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 ( 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?

1 comment:

  1. Weather conditions are always a bane to deal with when you’ve just found a good rhythm and get to see how you’ve improved your game. I understand wanting to go out and play, but you can never tell whether you’re doing a good job or your game’s deteriorating when the weather’s affecting the ball’s flight or when your balance is off because of the soft ground. I’d rather work on my game and shake off the rust during better conditions.