Sunday, 30 June 2013

The Dawn Of A Bright New Era

Yesterday saw me back at Pachesham Golf Club to pick up my new clubs. As regular readers will know, I was there last week for a full custom fitting. I was open to all possibilities but in the end the Ping G25 won the day through the bag (http://threeoffthetee.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/a-decision-has-been-made.html)

The great thing about Pachesham is not only are they an independent fitter, but they offer a full hand over session. I was back with the big chief, Andrea Timms and despite little warm up we were back in the teaching bay with a bucket of balls. Now I usually start any session with a few wedges but Andrea had me straight in with seven irons. The first were inevitably a little inconsistent but once I'd hit a few and loosened up I was right into it. The ball flight was much better than my Taylormade Tour Preferred's and I was hitting the seven iron at least a club further.

Andrea kept it interesting by handing clubs at random so I never knew what was coming. He was fantastic and offered a few swing tips along the way which helped me begin to start nailing ball after ball. The driver was a particular problem but the new G25 is much longer. It is 10.5 degrees but we've tweaked it down to 10 degrees to give a better flight. I hit a couple of ropey ones. This was down to "new club syndrome" and wanting to try and stick it in another postcode. Once I settled down and started swinging smoothly again the results were great. The last club we hit was the 20 degree hybrid (equivalent to a three iron). I nailed the first. The second was as good but the third was as good as I can hit it. There were still twenty balls left but I was done. That was the perfect place to stop.

So I am now the proud owner of a full bag of Ping G25's. I have the driver set at 10 degrees, a 3 and 5 wood and a 20 degree hybrid. The irons are 2.25 degrees upright and I've got 4-PW. The pitching wedge is 46 degrees and so I've added the Tour Wedge in 52 degrees and a 58 degree wedge with a wide sole which should be useful for heavy rough and particularly bunkers.

Of course it is no good having shiny new club if you have no idea how far you hit them so this morning was a get to know you session with the new bats. I hit them great. It was hard to judge distances accurately as the range was into the wind and it was blowing around 10-15mph and at least a one club wind so I struggled to get any accurate information. My biggest worry about the G25 compared to my old clubs was how chunky they looked. I spent a while around the putting green and started to get a real feel for the vital short shots.

The final part of the jigsaw is how they play. Put another way could I use them to great effect. Well, I hit five wood to the back of the first. On the second I hit a drive as far as I've ever done and then deposited a five wood into the right hand green side bunker. I've never been close to the green before. Granted the bunker shot was poor but so far so good. I made a simple par at the next after another good drive and short iron and then hit a monster three wood at the fourth to leave a miserly 78 yards. I stuck it to eight feet and narrowly missed birdie.

I didn't play the fifth well but still made a simple bogey (net par). The sixth has always been a problem and it was playing 172 yards into the wind. I put a poor swing on it and it came up short. I played another ball as I was only practicing and it was left but came up pin high. I made a nasty treble bogey courtesy of a three putt. I was concerned at the seventh that playing down wind the hybrid may be too much club and find the hazard that crosses the fairway so I took a four iron. I hit it a tad right. I was left with 218 yards and so went with the hybrid. I stuck it to ten feet. How easy are these clubs to hit? I was a too optimistic trying to hit eight iron into the wind at the 139 yard par three and it came up short. I repeated the error at the ninth trying to muscle a four iron from the semi-rough some 188 yards into the wind. Great strike but wrong club.

The back nine started well with a solid drive and a good approach. I missed the green left on the par three eleventh into sand but splashed out stone dead to save par. I made another sand save at the next, stroke index 1, after finding the fairway and then tugging my seven iron . I came up short again at the thirteenth. Playing 183 yards straight back into the wind I hit the four iron shot great but just came up some ten yards shy. In still conditions it was undoubtedly the club. I wasn't scoring but just trying to get a feel for yardages and what I can do with the new clubs.

I hit a great drive at the fourteenth. It played down wind but I put it past where my old driver would go. I hit a seven iron 165 yards and stuck it to six feet and made the putt for my first birdie with the new sticks. I dropped a shot at the next but then made an up and down par at the tough sixteenth. I only hit hybrid at the penultimate hole but found the heart of the green for another stress free par and closed the deal with a closing bogey (net par) when I missed the green from semi-rough after my second took a wicked bounce forty-five degrees left.

All in all I am as happy as Larry. The good ones were far better than I expected and the bad ones were still playable. I am playing in the first round of the Nike matchplay pairs with my regular partner and fellow Royal Ascot member Mike Stannard tomorrow. We are away at Maidenhead but I am confident of a good showing.

I have to reiterate that the fitting session last week opened my eyes to a lot of different things and if you are thinking of changing clubs, then a custom fit really is the way to go. If you are able to get to Leatherhead I would definitely recommend Pachesham Golf Club as the place to go. Of course those that have followed Homers Odyssey for a while will know that I am the king of false dawns. This however feels something different. I feel in control of the club and can feel where it is in the swing. I still need to work on the short game but tee to green I am now in a very strong position.

Of course the proof of the pudding will be how they play. I am going to play as much as I can this week with the weather set fair. I will work on the short game and then go into the monthly stableford next Saturday and the better ball pairs event at Royal Ascot next Sunday. If I can make fairways and greens the scores will improve and if I shoot good numbers handicap cuts will take care of themselves. I am as excited as I have been for a long time with the change of equipment and as my lessons continue to refine the swing then the future is bright and I am standing at the dawn of a bright new era.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

A Decision Has Been Made

Regular readers will know that I have been testing new clubs recently including a custom fitting session with my teaching professional Rhys ap Iolo (http://threeoffthetee.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/a-proper-fit-up.html). With the golf club being a no go area courtesy of the horse racing at Royal Ascot, with traffic being a nightmare, the course being reduced to twelve holes to accommodate helicopter landings and huge crowds, my wife had booked me another fitting session at Pachesham Golf Club near Leatherhead. http://www.pacheshamgolf.co.uk/golf_custom_fitting.htm It is an independent set up for custom fitting stocking Mizuno, Taylormade, Ping, Yonex, Wilson and Cobra and I was booked in with Andrea Timms, the manager of the facility. As I wanted to go through the bag from my driver, fairways, hybrids, irons and wedges, I was booked in for a session due to last four hours.

I was given a complimentary bucket of balls to warm up with which was a nice touch. I had been to the range on Friday night and to be honest was hitting it as well I had in a long time and was focusing on tempo. Alas, the bucket of balls I'd been given didn't fill me with confidence and I wasn't striking it as sweetly as I'd hoped. Typical

Andrea came down as I was finishing my bucket to see me hit a few, including an obligatory shank before taking me into the fitting studio behind the bay. Before doing anything, we sat down and I explained to Andrea what I wanted, a bit about my good and bad shots, and the fact I'd worked hard changing my swing over the winter and he showed me how the launch monitor worked, the numbers and their meaning. Even though they don't stock Callaway and the X-Hot Pro irons were still on the radar, I'd tried them enough to know the how the numbers would compare.

Then it was time to start. Putting the ball down on the mat for the first time and using my current six iron (Taylormade Tour Preferred) to hit ten shots as a base line, I became very nervous. Andrea assured me this was normal. I didn't hit the first few very well but by ball four or five I'd relaxed and made a few good swings. Once I'd completed the ten shot segment we stopped and had a look at the data and Andrea explained what had been going on.

The Pachesham Fitting Centre (and no that isn't me!!)
In essence, the distance was lower than he'd expected averaging out at 145 yards although it did include the bad ones. He explained that they always keep these in regardless as no-one hits ten perfect shots on the course and its important to get a true picture. My swing speed was around the 83mph mark. The good ones were up at the 149 yard mark and the poor ones around 135 yards. Dispersion too wasn't as tight as I imagined it would have been.

I had explained that initially I wanted try the Ping I20, the Taylormade Rocketbladez Tour and finally the G25. In my fitting with Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Centre, it was the G25 that came out on top but I felt that these really didn't suit my eye despite the figures showing them to be the runaway winner. Before we got cracking, it was time for Andrea to do a fit to look at lie angles. Ping have colour coded dots for different lies and is based initially on a measurement from wrist to floor and then checking that against a players height to get a starting colour. From there it is about putting impact tape on the sole of the club, hitting some shots off an impact board to ensure the initial choice is correct or adjusting this up or down accordingly.


I came out at as a green dot which is 2.25 degrees upright. I wasn't sure, although had been told at other fittings I was two degrees upright but it only took a couple of shots on the impact board and a look at the marks on the tape to show that Andrea knew his stuff.

I started off with the I20. This really suits my eye and we started with the stock Ping shaft. I hit a few good ones but perhaps trying too hard there was a few heavy strikes and a nasty one off the hosel. I was a bit embarrassed but Andrea had seen it all before and told me to relax and just focus on my tempo and swing easily and that it happens more often than I'd think even with some low handicappers. We changed the shaft a few times as the initial numbers, although up on my own clubs hardly set the world alight so we decided to move on and try the Taylormade Rocketbladez Tour. Again these really suit my eye but I had a real horror with these and an nasty outbreaks of the shanks occurred. The problem I've always had, at fittings and manufacturer demo days is you hit ball after ball and the rhythm gets quicker and quicker. Andrea explained I was moving off and in front of it. He suggested we take five and have a rest. I really liked his relaxed approach and was under no time pressure. I had a drink and went back out to the bay on the range and hit a few 7 irons to get my swing back. Even after this I couldn't get on with the club at all. I only tried the stock KBS shaft but we decided to put it on hold.

Andrea then put a Mizuno JPX 825 Pro in my hand. I like Mizuno as they are a forged club with a nice feel. Again I struggled with it and the numbers were disappointing. I hit it well enough but smash factor and yardage were down. We looked at the 3D of the swing and I was on plane and hitting down 2 degrees or so (good) and with the club only 1 degree open (pretty good for me) so it wasn't the technique. The thing I should stress is that this wasn't just a ball bashing exercise. We could analyse each swing, how I hit it as well as looking at things like dispersion. It really is a total 360 study.

That left the Ping G25. I knew I could hit these and we started with the stock shaft. I may have had issues with all the others but from the off with these I just hit them so well. The stock demo model in Ping is a 7 iron and I was only 4 yards shorter with that than my own 6 iron and far longer than the I20 7 iron. A testament to the work Rhys had done with my swing over the winter, I was able to hit a ball and say out loud whether I thought it was good, left or right without turning around to see the monitor and when I did I was invariably correct. I hit one shot in particular that I caught well but felt it went left. It did by about three yards. I just kept them straighter and the circle of ten balls were spread over a 14 yard radius. Pretty tidy by anyone's standard and the dispersion between the front and back was only 11 yards and that included a couple caught heavy. We only tried the stock shaft. The numbers and results were so good, anything else would only give marginal if any improvement.

Several fittings and only one winner. Standard shaft and 2.25 degree upright
With the irons sorted, it was time for the driver. We stepped back onto the range and I hit a few with my own Taylormade Tour Burner. I produced my normal array of left, right and dead straight and so we went back onto the monitor. Most of my shots were low and left which was a pretty true representation of what happens if I am quick with my tempo. I did hit a few good ones too so the numbers were pretty accurate. Andrea took my club off me and looked at the shaft. Waving it around it looked to my untrained eye as though it was pretty whippy, especially as a regular flex. He couldn't believe how wobbly it was "like a piece of cooked spaghetti" and it was no wonder I struggle for consistency. When my tempo and timing is on I hit it well. When I am slightly off it can go anywhere.

Andrea gave me the G25 driver in a regular shaft. It was 10.5 degrees but he closed it down to 10 degrees. I hit it well and again, even when I thought I hadn't caught it well and that it was going left or right, it wasn't too far off line and if you take an average fairway width as twenty yards then all of the balls I hit would have been on the short stuff. Distance was up and the ball flight much better and penetrating. It was back onto the range to hit some outside and see the ball fly. Of course, put a big club in my hand and I wanted to see it fly and swung way too hard and way to quick and the results were nothing like the monitor. When I focused on one dimple on the ball and swung smoothly I suddenly got it out there.

The G25 driver - it should get the ball out there longer and straighter
From there it was onto the fairway woods. I had bought my Taylormade's as a standard set and you would expect their set up to be similar. Andrea looked at the flex of the three wood and it was much stiffer than a R flex should be and the five wood was way too whippy. He explained that Taylormade had a reputation some years ago for producing good heads but that the shafts were a let down and that they weren't always tipped (where the shaft is cut and fitted) in a uniform fashion hence discrepancies like mine. I hadn't been aware of how different these clubs felt and therefore performed. I hit the G25 standard models in both a 3 and 5 wood out on the range. The 5 wood misbehaved but a lot of that was down to "shiny new stick syndrome" and trying to hit it too hard and too quickly. Back to looking at one dimple and swinging smoothly produced pleasing results. I got a better flight and a nice roll out after landing. My current model, especially the five wood tends to fly much higher and not run so far so Andrea explained how I should benefit from a few extra yards.

Next on the agenda was a new hybrid. I have one to replace a three iron. Again he looked at the shaft and although it was suppose to be a regular flex. he could barely flex it and it was akin to a scaffold pole. When he asked how I hit it I said inconsistently and bad shots were left and right he wasn't surprised. Again we went with a standard G25 in 20 degrees of loft. Out on the range I struggled to hit it initially and thought maybe it wasn't the one for me. I was also getting tired so we took another break and moved back inside for a drink. Resuming, Andrea stood behind me with the mantra "dimple and smooth" and I was able to focus on a nice controlled swing. The results were good and I can see this club coming into its own on the longer par threes at my home course.

Last but no least, we came to the wedges. I currently use the Taylormade Z TP wedges in 52 and 58 degrees of loft both with 8 degrees of bounce. Andrea took these from me and asked if I took big divots. I do. He explained that my wedges actually sit toe down and so the toe hits the turf first and that doesn't let the bounce work correctly. He gave me the Ping Tour Wedge model in 52 degrees loft with 10 degrees of bounce. It felt lovely off the mat and I could get some nice control. We decided that in the 58 degree wedge we'd go for a wider sole as that would give me a bit more help out of sand.

With the bag sorted it was time to add up the cost. The session had taken nearly four hours and I was actually quite tired having hit a lot of balls. We adjourned to the shop and Andrea agreed to look online and having priced my order up to price match the best quote. The clubs should take a week or so for Ping to make them up and deliver them. Even then the process isn't over. Andrea then has a thirty minute hand over session so I can hit each club and make sure I am totally happy with everything. That is a reassuring feeling and if I'm not entirely happy he can take it away and tweak it in the exceptionally well equipped workshop.

I have to say I was blown away. The set up at Pachesham is as good as many prestigious courses. Aside from a fantastic one to one custom fitting service, they have a wonderful short game area, used by famous short game coach and TV pundit Mark Roe. He also has his own putting studio for those wanting a unique fit or lesson. Andrea and his team also use it for a custom fitting putter service but as I am happy with my current putter this wasn't an option. The cost of a three hour fitting should have been £125 which might sound steep. However Andrea only charged me £90 and I was there significantly longer. I was under no time pressure. When I lost my swing he encouraged me to stop, take a break and then go outside and just find the tempo again. He didn't try and foist any make or model on me and had I not done my homework and knew what I wanted, would have made recommendations but would have let me try whatever I wanted. With all the numbers on the monitor he can say what suits any golfer the best but at the end of the day, the decision lies with the customer. I was happy to go with his suggestion. He is the man with thirty year experience.

At the end of the day, I've had a number of fittings. Ping G25 won hands down each time. You can't argue with that. I've a new set of clubs coming, set up for my own unique swing so I am hoping this will help me become more accurate but more importantly more consistent. Of course the idiot holding the stick still has to put a good swing on it but the G25 and the big sweet spot should help if I don't find the middle of the club.

I cannot recommend Andrea and Pachesham highly enough if you are in the market for new clubs and would rather get fitted than trust to luck off the shelf. I've been lucky enough to have tried a number of fitters, either the manufacturer themselves or through club professionals and high street outlets. Of all of them though, this has been one of the best I've experienced and Andrea was generous in both his fitting expertise and passing on some swing tips as well. I'll report back once the clubs arrive and we'll see if Homer's Odyssey and single figures can come to fruition.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Going Getting Tough And The Tough Finally Get Going

Aren't you glad summer is here? Yesterday was cloudy and with a really strong wind touching 30mph at times. Flaming June. Yeah right. Given the strength of the wind and the fact that the rough at Royal Ascot is now a real no go area, conditions were pretty tough for the monthly medal.

I'd hit the ball well in the practice and during my club fitting session and while confidence wasn't exactly brimming I felt in better nick than in recent weeks. Indeed my opening tee shot at the 229 yard first hole was well struck. I had deliberately aimed on the right hand green side bunker as the wind was hard from the right and slightly into my face. Contact was great and it set off exactly where I aimed it. Sadly despite its strength the wind never affected it and it landed in the sand. It should have been a simple escape but I hit it way to heavy and left it in the sand. Cardinal error. I got it out at the next attempt but then contrived to three putt from twenty feet to card an opening triple bogey. Not quite the start I had in mind.

I got a decent drive away at the second. It is a par five with a bunker short left, about a hundred yards from the green and a bigger cross bunker that sits in the fairway some forty yards short of the putting surface. It was playing straight down wind and I took my three hybrid, aiming at the green side bunker and trying to place the ball between the two bunkers short and leave a simple pitch in. I caught it well and it travelled, and travelled some more and nestled in the left hand green side bunker. Checking the distance on my Sky Caddie it was a blow of some 245 yards. It had never entered my mind it would go that far. I splashed out perfectly and the ball finished no more than a foot away and suddenly I was looking at an unlikely birdie. Wrong. A tentative stroke and the ball dribbled past the right edge of the hole. A missed opportunity and the par tasted like a bogey.

After that I rallied and made pars at the next three holes including a chip and putt to save par at the third and another fine bunker shot and a sand save at the par five fifth. I made a rare par at the seventh courtesy of another up and down and found the heart of the green for a safe par at the shortest hole on the course, the 139 yard par three. I pulled the drive into the ninth. It wasn't quite as bad as the rough at Merion for the US Open but even in the semi-rough it was a poor lie. I couldn't make the green in regulation but found it in three and should have got away with a dropped shot. Instead I three putted for an ugly double bogey.

I got another good drive away at the tenth which was playing down wind and should have been able to find the green with a short iron but pushed it wide of target. I hit a good chip but couldn't make the par saving putt. The eleventh at Royal Ascot is a par three measuring 178 yards. I took my three hybrid and despite it playing straight back into the teeth of the wind should have been enough ammunition. I hit it well but the wind seemed to knock it straight from the sky and into the left hand bunker. I got it out but not well and so walked away with a bogey.

Worse was to follow at the next. I was too ambitious with the drive with the wind and tried to cut off too much of the carry over the line of trees that protect the right side of the hole. All I could do was punch it forward but with less than ninety yards left faced a simple pitch on. Instead I hit it fat and ugly to rack up a nasty double. I made a bogey at the next as well although the long 186 yard par three always plays hard and I usually take a four there and run. It is one of those silly little holes that looks so innocent but you can walk off with a five or worse and feel you've been mugged and wonder what the hell just happened.

I made a good contact with the tee shot at the long par four fourteenth. It was back down wind and I wanted to get it high and ride the wind but pulled it left and it found the heavy stuff. I could only get a sand wedge to it and even then moved it five yards at most but it was out and playable. I hit a superb five wood from 224 yards and found the green and made a battling bogey. A par followed at the par five and despite a bogey at sixteen, always a tough par four, and the long par three seventeenth I was still striking it well.

The last is a 531 yard par five with out of bounds right, playing uphill and with a pond guarding the right of the green. The wind was into and from the right. A good tee shot found the fairway. The approach wasn't great and steered a little bit with the arms. It found the semi-rough and at 118 yards should have been a nine iron but playing into the wind I took one more club. I didn't catch it properly and it was a heart in mouth moment as it sailed over the water. To be honest I thought I'd sent it to a watery green but by taking the extra club it just had enough to find the far bank and dry land. An up and down for a closing par.

In the end it was a total of 84 (41 out and 43 back) net 73 (+3) but given the severity of the wind and how hard the course playing I was really happy with the mornings work. Given I'd contrived to throw in a triple and two double bogey along the way, the rest of it was nice and solid and I thought the ball striking had been very solid. Coming into the sanctuary of the 19th, it was very clear that there were some very high scores in, and some very competent players had struggled in the extremely trying conditions.

In the end, my score was good enough for a fourth place finish in division one. I am actually quite annoyed I couldn't have secured my first top three of the season and given that I was only two shots behind the winner, those errors were costly. That said I was very happy with my overall game and the mistakes came from a poor bunker shot, a poor pitch and tow errant drives. Neither drive were big misses but I got punished by finding poor lies. On the plus side, the bunker play, first hole excepted was much better and I scrambled well. Good news moving forward and once I get to work on the chipping and putting over the next few weeks things will only get better.

Today is my birthday. I have to be honest and say despite the performance of the G25 in the fitting session last Wednesday, I still have a hankering for a sleeker looking iron and the Callaway X-Hot pro in particular. That said, I'd arranged a session at Direct Golf in Reading, having been tweeting with the store manager who suggested I come down to allay my fears. In the end, I have come back with more questions than answers. The suggestion was for a Project X 5.0 shaft two degrees upright. I hit it well and the numbers were well up on the ones from the other session but again, there is a nagging doubt at the back of my mind.

I am tempted to stick with the Ping. I am still thinking about the I20 model which suits my eye better and trying to find a shaft that gets the ball performing better. If I can't do that then the G25 is there as a back up. I still need to look at woods, hybrids and wedges but until I can get the right irons for my game I can't move forward. It's a bit of a stick or twist moment. I'd narrowed it down to either Ping or Callaway as I prefer my irons and woods to come from the same manufacturer. I've always played that way and to be honest it is just my personal preference and both manufacturers make very strong performing models. I had discounted Taylormade and their Rocketbladez tour model as it seems rather gimmicky although their woods are very strong. It might be an option I look at again.

I'm in no hurry. The clubs I have are clearly working as my performance yesterday indicates. I have always said that if I upgrade, I'd get a proper fitting and be confident that the clubs were as tuned to my game as possible and that from there they'd last me for a good few years. That hasn't changed. There are many good manufacturers around and maybe I'm not casting my net wide enough and maybe wanting irons and woods to come from the same stable is actually a negative thing. For now though the search goes on.

All in all then a pretty eventful weekend. On the downside the golf club is now a virtual no go zone as the world famous Royal Ascot horse racing week gets into full swing. Getting too and from the club is a logistical nightmare and we are down to thirteen holes as some of the course is seconded as a landing zone for helicopters transferring those that can afford to travel that way to the meeting. That means this week I'll find a range to work on my swing a little and a putting green to groove my holing out from that niggly 3-6 foot range. By the time I get to play the re-opened course next Sunday I am hoping to build on the good stuff from yesterday and be in a rich vein of form as the big events of the year come into view. In the meantime I think it's time for a piece of birthday cake.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

A Proper Fit Up

"It's a right fit up guvnor and no mistake" No I've not been implicated in any scandal or police investigation but had a fitting session yesterday with my teaching professional Rhys ap Iolo to look for some new clubs. I've muted on here and on the Golf Monthly Forum (http://forums.golf-monthly.co.uk) that I was in the market for some new clubs. My desire was fuelled by my club pro Alistair White tempting me with the new forged offering from Callaway, their X forged irons.

I'd been looking at the Callaway range for a while and had considered going to their UK Headquarters in Chessington, Surrey for a full custom fit if I found something that suited. I was hitting balls on Monday at Royal Ascot and Ali gave me the X forged six iron to try. It had a Project X 5.5 shaft which was much stiffer than the Dynamic Gold R300 I have in my current TaylorMade Tour Preferred irons. That said I hit it great and loved the soft feel off the forged head.

The Callaway X Forged - a delight to hit
I had a lesson booked with Rhys and the cunning plan had been to look at my putting especially from close range. However with rain forecast and having had my head turned by this new offering, we decided to have some fun and try the X forged on the launch monitor with different shaft options. I really wanted this to be the one. I love the classic look of the club and the feel off the face. However the numbers in terms of distance and also the dispersion really didn't add up and the off centre hits were punished severely in terms of lost yardages.

I did have a plan B. I wanted to try the Callaway X-Hot Pro. This isn't too different to what I have in terms of a shallow cavity back. I struggled with the stock shafts (Project X 95) and Rhys swapped this for Dynamic Gold XP in a regular flex. I loved it and the distances were way up on the forged version. However, there was a problem with the ball flying left, not always significantly, but with the odd one going to a different post code. Even with a stiffer flex there was still too much movement left and dispersion was an issue.

Callaway X Hot Pro - much better in terms of distance but direction was an issue no matter what shaft we tried
I really liked this. The X Forged had already been consigned to the no pile and I kept badgering Rhys that the X Hot Pro could be tamed but he had a cunning plan and left the teaching bay and returned with another offering. He gave me the Ping G25 in a stock CFS regular flex shaft. Now I have to be honest and say I've never considered this offering from Ping thinking it looked to large and ugly. I had been inclined to their better player model the I20 and Rhys knew I wanted something sleeker so gave me the I20 to hit. Compared to the X Hot, dispersion was tighter but the distance was way down. We tweaked the shaft in the I20 to their stock stiff offering and even a Dynamic Gold but to be honest it didn't really make too much difference in terms of any added yardage.

Having exhausted my options to date I somewhat reluctantly took hold of the G25 in the standard CFS regular shaft. Oh boy. What a revelation. It was a so easy to hit and it flew. I was so consistent in terms of swing speed, around the 82mph mark and the smash factor was steady at 1.33 but the distance was huge. I was hitting my 7 iron 152 yards on average (carry) compared to 142 yards with my current weapons of choice. The off centre ones were going that far. However the real clincher was how tight the dispersion was. Not only was there just 21 yards left to right, but in terms of distances, the shortest of the properly struck shots came out at 151 and the longest was 155 yards.

According to the stats, my swing speed is borderline between regular and stiff in the standard Ping shaft and we changed it to a stiff shaft. This felt heavier and indeed is 10g heavier than the regular flex coming at 109g. However it didn't feel as hard to tame as the Project X in the Callaway models.

The G25 - never on my radar before but where has it been hiding?
The stock Ping shaft in the stiff option was just as good and I was getting better flight and still keeping it on the golf course. In terms of distance there wasn't more than a couple of yards either way and still well ahead of the distances I'd got with the Tour Preferred we'd used as the base line.

I was sold. You simply couldn't argue with the data and to be honest I was blown away by how nice this felt. Once I got past the looks the quality of the strike was superb. I have to say a big thank you to Rhys for his patience and expertise. What was suppose to be a 45 minute session just playing around with a few ideas turned into a two and a half hour session full fitting session. Not only did we run through a number of shaft options but also made sure the mandatory loft and lie was addressed.

No-one knows my swing like Rhys. He was more than happy that a standard lie was fine. If you were being picky, it could have done with being half a degree or even one degree upright but Rhys illustrated the effect leaving it as normal would have and how in a bizarre way would actually benefit me based on my angle of attack. Despite all of this, and maybe because if I go ahead and buy these it will be the last time I upgrade for many years, I am still tempted to go to Ping HQ for the full fitting experience just to try it. Rhys isn't convinced I need it. We didn't have time to even look at woods and hybrids and so we're going to have to book another session to sort these. Once I get his take on these and once I try the irons again to double check which works best (still can't decide between R and S - not much in it across all the data) then I'll make up my mind. Chances are I'll trust Rhys as I do with all of my game but the nagging voice in my ear to try the proper Ping process, akin to what the pros get, is still chattering away.

All in all though what a revelation. I learnt so much about my swing, my numbers and what does and doesn't work in the Ping and Callaway range. I am still in awe at how good the G25 was. I was proper "fitted up" and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I just need to finish the process off and make my decision and perform open wallet surgery on my credit card to make the deal complete.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Progress... Of Sorts

The past week has been one of consolidation. I had a very good practice session in the warm sunshine last Sunday morning and found something positive in my golf swing. Having had a recent lesson with Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Centre and worked on changes to my address in particular I felt the need to grind away and make these changes feel more natural. Rhys has been trying to get me out playing more and thinking less and there were a couple of nine holes midweek after work. To be honest, I find the rush from work, via a commute, to the first tee, all a bit of a rush and tempo is normally way too fast and the shots suffer accordingly. That said, there were some good shots in there and it was a chance to put the address position to the test under a bit of pressure on the course.

I also had a chipping session. It is still a minefield in my game and I've been dabbling with the Linear Method again, much to the chagrin of Rhys. I want to use a more conventional method and to be honest a lot of the issues remain in my head and I can't switch off the voice as I stand there which chatters incessantly about technique. When its silent and I just stand there and execute I am chipping well. Stand there and execute and it works. Stand there and think too much and it's an epic fail. We'll return to this later.

Friday night saw a nine hole shotgun social competition going on at Royal Ascot and so the front nine was out of commission. I had already decided to hit the practice field and just work away at the swing some more. I was aware that tempo was an issue during the midweek rounds but I also knew that the technique was sound following the last lesson and so the focus was on slowing it down enough to give me time to play the shot. It was a wonderful session and I even cut it short as I was hitting ball after ball well and more than satisfied and optimistic about the monthly stableford today.

The wind was much stronger today than of late and it wasn't as warm as it had been but it was sunny and the course was looking fantastic, arguably as good it has done in several years. I had a great draw and was partnered with the diminutive George Spence. Small in stature he more than makes up for it in personality and I always enjoy his company. Our other member of the group was Mick Mills. Another larger than life character he always adds to the entertainment value of any pairing. It wasn't going to be quiet or dull!

I hit a decent enough opener just short and right of the first green. It should have been a simple chip and run. The voice started and there was the usual battle between standing and delivering and how to do it. Mr Technical won the day and as usual when he does, the chip shot was poorly executed and I duffed it short of the putting surface. Another iffy effort, two putts and off to an ugly double bogey and four shots to get down from nowhere. I hit a good drive at the second. However the approach came up short. I elected to putt and rolled it in for an outrageous birdie from off the green. A sandy par at the third and despite a bogey at the fourth I was through the tricky opening holes under handicap.

I was striking it well. Tempo was good and it was as good as I had hit it in a while. Another fairway found at the fifth and even though the second was a little right and in the semi rough there was only 108 yards left to the centre of the green. I made a poor club selection, given the wind and hit wedge when nine iron was the club all day long. I had a long bunker shot and got it out just short of the putting surface but the approach was woefully short and I'd chalk up another double bogey. I then made a poor swing at the par three sixth, going left and out of bounds and suddenly the round was unravelling.

I hit a good drive at the tricky seventh but a little too far left and blocked by the big tree guarding the left side of hole. I wanted to try and hit big hook. I hit it dead straight and it ended up on the eighth tee box facing a tight pin position with no room to land. I played the recovery to perfection and it finished inches away for a great par. Finding the green at the next for another par and I was hanging in. I hit a good drive at the ninth but a poor five iron pulled left into a bunker. I got out well to seven feet but couldn't make par. Still out in sixteen points and hitting it well. I could still be a contender.

I made par at the tenth to make a net birdie and get one of the shots back. I then hit a horror tee shot at the par three eleventh and had to pitch on and could only make a net par when a gross one would have balanced the books. I was out of position off the tee at the twelfth although I struck the shot well. The wind caught it and stalled short and right and I was blocked by the line of trees running down the right side of the hole. I pitched out and then missed the green with a seven iron. Another double and one step back. I missed the green at the next. Another tricky pitch played well and a single putt for a hard grafted par. Another good drive into the wind at the fourteenth but again blocked out. I hit a recovery, accepting a net par would be a good result. However a pulled wedge meant another double. I wasn't hitting it badly but just missing fairways and greens by a matter of yards. Fine margins.

The fifteenth was playing down wind and should have been an easy par. A good drive meant the green was in reach. I hit a good second but it came up short. It should be have been a simple chip and run. No obstacles and a simple shot with a seven iron. That infernal voice started again and I made a mockery of what should have been a simple shot to make another bogey. I made a great strike off the next tee but missed the fairway right. Playing into the wind the green was out of reach and I wanted to just put the ball into the ideal position. I hit what I thought was a great low punch but it came out too well and cannoned into the bough. From there I melted and walked off with a triple bogey and no points. Frustrated, I allowed my tempo to quicken off the seventeenth and hit it miles right. Lost ball, no points and rightly so.

I saved my best drive for the last hole and followed it with a great five wood to leave a pitch on to the par five from 101 yards. Playing down wind I was concerned that my wedge would be too much club but was worried that the 52 degree wedge wouldn't clear the pond guarding the green. In for a penny, I went for the shorter club and committed and put it to six feet. I couldn't find a closing birdie and recorded a total of 29 points.

To be honest,  it was a better round than the scorecard shows. I had a patch earlier in the year coming off the back of the winter work Rhys and I had done where I was hitting it great but unable to put a score together. My game had gone backwards a little over the last month but I feel I am back to where I was before. The problem remains the short game and the mind games I seem to play with myself. Having devoted a practice session to chipping on Thursday and walked off more confident in my ability to play a conventional shot, it should have been a case of feeding of the positive feelings and just doing what I knew was right. Instead I seem to have this constant battle and can't seem to execute without having to go through a long checklist of where and how.

However leaving that aside, the putting is beginning to come back to life. I've a putting lesson with Rhys on Wednesday to tweak a few things, mainly in set up, and I'm hoping I can start making those 3-10 foot putts more often. That will get the scorecard moving in the right direction. I am actually much happier about the state of my game. The ball striking was much better as was the tempo and so it is progress.... of sorts. I just need to keep playing and practicing to firm it up but I need to shut the voice up. I'm going back to my Karl Morris "The Mind Factor" and "The Five Shots Lower" apps and digging out the Bob Rotella books. I need to play without thinking which is what I've been doing in the practice rounds. Put a card and pencil in my hand and I am thinking way too much.

It is another 0.1 back on the handicap but I'm not too upset today. It is coming back and a good score is close. I am still optimistic that the second half of the season will come good. The first half has been a bit of a roller coaster with the good the bad and the ugly in there. I'm looking for something more consistent. It is tough to be the glass half full Homer as the handicap goes the wrong way but it's a long haul and I just want to play steady golf. I accept I won't shoot the lights out week in and week out but I just want to stop these yo-yo scores of 36 one week and 26 the next.

Tomorrow is another day and a roll up game on the cards. Empty head, smooth tempo and trust the work I've put in. Shut the short game voice and I can make a score that will kick start the season. It is coming folks. Stay with me. It is coming.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Lesson Time

They say the darkest hour is the one before the dawn. After my collapse on Bank Holiday Monday I was thankful I'd a lesson already in the diary with Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Centre. In the last lesson, we had changed the posture significantly to be far more upright and athletic and tried to get the club moving on a better path and much more in front of me. It had shown some early success and despite being beaten I had hit the ball very well in my singles knockout match and for a few games after. However it has recently felt as though the shots were lacking power especially off the tee and I had lost confidence in what Rhys was trying to achieve.

Rhys had been aware of my trials and tribulations through this blog and via social media and we started off by discussing what was working and more importantly what wasn't and what the bad shot was. In general the bad shot was a weak slice, although there was still the odd one left, usually as a result of getting the club trapped too far inside with no room to come through and getting over active with the hands. The weak one to the right came from the hips and body clearing too early.

I stepped onto the mat and hit several six irons. They were decent in terms of ball strike and included a big miss right just to show Rhys the bad one first hand. He was actually quite pleased with what he saw and the biggest issue was the width of my stance. It was too narrow for all the shots which was causing the lack of power and also meant there wasn't time or room to make a powerful turn onto the ball.

The feeling I had was one of coming over the top. In normal circumstances this would be a killer move and lead to a nasty slice but with my path, it is perfect to turn onto the ball better. Rhys and I are trying to play with a fade and take away the right to left draw. The rationale behind this is a fade is easier to control and gives me more space.

The change was instant and I was hitting the ball with a far better contact and ideal shape. We moved through the bag. It is one thing hitting a mid-iron but another trying to hit a three wood off the deck. We worked on the ball position and by moving it back a fraction, the fade became a more neutral ball flight. It wasn't just a case of the stance being too narrow but the hands at address were too close to the body and so we worked on moving the ball further away as well. I had so much more time and room and felt much more in control.

We moved onto the driver. This was not quite as successful and the big miss right was back. Under Rhys's guidance I stuck at it and it was a case of trial and error to find the optimum ball position with the new address. I was getting the club moving too far down the line and I worked hard on feeling of the club exiting left and ball by ball it improved. There was much more power and a better ball flight. and we'd managed to go through the bag and get every club working.

There was still time to discuss course management, controlling negative thoughts and dealing with a bad shot. It was a productive hour and I left much more engaged about my game. I went out on Friday afternoon and hit the practice ground to work on the new set up. The results were very pleasing and so I took it out onto the course. The back nine at Royal Ascot is arguably the tougher of the two. I hit some good shots, and a few indifferent ones but there was enough to there to indicate that the changes will make a difference. It is still a work in progress and I am trying to get out and play more and practice less and learn how to score with the new swing.

I am prepared to go backwards to move forward again. I want to have the odd range session to groove the feeling and get the position sorted but I don't want to get bogged down on technique. There has to be a balance between working on the game and just getting out there and playing. Rhys wants me to get out and play for fun and with an empty head. I find the concept difficult as I have always come from the old school of working on the swing on the range and then taking it out on the course. The idea of almost finding it as I play doesn't sit right and I think confidence will be an issue. However as I've said before I trust Rhys implicitly and so if he feels that is the way to go, then I'll go with it.

All in all then, I have a few things to work on. It is a work in progress and so if the scores don't reflect any upward movement as long as I can come off the course and feel that I have struck the ball better then the handicap and results will eventually take care of itself. The work we have done since we started in December 2011 has changed the swing beyond recognition. It is now a case of taking what I have and running with it for the rest of the season and seeing where it takes me. The winter will no doubt see some changes as Rhys and I strip off a few more layers and make it more reliable and consistent. Until then though I've come through the darkest hour and the dawn is breaking.