Monday, 30 July 2012

Getting My Kicks On Route 66

I'm forever bemoaning the fact that golf is a stupid game and the events yesterday in the second round of the club championship have only served to confirm this belief. Having hit the ball solidly but carded a shocking net 76 (+6) thanks in the main to a five over par 9 on the fourteenth, I just about scraped through to make the cut. I should perhaps be celebrating as I've never made the cut before. I was off in the third group which shows how far down the ranking I was (34th place after round one). I was partnered with John Sussex and Dave Andrews and so couldn't have asked for a better group. Both are thoroughly decent blokes, good golfers on their day and good company on the course.

What transpired was a very strange tale. I was swinging poorly in the warm up and to be truthful my heart wasn't in it. I couldn't find a tempo or swing that gave me any encouragement. My bogey at the first put me two shots ahead of the previous day's efforts immediately. I made a par at the second and a superb up and down to save par at the third. A par at the fourth and I was through the opening phase in just one over par but having not hit any shot of quality.

As we played the fifth the heavens opened and I was to have the first of two massive slices of luck. I hit the fairway and for some inexplicable reason pulled the five wood when a hybrid or mid iron would have done. I hit it down the right into longish grass. My allotted five minutes was nearly up when we found it. I chipped it out and readily took a six. I dropped a shot at the sixth as well, hitting a poor hybrid off the tee into a bunker. I rode the bogey train on the seventh and eighth thanks to poor tee shots. Five over par on the ninth. A par would have got me out level with my handicap. A good drive down the left left 162 yards into the wind. I pulled the five iron and fired the first decent shot of the day into the heart of the green. An uphill right to left putt from six feet was holed for a rare birdie. Out in a respectable 39 shots (+4 gross).

I made a mess of my approach to the tenth and a bogey was result. I hit a bit of a hook with my hybrid at the 178 yard par three eleventh. It found the back edge but I faced an evil downhill left to right putt from fifteen feet. I could easily been staring at a five foot return putt. I aimed at least five feet left of the hole and hit it with a feathery touch. It reached the crown of the slope and gravity took over. The line was good and pace was a good as it could be. It was tracking and found the centre of the hole for a birdie.

I'd been fighting my driver all day and it bit back on the next when I hit a pull left. I hacked it out of the rough and then hit a fat approach. I couldn't get up and down and recorded a nasty double. The short game saved me at the thirteenth when I chipped stone dead having missed the green to make par. This brought me back to the fourteenth. The scene of the crime twenty four hours earlier. The drive was right but I had a shot through the trees to the green. I hit it clean and thought it was going to get to the green but it kicked left. I chipped close but couldn't make the putt.

I managed to make a rare par at the sixteenth thanks to the second decent shot of the day with a six iron into the green. Two putts and get away quick. I missed the green right at the penultimate hole but holed from nine feet to make par. One hole left and I knew the score was good. It was time for the second even bigger slice of good fortune. I hit a shocking drive. Pushed right it was destined for the out of bounds. It hit the trees and all seemed lost until it bounced towards sanctuary and dropped. Was it in or was it out? I nailed the provisional and held my breath. It was in and I had a shot. A chip out and an iffy five wood to one hundred yards made a six seem a possibility. I thought I'd hit the wedge heavy but it landed four feet away and I'd hole the putt to save par.

Back in a superb 38 (+3 gross) to give a total of 77, net 66 (-4). What a round. Not only was it a personal best score around Royal Ascot in competitive play but it was going top be good enough to get me a cut and achieve the goal for 2012 of a 10 handicap. Welcome to route 66.

Not only was my round the best net score of the second round but it was good enough to lift me from 34th overall to a creditable 6th place in the net prize but perhaps even more satisfying was the fact I finished 6th in the gross event as well despite the ugly 87 opening round. A cut down to 9.8 has got me down to my target and the mysterious world of single figures is only a good round away.

What has left a bitter taste is the fact that I really didn't strike the ball well in the second round. I got it round and the short game and putter were on fire but I was really fighting the swing throughout and never felt confident over the ball. If I'd only made a double at the first and a double at the fourteenth in round one and I'd have done enough to finish top three in both events.

The goal is definitely to hit single figures before the season ends. However the bigger desire is to learn how to hit it properly with the one plane swing. It shows I can get it round in good numbers even when I'm "off" but I want to marry good ball striking and good scoring. I still need to cut out the disaster holes that creep in too often but clearly the bad shots are still in play more often and that has to be good. Last year I could carve it right or hook it left and never knew where the bad shot was going. Now I have taken the right out of play most of the time and the left shot isn't as destructive.

It's fantastic to hit route 66 and card such a good score. The glass is positively overflowing and I'm oozing confidence. The work doesn't stop and I'm already working on my swing to try and stay on top of the ball at impact and not move my head forward as highlighted in my last lesson. I'm not gifted enough to rest on my laurels and have to graft for any success I get. Still it's good to know I'm getting the rewards for the time and effort I'm putting in. Having failed to make a cut in the club championship it has come as a huge shock to perform so well having made the second round. It has only served to fuel my desire further and prove to myself that I can do it when it counts.

I'm definitely getting my kicks on route 66.


Saturday, 28 July 2012

One Moment In Time

There's always an air of anticipation around any golf club on club championship day and Royal Ascot is not different. The first round was greeted by fine warm weather and the course was starting to firm up following a week of sunny weather. The championship is held over two rounds for a gross prize (club champion) and a for a net prize with a cut made after the first round. I've a shocking record in this event and have never made the cut. Time for a change.

I had a fantastic draw playing with my usual partner Mike Stannard, a friendly Geordie, Roger Wing and a guy I'd never had the pleasure of playing with before called Chris Garrett. Warm up went well and I wandered to the first tee cautiously optimistic. The opening hole plays 228 yards and is a par three. The group made what can only be described as an absolute mess of it. Two of us walked off with a double bogie and two of us walked off with a triple bogey. Guess which score I got. I hit a good five wood but it somehow trickled into the left hand bunker and nestled right under the lip. I just about got it out but short, and followed it with a duffed chip. I got it on to about five feet but missed the putt.

I bounced back with a stunning birdie at the par five second hole hitting my pitch to four feet. I hit a good drive at the third and didn't deserve to see it kick left into a fairway bunker meaning I came up short and could only make a bogey. After that I settled down and was hitting the ball nicely and with few dramas. That lasted until the ninth. An agricultural swing was ungainly but the ball found the fairway. With 178 yards left I hit a solid 4 iron but it came up short just missing a bunker.

My short game had been a little indifferent but I hit what I thought was a good chip which somehow ran to the back of the green leaving a twelve footer downhill. It exploded off the putter and ran eight foot past. I missed the return to record an ugly and unnecessary double bogey six. There's never a good time to throw shots away, but when you're trying to make a cut, wasting shots from nowhere isn't going to help. I was out in 42 (+7 gross).

The back nine started well. The tempo was still good and I managed to par the first two holes of the second half. I pulled the drive left on twelve to make a five but as this is stroke index 1 and therefore the hardest hole on the course, according to the scorecard at least, it wasn't an issue. I missed the green left at the 178 yard par three thirteenth. A shame as I hit it well. A mediocre chip left nine feet. I didn't strike the putt well but it dropped.

I was still very much in the mix and close to playing to my handicap although I can say hand on heart I wasn't thinking about the score. I was enjoying the challenge and the fact that I was swinging reasonably well. I hit a poor drive on the fourteenth into the rough. I wanted to hit a low pitch back onto the fairway but hit a horrid shank into deep, deep rubbish behind the thirteenth tee box. I found it but it wasn't appetising. The grass was growing towards the green but to go that way would mean a longer carry back onto the fairway. Going the short route meant the club would inevitably get tangled up and contact and the outcome couldn't be guaranteed.

I took my time to weight up the options and took a pragmatic approach and decided to take an unplayable and drop back by the thirteenth tee. I should have been able to get onto or adjacent to the green. From nowhere I hit a horror shot. A big high cut straight out of bounds. I had no option but to drop again and in the end ran up a catastrophic five over par nine. It blew the card and the round apart. I still had a chance to make a reasonable score, maybe two or three over handicap and the cut but it would be tough.

A par at the next and an acceptable bogey at sixteenth meant I could still make it into a respectable round. However a carved tee shot at the long seventeenth put me on the back foot and the resulting double bogey knocked the fight out of me and killed my chances. I closed with a bogey at the last for a terrible 45 for the back nine. All in all that came to an 87, net 76 (+6) and I left dejected and convinced it was another missed cut.

In the end though I squeezed in so on one hand it was mission accomplished. However the fact that I'm third group out indicates just how far down the field I'll be starting tomorrow. I can't say that the double on seventeen and the poor drive off the last tee wouldn't have happened but the tempo had gone and I was bereft mentally after the nightmare that was the fourteenth. It was a shame as I'd worked hard to recover from a nightmare start and that annoying double on nine.

I have to take the positives and the swing for the most part was very good and had the putter been a little more accommodating it could have been a little better. The short game wasn't top drawer so room to improve there too. I guess I'll need to shoot two or three shots under handicap to haul myself into mid-table but I can go out with no pressure, no expectations and play relaxed golf. Aside from that one moment in time when I sent the ball flying out of bounds I am happy I did as well as I could. It would have been nice to finish close to par and been right in it for the handicap prize and enjoy the that tight feeling in the stomach you only get from being in contention. It might not be all over and the fat lady may not be singing but she's definitely tuning up the tonsils.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

What A Daft Game

I decided to wander out onto the course on Monday night for a few holes. I had no time to warm up, no pre-conceptions and nothing really going on in the golfing brain at all. I opted to play the back nine, arguably the harder of the two.

A couple of swishes with the driver and I teed it up. I fired a booming drive and left nothing more than a 52 degree wedge into the green. It should have been a simple shot but I pulled it left into the bunker and found a messy downhill lie. I got it out and two putted for an ugly bogey. Was this going to be a mistake and a long evening stroll in the sun?

After that it was something new. I played perfect golf. I hit every green in regulation from the eleventh around to the seventeenth and never missed a fairway for the remainder of the round. The absurd thing was I didn't really feel like I made decent contact with many shots. The driver in particular seemed to propel the ball further than normal. I hadn't changed my ball and there wasn't any form of wind to speak of. Perhaps I'm getting into a better impact position or maybe it was just one of those rare days when it clicks. The only moment of drama came at the seventeenth. I hit a good five wood but it ran through the green and nestled in the fringe. No panic as I chipped to three feet and converted the par putt. When the par putt on the last dropped I'd played those nine holes in +1 gross. A personal best. I've no idea what I did that worked but I just hit it and walked up and hit it again. It was that simple.

Of course there had to be a flip side. I went to the club last night to be diligent and work on my short game. It is a facet that is getting better but needs constant attention. In recent weeks, I've begun to chip better and with confidence and so I was expecting it to be a productive session. How wrong I was. I had no touch and seemed wrapped up in technique and swing thoughts. Nothing flowed and I've suffered a severe dent to confidence. I hope it was ball position creeping forward but the tempo seemed too slow and deliberate. Not ideal preparation for the club championships this weekend. The greens are drying up in the blistering sun and running quicker and a pristine short game will be a must to make a good score.

How can I be so sublime one day and then practise so poorly the next. It isn't a case of over egging the pudding and practising too much so I've no option but to put it down to "one of those days". The cunning plan is to get a practise round in on Thursday with my regular partner Mike Stannard and get a feel for the greens before the club championship first round. Perhaps I can squeeze a few holes in on Friday as well.

It really is a daft game. I'll go out with no expectations on Thursday and hoping I can just swing freely with no thoughts. The technique is still a work in progress and not quite the finished article but if I can drive like Monday then it'll be a superb foundation to mount my championship bid. If I can make the second round on Sunday for the first time (I've a shocking history in club championships wherever I've played) then that will be one goal achieved and hopefully I can then be competitive.

How high I flew and how low I dropped. All in twenty four hours. I just need to find a nice comfortable middle ground and stop the peaks and troughs. Golf is all about keeping it in play and maximising the opportunities and minimising the damage when you hit an inevitable bad one. I can do it. I just need to

Sunday, 22 July 2012

The Right Time

There has been a strange warm glow in the sky this weekend. Funny how golf is always much more enjoyable when the sun is out and the mercury is rising. It was a weekend for working on the game in lieu of the Club Championship next weekend. First round is Saturday morning and if I survive the halfway cut then I tee it up again for the final round on Sunday.

Yesterday was a friendly roll up game. However it was a case of 6-6-6. Not the number of the beast but my start (treble bogey, single, double). The first tee shot was a great strike but a block straight right never to be seen again. The reload missed the green too. I came up short on the second after a great drive and a well struck second. However the tee shot on the third was a horror. I've been working on staying behind the ball as my head and body tend to move forward in the swing. This time everything moved and I hit a hook into the environmental area.

After than things settled down and the ball striking was good. It was one of those frustrating rounds where the quality of the striking didn't match the scores. I was missing, but not by much. The short game was good but I couldn't buy a putt.

Things started well on the back nine with a par at ten and eleven but after that the driver went on strike and I was putting it into some rotten positions. To be honest I was split. Disappointed that the work I've been doing on the swing changes seemed to be working well during the Volvo matchplay defeat on Wednesday and then crumbled yesterday with no pressure on. On the flip side, there were some quality iron shots especially with the mid and short clubs.

Today was a period of dedicated hard work on all my game. The morning was spent chipping and putting. The short game was in such a black and dark hole a few months back but is starting to be a more stable facet. I'm not making enough up and downs yet but I'm not chunking and thinning as many so that has to be progression.

After some lunch and a rest, it was onto the swing. I'm finding it hard to get into a position at address that is consistent and allows be to have a stable platform on which to turn while staying behind the ball and stopping the head and body moving. The good ones are now sublime. The bad ones aren't a disasterous miss now and the ball is playable 95% of the time. The driver is the issue. I hit some good ones in the Saturday round. The bad ones were destructive. Lost ball on the third, trouble at twelve and so far right on the fourteenth it was at least fifty yards from the fairway. Out of bounds off the tee on the last.

Today the swing was much quieter and unsurprisingly the results were better. The drives were a better trajectory than of later. Much more penetrating. The three wood was more solid. I am still having some issues with the five wood and hybrid as a result of trying to get the sternum behind the ball without putting too much weight on the back foot.

Of course it hurts to play poorly and frustrating when practise doesn't quite click. However it is the right time to play poorly and work on the game. It's about trying to peak for 8.30am next Saturday in the Club Championship and so I'll hit some balls on Tuesday and then get out on the course for the rest of the week and put it into some practical context with a few holes.

There is never a good time to play badly but rather this week than next. It isn't a million miles from being very good and I'm still so much more consistent in all aspects and in general in 2012 than any time last year even though I qualified for the Golf Monthly Centenary Final at St Pierre and went on to lose the Final on countback. There was too many rounds that never got started and too many that fell away. This year even the bad rounds give me a chance to get it round and therefore make a score. That is progress.

Once I've had my practise session on Tuesday, techique will go onto the back burner and once I hit the course it'll be about making the score, playing each shot on its merit and trying to play with a good tempo. After that there's nothing more I can do to prepare for the biggest event in the club calendar. I have an abysmal history in the event and melt away. Too much pressure on myself has been a problem along with a swing I could never trust. Different ball game this year and I have cautiously optimistic vibes about putting a solid performance in. Time will tell. Until then the hard work continues.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Two Into One Doesn't Go

Yesterday was the 2nd round of the Volvo Matchplay, a better ball competition. We had a home draw (with my partner Mike Stannard) against a duo from nearby Maidenhead Golf Club. The weather forecast was for showers but what we got, especially on the front nine were periods of heavy rain mixed with heavy drizzle. The conditions made it hard to score well but it was the same for everyone.

I scrambled a half at the first and promptly carved a drive out of bounds at the next. Mike found the second green and then three putted to gift the Maidenhead duo first blood. One down became two at the next when we lost to a birdie but I got that back with a birdie of my own at the fourth. We gifted the sixth to be back to two down. At this stage the nine handicapper was doing all the work and the guy off eleven was having a horror. This changed at the seventh when "Mr carve it everywhere" came to the party and made a four, getting up and down from sand, which we couldn't match. Three down and in big trouble. I parred the next to reduce arrears and was in the box seat on nine having found the green. The opposition both missed the green. One chipped on short and the erratic partner then played a superb chip stone dead to sneak a half.

We shared the tenth. Mike was the only one to find the green at the par three eleventh and promptly three putted again to throw away a good chance to halve the arrears. I made an obscenely long putt for a par (net birdie) at the twelfth (stroke index 1) and back to one down. Mike again was the only player to find the green at the 178 yard next. Again he three putted.

We both made a five at the next to go two down and four to play. I managed to secure a solid par but had to stand and watch as the opposition hammered a nail into the coffin with a birdie putt from twenty feet. Dormie three down. Mike absolutely nailed his drive down the hardest driving hole. I hit a short drive and mis-cued my second. However, Mike missed the green and with one of the opposition on the green but a long way away, it was imperative I got my third shot close. I hit a great nine iron under pressure to within seven feet. Mike could only secure a six. I had to hole my putt to extend the match and hit it on the right line but could only watch as it pulled up an inch short. Game over and we'd been beaten 3&2.

In the end the main source of frustration was the fact that for the most part the one guy had done all the work and the pair of us couldn't match or beat him or put him under any pressure, at least to a significant degree. His partner only came good a couple of times but I guess that is the key. Mike and I didn't "ham and egg" on the day. In general terms I was pretty satisfied with the way I played and hit it and scored pretty well, certainly close to handicap.

Mike had an off day which given how well he has been playing lately was poor timing. Still we win as a team, and lose as a team and to be honest he has more than carried me in the past so I've no qualms about the outcome. We have improved 100% on last year by getting to round two having lost on the 19th last year.

Sometimes you just have to accept that you weren't good enough. We weren't. I'm pleased with how my swing change from the last lesson stood up under pressure. It was the first full round since the lesson last Friday and with only one practise session and nine holes to groove it, the outcome was satisfying and encouraging for the future.

That's it then for another year in the Volvo and in team events for 2012 for Mike and I. Back to individual events and the pursuit of a 10 handicap for me. There is still a lot to play for, with the club championship next week, and the end of season "Masters" event in October. I feel I'm getting better. The short game, so long the weakest chain, amongst many, is coming on and I'm playing with a lot more confidence around the greens. Putting is solid with my new short stick and my mid and short irons are finding their target.

I was never any good at maths at school but even I know two into one doesn't go and had we taken on their one good player we could have progressed into the regional quarter final. It wasn't to be and the Volvo has been well and truly parked for another year.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Getting Ready - Getting It Right

I was due to have a playing lesson last Friday. However this was parked thanks to the glorious Summer weather and in hindsight it was a brilliant move. I swapped it for an hour long lesson with Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire near Bracknell. Just as we finished the heavens opened in a twenty minute torrent which would have been while we were out in the middle of the course. It flooded the greens and the fairways and made the course unplayable. 

In the last lesson we'd worked on getting the arms out in front of me to give me more room to work. Initially it was hard to find the bottom of the ball although subsequent range sessions had made life easier. Things however had been compounded by too many moving parts and I was playing inconsistently and hitting similarly at the range.

I wanted to work on my driver as this has been a bit of an Achilles heel but Rhys started as always by reviewing progress to date and seeing the swing in its latest incarnation. The video evidence showed that I was actually stretching over too far so we moved the ball closer to give a better spine angle. The results were instant.

However as usual the tinker man wasn't happy and Rhys wanted to make a change. A big one. I've what might be described as an old school swing which layer by layer we're changing to something more consistent and repeatable. Part of my problem stems from getting my head ahead of the ball at impact and having to make adjustments to get the club to play catch up. The direction of the club after impact is improving. Back in December when I first hooked up with Rhys the club went right down the line after impact resulting in a high finish but a multitude of poor shots when the timing was off. We've chipped away at the club exiting lower and more to the left although this has been neglected in recent weeks as I strove to find a better takeaway.

Rhys wanted me to focus on keeping the head on, or even fractionally behind the ball at impact with the club exiting low and left. I was sceptical as this represented a big change and was one of the items on the agenda for our winter work but I trust the man implicitly and so while he was in two minds whether the time was right, slap bang in the middle of the season with big events coming up, if he thought it would benefit then I was happy to give it a whirl.

The only way I could focus on not moving was to pick a dimple on the ball, stare at it intently and swing. When it was good it was very good. The launch monitor indicated a reduction in side spin and an increase in swing speed and distance. It was funny how I could feel the difference when I put an old swing on it and everything moved. The result was a horrid hook. We looked at the address position and tried to ensure the sternum and spine were fractionally behind the ball to give me a little margin for error. I felt like there was so much more time to get through the ball and to ensure the swing path after impact was better.

Feeling invigorated we moved onto the big dog. When my driver is behaving I score well. Common sense of course and we all know that if you keep it in play, especially given the brutal rough at Royal Ascot, then you can make a good number. For me though, tempo is an issue and I tend to get too quick and then hooks and the odd block are never far away. After hitting a few for Rhys to see, it was apparent to the guru that my problems stem from a poor address position, being too far over the ball and not behind it allowing me to sweep it away properly.

We shifted the address position back so the spine was well behind the ball. Stand still, don't get in front of it and exit left. It seems so simple. Back to picking a dimple and and trusting. Now I'm a short hitter at the best of times but I was able to fire it higher and further than before. Of course old habits die hard. Flushed with success I started swinging too hard and too fast and hit some big blocks and even the odd slice. Unheard of for me. However there was enough in the brief time we spent hitting the driver to give optimism although its still a work in progress.

Plenty then to be happy about. Plenty to work on as well. Keeping the head still and on or just behind the ball is going to be a huge challenge initially. Get that pinned down and the exit left will come naturally and develop so it is about putting in the blocks on which to build towards the end of the year when we're looking at big changes and an intense period of consolidation.

All in all it was a great session and far more productive than trying to smack it around a flooded course. If I get in a better position at set up then I'm able to get back to the ball in a better impact position with less adjustments required. This will lead to better strikes, better direction and ideally better scores.

The second round of the Volvo matchplay is on the horizon this Wednesday. I'm planning to hit the course after work on Monday, providing it isn't teeming down (in which case I'll adjourn to the range) and play nine holes and put it into practise. I'm confident I'm still on the right path and with a better performance from the driver then I can hopefully shave the remaining 0.5 shots off my handicap to get back to 10. Rhys is confident that after we break it down over the winter and put it back together in better shape, a target of 7 is realistic although as usual he's set the bar high and aiming for 5. I think that may be optimistic and I might need to reign his enthusiasm in a bit. We'll see once we start the work. All in all I'm happy and confident and that can only breed confidence on the course.

Magic Wand

I've mentioned in passing a number of times the fact that I've been looking at a new putter. I love the feel of a metal face as opposed to an insert but my Ping Anser is currently serving a spell on the sidelines as we've had a falling out. I've reverted to my Odyssey White Ice #9 and have been holing out with aplomb and confidence is riding high. However the soft insert and the wet greens has meant I've felt as though I'm hitting my putts instead of stroking it and it refuelled the desire.

In the end temptation proved too much. I've been looking at the ProType Tour Series #9 by Odyssey. It's a milled face made of 1025 carbon steel which is similar to stainless steel but with a softer feel. These aren't cheap and the RRP is around the £200 mark but I found one on sale with 20% off and it was £20 cheaper than the best online deal and so it was the clincher.

The new #9 - a magic wand
It had its christening on Tuesday evening when I played a practise round with my normal partner Mike Stannard and it behaved impeccably with no three putts. I didn't perhaps make as many as I had been with the White Ice version but having rocked straight up to the club and gone out with no time to practise there was inevitably a bedding in period.

I'm very pleased with it and it is the ideal compromise between the metal face I prefer, giving me something solid to use on the slow surfaces, with the style that seems to be better suited to my stroke compared to the blade of the Anser.

These aren't cheap but there again none of the milled faced putters are. It doesn't matter which maker you look at, they are all comparable in price. You do get what you pay for though. The deeper, sharper milling pattern on the putter face increases interaction between the face and the ball for better feel, truer roll and more consistency.

If you are in the market for a new wand, then these are definitely worth a look. They come in a variety of styles including a blade and two ball version http://www.odysseygolf.com/global/en-gb/products/putters/protype-tour-series.html

Whilst we are still in the honeymoon period I'm happy that this is the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship. I'm certain I've found a new magic wand and can't wait to start rolling a few in soon.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Not On Song

You know what it's like. You eagerly anticipate a round, manage to have a word with the man upstairs to avoid the rain, and have a great partner to play with. Add in a shiny new Odyssey ProType #9 putter to try out and what happens? You play like a buffoon. And so it came to pass. I'd booked a practise round with my regular oppo Mike Stannard and was really looking forward to it. I was a bit late getting to the club and so the warm up was a bit rushed. Actually it was a complete waste of time as tempo and timing was so out of kilter all I managed were six straight shanks and a loss of confidence.
 
Suffice to say once I got on the first tee, the panic set in. I wasn't swing well on Sunday when I'd snuck out for a round and I'd not hit any balls since to rectify the issues. Having paid a visit to "Shanksville" in warm up I was pretty nervous on where my little white sphere was heading. As it happens I put a half decent swing on it and got it going forward nicely. Sadly I was directionally challenged by a yard or so and rather than nestle on the fringe of the green it toppled into the greenside bunker.
 
To be fair, I managed to get it round pretty well early on. A bogey at the second after finding the fairway bunker was followed by a good drive, green in regulation and a par at the third. A par at the next and I'd completed the opening quartet one under my handicap (+2 gross). I found another fairway bunker on the par five fifth, which was perhaps a lesson in course management. The escape was messy and from there the hole ran away with me to register an ugly double bogey. I hit a fat tee shot at the sixth with the swing feeling long, loose and close to the speed of light. Blink and you missed it. It found a deep lie left of the green but a sublime recovery to three feet and a first par save with my new flat stick and I was in a happier place.
 
Regular followers will know the seventh at Royal Ascot has been causing a few problems lately including a wonderful triple bogey in the recent medal. The problem is if you go too far left off the tee, you can be on the fairway but blocked out by the imposing oak that guards the left edge of the ditch that bisects the hole. I've been left a lot lately. On the fairway, in the rough or even on the third fairway running adjacent to the seventh. This time I was left of centre and faced with having to move it right to left. Fortunately and despite Rhys ap Iolo's best efforts to straighten me out I can still conjure up a draw, some might say hook to order. My hybrid started right of target and curled almost apologetically before the ball landed on the right edge of the green. Two putts and a fine par.
 
Following my recent win and subsequent handicap cut, I no longer get a shot at the 400 yard par 4 ninth. It ALWAYS plays into the wind irrespective of time of year, weather conditions or lunar cycle. It is a toughie. I hit a great drive but still had 178 yards into the wind. Note to self, don't hit it fat and come up 70 yards short. It make par very hard to get. I hit a mediocre pitch and in the end was happy with a bogey five. Still out in eighteen points and so bang on the handicap.
 
There must be a word somewhere to describe the act of making double bogey from the centre of fairways. Incompetence springs to mind. A fine drive was followed by an approach that was never going to reach the green. If I'm going to pull a club right on the boundaries of distance then don't hit it heavy. To be fair I took a 9 iron when a smooth 8 would have sufficed. Nothing though can compensate for the duffed chip and with two putts to follow I'd recorded a six from nowhere.
 
That was the story of the back nine really. Some good like an up and down on the thirteenth from left of the green and some mediocre like poor drives at fourteen, fifteen and sixteen. I managed a closing par which added some gloss on a pretty average thirty two points.
 
I putted well and didn't three putt but there was much to contemplate. Determined to get back to basics it was off to Blue Mountain tonight to get back to the nitty gritty. Again, there was some good but an awful lot of "not quites". Tempo and the quality of the back swing don't feel right but I managed to slow the seven iron swing down. There are too many moving parts and too many thoughts. It isn't the free flowing and natural swing of a month or so ago. The current thought in my mind is to park the playing lesson on Friday and get Rhys to look at the issues and maybe, incorporate a mini driver lesson in there as well.
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I am playing some good golf. The ball flight is far more neutral than the right to left I had even a few months ago. With the exception of the driver and the odd poor shot where I still slide the hips and don't turn or allow the club head to travel down the line after impact, the right side of the course has been eradicated. I don't hit those weak fades where I come out of it dramatically as I've no room to swing the club. I understand what I'm trying to do and can recognise the faults on the course even if I can't always find a cure during the round.
 
I'm still in a positive frame of mind. The win proves it can be done. I can put together a run of scores but there are still too many loose shots or bad holes. I seem to lose timing or tempo at key time. Eradicate these and keep it smooth and together and a low score is very much on the cards.
 
It isn't quite on song, a little off key, but with a little tuning we can get it singing again.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Marking Time - Positively

Since the unexpected but welcome win and handicap cut in the last monthly medal, I've been bereft of golf due to family circumstances. I was forced to pull out of Captain's Day and the monthly stableford this weekend to spend time in London.

However it isn't all doom and gloom. I have spent the week working hard at making the changes I worked on in my last lesson at the Downshire Golf Centre with Rhys ap Iolo. The set up position is becoming more comfortable with the arms out in front of me, giving me more room to swing. The back swing isn't perfect and still across the line but it is getting closer to straight down the line. It is getting better but there is still a long way to go.

On the plus side, the quality of the ball strike is getting more consistent and controllable. The ball is flying better and straighter and the timing is improved. On the range and the somewhat sodden practise field at Royal Ascot I am hitting it well but of course the real test is out on the course.

I've a round pencilled in for tomorrow at Royal Ascot although the forecast isn't great and the umbrella and waterproofs look set for another outing. That said, the course appears to be standing up to the constant pounding it is getting. I'm expecting it to play like November with little or no run but hopefully the hard work I've put in will pay dividends.

I'm excited to be having a playing lesson with Rhys at the Downshire on Friday. I've not had a playing lesson for years and I'm hoping he'll be able to give me some practical advice on course management, pre-shot routine and shot selectin and that I'll have the opportunity to show him the kind of form I had in the last medal.

It has been an infuriating week not having any golf to play at the end of it. Motivation hasn't been an issue as I've been buoyed by the recent cut to 10.9 and so the 2012 goal of 10 is within touching distance. The short game has taken a back seat as the drills and thoughts from the last lesson kicked in. The short game will begin to come to the fore if and when we get a break in the weather as even a golfaholic like me isn't prepared to stand in the pouring rain just to chip and putt. Bunker play needs attention but with these under water nothing can be done for a while.

I feel I've been marking time recently but family has to come first. They always will and while I regret not being able to play in recent events there is still a lot of golf to be played. I'm trying to sort out the 2nd round of the Volvo matchplay where Mike Stannard and I have a home tie with a pair from Maidenhead Golf Club. The next event at Royal Ascot is the club championship. It's a medal on the Saturday with a cut and then the top thirty go out in reverse score order on Sunday. I don't think even in my wildest dreams I can compete for the gross prize but have a feeling I could have a chance in the nett competition.

Until then, I'll try and get a few games in, even if it's just nine holes and try and put the hard work to the test and see if the changes stand up. If not, particularly during the playing lesson, I can get Rhys to see where the problem lies. I think the break, coming after a surprise win, is a good thing. I have a chance to go out fresh and without that level of expectation we all hang around our necks from time to time.

I'm done with marking time and ready to get out and move it on to the next stage.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Blowing That Horn

I'm sorry if the drone from the sound of me blowing my own trumpet is causing a problem but I'm in bullish mood. Having played reasonably well in the normal Saturday morning roll up and come third, yesterday was the turn of the monthly medal. I was drawn with our current Vice-Captain Ken Martin and a new member Ross Yates playing off an 18 handicap.

As normal, the pre-round warm up had contained the usual cacophony of mis-hits, and I'd run through the gamut of poor shots from fat to top, including slices, hooks and shanks for good measure. Confidence was on the wane and having been told at my lesson on Friday that the set-up would need to change and that I was still not taking the club away properly, the thought of a medal where every shot counts, suddenly didn't seem an appetising prospect.

I started off remarkably well considering the warm up. The opening drive was good, too good, and went through the back of the green. I hit a good chip back but I couldn't make the putt but a four (net par) is never to be sneezed at, especially in a medal. I was long again at the second hole when my wedge from 109 yards contrived to land at the front of the green and wander through into the back bunker. No justice and I could only make another bogey (net par). Still no harm done and halfway through the tough opening quartet of holes without any dramas.

Three putts at the third condemned me to a third consecutive bogey and when I came up woefully short with my approach at the next another dropped shot looked on the cards. However those two hours spent working on my chipping last week weren't wasted and I put it to five feet and rolled the uphill putt in to save par. I'd got through the tricky start unscathed and made a welcome par at the fifth to edge ahead of my handicap. As I stood over my tee shot at the 178 yard par three, the heavens opened and the first of many showers was upon us. Unprotected from the elements I somehow managed to conjure up a solid shot into the heart of the green. This had been playing as one of my nemesis holes, but whisper it quietly, I've managed to tame it in recent weeks. Another par and definitely one against the head as I finally struggled into my waterproof top and put the brolly up to give me some protection.

The sun was back out by the time we hit the seventh hole. However the tee shot didn't match the improved conditions and I hit a horrible hook into the thick rough separating it from the third hole that runs adjacent to it. I tried to be conservative and hit an eight iron back into play but it caught a tree and was lost in the protected environmental area. By the time I holed out I'd found a way to undo all the good work to date with a triple bogey seven. I steadied the ship by finding the green and making par at the shortest hole on the course, although it was another played in a squall. By the time I made a bogey five (another net par) at the ninth I'd gone out in seven over par, one more than handicap. That seven on the seventh had blemished an otherwise satisfying opening.

If I was feeling happy with my performance to date, things were about to get ugly. The drive down the tenth was tight to the left hand rough and found the thick stuff. The search was fruitless although to be honest the chances of getting it out of there was slim anyway. It meant I was under pressure and my provisional ball was now in play. I had 156 yards in and wanted to go with seven iron but in the end decided to play safe with a smooth six as it was into the wind. It was an inspired choice as it landed on the front edge and ran up the green to finish four feet short and I was able to convert for an unlikely five.

The eleventh is a par three and as I prepared to play my shot, yet another squall blew through. There was a pattern emerging and it seemed that every par three was accompanied by a rain shower. I found the green and I made a secure par. The twelfth is stroke index 1 and recognised officially as the hardest hole on the course. Personally I'd disagree and think both the seventh and sixteenth are tougher but that's another argument. A good drive and a great iron shot and I was on the green in regulation. Two putts later and I'd made par and definitely felt as though I'd gained a shot on the majority of the field. I found the green at the par three thirteenth and yes, it rained as I teed off. I had a side hill putt from seven feet and managed to make it. A rare birdie and definitely another shot gained on the field.

My drive at the fourteenth wasn't great and found the right hand rough and a deep lie. It took any hope of taking the green on out of the equation and I was forced to try and lay up into a good position. I sent it forward but it snared in the rough and left me a long third shot in. I hit another sublime iron shot and it finished three feet away. The putter duly obliged and another par was smuggled. The tee shot on the fifteenth found the fairway. It's a short par five but played into the wind. The direct route requires a carry over a ditch and some knee high rough and there is a line of heavy rough down the right side to catch anything pushed or sliced. I wanted to go with the hybrid and play it down to within 100 yards or so. However standing at level par for the back nine I opted to take a pragmatic approach and reached for the five iron to play over the ditch and leave a slightly longer shot in. Even if I made a bogey I was still in a strong position.

What followed was two minutes of golfing meltdown. I wasn't confident over the ball and should have reverted to the hybrid. My indecision translated into a quick swing and a snap hook left into the ferns and long grass short of the ditch. It was almost certainly going to be a lost ball and even if I found it a penalty drop for an unplayable lie was inevitable. I opted to play a provisional in case and reached for the hybrid. However the club must have felt the pang of rejection and behaved like a spoilt child it deposited the ball right into the thick rough with aplomb. Panic gripped my stomach tinged with embarrassment. I was potentially playing my sixth shot. This flirted dangerously close to the treacherous rough but was playable. The search left and right were fruitless and I was left with to play the third different ball on the hole. A wedge on and two putts and suddenly my partner was marking me down for a nine. Quadruple bogey. Ouchy. In my mind, all that hard work I'd done to claw back the shot lost on the front nine and beyond had been wasted in the space of two swings.

I made a fighting bogey at the sixteenth although I played the hole on automatic pilot and was still reeling from the effects of the previous hole. My five wood at the seventeenth was well struck but came up short event though the 218 yard par three was playing down wind. At least we dodged another shower on a par three. I hit a deft chip stone dead and made par. Facing the par five eighteenth, I'd broken a cardinal rule, got ahead of myself and worked out what score a par would give me. The result scared me and I did well to hit a good drive knowing the potential outcome. I followed it with a decent second and my third found the green in regulation. Two putts later and I'd secured my desired score.

When all the shots were added up, and despite my best intentions to undo my great play with two horror holes, I'd shot 82, less my 12 handicap which gave me a level par 70. Unbelievable. I thought it might be competitive but having had my fingers burned recently when I was beaten on count back I wasn't getting ahead of myself. However an e-mail pinged my account late on Sunday night and confirmed that I'd managed to win Division 1 by two clear shots. Not only that but the competition scratch score (CSS) went up to 71. My seven and nine were converted to a double bogey for handicapping purposes and so I'd also managed to get a 0.6 cut. My handicap has gone from 11.5 to 10.9 (playing handicap is 11) but more importantly is now only 0.5 away from getting down to my goal of 10.

So what are the conclusions. Well I played some of the most consistent par or bogey golf in a long time for sixteen holes. As usual I can't convert it into a full round. I seem incapable of avoiding a big score on at least one hole per round and am finding it frustrating that I make these errors. The seventh hole could be argued as unfortunate in that the ball hit the tree and bounced into the hazard but to be honest the tee shot was the problem. I've no idea what happened on the fifteenth other than I didn't trust what I was doing. should have gone with the first choice and committed to the shot.

Perhaps the most ironic thing of all was I had a lesson on Friday night and was told to change the address position and work more on the back swing changes I'd started to implement. With a roll up game on Saturday and the medal on Sunday I'd no time to work on this and so played both rounds with the swing in its current incarnation. I guess it poses an intriguing question on whether I should be sticking or twisting and going through the inevitable pain of the changes. Of course I will. I trust my teaching pro implicitly and know what the changes will achieve in terms of reliability and a better contact on the ball.
 
On the whole though I've a rather smug feeling at the moment. I played well, didn't compound any errors and didn't let two bad holes affect me. I dealt with a gusty wind and heavy showers and hit the ball quite nicely. The short game was in very good order. I've been waiting a very long time to write that! Of course the company helped and it's always a pleasure playing with Ken and I enjoyed playing with Ross for the first time. I should point out however that I did set a rather unwanted trend and both Ken and Ross managed to match my nine before the end of the round. For Ross, his nine at the last was expensive as it stopped him winning Division 3, finishing runner up instead.

There is definitely more to come but the nightmare of Camberley seems an age ago and even the in and out round at the Downshire has paled into insignificance. I am playing better. My old ball flight which was an expansive draw at best, hook when timing was out, is slowly being replaced by something a lot more reliable and straight. The short game utilising the linear method has come on in leaps and bounds in the last few weeks thanks to some concerted practice. For now though I'm going to bask in the fact that the win ensures I qualify for the Masters competition for the fifth straight year. This is an end of season 36 hole medal event, open only to competition winners in the 2011/12 qualifying period. Before I hit the range and start on the next phase of improving the swing I'm going to have one more blast on my trumpet. Toot Toot.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Stand And Deliver

Friday night was lesson night and it was back to the Downshire in Wokingham for the next dose of tuition from Rhys ap Iolo. So far I've had four lessons on the one plane swing since going to Rhys for lessons which is part of the Plane Truth methodology (http://www.planetruthgolf.com/)

It has revolutionised the way I've played in 2012 and I am without doubt hitting it much better and on a more regular basis than I have done for a long time and even when the game isn't quite firing on all cylinders I've managed to generally find a way of getting it round.

As per normal, we had a chat about my recent performance, including the Camberley debacle, and about how I've been playing. I hit a few shots as Rhys watched and filmed my attempts. I hit it solidly and the tracking software showed the flight, distance, direction and a host of technical data including launch angle and spin rates. I thought I was doing well but Rhys highlighted something in the address position he wasn't happy with and which was causing problems.

In essence the hands at address are too close to the body and there isn't sufficient room to make the swing and get the club exiting properly. I was getting too tight and cramped for space. The solution was simply to stand further away and get the arms hanging down more. To ensure I was standing the correct distance away Rhys wanted me to take the club in my right hand, let my left arm hang down into its natural position and then put the club into the left hand in that position and re-position the right hand to form the grip.

It really felt as though I was reaching miles for the ball and very uncomfortable. The problems weren't over, and Rhys was unhappy with the position of the club in the backswing. I've been working very hard on making a flatter turn to try and stop the club pointing across the line at the top of the swing. On the video, it was still there, but compared to the last lesson in early May, I've managed to get it better and moved it at least 6-8 inches backtowards a more neutral position. It still goes across slightly, hence Rhys being unhappy with the backswing but there is definite progress.

The upshot is that I still need to try and get the club more offset on the back swing. The new address position will give me more room to go back and through although the results in the lesson were not encouraging. Whether it was trying to think of too many things at once, trying too hard or just not being able to adjust, I was having real trouble finding the bottom of the ball. Shot after shot was thin. Straight but low. I couldn't get it into the air.

With a roll up game on Saturday and the monthly medal on Sunday I wasn't going to try and make any changes to a swing which had served me successfully in the Volvo matchplay earlier in the week. The hard work will start on Monday. I'll hit the practise ground at Royal Ascot, weather permitting, and start with the new and improved address position and try and work on the takeaway. To be honest I'm not overly fussed about the contact, direction or distance. This is where the mistakes can be made as I learn to stand better over the ball.

The problem I will have is the change will make the swing shallower. As this is something Rhys and I have been working to change since we began our lessons, this is a double whammy but the takeaway into a more offset position is the building block on which the rest of the swing changes will be built on. I need to fathom out a way to get back to the bottom of the ball and turn onto it.

As always I see the logic in the change. I need to give myself room to move especially in the hit zone to deliver the club correctly and powefully.The set-up as it is means that I am having to make compensations all the time to hit the ball. It is all about stripping the swing down into as simple a motion as I can which I can repeat again and again. It is about being able to stand and deliver.