Monday, 14 October 2013

Seasons End

The Help For Heroes Day at West Hill last week was the last big even of my season. It wasn't suppose to be and I was due to play a club match at home against Tylney Park on Saturday. Sadly illness put paid to that.

So what did the season give me? On paper it has been a poor season. I started with the handicap at 10.1 and poised for an assault towards single figures following a productive winter programme with my teaching professional Rhys ap Iolo. We had even started work on resurrecting a dormant short game and there was a whiff of optimism in the air. As I sit typing this the handicap is tottering at 11.3 and dangerously close to going back to 12.

The cynical amongst you will say it was a terrible season and that anything else is window dressing. On one level I would agree and I never really attacked single figures and lurched out of the blocks at the start of the season like an asthmatic tortoise. Early on, the frustration levels were at critical as I struggled to recreate the work I'd done on the range over the winter into meaningful scores.

The ball striking was like night and day compared to last year and a testament to the work Rhys had done and the hours I'd invested improving my club head path and getting more with less moving parts. Perhaps the lack of a short game and a putter that had yet to warm up didn't help. On the plus side I had lost the big misses both sides of the course and knew my shop shape and where my bad misses were going. I just kept chucking silly holes into each round undoing all the hard work.

A classic example of this recurring theme came in the Stone Cup in May. An honours board event over the bank holiday, competitors play two rounds over any three days of the long weekend. I started my first round with a steady outward nine of seventeen points. The back nine was a cacophony of double bogey golf and too many one point holes for a measly haul of twenty nine points. My second round was an improved picture with eighteen points out but again I faded to have fourteen back and thirty two overall. This two round haul was mid-table anonymity and 0.2 back on the handicap.

The pattern was set and this would be a theme. I could string together a steady string of pars and then chuck a cricket score from nowhere. I was trying to course manage my way round and when we got the warm weather (remember that?) I was hitting three or five wood off the tee to keep the ball in play and still be in a position to hit the greens in regulation. It wasn't a case of firing blindly with a driver or not having a game plan for each hole and a plan B if the tee shot misbehaved.

As my year meandered on and club matches started up, I was finding the freedom of a partner a released and I was playing some better golf, especially away from home. I lost a match at Caversham Heath on the last, having been four up after ten holes. We were blown away in a barrage of net birdies and perhaps my partner and I wilted in the blistering heat but the quality of my play over the round eased the pain of defeat. A fine win at Tylney Park was reward for an excellent driving performance on a long course. At home I had a fantastic run and was unbeaten at Royal Ascot.

So where did the fault lie. Unquestionably the short game let me down. This has started to come back in the last few weeks and it is something that Rhys and I have top of the agenda for our winter work. When it was good I scored. I found my putting boots mid-season too. The first round of the club championship was a case in point. A net 72 (+2) included three birdies but it was a round ultimately undone by a triple and quadruple bogey on the 13th and 14th holes. Aside from that and I was right in touch with the first round pace setters. These were caused by errant tee shots and in one of my lessons Rhys explained that I seemed to rush my shots, especially under pressure.

We started working on pre-shot routines and it is an area I'm taking further and I've started doing some work with Pre-Shot Golf http://www.pre-shot.co.uk/ to take control of the monkey brain that seems to get in the way of me playing with freedom. It has helped resurrect the short game too, along with an improved and simplified technique.

So despite no short game, a handicap that has almost gone up two shots, an ability to self destruct and a lack of focus over the shot how can I possibly say the season has been good. Well the highlight has been the quality of my ball striking. It was a long and frustrating winter trying to bed in the changes but so worthwhile. When I was playing well, and there were many good holes this year, I felt I had the ball on a piece of string at times. What I lacked at times was self belief. I let the bad holes affect me and I stewed on my errors.

I had a nine hole playing lesson with Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Course. That was a chance for me to showcase how far I'd come and the state of my game. Naturally I started with an ugly double bogey but I think he saw enough to be happy that the goal of single figures was more than a pipe dream. We have been in constant touch throughout the season and a big thumbs up to him for being available on Twitter and Facebook and for looking at the swing via You Tube when things have gone astray.

The season has drifted along to a conclusion and although we still play competitions throughout the Winter at Royal Ascot Golf Club, weather permitting, the big events are done and dusted. In the end most of my performances have been firmly in mid table . Despite this I am happier with the state of my game in 2013 than at the same time in 2012. My bunker play is far improved and I am putting much better. My technique is sound and coped with the lightning paced greens at Caversham Heath and Woburn. I did change to a heavier Odyssey Tank #1 I'd trialled at a demo day in the Autumn which I feel will manifest into a trusty weapon on the slower winter greens. I am chipping and putting now and making several up and downs per round. Add in the odd sand save and what a difference it makes to the score and the golfing psyche during a round.

I am now driving the ball better and it is a simple golfing fact that if you get it in play more often you will score. Rhys has changed my set up at address and although it is a work in progress it is moving in the right direction and I am longer and straighter.

If I was to sum up the season, it would be a B-. Too high I hear you scream but I am taking into account the difference in the way I hit it. I need to eradicate the blow up hole and the work Rhys and I plan to do on the mental side of the game this winter will help. A stronger golfing brain akin to a short game and better club path and I still firmly feel this golfer has is destined for single figures.

I'm not at all melancholy. The golfing glass has been positively half full all year. It has been trying at times to keep it that way and maybe I do need to just hit it, find it and hit it again. It is hard. I'm not wired that way. I've never been naturally blessed with sporting aptitude and any fleeting success has always been achieved from hard work, good coaching and sheer bloody mindedness. I'm not going to change now so I'll carry on ploughing my own furrow. I have a clear goal and can see the path I want to take.

As the season draws to a close there is still much to look forward too. More social games peppered with a monthly competition should keep the golfing juices flowing. I'm off to Epsom next weekend to join an old friend taking his first steps into this wonderful but frustrating game. That should be fun. I've got the winter programme with Rhys to look forward to. I enjoy the hard work that goes into trying improve and yes I do get frustrated when I don't feel I'm getting the results I think I deserve but I am determined Homer's Odyssey will continue apace and the ultimate destination of single figures remains a realistic objective.

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