Monday, 5 August 2013

Double Trouble

We all know what a fickle mistress golf can be and this weekend she has given me a salutary lesson. I had a practice session on Friday afternoon and was hitting the ball very well and preparations for the club match away at Tylney Park on Saturday were good. Sunday would see the monthly medal and to be honest I was looking forward to my golf.

I had been critical of Tylney Park in the past and my last visit in the corresponding fixture last year was clouded by thick rough making it too difficult for the average club golfer. I missed a green on one hole by a matter of yards and lost a ball. Not fair in my book and you can't expect golfers of my ilk to hit every putting surface coming in from 150+ yards. I wasn't overly looking forward to returning but I was to be pleasantly surprised. The rough had been cut back but was still penal if you strayed too far off line but there was a bigger margin of error. I thought visually the course looked better too. It is a long course off the white tees but never felt like a slog. It isn't a bomber's course and you have to think about all shots. The greens are protected by severe slopes and run quick so you need to put the ball in the right place on the greens.

As normal the format was four ball better ball and I was with an 18 handicapper, Derek Williams, who I had played with many times before. Steady and reliable he was an ideal foil for my game. We were against a 9 and 23 handicapper. Single figure golfers are always hard opponents, and playing off single figures around a long course like Tylney Park is a good achievement. I've been bitten by higher handicappers before and wasn't taken it lightly.

The opener is a dog leg par five and I hit a gorgeous three wood off the tee to the corner. I pulled my second but got lucky and then missed the green with my approach. My chip left a real roller coaster putt and I needed a tricky eight footer for bogey and a half. I got it. After that we shared the spoils, going one down, pulling it back and then going down again. We got back to all square on the seventh and then Derek and I capitalised on a few loose shots by our opponents and won then next four holes to take a commanding lead. The hosts steadied the ship with a half at the twelfth and then won the next two and suddenly we were just two up and four to play. A precarious position.

Our nine handicapper had played the 519 yard par five 14th impressively. Playing into a stiffening wind he battered a drive and then hit a three wood with a hint of draw between the bunkers guarding the front of the green. He just ran through but a chip and a putt gave him a deserved birdie. He repeated the birdie fest at the long 405 yard 15th and the lead was down to one. Cometh the hour, cometh the man and Derek stepped up and answered the call. The 16th is another monster par for measuring 402 yards. Mr Williams was receiving a shot and found the fairway off the tee. I assumed he would lay up but he pulled a fairway wood and proceeded to produce a superb shot onto the green. Two putts and we were dormie two up. I managed a deciding half at the 17th and we'd won 2&1 and Royal Ascot take a 3 1/2 - 1 1/2 lead into the return match in October.

The course was in fantastic condition and I think I had judged it unfairly based on last year's visit. I think it helped that I played very nicely and was driving the ball very well. It has been a bit of a weakness but I was never in any trouble off the tee. I used my head and took the three wood at times to keep the ball in play on the tighter holes. I didn't hit my irons very well on the opening few holes but once I found a green with my approach to the 4th I relaxed and swung freely for the rest of the round. I kept the monkey brain quiet and had a good pre-shot routine on every shot.

Tylney Park - long but fair and well worth a visit.
On the form I'd shown I was looking forward to the monthly medal. The weather was dry but there was a nagging breeze to keep everyone honest. I was partnered with John Munday who plays a mean game off 6 and a new partner, Alan Vela-Wilding off 10. I'd seen Alan around the club but never had the pleasure of his company for a game.

I was hitting it well, warming up and was feeling rather positive about things. I started off steadily enough with a 4 (net par) on the 229 yard opener having found the right hand greenside bunker off the tee. The second is a dog leg par five and I pulled the driver full of confidence after the impressive driving display the previous day. What I produced was a pull left towards the thick stuff. My provisional was much the same. Sadly despite our best efforts the first ball was never seen again and although I made par with the second ball it was an early double bogey. I steadied with three consecutive pars and then came to the par three 6th.

Regular followers will know this hole had given me some issues in the past but recently I had begun to play it with more confidence especially since adopting a solid pre-shot routine. I went through the routine but just put a rank bad swing on it and hooked it left towards out of bounds. My provisional came up just short but was a better shot (why do provisional shots always go well?). I was fortunate to find my original still in play. However a duffed chip and a poor follow up left me walking away with another double.

I have been working hard on the mental side of things and taking one hole at a time. Forgetting what had gone before I hit a good tee shot at the next and followed it with a drawn hybrid into the heart of the green. It was just as I had planned it and it finished five feet away. I converted for a rare birdie and followed with a par at the next. I dropped a shot at the ninth. My drive was again pulled left and I missed the green with my approach from the semi-rough . However, I'd gone out in 40 (+5 gross) and that had included those two annoying doubles.

My drive was errant at the 10th but this time went right. In my defence, a group wandered behind the tee talking and clunking their bags and clubs. I had already stepped off the shot once, they stopped so I addressed it again. As I swung, they inexplicably started walking off again. I had committed but hadn't swung it well. I found it in the thick rough, hacked it out and made a battling bogey. With a par secured at the 11th, I was going along well although I hadn't felt I was swinging the club with any of the authority I'd possessed the day before.

Another missed fairway at the 12th led to a chip back into position but I missed the green from 160 yards and despite the first putt shaving the hole I made a horrid double bogey. I then followed it with another at the 178 yard 13th with a miserable three putt. Two became three when I racked up another double at the 14th. This hole had ruined much of my club championship hopes last weekend and when I hit a high cut off the tee the signs weren't good. I rushed my recovery and only moved it a few yards leaving nearly 170 yards in. I missed the green and although my chip was good I couldn't make the putt.

I made a solid par at the 15th and if I could find a way to par my way in I could still shoot level par which would normally be good for a top five finish and maybe even higher. I've been hitting three wood off the 425 yard par four 16th. It usually plays straight down wind but has out of bounds tight left and the landing area is only twenty yards wide. I missed the fairway right but hit a low four iron back into position and pitched on to 25 feet. My first putt was good but left a nasty two footer which I missed. Another double.

I found the green at the penultimate hole, another par three in excess of 200 yards and made a par and the buffer zone was still in my grasp. The last is a par five with an environmental area in front of the tee, thick rough left and out of bounds right. It isn't an intimidating driving hole despite this and with the three wood in hand it should have been simple to find the fairway. Instead, I did something I've never done on this hole before and topped it straight into the environmental area. I've no idea where the mistake came from. I'd gone through my routine but just nobbled it. In the end I made another double bogey.

In the end, I came back in 45 for a total of 85 (net 74 or +4) which was good enough for 14th place in division one. However with seven double bogies on my card it was a score that had got away and the back nine just fell apart. If I was being honest I didn't feel I had swung the club well and despite the good score going out was never really in control of my golf ball.

I am bitterly disappointed about the round and even 24 hours later it is still bugging me. I know golf is all about "ifs and what could have beens" but if four of those nasty doubles had been a par or even a single and I would have been level if not under par and heading for a cut. Nothing really gelled and the tee shots were the main culprit. I couldn't seem to get it into position on any hole and was fighting to make a score on each one. I couldn't miss a fairway at Tylney Park.

I should have been soaring like an eagle but floundered like a turkey. It's hard to put a finger on why. I had been playing well both in practice and on the course and had gone into the medal in a good place. Yes my short game wasn't great but I hadn't really given it a huge amount of focus in recent times with only a couple of brief sessions but it was a frustrating day and if I missed a green I couldn't make the save but that wasn't the issue. It really felt that despite sticking to the pre-shot routine, I wasn't comfy over the ball. No idea if it was just me, whether the routine was out of kilter or whether I just swing it poorly.

I am trying to be positive and taking solace from the fact that the ball striking on Friday in practice and in the match  was crisp and efficient and as good as it had been in a long time. The warm up on Sunday carried that forward and I am just wondering if I let the Monkey Brain take control on the back nine. I certainly felt I rushed on several holes and need to step back and play a pace that allows me to take control of my breathing, set my mind, have a positive plan for the hole. This stuff I am doing on the mind side and routine is new to me and I will make mistakes. I've seen it working and helping so I know I need to keep going.

I am still positive that although the handicap is at an alarming 11.2 I am working on the right stuff and will get my rewards. I am putting together some decent run of holes but can't seem to string a full eighteen together. That will come. I am going to focus on the short game again this week (weather permitting given the British summer) and not worry about the full swing technique. Tylney Park proved the driver can behave and I'm playing a match at Caversham Heath next Sunday which is another long course where driving is paramount to scoring well. If it behaves I'll move on and look at this as one that got away.

Sometimes you have to take the cruel twists of fate our golfing mistress hands out and learn from the mistakes made. When she presents you with opportunities to do well you need to take advantage of these. I won't make the same mistake again and there won't be any more double trouble.

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