Sunday, 28 August 2011

In The Mix

Thursday night will live in the memory for a long time. I was seriously ill about five years ago and I'm not suppose to drink anymore although I do have the odd libation if I'm careful. However the planned early exit from a 50th birthday celebration at work failed to materialise and it turned into an all evening session. Such was the shock to the system that I was still somewhat under the weather yesterday morning when I teed the ball up (carefully) for the first round of the Longhurst Cup at Royal Ascot. This is a medal event, played over two rounds over the bank holiday period. Entrants can choose which two out of the three days they wish to play and I went for Saturday and Monday to fit around my playing partners.

My partners for the opening round were my regular partner Mike Stannard and Matt Davis, aka Sundance who continues to impress with his form and was fresh off a win in the midweek medal on Thursday. He shot an impressive gross 77 (nett 62) and enjoyed a handicap cut from 15 down to 13. Mike too had a strong showing and recorded a gross 76 (nett 66) of his own so I was in a tough school and despite my fragile state expected no sympathy.

Things actually started remarkably well. I found the left hand bunker off the tee on the 1st but splashed out to about seven feet and holed the putt for a par. I rolled a fifteen footer in for a birdie at the next and by the time I walked off the 4th green was level par and feeling no pain. Indeed it wasn't until we reached the 7th that I had my first real crisis and even then I thought I was doing the right thing. My tee shot was a little too far left and brought the big oak tree that protects the left side of the fairway into play. Having had issues with it in a recent medal, the plan was to take a mid iron and play past the tree short of the green and leave a simple pitch in. I managed to negotiate all of these elements but the putter forgot to join in and a dismal three putt cost a double bogey. I bounced back with a par at the short par three 8th and then had issues with the 9th hole again.

I found the fairway with a good drive but the second wasn't so clever and headed towards the right hand bunker. In truth the hangover was kicking back in and the tablets were wearing off but to be fair the shot I was faced with was tough. The ball was on a steep upslope but I couldn't get a solid stance inside the bunker and had to perch precariously with one leg in the sand and the other outside the bunker. Even stone cold sober it would have been tough but with balance still being an issue the end result was never going to be ideal. I got it out and then hit two woeful chips for a triple bogey. I was still out in 41 (+6 gross) and level with my handicap.

Two pars to open the back nine were welcome relief as my swing was beginning to suffer as I was physically and it was all becoming a bit painful. Another double bogey from nowhere at the 12th courtesy of poor short game execution and the ball spinning as I looked down on it stopped the show but a fine chip and putt for par at the 13th steadied the ship if not the head. On the 14th I sprayed it way right and it ended up on the 13th tee sitting beautifully on the prepared tee box. It enable me to hit a hybrid onto the green for a very unlikely par.

However to be honest that is where the luck ran out. Feeling dog rough the swing started to go south and I dropped a shedload of shots including back to back double bogies at 16 and 17. However I managed to give myself a stern talking to and braced myself on the 18th tee for one final tee shot. I hit it great and the second shot left me with 134 yards to a flag located at the back of the green. Playing into the wind I took one more club and hit it great but it still only found the middle of the putting surface. Two good putts and I'd made a solid par.

I came back in 42 (+7) for a total of 83 (nett 70 - level par). Given the fact that I really just hit it without any pre-meditation on the back nine and threw a fistful of shots away throughout the round but particularly the last four holes it wasn't a bad score. In these events you can't win it after the first round but you can definitely play your way out of contention. Mike did reasonably well and pipped me by a shot to sit on nett 69 (-1) and although Matt didn't have a great back nine and finished a little adrift his round on Thursday shows he's capable of going low in the second round.

By the time I tee it up on Monday I'm hoping all will be good. Whether that means I'll play with the same inhibitions I had for the front nine at least remains to be seen. However I'm in the mix and it's all about trying to put another steady score together and then seeing how it pans out. It is not in my control and I can only play as well as I can.

However let me finish on a cautionary note. If you are told not to drink to excess, follow that advice. Even in my wildest party days I've never had a hangover like it. It wasn't big and it wasn't clever and as we all know it's not good to drink and drive (especially my back nine).

Friday, 26 August 2011

What Revolution?

When a certain Eldrick “Tiger” Woods turned professional in August 1996 the world of professional golf changed too. Fitter, more athletic and arguably simply better than his peers, Tiger dominated the game. On the back of his success and inevitable rise to number one in the rankings, prize money increased, sponsorship and advertising revenues shot up as everyone wanted a piece of the action and viewing figures increased as armchair golfers watched in awe.

Tiger Woods announcing he was turning professional in 1996

It was predicted that the way Woods had become a global brand would lead to a significant increase, not only in other black American golfers coming onto the PGA tour but of a worldwide explosion in golf popularity as children all over the world took up the game to emulate the new hero.

All that has now changed, certainly for the time being. Woods has imploded. His off course behaviour has been well documented and the legacy fully felt financially and emotionally. There has been a continuing battle with injury and a bitter split with long term caddy Steve Williams. Despite working with several coaches there is a swing that for now betrays him as his ignominious missed cut at the USPGA showed. It is a cause for concern for all involved in the Woods camp as he enters free fall in the world rankings. His pursuit of a record number of major victories seems certain to fall short. So, what of the predicted revolution? Did Tiger really change the game, professionally and for the amateur that much and will others follow in his footsteps?

Perhaps one man did predict the future. At the end of the 1960s, Joe Dey, the first commissioner of the PGA Tour, forecast that the number of coloured golf pros would enter a long-term decline, saying: "By the turn of the century, there may not be one black playing the Tour." Apart from Tiger Woods, Dey turned out to be more accurate than all those pundits who predicted that with Woods as a role model, numerous black stars would quickly emerge. Woods is now the only black American on the Tour (and he's as Asian as he is black). That's fewer coloured players than at any time since the PGA revoked its "Caucasian-only" policy in 1961.

There have been five other black winners on tour since Charlie Sifford gained his PGA playing rights in 1961. Pete Brown became the first in 1964, followed by Sifford himself, Lee Elder, Calvin Peete and Jim Thorpe. Apart from Woods where is the next up and coming torch bearer.

Is it just the professional ranks that have failed to see anyone follow the mercurial Woods? What about the amateur game, particularly at grass roots level? Whilst I still see youngsters at the local driving range and municipal courses, has there really been a long term change in the number of newcomers to the game. Are we not more likely to see a McIlroy factor for a change in people playing now the young man has bagged his first major and being a home grown winner to boot? From my casual observations over the last few years, there are still people getting into the game but again, the number of coloured players, indeed from any diverse ethnicities still seems shamefully low.

Do the casual golfer and armchair fan even relate to Woods anymore with the emergence of a new crop of young stars like McIlroy and Fowler? Perhaps I’m being na├»ve in thinking Tiger’s dominance would really lead to a great take up in the game here in Britain where despite the sterling and persistent work of the Golf Foundation and other similar organisations, it seems that for many the sport of golf holds an elitist tag and still remains inaccessible to many. With tougher economic times, I’m sure a lot of kids today are being pushed into football or even street sports like basketball where income, race and background aren’t questioned.

I’m sure a lot of casual players and indeed some of the new crop of professional were inspired by Tiger and there is no doubt that he has to have had some positive impact, globally when he was in full pomp. I suggest however that the predicted revolution may never arrive and that for all that he has achieved, and may go onto do, Woods will not be remembered as the man who changed the face of the golfing world as so many once predicted. For me he may well have been golfs Pied Piper but not many have followed his tune.

Monday, 22 August 2011

What The .........

I've been playing golf on and off for the last thirty five years and there are only two things I'm sure about. It's a game that can never be tamed and you usually play the best golf when you least expect it. The latter is certainly true if my performance in the monthly stableford on Saturday is anything to go by.

I haven't been playing well at all and to be honest I still think my win at St Pierre was in part down to luck. I really have been all over the place and have no real idea where my next shot is going or how I'm going to swing the club. I played nine holes on Friday night and managed to lose four balls. My technique was shot and my confidence through the floor. Even warming up before my round wasn't any better and I was fearing the worse. To make matters worse I was partnered with two very good golfers in Dave Grove, an ex-captain off a superb 6 handicap and long time member Peter Martin who had recently enjoyed a good spell to cut his handicap down to 10.

I had no idea what to expect and my thinned tee shot some 40 yards short of the 1st green didn't bode well. A pitch and three putts later and a shot had already gone. I knew this round was going to be strange. It had that feeling. On the 2nd I hit a good tee shot and second and left 82 yards in. It wasn't quite a full 52 degree wedge but I hit it way too clean. However it bounced and spun and finished no more than six feet away. Peter managed to get even closer and converted too. I hit the putt too hard but it grabbed the left edge and dropped for a birdie to repair the damage on the first. I parred the third and was suddenly two under my handicap.

As if it reiterate the randomness of my game I hit the fairway on the 4th and then hit a stone cold shank with my sand wedge, straight right and narrowly missing the bunkers but giving one of the shots back. I made nett par on the 5th and so standing on the 6th tee I was still ahead of the game and so far the shank had been the sum of my fears. I had a hybrid in my hand and was reasonably confident. With my handicap up to 14 I get a shot so hitting the green wasn't imperative. What was important was avoiding the out of bounds left and right. The swing was rank and it went straight right. Not a shank but a slice with a bit of right to left on it for good measure. I teed up my third shot and still didn't put a great swing on it but it found the green. I thought two putts for a five would still keep the score ticking over especially as I was twelve feet away. Imagine my surprise when I holed out for a four (nett par) or a birdie with my second ball. If that was good then Peter's proper birdie courtesy of a holed bunker shot was even better.

I did give it all back on the 7th when I lost a ball and didn't score and I failed to score on the easiest hole on the course, the 8th after finding sand off the tee and somehow managing to double hit the ball with my bunker shot. From a position of strength I was now well down on my handicap although a good up and down from short of the 9th for par helped and saw me out in 16 points.

To be honest it was better than I expected but I didn't feel as though I had any idea what was going on. It was almost trance like and I wasn't thinking about any shot, had any swing thoughts in my head or had any idea of the outcome. Check the yardage, pick a club and hit it.

The back nine scrambled my brain even further. I hit a good tee shot on the 10th, probably the first shot I actually felt in control of but then managed to hit the 98 yard approach fat. It ended up short and right of the green. As regular blog readers will know, of all the facets of the game, chipping is my weakest point. It hadn't been going well in recent weeks and there was no way of knowing if it would be fat, thin or half decent. As it happened my 7 iron chip and run came off the face perfectly and was dead weight, tracking the hole all the way before dropping for a birdie and four points. That repaired all the damage with one shot. I parred the 178 yard 11th too which again put me under handicap. I hit another good tee shot at the 12th and missed the green left. With my holed chip fresh in my mind what could go wrong? Two duffed chips later we're walking off with a six (one point) courtesy of a very good 8 foot putt.

Things didn't improve on the next. I suddenly hit a wild tee shot with my hybrid at the 186 yarder into thick rough. Although I got it out it ran through the green and I couldn't get up and down so failed to trouble the scorer. At this point I'm back to being two behind my handicap and to be honest the only thought in my head was to keep the score going and try and make the buffer zone so the handicap didn't go up.

Suddenly my game jumped into life. Well sort of. The putter did anyway. Another good drive at the 14th was negated by a huge hook left of the green. Again, I hit the chip heavy and assumed it would be short but somehow it had managed to roll down and was only 10 feet away. I drained the putt for a very unlikely par. On the short par 5 15th I was on the green in regulation although a good 20 feet away and looking for a solid two putt par. Again the ball had other ideas and fell in perfect speed for a birdie.

I felt the same way GMAC
The 16th is a tough drive with out of bounds all down the left. I aimed well right and had already accepted that a five (nett par) would be a safe and sensible play. Suddenly my whole thought process had changed. I still had no idea what was going on technique wise but lay my trust in the golfing gods as it seemed they had their finger on the pulse. The drive was further right than I wanted but my second ended up some thirty yards short of the green. If I could put a decent chip on it this time the five looked safe. I hit another 7 iron chip and run to about 7 feet. Surely I couldn't. That would be too rude. I did! In it popped for another par and another three points. When I hit the green at the 228 yard 17th there was something very weird in the air. The golfing planets were aligning for me. Dodgy swing, trance like and with no confidence I was on fire. So much so that I left my first putt some 6 feet short. Suddenly I faced my first clutch putt of the round. It dropped as I almost knew it would.

The golfing planets were in perfect alignment
Standing on the 18th I'd already done the maths. I could afford to have a horror and not score and I'd still shoot level with my handicap. However, were I to get a par and another three points that really would be a competitive total. There was a wait on the tee while those playing the 15th teed off. Not what I needed as I just wanted to get on with it. In the end the drive was a little too far left and brought the big oaks on that side of the hole into play for the second but it was safe. I hit a good if not great second and now it was decision time. I had 128 yards into the wind. Usually that would be an eight iron but with the water in play on the right I wanted to be long and dry. I took the seven and hit it well. It was the best shot of the day and so had a hint of draw which took it off the green to the left. Off a bare lie I was never going to risk a chip and so took the cowards option and putted it down. I stuck it stone dead for an easy tap in.

I couldn't believe it. I'd just played the back nine in two over par gross and in there were two double bogies for good measure. Definitely my finest nine holes and even more satisfying as I had no idea it was coming and no idea how I managed it. Thirty nine points was good enough to win the division although my 23 point second half score would have won on countback had anyone had the temerity to match my score. What can I say? A handicap drop to 12.6 (13 in real money) and entry into the Masters. No not that one, but the Ascot Masters which is invite only to competition winners over the last twelve months. Happy days.

So what can we take away from the day. Well, I'll never understand golf. How can you go from zero to hero like I did Friday night to Saturday morning. How can you win, not knowing what you are doing with the swing or where it will go. At the end of it all, these questions can wait. Two wins in August. Sublime. See my faithful followers, I said the fightback had started. We're back on the road again.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

A Hackers Guide To Royal Ascot - Hole 9 (Ascot Farm)

The end of the front nine is in sight but we don't have time to contemplate a rest just yet. Having negotiated the previous eight holes we reach the par 4, 400 yard ninth hole. It is predominantly a straight away hole but always, always plays into the wind and in my opinion is tougher than the stroke index of 12.

This is how the club website describes the hole:
"From the tee it looks like an open hole, but don’t be fooled. The drive has to be correctly placed, keeping it left of the fairway bunker, right of the large tree on the left of the fairway and not so long as to go in the cross fairway water hazard that can not be seen from the tee. The second will be with a medium to long iron to a large green, where many subtle turns will be found on this putting surface."

As the guide says, right of the large bunker on the right is ideal. It runs downhill from the bunker towards the ditch that crosses the hole and is blind from the tee and in summer it can be in range even for a moderate hitter like myself although in my case the fairways do have to be baked hard and with no wind blowing.

The view down the left side of the hole - this where you should aim off the tee
The ideal shot is at the large tree to the left centre of the fairway and let the right to left camber take your ball down into the ideal spot. Be careful not to overcook it though as the tree will block the second shot to the green and there is a ditch to be negotiated. The second shot can be anything from a fairway wood (in Winter particularly) to a mid iron and the green is guarded by two bunkers right and one on the left. There is also out of bounds running down the right of the hole from the ditch, past the greenkeepers compound to the practice green.

The view of the green for your second shot
The green is another that slopes significantly from back to front and from right to left as you look at it. It is one of the deeper and larger putting surfaces too and so you need to be aware of the flag position when choosing your club. Depending on where the pin is placed anything coming out of the bunkers or needing to be chipped onto the putting surface needs careful planning as the slope can take even a well played stroke and run it away from the hole. Putts too need to be a good speed especially if you coming from above the hole as it will run on and on.

The large putting surface - another green with lots of borrows
In truth, the hole shouldn't pose any real problems apart from the length and playing into the prevailing wind. As always though it is never that simple and I've had more than a few mishaps. Perhaps the unluckiest came in a medal earlier in the year. I was going along well if not spectacularly and had found the fairway off the tee. I pushed my second and it hit the cart path that runs up the right edge. Normally the ball will just bounce along and eventually come to rest. Not this time. It bounced, flew high into the air and straight right scattering everyone on the practice putting green waiting to go out. Out of bounds and no choice but to hit another. It wasn't a bad shot and was only about ten yards wide of the target. It was just a freakish bounce but a real show stopper in terms of momentum.

The greenkeepers shed is another popular target. There is something about the shiny metal roof that regularly draws golf balls towards it. The sound of surlyn projectile on metal is very, very loud and echoes across the course. As the ninth runs close to the clubhouse there is nowhere to hide if you are unfortunate enough to slice one and it hits. Been there done that. Of course, the ditch can also catch the unwary. Playing out of the right hand bunker it is at least 100 yards to clear the hazard and so if you don't make perfect contact the ball will usually find the ditch. Similarly if you push or pull the drive and have to play from the rough either side, getting over isn't a given.

And there you have it. On paper not a real card wrecker and to be honest it can present a good par or nett birdie opportunity but like the other holes so far it needs treating with respect. We've made it through the first nine holes. Hopefully our score card is in good shape, we still have the original ball we started with and we're ready to move onto the start of the back nine.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Powerplay Golf - A New Challenge

It has all been a bit quiet on the golfing front recently. I've not been very well and so practicing has been minimal and there was no golf over the weekend. However I do have some interesting news. Golf Monthly are holding a Powerplay Golf event at the The Grove in Hertfordshire on August 31st. It is in the top 100 courses in the UK and we are playing the event over the front nine and I've been selected to play.

Powerplay Golf is a modified stableford event where there are two flags per green, a white one and a black one. The white flag will yield normal stableford points but should you opt to go for a powerplay you shoot for the harder black pin placement. You have to take three powerplays before the ninth hole. On the last hole should you decide to take the optional extra powerplay, nett par or better will give you double points but anything worse than par will lose points (the only time you can lose points from your tally). You have to declare your powerplay intention before teeing off. Check out the link below and click on the video clip for a far better explanation

The Golf Monthly event is going to be a team event and sadly will be a random draw. I say sadly because I'm being joined by fellow Royal Ascot members Mike Stannard, fresh from meeting Padraig Harrington in Dublin and Matt Davis (aka Sundance) who has seen his handicap tumble quicker than the FTSE 100 in recent months. I did approach Mike Harris, the editor of Golf Monthly to put us in as a Royal Ascot team (plus an honorary member for the day to make up the four) but he refused.

Powerplay Golf has had a pretty big write up and there has already been a big professional event to launch it in the UK at the Celtic Manor course back in May. Players included legend Gary Player, womens US Open champion Paula Creamer and 2010 mens US Open winner Graham McDowell. Now I'm not sure any of the Ascot boys will be as good as them but we'll give it a go. There is also a putting competition, burgers and prizes and it is a free event so the price is certainly good. Many thanks to Golf Monthly for putting this on.

I guess I need to get out and find my game again. Hopefully the fact that it is a team event means I can loiter with intent and maybe come in as and when necessary as opposed to the usual burden of trying to protect my individual score as I would in a normal medal or stableford. It certainly looks a fun format and I'll be sure to let you know how I did.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Day The Balloon Burst

Well today was definitely the day my golfing balloon went pop. After the dramatic highs of Tuesday and the mediocre rubbish of the social game yesterday today was the monthly medal. I couldn't have asked for a better pairing than Mark Timms, an ex Royal Ascot captain, decent golfer with a cutting sense of humour and Mick Mills, a man of a certain sartorial elegance, nutty as a box of frogs and on his day a very, very good golfer.

Things got off to a bad start with a duffed chip on the first leading to a double bogey five. I got through the next couple of holes without incident and then there was a nice three putt in on the 4th to drop another shot. I even managed a sand save on the next getting up and down from the left hand bunker after pulling a nine iron from 118 yards. After that, I'm afraid the round, or at least the front nine hit a brick wall with maximum force.

I snap hooked my tee shot on the 6th which is a real nemesis hole anyway. I hate par 3's! It would have been out of bounds but we didn't find it anyway. I had already hit a provisional which was flirting with the out of bounds further up the hole and played a second provisional, or potentially five off the tee which fortunately had found the target. The second ball was playable and I chipped on and two putted for an ugly triple bogey six.

My sheer delight of par 3's were further strengthened on the tiny par 3 eighth hole. I catalogued this hole in my "Hackers Guide" the other day (check it out to see what I'm talking about) but I've found a fresh way of making a mockery of playing it. Take one thinned tee shot and leave it twenty yards short of the green. Add a duff chip into a bunker. Sprinkle with a double hit out of the sand (including penalty shot). Mix with a chip on and finish with a holed putt to create the perfect triple bogey six. Deep joy.

The ninth was to prove no respite. I hit a poor drive into the rough down the right and faced a tricky shot to clear the ditch about one hundred yards away. With the ground sloping down towards the hazard laying up short from the lie I had wasn't a given and so I decided a prudent eight iron would be sufficient to carry the ditch and get the ball in play without being overly optimistic. Wrong. I pushed it right. The good news was it cleared the ditch. The bad news was it was now out of bounds. I played another which got over the hazard. I pitched on and made a back to back triple bogey.

 I was out in a nice round 50 and had used all my handicap allowance and some for the next round too. If I was having my issues, then poor old Mick was having an even tougher time and limped out several shots higher than my effort. On the plus side Mark had quietly been going about his business and was scoring quite nicely. Mind you he was having plenty of time to rest between shots while Mick and I chopped our way along.

My golfing balloon being well and truly burst

Trying to be a glass half full type of guy, the back nine started much better and included a par at the toughest hole on the course, the par four twelfth and at the long 186 yard par 3 thirteenth. The par three in particular was playing much tougher than its yardage into the wind and so I was pleased with my tee shot to the front of the green. And then the back nine hit the skids in a similar way to the front nine.

I hit a poor drive down the 14th. In truth I was trying to give it the full kitchen sink and the swing was a blur of moving body parts held together in a barely recognisable guise of a golf swing. It happened to find a great lie in the rough on the right and I hit a pure recovery just short of the green. A simple chip and two putts and we can get away with a five (nett par). Wrong. Another duffed chip. I never felt comfortable over the ball and I knew it wasn't going to be a good shot. However there was no excuse for three putting from twelve feet once I'd chipped on.

I managed a rare moment of dignity with a birdie four at the par five 15th but followed that up with a self-destructing tee shot out of bounds on the next for another triple bogey. Even a solid par five at the last finding both fairway and green in regulation couldn't make any inroads into the carnage on my scorecard. In the end I came back in 43 for a grand total of 93, less my 13 handicap for a nett 80 (+10). It doesn't take a handicapping genius to know that has missed the buffer zone and that the 0.1 back on my handicap now takes me to 13.5 or 14 in round numbers.

That is the highest I've been in about three years and bares no resemblance to the progress I feel I've been making. On the plus side, Mark had a sterling back nine too and finished with a very good nett 68. Mr Mills however followed his difficult front nine with a similar performance on the second nine. How can I put this politely? It was a higher nett score than me and not the type of golf I'm use to seeing him play.

At least we managed to have a good laugh on the way round. Well you had to really or else you'd cry. I really enjoyed the company and although there were sightings of a golfer within, there are a lot of swing issues. I think I've been neglecting my long game work to try and get the short game working and that it's a timing and turning issue where I'm swaying and not staying over the ball and compressing down. That was the main focus of the work over the winter and I just think old habits are creeping in.

I'll hit the range tomorrow and start looking at it. I need to get the game working again soon. That personal best of 75 I shot seems a distant memory and I feel a tad embarrassed by hitting the 14 handicap mark again. The whole point of Homer's Odyssey was to chart a triumphant journey towards 10 or even single figures. I should be soaring with eagles and yet I'm floundering with turkeys. Much work needed. The fightback starts right here, right now.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

A Hackers Guide To Royal Ascot - Hole 8 (Grey Poplar)

The eight hole is the shortest on the course and is supposedly the easiest, at least going by the stroke index but short doesn't always mean sweet. Named after the majestic grey poplar tree at the back of the green it only measures 139 yards off the back tee but it's no push over.

The description on the club website sums it up quite nicely.

"Shortest hole on course, but well protected with bunkers and a small green. Correct clubbing will be required to secure par, green is very narrow. A far right pin position asks a lot of questions of the golfer."

It is getting the club selection right that is the main obstacle. If it is playing into the wind it can be a mid iron, certainly for the likes of me but when the wind is with you, it can be an eight or even a nine iron. However it is imperative you take enough club as the bunkers short and to the left are deep. The right hand bunker is also a big no-no as it leaves a horrid shot with a lot of the contours on the green sloping back to front and right to left and so it makes landing the ball perfectly to get it close to any pin placement very tricky.
The view from the tee - doesn't it look so simple?
I've managed my share of birdies on the hole but have yet to threaten the hole for an ace. However it's another one that seems to have a hex on me. Did I mention I hate par threes? I seem to have developed an annoying talent for hitting big high hooks left into the rough or even worse, hitting big cuts right into the thick rough on that side. Left isn't the end of the world as there is usually a modicum of green to play with. Right however is big trouble and is reliant on the lie. Even then you're faced with a delicate pitch over the bunker to a sloping green. I've been known to make a five with consummate ease (and worse) from the right and it's to be avoided.

The view from the front edge
Once you've made it safely aboard the putting surface, the problems aren't over. This is another green with some serious contours and dependant on the pin placement can leave a testing sidehiller for birdie. A good judgement of pace and a keen eye for the correct line are a must.
And there you have it, the shortest hole on the card. It is definitely a birdie opportunity but can just as easily be a bogey or worse. Take care to get the right club and if you hit the centre of the green here everytime you'll never go far wrong or be that far away.

The Three T's

After the glory of winning at St Pierre it was back to Royal Ascot today for the usual Saturday morning roll up. I haven't hit a ball since Tuesday's triumph and to be honest it showed. Timing was out, tempo was out and technique was lacking. I managed to nobble it around in an almost respectable 31 points and to be honest the putter was stone cold which may have cost a couple of points but to be honest it was about all I deserved.

I just couldn't get anything going at all. The tempo seemed very quick and the swing felt dreadful and I could feel the hips sliding and not turning especially on the drives which were pretty poor all day long bar one on the par four 14th which was the best of the day. I actually played the hole pretty well. The drive finished near the two big trees on the fairway and with the flag tucked close to the bunker front right and with little to lose I decided to try and hit a little fade in. I took a four iron from 178 yards which on reflection was always too much club. However I pulled the shot off to perfection and it shimmied left to right in the air perfectly. However it was too long and ran to the back fringe. On the plus side the short game was working better and I chipped to within four feet but the putter refused to work and I couldn't save par but made a solid five (nett par) for two points.

The timing was an issue too. Aligned to the quick tempo and the hip slide, I had a real issue trying to get the club back square and even managed a stone cold shank on the 10th from the right edge of the fairway for a lost ball and an ugly double bogey.

I'm hoping today was an aberration as it's the monthly medal tomorrow and I'm right on the cusp of going back to a 14 handicap which I'm not overly thrilled about. Hopefully today will have shaken some of the dust off the swing and it'll feel better tomorrow. I sincerely hope so as today won't live long in the memory. How fickle this game can be. Hero on Tuesday and back to a club chopper today.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

St Pierre - The Story In Pictures

The Golf Monthly Centenary Day was covered by their resident snapper and they have put a gallery of the days action on their website

However here are some depicting Homer in action

Waiting to tee off with the 1st disappearing into the distance
My tee shot at the 18th
I have to be honest and say this was arguably the worse drive of the day and the ball disappeared down the hill to the right of that large bush at the front of the tee and I really thought it would struggle to clear the lake. Fortunately after what seemed an eternity it appeared and ran up the hill and stopped in the rough opposite the bunker to the right of the green. I managed to pitch to a foot and hole out for par. Easy hole really!

The 18th looking back to the tee - and my pitch shot
It really is a brute of a hole to finish on with a lake some 100 yards away off the tee which catches your attention and then plays up a steep hill to the green. It's the small matter of 236 yards away and it plays almost all carry as the upslope kills anything pitching short.

Shaking hands with James Edwards who won the 17+ handicap group to also qualify for the Final
A handshake from Alex from Golf Monthly and the spoils of victory
Check out the Golf Monthly website for pictures of all the other qualifying events. If you ever get an opportunity to enter one of these competitions you really should take the chance to play. They are usually held on top notch venues and entry (including a meal after) is usually much cheaper than a standard green fee would cost. Although most players would like to win, the emphasis is on having fun and it isn't cut-throat and win at all costs.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Dancing In The Valleys

It's Golf Monthly's Centenary and to celebrate they've been hosting a number of competitions up and down the country and offering the top four players at each location a chance to play in a national final at the Forest of Arden in the Midlands in October.

I'd booked to play at St Pierre in Chepstow. The famous Old Course has played host to many top tournaments from the PGA Welsh Masters to the Solheim Cup and Dunlop Masters and off the white tees provides a stern 7028 yard test. The fairways are pretty tight and lined with mature, majestic trees making accuracy off the tee a premium and the smallish greens need accurate club selection to make putting on the quick, subtle surfaces as easy as possible.

I was out with a good friend called Sean Wheatley from the GM Forum and another Berkshire lad (Sandhurst) and two guys from the West Country. Jim from Minchampton Golf Club was off a dangerous 19 and the fourball was completed by a guy called Martyn from Saunton and off 13. It is always a nervous opening drive at any Golf Monthly event given my involvement with them over the years and particularly the forum and so it was a relief to hit a good one down the long 574 yard par five first. As well as being a long opener there were trees tight left and the driving range not too far away to the right but my drive split the fairway and I'd go on to make a par.

The first few holes steadily take you uphill until you reach the tee on the par three 6th which offers majestic views over the Severn Bridge and the Bristol Channel and down the Chepstow valleys. I'd made good progress to that point including a pleasing par four at the long (stroke index 2) 442 par four fourth hole having hit another great drive and finding the green with my second.
The 4th green on the Old Course
By the time I'd reached the ninth tee I was on 18 points. It's the hardest hole on the course and my first bad drive of the day really lay the foundation for a poor hole and my failure to score any points. Still, I was out level to my handicap and so all seemed good in the world.

The tenth is a sweeping right to left dog leg of 365 yards with a pond protecting the left hand side the length of the hole and with a tree strategic placed on the left edge of the rough to force you out wider and therefore making the second shot that much longer. The driver behaved and I hit a peach hugging the edge of the tree and drawing before running down hill. The second is played to a green protected left and behind by the pond and to be honest I was between clubs with 98 yards left and took a pitching wedge but never committed to the shot and hit it fat. Another dropped point.

The 10th green
The back nine was a tale of wasted shots, missed opportunities and the odd piece of bad luck but by the time I stood on the feature hole, the massive 236 yard par 3 eighteenth I'd manage to accumulate 31 points to date which I reckoned would be well short of the required number. The last features a shot from a tee high above the lake. You drive over the water to a raised green on top of the hill by the clubhouse and sanctuary. It looks lovely as you stand there but it's a real brute to play. I hit a three wood and to be honest a combination of fatigue in the humid conditions and trying to hit it too hard produced a pig of a shot. It shot off low and disappeared below the tee box. I was doubtful it would make the carry but fortunately it appeared low and right and it tried hard to scamper towards the green but could only make the rough halfway up.

The view to the tee on the 18th
I was left with an awkward uphill chip of some 54 yards over a bunker in front of the assembled Golf Monthly editorial team and the on course snapper waiting to detail the closing throes. To be honest it was a bit of a half hearted hit and hope with nothing left to play for but it came off and stopped a foot from the flag. Naturally I explained it was played for. All that was left was to make sure I made the putt which I managed to do for a three (nett birdie) and a closing three points for a grand total of 34. I was sure it would be at least two points shy.

I have to say the veteran of the group Jim played some fantastic golf. Despite the course being a brute in length, he never found any trouble and was always on or around the green in three and so chipping or putting for a par. He came back in a marvellous 19 points and level handicap 36 overall. Now that had to be in the running.

After a great three course meal it was time for the results. There were 55 golfers in total and Golf Monthly had split it across various handicap categories to ensure an even spread of players per category. It went 0-9, 10-13, 14-19 and 20 and above. When it got to my category (10-13) and second place was announced on 32 points (a good mate called Tony Reed aka Pokerjoke) it dawned on me. Homer had only gone and won the prize and then came the announcement. A couple of pictures with Jezz Ellwood (deputy editor) and a snazzy Cleveland golfing suitcase prize later I was there. I'm in the national final on the 12th and 13th of October at the Forest of Arden in Warwickshire. I've won an overnight stay at the on-site Marriott followed by breakfast, the final itself and then a meal and prize giving. It has to be my biggest win in many a full moon. I told you blog followers. I promised it was in there. Finally it came out when it mattered and I converted.

The glass half empty part of me was disappointed with the way I played the back nine and the last six holes in particular as I didn't hit it very well and to be honest was trying too hard to chase what I thought I would need to post a competitive score. The glass half full side says it was a tough course off the white tees and a place you'd never seen or played before and that for twelve holes you were hitting it great and very steady.

As the great rugby commentator Bill McClaren would say after a Wales victory, "they'll be dancing in the valleys tonight" and I did have a small libation with my wife once we got back to the B&B in Chepstow we were staying at. I'm off to Tyrrells Wood tomorrow for a game with some of the normal Saturday swindle but the forecast is pretty dire and so any hope of keeping the good form going may be scuppered by the rain and wind. To be honest I don't care and have already had a sneaky look on the internet at the Forest of Arden course. It'll be another tough challenge and there are some good golfers going along but I'm there, a finalist and so anything from here on in is a bonus. Get in!                 

On The Tourist Trail

I was due to play in the Golf Monthly Centenary Golf Event in St Pierre in Chepstow yesterday (Tuesday August 2nd) and decided to go down a day early with the wife and have a bit of a mini break. It's only a two hour trip and once you're over the Severn Bridge you are in Chepstow and St Pierre is a short ten minute drive away. It's a Marriott resort and has two courses, the Old and the Mathern. I was playing the Old which has hosted some famous pro events including a Solheim Cup and my hero Seve has played and won on the hallowed turf.

We booked into a lovely AA four star B&B called the Parva Farmhouse situated at the far end of the village of Parva itself. The room was pretty with a four poster bed (yes I'm still a romantic at heart) and set fifty yards from the River Wye. It's a glorious location and they offer an a la carte evening menu. We took full advantage. My lovely wife had a piquant chicken and seasonal vegetables. The chili sauce was fantastic with a hint of heat and the chicken was really tender. I went for the lamb liver in marsala sauce and the veg and again it was top quality. We both went for the home made apple crumble and custard and the portion was generous and it was to die for.

We walked it off with a stroll along the river. This part of the world is beautiful and we were less than a mile from the famous Tintern Abbey.

The River Wye from the hotel
I'm not a huge fan of spending hours in a car before playing golf and so the early arrival suited me to the ground. I've got some brownie points in the bag and we've had a marvellous relaxing time. As for the golf, well you'll just have to wait and see. 

Tintern Abbey
All I would say is that there are plenty of decent courses in this neck of the wood and St Pierre is well worth playing. I'm back chilled and relaxed and with a tale to tell.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Plus Points And Some Real Downers

It was day two of the club championship yesterday and having survived the halfway cull I was paired with a great guy called John Clark for the second day running and was joined by the club handicap secretary and guru to all things CONGU Terry Banham.

In the warm up I was actually hitting it much better than the previous day and the timing seemed so much better. I hit a better opening drive and found the green and for the second day running opened up with a par. And then for the second day running problems started. I struck my tee shot on the 2nd well but a little right. It looked to be staying in bounds until it caught a bough of one of the trees never to be seen again. Roll up a costly snowman (8) and I'm already a stroke worse off. The 3rd hole was really an indication though that it wasn't to be my day. A great tee shot took a wicked kick left and found a fairway bunker. I escaped well but only managed to find a greenside bunker. However I had no stance inside the bunker and had to stand way above the ball outside the trap and try and bend down to play the shot. I made contact and got it out but didn't find the green. That would be the story of my round. If there was a chance of finding a bare lie or grass, it would be the bare one every time. A inch shorter and playing from semi-rough or from longer stuff and the ball would go that extra few rolls. Maybe it was my penance for making my first club championship cut

The putter wasn't behaving either which didn't help and where all the six footers were going in on Saturday, they were just staying on the lip or brushing the edge yesterday. By the time I'd made a good par on the 9th thanks to a sweet four iron into the wind from 176 yards to the heart of the green I'd improved my score compared to the first round by two shots and was only just over handicap. That buffer lasted until the 10th where a catalogue of poor shots ensured a nice double bogey.

Apart from the 10th, the back nine was pretty steady all the way round with the odd par or bogey and the quality of the shots were much better than of late and shad I been able to make a putt or two could have had a half decent return. However all that was academic once I'd played the 17th. Again, it was a great five wood into the wind although the line was too far right guarding against the out of bounds left. It found the bunker but should have posed no problem. WRONG. I took no sand with the shot and the ball sailed merrily over the green and out of bounds. I eventually got it out long and right, chipped back and made an inglorious triple bogey seven. Even a good par down the last with a five iron from 158 yards over the pond couldn't lighten the simmering frustration inside.

In the end my score of 151 (74-77 nett +11) was good enough for 37th place. Not a great result but I was pleased to have made the cut and so anything after that was a bonus. The real downside was the fact that yet again I'd hit the ball really well and got little or no return. Add the fact that both rounds were outside the handicap buffer and so my handicap went up 0.1 both days and I'm now teetering on 13.4 and perilously close to 14. Bad times.

I have to mention John and Terry. John was great fun to play with (as was Tony our partner for Saturday who sadly didn't have a great day) and like me had a mixture of good holes and the odd nightmare. Terry had a decent opening round and started off like a train yesterday. After the first five holes he was two under par gross thanks to a couple of birdies and held it together pretty well for the first nine. Sadly it got away from him a little coming home but he played some really steady golf and his final score didn't do justice to the way he'd played.

All in all it was a great weekend. Congratulations to the captain and organisers, and a big well done to the greenkeepers. The course was well presented and the greens were just about perfect. The flag placements were testing without being penal or silly and good shots were rewarded and bad ones punished. Well down to Ian Forster for winning both the scratch and handicap prizes and Dave Andrews who pushed him hard and finished second.

Overall there was much to be happy about. I laid to bed the club championship hex of not playing well or missing the cut and in the second round hit the ball very nicely even if I couldn't make a score. I'm concerned that the handicap continues to go north and that the medal next Saturday could see me hitting the 14 handicap mark. Definitely not what Homer's Odyssey was all about. Its a bitter sweet pill as I've bleated long and often about not getting any breaks and believing in what you put in you get out. Sadly it seems that isn't always the case.

Anyway to finish on a positive note I'm off to sunny Chepstow on Monday for a few days R&R with the good lady wife. Oh and did I mention the small matter of a Golf Monthly Centenary event at St Pierre on Tuesday. I've never played there but heard great things about the course and it will be great to catch up with some of the familiar faces from the Golf Monthly forum and the magazine staff as well and hopefully my decent ball striking will survive the trip down the M4 intact for Tuesday morning. The weather looks reasonable (even for Wales) and I've got some brownie points from the wife for taking her away for a few days so everything is set fair. I'll be sure to regale you with deeds of derring-do, long drives, sublime putting and good fortune. Or as regular readers will know, maybe not!