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 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOOwv3tWV9g). 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.

No comments:

Post a Comment