Monday, 17 November 2014

That Winning Feeling

No doubt I've bored you ad nauseam over the last year of so with promises that all the changes in lessons were working and that the swing was more robust, better technically and that good scores were just around the corner. The 2014 season has been a curious mix of good and the frustrating with rounds being ruined by one or two bad holes, usually from nowhere after going along nicely.

I posted last time out about feel versus real and that I working on something that would provide more control on the club face and that it had been ticking over rather nicely at the driving range. The season itself has drawn to something of a close. There's drainage works going on at Royal Ascot which has seen competitions put on hold while this is carried out. However there is the winter knockout, a better ball matchplay event and with the deadline looming, Saturday was the day to get it on.

There was much to be uncertain about. Not only was it the first round out since my lesson last week with Rhys ap Iolo but I was breaking in a new partner. My long standing, some would say long suffering partner of the last four years or so, Mike Stannard, has moved house and joined the beautiful Blackmoor Golf Club. That's a place you must play if you ever get the opportunity. A heathland treat and a very friendly and accommodating members club. His replacement, a new(ish) member of Royal Ascot and fellow Golf Monthly Forum member Adam O'Neill looked ideal with his 14 handicap and with the potential to play lower than this. We were drawn against long standing member John Munday off a competitive seven handicap and his partner Ian Stephen off sixteen. Both had won their respective divisions in the last stableford competition and were a fancied pairing to do well in this knockout.

Aside from this a shroud of mist clouded the course The early starters were forced off the course after a few holes when visibility reduced dramatically. They went back out as the mist lifted enough to resume and then teased them by coming back down and forcing them off yet again. Funny, sitting in the bar watching this but it did cast some doubt on whether we'd get out at all.

In the end we started two hours later than planned. Any fears about my partner were quelled at the first when he chipped and putted for a par to match the opposition. I hit a cracking drive down the second but on a very tight line flirting with the out of bounds. It landed in play and then kicked viciously back out of play and was lost forever amongst the ferns and bracken. We were one down. Not for long and my par at the fourth, a short par four that has a real nuisance factor was enough as both opponent found a way to make a bogey.

Adam then produced a moment of real skill at the sixth. Having missed the green left at the 178 yard par three he had a chip off a muddy lie. I'd made a bit of a mess of the hole and was out of contention. With the opposition close we needed something. He hit a chip and it came out low and looked like he'd thinned it a little. It bounced, skidded and spun close stopping inches away. It really kept the momentum going.

It was nip and tuck all the way and by the turn the game was still all square with par golf required on every hole. Aside from the sixth, I'd been hitting it as well as I had for ages. My driving, so long my nemesis had transformed. Rhys had looked at this in the lesson and we'd tweaked set up a little and suddenly I was hitting it higher and further than I've done. If only I could have taken advantage of the summer conditions a few months ago. I was hitting some very good irons into greens and my putting had threatened the hole each time. I'd made several crucial putts from the three to six foot zone for a half. All round it was firing and I was in a Homer happy place.

What I hadn't known until halfway down the fifth was that Adam had never played a better ball match before and was a nervous wreck on the first few holes. I think that chip at the sixth calmed him and he was enjoying the ebb and flow of the match.

We made a streaky half at the tenth when I holed from eight feet having missed both the fairway and green but lost the next to a par, which in better ball isn't what you need. The twelfth at Royal Ascot is already stroke index one. It's one of the holes that has undergone drainage work. A dog leg from left to right, the brave golfer can take the tree line on and carry it onto the fairway and leave a shorter second shot. However, with the introduction of a new drainage ditch, the tee shot now has to be perfectly struck to clear this new hazard as well. With the others electing to go the safer route and getting a shot on the hole I decided to take it on, buoyed by the way I was driving it. I absolutely nailed it. It made the carry with plenty to spare to leave just 147 yards in. Finding the green in two and two putting for a net birdie we were back on level terms in what was turning into an epic contest.

The 12th and the safe line. The braver golfer can take on the tree on the right and the tree line beyond
I made a par at the thirteenth despite a ropey swing. It was a bit nervy and I steered it rather than hit it but got away with it. I hit another great drive on the fourteenth. I was in the middle of the fairway with 197 yards left. And I'd done all season found a way to self destruct. I hit my hybrid straight right and out of bounds. With my partner in trouble we lost the hole. I've no idea where this shot came from. I'd gone through the pre-shot routine and the strike itself was fine, it just went straight right.

The fifteenth is a short par five and I'd left myself facing a ten footer for par after a poor approach in, pulled to the left of the green. With the opponents guaranteed a par and Adam in the left hand bunker, the dream team were in trouble again. Off a compacted and wet lie, he proceeded to produce the second miracle recovery shot of the day. Another low fizzing shot that looked to be too hot, it spun and gripped and stopped stone dead to save the day again.

We halved the sixteenth and moved onto the long 218 hole penultimate hole. John Munday found the green and both Adam and I missed right and had a pitch over a bunker to a tight flag, with the green running away from us. We did well to get to within ten feet but neither of us could match John's par. One down and one to go and definitely up against it.

The last is an uphill par five measuring 531 yards. I hit another long drive that just trickled off the fairway right and found a real wet winter lie, down in the grass. With Ian sadly out of bounds it was two onto one but we thought a birdie was needed as John was as steady as his seven handicap indicates and was on the fairway. His second wasn't perfect and he'd left himself a long way back for the third. I managed to conjure up a great shot. Not a textbook swing but club met ball perfectly and I got it well up the hole. John took on the brave shot and tried to get a fairway wood onto the green but found a bunker left, well short of the putting surface. My partner managed to get on the green for four and had a sixteen footer for a par. I only had 121 yards for my third. A smooth nine iron was all I needed. I'd done it many times before. With nerves and adrenalin flowing I tugged it left into a bunker.

John was unlucky to find his ball had wedged into the face of the bunker and with no stance and he did well to get the ball onto the front of the green but with the flag at the back, he faced a forty foot putt. He left the first putt woefully short. I came out of the bunker, short and my chip up five feet short. Adam missed (and the return) and John had a chance for a bogey and a win. It missed and I had the five footer to win the hole in ugly fashion. Regular readers will know I've worked hard on my short putting all year. This was the ultimate test and I rolled the left to right putt in, dead centre. All square and off to the nineteenth.

The first, or in this case the nineteenth is a 229 yard par three. No shots here and so every man for himself. Adam and Ian both hit nervous tee shots, way short and in the rough. My swing wasn't great and the ball came up thirty yards short. John had hit the best shot and was in the fringe pin high and definitely in the box seat.

What transpired showed just what nerves can do. Ian fired his next long and over the green. Adam found the green about twenty feet away. I didn't hit the best chip shot but it found the green twelve feet away. John had chipped solidly all day and so I was surprised when he knifed a simple chip across the green into more rough. Ian pitched back on and still had twenty five feet. John duffed another chip, only just getting on the green. Adam rolled his putt six foot past and so the best anyone other than myself could do was a miserable double bogey. I had left my first attempt just inside a foot away and hold out for a great win. We'd never been ahead until we won the 19th but it had been a classic match with never more than a hole in it and the quality of the golf was very high.

When the dust settled and we adjourned to the bar for a well earned drink, we added up the unofficial scores, bearing in mind putts were conceded, and it wasn't any great surprise that everyone had played a shot inside handicap. Our progress won't get any easier as we've two more single figure golfers awaiting next. Adam fresh from his better ball debut is already chomping at the bit.

Nothing beats that winning feeling but for me, the quality of my ball striking and all round golf has vindicated a lot of the hard work I've been putting in. I have to thank Andy Piper for the changes he made to the posture and alignment which in conjunction with the ongoing work Rhys ap Iolo has and is doing has made a real difference. The path is now more high to low and compressing the ball well again. Distances are up and dispersions are tighter. There are still issues with the odd bad hole still lurking in there to disrupt the round but other than that I'm happy.

I've managed to marry feel versus real from the previous thread. I'm still working hard to make the changes a more permanent part of my swing and to that end, I'm not overly worried about scores at this time of year and it's the perfect time to test the work I'm doing at the range and lessons in a real environment rather than bashing ball after ball. There's much to be happy about and this was a great way to christen the new partnership. My golf is in a good place and I hope I can keep the form going for a while longer. If not I'll just work even harder ready for Homer's Odyssey to sail under full trim to single figures in 2015.

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