Tuesday, 28 January 2014

The I's Have It

The regulars on here will be aware that last year I went through a custom fitting process at Pachesham Golf Centre in Leatherhead. It had been a long process as I tried a lot of different clubs but the various launch monitors had all led me back to a clear winner, the Ping G25. The fitting had led me to a green dot (2.25 degrees upright) and by the end of June I had them in the bag.

The logic had been crystal clear in my head. I had done a lot of swing work with my teaching professional Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Centre in Wokingham over the winter of 2013. My thought process was the swing was in flux and a move to something a little more forgiving than the TaylorMade Tour Preferred's I was using would make transition a smooth one.

Ping described the G25:
The G25s offer game-improvement technology, high trajectory, distance, and extreme forgiveness in a sleeker head that inspires confidence. A custom-engineered face structure ensures a solid feel and distance with control. Progressive sole widths help optimise CG placement for accurate distance gapping. In appearance and performance, these 17-4 stainless steel designs will appeal to golfers of all abilities.

All was good with one exception. The top line was thick and on the shorter club. This became a nagging problem especially when chipping as the season progressed. This has been a problem area and looking down on the top line drained the confidence and I become more and more dis-enchanted with the aesthetics of the set until I made the decision back in December to go back to the sleeker TaylorMade's

The top line of the short clubs in the G25 range became a problem looking down on them

I still like the Ping range. During my testing period, I had hit the I20 model. This is a much smaller head and a has a degree less loft than the G range. I had hit it nicely, and had been drawn back to it in recent range sessions at the Downshire. It hadn't performed too differently to the TM's but during the testing last year the G range had seemingly given better distance and dispersion. That was then. This is now.

The I20 are described by Ping on their website:
As winners of the exclusive Editor’s Choice in the 2012 Golf Digest “Hot List,” the I20s offer a progressive set design featuring high-launching long irons and penetrating short irons, enabling you to get the most from your iron game. Workability and distance control are key attributes of these multi-metal irons.

The smaller head in the I20 oozed confidence behind the ball

I'd been to the range on Monday night and had wandered back to the shop to try the demo version again. They only have it in the black dot (standard lie) with the stock Ping shaft in regular flex. I was hitting it well again and it produced a lovely penetrating flight that seemed to make the range ball pierce the blustery breeze with ease. In the dark it was hard to compare distance compared to the Tour Preferred's and I was thinking about speaking with Rhys. I have a lesson booked for the 29th and I'm contemplating forsaking any tweaks to technique and getting on the launch monitor and seeing how the numbers stacked up.

And that should have been the end of the story. Hit the two protagonists, the G25 and I20, and either stick to the TM's or upgrade to the I20 and get shot of the G25's. However Ping have added another ingredient into to the mix and the I25 range has been released and available from February 14th.

This is very similar to the I20 in terms of looks. The size of the head and offset are exactly the same. The lofts are exactly the same too. I hadn't expected the Downshire to have a demo club in stock yet so when the assistant came back with one (standard set up and stock Ping shaft in regular) I was like a kid at Christmas.

Ping are getting behind the I25 in a big way. They described it:
The I25 irons are engineered for a variety of skill levels with technology that provides versatility and forgiveness. In the progressive set design, each 17-4 stainless steel head has a specific function with regard to the centre of gravity, the bounce, and the offset. The result is highly forgiving long irons and controlled short irons, which will bring confidence to your shot-making.

The I25, the latest incarnation in the range
To be honest the first few shots weren't very good. I'd got way too excited to have the shiny new club in my hand and was swinging too fast, trying to get every last ounce of performance out of it. Reigning myself back in, I managed to get the ball away with ease. As with the I20, there is still more than enough forgiveness. My swing is in a much better place after the work I did this time last year and my thinking dictates that if I am controlling the TP's with ease, then the I range would be a logical upgrade from the G25. Nothing wrong with these other than I have fallen out of love with the way they look. I still hit them wonderfully but can't get over how big the heads look especially now my head has been turned by the sleeker offerings from Ping.

The ball flight I got from the I25 was higher than the I20 in my opinion. If I hadn't looked at the Ping website and checked the specifications, I would have said from just comparing the I20 and I25 in the dimly lit bay, the I20 was fractionally smaller in the head and had marginally less offset. It shows how looks behind a ball can be deceiving. That said, the I25 takes the functionality of the I20 and is another club that's a joy to hit. Hit it out of the middle and it has a soft feel that belies the fact that it's a cast head. Miss the sweet spot and the forgiveness it provides means that you still get as much out of the shot as possible.

So what's the outcome? Well for the moment nothing changes. I loved hitting both members of the I range and would recommend both to anyone looking to upgrade from something in the "game improver" category or just wanting a smaller headed club that maintains forgiveness. I'm not rushing to make any decision and as I've alluded I'd love hit them on a launch monitor and get a better understanding of how they perform and maybe have a play with shaft flex or even trying different options other than the stock shaft offerings.

Of course, you don't have to take my word. There is a professional called Mark Crossfield who has built a reputation from his online reviews and tuition and he has done his own in depth review of the I25 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mm61QRogXAc&list=PL-yMxw6TSwy64LWs6ebLod6Zz40FGnOPW
On reflection, I probably dived in too quickly last summer, lured by shiny new clubs. Had I given the swing more time to bed in, worked hard on changes and had more belief out on the course, especially in competitions, I may have saved myself from buying the G25's. That isn't to say I regret it but I feel, whether rightly or wrongly, that the step back to a game improver model was a negative one. I hit them well despite the bigger head and offset but I really can't get my head around the look. Confidence, certainly in my golfing psyche, is a fragile thing. I just don't like chipping and pitching with the short irons. I still pull the shot off (perhaps not the chipping but that's a whole different issue) but I see them as workmanlike rather than something I hold in my hand and think "I'm a single figure player".
Nothing changes.....for now but I would put the I25 on your "must try" list for 2014 but I would try it head to head with the older brother the I20. If you fancy the earlier incarnation, with the newer model out you may well save yourself a few quid on the current RRP too. Once I get on the monitor and trial them to within an inch of their life I'll come back with how they performed under the gaze of the technology. Should be interesting!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Homer's Happy Place

Bearing in mind I am still to set foot on a golf course in 2014 this would seem an unlikely title for the latest instalment of Homer's Odyssey. Royal Ascot Golf Club have done well in keeping nine holes open most of the time although the back nine has succumbed to water logging in recent apocalyptic rainfall. I could have played the front nine but the idea of struggling around in wet, muddy conditions just to get a golfing fix didn't appeal and my new found love of the short game has given me an excuse to retire to the range and work on this facet.

First the bad news. Despite the love of all things short game, I am at a crossroad - AGAIN. I had a short game evaluation at Pachesham Golf Centre near Leatherhead at the weekend. We looked at the chipping action using the linear method and I left the session with plenty to work on but optimistic that I was on the right path. This evaluation programme is looking at chipping, pitching bunkers and putting as these will be key to shaving shots of my score, getting cut and reaching the nirvana of single figures.

My regular teaching professional Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Centre is giving me an intense programme between now and the end of March on all aspects of my game so that I can hit the season running. I did the hard work on my swing last winter and although I didn't get the rewards my hard work deserved in 2013, my swing has moved forward and it is a question of refining now rather than rebuilding. The subject of chipping came up in our lesson on Monday. I explained what I had worked at Pachesham. He isn't a fan of the linear method. I knew that but he was very keen that I explored a more conventional method. He thinks in the long run it is simpler, less moving parts and there is less for me to think about.

So there's the dilemma I have. Put my faith in Rhys and have to work harder using a method I don't trust 100% or stick with the unorthodox linear method. This doesn't just impact chipping but will follow on into the pitching method. I've already eulogised about how positive the pitching work I've already done has been. Rhys and I started the session by working on some pitches and chips with a more neutral set up and action. The longer swing and more room to work on pitches were fine but minimise that into a chip going a few feet and there are still issues. How can such a simple part of the game have so many variants. Heck, I haven't even considered hinge and hold a la Phil Mickelson yet! And here I am thinking I am finally clearing the rubbish from my head. Still this is an issue for another lesson and another day. With more rain forecast and no sign of the course opening fully soon I am going to have time to weigh up the merits of both options in more detail.

The main focus of the lesson with Rhys on Monday was tackling a basic flaw in the address position which has seemingly always had a degree of curvature and not run in nice straight lines. A lot of the work was done in front of the mirror trying to get the hips in a better position, straighten the shoulders, lowering the left one in the process and basically getting in a better position to turn back and through.

The lesson had me thinking. I had got good results as part of our very first winter's work back in 2012 when I stood with the legs feeling more rigid as though there was a beach ball between the knees. It seemed to make the coil tighter and I felt there was less over swing and the body didn't lift as much as has been evident in video clips I've put up on here in the past.

And now the journey to Homer's happy place. I hit the range on Tuesday night. I wanted to work on what for me feels a much shorter swing, getting this feeling I had of the legs being more stable and the left shoulder turning under the chin. With the left foot turned out slightly I had room to then rotate through with the club exiting left as I had worked on over last winter. What followed was perhaps the best exhibition of ball striking I've produced in a very long time. I had total control of the club and its path through every stick in the bag.

Everything I have worked on fell into place and I finally feel as though the swing is complete. I am sure if I watch it back on screen the lift in the back swing will be there and there will still be plenty for Rhys to clean up but for now, I am hitting it superbly. I could even be tempted to wander out on the muddy course and put it to the test this weekend. There again. I still have this short game conundrum to solve. The cunning plan is hit the range later in the week and keep everything ticking along in this seam of golfing prowess and split the sessions between fiddling with the short game and hitting arrow straight balls with the full swing.

Sometimes, you can find a nugget of gold if you pan enough stones. I know there is a world of difference hitting balls of a flat mat at a range and playing a tight par four in a blustery squall when you can't feel your hands. However I firmly believe that if you put the hard work in before hand you will get the results. There is a lot of work to be done on pre-shot and mental aspect too. I have been guilty of having fifteen or sixteen good holes and blowing up in spectacular fashion on the others ruining all the hard work. A robust pre-shot routine and learning how to think positively during the round will be key.

For now though I am going to bask in my own glory, plan for future triumphs, reaching single figures and finding a robust chipping method I can trust once and for all. Sometimes you really do get some payback for your efforts. A glass more than half full Homer out.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Short Game - Time To Get Reacquainted

Happy New Year one and all. It hasn't been the greatest start to the year with the course being closed, reduce to nine holes due to water logging or on temporary greens thanks to heavy frosts. As a result I've not played yet this year but have been working hard on my swing. It has also given me a chance to get back on familiar terms with my short game. Now regular followers will know that the short game, particularly the chipping side of things was a huge issue in 2013. I got caught between too many methods and techniques and as a result the head was full of mush. I didn't know what I was trying to achieve or how to get there.

This year will be different. It is the one area that will help my scoring more than anything else and so if I can get it working well I should be able to hit the buffer zone more often even when ball striking isn't that good and when it is working well, should see those cuts starting again and the handicap falling towards single figures.

I have decided that I am going to nail my colours firmly to the Linear Method mast. For the uninitiated this is a method devised by Gary Smith. Gary has 14 years experience of working with England’s top amateur stars as an EGU Technical Coach, working with Tour players including Justin Rose, Chris Wood, Ross Fisher, Danny Willett, Gary Boyd, Ollie Fisher, Richard Finch, David Horsey, Seve Benson, Nick Dougherty, Paul Waring and Gary Wolstenholme.
He is a Golf Monthly UK Top 25 Coach and has been awarded the Advanced Fellow of the PGA for his knowledge and experience within golf. http://garysmithgolf.com/your-game/short-game-focus/

I have posted this link before but it shows clearly how simple the technique is and how it only requires a few simple movements. I had some success in 2012 using this method but at the time when it went AWOL there weren't that many coaches au fait with it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XzLzmRPmxJU This has now changed. In essence it's all about using the bounce of the club correctly and gives a much bigger margin of error than the traditional chipping and pitching method with the hands ahead of the ball.

In conjunction with this I am going to be using the short game area at Pachesham Golf Centre (http://www.pacheshamgolf.co.uk/) near Leatherhead. They have a fantastic set up which is open to the public and I have linked up with a young pro called Liam McCrossan who is aware and understands the Linear principles.

This is what Pachesham say about their facility on the website:
"We unashamedly boast we have the best public short game practice facility in the area. In addition to our USGA specification putting green we have two purpose built short game areas with plenty of space for pitching (up to 90 yards), chipping, lob shots, chip and run shots, and green side bunker shots. With these superb facilities our Academy is undoubtedly the best place to come for a lesson to improve all aspects of your short game. The best players in the world work hardest on their short game because they know that 80% of shots dropped are from within 100 yards of the hole.

I have booked (well it was bought for Christmas for me)

‘The Scoring Zone’ Programme


One2One Option - 4 x 1 hour sessions with lesson notes.
Define and improve your short game. Wedge analysis and fitting. Video analysis.

The first lesson is this Sunday and so we'll see what it brings. I did have a chipping lesson with Liam at the end of November and to my chagrin I've neglected to work on what he has shown me. I was shocking in the last few outings of last year when the chipping gremlins came back to roost. This is what I need to be working towards. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=roZ8bkuWRm8 If I can get back to the way I chipped with this method in 2012 and improve and refine it then I will be more than happy.

Funnily enough it was a lesson with my normal coach, Rhys ap Iolo on Saturday that re-ignited my enthusiasm for all things short game and also made the decision to go back and stick with the Linear method. We were working on pitching including some horror lies such as bare mud. It would be fair to say it took a while for the penny to drop but a lot of what he was trying to do related to letting the right hand dictate and turn the body. The main difference would seem to be the width of stance and ball position and the fact the Linear method involves a degree more body turn on the way back.

Having hit some balls after the lesson and playing about (as Rhys suggested I do) with the set up it became clear there were similarities in terms of angle of attack, and more importantly utilising the bounce. I studied the Linear DVDs I had at home and made a conscious effort to take a trip to the practice ground at Royal Ascot Golf Club yesterday and work on pitching technique and then begin to drill some distance control into it. It may have been a case of running before I could walk!

Conditions weren't conducive and a heavy frost and chill breeze meant it was mind over matter early on to focus on my intentions and get to work. Initially I was just hitting shots with the 52 and 58 degree wedges, not too hung up on distance but just trying to use the bounce and brush the ground. The results were satisfactory but I seemed to be taking a divot of varying sizes. It became apparent I wasn't rotating back across the front leg or using the right hand correctly. Once I solved this conundrum I began picking the ball much cleaner and getting a lovely high flight with the ball stopping nice and quickly.

I set up some distance markers at 40, 50, 60 and 70 yards using my Sky Caddy GPS device to get a fairly accurate measurement and then spent the next hour trying to get a feel for distances with different clubs whilst ensuring the technique didn't suffer. It is definitely a work in progress but the good ones were really good landing close to the right distance and with a tight dispersion. The bad ones were an ugly fat with a large divot where the swing got out of sync or where I caught it thin by rotating too aggressively. Having only gone back to the method that morning it was a pleasing session.

The heavy frost had shut the putting green and so plans to move there to work on the chipping technique was shelved. Instead I had to make do with the partially mown area adjacent to the practice bunker. It was far from perfect but gave me a chance to get back into the groove. I don't really like the wider stance especially on the really short shots and so it is something I need to work on and is a question I need to ask Liam at the weekend.

I have fallen back in love with the short game and have my head much clearer about what I am trying to do and how I want to achieve it. It was never my intention to end up with two coaches but with Liam being based at Pachesham which has the ideal facilities it sort of fell into place. It is a long way to go regularly to work on the short game and it isn't feasible to pop there after work, but once every few weeks I can go there and spend a number of hours refining my abilities. In the interim, I am sure Rhys will be on hand to refine and improve and I can keep drilling all the facets of the short game up at Royal Ascot. It is definitely going to be the main focus of attention between now and the start of the main season in March and I am hoping all the tuition is going to give a firm base to build the rest of my game.

I am watching the DVD on a regular basis and soaking up as much as I can. I am really fired up again to get this side of the game up and running as soon as I can and if I can rely on the technique, switch off the thinking side of the brain and become focused on target and feel I am certain 2014 will see me have the short game I have wanted and which I'll need once I hit single figures and beyond. It won't be a smooth path, golf never is. However now I have a simplified approach and a mind set fixed on the goal I am certain I can be more than proficient. I can't wait to see the fruits of my labours.