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 ( 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 ( 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.

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

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