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.

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