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.