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" http://www.bracknell-forest.gov.uk/golf-seminar.pdf 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?.