Monday, 30 December 2013

2014 - A Fresh Start

With only a couple of days left in the current year and the joys of moving into a new build house five days before Christmas severely curtailing any playing or practice aspirations, my golfing year is done and dusted. I wanted to play over the festive period but the weather has made that impossible and the high winds have even made any trip to the range or practice area a fruitless exercise in terms of getting any constructive feedback regarding distance and direction. I did manage to escape from the mayhem on Boxing Day for an hour. To be honest I hit it better than I thought I might but there was still a lot of room to grow and improve.

To be honest a lot of 2013 didn't live up to my goals or aspirations in terms of achievements or performances, especially in competitive play. Homer's Odyssey has hit some stormy seas and been temporarily blown off course. The handicap has risen from an optimistic 10.1 this time last year with the golden land of single figures tantalisingly close. It has crept up and up and I fear the first qualifying competition of 2014 may see me creep to 11.5 and off a new mark of 12 to start the year. To be honest, that isn't the end of the world. It just serves as a motivation to drive on harder.

"The strands of time, the rules and chains that bind us
That holds us down until we forget just how to fly
Bound by fears of change from old traditions
Began to sense the great unravelling"

That summed it up nicely and all the issues I was having in making it tell out on the course. I was working hard with my teaching pro Rhys ap Iolo and the swing itself has changed hugely from the end of 2012 and is now a much stronger and repetitive beast. The main issue has been one of trust. I have struggled to take the hard and productive range work and trust it on the course. Too many rounds were there for the taking and I managed to throw in two or three disasters, usually in the midst of some pleasing, steady play to undo all the hard work. I ended the last quarter of this year beginning to do some work on the pre-shot routine, thanks largely to some help from the guys at Pre-Shot Golf (http://www.pre-shot.co.uk/). Sadly the house move curtailed this but it is an area I can address readily at the start of my 2014 golfing year and find a way to de-clutter the noise and thoughts and just stand there and hit it as I know I can from the range work I've done.

"The seeds that we sow today
The loose ends we tie and nurture
The threads that we spin and weave
To uncertain futures we usher them into the light"

It wasn't all doom and gloom and contrary to the popular belief of some, I thoroughly enjoyed playing in 2013 even on those days when the ball and club stubbornly refused to act in tandem and I was directionally challenged in the extreme. I had a few good finishes in club competitions undone by those killer bad holes at wrong times which robbed me of a win or top three finish or two. I made the halfway cut in the club championship, something until last year I'd never done. I was pretty successful in the club matches I played, winning most of the home matches and gleaning some important wins or drawn matches in the away games. I seemed to play with so much more freedom in these better ball games, ironically better still away from the familiar surroundings of Royal Ascot Golf Club. Familiarity breeding contempt?

I also played in a number of Golf Monthly Forum events. The highlight was undoubtedly the Help For Heroes Day in October at West Hill Golf Club. Over a hundred golfers played on a day blessed by fantastic weather. I had a mid-table finish playing in the company of Mike Harris the Golf Monthly Magazine Editor. He's a chap I've known for many years now and always fantastic company and a very steady single figure player. With the contributions from the Golf Monthly Forum the H4H day made in excess of £17,000. This was testament to the hard work and perseverance by a small group of forum members working tirelessly behind the scenes as well as the generosity of many forum members from all parts of the UK who couldn't play in the day but still gave contributions in terms of cash donations or prizes for the raffle and auction.

Over 100 golfers played at the Golf Monthly Forum H4H day at West Hill
 
I also enjoyed a fantastic day out at Woburn with the Forum. We played the Marquess in the morning which was a little too tight for my game but was a fantastic setting. In the afternoon it was the Dukes course which was much more to my liking and I ended up finishing third in the PM event.

Over the whole of 2013 my bĂȘte noire has been the short game. It has crucified any progress and when it has been on I have scored well as I haven't felt under pressure to hit fairways and greens. When it went AWOL, it did so in spectacular fashion. It is an area, along with shots from a hundred yards and in, along with my putting that will be getting the majority of my practice time and where most of the tuition I'm getting will be focused. I have a short game assessment over four lessons with a guy called Liam McCrossen at Pachesham Golf Centre where they have a top notch short game facility, courtesy of my wife as a Christmas present. Their short game area really is superb and despite it being a ninety minute round trip, it is worth the effort. There really isn't anywhere locally that compares or you can access without being a member. I'm hoping he'll give me the boost I need, supply me with the correct technique and that I can get Rhys at the Downshire Golf Centre to build on these strong foundations and get me pitching it closer, getting up and down regularly and holing out more often.

As I've alluded to already, my swing has improved hugely under the tuition of Rhys. I seem to respond best to regular professional instruction and will often go out after a lesson and a few range sessions to bleed the changes into the swing and play well for a few weeks. With this in mind and with an eye on the start of the main season in March, I'm about to embark on weekly lessons with him. This will be one hour's coaching per week, every week until the end of March. We will evaluate and work on all aspects of my game, from the swing to chipping and pitching, putting, course management, and mental routines. All in all a thorough and exciting way of getting ready for the body of the season. With plenty of work needed to get to the promised land of single figures from the 12 handicap starting point this will see me on the front foot from the off.

So what do I want from the 2014 golfing year? Well, first and foremost it has to be a single figure handicap and with the work and tuition being invested anything short will be nothing short of a failure. I want a short game I can rely on in important situations. Actually, if I'm honest I want a short game that is the envy of many in the club but while miracles take a little longer there's no harm in setting the bar nice and high.

I want my driver to behave. At the moment we have a love/hate relationship and as I sit in the comfy clean family area of my new house, reclined on a comfy new sofa, my favourite tunes playing and looking out on the Somme battlefield that is our muddy garden, we are definitely in a "hate" period. The range session on Boxing Day was poor and to be honest, had I driven the ball even half decently in the four ball better ball Winter knockout with my long suffering partner Mike Stannard, we'd have been home and hosed before losing on the third extra hole in near darkness.

I want Royal Ascot to step into the light and be the club it deserves to be. It has the potential to rival many of the more famous names locally and created history as the first Royal club to appoint a female club captain with Anthea Winn having taking the helm http://golfsouth.co.uk/history-in-the-making/

It is a fantastic place to call home and the course is beginning to develop nicely. We are getting the greens back after losing many to disease. The current Course Manager Dave Ansell has done a great job getting them back to a condition we haven't seen since the opening year or two. He has a specific long term plan but results not just on the greens can already been seen. Despite its "Royal" moniker it really isn't a stuffy environment and visitors and new members alike are always guaranteed a warm welcome. Just tell them Homer sent you.

I want the opportunity to play different courses. The club has a reciprocal with a number of clubs and I want to utilise that much more than I have to date. I also won two auction items at the Help For Heroes day for a four ball at The Army Golf Course and a place called Bramley Golf Club near Guildford. The cunning plan is to book a weeks leave during the Royal Ascot race meeting when the golf club has a reduced number of holes in play and access is frankly a pain in the neck, and embark on some days out and about.

I want to win a club competition again. 2013 was a barren year. Prior to that I'd won at least one monthly medal or stableford, over the previous three years. I want to add to my existing two major titles (those gold letter honour board events). Golf is recreational game but I have a fiercely competitive streak and ALWAYS go out wanting to win. It is something my dad instilled in me as a youngster. Play to win but if you can't then lose with humility and good grace. It's advice that has stood me in good stead. I have the potential and lose the killer holes and learn to chip and putt and victory will be mine.

Finally I want to enjoy my golf, whether I play well or not. I want to meet new golfing partners who become firm friends and resurrect long lost acquaintances. It's a fickle mistress I know I'll never control but it doesn't stop me trying. If I can keep a smile on my face long after the buffer zone has gone, another ball disappears from sight or I miss another putt then I'll be pleased. Plenty of others far worse off than me chasing a stupid white ball around a big field.

I hope you all had a good 2013 season and that whatever you want from your own golfing game in 2014 you achieve it and more. Play well, practice hard and don't forget to follow Homer's Odyssey and see if I can achieve my own aspirations and dreams. Happy new year

Sunday, 8 December 2013

A Bit Of Form

Moving house is allegedly one of the most stressful things you will do and with our move now imminent on December 19th, I've had little time in the last week to hit the range and work on my game. I played last weekend and had some good stuff and some rubbish. A pretty normal week. With no time to hit balls, and add in the Baltic snap we had, it wasn't until Friday that I could put club on ball and try and get a modicum of timing and technique ready to play in the Saturday roll up. I had hit it sweetly last Sunday at the range and was hoping for a confidence building session where I could trust my swing.

What happened was a curate's egg of shanks, slices and pulls. There were some good shots mixed in there but nothing that really got me excited on a chilly evening and so there was a degree of trepidation amongst the normal pre-round banter. I had started poorly last week and carved one out of bounds and so I was pleased to see my three wood sail nicely just short of the green. I should have been able to convert a simple chip and run to set up a par opportunity. Despite my recent lesson at Pachesham Golf Centre the short game gremlins are still lurking and I duffed it. An opening double bogey to start.

I got a good drive away at the second away, a the par five, to calm the nerves and hit the green but an ugly three putt undid all the good work. I repeated the trick at the third. My dive was a little left, which is the longest route over the environmental area in front of the tee, which is out of bounds. It just made the carry. I was left with 150 yards to the centre and hit a lovely six iron to the heart of the putting surface. I raced the first putt two feet past the hole and standing over the return I felt I was aiming right. Instead of stepping away, realigning and going again I ploughed on. Guess what? It missed on the right.

I was actually hitting the ball really nicely. Even on the sixth hole, a 178 yard par three that has historically given me issues I found the back of the green. Sadly the flag was at the front and I had a twenty five yard putt. I got it to within five feet but three putted again for the third time. So annoying and so unlike me. It was ruining all the good work I was putting in.

The seventh hole is a long par four measuring 398 yards with a ditch crossing the fairway at the 230 yard mark and there is an imposing oak tree to the left of this ditch. This means the tee shot needs to be strategically placed towards the right side of the fairway and short of the ditch. I hit a great hybrid, arrow straight. Too straight and I was too far left to go at the green with the large oak blocking my way forward. I was too close to try and hit a "Bubba Watson" and sling a big hooking shot around it. In the end I opted to hit a six iron. It caught the uppermost branches but finished on the right hand side of the fairway. I had a pitch from 56 yards. It has been an area I've really worked on and my 58 degree wedge was controlled beautifully and landed five feet away. This time there was no mistake with the putter and I made a lovely up and down to save par.

In the end I managed to get out in a pleasing eighteen points. It could have been under handicap without the mistakes but so far so good. My driving had been functional, if not 100% convincing and I had kept it in play. However, off the tenth tee, I carved it way right. It was a huge slice into the cabbage. My provisional went even further right. I somehow found the first ball and chopped it out and pitched on and made a great putt to save par from ten feet. It could have been so much worse. I made a par at the next and got myself two under handicap.

The twelfth is a dog leg to the right and I hit a nice drive that just ran through the fairway into a juicy lie in the semi-rough. I hit a lovely hybrid but it was a tad left and found the greenside bunker and I had short sided myself. I did everything by the textbook and opened the face up to try and play a delicate splash shot. All good except there was little sand under the ball and the bounce of the club skidded on the base of the bunker. The ball flew across the green. I hit a good chip but it ran on and left a seven footer. I holed it to make a bogey, net par on the stroke index 1 and so no damage done. It is these escapes and ability to keep the scorecard ticking over that has been missing from the game all season. I still don't trust the chipping action and set up from the lesson but with the festive break approaching and the house move out of the way 'll have time to really invest time into getting this area of the game firing.

I hit my tee shot at the 186 yard thirteenth a little low. It wasn't a good swing but it went straight. I was faced with a tough chip to a hole perched on the side of a slope. I aimed right and made perfect contact with the eight iron. It scared the hole and it was only the angle of the slope that prevented it dropping but I made a safe par. Another up and down.

Another playable drive off the fourteenth tee was pleasing. It had been the scene of several disasters over the course of 2013's competitions including the club championship first round when I had been ticking along nicely. Today though I had a clear shot into the green. My five wood wasn't the cleanest shot of the day and it came up short. Again, it was a straight forward chip and run but like the first hole I played it terribly. I left a nasty fifteen foot putt and made a mess of the first effort to leave a knee knocking five footer to keep the round ticking over.

A low hook off the fifteenth tee wasn't the disaster it could have been had I done it elsewhere on the course as the fourteenth runs adjacent and so it scampered back down that hole. It did leave a long carry over a large patch of rough and bushes to the correct fairway which is real no mans land and very little chance of seeing the white sphere again if it lands in it. The other option is to proceed down the fourteenth and then play through a gap in the trees or over them for the third. I was feeling confident and opted to hit a hybrid back to the fairway I should have been on. I didn't catch it cleanly and it sliced, taking it further away from the target green but it ended up playable. A fat nine iron approach came up short. I was staring down a messy bogey. There was little to green to work with and having mentally resigned myself to a dropped shot (yes I know this isn't what I'm suppose to do!!) I decided to play the cutest little lofted pitch with the sand wedge. It came off, and I nestled it to three feet and I made a par saver. Another back nine up and down!

I made a scrappy bogey down the long sixteenth having hit another carved tee shot way to the right. If I was being honest, I was probably thinking about the swing whereas on the front nine I had stood there with an empty head and just swung. The penultimate hole is a long and challenging par three of 218 yards with out of bounds hard left and deep rough to the right. My tee shot was right of target and short. I had a good lie and empowered by the delicate pitch at the fifteenth I went for the high tariff effort over the bunker to a pin situated just on the green. The percentage play was find the green and make a par putt from ten-fifteen feet. It lofted up nicely but was well short of the necessary oomph to travel far enough and it had a sandy grave. I splashed out but missed the bogey putt. It was the first hole I hadn't scored on.

I hit a good drive off the last tee, especially as the previous trio had been of a military nature, right, left, right. A tad too far left to be ideal and I had another large oak in front of me to navigate. I was looking to play a hybrid and aim towards the right side of the fairway. The danger with the shot was the deep rough lying in wait if I hit a fade or slice. I wanted to move it slightly right to left, a shot I usually play well with the hybrid. I hit it on the target but it did catch a few small branches which took a little power off the shot. It just ran off the fairway into a rather heavy, lush lie and left 142 yards. The problem with having to hit to the right is that it brings the pond guarding the right side of the green into play.

To add to the problems the wind picked up and was blowing into my face. In the end I took one more club to try and ensure it carried the aqua and at least found the green. In the end, I hit a big pull left which may have been a result of the heavy lie. It definitely avoided the water but went into a greenside bunker. I played a really nice sand shot to six feet but just missed the putt. Still a net par is a pleasing way to finish.

All in all that added up to a thirty six point tally and was enough to come joint first in the roll up. Had I managed a single point at the seventeenth, chipped better on occasions and not had that glut of three putts on the front nine, I would have had a really great score. Would have, could have, should have.

The pleasing thing was the fact that it was unexpected after the ghastly range session the day before. It goes some way to proving that the swing changes are beginning to bed in and I can stand there with more confidence and swing without any technical thoughts interrupting the process. The driver is still like a game of Russian roulette and I am always feeling I am one swing away from never seeing the ball again. When I stand there and trust as I did more on the front nine it can work. I just have to keep the head empty all the way round.

The short game is also a lottery. The simple stuff I did badly and yet the harder stuff I did well and got up and down. How does that work? As I've alluded to the Christmas break is all about working on getting up and down. Time invested now will sow rich dividends for the new season. There was much to be pleased about and always nice to hit a bit of form. With one more missed buffer in the stableford next week sending me back to a 12 handicap, there is much on the line. With the first round of the winter knockout on Saturday as well (it's a better ball format) next week are the last competitive rounds of 2013. Let's make it a good send off and start 2014 on a positive footing.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Dear Santa

It's that time of year when good little golfers write their notes to Father Christmas and I'm no different. The relatives have all been primed that a golf ball soap on a rope, plastic score counting devices or any other novelty gifts are not welcome. I have my own wish list for the big guy with the white beard and I have been a very good boy.

Dear Santa,

Please bring me
Consistency - I have had some really good rounds going this year in competitive rounds and then the wheels, axle or whole suspension has fallen off. I can throw bad holes in from nowhere. It usually stems from a bad drive, usually unplayable or lost. I need to be able to keep the good rounds going for the full eighteen in order to hit more buffer zones and ideally get those important small cuts to just whittle away at the handicap

Trust - I have worked hard in 2013 with my teaching professional Rhys ap Iolo. The swing still has flaws and will never be technically perfect but I have go the club moving into some good positions, especially from this time a year ago. I work hard at the range every time we strip another layer away and add something good. Why oh why don't I trust the hard work I put in on the range when I feel grass beneath my shoes. I can play with total freedom on my own just knocking a couple of balls around on a Summer evening but can't seem to find the trust factor when playing for real. Some days are better than others and IT IS coming. I just need it to be there to rely on every time.

A Working Short Game - How many times have I moaned that a lack of any sort of short game, aligned to consistency and trust, has made it so hard to grind out those good scores even when the ball striking hasn't always been ideal. I had a lesson with Rhys back in early 2013 and changed set up and path. It worked but a lack of practice, lack of attention to detail and old habits creeping back fogged the brain. I had a refresher with a fresh pair of eyes at Pachesham Golf Centre the other week which just brought the basics back into focus. I've had a head full of chocolate frogs all season, flitting between techniques, trying different things to find anything to work and generally spent the year with way too much going on over the ball. I have the basics now. The onus is on me to get the short game firing for the start of the new season.

Single Figures In 2014 - If you can bring everything else Santa, can I trouble you for enough cuts to get me back towards single figures. I was close at the start of the year and write to you now bordering on the brink of a 12 handicap. I am working hard and a little bit of help from the holy trinity, consistency, trust and a short game will lead me to the promised land. I know in my heart I'm good enough. Rhys tells me I'm good enough. I am good enough.

Enjoyment - Despite everything that has gone before in 2013 and contrary to popular belief I have had a great time playing this season. Even the bad days have been a learning experience, I've played with some great company and on a number of wonderful courses. Can you fix it please Santa to let me play more courses, enjoy games with friends old and new and continue to enjoy my golf even if the little white ball doesn't always want to go where I need it to

We all know Santa is a golfer. Hopefully he'll bring some presents to get Homer's Odyssey to it's golfing nirvana
Of course in this season, it is good to give too. As a result I would love Santa to deliver some golfing gifts to others

Lee Westwood - If good guys can be winners then surely no one would begrudge Lee that elusive first major. He has been consistent and so close so often and surely it's a matter of time. Getting back with Billy Foster on the bag has to be a good thing and I would love to see him seal the deal. He is a great driver of the ball, so important at this level, capable of hitting irons from the gods but I hope his short game and undeniable putting woes can be sorted. How much of this is now in his golfing psyche and not just a lack of ability is the big question. Come on Santa, have a rummage in your grotto for a spare major for Mr Westwood.

Rory McIlroy - A sublime golfing talent and great to see him back and winning but where has his head been? Poorly managed and advised (in my opinion) he has been in the press more for his private life than his on course exploits. Can you fix it Santa for 2014 to be the year Rory gets back to doing what he does best. If Westwood can't win a major can you make sure Rory adds to his list. He has it all. He just needs to be allowed to get on and show what he can do.

Greenkeepers - I know it's a big ask Santa but can you give green keepers across the country a break. Can you give them some decent weather this winter, not the snowmageddon we had last year. More importantly though can you give club members the grace to appreciate the hard work, often in difficult conditions, to tight budgetary constraints, and enjoy the fruits of their labours without nit-picking or moaning like crazy. That three putt was because your putting is lousy, not because the greens are a ******* disgrace.

Manufacturers - Can you continue to bring out good quality gear that help us golfing mortals enjoy the game. Can you make golf more accessible but please don't bring model after model out on a seemingly monthly basis (Taylormade and Callaway, I'm looking at you!). I love to see your innovation and I love trying the new gear that you bring out so please keep them coming. Santa can you give me a sneak preview of what everyone has planned, just to whet my golfing juices!

Golfers - Santa, this is a big one as well but I know you'll find room in the sleigh. Can you arrange for golfers across the country to have the golfing game they wish for in 2014. If they are new to the game, may they fall in love with it completely. If they are old hands can they have fun, play well and achieve whatever golfing goals they set themselves. Most importantly though, can you give them the grace to accept defeat and the humility to greet success in equal measures and enjoy a year of golf in good health and good spirits.

Of course, it's just a bit of wishful thinking and fun. Whatever you want from your golfing game, your Christmas gifts and 2014 I hope you have been good golfing boys and girls and that Santa comes to you in a few weeks time with everything you wish for.