Sunday, 16 December 2012

2012 And Beyond

As Christmas looms large and the end of the year follows in its wake, now is the time to sit down and take stock of my 2012 golfing year and look forward to next year. It hasn't been a vintage year. This in main was due to the failing health of my mother and her eventual death. Weekends were a mix of rushing to play and then hurtling up to London to be with her. It meant that my mind, certainly from the summer onwards, was never 100% on the job in hand and the chances to work on my game at the weekend were few and far between.

So where to start? I started changing my swing in December last year and continued throughout 2012 to work with Rhys ap Iolo on the one plane swing and refining it bit by bit. It was always a bit of a continual work in progress throughout the year but the quality of the ball striking this year has been the best it has been in recent memory. The misses became more controlled and we ended up taking the left hand side out of play with the bad ones. It made the game a lot easier to play standing there knowing where it was going.

There was a lot of work during the summer evenings to work on it and gain a degree of trust to take onto the course. The regular lessons would bring fresh drills to work on and ingrain the changes Rhys and I made. Of course there were days when I couldn't hit the proverbial barn door but there were far more days when the ball striking was better and I put myself in contention a lot more often. If the short game had fired then it could have been a stellar season even with the distractions off the course.

The fact that the handicap tumbled over the season from 13.1 after the January stableford, to a personal best low of 9.8 and finished the year tantalisingly close to single figures on 10.1. Again, it is proof positive that the changes Rhys has implemented has got my game on an even keel with a stable foundation to build upon next year.

From a highlight perspective it's hard to choose. I won the division 1 July medal with a net level par round of 70. That was enough to extend my winning streak to a fifth consecutive season. In fact I had a rich vein of form between Easter and July (which corresponded in my mum's condition stabilising). Royal Ascot has a bogey event, an honours board event, at Easter called the Haig Cup. Bogey is effectively a match against the course and I finished -7 which in six out of the last seven years would have been enough to have won by several shots. This year though the winner shot -11 and in fact his second round score was better than my two round combined score! Still 2nd place was a good start to the season.

I had another runners-up spot in the May medal. I shot 71 (net +1) and lost on count back. There was a top ten in another honours board event, the Stone Cup over the May bank holiday where two rounds of 38 and 31 points were enough for 8th. I was annoyed to have done the spade work in round one and couldn't kick on in the second round.

However perhaps the best performance may have come in the Club Championship. I only just made the halfway cut with a +6 (net) score of 76 which included a 9 on the par four 14th. However in the second round I posted a personal best score around Royal Ascot in competition play of 77 gross (net 66 or -4). It was enough to catapult me through the field and finish in 6th place not only in handicap section but in the gross event as well. This was by far and away my best ever finish in the event.

It was only a monthly medal win but it extended my streak to a 5th consecutive season of winning at least one competition
On the negative side, the short game was my Achilles heel yet again. I got bogged down in mechanics and the head became full of doubt and negativity. I couldn't decide on a technique and switched between the linear method and a more conventional set up with alarming regularity. When it was on, it was very good but so often the scores were hampered with duffs and thins whenever I missed the putting surface. It inevitably put pressure on the rest of my game to perform and so when the swing wasn't in sync the scores soared.

My partner Mike Stannard and I made progressed to the second round of the Volvo knockout but we were tamely beaten at home by a pair from Calcot Golf Club in Reading. Neither of us turned up on the day and we were no match for a pairing that frankly only played mediocre golf themselves. I played a few club matches and possessed an another unbeaten season until the last match at Caversham Heath. I had lost my club unbeaten record there the year before and got another beating this season to lose an unblemished 2012 record. I will be back in 2013 if selected of course, to try again.

All in all then much to be very happy about and 2012 will go down as a big tick in the credit column. What does 2013 hold? From a selfish perspective, my mother's death does mean I no longer have to spend one eye on the watch as I play, waiting to rush up to be with her. Mercifully she is now free from the pain and misery the insidious disease that is cancer causes. My golfing season begins on 27th March with a Golf Monthly Forum meeting at Woburn. The 27th would have been mum's birthday and so I will be aiming to play well in her memory.

Work has already begun to find a short game that works. I spent a brief part of my lesson last Friday discussing it with my coach Rhys ap Iolo. He has adjusted the set up and I spent twenty minutes this morning trying it out briefly. It wasn't a full blown practise session but I think these clips show that I might just be onto something that works and I can rely on

The goal for 2013 is to continue Homer's Odyssey towards single figures. I think once the short game improves, and the swing changes Rhys and I are working on over the Winter bed in then the overall game will be in the best ever shape. 2013 lessons will then be centred around the scoring zone from 100 yards and in, especially bunker play and on the green. I would like to continue my winning streak into a 6th season but the club is full of decent players and every event is very hard to win. Add in the handicap golfer having "a career day" and it means that I will need my A game every time I peg it up.

I have half a mind to look at my equipment in 2013. My clubs are all off the shelf and are a few years old. There are a number of brands including Ping, Mizuno, Titleist and Callaway that have some very good looking equipment. If I do decide to invest then it will probably be the last time I do so. As a result, and because the swing is so much more stable, then I will probably look at a full custom fitting session and may treat myself to a trip to a national fitting centre.

Other than that, I aim to go out and play as much as I can, practise less on the long game and trust the work Rhys and I have done to date and will continue to do. That said, short game practise is where it will be at. I want to play more courses next year. Royal Ascot has a number of reciprocal agreements and I've never really taken advantage. There will no doubt also be a few Golf Monthly events which I will get involved in plus a few society and charity days.

All in all as I sit and type this I am in a very content place with my performance this year and the state of my game. Even the dreaded shanks have been eradicated (never say never though) and with a short game bubbling there is much to be positive about. My full swing is improving and the good ones recently have taken my breath away with the quality of the strike and distance and flight achieved.

I hope you all have a good Christmas and that Santa brings you everything you want for your golf game. I hope your 2013 brings you a barrage of birdies and that your handicap drops. Even if you don't enjoy good fortunes, just remember that a bad day on the course is still better than a good day in work.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Such A Simple Game (When You Do It Right)

It's been a while. Apologies for the lack of posts but I've been suffering a bout of seasonal coughs and colds which have refused to shift and left me too ill to play or practise much. We reached Defcom 1 on the man flu scale at one point. My overall mood hasn't been helped by another dose of the shanks.

I'd hit the practise ground at Royal Ascot last Saturday and had a great ball striking session working hard on everything my coach Rhys ap Iolo had given me in our last lesson. The ball position had moved forward as it wasn't at the bottom of the swing arc and we'd worked on feeling the right shoulder coming up, as though I wanted to top it, which had got the club on a much better plane. All fine and dandy. I was forced to pull out of the competition on the Sunday as my flu left me feeling decidedly under par and so I hit the range on Monday night determined to make up for lost time.

What happened left me in a very dark and lonely place. I had the range to myself as it was bitterly cold. Just as well really as what followed was a XXX session. The dastardly socket rockets were back with avengence. I left confused and very annoyed. The weather in deepest Berkshire then took an Arctic turn and there was no way I was going to stand there in sub-zero temperatures not knowing why I was hitting badly and ingraining faults.

Help was at hand though as I had a lesson with Rhys last night. The warm up wasn't an exercise in confidence boosting. The rights were back again and the quality of the strike was rubbish. It took Rhys a matter of moments to see the problem. I was moving ahead of the ball on the down swing and the club simply couldn't get back to the ball. So easy when someone qualified can watch you but virtually impossible to diagnose standing alone on a freezing range. I have always been a advocate of having regular lessons and if you are struggling on the course, I urge you to seek out your local PGA qualified pro and get him to look at your swing. He can cure what ails you in moments.

Having diagnosed the fault we needed a cure. The answer as always was so simple. We tweaked the set up. I have an age old problem (yet another) with the left shoulder being raised at address. This compromises the ability to turn. I spoke before of a discus thrower analogy and necessity to have a flatter shoulder line to turn onto the ball or hurl the discus.

A flatter shoulder set up = a better ability to turn properly
It felt very strange and almost as though I was lopsided with the left shoulder feeling much lower than the right. However a simple glance in the mirror on the wall confirmed that this wasn't the case. As is often the case in golf, feel and reality aren't necessarily the same thing. I need to do a lot of work in the mirror to get this into the memory bank.

The next thing to do was straighten the line of the spine. Setting up at address. Rhys pointed out how the high shoulder, akin to the weight having shifted to the left, made it inevitable I'd be in front of the ball at impact with the soul destroying outcome. Using the mirror, he got me to address the ball again, lower the left shoulder, close my eyes and feel where the weight was. It still felt towards the left side. I balanced it out and he showed how there was a defined straight line from my head position, down my spine, and with me settled nicely on the ball.

It is simply then a matter of geometry and a question of turning around the spine. I'd put the hard yards in over the last few months in terms of the takeaway and so I wasn't even thinking about swing mechanics. Just set up correctly and turn. Again, I had spoken about the club exiting correctly to the left. It was the biggest change I need to make. It had always gone out down or even right of the target line after impact which was caused by a throng of errors and in itself was a big issue.

It is amazing what a domino effect the correct set up can have. Get it right and holy grails like the correct exit left falls into place without manipulation or thought. The quality of the strike has moved onto a higher level and ball flight is much more neutral. The ball is telling me the club is much squarer and there are simply fewer moving parts.

Get it right at the beginning and life is so much easier. Stand there and turn around the spine
I need to go away, consolidate and work on the changes. I seem to have developed a habit of coming out of these lessons swinging well, having several practise sessions that reinforce and boost confidence and then a chink will appear. I know I have so many old faults that perhaps it is inevitable that some of these are still lurking. We are making it a simpler process and stripping the layers away. I have to play tribute to Rhys who is simply the best teacher I've had (and there have been a few over the years!) and if you are within travelling distance of Bracknell I urge you to give him a call.

He has said that I need to start making the transition from conscious practise where you are thinking about the nuts and bolts to a more sub conscious and realistic approach replicating the challenge of playing on the course. As a result he has given me a link to a site which has dedicated practise routines and more importantly challenges you to set a score and then try and create a personal best each time. You MUST repeat your pre-shot routine each time and it is a very good way of making each shot count.

On the plus side, there is a dedicated short game section which is where it's at for me in 2013. We touched on set up briefly last night but it isn't happening for me yet. I've parked any short game changes until my next lesson. It is a brilliant tool to reinforce the work and will stop me hitting ball after ball, either thinking too much about what I'm doing or getting lazy with my set up and routine.

I hadn't downloaded the app before I hit the practise ground back at Royal Ascot today so it was the same old routine for me. The wind was a factor and blowing in the worse possible direction, left to right. It meant that some balls trailed to the right and it was hard to tell which were poor swings and which were just buffeted by the breeze. However it was all about the set up and address and making sure the geometry was right and turning around the spine. The quality of the strike for the majority were very positive. There were some bad ones but I am happy to accept these at this stage. You can't make the proverbial omelette without breaking an egg.

It just goes to prove that golf is a simple game made difficult.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

No Problemo

It is no secret I struggled on Sunday in my Winter knockout and that recent range sessions haven't warmed the cockles of my heart. Last night was a chance to right the wrongs and I had a lesson booked with Rhys ap Iolo. The warm up session (I use the phrase lightly as it was bitterly cold out there) wasn't great. However under Rhys's critical gaze I hit it much sweeter but there was the odd bad one in there which highlighted the problems I've been having.

The issue I had is I could feel the body moving forward and ahead of the ball and having to make, or try to make, compensations to find the ball and hit it. It is one thing knowing what you are doing wrong but another to fix the fault. The big plus was the problems weren't massive and Rhys wasn't overly surprised I'd made them given the scale of change he'd made in recent lessons. Not only were the issues small in the big scheme of things but they were easily rectified. Ball position and the height of my shoulders were the main culprits. Ball position had crept backwards and so in simple terms the club wasn't getting to the bottom of its arc and therefore it was hard to compress down properly. The right shoulder was dipping instead of turning on a level plane. Rhys asked me to picture the motion of a discus thrower and the way they keep their shoulders level as they release their coil and hurl it into the distance.

The drill he gave me was to move the ball forward and to make a a normal swing but to almost feel the right shoulder rising as though I was going to top it. The new position allowed the club to find the back of the ball at the bottom of its arc and really compress down on it. There was still the odd faux pas where I tried too hard or didn't trust it had edged the body forward again. The good ones though were so good. To keep the shoulders level, Rhys also suggested taking a mid iron and putting the ball on a high tee and picking it off the top.

I mentioned in passing that I felt my tempo was to blame for a lot of the issues. He asked me to explain my pre-shot routine and hit a ball going through the whole process. He then picked a corridor between two flags on the range and challenged me to hit ten balls, going through my pre-shot routine each time. He wanted me to make seven out of ten, landing them between the two flags. I only had a six iron in my hand. What could be simpler?

I got the first three in with ease. Not worrying about keeping the shoulder level or any other swing thought meant I swung with impunity. Contact was perfect and the destination wasn't in doubt. I hit a quick lunge at the next and missed high wide and not very handsome. The fifth was borderline as was the sixth. Rhys pointed out the ball position was creeping back again. The next was perfect. Ball seven wasn't a good stroke but was between the flags and was a good miss if we'd been out on the course but allowable for the purpose of the test. The next was much better but my ninth shot was another miss right. I'd used my three lives and the tenth and final ball was the money shot. I nailed it.

I was surprised as the exercise progressed just how nervous I was getting and wonder if at least one of the misses and the lunge I made was through tension. It highlighted the importance of routine but showed that I need to find a way of checking ball position each time as a part of the tick list before I hit it. I need to find a way to incorporate that and still make the process feel natural and not forced.

We went back to hitting shots (without going through the whole routine) and concentrating on the level shoulder turn. We decided that I needed to put the 6 iron in what I felt would have been a 3 wood position. Of course this meant the longer clubs had to move progressively forward and my driver was almost off my left toe. It look so wrong. Rhys also tweaked my weight distribution for the driver set up and the body position. I didn't hit the first one great but looking down it just seemed alien to everything I knew. However the second was a monster. High long and straight. In the space of two balls I was sold. Granted it is going to need some work, especially trusting the visual aspect but I'm going to have some fun when they start flying.

It was a great lesson. We hadn't made huge changes but the flight and direction were much improved. The interesting thing is, in the beginning and for most of 2012 a lot of the misses were low and left. However in the last few lessons and at the range, the miss has become a miss right. The miss left has almost gone completely. It makes it so much easier if you know where the bad shot is going. When some were left and some were high cuts and fades right it made it so hard. You were under pressure to be "on it" all the time but had no idea where miss was heading. It proves the club face is under much better control and the path itself is improved.

I came into the session a little down in the dumps but came out far happier. It was only small mis-fire and the big end hadn't gone. Rhys never makes the lesson overly technical but there have been some real light bulb moments where it has just clicked and I suddenly understand and can feel what a good swing should be like. I'm sure the road to single figures will continue to have the odd bump along the way but I feel far happier about my game again. We've got a dedicated short game lesson in the diary for a few weeks time which will be fun.

I'm not overly fussed about rushing out onto the course given the state it was in after the rain last week and with the freezing conditions forecast to continue over the weekend. I'd rather keep the swing ticking over, work on better ball placement and get a pre-shot routine I feel comfy with. It seems I am seeing big problems where they don't really exist. My mantra for the next few weeks is no problemo. Bad shots happen but as long as I understand the cause it isn't an issue. I can see big things on the horizon and I'm moving steadily towards them.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

What A Clown

I have made fantastic progress with my swing changes and it even stood up on the course first time out when I played in the Saturday roll up. However having then had a dose of the shanks confidence was dented. I went to the range at Maidenhead Golf Centre on Saturday and to be fair I was actually very happy with the way I hit it. Just as well really as I was playing my first round Winter knockout with my regular partner Mike Stannard on Sunday.

The omens weren't good. Torrential rain on Saturday continued overnight and when I arrived at the club on Sunday morning there were murmurings that the back nine was unplayable and should be shut. Add in the fact that Mike had only jetted back home at 5.00am from a holiday in Vietnam and Cambodia and it wasn't an ideal preparation. Still you have to be in it it win it.

We were drawn against a regular partnership, Vince O'Hara and Paul Hadden who have a degree of form at Royal Ascot in pairs events. Vince can be dangerous off 18 and Paul is steady off 12. We were teeing off at midday and not only was I concerned about the light going but there was further rain forecast.

My opening tee shot wasn't a thing of beauty but I go it away. I made a net par and it was enough for a half. The tee shot at the 2nd was okay but found the light rough and a horrid lie. I couldn't move it forward very far and handed the reins to my partner. Another half. I made a par at the next to keep parity but didn't hit a great drive at the 4th. It was down the right, found the rough and despite vigorous searching never re-appeared.

I wasn't swinging well. Tempo was quick and I think I was getting wrapped up in swing thoughts. I was making too many errors and the more things didn't go my way the more it unravelled. My partner was playing some sterling golf but by the time we lost the 8th to a birdie two we were three down and that remained the score at the turn.

Our opponents made a rare mistake and we clawed the 10th back but Mike three putted the next to give that hole back. I found the fairway at the 12th but then carved a fairway wood right into dead man's country. Mike hit a great approach that ran to the back of the green and again his putter let him down. Both opponents had shots and escaped with a half. We were four down after losing the 13th.

The closing holes from the 14th in to the clubhouse were in a bad condition. The fairways were full of standing water and it was hard to find full relief. The bunkers were flooded but, and it is a fantastic testament to the green keeping staff, the putting surfaces had no standing water and putted well.

I continued to play like a clown. I couldn't string anything together and to be honest given the state of the match, the conditions and the way I was playing interest had waned. I finally hit a good drive down the  par five 15th but we were dormie four down so too little too late. I laid up but even my approach from 130 yards wasn't good enough and found a bunker. As it happened, it made no difference as Vince chipped in from way off the green to make a par and our race was run.

I like a laugh on the course but my performance on Sunday was no joking matter
I felt I'd let my partner down (not for the first time) and that I had let both my teaching pro Rhys ap Iolo and myself down. The swing isn't in freefall but there is definitely a missing piece, a spark not firing. Of course it was only my second round in nearly three months and perhaps a competitive round came too soon into my rehabilitation.

I went to the range after work on Monday. Again there were some shots that were as pure as I can hit it and there were others where everything felt it was moving and it was way out of sync. Of course, the more you try the worse the situation becomes. I think I am thinking too much and trying too hard to manipulate the club on the correct path. On the plus side, my lesson postponed from last Friday has been arranged for tonight. It was suppose to be a short game lesson but I think the swing needs the critical gaze of Rhys to just make sure old habits aren't creeping back.

The forecast is set to be drier but much, much colder and I don't know if the course will be fully open. I'm tempted to see what Rhys says tonight and seek some kind of sanctuary at a driving range with their heated bays and just keep working on the game. On the other side of the coin, I need to be out playing regularly too so it is a bit of a catch 22. I don't want to play if I can't trust the swing and I don't want to be out in sodden conditions and freezing conditions.

I understand there are days when you won't swing well or play great. I accept that. It is days like Sunday where I play like a clown and nothing goes right and you have that feeling of embarrassment for even being on the course that I can do without. I didn't hit anything resembling a socket rocket but the quality of the strike was perhaps the most annoying thing. In my defence the conditions especially on the back nine were bad and exaggerated any mistake. I am putting it down to a very bad day at the office. Nothing more. The swing is a work in progress still. I will have bad days but the end product will mean there will be less and less of these. The bad won't be so bad and I will still be able to get it round and post a score.

In a perverse sort of way I'm happy going out of the knockout. The rumour is it will be a very bad winter and so playing on a frozen course to temporary greens isn't my idea of proper golf and to be honest playing a match in those circumstances owes a lot to lady luck. Now I can focus on my range work and wander out when I want to play a social game and test the progress out without it being a win or bust deal.

Of course if I do play like a clown again I can always ask Santa for a red nose and some funny big shoes.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Double Dose

It's been a funny old week golf wise. Having finally got back on the course last weekend I wanted to work on my game at the range, consolidate and have my short game lesson with Rhys ap Iolo on Friday. The weather was a huge factor with heavy rain and gusty wind. I had the afternoon off work on Tuesday and there was a break in the weather and I hit the range full of anticipation for a solid session.

What transpired wasn't what I had been hoping for. From nowhere, I acquired a dose of the dreaded socket rocket, J. Arthurs, shermans otherwise known as the shanks. It is the most destructive shot in golf. It comes from nowhere but it absolutely drains a player of any shred of confidence. I had warmed up well enough and my wedges were fine but as soon as I swapped to a 9 iron I was slamming the ball into the bay wall. I've had issues before but not since going to the one plane swing. There have been times in lessons where Rhys has changed something and I was convinced I'd be bouncing the ball around the teaching bay but never actually did. Now I was faced with a real outbreak. The problem with the shanks is the tempo gets quicker out of fear and frustration. Even if you go back to basics and drills there is no guarantee it will improve. Whoever said a shank is close to the perfect shot is at best an optimist.

The reason for my problems are usually traced back to a simple flaw. My weight moves forward during the swing onto my toes. In simple terms everything then moves forward by an inch or so so when the club returns to the ball instead of the sweet spot sending the ball into air, high and straight, the hosel strikes it and it goes low and right. Horror.

On the plus side, I went back to my drills. Take the club back halfway. Stop. Back to the top and stop again and then back to the ball. One ball at a time it started to get better but I was scared on every shot. Tempo was shot. I finished on a high of sorts with some decent strikes but it really knocked the recent confidence I'd built up for six.

I had planned to have a day off on Wednesday but I spent the day in work fretting about it and worrying something major had gone wrong with the swing change I'd worked so hard on for the last three weeks or so. I had to get back on it and so I was back on the range mat straight from work. I was very wary and perhaps over cautious and so was pulling a few early shots left where the club wasn't releasing. The good news was it was a very short dose and I only had one semi-shank out of a large bucket of balls. I can live with that and the quality of the strike was much more solid. Once I had worked out I needed the club to be exiting low and left I was back on it.

I had written much on Twitter all week about a short game lesson on Friday with Rhys and the need to banish the short game demons lurking within my golfing psyche. All was set and I was looking forward to it. However much as the shanks had scuppered my expectations for consolidating, illness and in particular a savage migraine meant I had no choice but to postpone the lesson. I was in no state to stand there and swing a club and retired to my pit to recover.

The weather today was dire. It has been raining almost since first light and there was no way I was going to venture out onto a sodden course. I'm playing the first round of the winter knockout tomorrow and I've a feeling that even if the club is open at all it will be sodden and all but unplayable. Not only will I have to contend with the horrendous conditions but my partner is currently on the way back from a holiday in Vietnam and due to land at 5.00am. As we aren't off until nearly midday, I'm worried about getting around in time, but even more concerned that jet lag will hamper my partners performance.

So I've had a double dose (shanks and illness) and my partner is flying halfway around the world from warmer climes into the harsh, wet reality of winter golf. What could possible go wrong? As I'm working on major swing changes this winter my partner Mike Stannard and I have placed no real expectations or hopes on the Winter knockout. We are taking one game at a time and if we take an early bath then so be it. Of course should we make progress and as the swing changes Rhys and I are making bed in, along with an improved short game, then I'm sure our competitive juices will salivate and we'll become far more serious about it.

The short game lesson has been re-booked for next Wednesday. I hit the range this afternoon and the swing is behaving a little better and so I can stand on the 1st tee tomorrow with a modicum of confidence and hopefully provide my partner with some solid support. The short game lesson next week is a big step. How can such a small swing cause so many problems. It is partly in my head and partly indecision in technique. I'vebeen stuck between a rock and a hard place and have been persevering with the linear method of chipping, which uses the bounce a lot more, as opposed to the conventional method of hands and weight forward.

Not the week I was looking for. I had high hopes and great plans. I knew there would be backward steps, but never for one moment thought it would come from the shanks. I thought it would be an inability to understand and incorporate a new move or swing change. I thought I'd be posting tonight about my new found Seve like short game repertoire and new found inner calm. Still we'll see what the match tomorrow brings and it will be good to test my progress to date in a competitive environment. It promises to be an exciting ride one way or another so I'll strap myself in and ride the roller-coaster.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Reality Bites

I'm back. It's official. Despite the rather dour forecast for yesterday morning it was actually dry if somewhat cloudy and nothing was going to stop me going out with the normal Saturday morning roll up. I knew it would be a gentle re-introduction with no pressure and to be honest I was dying to see the familiar faces and test my new swing out for the first time.

I had absolutely no ambitions and simply wanted to knock it round and try the swing out. As you may have realised from recent blogs, progress has been good since my last lesson and I have been been striking it really well. Would it hold up under a real examination. The opening hole at Royal Ascot plays as a 229 yard par three. I stood there with my ball pegged up and a three wood in hand. I addressed it and took aim. The result wasn't perfect and it was a bit of a hook but it ended up just off the green pin high. It could have been a lot worse and even though I didn't put a perfect strike on it I'd go it away.

I had heard good things about the state of the greens considering the time of year and I was surprised at just how quick they were as I trundled my opening putt four feet past the hole. Despite not having worked on my putting at all during my lay-off I was pleased to roll the return in. I made poor swings on the third and fourth tees and could feel the old habit of rotating my arms on the takeaway creeping back in. This meant I started to focus too intently on the takeaway and maybe started having too many swing thoughts bouncing around my head over the ball. The ball striking was nowhere near as crisp as I had been hitting either at the range or off the turf on the practise ground.

On the front nine I rode the bogey train on every hole until the 8th where a poor strike put me in a terrible spot and a double bogey followed. I managed to nail a really solid drive off the ninth tee and find the green to make a good par. Another followed at the tenth and I then found the green at the par three eleventh. Sadly the putter let me down and I three putted but at least the quality of the strike had been there. I carved a drive way right off the twelfth and again at the fifteenth as the big stick misfired.

In the end I didn't play great and really wasn't happy with a lot of what I did. Maybe I'd been lulled into a false sense of progress by the stuff I'd been producing at the range. Don't get me wrong I really enjoyed my round and being back out on the course. I had just hope that I could have hit a few more good shots. I couldn't have played that badly as I cam back with the ball I started with and broke the thirty points barrier. Maybe I'm being a tad too harsh.

I was back on the Royal Ascot practise ground today. Not looking to right the wrongs of yesterday as it wasn't an abject return but to tighten the swing back up. In the end it wasn't the most productive of sessions. It wasn't bad but I just wasn't as happy with my swing and strike as I had been in recent weeks.

In the end I think reality has finally bitten this weekend. I'd been warned that I would have downs as well as ups. I was on a big high after my last lesson and the progress I'd made since so it was perhaps no surprise that the first round would be a real wake up. If anything I was a little more upset about the work out today rather than the round but there was still enough good shots in there. I need to work hard on the takeaway. This was the biggest change I've made to date and is critical to get the club in the right place. It is clearly still a work in progress and too often yesterday and today it wasn't quite right. A long way forward from where I was even six weeks ago but not something I can stand there and rely on to fire every time.

It isn't all doom and gloom. I'm back and playing and my game can only move forward as I play more often. I've a short game lesson on Friday which will start to right a lot of the problems in that area which will drip feed back into my scoring. Plenty still to work on but I've taken the first big step and got back on the course. I've had a bite of reality and that can never be a bad thing. Time to take stock and move on again. Onwards and upwards.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

When The Gods Conspire

My much vaunted and anticipated return to the hallowed turf at Royal Ascot Golf Course failed to materialise this morning. Not because of a lack of intent on my part and despite a frost on the car windows I was up when the alarm went off at silly o'clock, still dark, and ready to hit the shower and get out there.

There was a problem though. She who must be obeyed, my lovely wife was already in the bathroom, suffering the effects of a migraine. She wasn't at all well bless her. As fanatical as I am about my game and as much as I've been desperate to get back out playing and trying the improved swing in real time conditions where you only get one chance, I couldn't bring myself to leave her and wander off to play. Even Im not that heartless.

In the end I took myself into the spare room and dozed the morning away. I had hoped she'd feel better by this afternoon and I could get up to the club and perhaps work on my Aimpoint technique for reading greens. It has been so long since I attended an Aimpoint clinic ( and learnt how to read greens properly. I have got out of the practice of how to do this and my training aid has been lying redundant since its arrival as I bowed out of golf to be with my mum in her last few months, get over her death and deal with the aftermath.

The Aimpoint "Bubble" - a valuable aid to learn the correct reads
In the end though it wasn't to be and I've spent the day being the dutiful husband and tending to her needs. It seems the golfing gods are conspiring to find ways of stopping me playing. I am determined to find a way to get out next weekend. I have been bored rigid with the rubbish on Sunday TV and in the papers. I've had to be very strict with myself as the temptation to surf the online golf stores has been strong and the credit card was last seen scurrying for cover.

Not what I'd hoped for this weekend and it has ultimately all been a bit of a disappointment really. Yes I had a good practice session off grass yesterday and it is money in the bank so to speak in relation to the improved swing and technique. It isn't the same though. I miss my friends at the club. I miss the savage banter in the 19th and above all I miss testing my game, my handicap and my technique, now much improved. Those I spoke to yesterday say the course is holding up well considering the wet weather and that the greens are rather nippy for the time of year. I need to see it for myself.

The wife's illness has opened a Feast of Consequences. I now only have one weekend to play and test everything before I'm due to partner my regular wing man Mike Stannard in our Winter knockout first round. I have no idea about putting in terms of the speed of the greens and the quality of my stroke (aside from not having practised the green reading). My dire short game will have little time for me to find some kind of band-aid to patch it up and cover the cracks.

Still these are negative vibes and I'm far more positive these days. The hard work has been done and even though it hasn't always felt like it but I've made real progress in the last six weeks or so. I know there is more to be done but the money I've invested in the lessons, particularly the last two has been cash well spent. I've relished the challenge of turning instruction into repetitive actions. Sometimes I've been frustrated as I wanted to see instantaneous results. Golf isn't like that and you have to work for your rewards. I love seeing the ball flying off the range mat or the turf long and straight. I've a better understanding of where I need to get the club throughout to work for MY swing. It will never be textbook or picture perfect but as long as it works when I need it and I can call on it when I'm in contention I'll take it.

My coach and I still have a long way to go. There is so much more that needs looking at. The swing still needs more work but it is from 100 yards and in that we really need to look at. The scoring zone, particularly bunkers, chipping and putting, will shave those vital shots and could be the difference between that handicap cut to single figures or treading water as a double digit golfer.

These are for another day. I'll hit the range again this week. Consolidate and refine what I've worked on to date and tick off the days until next weekend when I will absolutely, definitely, positively be back on the course and back playing again

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Prepared And Ready To Rock

I hit the range again last night. The work is beginning to pay off. It may not be the finished article yet and there is a long way to go but at the moment the ball striking and direction are very solid and pleasing. The cunning plan was to hit the balls at Blue Mountain Driving Range, keep everything ticking over and make my grand return this morning at Royal Ascot in the normal Saturday roll up.

A cunning plan indeed but there was one small flaw. It lashed it down with rain overnight and as I wearily opened the curtains this morning it was still throwing it down. In normal circumstances, particularly if I'm in a competition or match then I'd grit my teeth, get ready and go out. However with an untried swing I wasn't really that keen to be out in wet conditions worrying about the elements and the state of my game. Yes it was a wimp out but I prefer to look on it as a pragmatic opportunity.

The rain eventually died away and by lunchtime the sun was out. My cunning plan had changed. There is another roll up on a Sunday morning and with the weather set fair tomorrow, that would be the time to launch my comeback. What it did do was give me a chance to wander up to the practice ground at the club and actually hit balls off grass. Range mats serve a purpose but they can mask a poor strike. With the ground very wet from the overnight rain, hitting off grass would require nothing but a proper strike to make solid contact. Ideal to really test how the swing was going.

As a final preparation before hitting the course for the first time in several months it couldn't have gone any better. Plenty of good shots off difficult muddy turf that flew on a good trajectory with a decent dispersal. I even hit a few with the driver which isn't a strength normally but even these were solid and would have all been on the mown grass. That is the key to winter golf, finding the fairway and bodes well.

The short game and putting have been ignored and I fear these will cancel out a good ball striking round tomorrow but one step at a time. My teaching pro and I have already discussed working on this next and with a lesson booked for November 23rd I won't have long to wait to begin the hard work on this facet. To be honest even with my old swing I was capable of getting it round but I couldn't score around the greens. Homer's Odyssey would have reached home port of single figures a long time ago if I could have chipped and putted better. It is now part psychological and part technical and I don't know what we tackle first, the demons in my head over every chip or the flaky stroke.

What I do know is that my golf is going to be a two prong attack in terms of practice after the short game lesson. The full game still has a lot of work to do and old habits will creep back with alarming speed without due diligence to the changes I've been making. On the flip side, there is a need to get to grips with the short game and winter is the ideal time to do this. I'm happy to substitute playing from time to time to get the short game up to scratch in time for the new season. I just need to be sensible with my time and make sure my practice is done with clear targets and goals.

For now thought I'm like a kid at Christmas. My clubs have been cleaned top and bottom, the bag is packed and I've got my clothes out for the morning. I can't wait to get out there again and even if it goes horribly wrong it is a good barometer as to where I am and what needs looking at. I've done as much preparation as I can and now its time to go out and put it into practice. I'm ready to rock. Bring it on, good bad or indifferent. Apart from anything else it will be good to see the familiar old faces and get involved in the banter again. Tomorrow can't come quickly enough.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Progress - It Doesn't Feel Like It

After the euphoria of the lesson last Friday where the whole One Plane swing fell into place it was back to the range at the weekend to work on the changes. The diligent work I'd done on the back swing had paid huge dividends and my teaching pro Rhys ap Iolo was very pleased with progress. This enabled us to work on the down swing and getting rid of the nasty shallow impact position that had blighted the game for many years and get something a little steeper and able to compress the ball better.

Any of you that have enjoyed a lesson with a golf pro will know that while you are under their gaze in the teaching bay you seem to do no wrong. Once your lesson is finished and you wander off, the magic seems to disappear and you always seem to be struggling to recapture that "feel" you found so readily. And so it was when I wandered up to Maidenhead Driving Range on Sunday morning.

It was cold and the rain had been lashing down in biblical proportions and so any thoughts of going to my home club Royal Ascot and utilising the practice ground were washed away, almost literally. I like the range at Maidenhead. It's tucked away and so doesn't normally attract the type of idiot many ranges have who are trying to bash the cover off the ball, make loads of noise and generally behave in a really annoying manner. It is frequented by golfers trying hard to improve and the quality of mats and the range balls make it an ideal venue to knuckle down and get on with improving.

The session involved a lot of drill repetition trying to ensure the club was exiting left and coming down on a better plane just as it had in the lesson. I was fine when I was doing the pause repetitions similar to the work I'd done with the back swing. When I tried to execute at full pace and without any pausing the results were mixed. I came away with more questions than answers and with a nagging sense of doubt and worry.

Tuesday night after work and I was back at it, this time at Blue Mountain Driving Range. Whether it was the cold or the lure of the football on the TV but it was pretty deserted and allowed me to settle in and try and find the spark that had been there at the lesson. Back to the drills again. Just like the session on Sunday, when I was doing it in practice mode I could really feel the club moving properly. Put it into a full pace swing and initially the results were still mixed.

However I stuck with it. Ball by ball things improved and I captured the work on camera. I am struggling with the longer clubs and off the tee which doesn't bode well for taking it to the course just yet but that isn't really on the radar anyway.

I got home and warily posted a copy of the swing to Rhys for his view. I wanted to make sure he was happy with how things are progressing. His only question was how the ball was behaving. As it went where I wanted it to a lot more often I was pleased to report back that it was going better. He was happy with how the swing looked given the quality on the clip wasn't the best. It seems that we are moving forward even if it doesn't always feel like it. It is a huge project Rhys and I have undertaken to demolish thirty years of faults into a functional and repetitive swing. I perhaps need to learn patience as well as a new swing. The trouble is I want it all and I want it now.

I am pleased with how far I have come so quickly. I do need to keep working at the basics. The back swing will have a tendency to creep back into old habits and I need to be aware of this. The down swing will have a tendency to go too far down the line after impact into a high finish and not exit properly. As long as I'm vigilant I know the work I'm doing is right and will reap rewards once I get back into playing frequently and then into competitive play.

Things are clearly on the up and up and I am going forward and making progress. I have to be a happy Homer. Back to the range tomorrow and the work continues.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

The Penny Has Finally Dropped

Ladies and Gentlemen, it has taken nine months and a number of lessons but I am pleased to say the penny has finally dropped. I had another lesson with Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Centre last night and was anticipating a review of the back swing changes I've been working so hard on and maybe nurturing and refining the work I'd been doing.

What transpired was the best lesson I've had with Rhys. It was an extended version and due to be an hour although Rhys as ever was generous with his time and it lagged to at least an hour and a quarter, which meant we weren't trying to cram a lot of work into a short time frame. However the most pleasing aspect was the fact that every time Rhys gave me a tweak I was able to tell him how it felt, where I thought the club was and where it had travelled. We weren't bogged down in too much technical stuff and I could finally work more on feel which is how I've always learned best.

To be fair to Rhys, he had so many layers of faults to strip away before we had a basic model we could mould and work with. Now, with Rhys giving the work I had down on the takeaway the seal of approval we could move it forward again. The old swing had always been too shallow into impact but until we were in a position to get the club in the right place at the top there was nothing that could be done to fix this and still allow me to make any decent contact with the ball.

Last night we worked hard on impact and being able to compress down onto the ball better. It isn't just impact that is important but the path the club is travelling on and so the exit and follow through were looked at in detail too. In fact, we ended up working it out in reverse and understanding how the club exits into the follow through let me figure out where it needed to be from the top into the ball.

As I have already said, the fact that I now have a good understanding of what I need to achieve and to a large degree how to do it has fired me up. An example of how you can get more from something working more efficient came when I was working on a stop/start drill. As I had been doing with my back swing work, I took the club halfway back, stopped, to the top and stopped again. I was then trying to focus on just returning the club to the address position to collect the ball and then ensure I made a proper turn into the follow through. I hit it perfectly. Bearing in mind there were pauses and it wasn't a proper swing I was amazed that Trackman said I'd carried it 153 yards. This would have been the top end of my six iron range flat out with the old swing. Less really can mean more. Add in the technical bits such as the club only being one degree open to path at impact, optimum launch angle and spin rate and it reinforced just how much progress I've made.

The penny drops and I can feel and understand where the club is and how it needs to travel - Hallelujah
As always, there is still work to be done. One of the biggest things I need to guard against is the killer position with the club getting across the line. An age old fault the new takeaway has addressed. The danger is the more I focus on the club coming down steeper, more in front of me and turning on the right path, the less I will be aware of where it is at the top.

Rhys has suggested my range work needs to be evenly split with one ball working on the back swing and the next on the steeper downswing and how the club exits. I wrote on here about buzzing from my ball striking at the range this week (make sure you check it out!) and feel from the quality of the strikes last night, that with the club now beginning to travel correctly that this can only get better.

I have to guard against old faults and ingrain the new technique. I also need to shift the focus and look at the short game. While my swing in all its incarnations has allowed me to get the ball around the course to some degree or another, my scoring potential has always been held back by an inability to chip and putt regularly.

I've charted my short game woes in inglorious detail over the last two years or so and it really has been the one thing that has stopped Homer's Odyssey from sailing into the land of peaches and honey and a single figure handicap. Part of it has been getting trapped between a number of styles and technique and part of it has been a mental block and a lack of trust over the ball. One has always fed the other and so the spiral downward continued. Rhys and I are going to start to address this with a short game refresher next time. Now I have an understanding of where the club is suppose to travel it should be easier to get it working better on a shorter shot.

I can't wait to hit the range tomorrow (Sunday) and put last night's work into action and put the hard yards in to get the changes right and ingrained. I'm confident I can get it right and if the six iron results last night are a taste of bigger and better things to come then it will be good. I am under no illusion that having not been on the course for two months or so it won't necessarily be perfect when I do get back out there. Hitting ball after ball at the range isn't the same as the one chance you get on the course but as long as I trust what I've worked on and don't go out with any expectations for a round or two I think results will come.

It has been a long journey to get this far. There is still a long way left to go to realise my potential. At the ripe old age of 46 (and nearly a half on top) this really is the last chance for body and mind to make such big changes to my swing and allow me to get as low as I can. Not only that, but a better, repeatable swing will place less strain on an ageing body and let me potentially play good golf for longer. For now though I am going to enjoy what I've achieved so far and relish the fact that at last the penny has dropped.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Absolutely Buzzing

I hit the range after work last night. It was one of those "force yourself" sessions where I really didn't fancy it, especially as it was raining. It was case of having to be tough mentally and drag myself there and get the mind right to make it worthwhile. The new back swing won't bed itself in. When I got to the range at Blue Mountain Golf Centre I was a little surprised to see that bar one other guy I had the place to myself.

I settled in and went through some gentle stretching. Sitting at my desk in work and then the commute home isn't really conducive to swinging a golf club. A few gentle wedges and then into it. I started off back into the drills. Halfway back, stop, up to the top, stop and then commit into the shot. I hadn't been hitting it great with this stop start swing but it was essential to get into the right slots. Shots were usually hooks left. This session though was different.

I was making a good connection. Shots were flying truer. I was so focused on trying to get everything right I wasn't looking at anything else and it all fell into place. I've wrote in my last blog that I was under strict instruction from my teaching pro Rhys ap Iolo not to hit full shots. I tried. I really did. In the end though I couldn't resist. I had to hit some at full pace.

The strike was something new to me. Pure and effortless. I didn't capture it on video sadly and I have a feeling the wrists were still cupping and pulling the club across the line. However the sight of six iron after six iron flying high and true warmed my heart. I kept at it and could feel it getting closer to a nice offset position.

The vibe on here may have been a touch bleak lately. The enormity of what I'm undertaking has hit me. Rhys has given the process a big nudge with this first move and hopefully the rest of the process will be a case of nurturing it along. We have to get the club into a good place on the way back for it to work properly the way. What transpired last night not only warmed the cockles of my heart, it has got me buzzing. I am really fired. I can't wait to get back out there on Wednesday and try again.

The blog has sometimes been bleak reading. There have been more downs than ups and it may seem to the casual observer that the swing is in a constant state of flux and re-build. Actually since last December when I embarked on the Plane Truth system, and changed to a one plane swing I've played some good golf. More consistent than before and I've enjoyed it. Even the bad rounds. This change is the last piece of a jigsaw to give me something solid on which to reach Homer's Odyssey and single figures. That isn't enough now. Rhys reckons 6-7 is achievable and if he thinks it can be done who am I to argue.

It has been a difficult period with my mothers illness and eventual death and it has taken a long time to get back into my golf. I haven't really felt totally engaged and not really bust a gut to play or practice regularly. The last lesson re-lit the fire but last night added the fuel and the golfing flame is well and truly alight. I am buzzing and if you are only as good as your last shot, then the last six iron I struck means I am actually rather good. Bring on the next session

Sunday, 28 October 2012


Another day, another range session trying to bed down the takeaway changes. I am feeling as if it is starting to come especially when I take it back halfway, pause, go to the top, pause and then fire. I am getting into a good position with far less movement compared to my old haphazard swing. The old swing kept going and going until the head had no option but to rise to accommodate the huge shoulder turn. It is far more tight and compact now.

I've made a lot of this being the start of a big swing change this Winter. My teaching pro, Rhys ap Iolo has said in his mind it isn't the case. What we are doing now with the takeaway is a big piece of work but once we get it sorted it'll be more a case of stripping away layers and refining. There has been an element of concern from Rhys that I'm not happy with what's going on. I think maybe I've been giving too many negative vibes. I am finding the process of change a lot harder than I expected. Maybe I'm trying to run before I can walk or it's the fact that I am use to being able to hit it with a degree of certainty as to the outcome.

Having managed to successfully ingrain a poor takeaway over the course of time it is proving tough to break the cycle. Having seen a piece of footage of a full swing, there is still a huge gulf between what I'm feeling and what is happening. At normal speed the club is still getting across the line at the top. Not as much as it once did but I am feeling as though it is much more behind me and offset as it is when I take it back stage by stage. Clearly the wrists are hinging in the proper swing and I'm keeping them more neutral in the rehearsed version. Frustrating and annoying.

I am perhaps getting too hard on myself. Rhys has said that this is a big initial nudge. I trust the work we are doing and it is something that has been reinforced via the world of Twitter with a number of tour professionals from both the European tour and the Ladies European Tour. The comments have been hugely positive and basically reiterate what Rhys is telling me that it will be hard to break down the negative moves that cause the inconsistency and that it will take time and effort to see something bigger and better.

In the interim, I need to consolidate and stay patient and focused. Keep working on the takeaway drills and wait for the next lesson next Friday. Rhys can review my work to date, adjust and continue to strip away the layers. Less negativity and focus on the positives. I have to be a glass half full type of guy and realise we are only three practice sessions and less than two weeks into the project. Patience Homer. Patience.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

A Sign Of Things To Come

I hit the range again last night for day two of the rebuild. I'd forwarded the video clips from the initial session to Rhys ap Iolo for his comments. Now I'd thought for a first session it had gone well and I'd been pleased. Rhys on the other hand wasn't overly happy. Yes he could see progress but there were still a number of faults. As these faults have been ingrained with surgical precision over the course of the past thirty years I knew it wouldn't be an overnight process but hey, cut a bloke some slack.

Still, I'm built of firm stuff and can take the knock backs. It just makes me more determined to get it right, not only for the benefit of my game but some intrinsic desire to prove to Rhys I can do it. As part of my course, Rhys has set me up on the Plane Truth website which has access to numerous drills and instruction to work on the back swing, downswing and impact. I'd been studying the moves for the takeaway diligently and felt confident I could recreate it and improve from the initial session.

And so to the session itself. I was under strict instruction to work on drills and not be tempted to try
and hit full shots. Work on the takeaway, into a good position at the top and then just try and exit better and not get too far on the inside and get the club too far down the line. Try and feel as though I'm hitting it no more than twenty yards (from a full turn). I took some more footage (apologies for the quality but it was just the camera phone and with poor range lights) and will continue to do so as this particular leg of Homer's Odyssey moves forward.

I have sent the footage to Rhys and he is actually a lot happier. I still have an annoying habit of the club wanting to twitch back across the line born from the old swing going too far, too inside and with too much arm rotation. However it is better. One thing that is clear to see is there is far more retention of spine angle. If you look at the video of the swing (as it was) in my previous post you'll see how much I lose the angle and lift as I get to the top of the swing and even more as I have to find a way to get back to the ball. Clearly a big plus point.

All well and good I hear you say but how did you hit it. Well in truth not great and I checked into Hooksville with everything heading left. Fortunately Rhys was expecting that and told me not to be overly concerned. Apparently the next phase once we get the takeaway perfect is the really scary bit! You may or may not be able to pick out an alignment stick on the ground to the left of the ball at a 45 degree angle. I had been trying so hard to exit lower and left as per my instructions and the drills.

Cest la vie. It is a sign of things to come and has given me some comfort that I am moving, inch by inch, towards something better. Don't tell Rhys but I hit five balls at the end of the session with a full swing. Apart from the glorious shank with the first the others were actually rather pleasing. I did capture them on film, and it shows that at full pace and not in slow motion as per the drills, the club still wants to go across at the top. However it was not as pronounced as it had been so I'm chalking it to 1-0 to the good guy.

The plan is to get some serious work in at the weekend, and maybe take it to the grass practise area at Royal Ascot Golf Club. It will be good to see a few familiar faces again. It might also be a chance to try and get some short game work in. I've neglected this facet for far too long and if the full swing has mistakes, then the short game is riddled with errors and is the real achilles heel. I don't want to get too bogged down in the pursuit of my swing revolution and so this will provide a welcome distraction.

That's the second session done. Better in some aspects and still a shade disappointing in others but onwards and upwards. The next lesson is in the diary for Friday November 2nd and so until then I'll keep working on my drills and hope Rhys can provide a tip for changing the path on the way down. Maybe he's got that up his sleeve for the lesson. If he says the phase is scary then it will be major. He has certainly got my attention!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

The Process Is Underway

Day one of the swing rebuild. I've been given my instructions by my teaching pro Rhys ap Iolo on what I need to be working on, how to achieve it and what the long term goals are. In case anyone needs proof on why I need to change here is a swing I took this morning before I started the work. It came after a few warm up shots and shows that when timing is out and the swing isn't fully warmed up how full of mistakes and compensations it is.

It worked which is why I could play to a 10 handicap but it needed a lot of consistent work to maintain it and keep it synchronised. On a good day it was playable but when the timing was off it was an untamed monster. I am under instructions to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse and not to hit full shots. I need to get to position one, half way back, stop, check and then move the club into position two at the top of the back swing and stop again and check that. From this static position I need to feel the club coming stringht down on a much steeper path, collect the ball and into the finish.

All well and good and I am renouned at my club for the amount of practice I put in. What I'm not good at and never really have been is having the patience to stand there and just rehearse and swing the club without hitting balls. To me it has always been the acid test watching the ball fly. However as Rhys has tried to drum into my head, we need to break thirty years of ingrained faults. In essence we are going back to the beginning. I need to re-learn the correct takeaway, not swing too far and lose spine angle and lift and get the club in the right place to make a good down swing.

I did work hard on everything. It feels strange as you'd expect and the transition from the new position at the top down onto the ball isn't there yet. Lots of big hooks in particular indicates the path isn't right. However it's essential we get the initial move correct first so that is where the focus of attention remains.

I've filmed a swing showing the process. Bear in mind it is only the first session so there is a lot still wrong. Bear in mid also that Rhys would prefer me to stop at each check point and not make such a full swing as this. You can see how the club still wants to track across the line and how it is going to be a huge task to break that particular fault. Break it I must if everything that is to follow is going to slot into place.

I am pleased with progress. Rhys has already critiqued my work and given me a pointer to bear in mind. I have basically written off a lot of playing time over the winter. What am I missing? Frozen greens, muddy fairways, cold, wind and rain. If I can work hard and diligently on my new swing, allied to sharpening all aspects of the short game and putting then I'm going to be fast out of the blocks next year.

To be honest while my swing, despite its foibles, was functional if not great, it was my short game that has always held me back. I putt reasonably, but could hole out better from 3-8 feet. I am good from close range and don't three putt that often. It is the chipping in particular which has prevented the handicap from falling quicker. I chip like a 28 handicapper in comparison with my peers and it has been a mental frailty as well as a technical ineptitude that has stopped me. I've been caught between a traditional chipping technique and the linear method I adpoted last season. The break I've had, enforced as it was, has cleared my head. I'm ready to go back with Rhys once we hone the full swing skills and have a blank short game canvass on which to paint a better picture in 2013.

I'm off and running. I actually feel better after the session today than I did coming out of the lesson on Friday. At the moment the crux is to get position one nailed completely and into position two. There is another booked for a week on Friday. Rhys and I can review, assess and add another block into place. Slowly, slowly but the process is underway and I couldn't be happier to be getting it sorted once and for all.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Taken It Apart - Hope It Fits Back Together

My golf swing is currently lying in pieces courtesy of my latest lesson with my teaching pro Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Centre last night. I'm praying when we put it together again over the winter I'm not left with that one old nut or bolt you use to get as a kid putting stuff together at Christmas.

I've had a couple of range sessions this week as my golfing comeback following my mum's death takes shape. To be honest given all that has gone on recently I was actually quite pleased at how well I had been hitting it. I assumed that Rhys would just have a refresher to ease me back in. Whether it's because he's given up cigarettes (again) or saw it as a perfect opportunity to start the re-build programme we'd discussed I had only hit a couple of shots to show him where I was (and hit them well) when he made the call.

The main faults have been well documented on here before but consist in no particular order of club across the line at the top, losing spine angle in the back swing, too shallow on the downswing into impact, too in to out as I hit the thing (trapped) and then a follow through too high and continuing down the line. Seeing it written down it's amazing I'm as close to single figures as I am. As a whole the swing works but relies a lot on what remaining natural talent I have and good timing and when the latter is out or a fault creeps in then it can go very wrong, very quickly. The somewhat ambitious goal Rhys has is to get to a 5-6 handicap but more importantly is to now build something that works better, more often than what I have now. As I'm getting on, this is the one last opportunity to find the game to move me forward. I'm not looking for textbook or visually pleasing but just a swing I can rely on and which works more often. What Rhys and I have worked on since we started together last year has given me a better ball striking year in 2012 and I have played better and scored lower than preceding years.

The starting point is to get the arms working better in the back swing. At the moment they are rotating too early and too far behind me and so not setting the club properly on the way back. In simple terms, I can't make a nice compact turn. The arms keep going and the body reacts by getting the club across the line at the top. Like anything, the more it travels in one direction, the more it has to travel to get back to the starting point and the ball. It means I have to make several adjustments which I can do when the game is on. If not the results are sometimes ugly.

If I thought it would be a simple adjustment, I was sorely wrong. As Rhys succinctly put it, what I have is ingrained deeply akin to a motorway in my golfing brain. What we did last night is a small line in the sand. We need to make the new moves into the dominant force and be able to rely on it and know it's in there most of the time. The new move takes away the early rotation but to be honest I am really struggling with it. We've broken the back swing into two separate moves. There is the better takeaway into a position halfway back and then the setting of the club correctly. I am finding the initial takeaway really hard to "feel" or visualise and when I set the club, old habits still want to bring it across the line.

I am under strict instructions not too hit balls with a proper swing but have to stand there and work religiously on getting in to position 1 correctly and then into position 2 before going on to make a swing. I'm not sure which is going to be tougher, working on the changes or resisting the urge to run before I can walk and try and hit full shots. Either a way I think it'll be a long time before I'm ready to play again. I feel like an absolute beginner again but hoping I'll coming out the other side bigger and better. Whether 5-6 is realistic as a target for 2013 I'm not 100% convinced looking at the jumbled parts lying in front of me. I just hope Rhys has the instructions and they are the English version and we have no spare parts left over at the end.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Getting Back On The Horse

First and foremost many thanks to everybody that has sent messages of condolence online and particularly those at Royal Ascot Golf Club who took the time to send a card full of signatures. Although the funeral isn't until this Friday I am beginning to come to terms with everything. Above all, I know my mum would be mortified that I had foresaked my golf, especially as there is nothing more I can do for her.

Having not played since the start of September the thought of going out and playing seems a big deal all of a sudden and I'm certain there wouldn't be a game in there to do myself justice. So what to do? As a self-acknowledged practice fiend the answer is simple. Hit the range and the practice ground and work hard. I had seen my teaching professional for a lesson just before my mum's health started going downhill and we'd begun work on stopping my hips rotating too much and giving a more solid base on which to turn. I have to be honest and what I was trying to do today may not have been exactly as we had worked on but I was struggling to remember exactly how it had felt during the lesson.

The practice ground at Royal Ascot was actually quite dry given the recent heavy rain but was shrouded in a lingering mist that gave the place an eerie feel. Given what has gone before recently perhaps the backdrop was fitting. What became apparent very quickly was that the timing was out and I needed to reign it in. Ball by ball and with plenty of rehearsals in between shots what became clear was that when I kept the hips solid and turned over it more the shot was much better and the follow through more compact and low. In the last lesson I had seen on video just how far my hips turned on the back swing making it harder to turn back through properly and which was where a lot of my hip sliding and flailing arms down the line into a high finish came from.

With the one plane swing we are working on, it is about a more compact turn and exiting low and left through impact into a lower finish. It was a very in and out session. The good ones where I turned over the more solid base were superb with a great penetrating flight and more distance. The mediocre ones would still be playable and I was probably trying to run before I could walk and being a little too harsh on myself. I knew the shots weren't right with hip slides and higher finishes but I have lost a lot of the high cuts right where I spun out of it and the hooks and pulls left.

I did feel a tinge of guilt about getting back on the horse and starting to play again but as I've stated already, my mum was fiercely proud of my golfing achievements, particularly seeing her only son in Golf Monthly this time last year finishing runner up in their Centenary Final at the Forest of Arden. She would have wanted me to get out there again, do the best I can and continue Homer's odyssey towards single figures.

Standing alongside the winner at the Golf Monthly Centenary Final
Above all though I did a piece a few years back about my first ever round on a proper course with my dad who died back in 2003 and I think it really touched a nerve with her especially when Golf Monthly published it. My mum was very old school and would never shower anyone with praise but she was so pleased to see the piece and what it had meant to me and would regularly show it to all and sundry. Indeed, she carried a copy of the magazine with the Forest of Arden piece in and showed it to all the staff in hospital and in the hospice in her final days. For her, that is the biggest nod of approval I probably ever got.

The rehabilitation process has started. It will take a lot of time and effort as I had been playing well before my enforced lay off. I have got a lesson pencilled in for the 19th. Hopefully it will iron out the lingering issues and we can re-visit the proper hip movement and turn. We can also get down to deciding how we are going to attack the Winter swing changes. I think Rhys ap Iolo has a plan of action which will take the one plane motion forward and give me something more solid and repeatable to use in the 2013 season. After that I need to get back to the short game. It is still the one facet that is holding me back. I didn't really commit as much time to it in the Summer as I could and was caught between a number of different techniques. I need to decide on the linear method or the more traditional version of chipping and commit.

The boy is back in the game and I know it's with my mum's blessing. Ironically I've committed to a Golf Monthly Forum day at Woburn on March 27th which would have been her 77th birthday. I have a strong feeling she is going to give me the same kind of inspiration Seve gave to the European team at Medinah and my aim is to give her one more moment of magic to make her proud. For now though I'll take it bit by bit and get myself ready to tackle a round on the course again when I feel I can do myself justice.

Monday, 1 October 2012

The Flame Has Finally Died

Apologies for the long gap since my last post. When I left you, my mother had just been admitted to a local hospice. It is where she wanted to go, having seen how they cared for my dad in his last few days and she had been getting herself ready mentally for a while to make the journey. She realised it was a one way trip and that she wouldn't be coming home again.

She had entered on Wednesday September 12th which spookily enough was her wedding anniversary. I'm certain she must have known that. The first weekend I spent visiting she was remarkably lucid, bright as a button and fully with it. Her spirit was strong and it was just the body that was weak. However by the following weekend she was a different woman. She barely woke up during the four hours my wife and I stayed and she didn't look like my mum at all.

I got the phone call I'd been dreading in work last Tuesday to say she had got worse and that if I wanted to see her one last time it was best I got to the hospice as quickly as I could. For those that have been in my position they hospice had put her on the Liverpool Care Pathway which is basically the final stages. This can last a few hours or anything up to 72 hours and in essence the patient is given pain relief and while they are not sedated as such, they aren't awake although they can hear voices and will respond with eye movements etc. Having stayed until 2.30am Wednesday morning and with my mum still having a strong pulse and breathing well we were sent home.

We returned midday on Wednesday and I think everyone knew this was the day. When the end did come it was remarkably quick and peaceful. The breathing just slowed and shallowed and at 3.50pm just stopped and she was gone. The staff at the hospice throughout her stay had been second to none but they excelled in our moment of grief and were there to wipe the tears and guide us through the immediate aftermath.

To be honest I had been prepared for the inevitable for a while and can count myself lucky that I had all that time on the Tuesday and again on the Wednesday to say everything I wanted to and be at peace with the outcome. It has actually been a relief in many ways and I'm no longer worrying every time the phone goes or calling every night hoping she hasn't had a day of pain or discomfort.

I am not ready to get back out onto the course just yet and the blogs may be sporadic for a while longer but I just wanted to update you and explain my absence. The funeral is on the 12th October and there is plenty of stuff to be done at the house, with the solicitors and arranging her send off so golf is still on the back burner. I've had a range session tonight which was better than it could have been. I'm still suffering from jangled nerves after the European team's heroic performance at Medinah last night and the late finishes over the three days haven't helped depleted energy reserves.

I said I was prepared but I guess you are never fully ready for that final moment but I'll take comfort in the serenity of it and the fact she was in a place she wanted to be in and was surrounded by her family. I can think of far less appealing ways to finish my time.

From a slightly selfish viewpoint at least I will start to get my weekends back as I won't be making the long trip up to care for her, visit her in hospital, shop or arrange care and medical packages. Golf will be a wonderful escape valve for me and I'm sure it'll continue to frustrate and annoy me but somehow after the passing of my mum, maybe it isn't all consuming. She was the type of woman who would never shower you with praise but you knew on the inside she was as proud as only a mother could be. I'm down to play in a Golf Monthly Day at Woburn next year on March 27th. It would have been her birthday and you know what, I've a feeling she will give me the sort of guidance and motivation Seve gave the European team in the singles. I feel a low, winning performance on the cards.

And there you have it. Death comes to us all and no one is exempt. I hope you'll bear with me a little longer on here and when I come back continue to support my ramblings and thoughts on all things golf.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

It's Been A While - It'll Be A While Longer

Regular followers on here may be wondering about the lack of information or updates. Well the good news is I'm still here and Homer's Odyssey towards single figures is still very much a project in motion. Along with the absence of blogs, the members of Royal Ascot will have realised my omnipresence from the club, especially the practice facilities has gone. The clue is in the golfing diary entry on here "all golf on hold due to family illness."

The truth is my mother has been suffering from that insidious disease cancer. Despite a brave fight that has lasted well beyond her initial eighteen month prognosis, her health since March has started to go downhill. Sadly we are now at the stage where she entered a hospice close to her house and having seen her today, she is well and truly entering the very last stages and time is very short.

St Raphaels Hospice in Sutton (London) - a wonderful place that have been superb in their care for my mother

I had been pulling out of competitions and rounds, sometimes at very late notice to travel to her, sometimes via A&E at her local hospital, sometimes to a ward. She was discharged several times into intermediate care at a place called Dawes House, very close to Clapham Junction station for those that know that part of London. Form there she was always allowed home and the council had put in a very good care package to help her at home and she has had wonderful support from friends and other members of the family. The NHS and council care get a lot of negative press but I've found everyone I've dealt with on this difficult journey nothing but polite and professional.

However it hasn't been fair to the golf club, those drawn to play with me, my regular partners on a Saturday morning or my teaching pro to muck them about. I've not been in the mood to play anyway. I've managed a few sessions on the Royal Ascot practice field or at the local range to work on the stuff from my last lesson early in September. The stuff I've been producing has actually been very good which has only added to the agony as I've wanted to test my better ball striking on the course.

I don't want this to be a woe is me entry but just something to explain my absence. Sadly the loss of family is an inevitable part of life and any of you that have experienced it will understand, especially now the sun is setting on my mother's life, why I want to spend as much of whatever time is left with her.

I am still around, and will be. The Ryder Cup has got my attention and although I think Europe has a super team, I have an inkling that the US will edge them out with home advantage. There is some good looking gear coming out (the new Ping Anser's, the new Mizuno irons etc) and I have still to try the RBZ out fully and satisfy my curiosity. I am down to play a Help 4 Heroes charity day on October 15th (depending on the ongoing situation and outcome) and generally my golfing mojo is still there. However I can't commit mind, time, body or soul at the moment and so a golfing hiatus seems the logical outcome. I will be back!

In the interim, if I do venture forth onto the course especially in a competitive vein I'll be sure to let you know if the handicap starts travelling in the right direction after a few increases in my last few events. I'll continue to bash some balls as and when to keep the swing ticking over and as a cathartic way of clearing my head for a short way. I'm sure you'll understand if the absence does continue for a while but I hope you'll remain loyal and continue to read, comment on, and (hopefully) enjoy what I serve up. I've given the site a bit of a makeover in terms of colour, links etc and have some big plans for 2013 on here and in my golfing journey. I might be a while - the wait will be worth it!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Some New Stuff

I have a confession. I am addicted to Footjoy golf shoes and in particular their Myjoy site where you can design your own styles and colours

I already had fifteen pairs in different models and colours but had recently ordered another pair with the winnings acquired over the year from my monthly medal win and several top three finishes. I had amassed a pleasing £103 in vouchers in the professional shop which meant a brand new pair of top of the range Icons was only costing me £57 in cold hard cash.

My shiny new shoes - just waiting to step onto the course
These Icons in grey and charcoal will go with any number of my trousers and golf shirts so I should look dapper even if my golf isn't always as sharp. So why my "Footjoy fetish?" They were the first brand of shoes I bought for myself as an aspiring teenager and they were comfy, lasted an age and even though I was playing 36 or 54 holes in a day during the school holidays my feet felt fresh and pain free. A love affair was born.

What I love about the Icon and indeed the Dryjoy model (my two preferred versions) is that they feel so comfortable straight from the box and take minimal breaking in. I usually give them a session on the practice ground or the range before heading onto the course but never have an issue once I'm out there. I have been told by my long suffering wife that enough is enough but I can't keep away from the myjoy site and it can become addictive playing with the different styles and colours to create something flamboyant and extravagant or something a bit more quiet and understated.

It isn't just new shoes I've been enjoying. I've just had my clubs regripped by the club pro at Royal Ascot, Alistair White. I've always been a big fan of the Golf Pride Tour Velvet but as he didn't have any in stock and my clubs in dire need of doing, I was persuaded to try some grips by Lamkin and I opted for the rubber crossline version, mainly by the endorsement of the pro having them on his own clubs.

The Lamkin grip - a break away from my usual Tour Velvets
I have to be honest and say these are a joy. My clubs feel like new and these grips offer a wonderful firm but tacky feeling. I'm not totally convinced they will be as durable as the Tour Velvet and I've yet to see how they perform in the wet but so far they are very good and I do like them.

I know you can't buy a golf game but my dear old dad use to tell me, whatever sport I was doing at the time, that if you look good you'll feel good and that will help you play well. I can't really justify the number of shoes but hey some of them provide a talking point if nothing else. The grips were a necessity and although a break away from the norm they are performing well. Whether I'll stick with them or look at the myriad of other grips out there in due course remains to be seen. For now though I'm enjoying my purchases. Happy days.