Monday, 25 February 2013

Out To Play - All Aboard The Bogey Train

I missed yet another weekend of playing thanks to a nasty bout of Norovirus picked up in work. It seems whenever I have the opportunity to play, fate, or maybe the golfing gods, steps in. I was off on Friday and due to have a much anticipated, and even more needed short game lesson, but being confined to the smallest room in the house ensured that wasn't going to happen.

I ventured, a little warily to the practice ground on Sunday. Bitterly cold with a keen and gusty wind, it was a session in perseverance as well as technique. It started well and the ball striking was solid. However, as the session progressed, old habits reared their ugly head and in particular that old chestnut the hip slide. With the driver in particular this was a problem and the results were not good. In the end I pulled it back but it wasn't the best session in the world.

I have been meaning to start working hard on my wedge play and in particular distance control. I am usually pretty good if it requires a full swing, but once I get in between clubs, especially those fiddly shots around the 30-60 yard mark, where I should be knocking it close I tend to struggle. I wandered down a deserted range between the 100 and 150 markers. This gave me six targets to aim at. I am still not happy with the distance control but the quality of the strike was pleasing. It was a good thirty minutes well spent and given me a firm base on which to build. I tend to be more of a feel player than technical one (strange but true) when it comes to wedge play. I have tried various methods such as the Pelz clock face but I tend to lose feel and touch and so tend to go by eye now.

I finished off with some bunker play. It has been another part of the game I've neglected as I've worked on my new swing over the Winter. I can escape the majority of the time (lie dependant) but getting it close has been an issue. I was hitting it well and escaping with ease. Even by opening the face I was able to get out with extra height and stop. The only downside was when trying to hit full shots out of the sand with mid irons. I am struggling to make a decent strike and get distance. It isn't a shot I play often as the course doesn't have too many bunkers 100-150 yards out and those we do have I tend to manage to miss most of the time. It is still something I'd like in my locker but I will just work on it every so often. I'm happy to invest time in the sand controlling the ball around the green instead.

I had today off and finally fully clear of the bug I'd picked up I decided to brave the early drizzle, dark skies and tricky wind and get out for only my second game of 2013. It was crucial that I took the range work and practice I'd been putting in and try it on the course where there is only one chance on every shot.

Things started well. My opening tee shot came up five yards short of the green. A decent chip and run to a couple of feet and a single putt for a opening par. My drive at the next went right, and although I got back into position my approach came up short. Another decent chip to five feet but I couldn't save par. It was a similar tale at the next, missed fairway, missed green and although I hit both in regulation at the 4th the putting touch went AWOL and I three stabbed for another bogey.

I couldn't get off the bogey train. I was long at the 6th and wide on the 7th. My tee shot at the shortest hole on the course came up short and found sand at the 8th. The hard work in the practice bunker paid off and I splashed out to five feet but again narrowly missed the putt. The drive at the 9th was wild and right but I found a great lie. My approach was well hit but again found sand. Another fine splash to a makeable distance but it lipped out.

I hit a rubbish drive down the 10th but made a bogey, hitting out of the right rough to leave a pitch and two putts. I missed the par three eleventh right and hit an exquisite recovery to three feet from the sand but pulled the putt. Damn. As with the front nine, every hole on the back nine seemed to be a bogey. The trait was finally broken with a regulation par five at the 15th. Normal service was resumed at the next with a bogey five, I hit the green at the long 218 yard par three 17th for another par. I hit another poor drive down the last. No prizes for guessing where the focus of attention will be at the range this week. I hit a fine recovery to leave 183 yards slightly down wind. Normally I'd hit a mid iron and leave a pitch hoping to one putt for par. However I decided to go for it. The last has a pond that eats into the right hand edge of the putting surface and so it needed a fine shot to clear the water . It is a high risk shot hence the normal conservative approach.

I struck my five wood well but it started to drift right in the air and the line it was on wasn't filling me with warm comfy thoughts. From my position down the hill I couldn't see the outcome but had to assume it had gone to a watery grave. I played another as I would normally have done and pitched on. As I went to putt out I noticed a ball on the back edge of the green. Closer inspection revealed it was my first ball. I chipped to five feet but didn't save par.

It wasn't a great scoring round but the majority of shots were well struck. Although most of the drives were decent it was a day where it just didn't find the right position off the tee and so I couldn't go for the green. Putts didn't quite drop although the reads were fine. For the second round of the year I'll take it and there far more positives than negatives. I felt tired on the back nine and feel sure fatigue played a part in the hips sliding on the drives. I found a way to get it round and that bodes well as I get back into it. There is still lots to work on and I'm sure Rhys ap Iolo will strip away a few layers and firm the action up the next time I have a lesson. I don't usually like riding the bogey train but today I was content to do so. That won't be the case on Saturday when I play the first competition of the year in the March stableford.

What is it they say, a bad day on the course is still better than a good day in work? That seemed pretty apt. I need to go back to basics and rotate better around the spine and not slide the hips but that one fault aside everything else is looking good. I even managed to find a short game today. I still think single figures is achievable and that a great 2013 is on the horizon. I just need to leave the bogey train in the sidings and make some more pars. Hopefully that starts Saturday.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

After All This Time I Missed Out

A lot of my recent posts have included a meteorological update. This weekend has been glorious and perfect for golfing. Great I hear you say and you'd be right apart from the golf club deciding to throw me a curve ball. There was due to be a pairs even today, which is one of the main trophy events, granting the winners passage into the end of season "Masters" event open only to honour board event winners, and the winners of monthly stableford or medal events.They notified everyone on Friday that it was postponed. Their logic being that the course had only had nine holes open due to waterlogging and they couldn't guarantee it would have dried in time for it to be played.

I didn't have a problem with that and had assumed it was a declaration that the back nine would be shut over the weekend. I didn't really fancy just playing nine holes, or even the same nine twice in the normal roll up so elected to have a lie in and rocked up to the club about 10.00am to work on my game. I got there just in time to see three of the usual crowd making their way to a now fully open back nine. Gutted doesn't begin to describe my feeling. I wandered over to the practice field but to be honest my heart was no longer in it.

The session wasn't great and old habits, in particular sliding the hips instead of turning around the spine had started to creep back in. In the end I did manage to hit some decent shots but the session did little to build on the work I've been doing. I wandered off to the putting green to try and find a chipping technique on which to build a bullet proof short game. I've a chipping lesson with my regular teaching pro Rhys ap Iolo on Friday. This has been a long time coming as I wanted to wait until we could have the lesson on grass and not a range mat.

My short game has been shocking for years. I've fallen between a rock and a hard place in terms of finding a technique that works regularly and produces decent results and all the theory has scrambled my head. I stand over a chip with so many thoughts and negativity that a duff a foot in front of where the ball lay or a skull twenty yards over the other side of the green are normal occurrences. It is despite my short game that I've got tantalisingly close to Homer's Odyssey of single figures. I do sometimes have days where it behaves and I can post a score. I have no fear of missing a green which tends to filter back through the rest of my game so I drive better, hit better lay up shots and hole out better.

This morning dawned a little foggy but I knew there was the big Sunday roll up going out. I had planned to join them but when push came to shove I opted for a couple more hours under the duvet. Nothing but laziness. It came about from a moping belief that somehow I had missed out yesterday and a concern that the poor range session and poor results from my time chipping would have had a serious knock on effect on my game.

It is tosh of course and I should have bitten the bullet and got out and enjoyed what was almost a perfect Spring like day. In the end I hit the practice field again. The ball striking in places was a lot more solid although if I'm honest the session lacked structure and became a ball bashing quest in places. In the end I managed to pull it all back and finished off with some satisfying shots and walked off after flushing a six iron almost as well as I can hit a shot.

At the end of the day, I did miss out. After the snow and torrential rain this was two days of perfect weather and I should have really have found a way to have got at least eighteen holes in. I have been listening to a couple of Karl Morris downloads to improve my mental attitude and wanted to implement what he had said (there will more on this in the near future) out on the course. I also had a new GPS device, a Sky Caddie SGX which replaced the SC5 model I've had for five or six years, to try out (full review coming). The SC5 has been a faithful companion and served me well over hundreds of rounds but it is now coming to the end of its life. The battery drains quicker and just every now and then it loses the signal of fails to work properly. I could get it serviced but the likely cost will be close to the price of a new model so I bit the bullet and put the SC5 out to pasture and will keep it as an emergency back up.

All in all then a rather unsatisfactory weekend. I've hit plenty of balls and made little progress and missed out on the chance, twice, to get a full eighteen holes in. If there is one little glimmer, my partner for the postponed pairs event today has been having lessons recently. Up until last week he had been struggling as a result but there were signs yesterday that it was starting to click for him. If Rhys can drain the crap in my head and get me chipping properly, and I can test my progress over the Winter on the course where ultimately it counts, then this delay may actually play into our hands.

I'll move forward. A couple of solid range sessions and the much needed chipping lesson and then I'm there. The hard work over the Winter has been done and now it is time to play and not procrastinate. It's the only way to measure my game and see where I'm at and get ready for what I feel could be a fantastic 2013 season.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

It's Slotting Into Place

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am pleased to say I have completed my first eighteen holes of 2013. It wasn't a completely glorious return but there was enough in there to provide encouragement. The weather was a big factor. I had a number of layers on to combat the cold temperature but these were added to by the 5th when I needed the waterproof top. It had been drizzling since the opening tee shot, but by the time I teed off on the par five, 5th, that was replaced by heavy sleet. By the 9th that had been replaced in turn by snow. Hardly conducive to good scoring and I always struggle to feel as though I swing well with the waterproof jacket. It might be psychological but I just feel restricted. It didn't stop me making some good shots though so perhaps it is all in the mind.

The grand opening was a three wood into the 229 yard opener. I struck it well and put a good swing on it. I missed the green to the right of the green but it was a solid start. What followed was a duffed chip into the bunker, a ropey escape, a chip to five feet and a good putt to salvage a point. I had already told myself not to worry about the score and just go out and work on the swing and all the work I'd put in over the winter. I've already said the mental side is a big area I'm working on and the short game errors on the opener tested this. The 2nd is a tight drive with out of bounds all the way down the right. There is a ditch to carry at 180 yards and heavy rough left. I smothered the drive but it found the light rough short and left. A recovery left 156 yards. I hit a good five iron but pulled it a hair missing the green. My chip moved the ball a matter of inches and my next was long. A seven for another solitary point.

I hit a good drive and approach just short of the 3rd, and made a routine bogey (net par). I struck a stunning three wood and wedge onto the 4th to yield my first par of the year and then followed it with a good drive down the 5th. After donning the waterproof top, I missed the green with a wedge from 100 yards. Unforgivable. It was just in the fringe and my putt was too hot. I missed the return. Still, things were solid.

The 6th hole measures just 178 yard but has out of bounds tight right, some ten yards away, along the first three quarters of the hole. There is out of bounds left to catch anything pulled and a stream short for anything topped. I still have no idea what happened on the tee but my hybrid almost missed the ball. It squirted high and almost straight right and was lost. I reloaded and pulled my next left. It hit a tree and rebounded out of bounds and into the stream. Fortunately we were only playing a stableford and not a medal round so didn't have to deal with the ignominy of playing five off the tee.

As is the way with golf, if you play a bad shot, the golfing gods usually give you the same examination is quick succession. The 7th hole is a long par 4 with a ditch at the 230 yard mark and narrows towards the landing area so the sensible shot is a lay up, leaving a longer approach. My hybrid was like a writhing snake in my hands and my swing path meant I almost missed it again but managed to move it forward to the start of the fairway. In the end, my six for a single point was arguably as good as I could have expected.

I made a par at the 8th and hit another really good drive down the 9th. My five wood approach was just a poor swing and it missed short and right but I pitched beautifully to six feet and holed the putt for par. I was thinking about jacking it in as it was now snowing steadily, I was cold damp and frankly not enjoying the process. Yes, I was pleased to try my new swing out but the conditions were atrocious.

I soldiered on. I hit a short drive off the 10th leaving a four iron in. As the holes is only 378 yards you can see it wasn't that great a drive. The approach though was perfect. I nailed it and stuck it to fifteen feet and made a solid par. My hybrid mis-behaved off the tee at the next, hooking pin high left.

I hit what I thought was a solid enough drive to carry the line of trees that run down the right of the fairway of the 12th. You need to take these on to secure the shortest second into the green. When I got there it hadn't made the carry and I was forced to pitch underneath leaving a seven iron in for my third. It came up short but I hit a good chip and single putted. The 13th is 186 yards and of course, perfect distance for my hybrid. I still felt I was close to missing it. I got it forward and short and right of the green. I had another wobble on the back nine akin to the one mid-way through the first nine. I hit a great drive at 14 but pulled the hybrid (can you see a pattern emerging?). My pitch was good but long and I walked off with an ugly double bogey.

I hit a nasty low hook off the tee at the next. My recovery failed to find the fairway and I was forced to lay up. I hit another good wedge from just short of one hundred yards and my par putt narrowly failed to drop. I made a solid net par at the 16th and then hit a fabulous five wood into the long 218 yard par 3 penultimate hole to set up a solid par.

I hit arguably my best drive of the day down the last. My five wood second was another pleasing strike but it drifted right into the thick, wet rough. The lie was ugly and there was no way I was going to take on the shot into the par 5 especially as I'd need to negotiate the large pond to the right of the putting surface. I pitched out and hit an exquisite gap wedge into seven feet and converted to save par.

All in all I managed to make a decent 29 points. Given I wasted a number of shots with my poor short game, had a meltdown at the sixth and failed to score, it was a reasonable return. Plenty to work on and enough good shots to keep my hopes for a good 2013 alive. The changes are coming along and the work I've put in seems time well spent.

Today the weather was grotesque. Incessant rain meant the sensible option was to abscond to the range and ensure I carried on grooving my game. I like Maidenhead Golf Centre as it's tucked away and it doesn't attract too many idiots just trying to belt balls and generally running amok.

The view from my bay at Maidenhead Driving Range
What happened today was seminal. I had a day where I could totally feel my swing. Shot after shot was on target, and the mechanics fell into place. I'd taken an old Taylormade hybrid with me and wanted to try it against the current incumbent in the bag and find out why it had been so bad yesterday. As it happened, both the old and the new behaved perfectly and made the decision on what to do rather difficult. The plan might be to put the newer version back for next Saturday and the usual roll up game. If it has another off day the old version gets the gig in the pairs competition on the Sunday.

I found something that clicked with my pitching and whisper it quietly, a chip shot that repeated. It was a perfect session. Yes, there were bad shots, partly through poor technique and partly through fatigue. The good news was I understood exactly what my swing was doing. I owned it today.

I feel I've made a big step forward this weekend. Not only did I get it round in testing conditions upon my return but I've found something in the swing that has clicked. I could happily have stayed there all day bashing balls but we all know that isn't constructive. I would love the opportunity to get out and focus on my game, especially to test the chipping stroke but work calls this week. The weather forecast is naff and so the wife may have to endure me hitting some shots in the living room.

I'm buzzing. I didn't enjoy the round and it was an exercise in mental fortitude and not much fun but I kept it going. Today was a reinforcement of where my game is going. I need to play more and more and get some mileage on the course into the tank. There was a world of difference playing on sodden grass compared to a level range mat. Yes, I'd had some great sessions off grass on the club's practice ground which proved I could hit off turf and compress properly, but it isn't until you are out playing and faced with different lies that you understand how well you are really hitting it.

I'm too long in the golfing tooth to know that one half decent round and one excellent range session doesn't mean I have the game sussed. No doubt next time I play something will bite me but just for now, my golfing glass isn't so much half full as positively over flowing. Bring on the 2013 season.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Winter Golf - What Is The Right Path?

It has been a while. Truth be told my golfing activity has been rather curtailed not only by the weather but by a series of annoying bugs and viruses which have laid me low and drained my energy. Getting wrapped up in biting conditions to hit balls at a deserted range just didn't appeal. The golf course didn't lure me as it has been closed because of water logging as the snow melted and was replaced by heavy and persistent rain. The staff have done a good job to keep the front nine open as often as possible. I don't know if it's just me but I can never really get into a nine hole round or play the same nine twice.

I have been trying to keep my swing ticking over. I ventured to Blue Mountain Golf Centre near Bracknell last Sunday. I was still under the weather with a bug and in the wind chill it was close to freezing. The wind itself was strong, blustery and unfortunately blowing left to right across the range. It meant that any ball struck well and flying upwards was immediately buffered and began drifting right. I had no idea which shots were well struck and the victim of the conditions and which might have been my error and started online but with some degree of side spin. In the end I simply focused on the drills from my last lesson and on rotating around a better spine angle.

I've been manfully struggling with another cold all week and so was relieved that the planned stableford yesterday (2nd) was postponed because the course was still too sodden in place. I enjoyed my lie in and planned to hit the range. Getting there, it was freezing again with another strong wind. The direction was more into the face than across but it took a degree of self-motivation to keep my focus and work in a positive and constructive manner. As it happened I was striking the ball very cleanly off the mats, I moved to their outside area and even the driver was behaving. Rather than continue to fire off bills just because I could it was back home to de-frost and enjoy the Six Nations rugby. However there has been a nagging doubt in my mind that I haven't hit off grass for a long time. The strike off a range mat can hide a myriad of flaws and it is really only when you hit off turf that you can see the real state of the swing.

With that in mind I was determined to hit the practice ground at Royal Ascot Golf Club this morning. I knew the forecast was for a wind chill but it was ridiculously cold. The wind was hard off the left much in the way it had been at the driving range. I found a corner of the practice ground that allowed me to fire across towards the road and more into the wind. It was so strong and biting and I was being blown around. A lot of the shots I was hitting felt good. I knew when I hit it heavy as the large lump of sodden turf exploding in front of my face and the poor strike told me so. No place to hide. In the end, my hands were becoming numb, the wind was getting stronger and I was losing concentration. Time to call it a day.

It has made me think. Bad weather and illness has curtailed my activities but would I be better off getting out and playing? How much mileage is there in playing a muddy course especially with the wind howling. If I don't score well what does it do to the confidence I've built up with my swing changes over the Winter. As one of those hardy souls that played this morning put it "when you next go out everyone else will be use to the conditions and you will have to adjust, especially on and around the greens. You will be at a real disadvantage" Could he be right?


A lot of my friends on the Golf Monthly forum (forums.golf-monthly.co.uk) still haven't got the opportunity to play because of the conditions. At least I could venture out onto the course should I choose. The question I'm driving at is what is the best way to get the most from Winter golf. Is it to embed the swing changes made over the Winter at the range until the trust is there and the strike and direction tell you it is working well. This is the position I am almost at.

Should I now put the work I've done with my teaching pro and at the range to the test on the course? Do I allow a margin of error in my scoring for the conditions, the bad lie, the heavy strike and the bobble on the green? I'm sure most people reading this will be screaming at me to get out and play as much as I can. I do see the merit but when the wind is blowing and it is a one or two club difference, you are standing about waiting and getting cold am I really getting the benefits to my game. I had wanted to work on my pitching from 50-100 yards today but it would have been fruitless so I never contemplated it. Would I have gained anything standing on a 400 yard par 4, hitting driver, fairway wood and then still having a pitch left?

We are supposedly coming into the beginning of the season. I am in a pairs competition at the club on the 17th and haven't seen the course in 2013. Aside from nine holes on Boxing Day I haven't had a full round in months. I had plans to have worked on my short game and putting by now and do feel under-cooked in both areas. There is a roll up game due next Saturday and I'm desperate for the course to be fully open and be able to play with a degree of freedom without the worry of a 0.1 increase and the spectre of card and pencil in hand.

What is the balance given the weather we've experienced. It has been another sodden Winter and the snow ensured activities were curtailed. I understand that this is where the range comes in and some constructive practice is better than no practice. Standing there in Baltic conditions drilling balls and not being able to decipher the direction or distance because of the winds isn't constructive. I had planned to have my regular lessons with Rhys ap Iolo, put the hard yards in ingraining the changes and then test them on the course. With the course being shut and then reduced in length this hasn't happened. I know my real weakness has been the short game and although Rhys and I have touched on fixing this I've not had any opportunity to work on it either on the practice ground or on the course. This will hold me back I'm sure. The planned short game lesson went west under a blanket of snow and so my weakness remains just that.

I have ploughed my own furrow in pursuit of Homer's Odyssey (single figures) but listened to advice from Rhys, a number of well known coaches (Denis Pugh etc) and several tour pros from the men and women's European tour via Twitter and Facebook. I know the work and time Rhys and I have invested will reap dividends once the season starts and the improved ball striking I'm enjoying is testament to this. I just can't help wondering if the balance between working on the game and playing the game has tipped past a perfect equilibrium. Is there a right path? Does it come to the individual or is there some path one should take over the Winter to maximise potential, playability and improvement? Since the member said I'm not going to be ready, the seeds of doubt have been sown. I can't turn back time and I don't regret the work I've put in but there is just this tiny nagging voice saying I am going to struggle back on the course.

I fully understand even hitting off grass doesn't replicate playing and that even the most realistic practice drills don't mimic the pressure on the course. Maybe I should have had a few nine holes in the howling wind to prepare. What to do? The plan is to work at the range this week, man flu permitting. Hopefully the strong winds and drier conditions means I can get eighteen holes in next weekend. From there I can look at what went right and wrong and speak with Rhys. We can focus on particular areas of the game now instead of refining the swing layer by layer. It is in a good place for now and the ball is telling me I am hitting well.

Maybe I'm just over thinking the whole thing and cabin fever from not getting my full and regular golfing fix is kicking in. Maybe there is no right path. It is what it is now. Spring is close by and the warmer, lighter days beckon. A combination of regular golf, proper practice and regular tuition has me convinced not only will the Odyssey be fulfilled but my golfing game in 2013 will be the best it has been in years. Or will it?