Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Hear Me Roar

What a washout. Bank holiday weekend in Britain usually means only one thing, lousy weather and boy, did it deliver on that front. There was a Royal Ascot major, The Stone Cup, an honours board stableford event, with players putting two cards in over any three days of the long weekend.

Having opened my curtains on Saturday and seen the rain coming down in torrents, I adjourned to bed and decided I wouldn't be playing. That meant it would be Sunday and Monday for me. The weather on Sunday was a little better, dry but with a brisk wind to keep things interesting. To be fair, the course had stood up well to the deluges, and again praise has to go to the green keeper and his staff for getting the course as playable as it was.

I'd played on Friday with a good friend of mine, Rob Dickman. He's only been playing since September and is an academy member at Epsom Golf Club in Surrey, adjacent to the iconic race course and home to The Derby. He ventured up and brought the rain with him. To be fair we started in a mere drizzle but by the fourth hole, it was full waterproofs. Being just a social round, there was no pressure but I didn't feel I swung the club that well but was well chuffed with my 33 point total in the abysmal setting.

Going into the Stone Cup I was looking forward to continuing my "New Golf Thinking" in a competitive round in tricky conditions. It has got some reaction on here, at the club and on the Golf Monthly Forum and I've no doubt the new positive Homer persona is seeing the benefits. If you haven't the faintest idea what I'm talking about check my previous review (http://threeoffthetee.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/the-secret-is-out.html) and do try and keep up. In basic terms it's an e-book written by John O'Keeffe and the golf coach and TV pundit Denis Pugh.

Arriving bright and early, along with a good number of fellow members, we went out in a roll up, drawing balls to pick partners. I was alongside Richard Burton (yes, he's heard them all before) who plays off an impressive 7 handicap, Dave Grove, even lower off 6, and Ian Jolley, off a feisty 14.

I started impressively enough, chipping stone dead from the edge of the green having hit a reasonable opening tee shot. I was feeling good and went through my New Golf Thinking (NGT) routine on the second. However, it's one thing thinking clearly, and another putting a good swing on it. I didn't and carved it into the ditch some 180 yards from the tee. It cost a penalty shot and a messy double bogey.

However, from there, something rather strange began to happen. Those that have followed my tales will know that the short game, especially chipping has for several years been a particular Achilles heel and caused me no end of anguish and affected confidence and dented scores. If you didn't know, where have you been? It's all there for you and even on Twitter (@mbedboro) so you've no excuse. I've been working hard on it for a while now and Rhys Ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Centre in Wokingham has been working hard on improving both technique and my mental approach. In recent weeks with longer nights and warmer weather I've had a chance to get on the practice green and really develop feel and an understanding of how the stroke and club behave.

On the third I got up and down for a sand save and made a par. It looked like I was going to make a horlicks of the fourth, carving it into the rough, coming up woefully short from the heavy grass. I then pitched to two feet from 56 yards to save yet another par. I made a more regulation par at the fifth but then managed to top my tee shot on the 6th. Yes, that hole again. Once described as a nemesis before NGT I have been playing it a lot better lately and hitting it that badly into the hazard no more than 100 yards off the tee is a new first for me. No points for me there then.

I then pitched close again at the seventh from 82 yards and converted a six footer to make another par. With the wind on the shortest hole on the course, the 139 yard par 3 eighth blowing into my face, I took a six iron with the flag at the back of the green. I didn't hit it great and it ran over the back, giving me a tricky chip, down hill and with little green. I did well to get to within eight feet and then popped the putt in for another par save. Out in 19 points and under handicap with six single putt greens

The back nine started in the same vein and got up and down from the back of the tenth for another par. The twelfth is stroke index 1, allegedly the hardest on the course but playing down wind, I got a reasonable drive away. My approach was too far right and found a bunker some thirty yards short of the green. It came out way too clean and sailed over the back of the green, fortunate not to find the environmental area, out of bounds. Another chip well executed to nine feet and another single putt to salvage a net par.

It was almost a disappointment to hit the green at the 186 yard thirteenth for a straightforward par but I was back on the scrambling trail at the next playing an exquisite chip and run from the left of the green, using the contours to perfection. My hero has always been Seve and this was perhaps as close as I'll ever get to emulate his legendary short game repertoire and expertise. A fairway and green in regulation at the next for another par. The penultimate hole is a monster par three of 218 yards with wind from the right, towards out of bounds. I missed the green left into a bunker but simply splashed it out to less than a foot for par.

When it's your day, it's your day. I found the semi rough on the last hole off the tee. I hit a terrible second with my hybrid and it sailed way right over the tree line towards deep, deep grass. I played a provisional but never really believed I'd ever see the first one again. As we got around the corner, there it was, sitting on the path the green keeper uses to get from hole to hole. Lucky doesn't begin to describe the break. In the end, I made a simple net par. Another 19 points and 38 in total. Not only did it put me in third place but guaranteed my first handicap cut of the year. Here are my statistics for the round courtesy of Scoresaver 2 with the predicted handicap level per category in brackets

Fairways Hit: 33%  (Hcap Std: 20) 4 out of 12
Greens In Reg: 17%  (Hcap Std: 15) 3 of 18
Putts Per Round: 26.00  (Hcap Std: ** Pro **)
Sand Saves: 50%  (Hcap Std: 1) 2 out of 4 attempts
Par Scrambles: 53%  (Hcap Std: 2)

The weather yesterday was grim. It was raining when I arrived and was still coming down in a heavy drizzle by the time I set out. I was out again with Dave Grove who had managed a creditable 37 points himself in his opening round. We were joined by Dave Wild, yet another low handicapper off 6 and my regular partner Mike Stannard off 8. Intimidating. To be fair, they were all pleased with how NGT had helped me amass my 39 points, and I certainly hadn't swung the club well. I simply chipped and putted like a god and plotted my way calmly and clearly round, ignoring the bad shots and feeding off the short game.

I started abysmally and had only managed a miserly five points from my opening four holes. An opening tee shot snap hooked into thick grass set the tone and the tempo was way too quick and the technique wanting. I tried to keep calm, think NGT thoughts and keep patient. I made a par at the fifth and let out a roar and gave a fist pump. Think Ian Poulter at the Ryder Cup. To be honest, I'm not usually that demonstrative on the course and definitely not that vocal. I made a par at the sixth hole to blot out the horror of the day before thanks to yet another chip and putt. Cue yet more fist pumping and another "COME ON". I was really pumped and was getting myself back into contention. By the time I hit a pitch from 99 yards to twelve feet on the ninth and then sunk a twelve foot pat putt the fist pump was going into overdrive.

To be fair, my partners saw the funny side and kept my feet on the ground by mocking me incessantly. Dave Wild had lot to get excited about too, going out in a magnificent level par. Given the conditions it was a great effort and could have been a lot better. He was actually two under par gross on the eighth tee but sadly racked up a double bogey. However he'd played himself up the leader board and was only a few points behind my own tally. Sadly, for as good as his front nine had been, his back nine was the polar opposite. Lost balls, errant drives and a few short putts missed meant he came back in just four points. Many would have been apoplectic but he remained the perfect playing partner, willing me on to get back on an even kilter and kick on. He never once got annoyed, slammed his clubs or got irate. Maybe he's a secret New Golf Thinker!

I made a par at the tenth and there was another big roar and fist pump when I sunk a tricky side hill ten foot putt on the thirteenth for par. I found the fairway on the fourteenth but a little to the right and the tree on the corner of the dog leg prevented a direct approach towards the green. It would require a fade left to right. Not a shape I'm particularly happy playing. With 205 yards to go I pulled the five wood, rehearsed the shot, pictured it and addressed it. I hit it like a dream and it moved ten yards in the air, pitched short of the putting surface and ran onto the green, stopping six feet short. The birdie putt shaved the right edge of the hole but stayed up. However the par meant I was now back level with my handicap. I was right in the mix.

Like Poulter, I was fired up. Fist pumps and plenty of shouts.

I should have been able to kick on. The fifteenth isn't a hard par five but having found the green in regulation, I somehow managed to four putt, missing a short one from inside a foot. I felt I was in a bit of a trance. The clear thinking had gone and the brain was scrambled. Gone was the clear headiness that had compensated for a swing not performing well. I hit another snap hook and was I was lucky for the ball to stay in bounds but I had no swing and had to take a penalty drop. I produced another miracle shot, low under the over hanging branches but drawing back towards the fairway. I got away with a double bogey. It was a set back but a strong last two holes would make it interesting. My race was run at the seventeenth. I hit the tee shot into a bunker and then caught it thin again not taking any of the compacted sand. It sailed miles over the green into deep wet grass. I couldn't find one more miracle to get it up and down. To be honest I could barely see it let alone get a solid contact on it.

My last hole was a mess as well. Another double bogey and it was a limp end to a weekend that had promised so much. Dave Grove had quietly gone about his business and accumulated another 32 points to go with his 37 in round one and that was enough to pip my own score by one. I was already dropping down the list. Mike Stannard even managed to score more than my 30 point total and his round included a lovely birdie three on the twelfth. He's struggled lately for some form but there were definite signs of life. I have to thank them all for going out in the atrocious conditions, their support in my pursuit of glory, and for putting up with my posturing. Totally out of character and just something that came from within as I tried to win for the first time at Royal Ascot for several years.

So what can I take from this. First and foremost, the short game is definitely back. With the planned hard work I'm going to be putting in, this will only get better and better. The putting from inside ten feet is coming on. The New Golf Thinking, and in particular the "shorties" has given me a far more positive attitude and I'm not scared to go for it without worrying about the next one. On the flip side, my swing was way out of kilter all weekend. The tempo was way too quick. It was technically poor but somehow I managed to find a way to get it round. And what about "New Golf Thinking" I hear to you ask? Well I've still got work to do. Having worked so hard to get my score back to level handicap by the fourteenth, I let my mind wander out of the present.

Instead of one shot at a time I was thinking about what I needed to do on each hole. NGT talks about playing a career shot on every one but I lost the focus. Instead of career shot I though pink elephant. See you pictured a pink elephant in your minds eye as your read that didn't you? See how easy it is to picture something you don't want to?

At the end of the day, I got a fantastic handicap cut back to 11 and so the journey towards Homer's Odyssey is well and truly moving forward. In the end I came a creditable sixth and the winner shot a super 41 points in the pouring rain to go with his 40 points on Sunday. I would have needed something like a net 76 (+6) gross to win and in those conditions and with the lousy start that was always a big ask. I'm not happy with how I'm hitting it. I have been swinging better, especially on the range and in recent social games and so I don't think it's a major issue with technique. I'll keep an eye on the next few rounds and maybe get Rhys to have a look.

All in all though many more positives than negatives. I've a feeling you'll be hearing me roar with much more regularity. Well metaphorically anyway. The fist pump may stay as it's a bit of a motivational tool these days. I definitely don't feel comfy doing "a Poulter" but at least I gave my partners something to brighten their day on a rain soaked round. Homer has a short game. I don't let bad shots get in the way and I can fight back from a poor start. I have to admit, I was annoyed with myself yesterday after the round, and although I ultimately wouldn't have won, there was yet another handicap cut there for the taking instead of a 0.1 increase. Having looked at the bigger picture, this performance will hopefully be a catalyst to bigger and better things. Hear me roar!!!!!!

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