Thursday, 26 June 2014

All The Motivation I Need

Some of the more observant will have noticed that it has all been a little quite with Homer’s Odyssey. The simple reason is the fact that the Royal Ascot race meeting last week brings the thronging masses to the vicinity of the golf club and it's very much a no go zone. Not only is the course reduced to twelve holes to facilitate the landing of helicopters for the rich and famous and their transfer across to the course, but the practice ground is also shut and turned into a coach car park.

However fear not, faithful reader. I’ve not been idle. I had a golf lesson last Monday (16th June) as a birthday present to myself. I hoped Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire was going to give my swing a mid season MOT and tweak. Instead, he’s brought forward some of the planned work for the coming winter and in particular the issues I’ve had with address and my hands coming into impact. For as long as I can remember my shoulders have been hunched with the left one significantly higher than it should have been. This has always meant I’ve struggled a little for room on the swing and it has resulted in the hands being very active in the hitting area. It has meant that when everything is synchronised all has been fine but all too often, especially under pressure the hands get busy, the right shoulder becomes dominant trying to find room and I get the dreaded snap hook or come out of the shot and hit it to the right.

We’ve significantly adjusted the set up into something that looks and feels incredibly different. In a nutshell, we’ve changed the address position so the shoulders are far more level at address and pointing far more down the line as opposed to closed. In the lesson itself, there was a marked improvement in the contact and the ball flight was a lot more neutral. I lost the big cut to the right but because I didn't wholly trust the new set up and the slight change of path on the way back we introduced, the right shoulder was still involved resulting in big draws and the odd hook. Not as destructive as my pre-lesson stock bad shot but still missing the target left. Rhys did say it was a big change and we were peeling away a large chunk of the remaining faults ingrained over thirty years and which I’d played with and had to compensate for over that time. The cunning plan is to make everything more neutral with far fewer moving pieces and with less to go wrong.

Having seen a video from my first lesson in December 2012, compared that to one at the end of January 2014 and both of those to one from the lesson, with the club path, moving parts, over swing and radical lateral movement it was amazing I could play at all let alone get it round with a handicap ranging from 14-10 in that time.

As always, it seems that once you leave the sanctuary of a teaching bay and the steely gaze of the teaching professional, the magic dust that transforms the swing into that of a competent golfer disappears. I returned to the Downshire Golf Complex the following day to work on the changes and bleed them into a compact and repetitive swing. The results were a real Heinz 57 of all sorts of shots but primarily big hooks left and high cuts right. I already knew that anything going left would mean I didn't keep the the shoulders down at address, and that the right shoulder remained in charge causing the path to return the club closed and imparting the right to left side spin. It seems so easy to do, in theory and seeing it here in writing. The ones going the other way were caused by a steeper path into the ball and the need to try and find more room into impact causing everything to lurch up and outwards. In between, there were rare glimpses of hope, a sliver of light in what was becoming a morass of darkness.

Plenty of ammunition to groove the swing

I returned to the scene of the crime on the Wednesday. One of the reasons I use Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire, apart from him being a terrific teacher, is that he genuinely has the pupil's progress at heart and if they struggle with changes he will give additional help and advice. To this end, he had some spare time and we nipped down to the teaching bay for a quick refresher and to see why I coudn't make the changes work. It's funny how a different feeling and a comment phrased differently got the penny to drop. I left him to his afternoon lessons and prepared to get to work. It was a much better session with all the clubs working well from the wedges up to the driver.

To finish the week, I’d arranged to have a playing lesson with Rhys on Friday so that he could watch the changes in action on the course and see how the new address position allowed me to hit the ball. I have to admit I was nervous as it was untried on the golf course. There were still the odd bad shot in there, partially through lack of trust, partially through rushing and partially because I’m an eleven handicapper and bad shots happen. However, using mental position A from my New Golf Thinking, there were far more improved shots, and those were longer and straighter than anything I’d produced this season. 2014 has already been a vast improvement on last year with a handicap cut, a win at the Golf Monthly Forum King of Kings qualifier at Camberley Heath, a flourishing short game and a much happier feeling to my golf.

I am getting much more distance as a result of this change. Getting into a better position at the start is getting me to deliver the club properly. To be honest, Rhys has knackered my club selection as I’ve no idea exactly how far I hit it anymore. As an example, I played the front nine at Royal Ascot this week. I had 138 yards into the third hole, normally a smooth seven iron. I flushed it and ended up twenty yards over the green. On the fourth, the fairway bunker, normally safely out of reach was found with effortless ease. I hit a driver miles down the par five fifth hole too. Granted I lost a ball on the sixth hole but that was pilot error. I was too quick, the right shoulder came in and I hit it left. I recovered on the next and my hybrid was in real danger of finding the ditch traversing the fairway some 230 yards off the tee. Despite the second shot going into the bunker I made a sandy par. To cap of my night, I bombed a driver down the ninth and again brought the ditch into play, finishing no more than ten yards short.

Normal service has now been resumed at Royal Ascot and this weekend is a chance to try the new address position in earnest in a couple of social rounds. Judging by the results playing with Rhys and on my own this week, I might just surprise a few people. I’m not getting too carried away just yet. I’ve often had success stripping away a layer of faulty technique but never really found a level of consistency to follow. At least there is no pressure on and I can focus on what I’m doing and evaluate the outcome from there.

The second half of the season starts now and all the big events like the club championships lie ahead. I am genuinely reinvigorated by the way I’m hitting it and how much short game and putting are coming on. I’m thinking better and clearer through the New Golf Thinking work I’ve been doing and everything suddenly seems simpler, clearer and focused. I have to say I’m now driven by that most basic of desires, to effectively stick two fingers up and prove people wrong. I overheard someone last night as I was working on my chipping and putting saying something to the effect “he spends so long playing and practicing but never gets better. It’s like he gets stage fright in a competition and bottles it”.

I’m afraid that’s a red rag to a bull. Those that follow my trials and tribulations on a regular basis know that Homer’s Odyssey is a long haul journey and not a quick trip. I knew from the outset that to strip away thirty years of ingrained golfing gremlins wasn’t an overnight job. Bit by bit, layer by later, it’s getting better, more often, and I’m unflinching in my belief that I’ll get to single figures. This has galvanised those intentions even further. Maybe there was a grain of truth in the fact that I’ve not always performed well in competitions at the club. I seem to produce my best golf away from “the heath of dreams” and particularly in events that have Golf Monthly anywhere in the title! Maybe familiarity has bred a degree of contempt and knowing the course so well means a degree of focus is missing. That’s where New Golf Thinking (for more see this month’s copy of Golf Monthly on sale now) will help.

The weekend will be a far better barometer of where the new address change has put me. If it works well and I play well, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t, it’ll be a catalyst for the big drive to single figures over the remaining part of the season. If not I’ll look at why and come back with a fix.

All in all then a rather eventful time considering I wasn’t actually able too play much. I love the journey and I’m enjoying seeing how these changes adapt on the course. Despite the naysayers, I’m enjoying my golf, and in my own mind at least feel like this year has been a bit of a breakthrough and progress made. I’m a stubborn old fool and so I’m more determined than ever now. Stay tuned to see how the weekend manifests itself. It could be an interesting ride.

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