Thursday, 31 May 2012

Not Great - But Chilled

Buoyed by my decent round on Monday, I hit the practise ground last night with renewed vigour. The plan was just to keep the swing ticking over before seeing Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Centre, Bracknell today. It is working, but there are still issues with hip slide and the direction the club is travelling. I'm still hitting the ball so much better than I was and so the issues aren't that dramatic but the clock is ticking and if I'm to make my target of a 10 handicap this season the work needs to be done.

It was one of those agonising sessions. A lot of poor shots, mainly in terms of direction as opposed to ball striking. A lot of these I knew why it was happening and more a case of getting hung up on technique and not letting it flow. The good ones were very good. The average ones were still more than adequate. I think the flatter swing I'd been working on, trying to get the feeling of the club being behind me, isn't quite as it should be. Isn't that the annoying thing with your golf swing? You try hard to work on it to improve and it is one of those things you can't actually see as you do it.

Maybe I'm just all practised out now and that if you leave aside the bad round last Saturday I'm not actually in a bad place with my golf. The course is the real testing ground and so maybe I just need to play, play play. I've definitely got the opportunity with the long weekend and the fact I'm off work all of next week. No excuses really for working on what I'm shown in my lesson and then getting out there and putting the results into action. We've got the Stone Cup, an honours board event at Royal Ascot on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday (a two round affair but you can choose which two days of the three you play on) and I'm looking for a good showing and another handicap cut towards the target of 10.
I've a good idea what Rhys will say tonight and more of the same in terms of getting the club coming down steeper and on plane and not shallow and underneath. The hips need to turn and not slide. This is the last of a block booking my wife bought me as a Christmas present and this will only be the fourth swing lesson having had a bunker lesson, which is now producing great results on the course and a short game lesson to exorcise those particular demons. Having come from a bad swing with a number of moving parts, the one plane road Rhys put me on has worked beyond expectation in a short space of time. I've still got a nine hole playing lesson to take. I'm really looking forward to that. Rhys is very strong on visualisation and preparation before each shot and I'm hoping that will help get my mind off thinking about the "how" in the shot and more on the end result. It will be good to play some holes with him and hopefully let him see how I do on the course and how far I've progressed.

I'll definitely be booking another block of lessons to take me through the rest of the year and then see what work, if any, he thinks I need to do over the winter. I'm hoping by then it'll be a case of just keeping what I have working rather than some kind of major overhaul. I don't think he'll change anything for the sake of changing and we both know it doesn't have to look good to work well.

I'm a firm believer in getting regular lessons. If you are struggling with your game and in the vicinity of the Downshire Golf Centre in Bracknell I can thoroughly recommend Rhys. He's not overly technical and works with what you already. The Plane Truth system, either a one or a two plane swing, is simple, easy to follow and Rhys will set you up with a link to the Plane Truth website and all the teaching resources available. Even if you just book a refresher to quick start the game now we're coming into summer (no honestly) then give him a go. Tell him Homer sent you.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

What A Difference A Day Makes

As the song says,"what a difference a day makes". I went out last night straight from work to play a few holes. No warm up other than a couple of meaningful swishes of the three wood on the first tee. No expectation to play well and more a case of seeing how it went rather than anything more positive. The practise session on Sunday afternoon had reaffirmed that I can hit it properly and so it was a case of getting back on the horse after Saturday, trusting myself and having some fun in the sun.

A good drive off the first just missed the green right. A decent chip left a makeable putt from six feet but the Odyssey White Ice #9 I had taken out to try and kick start something on the greens was slow to warm up. Still a net par, no dramas and onwards. I hit a great drive at the second which lay the foundation for a green in regulation and a solid par. I found the front edge of the third in two and had a thirty footer left. I left it six feet short but the second putt found the left edge of the hole for a par. A great tee shot off the fourth and a pitch to within fifteen foot made a par a formality at the next and by the time I'd made yet another par at the fifth I'm suddenly one over par gross. Where had that form been on Saturday morning.

The sixth hole is not my favourite at the best of times. A long par three measuring 178 yards it's played through a chute of trees with out of bounds ten yards to the right and out of bounds left waiting for anything pulled or hooked. The tee box was hard against the right side of the tee ground which meant the trees on the that side were right in play especially as I tend to move the ball right to left and struggle to hit a fade and move the ball the other way. Time for a deep breath, to look deep in my soul, aim for the middle of the green and believe. The four iron was hit well. It was a little right to left but had started at the flag and eventually kicked off the green onto the banking that protects the left side of the putting surface. It had been a good shot if a little conservative. The chip shot was downhill and really just needed lifting over the longer grass and landing on the fringe where gravity would take over. These short ones have been a bit of an issue but this time I executed well and the ball ran to within four feet. This time the putter slipped into gear and I made the par putt. Get in.

I dropped a shot at the seventh having pulled the tee shot left and leaving myself blocked out. I'd taken a six iron to get the ball back in play and hit it so well it managed to find the green side bunker. Had I aimed on a more aggressive line it might even have found the green. The bunker shot came out well if a fraction long and I couldn't make the putt. Still another net par.

And then came the eighth.

This is the shortest and easiest hole on the course and yet seems to regularly cause me issues. This would be no exception. Playing 128 yards, I seriously over clubbed with a 7 iron and added to a poor swing hit it too long, thin and right. It missed the bunkers right of the green which would have been a good result and disappeared into thick rough. I played another and this was no better. It also went right but not as far and stopped right of the sand. The original ball refused to be found. I had a bare lie over a bunker to a tight pin to negotiate. It cleared the sand - JUST - but caught the bank and stopped perilously close to the front lip. I hit a good chip down and made the putt but that all added up to an ugly triple bogey six.

A triple bogey six - a real show stopper and not the first time I've mucked the easiest hole up in grand style
I recovered my composure and hit a good drive down the ninth. I was in two minds over my second. It was 158 yards and should have been a smooth five iron. However I thought I could get there with a well struck six iron. I hit it well but it missed to the right although it was pin high. I had a good lie to play the recovery over the bunker. I hit a lovely high shot that landed softly. To be honest I never really gave the par putt a chance to drop a shot but again a net par. Out in 41 (+6 gross) with all the damage done at one hole.

Normally I'd call it a day at the ninth as it brings you back to the clubhouse and a chance for a drink before heading home. However, my convalescence from Saturday was going well so I decided to plough on, play the tenth round to the fourteenth and head down the last. I absolutely nailed the drive down the tenth to leave just a wedge in. Easy par. I missed the green right with a four iron at the par three eleventh and found sand. To make matters worse it had nestled into an old footprint. I got it out but with no control and it ran to the back of the green leaving a downhill left to right putt of some twenty yards. I hit it well but a tad short of pace leaving an awkward four foot putt. Again the Odyssey kicked into gear and I rammed it into the heart of the cup.

The driver did the job on the twelfth and found the middle of the fairway. I caught the seven iron heavy and it looked like it was heading for a sandy grave but missed the bunker, bounced off the bank and found the front of the green. Heck, my golf deserved a break. Again I left a tricky four footer for a par and again managed to convert. A rare par on the hardest ranked hole (SI 1). The thirteenth is a par three and was playing 172 yards from the tee. I hit a great four iron high and with a touch of draw. It just ran off the green but the putt from the fringe was perfect and an easy par tucked away.

The fourteenth has been something of a graveyard for my game in recent weeks. It was here my swing disappeared in the match versus Oxford City. It was here I lost a ball off the tee in that disastrous practise round the previous Monday. It was here I racked up a treble bogey in the last medal and ended up losing on count back. We have history. I caught it well but the swing wasn't great and it sailed right ending up in the light rough adjacent to the thirteenth tee. In fact it was so bad it was good as there was a clear line of sight towards the green. It had nestled down a bit and so I opted to try and nudge a six iron down there and make a chip and putt. I hit it a fraction right, well actually about ten yards right of where I'd intended it to go and it found sand in the right hand green side bunker. It managed to lodge itself well up the face. I got it out which was all I wanted to do but it was a long way from the hole. I two putted for a five. A dropped shot but yet another net par and so a case of using my stroke well. I hadn't played the hole well but hadn't done any damage. I wouldn't say I'd got vindication for the problems I've had and would call it a dishonourable draw on the night.
I cut down the eighteenth as time was ticking, I'd arranged to meet the wife on the patio for drink and it never does to keep a lady waiting. I hit another good drive and followed it with a decent five wood. Climbing up the hill I could see her waiting patiently. I could also see a table full of some familiar faces. My pitching from short distances hadn't gone well in practise on Sunday and with a pond ready to gather anything shanked and an array of expectant faces there was just a hint of pressure. In the end it wasn't a great shot some fifteen feet short but at least it had found the green. I left the birdie chance agonisingly short but par was a given. That meant I was just two over for the five holes I'd played on the back nine and eight over in total.

Apart from one bad hole and the odd iffy shot - loads to be happy about and to ENJOY
There were a few shots I wasn't happy with but as I posted on here recently if the result doesn't get me into any trouble then we'll take substance over style every time and worry about nailing down the swing issues afterwards. All in all though I am back in a very much glass half full, nay topped up kind of mood and suddenly everything seems a little less frustrating and difficult with this game. I'll keep working hard and hopefully the lesson on Thursday I've got will take me another step forward. Could it be I'm playing myself into form ahead of the Stone Cup over the bank holiday weekend? I'm loathe to get too excited and optimistic but we'll see how the rest of the week pans out when I play and practise. For now, with the exception of the bloody eighth hole everything is slotting into place. "What a difference a day makes."

Monday, 28 May 2012

Another In And Out Weekend (Same Old, Same Old)

What a glorious weekend. Wall to wall sunshine, hot and the course looked a treat. The greens are still a bit iffy following their recent treatment but slowly but surely they are coming. A few more weeks and they should be great to putt on. With everything set fair, I was looking forward to my game with the normal gang in our Saturday roll up. What transpired was definitely not in the plan. Quite simply I was rubbish.

The swing hadn't felt quite right all week and even warming up I knew I was struggling but hoped once I was on the course swing thoughts would dissipate and I could trust what had been working so well in the last few weeks. The opening tee shot was a wild slice, fortunate not to find the out of bounds but far enough wide to find a totally unplayable lie. I took a penalty drop recovered well and then promptly three putted from twelve feet to make sure I didn't score. The scorer wasn't troubled at the second either as I lost a ball with my second shot after having found the fairway off the tee. I finally managed to get on the board on the third and then proceeded to play steady if unremarkable golf. Too many unforced errors and a distinct feeling of unease with my swing meant I couldn't get anything going. Another no score on the tiny par three eighth didn't help and I reached the turn in a miserly eleven points.

The back nine started in better vein but again any forward momentum was promptly stopped with another mistake. In the end the total of twenty eight points was probably a point or two better than my golf suggested. Not a happy Homer. There were a few plus points including some solid chipping, which had been lacking on the first nine, and a few decent drives but nothing that really set the pulse running.

Sunday saw the course closed in the afternoon for a shotgun competition so it gave me the ideal opportunity to adjourn to the practise ground and really work on the swing. It hadn't fallen apart completely and Saturday was more a case of "one of those days" than a fundamental implosion. The plus side of the new one plane swing is that there are only a few aspects that need checking and so it was really a question of hitting some balls and working through the list of possible causes. In the end a hip slide and a shallowness into the ball seemed to be the chief culprits. Regular offenders. I worked hard on turning better through the ball, trying to recapture the feeling I had a few weeks back of being on top of the ball at impact and ensuring the club exited low and left. With the sun beating down, I was hitting ball after ball very well. There were some bad ones in there but that was inevitable. The majority were really good. A lot were really good.

With the field to myself I took the opportunity to work on my pitching. Not very well as it transpired and I encountered a dose of the J Shermans. Again the problem was easily traced and rectified but it has left me with an underlying nervousness. Distance control is the biggest issue I've got and I was really keen to spend some quality time getting a feel for those fiddly little half shots. I put two targets out at 40 and 60 yards with the plan to use different clubs and develop an understanding of the length of swing required for each one. The attack of the rights made the task much harder and in the end, the hour I spent wasn't as productive as I'd hoped. I retired to the practise bunker as I'd had sandy issues on Saturday but had been recovering well from sand in recent rounds. This was far more encouraging and the ball was popping out nicely. I am still having issues from side hill and uphill lies and I just need to give myself some more time to work out a plan of attack to deal with these. The biggest cause for concern is actually the putting which seems to be very erratic and I've lost confidence in my stroke and set up. I'm loathe to change putters but I've not been able to find anything that I'm happy with on the practise green and on the course I'm more focused on technicalities rather than length and line. That said, I've lost all feeling for distance as well. If it isn't one thing it's another. One day everything will click into place simultaneously.

All in all, it was time well spent. I am more comfortable with where the swing is now and I've a lesson with Rhys ap Iolo on Thursday anyway so hopefully we can give it a once over and ensure it is tightened up. There is a big competition at Royal Ascot over the bank holiday and so I'd like to be able to repeat the success I had in the last one at Easter. It is in there, but I think I've gotten a bit tied up in the why and how and not enough about the doing. I think the nightmare nine holes I had last Monday where I couldn't string any good shots together and lost four balls has dented my confidence and that Saturday did little to repair the damage. I've said before I'm a confidence player and a streaky one and that when I get on a roll I can be very, very good. It's getting on the wave in the first place and being able to ride it for as long as possible that hasn't always been easy. At least I feel I have more about me with the one plane swing and so we'll see what the new week brings.
I'm going to play a few holes tonight to just reaffirm that the swing is in a better place and then hit the practise ground later in the week before seeing Rhys on Thursday. It isn't a million miles away and so perhaps a few tweaks here and there and we'll be off and running. It would be nice to be competitive again but as long as I play well, ideally with another handicap cut, then that'll do for me.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Great Expectations

I've always needed diligence and dedication towards practising my golf. I've not been blessed with any natural aptitude and so all the fleeting success I've had in sport and more particularly in golf has come as a result of hard work and a bloody determination to do well. My golf in recent weeks has begun to show signs of improvement under the tutelage of Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Centre in Bracknell and as a result of the implementation of a new one plane swing. However there is still the odd destructive hole and in several rounds an alarming collapse and loss of form over the closing five or six holes.

This collapse was prevalent in my club match last Saturday and although my partner Gary McEwan was there to pick up the pieces and guide us to the finishing line it is a cause for concern especially as I'd covered the first thirteen holes in five over par gross. I played nine holes after work on Monday and had what can only be described as a shocker. So it was that I hit the practise ground last night with two clear thoughts in my head to work on. A controlled takeaway and ensure a good turn with the hips to make sure the club travels low and left through the impact zone. I'm a 12 handicap golfer. That apparently means I'm better than the national average. However I'm not 10 or lower and that is my aim. The problem I have though, particularly since starting on the one plane road is the ball striking has improved beyond recognition. This has brought a heightened level of expectation and has perhaps led me being far too hard on the level of golf I'm producing.

There may be a case in point last night. It felt to me very much like an in and out session with some balls struck beautifully and with the swing under full control. Others didn't feel right through impact, and in particular the hips weren't turning enough and the club didn't feel it was travelling properly. But and it's a big but, the ball still got airborne and the vast majority still went straight. Many while not perhaps getting all the way to the flag would certainly have got close to the green, especially in the drier and warmer conditions of late. That is the crux. I would have got away with the bad ones and I'm standing there now expecting to hit them all well.

Before I hooked up with Rhys at the Downshire. I had a number of destructive shots. There was the low snap hook when the arms got trapped too far behind the body and I had to use the hands too much to try and square the blade. Then there was the big high cut where the hips spin out of the way too much and I come out of the shot. Now, with a much simpler approach, I've eradicated the shot to the right. Not completely but when it does happen I can usually trace it back now to a hip slide and not a turn or the club travelling too far down the line after impact. I've learnt a lot about my swing recently and more importantly I'm getting an understanding of how to control the club. Rhys has taken the right hand side of the course out of play and that makes it much easier, knowing that there is only one place you are going to miss it.

I think in essence I'm putting too much pressure on myself, certainly in practise sessions and not appreciating that at my level I'm not going to hit every shot perfectly. If I can get away with the bad ones and keep them in play, then in truth, with the number of shots I get with my handicap I'm not actually in a bad position. I've a nine hole playing lesson to take with Rhys and I'm hoping he can show me some stuff to keep the nerves at bay when it's going well, what to do when the tempo and swing disappear mid-round and how to prepare for each shot.

The one plane swing is working. Of that there is no doubt and I've gotten to a better place since December than I had been in the proceeding twelve months. I just need to be more realistic with my aims, my focus and my actual ability. Diligence and dedication have their place in the pursuit of a ten handicap and beyond but above all I need to enjoy the fact I'm playing better, stringing better runs of scores together and actually improving.

"What we think or what we know or what we believe is, in the end, of little consequence. The only consequence is what we do"

Definitely a thought I'll be keeping at the front of my mind. Enjoy the journey, enjoy the work required, and above all enjoy the results.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

A Timely Reminder

WANTED - 1 missing golf swing. Last seen on the 14th tee at Royal Ascot on Saturday May 19th. If found please keep well drilled and active and return to the author c/o Bedborough Field (a.k.a the Royal Ascot practise ground) as soon as possible. Owner last seen trying to impersonate a competent golfer.

With summer finally threatening to make an appearance at long last I scooted up to the club last night to get out on the course. Why did I bother? I wanted to banish the ghosts of the limp and weak finale to the round in the club match on Saturday. A few swishes of the driver on the 10th tee and off I went. The opening drive was majestic and left a 7 iron in from slap bang in the middle of the fairway. I missed the green right with an awful shot. The die had been cast. I hit the driver really well but as soon as the ball was on the deck my swing melted like ice cream in the sun. The fact that I carved four balls into the cabbage never to be seen again sums it up in a nutshell. I'd lost control of where the club was in the back swing, had no idea where it was going on the downswing and had no control at impact.

In fact, I was level twos after the first four holes, including an up and down from the right of 13. The tee shot was well struck but pushed a tad. The lie was good but the green was running away from me. I took my 58 degree wedge, my most lofted club, and went for it using the linear chipping method I've decided to adopt through thick or thin. It popped up a treat, landed softly on the edge of the putting surface and rolled down to within a foot and a half of the hole. Homer's got a short game. Par saved.

I then managed to lose a ball on the 14th and 15th and a dark cloud hovered menacingly over the hallowed turf. It briefly lifted as I crushed a drive down the 16th but then was back even bigger and darker after I hit an ugly slice well wide of my intended line and into a place I couldn't even get into let alone start looking for it. I made my customary bogey four on the 17th. I hit another decent drive at the last and then the 5 wood wanted to show it wasn't just my irons that could lose balls. The second shot was low and right and ran deep into the thick stuff on the right side.

By this time I was not a happy golfer. I'd been enjoying a rare purple patch and even the bad rounds weren't as bad as they had been. This was just savage and a bolt from the blue. There was only one thing for it. Hit the practise ground. Initially, the shots were as bad there as they had been on the course. However bit by bit and with a degree of detective work the fault was traced into a lack of hip turn and getting stuck with the club coming too far inside and shallow. The old fault of having to lift out of the shot had come back as it was the only way the arms could find a way to get back to the ball but the results weren't pretty.

This all sounds a familiar take of woe and yes the nine holes and lost balls were an embarrassment. However by ensuring the club was going behind me on the back swing and really, and I mean really, trying to make a shorter swing and turn onto it better, the 7 iron I was hitting flew miles and on a lovely trajectory. If only I could have done that an hour ago. The issue I continue to have and it has been a bugbear since I started the one plane swing is trying to keep the swing short and compact. In fact even with my old teaching pro Paul Harrison at N1 golf at Maidenhead Golf Centre the issue of over swing, resulting in a lift of the head and body and the club pointing across the line was one we never really managed to erase. The problem is that what I feel and what is happening in reality are often poles apart. My long suffering wife has often filmed me practising and I'll think I've made a solid and short swing and yet the video evidence tells a different story.

Last night though seemed different. It was only a 7 iron but the swing was shorter and the results were better. I was able to make a better turn into impact and finish in a better (lower) position. I feel that I'm beginning to make real progress and really understand what my swing is about. The sun is set to shine all week and so the plan is to hit some balls again and work through the bag from wedges up to the woods. The focus is on short and compact. I can then wander onto the course Thursday or Friday evening and put the swing to the test and then go out and enjoy the roll up on Saturday morning in a confident and ebullient mood.
I wouldn't say I enjoyed the experience last night or the feelings I had for the last five holes on Saturday where I couldn't string two shots together. I didn't think I needed the wake up call but from adversity comes fortitude and strength. I still feel I'm heading forward and feel so energised about all of my game now the chipping seems to have turned a corner. Or maybe it's just the feeling of the sun on my back at last. Either way the feeling is good and I like it

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Just Did Enough

Friday saw a return to some work on my long game and the session was one of those irritating ones where the ball striking wasn't great but you know it is only a fraction out and can't quite find the missing piece. Nonetheless it was going straight most of the time and so plenty to be confident about to take into my match for the club against Oxford City on Saturday. These are friendly affairs, and while everyone is doing their best to secure a win, the emphasis is still on having a good time. We do actually play Oxford City for an annual shield and 2012 saw the tie being played at home.

It's a better ball format of three quarter handicaps and I was paired with Gary McEwan a Scot off 6 handicap. I've played with him a few times and he's usually very steady which is ideal as my game is still a bit hit and miss. We were up against another 6 handicapper and the Oxford City 2010 club captain off 11.

Oxford City is always a fixture to look forward to - really friendly game and great banter whatever the scores and result
I'd topped my tee shot off the first last Sunday in the medal and for some reason felt compelled to repeat the trick. I made the green with the recovery but both Gary and I could only make a bogey four to be one down immediately. I settled into my game and made a par at the next as did my partner which was enough to get a half. Gary won the third with a solid par after I hit the green in regulation and then three putted from thirty feet. We were gifted the fourth when both the Oxford players made bogey. A par was enough for a half at the par five fifth.

I hit the green on the sixth as did Gary. However my putter wasn't required as he drained an outrageous twenty five footer for birdie from the front of the green. Despite being much closer neither of the opposition could find a reply. Two up.

I had a shot at the seventh, stroke index 2. My tee shot was well hit with a touch of draw. Too much in reality and I was blocked out by the large tree on the left side of the hole. Regular readers will know the tree and I have history. I clattered into it last weekend in the medal and no-one saw where the ball finished. The lost ball cost me a double bogey. I was very clear in my mind what I wanted to do. I wanted to take the five iron from 194 yards, aim at the tee box on the eighth and try and hit a big draw/hook. My feeling was that a straight shot would leave a pitch from the tee box, a slight draw would find the bunker and so wouldn't be in bad shape and if I executed then the pressure was really on the opposition. If I hit another ten shots from the same spot I wouldn't execute any that were as good as this. It missed the tree, had a lovely low flight and started on the tee as planned. It turned, and the turned some more pitching about forty yards short and ran into the heart of the green. Two putts and a par. Fair play though, Alan, the previous captain played the hole in far more conventional fashion, hitting the right part of the fairway and then the green and matched me with his shot.

The short par three eighth was halved in par although thanks to my partner as I found sand off the tee. However, I wasn't done yet. I found the fairway on the 400 yard par four ninth. My hybrid approach wasn't a great shot and it was fortunate to miss the left hand trap but landed on the banking beyond. As you MUST know by now chipping is a real issue at the moment. I'd gone back to the linear method at the 11th hour (about an hour before we teed off) and so confidence over the first crucial recovery was sketchy especially with the ball sitting up slightly in a patch of clover. The execution was good but just short of pace. With the opposition both missing the green and only managing a bogey I was left with a left to right putt from twelve feet. It never looked anywhere but in the middle. Par and three up at the turn. I was only three over gross. Rarified air!

Three became four when Gary knocked a birdie putt in at the next. The next two were halved and so standing on the thirteenth we were in a healthy position. I'd parred ten and eleven and made a bogey five gross (net par four) at the twelfth and so was still +4 gross. I missed the green left. The swing was shocking and a hint of what was to come. Again I faced with a tough ask of my new chipping method. Heavy rough and no green to play with. I elected to take the 58 degree wedge. Not a club I use often for chipping but with both Oxford players close in one there was nothing to lose. It flew out perfectly to about six feet but the putter was the culprit and I missed the putt for a half.

And then, the swing went missing. I found the fairway at the fourteenth and was getting a shot. Blocked out by the trees to the right of the fairway I only had to hit a low one down there and chip on. Somehow I found timber and hit it straight into the tree in front. My five iron third missed right and I made a horrid six (net five) although once again my man was there to get a half.

My swing suddenly got really quick. Tempo had gone and the elements of the one plane swing were lost and the club was flailing down the line after impact and the hips were sliding. I've no idea where this came from as I'd been hitting it solidly for the first thirteen holes. I was out of contention on the fifteenth thanks to a misplaced recovery into deep rough never to be seen again but Gary did his bit and made a battling par.

From nowhere the swing vanished. Tempo went, hips slid and it was all a bit of a mess

I was needed to stand up and be counted at the long par four sixteenth though when his drive looked to have gone left out of bounds. My bad shot when I get quick and start sliding instead of turning is a horrid snap hook. With out of bounds some ten yards left of the tee and extending down the length of the drive this wasn't a potent mix. I aimed well right thinking a block or a slice would still be playable. In the end it was a bit of a hook but it found the fairway although a long way out. I went with a five wood to try and get the green. The Oxford boys both went right and were forced to lay up. As we were three up, lying dormie, if I could make a net par then the game was up. I hit the five wood heavy as the swing got even quicker and the hips slid even more.

No damage and it nestled in the light rough about eighty yards short. My pitch found the front edge and I trundled a putt to within four feet. Not a given. I needed to make it for a half and the win and converted although not with any real confidence. It dribbled in rather than dropping with any speed or purpose. Still a 3&2 win is always good. My partner carried me for the large part of the back nine, certainly in the closing stages and so a big debt of thanks to Gary for being so reliable.

Even with the pressure off my last two holes weren't great. I played to or just above my handicap with the lost ball on fifteen which was disappointing but the scores didn't matter in the matchplay format. I was more upset that the swing vanished in the puff of smoke. I've no idea how or why and it isn't the first time recently that tempo has been an issue and that when it goes, the hip slide issues return. I've not got a fix for it on the course and the more I try to slow it down and focus on turning the worse it seems to be.

With the weather set fair for the next few days I'm planning to play a few holes every night and see if doing it for real rather than in practise is the way forward. It'll give me a chance to test the short game and putting too. I still plan to spend at least one night on the short game and another working on the swing. It is in there and getting better but definitely is still to shallow. It is the shallowness that causes the slide. I know that from my lessons but try as I might I can't steepen the path from a nice turn into impact. That'll be one for the next lesson no doubt.

On a positive note that's three club matches I've played this season and so far so good as I'm unbeaten with two wins and a draw. It is coming. The medal last week and the first three quarters of the round yesterday prove that and it isn't always about how the swing looks or feels but how the club travels and controls the ball. The short game is in a better place - FOR NOW - and the putter is warming up again after a frosty fortnight. Plenty to be upbeat about but also plenty to work on. Let's see what happens next.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Practise Or Prayer

After a nightmare time working on my chipping on Wednesday it was back to the putting green to crack this nut once and for all. It is clearly more of a mental rather than technical thing although the two are inextricably linked. There is a clear correlation between thinking I can't chip and then proving that once I'm over the ball. In truth for the most part last night it wasn't a whole lot better than the day before. I'm guilty of getting caught between a rock and a hard place, between two stools and any other metaphors you can think of.

I had a chipping lesson a fair while back and the set up was changed. Hands forward weight forward and most importantly for me, head forward. It was beginning to work and then got put on the back burner while bigger changes to my swing and the pursuit of a competent one plane action took priority. If I was being critical, I was never truly comfy like this and had been toying with the linear method of chipping where the hands are much more above the ball with the shaft more upright. The takeaway is straight back and the shot is controlled by a rotation of the body. I found this way better as the club head seemed to make decent contact and the ball reacted better even if I caught it a little fat or thin. The only problem would come if I didn't make a turn with the torso and the swing was all in the arms and became disconnected. With a more traditional set up I found the duff and the knife were still prevalent and I just felt there was more going on in my head trying to keep the weight forward, keep everything together, and make a smooth swing.

Not quite that bad yet but it feels like it at times
I tried to persevere with the older version and whilst the hybrid version I have of the linear method isn't necessarily textbook I feel much more compact over the ball, confident and feel that I can make a firm approach on the ball and execute the turn required to control the shot. Probably harder to write and read than it is to execute, although having seen my efforts yesterday maybe only marginally so. I've found a method (of sorts) that I am happy with and I was deliberately playing them off muddy and bare lies to ensure I wasn't making life too easy. A lot of those that came up short were down to not swinging far enough back or making a positive stroke but they came off these iffy lies towards the end well enough to be encouraging.

Right then. I've got the method sorted in my head and not chopping and changing between several approaches. What I can't do is clear the head full of chocolate frogs and find an inner strength to believe that I can chip and have the ability to make a good fist of each shot I play. I stand there and get so wrapped up in swing thoughts I almost get frozen and all natural flow is lost. The swing gets quick and stabby or slow and deliberate and neither produces consistent results. When I just stand there, even chatting to someone as I hit balls, the mind is clear and I just execute much more successfully and more often.

So what is the conclusion? Well the chipping is still a game of Russian roulette and I'm never quite sure what the outcome will be. Tension kills. I know that and have to find a way to get over the huge mental barrier I've clearly constructed. The only thing that I can think of that will help is to make sure that one way or another I find time to dedicate a few hours per week, at least one practise session, to working on it in a more positive and constructive manner. Success and confidence breed. The more I can see results, trust my technique and not question how I'm doing it the more I'll believe in it. At the end of the day if I hit some iffy ones and they still work out and get within reasonable putting difference is that really a bad result at my level? I'm not going to nestle each and every one next to the hole like an old dog in front of an open fire and maybe the old ultra critical Homer is back on the block.
Maybe I want too much, and want it in the perfect way. How is it I can hit long shots on the course and maybe catch it a fraction heavy or thin but as long as the result isn't catastrophic I'm happy. Sometimes we all mis-hit the ball and yet the outcome is perfect. Hands up, who has caught one wrong and thought it'll never find or stay on the green but somehow it manages to get there and give you a putt. Do we get stressed because we didn't make perfect contact? Of course not. We take our good fortune and move on. I can't translate this into my chipping and certainly not into my practise. Perhaps I'm too rigid in my approach. Maybe using the putting green and defined targets isn't what I need and I'm adding too much pressure. Would a session on a wide open practise ground with no targets be better. Become at one with the technique and with no brain baggage and then slowly begin to introduce targets and start looking for specific landing areas.
If I'm going to hit my target of a ten handicap this season then I am going to need a short game. The long game is coming and I'm more than happy with the quality of the ball striking. The driver doesn't always get the ball in play as often as I'd like but again this is coming. Bunker play and pitching are moving along and I've given the putter a stern talking too so hopefully it'll behave now. It is just the issue of chipping now. It won't beat me and if I have to go backwards and get more tuition then so be it although I'd rather stick to the current linear type method. Maybe I just need to get out on the course and go for it. All I do know is that whilst the head is reaching overload and the body isn't responding things aren't going to improve. Time for the glass half full Homer to step forward and clear the baggage. The slate is clean, the scars have healed and we're erase this week from the memory. Time to start again afresh next week with renewed vigour, clear focus and total trust in myself. The new road to ten and then single figures starts now.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Chipping - Why Are You Breaking My Heart

Wednesday proved to be an interesting day. A sneaky day off work and a chance to hit the club for a few holes, a bite to eat and a whole host of short game work. When I arrived the front nine was deserted and with a society booked in later it seemed rude not to go straight out. There was a stiff breeze blowing with plenty of sunny intervals. There always seems to be a breeze blowing these days and it can make a real difference to the way some of the holes play and are clubbed.

Without any warm up except for a few swishes of my 3 wood standing on the tee, the opening shot was thankfully well struck. A little right of target but at least I got it away and a lot further than the topped effort in the last medal. I had a simple pitch into the green which I executed adequately rather than brilliantly but mustered a four (net par). However it had set a tone and I'd continue to fritter too many shots.

This was the case at the 2nd where the second found the bunker some hundred yards short and left from a good position on the fairway. The ball was on an upslope and I caught it too heavy to make the full journey to the green. A pushed approach at the third found the right hand bunker after the drive had again hit the fairway. It cost another shot. Granted I was level with my handicap but I'd wasted two opportunities at the 2nd and 3rd to get off to a very strong start. A poor drive was the culprit on the 4th and my second went long with little control being exerted from heavy rough. No shot here to rescue me and a bogey five put me over the card.

The long par five 5th has often given me the chance to get back a dropped shot. I found the fairway and advanced it nicely down the hole to within 120 yards of the green in the light rough. Nothing too tricky to negotiate, just a smooth nine iron into the green and two putts. Where the topped approach came from is a mystery and it came as a shock and a surprise as the ball striking had been fine. A missed green at the par three 6th is almost a given these days and the tee shot wasn't well struck. Another bogey, no shot and now two over my handicap. I found the fairway at the 7th but too far left. The large oak guarding the edge of the ditch traversing the fairway was in the way. I planned to try and hit a draw and use the lay of the land to feed the ball back in. However the five iron was sweetly struck but pushed straight right onto the adjacent tee box on the 8th. Another shot frittered. It looked like another would go following a heavily struck tee shot at the tiny par three 8th. I played a good chip to within four feet and finally managed to hole a putt and save par.

I thought I'd hit the drive well off the tee at the 9th but the strong wind was into from the right and it just didn't seem to travel. I was left with 198 into the green and pulled the trusty five wood. I hit it well but it was heading for sand short and right. Fortunately by taking the wood and not the hybrid I was considering, it cleared the bunker and found the heart of the green. Two putts to finish with a solid par.

I wanted to put some serious time and effort into working on all facets of the short game so nine holes was more than enough. In the end 17 points and one over my handicap was frustrating as there were a lot of lax shots and I gave too many away. The putter was still ice cold and the pitching still not good enough but having retired to the 19th for a bit of sustenance these were right up there on the agenda to be sorted post lunch.

Suitably replenished it was off to the putting green. The putting mirror instantly showed what I had assumed all along and my head was not over the ball and the shoulders were out of line. A change in the address position and some work with the V-Easy to keep the wrists inactive and the stroke began to feel better and there was a definite thawing in the putter. Whether that will be the case on Saturday when I next play remains to be seen.

Whilst the putting was easily fixed and thirty minutes well spent the chipping remains an enigma and a world of hurt. I had thought I'd been making some degree of progress over the last few weeks given the limited time I'd invested on practise. This was a case of chickens coming home to roost. Old issues of too much thought, lack of technical ability and sheer panic over the ball allied to increasing frustration led to a cacophony of knifed and fatted shots. The more these happened the more the process seized up. There were some good ones in there where the swing was smooth and the body was allowed to rotate rather than the wrists getting active and wild chicken wing, unconnected swishes with little cohesion.

In the end I decided enough was enough and retired for a contemplative and well earned drink. Fully hydrated and with the mind clear I ventured into the bunker. The sand was very wet and actually bore little resemblance to the bunkers I'd found during my nine hole sortie earlier. However it was the only practise facility I had and so it would have to do. I already suspected the ball position had crept too far forward and so I was pleased to see that just by adjusting this the quality of the shots improved instantly. I played around with the shaft angle and presenting the bounce of the club and got some rather interesting and pleasing results. It still needs work in terms of distance control and whether tempo or swing length is the best way to dictate this but the balls were coming out on a nice trajectory and so I was happy enough.

That just left pitching to look at. There has been nothing wrong with the connection but the distance control had been lacking. I set up station about 30 yards from a flag on the practise ground and played around with different clubs, different positions and different swing lengths to get a feel for what was needed to transport the ball the full distance to the pin. In the end rather than trying to be too specific and work on the "a 9 o'clock swing with a sand wedge gets it there" approach I decided to rely a lot more on feel. With the shorter clubs there just has to be a feeling of being more positive and swinging further back and attacking it more. With longer clubs I can use tempo and open the face or move it around in the stance to dictate the shot a lot more. All in all though I feel I can stand on the course and feel much more confident about getting it close.

In hindsight I perhaps shouldn't have ventured back to the putting green to look at the chipping again. I've ended up with a head full of scramble thoughts and the body doesn't know whether to stick or twist. If I play the shots with an empty mind then for the most part I can make a passable effort but as soon as I start to think whether the arms are connected, the wrists are firm or breaking too much and if I'm neglecting to turn the body then frankly it's a complete and utter shambles. I need to pick one technique (linear or more traditional) and stick with it through thin and thinner. I'm going to keep working on it. Whether I get another lesson on it is open to question at the moment. The potential and the nucleus is in there I just need to play with more freedom and trust and keep the club head moving.

All in all though, not a bad way to spend a day off and I feel that for the most part I've made a lot of progress in a lot of areas which is encouraging. I need to keep working on the long game and encompass the new swing changes from the lesson I had last week and will continue to do so. If I can get the short game and putter to marry up with the way I'm hitting it at the moment then there are some very good scores to be had. I can feel the arc of the curve continuing in a positive path for a while longer.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Dear Short Game, I Hadn't Forgotten About You

Following my unexpected near miss in the medal on Sunday and having time to assess the performance it is pretty clear where the problems lay. Consecutive three putts on the fourth and fifth holes threw away needless shots and to be fair the putter was ice cold all day, nay all weekend, and I never looked like holing a putt. Even the short 1-2 footers seems fraught with danger and a couple of those slipped by. Strangely though the week before, particularly in the club match against Caversham Heath and in the Jubilee Cup my putting was rock solid. I'm not sure where it has gone other than the fact I've neglected to invest any time or energy into working on my stroke and practising.

I am still in the market for a new flat stick and currently favour the new Ping Anser range, especially the Anser 2. I definitely feel that I want a solid face and not one with any form of insert but a milled face putter doesn't come cheap. I have an original Anser from the mid 80's with a solid metal face. It has a soft feel that belies the firmness of the metal and has served me well over the years. It is just that certain "something" which I can't quite pinpoint that doesn't always feel 100% right. Some rounds it's a lovely wand and I ooze confidence and others like the ones at the weekend I get frost bite off it.

I'm planning to invest a lot of time to the short game over the next few weeks. The practise putting green had been tined and so there was little point trying to groove a stroke on something akin to a corrugated roof laid on Blackpool beach. One of the positives of all this showery weather is that it has now come on a treat and will be great to putt on. The cunning plan is simple. Get the putting mirror out to start with and make sure all the fundamentals are in place. I've had a history of closing the shoulders at address and standing too far away. The mirror will highlight these in a flash.

A putting mirror is superb at highlighting issues at address
I've got a great training aid that I've used for chipping called the V-Easy ( but it is also ideal for putting and will keep the wrists out of the stroke and get the shoulders rocking. Having sorted the stroke out I'll work through the distances. I've also got a hole reducer that slips inside the hole and makes it much harder for the ball to go in. Stand there and try and make 10 on the spin from 2-3 foot and then take it away and the hole suddenly looks like the proverbial bucket.

A hole reducer - maximum frustration at the time but worth the grief. The hole looks massive afterwards
Of course it isn't just the putting that needs time invested. I had been making baby steps forward in my ongoing battle with a shoddy short game and there were a few rounds where it looked scarily like I knew how to chip. This wasn't the case on Sunday. Again, the truth of the matter is that it is quite simply the weakest part of my game and so should really have the greatest proportion of my practise regime invested in it. However with the big swing changes I've been working on following my lessons in the last few months there hasn't been the time to marry all the facets needing work and the time available. Fancy having to work for a living. It gets right in the way of my golf. Of course the beauty of being able to chip onto the putting green at Royal Ascot means that I can work on the short game and then have some fun and give myself some challenges to play different shots with different clubs to different hole locations and force myself to try and get up and down. At least this will make the practise more interesting and realistic.

Then we have bunkers. I had a lesson not so long ago and we changed more or less everything from the grip, address position and the way I hit the ball to use the bounce of the club more. It was working great and consecutive sand saves in the competition round the weekend after the lesson proved that the man talks sense and that it works. Again, a combination of a flooded practise bunker and diverting my attention elsewhere has seen the ability to escape from the sand diminish. I left two in the sand in the roll up on Saturday and one flew over the green in the medal where I took hardly any sand with the shot. Hopefully the need for a snorkel will have gone and I can get into the sand and focus on hitting the ball in the right place. I suspect the position has crept forward but I need to get the sand beneath my feet and play around with it to be sure.

Finally, there is the pitching part of the game. Again whilst I was never one to knock flags out with my approaches from a hundred yards and in, I was always confident of getting within ten to fifteen feet regularly. I've lost my feel for these shots. Of all the short game elements this is always the one that seems to get shoved to one side. I did spend a while a few weeks ago hitting a lot of shots to some of the flags on the practise field and these were pretty good. I could even vary the trajectory and the spin which was pleasing. However I've not been able to take this onto the course in the last few rounds and so even playing conservatively when I've got in trouble has meant I've rarely knocked it close enough to give me a realistic opportunity to rescue a par. Similarly, on a par five I've not put the approach shots into birdie country.

It is apparent that I've a long way to go with the full swing and turning the faults, particularly the shallow angle into impact into something much better. For the most part it is working up to a point. Certainly it is beyond my wildest dreams in terms of how easy the transition has been and how impressive the results are. I still need to work on it. Impact angle and club head direction are the two key areas that need to be understood and made better. That will take time but what I do have the ability to change here and now is the short game. It doesn't take a genius to realise that golf magazine, internet articles and a plethora of instructional material all focus on the short game. I'm tantalisingly close to dropping down to 11 now and I only really need to be saving 2-4 shots per round in competitions to really ensure that the worse I can expect each time is the buffer zone. If I can come second like Sunday without really focusing on scoring then this really is positive. All I wanted to do was go out and swing like I'd been shown in the lesson last Thursday. That was all I was trying to do and yet the score took care of itself.

Without making a putt, knocking it close with a wedge or getting up and down I got it round. The one lost ball was a course management issue and the strike I put on the shot was actually very good. I just didn't factor in hitting it straight into a large oak tree. Do you know what the other thing about the short game is? I love, absolutely adore, working on it and could easily lose three or four hours at a time particularly on pitching and chipping. I've never really had the skills to make bunker play fun. Indeed Wimbledon Common where I learned my game is bereft of any bunkers and so it never really featured in my regime. Now I have access to practise bunkers at both Royal Ascot and Blue Mountain I've no excuses.

I'm really looking forward to dedicating some time to the short game and seeing the results. It is fun, easy to do (if you forget about my inability to chip) and will only benefit the game. I'll never be a short game guru but if it shaves the final few shots off the handicap and gets me to my goal of 10 then all the time, sweat and effort will be worth it. Expect to see me at a short game area near you soon.

Monday, 14 May 2012

A Surprise - And Then The Frustration Sets In

Having had a constructive lesson with Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Centre on Thursday night and a productive practise session on Friday evening I was moderately optimistic about the Saturday morning roll up. In truth I struck the ball reasonably well given the scope of the swing changes we made and the lack of time to bed these in but I just couldn't find a way to score. In the end the 25 point total was more a story of an ice cold putter and a lack of trust in the swing. There were some decent enough shots in terms of ball striking but it was a tale of missed greens and out of sorts short game. Which ever way you cut it though it didn't bode well for the stiff challenge a monthly medal presents.

Sunday morning dawned in glorious warm sunshine although there was a frisky breeze blowing that would make life interesting out on the course. I wasn't up for the challenge given the problems of Saturday and the fact I was having trouble transferring what I had worked on into a swing I believed in on the course. Mentally I was prepared to accept a 0.1 handicap rise in return for another round in the memory bank and a chance to put the changes into action on the course. Arguably not the best way to prepare or the right frame of mind to have on the first tee but there you go. I was drawn with a Royal Ascot "veteran" Tommy Goode, long standing member and familiar face around the place and Mike Goodwin, a blunt, straight talker and a very solid golfer. I always enjoy their company and so I was looking forward to the round even if the golf didn't promise much.
As it turned out it started well enough. Granted the opening tee shot was a top and I was left with 110 yards to go on a 229 yard par 3 but the nine iron recovery nearly set up an unlikely par but a four (nett par) was good enough. I secured a par five at the second courtesy of a great 4 iron from 173 yards. It isn't often I catch the long irons absolutely pure and I really enjoyed the feeling. After a nett par at the third I was one under my handicap and going along nicely. Of course in Homer's world that was never going to last and so an ugly three putt at the 4th soon put that right.

The putter had been cold on Saturday and for the medal it was positively glacial. I hit what I thought was a good approach to the 5th hole, the par 5, but the wind caught it and it stalled and landed on the front of the green. Shame the flag was up two tiers and at the back. The first putt was actually quite good, finishing some three feet away but the par putt never scared the hole. Another three putt.

As you should be aware, disaster is usually only a swing of the club away and this time it came at the 7th. I pulled the tee shot left but found a perfect lie in the semi-rough. I had a shot straight over the environmental area (out of bounds) which was well within my compass or the option of a safe shot back into play some hundred yards or so short of the green but with a straightforward pitch. No prizes for guessing which option I took. In my defence I hit it perfectly. On the downside I hit it straight into the large oak right of my target line. Where it flew from there is anyones guess. I hit a provisional but the five minute search was fruitless. In the end the single putt for a double bogey salvaged an air of respectability from a very poor shot selection. What have I said before about course management?

We found a few on the 7th - but mine had gone to ground and decided to stay there
Rattled I missed the green at next, the short par 3 and put it in a greenside bunker. The recovery had no sand under it and cleared the green. I completely thinned the chip and was mighty fortunate to hit the flag and stop stone dead for a tap in bogey putt when a double or worse was on the cards. I managed a par at the 9th and out in 42 (+7) which was perhaps better than it could have been.

Having split the fairway at the 10th I missed the green left with an 8 iron. Unforgivable and no excuses. The bunker shot was adequate but not good (mental note to self, get out and work on the sand shots) and so I made a nett par when a gross one should have been converted. Still, I hit the par 3 next and made par and made a good nett par at the 12th (stroke index 1) when the drive had put me in trouble. When I hit the green and made par at the 13th I was one under the handicap for the back nine and in with a chance of a handicap cut. Like the front nine, there was to be the inevitable sting in the tail. I hooked the tee shot on the 14th left. I found it but it was in an unappetising position in deep rough. It really was lost world territory. Deep. Very deep. The options to take a penalty drop either within two club lengths or in line with the flag didn't give any real advantage and so it was really a case of hit and hope and try to move it back into play. The first attempt moved it about a yard and the third shot only just saw it back onto the cut grass. By the time I putted out for a triple bogey seven I'd used my handicap allowance and was now battling to remain in the buffer zone.

The rough on the left of the 14th is not the place to go
The driver behaved itself at the short par five 15th. A good job too as the hole was playing into what had now turned into a stiffish breeze. I managed to make par although not with an air of any authority. The drive at the 16th was blocked right and the lie dictated there would be no heroics. A punched 5 iron back into play and a third onto the green. Two putts later and I'd made a nett par. No damage done. The 17th is a long 218 yard par 3 and was playing back into a cross wind from right to left. I hit a full blooded three wood and caught it well enough to send the ball onto the green. Another safe two putts and another par secured. A good finish at the last would see me hit the buffer zone.

I saved the best for last and hit my best drive of the day. It was into the wind and despite nailing my five wood second shot I was still 129 yards away. This would usually be a safe 8 iron but into the breeze I opted to club up and hit a 7 instead. I put a great swing on it and it looked great in the air and landed on line with the flag although I couldn't see how adjacent it was. I was might disappointed to see that the wind had held it up and it had only made the front of the green and was twenty five feet away. The putter finally kicked into life and I rolled it stone dead for a safe par. Back in 41 (+6) for a total score of 83 nett 71 (+1).

As far as I was concerned that was going to be at least a couple of shots shy. Imagine my surprise to receive an e-mail later in the day to say I had finished second in my division and had lost out on countback. We can all look back and say "if only" but the harsh truth is had I taken the pragmatic approach at the 7th and even turned the triple bogey into a double then I'd have won. On the plus side, the competition scratch score (CSS) went out to 72 and so my score was actually good enough for a modest 0.2 handicap cut. I seem to be making a habit of getting pipped at the post, either on countback or by someone else producing a stunning round to eclipse my efforts. The result was a shock. I had gone out with little expectation and was just trying to put the new swing into practise in a competitive environment. The result then leaves a feeling of frustration. Had I been more focused, had I played some holes differently how easily I could have won.
If I am being brutally honest, it wasn't until the realisation that I'd used my handicap allowance that I really began to focus. Before that I was happy to swing the club and take the consequence and just focus on ensuring it encompassed the changes I'd been working on. In the end, I played the last four holes in one over par and really the drive at the 16th was the reason for the dropped shot. It goes to prove though that I can do it and that perhaps the failure of the round on Saturday was just a bump in the road and not a big problem. The swing still isn't quite right with the wrist cock honed over the last thirty years still taking the club frustratingly across the line. I need to be able to turn on a flatter plane and keep the wrists passive but the work I'm doing is about correcting the impact position and ball flight. It doesn't have to look great as long as it works. There is still some way to go and a whole heap of work to do on the short game and putting as well. However, the scores are coming and the handicap is dropping and so there is a lot to be happy about. I'll keep working and knocking on the door and sooner or later it is going to open. There is a really low score in there that will come out soon.

In the end you have to be happy whenever you get a cut and whilst it would have been nice to have won, it isn't the end of the world and there will be other opportunities. I'll take this as a huge positive and an endorsement that the work Rhys and I are doing is working well and that there is still a lot to come and that can only bode well. Definitely a glass half full feeling.

Friday, 11 May 2012

A Change For The Better

A wild and windy Downshire Golf Centre on a Thursday night. A bit bleak considering we're into Summer but the venue of my latest lesson with Rhys ap Iolo. Having deviated from the Plane Truth system in the last two lessons to take in a chipping and a bunker lesson it was back to the swing itself. I've felt in recent weeks that I've made progress and my cut in the Haig Cup at Royal Ascot over Easter from 13.3 to 12.0 would indicate that the swing is beginning to develop into something a lot more stable and reliable.

As usual the warm up went well and I was hitting the ball with ease and consistency. Stand on the mat in the teaching bay and I become a gibbering wreck and the swing resembles an octopus receiving electro-shock therapy. To be fair though the swings that Rhys recorded show that the shallowness and below the plane downswing I've struggled to cure is getting much closer to getting back into the right position. On the down side the backswing and in particular the club head at the top of the swing being across the line is still a huge issue. This causes reactionary and corrective processes on the downswing to deliver the club properly and the need for me to have the timing "on" to do so regularly.

Therefore it was back to basics. More work on the takeaway and getting the club set in a flatter and more off-set position. The logic behind this is that it will give me room to make a turn and get a steeper angle of attack, with more control of where the club head travels and finish in a much more balanced and flatter position. Rhys had me visualising hitting a ball off a lofted stand akin to a baseball swing to get use to the club head travelling flatter and more behind me. Very different to any of the feelings I've been use to recently. On the plus side we've low ceilings at home so I could give this a go with something like a 6 iron. Mind you not sure the wife will like the marks on the plaster if I revert to old habits and get too steep.

The interesting thing is that it felt so wrong and that I was destined to bring the hosel of club down on the ball resulting in a shank. It was a mental thing and lo, swing it behind and turn and ye shall make good conduct and the ball will high and true. In addition there is no need to focus on a good hip turn or the angle of attack (although this will need to get steeper over time) and everything falls into place.

The great thing with working with Rhys and the Plane Truth system is that he sort of lets you work it out for yourself. I hit a ugly fat shot and he asked why it happened. The glaringly obvious answer was I hit the big ball (planet earth) before the little white one. I had to stop and think about it a bit but it came down to a shallow swing and a hip slide and what I couldn't see was the club had got out of position behind me and I'd gone back to the old ways. The position he wants to get the club in is counter-intuitive and so it is off to the practice field at Royal Ascot to work on it. Fortunately it is only the usual roll up on Saturday and so if I go out on the course and it crumbles then apart from a few lost balls then I'm no worse off. There is a monthly medal on Sunday which has the potential to be painful but at the end of the day if I get 0.1 back on the handicap I just need to work harder to shave it back off. When it clicks and I've no doubt that it's a case of when and not if, then I think this will be another giant link in the chain that is the new and improved one plane swing.

Yet again I walked out of the lesson invigorated and fresh for the challenge. Yet again Rhys has taken away what I thought was going so well, but has done so like a silent assassin and it doesn't feel a contrived or forced process and certainly isn't change for the sake of a more stylish looking swing. In fact he doesn't care, up to a point, what it looks like as long as the club meets the ball in the right way and the club head path is under control. It's funny how I feel I've come so far in such a short space of time since the first meeting with him in December and yet I don't really feel I've had to make huge changes at all. What I have done seems to have been very natural and easily assembled. It is working for the most part on the course and when it does go wrong I know the causes and can usually find a band-aid fix of sorts to get the ball round. After last night he has reaffirmed why the club is doing what it is doing and how I'm still having to rely on natural (yeah right) timing more than I should.

I'm a little nervous about my practice session as no-one likes to stand there and watch the balls disappear all over the place in a variety of different mis-hits. However as long as I focus on what I need to do, get the feeling working and eventually find a way to deliver the club to the ball properly then all the pain will be worth the effort. Fortunately I love this part of the lesson and putting in the work after the teacher has corrected the fault. It is a huge feeling of satisfaction when you get the first one spot on, and more so as you do this more and more. It reaches a natural conclusion when you can take it onto the course and it works. I don't expect it to be perfect on every hole and there will be an element of not trusting it 100% for a while. However get it right and it starts to become easier to just rely on.

Of course it's inevitable I'll put the work in, get it firing nicely and report back to Rhys for the next lesson only for him to introduce the next stage and so the cycle will start again. It isn't a swing rebuild of major proportions and as I've mentioned he's not doing it for the sake of it, but just a question of taking what I have, stripping it back a little and putting it on a firmer footing. It is a process I understand and I trust him implicitly to give me something more substantial which will stand up over the competitive golf to be played this summer and get me well on the way to my target of 10 by the end of the season. Once we can get this fundamental right and can then introduce the steeper angle of impact then for the most part I think the process will be complete. I'm sure Rhys may not agree. From there we can tweak and shave away the layers but it'll be a lot more solid and reliable. We can then dedicate a lot of time to the short game where we can really shave some shots off the score and hopefully get me to where I want to go. I'll definitely be a happy Homer.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

When It Goes.....It Goes

It was the Jubilee Cup at Royal Ascot on Bank Holiday Monday. It's a better ball event off three quarter handicaps and I was with my usual partner Mike Stannard. I have a certain affinity with this event having won it 2010 with a former Ascot member Hywel Lloyd and enjoying a stout top ten defence with Mike last year in our first event as a pairing. Although the day dawned bright and sunny the forecast was not optimistic and the grey clouds were gathering long before we made our way to the first tee. We were partnered with Colin Osborn and Steve Downey who are regular members of the our normal Saturday morning roll up so we were in for an enjoyable round with some good banter.

On reflection, it all started so well. Too well. I managed to chip and putt for a par at the first, giving Mike a free run at an opening birdie after his superb opening tee shot had found the heart of the green on the 229 yard first hole. It ran agonisingly past. We both made errors on the approach shot to the 2nd and although we secured a nett par, it was a hole we should have taken advantage of. Mike though did make a par at the third to put us briefly up on the card but this was pegged back when my bogey at the fourth was the best we could do. I made a par (nett birdie) at the fifth to restore our advantage and then made an up and down from the right of the sixth green. Surely the short game wasn't firing? Well actually the chip came up some ten feet short and the par was secure courtesy of a clutch putt rather than a simple tap in.

I went on to secure a rare par (for me) at the seventh with a good five wood off the tee and a hybrid into the centre of the green. I even hit the green on the shortest hole, the eighth which is something I'd not managed for a few rounds. I should have made a par at the ninth but missed a two footer after a sublime recovery from deep rough well right of the target. I say sublime, but in truth it was a good old fashioned hit and hope that for once came off. Just for now the omens were looking good as we reached the turn in 19 points. Oh how easily I'm fooled.

The rain started on the tenth tee. Hard and persistent enough to force the waterproofs on. I made another par at the tenth. Usually I get a shot here but off the lower handicap mark this was only enough for a two point tally. Mind you, from where the drive finished short and left it was a good result. My recovery finished just right of the green and I hit a decent chip to within six feet and managed to hole the putt. I came to the fore again on the toughest hole (stroke index 1) the 409 yard dog leg par four that is the twelfth. A good drive was accompanied by a better second and had the greens been running truer I could have been more aggressive with the birdie. As it was they had been hollow tined in the week and were a little unpredictable, especially from short range.
I was the only one of the quartet to find the green at the thirteenth and recorded another solid par and at this stage we were a couple under handicap. A strong finish would see Mike and I well and truly in the mix. And there comes the crux. The astute amongst you will have noticed that a lot of the good scores to date have been preceded by the word "I". Unfortunately poor Mike was having one of those golfing days to forget. You all know the one. Things aren't going great but the harder you try the worse it gets. Frustration creeps in and the bottom falls out of your golfing world. I'm not sure who Mike had borrowed his swing from for the day but it wasn't from a competent golfer and he was really having a hard time.

Some days not matter what you do it is never going to work
I really felt for him. I know from personal experience just how agonising it is when it goes wrong like this. I'm sure if you are are a regular reader of the blog you'll know that much of 2011 was littered with entries detailing the pain and angst of another round that had fallen apart in spectacular fashion. To be fair to Mike, he had spent most of last season carrying me and I knew that he was still trying his hardest over every shot. It's really toughd watching a good golfer struggling with his game. What can you do? I knew he was still trying to find something, anything, to help contribute just as I did in similar positions last year. It is hard watching a mate clearly wishing he was anywhere else than the back nine at Royal Ascot in the pouring rain.

Remember I said the omens were good? Well by the time we'd wandered off the fourteenth green they were in tatters. My tee shot found trouble left. I recovered and put my third just short of the putting surface. No need to panic as I was getting a shot. Mike had got a decent strike off the tee. A little left in the first cut of rough but in a good position to advance the ball somewhere adjacent to the green, This was where Mikes swing went into full and final meltdown by the time he was within spitting distance of the green he had taken too many to contribute to the points tally. Not to worry, two putts from just off the green would do the trick. The first putt just about covered half distance and the second rattled by. Three feet left for a point. I think we all know how it finished. In this format, it's a schoolboy error, no actually more of a cardinal sin, that both players fail to register a point between them on a hole.
I had a real horror down the par five fifteenth. Mike again managed to find a decent position in two but couldn't quite find a way to get the job done. Still his single point was better than nothing. The domino effect took hold and as Mike continued to struggle then my game also began to disintegrate. We found a way of both failing to register a point at the sixteenth. The seventeenth gleaned another solitary point and by the time I'd dumped two balls in the greenside pond on the last our race was well and truly run. I think we were both glad to get off the course, out of the rain and into the sanctuary of the 19th.

Both Mike and I were armed and dangerous
Our partners Colin and Steve were steady, especially on the back nine and came in with a respectable 37 points. Not enough to challenge but far better than our modest 32 point tally which saw Mike and I down in the also rans. To be honest even though I contributed significantly until I hit the golfing equivalent of the wall on the fourteenth I wasn't overly happy with the quality of the ball striking. It hadn't been great the day before in the club match against Caversham Heath but to be honest the opposition were playing poorly and so it masked a lot of the issues. I'm annoyed that the swing disappeared in smoke on the back of one bad drive. Was I trying too hard to compensate for Mike's poor round? Not consciously. I just seemed to lose the ability to hit the ball where I intended. On the plus side, Mike is too good a golfer to be in the doldrums for long and I'm sure he'll find the form that got him to single figures.

As for me, there is still some work to do to get the one plane swing working. I know I'm coming in way too shallow and that the hips don't always turn properly and can start sliding. I guess it's back to the drills I've been shown and trying to get it ingrained. The good news is that I've a lesson booked for Thursday evening and so at least I can get Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Centre to cast his beady eye on where I'm at. I managed to find a way to make some good scores on some of the holes over the course of the weekend and so I know I can theoretically score well on each hole. Consistency is the key and during the round I'm not fussed how I put a score together as long as I do. Over time I want to find a swing that is stronger and more robust so that I can avoid these periodic scoring breakdowns. I've got a nine hole playing lesson to use with Rhys and so I'm hoping he'll give me some tips on course management and strategies to cope when the swing goes AWOL.

At the moment we are only just heading into the guts of the season. I'm in a much better place than I was with my game even at the start of the calendar year. Everyone has bad rounds and my bad ones are getting less cataclysmic and I have a better understanding of what is going wrong when it does. I can usually find a way to get it round in some fashion and so with the progressive work I'm continuing to do I'm confident the last five hole meltdown will be a very small blip on an otherwise productive season. As for my partnership with Mike. It's as solid as ever and we'll be back stronger and more determined than ever. We're in the Volvo matchplay and there will be other pairs events during the season at Royal Ascot and hopefully we'll manage to both get it right on the same day for once. Well, you have to live in hope!

Monday, 7 May 2012

Ham And Eggs

Another Bank Holiday and more rain forecast. I'd been selected to play for the club in their friendly match at home to Caversham Heath Golf Club on Sunday (May 6th) and the forecast wasn't looking great. However as we tucked into the pre-match brunch of ham, egg and chips the sun came out and things were looking good.

I was paired with Paul Hadden, a 13 handicapper. I'd not played with Paul in one of these club matches before and we were drawn against a 7 and 16 handicapper and were second match out. The club had been doing extensive work on the greens this week and so the putting surfaces were not at their best but aside from that the rest of the course was looking a picture. The wet weather meant the rough had suddenly become lush and thick and was to be avoided at all costs and the fairways had been cut and provided some fine definition on each hole.

As a pairing Paul and I were gelling well and if either one of us had a bad hole, the other seemed to be there to carry the load and we managed to get our noses two up early on. I was playing reasonably, but I wasn't happy with the quality of the ball striking although I was for the most part finding a way to get it round. To be honest we weren't being overly exerted as the opposition were struggling as a pair and were often struggling to scramble a half on the holes.

When I found the par four 9th in two, and converted for a par we reached the turn 3 up. A par at the next was followed by a solid par at the 11th by Paul to keep the advantage and when I made a nett par at the 409 yard par 4 12th we had nicked another and extended the lead. I hit a decent tee shot at the 13th and was the only one of the quartet to find the putting surface and the par put Paul and I dormie five up. We duly did enough at the next to secure a convincing 5&4 victory.

In the end the match was tied overall 3-3 so it was good to get a point on the board. Paul and I "ham and egged" well as a team. He is a very consistent player and was rarely in trouble. I was my usual cavalier self and had some good holes and the odd wayward moment. Although the match was over, the 15th hole illustrated the point perfectly.

It's a short par 5 of 478 yards but I'd found the lush rough left off the tee. Despite the game being finished I tried to play safe and took an 8 iron to carry the ditch that crosses the fairway and failed miserable sticking the ball straight in. Having retrieved the ball from the ditch I took a penalty drop and was left with 187 yards of a slight downhill lie. I took the 3 hybrid and although I caught it a little thin it was arrow straight at the flag. It pitched short of the green and rolled and rolled towards the pin stopping a matter of inches away for a tap in par 5. When it's your day, it's your day.

The opposition were very sporting and to be fair caught the two of us on a day when it just clicked. I hit a few good shots, but a lot of mediocre ones too in terms of the quality of the swing and the strike. It was a day that I managed to fashion a respectable performance out of an average swing. There is a lot going on that isn't right but fortunately I'm off to see my teaching professional Rhys ap Iolo this week and so we can sort the problems out and hopefully get me back on track. I was happy to gain a modicum of revenge by winning because it was the away fixture last season where I finally lost my unbeaten record in club matches after a run of seventeen games. I knew it had to go eventually but I got turned over 5&4 with former club captain Pat Quaid. That's a ghost laid to rest and the new unbeaten streak is up to two and counting.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Seve Blue - Remembering The Genius

It's hard to believe that a year has already passed since the world of golf lost one of its most flamboyant and charismatic characters ever when Seve Ballesteros sadly passed away. For many, including me, he still remains the defining golfer of his age and one of the all time greats. There has been a flurry of activity on the social media sites particularly Twitter and there is a call to mark this first anniversary of his untimely death. The idea is for club golfers and professionals alike to wear "Seve blue" to celebrate the great man. This is is a great idea and the pictures of Seve in a navy blue jumper, white shirt and blue trousers celebrating another fabulous win are fixed permanently on the psyche of many players around the world. That was his staple last day garb long before Tiger came along in his red shirt on a tournament Sunday. There is a a very positive and active trend on Twitter worth checking out at #Seveblue. I will be doing my piece and will wear blue and white for the monthly stableford on Saturday and again in the Jubilee Cup on Monday. If even 0.1% of the talent of the man rubs off then I'll play some fantastic stuff this weekend.

It is hard to pick an ultimate Seve moment. There are just too many in a career that had it all. Major titles, near misses, tournament wins around the world, a passion and hunger for the Ryder Cup second to none, and a legacy to golf with the courses he designed or remodelled. I guess for me the one that stands out and I remember repeating without any hint of shame or irony was that fist pump in the Open when the birdie putt dropped and victory was sealed.

That aside, the picture of his great friend Jose Maria Olazabal on his shoulders in the sunlight in the Ryder Cup captures not only their kinship but the consuming desire they both felt representing Europe in the biennial matches. It might already been a year since his passing but the name will never be forgotten.

There are many out there with far more capability with the written word who will pay a far more fitting eulogy on this first anniversary. However as nothing more than a dedicated but humble club golfer, it was the ability to watch Seve in his pomp and go out with some mis-guided notion that in some way we could recreate his artistry that stays with me. Growing up as a junior at Wimbledon Common Golf Club we would often take on the persona of our favourite player and play out some sort of fantasy final round of a major or a Ryder Cup duel. I was always Seve although the only passing resemblance I had was the ability to send my ball to far flung parts of the course never normally inhabited by a golfer. Unlike the mercurial Spaniard my ability to thread my ball through a gap in the branches with the touch of a surgeon and the accuracy of a laser missile was sorely lacking. Normally it would rattle around in the woods, cannoning around like a demented pinball and eventually come to rest in some equally inescapable predicament. It never stopped me taking the shot on. Think like Seve... act like Seve.

It would be fantastic to see courses up and down the country flooded in a sea of navy and white in tribute. I'm sure most of you will have a blue jumper and white golf shirt tucked away somewhere so go on, get involved and remember the talent of the man. There are few in golf that has touched so many people in so many ways so let the first anniversary be a chance for everyone to remember the great man. Get the Seve blue on, get out there and play with the joie de vivre that was the Seve way.