Monday, 21 October 2013

We've Created A Monster

Cast your mind back to when you first took up golf. For many, including myself, this was a long time ago. For me, the passage was a simple transition from the local pitch and putt to a week of lessons as a ten year old kid during the school holidays in the summer of 76. There was a dustbin full of balls and the pro took the group of kids through the basics of the golf swing bit by bit over the course of the week. We stayed there each day until the dustbin was empty.

For others, the path is via the driving range, maybe with a couple of lessons and then onto a local pay and play. For my good friend Rob Dickman this is what has happened. I'm not sure where the sudden interest in golf has come from other than the juices being whetted by a fantastic blog called threeoffthetee, and the onset of middle age. He's been to the World of Golf driving range on the A3 near his home in Surrey, had a couple of rounds at the local pay and play at Horton Park in Epsom and recently joined Epsom Golf Club as an academy member. He had his first round there on Friday and a lesson from the club pro Stuart Walker.

Epsom club pro Stuart Walker who has taken on the task of teaching my mate Rob Dickman to play - Brave Man!
Rob had invited me down yesterday to take him round and hopefully impart a little of the knowledge I'd gleaned along my own golfing path. The weather forecast was bleak with sunny periods and heavy showers, possibly thundery. Not ideal but in for a penny and all that.

I arrived in lovely sunshine but as we loitered on the first tee, a shower arrived. I'd just got the waterproofs on when it stopped as quickly as it started. I hate playing in the waterproofs and so whipped the jacket off before teeing off. Rob wanted to see how it's done (or not on current form). It plays just over 320 yards and the tee shot goes across a small valley and uphill to a green that looks like the proverbial elephant's graveyard. I got my three wood away. Rob made contact with his effort and it went forward and we were off. Nerves clearly played a part on the first hole for him but he managed to get to the green in a respectable four shots. I hit the green in regulation and then the fun started. My first putt was from around twenty five feet away, right to left and uphill. I hit it on the line I wanted. It got halfway there, veered to the right and meandered down a slope and almost back to where I was standing. I was left standing in astonishment. The green keeper clearly had a sense of humour and a four putt green put me in a troubled mood.

Rob Dickman (right) and I ready to start our round. If only we knew.....
We managed to negotiate the first three holes in the dry but as we got to the fourth, a short 258 yard par four the heavens opened. It was straight on with the waterproofs as it was torrential. Despite this I got a good drive away and found the green and secured a solid par. Rob had gone around in 124 shots on Friday. Pretty respectable for the first time on a tricky course. His goal was to just beat that. I was confident at the outset that we could go much lower but now the rain had come in I wasn't so sure.

We both struggled on the long par four holes running to the top of Epsom Downs and the iconic grandstand on the world famous race course. By the time we got to 331 yard seventh, it was as heavy as anything I'd experienced in thirty years of golfing. I hit a good three wood and a wedge to ten feet and rolled in the birdie. We decided to wait for the rain to pass. Having stored the clubs under a tree to give them some degree of protection, a sudden flash of lightening and a clap of thunder meant we concluded progress could wait. Some fifteen minutes later, it abated and we could continue.

Rob was making good progress. I was suitably impressed with the swing he has and clearly he's taken on board the information he's been shown in his lessons. If only I could wipe the slate clean and start again but with so many ingrained faults and nuances that's a pipe dream and for me it's about making the best of what I have. I was on a roll and followed the birdie on the seventh with a par at the eighth and ninth. My drive on the tenth went miles right although in me defence the sodden grip meant it slipped as I swung. I still managed to rescue a bogey so no damage done.

I was impressed with the way Rob managed to get the ball away off the tee. This was especially the case at the par five fifteenth. He smacked it straight down the middle and although the second was a little left he had a good chance to make the green in regulation. In the end he had to make do with a bogey six but there was no disgrace in that as the hole is stroke index 2.

The sixteenth is arguably the feature hole at Epsom Golf Club. It's a 288 yard hole (off the yellow tees) down a valley. For many it is a driveable hole. I cracked a splendid effort away and came up some forty yards short. In truth my chip was poor but the undulations on the green threw the ball all the way to the back. Facing a tricky forty foot putt uphill and right to left I came up some ten feet short and three putted for an ugly bogey. Rob had smacked another good tee shot away and although he had then topped his next off a side hill lie, his third finished just short of the putting surface. From some fifteen feet he nonchalantly rolled in the putt for a par. His elation was a joy to see. He was made up and to be honest his play had deserved a reward.

The 16th at Epsom - the weather wasn't as good as this. Not sure Rob really cared after making par
The next is a pretty little par three across a valley. Despite being a real short hole it is a small target to hit but with the honour, Rob stuck an iron to ten feet. He was playing like a golfer with far more golfing miles under his belt. I needed something special to put the pup in his play and put a nine iron to six feet. I think Rob got over excited sensing his first ever birdie and raced a down hill putt miles past and three putted. I hit a dream of a putt and watched aghast as it did a lap of honour and defied the laws of gravity and remained above ground.

Rob had a few issues off the tee at the last but once he got a ball in play he finished the hole in style, with a nice little pitch onto the green and two putts. I had a bit of a mare having got my drive away down the right. I carved my approach from two hundred yards miles right and I was fortunate that the hedgerow some thirty yards short stopped the progress of the ball as it was heading towards pane glass on the patio. Out of bounds I was forced to reload. My next was right but I played a nifty chip to six feet but missed the putt for a miserable triple bogey, my worse score of the day.

We adjourned to a local hostelry to meet up with my wife. Rob met up with an Epsom member and made up to find out he'd destroyed his previous best. My wife likened him to Tigger, the bouncy character from Winnie the Pooh cartoons. He was desperate to go out and play some more and I think had we offered to hit the driving range he'd have been there like a shot.

Rob has the golfing bug badly. Like Tigger he can't get enough and would happily have played on if he could
Rob has never struck me as a golfer but many come to this great game later in life. He has clearly had a good education as his basics were really solid. If I was being a little picky, his swing lacks impetus and is a tad too deliberate. This means that despite making good contact on a regular basis the shot lacks power. Straight but short. To be honest that isn't a bad combination to have.

He has the bug. We've created a monster and he is already looking for his next golfing fix. As the voice of reason, I've tried to explain that not every round will go according to plan. There will be days when he'll never want to see another golf club. Despite this though there will be that one shot in every round that will bring him back for more. My advice to him is to try and get some lessons over the winter, work on the drills, especially those on the tempo and speed of the swing, and be ready to hit the course next season. From there he can get his first handicap and he'll really be a golfer then.

I haven't played Epsom for many years and I'd forgotten what an interesting place to play it is. It is very short but protected by tight tee shots and greens which are still very quick. They drained impressively after the deluge yesterday and were slick. I dread to think how fast they'll be in the summer. They are small targets to hit and their undulations are the biggest defence. I think it will a great place for this new golfer to gain his spurs and I look forward to a return trip without the biblical rain.

As for my game it was a combination of poor driving in places with some decent stuff in between. Being short, I was able to get the ball round and apart from the last there wasn't too many disasters. I was able to course manage and plot a course and my short irons were pleasing and did give myself a few good birdie chances. My swing at the range has been one in progress but feels like it is going forward. I've not played too much recently and so converting this onto the course as the rounds at West Hill and Epsom showed isn't easy. I'm going to follow the advice I gave Rob and work at my game over the winter with my teaching professional Rhys ap Iolo. Unlike last winter I don't feel there is too much to change. It needs tightening and a few things need tweaking but the core swing is just about there now. The path is far better and I know Rhys has been pleased with progress. I need to work on the short game and this will be my main focus of attention.

I can't wait to see how Rob progresses. He has it and has it bad and having know him all my life I know he's one of those that likes to do things well and so will work hard at his game but he's also someone for whom it will never be the be all and end all. Might be a salutary lesson in there somewhere!

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