Monday, 30 December 2013

2014 - A Fresh Start

With only a couple of days left in the current year and the joys of moving into a new build house five days before Christmas severely curtailing any playing or practice aspirations, my golfing year is done and dusted. I wanted to play over the festive period but the weather has made that impossible and the high winds have even made any trip to the range or practice area a fruitless exercise in terms of getting any constructive feedback regarding distance and direction. I did manage to escape from the mayhem on Boxing Day for an hour. To be honest I hit it better than I thought I might but there was still a lot of room to grow and improve.

To be honest a lot of 2013 didn't live up to my goals or aspirations in terms of achievements or performances, especially in competitive play. Homer's Odyssey has hit some stormy seas and been temporarily blown off course. The handicap has risen from an optimistic 10.1 this time last year with the golden land of single figures tantalisingly close. It has crept up and up and I fear the first qualifying competition of 2014 may see me creep to 11.5 and off a new mark of 12 to start the year. To be honest, that isn't the end of the world. It just serves as a motivation to drive on harder.

"The strands of time, the rules and chains that bind us
That holds us down until we forget just how to fly
Bound by fears of change from old traditions
Began to sense the great unravelling"

That summed it up nicely and all the issues I was having in making it tell out on the course. I was working hard with my teaching pro Rhys ap Iolo and the swing itself has changed hugely from the end of 2012 and is now a much stronger and repetitive beast. The main issue has been one of trust. I have struggled to take the hard and productive range work and trust it on the course. Too many rounds were there for the taking and I managed to throw in two or three disasters, usually in the midst of some pleasing, steady play to undo all the hard work. I ended the last quarter of this year beginning to do some work on the pre-shot routine, thanks largely to some help from the guys at Pre-Shot Golf (http://www.pre-shot.co.uk/). Sadly the house move curtailed this but it is an area I can address readily at the start of my 2014 golfing year and find a way to de-clutter the noise and thoughts and just stand there and hit it as I know I can from the range work I've done.

"The seeds that we sow today
The loose ends we tie and nurture
The threads that we spin and weave
To uncertain futures we usher them into the light"

It wasn't all doom and gloom and contrary to the popular belief of some, I thoroughly enjoyed playing in 2013 even on those days when the ball and club stubbornly refused to act in tandem and I was directionally challenged in the extreme. I had a few good finishes in club competitions undone by those killer bad holes at wrong times which robbed me of a win or top three finish or two. I made the halfway cut in the club championship, something until last year I'd never done. I was pretty successful in the club matches I played, winning most of the home matches and gleaning some important wins or drawn matches in the away games. I seemed to play with so much more freedom in these better ball games, ironically better still away from the familiar surroundings of Royal Ascot Golf Club. Familiarity breeding contempt?

I also played in a number of Golf Monthly Forum events. The highlight was undoubtedly the Help For Heroes Day in October at West Hill Golf Club. Over a hundred golfers played on a day blessed by fantastic weather. I had a mid-table finish playing in the company of Mike Harris the Golf Monthly Magazine Editor. He's a chap I've known for many years now and always fantastic company and a very steady single figure player. With the contributions from the Golf Monthly Forum the H4H day made in excess of £17,000. This was testament to the hard work and perseverance by a small group of forum members working tirelessly behind the scenes as well as the generosity of many forum members from all parts of the UK who couldn't play in the day but still gave contributions in terms of cash donations or prizes for the raffle and auction.

Over 100 golfers played at the Golf Monthly Forum H4H day at West Hill
 
I also enjoyed a fantastic day out at Woburn with the Forum. We played the Marquess in the morning which was a little too tight for my game but was a fantastic setting. In the afternoon it was the Dukes course which was much more to my liking and I ended up finishing third in the PM event.

Over the whole of 2013 my bĂȘte noire has been the short game. It has crucified any progress and when it has been on I have scored well as I haven't felt under pressure to hit fairways and greens. When it went AWOL, it did so in spectacular fashion. It is an area, along with shots from a hundred yards and in, along with my putting that will be getting the majority of my practice time and where most of the tuition I'm getting will be focused. I have a short game assessment over four lessons with a guy called Liam McCrossen at Pachesham Golf Centre where they have a top notch short game facility, courtesy of my wife as a Christmas present. Their short game area really is superb and despite it being a ninety minute round trip, it is worth the effort. There really isn't anywhere locally that compares or you can access without being a member. I'm hoping he'll give me the boost I need, supply me with the correct technique and that I can get Rhys at the Downshire Golf Centre to build on these strong foundations and get me pitching it closer, getting up and down regularly and holing out more often.

As I've alluded to already, my swing has improved hugely under the tuition of Rhys. I seem to respond best to regular professional instruction and will often go out after a lesson and a few range sessions to bleed the changes into the swing and play well for a few weeks. With this in mind and with an eye on the start of the main season in March, I'm about to embark on weekly lessons with him. This will be one hour's coaching per week, every week until the end of March. We will evaluate and work on all aspects of my game, from the swing to chipping and pitching, putting, course management, and mental routines. All in all a thorough and exciting way of getting ready for the body of the season. With plenty of work needed to get to the promised land of single figures from the 12 handicap starting point this will see me on the front foot from the off.

So what do I want from the 2014 golfing year? Well, first and foremost it has to be a single figure handicap and with the work and tuition being invested anything short will be nothing short of a failure. I want a short game I can rely on in important situations. Actually, if I'm honest I want a short game that is the envy of many in the club but while miracles take a little longer there's no harm in setting the bar nice and high.

I want my driver to behave. At the moment we have a love/hate relationship and as I sit in the comfy clean family area of my new house, reclined on a comfy new sofa, my favourite tunes playing and looking out on the Somme battlefield that is our muddy garden, we are definitely in a "hate" period. The range session on Boxing Day was poor and to be honest, had I driven the ball even half decently in the four ball better ball Winter knockout with my long suffering partner Mike Stannard, we'd have been home and hosed before losing on the third extra hole in near darkness.

I want Royal Ascot to step into the light and be the club it deserves to be. It has the potential to rival many of the more famous names locally and created history as the first Royal club to appoint a female club captain with Anthea Winn having taking the helm http://golfsouth.co.uk/history-in-the-making/

It is a fantastic place to call home and the course is beginning to develop nicely. We are getting the greens back after losing many to disease. The current Course Manager Dave Ansell has done a great job getting them back to a condition we haven't seen since the opening year or two. He has a specific long term plan but results not just on the greens can already been seen. Despite its "Royal" moniker it really isn't a stuffy environment and visitors and new members alike are always guaranteed a warm welcome. Just tell them Homer sent you.

I want the opportunity to play different courses. The club has a reciprocal with a number of clubs and I want to utilise that much more than I have to date. I also won two auction items at the Help For Heroes day for a four ball at The Army Golf Course and a place called Bramley Golf Club near Guildford. The cunning plan is to book a weeks leave during the Royal Ascot race meeting when the golf club has a reduced number of holes in play and access is frankly a pain in the neck, and embark on some days out and about.

I want to win a club competition again. 2013 was a barren year. Prior to that I'd won at least one monthly medal or stableford, over the previous three years. I want to add to my existing two major titles (those gold letter honour board events). Golf is recreational game but I have a fiercely competitive streak and ALWAYS go out wanting to win. It is something my dad instilled in me as a youngster. Play to win but if you can't then lose with humility and good grace. It's advice that has stood me in good stead. I have the potential and lose the killer holes and learn to chip and putt and victory will be mine.

Finally I want to enjoy my golf, whether I play well or not. I want to meet new golfing partners who become firm friends and resurrect long lost acquaintances. It's a fickle mistress I know I'll never control but it doesn't stop me trying. If I can keep a smile on my face long after the buffer zone has gone, another ball disappears from sight or I miss another putt then I'll be pleased. Plenty of others far worse off than me chasing a stupid white ball around a big field.

I hope you all had a good 2013 season and that whatever you want from your own golfing game in 2014 you achieve it and more. Play well, practice hard and don't forget to follow Homer's Odyssey and see if I can achieve my own aspirations and dreams. Happy new year

Sunday, 8 December 2013

A Bit Of Form

Moving house is allegedly one of the most stressful things you will do and with our move now imminent on December 19th, I've had little time in the last week to hit the range and work on my game. I played last weekend and had some good stuff and some rubbish. A pretty normal week. With no time to hit balls, and add in the Baltic snap we had, it wasn't until Friday that I could put club on ball and try and get a modicum of timing and technique ready to play in the Saturday roll up. I had hit it sweetly last Sunday at the range and was hoping for a confidence building session where I could trust my swing.

What happened was a curate's egg of shanks, slices and pulls. There were some good shots mixed in there but nothing that really got me excited on a chilly evening and so there was a degree of trepidation amongst the normal pre-round banter. I had started poorly last week and carved one out of bounds and so I was pleased to see my three wood sail nicely just short of the green. I should have been able to convert a simple chip and run to set up a par opportunity. Despite my recent lesson at Pachesham Golf Centre the short game gremlins are still lurking and I duffed it. An opening double bogey to start.

I got a good drive away at the second away, a the par five, to calm the nerves and hit the green but an ugly three putt undid all the good work. I repeated the trick at the third. My dive was a little left, which is the longest route over the environmental area in front of the tee, which is out of bounds. It just made the carry. I was left with 150 yards to the centre and hit a lovely six iron to the heart of the putting surface. I raced the first putt two feet past the hole and standing over the return I felt I was aiming right. Instead of stepping away, realigning and going again I ploughed on. Guess what? It missed on the right.

I was actually hitting the ball really nicely. Even on the sixth hole, a 178 yard par three that has historically given me issues I found the back of the green. Sadly the flag was at the front and I had a twenty five yard putt. I got it to within five feet but three putted again for the third time. So annoying and so unlike me. It was ruining all the good work I was putting in.

The seventh hole is a long par four measuring 398 yards with a ditch crossing the fairway at the 230 yard mark and there is an imposing oak tree to the left of this ditch. This means the tee shot needs to be strategically placed towards the right side of the fairway and short of the ditch. I hit a great hybrid, arrow straight. Too straight and I was too far left to go at the green with the large oak blocking my way forward. I was too close to try and hit a "Bubba Watson" and sling a big hooking shot around it. In the end I opted to hit a six iron. It caught the uppermost branches but finished on the right hand side of the fairway. I had a pitch from 56 yards. It has been an area I've really worked on and my 58 degree wedge was controlled beautifully and landed five feet away. This time there was no mistake with the putter and I made a lovely up and down to save par.

In the end I managed to get out in a pleasing eighteen points. It could have been under handicap without the mistakes but so far so good. My driving had been functional, if not 100% convincing and I had kept it in play. However, off the tenth tee, I carved it way right. It was a huge slice into the cabbage. My provisional went even further right. I somehow found the first ball and chopped it out and pitched on and made a great putt to save par from ten feet. It could have been so much worse. I made a par at the next and got myself two under handicap.

The twelfth is a dog leg to the right and I hit a nice drive that just ran through the fairway into a juicy lie in the semi-rough. I hit a lovely hybrid but it was a tad left and found the greenside bunker and I had short sided myself. I did everything by the textbook and opened the face up to try and play a delicate splash shot. All good except there was little sand under the ball and the bounce of the club skidded on the base of the bunker. The ball flew across the green. I hit a good chip but it ran on and left a seven footer. I holed it to make a bogey, net par on the stroke index 1 and so no damage done. It is these escapes and ability to keep the scorecard ticking over that has been missing from the game all season. I still don't trust the chipping action and set up from the lesson but with the festive break approaching and the house move out of the way 'll have time to really invest time into getting this area of the game firing.

I hit my tee shot at the 186 yard thirteenth a little low. It wasn't a good swing but it went straight. I was faced with a tough chip to a hole perched on the side of a slope. I aimed right and made perfect contact with the eight iron. It scared the hole and it was only the angle of the slope that prevented it dropping but I made a safe par. Another up and down.

Another playable drive off the fourteenth tee was pleasing. It had been the scene of several disasters over the course of 2013's competitions including the club championship first round when I had been ticking along nicely. Today though I had a clear shot into the green. My five wood wasn't the cleanest shot of the day and it came up short. Again, it was a straight forward chip and run but like the first hole I played it terribly. I left a nasty fifteen foot putt and made a mess of the first effort to leave a knee knocking five footer to keep the round ticking over.

A low hook off the fifteenth tee wasn't the disaster it could have been had I done it elsewhere on the course as the fourteenth runs adjacent and so it scampered back down that hole. It did leave a long carry over a large patch of rough and bushes to the correct fairway which is real no mans land and very little chance of seeing the white sphere again if it lands in it. The other option is to proceed down the fourteenth and then play through a gap in the trees or over them for the third. I was feeling confident and opted to hit a hybrid back to the fairway I should have been on. I didn't catch it cleanly and it sliced, taking it further away from the target green but it ended up playable. A fat nine iron approach came up short. I was staring down a messy bogey. There was little to green to work with and having mentally resigned myself to a dropped shot (yes I know this isn't what I'm suppose to do!!) I decided to play the cutest little lofted pitch with the sand wedge. It came off, and I nestled it to three feet and I made a par saver. Another back nine up and down!

I made a scrappy bogey down the long sixteenth having hit another carved tee shot way to the right. If I was being honest, I was probably thinking about the swing whereas on the front nine I had stood there with an empty head and just swung. The penultimate hole is a long and challenging par three of 218 yards with out of bounds hard left and deep rough to the right. My tee shot was right of target and short. I had a good lie and empowered by the delicate pitch at the fifteenth I went for the high tariff effort over the bunker to a pin situated just on the green. The percentage play was find the green and make a par putt from ten-fifteen feet. It lofted up nicely but was well short of the necessary oomph to travel far enough and it had a sandy grave. I splashed out but missed the bogey putt. It was the first hole I hadn't scored on.

I hit a good drive off the last tee, especially as the previous trio had been of a military nature, right, left, right. A tad too far left to be ideal and I had another large oak in front of me to navigate. I was looking to play a hybrid and aim towards the right side of the fairway. The danger with the shot was the deep rough lying in wait if I hit a fade or slice. I wanted to move it slightly right to left, a shot I usually play well with the hybrid. I hit it on the target but it did catch a few small branches which took a little power off the shot. It just ran off the fairway into a rather heavy, lush lie and left 142 yards. The problem with having to hit to the right is that it brings the pond guarding the right side of the green into play.

To add to the problems the wind picked up and was blowing into my face. In the end I took one more club to try and ensure it carried the aqua and at least found the green. In the end, I hit a big pull left which may have been a result of the heavy lie. It definitely avoided the water but went into a greenside bunker. I played a really nice sand shot to six feet but just missed the putt. Still a net par is a pleasing way to finish.

All in all that added up to a thirty six point tally and was enough to come joint first in the roll up. Had I managed a single point at the seventeenth, chipped better on occasions and not had that glut of three putts on the front nine, I would have had a really great score. Would have, could have, should have.

The pleasing thing was the fact that it was unexpected after the ghastly range session the day before. It goes some way to proving that the swing changes are beginning to bed in and I can stand there with more confidence and swing without any technical thoughts interrupting the process. The driver is still like a game of Russian roulette and I am always feeling I am one swing away from never seeing the ball again. When I stand there and trust as I did more on the front nine it can work. I just have to keep the head empty all the way round.

The short game is also a lottery. The simple stuff I did badly and yet the harder stuff I did well and got up and down. How does that work? As I've alluded to the Christmas break is all about working on getting up and down. Time invested now will sow rich dividends for the new season. There was much to be pleased about and always nice to hit a bit of form. With one more missed buffer in the stableford next week sending me back to a 12 handicap, there is much on the line. With the first round of the winter knockout on Saturday as well (it's a better ball format) next week are the last competitive rounds of 2013. Let's make it a good send off and start 2014 on a positive footing.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Dear Santa

It's that time of year when good little golfers write their notes to Father Christmas and I'm no different. The relatives have all been primed that a golf ball soap on a rope, plastic score counting devices or any other novelty gifts are not welcome. I have my own wish list for the big guy with the white beard and I have been a very good boy.

Dear Santa,

Please bring me
Consistency - I have had some really good rounds going this year in competitive rounds and then the wheels, axle or whole suspension has fallen off. I can throw bad holes in from nowhere. It usually stems from a bad drive, usually unplayable or lost. I need to be able to keep the good rounds going for the full eighteen in order to hit more buffer zones and ideally get those important small cuts to just whittle away at the handicap

Trust - I have worked hard in 2013 with my teaching professional Rhys ap Iolo. The swing still has flaws and will never be technically perfect but I have go the club moving into some good positions, especially from this time a year ago. I work hard at the range every time we strip another layer away and add something good. Why oh why don't I trust the hard work I put in on the range when I feel grass beneath my shoes. I can play with total freedom on my own just knocking a couple of balls around on a Summer evening but can't seem to find the trust factor when playing for real. Some days are better than others and IT IS coming. I just need it to be there to rely on every time.

A Working Short Game - How many times have I moaned that a lack of any sort of short game, aligned to consistency and trust, has made it so hard to grind out those good scores even when the ball striking hasn't always been ideal. I had a lesson with Rhys back in early 2013 and changed set up and path. It worked but a lack of practice, lack of attention to detail and old habits creeping back fogged the brain. I had a refresher with a fresh pair of eyes at Pachesham Golf Centre the other week which just brought the basics back into focus. I've had a head full of chocolate frogs all season, flitting between techniques, trying different things to find anything to work and generally spent the year with way too much going on over the ball. I have the basics now. The onus is on me to get the short game firing for the start of the new season.

Single Figures In 2014 - If you can bring everything else Santa, can I trouble you for enough cuts to get me back towards single figures. I was close at the start of the year and write to you now bordering on the brink of a 12 handicap. I am working hard and a little bit of help from the holy trinity, consistency, trust and a short game will lead me to the promised land. I know in my heart I'm good enough. Rhys tells me I'm good enough. I am good enough.

Enjoyment - Despite everything that has gone before in 2013 and contrary to popular belief I have had a great time playing this season. Even the bad days have been a learning experience, I've played with some great company and on a number of wonderful courses. Can you fix it please Santa to let me play more courses, enjoy games with friends old and new and continue to enjoy my golf even if the little white ball doesn't always want to go where I need it to

We all know Santa is a golfer. Hopefully he'll bring some presents to get Homer's Odyssey to it's golfing nirvana
Of course in this season, it is good to give too. As a result I would love Santa to deliver some golfing gifts to others

Lee Westwood - If good guys can be winners then surely no one would begrudge Lee that elusive first major. He has been consistent and so close so often and surely it's a matter of time. Getting back with Billy Foster on the bag has to be a good thing and I would love to see him seal the deal. He is a great driver of the ball, so important at this level, capable of hitting irons from the gods but I hope his short game and undeniable putting woes can be sorted. How much of this is now in his golfing psyche and not just a lack of ability is the big question. Come on Santa, have a rummage in your grotto for a spare major for Mr Westwood.

Rory McIlroy - A sublime golfing talent and great to see him back and winning but where has his head been? Poorly managed and advised (in my opinion) he has been in the press more for his private life than his on course exploits. Can you fix it Santa for 2014 to be the year Rory gets back to doing what he does best. If Westwood can't win a major can you make sure Rory adds to his list. He has it all. He just needs to be allowed to get on and show what he can do.

Greenkeepers - I know it's a big ask Santa but can you give green keepers across the country a break. Can you give them some decent weather this winter, not the snowmageddon we had last year. More importantly though can you give club members the grace to appreciate the hard work, often in difficult conditions, to tight budgetary constraints, and enjoy the fruits of their labours without nit-picking or moaning like crazy. That three putt was because your putting is lousy, not because the greens are a ******* disgrace.

Manufacturers - Can you continue to bring out good quality gear that help us golfing mortals enjoy the game. Can you make golf more accessible but please don't bring model after model out on a seemingly monthly basis (Taylormade and Callaway, I'm looking at you!). I love to see your innovation and I love trying the new gear that you bring out so please keep them coming. Santa can you give me a sneak preview of what everyone has planned, just to whet my golfing juices!

Golfers - Santa, this is a big one as well but I know you'll find room in the sleigh. Can you arrange for golfers across the country to have the golfing game they wish for in 2014. If they are new to the game, may they fall in love with it completely. If they are old hands can they have fun, play well and achieve whatever golfing goals they set themselves. Most importantly though, can you give them the grace to accept defeat and the humility to greet success in equal measures and enjoy a year of golf in good health and good spirits.

Of course, it's just a bit of wishful thinking and fun. Whatever you want from your golfing game, your Christmas gifts and 2014 I hope you have been good golfing boys and girls and that Santa comes to you in a few weeks time with everything you wish for.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Back To The Learning

The 2013 wasn't fantastic. No getting away from it I'm afraid and while there was some really good stuff there was a lot of poor scores too especially in competitive play and the handicap has gradually risen from 10.1 to 11.4. Not good.

As regular readers will know from my last post it was back to my regular teacher Rhys ap Iolo for a golf lesson a week ago. We made a couple of changes to ball position and flattened it out a tad and it was good. Rhys showed me a swing from a year ago in December 2012 where the club was still travelling way too much on the inside, getting trapped and was way too shallow. He took one from the start of last weeks lesson which showed a huge change to the path. In fact, the path had steepened a fraction too far and was a little over the top. To a large degree this was no bad thing as the club was much further in front of me at impact so I had more room to compress down and exit further to the left. Better by a mile but something that needed fixing.

This is the first video. A lot of nasty stuff in here from a technical perspective. To some degree it was surprising I was able to get as close to single figures as I had. Given the lack of a reliable short game to back up the poor swing, I would argue I deserve some degree of credit for playing as well as I had for as long as I had. I have always wanted something simpler and more reliable.

This second video shows a much better path and I have actually taken it a fraction too far and the club now travels a little too far over the top. Much better but not right. The solution was to move the ball position further back, only by a ball diameter at most. What Rhys also did was to get me to feel the right shoulder was moving as far away from my right ear as I can. This made the plane a little flatter.

Here is the final act after the changes were made. A much better path and if you pause the video just before impact, the shaft is perfectly parallel and it's just a question then of turning down and through and exiting to the left as I've been working so hard to do all year.

There are still a number of issues and many of you will recognise a lot of lateral movement. As I get to the top of the swing my spine angle rises and into impact it looks as though I really stand up. It is something I am not happy with and would like to change to add a degree more consistency. I've already spoke with Rhys about it and it is actually something he is comfy with at this point in my journey. this is something I will come back to but not yet.

I've been working hard on it at the range all week and I've been pleased with the progress I made. Friday night was a very good session and I went out to the course on Saturday full of hope. The opening tee shot was a ghastly slice and out of bounds and I have to be honest, it sucked all the confidence and belief the hours at the range had installed. I managed to get it round, of a fashion, until the seventh hole where I hit another shocker. It was another that felt really cramped for room and it went straight right never to be seen again. Rightly so. It was nasty.

I made a closing pair of par's to shut out the front nine. The back nine was a mess. I made a mess of the tenth and eleventh but found the fairway at twelve. I missed the green but made a bogey and so felt a little better. Until the thirteenth tee. It is a 186 yards and I pulled the hybrid. I repeated the horror swing from the seventh tee. Straight right and so cramped for room. After that my mind was shot. I was thinking so hard about technique and trying to keep the ball in play that it became a rather forced swing and an objective in getting it round. I am not happy. I didn't enjoy my game at all. It wasn't what I wanted or had envisaged.

However it was time to park the long game and the swing changes I've made. Today was a trip to Pachesham Golf Centre in Leatherhead. This is where I got fitted for my Ping clubs back in the summer. It has two superb short game areas. The first one has three distinct greens for pitches from 10-30 yards, another for those 50-55 yard shots and a final one at the 70-75 yard mark. It also has a well kept bunker with a nice big lip. http://www.pacheshamgolf.co.uk/short_game_specialists.htm

There is also a chipping area with plenty of flags to aim at and a number of areas to use. I've wanted to use this facility for a while. It is the best within reasonable travelling distance and which has public access. The short game is where the focus of my attention will be this winter and Rhys has already done a little work with a chipping lesson way back at the start of the season.

Today was a chance to meet Liam McCrossan who is going to give me a short game assessment. I wanted someone who didn't know my well documented short game issues to cast a fresh set of eyes over what I'm doing. We had a good chat before hitting the chipping green as that is the main bone of contention

To be honest what we saw on the video was nothing new and basically a regression into the poor address positions Rhys had spoken about on a cold and damp chipping green. The head and sternum are too far back and so the angle of attack is too shallow. He moved the ball back a little, got the weight back onto the left hand side and the only significant change was to my address position. He is trying to get me to mimic the impact position so I can just make a shorter and crisper swing on a slightly steeper path. Much better and more comfortable over the ball.

The full blown assessment is taking place after Christmas to look at the other aspects and tidy up bunker play and pitching as well as a session in the Mark Roe putting studio to have a look at the whole putting game. http://www.pacheshamgolf.co.uk/mark_putting_studio.htm

I've always said the Winter is the best time to make changes. I am pleased with where my swing is now, even if the course is still chewing me up every week and I can't recreate the good work on the range when it counts. I need a fully functioning short game to take pressure off all the other facets of my game. It is one of the only gripes I have with Royal Ascot, that there isn't really a specialised short game area where members can work on this vital aspect. As I've mentioned there really isn't access to this anywhere locally which does make it hard to do the right things more often.

There is a lot going on with my game as always. I love it. I love the hard work in making changes permanent and the swing and game better and even more so when it comes off on the course. Rhys has done a fantastic job to date with making it better and once Liam has given me an independent short game assessment I can work in conjunction with Rhys and utilise Liam and the Pachesham short game facility to make it second to none. I need to regress to my junior golfer days where there was no fear. Look at any kid at any course or range and they instinctively do it. No thinking, no questioning. It is going to be more about jettisoning 30+ years of golfing knowledge and going back to basics. Get the short game right and the rest follows and Homer's Odyssey to single figures picks up momentum again and 2014 will be a fantastic year. It is all there for me. I just need to reach in and grab it.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Travelled A Long Road

I have recounted a tale of woe in 2013 as far as competitive play is concerned and the handicap has steadily risen from a starting point of 10.1 in January to the current position on the precipice of 12 at 11.4. However, I have also stated, and been lambasted by some, that the quality of the swing and the work I've been doing on it since last Winter is now chalk and cheese from a year ago, and unidentifiable from the golfer that first turned up for a lesson with Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Centre in December 2011.

I haven't been playing much for a variety of reasons and when I've stepped foot on the course results haven't been great. I've had a couple of range session lately where I've struggled and to be honest it was the perfect time to return to Rhys for a refresher. Friday was a little parky standing there warming up but once I got going I was fine. Poor Rhys was freezing imparting his words of wisdom. I was nice and warm but there again I was the one swinging the club.

As normal, we had a chat about what has been happening on the course and practice and I hit a few shots for Rhys to get a feel for what's going on. After that he got the camera out and got some swings captured and we had a look on the computer. What I saw was a 100% vindication of everything I've tried to achieve in 2013 in terms of the swing path. In fact if anything I had over done it and had gone from hugely in to out this time last year, usually getting trapped, causing all sorts of poor shots both left and right, to something a little over the top. That would explain the fade I was seeing on the range and the course.

Having identified the faults, it was time to drill the fix. All the work we had done in 2013 was about getting rid of the historic integral fault of being was too shallow, on the wrong path and having too much hand action to desperately lay club on ball. Rhys has been getting me to swing much steeper to compress down better but more importantly, to get the club path exiting lower and left. That has been the biggest change and has been all about making the path and swing more stable.

Rhys ap Iolo - excellent golf teacher and trick shot impresario
For the first time since the whole process began, we re-introduced a shallow move. The feeling Rhys wants me to get is one of feeling the right shoulder is moving as far away from the right ear as I can while keeping the elbow pointing down at the floor. We also moved the ball back a rotation as I was hitting pulls left when I started to get this change working properly. That was key. With the ball back I could still hit down and compress and still had room to exit left and properly. A dream combination.

There were some pulls left, which I was able to correctly diagnose as club head closed to path and more pilot error than a huge fault. There were still some fades and I could also correctly diagnose that the swing was steeper again and across the ball. My swing isn't textbook and will always be an ugly sister to the Cinderella swings of some of my golfing partners. But and it is a big BUT I own it and at last I understand it fully.

We moved through the bag and club by club the results were excellent. The one club that has destroyed my potentially good rounds all year has been the driver. Rounds have been littered with destructive tee shots and I have never really stood over any tee shot with a warm, fuzzy feeling. Put me on a long tight course like the Marquess at Woburn and it was a recipe for disaster. On the good days, and there have been plenty, mainly in roll up games, I can get it out there. I just can't do it often enough.

Rhys explained that the driver has a unique path of its own and can in theory go more down the line after impact and that my efforts to control an exit left as per the rest of the clubs have given a smaller margin of error. It's amazing how the smallest tweaks can produce big results and I was getting it away much better. Not ideal and some long sessions at the range to adjust the path and build trust lie ahead but I'm armed with the knowledge, the enthusiasm and dare I say, the drive, to get it right.

I played yesterday in the usual Saturday roll up. It started well with a rolled par putt on the first, and for the first five holes was going steadily. From nowhere I hit a shot almost straight right on the sixth tee. It didn't feel like the socket rocket but having said I own my swing, this one had been rented by a golfing novice. It shook my confidence. I bounced back with two good shots at the seventh, a par at the short eight and two great shots into the heart of the ninth.

Then, more disaster. I sliced my tee shot at the tenth. Whoever rented the shot at the sixth had come back. This was just a bad shot. No excuses. However putting a provisional ball down I repeated it. They would have been no more than five feet apart but in the thick, Winter rough they were never seen again. I hit another slice off the tee at the par three 178 yard eleventh. I was getting worried.

However I rallied and hit a stonker off the twelfth, stroke index 1. A four iron from 178 yards to the heart of the green and a twenty five foot putt over a large slope for a superb birdie. From there it was a mixture of some good and some poor shots. I felt concentration slipped a little and I hit a quick snappy hook off the last tee but felt I didn't really follow my usual pre-shot routine and stood there not quite settled. All in all it was a bit hit and miss but there were enough good shots going straight out with the change of path to be more than optimistic.

Today was a range session at Lavender Park Golf Centre in Ascot. The plan was to groove the changes and build the all important and missing trust. There were some poor shots as I tried to get the feeling I had in the teaching bay of that right shoulder travelling back. When it clicked it was really good. Plenty to enjoy and I am certain with some more refining and grooving I can take it onto the course. The driver is still not clicking but when I do get it right, which I was doing more often, it was a better flight and distance increased.

I am hoping that Rhys will send a copy of the swing from December 2012 and the one from the end of the lesson on Friday so I can put them up here and show you exactly what I'm talking about. The evidence is there to see and has proved to me that the long road I've travelled in 2013, even with the humps and bumps along the way has been worth it. Rhys sent a message on Twitter which I think sums it up "now were so close to something repetitive you have a really good chance of making single figures permanent thing keep at it!"

It all goes to prove that sometimes, standing still, some might say regressed, is not a bad thing. I do have trust issues. I have done with the game for a years and that still manifests itself in the short game. This is the next area of focus and I have a plan afoot to begin the work next week. For now though, having seen the evidence on screen I am ecstatic how far I've come and I just need to keep moving it forward. Homer's Odyssey in 2014 won't be becalmed on seas of frustration and errors but will be sailing under full canvass onwards to single figures and beyond, ideally with a win or two along the way for good measure, although if I play well handicap cuts and results take care of themselves. For now though the glass is overflowing with hope and optimism.

Monday, 11 November 2013

The Monster Is On The Loose

I've not had the opportunity to play or practice much and having gone to the driving range on Friday and Saturday, the swing is in a state of flux. There is still some decent shots in the locker but the back swing has deserted me and I feel I am working overtime to get the club on a good path back to the ball and exiting nicely as per the work I've been doing in my lessons.

Some of the regular followers of Homer's Odyssey will be aware that my good friend Rob Dickman has recently found the game and fallen in love with it and has joined Epsom Golf Club, high on the famous downs looking down over the iconic race course. On a glorious day like yesterday, you looked on the vista that is the London skyline, including famous landmarks such as the Wembley Arch and the Shard. (http://threeoffthetee.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/weve-created-monster.html).


Ready for the off.. or was I dozing and dreaming of how to play this game?

The monster golf has created was let off the lead again and conditions were far more playable than the last encounter which had biblical rain, howling wind and the full Donner und Blitzen effect. I wasn't sure which Homer was coming out to play. The mediocre golfer struggling on the range or the one just out for a knock with a mate, swinging easily and with ease. I got a decent enough opener away but my second came up short. I fell foul of the opening green last time and the devious hollows and mounds, arguably where they bury the bodies of the Derby winners (it really is that contoured). My chip was struck nicely and still wandered to the fringe. An opening double.

The second is a right to left dog leg and I cracked a nice three wood away. Technically the swing was awful but the result was good and it left just a nine iron in. The approach is across a valley to a thin green and a busy road behind so distance control is paramount. I stuck it to eight feet and confidently rolled the birdie putt in.

However from there form deserted me. A bogey at the tricky third was followed by a par at the next. The course then turns towards the top of the downs and plays up towards the grandstand. I hit a reasonable drive. Rob then rocked up and after I pointed out that the driver needs the ball teed up higher he boomed the best drive I'd seen him hit on his golfing journey. He has found the confidence to swing quicker, but has still retained control and he is getting better distance and trajectory. I hit a rubbish approach short and then managed to miss the green from 120 yards with my third. No excuse other than a poor swing and another double. An errant drive back down the hill at the next into thick rough led to another double. The drive at the next went right too but I scrambled a bogey.

I was struggling and a made a mess of the eighth and ninth to go out in a measly fourteen points. I wasn't swinging great and the whole thing felt out of sorts and I couldn't feel it at all. I needed to get the back nine off to a quick start. The tenth is a short par four measuring 279 yards. I wasn't far short of the green and had I taken the driver I could have got close to the putting surface. As it was a good pitch set up a makeable birdie putt but the ball refused to drop.

I love the eleventh hole, a par five that runs down the side of the road taking drivers up to the downs but on this occasion I could only make a net par having gone into the rough left off the tee and then hitting a poor approach. The swing even with a mid iron was a battle. The next two are par threes and to be honest but this stage it was damage limitation on each hole and every time I thought I was making inroads into the front nine carnage, I'd drop another shot. Missing the green with an eight iron at the 133 yard thirteenth with a thin low slice was a bitter pill.

Rob had started the back nine well and was making a bogey or double at worse on each hole. He was swinging with confidence unlike me. Don't get me wrong, although I was keeping a tally the score wasn't the be all and end all. I was enjoying his company, the surroundings and watching him progress as a golfer. It was a social round. The fifteenth is a par five. The tee shot is an uphill shot, as the hole dog legs right to left and then drops down to the green. I hit a better tee shot and left 234 yards in. I hit a three wood and caught it flush but it still didn't get there. I pitched from twenty yards but again couldn't make the putt for birdie.

The sixteenth at Epsom is an iconic hole. Played downhill through a valley it's drivable by the longer hitters. At 288 yards it isn't long. I reached for the driver. The round had passed me by as far as the score card was concerned so this was a chance for some fun. I hit it well but the wet landing zone denied me a chance to make the green as the ball didn't run. This is another green with huge slopes and I had knocked it to twenty feet. It was a sharp right to left putt. I stroked it with a surgeon's touch but the slope and gravity meant it ran six feet past and I missed the return.

The iconic 16th played through a valley. The green though is fiendishly difficult
I found the fringe of the green at the penultimate hole but again managed to three putt. The last is a sweeping par four played across a valley off the tee. I got the drive away to leave two hundred yards in. I hit a horrible topped second and my wedge from 74 yards came up woefully short. I started with a double and ended the same way. I got it round in 31 points. It wasn't a disaster.

I really enjoyed the game and I am pleased to see Rob's progress continues as he whittled another shot of his previous best. He had been going along nicely but had two eights on the fifteenth and sixteenth. He came back with a good bogey at the last courtesy of  a fine read by yours truly and he holed out from ten feet. He needs to find a short game but I am sure he'll have lessons and will improve. He isn't alone needing to find a short game but I have plans afoot.

I hate swinging badly. I know golf is a fickle game and it comes and goes but at the moment progress is slow. I appreciate that a lack of playing and a lack of quality practice means the swing won't be there 100% of the time but at the moment I have no faith in it and every swing feels different. The range sessions have highlighted the fact that the swing is still in a state of flux and the path is still not always correct.

I have a lesson booked in for this Friday with Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Centre near Wokingham. He has been working on my swing since December 2011 and we made some big changes last winter and I always felt 2013 was a transitional year. The ball striking is so much better. I just need to tighten everything up and make it a more simplified action. At the moment there are too many moving parts and I want Rhys to look at the back swing. I don't feel I am taking it away well and so everything else is a compensation. The round at Epsom was an exercise in getting it round even when you know you are having a bad day and so to that end I thought I achieved that.

Winter is always a time to lay the foundations for the next season and work on the mistakes of this year. I have said before I don't think the fact that my handicap is now one round away from reaching 12 again is a true reflection on how far I've gone with the swing this year. I want to get a more positive attitude in 2014 especially on days like Sunday when it is clear the swing isn't there and if I can get the short game firing I know there is a score that can still be made.

As for now, the monster is back under control. Rob has more games lined up and we've planned to play at my home course at Royal Ascot after Christmas so I'm keen to see how he plays on an unfamiliar course and off the white tees! As for me I still have an unbreakable belief that I can make single figures and the lesson on Friday and the opportunity to play some social golf over the next few weeks will give me a barometer of what needs doing after Christmas. It wasn't an earth shattering round, it was functional. Rob moves on. Some good shots for us both to take away, good company and a pleasant Sunday afternoon playing golf on a nice course. What isn't to like?

Monday, 4 November 2013

Right And Nearly Right

Life has got in the way of golf recently. I've been unwell, the mother in law has undergone a triple bypass and I've been dragged kicking and screaming to purchase new furniture for the impending move to our new house. My last game had been at Epsom Golf Club on October 20th in the pouring rain. I hadn't hit the range much after work, mainly due to the inclement weather and so the swing was growing cobwebs and festering.

With the monthly medal looming large last Saturday I was at Lavender Park Driving Range on Thursday night. Everything felt alien. The grip felt wrong, posture was uncomfortable and I couldn't feel the club head at any point in the swing. It had only been a week and a half. How could this be?

I usually hit a few half shots to get the swing working and set the tempo. Even these were a nightmare and were either thin or going straight right off the socket. I was unnerved and panicky. I had lost any semblance of a golf swing. I tried hitting a few wedges and nine irons but the socket rockets continued. I was working furiously through my golf swing thought archive to find a drill, a fix or a prayer to the golfing gods. I could hear the voice of my teaching pro Rhys ap Iolo and knew we had spent the last few lessons working on a better exit path left. I started to focus on that and slowly, ball by ball, each shot edged closer to the sweet spot.

It wasn't a great range session and I was left with more questions than answers and so on Friday night I was back again. This was a better session. I was hitting the ball much better, with a great tempo and the ball was behaving itself nicely. I left the range confident that I wouldn't make a fool of myself in the stableford competition and that I had banished the golfing unmentionables back into golf's room 101.

Saturday dawned bright and breezy. Partnered with two great guys I really love playing with, Reg Phillips and George Spence, and feeling invigorated by the previous night's session I was ready. I was hitting well in warm up and ready to rumble. My opening tee shot was solid and I thought had found the green but it held up in the wet ground. I chipped poorly but started with a comfy net par. In fact I started with three net pars and hit a great drive down the 320 yard fourth but made a mis-judgement with my approach. Into the wind I was between clubs and tried to hit a nine iron but didn't commit. It came up short and I made an ugly bogey. I got that back with a par at the next and even found the green on my real problem hole the 178 yard 6th. I was hitting well and enjoying myself.

I made a crucial four foot putt at the seventh to keep the net par's coming and then made a sublime up and down on the eighth after pulling my tee shot left, short siding myself and leaving a chip back over a mound. It was sitting nicely and I went for the adventurous flop shot and executed perfectly to leave a knee knocking three foot par put that just grabbed the right edge of the hole. My bandwagon lost a wheel at the ninth. I hit a super drive down the left side and left a hybrid in. I made a lovely connection but it started left of target. It hit the silver birch left of the ditch dissecting the fairway and took a ricochet. Where it went is a mystery. I never saw it and sadly nor did my partners. A lost ball and no points.

I bounced back with a par at the tenth and eleventh for a net birdie on each and so stood on the twelfth tee level with my handicap. Another pin point drive to the left side of the fairway left a five iron. I hit it great and it drew a touch, cleared the green side bunker and nestled in the rough just off the putting surface. An edgy chip and two putts for another two points and still on track. I missed the green on the thirteenth to the right as the wind buffeted another great shot. I didn't play a great chip (can you see a pattern emerging) and my nine foot par putt grazed the right edge.

And then something happened. I made a poor swing on the tee shot down the fourteenth. It has been a problematic driving hole in 2013 and been the scene of several meltdowns. I was lucky that the tee shot was so bad it was good and I had a clear shot past the thirteenth tee into the green. I thought my five wood had potential and I was annoyed it hadn't made the full trip to the green. I hit a better chip but couldn't make the par putt to get back the lost point at the previous hole. I hit another poor drive at the par five fifteenth. My fairway wood from the light rough was poor and I still had 124 yards left into the teeth of a stiffening wind. I made it a hat-trick of poor shots and came up short again. I chipped nicely and it had a great chance of dropping but ran four feet past. For the first time in the round I had a moment of doubt on the putt and so there was no surprise that it was a weak effort and an ugly bogey.

The round was beginning to get away from me. It finally escaped my clutches on the sixteenth when I carved a tee shot left and out of bounds. I didn't trouble the scorer. At the 218 yard penultimate hole I found sand left off the tee. Did I say I'd banished the socket rockets? Well one escaped and my bunker shot flew right back down the fairway. Another nil points. I had lost my swing and the tempo was quick and so the hook off the final tee was no surprise. I managed to cobble a net par and finished with thirty points. It meant another 0.1 back on the handicap and I am now teetering on the precipice of going back to 12. My total was enough for another mid table finish, sixteenth place in division one.

Having gone from a dose of the rights, I was pretty close to getting it right on the course. I hit the ball really well and I was really pleased with the quality of the striking. I am annoyed that I fell away so pitifully at the end but there was much to be pleased about. I holed out well in particular and there are still some solid foundations to base my Winter work with Rhys upon. I don't want to make as many changes as we did last year as the path is better and I am compressing down nicely. In my mind the cunning plan is to have a swing lesson next time, just to tighten everything up, followed by some serious work on the short game. It is all about chipping, pitching, putting and bunker play. If I can get the ball in the hole quicker from sixty yards in, then it takes all the pressure off the rest of my game and so when I am swinging slightly off key I have the capability to still score. I want to then finish my block of lessons with another swing refresher at the start of next season. I need to hit the ground running as I think it is inevitable I am going to hit 12 over the Winter period and so will be a massive three shots off my target of single figures. I am sure Rhys will have his own ideas and so it'll be interesting to see how he sees the programme panning out.

It has been a disappointing year. 2013 won't live long in the memory in terms of performances but the quality of the ball striking has come on leaps and bounds compared to the previous year. I always knew it would be a transitional season given the changes I made last Winter but maybe I didn't always trust myself or my swing. That bled into the performances and the bad shots and blow up holes sapped confidence. I need to be mentally more resilient and plan to do a lot more work on my pre-shot routine (http://www.pre-shot.co.uk/). Rhys is also tasked with getting the mental side working in conjunction with technical side. I need to be stronger and learn how to think my way around the course again.

It could have gone horribly wrong. It started by going right on the range but was so nearly right on the course on Saturday. I have a lot of social golf coming up and some range time booked and hope that I can just have some fun without the pressure of card and pencil in hand. I hope that I can catch up with my good friend Rob Dickman who is taking his first steps in golf and the feedback is he is close to breaking the 100 barrier already. I enjoyed my game at Epsom and would love to play it again without the torrential rain. The Saturday roll up at Royal Ascot has a pressure of its own, and a bad round is ribbed mercilessly and the banter is savage. Ridicule is a great motivator. For now, I am a glass half full Homer. It is bubbling away and I need to find a way of coaxing it all out for the full eighteen. Another so nearly tale. This time though I am happy with the majority and can live with the mediocre. Onwards, ever onwards. Homer's Odyssey has negotiated some choppy seas in 2013 but the charts are out to navigate a path to single figure glory next season.

Monday, 21 October 2013

We've Created A Monster

Cast your mind back to when you first took up golf. For many, including myself, this was a long time ago. For me, the passage was a simple transition from the local pitch and putt to a week of lessons as a ten year old kid during the school holidays in the summer of 76. There was a dustbin full of balls and the pro took the group of kids through the basics of the golf swing bit by bit over the course of the week. We stayed there each day until the dustbin was empty.

For others, the path is via the driving range, maybe with a couple of lessons and then onto a local pay and play. For my good friend Rob Dickman this is what has happened. I'm not sure where the sudden interest in golf has come from other than the juices being whetted by a fantastic blog called threeoffthetee, and the onset of middle age. He's been to the World of Golf driving range on the A3 near his home in Surrey, had a couple of rounds at the local pay and play at Horton Park in Epsom and recently joined Epsom Golf Club as an academy member. He had his first round there on Friday and a lesson from the club pro Stuart Walker.

Epsom club pro Stuart Walker who has taken on the task of teaching my mate Rob Dickman to play - Brave Man!
Rob had invited me down yesterday to take him round and hopefully impart a little of the knowledge I'd gleaned along my own golfing path. The weather forecast was bleak with sunny periods and heavy showers, possibly thundery. Not ideal but in for a penny and all that.

I arrived in lovely sunshine but as we loitered on the first tee, a shower arrived. I'd just got the waterproofs on when it stopped as quickly as it started. I hate playing in the waterproofs and so whipped the jacket off before teeing off. Rob wanted to see how it's done (or not on current form). It plays just over 320 yards and the tee shot goes across a small valley and uphill to a green that looks like the proverbial elephant's graveyard. I got my three wood away. Rob made contact with his effort and it went forward and we were off. Nerves clearly played a part on the first hole for him but he managed to get to the green in a respectable four shots. I hit the green in regulation and then the fun started. My first putt was from around twenty five feet away, right to left and uphill. I hit it on the line I wanted. It got halfway there, veered to the right and meandered down a slope and almost back to where I was standing. I was left standing in astonishment. The green keeper clearly had a sense of humour and a four putt green put me in a troubled mood.

Rob Dickman (right) and I ready to start our round. If only we knew.....
We managed to negotiate the first three holes in the dry but as we got to the fourth, a short 258 yard par four the heavens opened. It was straight on with the waterproofs as it was torrential. Despite this I got a good drive away and found the green and secured a solid par. Rob had gone around in 124 shots on Friday. Pretty respectable for the first time on a tricky course. His goal was to just beat that. I was confident at the outset that we could go much lower but now the rain had come in I wasn't so sure.

We both struggled on the long par four holes running to the top of Epsom Downs and the iconic grandstand on the world famous race course. By the time we got to 331 yard seventh, it was as heavy as anything I'd experienced in thirty years of golfing. I hit a good three wood and a wedge to ten feet and rolled in the birdie. We decided to wait for the rain to pass. Having stored the clubs under a tree to give them some degree of protection, a sudden flash of lightening and a clap of thunder meant we concluded progress could wait. Some fifteen minutes later, it abated and we could continue.

Rob was making good progress. I was suitably impressed with the swing he has and clearly he's taken on board the information he's been shown in his lessons. If only I could wipe the slate clean and start again but with so many ingrained faults and nuances that's a pipe dream and for me it's about making the best of what I have. I was on a roll and followed the birdie on the seventh with a par at the eighth and ninth. My drive on the tenth went miles right although in me defence the sodden grip meant it slipped as I swung. I still managed to rescue a bogey so no damage done.

I was impressed with the way Rob managed to get the ball away off the tee. This was especially the case at the par five fifteenth. He smacked it straight down the middle and although the second was a little left he had a good chance to make the green in regulation. In the end he had to make do with a bogey six but there was no disgrace in that as the hole is stroke index 2.

The sixteenth is arguably the feature hole at Epsom Golf Club. It's a 288 yard hole (off the yellow tees) down a valley. For many it is a driveable hole. I cracked a splendid effort away and came up some forty yards short. In truth my chip was poor but the undulations on the green threw the ball all the way to the back. Facing a tricky forty foot putt uphill and right to left I came up some ten feet short and three putted for an ugly bogey. Rob had smacked another good tee shot away and although he had then topped his next off a side hill lie, his third finished just short of the putting surface. From some fifteen feet he nonchalantly rolled in the putt for a par. His elation was a joy to see. He was made up and to be honest his play had deserved a reward.

The 16th at Epsom - the weather wasn't as good as this. Not sure Rob really cared after making par
The next is a pretty little par three across a valley. Despite being a real short hole it is a small target to hit but with the honour, Rob stuck an iron to ten feet. He was playing like a golfer with far more golfing miles under his belt. I needed something special to put the pup in his play and put a nine iron to six feet. I think Rob got over excited sensing his first ever birdie and raced a down hill putt miles past and three putted. I hit a dream of a putt and watched aghast as it did a lap of honour and defied the laws of gravity and remained above ground.

Rob had a few issues off the tee at the last but once he got a ball in play he finished the hole in style, with a nice little pitch onto the green and two putts. I had a bit of a mare having got my drive away down the right. I carved my approach from two hundred yards miles right and I was fortunate that the hedgerow some thirty yards short stopped the progress of the ball as it was heading towards pane glass on the patio. Out of bounds I was forced to reload. My next was right but I played a nifty chip to six feet but missed the putt for a miserable triple bogey, my worse score of the day.

We adjourned to a local hostelry to meet up with my wife. Rob met up with an Epsom member and made up to find out he'd destroyed his previous best. My wife likened him to Tigger, the bouncy character from Winnie the Pooh cartoons. He was desperate to go out and play some more and I think had we offered to hit the driving range he'd have been there like a shot.

Rob has the golfing bug badly. Like Tigger he can't get enough and would happily have played on if he could
Rob has never struck me as a golfer but many come to this great game later in life. He has clearly had a good education as his basics were really solid. If I was being a little picky, his swing lacks impetus and is a tad too deliberate. This means that despite making good contact on a regular basis the shot lacks power. Straight but short. To be honest that isn't a bad combination to have.

He has the bug. We've created a monster and he is already looking for his next golfing fix. As the voice of reason, I've tried to explain that not every round will go according to plan. There will be days when he'll never want to see another golf club. Despite this though there will be that one shot in every round that will bring him back for more. My advice to him is to try and get some lessons over the winter, work on the drills, especially those on the tempo and speed of the swing, and be ready to hit the course next season. From there he can get his first handicap and he'll really be a golfer then.

I haven't played Epsom for many years and I'd forgotten what an interesting place to play it is. It is very short but protected by tight tee shots and greens which are still very quick. They drained impressively after the deluge yesterday and were slick. I dread to think how fast they'll be in the summer. They are small targets to hit and their undulations are the biggest defence. I think it will a great place for this new golfer to gain his spurs and I look forward to a return trip without the biblical rain.

As for my game it was a combination of poor driving in places with some decent stuff in between. Being short, I was able to get the ball round and apart from the last there wasn't too many disasters. I was able to course manage and plot a course and my short irons were pleasing and did give myself a few good birdie chances. My swing at the range has been one in progress but feels like it is going forward. I've not played too much recently and so converting this onto the course as the rounds at West Hill and Epsom showed isn't easy. I'm going to follow the advice I gave Rob and work at my game over the winter with my teaching professional Rhys ap Iolo. Unlike last winter I don't feel there is too much to change. It needs tightening and a few things need tweaking but the core swing is just about there now. The path is far better and I know Rhys has been pleased with progress. I need to work on the short game and this will be my main focus of attention.

I can't wait to see how Rob progresses. He has it and has it bad and having know him all my life I know he's one of those that likes to do things well and so will work hard at his game but he's also someone for whom it will never be the be all and end all. Might be a salutary lesson in there somewhere!

Monday, 14 October 2013

Seasons End

The Help For Heroes Day at West Hill last week was the last big even of my season. It wasn't suppose to be and I was due to play a club match at home against Tylney Park on Saturday. Sadly illness put paid to that.

So what did the season give me? On paper it has been a poor season. I started with the handicap at 10.1 and poised for an assault towards single figures following a productive winter programme with my teaching professional Rhys ap Iolo. We had even started work on resurrecting a dormant short game and there was a whiff of optimism in the air. As I sit typing this the handicap is tottering at 11.3 and dangerously close to going back to 12.

The cynical amongst you will say it was a terrible season and that anything else is window dressing. On one level I would agree and I never really attacked single figures and lurched out of the blocks at the start of the season like an asthmatic tortoise. Early on, the frustration levels were at critical as I struggled to recreate the work I'd done on the range over the winter into meaningful scores.

The ball striking was like night and day compared to last year and a testament to the work Rhys had done and the hours I'd invested improving my club head path and getting more with less moving parts. Perhaps the lack of a short game and a putter that had yet to warm up didn't help. On the plus side I had lost the big misses both sides of the course and knew my shop shape and where my bad misses were going. I just kept chucking silly holes into each round undoing all the hard work.

A classic example of this recurring theme came in the Stone Cup in May. An honours board event over the bank holiday, competitors play two rounds over any three days of the long weekend. I started my first round with a steady outward nine of seventeen points. The back nine was a cacophony of double bogey golf and too many one point holes for a measly haul of twenty nine points. My second round was an improved picture with eighteen points out but again I faded to have fourteen back and thirty two overall. This two round haul was mid-table anonymity and 0.2 back on the handicap.

The pattern was set and this would be a theme. I could string together a steady string of pars and then chuck a cricket score from nowhere. I was trying to course manage my way round and when we got the warm weather (remember that?) I was hitting three or five wood off the tee to keep the ball in play and still be in a position to hit the greens in regulation. It wasn't a case of firing blindly with a driver or not having a game plan for each hole and a plan B if the tee shot misbehaved.

As my year meandered on and club matches started up, I was finding the freedom of a partner a released and I was playing some better golf, especially away from home. I lost a match at Caversham Heath on the last, having been four up after ten holes. We were blown away in a barrage of net birdies and perhaps my partner and I wilted in the blistering heat but the quality of my play over the round eased the pain of defeat. A fine win at Tylney Park was reward for an excellent driving performance on a long course. At home I had a fantastic run and was unbeaten at Royal Ascot.

So where did the fault lie. Unquestionably the short game let me down. This has started to come back in the last few weeks and it is something that Rhys and I have top of the agenda for our winter work. When it was good I scored. I found my putting boots mid-season too. The first round of the club championship was a case in point. A net 72 (+2) included three birdies but it was a round ultimately undone by a triple and quadruple bogey on the 13th and 14th holes. Aside from that and I was right in touch with the first round pace setters. These were caused by errant tee shots and in one of my lessons Rhys explained that I seemed to rush my shots, especially under pressure.

We started working on pre-shot routines and it is an area I'm taking further and I've started doing some work with Pre-Shot Golf http://www.pre-shot.co.uk/ to take control of the monkey brain that seems to get in the way of me playing with freedom. It has helped resurrect the short game too, along with an improved and simplified technique.

So despite no short game, a handicap that has almost gone up two shots, an ability to self destruct and a lack of focus over the shot how can I possibly say the season has been good. Well the highlight has been the quality of my ball striking. It was a long and frustrating winter trying to bed in the changes but so worthwhile. When I was playing well, and there were many good holes this year, I felt I had the ball on a piece of string at times. What I lacked at times was self belief. I let the bad holes affect me and I stewed on my errors.

I had a nine hole playing lesson with Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Course. That was a chance for me to showcase how far I'd come and the state of my game. Naturally I started with an ugly double bogey but I think he saw enough to be happy that the goal of single figures was more than a pipe dream. We have been in constant touch throughout the season and a big thumbs up to him for being available on Twitter and Facebook and for looking at the swing via You Tube when things have gone astray.

The season has drifted along to a conclusion and although we still play competitions throughout the Winter at Royal Ascot Golf Club, weather permitting, the big events are done and dusted. In the end most of my performances have been firmly in mid table . Despite this I am happier with the state of my game in 2013 than at the same time in 2012. My bunker play is far improved and I am putting much better. My technique is sound and coped with the lightning paced greens at Caversham Heath and Woburn. I did change to a heavier Odyssey Tank #1 I'd trialled at a demo day in the Autumn which I feel will manifest into a trusty weapon on the slower winter greens. I am chipping and putting now and making several up and downs per round. Add in the odd sand save and what a difference it makes to the score and the golfing psyche during a round.

I am now driving the ball better and it is a simple golfing fact that if you get it in play more often you will score. Rhys has changed my set up at address and although it is a work in progress it is moving in the right direction and I am longer and straighter.

If I was to sum up the season, it would be a B-. Too high I hear you scream but I am taking into account the difference in the way I hit it. I need to eradicate the blow up hole and the work Rhys and I plan to do on the mental side of the game this winter will help. A stronger golfing brain akin to a short game and better club path and I still firmly feel this golfer has is destined for single figures.

I'm not at all melancholy. The golfing glass has been positively half full all year. It has been trying at times to keep it that way and maybe I do need to just hit it, find it and hit it again. It is hard. I'm not wired that way. I've never been naturally blessed with sporting aptitude and any fleeting success has always been achieved from hard work, good coaching and sheer bloody mindedness. I'm not going to change now so I'll carry on ploughing my own furrow. I have a clear goal and can see the path I want to take.

As the season draws to a close there is still much to look forward too. More social games peppered with a monthly competition should keep the golfing juices flowing. I'm off to Epsom next weekend to join an old friend taking his first steps into this wonderful but frustrating game. That should be fun. I've got the winter programme with Rhys to look forward to. I enjoy the hard work that goes into trying improve and yes I do get frustrated when I don't feel I'm getting the results I think I deserve but I am determined Homer's Odyssey will continue apace and the ultimate destination of single figures remains a realistic objective.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Help For Heroes Charity Day - West Hill Golf Club

Yesterday saw the Golf Monthly Forum (http://forums.golf-monthly.co.uk/) annual charity day in aid of Help for Heroes. This has been a regular date in the diary since 40 forum members went to the inaugural day at Luton Hoo and raised over £2,200. That was three years ago. It returned the following year to Luton Hoo and 55 golfers raised £6,500. Last year 80 players played at Blackmoor Golf Club and raised a superb £11,500. This year it was even bigger and for the first time West Hill Golf Club was playing host to 103 golfers.

West Hill is one of the triumvirate of courses in the area, along with Woking and Worplesdon, that regularly feature in the top 100 courses in the UK (this year West Hill was 88th in the Golf Monthly top 100). West Hill is truly one of Surrey's oldest gems, a heathland course, designed in 1907. It's protected by brook, trees, heather and gorse and the changes in elevation provides an enjoyable test of golf. From the moment you enter through the imposing wrought iron gates it really is golf from a bygone era.

The Help for Heroes charity for founded by Bryn and Emma Parry after a visit to the Selly Oak hospital. It is a charity which provides direct, practical support, primarily to those wounded in recent and current conflicts. It launched on 1st October 2007. Help for Heroes don't care about the rights and wrongs of war, but believe that if young men and women are prepared to volunteer to serve their country on our behalf and are hurt whilst doing so, they deserve our support. They want the support to be the best and the be there for life

In order to get into the spirit of the day and pay my own humble nod of gratitude to our troops, I dressed in patriotic red white and blue. I was paired in the esteemed company of the Golf Monthly Editor, Mike Harris and a couple of fellow forum members, Preet and Stuart or LIG and El Bandito as they are known on the forum.

The masses are gathering as I get the pace of the putting green

I've known Mike for a number of years and was privileged enough in April 2009 to be offered the chance to edit the forum pages that still appear every month in Golf Monthly's magazine. I've played a few times with the great man but not for several years. It was a shotgun start and we were lucky enough to be off the first, a tricky 393 hole, going down hill before a second shot to a raised green.

The view from the 18th. The 1st green nestles to the left between the trees
Mike and I took on LIG and El Bandito in a little match alongside the stableford competition with the losers putting £5 per man into the charity bucket. Mike took the opening drive under the gaze of a small crowd of competitors, club pro and the photographer there to record the days events. He cracked one away and then it was my turn. I got it away perfectly and it sailed into the blue sky and wandered down the dew covered fairway. I was left with a seven iron to the elevated green and hit the front edge. Two good putts and I was away with an opening par

In patriotic colours for the H4H day I crack an opening drive straight down the middle
My driving was very solid over the opening few holes but I was having issues with my iron play, similar to the first round I'd played at the recent day out at Woburn Golf Club. It was frustrating. I went right at the second, although it was off a hanging lie but recovered to make a net par. However luck ran out on the pretty 465 yard par four that runs along the main line railway into London. I'd cracked a good drive away and was left with 225 yards. I decided to go for it but carved it way right. Despite the ground being open amongst the imposing pine trees I couldn't find it.

I recovered at the next, a long 193 yard par three. I was the only one who managed to find the putting surface. Both LIG and El Bandito chipped onto the putting surface. Mike was next to go from the left of the green and duly holed out for a birdie two and a win in our match. I left my first putt five feet short coming up a steep slope and missed the next. Still, it was a net par and I was going along reasonably well.

As the round progressed, the inability to capitalise on good drives, along with the odd errant tee shot heavily punished by the vast swathes of heather meant the score card was taken a hit. I was finding it hard to make a good swing with my irons and it was beginning to play on my mind. In the end the outward score of 14 points was about right but had I managed to hit a few greens with approaches it could have been a bit better. Mike had been the study of steady play and in the match we were one up at the turn.

My swing deserted me around this point and by the time I made an up and down from sand at the twelfth I had only added two measly points to the half time total. Fortunately, there is a superb halfway hut at the back of the green and we adjourned for a welcomed sausage bap and a drink.

Refreshed, we continued to the pretty 13th, a short par three measuring just 149 yards. This hole was designated as a charity hole and anyone missing the green had to pay a £1 fine into the bucket alongside the tee box. I took a six iron as the wind was into my face and took a swing. I made a good contact and the ball found the target. A good par got the scorecard ticking along again

The 13th which carried a fine for the H4H charity for anyone missing the green
The back nine seemed to fly past and we were soon on the 16th. From the tee this visually looked one of the best holes on the course. It plays through an avenue of trees with a ditch and brook awaits anyone going too far. From there it plays slightly uphill to a green that tilts from front to back. We all hit great tee shots and I found a swing with an iron to deposit a seven iron safely on the green. I hit a good first putt but the contour of the putting surface caught me out and it curled away from the hole and left a five foot putt I couldn't hole. It also allowed LIG to tie the match up with two holes to play

Another beautiful hole. I found the green in regulation but couldn't find a par
The eighteenth was also a charity hole. Playing off the white tees it measures a massive 440 yards and there was a £1 fine for anyone not making par. That's harsh! The club website describes the hole perfectly

"A fitting finishing hole that requires two good shots to make the three level green. From the tee the middle or just left of the centre is the line, followed by an approach which must avoid the deep bunker guarding the front right of the green and the rhododendron bushes on the left. The green itself presents a further challenge to overcome as it has three tiers and being too bold will leave a very difficult two putts and a flirtation with the OOB which is not too far over the back. Finish with a par and you can reward yourself with that well earned drink in the bar!"

I didn't hit a great drive, leaking it right into a heathery lie and had resigned myself to opening the wallet at the green. I chipped out and left an eight iron in. As if to put a line under my woeful iron play I hit a poor shot, thin and slicing right of the green. Not wanting to finish with an ugly double bogey I was pleased that my chip and run with a seven iron ran out perfectly to leave a tap in from less than a foot.

A long par four closing hole and a fine for the charity for anyone not making par
Our charity match was all square. Mike Harris had missed the green left with his approach was fortunate not to nestle under the rhododendron bush. LIG had smacked a drive away and was unlucky to see it roll a foot off the fairway as the 18th was also the designated long drive hole and his effort would have moved the marker on and won him the prize. His second found the front portion of the green and he and El Bandito were in prime position. Not for the first time, Mike played an exquisite chip and left it four feet away. LIG could only manage to three putt and so it came down to this putt. Mike made it for a win on the last green. In truth, my contribution had been negligible throughout. An odd half here and there and winning one hole.

After the golf there was a two course dinner followed by a charity auction. There were some terrific lots up for grabs including a great one from Golf Monthly offering one person a chance to be Editor of the magazine for the day, including lunch and drinks after work. I thought for one moment my bid on the night was enough but sadly a higher bid had been lodged by someone who couldn't stay. Curses. I had some cunning plans!. I did manage to acquire a four ball voucher for a game at Bramley Golf Course near Guildford and another for the Army Golf Club. I'm hoping to use these next summer during Royal Ascot race week when my golf club is reduced to twelve holes and the racing traffic makes access incredibly hard. A good way to still get my golfing fix.

It was a fabulous day, marked by perfect weather at a great venue. The organisers presented Help for Heroes for a cheque for £15,500 last night but with the money for auction lots still to come in, side bets still to be honoured and other monies due, that is set to raise higher. I can't wait for next years event. Hopefully it will be at the same place but wherever it is played it is set to be even bigger and even better.

From a personal perspective I am a little down. My game isn't firing. I played in the usual Saturday roll up and couldn't string any consistent holes together. There were some good holes and several bad ones. I played nine holes on Sunday afternoon and spent a couple of hours on the practice ground but can't find that missing link. I feel that I am constantly fighting the swing and despite trying to work hard on the changes from my last lesson it is proving hard to bed in. On the plus side, the changes I made to my address position for the tee shots is paying dividends and I am much happier with the way I am getting it off the tee.

I'm off to the range tomorrow to try again. I know what I am working on and when I get the club in the right place it is falling into place and I can turn onto the ball, compressing it perfectly and getting it away straight and true. Yesterday it felt the club was too shallow. As it was a charity day and my handicap wasn't on the line and it wasn't all about the golf. With a club match and the monthly stableford at the weekend I need to find something that can get the ball around.

That however is a quandary for another day. Yesterday was all about helping a worthy charity raise as much money as possible. There are plenty of days out organised by the Golf Monthly Forum members. There are also some wonderful prizes and opportunities put up by the magazine exclusive to forum members and so if you aren't already a member, what are you waiting for? Get involved and hopefully we can be pegging up together at the next Help For Heroes day next year.