Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Getting My Fix

The snow is still here and the course remains closed. I haven't hit a golf ball since Sunday January 13th and I couldn't take it anymore. I have been using the Taylormade True Path on a daily basis but working on my putting stroke doesn't replace the feeling of a crisply struck iron on a ball.

Having a day off work I planned to hit the range. Coming home from work last night in yet more heavy snow I was worried about what the conditions would be like and whether there would be any merit standing on a Siberian range in a cruel wind chill trying to justify being there. As it happened, the mercury was hovering at a barmy two degrees and there was little wind to talk off. The mats at the local range, Blue Mountain in Bracknell, were devoid of snow and perfectly safe to stand and swing on. I was pleased to see there were three or four other like minded souls out looking for their game. Unsurprisingly, with a deep layer of snow lying on the ground and a battleship grey sky it was hard to see where the balls were landing. For me though it was all about the quality of the strike and the direction. Distance can be scrutinised at a later date.

I had arrived in such high spirits, glad to finally be back hitting balls. I took the time to stretch and warm up properly before hitting any balls, acutely aware that I'm beginning to get old and the body needs some persuading these days to work without aches and pain. My positivity lasted ten or so balls as a nasty outbreak of the Shermans, socket rockets, J Arthurs or any of the other euphemisms for the shank took hold. It is becoming a common theme and can be traced to me moving way ahead of the ball on the downswing, something my teaching pro has pointed out on several occasions. When I'm working on my swing regularly and I'm rotating around the spine properly it isn't an issue. It is a timing issue and so often rears up early or late in a session when I'm either not in the groove or have perhaps done to much and got tired mentally and physically.

It's funny how quickly you feel a chill in the air when the ball isn't going where you want it to! Back to basics then, cutting out moving parts and making sure the takeaway was correct. Ball by ball the impact moved further from the heel of the club until we finally found the sweet spot. Once I got it working, the ball flight and the contact were very good. Having not hit any balls for a while, I focused on mid irons just working hard on key aspects such as my grip (not too strong), posture (keeping the left shoulder from rising) and tempo (giving myself time to turn properly). The conditions dictate that there isn't much you can get from sessions like this other than keeping the game ticking over.

When I got it right the shots were every bit as pleasing as they were in my last practice session (http://threeoffthetee.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/primed-and-ready.html). However I am still having to work hard on the takeaway and the feeling of the right way to turn, especially the shoulders, on the way back. I'm putting it down timing issues and a lack of practice. No need to press any panic buttons yet.

At the end of the day it was about getting rid of the rust, and more importantly for my golfing sanity, putting club on ball. The range is getting seriously short of balls and so there is no guarantee it'll remain open for another go at the weekend unless the thaw arrives soon. I'm guessing there is no chance of hitting off grass at Royal Ascot for a while. Even if the snow goes, it is bound to be sodden. There is a monthly stableford due for February 2nd so my first game of 2013 looks likely to be in a competitive environment. I don't mind that. I'm in a good place with my ball striking and by and large my direction so what difference does it make if it's a qualifying round or not?

For now though, I've got my golfing fix but like any addict it won't be too long before I'll need another hit. Hopefully none of the ranges will have run out of ammo by then. It has certainly helped hitting balls today and the compulsion to get my hit via the myriad of online golf stores is receding which is good news for the credit card. Many are in the same boat and haven't seen a course or range for weeks. My friends over on the Golf Monthly forum (http://forums.golf-monthly.co.uk) have all been going stir crazy. Hopefully the worse of the winter weather has been and gone. Not long until the lighter nights come now. Hang in there my fellow golfers. The 2013 season is nearly upon us.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Taylormade True Path Putting

Along with the majority of the country I've been stuck indoors this afternoon as the snow has arrived. Any chance of playing and getting my first eighteen holes in 2013 are well and truly on hold. It won't be this weekend and I doubt it will be next either. The roads are almost impassable in places and so a trip to the range is off. I doubt they'd be open either from a heath and safety perspective or because they will struggle to find, let alone pick the balls up. What to do?

Fortunately I've a host of practice aids including several to help putting. One of the those is the TaylorMade True Path. The True Path putting trainer was designed after years of studying the putting strokes of Tour players, top PGA club professionals as well as top amateurs. The TaylorMade putting lab data of thousands of strokes was analysed to determine common faults and the best techniques of some of the best players in the world. Face angle and putter path are both important in successful putting. The best putters have a path that is no more than 2 degrees outside or inside the line. The most common successful putting paths are: 1) straight back/straight through and 2)an arc from inside to square to inside

Enough of the TaylorMade blurb. I've been struggling a little with the putter and had noted that the putter actually went outside the line on the way back, did a loop the loop and back on to a straight path. I've always felt comfortable trying to go straight back and through but wanted to experiment with a more inside path.


The True Path will groove a straight back and through or arced stroke

 
It's simple to set up. The base folds open and the rails fit on simply with magnets. It can be used with one or both rails and with or without the base. I have been working on simple three or foot putters and my grip, set up and path. I've also dusted of my original Ping Anser 2 to compare against the Odyssey Protype Tour Series #9. I've come to the conclusion that an arc back and through, certainly on the shorter putts suits my style and eye better. I've managed to while away a good couple of hours just making strokes. It beats watching daytime TV.

I've been playing with the grip and trying to get it more in the palms, putting the right hand on first and then joining the left hand. I want to work on putting with my teaching professional, Rhys ap Iolo, to make sure the basics of grip, alignment and the stroke path are all sound. This work with the True Path will provide a good starting point. We can then utilise the Aimpoint method of reading greens I started using last season http://aimpointgolf.com/ to find the correct break.

A good stroke, repeatable path and an ability to read the break perfectly will make putting easier. I've already spoken about a number of practice drills I'm working on trying to replicate playing pressure using GRiP zone http://www.mygripzone.com/, If I can get it firing in practise then standing over a three footer for par won't be an issue. I can stand there with a positive mind and put a good solid stroke on it.

My 2013 season is being built around a better short game. I am progressing nicely with the swing changes and have been very happy with the quality of my ball striking. It has been an inability to get up and down when I miss a green, coupled with frustration born from not making as many birdie or par putts as I should. If I can chip better (a work in progress) and then get the putter warmed up it takes so much pressure off the rest of the game.

I have to say the True Path is a very good piece of equipment and is something that can easily set up on the putting green (once the snow goes). It folds up into a small and easily transported bag and is set up in seconds. It does what it says on the box really. My only gripe would be the price. It is more expensive than similar products. However perhaps because it gives you the option for an arced or straight path there is a premium on the price. That moan aside it is a useful training aid and has certainly come into its own today. Having just been out to measure the snowfall at six inches in Berkshire and with it still coming down it will be getting plenty more action this weekend.

I would give it a solid seven out of ten (it lost a point on price) and if you are looking for something that helps groove your stroke and fits into your method (arc or straight) then I suggest giving this serious consideration. 

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Primed And Ready

Let me start with a confession. I still haven't got back out on the golf course and played a full eighteen holes. Part of it is down to circumstances with Royal Ascot being closed or reduced to nine holes after the heavy rain we've suffered. Part of it has also been a certain lack of enthusiasm on my part to get up early, particularly when it has been wet or cold.

What I have been doing though is working diligently on my game. I am still working hard on the last swing change my teaching professional Rhys ap Iolo and I made before Christmas and focusing on getting into a better address position and rotating properly around the spine angle. It has really started to come together and the ball striking gets better and better. There have been one or two less than pleasing range session including another dose of the socket rockets, straight right, but I understand what the cause is now and can rectify it much easier. Even the bad sessions have had more than their fair share of quality shots which far outweigh the bad ones. It is a case of wanting everything to be right on every shot and maybe I'm becoming far too critical on myself.

I had a lesson on Friday (11th) and it was a split session between the long swing and starting our crusade to find a long buried short game. I know it is in there but a combination of poor technique and a lack of belief has always held me back in this area. It is arguably the most crucial facet and once we can get it working reliably then the pursuit towards single figure glory will be tantalisingly close. I am understanding my swing much better now and can relate back to Rhys how it feels, especially on the bad ones and therefore how it should feel when I hit it well. We didn't really do much to the long swing other than tweak the address and ball positions a fraction and turn the shoulder nice and flat. The ball striking on the whole was very good and it's more a case of refining than changing for the moment.

Which brought us to the short game. We had briefly touched on set up, ball position and the swing last time but this was a chance to put more meat on the bones. We started with pitches and half shots with the wedges and managed to start firing these much higher and with more control. With it being dark and hitting off a range mat meant that chipping, particularly short shots were hard to get right. The club tends to skid and bounce off the mat and unless the strike is 100% the result is poor.

The chipping action will need more work and I've already booked another session for the 23rd so I we can go outside and work off the grass and really get the basics honed. Once I lose the fat shots and the skull through the green and can play each one with confidence I can look at playing different clubs depending on the lie and play around with the trajectory. It is an area of the game I use to love playing with as a kid and I'm sure once I get the confidence and my mojo back, I'll be able to get the ball up and down regularly.

I wanted to play yesterday but given the Siberian temperature and the rain coming down I decided to hit the range primarily to keep the swing ticking over. I opted to hit Royal Ascot's practice ground this morning. I wanted to hit off grass but I also wanted to work on some practice regimes. Part of my work with Rhys this year is on the mental side and getting my routine refined so I can do the same thing over every shot. This feeds into my practice too. Rather than hitting ball after ball, I am using specific drills. In particular, I am using the GRiP zone (http://www.mygripzone.com/) which has drills to replicate the pressures you have on the course but also lets me monitor my sessions and track improvement. There is a really easy to use app to download for the IPad or smart phone. Their website explains it perfectly

"GRiP is an innovative, challenging and fun way of golf practice which will build confidence and belief in your game enabling you to play better golf. GRiP simulates the real game of golf. You become more confident as you play under pressure, completing and recording every shot under game-like conditions. Using GRiP, you practice, complete and record your shot routines too, ensuring you follow a regular process that helps you to keep you calm, focussed and to "play in the zone” on every shot."

I started the session by working through the wedges and up to an eight iron, making sure I was setting up properly and focussing on a good shoulder turn. On the whole I was extremely pleased. Distance and dispersion were very good and the quality of the strike, especially off the wet turf was good.

I've started working on Golf: The Mind Factor by Karl Morris who has done a lot of work with the likes of Graham McDowell. He has seven rituals to success in golf and I've started working on ritual one which is being in neutral before each shot. I've been in contact with him about translating this to practice and he said " The best thing to do at the range is to always divide your session into two. First part - Do your technical work where you will have some focus on what you want to work on in your swing. Then the second part - Simulate the game. Play ‘games’ to different targets, situations, challenges. At this time you should be much more into your routines, staying in neutral. In effect quietening the analytical mind

Having worked on the technical side it was time to use the GRiP drills to test myself. I wanted to work on my driving which has always been a little hit or miss. The drill is to hit ten balls and land each within a 30 yard area, replicating the width of a fairway. A lot of my good scores come when the driver is working well. Keeping it in play and on the fairway makes scoring easier. My poor technique prior to working with Rhys this time last year meant I never knew where the bad shot was going. Now I'm hitting much better off the tee but I need to build confidence in my driving.

Part of the drill is ensuring you go through your pre-shot routine, making it as realistic as you can. I was really pleased with all but two of the drives. Granted I only hit 6/10 into the landing zone but of the ones I missed two were good strikes and very close to the target. Plenty of positive signs. If I can carry that sort of form onto the course it will lay very good foundations.

There is a similar drill from 150 yards into a target 25 feet wide to replicate hitting into an average sized green. For me this is a six iron shot. This wasn't as good and I hit a paltry 4/10. My swing wasn't as good and the turn was poor. Dispersion in particular was disappointing with several missing both left and right. It was the second time I've done this particular drill and the second time I recorded this score so it is consistent if nothing else.

I finished the session in the practice bunker. Part of the work I did with Rhys on Friday with the pitching technique transferred over into playing bunker shots correctly and utilising the bounce properly. The sand was wet and heavy but the contact and the execution was very solid. I was controlling distance well and left the practice area feeling I'd had a very constructive session.

The GRiP regime also has short game drills for chipping and putting. As I hadn't done any work on my putting in particular I wanted to get some feel back and ensure the stroke was repeating. One of the drills is the 8 o'clock drill which is simply marking a circle of eight five foot putts and going through your routine and trying to hole each one. If you miss, you have to go through the routine and hole out as you would on the course. I managed a decent 5/8 and two putted the ones I missed.

The last drill of the day was a distance control one and involved a 3 footer, a 12 footer and a 30 foot putt and three balls from each station. You must hole the short one and two putt the longer two. The idea is to move from one to another so each putt is a different length ensuring you read the putt each time and rehearse the stroke. By the time I finished the drills the wind had picked up, the temperature had dropped and I was cold. That was enough for me and it was into the clubhouse for a warming coffee.

So what does this mean. In simple terms my game is in a primed state and I need to get out and play. I have to test myself on the course now. I'm ready to go and feel really positive about my game. If it clicks and I can replicate the quality of ball striking in particular when I get out there, then the signs for 2013 are very strong. I'm contining to work on the Karl Morris seven rituals. Part of my problems have always stemmed from too many swing thoughts during my round. If I can get myself in a stronger place mentally before I pull the trigger knowing I've honed the technique then I can play with more freedom.

The theory is solid and the proof in the work I've put in at the range and the practice ground reinforces this. It is a big leap of faith. I've dabbled before, particularly reading the Bob Rotella books but the GRiP routines and Karl Morris methodology are something Rhys is very keen on and he feels I can really reap the benefits. If he can see the merit, I trust him 100% and I'm prepared to put the time and effort in.

I know 2013 is still in its infancy and that I've yet to hit the course and so this can all blow up spectacularly once I start playing, but my glass is not just half full. It is brimming over. I have a lot of faith in the work I've done over the winter with Rhys and can't remember the last time I felt so bullish about the season to come. My aim is to extend my streak of winning at least one competition at Royal Ascot per year to a sixth straight season. Not only do I believe this is the year I finally get to single figures but reaching nine is no longer good enough.

The journey will continue to be long, sometimes bumpy, but I can see plenty of good days ahead. Please stick with me and spread the word. Not only am I going to document the progress but I'll be reviewing a lot of golfing goodies. There is a lot of new kit coming out which I aim to try. There will be other practice aids and apps to review and hopefully the 2013 blog will be fun, informative and every now and again just a little spiky. Lets get stuck in.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

2013 Begins On A Positive Note

A happy new year to you all. I hope you had a great holiday season and that you make a load of birdie's in 2013. I had such grand plans to play over the festive period. I was going to play every day (Christmas Day excepted naturally) and work on my game. What transpired was filthy British weather with constant rain and gusty wind. The course was reduced to nine holes as the back nine was waterlogged anyway but my plans never materialised. I did manage to get out for nine holes with one of my regular partners from Royal Ascot, Colin Osborn, on Boxing Day. I hit it reasonably well. We didn't really worry about the scoring and it was more about enjoying the lull in the rain and blowing the cobwebs off. It was solid and I hit some good shots to see out the old year.

All of which brings me to 2013. I don't drink these days and so the New Years Eve festivities don't come with the price they use to and I was up early. With better weather I hit the practise ground to work on my swing and start the work towards single figures. I haven't really had a chance to work on the changes Rhys ap Iolo made to my swing in our last lesson and so it was important to get these up and running. It was about setting up with the spine in a straight line, left shoulder down, and rotating properly with the ball position at the bottom of the arc.

I've never seen the practise ground so wet. It put a premium on solid ball striking. I found out very early on that anything caught heavy resulted in a face full of mud. Not a good look and definitely to be avoided.

I started off shakily and was catching the ball heavy. I soon got into it and the difference it makes when I hit down and compress the ball before the turf is stunning. A much higher flight and greater distance. I started working up the bag, going through the wedges and onto the eight iron. I started to swing nicely and ball after ball was flying well.

However as I moved up to the six iron, the tempo quickened and there seemed to be more moving parts. Once I went back to basics and made sure the spine was in a nice line and I could rotate around it things improved. There is still work to be done but when it is good it is very good. I think the lack of practise has contributed to the inconsistent results. I did manage to to have very good dispersal and distance with the last dozen or so balls I hit. It seemed the ideal opportunity to go to the tee and get the big dog out. My driving on Boxing Day was pretty solid. This is sometimes a weakness and again the signs are promising and the arc of the curve is a positive one.

I finished off with a few more six irons and then spent a little time working on my pitching, primarily those fiddly 40-50 yard shots which don't require a full swing. I was looking at ball position and where the club was bottoming. Rhys and I plan to work on pitching and chipping at our next lesson. I am getting an understanding of what the club needs to do but we can put some meat on the bones when we meet up. It is a facet that needs looking at and I am looking at working hard on the scoring zone from 100 yards inwards in 2013.

To finish off I adjourned to the putting green to brush up on my putting, particularly holing out from five feet. I think I need to do some work on my stroke and my set up before the start of the season. I made a good number of putts but the stroke didn't feel compact. I can see a session with my putting mirror looming to make sure I am over the ball properly and the stroke is going back and through.

So 2013 has started on a good note. I'll hit the range after work on Friday and the rumour is the back nine will be open at the weekend. If it isn't open for the roll up, I'll play nine holes and then do some short game work. If the full course is open I'll play. There is a stableford on Sunday so it'll give me a good chance to see how the changes are settling down. I'd love to hit the buffer zone or better but at this stage with changes still being made to address position and the swing, I'm happy to just play and see where it takes me.

Things are still moving forward. I'll play this weekend and work on my game next week, take stock and have the next lesson on the 11th and move on from there. Plenty of good stuff in 2012 to build upon and some aggressive targets to aim for this year. I'm still looking at my kit and considering my options. I am still thinking about a custom fit once I decide on which maker I want to go with. Day one of the new year and the glass is still very much half full. Long may it continue.