The weather was superb and credit must go to the green keeping staff at the club for the excellent way the course was presented. The greens in particular were exceptional, quick but true and the flag positions although challenging, were not in silly positions. All in all, it was set up to find the best golfer and no one could have any complaints about the layout if they didn't post a good score.
I was out at the end of the field on day one, three groups from the back. We ended up a two ball and I was paired with Dom Trotman, a 14 handicapper. He's a good golfer who should be a lot lower than his handicap but has his own agenda and way of approaching things. He's also very intense on the course and tends to keep himself to himself. I've no problem with that and for the most part left him to his own devices.
My championship didn't start well. I hit a decent enough drive but it found a green side bunker and my escape only just crept out. I elected to putt from the fringe and left it five feet short and failed to make the next. Not ideal. Still New Golf Thinking talks about moving on and not dwelling and I was in perfect position in two on the par five second. A pulled nine iron into another bunker led to another bogey. I bounced back with a par at the third to steady the ship but then missed a fairway and hit it into heavy rough to make bogey.
There was already a pattern emerging. The ball striking was excellent and the swing felt good with a wonderful tempo but I was making too many unforced errors and silly mistakes. This of all weeks wasn't the time for such madness.
The sixth is a par five of 503 yards. I was in good position again, just in the semi rough with a pitching wedge in my hand. However we were standing waiting for nearly ten minutes to play our approaches and with my opponent bereft of conversation, there was a long time to stand and mull. In the end, I hit a nasty big pull miles left. I had a tricky pitch from heavy rough over a bunker to a tight pin. I simply dumped it in the sand. I got it out but was twenty five feet away and staring another double bogey in the face. Fortunately the putter rescued me and I made a putt.
Another missed green at the par three sixth and another bogey. At the seventh, I hit the fairway and then the green but contrived to three putt. Still too many errors. I finished the back nine with two solid pars. Out in 42, one over my handicap and had left at least three shots out there.
By the time we started the back nine, the days was at its hottest and was going to be a test of concentration as well as golfing competence. I started par, par and was feeling much better about life. I hit the fairway at the twelfth, a dog leg right to leave 165 yards. I hit a lovely five iron but it was a fraction left, and just fell into a bunker. I splashed out to fifteen feet and the putt just missed. Still on stroke index one a bogey was no shame. I hit a poor tee shot on the next a 186 yard par three. It was my first really bad swing of the day. I hit a pitch in close but couldn't save par. Still I was going along nicely. You can't win on day one but you can certainly play yourself out of it.
My tee shot at the next was right but I had a chance to play a four iron between the two large trees on the right of the fairway, if not onto the green then close enough to leave a simple chip. I hit it too well and it rose higher than wanted hit a branch and dropped straight down. My next missed the green and a putt from the fringe was woefully short. Two putts later and there was a double bogey out of nowhere. Dang!
The fifteenth is a par five. Not long and a slight dog leg left. I missed the fairway into semi rough but had a good lie. In front of me was a large swathe of ferns and young trees but with a six iron in hand to play for position they shouldn't have been any issue. I've played this shot from this position so many times without a problem. Today I managed to top it. It ran into deep, deep rough and although I found it it wasn't lying well. I had nowhere viable to take a penalty drop. I tried to play it but moved it a matter of yards back into semi rough. I hit a raking four iron but it missed the green pin high. For the third time I elected to putt from the fringe and for the third time it was a decision I regretted. Why is it that whenever you have a poor hole, there's an unwritten rule that says you must finish off with an obligatory three putt. A triple bogey eight to follow a double bogey. Not good.
I made a bogey at the next although as it's a 425 yard par four, with out of bounds tight left, that wasn't too bad. The penultimate hole is a monster 218 yard par three again with out of bounds left. I made another bogey but finished with a solid par at the last. All in all it came to 86 shots, nett 75 (+5). It wasn't a disaster but it could have been oh so much better. On the plus side I'd made the halfway cut and was safely in round two.
The Sunday was equally as warm but as the field was going out in reverse order, highest scores first, I wasn't out in the flaming heat. I was with two left handers, Steve Downey, a regular in our Saturday roll up and Dave Clark, a nice guy I hadn't had the pleasure of playing with before.
For the second day running my round was to open with a horrid double bogey. This time I went right towards the trees, hit an average chip short and then chipped on to fifteen feet and failed to get the putt. I managed to make par at the next. At the third I was in the left hand semi rough off the tee put then pulled an eight iron so far left it almost made the sanctuary of the seventh fairway but ended up in heavy rough. A good pitch but another bogey. At the fourth I was in perfect position off the tee with just a wedge in hand. Another pull left. This one caught the bank of the green and it hurtled towards the out of bounds. I played a provisional and when I got there there was good news and bad news. The good news was it was still in bounds. The bad news was it was amongst some ferns tight to the barbed wire fence. I could barely see the ball at address and had a limited swing. I actually made a good attempt, bunted it forward and chipped on and then rolled in a seven foot putt to salvage a bogey.
It was a mirror image of round one. Ball striking was fantastic but there were too many errors. I did repair some of the early damage with a great birdie at the par five. After the mess I made of it the previous day it was a great feeling. I did drop a shot at the sixth, finding sand of the tee but that par three had caused me untold grief in recent months as regular followers will know. I made a bogey at the seventh when I took too little club and faced a nasty pitch over a bunker off a bare lie. I executed well but should never have been there. The front nine concluded with two pars and I was out in 40 (+5 gross) and one under handicap. Much better but still two or three wasted shots lingering out there.
My tee shot at the tenth was short and left and I hit a nice recovery but found the left hand bunker. The ball was on a down slope close to the back lip and so I was happy to find the green but it was never going to be close. I parred the 178 yard par three eleventh with an ugly four iron that was low, almost topped and apologetically ran all the way.
I was in a fantastic position for the round. Having found the fairway on the twelfth the day before I was confident of repeating the trick. Instead I hit it way right and was blocked out by the trees and had no option but to hit a four iron low and onto the fairway again. From 153 yards it should have been a simple six iron but I pushed it right. A chip and two putts and a double bogey from nowhere. Just like round one, I managed to make a hash of a hole in the middle of an otherwise steady performance. It's been a season long problem and has killed potential handicap cutting cards.
It got worse. I hit my tee shot at the 186 yard thirteenth forty yards right towards the exit to the next tee. I was lucky to get a stance and a shot. I was pitching over some bushes with a tree to negotiate. I had a gap I could potentially hit a running seven iron through, towards a bank at the back of the green, close to the flag and let the contour and gravity do the rest. It was high tariff and I spent a few moments looking at where the edge of the green was and weighing up my options. Coming off a double I didn't want to compound the errors and eventually elected to pitch to the front of the green and gamble that I could two putt the length of the green. In the end I left it four feet short and pulled the next putt so far left it didn't even scare the hole. Another double. How can I throw to round killers per round in? More importantly, why?
For the second day I hit the tee shot right on the fourteenth. For the second day I had an option to hit it low and try and get it onto or close to the putting surface. I hit a wonderful golf shot, fading it left to right and finding the green to set up a par. That was better. Coming to the fifteenth I found the left hand rough again. I wanted to hit a six iron again but was mindful of the first round. This time there was no mistake and I was just off the fairway with 125 yards left. I hit a poor shot right and found the fringe. I duffed the chip to leave a long putt and the bogey was the inevitable outcome.
I made a bogey at the sixteenth. I hit a decent three wood off the tee and a good hybrid just left of the green. A decent chip to eight feet but the putt refused to drop. I hit a great tee shot off the seventeenth but it just trickled into a bunker. I got it out but two putted. The last hole is another par five, called "Hungry Hill" measuring 531 yards with a pond guarding the right of the green. I hit a good tee shot and had five wood in my hand to try and leave a short shot in. I hit a big hook into heavy rough. It took all my strength to make contact and move it back onto the fairway. In front of the gathered masses on the patio I hit a soaring seven iron from 142 yards to seven feet but couldn't make the par putt.
It was a better round and despite another mid round farce I shot a nett 73 (+3) so was two shots better off than round one. In the end, it all added up to a 28th place finish (out of 84) and so it was a reasonable return but could have been much better.
Someone had asked me why I wasn't getting better despite all the practice I put in. It was a valid point but the answer was simple. I've been working hard with Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Complex in Wokingham for several years to get the swing into something far more reliable. Even when I don't feel I'm swinging well, I am getting the ball around far better than I would have prior to the changes. It's a source of disappointment that the handicap cuts haven't come this season and I've not really threatened to win anything but I'm playing better, enjoying my golf and having fun working on the game. Sadly golf doesn't come easily to me and so I have to work hard to gain anything from it. In short, the answer to the question posed is yes, I am improving and sometimes you can't always measure progress in handicap terms. I am in a good place and will continue to move forward.
In the end our club championship was won in a play off. Last year's winner Billy Koen managed to retain the title with a score of 145 (+5). The Derek Lane cup for the handicap prize went to the loser in play off Keith Rixon so it was some compensation for his disappointment.
That isn't the end of the season and there are still some big events to play for. I'm working hard and Homer's Odyssey continues. I need to figure out why I throw these bad holes in from nowhere. Is it a lack of concentration? Is it poor course management? Is it just one of those things as there seems to be no pattern to where these bad holes pop up from. Once I figure it out, the sixteen good holes I have akin to two more sensible scores should get the handicap dropping and maybe, just maybe into contention now and again.
All that remains is to congratulate the winners, the green keepers and also those involved in sorting out all the handicap cards and getting scores and round two tee times published so efficiently. It was a wonderful weekend, superbly run in perfect conditions. No excuses from me. I did my best but those four bad holes over the two days, along with those silly unforced errors made it more club chumpionship rather than championship. I'll be back but for now onwards, ever onwards