Saturday, 31 March 2012


Woburn Golf Club has three iconic courses all of which feature in the top 100 in the UK and this prestigious venue has played host to many top professional events over the years. On Thursday it hosted another. The Golf Monthly Forum Meeting. If you haven't a clue what this is, click on the Golf Monthly Forum link on the right hand side of the page. It is an internet chat forum hosted by Golf Monthly magazine for like minded golf addicts to talk about all aspects of the game (and non-golfing topics) and share advice and opinion. It is quite simply the best golf forum on the web. Thirty or so golfers from there travelled from all over England to play thirty six holes over the Marquess and Dukes courses.

In 1974 the 14th Duke of Bedford, who was then the Marquess of Tavistock was faced with the possibility of Bow Brickhill Heath being taken over as a country park for Milton Keynes. Fortunately he had the vision and the courage to see that a world class golf facility could be created. The weather was set fair but I had been struggling with a severe case of man flu and was distinctly under the weather upon arrival. I hit a bucket of balls on the range and everything ached and I felt so weak and tired. Not what you want when facing two tough examinations of golf.

The Marquess' Course at Woburn Golf Club opened for play in 2000. The course is laid out over 200 acres of mature woodland featuring tall pines, oak, beech and birch trees. Winding through this fabulous landscape is a collection of tree lined holes which are unrivalled anywhere in the United Kingdom. It is easy to get lulled into a false sense of security here as a feature of the course is big, wide fairways. Stand on the first tee and there seems to be acres of space to drive the ball. The fairways are wider than The Duke or Duchess Courses, but finding the right place on the fairway is just one of many keys to playing the Marquess' well. We were to learn that lesson very quickly.

Where the layout differs most from the other two courses is in the construction and siting of the putting greens. Big undulations combined with subtle borrows and lightening fast surfaces are the order of the day on The Marquess. Put the ball above the hole on many greens and getting down in two putts is going to be difficult. Of the three courses at Woburn this is the one that will yield the most three putts, and is not the sort of course to play if you suffer from a case of the yips. A premium is placed on the tee shot to ensure that you can hit the right part of the green with your approach shot. Hit the wrong spot and getting the ball close to the hole is going be a challenge. The Marquess' course requires a golfer to take risks and hit good shots. Hit good golf shots and you will be rewarded. Be slightly off your game and you will pay penalty.

Our motley crew ready for the off

I started poorly and didn't score on the first through a combination of poor driving, wild bunker shot, nervous chipping and tentative putting. The second didn't fair much better although I opened my points tally despite a three putt. To be honest the combination of feeling dog rough and some indifferent play meant I was struggling. It didn't help when I peached a drive out of the screws on one of the iconic holes, the par five 7th and hit it dead straight.

The view from the 7th tee. Left is the safe option but go right and you might make it in two
Normally straight is good. However as you can see there are several large trees in the way and I duly found one and my ball came backwards and the safe route down the left was taken out of the equation. However I managed to execute a second shot into a playable position and made the green in regulation. However the curse of the Marquess greens struck again and I three putted. I reached the turn in 13 points and to be fair that was about right for the way I was hitting it and the way I felt.

The back nine is just as impressive as the front. Every good course has its controversial hole and the 12th is it on the Marquess. You have to drive over a pond onto an island fairway before hitting the approach over another pond to the green.

The 12th - the signature hole requiring you to hit a small island fairway and then over more water to the green
I cleared the water but the tee shot went right into the trees. I faced a blind uphill shot over the second pond and only had room to aim at the front edge. However I played a superb recovery and two putted from thirty feet to secure a safe par. Easy hole really. Flushed with success (or the tablets were kicking in) I hit a great drive down the 422 yard 13th, stroke index 1 on the card. A hybrid into the green and two putts on the hardest hole for another par. I wasn't swinging it well but managed to get the ball round and came back in 19 points for 32 overall. In the end that was god enough for third place on countback. Not a bad mornings work.

Lunch was an exquisite two course carvery but I have to be honest and say I passed on most of it. My flu was getting worse and I really didn't feel up to playing the Duke course. Having come all this way and paid my money it would have been criminal not to have experienced it.

With all the feel and regal splendour of a woodland golf course that's been around for a hundred years or more, the Duke's course at Woburn in fact dates from 1976. Its the oldest of Woburn's stunning triumvirate of championship layouts. This is the quintessential English wooded parkland layout. Towering pines, silver birch and chestnut trees line the fairways, together with copious amounts of rhododendrons.

A map of the Dukes Course

At the unforgettable short downhill par-3 3rd, the rhododendrons encircle the green with a dazzling burst of colour when they come into flower in late Spring. The first six holes on the Duke's are all classic examples of how undulating woodland terrain can be shaped into dramatic and testing golf holes. The middle six continues the theme although on slightly flatter ground, before bringing you to the superb closing six holes.

From the very first tee shot on the par five opener on the Dukes course I was out of sorts. I barely troubled the scorers but knew I had to hit a good one at the 3rd. It is an iconic hole and one I'd been waiting to play long before we arrived. Although the rhododendrons weren't in bloom I wasn't disappointed. A tiny hole but a hugely impressive one.

A small hole but a stunner
In the end my 9 iron found the left hand bunker and although I splashed out to six feet I didn't make par. Never mind. What a golf hole. After that though my game went to pieces and I was struggling really. I shouldn't have been out there but you don't get a chance to play these courses often and I had to enjoy it. The Dukes is so reminiscent of Augusta, home of the Masters and you can take any of the holes and transport them and they wouldn't look out of place

So much like Augusta - the Dukes is a real test of golf and an iconic venue
My game had deserted me but the seventh hole produced my one moment of magic in the round. It measured 456 of the yellow tees to a two tiered green. A church with adjoining graveyard sits behind the green. The irony is not lost on Woburn members - many a good medal round has died on the 7th. I managed to hit my second to the back of the green. However the flag was at the front and I had to negotiate the tier in the green.

Even for the time of year the greens were on the quick side. Hit this too hard and I was off the green. I barely set the ball rolling and it looked as though I'd under-cooked it and it wouldn't make the distance to find the edge of the drop and would leave me a terror putt. However it literally got to the precipice and gravity took hold and it rolled down the tier. Roll by roll it was looking better and better and it finished an inch from the hole. I couldn't have played it better.

In the end I was done for and my game disintegrated completely. I tried my hardest but to be honest I just wanted to get back to the sanctuary of the 19th, have a drink and head off home and collapse into my pit and sweat the fever out. In the end 20 points total was nowhere although it wasn't last. It was a real shame as I loved every step of the walk and just wish I could have played some decent golf.

What else can I say? It was a magical day at a magical venue made by the weather and the company. There are plans already for a repeat in 2013 and I will be back for more and this time without the lurgy. The Dukes in particular owes me but whatever combination we play I am already counting down the days. Woburn has the Wow factor.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Woods You Believe It

In the week that a book comes out from his former coach allegedly making startling revelations into the true persona behind the man, Tiger Woods chose the perfect moment to return to the winners circle at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Florida. It ends a thirty month drought without a win and is the ideal riposte to those that criticised his recent withdrawal in the last round in the WGC-Cadillac Championship citing a sore achilles, when to many, it seemed an excuse for a very poor final round.

It seems impossible to keep Mr Woods too far from the headlines but this return to form has to bode well for Augusta and the Masters in two weeks time. He knows the Georgia course as well as anyone and if his game really is on song again then he could really be in contention come the last nine holes on the Sunday. There have been signs in recent weeks that the Woods swing is beginning to come back to something close to his best but he didn't seem capable of holding it together for four full rounds. Indeed when he carved a ball a long way out of bounds during the third round on Saturday, some of the so called TV pundits were already making noises about the swing going AWOL again. However, he rallied and held a lead going into the last round. Although there is no longer the air of invincibility surrounding Woods, he is still a form front runner and when Graham McDowell opened up with a double bogey, and the close contenders all found it hard to make pars in the opening holes, the gap widened and in the end it was a win at a canter.

Tiger with the trophy that marks a return to form and ends a long drought
On top of this, the win was enough to put Tiger up to number six in the world rankings. Will he be able to make it all the way back to the summit? Clearly he needs to play with the consistency of old and there is still a nagging doubt deep inside my brain as a neutral observer, that maybe that word will be key. If he can perform well for four rounds at Augusta and be somewhere in the hunt I think Woods will start to believe the work he and Sean Foley have done is beginning to bear fruit. If he believes and trusts and just goes out and plays then I have no doubt we'll be hearing a lot more about Tiger this year and for all the right reasons.

His putting has also come under the spotlight in the last few months and again there were those within the game that were saying he couldn't hole out as he use to. There seemed precious little wrong with the putter this week and again, if that holds up in two weeks time then no-one knows the greens better than Woods. It is small wonder that some bookmakers have installed Woods as favourite on the back of his win.

I may not know much about golf, but in my humble opinion, a Tiger Woods that is swinging the club well and with freedom and with the ability to make some clutch putts under pressure again is great to watch. I have no doubt ending the drought and getting the winless tag off his back is going to be huge and that Woods will win again soon. Whether that will be at the Masters is the $64,000 question. I'm rooting for a Donald, Westwood or McIlroy win but failing that I wouldn't begrudge Woods another major and a step close to the 18 major titles that Jack Nicklaus holds. Wouldn't it be great viewing to have a stellar cast going at it head to head on the Sunday. Can you imagine someone like McIlroy and Woods in the last group out with Mickleson and Donald just ahead and Westwood in the third last group with only the odd shot in it. That is what the Masters is all about.

One swallow doesn't make a summer, and one win certainly doesn't constitute a comeback but lets make no mistake about it, Woods is finding his game. That can only be good for the game the viewing public and sponsors and advertisers alike. The only people that it doesn't bode well for are his fellow competitors who may need to raise their games again. Let battle commence.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Chipping Away At It

After the disappointment of Saturday, yesterday was about the short game. I only had a few hours available and so rather than bash balls at the range it was time to get down to the nitty gritty of working on the short game. Apart from the embarrassing performance in the bunkers, there wasn't really too much call for chipping during the Jack Jarrett as I hit a lot of greens and if truth be told got the putter on the ball from off the green if possible.

Following my lesson last month with my teaching professional Rhys ap Iolo where we worked on a much more neutral address position it was time to put some hard work into making it a natural feeling set up and not playing by numbers. I have to be honest and say initial results weren't encouraging and there was a sense of growing panic and fear. Slowly though and with some playing about with the ball position and the swing I found something that strongly resembled a repeating action. The ball was coming off with a lovely click and running a uniformed distance each time. I still have a tendency to break the wrists too much or not allow the body to rotate through impact and just hit at it with the arms. When it is connected and timed though it is starting to come together. I started off putting the ball on nice grassy lies to build the confidence up. However by the end of the session, even those fiddly little chips just over the fringe that really sent me into a panic were mastered. I was even playing them well off bare muddy lies. One small step in the grand scheme of things but one giant leap for Homer's odyssey. I have to get this working to have any chance of getting back towards a handicap of ten and below.

I also dabbled with my pitching and in particular half and three quarter swings with my gap and sand wedges. I've been re-visiting the Linear method DVD I've got and so was setting up with the club shaft in a more upright position and focusing on a straighter back and through motion, again rotating the chest towards the target. I'm loving the way the ball seems to be coming out higher and softer than my usual set up and whilst there was the odd thinned one along the ground you can't make and omelette without breaking some eggs.

I did venture into the practice bunker as well but to be honest my mind is a bit of a garbled mess in terms of what I'm trying to do and the technique to achieve this. I think this is a case for my coaching super hero Rhys and I'll be making that call to book a lesson soon. I did find a sticky plaster fix that seems to be getting it out more often but in my heart I know it isn't right or going to stand up under pressure.

All in all though I am beginning to feel a lot more engaged with the short game. I need to find a way of adding variety to the armoury and the run and check and lofted chip are still high tariff if I take them on. At the moment I'd settle for a repeating action that finds the bottom of the ball each time and then look at narrowing down the landing area and being as precise as I can be knowing I can rely on the run out when the ball lands.

It may not seem much to many, but those that have witnessed the short game first hand will know this is the beginning of a big turnaround. There will be less and less focus on the long game although I'll still be hitting balls regularly as the one plane swing is still an ongoing project. It's about the short game now and playing with a natural feel and flair that I use to have as a youngster before the golfing gremlins wormed their way into my psyche.

It is on the way back. Each chip executed correctly is positive feedback in the memory bank. I can't wait to get out and work on it and two and a half hours flew by yesterday. I could have stayed there another two hours just playing around with different shots. Ain't golf grand when you do it right!

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life

Well despite the apocalyptic forecasts by the BBC, the Jack Jarrett Trophy was played at Royal Ascot in nothing more than one fifteen minute heavy shower, a few further drizzly showers and some blustery wind. None of this incessant rain they were insisting as late as Friday night was heading our way for our Saturday morning tee time. For those interested, (  I went for option A and carried.

I had been hitting it well at the range on Friday evening and was reasonably happy with my form going into the competition except for the short game which I knew was still lacking the input and hard graft required. Still nothing I could do about it at this late stage of proceedings. The Jack Jarrett is a pairs event played off three quarter handicaps and is a stableford format with both scores counting. The three quarter mark meant I was playing off 10 and Mike Stannard my regular cohort was cut for the day to 8. Still, with him being a real "Steady Eddie" and me bringing a working swing to the party I was in bullish mood.

My "Steady Eddie" had what can only be described as a troubled start and after a horror tee shot and duffed second never looked like troubling the scorecard. However my opening tee shot wasn't a thing of beauty, definitely not the way I'm trying to swing the club, but it produced a low flying hooky thing that found the left side of the green and I would convert for par and minimise the damage. In fact I started like a bullet and followed that par with ones at the second, third and fifth. I did drop a shot at the fourth courtesy of an under hit wedge. Mike had found his game and we were starting to cook and were under our handicaps.

Sadly the sixth hole came along and spoiled my party. I can't play this hole and to be honest it would save a lot of angst if I didn't bother teeing it up and just walked straight to the green and attended the flag for everyone else. I ventured right for a change, only just clearing the tree line and the out of bounds although I didn't deserve to finish slap bang in the middle of an old unrepaired divot. With a bunker to play over and a severe downslope on the green, there was nowhere to land the ball and get it close. In the end, a combination of the lie and trying to be too cute saw me duff it into the sand, fail to escape first time and run out of shots to score on the hole before the putter was needed.

The eighth was another par three disaster. A poor execution off the tee shot saw me in another bunker and again I failed to escape first time. I left myself a fifteen foot putt to try and salvage a point and although it grazed the hole it was another blow out. These aren't hard holes and the eighth is stroke index 18 and so ranked the easiest on the course. Our problems were compounded on the ninth when Mike went left with his drive and his second found the ditch that crosses the hole some 130 yards from the green and with a penalty drop he couldn't score. We were out in 30 points combined and so were 6 points down on handicap and time to get busy.

Playing off a reduced handicap I didn't get a shot at the tenth and so my solid par was only good for a regulatory two points. However, as per the front nine, I started the second half on fire and also made a par at the eleventh and twelfth and so cut into the deficit as I got shots here and so made nett birdie.

By the time Mike and I stood on the fifteenth tee we had amassed 52 points. Given the conditions we thought 70 would be the target and so needed to play solidly and hope one of us could make a par on a stroke hole to get the extra points needed. We both hit good drives on the fifteenth, Mike in particular. I laid up but Mike pulled the three wood from the bag. It was right on the cusp of his distance and to be honest in hindsight it wasn't the percentage shot. He didn't execute either and I think he went after it to squeeze a extra few yards. In the end he succeeded in topping it into a ditch and blew any chance of scoring on the hole. The fact that I hit the green in regulation and then three putted was perhaps academic.

In the end, between us we limped home with 57 points in total and amassed a paltry five points between us over the closing four holes. I failed to score on the third par three of the day when I duffed my chip having missed the green right and couldn't get up and down from the bunker I'd put the ball into. Talk about coming home in the proverbial ambulance!

In the end our score was good enough for 17th place overall. Sixtey eight points won and so if we'd just managed to get two points per head over the last four holes we'd have been right in the mix and would have been strong contenders on count-back. Still, I can't complain and having amassed 31 points including three no score holes off a much lower handicap figure than normal showed that the game is coming. Nor can I moan about my partner having a rare off day. He has done much in our partnership in matches and competitions to get us in contention or keep the match alive. We are exactly that, a partnership, and so we win or lose together. No blame.

I didn't actually hit the ball fantastically well but managed to find a tempo and swing that never really put the ball in trouble. The three holes that I didn't score on were down to bad short game technique but that is a well discussed issue and is a work in progress. In competitive play I have to be honest and say the ball striking isn't the be all and end all and for me it is purely about getting it round. I'd love to combine a good scoring round with one that replicates the way I've been hitting in practise but sometimes you don't always get what you deserve.

In the end, it'll go down in the near miss column. I know my partner had tweaked his swing with Alistair White the Royal Ascot club pro during the week and he had admitted he was struggling to feel confident in the changes as we played. However on the plus side you could clearly see that there was definite improvement and so if he gets a chance to groove it at the range he'll come back a better player and that can only bode well for the summer and our partnership. My short game, like the flowers and trees is starting to show tiny buds of growth and so I hope that the work I'm about to dedicate to chipping and bunker play will flower into something that I can use and trust and utilise to get my own handicap down.

Not quite the result we hoped for but the weather was better than expected. there was some good golf at times and things are starting to take shape. Plenty to look on the bright side of life about.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Swinging In The Rain

The weather forecast for Saturday is abysmal. Persistent rain, heavy at times. Unfortunately it's the Jack Jarrett Trophy at Royal Ascot, a pairs stableford event, with both scores counting. I'm playing with my regular partner Mike Stannard and so irrespective of the conditions we're out in them. I have a confession. I dislike playing in the rain.

My main bone of contention is that I wear glasses and irrespective of whether I wear a cap, visor or even one of those bucket type hats, the lenses still get covered in large blobs of precipitation making it hard to see, especially if I manage to send one into the distance. A bigger problem still if I send it out there and it's directionally challenged and not frightening the middle of the fairway. The lenses get fogged up, and if I keep wiping them they smear until it feels I'm looking out on a pea souper and it's permanently foggy.

The problems don't stop there. Try as I might, and even with the offer of a lucrative bribe including a pair of shoes or a new handbag I can't persuade my wife to venture out and caddie for me in the wet. To be fair though she refuses to caddie in the dry too. Unlike these pampered pros who have it easy with a caddie to carry the bag, ensure the grips are kept dry and everything is protected from the elements I'm left with two unappetising choices. I can use a carry bag which leaks like an old tea bag and everything inside is wet by the end of the first hole. Alternatively I can use my trolley which has a nice umbrella holder attachment and does keep the heaviest of the rain off the clubs.

No matter how positive my mindset - golf in the rain is a pain.

If I go with option A, I have always put a dry towel under the umbrella to dry my hands and my grip. However this involves taking the umbrella down between shots. Experience has shown that leaving it up as I take the shot will leave it at the mercy of any breeze. Inevitably as my swing reaches the top with the club in a textbook position it will bowl away or hurtle towards me as I bring the club down onto the ball. All this mucking about with the brolly, drying of grips and hands becomes a real bind after a few holes and to be honest makes it really hard to get any flow to the round and to concentrate properly.

The option of using the trolley seems the better plan then surely? It does have its merits. One of which is that if the rain stops and the waterproofs come off I'm not left with soggy shoulders where the carry bag straps have soaked up all the rain. It also means any spare gloves, towels etc can be transported without me feeling like some kind of Himalayan Sherpa. The biggest flaw with the trolley plan is that with the umbrella attached I can't see underneath it and my vision is restricted to a few paces in front of me. This makes navigating a safe passage particularly tricky and bunkers, ditches and other hazards tend to loom up unannounced. Of course I could take the umbrella out of the holder but that means I'm still having to put it in and out of the cradle or put it up and down on each shot. Another palaver.

Of course, modern bags come with a rain hood and that brings me to my next issue. These tend to be made of a nylon type material and so the water repelling aptitude is nil at best. It is also extremely hard to get clubs in and out of the bag, especially woods and their head covers, and any efforts made to keep the grips dry are negated. It doesn't matter if you carry or trolley if the umbrella isn't covering the top of the bag then the club heads are going to get wet. Recently I've invested in some rain gloves. These are great and the wetter they get the better they seem to grip. Bizarre but true. I even have a pair, one for each hand. It does take some getting use to having two gloves on at one time but it certainly improves the grip. However even these have a limit on how much water they can absorb and if I'm out for four hours in biblical rainfall then I will need another pair at some time. This of course means packing extra supplies and trying to ensure these don't become saturated before they are called upon. I do have a solution for that particular problem and sandwich bags are the answer. Easy to open even when damp they keep the gloves nice and dry.

I have to be honest and say playing in the rain usually involves a selfish mindset and it's about keeping me warm and dry first. Fortunately I've something of a golf shoe fetish and with sixteen pairs of Footjoys to choose from I know that my feet are going to be warm and dry even in the soggiest conditions. I've invested in decent set of waterproofs so I've no concerns about getting wet. The problem I  have is actually wearing them, particularly the top and trying to make a passing acquaintance with a proper swing. The jacket fits properly so it isn't as though it is too tight and I'm swinging in a straight jacket, or it's too big and feels like I've a circus big top flapping around. They still feel restrictive and I don't know if it's a negative mindset attached to having them on and playing in the wet but I never, ever stand over any shot and feel as though I can make a free and easy swing. It is particularly noticeable on the drives and long shots but even on a simple pitch shot there is the rustle of the jacket and an uneasy nagging doubt at the back of the mind that this could go spectacularly wrong.

Perhaps that's it and I've hit the nail on the head. Perhaps despite my best endeavours at trying to keep myself and my gear dry, the constant battle and the sodden course affects my mindset and even at a sub-conscious level I've already set myself up to fail. I always try and go out with a positive spin. It's the same for everyone and if I swing easy, play conservatively looking for fairways and greens and trust my game then the rain won't make a difference. Others seem to cope. What is their coping strategy? There has to be a way of becoming a golfing rain god and defeating the elements. I can't hold the rain back in a King Canute style but I can embrace the challenge. I'll be there as wing man for my single figure partner come Saturday and doing my utmost, irrespective of what mother nature can throw at us, to grind out as good a score as I can. Surely it's a case of mind over matter. The power of positive thinking and all that. We'll see.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Demonstration Derby

If Augusta and the Masters signals for many the start of the golfing season, then it also seems to be the time of year that most of the equipment manufacturers rise from their Winter hibernation and are out and about all over the country on demo days. As a gear freak, I love the opportunity to try the latest range of drivers and irons. Whilst in general terms I'm more than happy with the set up of my bag, I've always got a keen eye out for something that may be that bit more forgiving, accurate or user friendly. I don't buy into any of the product hype about the new releases being the straightest and longest. Every manufacturer claims their latest incarnation has that certain je ne sais quoi although it isn't necessarily the case, especially in my hands, but never say never.

With this in mind, I am going to a Taylormade demo day at the Blue Mountain Driving Range in Bracknell on Saturday the 24th. I've been keen to try their new RBZ driver and fairway woods for a while and hope this will be an ideal opportunity to put this new offering through its paces. This have had a great write up and word of mouth feedback from those that have tried them have said both the driver and the fairway woods are easy to hit, fly well and are longer than their current model. Sounds good to me.

The Taylormade RBZ driver - sounds too good to be true and I can't wait to give it a bash

I've been looking at my wedges too and they are beginning to show the ravages of time and use. I've been thinking that my 58 degree one in particular with its eight degrees of bounce may not be wholly suited to the bunkers we encounter at Royal Ascot which don't have the deepest of sand in them. I'm hoping my friendly TM demo man may have their new 2012 ATV (All Terrain Versatility) model with him although I don't think they look great and to be honest I'm a little be dubious.

The new Taylormade ATV wedge. I'm not overly convinced but want to hit one in the flesh
I only upgraded (or downgraded depending on your point of view) my irons in early December, switching from the TM TP 2008 model to the R11's in a bid to get more forgiveness for my wonky swing. However with the patience and dedication Rhys ap Iolo has shown in remodelling me into a more one plane type of golfer, the inquisitive golfer within wonders if Taylormade had a model that is a step up from the R11's and I can use competently and consistently. My old TP's have a lovely compact head and Dynamic Gold R300 shafts. I took them to the range recently. The good shots were very good with the new improved swing but there were still some that I would have got away with using the R11's but which fell way short of target when I missed the middle of the bat. I'm keen to see what options are available to me in terms of a smaller head and different shaft options and the Tour Preferred MC looks like it could fit the bill. However the R11's were by far the best irons I hit in 2011 and to be fair they haven't let me down on the course and all my bad scores have been down to user error. It's the Indian and not the arrow and we all know, deep, deep down, that you can't buy a golf game. My concern is the MC's won't have that degree of forgiveness I am looking for and need at this time.

The Taylormade MC. A good looking club but I'm not convinced I can do it justice - YET
At these demo days you can usually book an appointment with their fitter and get your shots checked using a launch monitor, usually Trackman (arguably the best out there) and they will look at the specs and work on getting the ideal numbers for your swing. This is usually reserved for driver or wood fittings. I don't usually bother and tend to just go for the stock shaft in stiff or regular and go more on the look, feel and performance. However, there has been much talk on the Golf Monthly Forum about the pros and cons of custom fitting and I think that if the RBZ range or the new adjustable R11 driver and fairway offerings tick the boxes and demonstrably perform better than what I have then I'll definitely consider getting them fitted.

I'm a bit of a Taylormade gear whore but I've always been open to the possibility of a different set of clubs. When I was at the Forest of Arden for the Golf Monthly Centenary Finals in October, Cleveland were there doing a demo. I started hitting their CG16 Tour irons and the guy had me on a monitor and I was producing some good figures and hitting it well. The problem was this was developing into a mini custom fit and I was 45 minutes from teeing off in the biggest event of my season, perhaps for many a season. I had to call a halt to go and prepare but the CG16 Tours are definitely on my radar for this year.

The Cleveland CG16 Tour - hit it well at the Forest of Arden but ran out of time to give it a full once over 
I wrote on here last year about the Ping I15 and how good they looked and performed and it they were very close to finding a home in the bag. Their latest offering the I20 look even better and they are also high on the hit list. The I20 driver in particular is a lovely looking club and the darker, gun metal colouring really suits my eye. I'll be looking to try those and again if they were to hit the right notes then I'd be looking at a full custom fit, probably at their HQ at Gainsborough in Lincolnshire.

I've fallen out of love a little with Callaway since I had a set of their X20 irons which I never really got on with. They now have the RAZR range and whilst they look a little thick in the top line from the pictures, it is about playability and not looks and so maybe it's time to look at Callaway with fresh eyes. In relation to their drivers, they have passed me by a little in recent years and I can't say with any honesty that I've seen anything that really excites me.

The Ping I20 Driver - I like the gun metal finish but it is a bit of a marmite design - love it or hate it

The Ping I20 iron - if it performs as well as the I15 it could be a contender to go in the bag - custom fitted of course

If Callaway, Ping and Taylormade are perhaps a little ungainly for the purists, there can be no doubt that Mizuno make a range of irons that are wonderful to look at. Forged and sleek there should be a model to meet most levels of performance. I tried their JPX800 Pro model when they came out and they were another that could easily have snuck into the bag and had the R11's not come out it would have been a straight fight between them and the Ping I15. I like the look of the Mizuno MP53's irons. These irons are another on the list for 2012 if only to answer the debate in my own mind as to whether there is any benefit between forged and cast irons. Will softer forged models be able to provide comparable distance to their cast rivals. Feel in forged irons will (or should be) improved but what is the trade off against cast when I miss the middle. Again the Mizuno reputation in terms of their drivers is a long way behind that of their irons and these are another make that I've largely ignored and haven't been enthused by anything I've seen.

The MP53 - a lovely looking club but how will forged fare against cast in terms of distance and forgiveness

It has been a good few years since I bought any wedges and there are certainly a plethora of choices around in terms of makes, models and specifications. My main reason for going with the Taylormade's were the fact that they felt lighter than the Titleist Vokey or Cleveland CG range I looked at. Vokey are perhaps the most well known version out there and perhaps offer the biggest amount of loft and bounce options. Definitely worth looking at again.

Vokey wedges - top quality and plenty of options to choose from

The Cleveland models have always provided me with huge amounts of spin and grip, perhaps too much, but again, the CG range has developed and moved forward and so there is food for thought here. Ping were never really renowned for their wedges historically (well not in my golfing world) but they have also developed an exciting range with their Anser and Tour S options and these are definitely going to be interesting to test this Spring. I did have some Callaway wedges at the same time as my ill fated X20 irons and they weren't a huge success either and felt very heavy and hard to control. Nike, are another who are now producing some quality gear and so their wedges may be worth a closer look. So many choices.

At this stage though the slate is clean. I would say the RBZ are definitely number one on my wish list for drivers, with Ping a close second. I've no urgent need to upgrade my irons and unless there is something special that comes out it could be a case of window shopping which will please both the wife and the credit card. The wedges are a "nice to have" but again it is perhaps more cosmetic than anything else. I can't help it. I'm a magpie to the lure of the shiny new gear.

If you have never been to a demo day then keep an eye out at a club, range or golf superstore near you or look on any of the manufacturers website as they normally publish dates and locations. While it is fun to get on a launch monitor and see how the numbers stack up it isn't the be all and end all. Personally I enjoy just getting hold of the clubs I want to try and having the freedom to hit them myself. There seems to be less pressure and I always feel that testing and hitting clubs is a unique and personal thing. How do you define or describe the feel to someone else and it is usually pretty clear by the flight and direction if the club and the shaft suits. Normally this has been enough in the past to persuade me to crank the wallet open and make the purchase but as I've alluded, the draw of a fully custom fitted set is definitely on my mind. I think seeing my regular partner Mike Stannard come back from a trip to the Titleist factory with a bag full of new toys along with the persuasive arguments on the Golf Monthly Forum is swaying me to getting something as close as possible to match the way I swing and with a shaft to give optimum club head speed and control. Of course, only if I find something that works.

One thing is pretty clear though. There are plenty of great clubs out there and whether you are in the market for a new driver, woods or, irons or merely a bit like me and a gear fanatic who can't pass the opportunity to try new stuff then the Summer is going to be a busy time with demo's galore. Have fun and swing well.

Monday, 12 March 2012

This Game Is V-Easy

I had the day off work today. Fortunately the bad back seemed to have suffered no ill effects from the monthly medal and so all was good with the world. I was determined to put some work in on the short game following on from my lesson recently.

Having had my address position altered at the lesson to ensure the sternum and head were ahead of the ball which would ensure an accurate impact position every time it was a case of making sure the basics were set and grooving a stroke

Unfortunately things weren't going well and there was a huge amount of unnecessary body movement. breaking of wrists and lack of rotation through impact and to be honest there was no consistency in contact, flight or accuracy. However help was at hand. In my club locker was a wonderfully simple device called a V-Easy. Designed by a PGA professional called Bob MacArthur who is a stalwart on the Golf Monthly Forum, it works be reducing the wrists from the stroke and allows the player to just rotate the clubhead back and through in a perfect rocking motion

Joy of joys. Coupled with the correct set up, this radically simplified the stroke and I could feel the mist that had fogged up my short game for so long lifting. I felt a proper sense of where the club was travelling and there was such a simple action involved for such a good result.

Having spent half an hour grooving it in I had to go out and play and try it on the course. Monday afternoon is notoriously quiet and I had no one in view as I climbed up to the first tee. I'd just hit my shot (right of target but cleanly struck) when Reg and Brian from my Saturday roll up gang wandered towards the tee having already played the back nine so we joined up. I made a horrible double bogey three putting after a good chip.

I was playing with a rare freedom and basically standing there, trusting myself and firing. On the third I hit a glorious drive, followed it with a good eight iron to seven feet and holed out for a very rare birdie. I nearly made another on the next when a well controlled three quarter wedge into eight feet left an uphill putt which lipped out. I had to be playing well as I hit a good four iron into the heart of the par three sixth, which has been a scene of carnage on my card in recent months. Out in a level handicap eighteen points.

Brian and Reg left me at the ninth and to be honest I had the whole of the back nine to myself. Not a soul in sight. I made a disappointing bogey (nett par) at the tenth and missed the green right at the next. I made a solid five (nett par) at the twelfth after my poorest drive of the day meant I was well out of position off the tee and had to play back into the fairway and then pitch on.

I hit a scabby pulled iron left of the thirteenth green and had a reasonable lie but with little room between the edge of the green and the flag. These short distance chips are the biggest cause for concern of all. At least on the longer ones I have a feeling of being able to generate some power and clubhead speed. It is these fiddly short ones that I frequently duff or blade through the green. However fresh from the work out with the V-Easy, I set myself as Rhys had shown me, took a couple of practise swings and executed. It didn't come out with the cleanest of strikes but we got it onto the green. Uphill, left to right and about eight feet for par. I felt good having executed the chip so much better and there was an air of inevitability as I holed the putt to save par.

I chopped my way down the next with a pushed drive, over ambitious recovery and an approach that was long and right. I had a chip over a bank and then running downhill to the flag. Again it popped up well and ran to within five feet and the putter did the rest. It's an obvious thing to say but if I can start making up and downs once, twice or more per round it is going to save shots, I'll score better and I'll take pressure of myself to hit the green.

I have to be honest and say the quality of my swing on the back nine was pretty poor and I've lost that turn onto the ball I was achieving on the range a few weeks back. I'm trying to replicate it on the course but it isn't in the tank at the moment. However it did make a reappearance off the tee at the last and I split the fairway. I did semi-duff the fairway wood and for the second day running had a dilemma to face. Do I take the water on the right edge of the green on and go for my shot or do I lay up to wedge distance and try and pitch it close. I pulled the six iron and decided to go for it. I hit it well but pulled it left of the green. I was faced with another chip shot. Blade it and there was a danger of it running through the green into the pond. Again I hit it okay. Not perfect, but functional and rolled it down to four or five feet. My trusty Ping putter did the rest and saved par. Another eighteen points coming home, despite not hitting it as well meant I'd shot thirty six points and played to my handicap.

The V-Easy does what it says and makes chipping and putting so easy

It isn't the first time I've mentioned this fantastic aid. They are distributed via Yes Golf and are available directly from the inventor Bob MacArthur here or from American Golf and other online stores.

Rhys has given me the tools to develop my chipping and has set me up in a neutral position but if like me you are still having issues with the stroke itself then I thoroughly recommend this. It helps with putting too and promotes a rocking motion without the need to use the wrists. A definite 10/10 from me. I'll be checking my set up basics and using this most evenings at home and hopefully by the time I hit the course again next weekend we'll have the germination of a short game.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

I Tried, Failed, But Glad I Did It

I couldn't stand it any longer. Cabin fever had taken firm hold, the credit card was in danger of imminent burnout from an online shopping frenzy and to be honest the back was starting to feel loose and better, thanks in main to a wonderful physio and her manipulative hands on Friday night. My name had been down for the medal and having withdrawn last week when the back went I thought the least I could do was turn up, go out and see how it went.

I had hit a few balls and built up to some drivers and whilst I could feel it during the shot there wasn't any pain as such and there was no reaction when I walked so in for the proverbial penny. In the end, it was probably the wrong decision as the result, in terms of the scorecard at least left a lot to be desired. To be honest I can't blame the back at all and really didn't feel it but I played like an idiot in places, particularly on the front nine which seems to have some kind of voodoo curse over me at the moment. The back nine was better in terms of the quality of some of the ball striking but in my normal manner I found a way to pluck disaster from the face of respectability and threw so many shots away.

Continuing the negative spin, the short game has deserted me again. Now this I am laying firmly at the door of the injury and I haven't been able to put anything I was shown in my recent lesson into practise or work on the set up and feel of the shots. My head was so full of technique, negative "don't duff" it rubbish and fear over the ball that the results were inevitable. On the plus side, I'm not in work tomorrow and so hopefully I can put some work in and finally get to grips with it all. If not we're be back banging on the door of my teaching professional and demanding more attention.

It had all started so well. The opening tee shot was skinny but got to within fifteen feet of the green on the par three first. The chip and run was actually a topped shot to about ten feet and I nonchalantly rolled the putt in for a par. In fact up until the point I stood over my third shot on the third hole from just left of the green it was going well. A duffed chip cost me a double bogey. I then topped the drive on the fourth, something I rarely do but have now done twice in three weeks on that hole. I seem to have perfected the art of ruining a medal card and the fifth hole was another in a long catalogue of entries in how to do it.

Hit one good drive into the fairway. Take a five iron and lay up to 120 yards from the green. Find out you actually have 132 left and so need the eight iron and not the nine or wedge you had hoped for. Pull said eight iron twenty yards left. Thin chip from rough into greenside bunker. Thin recovery to the fringe of the green. Two putt for a majestic double bogey and five shots from 130 yards. Classic.

In the end my front nine score of 45 was ten over par gross and meant I was already close to my handicap limit. I made a respectable bogey at the tenth which I could live with. I then topped a four iron off the tee on the short 178 yard par three eleventh. Topped shots are a rarity in my armoury but like the fourth hole this is the second time in three weeks I've done it on that hole too. Very weird. Anyway, that was to cost me another double bogey.

The day hit rock bottom on the thirteenth when I blocked the tee shot and we never found the ball. Fortunately my provisional had found the green. First rule of golf, always play the provisional ball first! I thought a double bogey wouldn't be too bad but no, I had to go and chuck my one and only three putt of the day into the equation for an ugly triple bogey six. I bounced back with a par at the next and a chip and putt for the statistics courtesy of a nice little twelve footer. I should have parred the next but topped my approach from the light rough.

I did finish reasonably. I was left with 152 yards into the green for my third at the par five last. Normally as there is a pond cut into the right side of the green anything over 150 yards is a bit 50/50 especially as the hole usually plays longer into the prevailing wind. With the card already shot to pieces I decided to for for it. I hit a great five iron that headed towards the pond but drew in the air. It was a little long and ran through and just off the putting surface. I took three to get down for a closing bogey but the quality of the iron shot lifted my spirits.

In the end it was 46 shots back for a total of 91 and a nett 78 (+8) and 13th place in Division 2. Not great, and another 0.1 back on the handicap (now 13.3) but on the plus side, the back held up. It isn't feeling so good now and has stiffened like an old board and there is a nice hot bath running as I type so hopefully I haven't done it any further damage. I am disappointed that the swing was mis-firing. I know I haven't worked on it but I was kind of hoping that the effort I had been putting in recently and the good results I was seeing would have been held in the memory bank and the technique more honed.

In the end I'm glad I made the effort. The course was a picture and I was able to get my arms out in the warm sunshine for the first time this year. It is still a little damp in places but the new head greenkeeper the club have appointed seems to have made some big progress in a very short space of time. A lot of the greens that had been infected with moss are now beginning to look so much better and they putted a treat. They were true, which is all you can ever ask, and were quick for the time of year. It could be an interesting time in the summer when they are at their driest and could be back to their very best. Fairways have been cut and it's nice to stand on the tee and see the definition of each hole. He and his team should be pleased but there is still a lot of work to be done.

The same can be said of my game. It isn't quite firing and there feels like a piece is missing but I can't put my finger on it. The plan is to hit some balls this week, bad back permitting of course, and see if we can rediscover the spark. I know the club wasn't travelling in the right direction, it felt the hips were sliding and not turning and that it was way too long and quick. Other than that I thought I had it nailed. I was worried when I went out this morning about whether the back would last. I'm glad I did it even if the golf wasn't what I wanted. Maybe tomorrow.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Georgia On My Mind

Despite the back injury beginning to heal, I've not been able to hit balls and practise. It has however given me the chance to ponder the first major of the year, The Masters at Augusta National. Fresh from picking Hunter Mahan ( to win the WGC Accenture Matchplay last month I'll ponder the choice of winner come late evening on April 8th.

To me, this event really symbolises the start of the new golfing year. The clocks have just gone forward, we can get out for a few holes after work and hopefully the warmer and drier weather is imminent. As an armchair fan, The Masters has always been must see. Although the coverage is strictly controlled by the committee at Augusta National, I grew up watching late into the night in the early 80's as the likes of Ballesteros, Faldo, Lyle and Woosnam won their coveted green jackets. I was always hoping for a Seve win and if not him then any European. These days my allegiance is firmly in the Lee Westwood camp, but again any British player, followed by any European player to win. I grew up listening to the silky smooth tone of Peter Alliss aided and abetted by Ken Brown out on the course. Last year, coverage was split between BBC and Sky and to be fair I preferred the way Sky did it .

Whether or not you think Sky and Murdoch are the devils spawn, there can be no argument that they have invested hugely in covering golf, both in the US and the European Tour and for me as an avid viewer, nay golfaholic, I love it. This year, their dedicated studio with the "shot centre" for analysing players swings and the technical side of the game has been fascinating. They have a good mix of presenters and experts and it will be my channel of choice to watch it.

One thing is unequivocal. The committee at Augusta know how to present a tournament and give a show. Whatever the conditions, it always looks fabulous. From the clubhouse and Butler Cabin out onto the par 3 course which hosts the traditional eve of play competition, and to the course itself, it's a feast on the eyes everywhere you look.

It's the only major to be played on the same course every year and so we all know the holes intimately. Amen Corner, that infamous graveyard of title dreams is known by golfers across the world. All the holes are named after plants and trees found on the course and all have their own identity and place in Masters folklore.

So who is going to win. Well for fifty four holes last year Rory McIlroy was an unstoppable force. until that infamous meltdown in the last round saw him crumble. However fresh from reaching the world number one spot and playing some imperious golf in recent weeks it is hard to look beyond him. Will there be demons lurking in his psyche somewhere should he be in contention again come the back nine. Possibly. However I also think he'll be a man on a mission to right the wrongs of the final round this time last year.

Will McIlroy finish the job off this year or crumble again?
If we move away from the favourite who else can put on the green jacket. Tiger Woods roared back into everyones thoughts with a sublime closing 62 at last weeks Honda Classic and he knows how to tame Augusta. Can his swing and current putting deficiencies stand up to the exacting test. The greens are notorious and getting out of position on them can make a player look rather foolish at times but it's all part of the charm of the event. Personally I can't see Woods finishing in the top five.

What about the other Brits? Well I think there will be a homegrown player in the mix at Amen Corner in the last round. I hope it's Westwood but I think his putting and short game will be the Achilles heel again and negate his longer game. I do think former world number one Luke Donald has a great chance and this could be a great opportunity to break his major duck and he is my pick of the British and indeed European contingent.

If I was going to pick a US winner, then I'd narrow it down to three. Keegan Bradley isn't everyones cup of tea with his lumbering pre-shot routine. He's won few friends with his constant spitting either but to be fair he did Tweet that he wasn't' aware it was such an issue and has vowed to tone it down. As a golfer though he is getting better and better and seems to have discovered something within himself and could feature strongly.

Good old lefty, Phil Mickleson has been in sporadic form this season but knows how to get the job done around Augusta. Who can forget that shot from the pine straw at the 13th where the odds were stacked against him but he produced a shot that carved its own niche in Masters history

Mickleson carves his name into Masters history
I think he'll revel in the atmosphere and is bound to pull a large and supportive crowd with him and I fancy him to have a good week. I've also got a sneaky feeling for Brandt Snedeker. A tidy golfer he is in decent form too and tied for 15th place last year so knows how to get it round. My only nagging doubt is his putting and he is 158th on tour for putts between five and ten feet which are usually what you have to save par a lot of the time. That said, I just have a feeling about him and fancy him each way for a top five spot.

Of the others, I'd like Garcia to have a good event. He's another who seems to have his golfing mojo back and playing with a smile and not a snarl. Charl Schwartzel is defending champion and anyone that can birdie the last four holes on Masters Sunday deserves his win irrespective of McIlroys car crash round, and he saw off the challenge of Jason Day who finished strongly himself by making birdie at 17 and 18. The young Australian could be back for more this year although sadly I don't think South African Schwartzel will be able to defend with much stoicism and will be a top ten finisher at best.

I'm salivating at the prospect already and we still have four weeks to go. It'll be interesting to see who plays well in the next few weeks and starts the week with bags of confidence. Of course, add in the unique challenge the course presents, the fact it is the first major of the year and that tradition and spectacle surrounding Augusta and it must be so hard for these players to treat it like a normal event, especially as you are invited to be there in the first place

Who will survive the atmosphere and tension on Sunday
I have a feeling this is going to be a special year. I don't know why but I think we're going to have an epic final round and my money is on a play-off this year. That'll rack up the tension a bit more. Whatever happens and whoever walks away with the title it means that the season is under way. Hopefully my back will be behaving itself again and I'll be able to get out of the blocks quickly with my own game and put that hard work over the Winter to good use. At Royal Ascot we have our own Masters. It's a 36 hole medal event and by invitation as well. To be invited you have to have won a monthly medal, stroke play or honours board event in the twelve months before the cut-off. I've qualified for the last three years although under-performed every time but I'm desperate to keep the run going.

I've definitely got Georgia on my mind now.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Ouch - Part Two

Well the good news is the back didn't totally give up the ghost overnight and so I was able to move this morning, albeit still in a lot of pain. The bad news is I tried a little chipping swing with a wedge "just to see" and there is still a shooting pain on the downswing into the impact area. Enforced rest and no practise of any kind it is then.

God I've been bored today. I couldn't do any of the chores on the wifes hit list, didn't fancy shuffling around the shops and the weather was dank, cold and nasty and I didn't fancy venturing out anywhere. I've spent most of the day vegetating on the sofa in front of the sport. At least my football club, Fulham, gave me a welcome tonic with an emphatic 5-0 win. Perhaps the toughest thing has been trying to stay off the PC and resist the lures of shiny new golf gear,  and especially avoiding the Footjoy Myjoy site and their customised shoe service. Sixteen pairs is surely enough for one man.

The golf is finally due to start in a moment and so it'll be great to see if Rory McIlroy can win the Honda Classic in what looks like tough old conditions and thereby securing himself a place as number one in the world according to the world ranking points. If he does he'll become the second youngest player after Tiger Woods and to be honest even if he doesn't do it today, it'll only be a matter of time before he does and I think with his game he'll be in the top few for many, many years to come.

As for me, it's about getting a doctors appointment as soon as I can (hopefully tomorrow night) and getting a diagnosis, a treatment plan and hopefully something to ease the constant pain. Part of me hopes it is just a muscular injury but my friends on the Golf Monthly Forum, including several with medical knowledge are using the dreaded word "sciatica" which will be a far more serious and potentially a long-term problem. On the plus side, there are also some forum members with a great knowledge of the CONGU handicap system who suggest that it may be possible to get the handicap secretary to adjust my 0.1 increase back down because I was forced to retire injured.

CONGU 2008 - 2011handbook on page 84 Dec2(c) e .. that "sympathetic consideration should be given to players who have had to discontinue play for any cause considered to be reasonable by the organising Committee"

Back to work tomorrow and it feels like it's been a nothing weekend and totally wasted. It could be a long week in work and at home with some issues to be resolved and I was looking forward to the golf this weekend being a real fillip. Oh well, there is always someone worse off than me and I'll have to use the enforced rest as a positive thing and come back fitter and more refreshed.

"Nurse, it's time for my tablets". Nurse? Nurse?" - bloody weekend staff!

Saturday, 3 March 2012


Well after all that renewed enthusiasm and positivity my monthly stableford lasted four shots and could potentially be the last golf for a while. Having hit some balls in practise I stood on the first tee in steady rain confident that this was going to be a good day.

Even before impact on the opening tee shot there was a twinge of pain in my lower back on the right hand side and the body instinctively tried to pull out. The result was a horror skied shot straight right and out of bounds. I reloaded but the result was the same. As I couldn't score I walked the hole and stretched and flexed the back while by partners were holing out.

I managed to get a better contact on my drive down the second hole and without a reaction so thought perhaps it was just a wee twinge after all and that I could begin to repair the damage of the first hole. However, as soon as I made contact with my second shot, I had a frisson of pain running down the right side of my back, through the buttock and down my leg.

It took my breath away. I've had some injuries and illnesses over the years but never felt such an immediate amount of agony. I could barely stand and that was that. I wasn't prepared to or able to play further. One of the guys gallantly wandered down to retrieve the ball, we shook hands and I limped, hobbled and virtually crawled back to the clubhouse leaning heavily on my electric trolley for support.

I've been taking the anti-inflammatory tablets and have had regular ice on it. The garden peas in the fridge have taken a battering and may no longer be for for human consumption and I'm fighting hard to reduce the internal damage and prevent it from stiffening up. To be honest I'm in a fair degree of pain. If you've ever hurt your back at any time, it's one of those where no matter whether you stand or sit there is never a position that is comfy and pain free. I've been trying to move around to keep it loose but the pain is a constant nag like toothache.

Of course the biggest issue is when can I swing a golf club again. Probably not for a few days at the very least and maybe a lot longer which is a real downer. I tried to hit a chip shot to see if there was any chance of perhaps just working on the short game and that brought the same degree of hurt in the same area and so the answer is a definite no. I'm down to play the monthly medal next week and so we're have to make a decision at some point about whether to pull the plug on that.

I'm gutted. I was hitting it reasonably well in the warm up and really looking forward to playing with Ken Martin, the club's vice-captain for 2012 and with Steve Downey who is a regular in the Saturday roll up. I was also looking forward to testing the game out in a competitive environment, especially the rejuvenated short game. All of this goes right back on hold. Gutted doesn't begin to cover it. And do you know the cherry on the icing on the cake? I got docked another 0.1 on the handicap to go from 13.1 out to 13.2 for the sake of four shots.

I'm one grouchy bear at the moment. Approach with caution

Friday, 2 March 2012

Looking Forward

Well up until a few days ago it looked like Spring was knocking at the door. Not anymore. We've a forecast for showers for the monthly stableford tomorrow and Sunday is looking a real washout and definitely a day for heading to the range. It's a shame but it does act as a reminder that the new season is nearly upon us and it's perhaps time to look ahead and set some goals for the year ahead. It's Masters time next month and to me that really is the signal that the golfing year has started.

Royal Ascot is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year and I'm looking forward to joining in the festivities and playing as much as I can in the celebratory events. I'm also hoping to get picked for a few of the club matches again this year as these are usually great fun to play, especially if you get to play away from home and to be honest after losing my unbeaten record and then my unbeaten home record at the end of last year I'm itching to get back to winning ways.

Of course these are really the side shows to the main target which is getting the handicap heading south again back towards single figures. The components are falling into place now with the new one plane swing beginning to fire and with the short game lesson I had this Monday getting my set up very much back on track. I guess the focus for the next month or so, certainly until I go to Woburn with the Golf Monthly Forum on March 29th, is to work and work on both the swing and the short game.

I've been reticent to set myself a particular handicap goal as historically these have been a millstone more than an incentive but talking with Rhys ap Iolo (Downshire Golf Centre) who has been guiding me through the swing changes I'm making, he thinks single figures is a realistic target. My take is that as long as I play well the handicap will take care of itself. Focus on doing the simple things right and work hard on keeping the short game and swing in place and keeping demons and old habits firmly in check and I'm confident I can move forward. At the end of the day, is the handicap really that important? if you are playing well and more importantly, enjoying your golf, then does the number you play off become a distraction. Food for thought and maybe I'm coming at this from the wrong angle.

That said, I've been fortunate enough to have picked up a win in a medal, stableford or honours board event in each of the last three years and this is a run I'm determined to continue. Again, a lot of the issues I've had are probably mental and not technical and I've probably put undue pressure on myself to perform, often when not playing well. This puts more stress on my game, I perform poorly and the cycle repeats. Rhys is very good at the mental side of things and works with a company called Target Orientated Golf. They run a course that looks at taking the good work done in practise and how to take it onto the course and it is definitely an area I can look at and is a course I will be signing up for as soon as dates are released.

I've got a number of Golf Monthly Forum events booked in throughout the year. These are very good fun, great value for money and the emphasis is about the day out rather than the result. I'm also going to take advantage of the reciprocal agreements Royal Ascot has and play as many different courses on 2012 as I can. I've also tentatively agreed to do the Macmillan Longest Day Challenge. This involves four rounds in one day. I've managed to get a four ball with fellow club members Mike Stannard, Matt Davis and Martin Davis but this year we're looking to really raise the anti and do four rounds on four separate courses. At the moment we'd like to start over at Bird Hills on the way to Maidenhead at sunrise and then slide over to the Downshire Golf Centre in Wokingham by about 8.00am. From there, it will be a dash across Bracknell to tee it up at Blue Mountain around 2.00pm and then the run for the line will see us come home to Royal Ascot for a triumphant conclusion teeing off around 6.30pm. It's probably a totally bonkers idea and at the moment I'm waiting for Bird Hills to give us the go ahead to start that early. If they don't then it'll be a case of substituting Downshire or Blue Mountain as the starting point and working the logistics from there. Macmillan is a cause very close to my heart with both my parents having been caught by this insidious disease and there will be details nearer the time if you'd like to make a contribution.

I guess it all starts tomorrow. The first monthly stableford of the year on the full course and that will count as a qualifier. If I'm honest, it has been a heck of a week in work and I'm dog tired and have only had one mediocre range session this week. That said, my round with my old mucker Paul Sweetman last weekend had some very good points about a lot of it and I can use that as a springboard to launch my season.

I often wonder if I'm alone in all of this. Does anyone else sit down and set themselves a handicap target of golfing goals and aspirations or is it a case of que sera sera and whatever the golfing gods give you'll take. Has anyone taken any lessons over the winter and chomping at the bit to get out and put their hard work to the test. I know I'm a golfaholic and can't get enough of this stupid game. I have to be honest and say since hooking up with Rhys as my teacher and working on the new swing my golfing mojo has been fired up again. I can't get enough range time (bloody work keeps getting in the way) and I am seeing more and more improvements to the plane, impact position and follow through. I've now got the tools to work on the short game which had filled my head full of chocolate frogs and to be honest has totally held back any work on the long game I've put in.

I have a feeling in my water that with hard work and a following wind, there is a very good chance I can have a great season. Either way, as long as I can play some good golf and enjoy it, perhaps do my bit for charity too, then come what may it'll have been a good one. All we need now is a summer full of golfing weather although I'll definitely be packing the waterproofs for the morning.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Bifurcation - My View

Switch on the golf coverage on the TV and irrespective of which tour you are watching, these modern day professionals will all be hitting their drives many a mile. Even playing from the rough they are able to hit their irons a ridiculous distance and give them a shot from a perfectly manicured fairway and their yardages bear no resemblance to the performance the ordinary player can generate. As golf is played within a finite area, this ability to hit the ball further, along with ever increasing core strength from numerous gym sessions is threatening to make some of the worlds most famous and iconic courses impotent to the modern tour player.

For a while now there has been talk in the game about introducing two separate rules of golf. One for professionals and one for the recreational player. This potential split is called bifurcation. Whilst there currently seems to be an entrenched stance from the two governing bodies the R&A and the USGA, who feel the game only needs one set of rules and equipment, some of the games most luminary figures, including the greatest golfer ever, Jack Nicklaus, are making louder and louder noises about the need to split the game in two.

Part of the argument Nicklaus puts forward involves using a unified ball in tour events that travels much shorter distances. His rationale is simple. It will reduce the need to bulk these great courses up year on year, usually at significant cost, to place the tees further and further back or to redesign the location of fairway bunkering. By reigning in the distances, he argues that the likes of Augusta, Pebble Beach and St Andrews can defend themselves more readily and that the existing hazards that have been there for years, and were in reach for players as recently as a decade ago, will be brought back into play. That would mean players having to plot their way around the course. At Augusta for example, the par fives would be more of a challenge rather than a drive and a flick with a mid iron and that Rae's Creek would be in play far more often and there would a higher tariff on shots into those glass like greens from the fairway sand. Infamous bunkers at St Andrews such as the The Spectacles and the Coffin would be in range instead of being fired over with disdain.

There is also a growing call for the equipment the professionals use to be reviewed and that these modern drivers with their dinner plate heads to be reduced to something smaller. With smaller sweet spots the premium will be on ball striking. If courses make the rough tricky, not necessarily long but enough so the ball sinks in, then these changes, along with reduced distance balls and bunkering in play, will favour the better player. The out and out bomber can currently clear the trouble. Even when they spray it off line they are rarely punished and can still make the green but they are going to have to find a way to keep it straighter more often and it is going to level the playing field. Surely for the viewing public and perhaps more importantly the sponsors who want value for money, this will result in tighter finishes. Granted there may not be the birdie festival and the -20 scores we often see but surely there is more enjoyment to be gained watching the top players constructing rather than bludgeoning a score.

Jack Nicklaus - the games greatest player wants changes to the Pro game and its equipment
It all sounds a rosy picture and the arguments for bifurcation that Nicklaus put forward are compelling. There is of course an inevitable flip side. The golf governing bodies are very firmly against this idea of a two tier set of rules. David Rickman, the R&A's Director of Rules has gone on record and said "The R&A and the USGA continue to believe that a single set of rules for all players, irrespective of ability, is one of golfs greatest strengths".
Manufacturers are going to have a big say on this and certainly won't make the first move and will wait for the powers that be to make the initial first step and agree to the changes. At the moment, the club golfer can go out and get the same club that the top players use (granted the pros are custom fitted to very exacting specifications) and this is part of the games charm. We can all get the latest driver and try to out boom Bubba or the latest high spinning wedge and fantasise that we can make the ball sing like Seve or Mickleson from impossible lies. Would the club golfer pegging it up with his mates once a week really want to play a different version of the game. Of course it could be argued the game for majority is meant to be fun and that perhaps many golfers make it unnecessarily hard for themselves by using clubs not suited to their game based on who is using them on tour and not on their own ability to strike a ball. Of course it has always been so. I had a set of Ben Sayers - Ray Floyd blades and I'm sure at the time I was influenced by his name being on them.

Should the decision be taken to reign in power using a ball that goes shorter distances, where do you draw the line? Of course, we have had a degree of bifurcation before. When I started as a ten year old, there were two types of golf ball. The smaller version used in the UK and the larger American counterpart. There was a decision in the late 1970's that there should be a unified size and the British ball was consigned to history for use in the Open Championship. I was too young to remember how much debate and furore this caused but we've all seemed to have moved on and all play nicely with the one size fits all outcome.

If the ball change is made it is going to have to be uniformed and would it be offered to just one company to produce or would there be a way for the big players in the market such as Titleist, Srixon, Taylormade etc to make a ball to exactly the same specs and performance. Are there dangers for the integrity of the game if one name is responsible for such an integral piece of equipment. Where does that leave the others left out in the cold other than the amateur market and recreational players to cater for.

Start with one piece of equipment and inevitably there will be a domino effect and it wouldn't be long before wedges were looked at again and the current hot potato, the belly putter, came under intense scrutiny. Will the manufacturers really be able to absorb the cost of producing two sets of equipment on such a regular basis as now. Will they focus purely on the professional game and will the eager weekend golfer be starved of new releases and pay substantially more as the makers look to recoup R&D and production overheads. Inevitable any charges will be passed on to the poor consumer via the RRP at point of purchase either at your local pro shop or retail outlet.

Of course bifurcation goes so much further than just the equipment. There is a lobby that wants two sets of rules, one for professional tournament play and one for the rest of the golfing world. Now to me, this is where the waters muddy. I have no major issue with equipment changes. It's nonsense in my mind to think club golfers are playing the same game as the pros or indeed the elite amateurs. Let them use whatever is necessary to make the courses play stronger without the need to continually construct 7,500 yard courses to accommodate the modern game.

I do have an issue with playing by a different set of rules. There have been numerous examples of professionals being penalised via trial by television, where the pictures have shown an infringement. These haven't always been picked up at the time and the player was innocently aware of any transgression. However retrospective penalties have been awarded but as the player had already signed for a lower score the only option available is disqualification. I can see the merit in a change to allow the penalty to be added once absolute evidence has been presented and allowing them to continue in the event. If I make a mistake in my monthly medal, it is my word against that of my partners and it goes down to the decision of the competition secretary. There's no TV replay but if I signed for the wrong score would I be DQ'd or just have the extra shots awarded and my position and any handicap change altered accordingly. Doubtful.

Again, start with one rule change and bit by bit, they will be tweaked more and more to adapt to the vagaries of a professional event. To some degree I think David Rickman has it spot on. I wouldn't be happy to play under a different set of rules. There is no difference to batting at Lords or on the village green, scoring at Wembley or Hackney Marshes and it allows the weekend player to play exactly the same game as Pieterson or Rooney. I think that whether you are a struggling 28 handicap golfer or reigning club champion, the beauty of this great game is the fact that we can peg it up next to a top player, as many do in Pro-Ams, using the same equipment and compete under one rulebook.

I think change is inevitable. The game of golf has never stood still and has adapted and developed and will continue to do so. Personally, and of course it's only my opinion, I think the equipment side of things will fragment into a professional and amateur co-existence but I cling to the hope that we stay under the one umbrella when it comes to the rules of golf. Naturally if they do change my game will live and die by the new version but I think it will be to the greater detriment of the game certainly in terms its the heart and spirit. Either way, times they are a changing and sooner or later questions will be asked and tough decisions needed to be made. Interesting times ahead, but what do you think? Where do we go from here?