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.

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