Fresh from a lesson and a measly 50 range balls practise it was time to put the kernel of a new swing under severe scrutiny in the first round of the Royal Ascot Winter Knockout. Fortunately it is a four ball better ball format and so I had my trusty partner Mike Stannard as my go to guy. He has been enjoying a stellar end to the season with a series of handicap cuts and top three finishes in club competitions. However he'd need to have his A+ game not only to carry the burden of my game but to see off the powerful combination of Geoff Estcourt (12 handicap) and John Munday (5 handicap). Even suffering from a heavy dose of "man flu" or a bad cold John Munday would be a tough nut to crack and Geoff is renowned for never giving up.
These guys have a reputation within the club for being dour competitors and very hard to beat. Both possess what might be politely termed agricultural looking swings but they both have an adept way of getting it round in good fashion and as a better ball team tend to combine very well. This was not going to be easy and the path to glory couldn't have started with a tougher draw.
Saturday was bitterly cold by the time we teed off at 9.00am. I managed to hit a decent first shot with the latest swing incarnation just right of the green pin high but with a bunker to go over. My partner went right and somehow we failed to find the ball. With John on the edge of the green I needed to get close and so a duff into the frozen bunker was an unorthodox approach. Still I manged to get it out to twelve feet and then canned the putt to leave John a testy little three footer for par. He made it and we were one down immediately
In truth the golf wasn't sparkling and everyone seemed to find ways of making simple errors. In our defence we were subjected to a heavy wintry squall on the 2nd and 3rd holes that necessitated full waterproofs. With several layers of clothing already to keep out the cold making a good turn and swing was proving almost impossible. We lost the 4th to par when both in good positions after the drive. Unforgivable. Playing the 5th the opposition gave us a glimmer of hope with errant tee shots and Mike hit a corker off the tee. However he failed to capitalise and mis-hit his second. Some of you may have spotted a more positive Homer, one who is trying to see the best outcome on every hole. I told him par would still win the hole. We both found the green with our approach and both made five and sure enough par was enough. We lost the 6th to go back to 2 down but I won the 8th being the only one to find the green and to be honest the new swing was doing ok. Not great but functional and I was getting it round.
I managed to make a valuable half with a good four footer, right to left at the 9th to send us to the turn just one down and all to play for. I hit my best drive of the round to date at the 10th and followed it with a solid five iron from 154 yards into a stiffening breeze to find the green. In the end par was good enough and back to all square. Mike came in again to win the next to give us the lead for the first time. It was to be short lived. Geoff came to the party at the 12th by sinking a real teaser of a putt across and down the slope. If it had missed I was waiting to convert my five footer. It never looked anywhere else and his par, net birdie was good enough.
Mike then came into his own and won the 13th and I found a way to make a solid nett par at the next to win the hole and give us a two up advantage. I told Mike that the long par five 15th would be pivotal and playing into the wind a par would be hard to beat. In the end it was enough for a half although we all made hard work of the hole. John chipped and putted for par and Mike had to do the same.
My partner had been driving superbly all day and at the tough 16th with out of bounds all the way down the left he didn't let me down and put his ball in the perfect spot. Although he missed the green with his approach and the chip wasn't great, he holed out for a five, but with a shot at the hole, the net par was enough to secure a hard fought 3&2 win.
It would be churlish of me to say anything other than Mike's back nine performance up to and including the 16th was the real difference. John and Geoff played their usual steady stuff but Mike gave them no margin for error and so any mistake they made was punished. From my own perspective I was pretty happy with the way I played. The ball striking was much improved and the bad shots weren't as wayward. The swing wasn't as I'd have liked it but I couldn't afford to get too wrapped up in technical thoughts and had to try and focus on finding a way to offer my partner a modicum of support.
In was a great game and played in a wonderful atmosphere. It's always a pleasure to play with John and Geoff and to be honest it was a very pleasing win over arguably one of the pre-tournament fancied pairings. The draw hasn't been kind to us though and potentially we face our good friends Matt Davis (aka Sundance) and his partner Colin Osborne who is another tough old fox providing they get through the Christmas Eve encounter.
As for me, its more range time this week. I've watched the video drills I've been given on the Plane Truth website and have a clear mental picture of what I'm trying to achieve which is definitely something I didn't have before last Thursday. The information Rhys ap Iolo has given me is clear and concise and makes sense. I need to get the back swing sorted first and get the club in the right position. From there everything else falls into place.
It is definitely a good feeling at the moment. We're still in the competition, have scored a famous victory and my swing held firm. There is a long way to go and 2012 will no doubt have as many ups and downs as this year. I've only got social golf to enjoy between now and the new year (although the Saturday roll up can be as feisty as any grudge match or championship event once the banter starts on the course) and so I can get the new swing working. The hard work starts again at Blue Mountain on Tuesday evening but there is a new and positive Homer emerging and that might just make him a rather dangerous customer. 2011 was the year of the Homer with my Golf Monthly success but 2012 is going to be bigger and better. Stand clear because I'm coming through.