Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Building And Planning

Net 81 in the monthly medal the other weekend. It needs no further embellishment. To be honest the back was crook and I was still struggling with a viral infection and felt so weak and tired. In truth I shouldn't really have played but I wanted to get out and compete.

My mind wasn't on the job and the game was missing in action. I opened with an ugly double bogey and frittered a chance for par at the next. With a three putt on the third for another bogey and you can see how the pattern was set. I did manage a par at the fourth but then the wheels started to fall off one by one. A 6, 6, 6 finish to the front nine (double, triple, double) and a massive 48 shot total meant I'd used my handicap allowance and more on the front nine and the damage was done.

The back nine started in more positive fashion with a regulation fairway and green for a par at the tenth. With two net pars to follow, suddenly there was an outbreak of the golfer. Well, a passable resemblance anyway. That lasted until the thirteenth which was definitely unlucky. A lost ball off the tee required a good shot with the reload to find the green and scramble a double bogey.

By the time I reached the tough closing triumvirate of holes I was physically spent. The back was making it hard to swing well and the malaise had sapped me of all energy. I finished bogey, double, double, losing a ball on the final two holes. In the the inward 45 added to the outgoing 48 shots totalled a miserable 93 (net 81 - +11) and a dismal 22nd place in division one. As I said at the outset, it needs no real comment. It was ugly and not a true resemblance of how I'd actually been hitting the ball in practice. Actually the time invested on my game had diminished in recent weeks, looking after my wife post op and with my own ailments to deal with so maybe it wasn't so unexpected.

Last weekend I was feeling a tad better. I'd had a practice session midweek and the back and the virus had held up and so I decided to brave the Saturday roll up. Things were much better and after five holes I was only one over gross, having dropped a shot at the long 229 yard opener. I dropped another at the par three sixth but then hit a fantastic tee shot at the seventh and then stuck a five iron from 196 to four feet to make a great and rare birdie. I dropped another at the shortest hole on the course and then ruined a great front nine with an horrid triple bogey. The tee shot had been carved right. I hit a decent recovery which should have been safe but caught the cart path and took a huge bounce forward into a greenside bunker. A poor sand shot over the back, a duffed chip, a clumsy second effort to six feet and a missed putt was a cacophony of mistakes.

The back nine was a model of consistency until the fourteenth where I made a poor swing which found sand and led to a double bogey. In the medal the penultimate hole was a mess with a horrible triple bogey but I found a way to see that and raise it by a shot. Lost ball out of bounds left for the second week running. Three off the tee (that sounds like a great name for a golf blog) was miles right into heavy rough. I thought I'd hit a good recovery which came up short into sand. A splash out to thirteen feet and two putts for a nightmare.

New Golf Thinking is big on positive thinking including avoiding "spiralling down" and dwelling on bad holes and negativity. I missed the fairway left at the last but hit a good recovery, hooking it deliberately around the large oak left of the fairway to leave an eight iron from 132 yards. It was pin high but the birdie putt lipped out. Still a par finish and decent 36 point tally which in the end was only a couple of points shy of taking the cash. I have to regale the loyal reader of the fantastic eagle by one of my playing partners, Dave Wild, at the last, holing his third shot from around fifty yards away. It was a mighty fine shot and trumped my par with ease.

Last Sunday was dedicated to working on my game. The swing itself was a bit hit and miss although I understood what I was doing and eventually managed to solve the conundrum and was hitting it well towards the end. Moving on, I invested time and effort into my sand play. Having had a quick pointer from the assistant professional at Royal Ascot, Jamie Whenman about ball position and address, the result was very pleasing with the ball popping out with ease, nice and high and stopping quickly.

From there it was onto the putting green. My short game has regressed in recent weeks, mainly due to a lack of time invested. Again, with a small tweak to the set up to get the sternum forward and the weight onto the left side I was making a better, slightly more descending blow and the ball popped forward and ran out nicely. Even out of poor lies in deep clover, the sand iron popped it out effortlessly. I closed with a session with the putter and in particular holing out from close range but making sure each putt had a different read.

I've a huge few days coming up. It's the monthly stableford on Saturday at Royal Ascot Golf Club. On Sunday I've been invited to Cuddington Golf Club by a member as a pre-cursor to playing in the Golf Monthly Forum Help For Heroes Day at North Hants golf club next Monday. This day has been running for a few years now and just gets bigger and better thanks to the tireless effort by several of the forum stalwarts. It's a great day and North Hants will be a fabulous venue. I'm hitting the range for a few days to try and tweak the swing as it's a competition I'd love to do well in. Actually I've a decent record in Golf Monthly events including a second in the national competition to celebrate their centenary a few years back and a win this year in the King of Kings qualifier at Camberley Heath back in March.

Once the H4H day is done and dusted, that's the season more or less over bar the monthly stableford and the Winter knockout. It's not been fantastic year in terms of Homer's Odyssey with the handicap currently 0.2 higher than its starting point. However in terms of my ball striking, confidence and improved thinking on the course, it's been another year of progress. It's building and I'm going to sit down with the teaching professional I've been using, Rhys ap Iolo to figure out how we build on the work we've done and how we can use the winter to take the swing I have and move it forward into something even more robust and consistent.

I am still happy with my journey and as I've said before, handicap changes are only one barometer of progression but sometimes they don't tell the whole story. I've said before, potential cuts, even a chance to compete and win have been undone by random poor holes thrown in from nowhere. In the last post I spoke about how my pre-shot routine is being tweaked to add a more noticeable pause to allow me to make a smoother swing but also to slow myself down. I can get too quick, especially when I'm playing well and eventually I short circuit the swing by hitting the ball almost as soon as I get over it. It gets too quick and I snatch and this is designed to just give me a fraction of a second longer to play the shot and have a smoother tempo.

Work has to be done on the short game and putting. The putter has been behaving pretty well but I want to continue the work I'm doing on holing out from close range and have been working on holing out regularly from 3, 5 and 7 feet. I want to make sure my stroke is consistent. I have a putting lesson paid for at Pachesham Golf Centre near Leatherhead. It has a SAM lab ( and the plan is to get there and see in detail how I putt, look at the right putter for my stroke and get a few tips and drills to improve what I have.

I'm always building and planning how to get better. Homer's Odyssey isn't a short trip and I'm in for the proverbial long haul. I'm very happy with how it's moving forward and the work Rhys has done has transformed the swing I had in December 2012, which had big misses both left and right into something more compact and has reduced the scope of the miss, and improved the quality of the strike beyond recognition. I need to keep peeling the layers away, refining as I go. Technically it'll never be textbook but there are many single figure golfers, including a few at my own club, that get it round with an unconventional swing. Refine it, get a killer short game, improve the bunker play and make more putts and the handicap will tumble. Plans are afoot and you'll be the first to see how they pan out and how Homer's Odyssey continues. There's still plenty of golf to be played (winter weather permitting of course). I'm really enjoying my golf, even the bad rounds and as long a I can see definite progression then I'm happy. Bring it on.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Short Circuit

I recently had a lesson with Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Centre. I've been using him for a couple of years now and he's transformed the swing into something a lot more reliable and trustworthy. However as the astute amongst the regular readers will know, this season has been a story of much more consistent play blighted as by a couple of poor holes, usually real nightmares that seem to hit me out of left field.

In recent weeks, I've not had much opportunity to play and practice and so form when I have been out has been patchy. I had a decent first round in the Longhurst Cup at Royal Ascot over the bank holiday only to come to grief in the second round. I had managed a range session which wasn't inspiring and the warm up prior to the lesson had also left me thinking there was a bit of work to do to rectify what appeared to be a glitch in the swing. I had it in my mind to use the hour's lesson to tidy things up, crack on for the rest of the season and see where we went in terms of Homer's Odyssey towards single figures.

Something curious happened on the walk from the range to the teaching bay. It's a common occurrence it appears and as soon as Rhys watched me hit the first ball it sailed magnificently away with effortless ease

It soon became apparent that technically things were pretty much intact. This was going to be a long hour. Well, actually it wasn't. Rather than hitting balls we went over where I was losing shots and looked for a common theme. As I could lose balls out of bounds off the tee, throw in a huge miss from the fairway, or chuck in a short game horror I couldn't see a pattern.

I went back to hitting balls and Rhys wanted to look at my pre-shot routine. He asked me to forget where the ball went, any technical thoughts and literally hit each ball as I would do on the course. He just wanted to watch each shot and the routine on each one. After five or six shots, several of which weren't as good as the others we stopped. What he noticed got me thinking. On the two shots that weren't as well struck or accurate as the others, I was much quicker from putting the club behind the ball and pulling the trigger and starting the swing. On the good shots, there was more control and a definite pause between settling the club down and the swing starting.

He took this a stage further and the theory held water. We've had a couple of playing lessons together and he describes the state as "excitable puppy". When I play a good shot, I seem to quicken and then want to get on with the next. It would seem that my thought process, but more importantly the pre-shot routine gets too quick. He used a simple circuit board as an analogy. When Homer hits a good shot, everything is connected and the current (the shot) flows properly and executes. When he goes into "excitable puppy" the circuit shorts out and the execution is too quick and poorly made.

Looking back at where recent nightmare holes have occurred, I've usually come off a really good hole, run of holes, or recovered well from a set back. Going into "excitable puppy" means I just get too quick.

Excitable Puppy - a playful young thing that can lead to golfing horrors. It needs to be kept on a tight lead
What happened with the good shots was that I executed much differently. Not only was there a definite pause, but in that moment my mind was clear. No technical thoughts. Of course many will say that is how you should play every shot. That may well be true but it's not a mental state that comes easily to me on the course. I agree though and my best scores, such as the win early in the season at the Golf Monthly King of Kings qualifier at Camberley Heath have come when I've had that serene peace of mind. It's a topic that New Golf Thinking goes into as well and there are some ideas and techniques I need to revisit.

Rhys and I talked about this. He hit a few shots and talked through his own routine. He has a similar pause between settling behind the ball and starting and described it as a blank sheet of paper wrapping up any thoughts to leave his head empty and free to just execute. It's an analogy I struggle with and I am still trying to find my own personal trigger so I can find the calmness on a regular basis.

As I mentioned, practice has been very limited with a sore back making it impossible to hit balls and I've now succumbed to a viral infection which has left me pretty weak and struggling to find enough energy after a working day to hit the practice ground.

I did play last weekend. To be honest I really shouldn't have as I really wasn't well but I wanted to get out and just work on my routine and see if I could get my circuitry wired correctly. There were some definite signs that it's an area worth pursuing and there definitely seems to be some correlation between where and when these rogue bad holes occur and "excitable puppy".

I'm hoping to get out to the range this week and hit a few balls to try and get some consistency back into my game after what has been a stop, start six weeks or so but also to work diligently on treating every range ball as I would on the course and go through a definite pre-shot routine. Hopefully something will morph into place and this pause will become consistent and the circuit will be wired properly.

It's pleasing that the swing is still functioning even without too much practice and it was definitely an interesting hour spent looking at the why, as in why did that bad score happen, as opposed to the how and the type of poor shot I delivered. There are links between what I do well and poorly. It may all sound mumbo jumbo and not for the first time there will be those saying I'm over complicating it and just stand there and smack it. However I'd argue that if I can get this pause and start the shot with a much clearer head and smoother swing then this exercise will have been worthwhile.

I need to get back to working on my game. The short game has been neglected and is causing too many lost shots again. I'm not happy with my swing despite how I played last week and know it could be better and tighter. A bit like gardening, there's always something that needs doing. I'll keep working away. It's been a good season. Not a classic and perhaps not as fulfilling to date as I'd hoped, certainly in terms of my pursuit to single figures, but enough in there to tell me I am on the right track. For now I need to shake this virus off and get back to full health and then kick on again and make sure that my golfing wiring is fully connected and we stop the short circuits.