Monday, 31 October 2011

A Hackers Guide To Royal Ascot - Hole 10 (Gray's Copse)

I'm sure many of you were wondering if Royal Ascot was really a nine hole layout as there has been a bit of a delay in our hole by hole guide. Fear not dear blogger, normal service has been resumed. Here we are, on the 10th hole, Gray's Copse. Hopefully the scorecard isn't looking too shabby so far and we can kick on in style on the back nine.

This hole tees off directly outside the professionals shop and so it's very common to have you swing studied and scrutinised by Ali or his assistant Jamie loitering by the door. On paper it isn't a very tricky hole as the stroke index of 11 would indicate. It is a gentle dogleg from right to left and like many at Royal Ascot the drive is the key. There is a large house adjacent to the left hand side of the hole which is out of bounds and to be avoided and thick, punishing right awaits anything sliced or pushed too far. The ideal line is on the dead tree at the end of the fairway.

On the dead tree or slightly left of that is ideal
The hole only measures 371 yards and this fairway is one of those that tends to give a bit of run throughout the year. Get a good drive away and you are left with a short iron approach in. There is a temptation to try and cut a bit off the corner of the dog-leg but over cook it and the garden extends further than it seems and can trap an unsuspecting player. Beyond the fence line on the left lies very deep rough.

Even though you are left with a relatively easy second, make sure you select your club wisely. Long is dead here. The green has a very sharp slope at the back and anything running through will roll down into a ditch making a recovery shot almost impossible. This is where the double bogey or worse comes from. If you miss it left there is a bunker waiting. Miss right and there is a run off area which will collect your ball and guide it towards the fringe rough making a chip and a putt tricky.
Select your club wisely - middle of the green every time
The green itself will receive a well struck shot, even if it is from further back than intended. There is a slope at the front which will kill anything landing into it and it does run very much back to front all the way and left to right as you approach. It is another that never seems to have a dead straight line on any putt even from close range.

This hole offers a good chance of par and the chance to get the back nine off to a solid start. Indeed if you can get a good drive into the fairway, it is viewed as a birdie opportunity and even this hacker has managed a few of those in his time. Beware though. If you find the right hand rough, finding the ball will constitute a minor miracle, playing it out an even greater one. Lost ball and a reload is the usual penalty. Similarly stray too far left and the same fate can await especially as the dog-leg and the fence line can prevent you actually seeing where it lands.

We have one gentleman at the club by the name of Billy Koen who tends to make this hole a mockery. He is an ex-tour player from the Sunshine Tour down in South Africa and Zimbabwe and he strikes a might long ball. In the summer he has been known to hit the fringe of the green. That's outrageous whichever way you cut it. Here am I grateful to get there in two and he's thinking eagle. Still I guess that is why even now, with far less practice he still makes a 2 handicap look ridiculously easy at times.

So there we go. Nothing out of the ordinary to scare you and a gentle introduction to the back nine. A definite birdie chance but with a few pitfalls to catch the unwary golfer. If you can get off to a fast start here it will stand you in good stead as there are sterner challenges ahead.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Can't Find It

Let me start with the bad news. The clocks have changed and we're in darkness by 4.30pm now and that will creep ever earlier. Gone for another year are those cheeky nine holes after work or a quick practice session at the club. Instead, months of early tee times and extra layers lay ahead. That last part though seems to be holding off, in Berkshire at least. It has been glorious this weekend and it was shirt sleeve order for the Saturday roll up yesterday.

My golf has taken another dip and as regular followers will know a mysterious slice has crept in and weaved destruction to my medal card last week. With my unique golf swing a slice is the furthest word from my golfing vocabulary. Duck hook, push and sometimes a controlled draw are the stock shots although I can't always guarantee in which order they will appear but never a big left to right banana. Despite my best endeavours at the range Friday night it was still there and so I wasn't full of Autumnal joy for the normal Saturday roll up.

As it happened, in places I hit some decent enough shots and the putter and my pitching went into over-drive around the turn but in between times there were some abominations including a slice out of bounds both the 2nd and the 6th from the tee. In the case of the 2nd hole I made a battling par with my second ball holing out from ten feet to rescue a point but couldn't repeat the magic four holes later.

My game, and in particular the short game came alive as I approached the clubhouse and the end of the front nine. My putter suddenly caught fire and was aided and abetted by an array of wedge shots that had laid dormant in my repertoire for many a long round. I was just short of the green on the tiny 138 yard par three 8th but chipped stone dead for a tap in par. I wasn't striking the ball solidly but I managed to find a fairway at the 9th and then proceeded to miss the green way right leaving a tricky forty yard pitch from heavy rough, over a bunker to a flag cut on a right to left slope. I judged it well to within six feet and converted to save par. I hit a poor tee shot on the 10th, low, left and short and couldn't make the green in regulation. My second shot finished short and left of the putting surface but again I pitched brilliantly and one putted to save another par. I hit a better tee shot on the par three 11th but still managed to miss the green right. From a tricky bare lie I hit a chip and run perfectly to three feet for another single putt green. As if that wasn't enough, I found the fairway on the 12th (stroke index 1) and only had 187 yards into this 409 yarder but hit it heavy and tugged it into the left hand greenside bunker. I got it out well and holed out for another par and a rare sand save. Five straight single putt greens and five straight up and down rescues to save par must be some kind of personal record.

Ironically as soon as I started hitting it well the putter went cold. I found the green in regulation at the long par three 13th and proceeded to three putt. I repeated the trick at the par five 15th too for good measure after again finding the dancefloor in regulation. It did however kick back into life again with yet another up and down from wide of a green on the 16th but I then limped home with two double bogies.

The grand total of 34 points was pleasing considering the swing isn't under control in any way, shape or form and I don't feel confident of putting the same swing on two consecutive shots. However the fact that we were out in glorious sunshine and in shirt sleeves eased the frustration to a large degree.

Winter golf is coming - don't let the current barmy weather fool you otherwise
I opted to hit the range today and work on it. The agonising thing is that it doesn't feel a million miles away. There were far less shots leaked right than in the medal last week and the pitching around the greens was at times sublime and made par saves routine. I have to say it was probably a sound choice. I'm still not hitting it as I want but I do feel a little more in control of the clubhead and have an idea where it is going now. I know when I've not put a good swing on it almost before I've hit it and can tell straight from impact whether it will be a horrid slice (becoming fewer and fewer) or a bit of a hook left.

I also managed to grab five minutes with my teaching professional Paul Harrison and discuss the Winter programme. I've been mulling it over for a few weeks now and have decided that to a large degree the foibles I have that make my swing very much my own are ingrained in their now and are part of my golfing DNA. To get rid of these and get something much more textbook is going to take a mammoth deconstruction and rebuilding programme and to be honest I'm getting to a point now where I'm becoming resigned to the fact that age is creeping up on me and that time on the course is more valuable than time in a bay at a range.

The good news is he doesn't think it's a problem. As my "moves" are repeated on every shot and therefore I swing with a degree of consistency albeit resembling an octopus in a washing machine at times he is happy to work within the constraints he has with the raw materials at hand and that a handicap of 10 is within reach by next season and that with some dedicated work in particular areas such as putting and the short game that could go a shot or two lower.

It is back to competitive golf next weekend with the monthly stableford and the following week Paul and I have our first Winter lesson so we can really see where we are and where we are going. Although I can't find the swing at the moment I'm convinced it hasn't taken early hibernation and that as long as the weather behaves and we can get out an play (heck I'll even suffer with temporary greens if I must) a period of tuition, practice and consolidation, and playing the changes in on a Winter course will leave me in a fantastic position for next season. There is a Golf Monthly Forum meet at Woburn on 29th March 2012 and the plan is to be ready to hit the ground running for that. A new year, a tweaked but not rebuilt game and a legendary course to try it out on. What could be better?

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Fore Right

After the platitudes and the glory of last week at the Forest of Arden it was back to competitive golf at Royal Ascot and the last monthly medal of 2011. Despite not playing well in the normal Saturday roll up last weekend I was still cautiously optimistic that the form that had seen me do so well in the Golf Monthly event may still be loitering inside and would come good.

I was drawn with Keith Feesey, a nine handicapper and a bear of a man who has been at the heart and soul of the club for a long time and a leftie golfer off seven called Tony Gare whom I'd no had the pleasure of playing with before. To cut a long story very short it was abysmal. Well that's not strictly true. I was competitive for the first two and a half holes even if I wasn't hitting it great. We'd been there before and got it round without playing fantastic golf so I wasn't overly panicked. That came with a missed green and duffed chip and the 3rd, a pushed drive right at the next and a recovery that it a staked tree and shot past my head on the way to a double bogey six.

However it was the 5th hole that was the real catalyst for a meltdown of Chernobyl proportions. I hit a glorious drive a long way down. A simple mid iron would have left an easy shot in and a bogey would surely have been the worse case scenario. Instead I tried to hit a five wood over the fairway bunker close to the green and managed to only hit a huge slice right into deep bundra. I found it and chopped it out but the damage was done with another double bogey.

The problem was that every single tee shot following, indeed 90% of all my shots were fades and big slices. Anyone who knows my game will testify that I am one of the few golfers who manage to be worry free about a slice. My problem shots are the damaging snap hook left or a straight block right. Not something starting vaguely straight, although without any oomph, and curling away to the right. I've no idea where it came from and quite frankly the sooner it goes away again the better.

The front nine was an adventurous 44 shots. I even tried to go cross-country on the 7th. Having sliced another shot way right, the only shot I had was a chip out short of the ditch crossing the fairway and still leaving nearly two hundred yards in. There was another option. I could risk playing across a large swathe of bracken and rubbish and over the 8th green and try and get it part way down that hole to leave a short shot in. A mis-hit would mean a lost ball and so I played safe and took a wedge. It was too safe and although I cleared the bushes, it didn't clear the greenside bunker by the 8th green. To confound the problem it had also plugged. In the end I did well to make another double bogey.

I started the back nine well until the 13th. Another carved shot right resulted in a lost ball and that long, lonely walk back to the tee. I topped my tee shot, and the next was also short. In the end a seven and a quadruple bogey saw any forlorn hope of making the buffer zone wiped out. I rescued a par at the next having temporarily remembered how to drive and chipped and putted after coming up short. After that it all collapsed in a heap and I saved the final ignominy until last.

I hit the tee shot on the 18th with a final big slice straight out of bounds. Playing three of the tee I got the second one away. I carved the next well right into the rough and could only hack it further up the hole. I then managed to put the sixth shot into the heart of the green but putted out for a snowman (8). In the end it was 48 shots home and a total of 94, nett 81 (+11). It was only good enough for 15th place (out of 22) in division 2 and a stark reminder of how fickle this game can be.

"Go on I dare you - just you try and go right"

I put it down to a bad day at the office although the slice is giving me cause for concern and so foresaked a chance to play today to hit the range and work on the swing. I'm still trying to bed in the swing I had from my last lesson a few weeks back and making a wider turn with much more wrist hinge. When I get into a position that seems to replicate the feeling I had at the time the results are pretty good but it's a case of not doing it often enough. One shot will soar magnificently and the next is usually a block right. The bad ones feel as though I am coming up and out of the shot. I've narrowed the cause of the slice to spinning my hips too aggressively and pulling the club over the top on the way down making a left to right slice inevitable.

All in all not a great weekend and it hasn't put me in the best of moods. With the clocks about to change I'm now restricted to range sessions and a couple of weekend games to try and find something that works. It's no good doing it during the week at the range if it crumbles apart on the course. I'm loathed to book another lesson yet although resigned to an inevitability that I can't get it sorted myself. I'm also toying with the idea of letting another pro have a look at the swing too, just to cast a fresh eye over things and get a different perspective. Either way, it wasn't what I was looking for and it's back to basics for the roll up next Saturday.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The Forest of Arden - The Pictures

I'm sure there are those, especially those that have played with me in the last few months, that are still having trouble believing I could win my handicap division at the Golf Monthly Centenary Final at the Forest of Arden, let alone tie for first place. Let those doubters be forever silenced as the luminaries at Golf Monthly have posted a report of their own and a gallery of pictures

Here is the pictorial evidence of my win in the handicap section and the glorious oh so near.

A study of concentration
This was the birdie attempt at the par 5 12th hole. It measures 537 yards with a large pond guarding the left hand side of the green. I didn't make the birdie but sunk the next for a safe par five.

Smile for the camera
I'm receiving a brand new Srixon bag for winning the 13+ handicap division prize with 34 points from Jeremy Ellwood, Assistant Editor of Golf Monthly. Mike Harris the magazine's Editor is in the background hosting the prize giving ceremony.

Glorious Failure
This is the winner of the event, Bill Martin and I posing with our beautiful trophies on the balcony of the clubhouse in front of the green on the 18th, the signature hole. Bill played off nine and pipped me on a countback that went to the last 6 holes although to be fair his 15 points to my 12 was fairly convincing. He parred the last five holes so deserved to win.

And there we have it. You've read in detail how fine margins cost me the ultimate prize but I'd never have dreamed I'd get this far let alone coming within a putt or two of winning. All I have to do now is find the magic of that day and reproduce it more often around the hallowed turf of Royal Ascot

Friday, 14 October 2011

Fine Margins

I've just arrived back from the Forest of Arden Hotel near Birmingham. This Marriott hotel played host to the Golf Monthly Centenary Finals over the famous Arden course. The course was designed by Donald Steel and is located on the grand Packington Estate. Many varieties of wildlife can be found within the boundaries of the club, and golfers have a very good chance of catching a glimpse of the friendly deer that live in the majestic countryside setting. The Forest of Arden has held numerous European Tour events, including the English Open and British Masters. The victory roster includes many of the world’s greatest golfers including Colin Montgomerie, Ian Woosnam, and Thomas Bjorn. The 6707 yard (off the white tees) par 72 course is a true test of golf, designed to make golfers play a wide range of shots. Its variety of water hazards and trees neatly outline the fairways, offering a thoroughly unforgettable golf experience.

The hotel courtyard

Twenty one competitors checked in on Wednesday night and enjoyed a few pre-match drinks with Mike Harris, Golf Monthly's Editor along with Jeremy Ellwood the Assistant Editor and equipment guru. There was the usual array of golfing tales and it gave a chance for players and their partners to mix and relax before the big event. There had been six regional qualifiers earlier in the year and regular blog followers may recall I was here courtesy of a win in my handicap division at St Pierre.

The day itself dawned cloudy and dry if a little fresh but the strong winds that had been around all week had thankfully died down. Up on the range Golf Monthly had arranged for Cleveland, a co-sponsor of the event along with Marriott Hotels, to host an equipment demo and so the finalists had a chance to try out the latest clubs, including a state of the art launch monitor prior to going out.

Some last minute short game practice

Once it was time for business it was down to the first tee for preliminary photos to be taken by the magazine snapper. From there it was onto the tee and game on. I was partnered with Mike Chapman (4 handicap) from East Dorset Golf and Country Club and Bill Martin from Ballyliffin in Ireland (9 handicap).

The first hole on the Arden course is a 372 yard par four. It is quite a tight driving hole as the fairway is lined with large bunkers both left and right and with the pressure of a final and a photographer standing there to capture the opening drive for posterity it wass certainly a moment when the palms got a little sweaty and the mouth is that bit drier.

The opening hole - Pressure, what pressure?
I managed to follow my partners down the middle and so all was looking good. Sadly it wasn't to last and my eight iron approach was too long and I was left with an awkward opening chip from the edge of a large depression. I got it out but three ugly putts meant I had failed to score. Not the ideal opening. I made a fortunate nett par on the next to get points on the board. I was striking the ball well and managed to claw back the lost shots from the first and by the time we got to the eighth hole was back level with my handicap. This hole is a par three of 155 yards but is all carry over water with no bale out area. It is a case of hitting the green or getting wet. I found terra firma but off the putting surface on the fringe but failed to get up and down to drop another shot. I was a little out of shape off the tee on the sharply dog-legged ninth and so played into position, hit the green and made another nett par to go out in a solid 17 points. This was matched by Mike who had played some glorious golf on the front nine and really showed why he was so low. Bill was just a point adrift after a bad ninth hole meant he had failed to score.

The back nine on the Arden course turns towards the deer park. There are several large groups of deer roaming freely around the estate and on the course. It has a much more heathland feel to it and the holes are surrounded by ferns and it is more tree lined.

I drove the ball well on both the 10th and the 11th but came up short both times. In each case I was a little unsure on club selection and never fully committed to the shot. Still a nett par on both did no damage to the scorecard. I made a solid par on the 12th but another three putt at the 428 yard 14th cost me a shot. The next hole is a long par 3 of 185 yards played from an elevated tee to a kidney shaped green that right to left as you view it. The flag was tucked away behind a large bunker and with only a ten foot landing area to aim at it wasn't one for attacking. We all found the green in similar positions but Bill and Mike showed their class by negotiating a slippery twenty five footer, downhill breaking right to left with ease. I on the other hand rushed the first one seven feet by and missed the return.

I managed to get a shot back on the penultimate hole which is a short par five of just 487 yards. There is a large lake that cuts into the green from the right. I hit a good drive and had it been a social game I would have been tempted to go for it in two. Given the good round I had going a pragmatic approach was called for. I laid up and hit my third to ten feet. Bill had gone for it and was a similar distance away looking at an eagle putt. He missed, and missed the birdie putt back while I made my birdie. Slowly, slowly catchee monkey.

The last hole is the signature hole on the course. It is 207 yards over water to a large green in front of the clubhouse. There is a little room to the right but the shot requires a carry of at least 180 yards. My birdie meant I had the honour.

Do or die on the 18th
I pulled my trusty five wood and aimed at the right hand bunker hoping for my usual right to left shape. Instead I hit it well but too straight and it found the sand. Mike and Bill both found the green. I have to be honest blog reader and say I thought a four and two points for a nett par would give me a competitive score and match my tally from St Pierre. Perhaps I was thinking too much about what I needed to score as opposed to what I needed to do. The sand shot was a little too clean and ended up four feet over the side of the green.

I was right to look nervous

Now my short game is in and out at best but with a good score going in the final of a pretty decent competition there was more pressure on a fragile technique than normal. All I was focusing on was keeping the clubhead moving and trying not to duff it in front of me. In the end we got away with it and the ball came to rest some six feet away from the hole. It was an ugly shot but at this stage I was all for settling for results any which way. It was a teasing left to right putt and I was desperate not to finish with an ugly double bogey. I made it. Only just mind but it found the bottom of the hole

After we checked the cards, all three of us had tied with 34 points. In Mike's case that was testament to some tremendous golf around a very tricky course and it was a pleasure to watch a proper golfer at work. Bill had finished under a full canvass and parred the last five holes.

There was a long wait ahead. We were only the second group out and so we were hanging around as the others came in and there was a decent meal to enjoy first. As others drifted in, it seemed 34 points was proving a hard number to beat but I'd have to wait for Mike Harris to formally announce the result.

There were two divisions for the handicap section split 0-12 and 13 and over. Bill from my group pipped Mike into second place having scored eighteen points on the last nine holes to Mike's seventeen. And then it  was my division. After a pause of X Factor proportions my name was called. I was a National Final winner. That just left the main prize and the trophy to be decided. Clearly Bill and I had tied on 34 points but who had won. We both knew we had eighteen points apiece coming home and so countback went to the final six holes. Despite my birdie on the 17th, those two three putts cost me on 14 and 15 and Bill scooped the trophy to take back to Ireland. Congratulations to him and well played.

In the end it was a matter of a missed putt that cost me the ultimate prize but second place in the final of such a prestigious event as the Golf Monthly Centenary was beyond my wildest dreams. My form in the stableford last weekend or indeed playing the back nine of Royal Ascot on Tuesday with my mate Mike Stannard gave no indication that I would do so well.

In the end I'd be lying if I said I was happy to come second and I am still looking at the errors I made around the green at the first and the lost shots scattered elsewhere but deep down the glass isn't just half full but brimming at the rim. I am chuffed and pleased that my wife was there to share my success after having to endure listening to me complain on a regular basis about how badly I had played or hit it down the range.

It just shows that providing you keep the faith and belief in your game good things can happen. Many thanks to Mike and Golf Monthly for staging the event and to the Marriott for their hospitality on and off the course. Hopefully this will become a regular event albeit not a Centenary one and that I can make it back to the final next year. Who knows, maybe I can go that one step further.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Watch Out - There's A Humphrey About

If you are of a certain age you'll remember back to the the mid 1970's when the Unigate Dairy came up with an amazing advertising campaign to promote their range of milk. It was based on an army of red and white striped straws that turned up when you weren't looking and stole your milk. An imaginative slogan "Watch out..Watch out there's a Humphrey about" became an overnight catchphrase.

The Humphrey Logo
Of course if you are too young or reading this from outside the UK it'll mean very little. However the convoluted point I'm making is I've a horrible feeling my golf swing has been Humphrey'd. It was there at the range last week and had been coming on nicely from the lesson I had. It was there for the most part in the Saturday roll up yesterday. Cometh the stableford today when I needed it the most it was conspicuous by its absence for long periods.

I was partnered by Eddie Murphy (yes, we've done the gags before) and Jeff Wade who earns a crust as a caddy at Wentworth. Jealous - Moi? It started of well enough with a solid nett par but the problems began at the second. The drive was further right than intended but caught the bough of a tree lurking from the edge of the out of bounds. Where it went after that is a mystery. I hit a provisional off the tee but put such a bad swing on it that it flew miles into the trees. Two balls lost, no points scored. Not a great hole.

I bounced back with a good drive into the teeth of a stiff breeze and hit a fine second onto the green to par the 3rd and followed with a par at the 4th. On the par five 5th I hit a rubbish drive into the right rough, hit a scabby hybrid out and stuck my approach from 174 yards into the left hand greenside bunker. However there are no pictures on the scorecard. I hit a really good bunker shot to within a foot and holed out for par. No-one will ever know about the bad ones. I managed to make par on the tricky par four 7th and again it was a case of luck and not judgement. A good tee shot was negated by a horror swing straight right (I did exactly the same thing yesterday). It somehow avoided all the timber and shot through the trees. I pitched on and holed a cheeky eleven footer putt. Out in seventeen points or one over my handicap. Truth be told on another day it could have been a measly eleven or twelve but I was riding my luck

However luck has to run out and I had gone to the well too many times. I made a nett par at the 10th without too many issues and managed to find the green with my tee shot on the 11th which is a long par 3 measuring 178 yards. Here was a chance to get that shot back. No chance. As regular followers will know if Homer has a chance to grasp bogey from the jaws of a birdie I'll manage to find a way. Cue a nasty three putt. My luck was still holding though as I managed a nett par at the 12th. The drive was so wild it ended up back down by the eleventh tee box. I should have been able to hit a simple wedge back over the trees into play. I hit it fat but somehow it managed to find a way through and finished just short of a bunker. I hit a good pitch and two putted. Who will know?

What really gets the blood pressure rising are unforced errors. It's a hard enough game anyway. I wasn't swinging the club well and had already blown a good chance on the 11th. The 13th is another par 3 and played into the wind. Again I did the hard bit and managed to hit a good shot to within fifteen feet. From nowhere the putter died on me. Another three putts.

The Americans have a term in their sports called bouncabackability. Basically its the ability to make a big play straight after messing up. Tiger Woods in his pomp was renowned for making a birdie straight after dropping a shot. The 14th is a 430 yard par 4 but plays straight downwind. I hit a better drive, good but not brilliant, which found the edge of the rough on the right. In front of me were two oak trees with an inviting gap inbetween. I pulled the five iron and hit it pure. Definitely the best swing of the round. It went arrow straight through the gap, landed short of the green and ran up the putting surface to finish a couple of feet away. The putter didn't let me down. Birdie time.

And here is the crux of my golfing problems. I play one hole well and then from nowhere the next is something out of Hammer House of Horrors. A pulled drive on the 15th left me with a conundrum. Take a hybrid, go for extra yardage and ensure I can reach the green in regulation on this par five or take a pragmatic approach, hit a six iron and try and make the putting surface with a long iron from the sanctuary of the fairway. Can you guess which approach I took? Suffice to say it was the wrong choice and I didn't trouble the scorers.

I needed a par or two coming down the stretch to post a level par 36 point total which given the conditions would have been pretty competitive. Probably not enough to win but maybe enough for a top three. In the end I did well to make nett pars on the last three holes as I didn't really play any of them well. And there you have it, a score of 34 points and a hatful of what might have beens.

To be honest I couldn't care less about the score or what it does to my handicap. The biggest concern is the loss of form. It was nothing like the way I'd been swinging it. Did I sub-consciously revert to type and my old swing and bad habits through the "pressure" of the monthly stableford. Had I simply had an attack of the golfing Humphrey's and temporarily lost it. I'm not sure but I do know it has given me a bit of a headache. It looks like I'll be hitting the range tomorrow night to try and find something for the trip to the Forest of Arden and the Golf Monthly Final on Thursday. Tempo too fast. Check. Lack of wrist hinge. Check. Poor takeaway and turn. Check. Poor putting. Check. So many issues, so little time.

I'll wait and see where I finish in the division without holding out too much hope. It was a case of scoring much better than I deserved which I guess is the antithesis of all the rounds I've bemoaned how well I hit the damn thing without putting a score together. I'll take an ugly win on Thursday but like most golfers would prefer to win well and hit it well too. We always want our cake and eat it.

If like me your game is in and out, just remember, it may not be you. Watch out there's a Humphrey about.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Not Good But Not Bad Either

Blimey it was parky this morning and the first harsh bite of Autumnal air made itself felt with a vengeance. It was the normal Saturday roll up where no prisoners are taken and the banter is a fierce as the golf. It was also a pretty important round for me as it was the first time onto the golf course since my lesson last week and would be a significant barometer as to where my game is before the stableford tomorrow and more importantly the big one on Thursday when I play in the Golf Monthly Centenary Final.

It all started of rosily with a solid tee shot slightly right of the green but rectified with a good chip and putt for a par. It got better with a pearler of a drive down the 2nd but a pulled second into the fairway trap and a duffed chip into a greenside bunker threatened to take the gloss off. However the bunker shot was sublime to within a foot to salvage a nett par.

My now legendary short game demons made their usual appearance at the third to cost a shot and to be honest I made a right pickle of the 5th from a bad drive through to a poor approach and sloppy chipping. It didn't get a whole lot better at the next where a missed green and three putt didn't trouble the scorer. More trouble followed at the 7th after hitting a great drive into position A1+ and then throwing it away with several unforced errors. Another missed green at the 8th cost a shot but I hit another great drive at the 9th and followed it with a great six iron to within ten feet and only just failed to convert for birdie.

Although fourteen points going out doesn't sound great, and lets be honest it isn't earth shattering but apart from an aberration down the 7th the quality of the ball striking was very solid and the work we did at the lesson and at the range during the week was beginning to translate itself onto the course.

The back nine followed suit with the scores not reflecting some of the play and shots being tossed away with gay abandon through carelessness and in truth the odd piece of bad luck. I hit a good drive down the 10th and then pulled the 7 iron approach. I pushed the tee shot on the 11th onto the bridge that takes players to the next tee. After dropping I was faced with an almost impossible shot to take the flag on. It would have needed to clear a ditch, keep low under tree branches and still stop on the green. The percentage shot was to play to the front of the green to the other side of the tree and trust the putter to get the job done. I hit the shot exactly as I wanted but it climbed a fraction higher than anticipated and clipped a branch and dropped short. Nothing wrong with the execution.

There were some poor shots too. My tee shot at the 13th was hit thin and along the ground and my drive at the next was heading right before hitting a tree and dropping down. Short game errors cost again on the 15th but I made a rare par on the 16th. I hit my drive perfectly and followed it with a sumptuous 4 iron to six feet but couldn't make birdie. Again I trashed the card on the 17th through a sloppy three putt but bounced back to close with a comfortable par.

In the end 29 points was a disappointing total but with many more positives than negatives to take out of the round and the poor shots coming in the main from the short game things are looking good. The short game has been neglected and I'm guilty of a serious dereliction of duty in that department but with the swing changes from the lesson to implement, a job that gets inconveniently in the way of golf, and it getting darker ridiculously early now there isn't time to fit everything in.

I'm a happy Homer - it went better than expected
Bearing in mind the potential for disaster after the swing change last weekend it all worked well. The swing is more balanced and the coil on the backswing is tighter. When I turn down and through impact properly the results are very good and I look scarily like a golfer. Yes I messed a few shots up. Yes I three putted a few times and yes the chipping makes me look like a fool sometimes but I can go into the stableford tomorrow and treat it as another stepping stone towards Thursday. I still think I'm somewhat under-prepared thanks to a combination of golfers elbow restricting practice, a game in the doldrums until last Sunday's lesson and a lack of playing. However I'm hopeful of a mid-division finish even if that means a further 0.1 on my handicap.
Sometimes bad can be good. and it's not always what you put in but what you take out.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Wrist Action

Reading the title new visitors and indeed seasoned readers may be forgiven for thinking they've logged onto "Carry on Golfing" or indeed a less salubrious type of website. Rest steady me hearties. The good ship Homer sails a much calmer passage. Dodgy wrist action (stop sniggering) is apparently hindering my game.
Regular followers will know that my game has been in somewhat of a lull for a while now. Granted we've had the odd glimpse of promise such as the decent ball striking at Caversham Heath, albeit in a fruitless effort to avoid defeat, but in general terms it hasn't been very good and the lesson booked for last Sunday couldn't come quick enough.

It was back to Maidenhead Golf Centre for another session with Paul Harrison who has been patiently stripping away the faults from the last twenty plus years and slowly, bit by bit replacing them with stronger more repeatable moves.

A man working tirelessly with very poor raw materials!
I've got arguably the biggest competition in very a long year next week when I go to the Forest of Arden for the Golf Monthly Centenary Finals and so I was reluctant for Paul to make too many swing changes or radically overhaul the spluttering excuse of a swing I already had.

I already knew, and I've posted it on here before for the world to see (and mock) that the fundamental issues stem from over-rotation causing the head to rise at the top of the backswing and to lose spine angle significantly on the way down. Paul took some footage which we perused and surmised that the root cause of a lot of issues stemmed from a poor cocking motion of the wrist. Basically it was hinging way too late in the swing and so the hands were always playing catch up. The only way to give myself room to get to the ball was to move up and out. Great when the swing is in perfect sync but a bitch to get right if the pieces don't move at the right time.

By cocking the wrists much earlier in the takeaway not only does it create a steeper angle and theoretically on a better plane but it should stop me over rotating as the body physically can't go any further back. The result should be a solid base, firm coil and ready to unwind into impact. Paul is a great advocate of rehearsing the move in slow motion. The slower the better for him. I have to say I could really feel the correct turns in relation to a tight right hamstring and definitely couldn't get back any further.

When we moved on to hitting the ball, the good ones delivered a much more powerful delivery and with less of high hand finish and more body rotation after impact (something else that needs a lot of work - that's for the Winter though). The biggest issue comes back to that favourite word - TEMPO. Most coaches have said my swing is too fast and even though I've worked a lot on slowing it down, it is still far to quick to be ideal. The quick ones didn't give me a chance to cock the wrists, set the position or turn properly.

The good news is that I've been back to the range and it is coming along nicely. On the downside I took a few videos and somehow I've still found a way to overswing and move my head. It comes back to not cocking the wrists correctly as the club moves back and its something that is going to take time, effort and a lot of repetition.

I did manage to film a swing from my practice just after the lesson finished. It's still not ideal. The backswing is still too long to be ideal but you can see how the turn and coil is more powerful. It is the transition and downswing that needs the work and that should keep Paul busy over the Winter months. Still, I got club on ball and hit it high and straight and so with the Finals coming up next week I'd take that for 18 holes.

So where next. Well there is the usual Saturday roll up and the monthly stableford at Royal Ascot on Sunday to take the swing onto the course and give it an airing. I'll hit the range Friday and again at the weekend if things go horribly astray Saturday or Sunday. Then it's off to Birmingham on Wednesday and the Finals itself on Thursday. After that the season is more or less over and we can start work on stopping the body moving up and out and making a better rotation down and through impact. Like a lot of things, it's going to take time to be competitive and that is one commodity I am preciously short off before next Thursday. Still it will be what it will be. I got there and so anything else is a bonus. So in summary, the latest stage of my fix is all in the wrist apparently (ooo errr!). Not sure I'm too keen to share that with the good wife or some of my fellow golfers mind as it could get me in some trouble.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Beaten By Talent

I played in a club match versus Tylney Park yesterday at Royal Ascot and was partnered with Peter Hitchcock who is a regular in our Saturday swindle so on paper we should have gelled nicely. The problem came in the shape of the opposition and in particular a guy playing off a 4 handicap.

Tylney Park Badge

This guy played superbly. We managed a half thanks to Peter getting a shot and making a nett par after Mr 4 handicap had rolled in a six footer for par. However on the 2nd he was an unstoppable force. Taking the tiger line off the tee and flying over the corner of the dogleg, he had about two hundred yards left. His approach never left the flag and stopped six inches away from an albatross two. Even with a shot on the hole our par, nett birdie couldn't contend with a tap in eagle.

We battled hard. I made a par at the third after a decent drive but we made foolish errors to gift our opponents holes. Peter three putted the 4th and I made a real pigs ear of the short game after my approach to the 5th sailed over the back. Even when their number one had a rare poor hole, his partner, a senior gentleman off a 19 handicap came storming in. Having done very little to date he hit a great tee shot on the 7th and followed it with a shot to the front edge. In the end I scraped a half but it was a hole we were hoping to win. We could tell we were out of luck when Mr 4 handicap thinned his second along the ground at the 9th all the way to the green and about fifteen foot way. We turned three down.

It was four down at the next when this guy, who quite frankly was becoming a right royal pain the bum stuck his second to a foot for another birdie. Quite simply he was unplayable. The swing was elegant and simple and he was very long and accurate off the tee and rarely missed a green all day. Peter managed to nick a hole back on the 11th but by the time we both found trouble off the tee on the 14th we were dormie 4 down and the writing was on the wall. The end was swift and it was all over on the next hole.

Sadly that defeat meant that not only did I lose my unbeaten record at Caversham Heath last week, but my unbeaten home record followed this week. Still all good things have to end sooner or later. Peter in fairness played a lot steadier than I did but we simply got rail roaded. The club lost on the day 3-2 but having won at Tylney Park by the same score earlier in the year meant the match was halved overall.

I really didn't hit the ball well and so the lesson booked for today (Sunday 2nd October) can't come quickly enough. Naturally I don't make it easy and with the National Final of the Golf Monthly Centenary event at the Forest of Arden a matter of ten days away, my teaching pro Paul Harrison won't be able to perform major surgery on the swing and leave it usable for next week. It'll be interesting to see what he makes of it all. Bring it on.