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 178 yard par three sixth. It has been a nemesis but I am finding the green with greater regularity with my new routine|
|The view back to the clubhouse from the 9th fairway with the grandstand at Royal Ascot race course in the background|
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 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 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|
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|
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.