I played a nice social game with a good friend and fellow Royal Ascot member Paul Sweetman this morning. It's always an enjoyable experience and we have a great time playing together and chew the fat as we wander around. The weather was a perfect Spring like day and very warm for the time of year and the course looked as pretty as a picture. We play a head to head stableford competition and the loser buys a civilised round of tea and toast in afterwards. Paul is a tough cookie, very steady off his 12 handicap and with a wonderful short game so I knew it would be a hard battle especially as I hadn't set the world alight in the roll up yesterday and hadn't taken any of the good practise work I'd done this week out onto the course.
Things started much brighter and I hit the green at the long 228 yard opener. With Paul finding the left hand bunker I was feeling confident of drawing first blood but he played a wonderful twenty yard shot from the stand stone dead for par. Suddenly my twenty five foot putt wasn't looking so easy but I managed to match his par. I hit a great drive at the second and rifled a five wood to within a hundred yards of the green but then made a costly error. I went pin seeking, caught it a little thin and rifled it over the back of the green. Paul made regulation par and I was a point behind.
I should have capitalised at the next where he failed to score after an errant drive but my second shot found the right hand bunker and I failed to escape first time. I got the point back from the previous hole but it should have been better. My bogey lost to his par at the next and the scores were reversed at the par five 5th where I made my five and Paul bogied. It was nip and tuck throughout and to be honest I was striking the ball a lot better than Saturday's round but was still not turning properly or swinging as I had done at the range. The short game was costing me and I couldn't buy a putt.
The back nine was equally tight and there some good shots and a few wayward ones. In my case the weakness in my short game technique was shown up on the 11th and 13th where I missed the green and had a chip off a bare muddy lie. In both cases I caught it way too thin and knifed it way past the hole. Fortunately though there is a short game lesson booked for tomorrow and I'm praying Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Centre is going to give me a foolproof technique and clear the gremlins and muddy thoughts from my head. If I knuckle down and work on what he shows me then anything resembling an adequate short game is still going to be better than what I have now and save me shots. Bunkers are an issue too but we might have to look at those separately.
On the 16th Paul hit his tee shot out of bounds and I found the middle of the fairway. He couldn't score and all I had to do was make sure I took no more than five (nett four) for a two shot swing. I had 182 yards left for the second and it should have been either an easy hybrid or if I had my thinking head on, a lay up to around fifty yards and a simple pitch on hopefully close enough to single putt. Instead I decided I could macho a 4 iron to the green. Everything moved on the shot and all I succeeded in doing was thin it into the bunker some fifty yards short of the green. No need to panic yet. A simple shot on the green and all was good. Well actually no, all was not good. I caught the ball way too clean and it flew over the green and into deep, deep grass perilously close to the out of bounds. We couldn't find it and I had failed to score too and made what would ultimately be a costly error.
We shared the points at the penultimate hole and I had found the green in regulation at the last. Paul had been forced to lay up but had managed to make a six (nett five and par). I had a twenty yard putt downhill and right to left. I thought I'd hit it well but it broke more than I had allowed and ran three feet past. I couldn't make the return. It was the first and only three putt I'd made all day.
In the end, I'd finished with 32 points but Paul had done me with 34. I'd have two holes that I hadn't scored on including that horror at the 16th and two single point holes on top of that so we were perhaps four or five shots away from playing to or beating my handicap. As several of those shots were poor bunker shots or badly played chips at least I can say the ball striking was better today. The driving in particular was a lot more encouraging.
It's back to repetition work tomorrow and the rest of the week hitting shots and rehearsing and feeling the correct one plane turn, clearing the hips, feeling the club exiting low and left and that I'm hitting down on the ball. I've gone back through the tuition and drill videos Rhys has sent me and I am confident it is in there. It boils down to trust ultimately and clearly somewhere in the sub-conscious I don't fully trust myself with it yet. On the plus side I managed to get it round with very few dramas and that was pleasing. With Paul having reactivated his full membership this year from a restricted one I can look forward to a lot more duels with my old foe and hopefully we can take advantage of some reciprocal arrangements the club has and take our battles to other courses.
In the end all that was left to do was for me to get the tea in. One lump or two?