By the time we pitched up for the pre-match meal and pleasantries, things hadn't improved. Surprisingly the Saturday gang had had twelve participants and they were already in the bar dissecting events. They said the course was standing up well particularly the greens and bunkers but there was standing water appearing on some of the fairways and green aprons. The brunch felt more like some kind of last supper.
I was paired with Colin Falvey, known to all and sundry at the club simply as "The Major". Short in stature but big in heart and a wonderful raconteur he can be a gutsy old warrior and he and I have enjoyed success before in these friendly matches. We were up against an amiable pair of Maidenhead gentlemen called Allan off an impressive 11 handicap and Derek of 18.
|It's always a tough match against local rivals Maidenhead|
One down became two down when Derek rode in with a nett par at the next, the par five. I'd missed the green left and again my chip was hardly encouraging. The rot was stopped by The Major at the next where he made a good half. Again I had short game issues. I'd hit a super drive and then pushed a seven iron pin high right of the green and duffed another chip as far as the fringe. Chuck in three putts for good measure and a six soon racks up. I was to redeem myself and finally play myself into the game at the next. A horrid slice off the tee and a second that was well wide of target left the ball nestled in some heavy rough with a bunker to negotiate. I'd been working on my pitching from the 40 yard mark on Friday night but that was off nice mown grass. However I trusted what I'd practised and executed and put the ball stone dead for a par and a half.
The deficit should have been cut at the next but the wind played tricks with my approach which seemed to balloon upwards on a gust and came up short on the front edge. With the flag on the back tier the three putt that followed was almost inevitable but as the Maidenhead pair could only match my six all was good. That was until we came to the 6th hole.
It is a bit of a terror hole for me at the best of time. There is nothing to it in theory.
|Nothing to it!|
Just a simple 178 yard par 3. However with out of bounds adjacent to the right and to the left it needs a straight shot. (http://threeoffthetee.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/hackers-guide-to-royal-ascot-hole-6.html). What Derek produced just wasn't fair. He hooked his tee shot and it was going left of the path in the photo. It hit a tree, ricocheted onto the green and finished ten feet from the cup. I was faced with having to hit the target to be in with a shout. I am pleased to say I trusted my swing (that should please Rhys my teaching pro) and put my hybrid on the green some seventeen feet away. My putt was good and I made par. Derek however decided to make the most of Dame Fortune and stuffed the putt in for a birdie. Three down and in big trouble. He wasn't finished playing games yet either.
I made a mess of the seventh. Fortunately nobody played it well and so Colin was able to make a half and keep the deficit at three. Allan had been playing well in the conditions and had been the lynch pin of the Maidenhead lead. He found the target at the short par three 8th and when The Major put his ball in sand I knew I had to hit another green. I played it well and was inside Allan's ball. His putt never had a chance to go in but I liked the look of my left to right six footer and rattled it in at a good pace for a birdie. Back to two down.
The ninth was halved and so we headed out onto the back nine. The rain was still coming down. It wasn't heavy but just a continual light sprinkling. To be honest the wind was more of a nuisance. My drive at the 10th was pulled left into the rough and I had to play out and lay up. Allan was on the front edge but Derek and Colin mis-hit their second shots and were both around 100 yards away. The Major duffed his, I came up short onto the front edge. Derek hit his shot which landed softly on the front of the green and merrily trundled along for a few paces and dived straight into the hole for a birdie. You can't play against that. Three down and only eight holes left.
I should have won the par three 11th. Everyone missed the green. I pitched to fifteen feet and hit the putt perfectly. It hit the back of the cup, jumped up and stayed out. If you were being pedantic you could argue that the pace was too hard but I thought it was good all the way. Another half and three down with seven left. Time was running out.
The course was beginning to struggle in places, particularly the back nine. It has always been the wetter of the two nines but the club have spent a lot of time and money improving drainage and it does play so much better than it did and to be honest, there were other courses in the area in far worse condition and struggling to remain open so it's a testament to the green staff and the club for their efforts.
|Wet in places, the course stood up to the elements remarkably well|
I won the 12th thanks to a nett par. Once Allen had hit a bad tee shot right of the trees that line the fairway he was never going to make a par. His partner had a bad hole and Colin struggled. To be honest I was virtually last man standing. Back to two down. Two became one at the 13th when I was the only one to find the green and despite a long and treacherous downhill part managed to make par.
My wingman was there for me at the next and somehow found a way to make a half. I had pushed my tee shot well wide of the target towards the thirteenth tee. I made a bad decision and should have played for a five as no-one was in position to hit the green in regulation. Instead I went for glory and came a cropper as I sent my ball right into the environmental area and took myself out of play. I really need to find a way to stop these unforced errors as they are occurring far too often especially in competitions. Still no damage done and one down and four to play.
The American golf commentators have a word I hate but is apt. Bouncebackability. The ability to make a hash of one hole and then play the next well. That is what I did. The par 5 15th is only 478 yards and was playing down wind. I blasted a drive dead centre and then took the five wood out. I've no idea why as it wasn't enough club to get home and all it did was bring the large bunker fifty yards short of the green into play. I duly obliged, hit it sweet and stuck it in sand. With Allan on the edge of the green in regulation I needed to produce. It came out great and made the front of the green. However I charged my first putt six feet past and opened the door to the opposition. However Allan hit a poor first putt and his par putt missed. I was left with a tough downhill effort to win the hole. I was actually quite nervous over the ball but the stroke was solid. All square.
Both The Major and I contrived to throw the 16th away in various ways. I was out of position off the tee, played a good recovery but was left facing a tough third shot from 157 yards into a stiffening breeze. I hit a really good five iron which held its line despite the effort of the wind to nudge it offline. However faced with a thirty foot putt I made a feeble effort, three putted and chucked it away.
By the time we reached the penultimate hole, a 218 yard par 3, the wind was gusting and the rain had become much steadier. The opposition both came up well short. I hit a fantastic three wood given the conditions and the context of the game but even that wasn't enough to get home. Allan pitched to six feet. Having had real chipping issues in the early holes and given the fragility of my short game anyway this was a tough shot. I didn't hit it great but it got onto the green and ran it some nine feet away. It was head to head. Allan and I. The putter was working and I drained the putt. Big pressure on my opponent but huge credit to him as he nailed his repost to make his par and halve the hole. Dormie one down.
The Major and Derek were both in trouble off the tee and effectively out of the hole. Allan had played first and put a good drive into play. I knew I had to make par to stand any chance and once Colin was in trouble knew it was all on my shoulders. I ripped one down there. Allan carved his second to the par five right into heavy rough and the door swung open. I put another fine swing on a five wood and blasted it down the left side of the fairway into prime position. By the time Allan had played several shots out of the rough all I needed to do was make sure I kept the ball well left of the greenside pond and find the putting surface. I hit it heavy but it was dry and I two putted to make par and secure a half.
It had been a great match and I was really pleased with the way I swung the club especially on the back nine under pressure. Apart from one poor swing on the 14th I hit it great. Given the conditions I was striking it very nicely and I just need to get the short game to fire properly to be totally happy with the state of my game. I was particularly happy with the way I was able to produce some key shots when it mattered and hope it is indicative of the new found faith in the one plane swing and that it is destined to stand up when required. I liked the way I hung tough and dug out some wins on some of the trickier holes coming home.
I can't say our half was pivotal but it at least went some way to helping Royal Ascot record a narrow 3-2 win. I think everyone enjoyed it and in the end the conditions weren't too brutal and the course remained playable without it becoming farcical or a lottery. Having woken up today to gale force winds and driving rain I'm pleased to say my faith in the TV weather forecast has been restored. It was every bit as miserable as they predicted and even a golfaholic like me wasn't prepared to go out and practise in that. There's always tomorrow.