Thursday, 28 June 2012

Start The Car

What a stupid game golf is. I'm not the first person to say that of course but in the last few weeks I've lurched from mediocrity at Camberley but last night produced some magnificence. It was the first round of the Volvo Matchplay, a national event, played on a knockout basis in regionalised heats. I was partnering my good friend Mike Stannard and we had a home draw at Royal Ascot against a pair from Calcot Park in Reading playing off an impressive 10 and 11 handicap.

The opposition had the honour and one went left of the green and the other came up just short on the 229 yard par three opener. Mike responded first and found the left hand green side bunker. I struck my tee shot well but pushed it. It sailed way right of target and finished on the bank high and wide of the hole. I shouldn't have had a shot at all but I had a decent lie and although it was a little hit and hope it found the green. Mike had a few issues in the bunker and with one of the Calcot pair chipping stone dead I was faced with a left to right twelve foote. It dropped for the most improbable half.

I parred the first four holes which was fortunate as the Calcot pair were solid and par was required at every hole to keep the score level. I made an error at the par five fifth but Mike was there to save the day. Both Mike and I hit the green on the 178 yard par three sixth hole and with both opponents wide of the mark it looked like the first breakthrough. However a gutsy seven footer for par and missed birdie putts by both Mike and I meant we were still tied.

The Volvo Matchplay - a big event for amateur golfers
The scores were still tied after the seventh. However I hit a great iron into the eighth green and finally found a putt for a birdie two and a win to take the Ascot duo one up. I carved my tee shot right into heavy rough at the ninth and could only lay up some seventy yards short. Everyone else hit the fairway. Mike missed right and the Calcot both missed the target. I hit a gem of a pitch to finish four feet away. The Calcot team both chipped short and failed to make par. Although Mike had chipped close I was able to roll in the par save to secure another win to go two up at the turn. In fact, I'd managed to go out in three over par gross including a double bogey at the fifth and seventh. Confirmation indeed that I had finally found a way to play this infernal game and get it round and make a score.

Two up became three at the tenth when both the Calcot pair made a real mess of what is a relatively straight forward hole. Granted we dodged a bullet at the par three eleventh. Having missed the green, Mike managed to scramble a par to secure a half. We won the twelfth to go four up and seven to play.

It seemed certain we'd give one back when both Calcot players found the green and Mike and I missed on the 187 yard thirteenth. I duffed my first chip and only put my next one ten feet away and faced a vicious downhill left to right putt. I was certain it was academic as surely one of them would make par. The greens had been slow all round. In fact they were bordering on embarrasingly so but they both managed to three putt. All of a sudden my putt mattered. I found a way to make it and the momentum shift was immense. We did enough at the fourteenth to get a half and lay dormie four up.

The end came swiftly as one Calcot player carved his drive right into the deep grass. Lost ball. The other hit it short and left. His attempted recovery found the fairway bunker and the next disappered into the vegetation. Another lost ball. Both Mike and I made a safe par and it was all over 5&3.

The result arguably flattered us as it was certainly a lot tighter than the score suggests especially on the front nine. In the end I think the pace of the greens got into their mind a little and there was little belief in any of their putts from range. I guess it must be hard to come from slick true surfaces to greens playing so much slower but at the end of the day, it is the nature of the event and you have to be able to travel and be competitive enough to win if you want to progress towards the regional final.

From a personal perspective I was pleased with how well I struck the ball all evening. I did get a little quick tempo wise from the eleventh to the fourteenth but Mike and I "ham and egged" well throughout. In the end I was only +9 gross and so came home three under my handicap. I've a lesson booked for Friday so hopefully I can build on these solid foundations and hope the recent blip was just that. A tiny glitch in an otherwise progressive season.

Mike and I are still waiting to find out the opposition in the next round although we have secured a home tie. If we can combine as a team like we did last night then we can be a tough nut to crack. So often it sems one or the other fails to bring their Z game let alone their A or B version. Last year was a big disppointment. We lost at home in the first round, in extra time at the 19th hole, courtesy of a chip in for birdie. It was good to get a win under the belt. Start the engine, we're off and running.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Thank Be To The Internet

A lot has been written about social media, a lot of it doom mongering about how it has taken away the art of conversation and face to face interaction. On the other hand, it has proven to be a vital link and communication tool as our lives get busier and we're on the go longer. I'm on twitter (@mbedboro if you want to follow me) and fortunately so is my teaching professional Rhys ap Iolo (@Rapi31).

As you will all know by now my game is in a bit of a slump and form is patchy. I'm not hitting the ball well even with dedicated and constructive practise. Fortunately Rhys has been following the latest tale of woe and got hold of me via Twitter to offer a potential cause and effect and a solution.

Twitter has let me keep in touch with my teaching pro and talk over issues without him seeing me hit a ball - a real help!
Armed with the information and desperate for the working day to end, I dived up to Royal Ascot now we've got the course and the practise field back following the horse racing last week. The scene on the practise ground was something reminscant of a plough field. I appreciate it is used as a coach park for the week and the weather had been wet, so I expected it to be a little churned in places. What we are left with is a tiny area of undamaged grass to hit from and a muddy, featureless patch of ground to fire at. I know from experience it'll come back in time but this is here and now. I've got issues and I need them sorted and sorted now.

I found a tiny patch to work on and settled down to implement the advice of my trusted teaching professional. The early results were not good, partly through a hint of rustiness, a large dollop of simply not trusting what I was working on, and a big slice of trying to get rid of the stuff that wasn't working. On the plus side his tweets indicated he thought the work I was putting in was on the right lines (hard for him to say without seeing for himself of course) and that I just needed to focus on getting steeper into impact.

Our club pro, Ali White was giving a youngster a lesson and wandered over after he'd finished. We had a chat about stuff and I hit a few. Always reassuring when you hear any pro say "you're striking that well". They were flying high and with a hint of draw. Now Rhys won't be happy about that last bit as he's trying to reduce the amount of movement I get in the air but if he's reading this, let me assure him that it was a genuine soft right to left shape and not the more violent ten-fifteen yards of shape I've been getting. Progress n'est pas?

The session as a whole with my irons was a reaffirming session that has told me that the game may not be in as dark a place as I'd thought. The woods are still an issue and I think I'm just getting too quick on those, trying too hard to hit them. It has come at a good time as I'm due to play my first round of the Volvo pairs this week with Mike Stannard. The cunning plan is to get there early and hit a few balls to get a good tempo and bash a few woods away to make sure I'm happy. A trip to the putting green for a little chip and putt and then into battle.

I've a lesson booked with Rhys for Friday so we can get to grips with the issues then. I just need something functional to give Mike some able support as we look to go further than our first round defeat at the 19th hole last year.

As for me, I'm in a better place confidence wise is nothing else and Rhys will be pleased to know that the club is more in front and exiting left (he'll know) and that actually the ball striking was very good despite the desperate conditions. The world has become a smaller place thanks to Twitter and while a lot of the traffic may leave many scratching their heads and simply asking "why?" for many it is now a vital tool. I am still on track to get to my handicap target, and the big events such as Captain's Day and the Club Championship are coming up. There seems to be a competition almost every week at the moment and so it just needs a couple of good rounds to get back to 11 and then we can chip away at those pesky 0.somethings to get to 10.4 and beyond.

Many thanks to Rhys for the hint - long live social media

Sunday, 24 June 2012

A Pleasant Change

With the world famous Royal Ascot race meeting entering its final day, I took advantage of an offer to play Downshire Golf Course near Wokingham. It was a four ball comprising of Colin Osborn, Matt Davis and Mike Stannard from the regular Saturday morning swindle at Royal Ascot. They are all good lads and even if I played badly there was bound to be some good banter to soften the pain.

The Downshire is where I've been having lessons but I haven't actually played the course itself for a good few years. I have to be honest, I turned up with a pre-conceived idea of it being swamped with golfers ready to tee off on a Saturday morning. I guess it's the generic concept of a municipal pay and play.

The weather was dry but breezy but lo, when we got to the 7.32am tee time the group in front of us were already meandering down the first and there wasn't a sign of the group due to follow us. In fact, you could argue that with the usual greedies at Royal Ascot there are more players hanging around to get off there on a Saturday.

As regular readers will know, my game has taken a bit of a dip lately. It was erratic at Tylney Park last weekend and fell apart completely on Monday at Camberley Heath. I've been to the range a couple of times during the week but to be honest found nothing to set the pulse racing or raise the confidence levels.

My opening drive was acceptable if a bit of a push, come fade but I hit a solid second onto the fringe and made a par four to open. The good news didn't last long and I squirted my tee shot low and right on the second. I moved it a hundred yards or so with the next and was playing the par five in instalments. In the end I managed an ugly double bogey seven thanks to the inevitable three putt.
I wasn't putting a good swing on any shot and stood over the ball not convinced where it was going.

Playing off the yellows, it is a relative short course, just shy of 6000 yards and so I was able to get it round. By the time we came to the feature hole, the par three seventh, it was a case of do or die to clear the pond in front of the green. I actually found the green and made a solid par. This was followed by a par at the eighth and the par five ninth and somehow I'd gone out in seventeen points, almost playing to handicap.
The signature hole at the Downshire from above -- a tricky par 3 over water
The tenth hole is another par five. Finally I nailed a drive off the tee. Pure of strike and nice and high. Ironically perhaps it pitched into the fairway bunker and stayed there. I laid up although a long way back but my hybrid from 191 yards somehow found the dance floor and I converted for par. Similarly at the next I went right off the tee but my hybrid again squirted out low and ran and ran into the heart of the green to set up another par.

I did hit it better on the back nine, but there was still no belief in what I'm doing. I managed to make a closing birdie on the very short par five closing hole and in the end I'd cobbled twenty one points for the back nine. It certainly didn't feel like a thirty eight point round and without doubt there would have been no way I'd have got away with some of the shots I hit back at Royal Ascot.

In the end though you can only play the course as it presents itself and I guess perhaps there were a few good signs but to be honest I left feeling a little empty. Don't get me wrong, the Downshire is a great course and given the amount of traffic it copes with and the torrential rain we've had it was in fantastic condition. I was so, so wrong with my concept of a pay and play at the weekend and the ill dressed, inexperienced hoards simply weren't there. Maybe the early tee time helped but either way, if you are looking for a good course to play for a change at a good price of £28.50 then Downshire should be high on your list of options.

Where does that leave me. Well I'm convinced I'm not getting the club into the right position on the back swing, certainly not as far behind me as Rhys ap Iolo would like. I think the plane has gotten too high and all in all it isn't right. There are too many moving parts and compensations. It doesn't feel as smooth as it has done since the switch to the one plane system. The club isn't exiting properly low and left and I think I've just got too much going on in my head and I'm over the ball with too much chatter going internally.

I'll be back to Royal Ascot this week now the circus has left town. I'll hit some balls and prepare for the first round of the Volvo Matchplay pairs event with. We've a home tie in round one against a pair from Calcot Golf Club in Reading. I'm not on fire but hopefully Mike can be his usual steady self and I can lurk with intent and come in here and there for a vital half or even the odd win. We'll see. At least I've got a lesson booked for next Friday with Rhys and so he can cast his eye over my swing and we can get my game on the road to recovery.

It was a pleasant way to spend a morning and perhaps the change of scenery helped. Well maybe not. It didn't at Tylney or Caversham. The glass half full Homer still lurks within and I'm convinced once Rhys weaves his magic at the end of the week I can get the game on track and kick on harder and faster towards my goal of getting back to a 10 handicap and maybe pick up a win or two along the way. It's frustrating to have played so well in 2012 and to have suddenly hit the wall. I guess it happens to everyone sooner or later but it's how you deal with the bad rounds that make the good ones more enjoyable. I'll be back on track soon. I have the skill and more importantly I have the belief.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Chaos At Camberley

Despite heavy overnight rain, the day dawned bright and sunny. Fortunate as the Golf Monthly Forum meet at Camberley Heath was an all day event over twenty seven holes. These are superbly organised days, often at hugely discounted prices and give members the chance to play some very good courses (http://www.golf-monthly.co.uk/).

I'd had a shocker at Tylney Park on Saturday and had retired to the practise field on Sunday to fathom the root cause. I left there feeling confident and felt I was striking the ball much better. In fact there was a cautious air of anticipation and optimism. Established in 1913 Camberley Heath Golf Club was designed by the legendary H. S. (Harry Shapland) Colt. His legacy is an outstanding heathland course, where natural contours have been used to enhance the "strategic golf experience". Camberley Heath has a rich golfing heritage. The Duke of York, later to become King George VI, was an honorary member and the Prince of Wales followed as patron of the club.

In truth the optimism lasted as long as the first pulled drive. Actually I managed to hit a good hybrid from 192 yards and found the green and made an opening par. I pulled the five iron tee shot to the elevated second and the ball ended up on the third tee box. With the flag on the left hand side, there was no shot. I hit a chip and run with the intention of just finding the putting surface. It pitched on the tee box, ran down the slope and disappeared from sight. It had slowed in the fringe and rolled stone dead. Level par after two. From there the wheels came off. I couldn't hit a drive and the swing had deserted me. I was too quick, technically incorrect and the ball was going anywhere but straight.

In the end I was glad it was a nine hole competition, a pre-cursor to the main event. It gave me time after a wonderful brunch to hit some balls and look for something, anything I could work with in the afternoon.

I managed to scramble two net pars to open my afternoon round. I was still unhappy with everything about my game and not in control. My luck was to run out on the third. I actually hit a decent drive but pushed it right. It hit a large pine tree, shot left and dropped down close to the second hole. I was left with no shot as there was a tree five feet in front and nowhere to drop or aim for. I tried to hit a nine iron to just clear the rough. It hit the tree, threatened to castrate my playing partners and left me in the heather. I didn't score on that hole

The 3rd was to prove the beginning of the end
After this, the round disintegrated. There was the odd good shot, but mainly a mix of thins, pushes, mis-hits and even the odd shank thrown in for good measure. Tempo was an alien word, everything I'd worked on with my teaching pro seemed to evaporate in the warm sun. I melted quicker than a Cornetto in the sun.

The back nine was marginally better. I managed a birdie two at the 160 yard par three fourteenth. I finally managed to put a good swing on a five iron to put the ball to twelve feet and sunk the putt. Naturally it wasn't a hole I got a shot on.

By the time we came to the uphill par four, with the clubhouse perched at the top I was drained physically and mentally and wanted the humiliation to end. Even then I couldn't find a last hurrah. The tee shot was off the neck and left a long uphill second. That found the bunkers short and I made a horlicks of the bunker shot and eventually scrambled a closing six for a solitary point.

The view from the 18th with the sanctuary of the clubhouse at the top of the hill
Despite my own trials and tribulations, the day was great fun. It's always good to meet other members of the Golf Monthly Forum and the day really isn't all about winning anyway. The weather had been kind, the partners I played with in both the morning and the afternoon were great company and we were able to laugh at our own fallibility's. Dinner was good and there was some savage banter from the usual suspects at these events. I didn't even register in the prize giving. I didn't come last but was well down the list.

So what went wrong? I didn't swing great at Tylney Park even if you take away the difficulty of the course set up. I managed to swing well in practise on Sunday and played a few holes and hit it well enough not to have a sleepless night before the Camberley meet. In truth I don't know what is going wrong but with my own course inaccessible courtesy of the Royal Ascot racing this week, I have a lesson booked for Thursday. I'm hoping Rhys ap Iolo will rub the magic sponge on the injured swing and resurrect it in time for the first round match in the Volvo Matchplay with my usual partner Mike Stannard.

All in all, not what I was looking for at all but I'm realistic to know you can't play well all of the time. Consistency is one of the keys I'm looking to introduce to my game and to a large degree have managed it. Even when I've not been playing well I've found a way to get it round. The weekend and yesterday were a horrid throwback to the days when once it goes the wheels fall of followed by the axle and the exhaust.

Time to take stock, let Rhys have a look at where I'm at with my swing and start again towards the second half of the season. There's another Golf Monthly Forum day in aid of Help for Heroes in October and it'll be nice to show those attending that I can actually play the game a bit. We'll consign this to the "Oh Dear" files and move on. Nothing to see here

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Tough At Tylney

It was all a bit Fellini in the build up to the club match away at Tylney Park yesterday. Not only was it my birthday, but I wandered up to Royal Ascot to hit a few balls and generally warm up before heading down the motorway for the match. There were a few stragglers warming up for the monthly medal but in the corner of the practise field was a guy with a big Titleist tour bag absolutely nailing shot after shot. It turns out it was European Tour pro, Brett Rumford. I've no idea why the Australian was using our facilities but he was good enough to stop and give me a few pointers

Brett Rumford and me on the hallowed Royal Ascot practise ground
From this chance encounter it was off to Tylney Park, Rotherwick, near Hook in Hampshire. I'd never been there before but was looking forward to it. I was partnered with Derek Robinson and steady 17 handicapper and we faced two Tylney members off 22 and 23 handicaps.

It's a parkland course measuring 6,608 yards off the white tees. The course is set in 200 acres of Hampshire parkland which is registered by English Heritage as a protected park and garden. The mature trees and large undulating greens are the main features of the course. Just being on the putting surface is not sufficient to ensure a good score. In fact, the rough was penal. Not only was it deep, arguably too deep, but every hole was tightly protected. You only had to miss a fairway or green by ten yards at most and it was in the deep stuff.

A nice layout but tight with thick rough all around
I have to say that even without twenty mile per hour winds and squally showers, the course for the average golfer was really hard. In fact I have to be brutally honest and say I found it one of the hardest courses I've played and that includes some championship and links courses. I've no issue with being penalised for a wayward drive, but losing balls when you miss the fairway by five yards isn't fun. Similarly when you are going into greens with fairway woods and hybrids and are missing these by ten yards and losing another ball there really seems no let up.

The match itself started well from our point of view. I started slowly but Derek was steady although the opposition aided our cause losing a number of balls and we were three up after four.  I eventually came to the party at the 217 yard par three. I found the green with a five wood and made a par to take us four up.

The Tylney pair steadied their own ship and with shots managed to peg the deficit back to two at the turn. However Derek was able to keep us ticking along and we managed to extend the lead to be dormie four up standing on the 371 yard par four 15th. I'd hit a good drive and my seven iron found the green. I two putted for a solid par to close the game out.

To be honest I didn't play well. I drove the ball well enough for the first dozen holes but it was the second shots that put me in trouble and I came away the owner of considerably fewer golf balls than I had upon arrival. My iron play and ball striking had been good lately including a practise session midweek. Yesterday though it just didn't fire.

Without labouring a point, I think the tightness made a lot of players scared of failure and committing to the shot. Derek didn't find it as hard as I had but even he lost a few nuggets too. I wouldn't want to play there with a medal card in my hand.  In the end, our win extended my unbeaten run this season but it wasn't enough to prevent Royal Ascot being narrowly edged out 3-2.

So what can I take from my day. Well my swing didn't fire yesterday and I need to find a fix before the Golf Monthly Forum day at Camberley Heath on Monday. I need to learn more about course management. In hindsight, rather than blindly going for all the long holes and paying the price in high scores and lost balls, I should have employed the tactics I'd used to good effect at the Forest of Arden last year. I refused to take on any par 4 over 400 yards and laid up to wedge distance hoping to get close enough for a single putt but prepared to take a bogey (net par) and move on. In truth I'd tried that on the par five opening hole yesterday. I'd hit a great drive and took a six iron for position. Having hooked it and lost a ball as a result, the brain shelved the plan straight away
To be honest I wasn't at it mentally. Perhaps it was as a result of not knowing the course and where I could and couldn't miss. Whatever the reason I wasn't standing over shots with any clear thoughts in my head and meandered from shot to shot and hole to hole. Not what I usually do and the golf suffered as a result.

If this all sounds gloomy, let me set the record straight. The matches against Tylney are always good fun to play in and are competitive but in a pleasant spirit. The welcome is warm and the full English breakfast we had before we went out was great. Afterwards, they were the perfect hosts and the drinks and laughs flowed. The course was in exceptional condition and the greens in particular were smooth, true but very tricky. So all in all I enjoyed it even if the golf hadn't been as golf as I'd hoped. At least I've got the tips my new best mate Brett gave me to work on and the chance to balance the ledger with a better showing at Camberley on Monday.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Thirst Quencher


I promised you a periodical look at new products. This isn't the latest all singing all dancing driver or the next fad in "can't miss" putters but it may just help you play better golf. It's a drink, called Icoco and made from coconut water. Available at Waitrose and Holland and Barrett stores, it's claimed this is actually far better at hydrating than conventional bottles of water http://www.drinkpaq.com/

Each carton contains naturally occurring electrolytes and the same amount of potassium as a banana.

The drink is described at launch in The Grocer (trade press):
Leading soft drinks manufacturer ICONIQ Drinks has unveiled its latest product launch, iCOCO – healthy, natural, coconut water combined with delicious fruit juices.The trio of Cherry Vanilla, Pineapple and Minted Apple ‘bursting with flavour’ variants come in 250ml tetrapaks and are 100% natural from source, contain naturally occurring electrolytes, are high in vitamin C and fat free.

So what you may say. Well we all know the importance of staying hydrated throughout our round. I tested this a few weeks ago when we had that glorious hot spell (remember that?) and had a carton on the 12th having already drunk water during the front. I definitely felt more alert and although it didn't help my swing I didn't have that fatigued feeling I normally get in very hot weather even when I'm trying to take penty of fluids on board 

Coconut water - a new way to stay hydrated
These packs are convenient enough to fit into even the smallest summer carry bag. They taste great and are definitely worth a look. If it sweetens the deal, my local Waitrose is doing a three for two deal. Go on, give them a go. What have you got to lose and it may just give you that boost to make that crucial par.

Getting Ready To Kick On

Now we're in the middle of June and the season is really under way, the big events are starting to loom large on the horizon. No sign of the summer yet but in the main the course is coping admirably with the deluges of rain we've had. I've played in three club matches in 2012 and proudly remain unbeaten with two wins and a half. However all of these have been at home. I'm playing in a return match against Tylney Park, near Hook in Hampshire on Saturday. It's also my birthday and so I'm looking for the home side to be in generous mood.

On Monday I'm off to Camberley Heath for a Golf Monthly Forum day. These are brilliant days and a chance for members of the forum to get together, play some decent courses, usually at a very good price, and generally have a fun day out. This is quite a big event as we're playing for the Spring Meeting shield. It's a nine hole morning round followed by lunch and eighteen holes in the afternoon for the shield and consolatory prizes. Check out the link on the right hand side, log on and get involved. Always a game going somewhere.

In preparation for these I hit the practise field last night to hit some balls as I hadn't played since Saturday afternoon. That hadn't been a great round and so it was important to get back to basics and find a swing that works. As it turned out, the session was really productive and I was hitting the ball really well, especially with the mid irons and frustratingly with the driver. It was the big dog that hadn't really fired on Saturday so a bit like shutting the proverbial stable door but at least it is in there. It has certainly set my mind at ease, and I'll continue to work on it before these two events. However it's the short game and my bunker play that need the most work and I'd like to try and get out and focus on this but the forecast is iffy at best. Wettest drought I can ever remember!

All in all I'm in a very positive place with the state of my game and feel, well hope at least, that I can take this form to different courses. I've certainly some positive vibes to feed off with good showings in the Golf Monthly Centenary qualifier at St Pierre, the grand final at the Forest of Arden as well as third place on the Marquess course at the Golf Monthly Forum meeting in March this year. That performance at Woburn was pleasing as I had a severe dose of flu, proper and not the man variety.

I'm still making good progress with Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire on the change to a one plane swing and have had encouraging shows in recent club competitions at Royal Ascot. The club championship is coming up and the goal is to survive the halfway cut after the Saturday round and be there for the second round on Sunday. That would be a welcome change in fortunes as I've really struggled in this event in the last few years.

Homer is a happy camper at the moment even if the weather feels more like October than flaming June. The goal of reaching a 10 handicap remains on track, I'm tantalisingly close to going down to 11, sitting on the cusp at 11.5. One more good round sees me just a shot away and with the short game showing definite signs of coming back in recent weeks and the change of putter signalling a resurgence in confidence on the greens I can almost touch it. Hopefully the trips to different courses will show me exactly how good my game is as both are bound to ask different questions to the ones posed by Royal Ascot. Will I be smiling by Monday night?

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Beaten But Not Blown Away

Unable to fulfil my monthly stableford commitment yesterday, I ventured to the club in the afternoon looking to hit a few balls and maybe play a solo practise round to shake off the rust that's attached itself to my game recently. I was fortunate enough to bump into Martin "Bash" Davis and we decided to have a friendly little match.

The wind over the last forty eight hours has been gale force at times and had only died to a strong and gusty breeze. It was so strong that I took a five wood to the opener, playing downwind and found the green with ease. Bash matched my by hitting the green and after three putting, I was one down. One became two when Bash birded the second to beat my par. Apart from the putting lapse the ball striking on the openers was very encouraging. I got a half at the third and fourth and should have pulled one back at the fifth but my approach found sand to let my opponent off the hook.

I pulled my tee shot at the sixth but expected to find it pin high in the rough but despite an extensive search it never turned up. Bash made par anyway and so three down after six and suddenly I was looking at a big defeat. I pulled one back at the seventh and had to work hard down both eight and nine to make sure I halved these. Two down at the turn. I was happy with the overall state of my game, bar the lost ball but the driver was not quite firing and I seemed to be missing fairways by just a few yards. With the semi rough becoming thick and penal it was hard to move the ball far when you found it.

The back nine started with a half at ten and I splashed out of the green side bunker at the eleventh. Bash had been in trouble off the tee and his second was in sand and he had gone off the edge of the green with his recovery. He hit a great chip to a foot and made a double bogey five. I just needed to roll the putt down to the hole but clumsily rushed it two feet past and failed to make the return. A terrible half and still two down.

We shared the twelfth in another double bogey and suddenly my game had become scrappy. I missed the green at the next too but so did Bash. By the time we shared the fourteenth as well the match was entering a thrilling climax but I was glad I hadn't entered the stableford after all. The ball striking was still solid but I wasn't putting it into the right places and couldn't make a score.

Suddenly I was thrown a lifeline at the fifteenth when Bash put his second shot into the thick clag and lost his ball. Back to just one down. I hit a great drive down the sixteenth and fired my second just short. Bash found the green with his third and if I could wedge it close and put him under pressure maybe I could force a mistake. I couldn't and one down and two to play.

I hit my five wood at the penultimate hole and found the right hand bunker. Bash hit a pearler and found the back of the green. I could only make a bogey but Bash was able to nudge it close enough for a par and to close the game out 2&1. In the end I couldn't live with his blistering start and did well to hold onto his coat tails for most of the round. I finished with a nice par at the last hitting a good drive, solid three wood and an average pitch. Playing into the stiff wind they were three good strikes.

All in all, there is sign of things working. The swing still needs some work, although the driving was getting better. I was missing fairways which was frustrating. The iron play was solid but coming out of the semi it meant I couldn't always play with control or even fire for the greens. The putter wasn't firing and I couldn't make a putt but managed to hole well from 2-3 feet especially when it was needed for a half.

I've a lot of big games coming up, starting with a club match at Tylney Park next Saturday (my birthday!) and then at Camberley Heath on Monday at a Golf Monthly Forum day. I need to be at the top of my game to play well in these and so it'll be another week of consolidation and practise and working on the short game in particular. I'm happy with my general game but it needs tightening up. Bash played well and conditions with the strength of the wind and the tough course set up made it hard to score well. I may have come second but I got everything I needed from the round and so we move on towards the business part of the season in positive mood and with confidence high.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Keep Calm - Carry On

Having decided to book the whole week off work, I ventured up to Royal Ascot yesterday seeking answers to questions. Why has my swing lost all its power. Why is the ball going so low. Why am I hitting it badly. The weather forecast had said showers and gusty winds and right on cue, as I got out the car the heavens opened. Fortunately it was short and sharp and once it had passed over it was onto the practise ground to begin the post-mortem into Tuesday's Stone Cup fiasco.

Despite the wind it was actually pleasantly warm although the direction was posing a real problem. Into and from left to right it was probably the most unhelpful direction it could have been coming from. Unperturbed I ploughed on and was looking for a better takeaway and slower swing tempo. I wasn't fussed to much on distance given the breeze and would take quality of the strike and a decent flight over the direction as even the simplest of pitches were getting buffeted off line.

I managed to find something that appeared to be working but it was hard to be sure. With the course deserted I decided to venture out for a practise round, and see how I got on. I played a couple of balls in places and generally worked on my game without worrying about the score. It was about hitting it properly again. Wouldn't you just know it but the tee shot at the long 228 par 3 first was hit perfectly and found the green. It was as if the golfing gods were mocking me. What can you do?

There was some good stuff in there, still some rubbish and a lot of work left to do. Chipping wasn't as strong as it had been on Tuesday but the putter was still behaving and all in all it was a worthwhile exercise. The driver is still not firing as I'd like and its putting me in the semi-rough which is proving quite penal and so that needs work. I think the doom and gloom of Tuesday was a knee-jerk reaction of frustration that the game had deserted me so completely. This practise round showed there was life in the game yet.

No need to panic - the basics of the swing are still intact and confidence is rising again
I've had a look at the stats for May from Scoresaver 2.  They make interesting reading. The numbers in brackets are the suggested level of ability achieved. As I'm off 12 anything equal to that or lower shows I'm doing well and higher than that and it needs work.
Fairways Hit: 50% (Hcap Std: 11)

Greens In Reg: 29% (Hcap Std: 11)

Putts Per Round: 34.67 (Hcap Std: 17)

Sand Saves: 9% (Hcap Std: 20)

Par Scrambles: 19% (Hcap Std: 16)

Penalties Per Round: 1.50 (Hcap Std: 15)

The driving had been going well which was letting me hit more greens in regulation but the short game still needs work, especially from sand. It is getting better and I'm more confident about getting it out now, but need to work on flight and distance control. Putting tells a story of a lack of confidence especially on the short 3-5 footers and I've run out of patience with the Ping Anser 2. Having put the Odyssey White Ice #9 in the bag on Tuesday I'm already holing more putts, from longer distances and feel so much happier on the greens.

I was surprised how many penalty shots per round I'm having which I guess is testament to the shin high rough in places around the course and my inability at times to keep it straight although a lot of these seem to be stemming from second shots, particularly on the par fives going astray. Perhaps a more conservative approach is the way forward and a longer shot for the third is better than a reload or playing the provisional.

So what was the outcome. The swing is still in transition and the new takeaway and address position need more work. When it is firing the ball striking is very good but there are still some issues around timing and turning the hips into impact. The short game is on a positive upward arc, the putter has warmed up courtesy of the switch and there is a lot to be happy about. Much more so than it appeared after the dismal 31 point tally on Tuesday. Too hard on myself and too much expectation. It's an old story.

Keep calm - carry on. There is nothing to see here.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Where Did The Swing Go?

So there I was, minding my own business and feeling decidedly chipper about my golf and the world in general. I'd arranged to meet Colin Osborn and Steve Downey on Monday morning for nine holes, just to keep the swing ticking over before playing our second round in the Stone Cup on Tuesday.

I'd posted 38 points in round one, and was lying second to Steve's magnificent 40 point effort. What followed was nine holes of carnage. Not only had my swing deserted me completely, with every shot so short of power, but I'd managed to acquire a dose of the sockets from nowhere as well. I can't remember a single good shot in the whole of the front nine we played and I left in a state of disarray and worried about what was to come in the Stone Cup second round.

As it turned out, I had every right to be worried. The swing has still stopped behaving and there is no power in any of my shots, they are all lower trajectory than normal and I have no trust in it. I partnered Steve and Colin again as I had done in round one and we were joined by my regular playing partner Mike Stannard fresh off a holiday to France and Switzerland.

My first shot wasn't that bad. Pushed right, it found a good lie and should have been a simple chip onto the green. Cue the first shank of the day into the bunker. Not good for the nerves. I actually got it out rather well to within four feet. The odyssey white ice #9 putter was back in the bag as the Ping really wasn't doing it for me in recent weeks and the new incumbent ingratiated itself by rolling in the putt for a net par. Granted it was to let me down at the next where I three putted from fifteen feet having found the green from 189 yards with a great hybrid shot. The tee shot had found a shocking lie in the semi-rough and the 6 iron could only move it forward some hundred yards or so.

I managed to chip and putt at the third to rescue a par after the tee shot found the fairway bunker and the recovery came up short. I played another good chip from short of the fourth green after my eight iron was hit fat and came up woefully short. The putter did the honours from nine feet. I was actually one under my handicap after the opening quartet despite not having hit anything solidly.

My round began to crash down around me from the fifth. I found the fairway off the tee but again the shot lacked power and was a long way back. I hit a five wood to try and get it down to short iron distance but only managed to carve it right and lose it in the long rough. A missed green right at the sixth dropped another shot although I steadied the ship with a net par at the tricky seventh.

The eighth hole is so simple. 139 yards to an ample green and all you have to do is avoid the bunkers short of the putting surface. In the first round of the Stone Cup, I'd taken a seven iron and put it long so decided to take an eight this time. For probably the first time in the round I made a decent swing and caught it great. It looked all over the flag and destined for the heart of the green. I was stunned when it fell into the middle of the bunker short. I had a good lie and it should have been a simple shot. Cue the second shank of the day and I simply moved it from one bunker into the one right of the green. Suffice to say I didn't trouble the scorer. I'm playing this hole so badly at the moment and can't seem to make a good score whatever I try and do. It's becoming a card wrecker and fortunes need to change, and fast.

In the end my front nine score of fifteen was better than I deserved and thanks on no small part to the short game and putting. The second nine started in disastrous fashion. My drive was topped along the ground and barely travelled a hundred and fifty yards. My second shot with a mid iron only went another ten feet and so there was a lot of anger in the third that got me to within a wedge of the green. I nearly made the putt to scramble an unjust net par but ended up with a sorry double bogey and more points lost.

I hit a great chip and run to within a foot at the eleventh. Again. I caught the hybrid off the tee well but it just didn't seem to fly very far. There is definitely an issue or fault in there somewhere. A net par at the hardest hole on the course (according to the stroke index at least) and then I managed another chip and putt to rescue a par at the 178 yard thirteenth. Level handicap for the back nine although the damage had been done already and any hopes of mounting a charge for the win had long gone.

If they hadn't quite died, then the fifteenth extinguished any lingering flame of hope. A tee shot short and right was followed by a topped hybrid into the ditch running across the fairway. Although I dropped under penalty and put the fourth shot on the green from 192 yards I couldn't hole the par putt and so another point dropped. I managed to make doubly sure I wouldn't feature, tossing any lingering chance of a top three or four finish with dropped shots at the sixteenth and seventeenth. I did finish with a flourish when I holed a downhill left to right putt from ten feet at the last to rescue a very unlikely par. In the end I came back in 16 points for 31 overall and a two round score of 69 points. It would prove good enough for 8th place.

Given the state of my swing in the second round a top ten is pleasing on the one hand but hugely annoying on the other. For the first time since I've started having lessons with Rhys ap Iolo, my swing has totally deserted me and my confidence is lower than a snakes belly. I thought the changes we'd made to the set up and the back swing had slipped into place after my round on Friday and Saturday. It appears not and if anything I've regressed. The back swing definitely isn't right and there is a big issue with a lack of power/timing. I need to hit the practise ground and work on it.

All in all though I guess there are some positives to take out of the long weekend. I got cut another 0.4 for my efforts on Saturday and although I got 0.1 back for the debacle yesterday at least I came out of the weekend ahead and I'm now down to 11.5 and so right on the cusp of losing another shot. That would leave me tantalisingly close to my goal for 2012 of getting back down to 10. The short game yesterday was so much stronger than of late and the change of putter has left me feeling a lot more confident on the greens. It wasn't quite as I'd hoped it would be after the strong showing in round one but sometimes I guess it isn't meant to be. Rest assured I'll get to the bottom of the swing issues and be back on Saturday looking for a strong showing in the monthly stableford.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Stoned Again

Following my lesson on Thursday evening and with no practise bar an eighteen hole round on my own on Friday evening where I didn't really keep a score and just used the course as my range, it was straight into a prestigious event at Royal Ascot, The Stone Cup. This is one of the honours board events and is a stableford competition over two rounds. Competitors can choose which two days (Saturday-Bank Holiday Tuesday) they play on.

I was with Colin Osborn and Steve Downey, two of the regular gang from the normal Saturday morning roll up. It was a dank old start to the day with a heavy clouds and an Autumnal mist hanging in the air. Not having had a chance to bed in the swing changes from Thursday I wasn't overly confident and had a fatalistic air of what will be will be. The hooked tee shot at the opener didn't bode well. Although fortunate to miss the pond short and left of the green, it nestled in thick rough and I could only move it forward short of the green. The chip was poor and so I opened with a double bogey.

Things got better with a good drive setting up a par at the second and I made par at the third thanks to a fortunate fifteen foot putt having missed the green left and hit a mediocre chip. It seemed that as soon as I made progress, I'd find a way to halt it and a clumsy three putt at the fourth cost me a shot. I was back on track at the fifth and then dropped a shot at the sixth having hooked the tee shot and been lucky to catch a tree which took the venom out of the ball and stopped it hurtling out of bounds.

I actually fell behind to the card when I went over the back of the short eighth hole and missed the ten foot putt for par. The short game wasn't on song. I hit a good drive down the ninth and found the green with my approach. My first putt uphill from twenty feet was woeful and I left myself nine feet to go. I hit it more in hope than expectation but it dropped, albeit via the side entrance. Out in a respectable eighteen points. In fact better than I'd dared hope and the new changes were working. Not perfectly but the ball was in play.

My tee shot at the tenth was perfect for the shape of the hole. Low with a right to left draw it landed and bounded down the fairway to leave a nine iron in from 112 yards. I found the green without issue. However my putting woes from recent weeks were still with me and I three putted again. In my defence. the greens had been heavily sanded this week and it was hard to force yourself to strike it firmly enough to get it to the hole. Still after ten holes you'd have thought I'd have gotten some feel for their pace.

On Friday, I'd tried to hit a four iron into the eleventh with the new swing and it hadn't gone well, missing right. I felt that it was the perfect club though and banished Friday from my mind. I caught it pure and arguably my best struck shot all day. It never left the flag and finished seven feet short leaving an uphill putt. I converted for birdie and four points on that one hole. These would come in rather handy.

Having made a net par at the twelfth, the toughest on the course and hit a good tee shot into the green at thirteen for another par, I was in a good position. Fourteen has been something of a graveyard of late and when I got a good tee shot away down the left edge of the fairway I thought I was in position to make a par, certainly no worse than a five, a net par and could move on. It was 198 to the flag but it always runs on at this hole and so you need to land it short. I took the hybrid and was confident of getting it close to the putting surface. Somewhere between then and making contact, something got lost in translation and I hit a low hook shot that careered towards the ladies tee on the fifteenth. My recovery wasn't the best of strikes either and I was lucky that it made the green. Two putts later I'd made the net par in fortunate circumstances and got out of there as quickly as I could.

My golfing luck ran out on the fifteenth. I hit a poor tee shot low almost along the ground and it was very short as a result. I took my five wood to try and coax the ball into a good lay up area for my wedges, somewhere between 80-100 yards. I hit it well with a hint of draw but it was a bit right of my target. It was heading towards shin deep grass and almost certain never to be seen again, at least by me. It tried in vain to draw back but landed and took a bounce in the semi-rough and rolled apologetically into the long stuff. We found it. Just. It was in deep grass and despite hitting it as hard as I could it only just rolled out onto the fairway. I pitched on but couldn't make par. A shot dropped and I'd eaten into the banked points from that birdie on eleven.

If I was being critical, I should have made par at the sixteenth. I hit a very good drive and my hybrid was well struck too and was pin high and a matter of a yard or so off the green. I had a patch of fringe to go over and the chip again lacked conviction and left me six feet for my par four. I hit the putt well but couldn't find the hole. Still a net par and so no damage done. By now it had dawned on me that I'd actually got a decent score going despite or as a result of the swing changes (depending on your point of view).

I don't know what happened to the tee shot on the seventeenth. In my practise round on Friday I'd carved a five wood so far right it had cleared all the trouble including more deep grass and I'd had a shot in. I thought I'd made a good swing but the ball went right exactly as it had on Friday. This time despite taking a three wood instead of five it hadn't gone right enough to clear the rubbish. With heart in mouth Colin, Steve and I started looking. I was a very lucky boy. Not only did we find it but it actually sitting in a decent spot and I could get my trusty sand wedge on it. It came out well although I couldn't make a par three. Another shot gone and I'd used the shots in hand from that birdie.

The eighteen was playing a fraction downwind. It has a fairway that can run hot and there is a ditch out around the 260 mark that can come into play. Usually not for me. I hit an exquisite drive, high, proud and with a hint of draw. It hadn't even entered my head until Colin piped up "that'll be close to the ditch." It made the walk to the ball a bit nervy but it was at least ten yards short. Sometimes there's a lot to be said for being a wimpy short hitter. My five wood was solid and I left myself 87 yards in. Perfect for my 52 degree wedge. Colin and Steve were first to go. Steve hit a corker to around six feet. Colin was coming in from the right and had the pond to contend with. He stuck it to around ten feet. No pressure then. Trust the swing Martin. One more good smooth shot. It was good in the air and split the pair landing about nine feet away. Three mighty impressive approaches for the cognoscenti in the 19th to enjoy.

Colin went first and was unlucky to finish a few rolls short but it made the par a doddle. Then it was my turn. Downhill, left to right. Let's not go mad and race it two feet past Homer (although on these sandy greens that would have taken some doing). Get it there though. No prizes for being short. I hit the putt well and it arced beautifully for a closing birdie and another four point haul. Steve was able to follow me in for his birdie too.

When the maths had been done, I'd amassed 38 points. Two under handicap and so a small cut is coming my way. What a performance given the scale of the changes Rhys ap Iolo had made to the takeaway and set up on Thursday night and given it was the first time these had been taken out on the course in anger. My score was eclipsed by Steve who had a massive 21 point coming home for 40 points in total. With any of these two round events, they can't be won on the first day but they can be lost. I'd expected a mixed round as I got to grips with everything and this surpassed my wildest expectations.

I'm not getting too excited as I've a nagging doubt that although these changes will in the long term benefit my game immensely, there has been too little transition time. What I'm saying is that Saturday's round may have been played on borrowed time and that the second round may be a lot harder. Still even if I get 0.1 back for a horror, I'm still getting a cut anyway and very close to 11 depending on the competition scratch score (CSS). Still, I've done it once. I just need to go out and get Stoned again and post a sub-handicap score of 37 or more to be right in contention. If the short game bucks up, the putter warms up and the driving holds up then there isn't any reason I can't. Bring it on. Bring it on - NOW

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Interesting? Very

Thursday night saw me at the Downshire Golf Centre in Bracknell for the latest lesson with my teaching professional Rhys ap Iolo. For those that don't know (and where have you been?), I started having lessons with Rhys in December. He's an advocate of the Jim Hardy Plane Truth coaching method and we've been on a journey to transform my old swing, ingrained over thirty years, into a simple more effective one plane model. This was our fourth long swing lesson and so far I've gone down in handicap, shot a personal best front nine score in competitive play at my home club, Royal Ascot, (level par gross) and come second in two events. Not too shabby.

Being a diligent pupil I got here early to warm up and was hitting it solidly enough. When we got into the teaching bay Rhys chucked the first curve ball of the night at me straight away. As most of you that have had lessons know, the teacher prefers the pupil to use a straightforward club like a 7 iron to make it easy to hit the shots and implement changes. Rhys pulled my 3 wood out of the bag. He then asked me to hit the shots off the mat, no tee. He wanted to see in closer detail whether I could compress down or was still coming in too shallow. I actually nailed the first couple and the figures on the launch monitor we good but could be better.

In essence, the take away we've been working hard to get right is better but I'm still coming across the line, courtesy of an excessive wrist cock which is just letting the club travel too far. This meant too many compensations were needed. He wants to get the back swing flatter with the club more offset, but more importantly wants the left wrist in particular to be much straighter and pointing to the sky.

Then came the next interesting change. At address he wanted my hands much lower, so much so that the toe of the club was off the ground. The logic behind this, in conjunction, with the flatter back swing is to force me to come down and compress it more. Standing over the ball it not only felt alien but just looked so wrong. Mentally I was convinced I was going to hit it out of the hosel or that I'd never get the face square or find the sweet spot from that position. The bottom line of all this work is to take some of the excessive shaping of shots I have and get the ball flying in a much more neutral flight.

I trust Rhys implicitly and so set the work, hands much lower at address and making practise swings focusing on getting the club behind me with a flatter wrist position. Once I'd found the feeling we hit some, and yes, he still had me hitting the three wood. Awesome is the first adjective that springs to mind. The swing guru had weaved his spell again. The first shot was arrow straight. Not only had I gained fourteen yards carry over my previous best, but spin rates were better and so was the compression. Of course there were the odd hiccups but all in all I was ecstatic.

I thought the low hands was a drill for the duration of the lesson but Rhys actually wants me to go out on the course with it, at least for the time being. MMMM, not so sure about that but we'll see what happens. Actually, the plan for Friday was to hit the practise ground at Royal Ascot and work on it. However the course was empty, and with a big competition this weekend I was intrigued to see how this flatter position and in particular the low hands would stack up when there was one ball and one chance to get it right.

It was one of those moments where you stand there after hitting a shot and think "did I do that?" So solid particularly off the tee. Some of the iron shots weren't quite so good and to be honest I used the round as a chance to play around with the short game as well as the new swing and so the score wasn't of any consequence. I really thought I'd struggle going straight from lesson to course and it isn't something I'd normally do. I prefer a few solid range sessions where I can take my time work on the swing and get the feeling for how the shot should be.

I wasn't convinced how it would hold together in a competition, but there was enough there to persuade me that yet again Rhys had moved the swing forward. He's not looking for perfection but it's a case of taking what I bring to the table, refining it and shaving the layers away bit by bit to make it effective, simple and repetitive. He is doing a great job to date and we're really on the right road. I need to put the work in, especially with the back swing position and then check back in for the next lesson on June 21st and see how far I've gone.

Low hands, 3 woods and flat wrists. Three very strange concepts for a lesson but hey, if they get me hitting shots like I did on the course, on a more frequent basis, I'm prepared to juggle balls and sing Danny Boy while making my shot if he asks me to and it would make a difference. Strange approach, although completely logical in the grand scheme of what is wrong with my swing.

All in all a very interesting lesson and a positive first effort on the course. Now to take it, without any practise or work, into a competitive environment in the Stone Cup. A stableford event over two rounds, where competitors can choose which two days (Saturday until Bank Holiday Tuesday) they want to play on. Saturday was already earmarked as my opening round. Caution to the wind!