Wednesday, 31 December 2014

In With The New

Welcome to my new, revamped site, fresh and updated for 2015. As you can see, it's a lot easier on the eye, although there are a choice of different viewing options if you wish to choose something different. The sharp eyed will notice a black bar to the right of the screen. Click on this to find out more about me, my recent results and to links to other websites you may find interesting. I've also attached it to Google+ and so if you're on there add the blog (and me).

I hope you like the changes. The underlying premise remains the same and I am still in pursuit of a single figure golfing handicap. I enter the year with an official handicap of 11.7 and so the dream remains within tantalising sight. If I'm honest 2014 was a disappointment. I worked hard last winter and came into the year full of optimism. I did some wonderful mental work with John O'Keeffe and New Golf Thinking at the Grove (courtesy of Golf Monthly magazine) and that has helped. However areas like driving and chipping still caused issues. I've done posts on here reflecting on the year in more detail (http://threeoffthetee.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/another-season-almost-done-and-dusted.html) so you can read for yourself what happened.

I've a few new things coming for the new year. I'll be sharing far more statistics per round with you to let you see how I performed and I'll be recording some statistics on some elements of practice so it'll be apparent to see if the hard work is dripping into my scores. I've been doing some work with Andrew Piper at Lavender Golf Centre and he's very keen that practice is formulated rather than an exercise in hitting balls and recoding as much information about rounds played to highlight trends and weaknesses.

I'll be doing a few more course reviews as I intend to play a lot of different courses in 2015. There will be some equipment reviews, not always the run of the mill club and ball ones. I'll also be writing a lot more about what being a member of a golf club means to the average man in the street, and some issues we encounter. I already did one a few years back on car park golfers (http://threeoffthetee.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/car-park-golfers-do-clubs-need-them.html) which caused some consternation and so did a follow up based on the comments received (http://threeoffthetee.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/car-park-golfers-aftermath.html). I've did one on sustainable golf (http://threeoffthetee.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/sustainable-golf.html) and so 2015 will see more of the same and how I see life as a club member and average Joe handicapper.

There will of course be more tuition and I'll let you know what I'm working on, why and how it's working out. If I can put some footage of the swing in here I will do. As a starting point, here's some footage from my last lesson with Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Centre on 30th November 2014

It's a far more robust and functional action. There is still a lot of lateral movement but some of that I think is here to stay sadly. The action has far less moving parts that from the one below which was from the November the previous year


That's all for the future and these videos are a mere taster of what's to come. There's a cornucopia of stuff heading onto these pages and I hope you take the time to come back and see what's happening. If you like what you see (even if you don't) please leave a comment. If you feel the urge to share the blog with your own friends and golfing partners it would be lovely to get as many views as possible. Finally I hope you like the changes I've made and would love to hear what you think

Until then though, I wish you and your loved ones a wonderful 2015 and hope you have a safe, healthy and prosperous year. If you have any golfing resolutions or hopes, I hope they come to fruition. Play well, have fun and see you all soon.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Patience

It's been a strange few weeks. Not that much golf and when I've seemingly not produced I've had good results and in the rounds I've felt I've hit it well in, I've had nothing to show. That said, playing has been at a bit of a premium recently and so I'm happy just to be out and golfing. I have to say the course at Royal Ascot is standing up well to the heavy rain we've had over the last few weeks on and off. The new drainage works on the 12th, 13th, 15th and 16th are working well and these areas are much more resilient to the wet and standing up well. The greens are also putting wonderfully well considering the time of year. Congratulations to the green staff on the state of the course.

Regular followers will know that I've a new golf partner for the Winter knockout at Royal Ascot called Adam O'Neill playing of a very dangerous 14 handicap. My old partner of the last five seasons or so, Mike Stannard has moved to pastures new at Blackmoor Golf Club, a place well worth the green fee to play. However it's not the last we're hear of him on here. 

We had our second round match a few weeks ago. If you missed the epic first round encounter, where were you? (http://threeoffthetee.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/that-winning-feeling.html). After surviving extra time, we were now faced with the deadly Dave's, Messrs Wild and Groves. Both Dave Wild and Dave Groves are long standing members at the club and both are single figure golfers and no mugs. This would be tough.

My partner had been texting about how well he'd been playing. I on the other hand was suffering. The contact had been good but I was losing shots both left and right and my driver had started to behave very erratically. I'd had a quick lesson with a guy called Andrew Piper at Lavender Park Golf Centre a while back. He'd already given me an assessment and tweaked my set up and address and very little else and gotten me on the right track so I just wanted him to look again. I was hitting it well enough but unable to control direction. 

Andrew Piper, the man charged with getting me back on track for the winter knockout
All he said was I was way too fast. It's a problem I've spoken about on here before and I've had lessons and done work at reducing my swing to a mere blur. What he said was I simply wasn't giving myself to finish the back swing before starting the down swing. He wanted everything slowed right down and to be patient and give myself time. I made what I thought was as slow a swing as I could and yet he still said I was too quick and the ball was still not on a string. In the end it came, but to me it felt like I was going back in super slow motion but the ball flew long high and further so you couldn't argue with results. It was all well and good in the lesson but the first test would be on the course in the second round match against difficult opposition. 

As it happened I found the green with the opening tee shot and my par was enough to secure a win at the first. It certainly helped calm the nerves I was feeling and affirmed the words of Andrew and that the swing was sound if I gave it time to flow. From then on though, my secret weapon was unveiled and Adam played some fantastic stuff over the front nine, driving in particular, being very impressive. Getting several shots helped and by the turn we were in a comfortable lead and it was just a question of not doing anything too silly over the closing holes. I had jokingly told my partner I planned to just loiter with intent. I was needed at the 12th hole, stroke index one, and my par, net birdie was much needed having lost the previous hole, an innocuous par three with consummate ease. We weren't home and hosed and Adam needed a testing five footer putt on the 13th for a half and to keep momentum and a two hole advantage. He thought there was only a slight break, but using Aimpoint to make a read, I thought the break was significantly greater and told him to allow more. A perfect read and perfect stroke and it dropped. 

What happened next shows how matchplay can change so quickly. The 14th plays 430 yards and I got a shot, being stroke index 5 and both opponents being off 5 (compared to my 12 and playing 3/4 handicaps). I hit a terrible drive. It hit a tree about a hundred yards in front of the tee but right of the target line and was fortunate to drop straight down and that I could get a short iron on it. I moved it forward but still had 199 yards left for my third shot, needing to move the ball left to right in the air to get it around the trees guarding the right side of the dog-leg. That shot shape is not my favourite but I executed well and thought the ball had a chance of running in off the bank to the left of the green.

Sadly, I'd over clubbed and the ball flew well out the back of the green. Dave Wild had found the green in regulation. My short game has been hit and miss and well documented on here but now was a moment I needed to execute. I hit a chip and run to six feet and it had shaved the hole on the way past the hole. My opponent had left his first putt from the front well short and had missed the next for a bogey five. Here I was with a six footer for a five, net four, and a win that had seemed impossible after the tee shot. All those hours working on holing out from this range. All that practice. I made it and we were three up and four to go.

We secured a half at the 15th and to be honest the game petered out in an anti-climax when both Dave's made a hash of the tough sixteenth to gift us the win. To be fair to the opposition, neither played anywhere near their best on the day and had come up against my man in scintillating form. I was just there when needed. 

To be honest though I didn't play well and had Adam not played as well as he had the result would have been different. I felt I was doing what I'd worked on with Andrew Piper but not getting the results. I went out the following week in Saturday roll up and I played shocking golf. It was all over the place and anywhere but fairway and greens. And yet, despite this I was playing Seve like recovery shots and somehow managed to find a way to amass enough points in icy conditions to win the money. 

I played the roll up yesterday and felt finally, after plenty of range work, the change to the tempo, completing the swing was beginning to work. Starting on the 10th, I went out in 20 points (two under handicap) and was driving well and my long shots in particular were excellent. In the end, I petered out on the other nine and made a few mistakes to finish with 35 points and a round that felt it had gotten away. 

Mike Stannard was making a rare foray back to the club as his membership technically hasn't expired and I was sitting in the club house in pole position until he came in with an excellent round of his own of 38 points to pip me. In the end, some else in the final group trumped us both but with payout on the first two positions my old comrade had deprived me of a few quid! Talk about smash and grab. That said it was great to see him back and I'm sure he and Adam swapped a few notes on just what a heavy weight I am to drag round as a golfing partner.

And that's all folks. Another golfing season been and gone and with Christmas just around the corner, it's time to move on to 2015 and the year Homer's odyssey reaches its goal of that single figure nirvana. I have it in me. The short game is still the weakest link but I've plans afoot to sort that out, along with pitching and bunker play. Get those areas firing, the work I've done in 2014 on my swing, and now understanding that patience in the swing is key, will reap rich dividends. Of course that's all to look forward to in the dawn of a new year but for now I hope you and your loved ones have a wonderful Christmas, and whatever you hope for in 2015 it comes to fruition. If you want to give me a present, then simply spread the http://threeoffthetee.blogspot.co.uk link as far and wide as you can. If not, see you anyway in a new year. Homer out

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Another Season Almost Done And Dusted

Sitting indoors with the rain teeming down in deepest Berkshire, it feels like winter is finally here and that the golfing season for 2014 is more or less done and dusted. There are one or two more competitions at Royal Ascot Golf Club to enjoy in the run up to Christmas and then a full and active calendar starting again in January but for now it's time to sit back and reflect on where Homer's Odyssey took me.

Well first and foremost I didn't reach the promised land of single figures. To be honest starting at 11.4 in January I never really got the handicap moving the right way and loitered around 11 all season, reaching a low of 10.9 following 39 points in the Stone Cup over the May bank holiday. Since then it's climbed with the odd buffer zone thrown in but currently sits at 11.7 (playing off 12). All in all it moved up just 0.3 over the whole season and so I feel there has been far more consistency this year than recent years. However there is still a feeling of disappointment that after a good winter of lessons with Rhys ap Iolo working on the swing, I didn't manage to really ever get going.

However there is still much to enjoy. As I do each and every year, I've played different courses, met different people and really enjoyed my golf. It may not seem so at times on here, but despite the all the hard work I put in, and despite the set backs and pitfalls, every time I tee it up, I'm there for enjoyment first and foremost. If I do something well then great. If I have a bad round, I'll go back and start working even harder. That I'm afraid is just the way I am.

So what positives can I take? Well for one, the swing itself continues to develop and mature and has become far more robust and reliable. There are far less moving parts, it's on a better path and I am hitting it much better more often. The short game has come and gone and remains a source of constant frustration, although I have remedial plans in place for early 2015 to sort this once and for all. Putting has become a strong facet and both my pace, reading using Aimpoint and holing out from that crucial 2-3 foot range has become far more reliable.

I had a lovely win in March at the Golf Monthly Forum King of King's qualifier at Camberley Heath, shooting a gross 80 (net 68) including a back nine of just +4 gross and squeezed home on count back. It was one of those days when the driver in particular was working well and so I found myself in little trouble and could go for greens or lay up to the ideal yardage.

Since then, arguably the peak of the season, I've usually managed to find new and fresh ways of playing fifteen or sixteen holes in a round nicely and then chucking a real scorecard wrecker in from nowhere. It's been a recurring theme and I'm sure if you've been a regular follower of my progress (and if not why not?) then you'll know I've been going well in club competitions and right in the mix and then falling away. Of course there have also been rounds when I struggled to string two consecutive good shots together but that's the nature of this fickle mistress we call golf.

Below are my figures for the season with a comparison from the software (Scoresaver 2) on how that compares to my playing handicap of 12

Fairways Hit: 44%  (Hcap Std: 14)
Greens In Reg: 26%  (Hcap Std: 12)
Putts Per Round: 33.16  (Hcap Std: 15)
Sand Saves: 12%  (Hcap Std: 14)
Birdie Conversion: 11%  (Hcap Std: 20)
Par Scrambles: 16%  (Hcap Std: 19)
Penalties Per Round: 1.44  (Hcap Std: 15)

On first viewing that wouldn't seem to represent progress but many of these figures, especially greens in regulations and putts per round are far better (up from 22% and 34.65). The fairways hit is a little down and clearly I'm not making anything near enough birdies or scrambling well enough. Again in isolation they don't tell the full story but it does give me a benchmark to compare my progression year on year

Enough of the numbers. I have also been lucky enough to have enjoyed a fantastic opportunity courtesy of Golf Monthly to take part in New Golf Thinking at The Grove near Watford and in updates with the author John O'Keeffe since (http://threeoffthetee.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/the-secret-is-out.html). It's a developing thing with John and Golf Monthly and believe there's going to be an update in the magazine in the new year.

What this has done is give me a far clearer mind set on the course and the ability to play one shot at a time much more often. It's an ongoing project and I still don't do it all of the time but for the most part it's been a great asset as well as giving me the opportunity of a free round at The Grove. What it does so well for my own game is stop one bad shot or one bad hole becoming a downward spiral and compounding the errors on the next hole and the one after that. Again, if you've read my reports, you'll see that after I've chucked these silly holes in, I now seem to respond with a solid par or better at the next hole. In days gone by I'd have stewed, started thinking about technique and leaked more shots. It's been a great tool and for the price of a couple of pints I seriously recommend you downloading it on Kindle or buying the paperback.

I had a great day at the Golf Monthly Help For Heroes Day in September and was pleased to have helped raise over £15,000 for a great cause. We played at North Hants Golf Club and it's a course you simply have to play. Very challenging but still a fair test, its a heathland course that rewards accuracy and punishes heavily anything wayward. I didn't have my best day and finished mid-table but had a fantastic day with some Golf Monthly Forum members I'd only conversed with online from Scotland and Bolton. It really has become a must play event on the forum.

So where does the future take me? Well for starters I am steadfast in my belief I have the ability to get to single figures. That point has already been reiterated to me, not only by Rhys ap Iolo who has worked hard to get my swing working as well as it has but by a guy called Andy Piper at Lavender Park Golf Centre. I went to see him recently on the recommendation of several single figure players at my club. We only tweaked set up, including getting rid of a cupped wrist at address, better posture and alignment and I'm already reaping benefits. He has a pedigree in the short game and will be my secret weapon in this area for 2015.

For me, winter golf is more about getting out whenever the conditions and weather allow and just playing without too much focus on scores. It's a chance to take the work from lessons and the range onto the course and see how it stands up. The season won't really kick off until the start of March and I intend to be ready. I need to look at three areas over the winter and going forward. Chipping, short range pitches from the 20-30 yard area and bunkers. The latter is getting better but not good enough and the other two are just too inconsistent. I've got to the point now where I trust the swing to function more often than not. I will continue to work on it and can always get it looked at if it misfires. I've probably got it as close to a modern day swing as I'll get and it's nothing like the 80's model I've carried with me for three decades. The transition has been long and at time painful in terms of frustration, but I think it's been for the better.

So there we have it. A season of good and bad but far more consistency and I can end 2014 in a Homer happy place. It's been eventful but as I've said I've met new people, played new courses and had new golfing experiences on and off the course. I've learnt more and becoming a better golfer. Sometimes progress can't always be marked by handicap progression and scores. Yes, it's annoying that all the optimism at the start of the 2014 season really didn't manifest into a handicap drop and instead I slipped over the threshold to 12 but I've not really moved at all from the starting point. All round I've improved and I just need to find a way to string eighteen holes together and lose those killer shots at the wrong time. However, anyone watching the season ending coverage of the European Tour today on TV will see how even the best can make double bogey when right in the heart of the battle. It gives me hope even at my humble level.

I hope your 2014 season has given you all that you hoped and if not, you've understood why and will be able to find a way to make 2015 work for you. As for Three Off The Tee, they'll be a few subtle changes including a few more equipment reviews, more course reviews and some more general posts, akin to the ones I've done on club membership, dress codes and car park golfers. I doubt all of you will agree necessarily with my point of view but hopefully it'll promote some thoughts and comments. I'm hoping to post far more video footage of the swing for the guru's to consider. It won't be pretty necessarily but it doesn't have to be as long as it works. Hopefully the 2015 version will be bigger and better and I hope you enjoy it.

Monday, 17 November 2014

That Winning Feeling

No doubt I've bored you ad nauseam over the last year of so with promises that all the changes in lessons were working and that the swing was more robust, better technically and that good scores were just around the corner. The 2014 season has been a curious mix of good and the frustrating with rounds being ruined by one or two bad holes, usually from nowhere after going along nicely.

I posted last time out about feel versus real and that I working on something that would provide more control on the club face and that it had been ticking over rather nicely at the driving range. The season itself has drawn to something of a close. There's drainage works going on at Royal Ascot which has seen competitions put on hold while this is carried out. However there is the winter knockout, a better ball matchplay event and with the deadline looming, Saturday was the day to get it on.

There was much to be uncertain about. Not only was it the first round out since my lesson last week with Rhys ap Iolo but I was breaking in a new partner. My long standing, some would say long suffering partner of the last four years or so, Mike Stannard, has moved house and joined the beautiful Blackmoor Golf Club. That's a place you must play if you ever get the opportunity. A heathland treat and a very friendly and accommodating members club. His replacement, a new(ish) member of Royal Ascot and fellow Golf Monthly Forum member Adam O'Neill looked ideal with his 14 handicap and with the potential to play lower than this. We were drawn against long standing member John Munday off a competitive seven handicap and his partner Ian Stephen off sixteen. Both had won their respective divisions in the last stableford competition and were a fancied pairing to do well in this knockout.

Aside from this a shroud of mist clouded the course The early starters were forced off the course after a few holes when visibility reduced dramatically. They went back out as the mist lifted enough to resume and then teased them by coming back down and forcing them off yet again. Funny, sitting in the bar watching this but it did cast some doubt on whether we'd get out at all.

In the end we started two hours later than planned. Any fears about my partner were quelled at the first when he chipped and putted for a par to match the opposition. I hit a cracking drive down the second but on a very tight line flirting with the out of bounds. It landed in play and then kicked viciously back out of play and was lost forever amongst the ferns and bracken. We were one down. Not for long and my par at the fourth, a short par four that has a real nuisance factor was enough as both opponent found a way to make a bogey.

Adam then produced a moment of real skill at the sixth. Having missed the green left at the 178 yard par three he had a chip off a muddy lie. I'd made a bit of a mess of the hole and was out of contention. With the opposition close we needed something. He hit a chip and it came out low and looked like he'd thinned it a little. It bounced, skidded and spun close stopping inches away. It really kept the momentum going.

It was nip and tuck all the way and by the turn the game was still all square with par golf required on every hole. Aside from the sixth, I'd been hitting it as well as I had for ages. My driving, so long my nemesis had transformed. Rhys had looked at this in the lesson and we'd tweaked set up a little and suddenly I was hitting it higher and further than I've done. If only I could have taken advantage of the summer conditions a few months ago. I was hitting some very good irons into greens and my putting had threatened the hole each time. I'd made several crucial putts from the three to six foot zone for a half. All round it was firing and I was in a Homer happy place.

What I hadn't known until halfway down the fifth was that Adam had never played a better ball match before and was a nervous wreck on the first few holes. I think that chip at the sixth calmed him and he was enjoying the ebb and flow of the match.

We made a streaky half at the tenth when I holed from eight feet having missed both the fairway and green but lost the next to a par, which in better ball isn't what you need. The twelfth at Royal Ascot is already stroke index one. It's one of the holes that has undergone drainage work. A dog leg from left to right, the brave golfer can take the tree line on and carry it onto the fairway and leave a shorter second shot. However, with the introduction of a new drainage ditch, the tee shot now has to be perfectly struck to clear this new hazard as well. With the others electing to go the safer route and getting a shot on the hole I decided to take it on, buoyed by the way I was driving it. I absolutely nailed it. It made the carry with plenty to spare to leave just 147 yards in. Finding the green in two and two putting for a net birdie we were back on level terms in what was turning into an epic contest.

The 12th and the safe line. The braver golfer can take on the tree on the right and the tree line beyond
I made a par at the thirteenth despite a ropey swing. It was a bit nervy and I steered it rather than hit it but got away with it. I hit another great drive on the fourteenth. I was in the middle of the fairway with 197 yards left. And then.....as I'd done all season found a way to self destruct. I hit my hybrid straight right and out of bounds. With my partner in trouble we lost the hole. I've no idea where this shot came from. I'd gone through the pre-shot routine and the strike itself was fine, it just went straight right.

The fifteenth is a short par five and I'd left myself facing a ten footer for par after a poor approach in, pulled to the left of the green. With the opponents guaranteed a par and Adam in the left hand bunker, the dream team were in trouble again. Off a compacted and wet lie, he proceeded to produce the second miracle recovery shot of the day. Another low fizzing shot that looked to be too hot, it spun and gripped and stopped stone dead to save the day again.

We halved the sixteenth and moved onto the long 218 hole penultimate hole. John Munday found the green and both Adam and I missed right and had a pitch over a bunker to a tight flag, with the green running away from us. We did well to get to within ten feet but neither of us could match John's par. One down and one to go and definitely up against it.

The last is an uphill par five measuring 531 yards. I hit another long drive that just trickled off the fairway right and found a real wet winter lie, down in the grass. With Ian sadly out of bounds it was two onto one but we thought a birdie was needed as John was as steady as his seven handicap indicates and was on the fairway. His second wasn't perfect and he'd left himself a long way back for the third. I managed to conjure up a great shot. Not a textbook swing but club met ball perfectly and I got it well up the hole. John took on the brave shot and tried to get a fairway wood onto the green but found a bunker left, well short of the putting surface. My partner managed to get on the green for four and had a sixteen footer for a par. I only had 121 yards for my third. A smooth nine iron was all I needed. I'd done it many times before. With nerves and adrenalin flowing I tugged it left into a bunker.

John was unlucky to find his ball had wedged into the face of the bunker and with no stance and he did well to get the ball onto the front of the green but with the flag at the back, he faced a forty foot putt. He left the first putt woefully short. I came out of the bunker, short and my chip up five feet short. Adam missed (and the return) and John had a chance for a bogey and a win. It missed and I had the five footer to win the hole in ugly fashion. Regular readers will know I've worked hard on my short putting all year. This was the ultimate test and I rolled the left to right putt in, dead centre. All square and off to the nineteenth.

The first, or in this case the nineteenth is a 229 yard par three. No shots here and so every man for himself. Adam and Ian both hit nervous tee shots, way short and in the rough. My swing wasn't great and the ball came up thirty yards short. John had hit the best shot and was in the fringe pin high and definitely in the box seat.

What transpired showed just what nerves can do. Ian fired his next long and over the green. Adam found the green about twenty feet away. I didn't hit the best chip shot but it found the green twelve feet away. John had chipped solidly all day and so I was surprised when he knifed a simple chip across the green into more rough. Ian pitched back on and still had twenty five feet. John duffed another chip, only just getting on the green. Adam rolled his putt six foot past and so the best anyone other than myself could do was a miserable double bogey. I had left my first attempt just inside a foot away and hold out for a great win. We'd never been ahead until we won the 19th but it had been a classic match with never more than a hole in it and the quality of the golf was very high.

When the dust settled and we adjourned to the bar for a well earned drink, we added up the unofficial scores, bearing in mind putts were conceded, and it wasn't any great surprise that everyone had played a shot inside handicap. Our progress won't get any easier as we've two more single figure golfers awaiting next. Adam fresh from his better ball debut is already chomping at the bit.

Nothing beats that winning feeling but for me, the quality of my ball striking and all round golf has vindicated a lot of the hard work I've been putting in. I have to thank Andy Piper for the changes he made to the posture and alignment which in conjunction with the ongoing work Rhys ap Iolo has and is doing has made a real difference. The path is now more high to low and compressing the ball well again. Distances are up and dispersions are tighter. There are still issues with the odd bad hole still lurking in there to disrupt the round but other than that I'm happy.

I've managed to marry feel versus real from the previous thread. I'm still working hard to make the changes a more permanent part of my swing and to that end, I'm not overly worried about scores at this time of year and it's the perfect time to test the work I'm doing at the range and lessons in a real environment rather than bashing ball after ball. There's much to be happy about and this was a great way to christen the new partnership. My golf is in a good place and I hope I can keep the form going for a while longer. If not I'll just work even harder ready for Homer's Odyssey to sail under full trim to single figures in 2015.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Feel Versus Real

Welcome. It's been a while. Sorry about that but in truth I've not been playing too much golf in the last few weeks and what I have been playing hasn't been setting the world alight. I've been struggling in practice and in truth the swing has deserted me and I've lacked a bit of my golfing mojo.

I had a lesson a few weeks back with Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Centre. It was the start of some Winter work to just try and make what I have a little more robust, stable and reliable. I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel and Rhys is happy, or as happy as a teaching pro can ever be, with the progress I'd made in 2014. The hands and the path still need refining and it's a little too around the body and that the hands and hips get way too active at times as a result. This leads to the hands flipping and the ball going low and left or the hips and shoulders spinning too far left and hitting a big cut left to right.

All fine and dandy. The plan was to swing on a steeper path. The first feel vs real conundrum to try and get my head around was the fact that this felt like I was taking it way outside the line and chopping right down on it, much as a beginner with an over the top flaw might do. Rhys explained the concept on trying to get some more separation and  to get the hands coming down in a quieter manner. In essence the swing needs to feel more high to low into the ball. This won't be last time you hear that in this post.

As happens, while the lesson was in progress and Rhys was spreading the magic teaching dust, all was good and the swing seemed far more compact with a lower exit and finish, hands in a stronger position and the strike sublime. I say that, but the driver was a different issue and I struggled with this throughout. Not to worry thought I. Go away with the words of Rhys in my ears, the swing feelings were there and I was convinced it would come.

It didn't and in truth, as the range sessions progressed, there was some confusion on my point on exactly what I was trying to achieve and the swing seemed to manifest into a steeper and steeper creature until ball strike was heavy and direction was poor. This was magnified with the driver and by the time I set foot on Royal Ascot for a roll up game with the usual Saturday crowd my brain was full of chocolate frogs and confidence had waned. The score, especially on my front nine (the back nine of the course) was a mess and I barely managed double figures. I did rally on other nine but in truth it was more luck than judgement.

I've been using a driving range in Ascot and many of the members of the golf club had been singing the praises of a teaching pro by the name of Andy Piper. I'd seen him doing his stuff and I really fancied a fresh pair of eyes on my swing and booked a thirty minute assessment. I deliberately didn't mention what I'd been working on, just stood there and hit the shot. He verdict was refreshingly honest. In essence, the fundamentals had been forgotten and posture and alignment were poor. My shoulders were out over my toes at address and too hunched over and my shoulders were aligned way right of target.

However in his opinion, the biggest issue I had was a cupped left wrist at address which he thought was causing a lot of the issues at impact and the need I had to get the hands active. In the space of the thirty minute assessment, we did nothing more than change the posture so the shoulders were more on the balls of the feet, got the hands in a better place so the wrist wasn't cupped and the shoulders on line. The latter felt as though they were way open, pointing left, but again feel vs real, once an alignment stick was put across the shoulders they were on target. The net result was a significant change to both the quality of the strike and the power I was able to generate, now I had room to swing and could engage the big muscles and my arms much better.

I said several paragraphs ago that I'd be mentioning high to low again. Without even mentioning the work Rhys had done and the lesson I'd had, he wanted to seem my swing develop on a steeper path. I hit a few shots that way, feeling in my mind as though I was trying to hit a cut or fade. As I had in the teaching bay with Rhys I was nailing it.

I continued to work on the changes to my posture Andy Piper had given me and tried to work in the steeper path. Although new set up allowed me to make a much better pass at the ball, there was still this confusion about swinging too far outside the line and chopping down and when I played last Saturday, the round had replicated the last effort. There were more good shots than the previous outing. The chipping had improved, as previously my wrist was cupped at address. Standing taller and with the wrist sitting flatter I was able to drop the club on a steeper angle and popped it out nicely. I felt I was making progress but that there was a certain something still missing.

On a huge tangent, I have also been tinkering with my putter. I'd noticed a lots of professionals on the TV coverage, my own club pro and plenty of golfers at the recent Golf Monthly Forum Help for Heroes Day I played in were using jumbo sized putter grips. In simple terms, the idea of the bigger grip is to take the hands out of the putting stroke and allow a much better rocking motion with the shoulders. Unconvinced, I ordered an Odyssey jumbo grip which was duly fitted onto an old Odyssey White Ice #9 I had loitering around in the naughty cupboard. I'd taken it out and was blown away by how simple the stroke felt and I putted really nicely.

A jumbo putting grip, It's made the stroke much simpler and confidence has increased, especially on short putts
Having seen it work I put one on my regular putter, an Odyssey Protype Tour #9 with a milled face and played with that last weekend. It was as good as the test model and I holed out nicely. It's definitely helping and on the short putts I feel the club just goes back and through and the hands don't get involved at all. These jumbo grips aren't the cheapest out there and come in a number of different sizes but if you're struggling with the putter, and feel a little twitchy with the hands on the three footers, I would recommend you definitely have a serious think about getting one put on your putter. If you can find someone with one you can try first so much the better but if not, I still think you'll be pleasantly surprised just how smooth it makes the stroke.

Having struggled with this high to low concept both Rhys and Andy insisted would improve my swing, I'd taken the precaution of booking a lesson with Rhys on Monday night. I explained the issue I had chopping down and hitting heavy and that the swing felt way outside the line. He went back over what we're trying to achieve but I struggled to get the golfing brain switched off and trust what I was trying to do. However, once I actually saw a video of the swing and the path I was able to see that it wasn't the chopping action I had perceived and that I was actually getting into a good position. With trust and faith restored, I was able to swing with more freedom. I was making contact that was every bit as good as I'd achieved with Andy Piper and the ball fizzed off the face.

The hands were much quieter through the swing and the swing was compact and efficient and finally the penny dropped and I could understand exactly what Rhys wanted to achieve. Again, the driver wasn't quite as solid but again, there were some cracking drives in there to encourage me that I'm on the right path.

I ventured back to the range last night with the intention of working on this steeper path and getting the ball off the tee successfully with the big dog. I have to say the feeling with the irons when it goes well is fantastic. However the driver was still a step too far. However I had a light bulb moment. I went back to what I considered my "normal" swing but with a feeling of the hands being much quieter throughout. What a revelation. High and long and less flipping of the hands through impact and quieter body rotation and no more spinning out of the shot.

There's still much to be done to get where I want the swing to be. I'll be working hard on it for the rest of the week with a winter knockout match to be played on Saturday. I'm feeling much more enthused and the mojo is back and I'm hoping that the improved striking replicates itself out on the course. If it does, then I've the capability of getting round very effectively. The key will be how the driver works. If this fires, then I'm confident in the new steeper path I've been working on once the ball is on the fairway. Now that I can understand that I'm making a proper turn, can feel the hands going along for the ride, and that the finish is low and balanced, I can swing with confidence.

I'll ensure that I get back to you with the outcome and the continuing pursuit towards my target of single figures. When I see how the ball reacts and how much further it goes, I can appreciate the work both Andy and Rhys have put in. The improved posture is the starting point and the new path the engine room. With Winter weather coming, and talk of severe snow falls, the swing work will continue and if I can get the driver to follow suit with the progress I'm making with the irons then by the time the new season arrives I'm going to be ready to hit the ground running. There's a lot to be optimistic about again and the blip of the last month or so forgotten already. I promise not to leave it so long next time!

Monday, 6 October 2014

Golf Monthly Forum Help For Heroes Day 2014

Last Monday, the 5th Golf Monthly Forum Golf Day in aid of Help for Heroes took place. This event has become a must play in the diary of the members of the forum and continues to grow and become bigger and better year after year. It started with forty members playing and raising £2,200 and then grew to fifty five players the following year which raised £6,500. It then went to Blackmoor Golf Club where eighty players attended and a significant £11,500 was donated. In 2013 the event really took off with a day at West Hill, a top 100 course where one hundred and eight golfers had a fantastic day and a massive £18,000 was raised. A magnificent effort and it just proves that from humble beginnings, it's possible to do great things. Of course it doesn't happen by accident and Richard Hart and Rick Garg, two stalwarts of the forum have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make each and every event bigger and better.

Of course this meant this years event at North Hants Golf Club had a lot to live up to. Situated in Fleet in Hampshire it's where Justin Rose learnt his golf as a youngster and is a marvellous heathland course. North Hants Golf Club was an ambitious project when it was opened in 1904 by Princess Alexander of Teck. It offered the ethos of a gentleman’s club to attract members from London and the atmosphere of an American Country Club with, in addition to a fine golf course, lawn tennis courts and croquet lawns of the highest quality.

The Golf course was originally designed by James Braid, extensively redesigned in 1913 by Harry Colt and further improved in 1930 by Tom Simpson. More recently, three new holes were designed by Donald Steel in 2001 and a magnificent new clubhouse was opened in 2003. The Club has enjoyed a fascinating history which in many ways has mirrored the history of golf. A significant moment was the founding in 1957 of the Hampshire Hog which, as a leading event in the amateur golfing calendar, revealed the Club’s existence to a wider golfing audience.

So what's it all about? In simple terms it's a day to raise money for Help For Heroes a charity set up by Bryn and Emma Parry and was formed with a simple vision: that any serviceman or woman suffering life changing illness or injuries in the line of duty deserves the very best support

They now have a network of recover centres located in Catterick, Colchester, Plymouth and Tidworth and are open to both serving and veteran members of the armed forces. In May 2013 HRH The Duke of Cambridge, at the royal opening of the recovery centres said:

"These journeys of recovery will be cut short, unforgivably, if we as a nation unfix our attention. We must not let the wounded men and women of our Armed Forces down. This is therefore, I hope, as much a renewed pledge by all of us to go on supporting those who have sacrificed so much, as it is a celebration of an amazing achievement"

The day itself dawned cloudy and misty but with a favourable forecast bar an isolated shower as the golfers arrived ready for the day. Many had come from across the UK and many had already enjoyed a game of golf at various local courses the previous day. There had been a large gathering at a local curry house on the Sunday night and it seemed much falling down water had been taken and several arrivals were looking decidedly jaded around the edges. We were joined on the day by a golfer from Battle Back. Help For Heroes is a founder partner of the Battle Back programme which uses adaptive adventure training and sports rehabilitation to help seriously injured personnel gain independence and confidence to focus on what they can achieve, rather than what they can't

Just to get the heart racing, the course starts with a devilishly difficult 200 yard par three to a well bunkered green.

The intimidating opening hole at North Hants
A sweeping dog leg second hole from a raised tee provides another tricky par but this gives way to a much more comfortable and, for the low handicapper at least, a reachable par 5 third. This is a new hole, one of three designed by Donald Steel in 2001, and includes a spectacular approach over a lake to a raised and well contoured green. The rest of the front nine is classic heathland golfing fare, firm fairways giving way to well protected and fast greens. The short 8th is a classic par 3 which, though only 130 yards, requires a precise shot over a steep bunker to a narrow two tier green. When the pin is on the bottom, this is a true challenge.

My day didn't start in auspicious fashion. With a hooked hybrid tee shot the ball scuttled way left into the trees. I had a restricted swing with a bunker to negotiate and could only move the ball forward short of the bunker. I pitched on and two putted for a double bogey five. My day didn't approve at the second. Again I was left off the tee but was unlucky that the ball pitched first bounce into a heather laden ditch prompting a penalty drop and another double bogey.

The third is a glorious drive, blind over the brown of a hill and a second shot for the long hitters into this par five has to negotiate a large lake all the way to the putting surface. I took the safe route left onto the fairway and hit a good looking pitch from 77 yards which flew the green. I chipped well but failed to make par but at least I'd stopped the doubles.

The 3rd hole. A risk reward hole with a large lake and a testing blind drive
The remainder of my opening nine holes were a mixture of bogey and par golf. I wasn't playing bad golf and drove the ball reasonably. I was frustrated to hit the tough 422 yard 7th hole in regulation only to three putt from twenty five feet and more frustrated to end the nine with a double to dove tail my opening hole one. Having gone left off the tee at this dog leg I had to pitch back onto the fairway avoiding the line of bunkers but then hit a poor pitch trying to get too clever and coming up woefully short. A lame approach to the 18 feet and two putts. A messy end and I was in dire need of sustenance at the halfway hut. It's a wonderful place to stop and unwind and the sausage and onion bap was most welcome.

Another challenging, long par 3 starts the back nine so it hardly breaks you in gently. The uphill next requires an accurate drive to avoid a well placed bunker about 230 yards up the left and then needs a decent shot to assure you of a par. The tough stretch continues as the 12th hole is stroke index 1, a long sweeping dog leg to a two tier green with bunkers either side that tests even the finest strikers. The last 6 holes of the course are a delightfully varied mix; up and down, doglegs both ways, a great par 3 at the 15th and a long, challenging par 5 penultimate hole that has a green reminiscent of the Road Hole at St Andrews. As you step onto the final tee and face the imposing clubhouse once more, you will be 420 yards away from the final green, but it's not a given par

The food must have worked as I found the green at the 10th. It's another par three to open to nine holes and I hit a solid hybrid to thirty feet and two putted with ease.

The 10th, a tricky test, especially after enjoying the delights of the excellent halfway hut
My game continued to be a real mixture of good and bad. Although it was supposedly a charity day, there's always a desire to do well as there is no quarter given or asked on these forum days and the humour and mickey taking for any particularly poor shots is fierce but good natured.

I made a hash of the hardest hole on the course, the 12th trying to be brave from the right hand semi rough taking a three wood from 226 yards. Not a great move as I carved it into the trees and it found a nasty lie in deep heather. I could barely move it forward and the club selection was probably wrong. I took a six iron as I had to keep it low but there wasn't enough loft to get it out of the heather. My next fared little better and by the time I reached the green and two putted it was a nasty triple and all momentum I hoped to build for a grand crescendo disappeared.

In fact the stretch from the 12th to the 14th was a nightmare as I went triple, double, double but fought back to par the fearsome 15th although my tee shot barely scared the hole and it took two putts from 45 feet and a par putt from 10 feet to make the much needed par.

The tough 15th. All carry to a narrow green and some very deep bunkers await if you come up short
I'd made net par at the 16th and 17th including a fine chip and putt at the par five penultimate hole. Having gone right off the tee I was back in perfect position and the wedge from 105 yards looked all over the flag but flew the green. It left a chip up and over a steep bank to a tight flag position and having got the ball to within 15 feet I rolled the par putt in. Sadly the closing hole towards an impressive back drop of the clubhouse behind the green didn't finish the round in style. My drive was right and took one large bounce into a huge rhododendron bush. I managed to find it but had to take a penalty drop.

The tough closing drive. My ball found the bushes just visible on the right. Not what I'd intended!!
In the end, my points tally was a disappointing 28 and good enough for 48th place out of some 87 golfers. Not what I'd hoped for but having never played the course before, there were some holes where club selection is vital and I'd definitely have played certain holes differently.

Although I was never going to threaten the prize table, there is a rather unique trophy on offer to the winner which was donated by Sandy Catford from GoKart, the golf trolley manufacturer. It was given to her by Brian Slatter from tank manufacturer Vickers. In January and February 1991 Desert Storm took place to kick Saddam Hussain from Kuwait and Vickers had made and shipped nearly 200 Challenger tanks for the campaign. At the time, they were also making a "Mark 2" and one of the main features was it was designed to be almost invisible to enemy radar, "low signature" as it's called and these tanks featured a new and different paint job to make it harder to see. It's known as the "disruption pattern"

At the time, a lot of the officers had taken golf clubs out and needed a ball to show up in the white desert sand and so Vickers made 24 golf balls that were hand painted in the new disruption paint and shipped out to the officers. In the end Brian Slatter donated one of these balls to Sandy at GoKart and she thought it would make a fitting trophy for the Help For Heroes Day.

The day wasn't done with the prizes to be given out and a fabulous charity auction with some marvellous lots to bid on. As well as vouchers to play some great courses like Wentworth and Royal Liverpool, in the company of Golf Monthly's editor Mike Harris, there was a chance to have a lesson with Mark Crossfield. He's created a niche for himself online with some great swing fix videos, hilarious course blogs from around the UK and abroad and some insightful product reviews. There was a chance to be Golf Monthly's Editor for a day and there was also a signed pair of golf shoes from Justin Rose which given the location seemed rather appropriate.

On the day the total made was £15,000 but as always more money will always come in after that as donations continue to arrive and the successful bidders pay for their lots. I wouldn't be surprised if the final total doesn't beat the record last year at West Hill but whatever the final figure, it was still a fantastic day, wonderfully organised. I'd like to offer my thanks to all associated at North Hants Golf Club for their hospitality and the catering staff for their fine fare. I'd also like to thank all those from the forum who made the effort to play. It was great to see some old faces again and to meet up with some new members I'd only conversed with online.

All that remains to be done I guess is get my game sharper next year so I can perhaps have a chance to have such a unique trophy in my possession for a year and to finding out where and when the next event will be. It will continue to grow bigger and better and hopefully raise more and more money towards an excellent cause.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Cuddington Golf Club

As many of you will be aware, I am a regular contributor on the Golf Monthly forum (http://forums.golf-monthly.co.uk/). As well as a fantastic melting pot to discuss all things golf related, they organise a fantastic charity day each year in aid of Help4Heroes. This year was no different with forum members from across the UK descending towards North Hants Golf Club on Monday 29th September. To help make these trips viable, there were a number of games organised over the weekend and I was fortunate enough to bag a round at Cuddington Golf Club near Banstead in Surrey.

Cuddington Golf Club was opened on 1st January, 1929. The course was designed by H S Colt in conjunction with John Morrison and Frank Harris Brothers who produced a downland course of good length and variety. The greens were large and offset to emphasise the correct line of play. Initially the course was virtually tree-free but over the early period of the Club a major tree planting operation was conducted which involved, it is said, the planting of 10,000 saplings. At 6,000 yards the course was then considered long and acquired a bogey of 78. The course has subsequently increased in length to over 6,600 yards with a current par of 71. A practice ground was created in 1967. In 1999 all the greens were totally reconstructed to USPGA specifications. The new greens were first played upon in June 2000 and whilst this work had been going on a number of tees were moved and improved. Improvements to the course continue.

We were fortunate enough to sample the course off the white tees, playing its full distance of 6,603 yards. On a exceptionally warm and sunny day but with the tress just beginning to put on their Autumn display with the leaves changing to wonderful rustic browns it was a fabulous environment to enjoy a mornings golf before getting back into the sumptuous 19th to watch the end of the Ryder Cup over a a meal and a drink.

The first hole is a 521 yard par five playing slightly downhill from an elevated tee. It's a wide enough fairway and a good tee shot will give the longer hitters a chance to go for the green in two. Unfortunately my tee shot was low and left into the rough and I struggled to an opening double bogey. However with views across London as far as the arch at Wembley Stadium it was a wonderful opening hole

The opening hole at Cuddington. A gentle par five with fantastic views across London
The second is also a par five and one of the first holes that has an abundance of trees which looked stunning. A par five cheered me up.The next is a testing 442 yard par four. A good drive still left a four iron into the green. I hit it well but it just missed the green right. A good chip and putt secured another par.

If you regularly follow my golfing exploits (thanks if you do, and if not I hope you will after this) you'll know that the 2014 season has been blighted with numerous good shots and rounds ruined by a bad shot or hole from nowhere. This was the case again at the next. It's a short 168 yard par three. I carved a five iron miles right into some bushes and although I got it out and pitched on, a double bogey ensued.

As the course meanders on, it's so quiet giving its proximity to London and the bustling commuter towns of Epsom and Banstead. It's secluded and there's little traffic noise. If there was a small gripe, it's that you have to cross several roads to get to the next hole but that aside it's a real hidden gem.

My golf continued to be a curates egg of the good and bad. The par three's in particular were a real graveyard of poor shots and dropped points and I made several double bogey's. They aren't particularly long, the 201 yard 16th being the longest but I kept making bad swings on them. However on the longer holes, the par four and fives I was driving the ball wonderfully and striking it as well as I have for a while.

The final two holes are challenging. The 17th is 486 yards and plays as a par five off the whites. I hit a good drive and an excellent fairway wood but still came up short. A mediocre pitch and three putts made for a disappointing dropped shot.

The closing hole plays uphill towards the imposing clubhouse. At 420 yards it's a stern par four. Again I hit a glorious drive, leaving 205 yards into the green. I hit a great five wood but it was still short facing a tricky pitch over a bunker. I stuck it to ten feet but couldn't make the par putt.

The tough closing hole at Cuddington
After a fantastic day's golf in great company it was time to retire to the clubhouse. The bar area was packed with members watching the Ryder Cup play out to a conclusion but it made for a great atmosphere. There is a wide range of beers on offer and I took full advantage of their one course carvery which was reasonably priced at £6.95 and was very tasty. Aside from the bar area it has a restaurant area and dining room making it ideal for parties and weddings and is decorated in a very light, modern way.

The imposing clubhouse hides a great bar, and fantastic dining room. 
I have to say despite having lived pretty close to Cuddington for many years, it's never been on my golfing radar which was a big error. It's a a warm and inviting members club and I really enjoyed seeing the professional teaching a gaggle of kids on the putting green as we teed off. I'll definitely be back for a return visit and if you are ever in the area, it's well worth the effort to seek this place out and enjoy a decent course, well maintained, with reasonably priced green fees.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Building And Planning

Net 81 in the monthly medal the other weekend. It needs no further embellishment. To be honest the back was crook and I was still struggling with a viral infection and felt so weak and tired. In truth I shouldn't really have played but I wanted to get out and compete.

My mind wasn't on the job and the game was missing in action. I opened with an ugly double bogey and frittered a chance for par at the next. With a three putt on the third for another bogey and you can see how the pattern was set. I did manage a par at the fourth but then the wheels started to fall off one by one. A 6, 6, 6 finish to the front nine (double, triple, double) and a massive 48 shot total meant I'd used my handicap allowance and more on the front nine and the damage was done.

The back nine started in more positive fashion with a regulation fairway and green for a par at the tenth. With two net pars to follow, suddenly there was an outbreak of the golfer. Well, a passable resemblance anyway. That lasted until the thirteenth which was definitely unlucky. A lost ball off the tee required a good shot with the reload to find the green and scramble a double bogey.

By the time I reached the tough closing triumvirate of holes I was physically spent. The back was making it hard to swing well and the malaise had sapped me of all energy. I finished bogey, double, double, losing a ball on the final two holes. In the the inward 45 added to the outgoing 48 shots totalled a miserable 93 (net 81 - +11) and a dismal 22nd place in division one. As I said at the outset, it needs no real comment. It was ugly and not a true resemblance of how I'd actually been hitting the ball in practice. Actually the time invested on my game had diminished in recent weeks, looking after my wife post op and with my own ailments to deal with so maybe it wasn't so unexpected.

Last weekend I was feeling a tad better. I'd had a practice session midweek and the back and the virus had held up and so I decided to brave the Saturday roll up. Things were much better and after five holes I was only one over gross, having dropped a shot at the long 229 yard opener. I dropped another at the par three sixth but then hit a fantastic tee shot at the seventh and then stuck a five iron from 196 to four feet to make a great and rare birdie. I dropped another at the shortest hole on the course and then ruined a great front nine with an horrid triple bogey. The tee shot had been carved right. I hit a decent recovery which should have been safe but caught the cart path and took a huge bounce forward into a greenside bunker. A poor sand shot over the back, a duffed chip, a clumsy second effort to six feet and a missed putt was a cacophony of mistakes.

The back nine was a model of consistency until the fourteenth where I made a poor swing which found sand and led to a double bogey. In the medal the penultimate hole was a mess with a horrible triple bogey but I found a way to see that and raise it by a shot. Lost ball out of bounds left for the second week running. Three off the tee (that sounds like a great name for a golf blog) was miles right into heavy rough. I thought I'd hit a good recovery which came up short into sand. A splash out to thirteen feet and two putts for a nightmare.

New Golf Thinking is big on positive thinking including avoiding "spiralling down" and dwelling on bad holes and negativity. I missed the fairway left at the last but hit a good recovery, hooking it deliberately around the large oak left of the fairway to leave an eight iron from 132 yards. It was pin high but the birdie putt lipped out. Still a par finish and decent 36 point tally which in the end was only a couple of points shy of taking the cash. I have to regale the loyal reader of the fantastic eagle by one of my playing partners, Dave Wild, at the last, holing his third shot from around fifty yards away. It was a mighty fine shot and trumped my par with ease.

Last Sunday was dedicated to working on my game. The swing itself was a bit hit and miss although I understood what I was doing and eventually managed to solve the conundrum and was hitting it well towards the end. Moving on, I invested time and effort into my sand play. Having had a quick pointer from the assistant professional at Royal Ascot, Jamie Whenman about ball position and address, the result was very pleasing with the ball popping out with ease, nice and high and stopping quickly.

From there it was onto the putting green. My short game has regressed in recent weeks, mainly due to a lack of time invested. Again, with a small tweak to the set up to get the sternum forward and the weight onto the left side I was making a better, slightly more descending blow and the ball popped forward and ran out nicely. Even out of poor lies in deep clover, the sand iron popped it out effortlessly. I closed with a session with the putter and in particular holing out from close range but making sure each putt had a different read.

I've a huge few days coming up. It's the monthly stableford on Saturday at Royal Ascot Golf Club. On Sunday I've been invited to Cuddington Golf Club by a member as a pre-cursor to playing in the Golf Monthly Forum Help For Heroes Day at North Hants golf club next Monday. This day has been running for a few years now and just gets bigger and better thanks to the tireless effort by several of the forum stalwarts. It's a great day and North Hants will be a fabulous venue. I'm hitting the range for a few days to try and tweak the swing as it's a competition I'd love to do well in. Actually I've a decent record in Golf Monthly events including a second in the national competition to celebrate their centenary a few years back and a win this year in the King of Kings qualifier at Camberley Heath back in March.

Once the H4H day is done and dusted, that's the season more or less over bar the monthly stableford and the Winter knockout. It's not been fantastic year in terms of Homer's Odyssey with the handicap currently 0.2 higher than its starting point. However in terms of my ball striking, confidence and improved thinking on the course, it's been another year of progress. It's building and I'm going to sit down with the teaching professional I've been using, Rhys ap Iolo to figure out how we build on the work we've done and how we can use the winter to take the swing I have and move it forward into something even more robust and consistent.

I am still happy with my journey and as I've said before, handicap changes are only one barometer of progression but sometimes they don't tell the whole story. I've said before, potential cuts, even a chance to compete and win have been undone by random poor holes thrown in from nowhere. In the last post http://threeoffthetee.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/short-circuit.html I spoke about how my pre-shot routine is being tweaked to add a more noticeable pause to allow me to make a smoother swing but also to slow myself down. I can get too quick, especially when I'm playing well and eventually I short circuit the swing by hitting the ball almost as soon as I get over it. It gets too quick and I snatch and this is designed to just give me a fraction of a second longer to play the shot and have a smoother tempo.

Work has to be done on the short game and putting. The putter has been behaving pretty well but I want to continue the work I'm doing on holing out from close range and have been working on holing out regularly from 3, 5 and 7 feet. I want to make sure my stroke is consistent. I have a putting lesson paid for at Pachesham Golf Centre near Leatherhead. It has a SAM lab (http://www.pacheshamgolf.co.uk/mark_putting_studio.htm) and the plan is to get there and see in detail how I putt, look at the right putter for my stroke and get a few tips and drills to improve what I have.

I'm always building and planning how to get better. Homer's Odyssey isn't a short trip and I'm in for the proverbial long haul. I'm very happy with how it's moving forward and the work Rhys has done has transformed the swing I had in December 2012, which had big misses both left and right into something more compact and has reduced the scope of the miss, and improved the quality of the strike beyond recognition. I need to keep peeling the layers away, refining as I go. Technically it'll never be textbook but there are many single figure golfers, including a few at my own club, that get it round with an unconventional swing. Refine it, get a killer short game, improve the bunker play and make more putts and the handicap will tumble. Plans are afoot and you'll be the first to see how they pan out and how Homer's Odyssey continues. There's still plenty of golf to be played (winter weather permitting of course). I'm really enjoying my golf, even the bad rounds and as long a I can see definite progression then I'm happy. Bring it on.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Short Circuit

I recently had a lesson with Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Centre. I've been using him for a couple of years now and he's transformed the swing into something a lot more reliable and trustworthy. However as the astute amongst the regular readers will know, this season has been a story of much more consistent play blighted as by a couple of poor holes, usually real nightmares that seem to hit me out of left field.

In recent weeks, I've not had much opportunity to play and practice and so form when I have been out has been patchy. I had a decent first round in the Longhurst Cup at Royal Ascot over the bank holiday only to come to grief in the second round. I had managed a range session which wasn't inspiring and the warm up prior to the lesson had also left me thinking there was a bit of work to do to rectify what appeared to be a glitch in the swing. I had it in my mind to use the hour's lesson to tidy things up, crack on for the rest of the season and see where we went in terms of Homer's Odyssey towards single figures.

Something curious happened on the walk from the range to the teaching bay. It's a common occurrence it appears and as soon as Rhys watched me hit the first ball it sailed magnificently away with effortless ease http://forums.golf-monthly.co.uk/showthread.php?70512-Why-is-it-your-first-ball-when-a-pro-watches-you-for-the-first-time

It soon became apparent that technically things were pretty much intact. This was going to be a long hour. Well, actually it wasn't. Rather than hitting balls we went over where I was losing shots and looked for a common theme. As I could lose balls out of bounds off the tee, throw in a huge miss from the fairway, or chuck in a short game horror I couldn't see a pattern.

I went back to hitting balls and Rhys wanted to look at my pre-shot routine. He asked me to forget where the ball went, any technical thoughts and literally hit each ball as I would do on the course. He just wanted to watch each shot and the routine on each one. After five or six shots, several of which weren't as good as the others we stopped. What he noticed got me thinking. On the two shots that weren't as well struck or accurate as the others, I was much quicker from putting the club behind the ball and pulling the trigger and starting the swing. On the good shots, there was more control and a definite pause between settling the club down and the swing starting.

He took this a stage further and the theory held water. We've had a couple of playing lessons together and he describes the state as "excitable puppy". When I play a good shot, I seem to quicken and then want to get on with the next. It would seem that my thought process, but more importantly the pre-shot routine gets too quick. He used a simple circuit board as an analogy. When Homer hits a good shot, everything is connected and the current (the shot) flows properly and executes. When he goes into "excitable puppy" the circuit shorts out and the execution is too quick and poorly made.

Looking back at where recent nightmare holes have occurred, I've usually come off a really good hole, run of holes, or recovered well from a set back. Going into "excitable puppy" means I just get too quick.

Excitable Puppy - a playful young thing that can lead to golfing horrors. It needs to be kept on a tight lead
What happened with the good shots was that I executed much differently. Not only was there a definite pause, but in that moment my mind was clear. No technical thoughts. Of course many will say that is how you should play every shot. That may well be true but it's not a mental state that comes easily to me on the course. I agree though and my best scores, such as the win early in the season at the Golf Monthly King of Kings qualifier at Camberley Heath have come when I've had that serene peace of mind. It's a topic that New Golf Thinking goes into as well and there are some ideas and techniques I need to revisit.

Rhys and I talked about this. He hit a few shots and talked through his own routine. He has a similar pause between settling behind the ball and starting and described it as a blank sheet of paper wrapping up any thoughts to leave his head empty and free to just execute. It's an analogy I struggle with and I am still trying to find my own personal trigger so I can find the calmness on a regular basis.

As I mentioned, practice has been very limited with a sore back making it impossible to hit balls and I've now succumbed to a viral infection which has left me pretty weak and struggling to find enough energy after a working day to hit the practice ground.

I did play last weekend. To be honest I really shouldn't have as I really wasn't well but I wanted to get out and just work on my routine and see if I could get my circuitry wired correctly. There were some definite signs that it's an area worth pursuing and there definitely seems to be some correlation between where and when these rogue bad holes occur and "excitable puppy".

I'm hoping to get out to the range this week and hit a few balls to try and get some consistency back into my game after what has been a stop, start six weeks or so but also to work diligently on treating every range ball as I would on the course and go through a definite pre-shot routine. Hopefully something will morph into place and this pause will become consistent and the circuit will be wired properly.

It's pleasing that the swing is still functioning even without too much practice and it was definitely an interesting hour spent looking at the why, as in why did that bad score happen, as opposed to the how and the type of poor shot I delivered. There are links between what I do well and poorly. It may all sound mumbo jumbo and not for the first time there will be those saying I'm over complicating it and just stand there and smack it. However I'd argue that if I can get this pause and start the shot with a much clearer head and smoother swing then this exercise will have been worthwhile.

I need to get back to working on my game. The short game has been neglected and is causing too many lost shots again. I'm not happy with my swing despite how I played last week and know it could be better and tighter. A bit like gardening, there's always something that needs doing. I'll keep working away. It's been a good season. Not a classic and perhaps not as fulfilling to date as I'd hoped, certainly in terms of my pursuit to single figures, but enough in there to tell me I am on the right track. For now I need to shake this virus off and get back to full health and then kick on again and make sure that my golfing wiring is fully connected and we stop the short circuits.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

A Step Backwards - All Is Not Lost Yet

Those that have read the blog regularly will know I've not played or practiced much as my dear old wife has been recovering from major surgery. With a bank holiday looming, it was time for the Longhurst Cup at Royal Ascot Golf Club, a honours board event, and one that I have managed to win in the past. It's a stroke play competition and players must submit two rounds over the three days of the long weekend (one card per day).

With a distinct lack of practice and playing over the last few weeks, I wasn't too sure how this would pan out. I managed to hit a few balls on the practice field on the Friday night and although there was some good stuff in there, I was still far from expectant.

Unusually for a bank holiday, the weather was set fair, well until the bank holiday Monday itself and so there could be no excuses. You could imagine my shock then when the drive, a five wood at our very demanding 229 yard par three opening hole found the green. In truth it was a big slinging hook, one Bubba Watson would have been proud of, and not what intended but it's all about getting the ball around and limiting your bad shots. More of that to come later. An opening par and the nerves settled.

In fact I parred the opening four holes. I needed a good chip and putt at the second and a good pitch from rough at the fourth but it was over and above anything I could have hoped for. It was still going well down the fifth, a par five and with 94 yards left and a 52 degree wedge in my hand, it should have been a simple shot to the heart of the green and a two putt par. Should have, could have, would have. I pushed it right into a bunker. When I got there it was plugged. A real fried egg lie. I did well to get it out and get it within fifteen feet with no green to play with and a tier in the green to negotiate. It was a sloppy way to drop a shot though.

I missed a green at the par three sixth into more sand and dropped a shot there. To be honest, given the amount of grief I've had at that hole in the last twelve months I'm happy with a four an move on. Well actually I'm not. That isn't New Golf Thinking and the hole owes me big time but in the scheme of things, today I was happy to take the bogey. I actually hit the tee shot well and it was only three or four yards right of the ideal line but that was all it needed.

And then, Mr Careless Golfer paid a visit. In my last competitive round I'd taken a five over par nine at the seventh hole. It's 398 yards with a ditch traversing the fairway about 235 yards off the tee and so the sensible option is to lay up short, accept a longer approach in and use the shot most members get to make a safe net par. I did part one well and my hybrid off the tee found the fairway. With only 176 yards left and a four iron in hand I was looking to let it come in from the right as the ground sloped right to left. In the end I smothered the shot and it was low and left and I ended up short and left with a deep bunker to go over. I hit a lovely pitch to twelve feet and my par attempt ran just right of the hole and maybe 18 inches past. Mr Careless Golfer walked up to this "simple" tap in and missed! No care. No attention. No excuse.

I dropped a shot at the short par three eighth too. In my defence I had clubbed up to a seven iron for the 138 yard shot as the breeze had picked up and I made a good strike. The ball just seemed to stall on the breeze and dropped short, hit the top of the bunker and apologetically fell in. It ended up on a steep upslope and I only got it onto the front of the green facing a forty five foot putt. I made a good fist of this and ran the ball to within a foot or so. There was no repeat of the previous hole.

My terrific start was in danger of unravelling. My drive at the ninth was a long way left into the semi rough. As you can see from the 3D flyover from the Royal Ascot Golf club website (http://www.royalascotgolfclub.co.uk/course/hole-9) there is large tree to the left of the hole by the ditch crossing the fairway and this had completely obscured my line into the green. The only option I had was another Bubba Watson like shot aiming way right onto the greenside bunkers and trying to move it right to left. It's my preferred shape and a big hook is a shot I am confident of pulling off, although in a competitive round, out of semi rough it was a high tariff decision for a mid-handicapper. I executed like a dream and the ball found the back portion of the green. It was a shame the flag was front right and I now had another forty foot putt, downhill all the way.

I checked my Aimpoint chart and got the read. The amount of break it gave me for the level of slope I was on was hugely bigger than anything I'd have read before I did the course but trusting what I knew I picked my point and made the putt. I was a great speed so I'd got part one of the equation right. It turned and turned off the slope and I knew from about three feet out it was dead centre and dead weight. A glorious birdie and out in an excellent 39 shots (+4 gross) and that included the silly double on seven. Maybe the wife having a hot date with a scalpel is the untold secret to good golf and I just need a layoff to help her convalesce!!!

I found the fairway on the tenth and looked to start the back nine in the same manner as the front. I hit a great nine iron from 128 yards, right in the middle of my optimum range for that club but the wind picked up and it came up short. A weak chip led to a bogey. Annoying as I hit two good shots but no damage done.

I missed the green left at the pretty par three eleventh. It's only 178 yards but it plays towards the world famous Royal Ascot race course and you can see the impressive and imposing grandstand through the trees.

The pretty but tricky par three 11th hole with the grandstand of the Royal Ascot racecourse through the trees
I had a tough pitch with the flag on the edge of a tier in the green and anything too long would trundle away from the hole. My pitching all day had been excellent and this was no exception, floating it to twelve feet. My putter was playing ball too and I made the putt for par.

It was going so well and so Mr Careless Golfer decided it was time for another visit. The twelfth is a severe left to right dog leg and while the big hitters can take the trees on and carry them to leave a short iron in, the pragmatic approach is a straight tee shot and a long iron. I hit a good drive. Too good really and it ran through the fairway into the rough. I had a five iron in from 178 yards and hit it well. Had it been straight it would have been good but I pushed it to finish in a heavy lie, pin high. I was caught between a pitch shot and a long chip and run and in the end went for the harder pitch. I didn't execute. Mr Careless Golfer then decreed to hit a chunked chip and I had a thirty yard putt left. In the end my two footer for a double bogey was a good effort in the scheme of things.

I made a four at the next, the par three but it's a long par three of 186 yards which has to be carried all the way to avoid the dip in the ground short of the green that will kill a ball on the slope. I went right and hit a good chip but failed to make the putt.

I was right off the tee at the fourteenth and between the two trees in this flyover that are opposite the fairway bunker (http://www.royalascotgolfclub.co.uk/course/hole-14). I had a shot between them but there was a tiny tree some thirty yards in front of me. With five iron in hand, the debate was whether I'd get it up in time. I went for it and although it caught the top leaves, it did its best and ran up to the front of the green. On the downside it left a fifty footer the length of the green with a big slope on the putt. I left it nine feet short but then holed out brilliantly for par.

I made par, bogey and was still going great with two holes left. Our penultimate hole is a brute of a par three. It's 218 yards long, with out of bounds very tight to the left the length of the hole and bunkers left and right, and a line of very thick rough not all that far right for anything pushed or sliced too far. I hit a glorious five wood. Too good and it was too long. Cue another visit from Mr Careless Golfer as I duffed a simple chip from twenty five yards. I was left with a fifteen foot chip and I did the same thing. For my fourth I took the putter from the fringe and still left four feet for a double bogey which I made. Just.

The last is a par five, uphill with a pond right of the green. I hit a good drive and an excellent five wood to leave 38 yards. I hit an okay pitch to twenty feet but it was a downhill putt. Mr Careless Golfer wasn't done and I raced the first putt some ten feet past. It just kept going and going and I three putted.

In the end it was an opening round of net 71 (+1) and with three double bogies in there. Much to be pleased about and in a great position going into my second round the following day. Perhaps no playing or practice really is the way forward. And then again.............

The following day was as bright and warm as the Saturday and my great first round had my confidence buoyed and I was in the mood for a good showing. Even with an opening tee shot right and a duffed chip, I'd then chipped and putted for a bogey (net par) and so was off to a solid start. And then the wheels began falling off. I dumped a tee shot short of the fairway into a ditch and had to take a penalty drop. Having played down the fairway I had 148 yards left and a good shot and two putts would make bogey. I hit a great shot but it refused to bite and ran into a back bunker. I hit an average sand shot and it all added up to a double bogey. I made bogey and par at the third and fourth and so needed to start making some pars.

The fifth hole is a par five. Not that tricky and offering a good chance to make a calming par. I hit a terrible tee shot. It was miles right and there was some debate in the group whether it had made the out of bounds. I took a provisional and snapped hooked that left. It was possible that had gone OB left and so I played another provisional. That was further left than the predecessor and definitely gone so suddenly I was facing seven off the tee (the sequel blog title perhaps!). We never found the first ball but happily the second ball was still in play. What followed was a meltdown of grandiose proportions and when all was done and dusted including visits to trees and bunkers, it came out at a quadruple bogey nine.

New Golf Thinking is big on not spiralling down and letting a bad hole upset the equilibrium and so a par at the sixth was a fantastic bounce back. However I followed that up with a trip bogey seven at the seventh. This hole seems to be playing some tricks on me. Granted the tee shot was poor and right and I had to pitch out of the rough and back onto the fairway. My next found sand. Not great but not a disaster. I got in there and could tell there was little sand beneath the ball but I should be able to get it up and out. I hit the bunker shot as I wanted but there was virtually no sand at all and the club skidded off the base of the bunker and it flew some fifty yards over the green. Playing bad shots and being punished I accept, especially as a mid-handicap golfer but when you set up and execute, especially speciality shots, and get punished, the "rub of the green" is hard to swallow.

If you can't do anything about poor execution or poor quality bunkers, without doubt one thing you have absolute control over is picking the right club. I thought I'd pulled the seven iron for the 138 yard shot into the par three eighth. Looking down on it on the ground the face did seem rather upright and indeed a tad long. It didn't occur to me to even check the bottom. I hit it well and was gob smacked to see it fly the putting surface with ease, crash into a tree behind the green and disappear. On closer inspection I'd pulled a four iron and not the seven. DOH!

We found the ball and I made bogey. With a par at the last I was out in a miserable 47 shots (+12). A three putt bogey on the 10th didn't help and even though I parred the twelfth I was making so many simple mistakes and really not swinging well. I had no tempo, felt the swing was so out of sync and everything was a struggle. I made another stupid bogey at the fifteenth missing the green and duffing two chips before a single putt rescued the bogey six at this par five.

I made a bogey at the sixteenth where my tee shot was miles right and I had to work hard to even get my ball back onto the correct fairway negotiating a raft of trees to still leave 140 yards. For the second day running, I made a mockery of the seventeenth. I was left off the tee, hit a chip to twelve feet and then three putted, missing from two feet. The 0.1 handicap increase and subsequent rise to 11.5 and a 12 handicap was already a done deal. I hit my drive of the day down the last and followed it with a good second. A sweet pitch to eight feet left a birdie putt that I made to at least finish on a positive note. However it was a horrid net 78 (+8) and nothing like I had hoped for.

As I've mentioned the handicap has gone up to 11.5 (officially 12) but that is actually only 0.1 higher than where I started the season and so it has been a strangely consistent if frustrating year to date. Without doubt, a lack of short game practice cost me many, many shots and I was poor in this area. The biggest issue remains these meltdowns that are blighting the majority of cards in 2014 and ruining what for fifteen or sixteen holes has usually been a reasonable round. Of course there have been bad rounds in there where everything on the day has been out of kilter but for the most part, all the work I did over the winter and at the start of the season with Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Centre has given me a swing I understand. Even when it isn't "on" I can usually get it around the course in a decent enough manner not to damage the card too much. It isn't about hitting it prettily all the time but how you get it in the hole and ugly golf can be equally as efficient as good ball striking even if it doesn't feel so good in the sanctuary of the 19th. There are no pictures on the scorecard.

All in all then, it was a real mixed bag. Not for the first time. I've had another week of restricted practice but hopefully will be able to work on the short game and putting and enjoy a game with the usual suspects next Saturday morning and then enjoy Captain's Day on Sunday. What makes this one different is that our Club Captain in 2014 is a lady, Anthea Winn, the first in a "Royal golf club to do this. This was how Golf Club Management reported the news.

"A woman has been appointed captain of a royal golf club for the first time in British history.
winn


Anthea Winn, who will be captain of Royal Ascot Golf Club in Berkshire in 2014, believes her appointment will have a positive effect on the industry following a year of negative headlines.There are 34 royal golf clubs in the United Kingdom – clubs that have received royal patronage from a member of the royal family. Royal Ascot has twice been granted the patronage, first in 1887 by Queen Victoria, and then again in 1977 by Queen Elizabeth II.

Winn, the former captain of Sunningdale Ladies’ Golf Club, said that she thinks she will be the first of many.
“Someone has to be the first but I am sure I will not be last by any means,” she said. “I think it will have a positive effect on other golf clubs within the county.”

I really hope the weather stays good for what promises to be a wonderful day and that a lot of money is raised for the charity we're supporting this year, Prostate Cancer UK. As always I'll be in there working hard to play my heart out and start getting these pesky handicap cuts towards single figures. It's proving a tricky old Odyssey but the harder it gets the more I'll keep going, and the more my steadfast belief in my abilities to get there remain undiminished. For now though I'll take the positives from the opening 71 and ignore the silliness of round two. Sort the short game, trust the swing, enjoy the game and keep plugging on. Homer out