Sunday, 24 November 2013

Back To The Learning

The 2013 wasn't fantastic. No getting away from it I'm afraid and while there was some really good stuff there was a lot of poor scores too especially in competitive play and the handicap has gradually risen from 10.1 to 11.4. Not good.

As regular readers will know from my last post it was back to my regular teacher Rhys ap Iolo for a golf lesson a week ago. We made a couple of changes to ball position and flattened it out a tad and it was good. Rhys showed me a swing from a year ago in December 2012 where the club was still travelling way too much on the inside, getting trapped and was way too shallow. He took one from the start of last weeks lesson which showed a huge change to the path. In fact, the path had steepened a fraction too far and was a little over the top. To a large degree this was no bad thing as the club was much further in front of me at impact so I had more room to compress down and exit further to the left. Better by a mile but something that needed fixing.

This is the first video. A lot of nasty stuff in here from a technical perspective. To some degree it was surprising I was able to get as close to single figures as I had. Given the lack of a reliable short game to back up the poor swing, I would argue I deserve some degree of credit for playing as well as I had for as long as I had. I have always wanted something simpler and more reliable.

This second video shows a much better path and I have actually taken it a fraction too far and the club now travels a little too far over the top. Much better but not right. The solution was to move the ball position further back, only by a ball diameter at most. What Rhys also did was to get me to feel the right shoulder was moving as far away from my right ear as I can. This made the plane a little flatter.

Here is the final act after the changes were made. A much better path and if you pause the video just before impact, the shaft is perfectly parallel and it's just a question then of turning down and through and exiting to the left as I've been working so hard to do all year.

There are still a number of issues and many of you will recognise a lot of lateral movement. As I get to the top of the swing my spine angle rises and into impact it looks as though I really stand up. It is something I am not happy with and would like to change to add a degree more consistency. I've already spoke with Rhys about it and it is actually something he is comfy with at this point in my journey. this is something I will come back to but not yet.

I've been working hard on it at the range all week and I've been pleased with the progress I made. Friday night was a very good session and I went out to the course on Saturday full of hope. The opening tee shot was a ghastly slice and out of bounds and I have to be honest, it sucked all the confidence and belief the hours at the range had installed. I managed to get it round, of a fashion, until the seventh hole where I hit another shocker. It was another that felt really cramped for room and it went straight right never to be seen again. Rightly so. It was nasty.

I made a closing pair of par's to shut out the front nine. The back nine was a mess. I made a mess of the tenth and eleventh but found the fairway at twelve. I missed the green but made a bogey and so felt a little better. Until the thirteenth tee. It is a 186 yards and I pulled the hybrid. I repeated the horror swing from the seventh tee. Straight right and so cramped for room. After that my mind was shot. I was thinking so hard about technique and trying to keep the ball in play that it became a rather forced swing and an objective in getting it round. I am not happy. I didn't enjoy my game at all. It wasn't what I wanted or had envisaged.

However it was time to park the long game and the swing changes I've made. Today was a trip to Pachesham Golf Centre in Leatherhead. This is where I got fitted for my Ping clubs back in the summer. It has two superb short game areas. The first one has three distinct greens for pitches from 10-30 yards, another for those 50-55 yard shots and a final one at the 70-75 yard mark. It also has a well kept bunker with a nice big lip.

There is also a chipping area with plenty of flags to aim at and a number of areas to use. I've wanted to use this facility for a while. It is the best within reasonable travelling distance and which has public access. The short game is where the focus of my attention will be this winter and Rhys has already done a little work with a chipping lesson way back at the start of the season.

Today was a chance to meet Liam McCrossan who is going to give me a short game assessment. I wanted someone who didn't know my well documented short game issues to cast a fresh set of eyes over what I'm doing. We had a good chat before hitting the chipping green as that is the main bone of contention

To be honest what we saw on the video was nothing new and basically a regression into the poor address positions Rhys had spoken about on a cold and damp chipping green. The head and sternum are too far back and so the angle of attack is too shallow. He moved the ball back a little, got the weight back onto the left hand side and the only significant change was to my address position. He is trying to get me to mimic the impact position so I can just make a shorter and crisper swing on a slightly steeper path. Much better and more comfortable over the ball.

The full blown assessment is taking place after Christmas to look at the other aspects and tidy up bunker play and pitching as well as a session in the Mark Roe putting studio to have a look at the whole putting game.

I've always said the Winter is the best time to make changes. I am pleased with where my swing is now, even if the course is still chewing me up every week and I can't recreate the good work on the range when it counts. I need a fully functioning short game to take pressure off all the other facets of my game. It is one of the only gripes I have with Royal Ascot, that there isn't really a specialised short game area where members can work on this vital aspect. As I've mentioned there really isn't access to this anywhere locally which does make it hard to do the right things more often.

There is a lot going on with my game as always. I love it. I love the hard work in making changes permanent and the swing and game better and even more so when it comes off on the course. Rhys has done a fantastic job to date with making it better and once Liam has given me an independent short game assessment I can work in conjunction with Rhys and utilise Liam and the Pachesham short game facility to make it second to none. I need to regress to my junior golfer days where there was no fear. Look at any kid at any course or range and they instinctively do it. No thinking, no questioning. It is going to be more about jettisoning 30+ years of golfing knowledge and going back to basics. Get the short game right and the rest follows and Homer's Odyssey to single figures picks up momentum again and 2014 will be a fantastic year. It is all there for me. I just need to reach in and grab it.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Travelled A Long Road

I have recounted a tale of woe in 2013 as far as competitive play is concerned and the handicap has steadily risen from a starting point of 10.1 in January to the current position on the precipice of 12 at 11.4. However, I have also stated, and been lambasted by some, that the quality of the swing and the work I've been doing on it since last Winter is now chalk and cheese from a year ago, and unidentifiable from the golfer that first turned up for a lesson with Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Centre in December 2011.

I haven't been playing much for a variety of reasons and when I've stepped foot on the course results haven't been great. I've had a couple of range session lately where I've struggled and to be honest it was the perfect time to return to Rhys for a refresher. Friday was a little parky standing there warming up but once I got going I was fine. Poor Rhys was freezing imparting his words of wisdom. I was nice and warm but there again I was the one swinging the club.

As normal, we had a chat about what has been happening on the course and practice and I hit a few shots for Rhys to get a feel for what's going on. After that he got the camera out and got some swings captured and we had a look on the computer. What I saw was a 100% vindication of everything I've tried to achieve in 2013 in terms of the swing path. In fact if anything I had over done it and had gone from hugely in to out this time last year, usually getting trapped, causing all sorts of poor shots both left and right, to something a little over the top. That would explain the fade I was seeing on the range and the course.

Having identified the faults, it was time to drill the fix. All the work we had done in 2013 was about getting rid of the historic integral fault of being was too shallow, on the wrong path and having too much hand action to desperately lay club on ball. Rhys has been getting me to swing much steeper to compress down better but more importantly, to get the club path exiting lower and left. That has been the biggest change and has been all about making the path and swing more stable.

Rhys ap Iolo - excellent golf teacher and trick shot impresario
For the first time since the whole process began, we re-introduced a shallow move. The feeling Rhys wants me to get is one of feeling the right shoulder is moving as far away from the right ear as I can while keeping the elbow pointing down at the floor. We also moved the ball back a rotation as I was hitting pulls left when I started to get this change working properly. That was key. With the ball back I could still hit down and compress and still had room to exit left and properly. A dream combination.

There were some pulls left, which I was able to correctly diagnose as club head closed to path and more pilot error than a huge fault. There were still some fades and I could also correctly diagnose that the swing was steeper again and across the ball. My swing isn't textbook and will always be an ugly sister to the Cinderella swings of some of my golfing partners. But and it is a big BUT I own it and at last I understand it fully.

We moved through the bag and club by club the results were excellent. The one club that has destroyed my potentially good rounds all year has been the driver. Rounds have been littered with destructive tee shots and I have never really stood over any tee shot with a warm, fuzzy feeling. Put me on a long tight course like the Marquess at Woburn and it was a recipe for disaster. On the good days, and there have been plenty, mainly in roll up games, I can get it out there. I just can't do it often enough.

Rhys explained that the driver has a unique path of its own and can in theory go more down the line after impact and that my efforts to control an exit left as per the rest of the clubs have given a smaller margin of error. It's amazing how the smallest tweaks can produce big results and I was getting it away much better. Not ideal and some long sessions at the range to adjust the path and build trust lie ahead but I'm armed with the knowledge, the enthusiasm and dare I say, the drive, to get it right.

I played yesterday in the usual Saturday roll up. It started well with a rolled par putt on the first, and for the first five holes was going steadily. From nowhere I hit a shot almost straight right on the sixth tee. It didn't feel like the socket rocket but having said I own my swing, this one had been rented by a golfing novice. It shook my confidence. I bounced back with two good shots at the seventh, a par at the short eight and two great shots into the heart of the ninth.

Then, more disaster. I sliced my tee shot at the tenth. Whoever rented the shot at the sixth had come back. This was just a bad shot. No excuses. However putting a provisional ball down I repeated it. They would have been no more than five feet apart but in the thick, Winter rough they were never seen again. I hit another slice off the tee at the par three 178 yard eleventh. I was getting worried.

However I rallied and hit a stonker off the twelfth, stroke index 1. A four iron from 178 yards to the heart of the green and a twenty five foot putt over a large slope for a superb birdie. From there it was a mixture of some good and some poor shots. I felt concentration slipped a little and I hit a quick snappy hook off the last tee but felt I didn't really follow my usual pre-shot routine and stood there not quite settled. All in all it was a bit hit and miss but there were enough good shots going straight out with the change of path to be more than optimistic.

Today was a range session at Lavender Park Golf Centre in Ascot. The plan was to groove the changes and build the all important and missing trust. There were some poor shots as I tried to get the feeling I had in the teaching bay of that right shoulder travelling back. When it clicked it was really good. Plenty to enjoy and I am certain with some more refining and grooving I can take it onto the course. The driver is still not clicking but when I do get it right, which I was doing more often, it was a better flight and distance increased.

I am hoping that Rhys will send a copy of the swing from December 2012 and the one from the end of the lesson on Friday so I can put them up here and show you exactly what I'm talking about. The evidence is there to see and has proved to me that the long road I've travelled in 2013, even with the humps and bumps along the way has been worth it. Rhys sent a message on Twitter which I think sums it up "now were so close to something repetitive you have a really good chance of making single figures permanent thing keep at it!"

It all goes to prove that sometimes, standing still, some might say regressed, is not a bad thing. I do have trust issues. I have done with the game for a years and that still manifests itself in the short game. This is the next area of focus and I have a plan afoot to begin the work next week. For now though, having seen the evidence on screen I am ecstatic how far I've come and I just need to keep moving it forward. Homer's Odyssey in 2014 won't be becalmed on seas of frustration and errors but will be sailing under full canvass onwards to single figures and beyond, ideally with a win or two along the way for good measure, although if I play well handicap cuts and results take care of themselves. For now though the glass is overflowing with hope and optimism.

Monday, 11 November 2013

The Monster Is On The Loose

I've not had the opportunity to play or practice much and having gone to the driving range on Friday and Saturday, the swing is in a state of flux. There is still some decent shots in the locker but the back swing has deserted me and I feel I am working overtime to get the club on a good path back to the ball and exiting nicely as per the work I've been doing in my lessons.

Some of the regular followers of Homer's Odyssey will be aware that my good friend Rob Dickman has recently found the game and fallen in love with it and has joined Epsom Golf Club, high on the famous downs looking down over the iconic race course. On a glorious day like yesterday, you looked on the vista that is the London skyline, including famous landmarks such as the Wembley Arch and the Shard. (

Ready for the off.. or was I dozing and dreaming of how to play this game?

The monster golf has created was let off the lead again and conditions were far more playable than the last encounter which had biblical rain, howling wind and the full Donner und Blitzen effect. I wasn't sure which Homer was coming out to play. The mediocre golfer struggling on the range or the one just out for a knock with a mate, swinging easily and with ease. I got a decent enough opener away but my second came up short. I fell foul of the opening green last time and the devious hollows and mounds, arguably where they bury the bodies of the Derby winners (it really is that contoured). My chip was struck nicely and still wandered to the fringe. An opening double.

The second is a right to left dog leg and I cracked a nice three wood away. Technically the swing was awful but the result was good and it left just a nine iron in. The approach is across a valley to a thin green and a busy road behind so distance control is paramount. I stuck it to eight feet and confidently rolled the birdie putt in.

However from there form deserted me. A bogey at the tricky third was followed by a par at the next. The course then turns towards the top of the downs and plays up towards the grandstand. I hit a reasonable drive. Rob then rocked up and after I pointed out that the driver needs the ball teed up higher he boomed the best drive I'd seen him hit on his golfing journey. He has found the confidence to swing quicker, but has still retained control and he is getting better distance and trajectory. I hit a rubbish approach short and then managed to miss the green from 120 yards with my third. No excuse other than a poor swing and another double. An errant drive back down the hill at the next into thick rough led to another double. The drive at the next went right too but I scrambled a bogey.

I was struggling and a made a mess of the eighth and ninth to go out in a measly fourteen points. I wasn't swinging great and the whole thing felt out of sorts and I couldn't feel it at all. I needed to get the back nine off to a quick start. The tenth is a short par four measuring 279 yards. I wasn't far short of the green and had I taken the driver I could have got close to the putting surface. As it was a good pitch set up a makeable birdie putt but the ball refused to drop.

I love the eleventh hole, a par five that runs down the side of the road taking drivers up to the downs but on this occasion I could only make a net par having gone into the rough left off the tee and then hitting a poor approach. The swing even with a mid iron was a battle. The next two are par threes and to be honest but this stage it was damage limitation on each hole and every time I thought I was making inroads into the front nine carnage, I'd drop another shot. Missing the green with an eight iron at the 133 yard thirteenth with a thin low slice was a bitter pill.

Rob had started the back nine well and was making a bogey or double at worse on each hole. He was swinging with confidence unlike me. Don't get me wrong, although I was keeping a tally the score wasn't the be all and end all. I was enjoying his company, the surroundings and watching him progress as a golfer. It was a social round. The fifteenth is a par five. The tee shot is an uphill shot, as the hole dog legs right to left and then drops down to the green. I hit a better tee shot and left 234 yards in. I hit a three wood and caught it flush but it still didn't get there. I pitched from twenty yards but again couldn't make the putt for birdie.

The sixteenth at Epsom is an iconic hole. Played downhill through a valley it's drivable by the longer hitters. At 288 yards it isn't long. I reached for the driver. The round had passed me by as far as the score card was concerned so this was a chance for some fun. I hit it well but the wet landing zone denied me a chance to make the green as the ball didn't run. This is another green with huge slopes and I had knocked it to twenty feet. It was a sharp right to left putt. I stroked it with a surgeon's touch but the slope and gravity meant it ran six feet past and I missed the return.

The iconic 16th played through a valley. The green though is fiendishly difficult
I found the fringe of the green at the penultimate hole but again managed to three putt. The last is a sweeping par four played across a valley off the tee. I got the drive away to leave two hundred yards in. I hit a horrible topped second and my wedge from 74 yards came up woefully short. I started with a double and ended the same way. I got it round in 31 points. It wasn't a disaster.

I really enjoyed the game and I am pleased to see Rob's progress continues as he whittled another shot of his previous best. He had been going along nicely but had two eights on the fifteenth and sixteenth. He came back with a good bogey at the last courtesy of  a fine read by yours truly and he holed out from ten feet. He needs to find a short game but I am sure he'll have lessons and will improve. He isn't alone needing to find a short game but I have plans afoot.

I hate swinging badly. I know golf is a fickle game and it comes and goes but at the moment progress is slow. I appreciate that a lack of playing and a lack of quality practice means the swing won't be there 100% of the time but at the moment I have no faith in it and every swing feels different. The range sessions have highlighted the fact that the swing is still in a state of flux and the path is still not always correct.

I have a lesson booked in for this Friday with Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Centre near Wokingham. He has been working on my swing since December 2011 and we made some big changes last winter and I always felt 2013 was a transitional year. The ball striking is so much better. I just need to tighten everything up and make it a more simplified action. At the moment there are too many moving parts and I want Rhys to look at the back swing. I don't feel I am taking it away well and so everything else is a compensation. The round at Epsom was an exercise in getting it round even when you know you are having a bad day and so to that end I thought I achieved that.

Winter is always a time to lay the foundations for the next season and work on the mistakes of this year. I have said before I don't think the fact that my handicap is now one round away from reaching 12 again is a true reflection on how far I've gone with the swing this year. I want to get a more positive attitude in 2014 especially on days like Sunday when it is clear the swing isn't there and if I can get the short game firing I know there is a score that can still be made.

As for now, the monster is back under control. Rob has more games lined up and we've planned to play at my home course at Royal Ascot after Christmas so I'm keen to see how he plays on an unfamiliar course and off the white tees! As for me I still have an unbreakable belief that I can make single figures and the lesson on Friday and the opportunity to play some social golf over the next few weeks will give me a barometer of what needs doing after Christmas. It wasn't an earth shattering round, it was functional. Rob moves on. Some good shots for us both to take away, good company and a pleasant Sunday afternoon playing golf on a nice course. What isn't to like?

Monday, 4 November 2013

Right And Nearly Right

Life has got in the way of golf recently. I've been unwell, the mother in law has undergone a triple bypass and I've been dragged kicking and screaming to purchase new furniture for the impending move to our new house. My last game had been at Epsom Golf Club on October 20th in the pouring rain. I hadn't hit the range much after work, mainly due to the inclement weather and so the swing was growing cobwebs and festering.

With the monthly medal looming large last Saturday I was at Lavender Park Driving Range on Thursday night. Everything felt alien. The grip felt wrong, posture was uncomfortable and I couldn't feel the club head at any point in the swing. It had only been a week and a half. How could this be?

I usually hit a few half shots to get the swing working and set the tempo. Even these were a nightmare and were either thin or going straight right off the socket. I was unnerved and panicky. I had lost any semblance of a golf swing. I tried hitting a few wedges and nine irons but the socket rockets continued. I was working furiously through my golf swing thought archive to find a drill, a fix or a prayer to the golfing gods. I could hear the voice of my teaching pro Rhys ap Iolo and knew we had spent the last few lessons working on a better exit path left. I started to focus on that and slowly, ball by ball, each shot edged closer to the sweet spot.

It wasn't a great range session and I was left with more questions than answers and so on Friday night I was back again. This was a better session. I was hitting the ball much better, with a great tempo and the ball was behaving itself nicely. I left the range confident that I wouldn't make a fool of myself in the stableford competition and that I had banished the golfing unmentionables back into golf's room 101.

Saturday dawned bright and breezy. Partnered with two great guys I really love playing with, Reg Phillips and George Spence, and feeling invigorated by the previous night's session I was ready. I was hitting well in warm up and ready to rumble. My opening tee shot was solid and I thought had found the green but it held up in the wet ground. I chipped poorly but started with a comfy net par. In fact I started with three net pars and hit a great drive down the 320 yard fourth but made a mis-judgement with my approach. Into the wind I was between clubs and tried to hit a nine iron but didn't commit. It came up short and I made an ugly bogey. I got that back with a par at the next and even found the green on my real problem hole the 178 yard 6th. I was hitting well and enjoying myself.

I made a crucial four foot putt at the seventh to keep the net par's coming and then made a sublime up and down on the eighth after pulling my tee shot left, short siding myself and leaving a chip back over a mound. It was sitting nicely and I went for the adventurous flop shot and executed perfectly to leave a knee knocking three foot par put that just grabbed the right edge of the hole. My bandwagon lost a wheel at the ninth. I hit a super drive down the left side and left a hybrid in. I made a lovely connection but it started left of target. It hit the silver birch left of the ditch dissecting the fairway and took a ricochet. Where it went is a mystery. I never saw it and sadly nor did my partners. A lost ball and no points.

I bounced back with a par at the tenth and eleventh for a net birdie on each and so stood on the twelfth tee level with my handicap. Another pin point drive to the left side of the fairway left a five iron. I hit it great and it drew a touch, cleared the green side bunker and nestled in the rough just off the putting surface. An edgy chip and two putts for another two points and still on track. I missed the green on the thirteenth to the right as the wind buffeted another great shot. I didn't play a great chip (can you see a pattern emerging) and my nine foot par putt grazed the right edge.

And then something happened. I made a poor swing on the tee shot down the fourteenth. It has been a problematic driving hole in 2013 and been the scene of several meltdowns. I was lucky that the tee shot was so bad it was good and I had a clear shot past the thirteenth tee into the green. I thought my five wood had potential and I was annoyed it hadn't made the full trip to the green. I hit a better chip but couldn't make the par putt to get back the lost point at the previous hole. I hit another poor drive at the par five fifteenth. My fairway wood from the light rough was poor and I still had 124 yards left into the teeth of a stiffening wind. I made it a hat-trick of poor shots and came up short again. I chipped nicely and it had a great chance of dropping but ran four feet past. For the first time in the round I had a moment of doubt on the putt and so there was no surprise that it was a weak effort and an ugly bogey.

The round was beginning to get away from me. It finally escaped my clutches on the sixteenth when I carved a tee shot left and out of bounds. I didn't trouble the scorer. At the 218 yard penultimate hole I found sand left off the tee. Did I say I'd banished the socket rockets? Well one escaped and my bunker shot flew right back down the fairway. Another nil points. I had lost my swing and the tempo was quick and so the hook off the final tee was no surprise. I managed to cobble a net par and finished with thirty points. It meant another 0.1 back on the handicap and I am now teetering on the precipice of going back to 12. My total was enough for another mid table finish, sixteenth place in division one.

Having gone from a dose of the rights, I was pretty close to getting it right on the course. I hit the ball really well and I was really pleased with the quality of the striking. I am annoyed that I fell away so pitifully at the end but there was much to be pleased about. I holed out well in particular and there are still some solid foundations to base my Winter work with Rhys upon. I don't want to make as many changes as we did last year as the path is better and I am compressing down nicely. In my mind the cunning plan is to have a swing lesson next time, just to tighten everything up, followed by some serious work on the short game. It is all about chipping, pitching, putting and bunker play. If I can get the ball in the hole quicker from sixty yards in, then it takes all the pressure off the rest of my game and so when I am swinging slightly off key I have the capability to still score. I want to then finish my block of lessons with another swing refresher at the start of next season. I need to hit the ground running as I think it is inevitable I am going to hit 12 over the Winter period and so will be a massive three shots off my target of single figures. I am sure Rhys will have his own ideas and so it'll be interesting to see how he sees the programme panning out.

It has been a disappointing year. 2013 won't live long in the memory in terms of performances but the quality of the ball striking has come on leaps and bounds compared to the previous year. I always knew it would be a transitional season given the changes I made last Winter but maybe I didn't always trust myself or my swing. That bled into the performances and the bad shots and blow up holes sapped confidence. I need to be mentally more resilient and plan to do a lot more work on my pre-shot routine ( Rhys is also tasked with getting the mental side working in conjunction with technical side. I need to be stronger and learn how to think my way around the course again.

It could have gone horribly wrong. It started by going right on the range but was so nearly right on the course on Saturday. I have a lot of social golf coming up and some range time booked and hope that I can just have some fun without the pressure of card and pencil in hand. I hope that I can catch up with my good friend Rob Dickman who is taking his first steps in golf and the feedback is he is close to breaking the 100 barrier already. I enjoyed my game at Epsom and would love to play it again without the torrential rain. The Saturday roll up at Royal Ascot has a pressure of its own, and a bad round is ribbed mercilessly and the banter is savage. Ridicule is a great motivator. For now, I am a glass half full Homer. It is bubbling away and I need to find a way of coaxing it all out for the full eighteen. Another so nearly tale. This time though I am happy with the majority and can live with the mediocre. Onwards, ever onwards. Homer's Odyssey has negotiated some choppy seas in 2013 but the charts are out to navigate a path to single figure glory next season.