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.