truth I hit it too well and the shot ran through the back into bandit country and I was lucky to find it and to have a shot. I managed to chop it out to the edge of the green and two putt.

I missed the green right at the 16th after another good drive but this time the short game rode to the rescue and a deft chip left a simple tap in for another par. Two rounds, back to back, going to plan. As hard to believe for you reading this as it was for me playing the shots I'm sure. Of course it was inevitable that the driving wouldn't last. Coming to the 18th, it is another hole that has a ditch crossing the fairway at about the 270 yard mark, but it is always fast running, playing downwind and so often in range even for relatively short hitters like me. I elected to hit 3 wood to stay short and as if to top and tail the round hit it as badly as I had on the first. It went short and right and left me with not option but to play out sideways. I recovered well enough to make a six (nett par) and had completed a second nine worth 20 points for a grand total of 40.

Now the one thing that makes our roll up or "greedie" as it's known so interesting, is there is always one guy every week that plays well below their handicap and scoops the money so there was no counting of chickens until everyone had returned.

In the end I had taken the cash. Granted it was only £12 but a win is a win. It did however mean my new "Greedie" handicap has been cut by two shots for winning (for four weeks) back to 11. At least it'll give me a chance to remember what it was like when my official handicap was that low too.

The one thing I've found from these last two rounds is that the more relaxed I am, the better the banter is, the more I tend to play on auto-pilot and not worry about too many technical issues. I will grant you my short game is never more than a thinned chip away from collapsing and so is always on a knife edge but that aside, the guys I play with make it so easy to just stand there, assess the shot and swing. Of course seasoned golfers, teaching pros and even rank beginners will all be screaming at the screen that you're supposed to do it that way all the time. Do you know something? You'd be right but I've always had a habit of being a thinker and it is only through the encouragement of some good golfing friends and some plain talking from the Golf Monthly Forum that in the last eighteen months I've tried to play a more natural, hit it, find it and hit it again type of game. Sometimes it works and sometimes it works in the beginning until I have a bad few holes when the voices in my head return. One thing is certain. You cannot produce good, or more importantly consistent golf with a thousand swing thoughts occupying your mind.

So what do these last two rounds tell me (and you)? Well the swing is finally working pretty well and for once the unforced errors were outweighed by a stellar putting performance (only 29 putts) and that when the mistakes came they weren't card wreckers. It says very clearly that when I'm on, I'm still pretty damn good but that clearly I'm not "ON" enough. So what do we do to change that. Big question and one that I think may need a radical approach. Plans are afoot bloggers. I'm going to a mysterious place to see if I can exorcise these voices. Things are going to get deep.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Cause For Celebrations - Yes But...

Well finally, after promising so much and frankly letting you all down I've managed to deliver. I played a round at Royal Ascot on Monday as a marker for two guys putting their second round cards in for the Stone Cup event being held (play any two days out of three over the Bank Holiday period). After months of near misses and what might have been I played sublime golf and went round in a personal best at Royal Ascot of five over gross (75), out in 37 (+2) and back in 38 (+3).

Right, lets get the downer and disappointing bit out of the way first. Had I just waited twenty four hours and played on Monday that score, equivalent to 44 stableford points along with my 31 points from the first round would have been enough to win the whole event. Gutted. It would even have been enough to get me down to an 11 handicap again. Doubly gutted. Why didn't I wait? Well the forecast had been for heavy drizzle and more persistent rain for Monday and so in my wisdom decided to play in the dry on Sunday. Of course the gusty strong wind I experienced also died to nothing more than a stiff breeze making it much easier to score. Thrice gutted. However there is no point worrying about what could have been.

Five over par. Well blow me. Where did that come from? There was no hint of that on Sunday when all I could manage was another measly 31 points to match the one I had on Saturday when I went into meltdown in the last four holes.

Time to celebrate - AT LAST!
 Ironically I started off with a four (nett par) which was a shot more than I managed on both two preceding days. I followed it with four straight pars before missing the green on the 6th,  hitting a rubbish chip shot and giving myself too much to do to save par. I missed the green by a good thirty yards left on the 7th when I hooked my approach and it looked like a third straight bogey at the short par 3 eighth but a great nine foot par putt saved the day. The ninth as usual was playing directly into the stiffish breeze and so played all of its 400 yards. I hit a good tee shot but was still faced with 179 yards in. I opted for a five wood into the wind and hit it great but just missed the green left and it was sitting on an upslope about fifteen feet from the hole. I told you my short game was coming back. I hit a perfect wedge and it pitched where I wanted and ran gently into the heart of the hole for a birdie.

I hit a booming drive down ten and then put my nine iron from 113 yards to four feet and converted. Back to back birdies. No you haven't logged onto a proper golfers blog it is still Homer's story. I dropped a shot at the 12th, the hardest hole on the course (according to stroke index at least but not the most difficult for me personally) by rushing my approach having spent some time looking for one of my partners ball and feeling pressure from the group behind to keep moving. I only had a six iron in my hand but pulled it into the left hand bunker. I even managed to make par at the 16th, the scene of one of the disasters from Saturday. I wasn't going out of bound left again. No way Jose. Instead I missed the fairway right but my recovery ended up about twenty yards short of the green. The new improved Homer short game (version 3.1) put the ball to withing five feet and the Odyssey putter back in the bag for the mis-firing Ping Anser did the rest. I dropped shots at the last two holes (still net pars) but I can't have too many complaints.

And there you have it. Vindication, at least in the short term that just once in a while I can still play this game

Of course we all know that it is all about doing it again next time out and I'm certain that 75 is going to take a lot of living up to. I have to be honest and say that good players, books and instructional DVDs all say that a good score will come when you feel perfectly calm inside and that is exactly how it felt. I didn't feel rushed, everything was in sync and even the odd bad shot didn't end up in bad spot. I could see the lines of the putts and my stroke was smooth. I felt I had plenty of time in the swing and that to be truthful felt that every shot would be good. I guess the million dollar question is how do you bottle that serenity?

Nothing better than shooting a personal best either and certainly a great way of getting rid of that bitter taste of frustration and not winning another Royal Ascot "major" but I'll take a 75 anytime. It's the usual Saturday roll up and the Centenary medal on Sunday so hopefully it won't be a flash in the pan. That's the beauty of my game. It's Forrest Gump golf. A round is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get.