Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Feel Versus Real

Welcome. It's been a while. Sorry about that but in truth I've not been playing too much golf in the last few weeks and what I have been playing hasn't been setting the world alight. I've been struggling in practice and in truth the swing has deserted me and I've lacked a bit of my golfing mojo.

I had a lesson a few weeks back with Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Centre. It was the start of some Winter work to just try and make what I have a little more robust, stable and reliable. I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel and Rhys is happy, or as happy as a teaching pro can ever be, with the progress I'd made in 2014. The hands and the path still need refining and it's a little too around the body and that the hands and hips get way too active at times as a result. This leads to the hands flipping and the ball going low and left or the hips and shoulders spinning too far left and hitting a big cut left to right.

All fine and dandy. The plan was to swing on a steeper path. The first feel vs real conundrum to try and get my head around was the fact that this felt like I was taking it way outside the line and chopping right down on it, much as a beginner with an over the top flaw might do. Rhys explained the concept on trying to get some more separation and  to get the hands coming down in a quieter manner. In essence the swing needs to feel more high to low into the ball. This won't be last time you hear that in this post.

As happens, while the lesson was in progress and Rhys was spreading the magic teaching dust, all was good and the swing seemed far more compact with a lower exit and finish, hands in a stronger position and the strike sublime. I say that, but the driver was a different issue and I struggled with this throughout. Not to worry thought I. Go away with the words of Rhys in my ears, the swing feelings were there and I was convinced it would come.

It didn't and in truth, as the range sessions progressed, there was some confusion on my point on exactly what I was trying to achieve and the swing seemed to manifest into a steeper and steeper creature until ball strike was heavy and direction was poor. This was magnified with the driver and by the time I set foot on Royal Ascot for a roll up game with the usual Saturday crowd my brain was full of chocolate frogs and confidence had waned. The score, especially on my front nine (the back nine of the course) was a mess and I barely managed double figures. I did rally on other nine but in truth it was more luck than judgement.

I've been using a driving range in Ascot and many of the members of the golf club had been singing the praises of a teaching pro by the name of Andy Piper. I'd seen him doing his stuff and I really fancied a fresh pair of eyes on my swing and booked a thirty minute assessment. I deliberately didn't mention what I'd been working on, just stood there and hit the shot. He verdict was refreshingly honest. In essence, the fundamentals had been forgotten and posture and alignment were poor. My shoulders were out over my toes at address and too hunched over and my shoulders were aligned way right of target.

However in his opinion, the biggest issue I had was a cupped left wrist at address which he thought was causing a lot of the issues at impact and the need I had to get the hands active. In the space of the thirty minute assessment, we did nothing more than change the posture so the shoulders were more on the balls of the feet, got the hands in a better place so the wrist wasn't cupped and the shoulders on line. The latter felt as though they were way open, pointing left, but again feel vs real, once an alignment stick was put across the shoulders they were on target. The net result was a significant change to both the quality of the strike and the power I was able to generate, now I had room to swing and could engage the big muscles and my arms much better.

I said several paragraphs ago that I'd be mentioning high to low again. Without even mentioning the work Rhys had done and the lesson I'd had, he wanted to seem my swing develop on a steeper path. I hit a few shots that way, feeling in my mind as though I was trying to hit a cut or fade. As I had in the teaching bay with Rhys I was nailing it.

I continued to work on the changes to my posture Andy Piper had given me and tried to work in the steeper path. Although new set up allowed me to make a much better pass at the ball, there was still this confusion about swinging too far outside the line and chopping down and when I played last Saturday, the round had replicated the last effort. There were more good shots than the previous outing. The chipping had improved, as previously my wrist was cupped at address. Standing taller and with the wrist sitting flatter I was able to drop the club on a steeper angle and popped it out nicely. I felt I was making progress but that there was a certain something still missing.

On a huge tangent, I have also been tinkering with my putter. I'd noticed a lots of professionals on the TV coverage, my own club pro and plenty of golfers at the recent Golf Monthly Forum Help for Heroes Day I played in were using jumbo sized putter grips. In simple terms, the idea of the bigger grip is to take the hands out of the putting stroke and allow a much better rocking motion with the shoulders. Unconvinced, I ordered an Odyssey jumbo grip which was duly fitted onto an old Odyssey White Ice #9 I had loitering around in the naughty cupboard. I'd taken it out and was blown away by how simple the stroke felt and I putted really nicely.

A jumbo putting grip, It's made the stroke much simpler and confidence has increased, especially on short putts
Having seen it work I put one on my regular putter, an Odyssey Protype Tour #9 with a milled face and played with that last weekend. It was as good as the test model and I holed out nicely. It's definitely helping and on the short putts I feel the club just goes back and through and the hands don't get involved at all. These jumbo grips aren't the cheapest out there and come in a number of different sizes but if you're struggling with the putter, and feel a little twitchy with the hands on the three footers, I would recommend you definitely have a serious think about getting one put on your putter. If you can find someone with one you can try first so much the better but if not, I still think you'll be pleasantly surprised just how smooth it makes the stroke.

Having struggled with this high to low concept both Rhys and Andy insisted would improve my swing, I'd taken the precaution of booking a lesson with Rhys on Monday night. I explained the issue I had chopping down and hitting heavy and that the swing felt way outside the line. He went back over what we're trying to achieve but I struggled to get the golfing brain switched off and trust what I was trying to do. However, once I actually saw a video of the swing and the path I was able to see that it wasn't the chopping action I had perceived and that I was actually getting into a good position. With trust and faith restored, I was able to swing with more freedom. I was making contact that was every bit as good as I'd achieved with Andy Piper and the ball fizzed off the face.

The hands were much quieter through the swing and the swing was compact and efficient and finally the penny dropped and I could understand exactly what Rhys wanted to achieve. Again, the driver wasn't quite as solid but again, there were some cracking drives in there to encourage me that I'm on the right path.

I ventured back to the range last night with the intention of working on this steeper path and getting the ball off the tee successfully with the big dog. I have to say the feeling with the irons when it goes well is fantastic. However the driver was still a step too far. However I had a light bulb moment. I went back to what I considered my "normal" swing but with a feeling of the hands being much quieter throughout. What a revelation. High and long and less flipping of the hands through impact and quieter body rotation and no more spinning out of the shot.

There's still much to be done to get where I want the swing to be. I'll be working hard on it for the rest of the week with a winter knockout match to be played on Saturday. I'm feeling much more enthused and the mojo is back and I'm hoping that the improved striking replicates itself out on the course. If it does, then I've the capability of getting round very effectively. The key will be how the driver works. If this fires, then I'm confident in the new steeper path I've been working on once the ball is on the fairway. Now that I can understand that I'm making a proper turn, can feel the hands going along for the ride, and that the finish is low and balanced, I can swing with confidence.

I'll ensure that I get back to you with the outcome and the continuing pursuit towards my target of single figures. When I see how the ball reacts and how much further it goes, I can appreciate the work both Andy and Rhys have put in. The improved posture is the starting point and the new path the engine room. With Winter weather coming, and talk of severe snow falls, the swing work will continue and if I can get the driver to follow suit with the progress I'm making with the irons then by the time the new season arrives I'm going to be ready to hit the ground running. There's a lot to be optimistic about again and the blip of the last month or so forgotten already. I promise not to leave it so long next time!

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