Monday, 29 July 2013

Careful Planning Pays Off - Nearly

This weekend was Club Championship weekend at Royal Ascot Golf Club. As always, there were two prizes on offer, the gross prize for the honour of being club champion, and the prize for the best net score, the Derek Lane trophy. Realistically off an eleven handicap the gross prize is perhaps out of reach, but if you don't shoot for the stars, you'll never achieve anything. Perhaps a really low gross would put the cat amongst the pigeons. I certainly felt the game has been in there for a long while (and bored you saying it regularly). I had a practice round off the back tees last Sunday and knocked it round in eight over including a nasty double bogey so I knew I could do it.

The idea of the practice round was to allow me to develop a strategy for each hole. I've heard for ages the top players saying how they had a plan to tackle these fearsome courses at major championships and figured why not do something similar. I wanted a plan A and a plan B. The plan A was for the ideal tee shot leaving me in perfect position and in good shape to hit the green or lay up depending on the hole. Plan B was all about limiting damage if I was out of position to ensure that if par was out of the question, I wouldn't rack up big numbers.

Key to my plan was limiting the use of the driver. I am much happier with my new custom fitted G25 driver and my driving is steadily getting better. However with the bone hard conditions, I felt capable of using my three wood to get the ball in play without sacrificing too much distance. The second part of my master plan was to ensure I kept to my pre-shot routine. This has been drummed into me by Rhys ap Iolo in my last lesson and I'm trying hard to develop something that doesn't feel forced or contrived and to use visualisation to picture the shot and focus on my target.

All well and good. I was in the fifth group out with a regular partner from my usual roll up group, Jim Hanley and a guy I'd never played with called Colin Pike, who it turned out was a fellow pupil with Rhys at the Downshire Golf Centre. The course looked superb. The greens had been rolled and double cut and were much quicker than we had been use to in recent months. Given the state of them over the past eighteen months it is a real testament to the vision and hard work of the new head green keeper and his team. Quick and true and all you can ask for when putting.

I started off slowly, missing the green right and having to make a knee knocking four footer for net par. I made a solid par at the second but I missed the green with my approach at the third and a three putt led to a nasty double bogey. I followed that with a bogey at the next after hooking my drive and being forced to chip out sideways. By the time I arrived at the par three sixth, a real nemesis in the past I needed to make a move. I didn't hit the four iron cleanly, indeed it was a bit on the thin side, but it was straight and rolled up to six feet. I converted for a rare birdie and I was back. I was steady for the remainder of the front nine and managed to get out in 41 (+6 gross).

My back nine started with a great drive. It was one of the few holes I'd planned to use the driver on and I shaped it perfectly with a hint of draw. A wedge to the heart of the green and two putts for a stress free par. The 11th is another par 3 played towards Ascot race course and the main grandstand forms an impressive backdrop. The green is at an angle and provides a narrow target. I hit my tee shot perfectly and it looked very close from the tee. When I got there it was four feet away. I converted for my second birdie and now right in it.

The 11th green with the Ascot race course grandstand lurking between the trees
I had planned to use three wood off the 12th as the driver has the potential to run through the fairway and into the semi rough. I hit it well but it cut and failed to clear the line of trees protecting the right side of the fairway forcing me to chip out. I made the green with my third to secure a bogey. Proof that even the Plan B strategy was working. And then......

And then.... What can I say. Sometimes in golf it just comes right back and bites you on the rear. Here I am hitting the ball well, calm and in control of my emotions and going along nicely. I come to the 186 yard 13th and boy did it prove unlucky. I teed up my ball, took my 3 hybrid and stood behind the ball. I went through the same routine I had done, took one final look at the target paused and hit it plumb out the toe. It only went about 100 yards and right and was fortunate to find the edge of the fairway on the adjacent 14th. It should have been a simple pitch in to rectify the situation but I hit that fat. I chipped on way too far and left a thirty five foot putt. I had the obligatory three putt all bad holes seem to finish with and had racked up a triple bogey.

Only 186 yards. What could go wrong
Last year the 14th had been my undoing in round one and I had racked up and ugly nine. I was determined to exorcise that particular demon. It is a long par 4 measuring 430 yards and is a slight left to right dog leg. There is thick rough left and the right hand side is protected by a group of small (staked) trees that prevent a direct passage should you go that side. It was a hole I had planned to use driver on and I wasn't concerned about what had just happened. I was driving well. I caught it well but it started a little left of my target line and began to draw and appeared to run close to the line of small trees and more worryingly the real thick rough. I played a provisional and repeated the shot, perhaps with a greater hint of hook and almost certainly into the rubbish. After much searching and close to the five minute limit I found the original. I had to take an unplayable but had a swing.

Perhaps for the first time I made a bad decision and deviated from the plan. I should have hit a mid-iron pitched on and given myself a putt for a bogey. Instead I pulled hybrid and tried to get close to the green. I only succeeded in carving it out of bounds right. I nearly repeated it with what was now the fifth (penalty drop, hitting the third shot OB and reloading). I chipped on from the rough and two putted for another triple. The 14th had got me again.

I hit the green in regulation on the par five 15th and fortunes changed when I rolled in a long thirty foot putt uphill, left to right for a birdie. If I could just steer a steady course for home, maybe, just maybe, I could get close to level par net. I'd accepted that the gross prize was out of reach after two triples and a double! I made a solid bogey on 16 and hit came up just short of the green on the penultimate hole for another bogey. My chip had been good but I couldn't find the hole from five feet. I managed a solid par to close the deal on round one. Home in 83 gross (net 72 or +2). I'd managed to achieve my first goal and make the halfway cut. I would definitely be back for day two.

Day two dawned after overnight rain. The greens had been double cut and double rolled and so were playing even quicker. Fortunately it was dry but a strong breeze had got up making conditions very difficult. I was partnered with Ian Ruddick, an affable chap I hadn't had the pleasure of playing with for a long time and my good friend Darren Appleby. Both are from the Newcastle area so I was playing with the Geordie Mafia.

Having made the cut, I'd decided that round two was going to be played with an air of freedom. No pressure and I wasn't fussed whether I shot 66 or 96. I was just going to play with a sense of fun. I hit a great opener to the edge of the first green and although I walked off with a four, the positive mood was set. I made a bogey, coming up short with my approach at the second and missed the green left at the third having found the ideal spot on the fairway. I hit the ideal tee shot to the left edge of the 4th but I was 74 yards away. Too much for the gap wedge and too far for the sand wedge. Playing down breeze I opted to try and force the shorter wedge in. Basic error and it came up short and I racked up another bogey. I made a par at the 5th but came up short at the par three 6th. I'd opted to play the 4 iron into the wind even though I wasn't convinced it would get there when the hybrid was the correct club.

I was out of position off the 7th tee and played over the large oak protecting the left side of the hole and proceeded to then hit a wedge heavy and short. After a pitch on and two putts I'd made a sloppy double from nowhere. Another bogey followed at the shortest hole on the course, the 8th but managed to hit an exquisite pitch from right of the 9th hole having carved my approach way right. I had to float it over a bunker to a tight pin and stuck it to two feet. I was rightly proud of my effort

My tee shot was blocked by the large oak on the left of the 7th but no excuses for racking up a double bogey
I managed to get out in 42 so only one shot worse off than round one despite my sloppy golf. I needed a great back nine to try and get as high up the final standings as possible and hopefully match last year's 6th place in the gross and net events. Having found a great position off the 10th I only had a nine iron in. I went through the routine but something didn't feel right over the ball. Instead of backing off, I almost speeded up, put the club behind the ball and had almost pulled the trigger before I knew what was happening. I hit it fat and managed another three putt to start with a double.

Having made the birdie at the 11th the day before I had good memories. It was playing longer into the wind so I pulled hybrid. Another horror. A big hook left, with the wind taking it further left. It was almost in danger of coming back round and hitting me from behind. I played a provisional which found the green. I had a cursory look but the knee high grass put me off looking too hard and I opted not to bother and made a double bogey with the second ball. Ouch!

I needed to rally. I made a par at the thirteenth and so had saved three shots on the previous round. The 14th though hadn't finished with me. Perhaps as a reaction to going left in round one I carved it right. I found it and had a swing and wanted to hit a low punch towards the 100 yard marker. I actually hit it too high and it flew up and caught the branch of the tree protecting the corner of the dog leg and dropped straight down. I came up short with my next and made a double. Still that was still a shot better than my effort twenty four hours earlier.

My race was more or less run. I only had 129 yards into the 15th green and pulled that left into sand to rack up another bogey. I launched a great three wood down the tight driving hole that is the 16th and left a five iron in. I didn't hit it great and missed left but chipped to a foot and salvaged a par.

The tight 16th drive. It is out of bounds in the trees left and a narrow landing area
I made the edge of the green at the 35th hole but my chip was poor and I made a bogey. Standing on the final hole, I stuck with my plan and chose the three wood. I hit it flush but pulled it left into the thick rough on the left side. My provisional was hit well and found the fairway. The original was lost and finished the championship with another three putt. It left a nasty bitter taste. The back nine was a mess, and it all came to an 88 (net 77 +7).

Overall my two round score of +9 net was only good enough for anonymity in the middle of the field in 35th place. So what can I draw from the weekend? First and foremost I had done enough to make the cut with ease and had I not made a mess of two holes would have been close to going out in the last few groups and the lead. So I can take comfort that under pressure of the biggest event of the year in the club calendar it held together pretty well. My plan was robust and worked and the pre-shot routine gave me something solid to focus my attention on each shot.

The second round wasn't as bad as the scorecard may indicate. Ball striking was largely solid although the tempo did quicken on the back nine and the pre-shot routine suddenly felt out of kilter, rushed and forced. It is still something I have only recently adopted with my teaching professional Rhys ap Iolo. I am still trying to find my way with this and it isn't something I feel I own yet.

My game plan was well thought out and for the most part my club choices and shot selection were positive. Not too conservative but not reckless either. Yes there were some mistakes, especially at the 14th first time around. There were some bad shots, mainly in the second round when I seemed to swing too quickly. However there were some good ones as well. Three birdies in round one and a sublime pitch at nine in round two cheered the soul.

If I was being pedantic I would give my performance 6.5/10. A few too many three putts and too many errors. It is becoming a source of increasing frustration that I can play to or under my handicap for fifteen or sixteen holes in most competitions but somehow find a way to contrive a way to large score on the other holes to miss the buffer zone and add another 0.1 to my handicap. It is creeping up now and stands at 11.1, up from a starting point of 10.1 at the beginning of the season. However I don't feel my game is regressing. It is in a better place than this time last year technically but I can't make a score.

That is becoming the biggest issue. It is something I need to address with Rhys and see where we go. It is usually a destructive tee shot that is the catalyst although not always. I am wondering about finding a way of developing the game plan on a regular basis but playing your home course can be a case of familiarity breeding contempt and maybe I don't give every shot the respect it deserves. I hope this is where the work on routine and visualisation will start to help. I need to make sure the ball is in play off every hole on the course. That is what the good players at my club do. They don't seem to have that one destructive shot. I am getting better. I am moving forward. I am Homer and I will be a single figure golfer. This weekend was a good one. Careful planning paid off - nearly. 

Monday, 22 July 2013

Plenty Of Golf

Last week was a week off work and with the weather set fair, what else was there to do but head off to the club every day and play. No practice, just stepping onto the course and trying to play as well as I could on the day. The only thing on my mind was to work on the pre-shot routine on each and every shot as per the last lesson.

It was steamy hot on Monday afternoon but I had the course to myself. Not a soul in sight and so a chance to play a couple of balls and play around a bit with club selection, chipping around the greens and using my Aimpoint chart to improve my reads around the greens. In general I hit the ball well enough. A couple of loose shots cost a couple of lost balls. The parched fairways and long rough meant that accuracy has become premium. I had purposely not bothered keeping a track of my score of any statistics (fairways and greens in regulation, putts etc.) and just wanted to play with an empty head.

Tuesday was a repeat of Monday. The course was empty and I had it and the afternoon to myself. I was happy with the way I was hitting it again. I made a few mistakes and didn't really make a score but I was content with my level of play and in particular the way I was sticking to my pre-shot routine. Pick a target. Approach from behind the ball and take my address. A look at the target, couple of waggles and club behind the ball. A final look at my target, pause, exhale and swing. It sounds convoluted but in practice it is a matter of seconds. I get a good picture of the target in my mind and the exhaling of breath makes it hard to have technical thoughts in my head as I prepare to swing.

The course is suffering a bit in the heat. Royal Ascot Golf Club doesn't have fairway irrigation and is playing like a links course. It means you need to find the fairway off the tee and some hazards usually well out of range are now slap bang in the landing zone. It means changing clubs and plotting a different route around the course.

The short par four 4th hole. There is a cross bunker at the 260 yard mark that is now in reach and needs to be avoided
The fairways may be parched but the greens are still in excellent condition and a testament to the work the new green keeper has done at the club since taking over. The greens were in a poor state but a period of intense work last Autumn and this Spring have seen them come on leaps and bounds. There is a three year programme in place and at the end of this they should be as good as any course in the region.

The 178 yard par three sixth. It has been a nemesis but I am finding the green with greater regularity with my new routine
I had a day off on Wednesday and took the wife to Sandown Park for the racing and to see Madness in concert after the last race. We went with another couple and to be honest I got led astray which meant there was no chance of playing on Thursday either a I was feeling rather delicate. On the plus side the concert was superb and well worth the lager induced pain.

The view back to the clubhouse from the 9th fairway with the grandstand at Royal Ascot race course in the background
With my head now cleared, I played in a society day at Royal Ascot on Friday. Ascot Golf Society was formed from the ashes of a former society run from a local Ascot pub, the Cranbourne Towers. The field was made up largely of club members and with it being played off the yellow tees it added another dimension. I was paired with John Munday, fresh from a good show the day before in the midweek medal and a good golfer off single figures. I usually play off the white markers as I enjoy the challenge of the course at its full length and rarely play from the forward tee boxes. This meant club selection was even more of a challenge than it had been earlier in the week.

I started well enough with a par and a bogey. I hit a three wood off the third tee and left myself 100 yards from the middle of the fairway. I pulled my wedge long and left into thick rough and couldn't score. I bounced back with a couple of pars. I stood on the seventh tee in a good position. From the advanced tee I wanted to take three wood which I had been hitting well and take on the ditch that traverses the fairway. In hindsight, it was bad course management decision. I blocked it right into thick rough and lost the ball. Another hole I didn't score on. A five iron into play and another into the green was a far better option.

The 12th hole looking to the green some 200 yards away from the centre of the fairway
I should have made par at the tenth but my approach was too long and found the back of the green and I made a nasty three putt. I made par at the next and hit a good three wood off the twelfth tee to be in prime position. I found the putting surface and made a great par to get back on an even keel. A par at the next, a long 178 yard par three helped.

I made a mess of the fourteenth, missing the fairway right. I got the ball back in play and then missed the green with my approach. A nasty double bogey halted my progress and in truth put me out of contention. It was just a poorly played hole and another example of how I am managing to throw these into most rounds. It is something I need to look at in more detail. I thought I had a good plan with the three wood being a safe option off the tee. I put a poor swing on it and to be honest tried to give it a good old fashioned wallop into the middle of next week. The annoying thing was I had been swinging it so smoothly and getting my rewards in terms of accuracy and distance. Oh well!

The undulating 14th green. Two putts never a given
I knew that I wasn't in contention and a pulled tee shot off the 15th tee meant I could only put the ball back in play and aim to hit the green in regulation. I did that well enough but pulled the wedge some thirty feet left of the hole. Not acceptable from 80 yards. Another three putt.

I made a great par at the next. The 16th is a tight driving hole with out of bounds tight left and still plays over 400 yards off the yellow tees. I hit a great three wood into position A+ and although I pushed the 4 iron a little I got an old fashioned members bounce hard right onto the green. Two putts and move on.

The view from the 16th. The oak tree right is still 200 yards from the green. A pretty hole
I found the green on the penultimate hole. It's one of the few that makes a huge difference between the white and yellow tee markers (218 yards from the white and just 176 yards from the yellows). Knowing I couldn't threaten the prize table I went for glory and the birdie putt without worrying about the one coming back. Apart from the pace and line it was a good birdie effort. The par putt wasn't.

My day was capped when I lost a ball with my tee shot on the last. I hit it well enough but a little left and it caught the large oak tree left of the fairway. None of the group saw it down and despite a search it never turned up. I had put a provisional into play and made a safe par with the second ball although it added to a nasty double bogey with the lost ball on top.

The sanctuary of the 19th is in site coming up the hill on the last
In the end I cobbled together a score of 34 points. Not great off the forward markers but the onus was on having a good time and I was actually pretty pleased on the whole with the way I had hit the ball. A couple of lost balls, one through poor decision making and the other which on a different day would have bounced into play, doesn't tell the whole story.

It is club championship weekend next week. It is a 36 hole event. Eighteen holes on Saturday with a halfway cut and the top thirty six or so (depending on scoring) make it through to contest the second round with players going out in score order. This means the best gross scores from round one go out last. I made the cut last year, scraping through with a net 76 (+6). On the Sunday I had one of my best rounds of the year and shot a gross 78 (+8) which catapulted me way up the field and I finished sixth in both the gross and net competitions.

With that in mind I went out yesterday afternoon to devise a solid game plan. With a big club competition having gone out as a shotgun start in the morning and many opting to watch the final round of the Open, starting on the back nine meant I had the whole course to myself. I wanted to play it properly, so one ball, no practicing between holes and everything counting and holed out.

I played the back nine in four over gross. I was very pleased as it usually plays the tougher loop. More importantly I got some very good idea what I can and can't do in terms of club selection and where I need to be sensible and where I can attack. Three wood off the 12th is a good option and still leaves a shot into the green. I have an idea where I can go for it and more importantly which greens can't be missed.

I stuttered a bit around the opening holes of the front nine. I missed left off the first tee but I learnt my five wood is enough club off the back tips and that there is more room left than I've been allowing in recent weeks. I found the bunker but it is relatively flat and will give room to splash out with confidence. I went left off the second but had aimed to take the out of bounds right out of play. It found the thicker rough and so the line may need reviewing. On the third I took the three wood option again. There is a carry over the environmental area and this is plenty of club. With the roll it found one of the fairway bunkers. My escape was too good and cleared the green into more rough over the back. I still think it is the right choice. I just drew it a fraction and the baked fairway did the rest. I can be more attacking with my line.

From there I made par at the fourth and hit a monster down the 503 yard par five fifth. I only had 198 yards left having drawn my tee shot around the corner of the dog leg. I hit a hybrid and tried to hit a fade into the green. Too straight it found the bunker left of the green. I deviated from my plan and tried to hit a draw in with another ball. The hybrid shot found the green.

I found the heart of the sixth green and on the 7th took a four iron to lay up well short of the hazard. The plan is that anything too far left can still be taken over the tree left of the fairway to allow a chip on and a simple bogey (net par). If I hit it as I did and find the centre of the fairway I can take the green on. I hit a hybrid from 186 yards and tried to hit a draw. I over did it and it was fortunate to stay on the left edge. I hit a four iron and drew that perfectly into the heart of the green.

I made a simple par at the short eighth. Off the ninth, my final hole, I pulled my drive into the left hand rough. I took a three wood, partly to play a provisional and partly to get an idea how far it would leave. I put that in the left semi-rough too. I played the provisional first and hit another draw shot with a four iron no more than fifteen feet from the pin. Having found my original I tried to fade it in around a tree. I over did it but it got a good bounce and came up just short. A good chip to eight feet and a single putt for a closing par.

I now have a sound idea on how I want to approach round one of the championship. I am happy with my ball striking and even more pleased that I am beginning to be able to shape shots both ways on demand. The fade and draw are still a work in progress but my teaching professional Rhys ap Iolo has given me some tools to develop this in practice. I went to the range Saturday morning and rather than bash ball after ball I ensured I went through the pre-shot routine on every one and tried to hit one left to right and the next the opposite way. Add in a few straight at specific targets and it was a productive and fun session.

Today was back to work and an evening off. Tomorrow I look at the short game as this will be key to a good score and is an area I've neglected as I've tried to play more and work on my game less. After that, I want one range session to make sure I am happy with the swing and to continue to learn to work the ball in different directions and then the rest of the week is about getting out and playing a few holes and getting the mental preparation right.

All this golf seems to have done wonders for my game and I am very happy. A few kinks to iron out, especially those killer holes where I make a big number and I'm good to go. I am pleased to have a plan, a pre-shot routine to stick to and a game in good shape. The bare minimum has to be getting into the second round on Sunday. I am prepared, in good nick and the glass is positively half full, nay full. Only the British weather can scupper my plans and I have a plan B. I am ready to go.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

If Golf Was Played Over 15 Holes

Fresh from my latest lesson where I worked on my pre-shot routine, it was a friendly round for me on Saturday. I was acting as a marker in the Wood Cup at Royal Ascot for Dave Knight (aka Knocker) and Andy Davidson. It is only open to over 55's and I've a good few years to go before I qualify.

I wasn't focused on scoring and was more intent on ensuring I went through my routine over every shot, and that I was able to accept the outcome knowing I had done everything possible to make a good swing. I started well enough but as usual I managed to throw a few bad holes in for good measure. In the intense heat I was reasonably pleased with my mornings work and it hadn't dented confidence ahead of the monthly medal the following day. In the end both Andy and Dave didn't get into contention and like me were left counting the cost of one or two loose shots. Still they were good fun to play with, the sun was shining and the course was a picture. Sometimes the golf doesn't matter.

Sunday was even hotter. I was paired with Dave Wild a single figure player, going through a similar rocky patch in form as I am and George Spence, a long time member and as enjoyable a golfing partner as you could want. Not a bad golfer too.

I had high hopes. I went through my routine on the first tee and fired a good tee shot away. It missed the green right and found sand. When I got to my ball it was in a footprint. I've no way of knowing if it came from one of the three groups already out in the competition but I was far from happy at this blatant disregard of basic golfing etiquette. I got it out and made a bogey four.

I hit a good tee shot down the second. Waiting for the group ahead to move away, Dave was talking about his loss of form. He has been suffering a dose of the golfing unmentionables and was clearly lacking any confidence. Now whether all this negative talk had sublimely got into my golfing psyche but I carved my second right and out of bounds. In the end I did well to walk of with a double bogey but it should have been a straightforward par all day long.

I proceeded to carve my tee way right at the next. After some searching we found it but I only moved it a few yards and straight left into a bunker. In the end it was another sorry double bogey. From  there a golfer emerged. I made par at the 4th, birdie at the next, a bogey and a par at the short par three 8th and suddenly I was back level with my handicap. I only needed a par at the ninth to have rescued a poor start. I hit a good tee shot and although my second was short and right, a simple pitch and two putts for bogey still had me right in the mix. I made a dogs dinner of it. I thinned the pitch over the green and only just found the green with the recovery. A doubly bogey was a real show stopper.

I missed the green at the 10th for a bogey when in good position off the tee and made a hash of the short par three 11th for an ugly double. I got that back with a great par at the hardest hole on the course, the 12th. I was still looking capable of hitting the buffer zone, maybe more. That lasted until my tee shot on the 14th. I caught it well but pulled it left. It landed in the knee high grass and I knew as soon as I hit it that it was a goner. I ended up making an ugly eight (quadruple bogey). I bounced back with a good drive at the next, a par five. I pulled the five wood out determined to find the green in two and make a birdie. In the end I carved it way right into more deep clag and another lost ball and another double bogey.

I hit a great three wood off the tee on the tight driving hole that is the 16th. Out of bounds runs close to the left hand side and on the right is heavy rough. There are two large oak trees around the 230 yard mark and the ball needs to be threaded right of these and inside the menacing out of bounds. The fairway in the landing zone is only around 20 yards wide, widening the longer you hit it. I took the three wood to keep it in play and put it as far as I'd been hitting my driver in recent weeks. A solid approach onto the green from 193 yards and two putts for a simple par. I should have made par at the long 217 yard penultimate hole but managed to three putt from fifteen feet having found the green in regulation. I made a regulation par at the last and it all added up to a miserable net 77 (+7).

In fact we were a very sociable group as both George and Dave recorded exactly the same score. I was disappointed that the final tally was so high. I had done so well to get myself back into the round after a poor start. Ultimately the blame can be laid at the 9th, 14th and 15th holes and if golf was a fifteen hole round I would have been pretty close to contending. The short game was the culprit at the 9th. My tee shot was errant at the 14th and my course management was the reason I made a double at the 15th. I could have hit seven iron, and a pitch to make the green in regulation. There was no need to even pull the five wood.

The one thing I was pleased about was the way I managed keep to my pre-shot routine, especially after hitting the bad shots. The second tee shot on the 14th in particular was well struck after I'd carved the first one left. The fact that the handicap is now up at a round 11 isn't a concern at the moment. I've neglected my short game in recent weeks and this will be addressed this weekend. The ball striking is better and the pre-shot routine is giving me more time over the ball and I'm making a calmer swing.

The game is in a holding pattern at the moment. I've a week off this week and so plan to top up the suntan and get out and play as much as I can. No practice, just playing the course. I'm going to try hitting different clubs off the tee as the course is hard and bouncy, reminiscent of a links course. I've the midweek medal on Thursday and playing in a golf society day on Friday. The course is closed next weekend and so the short game, neglected recently can get some remedial attention and hopefully I am now peaking in time for the club championship.

I just need to make sure I play properly for the full eighteen holes and not just fifteen. If I can do that then the good scores will come. I am making too many unforced or silly errors and it is these that I need to eradicate. The swing is in good shape. I am happy even if the scores don't tell the whole story. I'm still a glass half full Homer and the Odyssey will still come good.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Getting Ready

It was lesson time again last night at Downshire Golf Centre in the company of my teaching professional, Rhys ap Iolo. Regular readers will no doubt be aware that my golf last weekend wasn't particularly good and that Sunday in particular had a real mixture of highs and lows but the one thread throughout was a lack of consistency.

I had a practice session at Blue Mountain range on Tuesday night and had felt that I had found a nice tempo and a better technique. The ball striking was much better and the direction was better. Buoyed, I was keen to see what Rhys thought and the warm up process went well. However, when I got the teaching mat, I was surprised by what he had to say. He had watched me set up to ball, and even watched a few of my warm up shots and asked whether I was going through my pre-shot routine. I thought I was setting up to the ball the same each time. He asked if what I did on the range replicates what I did before the shot on the course and vice versa. The truth dawned on me that the answer was a resounding no.

He went on. Did I approach the ball from behind, pick a target and look at the target as I get settled over the ball. Did I pause. Again a resounding no. He said that I was like an excitable kid and seemed to rush to get set over the ball and seemed to want to get the shot over with even quicker. Is this what I do at the range? In truth it probably is and he explained that this really isn't constructive practice and that the work I am putting in is little more than a ball bashing exercise.

Now a lot of you will know that working on my game is a big thing for me. This harsh assessment was a bit of bitter pill but I understand where Rhys was coming from. In fact I had been using a regime called My Grip Zone and one of the main features is making practice more realistic and not about ball bashing. It is also focuses on repeating and using the pre-shot routine. I haven't used it for a while. My neglect has been due to a focus on mechanics and in hindsight this probably hasn't helped

Rhys got me to start from behind the ball and step in that way, having picked my target. I made my address position, took a couple of waggles of the club, looking at the target, and then taking a few seconds over the ball before pulling the trigger. The first couple were really solid and I felt as though I had a lot of time to make the swing. I put another ball down and thought I had done the same thing but the result was off. Rhys said I was much quicker from getting to address position to making the swing. He suggested I needed a trigger. Something that was a constant. He suggested going through the same process of picking the target, looking at it over address and then as I settle over the ball to exhale. This simple trick meant the process was much more consistent in terms of the length of time taken.

What Rhys doesn't want is to be consciously thinking of it. I should be going through my routine over every shot in practice until it becomes second nature. Not every shot will be perfect, hence why I'm off the handicap I am, but I need to trust the routine and not flinch away from it.

Every ball in the lesson was meticulously addressed. He wasn't that worried about what was going on with the swing itself. We did play around with ball position, both in terms of standing closer or further away and forward and back. Rhys wants me to experiment more in practice and have some fun trying to shape shots more and use the position to influence the club head at impact.

It was a productive session. My driver was more solid as we moved it slightly further away at address to give me more room through the ball. This was the biggest area I wanted to look at as I didn't get it into play often enough at the weekend. The new position coupled with a new regime meant I was in a calm and neutral mind set over the ball. Less technical thoughts and more freedom to stand there and hit it.

I have to be honest and say it wasn't the lesson I thought it would be. I knew my tempo last weekend was supersonic at times and I know in golf speed kills but I had assumed that there was also an inherent fault that had crept in, especially with the snap hook or high rights off the tee. I was pleased to hear that while the swing wasn't perfect, and lets be honest it will always be quirky. I could see that ball was behaving better. It wasn't broken. I was surprised to see just how much difference that small pause just before takeaway can make and how much smoother the process was.

I have known for a long time, especially having read books by Bob Rotella, that the pre-shot routine is the rod and staff and especially in tense situations it is the thing that glues the swing together. Furthermore, I have downloaded the Karl Morris app, "the secrets to consistent golf with the 7 rituals of success. This talks specifically about being in neutral and parking the mind. In addition the "five shots lower programme" adds to that. I haven't listened to these in a while or read the books and I think these will add some focus to what Rhys has worked on.

I thought Rhys was going to tweak the technical aspects and tighten everything up. The fact that we only played with position and not the swing itself was a relief but I am also nervous about the next round. Fortunately, the next game is a social one, either tomorrow afternoon or with the usual roll up crew on Saturday. This means I can focus purely on the pre-shot routine. I need to be able to get to the position where I look at my target, make my waggle, have that all important pause before starting and giving myself time. I need to make sure it is the same each time and to be able to back out and start again if I don't feel it's right and also I need to make sure it takes the same period of time each shot.

Again I need to reiterate that this isn't going to be a routine within a routine and it is more something I need to take into practice and stop it becoming a ball bashing exercise even when I think I'm making progress and working properly on my game. I need every ball I hit, both on the range and especially on the course to have something attached to it and that is knowing that I have stuck to my routine religiously. I have to have acceptance after the shot whether it is good or bad that I have done everything I could over the ball.

I liked the session. I like the fact that Rhys is getting me thinking more about everything but at the same time not thinking at all. It was fun to not be just tweaking the swing but adding something to my game that I can use over every shot, including chips and putts. I have to find the routine that works for me, and this is unique to every golfer. Just look at each pro on telly and see the variances. I want it to be simple efficient and repetitive and that when I'm on a tight driving hole or facing an approach to a small target I can use the pre-shot routine to give me that air of calm.

Thanks once again to Rhys for taking the game forward. Yes we went off on a tangent to a degree but I would like to do more in this area and the thinking side of things. I want Rhys to give me more constructive and productive practice routines so that I am not a ball basher and that the work I put in has an end result. I thought I was working hard but clearly not always on the right things. As always he's given me a lot to take away and work on. As usual I'll put the work in. It is a two way thing and I believe that unless a pupil is prepared to go away and work on swing drills, practice drills or mental drills, then the teacher has an enormously difficult job to push the golfer forward.

I have something new to work on. Gone is the rush over the ball, even though I didn't think I was that bad. I have a new routine to get me to slow down, focus on where I want the ball to go and to basically give myself time and a clear mind set to put the best swing I can on the shot. If it doesn't go well, accept it, find it but ensure I go through the same routine over the next one. I'm getting ready to get ready. As usual I'll give an honest assessment on how it works (or not) and see where it takes my game. It should be fun.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Melting In The Sun

Summer finally arrived at Royal Ascot and it was a busy weekend as the competition season begins to reach a peak. There was a monthly stableford on Saturday and a four ball better ball event on Sunday. I'd picked my new custom fitted Ping G25 clubs last weekend and had been hitting them well so expectations were reasonably high.

I had a bit of a shocker in the stableford and it was a story of a solid start followed by a mid-round. I played the tricky opening quartet well in level twos and then made a birdie to suddenly be a couple under handicap but gave them straight back at the par three sixth having missed the green left off the tee and been too cute with the pitch. I gave another two points back with a shocking double bogey at the shortest hole on the course and dropped another at the ninth to limp out in fifteen points. The comeback started with a par at the tenth and I was hanging in without feeling as though I was swinging the club well. It came to a shuddering halt with a double bogey at the fourteenth and from there I came home in the proverbial ambulance with a massive three points over the closing five holes. The swing evaporated and I had no idea where the ball was heading.

Sunday saw the club four ball better ball event. My usual partner was unavailable and I was pleased that Dave Knight aka "Knocker" answered the call. He's a steady mid-handicapper and had been playing well lately and so on paper we could have been a decent pairing. In my warm up I found a nice tempo and was knocking it away nicely. Sadly that lasted until I hit my opening tee shot straight right, out of bounds. I repeated the trick at the second and poor old Dave must have wondered why he'd bothered. I couldn't blame him.

I did come into my own at the third but another lost ball at the fifth when I inexplicably hit a six iron fifty yards right of where I was aiming. It didn't help the cause. Somehow between us, well mainly thanks to my partner, we were one under handicap on the sixth tee and I finally put a good swing on a five iron to find the green and make par. We both made an unforced error at the next but I finally came to the fore when I hit a faded seven iron into the ninth green from the semi-rough and rolled in a birdie putt from ten feet. We were out in a level par eighteen points and still in contention.

Dave made a net birdie at the next and we were back in it and I made a par at the twelfth and suddenly we were a couple under handicap. Dave made another solid par at the 187 yard par three and we were still on track. We then dropped a shot on the fourteenth but made par at the next. One under handicap and we were still in with a shout if we could make a par finish. That was the plan. I stuck two out of bounds off the sixteenth tee and poor Dave finally crumbled under the weight of carrying me and couldn't score. He made a par at the last and in the end we came home in 36 points. It was never going to be enough and we were well off the pace. I played like a fool and it's credit to Dave that we got as many points as we did and although I did contribute in patches, I was so inconsistent.

The swing seems to have gone. I had no idea what I was doing and can't remember the last time I lost four balls, three of which were off the tee. I was found wanting on the iron shots and to be fair didn't really have a clue where the ball was going. I thought it was a tempo issue after the round on Saturday but after yesterday I'm not so sure. I know I was swinging too fast but I didn't know where the club was anywhere in the swing and I had no idea of what I was doing.

It's a bloody silly game. I hit it great last weekend with the new sticks and even in the week was hitting it well on the practice ground. I step on the course and it melted like an ice cream in the sun. I wasn't trying too hard, a fault I've had before. I wasn't getting bogged down in swing thoughts and on Saturday in particular had a clear head over the ball. It was just a case of not executing. Rather than chase my tail I've booked a lesson with my regular teaching pro, Rhys ap Iolo for Wednesday night. I don't think it is far off but just needs tightening up and refining. There is clearly an issue, particularly off the tee but I am sure we can sort that out quickly. I just want to leave the lesson confident with my game especially with the big events like the club championship coming up.

I know what I am trying to achieve. I trust Rhys implicitly and really don't want to be making wholesale changes at this stage of the season. That is for the winter. A tweak here and there is all I need and I'll be back on track. Hopefully!

All in all it wasn't the weekend I was hoping for. I hope I haven't scarred Knocker too much with my performance yesterday. I'm sure he knows I can play better. It is time to stop the talking and start performing. It isn't far off. Yes I know you've read that before. The truth of the matter is I am playing some good holes but chucking too many show stoppers into the equation. It is all about consistency and I just need to find a tempo that gives me the time to make the right swing. I need to be confident in that swing and I need to trust it and repeat it.

Some weeks are better than others and that is all part of the Homer Odyssey. I am in grave danger of the handicap hitting 12 if I don't get my act together soon and that is a real incentive. It has certainly not been the season I was hoping for and to be honest I've under performed. Rhys and I have worked well over the Winter and Spring to change the shape of the swing into a steeper model and there have been glimpses of a proper golfer emerging. I just can't seem to reproduce it often enough and there is small flaw after small flaw infesting the game.

I am trying to be optimistic. I am still trying to be glass half full Homer. There has been enough good stuff in amongst the dross to be sure that I'm on the right path. It just seems that it might take longer than I anticipated. The results when they come, and they will, means I will be playing better and more competitive golf. Even in the pro ranks the top players miss cuts and have dips and it is no different even at club level. Take yesterday out of the equation and the bad ones are better than they were and the good ones are much better. I am sure once Rhys works the oracle I'll be back on track.

The weather looks good for the week ahead and so it is time to get the sun tan lotion on, get out there and get back on track. I am still 100% confident in my ability to fulfil Homer's odyssey and reach single figures. I have a week off work next week and so I can play and enjoy some time on the course and get my game back. This ain't over