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.

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