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 (http://www.pre-shot.co.uk/). 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.