Monday, 30 January 2012

A Makeover And A Look Ahead

As the more astute will notice my blog has been freshened up for the new year. Hopefully it'll be easier to read and is more pleasing on the eye. As well as continuing to chart Homer's odyssey back towards single figures, I'll also be looking at some of the new gear on offer as and when I get to try it, reviewing a number of courses as I play them and offering a periodical look at those that have had an influence on my game over the years.

I'm glad many of you are visiting regularly and for the most part have been positive in your feedback. If you'd like to say anything, good or bad, about my adventures or would like to see something else included or covered please feel free to get in touch. You can either leave a comment at the bottom of any post or drop me a line via my twitter account for those of you technically enabled at @mbedboro

So where is 2012 going to take me? Initially I plan to build on the progress I've made with Rhys ap Iolo at Downshire Golf Complex and the transition from a mish-mash of swing styles into a solid one plane motion. There is already a lesson in the diary for late February to tackle the thorny issue of my short game and if we can get a swing that repeats, minimising the moving parts, and re-discover the ability to get up and down more often, then the scores will start to drop and we should see some handicap progress. We are dangerously close to hitting the 14 mark again whilst I am never afraid of taking a step back to then take several forward I have always felt that 14 represents a bit of a mental admission of failure. Still it'll be what it'll be. The last time I touched 14 I duly went out the next week and won a club monthly stableford so perhaps it isn't all bad.

I've a few games planned including a couple of Golf Monthly Forum meetings at Woburn 36 holes on the Dukes and Marquess courses and a day at Crowborough Beacon near Eastbourne which looks a fantastic course. There is also a Help for Heroes Charity day in October at Blackmoor Golf Club near Bordon in Hampshire which will be a fantastic day in aid of a superb cause. I'm hoping to interest my club in holding a Powerplay Golf event as it would make a superb social event and would be ready made for a fund raiser for this years captain charity which coincidentally is also Help for Heroes. Other than that I hope to get a few games at courses Royal Ascot has reciprocal agreements with, hope to be picked for a few club matches, and will entering the Volvo knockout with my regular partner Mike Stannard. I'm also on the reserve list for the Trilby Tour and so will hopefully get a spot somewhere in the South Eastern qualifiers. If my "Hackers Guide to Royal Ascot" has whetted your appetite to come along and test your game then let me know. I'm happy to play with anyone and always up for a game.

Above all the aim is to have fun and enjoy my golf. I love the practice and have never been afraid to invest time and energy into working on my game and hopefully now I've got a great teacher working with me I can convert what we do on the range into good scores when it counts on the course. However the over-riding aim is to get out and play, play, play. If it goes poorly then as long as I can say I hit a few good shots and the company was good is there anything to really worry about?

I'm hoping you'll help make this blog a two way street and really get involved in 2012. I plan to offer a dozen golf balls (Pro V, Srixon Z Stars, or Bridgestone 330 RXS) as a prize in a spot competition soon so keep logging on for more details. In the meantime please feel free to get in touch either on here by leaving a comment or via my twitter account and I hope you all enjoy a great 2012 golfing year.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Counting Down The Minutes

6.15pm on Thursday February 2nd 2012 cannot come quick enough. That's the time of my next lesson with Rhys ap Iolo my teaching professional at Downshire Golf Complex. He is a man with a big, big task on his hands especially if yesterdays game in the roll up is anything to go by. Abject, demoralising, incompetent, and embarrassing are some of the more positive adjectives I could use. A sum total of twenty five points with four of them coming courtesy of a last hole birdie.

Where is it all going wrong? Well all I know yesterday that the tempo was way too fast and for some reason I was lifting out of the shots. I thought that was a fault banished to the vaults of my personal golfing room 101 but clearly not. It leads to a myriad of bad shots including topping it, check, pushes and slices right, check and the odd fat effort. Check.

If that was bad enough the ones I did manage to make a good contact on were all slinging right to left hooks. Not bad if you can trust yourself to do it every time but when you're chucking in a galaxy of other no-no's then you stand over the shot mumbling some ancient Inca poem and praying that for once it will go close to the vicinity of a green or fairway. Add in a double hit out of a bunker and the day's misery was complete.

Dear God - please let me find the golf course with the next shot
It had all started so well. I made par at the long 228 yard par three first courtesy of a slinging, running hooked tee shot to the front edge and two putts and salvaged two points for a nett par at the next. On the third the drive went way right and I hit a pretty rotten approach which somehow found the green. I three putted but it was still a net par. And then the rot set in. Big time. I missed the green from 103 yard on the fourth with just a wedge in my hand to chuck a shot away. On the fifth I blasted my six iron approach twenty yards right of target into thick rough. The recovery flew the green and lets just say I didn't trouble the scorer. I thinned my tee shot on the par three sixth straight into a water hazard. Nil points for the second hole running.

Even when I played with a modicum of sense and laid up on the seventh after finding the left rough off the tee, I missed the green with just a sand wedge, chucked in a shanked chip and managed to get up and down to rescue a point. Another blow out on the shortest hole on the course courtesy of a bunker shot over the green. The final nine was brought to an earth shattering conclusion with a double hit out of the greenside bunker. A massive ten points and I was close to walking in and calling it a day.

That would have been defeatist and if there is one about Homer's odyssey in 2012 it's that I'm going to grind out every measly par or point on offer. No quitting and even if it's the game from hell (and yesterday was getting that way) then we're fight until the end.

Every shot is worth something - no quitting in 2012 - grind it out and you'll reap the rewards
I made a nett par on the 10th to lighten the mood a little although the second shot was a fat short of the green from a good drive. However the hooked tee shot on the par three eleventh found its target for a much needed par. I gave that straight back at the next when a topped drive put me on the back foot straight away. A chip and a putt at the thirteenth for par was the last hurrah for the round and although I made a nett par at the penultimate hole I stood on the last tee just wanting to get back into the 19th for a drink.

I hit a decent enough drive, low and hooking but it found the fairway. I hit a similar shot with my five wood for my second and that too found the fairway some 105 yards from the flag. Bearing in mind I'd already missed two greens right from similar distances, (and as you will know if you've read my guide to the eighteenth, there is a lake that cuts in on the right of the green) and so I was determined not to repeat previous errors. In the end it was the swing of the day and deposited the ball six feet from the cup. I rolled in the birdie putt. The previous seventeen holes didn't seem quite such an ordeal.

Faced with the prospect of an afternoon trawling around DIY stores and the shops wit the good lady wife I snuck off too the range in the afternoon. There was some better stuff but i think the issue is a case of getting the club too trapped again and having to use the hands to recover. It certainly felt as the hands were flipping all over the place. We'll see what Rhys makes of it all on Thursday.

In the end, it was only a social game and so the handicap didn't suffer although I left the club a few quid lighter. It's just frustrating that the solid ball striking I've enjoyed before Christmas has disappeared and that when I do recapture it at the range I can't then take it onto the course. I'm sure there is a link there somewhere but we'll take it a step at a time. Get Rhys to find the fix on Thursday and build upon the firmer foundation. It isn't the time to be peaking yet and so we'll file these bad rounds in the "experience" column and move on. Right now though I'm counting down the minutes until 6.15pm on Thursday.

Monday, 23 January 2012

A Hackers Guide To Royal Ascot - Hole 18 (Hungry Hill)

At last, we've reached the final hole. Hopefully you've kept the ball in play and the scorecard is looking good. Beware, as this par 5 has the capability of leaving a dent in an otherwise decent score and there is danger at either end of the hole.

The club website describes the task in hand as:

"Decision time on Hungry Hill. A sweeping par 5 that doglegs right up the hill to a green that is located directly in front of the clubhouse. The scratch player may consider flying the first ditch at 265 yards with his drive. This will leave a 230 yard uphill shot to the green that is located just over a small lake. The sensible play is an opening shot short of the ditch, ensuring you do not block yourself behind the oaks on the left. Keep the second up the left side of the fairway to give a view of green and less water to carry with your third. A par will send you away happy to the 19th hole".

The final drive of the day. The ideal line is on the small bushy tree in the distance
The golfer is faced with an intimidating tee shot. There is a hazard directly in front of the tee box in the form of an environmental area although this shouldn't come into play. However there is an out of bounds that runs down the right side of the hole from the environmental area to the ditch that crosses the fairway. This ditch can come into play, especially when the hole plays down wind and the fairway is running and so care is advised, especially in the summer. The out of bounds should be sufficiently wide but it will catch anything badly sliced or blocked. Care needs to be taken to avoid going too far left as there is an imposing oak on the left side of the fairway by the ditch which will impede progress and require the second shot to be played underneath or shaped around it.

The second shot needs to be aimed towards the left edge of the fairway. This takes the lake that encroaches the right side of the green out of play. Do not stray too far left as the rough is heavy and penal and makes controlling the approach much harder. A decent second shot should leave an approach of between eighty and one hundred and twenty yards or so. There are a line of bunkers down the left side which can catch the second shot, particularly in the summer and there is a bunker lurking behind the green for a shot that is hit too hard. If you have to take on the lake make sure you have enough club.

The view back down the fairway from behind the green
This hole is tricky as the wind direction can be variable. It is predominantly into the wind although in the summer months it can turn around and play with the breeze. The green itself is large and accommodating and relatively flat. The ball will tend to gravitate towards the water and so you need to look at the line carefully and take this into account. A par is not to be sniffed at. The big hitters can take the ditch on off the tee and gamble with their second to set up a potential eagle or birdie chance but for most, play it as a three shotter and use your short game and putter to make a birdie. It is a good finishing hole, playing slightly longer than its yardage as it wanders up a gentle slope back towards the sanctuary of the clubhouse.

Avoid the bunkers left - it's a scary shot with the pond lurking just beyond the green
It is another hole that has caused me many problems, usually straight right out of bounds off the tee or a snap hook into the long rough on the left of the fairway. However I've been known to be in prime position off the tee and then hit a horror shot left or right into deep, deep rough. The right hand side has a plantation of young trees and the rough is ankle deep at best and deeper in places so this is the last place you want to go. Left isn't much better but there is a chance to find the ball and recover. Even when I've hit two decent shots, the lake is always there and plants the seed of doubt in your mind. I've been known to find a watery grave when a well executed shot would have yielded a rewarding par. The bunkers left of the green are also a dangerous place to be as the lake is only just over the other side and the green and fringe slopes back towards the aqua. It takes a steady nerve to splash out with confidence.

On the flip side, hit two good shots to leave a simple approach and there is a real chance to close out with a birdie. The green isn't too tricky and although it slopes a little from back to front it there is nothing that should intimidate. If you haven't got the pace by now you never will. Hit your approach safely on the green, make your par and you can walk off a happy golfer. Hopefully the scorecard will still be intact.

I hope you've enjoyed the tour of the course and that it has whetted your appetite to come along and play. You can be assured of a friendly welcome and a good test of golf at anytime of the year. It is a course where the par 3's will make or break your score and although it does offer birdie chances, there is danger lurking on every hole and each one needs to treated with respect and played on its merits. Come along and enjoy the challenge and tell them Homer sent you.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

A Good Old Fashioned Whooping

It was the second round of the Winter knockout yesterday and my partner Mike Stannard and I were taking on Alan Cutler and Peter Spriggs in a keenly awaited match. We'd arranged to play last week but with the course on temporary greens, the consensus was that it would a much fairer result to delay and play on the proper course. We'd gone out and played on the frozen course as a four anyway and halved the game and it had merely whetted the appetite further for this encounter.

The course was damp in places and there was a gusty wind blowing as we stood on the first tee under a leaden sky although we'd been promised no rain by that lovely young girl that does the weather on BBC news. None of us hit great tee shots on the first but Alan set what was going to be the tone throughout by pitching to five feet and holing for an unlikely par and a one up lead.

My partner was using brand new custom fitted Titleist clubs that had never seen the golf course before and he hit a peach of a christening drive down the second. However he and I both proceeded to make heavy weather of the hole and I was standing over a twenty foot putt downhill and a breaking both ways for a half. To be honest it was perfect in every sense and dropped dead centre. It should have been a catalyst for us to kick on but in truth both Mike and I were playing poorly. We gave the third away and a double bogey six was good enough for the win. We repeated the mistake at the fifth and were suddenly three down.

Even when we looked like getting a hole back Peter or Alan were finding ways to make a half and were gelling perfectly as a team. We were trying but nothing was clicking and one good hole was followed by a bad one. Indeed at times both Mike and I were struggling to put two consecutive shots together. I tossed the seventh away with gay abandon with a three putt from fifteen feet. Even when I executed perfectly as I did on the ninth with a good drive and a rifled 5 wood, set out over the right hand bunker to allow for the fierce wind, there wasn't to be any reward. I was out by a foot or so and the shot caught the left hand bunker but rather than find the bottom of the trap this ball lodged towards the back lip. I was faced with a stance with one foot in and one foot out of the bunker. I didn't contribute further after my first attempt to escape.

With a huge deficit to make up we needed a fast start on the back nine and it never came. Mike went right off the tenth tee and I missed the green with my approach. We got one back at the next when for once both Alan and Peter found trouble together and I made the most of the shot I got at the twelfth to hole out from three feet for another half. However the gap was insurmountable and with Peter making a par of his own and Alan a nett par with his shot it was "Goodnight Irene" and we were humbled 5&4 on the fourteenth green.

The opposition played good golf but to be honest both Mike and I were poor by our own standards and we certainly didn't replicate the form we'd shown in the friendly encounter last week. On the plus side, Mike was hitting his new clubs pretty solidly and it was his normally reliable short game and putting that were out of kilter. In my case it was a case of not knowing what was coming next. One good shot, one destructive one. It wasn't good enough and to be honest apart from two or three holes I let Mike down a fair bit.

The chance of glory has gone, in that event at least. We'll have a go in the pairs better ball stableford in February and I think we'll go into the Volvo knockout again this year. We've issues to resolve from last year and need closure following our defeat at the first extra hole to an outrageous forty yard putt from off the putting surface that cannoned into the flag dead centre and dropped. If it hadn't it was going off the green. The one and only time the opposition had led all day. Like I say, we've got unfinished business in that event.

What can you do but hold your hands up and say we got a good old fashioned beating. The golf wasn't good enough and from my own perspective I need Rhys ap Iolo to give the swing another look. I know what I 'm trying to achieve and when I get it right, oh boy is it good, but its doing it for eighteen holes that's the big issue right now. Still it's winter golf, the course is playing its longest, the wind was difficult (not using it as an excuse) and the swing was found wanting. As long as I get my game on track for the opening salvo at Woburn on March 29th then I'll be happy.

Monday, 16 January 2012

A Hackers Guide To Royal Ascot - Hole 17 (Furlong)

The second in the trilogy of tough closing holes is the last of the par 3's and it's another brute measuring 218 yards off the white tees. It's another with a dangerous out of bounds lurking along the left hand edge and with penal rough waiting for anything sliced or pushed too far to the right.

The club website describes the hole as follows
"Another tough par 3 of some 220 yards. Bunkers guard both sides of the green and the putting surface is generously contoured. Play a low chasing shot at the right side of green as the slope will assist to feed it on to the green."

The ideal line is on the right hand greenside bunker as the ball does move right to left on landing. Anything hit too straight or towards the left side will run away and find the left hand greenside bunker. Although it is stroke index 13 and over two hundred yards in length it tends to play predominantly down wind and this does make it more accessible to club golfers. If you are going to miss the green, then short is by far the better option and gives a pitch down the length of the long but narrow putting surface. If you miss it too far right, you are faced with a devilish chip over the bunker and onto a down slope which makes getting the ball adjacent to any flag position a tricky proposition, especially coming from the thick rough on that side. Miss it too far left and it will find the out of bounds. If it is still in play the second will need to flirt with the edge of the left hand bunker.

A view from halfway down the hole - you can see how the ball will gather from the right

The green itself slopes from right to left and there is a perceptible but deceiving slope from back to front. It is a good shot to find the putting surface with the tee shot but no guarantee that a par is in the bag. This green is one that has a lot of subtle borrows that fool many players and sometimes the best policy on those tricky short ones is to keep it inside the hole, hit it firmly and pray it drops.

Coming up straight and short is by far the best option - it leaves a relatively easy chip
This is a hole that tends to drain well and so the ball will run, even in the winter. It does mean though that stopping it in the summer can be tricky and the golfer is faced with a choice of carrying it all the way with a fairway wood, hybrid or long iron and looking for some check on the first bounce or playing it short and trying to gauge the roll and the line. For the talented player, a fade off the left hand trap, landing softly and gathering in would be the perfect shot.

This has the potential to be a real card wrecker coming as close to the end as it does. I've managed to rack up some impressively big numbers, either hooking it left out of bounds or coming to grief in the sand particularly the deep right hand trap. A par is always a good result here and a four for many won't be the end of the world with a par 5 following. A birdie is a rare beast here and usually worth much silver. As with all the par 3's at Royal Ascot, it is a hole that asks a lot of questions and is a real test. Make sure you don't ruin the card so late in the day and take the par if you can and move off with undue haste.

Sunday, 15 January 2012


It has been just like Winter this weekend. Gone was the milder weather we'd enjoyed over Christmas and in came freezing temperatures and frost. The latter was a real pain as it meant temporary greens at Royal Ascot yesterday. I was due to play yesterday in the pairs Winter knockout second round but the opposition, my partner and I were all in agreement that trying to play a match on temporary greens was a lottery and any win would be hollow. It was a shame as it was a beautifully sunny day.

That said we decided to play a round together anyway. Alan Cutler is a dangerous golfer off 15. Diminutive in stature he is a gritty fighter who can tonk the ball a good way. He's ably supported by Peter Spriggs who can be another handful off his 12 handicap. In the end, we shared the spoils with Alan and Peter coming back from dormie two down to halve the game on the 18th. No psychological advantage gained or lost and it was great fun and a real appetiser for the main event next week. The deadline for the game to be played falls next weekend and so we're be out whatever the weather. I think you can safely predict torrential rain and gales for 8.30am next Saturday.

I hit it reasonably well in places given the conditions. I guess the highlight would be making an eagle at the par 5 15th, even though the hole was shortened. The approach was a bit of a low running hook but it ended up six feet away and so I'll take substance over style all day long. I followed it with a cracking drive down the tough 16th (see my latest Hackers Guide to see how tight the drive is) and then nailed a 5 iron from 171 yards. It fizzed off the club and was as pure as I can hit it. It reminded me why the hard work I've been putting in on the new one plane swing is worth the effort.

I always feel short changed playing on temporary greens but the company was superb. It was a friendly game and we all hit some good and bad shots. Next week will be more serious but I'm sure we'll enjoy it as much and at least win or lose we can walk way knowing the result hadn't been influenced by the frozen ground and temporary greens making putting a lottery.

As there was another frost overnight I decided to be pro-active and hit the range this morning, keen to build on the progress I'd been making with my swing. As it turned out I had one of those sessions where nothing really worked. I knew what I was working on, what I was trying to achieve and how to get to the end result but couldn't find a way to make it happen on a regular basis. It was good in parts and hugely frustrating in others. In the end I think I got too bogged down on it being right and not focused enough on enabling. Back to substance over style. I know my teaching professional Rhys ap Iolo keeps banging on about it not having to be picture book, but I want it to be as sound as possible technically so come the moment of truth and I'm up there competing in 2012, I can just swing and rely on the outcome.

I've been hampered all week with a very sore back. It felt like a trapped nerve or even worse a re-occurrence of sciatica but I had a chiropractic session on Friday afternoon. They've said it was just muscular and have manipulated a few joints and given me a deep massage and touch wood we're back to normal. I can't say I felt it playing yesterday and certainly not on the range so I can't blame that for todays poor session. I've some exercises to do to keep it loose and I need to make sure I keep it warm and rub some old fashioned Deep Heat in regularly but it shouldn't stop me hitting balls this week.

I'm close to where I want to be. I know where it is going wrong and I've gone back to the Plane Truth website (Rhys teaches the Plane Truth system and pupils can get a 10 day trial of the site and then choose to subscribe for a year - well worth doing) and watched the video clips on the cause of the problem and curing the faults and have a clear mental picture of what I need to do.

The plan is to put the hard work in this week, get the swing into a nice groove and go out and enjoy the match on Saturday. My partner Mike Stannard was up in St Ives last week at the Titleist fitting centre and he's gone and got himself a new bag of custom fitted clubs. There is a very real chance they could be here this week and he's threatening to take them out into battle next weekend. Personally I'm thinking about giving our club pro a bung to say they haven't been delivered yet.

And so another weekend passes by. I feel short changed golfing wise but at least the back is better and I can put some work in again. My mantra this year will be "SUBSTANCE OVER STYLE" and it doesn't have to look pretty, just work and get the ball in the hole. We'll work on trying to get it right, and I'm going to be booking another lesson soon anyway. If I can get it on the right track before then, it'll make it easier to sort what needs fixing without going back over old grounds.

This is the year Rhys and I get my game to a new level. I was happy to set the bar at a handicap of 10 but I think he's got the aim of single figures. I'll need a brand new short game for that but we'll wait for better conditions before we tackle that can of worms and we'll look at the swing for now. Short term its about winning next week any which way and booking a quarter-final berth. The rest we'll worry about afterwards. Game on and let the hard work commence.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

A Hackers Guide To Royal Ascot - Hole 16 (Woodend)

We're on the run for home now but what a run. Three very difficult and demanding holes remain starting with this 425 yard par 4. It is basically a straight hole but there is danger lurking.

The club website describes the hole as:

Hang on to your hat, the start to a difficult finish. A tough, long and tight par 4 where the drive is everything. To secure your round ensure you get drive in play. If you have to play a four iron from the tee to keep it in play that should be the choice. The bunker that appears to guard the front right of the green is some 25 yards from the putting surface. Don’t be fooled into taking too short a club. Use your stroke wisely on this hole."

The problem starts off the tee. Out of bounds runs the length of the driving area and is a matter of some ten yards left so anything starting off left will be in mortal danger. Similarly, get the ball to turn over right to left and the same fate awaits.

The tee shot - you can see how close the out of bounds left is. Scary
The ideal line is at the left hand big oak on the right side of the fairway. This give a little margin for error. If you over compensate, whilst there is rough to contend with and going for the green is taken out of the equation, it does offer sanctuary from the card wrecking reload off the tee. It tends to play down wind and so a good shot will sail past the trees on the right. The tree line left stops opposite these big trees and the fairway opens up beyond that.

Arguably the best looking hole on the course. The trees make a perfect backdrop whatever the season
Assuming the drive has been safely negotiated, the second shot can range from a fairway wood or hybrid (the big tree right is some 200 yards from the centre of the green) to a mid iron if you hit a good one and get it past the timber and it runs. As the website says, there is a bunker short of the green which does fore-shorten the hole considerably and is to be avoided. Anything leaking too far right runs the risk of finding the lateral hazard to the right of the hole and the out of bounds beyond and there is also another bunker about ten yards short and left of the green.

The green is surrounded left and right by contoured mounds and so anything missing the green will find a tricky lie. The green itself is generous and relatively flat. It's stroke index three and in the opinion of many members is a harder proposition than either of the two harder ranked holes on the course.

This hole has laid claim to many a good round including some of mine. I came to the 16th in a midweek medal +6 gross (off a 14 handicap). Inevitably I hooked the first tee shot left and although I made a bogey with the second ball it cost me a double bogey and paved the way to a 6, 6, 6 finish (double, treble, single bogey). A few days later in the monthly medal I arrived at the tee +5 gross and proceeded to replicate my error and compile a similar 6, 6, 6 finish.

It's a beautiful looking hole, running down towards the green almost cut out of the trees (hence the name) and it is flanked on the left and behind with a number of different species. It never fails to impress whatever the weather or season and for a moment you can take your mind off the the potential tale of glory or woe and enjoy the scenery.

It's definitely not for the faint hearted and you need to pick a club off the tee you can trust even if that means losing distance and then using your shot to make a score. If you do pull the big stick out, choose your line wisely, stick to your plan and trust the swing. If you can make a par here, you'll definitely pick up at least one shot against the field. Treat the hole with respect but don't let it intimidate.

Monday, 9 January 2012

A Chance Spurned

Yesterday saw the first competitive outing of 2012 in the January monthly stableford at Royal Ascot. The course was in good condition for the time of year and given the heavy deluges it suffered last week. I'd played on Saturday in the normal roll up and hadn't played too badly in patches. The swing wasn't as fluid as it had been in recent weeks but I hadn't had a chance to practice, primarily due to the gale force winds and torrential rain. I know I'm keen but even I draw the line somewhere and there was no mileage hitting the range and bashing balls in those conditions.

The new positive and forward thinking Homer wasn't deterred and I was looking forward to the competition. I'd been drawn with John Munday, a good player off 5. I'd recently played against John in the 1st round of the Winter Knockout (4 ball better ball pairs). We'd narrowly beaten John (who wasn't very well on the day anyway) and his partner thanks in main to the consistency of my wing man rather than any earth shattering contribution from me. The third member of our ensemble was gentle giant Mike Goodwin, playing off 11. I've played with Mike a few times and he's impeccable company. All was set for a good game.

In truth, I never really got going. A net par at the first was followed by a par at the 535 yard second. I didn't really hit a solid shot on the hole and par was secured courtesy of a fifteen foot putt. I made par at the third. Again it wasn't pretty with poor contact on the drive and approach and another single putt from eight feet. It couldn't last and a huge block right off the fourth tee lay the foundations for a bogey although there wasn't really an excuse for missing the green from the position the tee shot finished in.

After that, the wheels fell off mid-round. I hit a shocking tee shot on the par three sixth hole and deservedly lost a ball. No points there. I followed that up by missing the green right on the shortest hole on the course, the 139 yard par three eighth. I could only get the bunker shot out onto the lip of the trap and although I played a good recovery from a tricky lie I couldn't hole the six footer to rescue a point.

Out in fifteen points, it was scant reward for the good start I had made. I really hadn't made a decent swing and it was the same story at the start of the back nine. I chipped and putted to rescue a par at the tenth and then hit my tee shot some twenty yards wide of the target on the par three eleventh. I rescued a net par. A thinned drive into cabbage on the next put me on the back foot and I did well to make a net par again. After that it was a tale of too many poor drives, being out of position and never giving myself a chance to recover any of the lost ground. Even a good chip and putt for par at the seventeenth didn't really help and was followed by a hooked drive and an annoying double bogey for a solitary point to finish.

The seventeen points on the back nine would point to a decent second half performance but it was a long way from that and was an exercise in recovery play on almost every hole. It was a real struggle. In the end the final tally of thirty two points was good enough for ninth place in division two. The real disappointment was that level par, thirty six points, was good enough to win the division. That should have been well within my compass. The only redeeming feature was the fact the the Competitive Scratch Score (CSS) went out from par 70 to 71 (+1) and so I managed to hit the buffer zone and so there was no handicap increase. There wasn't too much of a breeze, it wasn't particularly cold and the course wasn't saturated so I've no idea why scoring was so high.

So why did it go so wrong? I really don't know if I'm honest. I hit it respectably enough in my pre-round warm up and the ball striking on Saturday wasn't as bad as the competitive performance. The swing just felt way out of sync, too long, too quick, not in the right position on the back swing and I was definitely losing spine angle and coming out of most shots. A cacophony of disasters. I'd like to think it was down to not hitting any balls last week but I'm sure that is too simplistic an answer. I felt on Saturday I wasn't staying down on the shot and noticed it was impacting my distances with each club. When the swing had been flowing pre and post Christmas the ball striking was much purer and I was hitting it further. I'm sure its the old problem of an over swing which is moving everything out of kilter and I can't get the club in the right place at the top of the back swing. From there everything is a compensatory move and frankly I'm not talented enough to recover the club into impact on a regular basis.

On the plus side I scrambled pretty well and for once my short game was free of inhibitions and could flow. My putting was pretty solid less one missed two footer on the thirteenth but other than that I holed out well and made some good longer putts too.

The way I see it, if I can still accumulate a respectable points tally and be within touching distance of a top three finish playing as badly as that it actually bodes very well once we get the game back on track. With the old swing (pre Plane Truth and switching to a one plane set up) there would have been even more moving parts. Even when it wasn't going well I knew what I was trying to do going back and coming into impact and beyond even if I couldn't quite manage to recreate what the brain was telling the body to do.

I wasn't alone in seeing it as a missed opportunity. Poor John double bogied the seventeenth which would have given him a tie for the top spot in division one. However from my own perspective it was a golden opportunity to start the year with a top free finish and a handicap cut. I'm off to the range this week to focus on getting the club in a better position on the back swing and a feeling of it pulling left and turning on top of the ball on the way through. I've proved it is in there and the things Rhys my teaching pro is getting me to work on are correct so I have total faith in where we are going. I just need to replicate it. I need to bear in mind it is still only a month since the changes started and it was the first competitive round so maybe, just maybe, I've been lulled into a bit of a false sense of security with the way I played over the Christmas break. We can all do with the odd wake up call and reality check from time to time and maybe this was mine.

As long as I can get the ball striking back at the range this week we've not got much to worry about. It's just so frustrating when the winning score was so low that I couldn't have brought even my B or C game to the party which would have been enough. Next week is another round. I'm hungrier than ever now.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

2012 - Another Year (Time To Get Serious)

A belated happy new year to everyone. I hope the holiday season saw you enjoy time with friends and loved ones and the return to work hasn't been too much of a shock to the system. So here we are, another year. What does it hold in store for Homer's Odyssey towards single figures?

I've never been a great one for resolutions and I've given up setting goals, particularly in terms of golfing achievements. They've proved cumbersome and led me in too many wrong directions, loss of focus and become too demanding. The plan is still to get to single figures and with the help of Rhys ap Iolo at Downshire Golf Centre and the Plane Truth method he's teaching me it seems (well according to him anyway) achievable. However I'm not going to set any dates or targets to achieve this. Play well and the rest will take care of itself. First thing on the agenda for the new year is a short game lesson. It's just holding everything else back. Part mental and part technique, I've got myself in a muddle over what I'm trying to do, how to do it and what to be thinking about rather than "please don't hit it fat or thin this time."

After that, we'll work hard on getting the swing tighter and working better and see where it takes me. The plan is to try and maintain my record of at least one medal or stableford division win per year. If I play in any Golf Monthly events, a repeat of the national final performance and maybe going one step further and winning would be nice. Their online forum hold a number of get togethers each year and I'm down to play Woburn in March, Camberley Heath in June and Cooden Beach near Eastbourne in August. Some very good golfers get along to these and although they are supposedly fun days, the competition (and the banter) is fierce.

Other than that I hope to enter the Volvo matchplay with my regular and long standing partner Mike Stannard from Royal Ascot. I might enter the individual event too. I'm also on the reserve list for the Trilby Tour, another national event sponsored by bespoke tailor William Hunt and covered on television by Sky Sports. I'm not sure if or where I'll play but this event attracts the creme de la creme of handicap golfers and with only the top four at each venue going into a there hole sudden death playoff to decide the winner, I'm going for the experience and to measure my game and not placing any expectations on my shoulders.

It was an up and down year for Homer's Odyssey in 2011 with the handicap going the wrong way but performances picking up over the closing part of the year. The aim is for less of a rollercoaster this year and to get the handicap heading south back to low numbers. Whatever happens the main thing is to enjoy the golf, the people I meet and the courses I play. It's not life or death, well not quite. Work hard in practice, trust my teaching professional and follow the instruction. Step onto the first tee with 100% confidence and belief in my ability and go for it.

There is a lot of new and exciting equipment launches due in the early part of the year including the new Ping I range of driver, fairway woods, hybrids and irons. The pictures look sumptuous and I am keen to give the driver and irons a go. Taylormade have already announced the release of the Rocketballz, or RBZ (much easier) range to replace the Burner line and it has stirred a lot of interest from professionals, journalists and one or two lucky enough to have hit the woods. They are introducing an R11S driver too with even more adjustability. I'm a magpie to anything new and shiny and no doubt I'll be giving plenty of gear a go in the new year and if I do I'll share my thoughts, good or bad.

Here's to 2012 then. It's going to be fun so stay for the ride. If you want to follow the ups and down on a regular basis, follow me on Twitter @mbedboro

I hope your golfing year is as good as it can be and brings you all you want. I'm looking forward to working hard on my game and trying to steer the good ship Homer towards single figure handicap and picking up the odd prize along the way.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

A Hackers Guide To Royal Ascot - Hole 15 (FJ Patton)

Named after an eminent barrister of his day, this short par five offers the longer hitters a chance to reach in two and set up a good birdie opportunity. This is one of the few holes on the course that perhaps provides the average player a little mental relaxation. As the stroke index of 15 and a distance of 478 yards show, there isn't too much to frighten anyone.

FJ Patton was instrumental in getting golf onto the Ascot Heath and set up the first organised club in January 1887 as plain Ascot Golf Club although there was nothing plain about the club itself. The President was HRH Prince Christian of Shleswig-Holstein who was married to Queen Victoria's third daughter, Princess Helena. The Captain was the Earl of Coventry. Patton himself became the Secretary and at the end of the year wrote to the Home Office on behalf of the club committee "to ask Her Gracious Majesty may be graciously pleased to permit the Club to style itself 'Royal'." Ten days later on 29th December 1887 the reply came. " Her Majesty has been graciously pleased to accede to your request and command that the club shall be called The Royal Ascot Golf Club."

A short par 5 that gives a good opportunity for par or better
The club website describes playing the hole thus:

"A par 5 that dog legs left and is reachable by the longer hitters. Aim your drive towards the oak on the right side of fairway. Keep second shot straight to avoid penal rough to both the left and right of the fairway. A good chance to pick up a shot to par as the green is large and reasonably flat".

What it doesn't mention is the fact that there is a ditch that runs across the fairway except for a tiny sliver of grass, no more than ten yards across, at about the 250 yard mark, which puts it very much in range for the longer hitters. It needs an arrow like shot to ensure the ball runs on to the second part of the fairway and set up an iron into the green.

The large oak on the edge of the fairway is the line
The large oak that is the aiming point of the tee marks the proximity of the ditch. However for most, it isn't an issue off the tee. There is a large bunker on the left edge that can catch an errant drive and if you are going to err, then missing the fairway right is better than left.

As the hole bends, there is a large area of heavy rough, saplings, ferns and general golfing nastiness to contend with. The key is to avoid missing the fairway left off the tee and finding the rough. This brings all the rubbish firmly into play and even with a short or mid iron, if the lie is poor it's 50/50 whether you'll clear the trouble. It takes a par out of the equation. If you go too far right the big oak comes into play and can block the obvious approach. The sensible second shot is to aim at the large bunker some forty yards short of the green, making sure of course to either lay up short or if you are taking the green on, that you have enough firepower to clear it.

Both sides of the fairway has juicy rough which makes finding the green in regulation a lot harder if you don't find the short grass with the second shot. If you are taking the green on, apart from the bunker short, there is a large bunker left and long is dead. Beyond the green there is very long rough, trees and bushes and these are a matter of yards from the back fringe so there really isn't any margin for error.

A welcoming target
A good lay up will leave only a short iron into the green. It's a fairly big target with a step running through the centre of it. It isn't a huge feature but it does make reading the lines and judging the pace that little bit harder.

One of the flatter greens on the course
It is the only hole to date I've managed to eagle after finding the green in two but it has also cost me many shots over the years. It should be an easy hole and I think a lot of golfers, myself included, mentally switch off and make poor swings or lose position. It can be a two shotter but it can also be a struggle as it often plays directly into the wind. It's a well thought out risk and reward hole. If you lay back to take the ditch out of play off the tee, you go in with a longer second shot and can risk being long and in all sorts of grief. If you go for it off the tee it needs to be true but it will leave a mid iron in and make it easier to attack the flag with control.

This is really the last chance to get a shot back. The closing holes are very tough and not for the faint hearted. Enjoy the rest while you can and hopefully you'll walk off with par or better. Then the battle to the finish really begins.