Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Absolutely Buzzing

I hit the range after work last night. It was one of those "force yourself" sessions where I really didn't fancy it, especially as it was raining. It was case of having to be tough mentally and drag myself there and get the mind right to make it worthwhile. The new back swing won't bed itself in. When I got to the range at Blue Mountain Golf Centre I was a little surprised to see that bar one other guy I had the place to myself.

I settled in and went through some gentle stretching. Sitting at my desk in work and then the commute home isn't really conducive to swinging a golf club. A few gentle wedges and then into it. I started off back into the drills. Halfway back, stop, up to the top, stop and then commit into the shot. I hadn't been hitting it great with this stop start swing but it was essential to get into the right slots. Shots were usually hooks left. This session though was different.

I was making a good connection. Shots were flying truer. I was so focused on trying to get everything right I wasn't looking at anything else and it all fell into place. I've wrote in my last blog that I was under strict instruction from my teaching pro Rhys ap Iolo not to hit full shots. I tried. I really did. In the end though I couldn't resist. I had to hit some at full pace.

The strike was something new to me. Pure and effortless. I didn't capture it on video sadly and I have a feeling the wrists were still cupping and pulling the club across the line. However the sight of six iron after six iron flying high and true warmed my heart. I kept at it and could feel it getting closer to a nice offset position.

The vibe on here may have been a touch bleak lately. The enormity of what I'm undertaking has hit me. Rhys has given the process a big nudge with this first move and hopefully the rest of the process will be a case of nurturing it along. We have to get the club into a good place on the way back for it to work properly the way. What transpired last night not only warmed the cockles of my heart, it has got me buzzing. I am really fired. I can't wait to get back out there on Wednesday and try again.

The blog has sometimes been bleak reading. There have been more downs than ups and it may seem to the casual observer that the swing is in a constant state of flux and re-build. Actually since last December when I embarked on the Plane Truth system, and changed to a one plane swing I've played some good golf. More consistent than before and I've enjoyed it. Even the bad rounds. This change is the last piece of a jigsaw to give me something solid on which to reach Homer's Odyssey and single figures. That isn't enough now. Rhys reckons 6-7 is achievable and if he thinks it can be done who am I to argue.

It has been a difficult period with my mothers illness and eventual death and it has taken a long time to get back into my golf. I haven't really felt totally engaged and not really bust a gut to play or practice regularly. The last lesson re-lit the fire but last night added the fuel and the golfing flame is well and truly alight. I am buzzing and if you are only as good as your last shot, then the last six iron I struck means I am actually rather good. Bring on the next session

Sunday, 28 October 2012


Another day, another range session trying to bed down the takeaway changes. I am feeling as if it is starting to come especially when I take it back halfway, pause, go to the top, pause and then fire. I am getting into a good position with far less movement compared to my old haphazard swing. The old swing kept going and going until the head had no option but to rise to accommodate the huge shoulder turn. It is far more tight and compact now.

I've made a lot of this being the start of a big swing change this Winter. My teaching pro, Rhys ap Iolo has said in his mind it isn't the case. What we are doing now with the takeaway is a big piece of work but once we get it sorted it'll be more a case of stripping away layers and refining. There has been an element of concern from Rhys that I'm not happy with what's going on. I think maybe I've been giving too many negative vibes. I am finding the process of change a lot harder than I expected. Maybe I'm trying to run before I can walk or it's the fact that I am use to being able to hit it with a degree of certainty as to the outcome.

Having managed to successfully ingrain a poor takeaway over the course of time it is proving tough to break the cycle. Having seen a piece of footage of a full swing, there is still a huge gulf between what I'm feeling and what is happening. At normal speed the club is still getting across the line at the top. Not as much as it once did but I am feeling as though it is much more behind me and offset as it is when I take it back stage by stage. Clearly the wrists are hinging in the proper swing and I'm keeping them more neutral in the rehearsed version. Frustrating and annoying.

I am perhaps getting too hard on myself. Rhys has said that this is a big initial nudge. I trust the work we are doing and it is something that has been reinforced via the world of Twitter with a number of tour professionals from both the European tour and the Ladies European Tour. The comments have been hugely positive and basically reiterate what Rhys is telling me that it will be hard to break down the negative moves that cause the inconsistency and that it will take time and effort to see something bigger and better.

In the interim, I need to consolidate and stay patient and focused. Keep working on the takeaway drills and wait for the next lesson next Friday. Rhys can review my work to date, adjust and continue to strip away the layers. Less negativity and focus on the positives. I have to be a glass half full type of guy and realise we are only three practice sessions and less than two weeks into the project. Patience Homer. Patience.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

A Sign Of Things To Come

I hit the range again last night for day two of the rebuild. I'd forwarded the video clips from the initial session to Rhys ap Iolo for his comments. Now I'd thought for a first session it had gone well and I'd been pleased. Rhys on the other hand wasn't overly happy. Yes he could see progress but there were still a number of faults. As these faults have been ingrained with surgical precision over the course of the past thirty years I knew it wouldn't be an overnight process but hey, cut a bloke some slack.

Still, I'm built of firm stuff and can take the knock backs. It just makes me more determined to get it right, not only for the benefit of my game but some intrinsic desire to prove to Rhys I can do it. As part of my course, Rhys has set me up on the Plane Truth website which has access to numerous drills and instruction to work on the back swing, downswing and impact. I'd been studying the moves for the takeaway diligently and felt confident I could recreate it and improve from the initial session.


And so to the session itself. I was under strict instruction to work on drills and not be tempted to try
and hit full shots. Work on the takeaway, into a good position at the top and then just try and exit better and not get too far on the inside and get the club too far down the line. Try and feel as though I'm hitting it no more than twenty yards (from a full turn). I took some more footage (apologies for the quality but it was just the camera phone and with poor range lights) and will continue to do so as this particular leg of Homer's Odyssey moves forward.

I have sent the footage to Rhys and he is actually a lot happier. I still have an annoying habit of the club wanting to twitch back across the line born from the old swing going too far, too inside and with too much arm rotation. However it is better. One thing that is clear to see is there is far more retention of spine angle. If you look at the video of the swing (as it was) in my previous post you'll see how much I lose the angle and lift as I get to the top of the swing and even more as I have to find a way to get back to the ball. Clearly a big plus point.

All well and good I hear you say but how did you hit it. Well in truth not great and I checked into Hooksville with everything heading left. Fortunately Rhys was expecting that and told me not to be overly concerned. Apparently the next phase once we get the takeaway perfect is the really scary bit! You may or may not be able to pick out an alignment stick on the ground to the left of the ball at a 45 degree angle. I had been trying so hard to exit lower and left as per my instructions and the drills.

Cest la vie. It is a sign of things to come and has given me some comfort that I am moving, inch by inch, towards something better. Don't tell Rhys but I hit five balls at the end of the session with a full swing. Apart from the glorious shank with the first the others were actually rather pleasing. I did capture them on film, and it shows that at full pace and not in slow motion as per the drills, the club still wants to go across at the top. However it was not as pronounced as it had been so I'm chalking it to 1-0 to the good guy.

The plan is to get some serious work in at the weekend, and maybe take it to the grass practise area at Royal Ascot Golf Club. It will be good to see a few familiar faces again. It might also be a chance to try and get some short game work in. I've neglected this facet for far too long and if the full swing has mistakes, then the short game is riddled with errors and is the real achilles heel. I don't want to get too bogged down in the pursuit of my swing revolution and so this will provide a welcome distraction.

That's the second session done. Better in some aspects and still a shade disappointing in others but onwards and upwards. The next lesson is in the diary for Friday November 2nd and so until then I'll keep working on my drills and hope Rhys can provide a tip for changing the path on the way down. Maybe he's got that up his sleeve for the lesson. If he says the phase is scary then it will be major. He has certainly got my attention!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

The Process Is Underway

Day one of the swing rebuild. I've been given my instructions by my teaching pro Rhys ap Iolo on what I need to be working on, how to achieve it and what the long term goals are. In case anyone needs proof on why I need to change here is a swing I took this morning before I started the work. It came after a few warm up shots and shows that when timing is out and the swing isn't fully warmed up how full of mistakes and compensations it is.

It worked which is why I could play to a 10 handicap but it needed a lot of consistent work to maintain it and keep it synchronised. On a good day it was playable but when the timing was off it was an untamed monster. I am under instructions to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse and not to hit full shots. I need to get to position one, half way back, stop, check and then move the club into position two at the top of the back swing and stop again and check that. From this static position I need to feel the club coming stringht down on a much steeper path, collect the ball and into the finish.

All well and good and I am renouned at my club for the amount of practice I put in. What I'm not good at and never really have been is having the patience to stand there and just rehearse and swing the club without hitting balls. To me it has always been the acid test watching the ball fly. However as Rhys has tried to drum into my head, we need to break thirty years of ingrained faults. In essence we are going back to the beginning. I need to re-learn the correct takeaway, not swing too far and lose spine angle and lift and get the club in the right place to make a good down swing.

I did work hard on everything. It feels strange as you'd expect and the transition from the new position at the top down onto the ball isn't there yet. Lots of big hooks in particular indicates the path isn't right. However it's essential we get the initial move correct first so that is where the focus of attention remains.

I've filmed a swing showing the process. Bear in mind it is only the first session so there is a lot still wrong. Bear in mid also that Rhys would prefer me to stop at each check point and not make such a full swing as this. You can see how the club still wants to track across the line and how it is going to be a huge task to break that particular fault. Break it I must if everything that is to follow is going to slot into place.

I am pleased with progress. Rhys has already critiqued my work and given me a pointer to bear in mind. I have basically written off a lot of playing time over the winter. What am I missing? Frozen greens, muddy fairways, cold, wind and rain. If I can work hard and diligently on my new swing, allied to sharpening all aspects of the short game and putting then I'm going to be fast out of the blocks next year.

To be honest while my swing, despite its foibles, was functional if not great, it was my short game that has always held me back. I putt reasonably, but could hole out better from 3-8 feet. I am good from close range and don't three putt that often. It is the chipping in particular which has prevented the handicap from falling quicker. I chip like a 28 handicapper in comparison with my peers and it has been a mental frailty as well as a technical ineptitude that has stopped me. I've been caught between a traditional chipping technique and the linear method I adpoted last season. The break I've had, enforced as it was, has cleared my head. I'm ready to go back with Rhys once we hone the full swing skills and have a blank short game canvass on which to paint a better picture in 2013.

I'm off and running. I actually feel better after the session today than I did coming out of the lesson on Friday. At the moment the crux is to get position one nailed completely and into position two. There is another booked for a week on Friday. Rhys and I can review, assess and add another block into place. Slowly, slowly but the process is underway and I couldn't be happier to be getting it sorted once and for all.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Taken It Apart - Hope It Fits Back Together

My golf swing is currently lying in pieces courtesy of my latest lesson with my teaching pro Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Centre last night. I'm praying when we put it together again over the winter I'm not left with that one old nut or bolt you use to get as a kid putting stuff together at Christmas.

I've had a couple of range sessions this week as my golfing comeback following my mum's death takes shape. To be honest given all that has gone on recently I was actually quite pleased at how well I had been hitting it. I assumed that Rhys would just have a refresher to ease me back in. Whether it's because he's given up cigarettes (again) or saw it as a perfect opportunity to start the re-build programme we'd discussed I had only hit a couple of shots to show him where I was (and hit them well) when he made the call.

The main faults have been well documented on here before but consist in no particular order of club across the line at the top, losing spine angle in the back swing, too shallow on the downswing into impact, too in to out as I hit the thing (trapped) and then a follow through too high and continuing down the line. Seeing it written down it's amazing I'm as close to single figures as I am. As a whole the swing works but relies a lot on what remaining natural talent I have and good timing and when the latter is out or a fault creeps in then it can go very wrong, very quickly. The somewhat ambitious goal Rhys has is to get to a 5-6 handicap but more importantly is to now build something that works better, more often than what I have now. As I'm getting on, this is the one last opportunity to find the game to move me forward. I'm not looking for textbook or visually pleasing but just a swing I can rely on and which works more often. What Rhys and I have worked on since we started together last year has given me a better ball striking year in 2012 and I have played better and scored lower than preceding years.

The starting point is to get the arms working better in the back swing. At the moment they are rotating too early and too far behind me and so not setting the club properly on the way back. In simple terms, I can't make a nice compact turn. The arms keep going and the body reacts by getting the club across the line at the top. Like anything, the more it travels in one direction, the more it has to travel to get back to the starting point and the ball. It means I have to make several adjustments which I can do when the game is on. If not the results are sometimes ugly.

If I thought it would be a simple adjustment, I was sorely wrong. As Rhys succinctly put it, what I have is ingrained deeply akin to a motorway in my golfing brain. What we did last night is a small line in the sand. We need to make the new moves into the dominant force and be able to rely on it and know it's in there most of the time. The new move takes away the early rotation but to be honest I am really struggling with it. We've broken the back swing into two separate moves. There is the better takeaway into a position halfway back and then the setting of the club correctly. I am finding the initial takeaway really hard to "feel" or visualise and when I set the club, old habits still want to bring it across the line.

I am under strict instructions not too hit balls with a proper swing but have to stand there and work religiously on getting in to position 1 correctly and then into position 2 before going on to make a swing. I'm not sure which is going to be tougher, working on the changes or resisting the urge to run before I can walk and try and hit full shots. Either a way I think it'll be a long time before I'm ready to play again. I feel like an absolute beginner again but hoping I'll coming out the other side bigger and better. Whether 5-6 is realistic as a target for 2013 I'm not 100% convinced looking at the jumbled parts lying in front of me. I just hope Rhys has the instructions and they are the English version and we have no spare parts left over at the end.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Getting Back On The Horse

First and foremost many thanks to everybody that has sent messages of condolence online and particularly those at Royal Ascot Golf Club who took the time to send a card full of signatures. Although the funeral isn't until this Friday I am beginning to come to terms with everything. Above all, I know my mum would be mortified that I had foresaked my golf, especially as there is nothing more I can do for her.

Having not played since the start of September the thought of going out and playing seems a big deal all of a sudden and I'm certain there wouldn't be a game in there to do myself justice. So what to do? As a self-acknowledged practice fiend the answer is simple. Hit the range and the practice ground and work hard. I had seen my teaching professional for a lesson just before my mum's health started going downhill and we'd begun work on stopping my hips rotating too much and giving a more solid base on which to turn. I have to be honest and what I was trying to do today may not have been exactly as we had worked on but I was struggling to remember exactly how it had felt during the lesson.

The practice ground at Royal Ascot was actually quite dry given the recent heavy rain but was shrouded in a lingering mist that gave the place an eerie feel. Given what has gone before recently perhaps the backdrop was fitting. What became apparent very quickly was that the timing was out and I needed to reign it in. Ball by ball and with plenty of rehearsals in between shots what became clear was that when I kept the hips solid and turned over it more the shot was much better and the follow through more compact and low. In the last lesson I had seen on video just how far my hips turned on the back swing making it harder to turn back through properly and which was where a lot of my hip sliding and flailing arms down the line into a high finish came from.

With the one plane swing we are working on, it is about a more compact turn and exiting low and left through impact into a lower finish. It was a very in and out session. The good ones where I turned over the more solid base were superb with a great penetrating flight and more distance. The mediocre ones would still be playable and I was probably trying to run before I could walk and being a little too harsh on myself. I knew the shots weren't right with hip slides and higher finishes but I have lost a lot of the high cuts right where I spun out of it and the hooks and pulls left.

I did feel a tinge of guilt about getting back on the horse and starting to play again but as I've stated already, my mum was fiercely proud of my golfing achievements, particularly seeing her only son in Golf Monthly this time last year finishing runner up in their Centenary Final at the Forest of Arden. She would have wanted me to get out there again, do the best I can and continue Homer's odyssey towards single figures.

Standing alongside the winner at the Golf Monthly Centenary Final
Above all though I did a piece a few years back about my first ever round on a proper course with my dad who died back in 2003 and I think it really touched a nerve with her especially when Golf Monthly published it. My mum was very old school and would never shower anyone with praise but she was so pleased to see the piece and what it had meant to me and would regularly show it to all and sundry. Indeed, she carried a copy of the magazine with the Forest of Arden piece in and showed it to all the staff in hospital and in the hospice in her final days. For her, that is the biggest nod of approval I probably ever got.

The rehabilitation process has started. It will take a lot of time and effort as I had been playing well before my enforced lay off. I have got a lesson pencilled in for the 19th. Hopefully it will iron out the lingering issues and we can re-visit the proper hip movement and turn. We can also get down to deciding how we are going to attack the Winter swing changes. I think Rhys ap Iolo has a plan of action which will take the one plane motion forward and give me something more solid and repeatable to use in the 2013 season. After that I need to get back to the short game. It is still the one facet that is holding me back. I didn't really commit as much time to it in the Summer as I could and was caught between a number of different techniques. I need to decide on the linear method or the more traditional version of chipping and commit.

The boy is back in the game and I know it's with my mum's blessing. Ironically I've committed to a Golf Monthly Forum day at Woburn on March 27th which would have been her 77th birthday. I have a strong feeling she is going to give me the same kind of inspiration Seve gave to the European team at Medinah and my aim is to give her one more moment of magic to make her proud. For now though I'll take it bit by bit and get myself ready to tackle a round on the course again when I feel I can do myself justice.

Monday, 1 October 2012

The Flame Has Finally Died

Apologies for the long gap since my last post. When I left you, my mother had just been admitted to a local hospice. It is where she wanted to go, having seen how they cared for my dad in his last few days and she had been getting herself ready mentally for a while to make the journey. She realised it was a one way trip and that she wouldn't be coming home again.

She had entered on Wednesday September 12th which spookily enough was her wedding anniversary. I'm certain she must have known that. The first weekend I spent visiting she was remarkably lucid, bright as a button and fully with it. Her spirit was strong and it was just the body that was weak. However by the following weekend she was a different woman. She barely woke up during the four hours my wife and I stayed and she didn't look like my mum at all.

I got the phone call I'd been dreading in work last Tuesday to say she had got worse and that if I wanted to see her one last time it was best I got to the hospice as quickly as I could. For those that have been in my position they hospice had put her on the Liverpool Care Pathway which is basically the final stages. This can last a few hours or anything up to 72 hours and in essence the patient is given pain relief and while they are not sedated as such, they aren't awake although they can hear voices and will respond with eye movements etc. Having stayed until 2.30am Wednesday morning and with my mum still having a strong pulse and breathing well we were sent home.

We returned midday on Wednesday and I think everyone knew this was the day. When the end did come it was remarkably quick and peaceful. The breathing just slowed and shallowed and at 3.50pm just stopped and she was gone. The staff at the hospice throughout her stay had been second to none but they excelled in our moment of grief and were there to wipe the tears and guide us through the immediate aftermath.

To be honest I had been prepared for the inevitable for a while and can count myself lucky that I had all that time on the Tuesday and again on the Wednesday to say everything I wanted to and be at peace with the outcome. It has actually been a relief in many ways and I'm no longer worrying every time the phone goes or calling every night hoping she hasn't had a day of pain or discomfort.

I am not ready to get back out onto the course just yet and the blogs may be sporadic for a while longer but I just wanted to update you and explain my absence. The funeral is on the 12th October and there is plenty of stuff to be done at the house, with the solicitors and arranging her send off so golf is still on the back burner. I've had a range session tonight which was better than it could have been. I'm still suffering from jangled nerves after the European team's heroic performance at Medinah last night and the late finishes over the three days haven't helped depleted energy reserves.

I said I was prepared but I guess you are never fully ready for that final moment but I'll take comfort in the serenity of it and the fact she was in a place she wanted to be in and was surrounded by her family. I can think of far less appealing ways to finish my time.

From a slightly selfish viewpoint at least I will start to get my weekends back as I won't be making the long trip up to care for her, visit her in hospital, shop or arrange care and medical packages. Golf will be a wonderful escape valve for me and I'm sure it'll continue to frustrate and annoy me but somehow after the passing of my mum, maybe it isn't all consuming. She was the type of woman who would never shower you with praise but you knew on the inside she was as proud as only a mother could be. I'm down to play in a Golf Monthly Day at Woburn next year on March 27th. It would have been her birthday and you know what, I've a feeling she will give me the sort of guidance and motivation Seve gave the European team in the singles. I feel a low, winning performance on the cards.

And there you have it. Death comes to us all and no one is exempt. I hope you'll bear with me a little longer on here and when I come back continue to support my ramblings and thoughts on all things golf.