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.