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.

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