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.

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