Thursday, 30 May 2013

One Step Forward And A Million Backwards

My second round of the Stone Cup was on Sunday. Conditions were dry with patchy sun but the wind was much stronger. I went out with the same pairing of Mike Stannard (my regular partner) and Brian "Mase" Mason. I had decided to change my address posture and reverted to a more conventional position, rather than the more upright stance my teaching professional Rhys ap Iolo and I had worked on in our last lesson. I hadn't felt comfortable with the change but hadn't really been able to work on it since the lesson.

My opening tee shot went right. It was well struck and was good enough, just, to clear the line of trees leaving a simple pitch in. I got it to six feet and rolled in a putt for a par save. I made a par at the second and third and the charge was on. It came to a clattering halt on the fourth. Such a simple par four, it is a real sleeper and causes a lot of problems, usually on the green. However my tale of woe began with a topped tee shot. I hit a decent recovery but wide of the green. It should have been a simple chip but I thinned it and it sailed through the green and out of bounds. I stuck my fifth shot short, chipped on and two putted for an ugly eight.

I made a net par at the next and then came to the sixth hole, a 178 yard par three. It has been a real bogey hole recently. I hit a four iron but cut it right. It came up short in the light rough and I faced a tricky chip over a steep slope. I executed well and got it to within ten feet and made a crucial putt for a momentum building par. This was briefly halted with an ugly double bogey at the next. A good drive was followed by a pulled approach, a weak cheap and three ugly putts. However I bounced back with a par at the last two holes to go out in eighteen points so was already a point better than the same point in the first round.

Then the rot set in. The change to set up wasn't producing any more consistency and a lost ball from my drive at the tenth needed a scrambled par with the second ball to salvage a point. I made a net par at the next and then lost my ball from the tee at the twelfth but repeated the Houdini act with a one put to salvage a point. When I found the green at the thirteenth, another long par three and made a safe par I thought maybe I could make a solid run in.

Instead it was an erratic run of bogey and double bogey and only the fifteenth was played conventionally finding both the fairway and green in regulation. It was a real struggle and felt I was working overtime all the way to make any kind of score. In the end I came back in fourteen points for an overall score of thirty two. Added to the twenty nine amassed the day before and it came to a paltry sixty one overall. Not only that but it was yet another 0.1 increase to the handicap. In the end it was only enough for mid table anonymity in twenty second place. I felt I'd taken a small step forward having scored more than the day before. Bank Holiday Monday would be a social game and a chance to go back to the address position we'd been working on in the last lesson and really try it out.

What was to follow was four hours of torture. My game disintegrated and the tone was set the moment the first tee shot of the day flew straight right and out of bounds. Nothing I tried came off. I was losing balls on a regular basis. I was embarrassed to be out there and the sheer frustration had me on the verge of tears. If I hadn't been marking a card for someone completing their second round of the Stone Cup I think I would have jacked it in by the fourteenth. In the end I was trying hard to stay positive for the sake of my playing partners. No-one likes to play with a sulky partner, less so when you are trying to make a competition score so all I did was my best to keep up, shut up, and appreciate the decent shots from the others.

I've absolutely no idea where the meltdown came from. It was the worse round of golf I can remember and was akin to being an absolute beginner. I couldn't do anything right. There was even a shank and an air shot. Unbelievable and I felt a million miles away from my goal of single figures. I tried to stick with the changes. To be fair, the new address position had shown initial signs of being a positive move in some of the rounds but it just had no consistency and in my first round of the Stone Cup it felt that each shot lacked any power.

On the plus side there was a lesson already in the diary with Rhys for this Wednesday (29th) so I knew help was at hand. I wanted so much to just put it down to one of those rare days many golfers get. However I was also concerned that the swing was in a state of total disarray. My normal reaction would have been to have hit the driving range on Tuesday and start chasing an answer, playing with the swing, set up and bashing ball after ball. That isn't the Homer way anymore. I am trying to practice less, unless it is after a lesson and I'm working on specific changes. Rhys wants me to get out more, play more and have fun. If only the British weather would let me out. It seems to have been raining every time I've had an opportunity to play and if I'm honest there is no way I am going out to get damp just to get a few holes under my belt.

So then a weekend of small highs and deep, deep lows. The handicap continues to climb and the swing has gone AWOL. Not what I had envisaged but with a lesson to come I'm trying to remain upbeat. Remember this is suppose to be the year of the glass half full Homer but let me tell you, Monday tested that to the very limit. However what doesn't destroy you can only make you stronger. I am a determined, some might say obsessive, sort and won't stop until Homer's Odyssey is fulfilled and I get back to single figures. It will come. Monday has been banished from the memory bank and it is a case of upwards and onwards. Let Rhys weave his magic and lets start the next chapter.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Struggling

Today was the first round of the prestigious Stone Cup at Royal Ascot. It's a stableford event where you can elect which two days of the long weekend you want to play on and is one of the clubs honours board events. The weather was set fair, sunny but with a gusty wind. The course looked superbly laid out and there was nothing to do but go out and play well.

What followed was a story based on a familiar theme. I started off well finding the edge of the first green for a solid par. I followed it a nasty double bogey. My drive found the left rough and I could only move it forward a hundred yards or so and left 205 yards in. I hit a great five wood but it found the right hand trap. Not a problem. Splash out, two putt and get out with a bogey and move on. I hit the bunker shot too clean and it sailed over the green into thick rough. I got it out and two putted but the damage was done. I recovered with a fairway and green in regulation for par at the next and then followed it with another poor bogey.

I made a scruffy par at the 503 yard par five. Another pulled drive and a poor escape left well over two hundred yards. I hit the approach wide and right and faced a tricky chip over sand. I played it well and rolled in a cheeky eight footer for par. I missed the green at the next, a par three but as this hole is my real nemesis on the front nine no surprise there. Another fine pitch from the rough and another putt. I was making a score and hadn't hit a shot of note.

The seventh is a tricky 398 yard par four with a ditch running across at the 230 yard mark meaning a lay up is the only option to leave a longer approach in. I nailed a decent hybrid and was facing 198 yards from the fairway. Playing down wind I pulled the four iron and struck it well but it went right towards the next tee. When I got to my ball it was on a side hill lie, bare and with a bunker to negotiate and I was short sided. All in all it had everything going for it. I tried to be positive and put a good shot on it but I hit it fat although it avoided the sand. I played a good chip to five feet but couldn't make the putt and registered another ugly double bogey.

I came back with the first shot of the round I thought was properly hit. Playing 138 yards but into a breeze I elected to club up to a six iron and deposited it safely on the green for a simple par. A good drive at the ninth and I'm left with a simple five iron. I hit it well but tugged it left. A good chip but again I couldn't make a putt. Out in one over handicap or seventeen points. Having not swing the club well or hit it great I was chuffed at how I was scoring without playing.

I wanted to get out of the blocks quickly on the back nine. I get a shot on the tenth and so a par would give me a nett birdie and back on track. I found the fairway and hit a good six iron but it came up short. In truth I probably didn't get all of it. I had to settle for a nett par. The eleventh is a 178 yards and playing downwind. I hit a good four iron and it was coming back on the breeze but found the bunker right. A good splash shot, especially given the poor execution at that last visit to sand on the second, and a downhill ten footer for par. It hit the left edge but didn't drop.

After that I'm not entirely sure what happened. I fell apart. I lost any feeling in my swing and had no confidence over any shot from a simple tap in to the tee shot on a tight driving hole. I three putted the twelfth for a nasty double, missed the green at the next, the par three and then went into meltdown on the fourteenth. The drive found thick rough left. I moved it forward and then carved an iron way right. A pitch on and two putts. Another double bogey. I made a par at the fifteenth. I hit the drive on sixteen straight but it lacked any power. I hit a fat ugly five wood approach and pitched on. I putted to two foot but missed the putt. My short putting from between one and two feet has been abysmal. In truth my whole putting action feels shot and I'll be getting a lesson to let Rhys ap Iolo my teaching professional look at this in due course.

I came up short at the seventeenth. I felt it lacked power and to be honest I kind of just swung and hoped for the best. By this time my head felt all over the place almost as though I couldn't focus. I was still trying to grind a score and anywhere within a point of the buffer would have been a good return for a poor display. However, I hit my first duffed chip of the day and when I missed again from two foot I made another double and no points.

One hole left. I made an acceptable drive but again I was twenty yards behind my partner and it had no oomph. I finally nailed a shot and hit a great five wood into prime position. A closing par would gloss over a lot of what had gone before. I was left with 98 yards in, playing down wind. I couldn't convince myself to hit the 52 degree wedge and tried to grip down and play a three quarter shot with a pitching wedge. I hit it way too clean (thin) and it went to the back fringe. I rolled a good putt down to two feet but standing over the ball I had no conviction in my putting stroke. I'd almost conceded I was going to miss before the club met the ball. The outcome was no surprise.

All in all it was a nasty twenty nine points (seventeen out and twelve back). I really didn't feel I was in control of my game, especially on the back nine. In truth I feel I'm going backwards and that the swing changes from the last lesson aren't really gelling. Actually that may be unfair. I hit it well enough in my recent defeat in the club singles knockout and got it round to take the money in the roll up last week. I just don't have any confidence over the ball and really know where the club is on the way back. I feel I'm fanning it open on the takeaway and I'm a long way from the work I did over the winter on the back swing. The one thing that is killing me is my putting from short range. I just can't find a putt and I'm starting to get so focused on the stroke everything else is falling apart.

All in all the cautious optimism of recent weeks is beginning to ebb away. On the plus side I've a lesson with Rhys this Wednesday. He has been talking about winter changes already and I kind of want to almost write off this season and my pursuit of single figures and strip the swing down. I'll let Rhys see the swing in its gory majesty and let him guide me. We seem to have come away from the one plane methodology and while I've been happy with the progress and the results in terms of direction and reliability I can't help feeling I was happier with this type of swing.

I'm playing my second round tomorrow and not full of warm and fuzzy feelings. I'll turn up and you can be certain I'll be trying as hard as ever. Try to keep the mid quiet, not think about technique and just play and see what happens. After that I'll sit down with Rhys and see where we go. I promised Homer's Odyssey was never going to be a smooth passage and that we'd encounter choppy waters. I'm trying to keep positive and the short game is coming. Maybe I want to much too soon and the swing is still a work in progress. Maybe it was just a bad day on the course. What I do know that if you look at recent performances in competitive play, especially the last two medals, I'm not cutting it.

I'm not a happy golfer right now. I don't want to bash balls to try and work through it. I want to let Rhys guide me, get the swing back on plane (metaphorically and literally) and give me a drill or two to work on. I definitely don't feel on the course I'm getting to wrapped up in swing thoughts and ironically think my head has been as empty over the ball as I can remember it. Perhaps I'm worrying too much over a minor dip in form all golfers experience. Time to put today to bed. Tomorrow is another day.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

And Still I'm Not Satisfied

After the debacle of the monthly medal last week, I had the chance to relax and enjoy the banter in the usual Saturday morning roll up. No pressure, aside from the constant banter, and a chance to just swing and play without worrying too much about a score. Stick your £3 in the kitty and crack on.

It was a majestic Spring morning, sunny and warm with just a hint of breeze. I pegged it up on the 229 yard par three first. Clear mind, no swing thoughts, just as my teaching pro Rhys ap Iolo wanted. Three wood in hand, shiny white ball on the tee. Stand there and hit it. It was a bit of a hook (big draw) but it found the putting surface and finished no more than four feet away. Cue one smug smile and a jaunty stroll down the hole to the green. It's no good hitting good shots if you can't convert the putt. I rolled it in for a rare and unexpected birdie two. I hit a good drive and decent approach but thinned a wedge into the back bunker. It finished against the back face of the bunker and I had no escape onto the green. I had to play out sideways but then chipped and putted for a hard working bogey.

 I made a par at the next two holes but a poor drive at the par five fifth cost me a bogey and I followed that with another when I missed the green left at the par three sixth. I found a greenside bunker at the tricky seventh but played an exquisite escape to three feet. I should have made a sandy par but missed an easy putt. I made a bogey at the closing two holes but had gone out in eighteen points. Far and away my best front nine for a long while.

I started the second nine with a ballooned drive leaving a 156 yards into a breeze. I hit the five iron well but pulled it left into the bunker. Again I played a text book escape to a few inches for a par. I hit a horror off the tee at the par three eleventh and topped a 4 iron which finished well short. I pitched well and rolled in a tricky eight foot putt for par. It was becoming everything the medal round last week wasn't. I found the fairway at the stroke index one, twelfth, and hit a fine four iron. Perfect strike but it faded a tad in flight and ended up in the bunker short and right leaving a thirty yard bunker shot. Again I made a magical escape and it ran to five feet. I hit a good putt that shaved the hole on the pro side. A shame I couldn't find the par the bunker shot deserved.

A green in regulation and a par but then I got on the bogey train and to be honest the finish was ragged. I still racked up another eighteen points and finished with thirty six in total, by far and away my best score of 2013. It was enough to take the money and there is no better feeling than picking up a few quid off mates.

But here is the paradox. I hit it ugly, especially off the tee and made a score and yet for weeks have been striking it so much better and can't buy a score. Yesterday the driving was solid with 67% of fairways in regulation and I hit 28% of greens in regulation. A decent 31 putts which should have been a couple better and although I only made one sand save the other two were great efforts. The problem was the drives in particular lacked any power. Straight but short. I don't know what the difference between this week and last was other than I hitting it further. Coming in with longer clubs makes it harder.

Admittedly I hadn't had the opportunity to practice last week or do as Rhys suggested and just go out play some holes so I'm hoping it was a a timing and not a technical issue. I guess anytime you play to handicap is a good round and taking the cash was a plus, but I wasn't satisfied. A few iffy chip shots, still too many missed putts from the five feet range and that mis-firing driver means there is a lot that still needs sharpening. I want the ball striking to be better and still get the score I deserve. Of course all golfers are never satisfied and there is always a shot or two left on the course.

The course has been shut most of the day for the club foursomes. It's a format I am not keen on so didn't take part but used the time to hit some balls and work on my putting and chipping. On the plus side the ball striking was much improved and I was hitting it better. The driver was still erratic but I think as it was the end of the session, fatigue and a quickening tempo were the culprits. The good ones had the power and fizz back but there were some directional issues, with a few hooks and fades. I'm working on it. The putting is starting to come. I am still not oozing confidence from that 3-5 feet range and I am not happy with the tempo or length of stroke. I haven't given my putting the attention it deserves but I'm starting to address this. The chipping has started to come on in the last few weeks and I am starting to play these with more confidence.

Another strange day in the world of Homer's odyssey. I finally piece together a score without too many issues. In fact someone in the 19th said I slipped under the radar with the round. Sums it up pretty well actually. I never really got in any trouble and I guess that is the key. I am starting to get it together and after the practice session today I'm in a glass half full mood. It is coming. Play ugly and win. It isn't the Homer way though. Play well and win pretty is far more fun but if I'm not satisfied it is only because I know the work Rhys and I have been putting in. I have always believed in you only get out what you put in, not just in golf but in life. I am within touching distance of it. It is coming soon and maybe when it does I'll be satisfied. Probably not!!!

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Hold My Hands Up

I said in my last post that I thought my game was close despite the scores not reflecting this and that if I played badly I'd hold my hand. I played the medal on Sunday and to be honest it was all a bit of a conundrum. I was paired with Ian Jolley and Darren "Daz" Appleby and so had a friendly and competitive group to enjoy my round with.

The weather was glorious and after hitting it reasonably well the day before in my narrow defeat in the Summer knockout I hoped to continue and finally unlock the score I know is in there. A sandy par at the first and a secure and stress free par at the next was a fine start. I made a nasty double at the third courtesy of a duffed chip but a par at the 4th and I was through the difficult opening one under my handicap. What followed was a meltdown. I made an ugly double at the relatively simple 5th, and followed that with a horror triple bogey at the 6th courtesy of an out of bounds tee shot. Two more bogey's followed and I then made a nightmare triple on the 9th thanks to a mixture of a poor tee shot, poor course management and poor execution. Out in a horrible 47 (+12) and all my shots used in a nightmare first half.

The back nine was a little better. The swing had escaped and I was having one of those rounds where you can't feel the club anywhere throughout the swing or have any real idea where the ball was going. I started to make up and downs from ridiculous places and had four one putt greens on the spin from the 11th through to the 14th to somehow play that stretch in one over par gross. Perhaps it was a coincidence but the RAF Lancaster they use in the fly overs with the Battle of Britain flight wheeled overhead twice at low level. Such an evocative site and sound seemed to inspire me. Well maybe not but what a fantastic and unexpected sight

A beautiful site. Shame my golf wasn't matching it
A nasty bogey at the par five 15th when in prime position after my second kind of summed the round up. It was to mark the start of a run of bogey's until the last. I hit a good drive but turned it over a little right to left. I tried to hit a bit of a glory recovery and caught one of the mature oaks guarding the left side of the fairway and sent it out to the thick rough on the right. I couldn't get to the green, carrying the water guarding the right hand side so laid up to 101 yards. Normally this was a pitching wedge but the wind had got up and was playing at least a club more. It was right to left which meant the approach had to be sent out over the water hazard. I hit it well enough and it finished inches away for a simple par to close out a very strange round.

The back nine was a lot better and I came back in 40 shots (+5 gross) for a grand total of 87 (nett 76 or +6). Despite this it was still good enough for a top ten finish in the division. Strangely enough Daz finished third with a net 72 (+2) and so despite swinging it so very poorly I wasn't that far off the pace and a couple of better shots would have seen me in contention for a top three placing. Stupid game.

I always call it as I see it and the swing fell apart on the front nine. I just put some bad swings on the ball at the wrong times and made a few bad decisions. The back nine was no better technically and I have to hold my hands up and say I played badly. None of this "it's close" malarkey. A bad round is a bad round. I'd planned to hit the range on Monday night but a message from my teaching pro Rhys ap Iolo suggested this was the wrong approach. He said the swing wasn't broken and that I'd get more from playing a few holes and relaxing and enjoying it. That was the cunning plan but the wind was gale force and by the time I planned to go out after the work there were heavy showers. I opted not to play but also took Rhys's advice and gave the range a miss too. He thinks (probably astutely) that too much practice and technical thoughts and not enough playing is the thing that is holding me back.

I wanted to play Tuesday (torrential rain), Wednesday (domestic stuff to organise) and Thursday (not feeling great) means that I've not touched a club all week. Depending on the forecast tomorrow I may try and get some holes in. Failing that I may hit a few balls just to keep things ticking over. At least the game on Saturday is just a social roll up and so no pressure and I can go out and swing with freedom and enjoy the company. The course is closed all day for the club foursomes on Sunday and I'm not in that so I aim to work on my putting stroke and short game. These are showing signs of life but if I'm to reach single figures, stay there and then kick on towards a handicap of 7 or 8 I need to hole out from six feet and in and get up and down more frequently.

And there you have it. Not a great day aside from the Lancaster flying over. I hold my hands up and it was a bad day at the office. The pros have them and so do club golfers like me (and you). However when it goes bad, it can goes spectacularly wrong as the front nine showed. Funnily enough, even in the eye of the storm, apart from the ninth when I felt nothing but embarrassment, I didn't feel anger or frustration and was working hard on keeping a positive mental attitude. I kept feeling I could get it back but the ninth was perhaps the nail in the coffin. No idea where the miracle escapes on the back nine came from but no pictures on the scorecard so I will take a par any way it comes. Even an up and down for a bogey is a score saver.

Not what I wanted but as always I'll dust myself down and move on. I think Rhys has hit on something and I plan to play much more after work if we ever get a semblance of summer. A more relaxed approach for a while, with perhaps a bit of short game work once a week and see where that takes me. Maybe the odd range session, partly because I enjoy it, and partly to keep the swing and tempo ticking over but I want to add some more structure and hit fewer balls. That is all for the future. I aim to have some fun on Saturday and then move forward again. I don't want to be holding my hands up again for a long time.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

The Cinderella Search Continues

A change from the norm today, with singles matchplay, the Weatherill Cup first round at Royal Ascot. This is the summer knockout and I was drawn against a chap called Peter Spriggs playing off a 14 handicap. He has a matchplay reputation, usually as part of a formidable pairing, but is equally adept on his own. I've played with Peter a few times and a nicer chap to spend time with on the course is hard to find but this was business and I wanted to be friendly but ruthless and the words of my golfing idol Seve Ballesteros echoed in my head as I hit a few balls to loosen up. "I look into their eyes, shake their hand, pat their back and wish them luck, but I am thinking I'm going to bury you"

The forecast was for breezy conditions but the heavy showers weren't due to arrive until lunchtime and so the hope was we'd be done and dusted before they got to the Berkshire area. I started like a train, nailing a fifteen foot putt for par and an up and down on the opening hole. Despite three putting the second for a bogey, it was enough to win as Peter had a few issues and I made another up and down courtesy of another long putt at the third.

Peter clawed one back at the short par four 4th when I three putted although in my defence I had a nightmare left to right downhill putt and the ball was on a great line but way too tentative. The next was another win for Peter as his par was better than my bogey. My two hole lead was restored when Peter went out of bounds at the par three 6th but that lasted as far as the next. I was giving three shots away and the 7th was the first of these shot holes and his net par was good enough. We finally halved a hole on the shortest hole on the course, the 139 yard par three 8th. I won the last hole on the front nine to restore my two hole advantage and felt rather good about my game. Aside from the two three putts I was hitting fairways and a few greens in regulation but Peter was hanging onto my coat tails.

The second half would be a complete reversal in fortunes. I lost the 10th to a par having missed the green left with my six iron approach. I stood on the tee on the next having seen Peter deposit his tee shot onto the green some 178 yards away. I took aim and made a really good contact and it left the tee high and straight. However as it continued its journey, the wind got hold of it and tugged it further and further left. It tried hard to cling onto the left side of the green but failed and it ended up in the bunker. It was a decent escape but with little green, and what I did have to play with being downhill, I was left with a fifteen footer. Knowing I needed to make it, I was a little bold and Peter made a par with ease. One up became all square at the 12th when my opponent made a long putt for a net par with his shot.

I went down in the match for the first time on the next. It played out much like the 11th with Peter finding the green and my tee shot being hit perfectly only for the wind to get hold of the shot and it finished left of the green. I hit a decent recovery but I missed the six foot par putt. The bleeding continued at the next. I hit a poor drive, my first one of the day, and despite a brave recovery, missed the green left. Peter played a steady drive and a good second to the back of the putting surface. I had a nasty bare lie and thinned the chip off the front of the green. I knocked the next stone dead and hoped Peter would struggle with is thirty yard putt. He rolled it efficiently to two feet and holed out to go three up.

We shared the 15th with a messy bogey six each and I won the 16th with a bogey. Peter received a shot here and was favourite to close the game out but lost his first tee shot left and out of bounds and struggled with the second ball. I hit arguably my drive of the day to leave a six iron in. It only just missed the green and I hit a good chip, under no pressure, but missed the par putt from five feet. The 17th is a long 218 yard par three and I needed to win it. With the wind helping but blowing right to left, I aimed down the right hand side and expected it to move the ball, especially having been a victim of its ferocity on the previous par three's. Naturally it went exactly where I hit it and the wind didn't move it. Peter also missed the green and hit a poor chip. I had to hit my recovery over a bunker, down wind and down hill. I played it as well as I could to leave a twelve footer for par. Peter made a bogey and I had a putt to extend the match. I made a good read and a good stroke but it missed the left edge of the hole. All over and I was duffed up 2 and 1.

I still feel like the ultimate Cinderella with no ticket to the ball. My golf isn't bad. My putting is still below par and I am taking steps to address that in the days and weeks to come but in terms of ball striking both off the tee and fairway, I am in a very happy place. My lesson last week and the change of posture and swing path to get the club more in front of me has made a big difference. The short game continues to show signs of improvement but I continue to struggle to make a score. I have much more belief in my game and I am taking that on the course with me. I trust everything my coach Rhys ap Iolo is telling me and doing all I can to replicate the form in my lessons out on the course.

It is however becoming harder and harder to remain patient. Even more so with losses like this and the handicap on the rise. If I was spraying the ball left and right I'd be the first to hold my hand up and say I was playing poorly. I'm not and that is the galling thing. Yes, I am struggling on the greens and I've neglected my putting. My stroke is perhaps not as reliable as it should be, especially from six feet and in. Last year when I was working regularly on my putting I was making this type of putt with regularity. I am making great reads using the Aimpoint method and so it isn't where I'm aiming.

As always, I'll dust myself down and move on. As Peter said over a drink in the 19th it was a match that could have gone either way and ultimately he was more consistent in the middle of the round and I just couldn't find a par. It is monthly medal time again tomorrow and perhaps an accurate barometer of exactly where my game is at. Patience is not one of greatest attributes and I just want to start getting the rewards I feel my hard work and my playing deserves. Of course I am realistic enough and long enough in the tooth to know that golf doesn't work like that. Sometimes you just need to grit your teeth, keep working and wait your turn. I hate marking time but it is getting better round by round and I am getting more and more confidence with each game I play. Mentally I am getting tougher and I believe in myself.

The Cinderella search continues. My turn in the limelight is close and we'll rock up tomorrow and start with a clean slate. I can do it. I will do it. Good luck to Peter in the next round. My matchplay adventures now focus on the Nike knockout, a national event, played regionally initially. I'm in both the singles and the pairs with my partner Mike Stannard and hope we and I can have some success. The draw is due out June 1st and I'm looking forward to it. Until then, the hard work carries on, and putting is high on the agenda. It might be time for my coach to have a look but until then I'll put some work in and see where it takes me. It's all about keeping the faith.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

We Never Got Started

The day after the stableford before and Sunday saw the Jubilee Cup at Royal Ascot. This is a pairs event, better ball stableford off three quarter handicaps and is a gold letter, honours board event. As usual I teamed up with my good friend Mike Stannard fresh from his win in the monthly stableford with an exquisite 41 points, and fresh from a cut to single figures (9.4). The weather was warm with a cheeky breeze to keep things interesting.

We started slowly as we tend to do, making a bogey at the first which I got back with a par at the second. We should have been ahead of the card at the third but my putting let me down, something that would be a recurring theme, and Mike came in at the fourth to maintain a solid if unspectacular start. We should have consolidated at the par five fifth, but in truth both Mike and I made a bit of a mess of the hole having both been in prime position playing our approach shots. Mike made a good par at the next but we then made a mess of the closing stretch to finish the front nine three over par better ball. That was never going to be a score that would threaten the prizes.

The back nine started off well and I made a solid par at the tenth but every time we reached a hole we received a shot on, one or both of us found a way to fritter away the advantage. If I was being honest my game wasn't firing on the back nine and Mike was putting in a solid shift to keep the score ticking over. It looked as though we'd finally get a shot back on the 16th when I found the green in regulation to three putt yet again. Angered I found the green at the 218 yard par three penultimate hole. And guess what happened then? Yep, another three stab. Mike made a solid par at the last but it all came to a measly 33 points for mid-table anonymity. Neither of us played great and it was patchy at best. Mike didn't quite reach the heights of the day before and I was playing in spurts. We never gelled on the day and never got started.

As you can imagine, my putting was causing grave concern and so Bank Holiday Monday was dedicated to the short game. I worked hard on the stroke and set up and by the end had grooved a stroke that was repetitive, simple and getting the ball in the hole. The short game had been showing signs of life recently but as with most of the game on Sunday it had decided to have a lie in. I know what I'm trying to achieve and with some focus managed to get a grooved stroke and was finding my landing spot with a variety of clubs.

I had planned to work on my game yesterday but with the sun still beaming down the decision was to play nine holes instead. I feel as though the game is still bubbling away but I am worried about getting too bogged down in technique. My teaching pro had given me a fix for my recent ails involving a better posture at address and getting the club out in front of me. I had felt the ball was behaving far better than my miserly 26 points in the monthly stableford, and in places in the Jubilee Cup there were some great drives and approaches. I think the fairway wood into the 16th with a hint of fade was perhaps the pick. It showed that it is definitely in there.

No warm up, a few swishes off the tee to shake off the stress of the working day and the commute to the club and it was ready to send the ball into the blue yonder. With no trouble at all I produced a soft draw to find the green at the first. Clearly there was still a Jubilee Cup hangover and I three putted for bogey. However waiting for the group ahead to move off, I hit a few putts from different parts of the green and soon found the pace and the feel from my practice session the day before. A so, so drive was followed by a great hybrid to within 54 yards of the green. I wanted some on course practice so took the chance to hit different types of wedge approaches from a yardage that isn't a full swing.

I made a par at the third and at the short par four 4th which was thanks to a downhill, sidehill putt from fifteen feet judged to perfection. The new set up and the new stroke was showing promise. I hit another low drive at the fifth, a mediocre iron approach but nailed a wedge into the green. Another tricky downhill putt down a level of the green tested the nerve. It nestled next to the hole like a faithful old dog next to an open fire. A loose swing at the par three 6th flirted with the out of bounds left but was in play. A solid pitch to twelve feet and then a miracle. I drained the par putt. It was perfect pace and line and never looked anywhere else but dead centre.

The 7th at Royal Ascot is a 398 yard par four but has a hazard crossing the fairway around the 230 yard mark and with the landing area narrowing and a lateral hazard waiting left, the stock shot is a hybrid, fairway wood or long iron to an optimum distance and a longer approach in. I hit a perfect hybrid and another from the centre of the fairway into the heart of the green for a routine par on the second hardest hole (according to the stroke index at least). My tee shot at the shortest hole on the course was long and with no green to play with and everything falling away, the ten feet I had left for par represented a good chip. I hit it on line and it was no more than two more rolls from dropping. So near.

The last hole of the evening saw me produce my worse drive of the night, weak and right and left a hanging lie with the ball above my feet, in semi-rough and 194 yards to go. I was between a hybrid and 5 wood and went for the latter. I executed perfectly but it was too much club and the ball finished ten yards over the back. Another downhill chip was again well played but gravity, the drier putting surface and perhaps a hair too much oomph saw it trundle some fifteen feet past. I put a bit of a nothing putt on the par attempt and left a nasty two footer. My stroke was up to the task and I was happy.

Although there was absolutely no pressure on my game and I spent my time on each green chipping and putting while waiting for the group ahead (I had nobody chasing me) I was relatively please how easily the scores seemed to flow and how the ball behaved. Even the bad swings, with the exception of the tee shot on the sixth were acceptable. I got a lot out of playing the course and it shows that I don't need an A game to make a passable score. As long as the putter behaves, I can make the odd up and down I can rely on the work I did in my last lesson to get in a better starting position and get the club travelling more in front of me, giving me more room to swing.

I am in a content place. I need to work on the putting stroke some more but the progress so far is promising. It is an area I've neglected as there have been more pressing issues to address. I want to get to a situation where the short game is 60% of my focus, with perhaps one range session per week to keep the swing ticking over and the remainder of the time out on the course enjoying the summer and testing all facets in a real life environment. On the downside my 0.1 handicap increase in the stableford has taken me to the dreaded 10.5 and therefore off 11. Not what Homers Odyssey had in mind but it has resolved my resilience and determination to transfer what has on the surface been a poor start to the season into a powerful surge forward. I say on the surface because there have been a lot of nearly rounds where the score tells one tale but the trend and the feeling I've had inside is that it really hasn't been far from being very good.

I guess that is what separates good golfers from moderate ones and we have many at my club that seem to be able to conjure a good score even when they aren't hitting it well. We all know that the short game is key in the pro game and I feel that my nine holes last night showed that even though the swing wasn't "on" it was more than sufficient and that with a few putts dropping and the short game firing I can come in with a good return. I know where I'm going, and to a large degree how I want to get there. Part of the fun of the odyssey is the journey and despite the odd pothole on the road, we are making forward progress and the target is still in view.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

When Good Times Go Bad

Following on from the club match against Maidenhead last weekend, I hit the practice ground at Royal Ascot on Monday night. I felt the driving had been excellent and the lynch pin to the way my partner Pat Quaid and I were able to sneak a one up win having been two down at one stage but my iron play had let me down and perhaps made the victory harder than it should have been.

The session was as bleak as it has been in a long long time. I couldn't get club on ball and there was an appearance of the one word any golfer fears, the shank. It felt as though everything moved as the club went back and through. Fortunately, my teaching professional Rhys ap Iolo from the Downshire Golf Centre was able to give me a drill to try and get the train back on the tracks. I hit Blue Mountain Driving Range on Tuesday and for a while it was much better. There were still socket rockets in there but I felt a little more in control although everything was still moving. Thursday night and another session and it was much of the same. Fortunately I had managed to persuade Rhys to book me in for a lesson on Friday and get this sorted.

I got a bit of a verbal kick up the backside from Rhys who was disappointed I hadn't kicked on from the work we put in over the Winter. I pointed out that the driver was behaving and that the short game like the buds on the trees was starting to bloom but he wasn't having it. I've said on here many times that it is bubbling away and tantalisingly close and I stand by that. I'm happy that Rhys feels comfy being frank and honest and if he feels I'm not performing that he says so and we can rectify the problems. I thrive on proving people wrong and have been doing so since my single figure days as an assistant pro at Wimbledon Common in the early 1980's.

I had stuck the swing on camera on Tuesday and it was noticeable that the posture had become slouched and I had already begun to adjust it on Thursday night which may explain how the ball striking had felt a little better even if the swing was still errant. As soon as I started hitting balls and Rhys captured it on film it was clear posture was key. The solution felt radical as these things tend to do. I had to take my normal address and then feel as though my head and chest were being pulled up (without lifting using the arms) and stand tall and feel as though the heel of the club was almost off the ground. Think Bubba Watson at address.

I need to feel as though I'm much taller at address
The other part of the fix and perhaps the crucial aspect was to feel as though I was hitting a fade on every shot. I need to do this to get the club working in front of me better and not getting trapped inside which was causing all sorts of flippy, unwelcome actions with the hands and body. It wasn't the greatest session I've ever had and with the monthly stableford today Rhys was keen I didn't get too worried about how it reacted. In his words "it could all come together or you could have a horror but treat it like a medal and don't give up on a hole just because it's a stableford"

So to the stableford. Let's start with the basics. I scored 26 points, 15 going out and 11 coming home. That however doesn't tell the real story. I hit the ball much, much better especially my irons so happy days are here again. It didn't start well with a double bogey on the first. I lost a ball out of bounds off the tee on the second although the shot was well executed and it was perhaps five-ten yards too far right. I made a good par with the second ball.

My putting was pretty good on the front nine and on another day could have had a couple of par saves and a birdie or two. I made a poor club selection at the fourth to drop a shot, lipped out for birdie on five and made a good up and down for par on the sixth. I dropped shots on the last three holes of the back nine but the ninth in particular was into the teeth of the wind and even though I hit a good drive and fairway wood I was still twenty yards short and couldn't scramble.

A good par on the tenth was followed by a shocking triple bogey at the par three eleventh and was a badly played hole from start to finish. It happens but what came next was a real kick in the teeth. For those that don't know the 12th hole it is a 409 yard dog leg left to right and the tee shot needs to be left of a line of trees that flank the right side. The big hitters can take these on and get closer to the green for their approach

The ideal line is on or left of that bushy tree to the right of the picture
I hit the tee shot perfectly and both my partner and I were confident it had missed the tree and would be nestling on the fairway. When we got there it was nowhere to be seen. It wasn't in the trees and hadn't made the carry, wasn't through the fairway on the other side. I could have gone back to the tee but to be honest the card had gone and I was seething.

I buckled down and made a great up and down at the next but then threw in a nasty double with a three putt. After that it was the bogey train home but aside from a poorly struck eight iron at the last the shots were only marginally off line. It is such a tightrope between it coming together and shooting a low score and coming in with a score like the one today which would suggest a total nightmare.

On the downside, the 0.1 coming my way takes me back to 10.5 and therefore off 11. However the game still feels close and tomorrow is the Jubilee Cup which is a better ball stableford pairs event. My partner Mike Stannard tore it up today shooting 41 points so is clearly a man in form. If my game can come through tomorrow and he can pull me along we could be on for a good round. I've won this event (with a different partner) and it takes both players to be on form to really get the under par score required. I know it is in there and Rhys is probably right to be frustrated but what can you do? I'm working hard on my game, grinding my rocks off when I play and to be honest don't feel I'm getting the rewards for the work I'm doing. Not a whinge but a heartfelt assessment. It is in there and I just need to crack the combination.

At least I feel Rhys has got me back on track and the bad times I've had this week are a memory. I guess it goes to show how important the fundamentals are and how easy they are to neglect. Address is something I need to focus on more. With the swing changes we've made it needs to be right to let me get the club out in front at impact and compress the ball properly. As someone once said"tomorrow is another day" and hopefully it will be the one where I find the spark and it comes flooding out in a barrage of pars and birdies. If not and good times go bad, I'll keep grinding, keep believing and keep pushing Homer's odyssey towards single figures.