Having had a lesson with my teaching pro, Rhys ap Iolo a week ago, and struggled to bed the changes in, I was nervous about playing in the inaugural match between the men and ladies sections of Royal Ascot Golf Club. The fixture was to celebrate the opening of a newly mapped course for the ladies off the yellow tee boxes rather than their normal red positions. It has given them a far more challenging option and a SSS of 73 is testament to the difference the yellow tee positions make.
The rationale behind this is to give the ladies section a harder course to play for prestigious competitions and some club matches but to also attract better players to the club to bolster what is already a thriving and important part of the golf club. It is another sign that the club is really trying to move forward and be a welcoming place to play offering a good test of golf.
My lesson was to work on a stronger set up position to make a better turn and get the hips and shoulders on a better and parallel position. The feeling is to get the left shoulder higher and making a shoulder controlled turn. The strike and path when it works is much stronger but it is proving a little tricky to bed in properly. I'm hitting some ugly cut and slice shots and feel I'm coming over the top or getting into impact with a closed face and seeing it go way left. The good ones are on a more powerful trajectory and I am compressing better. I just need to add more of the good ones and lose the bad ones. It is coming and I've got plenty of time to work on it with the season coming to a close in the next few weeks.
With this in mind, the match against the ladies section off the yellow tees was a good testing bed. The format was four ball better ball and I was paired with a guy called Roger McNamara. I've not had the pleasure of his company before but off 28 I was hoping he could be a dangerous partner. We were paired against Patty Dismore, and Heather Wing. Patty is doing a fantastic job as junior organiser and has worked tirelessly to get our junior academy up and running so successfully. Heather has developed a reputation as a fine competitor and been doing well in competitions so they weren't to be underestimated.
As the lowest handicapper I was giving plenty of shots which given the state of my game was a bit of concern. My opening five iron off the 164 yard par three (what a difference from the usual 229 yard mark we play off) was a bit off the toe and hit a green side bunker. I played a great splash shot but missed the putt. Fortunately my partner was on hand to seal the half. A par at the next won the hole, and despite my own issues down the third Roger won that too. I made a great par save at the par five fifth to win that and by the time Roger made a superb birdie at the eighth we were five up. That was the score at the turn.
I won the tenth with a good par. I used all my luck for September up on the 12th tee. I tried to cut the corner of the dog leg and hit a ropey old shot. We heard it hit timber very solidly and had no idea where it went. After a search in the vicinity of the trees without joy, I ambled towards the fairway only to see a ball sitting there innocently and unaware of the fuss it had caused. It was mine. I hit a good iron but it came up short at the front of the green and I was left with a twenty yard putt the length of the green. I coaxed it up to a foot and made a par. It was enough to seal the match 7 and 6.
In defence of both Heather and Patty, they didn't play anywhere near their best and playing a competitive round off the yellow tees was clearly a tough test. It does bring a lot more of the hazards into play, especially the ditches on the 2nd, 3rd and 12th. Also, there are some tees that are now a long way back and at a different angle that gives the hole a different complexion.
In the end, the men ran out 8-1 winners but not all the matches were as one sided as ours. To be fair our Captain, Ken Martin put out a very strong side made up of club match regulars. His opposite number Anthea Winn also put a strong team out and I think the more the ladies play off the yellow tees and get use to the course and plan their strategies accordingly, the better players they will be. I hope this becomes a permanent fixture in the diary. It was a fantastic success and next year I think the ladies will a real force to be reckon with.
My game is in a bit of a holding pattern. I seemed to have bought a batch of golf balls that are scared of the dark. I felt I putted well yesterday and the new Odyssey Tank putter is coming along nicely. However the ball refused to get into the dark hole. It must have lipped out at least five times. My swing though was all over the shop and I didn't feel I swung it well and scrambled to make a half decent score on some holes. It was disappointing especially off the yellow tees and with a big day out at Woburn this Friday I am hoping to make the changes work soon. The work I did in the drizzle this morning has improved my mood and I can see the improvements coming along. After tuning my swing, I worked hard on the putting stroke and made a slight difference to the address position, getting the arms closer to the body and the stroke feels more compact and controlled. I seemed to have found the missing "something" in the chipping stroke today too which is a big leap forward.
As I've said throughout the 2013 season it is close but I can't find a way to make it count on the course. Some good stuff is still ruined by the odd XXX horror show. Too many little mistakes, bad swings, mental errors and the odd bit of bad luck has added up to too many 0.1 handicap increases. That said, the quality of the ball striking is so much better and the bad ones are still in play. Having spoken to Rhys about Winter work, there is a bit of tidying up of the swing to do but nothing major. Chipping and putting is where it's at so I can make scores even when the swing isn't quite on song.
I had a great day yesterday even if the game was way off where I wanted it. It is great to see the ladies section at Royal Ascot looking to progress and develop. The club seems to be attracting new members on a regular basis and so the more we can offer the more we can keep these and make it a great place to play and relax afterwards. If I was a gambling man, I would say the men vs women match in 2014 will be even more hotly contested and a much closer affair. For now though, I'll keep working hard to get the latest lesson bled into my swing and reap the rewards.