Sunday, 16 December 2012

2012 And Beyond

As Christmas looms large and the end of the year follows in its wake, now is the time to sit down and take stock of my 2012 golfing year and look forward to next year. It hasn't been a vintage year. This in main was due to the failing health of my mother and her eventual death. Weekends were a mix of rushing to play and then hurtling up to London to be with her. It meant that my mind, certainly from the summer onwards, was never 100% on the job in hand and the chances to work on my game at the weekend were few and far between.

So where to start? I started changing my swing in December last year and continued throughout 2012 to work with Rhys ap Iolo on the one plane swing and refining it bit by bit. It was always a bit of a continual work in progress throughout the year but the quality of the ball striking this year has been the best it has been in recent memory. The misses became more controlled and we ended up taking the left hand side out of play with the bad ones. It made the game a lot easier to play standing there knowing where it was going.

There was a lot of work during the summer evenings to work on it and gain a degree of trust to take onto the course. The regular lessons would bring fresh drills to work on and ingrain the changes Rhys and I made. Of course there were days when I couldn't hit the proverbial barn door but there were far more days when the ball striking was better and I put myself in contention a lot more often. If the short game had fired then it could have been a stellar season even with the distractions off the course.

The fact that the handicap tumbled over the season from 13.1 after the January stableford, to a personal best low of 9.8 and finished the year tantalisingly close to single figures on 10.1. Again, it is proof positive that the changes Rhys has implemented has got my game on an even keel with a stable foundation to build upon next year.

From a highlight perspective it's hard to choose. I won the division 1 July medal with a net level par round of 70. That was enough to extend my winning streak to a fifth consecutive season. In fact I had a rich vein of form between Easter and July (which corresponded in my mum's condition stabilising). Royal Ascot has a bogey event, an honours board event, at Easter called the Haig Cup. Bogey is effectively a match against the course and I finished -7 which in six out of the last seven years would have been enough to have won by several shots. This year though the winner shot -11 and in fact his second round score was better than my two round combined score! Still 2nd place was a good start to the season.

I had another runners-up spot in the May medal. I shot 71 (net +1) and lost on count back. There was a top ten in another honours board event, the Stone Cup over the May bank holiday where two rounds of 38 and 31 points were enough for 8th. I was annoyed to have done the spade work in round one and couldn't kick on in the second round.

However perhaps the best performance may have come in the Club Championship. I only just made the halfway cut with a +6 (net) score of 76 which included a 9 on the par four 14th. However in the second round I posted a personal best score around Royal Ascot in competition play of 77 gross (net 66 or -4). It was enough to catapult me through the field and finish in 6th place not only in handicap section but in the gross event as well. This was by far and away my best ever finish in the event.

It was only a monthly medal win but it extended my streak to a 5th consecutive season of winning at least one competition
On the negative side, the short game was my Achilles heel yet again. I got bogged down in mechanics and the head became full of doubt and negativity. I couldn't decide on a technique and switched between the linear method and a more conventional set up with alarming regularity. When it was on, it was very good but so often the scores were hampered with duffs and thins whenever I missed the putting surface. It inevitably put pressure on the rest of my game to perform and so when the swing wasn't in sync the scores soared.

My partner Mike Stannard and I made progressed to the second round of the Volvo knockout but we were tamely beaten at home by a pair from Calcot Golf Club in Reading. Neither of us turned up on the day and we were no match for a pairing that frankly only played mediocre golf themselves. I played a few club matches and possessed an another unbeaten season until the last match at Caversham Heath. I had lost my club unbeaten record there the year before and got another beating this season to lose an unblemished 2012 record. I will be back in 2013 if selected of course, to try again.

All in all then much to be very happy about and 2012 will go down as a big tick in the credit column. What does 2013 hold? From a selfish perspective, my mother's death does mean I no longer have to spend one eye on the watch as I play, waiting to rush up to be with her. Mercifully she is now free from the pain and misery the insidious disease that is cancer causes. My golfing season begins on 27th March with a Golf Monthly Forum meeting at Woburn. The 27th would have been mum's birthday and so I will be aiming to play well in her memory.

Work has already begun to find a short game that works. I spent a brief part of my lesson last Friday discussing it with my coach Rhys ap Iolo. He has adjusted the set up and I spent twenty minutes this morning trying it out briefly. It wasn't a full blown practise session but I think these clips show that I might just be onto something that works and I can rely on

The goal for 2013 is to continue Homer's Odyssey towards single figures. I think once the short game improves, and the swing changes Rhys and I are working on over the Winter bed in then the overall game will be in the best ever shape. 2013 lessons will then be centred around the scoring zone from 100 yards and in, especially bunker play and on the green. I would like to continue my winning streak into a 6th season but the club is full of decent players and every event is very hard to win. Add in the handicap golfer having "a career day" and it means that I will need my A game every time I peg it up.

I have half a mind to look at my equipment in 2013. My clubs are all off the shelf and are a few years old. There are a number of brands including Ping, Mizuno, Titleist and Callaway that have some very good looking equipment. If I do decide to invest then it will probably be the last time I do so. As a result, and because the swing is so much more stable, then I will probably look at a full custom fitting session and may treat myself to a trip to a national fitting centre.

Other than that, I aim to go out and play as much as I can, practise less on the long game and trust the work Rhys and I have done to date and will continue to do. That said, short game practise is where it will be at. I want to play more courses next year. Royal Ascot has a number of reciprocal agreements and I've never really taken advantage. There will no doubt also be a few Golf Monthly events which I will get involved in plus a few society and charity days.

All in all as I sit and type this I am in a very content place with my performance this year and the state of my game. Even the dreaded shanks have been eradicated (never say never though) and with a short game bubbling there is much to be positive about. My full swing is improving and the good ones recently have taken my breath away with the quality of the strike and distance and flight achieved.

I hope you all have a good Christmas and that Santa brings you everything you want for your golf game. I hope your 2013 brings you a barrage of birdies and that your handicap drops. Even if you don't enjoy good fortunes, just remember that a bad day on the course is still better than a good day in work.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Such A Simple Game (When You Do It Right)

It's been a while. Apologies for the lack of posts but I've been suffering a bout of seasonal coughs and colds which have refused to shift and left me too ill to play or practise much. We reached Defcom 1 on the man flu scale at one point. My overall mood hasn't been helped by another dose of the shanks.

I'd hit the practise ground at Royal Ascot last Saturday and had a great ball striking session working hard on everything my coach Rhys ap Iolo had given me in our last lesson. The ball position had moved forward as it wasn't at the bottom of the swing arc and we'd worked on feeling the right shoulder coming up, as though I wanted to top it, which had got the club on a much better plane. All fine and dandy. I was forced to pull out of the competition on the Sunday as my flu left me feeling decidedly under par and so I hit the range on Monday night determined to make up for lost time.

What happened left me in a very dark and lonely place. I had the range to myself as it was bitterly cold. Just as well really as what followed was a XXX session. The dastardly socket rockets were back with avengence. I left confused and very annoyed. The weather in deepest Berkshire then took an Arctic turn and there was no way I was going to stand there in sub-zero temperatures not knowing why I was hitting badly and ingraining faults.

Help was at hand though as I had a lesson with Rhys last night. The warm up wasn't an exercise in confidence boosting. The rights were back again and the quality of the strike was rubbish. It took Rhys a matter of moments to see the problem. I was moving ahead of the ball on the down swing and the club simply couldn't get back to the ball. So easy when someone qualified can watch you but virtually impossible to diagnose standing alone on a freezing range. I have always been a advocate of having regular lessons and if you are struggling on the course, I urge you to seek out your local PGA qualified pro and get him to look at your swing. He can cure what ails you in moments.

Having diagnosed the fault we needed a cure. The answer as always was so simple. We tweaked the set up. I have an age old problem (yet another) with the left shoulder being raised at address. This compromises the ability to turn. I spoke before of a discus thrower analogy and necessity to have a flatter shoulder line to turn onto the ball or hurl the discus.

A flatter shoulder set up = a better ability to turn properly
It felt very strange and almost as though I was lopsided with the left shoulder feeling much lower than the right. However a simple glance in the mirror on the wall confirmed that this wasn't the case. As is often the case in golf, feel and reality aren't necessarily the same thing. I need to do a lot of work in the mirror to get this into the memory bank.

The next thing to do was straighten the line of the spine. Setting up at address. Rhys pointed out how the high shoulder, akin to the weight having shifted to the left, made it inevitable I'd be in front of the ball at impact with the soul destroying outcome. Using the mirror, he got me to address the ball again, lower the left shoulder, close my eyes and feel where the weight was. It still felt towards the left side. I balanced it out and he showed how there was a defined straight line from my head position, down my spine, and with me settled nicely on the ball.

It is simply then a matter of geometry and a question of turning around the spine. I'd put the hard yards in over the last few months in terms of the takeaway and so I wasn't even thinking about swing mechanics. Just set up correctly and turn. Again, I had spoken about the club exiting correctly to the left. It was the biggest change I need to make. It had always gone out down or even right of the target line after impact which was caused by a throng of errors and in itself was a big issue.

It is amazing what a domino effect the correct set up can have. Get it right and holy grails like the correct exit left falls into place without manipulation or thought. The quality of the strike has moved onto a higher level and ball flight is much more neutral. The ball is telling me the club is much squarer and there are simply fewer moving parts.

Get it right at the beginning and life is so much easier. Stand there and turn around the spine
I need to go away, consolidate and work on the changes. I seem to have developed a habit of coming out of these lessons swinging well, having several practise sessions that reinforce and boost confidence and then a chink will appear. I know I have so many old faults that perhaps it is inevitable that some of these are still lurking. We are making it a simpler process and stripping the layers away. I have to play tribute to Rhys who is simply the best teacher I've had (and there have been a few over the years!) and if you are within travelling distance of Bracknell I urge you to give him a call.

He has said that I need to start making the transition from conscious practise where you are thinking about the nuts and bolts to a more sub conscious and realistic approach replicating the challenge of playing on the course. As a result he has given me a link to a site which has dedicated practise routines and more importantly challenges you to set a score and then try and create a personal best each time. You MUST repeat your pre-shot routine each time and it is a very good way of making each shot count.

On the plus side, there is a dedicated short game section which is where it's at for me in 2013. We touched on set up briefly last night but it isn't happening for me yet. I've parked any short game changes until my next lesson. It is a brilliant tool to reinforce the work and will stop me hitting ball after ball, either thinking too much about what I'm doing or getting lazy with my set up and routine.

I hadn't downloaded the app before I hit the practise ground back at Royal Ascot today so it was the same old routine for me. The wind was a factor and blowing in the worse possible direction, left to right. It meant that some balls trailed to the right and it was hard to tell which were poor swings and which were just buffeted by the breeze. However it was all about the set up and address and making sure the geometry was right and turning around the spine. The quality of the strike for the majority were very positive. There were some bad ones but I am happy to accept these at this stage. You can't make the proverbial omelette without breaking an egg.

It just goes to prove that golf is a simple game made difficult.