Following on from the poor round that was the Saturday morning roll up, yesterday saw myself and regular partner Mike Stannard paired up in the Royal Ascot 4 ball better ball stableford competition. It's played off 3/4 handicap and so I was playing off 10 and Mike was deep into the realms of a single figure golfer and off 7. It was bitterly cold and there was a strong breeze which really had teeth and made it uncomfortably nippy and challenging to play in. I was actually hitting it well in the warm up and felt confident Mike would be his usual Mr Consistency and help carry me along if the swing was still mis-firing. We were paired with Norman Barker, ex-secretary of Royal Ascot, ex-RAF, member of the club for years and thoroughly pleasant chap. He was with George Spence, one of the "characters" in the 19th, extremely funny, very quick fire with his humour, and on his day a tough golfer to beat.
I actually started off well for the team and although the tee shot was ropey, I did enough to secure a nett par and two points on the opener. However any thoughts that this would be the day the changes bedded in lasted as far as the second hole and a carved slice out of bounds. I was to follow that with a hooked tee shot at the third as well. Fortunately my man was there in a crisis and bailed us out. We both made a horlicks of the 4th to drop a point and both missed chances at the next to get the lost point back.
We were dodging bullets more than taking the game to the course and in the end our total of 16 points going out was probably as good as we could have hope for. Mike wasn't playing as well as he can. As for me, the determination was there but the execution was leaving a lot to be desired and the swing was still not working. Again, I knew what I wanted to do and couldn't convert the swing from the practise ground to the course.
I started the back nine in the same manner as the front and came in for a nett par. I did the same at the next as well and suddenly there was a minor epiphany. The swing suddenly woke up. I hit a pearler off the 12th tee which was unfortunate to find a horrid bare and muddy lie. The tee shot on the 186 yard par three was right out the middle and flew straight at the target with a hint of draw. It landed close to the pin and I have to be honest and say I was getting nervous. There was a big field assembled and not really the ideal day for buying drinks for a hole in one. In the end it finished some six feet away but it was a tricky left to right downhill putt which I couldn't really attack. I made par.
Good tee shots followed at the next two holes and I was keeping the scoreboard ticking over. I didn't hit a good one at the 16th but managed to redeem the situation and make another nett par. I had a nightmare down the penultimate hole but Mike was there to mop up, hitting the green and making a regulation par although the second putt was a lot harder than it needed to be.
Mike hit a wonder drive down the last but wasn't getting a shot. The pressure was on me to follow his lead as I was getting a shot and we wanted to finish in a bit of glory at least. We knew we'd left too much to do and wouldn't be in contention but thought a top 10 place was there for the taking.
I hit it solidly but a bit left. I needed to hit a big hook to take the large tree in front of my direct line out of play and to get maximum distance on a hole that is usually a little damp underfoot and plays into the wind. I produced a stunner. Starting towards the right rough it flew high and majestically and moved some fifteen feet in the air back into the middle of the fairway. I was left with 118 yards in. It would normally be a nine iron but into the wind and with a pond to the right of the green to consider I opted for an easy eight iron. I didn't hit it flush but it stopped some ten feet away. Mike had played the hole well and his approach was just outside mine. He went first and rolled it in for a wonderful birdie and three valuable points.
Mine was downhill with a hint of left to right. I aimed about a ball width left of the hole and hit the putt. It never really looked anywhere else but dead centre. Four, nett three and four points for the team. Poor old George and Norman had got inside our efforts but the hole seemed minute after our birdie putts and neither could convert.
In the end, my birdie was enough to give us 20 points coming home and a total of 36 overall. In the 19th there were lots of tales of what might have been and that the front nine was as brutal as many of us could remember in the teeth of the wind. In the end, our score was good enough for a very respectable 8th place. Bearing in mind I barely made a contribution on the front and that Mike was having a real up and down day too it was a case of "how did we manage that?" and that on even a slightly better ball striking day we could have been right up there. It was funny looking at the card. Mike had come in on seven out of nine holes on the front half and I'd done the same on the back and contributed on seven out of nine. I guess it shows that even when we haven't got our A or even our B games we can still gel as a team. Much promise for the summer then.
For me it's back to the range this week and work on that hip turn through impact and getting the club on a steeper plane on the downswing and working properly after I've hit it. It is in there and it's more a question of re-programming twenty plus years of swinging one way. Teaching this old dog new tricks is going to take time, fortitude and sheer bloody mindedness but my teaching professional promises the end results will be worth it and I believe him. The back nine showed the potential and its time to let it grow.