Saturday, 22 September 2012

It's Been A While - It'll Be A While Longer

Regular followers on here may be wondering about the lack of information or updates. Well the good news is I'm still here and Homer's Odyssey towards single figures is still very much a project in motion. Along with the absence of blogs, the members of Royal Ascot will have realised my omnipresence from the club, especially the practice facilities has gone. The clue is in the golfing diary entry on here "all golf on hold due to family illness."

The truth is my mother has been suffering from that insidious disease cancer. Despite a brave fight that has lasted well beyond her initial eighteen month prognosis, her health since March has started to go downhill. Sadly we are now at the stage where she entered a hospice close to her house and having seen her today, she is well and truly entering the very last stages and time is very short.

St Raphaels Hospice in Sutton (London) - a wonderful place that have been superb in their care for my mother

I had been pulling out of competitions and rounds, sometimes at very late notice to travel to her, sometimes via A&E at her local hospital, sometimes to a ward. She was discharged several times into intermediate care at a place called Dawes House, very close to Clapham Junction station for those that know that part of London. Form there she was always allowed home and the council had put in a very good care package to help her at home and she has had wonderful support from friends and other members of the family. The NHS and council care get a lot of negative press but I've found everyone I've dealt with on this difficult journey nothing but polite and professional.

However it hasn't been fair to the golf club, those drawn to play with me, my regular partners on a Saturday morning or my teaching pro to muck them about. I've not been in the mood to play anyway. I've managed a few sessions on the Royal Ascot practice field or at the local range to work on the stuff from my last lesson early in September. The stuff I've been producing has actually been very good which has only added to the agony as I've wanted to test my better ball striking on the course.

I don't want this to be a woe is me entry but just something to explain my absence. Sadly the loss of family is an inevitable part of life and any of you that have experienced it will understand, especially now the sun is setting on my mother's life, why I want to spend as much of whatever time is left with her.

I am still around, and will be. The Ryder Cup has got my attention and although I think Europe has a super team, I have an inkling that the US will edge them out with home advantage. There is some good looking gear coming out (the new Ping Anser's, the new Mizuno irons etc) and I have still to try the RBZ out fully and satisfy my curiosity. I am down to play a Help 4 Heroes charity day on October 15th (depending on the ongoing situation and outcome) and generally my golfing mojo is still there. However I can't commit mind, time, body or soul at the moment and so a golfing hiatus seems the logical outcome. I will be back!

In the interim, if I do venture forth onto the course especially in a competitive vein I'll be sure to let you know if the handicap starts travelling in the right direction after a few increases in my last few events. I'll continue to bash some balls as and when to keep the swing ticking over and as a cathartic way of clearing my head for a short way. I'm sure you'll understand if the absence does continue for a while but I hope you'll remain loyal and continue to read, comment on, and (hopefully) enjoy what I serve up. I've given the site a bit of a makeover in terms of colour, links etc and have some big plans for 2013 on here and in my golfing journey. I might be a while - the wait will be worth it!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Some New Stuff

I have a confession. I am addicted to Footjoy golf shoes and in particular their Myjoy site where you can design your own styles and colours http://www.footjoy.co.uk/myjoys/

I already had fifteen pairs in different models and colours but had recently ordered another pair with the winnings acquired over the year from my monthly medal win and several top three finishes. I had amassed a pleasing £103 in vouchers in the professional shop which meant a brand new pair of top of the range Icons was only costing me £57 in cold hard cash.

My shiny new shoes - just waiting to step onto the course
These Icons in grey and charcoal will go with any number of my trousers and golf shirts so I should look dapper even if my golf isn't always as sharp. So why my "Footjoy fetish?" They were the first brand of shoes I bought for myself as an aspiring teenager and they were comfy, lasted an age and even though I was playing 36 or 54 holes in a day during the school holidays my feet felt fresh and pain free. A love affair was born.

What I love about the Icon and indeed the Dryjoy model (my two preferred versions) is that they feel so comfortable straight from the box and take minimal breaking in. I usually give them a session on the practice ground or the range before heading onto the course but never have an issue once I'm out there. I have been told by my long suffering wife that enough is enough but I can't keep away from the myjoy site and it can become addictive playing with the different styles and colours to create something flamboyant and extravagant or something a bit more quiet and understated.

It isn't just new shoes I've been enjoying. I've just had my clubs regripped by the club pro at Royal Ascot, Alistair White. I've always been a big fan of the Golf Pride Tour Velvet but as he didn't have any in stock and my clubs in dire need of doing, I was persuaded to try some grips by Lamkin and I opted for the rubber crossline version, mainly by the endorsement of the pro having them on his own clubs.

The Lamkin grip - a break away from my usual Tour Velvets
I have to be honest and say these are a joy. My clubs feel like new and these grips offer a wonderful firm but tacky feeling. I'm not totally convinced they will be as durable as the Tour Velvet and I've yet to see how they perform in the wet but so far they are very good and I do like them.

I know you can't buy a golf game but my dear old dad use to tell me, whatever sport I was doing at the time, that if you look good you'll feel good and that will help you play well. I can't really justify the number of shoes but hey some of them provide a talking point if nothing else. The grips were a necessity and although a break away from the norm they are performing well. Whether I'll stick with them or look at the myriad of other grips out there in due course remains to be seen. For now though I'm enjoying my purchases. Happy days.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Not A Bad Start

Phew what a scorcher! I hit the practice field yesterday to put into action the set up changes from my lesson on Friday. It was so hot even early in the morning and it was definitely a case of quality and not quantity in the warm sun.

I have to say that early signs weren't good and the first few shots were rather thin. Better a hot sunny day than a freezing morning in January where each one would have stung from finger tip to the very top of the arm. Have you noticed how you only begin to thin shots as the weather gets colder? I was beginning to panic but I trust Rhys implicitly and I knew it was going to be a big change. The firmer base definitely gave a more solid base on which to turn and the swing felt a lot more solid and compact.

The good news was that as the session progressed the ball striking began to get much better. It didn't quite reach the same quality as the ones I produced in the lesson but there was a definite upward trend. I even ventured as far as hitting some longer clubs. The hybrid is still a temperamental animal and the good ones were sublime. The bad ones went left, with a dose of extra left on top. I did feel brave enough to try the driver too and again the good ones were a step up compared to my normal fare. There were a few dodgy ones too but I was starting to feel the heat and getting tired.

So what did I learn from this first session. Well, the firmer base came easily but the temptation to continue to turn the hips was a hard habit to break. It just doesn't come naturally but the results speak for themselves when I get it right. It's going to take a lot of work, plenty of slow motion rehearsal to get the feeling of what the leg and hips should do and total trust that I'm on the right track. It is hard to be too bullish after just one session in scorching sunshine and unseasonal heat. I am confident that I will get it right. The weather forecast for the week isn't so good with a blustery breeze. With the light going so soon I'm tempted to migrate reluctantly from the Royal Ascot practice ground to a driving range. At least I can keep going when the light goes once they crank the floodlights on.

So then, firmer footing, better ball striking and a rather pleasing tan on my arms to boot. What more can you ask from a Sunday morning working on your game. It is a step in the right direction and with the choice to scale back my playing to focus on my swing still to be made I can have the best of both worlds. I've not got too many competitions to worry about so can work hard and then hit the course in roll up games with no pressure or threat to my handicap. All in all the arc of the curve is decidedly upwards and I'm rather bullish about progress.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

From Firm Foundations Single Figures Are Born

I had a lesson last night with regular teacher Rhys ap Iolo at Downshire Golf Centre near Wokingham.  I've not been swinging great as regular followers of my ongoing quest for single figures will know. If you don't then where have you been? I got down to a low of 9.8 after the Club Championships in June. Since then I've had three 0.1 increases. A couple of my rounds have been tales of frustration where I've played reasonably but have thrown in a few big scores to ruin otherwise competitive rounds.

I was due to play last weekend but an unscheduled visit to A&E put a kibosh on that. I've not felt happy with my swing for a couple of weeks and it feels as though everything is moving during the swing. Nothing seems stable and shots were inconsistent.

I explained the problems to Rhys and he watched me hit a few. His all singing, all dancing software showed the shot in all its gory details but from the data and the video captured from behind and to the side he could make a diagnosis. In simple terms I was right in the fact that everything was jiggling around and the feeling I was getting was correct but the cause wasn't coming from where I thought it was, the upper body. It was the dancing legs and exaggerated hip turn that was causing it all to be unstable from the ground up and that there needed to be any number of compensations from there to try and make a reasonable connection.

I managed to tax the teaching brain of Rhys. Was it better to cure the legs, hips or arms and once that was decided what to do to find a cure. Still that is what he is there for and he is a teacher that not only is very good at what he does but is someone I trust 100% with my game. If he says we need to change something then it is for the benefit of the swing and not to justify me being there. The fact that the launch monitor, software and Rhys's approach means that it is very simple to understand the fault and the fix.

In the end, the verdict was that nothing ever succeeds without a firm basis to build on and that the collapsing knees and moving legs were causing a number of faults in the swing sequence. I needed to stand on a firmer base and try and swing without as much hip rotation. Basically it went back to quietening everything down.

As always, the drills are always an exaggeration. I stood there with my legs feeling wider apart and with a feeling of the gap increasing as I swung. To be honest the set up felt like I was standing there looking like a cross between Charlie Chaplin and someone trying to lay an egg. It definitely didn't feel good and I doubt it looked particularly elegant.

Like all things in golf though, it isn't about what it looks like but how the ball flies and where it goes. Look at Bubba or Furyk. Neither are textbook or elegant but they seem to have earned a crust over the last few years. The monitor records every swing and it was funny to see how my good ones at the beginning, hitting a 7 iron 143 carry, decent swing speed, smash factor etc compared. Take away the bad ones I hit as we made the changes, once I cottoned on to what I was doing, we were hitting off a firmer platform. The top half with less hip movement felt more compact and we actually got the ball sailing out over 150 yards. All the other numbers fell into place too.

It is going to take a significant amount of rehearsals, slow motion swings and loads of balls to get this to sink in. The hip action has been with me for years, which shows I'm in pretty athletic shape for 46. The theory that less rotation gives everything time to synch up and become more stable was a key link to the Winter programme we were going to work on. It does feel very good in the teaching bay with Rhys standing there. Of course it all comes down to doing it properly tomorrow on the practice ground. We know it works as I hit some shots that took my breath away. Knocking down a 30 year old wall of idiosyncrasies and faults will be a long taxing road.

That said, the road towards single figures is a one worth taking. I've got myself into a position where the carrot is dangling tantalisingly close. The work we did last night and plan to do going forward mean that once I hit 9,  hopefully before the curtain closes on 2012, we wont be stopping there and that 8, 7 and who knows, even lower is obtainable. The short game will need a serious makeover as that is closer to 28 than 9 but we need to take it one problem at a time. A firm base to set the swing on, just like the guys you see on the TV, is the way forward.

The Plane Truth one plane system is a revelation and my 2012 season has been a joy. Not every round has been great but even the majority of the bad ones have been so much better than they would have been a year ago when I reached a nadir of 14. The good ones have been so much better than I could have imagined and I have a firmer concept on where the swing is suppose to go as I hit it. As I've said, breaking down 30 years of rubbish is arguably the biggest hurdle to overcome but Rhys seems to think it's a case of stripping it back, for now, layer by layer.

Either way the plan is to hit the range early tomorrow before the heat and sun really get going and it is quiet and stand there looking vaguely ridiculous with my new stance and try and hit it with minimal movement. Take a breather, replenish fuel loads and then a few hours sharpening the short game and putting. Keep that ticking over all week and hit the course on Friday when I've a day off work. That will give me a good idea of my progress. Until then we'll work on firm foundations. It is where single figure golf begins.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

An Inglorious Climax

The Masters at Royal Ascot is a 36 hole medal event. It's invitation only and open to the winners of monthly stableford and medals and honours board events over the last twelve months. I was fortunate enough to have qualified for the event courtesy of a medal win earlier in the summer and had a pretty steady practice round in the normal Saturday morning roll up.

All was set. I'd found a bit of momentum and the horrific midweek practice session where I was more Mr Bean than Mr Average was banished. I'd found a little spark of something on Friday night and had taken it into a respectable if not earth shattering round yesterday. Even my nemesis the short game was working. I've reverted to the linear method and the comfort blanket and margin of error it gives me. It worked well yesterday with several up and downs. I was using my Aimpoint chart and their method of green reading and made a few good length putts and was missing on the high side and with good speed.

Why the in depth build up? Well all my preparation went to waste. I came off after the round feeling distinctly light headed and after a trip to London to see my family I came home last night feeling rather funny. Not ill per se but what your mother would have called "not quite right". One minute I was getting ready for bed and fine, the next I'd keeled over. Cue a trip to A&E, a drip, and a lengthy visit. Nothing untoward diagnosed and it was put down to dehydration and exhaustion. I've spent all day resting but any dreams of going low and getting towards my goal of single figures are over.

Although the Royal Ascot golf calendar doesn't stop throughout the year and we play on over the winter, the Masters signals the real end to the competitive season. There are a couple of decent events such as our 125th anniversary stableford competition but I really wanted today to be a signal of intent for my game and to be able to get a cut.

Having been seriously ill about six years ago and coming rather too close to popping off this mortal coil for comfort I'm acutely aware of my health so today has been a bit of a shock and a realisation that despite my obsessive fascination with the game of golf, and the pursuit towards my goals there are more important things in life.

It certainly wasn't the climax to my 2012 season I was hoping for. However on reflection it has been pretty good all in all. I've come down from 13 to a low of 9.8 (now crept up to 10.1) so I've dropped three shots. However the biggest plus has been a more consistent level of play. Even on my really bad days I've found a way to get it round. The one plane swing Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire in Bracknell has been teaching me has given me a better more reliable swing. Ball striking has improved beyond recognition and I've been able to put together some good rounds. I've had a personal best in competitive play over the new Royal Ascot course of 76 +6 gross for a net 66 (-4) in the second round of the club championship. Above all though I've enjoyed my golf so much more in 2012 and isn't that what it's all about at the end of it all?

There is still a lot of work to be done. Rhys and I are going to discuss how we move my swing forward for the 2013 season. Putting, bunker play and the short game is going to be something I invest a lot of time in as the new season approaches. Until then, the winter will be given over to nuances of the one plane swing methodology. I've a number of faults ingrained with panache over the past thirty years that for the moment refuse to go away. Whether we can work with or around these is where Rhys will earn his corn and he'll need to make a decision on what can stay and what absolutely has to go.

I'm actually prepared to strip the swing back as far as it needs to go. If that means going back to basics and starting from scratch on a new swing, plane and set up then to be honest I'm happy to forsake rounds over soaking wet or frozen courses for hours of constructive and dedicated practice. I'm getting older and this represents my last real chance to push my game forward and get something not perfect but functional and reliable. I've got a very good teacher, and while I've still got the fire and desire to improve then Homer's Odyssey is not over by a long chalk.

So there we have it. Not the end to the season I had planned. I've still got a Golf Monthly charity day at Blackmoor Golf Club in Borden, Hampshire in October in aid of Help For Heroes to look forward to. These Golf Monthly days are more about the company and the fun rather than being all about playing competitively. I'd still like to play well though. The Saturday morning games with the usual band of brothers are always enjoyable and represent a chance to play without the pressure of card and pencil. It gives me a chance to put any swing changes into play and if they don't bed in the worse that will happen is a ribbing in the 19th and a few lost balls.

While I could have done without the trip to A&E, and with a hernia operation looming, 2012 hasn't been to bad to me. A win, a few top threes and one or two what could have been's when I had a chance to compete if not win. Once I've got the operation out of the way I'm sure 2013 will be full of promise. There will be new kit to test and try, new instructional aids and tuition to work with and hopefully a few new courses to visit and play well at. An inglorious end? Not really. Just a full stop on this year and the start of a new chapter.