Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Some Days Are Better Than Others

It's been an ordinary sort of day. Another day in work, dull, cold and wet outside and no enthusiasm to hit the driving range. However I rocked up at home after the commute home to find I'd had a delivery. Sitting there was a red box with Footjoy emblazoned all over it. Now I know I have a certain reputation for liking my Footjoys (only 11 pairs at the last count) but I knew I'd been good and not ordered any recently.

I opened the box and to my amazement it was a pair of the brand new Footjoy shoe the XPS-1. These haven't even gone on general sale yet and when they do will have an RRP of around £199. It turns out it was part of the prize from the Golf Monthly competition my regular partner Mike Stannard won to go over to Dublin, meet Padraig Harrington and be one of the first anywhere in the world to try the new shoes out on the golf course. The winners would then receive a complimentary pair. As I was his chosen partner to accompany him on the trip the complimentary shoe offer extended to me as well.

Brand new and all singing, all dancing. A technologically advanced golf shoe
This shoe has been designed to give the golfer far more stability in the shot and features what Footjoy are calling an extreme outsole. Basically it is slightly wider on the outer edge and is designed to stop a golfer swaying and the weight transferring to the outside of the foot. Padraig Harrington has been a huge fan and has been using them all summer on tour. The comments from all those at Carton House echoed the sentiments of the main man himself. They are super comfy straight from the box, and do as they say and provide a more solid platform to swing on.

I have to say a huge debt of thanks both Golf Monthly and Footjoy for such a generous gift. Some days are definitely better than others.

Monday, 28 November 2011

A Hackers Guide To Royal Ascot - Hole 11 (Old Waterfield)

The second nine is well under way and the course begins to swing towards the world famous Royal Ascot racecourse. For many years the club was situated inside the confines of the course. Indeed not only did it play home to an 18 hole golf course and a reservoir but there was also a cricket ground in there as well.

The 11th hole is a tricky par three. Like many it isn't particularly short and comes in at 178 yards off the white tees. The course guide describes it thus: "A 178 yard par 3 that predominately plays down wind. Avoid the greenside bunkers if you can, they are the most penal on the course. The green deserves a deal of respect, and is heavily contoured."

The green itself presents a very long and narrow target. There is a very large bunker to the right which sees a lot of activity. To the left are two deep bunkers and these should be avoided as per the course guide advice. It is very hard to get the ball up quickly enough and with enough dexterity to stop it on some of the severe contouring.

The view from the tee - not a lot to aim at
Visually it is a very pretty hole, with a back drop of mature trees and behind those is the magnificent grandstand on the racecourse. It is a very impressive structure and its easy for visitors to get wrapped up with the racecourse and forget to play a proper golf shot. It's a hole that demands full attention particularly in choosing the right club. Although it plays downwind as a rule there isn't much room short of the green and so the shot has to be flown all the way. Don't be too greedy though as there is a steep bank at the back and heavy rough and a ditch waiting to pounce just right of the putting surface to catch a ball fired in too strongly.

Coming up to the green with the magnificent grandstand on the racecourse behind the tree line
If you find the green with your tee shot, a par three is still not a certainty. The green runs from back to front and has a very pronounced step in it running across the middle of it. If the flag is in the front portion and the ball is past hole high then it is a very quick putt, usually involving the step back down to the cup. It's all about getting the line and the speed spot on the avoid a tricky three footer for par. If the flag is at the back then you need to ensure there is enough gas in the tank to get the ball to the hole.

Another green full of guile
It is testament to the testing nature that of the hole that it is considered the 7th hardest on the course according to the stroke index. To be honest if you don't hit the green then making a bogey is not always a given and it is easy to make a double or worse here. Miss it right and avoid the big bunker and there is a tricky chip over the sand to negotiate. There is a walkway to the next tee so a bare lie isn't unusual and the branches of the large oak guarding the green can come into play.

Miss it left and find the bunkers and it is a true test of your sand skills. Hook it left of the bunkers and there is heavy rough waiting. Getting it out of that, over the traps and stopping it on a green running away from you is a feat of short game wizardry. Off all the places to miss short and straight presents the simplest recovery shot down the length of the green but with the step and slopes to contend with is still a big ask to get it close.

Birdies are a rare beast here and should be savoured. Par is a good score and for many there is no shame is using the shot received and making four nett three and moving on. It may not wreck a good card but it can certainly slow the momentum. As we will see, the next few holes won't provide any respite or the opportunity to make good any serious mistakes so it needs to be treated with care.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Breaking Them In Gently

I took my shiny new R11's to the range this morning to get to know them and ensure each had a sweet spot that had been trained to ensure it knew where the ball is before they were released from the factory. As ever with me it is never straightforward and I am still doing some work on the drills from my last lesson on posture and impact position and so it was hard to always be 100% certain with the bad ones how much was down to trying to encompass a new swing, and how much was getting use to the new club, particularly the greater offset at address.

I had planned to play this morning but to be honest really fancied the lie in. Not a bad choice as this was the view when I pulled back the curtain.

A heavy shower was all the excuse I needed for another 20 minutes in bed
It was a heavy shower and soon passed but I'd have only just started as it came over and really didn't fancy the thought of several holes in the rain. Maybe I'm becoming a soft fair weather golfer. I like to think the work I did at the range was suitable penance though.

On top of the new clubs I'd been having "issues" with my putting and the old Ping Anser 2 was heading for a spell in the naughty cupboard especially after the way it performed yesterday. Despite a chill wind I ventured up to Royal Ascot this afternoon to spend some time trying to make those crucial 3 footers. Just to get the Ping's attention I took my Odyssey White Ice #9 too.

The Odyssey White Ice #9 - ready for a return?
I have to say the Odyssey performed exceptionally well and I felt I could take the putter back and through on the shorter ones with a lot more confidence. Naturally the Ping played ball and I was holing out with aplomb with both flat sticks. I've decided a few hours at home this week on the living room carpet will give me a taste for what feels better. I know what I think I want in the bag but can't convince myself its the right choice. If I was playing tomorrow the Odyssey would be in the bag with the Ping relegated to a spell on the substitutes bench but who knows after I've worn a groove into the living room carpet and annoyed the wife as she tries to watch Strictly I'm An X Factor Celebrity Eastender Omnibus or whatever rubbish it is.

I also took some time to look at my chipping. Fortunately Alistair White the club pro at Royal Ascot was passing and gave me a couple of quick pointers. The cold was biting and to be honest the enthusiasm was waning but he pointed out one flaw in that there was no wrist hinge at all. Apparently trying to keep the wrists quiet as I have can lead to some execution issues and all the great chippers (and some mediocre ones) all had a touch of hinge. Quelle surprise Sherlock! I think I can write the definitive How Not To book. Anyway with a degree more hinge on the way back and focusing on keeping the club head moving through the shot has given me a modicum more confidence inwhat remains a nemesis part of my game.

All in all then a hard days work. We know from the wins and placed finishes I've had in 2011 that the hard graft can pay off. It's about striking that balance now between working on what I've been shown to get it into the game and relying on my instinct and feel. I had an interesting message from a guy called Rhys Ap Iolo who is a pro from the Downshire Golf Course/Range on the Wokingham/Bracknell border. He's been following my trials and tribulations over the last few weeks via twitter (@medboro if you fancy following me on there - more the merrier. I've got 81 followers now and if I get to 100 I've pledged to give £100 to the Help for Heroes Charity - http://www.helpforheroes.org.uk/). Basically he summed it up perfectly and I'll leave you with this thought for all of you not quite playing to your maximum potential or going through a bit of a dip in form.

 "Change the way it flies not the way it looks! It ain't got to look pretty to work!"

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Change Of Weapon - Change Of Fortune?

After many weeks of trialling, even longer gazing longingly in magazines and online I've finally succumbed to a new set of irons. I've been banging the Taylormade R11 drum for a long time now as one of the best irons I've hit all year and tanks to a small windfall finally had sufficient funds to purchase the irons.

They are arguably a step back in terms of being more of a game improver type of club built around forgiveness and a progressive offset in the longer iron. However with the swing changes I'm desperately trying to get to grips with and the overall state of affairs with my game I see it as a positive step and arming myself with the tools to get the job done more often.

I have to say I was like a child at Christmas this morning impatiently waiting for the pro shop at Royal Ascot to open so I get my hands on the set on display and take them out with me in the usual Saturday morning roll up. It should also be pointed out that in these tough times and massive under-cutting by online retailers and golfing superstores it was refreshing that my club pro was able to offer the set for £499 which was at least £20 cheaper than I was able to find it online.

Not a magic wand but hopefully a tool to make it easier for me to play consistently
I have to say it was difficult to give a subjective first impression as there was a fearsome and biting wind blowing across the course today which made ball striking and scoring pretty tough. The offset was a little trickier to get use to and seemed more pronounced on the course than I remember it from the sanctuary of a driving range mat. As a result I did seem to tug a few left. That said I've been known to pull a lot my Taylormade Tour Preferred irons in their time so maybe I'm being over critical and maybe the wind had some influence.

With the conditions being as they were it's going to take time and probably a couple of getting to know you sessions at the range to find the correct ball position and get use to the change in weight. Armed with the stock KBS 90 regular flex shaft they are noticeably heavier than the Tour Preferred but not prohibitively so. In my travels to trial the club I visited American Golf at Bird Hills near Maidenhead and they gave me a number of shafts including the Dynamic Gold. This weighs in at 127 grammes for the standard R300 and felt very heavy when put on the club and I couldn't control it. They swapped to the Dynamic Gold XP which promotes a higher flight and I did like the shape these produced. Again these were heavier than the KBS 90 which come in at 95g compared to 116g in the XP but I felt much more happy about getting the club to the ball. In the end the flight of the KBS and the XP was marginal and so I opted for the stock shaft.

I  feel I've done my homework and gone for a club I can use over a vanity purchase and that looks impressive but which I'll struggle to make work for me. I know these shiny new sticks won't be a magic wand and that there is still a lot of hard yards to be put in over the winter to sort posture and impact position but I feel these are the tools that will make the job easier on those all too familiar days when everything feels that little bit out. It's a done deal now so the proof of the pudding will be in the scores. If nothing else they look pretty in my bag all new and shiny.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Progress - One Painful Step At A Time

The good news is the disaster that was the range session last Tuesday night has been erased from the memory bank. It simply never happened. I wandered down to Blue Mountain Golf Centre in Bracknell on Wednesday in the hope that fresh surroundings and space to work things out without my teacher working with others in adjacent bays would help. I've found a compromise set up position which I don't think is a million miles from where I should be and it managed to get the ball going forward and not straight right off the hosel. That in itself was progress.

Feeling invigorated I had another range session back at Maidenhead Golf Centre on Friday. Again the principle was to adopt the more upright position and just focus on turning and timing. Paul was there and he was actually pleased with the ones he saw me hit. I haven't turned a corner by any stretch of the imagination. It's more a case of poking my head cautiously around it to make sure there isn't a dirty great juggernaut hurtling towards me to halt my progress.

I decided to venture out yesterday in the normal roll up and give it a whirl. Nothing ventured and what was the worse that could happen apart from make an idiot of myself and lose a couple of pounds into the kitty? I have to say it was the Heinz 57 round I thought it would be. Some good shots, a couple of real show stoppers and a lot of shots that were close to being good. In truth I dabbled with the palette without painting the whole picture. My 30 point total (15 points on both nines) wasn't a disaster. There were two lost balls in that although the one at the last that I dumped into the greenside pond was just such a poor execution, the new swing changes can't be held accountable. As for the other, I made good contact on the 6th tee but started it a little further right than I should of and it caught a branch and ricocheted off. No-one saw which direction it flew in and was never seen again. Not the poorest shot I've hit there so no scars left in the memory.

Putting wasn't great yesterday and it's an area that is causing a modicum of concern. It was perhaps my greatest forte and certainly rescued scores but at the moment I've lost touch, and ore importantly confidence in holing out from that vital 3-6 foot distance. It's fine working at home with my Pathfinder aid

I'm taking the putter back and through and managing to miss the pegs with efficient ease. On the course though I'm pulling and pushing the putts and have no feel. I'm tempted to dig out my old friend the V-Easy which is another device specifically designed to take any wrist breakdown out of the putt. I just need to get that feeling of rocking it back and through. I've used it before, and a few sessions with that has transformed the putting. Now where did I leave it?

The V-Easy - a simple aid to take the wrists out of the putting stroke
Although not flushed with success, my round yesterday gave me renewed vigour and I was keen to play again this morning. However a blanket of fog meant that golf was delayed and as I had a prior engagement this afternoon I couldn't hang around for it to clear. A trip to the range it was then to try and crack this enigma code that is a straighter posture and better turn into impact.

It was a funny old session. The range was shrouded in a primeval cloud of haze and I could only see about 100 yards before the ball disappeared from view. I'm not sure if it not being able to track it all the way, a light bulb moment in my progress or just a rare fluke, but for the first thirty balls or so every shot was good, and some were absolutely flushed. As the mist cleared so the magic disappeared and mistakes began to creep in. Not the unmitigated disaster of last week but annoying things like over swinging (thought the new set up was going to cure that), not finding the new impact position, sliding (thought the new set up was going to cure that as well) and swinging too fast.

To be fair I can't put it all at the door of the changes. Tempo and swing length are old adversaries. On the plus side we know that when we get it right it really works. The strike is superb, the flight penetrating and the distance arguably a few yards longer. I certainly feel as though my finish position is more orthodox too as a result of turning better although I've yet to see the new swing on video. I have managed to capture a picture of my posture which shows how I'm trying to give myself the best possible opportunity to make more consistent swings by starting in a good position. The logic is that from a good starting point, there is less need to make adjustments and compensations throughout to get the club meeting the ball squarely and in a good impact position.

The new and improved (?) position - Good to go ahead and make a great swing
The road to success is often long and full of pitfalls. I've still not made up my mind on the choices I posed at the end of my last blog (you'll just have to read it yourself to see what they were!) and I can't put my hand on my heart and say the change in set up has brought any tangible differences yet. Still, trying to remain positive, I've pencilled in some range sessions for the week ahead and hope a small amount of balls, regular practice swings in between and positive thinking and concentration will mean the swing I found in the swirls and eddy's of the fog is the one that we're aiming for.

The tears have dried. The mojo is still there and the determination to get better and lower burns even more fiercely in the face of this huge hurdle. We know we've got the game, its about wrapping it up into something I can click and go every time I play rather than have to search for it on the range or before I step onto the tee. Get it right from address and the rest should follow. It sounds such a simple plan!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Tears Before Bedtime

Many of those who know me will testify that I like a challenge and in particular will always put the hard yards in to try and make a swing change from a golf lesson fit into my normal game. I have to say, I've come to an impasse. The changes my teaching pro gave me to my address position in our lesson last Saturday simply haven't gelled. Instead I've been left with a swing that isn't working, a bad case of the shanks and after the practice session last night close to tears of sheer bloody frustration.

I understand the concept of trying to stand taller and tuck my bottom in more by feeling the pelvis is more underneath at address. However the position he got me into in the lesson is not the one I'm able to create now. I've tied myself in knots and even if I stand over the ball I'm so focused on whether it's right or not the swing itself is shot to pieces and tempo doesn't exist in my golfing vocabulary. I have never hit so many shanks, semi shanks and slices as I did last night.

Confidence has gone and I doubt very much that I'll be venturing onto a golf course again any time soon. I can't put club to ball and it would frankly be like being a golfing newbie if I played this weekend. So where does that leave me. Confused. Depressed. Angry. Frustrated. To be honest, it has got me questioning whether I'm making progress at all with my current teacher. The last lesson back in October focused on more wrist hinge and a better turn and that did work to a degree but again that change is hard to create when there are approximately 7,903 other thoughts jostling for attention standing over a shot. My handicap progress would argue that I've stagnated a little even if I did have some good wins and performances this year.

I've never been one to chop and change my teachers, and to be fair only went to this chap when my original teaching pro was going under the surgeons knife and then having some serious rehab. I had always planned to go back but Paul Harrison at N1 Golf and I worked well and things were moving on well. Ironically Grant Sayer my original teacher, based at Maidenhead Golf Club, is back under the knife to remove some of the pins from the first operation and tidy the tissue up. I wonder if I can get a discount for using a bionic coach. However it does mean he's out of action for a while yet.

Grant Sayer - his body is being rebuilt - can he do the same for my golf swing

So what next? I guess the simple answer is to take a deep breath, dry those teary eyes and put it down to a bad session and get out again and work on it. Rome being built in a day and all that nonsense. However it has got me questioning whether a) I should accept I am what I am as a golfer now,  b) a change of pro even for a couple of lessons might spark something new, c) look to go back to my first pro Grant and rekindle the partnership.

I am tempted by the first option and have begun to accept that the golf swing has flaws. When it is good it is very good but it is more consistency that is an issue rather than the ball strike itself. I still feel there is more to find in terms of playing a more reliable game and having a swing with fewer moving parts. Option A is a back burner. Option B starts favourite at the moment but begs the question of who and where. I think some homework needs to be done. I know a couple of local pros who are very good and so I might need to see what their availability is like. Perhaps a stranger is better. Someone who doesn't know me and has never seen me or my swing (and few will ever have seen a golf club swung like this!). As for Option C, I like that idea a lot too. I need to speak to Grant and see how he is progressing. I've actually still got a lesson paid for way back from when he first had his operation so a nice swing MOT could be the remedy and at least let him see where I'm at.

All I do know is I am struggling. Hopefully it'll click like magic and I can come back and tell your blog followers that it was all some ghastly golfing nightmare and all is well on the good ship SS Homer. However I fear that the next range session may also be a make or break one. I'm taking a box of tissues to wipe my eyes just in case. It could be a tough night!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Hitting A Wall

It was lesson time yesterday and I'd been eagerly anticipating it for weeks as my game has drifted off. I'd already spoke with my teaching professional Paul Harrison about not wanting to make this winter all about radical rebuilds and to try and work within the limitations of my current swing whilst making sure the core fundamentals were all in place. So, not much to ask then.

I have to be honest and say when I got to Maidenhead Golf Centre and was forced to take my jumper off in the warm sunlight I was pretty envious of the usual cronies playing the Saturday roll up in such beautiful conditions. Still no pain, no gain and the swing needed attention. Having watched me hit a few the main focus was on posture. We'd spoken about the need for a good spine angle in the past but in trying to get this the spine angle was now too severe, almost like a ski ramp and I was leaning too far over from the hips.

We spent a lot of the lesson trying to get me to stand taller and pull the pelvis more underneath myself. This allows better rotation which was the other main focus. Too much leg action and sliding of the hips again. We ran through a couple of drills to really feel as though I'm turning and on top of the ball at impact and I can really fire the right hip through. A lot of the work was done in slow motion and really feeling the move and it wasn't until the end that we put the new posture and the better turn together and hit some balls. The changes were radical but so was the effect. Granted I was only hitting an 8 iron and I was prepared mentally before I hit it for it to go anywhere but if flew high and straight and felt very solid.

I finished off the bucket and really worked hard at getting the feeling entrenched. The remaining balls were all pretty good and I left a very happy man. Today though wasn't a great day. I went back to the range full of confidence but the results were not good. I am feeling the turn still but cannot replicate the straight back and tucked in pelvis feeling that was such a natural position twenty four hours ago. Fortunately Paul was on hand and we spent a few moments working on the posture again. I'm driving the wife nuts posing with a club in front of mirrors looking for something that resembles the correct starting point. It has to be right as it is what is really driving the new turn and without it, the hips still slide and frankly it goes to pot.

I've got the hump as I can usually take changes from a lesson and they click into place (until I forget and old habits creep back in) but this posture is like hitting a wall. It really doesn't feel right or look right.

Waiting for that light bulb moment to flash in my golfing brain
The stupid thing was I wandered up to the practice ground at Royal Ascot yesterday afternoon and hit a few wedge shots with the new set up and everything was hunky dory and going well so I'm not sure where it all went in the space of twenty four hours. The logic in me says the posture was wrong for so long it is just taking time to get the body use to feeling different over the ball and trusting it. The pragmatist says I haven't really grabbed the concept and there is work to do. All I know is there is a lot of time to be put in every evening this week at the range to try and get something to click so I can go out and play next weekend.

So was it worth it? It's hard to say at the moment although I do feel I've taken a few steps backwards and things aren't clicking as they should. However I trust what Paul is doing and know that when we get this starting position and impact position firing properly it is going to reduce the amount of excessive movement in the swing and make it much more compact. I guess it's a waiting game and maybe I'm just being impatient. Time will tell.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

More Of The Same

Another competition and yet more mediocrity although to be fair yesterdays showing in the monthly stableford was a lot better than my last outing in the October medal. The course itself had stood up pretty well to some intense rain over the latter part of the week but was playing longer although it meant the greens were receptive to anything thrown in with a degree of height.

I was partnered by Dave Walker off a handicap of 14 and Geoff Scammell playin off 19. I'd not had the pleasure of their company before but it was fair to say the banter far outweighed the quality of the golf from all of us. I hit a good opening drive which didn't find the bunker right of the green but was balanced precariously on the downslope into it. It needed a good touch to ensure I didn't duff it straight into a sandy grave and I managed to get it onto the green. The putter was the culprit and I three putted which rather set the tone.

There was some good play such as a par at the third and some mistakes such as missing the green at the fifth from 102 yards and sticking it into the bunker. It was an old tale of one step forward and two back. Every time I looked to have done the hard work I'd find a way of frittering shots away. In the end the 16 point total for the front nine was about all I could have expected.

The back nine started with a real shock to the system. I hit my drive to the right edge of the fairway on the tenth and stood there with a six iron into the green. I'm not sure what happened other than pilot error as I carved a huge slice way right into the trees. I dropped another (my fourth) and put that where my fist attempt should have gone onto the green and managed to rescue a point.

However this nagging slice which had blighted my recent medal card was back. On the twelfth I found the fairway and then carved a five wood so far right it ended up on the tenth green. I duffed my first approach but then played a superb recovery from a harder lie to four feet to make an unlikely five. It was a shot lived glory as a hooked tee shot on the par three thirteenth and a poor attempt to get out of the thick grass the ball found itself in meant no points on the hole. The fifteenth was another hole where I had the chance to hit the green in regulation and spurned the opportunity to drop another point. On the sixteenth it was the putter that let me down again when I had a simple three foot putt for par following a good chip and run. I pushed it wide of the target.

In the end I managed to close with a par five on the eighteenth and had amassed fifteen points coming home to finish with a grand total of thirty one. It was enough to ensure another 0.1 back onto the handicap and was only good enough for fifteenth place in division two.

There was no golf today although I did manage to get out for a couple of hours of practice this afternoon to hit some chips and putts. Following a tip from the Golf Monthly Forum I'm trying to implement a tad more wrist cock in my chipping action which was working quite nicely at times. I'm not sure its textbook but as my chipping is still a major area of concern I'll take any short term remedy until I can find a longer term resolution. The putting stroke is still not 100% but at least I felt the head was on line. All in all it's more of the same. Some good, some bad and some downright ugly.

On the plus side I've my lesson next week and so my teaching professional Paul Harrison can have a look and give me some pointers. I think the culprits are turning too flat and coming over the top (AGAIN!!) and sliding and not turning the hips on the back swing and especially on the downswing. Old, old habits that disappear and then reappear with monotonous regularity. Will I ever learn?