Sunday, 28 April 2013

When One Thing Improves....Another Goes

This week has been mainly about the short game. Regular followers will know this has crucified my game over the last eighteen months and is the only reason Homer's Odyssey towards single figures remains becalmed in a sea of frustration. I had a chipping lesson with my usual teaching pro Rhys ap Iolo a couple of months back which changed everything about the way I approached this aspect. Unfortunately the unseasonal rain in March meant I couldn't get out to put what I'd been shown into action off grass and working on chipping off a range mat is simply unrealistic and in my opinion a waste of time.

In recent competitions and matches I'd reverted to the linear method as recommended by renowned coach Gary Smith ( It was something I'd used last year with varying degrees of success but I had little confidence in the methodology Rhys had shown me and the linear approach was more a crutch to help me get it round. I am determined to get a short game to match the improvements across the rest of my game and so this week I hit the practice green to work on the new stroke. The linear method utilises the bounce of the club as opposed having the hands forward and hitting down which was the traditional way the chip shot was taught. The way Rhys has me set up also uses the bounce but in a more conventional address position.

The results have been slow to come. I can see progress and the one thing that has come from the work I've put in is that a large amount of the rubbish that had filled my head over every chip along with a whole host of demons, has been shredded and exorcised. Of course, it is easy on a practice green with plenty of balls and although I varied the routines to include the poorest lie I could find and to take one ball and try and get up an down, holing the putt after the initial chip, nothing quite replicates the pressure on the course in a match or competition.

With that in mind, I had a club match yesterday away to Maidenhead Golf Club. I like playing there. It is a parkland course, with greens that usually play quickly but true. The overnight rain had slowed them down to about 9 on the Stimpmeter. It is a 6338 yard, par 70 course and I was paired with genial Irishman Pat Quaid off an 18 handicap and were paired against another Irish man from Maidenhead off 11 and his partner off 13. As we teed off a big black cloud rolled over head. I got the opening tee shot away, not perfectly, but enough to leave 9 iron into the green. As I lined my putt up the cloud opened its contents and the green turned white under a barrage of hailstones. I managed to cosy the ball to the hole side and my par was good enough for a win. One up.

Maidenhead Golf Club - a lovely parkland course and a real test of golf
After the shower passed I nailed a great drive down the second. I only had a wedge in my hand for the approach. I hit what can only be described as a semi-shank which hit a tree some fifty yards short of the green which was nowhere near my line and ricocheted into the rubbish. I knocked it back out but my chip then hit the flag a la Woods in the Masters (without an illegal drop involved). We lost the hole. It was feast or famine and every time I made par as I did on the 3rd I'd follow it with a mistake as I did on the 4th trying to hit the long 474 yard par 4 in two as I was giving shots away.

My partner Pat and I were gelling well and he gave us a lead again on the 7th which I extended on the next but I lost a ball on the 9th and Pat was unable to match a net par on the 513 yarder. One up at the turn and it was clear the back nine was going to be a close fought affair. I made a par at the 10th, a mid distance par 3 having watched one of the opposition find the dance floor. My first putt was nervy and I had to make a five footer for the half. We lost the next and when the Maidenhead pair made a par on the 13th, a 145 yard par three played to a raised green and for the first time in the match we were behind.

Pat rectified this using his shot to great effect at the very next hole. I found another superb drive down the 15th and only had a 7 iron in my hand. Again I made a very poor contact with the ball and the shot drifted short and right into sand. With one of the Maidenhead pair safely on the green Pat and I were in trouble. To be truthful the bunker shot I played wasn't great. It crept over the deep lip and the contours and gravity did the rest leaving it six feet away. The Maidenhead player three putted and I slotted my left to right putt in. Back to one up.

The 16th at Maidenhead is a long par 3 measuring 182 yards and playing into a stiffening wind. It has a bank some forty yards short which gives the illusion of the green being closer than it is. I hooked my tee shot. Pat came up well short as did the opposition. I found my ball at the base of a tree in a bed of ivy and the only way I could play it was to go left handed, turn the toe of the club down and pray. I made perfect contact but the bank of the green robbed me of a miracle escape and we were back to all square.

The penultimate hole is a par five, very short by modern standards and only 483 yards. The Maidenhead pair both found trouble off the tee and I had managed to nurse the ball to within 140 yards with a squiffy drive and an iffy hybrid. Yet again I put a poor shot on the approach and found sand right of the green. I literally just got the ball out and it teetered on the bank and threatened to drop back into sand. I knew the Maidenhead duo could do no more than make a double bogey. I'd played four. I was now relying on my chipping. I only had twelve feet to the hole, downhill. I reached for an 8 iron as I just wanted to nudge it forward. I hit it perfectly. Yes it was a bogey but it's matchplay and so the score isn't the main priority as long as you take one less than the other side.

Both the Maidenhead low handicapper and I got good drives away at the last. It was playing into the wind and I was 226 yards away on the mammoth 424 yard closing hole. I knew my opponent didn't have the firepower to get home although he did put it into an ideal lay up position. My long clubs, particularly the five wood and hybrid had been giving me issues all afternoon. I reached for the five wood and trusted my swing. I got it down there and it was now a straight shoot out. The Maidenhead player went first and stuffed it to within seven feet. I had 82 yards and hit my 52 degree wedge. I might have pulled it a tad and the wind certainly moved it but it just about missed the bunker to find the left edge of the green. I hit a good putt and we could only stand and watch and see if the opposition could make the putt and tie the game. It missed left and Pat and I were victorious one up. The club had a good afternoon and took the match 3 1/2 - 1 1/2 and have a healthy lead for the return match. I love these nip and tuck matches and this one was played in a friendly and enjoyable atmosphere where everyone was trying their hardest to win but it certainly wasn't the be all and end all.

What has all this to do with the title of this post? Well I chipped an putted five times and made one sand save. Proof positive that I can do it and the time and effort invested this week has been worthwhile. It is still a million miles away from where I want it but every journey starts with a single step and I am finally on the road to short game redemption. I drove it well enough too hitting half of the fairways and only missing all but two of the others by a few feet. The problem I have is that all the irons felt so close to being a shank. I have been having socket rocket issues in practice this week and it feels that my hands are leading the club head and presenting the hosel. When I do get it right the shots and the strike are still good. I've no idea where it has come from.

It cost me a couple of greens in regulation with short clubs in my hand. I lost a ball with a big carve right off the heel of my five wood and generally I'm not happy with the way I'm hitting it. I am struggling in practice and toying with giving my teacher a call and getting him to look at it either on video or in person via a lesson. Like my game in general in recent weeks it doesn't feel a long way off but it just isn't firing. Last year when I was losing the ball both left and right with my old swing driving was erratic at best. This year it is much more solid. With a short game to follow and my putter warming up yesterday things are looking up IF I can get it all to click at the same time.

I'm annoyed as I had the ball under control in the last lesson with a six iron and the five wood. I am clearly making a good swing in places as I am knocking it well off the tee so I don't know what happens between leaving the tee box and and walking down the fairway to my approach.

The plan of action is clear. It's off to the practice ground tomorrow (or the range if the weather turns ugly) and try and figure it out. I've allocated Tuesday to this as well and then we're back to the short game. I can't neglect this now I have something that is filling me with hope and confidence. A few holes later in the week to test it all out and a practice session on Friday to polish it off before competitions next weekend.

All in all plenty to be happy about. A win, a short game that stood the test and a driver and putter that work. Of course being a golfer, we are never happy and so I need the irons to step into line. When that happens this week I am going to be a glass half full Homer and go into May reinvigorated and confident that a good performance and maybe a top three (ideally a win) is close at hand.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Piece Of String

Last Friday was lesson night at Downshire Golf Centre. I have been fighting my golf swing for a few weeks and while the ball flight and the direction hasn't been destructive it hasn't felt right. I couldn't put my finger on what was wrong, To me it felt as though the takeaway and back swing wasn't in sync and I wasn't making a proper turn through the ball. My teaching pro, Rhys ap Iolo watched me hit a handful of balls and immediately got to work.

In essence the ball position and the left foot were the culprits. The stance was narrowed which felt uncomfortable initially but by moving the ball forward to inside my left heel I could deliver the club better. Rhys wanted me to feel as though I was keeping the club face open AFTER impact. As normal, such a small tweak had an instant and stunning effect. By tweaking the ball position forward and back I could manipulate the flight for a left to right (fade) or right to left (draw) without having to change the swing in any shape. It was as though the ball was on a piece of swing and I had control on the shape and the contact was perfect. We moved to the shorter clubs, narrowed the stance again and pushed the hands forward a tad. I was delivering wedges with pin point accuracy. All was good in the world.

Saturday dawned warm and bright for the first monthly medal of the year at Royal Ascot. I had a great draw with one of the stalwarts of our weekend roll up, Brian Mason, aka Mace, and one of the real characters in the club, Dave Knight aka Knocker. I was reasonably optimistic after the lesson the night before and hit a good opening drive that just failed to cling onto the putting surface and fell into the bunker. It was to set a tone. I was hitting it solidly but kept missing greens and finding the sand.

In essence I was hemorrhaging shots. The front nine hit the buffers with a five over par 9 on the 7th. Having pushed the tee shot right, I chipped out and my approach then found the bunker left. I have been enjoying some success out of sand and wasn't concerned but I thinned the first effort and hit the second escape heavy which only just crept out. I duffed a chip, chipped on and two putted. A three putt on the 9th after finding the green in regulation summed up the first half.

The back nine was a mixture of bogey golf followed by a par, another bogey and the odd double. I still didn't feel as though I was hitting it badly but the score card told another story. In the end my back nine was much better but it all added up to an ugly 90 or a net 80 (+10). If the ball had been on a piece of string in my lesson, clearly someone had been out and cut it into pieces.

Yesterday was a club match at home to Windsor Great Park and I was was in exalted company, partnering club captain Ken Martin in the opening match. We were paired with their captain and chap affectionately known as "The Major" who had dual nationality being a member of both clubs. "The Major" otherwise known as Colin Falvey is a diminutive pensioner who plays off a handicap in the mid twenties but can be a cunning and difficult opponent receiving so many shots.

We found that out immediately. Ken hit a sumptuous opening tee shot to 4 feet (it's a 229 yard par three opener) and Colin had come up short. He stuck his second onto the green and when Ken missed the birdie putt Colin tidied up for a net half. The Windsor captain and I then traded halved holes and the match was until the visitors hit a purple patch and won the 7th, 8th and 9th (courtesy of a net par from Colin). Suddenly we were in big trouble.

I'd had one bad hole, the 6th but aside from that had played much better than the medal and yet we were staring down the barrel. I made a par at the 10th to reduce the deficit. However we couldn't reduce the arrears until I won the 14th with a par following a great drive and a chip and putt save. However time and holes were running out and we were still one down playing the last. Ken had worked hard on the 16th to keep the match alive and we had snatched an unlikely half at 17 thanks to a generous concession. My putt was a good three feet away but I had the ball in my pocket almost before they had finished the sentence.

I followed the good drive at the last with a solid fairway wood to leave 118 yards. Normally that would be a smooth nine iron but it was playing straight into a freshening wind. With the pond right of the green to contend with and the Windsor captain still in the hole I clubbed up. It was a sound choice as I struck it well and it still only found the front portion of the green. When their captain found sand with his fourth and could only make a double bogey I had two putts to tie the game.

I have been struggling for a few weeks with distance control on the greens and I rattled the first one three feet past but managed to roll the return in. A tie was a fitting result in a compelling and enjoyable match. The company and the golf was wonderful. In the end Royal Ascot sneaked a narrow 3 1/2 - 2 1/2 lead to take into the return match in June.

If someone had cut the piece of string in the medal, it had been knotted back together. I had it under much better control especially off the tee. I still missed a few greens and made a few errors but all in all I was much happier. The short game improved as the round progressed, including a crucial up and down at the 13th for a half. It is the putting that is still the biggest issue. I am either rattling the first putt too hard or becoming too tentative and deliberate and hitting it with no conviction. Work to be done with the flat stick.

However, the arc of the curve is upwards. Yes it was another 0.1 back on the handicap and another poor competition will see me up to 11 but sometimes you need to take a backward step to move forward again. I am happy with my swing now and Rhys has installed an understanding of what I can and can't do and there is no need to be so hung up about the takeaway and back swing. It is actually a swing in better shape than I gave it credit for. I need to consolidate this week and keep grinding away at the short game, find a cure to my putter ills and make sure the swing is kept oiled and flowing. Things are on the up. I know Mace and Knocker didn't see the best of me in the medal and the score says differently but I took some heart and the problem was more about careless errors. I think I was still adjusting to the narrower stance and change in ball position and a medal is an unforgiving environment to bring swing adjustments into. The match proved that it is already settling down and I was particularly happy with the way I played under pressure on the back nine.

Rhys was surprised by my medal score and asked where the ball on the string had gone. It is there and although the string is now held together by knots it is stronger (if shorter) and I just need to keep the ball tied to it.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

A Cocktail Of Stuff

Long time no blog. Time marches on and there is just the first glimmer of Spring. It didn't feel like it in the stableford last week which was punctuated by heavy, nay torrential showers, a gusty wind and a chill still in the air. It was a combination that made scoring particularly hard. I never really felt in control of my swing all day and never really addressed the ball fully confident. I somehow managed to get it round in a respectable 32 points. Not quite enough to save my handicap from a 0.1 increase but while I may not have owned my swing, the short game was nothing short of a revelation. I have returned to the linear method and with a fresh feeling of confidence my chipping and putting were much improved. A figure of 31% par scrambles is testament to the transformation. In the end it was good enough for a 7th place finish in division one. For the first stableford competition of 2013 it was fantastic to get a top ten finish.

Buoyed by the performance and the fact that the rain due wasn't coming until the afternoon, I went out in the Saturday stableford eager to improve on the stableford showing. In the end the 29 point haul was a cacophony of missed chances, poor course management and a cold putter. The short game wasn't as hot as the previous round. I still didn't feel as though I was swinging it well and the takeaway and back swing in particular felt out of sync. If that was me playing badly then the future looks rosy. I got it round without too many issues and the odd save or putt here and there would have transformed the score.

If I thought I was struggling, spare a thought for my regular partner Mike Stannard. He is in that pit of frustration we've all been in. Nothing is going for him at the moment and he can't find a spark, buy a putt or make a score. He is too good to be struggling for long but with the Jubilee Cup approaching, and the fact we are entered into the Nike matchplay (formerly the Volvo matchplay, a national knock-out played regionally before an area and national final) I am worried about my wing mans form.

However if he, I or you think your game is in a bad place, spare a thought for guy called Colin Chandler. He is blind, with only exceptionally blurred vision in one eye and eight months ago took up golf. With the help of the pro at Reading Golf Club he is finding a way to get it done. What a testament to the power of this great game. Check out this video

Over at Golf Monthly, my friends there have launched Britain's Best Putter 2013 in association with Odyssey. This begins with clubs hosting their own qualifying event. I have approached my own club at Royal Ascot to see if they want to get involved.

I'm not sure my putter and current forms on the greens would be good enough to get through but I like the concept and it seems like a cheap event to stage, always a plus point for any club in these cash conscious times. It would be a fun thing to stage and give members something different to try and if it can be tied into a big event (Captain's Day etc) it would add an interesting twist to proceedings.

Speaking of Royal Ascot, it has been fantastic to see their recent initiative to encourage more kids to take up the game going from strength to strength. They recently held a free introduction to golf open day for 4-17 year olds. Assistant pro Jamie Whenman, assisted by Junior Organisers Patty Dismore and Tricia Taylor guided a big turn out through some of the basics of the game and have had a huge take up for the Junior Academy. This eight week programme will give the kids hands on experience in a fun environment along with hands on coaching from Jamie.

It is great to see the club getting into this sort of thing. It has to bode well for the future, Catch them young in any sport and you have a great chance of these kids taking the seeds being sown here into adulthood. We need to keep producing players for the future. Not just the future of Royal Ascot but clubs up and down the country.

The Masters gave us the usual share of excitement and this year, a hint of controversy with Tiger Woods being penalised two shots for an illegal drop. In my humble opinion he should have been DQ'd and the ruling the committee used to fudge a resolution wasn't designed for this purpose. I am pretty certain had it been anyone else the result would have been different. Indeed, Aussie tour pro Craig Perks posted this on his Twitter site, quoting a PGA Rules Official

In the end whether you thought Woods should have gone either by DQ or by taking himself out of the event, the finale was captivating. It was great to see Scott come through especially after the way he lost the Open last year. It was sad to see there was no real British challenge on the last day although had Westwood made some putts on the opening holes could it have been different?

Finally, and keeping with the Masters vibe, check out this great piece from Windlesham Golf Club. They got the juniors to caddie dressed in full Master's like boiler suits. I would love to see that at my club, and could be an ideal way of getting those juniors we have brought through the academy integrated into the club. The more they are welcomed the longer they will stay. Check out the report

A bit of a Heinz 57 for a change. I thought it would be nice to give you a glimpse at what is happening on social media, in different clubs and at the place I call home, Royal Ascot, as well as an update on my own progression. If you like it, or even if you don't, let me know.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Putting Our Backs Into It

Sunday dawned sunny, bright and warm. No really. It was a proper Spring day and I was at Royal Ascot Golf Club to play a club match against Caversham Heath. These aren't win at all cost fixtures and the onus is on having a good time but there is still pride and I was determined to bring home a point.

I was partnered with Peter Hitchcock, playing off 21. I know Peter very well as he is a stalwart of our regular Saturday gang. We were drawn against a pair off 8 and 12 and second group out following the respective club captains. I hadn't been swinging great at the range during the week and was a little nervous going into the game. My short game was still giving me kittens and despite some recent work on my chipping in lessons I'd reverted to the linear method as a crutch to hold onto. The opening tee shot missed the green left. It was virtually pin high but landing on dried mud, nice and bare. I was lucky I didn't have a bunker to negotiate but had a straight route to the hole. I was concerned though. Flaky short game technique versus bare lie was a potential accident waiting to happen. Instead I plopped it stone dead for a conceded par and a win.

Peter won the second courtesy of his shot although I should have made par but pulled a short iron into sand. My recovery to five feet gave me the chance of the par and a sand save but I missed it with consummate ease. I bounced back by nailing a drive at the third to leave a wedge in. Two putts and a par and we were suddenly three up.

Both Peter and I made a mess of the short par four to gift a hole back. I three putted and Peter tweaked his back on the tee shot and was suddenly struggling to swing with any degree of freedom. I got my drive away at the par five fifth but made a big course management error with my second and found a fairway bunker when I should have been able to leave a simple shot in. By the time we walked off the next we were all square. Peter messed his shot on the par three and I missed the green left. I played a great chip to six feet but couldn't rescue a half.

We stopped the bleeding with a win on the seventh. However the first indication it perhaps wasn't going to be our day came at the shortest hole on the course. The 12 handicapper stone cold topped his tee shot and it ran all the way along the ground. It by-passed the two bunkers short, ran onto the green and finished four feet away. Unbelievable. I didn't catch my shot clean and it landed on the fringe and released. It was looking like it may have and expensive shot as it edged closer and closer to the hole. Fortunately for the wallet it finished six inches. I walked up the hole with the other guy from Caversham and joked that having hit such a bad shot his mate would now roll the putt in to match my birdie. Two minutes later we were putting the flag in and he'd done exactly that. Unbelievable.

We lost the ninth to a par. I missed the green high wide and not very handsome. Peter was struggling with his back and the longer holes were proving too much of a challenge. I missed the green from the middle of the tenth to throw another hole away and so for the first time we were behind. One down became two down when I could only make a bogey at the next.

Walking off the eleventh green I suddenly felt a sharp pain run down the right hand side of my back. It stopped me dead in my tracks and for a few seconds I couldn't move. It eased but I was worried standing on the tee with driver in hand. I was expecting a wave of pain as I took a practice swipe but it was all good. I got the drive away just into the light rough left of the fairway. I was getting a shot and with 205 yards to the middle of the green and a good lie I decided to go for it. I nailed a five wood perfectly hitting the green and leaving no more than ten feet. Two putts was good enough.

It was a short lived recovery and we lost the next. We halved the next few holes and suddenly stood on the seventeenth tee dormie two down. Peter found a swing of greater freedom from somewhere and hit the front edge of the green. Both opponents had missed the target and we were in prime position to at least take the game down the last. That was until the second and final act that proved it wasn't going to be our day. The 8 handicapper had missed short and right and had to carry a bunker, pitch on a down slope to a pin on the middle of the green. Admittedly he hit a great pitch and it was high and cleared the sand with ease. It landed on the green softly but began rolling with a degree of pace until it made contact flush with the flag which stopped it in its tracks. It simply dropped in the hole for a game winning birdie and we'd been beaten 3 and 1. Unbelievable.

Even though there was nothing on the game I was pleased to get a good final drive away. As I started to walk towards the fairway, I had that shooting pain again. It stopped me dead in my tracks again. A minute of so later it subsided and I could walk gingerly to my ball. I made a very tentative swing and in the end made a nasty double bogey. I've no idea what caused it although wondered if it may have been a trapped nerve. It wasn't pleasant.

The club lost the match 2 1/2 - 3 1/2 but there is a return leg at Caversham Heath later in the year so everything still to play for. I was a lot happier with the all round performance of my game. There were some errors, and a few loose shots. My putting was weak but I thought the short game held up and there were some good shots in there. I am still a long way off feeling as though my game is there and still feel there is a degree of rustiness. I wasn't able to play the stableford on Saturday so lack competitive exposure. In fact I've still only managed eight games all year. I wanted to get out and play some holes this week or at least hit some balls but the back was sore on Monday.

I managed to hit the range on Tuesday. I captured some swings to send to my teaching pro Rhys ap Iolo as I still feel I am fighting the back swing and not rotating around the spine angle. The hips feel they are sliding not rotating.

Still a degree of lateral movement but a whole lot better than it use to be. Bearing in mind this is me swinging poorly, compared to recent weeks at least and there is a whole load to be happy about. Ball flight and contact in this swing were good.

Again, not a great swing per se from a technical perspective but the ball is going where I wanted. Rhys has given me a drill and wants to tweak my posture a tad but is keen to get my feet more flared to give me more room to move through the shot.

I shouldn't really have hit the range last night and the back has suffered again today. With the weather looking better at the weekend I am hitting the pain killers, ice packs and generally doing all I can to be able to play. I want to work on my short game and putting but it now looks like rain coming and there is no way I'm standing there getting wet just to get some practice time on the clock.

I am worried about the back but plan to plough on with as much practice as I can. I am revising my goals to work exclusively on the short game to take some stress of the back until I can get to my next lesson on the 19th. Definitely not the result I wanted in the match but given the injury to my partner and the fact that at time it felt I was taking both opponents on single handed I'm definitely glass half full. The closer we got to the end, the quicker the tempo got which led to the hip slide returning in places. However there were more good than bad and it wasn't a fault with every shot. Rhys and I just need to give the swing a polish before the season gets into full swing. I'm ready to put my back into it to achieve my goals although it feels like I might have taken the phrase too literally. No pain no gain.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

GRiP Zone - Effective Practice

How do you practice? Do you stand there hitting plenty of balls to get the mechanics right or do you pick specific targets? I have to be honest there have been times when I've been a slave to the range, especially after a lesson when I've been working on a drill or swing change. I've also been guilty of just standing there hitting and scraping the next ball almost before the first one has landed. Machine gun golf is not conducive to good practice.

I do try and be meticulous in my approach. I tend to walk off the mat after each shot, rehearse, especially if I am working on a change or feeling and go through my routine on each shot. However, I have always struggled to be dedicated in picking specific targets and so there is an argument that I am still not working on my game to my full potential.

Why the waffle? Why the questions? The truth is I've found a way to work on my game which is beginning to have some positive effect on my game. What is this magic process? It is called GRiP zone and is a series of realistic drills that help both the long and short game

It does cost £19,99 for Lite membership. For that you get the following
  • 12 Months GRiP Membership
  • Access to full suite of GRiP games (Long & Short Game)
  • GRiP Mobile app for iPhone & Android
  • Real-time performance charts
  • Connect and Communicate with your Coach
  • GRiP Online Academy - Effective Practice Tips

  • There is a more expensive Pro membership coming in at £39.99. This gives far more options and features
  • 12 Months GRiP Membership
  • Access to full suite of GRiP games (Long & Short Game)
  • GRiP Mobile app for iPhone & Android
  • Real-time performance charts & personal bests
  • Connect and Communicate with your Coach
  • All the goodies on offer for the Pro membership

    • GRiP Online Academy - Effective Practice Tips
    • Premium Leather Pad Holder - keep in your golf bag or pocket
    • 4x Short Game pads (288 drills)
    • 4x Long Game pads (288 drills
    I opted for the Pro version. I wanted to be able to communicate with my coach and report back on my progress and the pads are useful to record my session if my mobile or I-Pad isn't available.

    So how does it all work. Well for the long game there are three drills. There is a driving drill, mid iron drill and wedge drill where you pick a target for each distance either at the range or on the practice ground and record on the app or the chart where each shot went. Record the scores and upload and it records your personal best score and charts progress over time.

    There are also two putting drills for holing out from close range and for distance control and a very challenging one for the short game where balls are dropped into easy, medium and difficult lies and you try and get up and down. If you miss the putt, you have to go through the full routine and ensure you hole out.

    I've been using this at most of my range and practice sessions. I tend to warm up with a dozen or so wedges and mid-irons and then go through the drills starting with the wedge and then the mid iron and finishing off with the driver. I find it gives my session some structure. From there I will go back and work on my technique and any drills. I find by going for the targets first I don't get too wrapped up in technical thoughts.

    There are plans to introduce more drills including some for the bunker. The GRiP zone are online on social media such as Twitter and Facebook and are usually very responsive if you post feedback or comments. I'm not saying these drills will make you a good golfer, and of course if the technique is suspect then there will always be issues although utilising a good PGA pro for lessons can go a long way to helping. What it does do though is give your session a framework. It stops the machine gunner, banging ball after ball. It forces you to go through your routine and so replicates what you would do on the course. Read any of the stuff from the likes of Karl Morris and Bob Rotella and they make a big deal of how important a good routine is. This will help you develop and find something that works for you.

    I am a big fan of GRiP zone. It has already started to show patterns, particularly on things like my driving which has been a weakness and I can get a feel for where my misses are. This means I can go back to my teaching pro and feed this back and we can then work on the fault and fix. Similarly, I have had a habit of missing too many greens with a wedge in my hand so this gets me to focus. It does becoming a battle trying to make as many as you can in each session.

    The short putting drill has started to make me more confident holing out and that means I am not so concerned with having to be so precise from distance. Of course this doesn't mean I have a gung ho and cavalier attitude. Rhys ap Iolo my teaching pro pointed out during my recent playing lesson that I am sometimes too aggressive and has said that from unrealistic distances, two putts are acceptable and trying to make everything can leave too many tricky ones back. This means more work is needed on the distance drill to feel my distances better.

    If your practice lacks focus this may be the ideal thing for you. The fact that the app can be downloaded to phone and pad and that you can leave the drill pads (Pro version) in your bag means there is no excuse not to have access to the drills and record your scores. I would recommend it and it gets an 8.5 out of 10 from me. If I was going to be picky, the lack of bunker drills is a negative and the drill videos are perhaps a little on the cheesy and patronising side. Those minor gripes aside it is a great product. Why not try it and see. How do you practice? Properly or are you only playing at practicing.

    Monday, 1 April 2013

    If This Is The Beginning

    All the best plans and all that. Easter was suppose to mark the start of my golfing season with a bogey event at Royal Ascot called the Haig Cup. It is held over the four days (Good Friday-Bank Holiday Monday) and players can choose which two days they play. I had wanted to play Saturday and today. Sadly the wife wasn't very well and so the competition went west. My season now starts next Saturday in the monthly stableford.

    It wasn't a golf free zone though. I played a roll up game on Friday. I was surprised just how well the course had dried and the greens were quick for the time of year. It was a bright day but bitterly cold with a biting wind. I had been buoyed by my playing lesson the day before and perhaps unwisely turned up thinking I'd be able to play well. My opening shot was a well struck three wood but it went right behind a row of trees. I played a great recovery through a narrow gap and onto the green only to three putt. I was hitting it well in the opening holes but couldn't score and was making a number of unforced errors. I did stabilise the ship with an outrageous thirty foot putt for birdie at the fourth. However every hole from then until the ninth was a bogey and although I was happy with how I was striking it, I missed too many greens. I made a par at the ninth with a great drive followed by a solid iron into the heart of the green.

    The back nine started badly with a hooked drive out of bounds. Tempo not technique to blame. I made a great up and down from right of the twelfth green with nowhere to land the ball holing the putt from ten feet. I repeated the feat at the next having missed the green pin high at the 178 yard par three. These were to be the highlights as I climbed back on the bogey train on the way back to the clubhouse. My chipping, always suspect, fell apart and I missed a couple of key fairways. The score tells a sad story but in the greater scheme of things and for the first full round in nearly three weeks there were some positive signs.

    With the wife being ill, I decided to take advantage of the Easter Sunday sunshine and work on my chipping and putting. It was a profitable couple of hours especially on the chipping and I felt as though I'd taking a big step forward.

    I opted to play a social game this morning. Cold doesn't even begin to describe how bitter it was. There was low cloud and the wind cut right through even with several layers, a hat, mittens and long johns. It is the coldest I have been on a golf course for a long time. The opening tee shot found a similar position to the one on Friday but my window of opportunity was even smaller. I threaded the ball through the eye of a needle and it ran to the fringe of the green. I rolled a monster putt from twenty five feet for a par. No pictures on the scorecard.

    However it was a rare moment of golfing dexterity. A penalty shot at the third after an errant drive, and a putter that misfired meant I was racking up some big numbers. I couldn't find the pace of the greens and kept pulling putts from five feet and in way left of target. It led to a horror four putt at the par three sixth. I had missed the green right and had a tricky pitch over the bunker. I hit a good recovery and then had a total brain freeze with the putter.

    The back nine started better although to be honest by this time I was cold and disenchanted and my heart and golfing brain wasn't really at the races. I made a par at the tenth, hitting fairway and green. I even hit the green at the eleventh although in truth it was a scabby tee shot low and left that took advantage of the topography and came in off the back of the bunker. From then on though, it was a similar story to the Good Friday round where I found any way I could to fritter shots away. My final hole was a horror story including a ball dunked into the greenside pond and left a nasty taste.

    I have to be truthful and say I wasn't really engaged today and perhaps that led to a few of the mistakes. That said, there was no excuse to putt that badly. I need to look at the basics. I used a putting mirror yesterday in practice and thought I had got the eyes over the ball and the shoulders aligned but clearly there is an issue to make me pull everything left. Work to do.

    Throughout the weekend, there were some good shots but the key thing I took away was my tempo. Playing in my lesson with Rhys, I was trying hard to impress the teacher and the whole swing was smooth and under control. It felt this weekend that it was too quick and snatched. Too many moving parts again, especially the lower half and it never gave me time from the backswing back to the ball to turn properly and so hips slid and didn't rotate. The short game I had thought had turned a corner deserted me again. There was a tempo issue here. Yesterday full of confidence the pace of the shot was brisk, back and through. Today, it seemed more deliberate and slower and this was reflected in the outcome.

    I am disappointed not to have played in the competition and about the way I played. However if this is the beginning of my season and this is me playing poorly then I have a lot to be optimistic about. It wasn't a case of carving the ball left and right, striking it poorly. More a case of being careless. There were some bad shots but then even the professionals don't hit every one perfectly. It seemed that when I missed a fairway or green I didn't recover and when I did get into a good position I missed my target. As I alluded though, I never seemed fully engaged. It was almost a case of hit it, find it and hit it again.

    I should be frustrated. I am but I've not taken these two bad rounds to heart. My competitive season now starts with the monthly medal next Saturday and I've playing in a club match at home to Caversham Heath on Sunday. I could do with the weather warming up (fat chance) and have a few days to work hard on my tempo and more importantly my putting and short game. Now the clocks have changed I get an hour after work every night to tinker and improve. If after next weekend there aren't signs of improvement then my next lesson is due on the 26th so Rhys can have a look at my swing then. I'm hoping that now I can play regularly every weekend and we aren't snowed in or flooded, I can shake the rust off and stop making these silly mistakes. Not quite the weekend I had hoped for but I do feel as though the season is upon me. Now is the time to step up, play well when it counts and finally reach my goal and get to single figures. The hard work starts here.