Saturday, 30 July 2011

Survived The Cut

It was the first round of Royal Ascot's club championship today. Traditionally this use to be a thirty six hole medal event but when we moved onto the new, longer course back in 2005 a lot of members found it a struggle to get round and so numbers in what should be the prestige event of the year dwindled. There has been a cut in place for the last few years and the event swapped to a two day format. This has worked very well, numbers are back up and it has created a lot of banter in the 19th trying to see who has and hasn't survived the cut.

I don't know why but I've a particularly poor record in this event both as a one day event and have yet to make the cut since it was introduced. I've not played a lot of golf recently either (hence the lack of posts) through family issues mainly and the golf I have been playing hasn't been good.

Even on the practice ground in warm up the signs weren't good. The optimist in me thought a nett 75 (+5) might be good enough and so unlike a normal monthly medal there was a certain leeway. It even started off so well with a good opening tee shot into the first and two putts (the birdie putt was inches away) for a secure par. And then reality kicked in. A loose double bogey at the 2nd courtesy of a three putt was followed but a horror down the 3rd with a lost ball into the environmental area off the tee, a poor approach and a duffed chip. The ship was steadied until the 7th. Having hit a good tee shot but too far left, I opted to play safe and lay up. Job done I only had a wedge in. I missed the green by miles and then shanked my chip to run up another 7. Out in 46 (+11) it looked as though my race was run.

The back nine though was a different story. For a while it looked like a proper golfer was trying to break out. Pars at 10 and 11 were followed by another double bogey at the 12th. Again the short game was to blame. When will I ever get it to click when it matters? I managed a great par at the 14th with a good drive and a 5 iron to ten feet and just missed the birdie. However I dropped another shot at the par 5 16th despite being no more than 30 yards from the flag in two. No prizes for guessing which facet let me down again. The par at the 17th rallied my spirits and I holed a good putt to finally make a chip and putt at the last. Then it was down to the scorecard and seeing the damage. Back in 41 (+5 gross) for a total of 87 (nett 74 and a +4 total). Would it be too many?

In the end I finally managed to break my club championship voodoo although I am one of the first groups out. On the plus side the back nine gives me some encouragement and having survived the cut anyway there's precious little to lose anyway. The plan is to go out, relax and not worry about the score. All I need to do now is sort this sunburn out. Ouchy!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Nothing Special

After the surprise of a good performance in the medal, this weekend was all about social golf. No pressure, no stress (apart from the savage humour) and a chance to play relaxed golf. In truth I didn't strike the ball well but the driving and putting were both pretty ordinary especially yesterday when I struggled all day long. The driver behaved better today but the putter was still ice cold and the Odyssey White Ice #9 is sitting next to me as I type this almost begging me to give it another chance

I felt I hit it better today and there were birdies to savour at the 320 yard par 4 fourth hole which was nice and another on the long 430 yard par 4 fourteenth courtesy of the only putt I made all weekend of note from the back of the green. This twenty foot downhiller looked in all the way and was set up with a great four iron from the right hand semi-rough which had to be kept low to avoid the two large oaks on the right of the fairway. I even managed a rare par four on the 425 yard sixteenth but then took the gloss off the round with a bad bunker shot at the seventeenth and hitting the worse drive of the day off the last tee which went straight right and out of bounds.

The swing isn't as fluid as I'd like it and I think there are some fundamental alignment issues creeping in. This week is the build up to the club championship next weekend. It's held over two days. Everyone plays on Saturday and there is a cut at the end of play with the top 30 or so coming back on Sunday to battle for the scratch and nett prizes. I've got no chance in the scratch but would love to get to play on Sunday and to be in a position to challenge. I've got a very poor record in club championships wherever I've played and so whilst I'm going in positively, the burden of history does weigh heavy. Rashly I've said if I ever win the nett prize I'd dive into the pond by the 18th green. However watching poor old Thomas Levet do that after winning the other week and injuring himself and missing the Open as a result maybe not. Given the amount of wildlife on the pond too it may not be too healthy to jump in anyway. Let's win it first and we can sort the celebration out after.

The company this weekend in both my groupings was great. The course is looking pretty good although some of the greens aren't as good as they should be at this time of year and the pace of them is pretty slow. However, I know the club are working hard to rectify the issues they have and so you have to give them time to make the changes, although it would be nice if the members were kept up to date with progress on a regular basis.

The plan this week, work and family issues permitting, is to work on the swing on the practice ground (Bedborough Field) and see if it is the alignment causing the problems and then address the putting woes. I'll play a few holes later in the week and maybe work on the short game a bit before launching my bid for championship glory at 9.44am on Saturday

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Pleasantly Pleased

I managed to squeeze a mideweek medal in this week which is a bit of a rarity for me as work is usually calling. I was fortunate enough to join Martin Davis (aka Bash) and Brian Mason (aka Mace) as a roll up in pretty warm conditions.

I haven't played a lot of golf recently due to family committments and wasn't hitting it great on the practice ground so expectations were set at minimum. In fact I hadn't planned to play in the event at all and had only wandered up to the club to put some hard yards into finding out what was wrong with the swing. Still what was the worse that could happen apart from yet another 0.1 back on the handicap?

The opening drive wasn't exactly a confidence booster, going left and just missing the pond that seems to be a magnet to my ball these days. I managed to pitch on and make a nett par so no damage done. The thing with medal play is that it's a cross between walking on egg shells and russian roulette. You want to play properly, but you are also waiting for that one destructive shot to de-rail the whole round. Its a ticking timebomb.

By the time I walked off the fourth after frustrating dropped shot, I was level par for my handicap and I usually see that as an fair start over the tough opening holes. I made a good par at the long par 5 fifth and followed it with a majestic hybrid into the nemesis par 3 sixth. The pin was tucked on the far right of the green very close to the greenside bunker and very hard to attack. I'm not sure if it was blind indiiference, poor course management or what, but I just aimed straight at the green and it went arrow straight towards the target stopping about ten feet short for an easy two putt. I was under my handicap despite not hitting the ball at all well. I guess it's all about getting it round any which way you can.

Naturally enough my luck and poor striking caught up with me. I made a bad six at the par 4 7th trying to bite off too much with my second. However it was the par 3 eighth that really bit my rear end. My two partners played first and Bash hit it long and very left. Mace hit it short and into the bunker. I nonchalantly step onto the tee and said "not much to beat there" before hitting a semi-shank way right missing the green by a clear twenty yards. Note to self, keep your big mouth shut. I managed to play a good recovery from deep rough for a bogey.

The plan for the back nine was to try an play steady golf and aim for the buffer zone. I'd gone out one over my handicap but managed to claw that back at the 10th with a very solid par four. As I've written before I've perfected the art of gving shots back as soon as I reclaim them and did so at the 178 yard par 3 eleventh. I found the right hand bunker and proceeded to take no sand with the recovery and sent it way over the green. I chipped back and two putted for an ugly five. I gave another back at the next although to be fair I was a trifle unlucky to see my approach find the sand and when I got there I had to stand outside the hazard and somehow reach down to play the shot. Suffice to say it didn't go according to plan.

After that I put a decent run together, parring the next three holes. It should really have been four on the trot after a great drive down the sixteenth but an errant shot missed the green right. To be honest it went where I was aiming and so it was a basic alignment issue and not the shot. I managed a chip and putt to save par at the penultimate hole and so needed a par five at the last to break my handicap for the first time in ages.

I did the first bit right and found the fairway but it was a little too far left to be ideal and brought the big oak tree on that side into play. I needed to play around the branches to get as far down as I could to leave a shorter iron into the green and ideally take the pond to the right of the green out of play. I spoke about russian rouletter and my second shot found the bullet in the chamber. I made great contact but was aiming right to try and move it right to left in the air. Instead I hit it straight right deep, deep deep, into knee high rough. That was never going to be found and even if it had been I'd probably still be there now trying to hit it out.

I hit another and that too flirted with the long stuff but finished in the semi-rough. It left 124 yards to a back flag location into the wind. I now also had the pond to contend with and not the greatest lie. It came out wonderfully to about six feet. If I hadn't struck it well all day, this one shot made up for it all. I made the putt for battling bogey (nett par) and shot a level par 70.

In the end, that was good enough for a fourth place finish in division one which was my best result for ages. I was gutted I couldn't get a handicap cut but I was pleased with how I managed to get the ball round without ever feeling as though I was in total control. I must also mention the start of Bash's round. He rolled a 15 footer in at the first for a birdie and then at the par 4 fourth dunked his second straight in for an eagle. Two two's in the first four holes. He had a couple of bad holes on the back nine but still shot a creditable nett 69 (-1) but it looked like it could have been so much better after such an electrifying start.

All in all a very satisfying sojourn into midweek competitve play and hopefully thanks to the joys of NHS flexi time I may be able to get another round in before the clocks change. Here's to an even better round next time.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Captain's Day - Never At The Races

It was Captain's Day at Royal Ascot on Saturday and the membership turned out in force to support the 2011 incumbent Malcolm Dargue. For the most part the weather behaved and it was very warm with only a few rogue showers to put a dampener on proceedings. These were pretty sporadic and short and did little to spoil the day. It was an individual event and split in to AM and PM fields and was a shotgun start for both.

I was off the 15th which isn't a bad starting hole. A short par five of 478 yards it has a generous fairway for the opening shot. It meant finishing on the 14th green which is adjacent to the 18th tee box and meant a civilised walk back down the 18th at the end rather than some route march across country.

I had been hitting the ball well of late and even in the warm up was striking it surprisingly well and so there was a cautious hint of optimism in the air. I was first up in the group and as the hooter sounded I got ready to propel my ball down the fairway straight and true. In truth I hit it very well but just pulled it a touch into the semi rough. Given the fact that it was only the second shot of the day, the lie wasn't great and there was danger straight in front for the mis-hit, my choice of the hybrid was pretty foolish. A simple mid iron over the rough and bushes would only have left 130 yards in and a simple shot. Naturally I had to take the machismo option trying to get it as far down as possible. Once I hit it heavy and the clubhead closed on impact, short and left into the clag was inevitable. That I found it at all was a miracle given the depth of grass, but given that I got it back into play was an even bigger one. I hit the green and two putted for a dropped shot on what should have been a cast iron two pointer.

Things steadied until I reached my fourth hole, the 18th. A pushed shot right and another chance to play a percentage shot which would have taken going for the green in regulation out of the equation but would have left an easy approach and a chance to get it close and one putt for par. Another chance spurned with greater consequences. I hit a horror right which hit timber and rocketed out of bounds. By the time I'd got within reach of the green I needed to get down from left of the green to rescue a solitary point. With my short game there was more chance of the News of the World scandal disappearing anytime soon. As we prepared to start the proper front nine I was already three shots over handicap. Not a good start.

Malcom Dargue and his wife Kay (2011 Royal Ascot Ladies Captain)
I rallied and parred the 1st and 2nd and should have made it a hat-trick at the 3rd but managed to three putt from twenty feet. A poor drive at the next cost a shot but when I hit my gap wedge to within a foot at the 503 yard par 5 5th a birdie seemed a certainty. Like a fool, smug with my skillful approach, I paid no care or attention to the putt and managed to miss it with surprising ease. Although the par and three points helped that extra point and the fillip it would have given me may have made a difference. I managed to hit the green on the 6th and was in the running for the nearest the pin prize. Then the wheels started to come off. I found the fairway at the next but a little to the left and had the large oak that guards that side of the hole in the way. I recently posted a hackers guide to the 7th hole and said that the sensible play in such circumstance was the lay up over or around the tree and then a pitch on.

For the third time in a handful of holes I took the kamikaze route. With a 4 iron in hand I took aim at the right hand bunker with the aim of drawing it back, landing it short and letting it release. It definitely moved right to left in the air except the draw was a hook and I found the out of bounds (a protected environmental area). I managed to make a 6 to rescue a point but it was a real show stopper. However with the wheels off, the axle was grinding on the road by the next. I missed the green at the par 3 by at least ten yards to the right. From a decent lie I hit a rubbish chip and dumped it into a bunker. I made a passing resemblance to a bunker shot and just got it out. I need to chip in for a point. That'll be another no score then. I made a nett par at the 9th and so for the proper front nine I was level with my handicap having played it in 18 points but how much better could it have been. How much better should it have been. All the damage of the early holes would have been repaired.

The equation was simple. I needed to play the remaining five holes on the back nine in one over gross to finish on 36 points or level par. I started well parring the 10th with ease following a good drive and a solid 8 iron to twelve feet. However I missed the green at the par 3 11th when I pulled my 4 iron tee shot and could only chip and two putt. Par golf home required and the hardest hole on the card, according to the stroke index at least to come. In truth I never gave myself a chance from the moment I tried to hit the tee shot too hard and carved it right. I could only chip back towards the fairway. It stuck in the rough and I could only move it some fifty yards further forward with my third. I hit a wedge onto the green and single putted for a five (nett par) but it wasn't enough. Another dropped shot followed at the 13th when I missed the green right. My last tee shot of the day was well struck but started too far right to draw back enough and I was blocked out by the trees that guard the right hand side of the 14th fairway. To prove I'd learned nothing I opted to go with the hybrid again desperate to make the green and give myself a birdie putt. The end result was two duffed shots, on the green for four, two putts and signing for a closing six and a solitary point.

In the end my 33 points was good enough for the buffer zone and so no damage to the handicap and 54th out of 141 entries was slightly flattering. Of course, my tee shot at the 6th was inevitably beaten so there wasn't even a consolation prize for nearest the pin.

It was however a thoroughly decent day and my playing partners Ken, Steve and Ray made the bad shots seem easier to swallow. Steve Downey in particular had his chances to post a challenging score but like me found novel ways of turning promising situations into nightmares and his 35 point tally was always going to be a few shy of claiming a prize. Thanks to Malcolm for his hard work in organising a great day and to his wife, the other lady members who helped with scorecards and refreshments, the catering team for a good bit of tucker afterwards and Angie and crew behind the bar for getting the drinks out so promptly when we all arrived en masse.

In the end though it was arguably a golden opportunity missed. The course management was solely to blame and although there were some wayward shots towards the end they were a result of pushing too hard. I spoke about attending a seminar on "How to focus the golf mind" but sadly illness prevented me from going. Clearly I needed their words of wisdom and hope it'll get repeated. My very good friend Mike Stannard cleaned up in the midweek medal albeit off the yellow tees but shot his lowest ever score. He said he played with more freedom and attacked more. It seems however as though I need to reign myself in. At the very least I need to know when is a green light situation to go for a shot and what represents a red light scenario where prudence pays dividends.

If I'd done that on my opening hole it would have set a different tone. There is no coincidence in the fact that getting away to a fast start in my match versus Oxford City really set the tempo and pace of the swing and despite a mid round dip I was able to play a below handicap back nine as well. Even in the recent stableford, I managed to make mistake after mistake on the front nine and yet came back under a full sail without any signs of a mental or physical mistake.

At the end of the day whilst it was an enjoyable round and the handicap wasn't affected, it would have been nice in such a big, big field to have given myself a proper run at it. In the end though I was never at the races from the start and ultimately gave myself too much to do. There has to be some middle ground between a string of poor holes and a run of par golf. If I can limit the damage and capitalise on the quality I may finally understand the meaning of the word consistency. As for now I'll have to rely on the dictionary to explain it to me. It'll come bloggers. This dog is due another day.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Top Secret - The Reveal

I'm on my way to Ireland. The prize is an overnight stay at Carton House. It was European Golf Resort of the Year in 2008 and located just 14 miles west of Dublin City Centre. Carton is home to a stylish hotel, a luxurious spa and leisure suite and two of Ireland's finest championship golf courses.

The O'Meara Course

The O'Meara Course, designed by two-time major winner Mark O'Meara, is a classic parkland experience which meanders through acres of glorious pastures, ancient woodland and skirts the banks of the River Rye. It hosted the 2005 Irish Amateur Championship in 2005. The Montgomerie Course, designed by 2010 Ryder Cup Captain Colin Montgomerie, is a 7,300 yard "links style" journey across sweeping firm fairways cavernous bunkers and impeccable greens. It has hosted some of the world's finest golfers at the 2005 and 2006 Irish Opens and the 2010 Irish Seniors Open.

The Montgomerie Course

The competition was run by Golf Monthly in conjunction with Footjoy, the number one manufacturer of golf shoes in the world. The trip involves an overnight stay, a round on the Thursday afternoon (flight times permitting) and a clinic by three time major winner Padraig Harrington on the Friday morning. There will just be time for a round of golf in the afternoon before returning home. It is a huge prize and testament to Golf Monthly's place as the leading golf magazine. As the magazine celebrates its centenary this year, it continues to grow and develop to follow the sport as it spreads globally and is still fresh and vibrant.

It may not be too late to join the fun. They run a thriving forum too and it is well worth getting involved. There is a thread to ask Padraig a question at a filmed Q&A session and the selected questions will win a prize. Why not join and post your question to the man. Even if you don't win, the forum is the place to go for talking about anything golf related. The kind folk at the magazine also organise some forum member only events and so it is well worth checking out (there is a link on the side of my blog page)

As you can imagine I am thrilled that prize winner (and Royal Ascot member) Mike Stannard kindly asked me to accompany him as his guest. I am really excited and just hope my golf game doesn't desert me as the two courses do look a trifle fearsome. Maybe a drop of the black stuff will help. Not so much when in Rome, but when in Dublin. It would be rude not to partake of at least one pint. All we need now is some decent weather. Roll on the 21st

Saturday, 9 July 2011

A Hackers Guide To Royal Ascot - Hole 7 (Water Meadow)

Having survived the opening third of our round we move onto the seventh hole. This is 398 yard par four off the whites and is stroke index two. It poses a big question off the tee. There is a ditch that runs across the fairway 240 yards away and the landing area over it tapers and narrows considerably. Going for it leaves only a short iron in but it is a risk. Even if you opt to lay up short of the ditch, the tee shot is fraught with danger. There is a large oak tree to the left of the hole by the ditch and so anything pulled left or hit with a draw will be blocked out and the approach to the green made significantly harder. If you aim too far right there is a tree in the right hand rough and short that can come into play and again there is a large tree to the right edge of the ditch. If you go too far across the second shot then has to be played low to avoid the branches and you are then playing towards the environmental area and out of bounds.

I have to say I don't think it is a particularly well designed hole, especially for the difficulty. It penalises the longer hitters with the narrow landing area, and forcing a lot of players to lay up takes the green out of play for many. Personally I'd like to see the ditch covered over for balls to land on. The drive is still tight enough to make it a tricky shot but would reward you if you played it well.

The clubs website describes playing the hole as:
"Plays the second hardest hole on the course. Don’t be tempted to carry the water hazard from the tee, the landing area is minute. Take a club from the tee that you hit 200 yards and play it down right side of fairway, this will save having to carry the large oak on the left with your second. The approach shot is uphill to a green facing you, play a running shot in aiming at right side of green, it will feed towards the centre."

Having got the ball into play, the environmental area (we crossed it playing the third) which runs down the left hand side from the ditch until about forty yards short of the green shouldn't come into play. If you've pulled your shot left you may need to flirt with it and the large oak if you feel brave enough to take the green on. Playing from the ideal lay up spot, the second shot is about 180 yards but plays shorter as the ground in front of the green is usually firm and the ball will release and run forward.

Thread your shot between the two large trees
 The green is protected by a large deep bunker short and left and another to the right of the putting surface. The green itself slopes from front to back and from right to left and is another than needs due care and attention. With the slope and shape, aim for the right edge and let the ball feed in. In the summer the best method is to low running shot, pitching it short and allowing it to roll out. In wetter conditions, it is much easier to throw the ball in higher and let the slope help the ball to stop.
The view from the left hand side of the green
Having made the putting surface, this is another green that you happily take two putts on and move on. It is all about judging the speed and the break and if you are beyond the hole putting back down the slope it can be very difficult to stop the ball close.

I've had my shares of ups and downs here. I managed to hook my tee shot onto the third fairway which runs parallel to the hole in one of the Saturday morning roll ups. With nothing on the game apart from the usually £2 per man in the kitty I decided to take the shot on. This meant flying the environmental area to the left of the hole and trying to land it short enough for it to roll out and hold the green. I pulled my hybrid for the shot and caught it perfectly. It flew the danger and with a hint of draw found the entrance to the putting surface. It was executed it to perfection finishing no more than ten feet away for a routine par. Seve esque.

A green to be respected
Of course there have been disasters too. A lot have involved trying to play over or around the big tree to the left of the fairway having overcooked the tee shot. If the ball hits the tree the usual result is it bouncing out of bounds into the environmental area or dropping into the ditch. I had a nightmare here as recently as last week in my club match versus Oxford City. Having gone too far left as usual, I took the safe play and played over the tree to the right hand side. I was receiving a shot too so was in prime position. From less than 80 yards I managed to miss the green completely and stuffed it in the bunker to the right. A pitiful escape just got the ball out. I chipped on and two putted but the damage was done and the hole was lost.

And there you have it. It's all about the tee shot really. Get it right and it is a simple hole but get out of position and it is very easy to rack up a big number. Not my favourite hole on the course as I've said as it is harder playing a three wood or driver off the tee to take on the ditch rather than a long iron or hybrid for position and then facing a shot of nearly 200 yards. On the plus side it usually plays down the prevailing wind. It is a hole to be endured rather than enjoyed. Hopefully we've got through it with the card intact and it's off to the next.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Top Secret

Mike Stannard my regular golfing partner and fellow Royal Ascot has won a competition organised by Golf Monthly and has generously agreed to take me with him as his guest. At the moment I'm not allowed to say too much other than it involves a flight abroad and overnight stay at a very luxurious location. We get to play a top rated course and involves prizes from a very well known manufacturer. However the highlight is a golfing clinic by one of the top names in European golf, although what he will make of my swing is anyones guess.

Obviously once I get the green light to reveal all I will and rest assured the blog will cover it including pictures. Suffice to say I'm extremely grateful to Mike, as well as Mike Harris the editor of Golf Monthly and my boss for allowing me to book the leave. I'm sitting here grinning like a maniac and even my wife is excited for me. I can't wait.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Almost Had It In My Grasp

It was monthly stableford time again yesterday and I was cautiously buoyed by me performance in the match versus Oxford City and the way I was striking the ball. That optimism lasted until I hit the practice ground to warm up. The smooth swing, and the tempo in particular, of Saturday afternoon had gone and it didn't feel good at all. I was a worried man by the time I met my partners. I was paired with Dave Andrews, a staunch Arsenal fan, (but we've all got out crosses to bear) off 18 and a newcomer to the club Ivor Connolly off 14 who has come over from Laleham Golf Club.

I'm not really sure why I had been so worried. My opening drive was a perfectly drawn five wood that landed just short of the green and trundled to within ten feet. Granted the birdie putt barely scared the hole but I was off and running with a par. I made a nett par at the next and then handed back my good start by driving into the hazard off the tee to register a single point but I got through the first four holes in level 2's which I always consider to be a fair score given the toughness of the opening quartet.

From there though, old habits die hard and it was back to a worn record of frittered shots and unnecessary errors. Even when I had good fortune as I did on the 5th when I hooked my drive towards the out of bounds left only to see it ricochet back into play, I failed to capitalise. The lie wasn't great but rather than ensure I got it out and into play to set up what would have been potentially a routine six (nett par) I had to be the macho man and try and get a hybrid to it and get it well down the fairway. Inevitably it only went a few yards and the next lie made the safe recovery the only option available. In the end I made a single point.

If that was bad, then standing to the right of the 7th hole with only 78 yards left and a sand wedge in my hand for my third and proceeding to miss the green with aplomb must rate as an even greater sin. The duffed bunker shot barely getting out of the sand was almost a given and although the next shot got it to within five feet I couldn't make the putt to salvage a point. However I then went on to three putt the short par three 8th to register another solitary point. My run from the 5th to the 8th read, 1 point, 1 point, no points and 1point. Hardly conducive to writing my winners speech. I did manage a par at the ninth (nett birdie) so a tiny bit of damage had been repaired.

I hadn't really been focused at all when I'd played my approach into the 7th and basically just stood there and swung the club. Having hit the 10th fairway I only had 129 yards left into the zephyr breeze. I hardly remember swinging the club let alone focusing on the target. The silence in my golfing brain was deafening. I hit it horribly. Not quite a shank but not far off and it veered right and missed the green by a good twenty yards. If I'd harboured any sort of hope of either making the buffer zone and avoiding yet another 0.1 back on the handicap and a step closer to 14 then I needed to be taking advantage of good tee shots and making pars. In the end I had to settle for a nett par and two points but it was an opportunity lost. As we shall see there would be consequences to these actions.

I managed to make par at the 11th courtesy of a decent chip shot recovery to within ten feet from left of the green. I didn't have much room and it was all downhill to the flag and so the final resting position was as good as I could do. To be honest I wasn't expecting to make the putt but the putter had woken from its slumber. Again though the advantage I'd gained parring a stroke hole I gave back with an ugly six at the twelfth for a single point. A pulled drive was the main culprit this time.

It didn't look great in terms of reaching the sanctuary of the buffer zone and SS Homers Handicap was in choppy seas. The swing really hadn't felt right all day. It was one of those horrid golfing days when you feel you are fighting on every shot and that you never have total control over the club and the swing. It was a huge surprise then to hit the green on the long par three 13th. It was an even bigger surprise to can the putt from twelve feet for a very rare birdie.

In the match against Oxford City on Saturday I had blasted my drive on the 14th high wide and not very handsome landing it on the edge of the 13th tee box. I repeated the shot in the stableford but didn't quite get to the tee box. In the match I'd taken my hybrid and made the green from a decent lie. The lie I had this time around was arguably even better and with interested spectators watching on the 13th tee box I decided to try and repeat the shot from the previous day. I caught it even better. The hybrid soared and with a delicate touch of fade landed just short before running up the green to ten feet. With my putter now fully stoked I slotted it in for back to back birdies. As it was a stroke hole and this was worth four points, maybe, just maybe the buffer was still in reach.

Par followed at the 15th, and a quick check of the card told me if I could par one of the last three holes I'd make 36 points and play to my handicap in a competition for the first time in a while. A good drive on the 16th was cancelled out by a smothered wood into the green and I could only make nett par. One down, two chances left. I missed the green right on the 17th and to be honest was more focused making sure I didn't duff the chip into the bunker in front of me than getting it close. Another two points. One hole left.

I hit the drive at the 18th well if a touch left. I had the branches of the large oak that guards the left side of the fairway to contend with. I hit my fairway wood well but it caught a few branches on the way through and definitely took some distance off the shot. In hindsight the hybrid may have been the better choice. I'm left with 133 yards in to the flag perched at the front of the green, enticingly close to the pond. Playing into the wind it was an 8 iron. This is what I practice for. This is where I need to trust the swing. I hit it well but was over cautious and pulled it left towards one of the bunkers. It didn't quite make it and  hit a good chip but couldn't convert the seven footer for the desired par.

In the end 21 points home was very pleasing and my 35 point total was good enough for 7th place overall in division 1 and definitely my best showing for some time. However I said there would be consequences and the frustrating thing was 38 points won it. So close again. All I needed to do was hit the green on the 7th from nowhere really and make two points. That would have given me second place with my second nine score. If I had just found the green at the 10th as well instead of playing "zombie" golf and victory was mine.

I know golf is all about ifs and buts. It's high time however that I found a way of stopping the excuses and found a way to stamp out these problems. Downshire Golf Club are holding a seminar on Thursday called "How to focus the mind for golf" and I'm seriously considering going along. It's two and a half hours long which for the £20 fee seems good value for money. I clearly need to find a way of maintaining the good parts of my game which for the most part are working quite nicely and eliminating the errors.

On the plus side my birdie at the 14th was the only one of the day on that hole and I easily found the safety of the buffer zone harbour and so my handicap is anchored at 13.2 for another week. All in all it has been a satisfying week of golf from the joy of Camberley in scorching sun, twenty seven holes on the toughest greens I've ever faced at Blackmoor on Monday, a stellar opening and closing to my round in the match on Saturday coming tantalisingly close in the stableford yesterday. If the brains trust can do something with me on Thursday who knows what might happen in the next few week?.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Turned It On (For Once)

I played in a club match today against Oxford City Golf Club. These matches are friendly affairs although there was a shield to be contested for, and are four ball better ball format. I was fortunate to be partnered with Michael Winn who was Club Captain when I joined and at 79 years young still plays of a competitive 14 handicap. I've known Mike for many years now and he's always a reliable partner. Our opponents were off 10 and 14 respectively

Oxford City Golf Club Logo
I'm getting a bit of a reputation as a burden for my partners to carry. Let today put a stop to that. I was out of the traps like a greyhound. I pitched to eight feet at the first (okay the tee shot hadn't been great) and made par to win the hole. A solid par was enough to win the next and I then holed from six feet at the third for another par which was enough to win that hole. I hit a great three wood down the 320 yard fourth and hit a perfect gap wedge from 88 yards to within four feet and converted the birdie to put Mike and I four up after four. I was one under par gross. Yes really!

I had a bit of bunker trouble at the 5th and gifted our opponents the hole and when one of them holed out from the bunker on the sixth for a birdie the deficit was halved. My partner hadn't really sprung to life yet, nor really needed to, but when the Oxford City pair both missed the green at the short par 3 eighth and Mike found the dance floor it seemed we'd stop the rot. However, they managed to get up and down to save par and Mike somehow concocted a way to three putt from fifteen feet and the gap was down to one. I made a bit of a hash of the ninth hitting the right hand bunker with my approach and then sending the recovery through the green and so a four up lead was back to all square.

I had been hitting it really well but as usual finding ways of making unforced errors. I three putted the tenth having hit the fairway and green in regulation but fortunately my partner secured a par and a win to restore our advantage. I hit a decent four iron into the heart of the par three eleventh for a par and another win and suddenly there was daylight again. Mike rolled in an obscenely long putt at the twelfth for a par nett birdie which was good enough for a third straight win. Back to three up.

I missed the green right on the thirteenth and both our opponents hit the target. Mike hit an average chip and I put mine to about six feet. They both converted for pars but I hit my right to left uphiller firm and true to maintain the advantage. I've whined on here at times about not getting the breaks I thought I deserved for the quality of my ball striking. Today I take it back. I hit a wild tee shot at the fourteenth. In truth I was trying to give it the kitchen sink treatment and blocked it well right. When I got there it was perched prettily on the edge of the thirteenth tee box with a clear line to the green. I pulled out my 3 hybrid and nailed it onto the green and to about twenty foot. Two solid putts for a par and we were dormie four up.

The fifteenth is a shortish par five of 478 yards and in the end I played it conservatively and made the par which halved the hole but secured the win. We played out the remainder of the round though and I continued to play well. I hit a good drive down sixteen and put a five iron on the green to make a safe par. I parred the seventeenth too thanks to a great sand save. Having found the left hand trap I popped it out to five feet and made the putt. At this stage I was only two over par gross for the eight holes on the back nine. This doesn't happen to me. This blog has been littered with tales of woe, not simple, uncomplicated wins and decent scores. In truth Mike and I gelled great as a pair and although our opponents played well to get it back to level at the turn, there was little they could do on the back nine.

However just to ensure you've logged onto the right blog and not one from a real golfer, I managed to save the worse shot of the day for the tee shot at the last hooking it left into the rough. Having chopped out and hit a five wood up the hole I'm left with 139 yards to the green with a pond right of the green. I then deliver arguably the second worse shot of the day and stuck it in the pond. After a penalty drop a pitch on and two putts it was an ugly snowman (8) and a triple bogey to finish. I managed to shoot the equivalent of 36 points and didn't score on three holes and so there is so much to be happy about.

In the end Royal Ascot beat Oxford City 3-2 to retain the shield. The fixture was great fun and I really hope I can go to the return match. At present it is held home and away in alternative years but I think plans are afoot to make it a home and away match each year and use the combined match scores to decide the destination of the shield.

It's the monthly stableford tomorrow. At the moment I'm sitting here feeling the effects of the sun and rather burned and not feeling completely hunky dory. That aside I'd like to feel cautiously optimistic about finally returning a good competitive score but we've been down that road before and had our fingers burned. I'll go out trying to shoot a good score and know that the swing is in there and in patches working quite nicely thank you. It is these silly mistakes that I need to cut out. My latest piece de resistance is not taking any sand with bunker shots and thinning it over the green. I managed to hone that particular shot well at Blackmoor on Monday but took it to new heights today. I managed it on the fifth and the ninth and add in a double hit with my attempted chip onto the eighth green and trouble is never far away.

That said, aside from a personal best a few weeks back and a great round the next time out after that, it has been a long time since I managed such a great opening to a round or strung such a solid run of pars together as I did on the back nine. In places I really turned it on today. It's all about going out and doing it again tomorrow.

I'm off to bathe in a vat of after-sun and get an early night. The sun does funny things to me so I need to feel bright eyed and bushy tailed for my assault on a handicap cut. At least I'll be dreaming happy golfing thoughts.