Golfers, very much like fishermen, all have a story about the one that got away. We all recognise the characteristics, a tale of stirring effort, with everything in the garden rosy, and then suddenly, an errant shot or a misjudgement and somehow imperceptibly, shots begin to fritter away and a good score becomes something much more mediocre.
And so it came to pass this weekend that I let two rounds slip between my fingers. Saturday was a social round in our usual weekend group. No huge pressure, apart from dealing with the savage banter, some garish clothing and sticking £3 into the kitty and a chance to go out with friends and just play. After a run of medal competitions in the last few weeks it was a relief to have a stableford card in hand. My teaching professional Rhys ap Iolo will be going apoplectic reading this as he is trying to get me to treat every shot as precious and play with a medal card mentality aligned to a new pre-shot routine to get me to really focus on each shot. I see the logic but this was one round I just wanted play and not worry about.
I started with a chip and putt par and although I made the cardinal error of finding sand with my second on par five second and couldn't find the green in regulation I was going along nicely without feeling as though I was actually striking the ball well. By the time I hit my approach at the tough seventh to six feet, narrowly failing to make a rare birdie I was three under my handicap. I gave one back at the shortest hole with an ugly three putt and another at the ninth when I failed to make an up and down but out in a pretty good 19 points or 39 (+4) gross.
I view the tenth and eleventh as makeable pars and a chance to use my shots. Having got my drive away perfectly I was annoyed to then pull my approach way left of the green from a hundred yards out. I missed the green at the eleventh having put a very mediocre swing on my tee shot at the 178 yard par three and missing the target right.
From there I rode the bogey train all the way to the fourteenth. This has been a real card killer for me in recent weeks but I got the perfect drive away into ideal position and only had a mid-iron left. Another modest effort left the ball teetering on the edge of a bunker. I tried to hit a positive chip but only put it in the sand and racked up a nasty double. In the end I made another double at the sixteenth, and a bogey at the last when I hit the drive of the day away, too well, and it found the ditch at the 240 mark. In the end, I came back in 15 points for a 34 point haul. Not a disaster, but never in the hunt for the kitty, and left me pondering how a good score became an average one.
There is always another day in golf, and this time it was a club match away at Caversham Heath. I like the course. It's long but if you get the driver working it gives you a chance to make a score. The greens were in excellent condition despite being tined recently and were very quick but true. As normal, the format was four ball better ball, and I was delighted to be partnered with Russ Adamson. He's a relatively new member but I've played with him several times and he is good value for his 17 handicap and brilliant company to boot. We were matched against a thirteen and eighteen handicap pairing and with the sun shining and a decent breeze to make things interesting it was into battle once more.
Russ made a good opening half and I made an exquisite up and down at the second to take an early lead which lasted one hole. I made another up and down for a par at the fourth to get the advantage back and by the time we walked off the ninth we were three up. Both Russ and I were playing steady golf, complementing each other well. I hit a good drive at the tenth and stuck my approach to four feet and although the birdie putt missed we were four up with eight to play.
We lost the next, a par five, to a par. I could only three putt for a bogey and my partner found trouble off the tee. We lost thirteen and fourteen, the latter to a net birdie and we halved the par five fifteenth when the putter went cold and I three putted for a bogey. Still we were one up and three to play. The sixteenth at Caversham Heath is a 393 yard par four with a pond guarding the left side of the green and a number of bunkers to negotiate of the tee. I got a great drive away to leave a six iron in. I cut it away and it found a bunker but I splashed out to fifteen feet. One of our opponents was out of the hole and the other had a thirty foot putt, downhill. He hit the putt and it raced down the slope but somehow found the centre of the hole and dropped. Had it missed it was off the front of the green and off down the fairway. Suddenly I had my putt for a half which I missed.
We lost the seventeenth too. Both Russ and I hit bad tee shots at the par three after one of the Caversham pair found the green to put the pressure on. We were now one down and one to play. The last is 415 yards and I found the ideal spot off the tee. Faced with a five iron in, anything on the green would have a chance with both opponents short in two. I put a tight swing on it and missed right. On the short side with a down hill lie and a huge slope to negotiate it was a tough ask but I hit a pitch and run with an eight iron. The pace was perfect to just reach the green and slope did the rest taking it close. Eight feet was as good as I could have done. The opponents duly made a five and suddenly I needed this to halve the game. It brushed the hole but we'd be been beaten one down.
The club managed to get a half, 3-3 overall, the first time we had avoided defeat in the away leg. However Caversham had the lead from the first match at Royal Ascot and so won overall 6 1/2 - 5 1/2. For the first time there was a trophy up for grabs and so Caversham Heath were the inaugural winners.
I have to be honest and say I didn't really feel as though Russ and I had done too much wrong down the stretch, with the exception of the seventeenth. I was very happy with the way I was hitting the ball and even though the putter was cold, I was scoring close to my handicap. I am annoyed I couldn't seal the deal on either round when in a strong position. Of course team match play is a different beast to a stableford round but you still have to make a score and I can't seem to do it for the full round.
I've been doing a lot of work via the internet with a company called Pre-Shot Golf, http://www.pre-shot.co.uk/ and controlling the monkey brain, the dominant part of the brain that protects against perceived threats such as not playing as well as you can or looking foolish in front of others if you hit a bad shot. It is about letting the logical side of the brain dominate and allow you to play with more freedom and not worrying about the outcome but accepting it and finding a positive to take away from each shot you hit. Add in the work I've been doing on a pre-shot routine with Rhys ap Iolo in my recent lessons and I am developing a stronger attitude to go with my improving technique.
It won't come as any surprise then to know that my great front nine on Saturday and strong first ten holes yesterday seemed to come from a calm place without any technical thoughts, without any concern on what score I may or may not hit and what I needed to do going forward. As soon as that monkey brain gets going, the golf goes off. The mind wanders, questions about my ability arise, especially if one or two aren't executed as well as those previously. It is clearly a long road ahead to utilise this thought process and ensure I stick to my routine, something I didn't feel I did in the latter stages of either round.
What I am pleased with is the consistency that is starting to come into my game. I am still getting the odd show stopper hole, but bit by bit I am getting closer to posting a good score and getting a handicap cut to get Homer's odyssey back on track. On the down side, the putter has been pretty cold in the last few rounds. I'm tempted to get the old Ping Anser 2 out for my friendly game on Wednesday. There is an Odyssey putter demo day at the golf club on Friday and I am hoping to find out if the putter I am using (an Odyssey ProType Tour Series milled #9) is actually suited to my stroke. I am looking at a putting lesson soon just to make sure the mechanics and set up are sound.
All in all then a weekend of missed opportunities but plenty of positives to take away as well. Things feel as though they are moving in the right direction and although the short game and putter could be better, the ball striking is much improved as is my thought process and routines. I've banged on about it being close and despite the handicap rising steadily all season, I still think a good score is just around the corner if I can seal the deal and string a full round together. That is the key. I've a few days off work this week and so aim to work on the short game between a few rounds, including a midweek stableford, and try and build on the good work this weekend. The season isn't over and I can still make it a memorable one. It starts again now.