Monday, 28 December 2015

2016 - Looking Forward To It

Let me start by hoping all the members at Royal Ascot Golf Club, all my golfing friends and everyone that reads this offering had a wonderful Christmas and that you and your family have a terrific 2016 and that it's a great one on and off the course.

This holiday season gives me the ideal time to look forward to my 2016 and articulate my thoughts on how I plan to attack my aim to hit single figures. Nothing earth shattering aside from some changes in emphasis, doing some stuff differently and better, and not doing some things as much. I've enjoyed looking back at my 2015 statistics and seeing exactly where my mistakes have come. I've known in my mind where my good and bad golf has come from but always good to see something solid to back it up and reaffirm it.

It has been a very good Christmas for your narrator in terms of golfing presents. I've booked in for an Aimpoint Express reading course at the Downshire Golf Centre for March just as the greens begin to come back to life. and run smoother. I've an Aimpoint Express DVD coming which will give me the heads up before the course and something to refer back to at a later date. On top of that my lovely wife has bought me an Aimpoint Express PLG (putter line gate) which allows me to work on my putting, using Aimpoint to get an accurate read. It should make a world of difference to my putting practice next season (Aimpoint Express PLG). I learnt the original mid-point Aimpoint system using a chart to get my read. Times have changed and while I use a self taught Aimpoint Express read I need to learn all the nuances to make my putting even better. I now average 31.71 putts per round in 2015 down from 33.16 so I've made progress. I just need to shave that down closer to 30 putts per round.

Aimpoint PLG - a device to improve my putting and green reading in practice
Regular readers will know I've had some real issues with the short game and in particular chipping and pitching, the latter being a real thorny problem. I've been caught between a traditional pitching method and the linear method. If you look back at my post from an unconvincing practice session Fair Weather Golfer things were confused. I've worked hard on this aspect since and finally feel that I've made forward progress and I'm nailing my colours to the linear method mast. It's a technique I feel more confident with mentally and so I want to take this forward. Picking, sticking and refining the technique should allow me to take it forward. I'm using it for the chipping as well and again, I feel this year it has helped although I've fallen foul of trying to utilise several techniques. And the point of this waffling? It's very simple. My wife also bought me an hour with the innovator of the linear technique, Gary Smith (Gary Smith Coaching). A chance to get comprehensive tuition from one of the top golf coaches in the UK (Profile) and finally get to grips with this method for all things short game.

Gary Smith - Innovator of the linear short game method
So I have solid plans in place to work on putting and the short game. These are the real areas I need to get right. I seemed to spend time in 2015 on long game lessons and this is perhaps the first area I'm looking to change my emphasis on. I've worked hard with Andrew Piper on my long game. There were times when form completely deserted me and I felt I compelled to get a lesson to address the wrongs. Most times, the problems initiated from the same source, poor posture and alignment and shocking tempo, normally way too fast. I've worked hard this year to improve the posture, and now standing taller and the correct distance from the ball. My alignment issue revolve around a delinquent left shoulder either too closed (right of target) or open (pointing left) which then has a knock on effect once the swing starts. I'm still working hard on getting this right but it's something I can now self manage in practice sessions (I'm coming to them). My tempo is gradually being slowed to a blur. It's much slower than it was when I started with Andrew. I've probably got a way to go on this but for now I'm slower and giving myself more time, with less moving parts to make the shot.

The emphasis in 2016 is to move away from lesson upon lesson. I'll still use them if I lose form totally or a if a damaging fault manifests. Other than that, I intend to utilise the linear method for short game, get a follow up session mid-season with Gary Smith to get the short game nailed. This is where my emphasis will now focus. For the greater part I can get a ball around a course, but a stellar short game, it'll help when I've not got an A or even B game to keep the scores respectable. When I'm playing well this will help me fire some low scores and some handicap cuts. I simply don't need to be overdoing long game lessons and it doesn't need to consume my practice.

I've a cunning plan for practice. Quite simply there will be less of it. I've been guilty of working too hard on all aspects of the game and in truth probably over egged the pudding trying to refine my game. I aim to have a maximum of two practice sessions per week, all based around the short game. My focus is switching from practice to playing. That's perhaps the biggest change for 2016. Get out on the course, and simply play, without worrying too much about the how and why. Everyone I've seen move forward better than me are playing at every opportunity and learning how to make a score.

This brings me neatly onto the next major shift for 2016. Stop the mind working too much and make sure it's only working on what will help. That isn't going to be thousands of swing thoughts per shot. I was using New Golf Thinking as a way to focus on one shot at a time, not dwell on mistakes and prepare properly for every shot before playing it. In truth, I've neglected this in 2015 and allowed my head to be filled with too many technical thoughts (a by product of too much practice) and then doing things poorly mentally when I step on the course.

This will be the final game changer for me going forward. Better thinking on the course. As I sit here typing these thoughts for you to peruse, the concept seems rather simple. I need to re-read New Golf Thinking and redo the tests within the book as a base point. From there, go out, play as much golf as possible, socially and competitively and let the game look after itself. I'll invest in the scoring area with my short game, and the rest should follow. Play with more freedom and trust your game. I've been told by a number of teaching professionals I've either used or have seen me practicing over the years that I have the components of a single figure golf swing. Some of those that have simply seen me swing have had never met me or taught me, or had any concept of my pursuit of single figures so I must be doing something properly. I've proved in Golf Monthly Forum events and at my home club, that I am capable of winning and performing well. Getting my mind right, keeping the monkey brain quiet and just letting the good and positive thoughts emerge will be every bit as powerful and constructive as long game tuition. I do want to speak with Andrew Piper about my on course thinking, along with a review of my 2015 statistics and ensure I'm on the right track. I am sure I am.

And there we have it. Three major changes
1) Linear method for all things short game, a lesson with Gary Smith (and a mid season refresher) and a couple of practice sessions per week

2) Cut back on long game tuition, practice, and get out an play and learn how to utilise the improved short game and craft a score even when not swinging on top form. Learn to play golf again.

3) Get the mind right. Stop over thinking everything. Keep the mind quiet on the course and lose the technical thoughts when I play. Go back to New Golf Thinking and use it to get me set up perfectly over every shot and then trust my decisions and my technique.

I'm really looking forward to the start of 2016 and the next chapter in my golfing odyssey (Homer's odyssey if you will given that's my nickname). I'm not working now until January 4th 2016 and while I've had a self imposed exile for the last month bar a little bit of short game practice, now is the time to get out, play a few games and get ready for a full on assault on single figures next year. I hope whatever you want from your golf in 2016, that you achieve and surpass your expectations and that you enjoy it. I know I will

Friday, 11 December 2015

Pulling The Tiger's Tail

It's been a quiet old time in terms of playing and practice. I've been fully booked over the last few weekends and therefore unable to play and have struggled to find the motivation to grind it out on the cold range knowing there was no chance to put practice into play. A full golfing sabbatical is almost unheard of for me but to be honest I've not missed it as much as I'd feared. Given the weather in Berkshire over the past two weekends especially the gale force winds, I can't help feeling I dodged a bullet. Inevitably there will be repercussions next week when I start to hit the driving range and I can't help thinking it's going to be messy, out of kilter and frustrating.

However as always, it hasn't been totally quiet on all fronts. I've had some interesting times online. Firstly, an acquaintance from the Golf Monthly Forum (Golf Monthly Forum) has started his own blog. It's his first foray into these murky waters but it's well worth a look at the world of a Coventry Golf Addict (Coventry Golf Addict). You'll notice this big banner "I'm coming for you Homer" my nickname for many a year (this blog was nearly Homers' Odyssey). That's fine Fish my old mucker. Bring it on. I love a bit of friendly rivalry and the fact that both of these humble offerings are getting some attention from the Golf Monthly Forum members will intensify the battle once the 2016 arrives. I've known him online for a good few years now and enjoyed his company at a number of Forum meetings and he's one of golf's good guys. I hope he can achieve his personal targets for next year.

All well and good. However, as is the nature of the beast when using an online forum, the peace didn't last long. There was an interesting thread about someone having golf lessons and seeing some excellent progress (Lessons Work). As regular followers will know, I am a big advocate of lessons and have regular tutelage. I've worked hard on my game in 2015, especially around posture, and tempo which have been the main focus in the long swing, and have had a number of lessons around the short game to find something I can trust and which works under pressure.

I happened to innocently post my support of lessons, with a word of warning about needing to keep working on drills and ensuring old habits don't slip back. All good or so I thought. Someone then posted that if I was having these lessons and they were so good for me why hadn't my handicap tumbled and indeed why had it gone up. And like a fool, having had the tale of the tiger well and truly tugged I bit.

In my defence, and as I posted, I firmly believe that a handicap cut is only one barometer of measuring progress. Granted the whole ethos of this blog is my pursuit of a single figure handicap, and so my last statement will seem totally at odds with that, but in my own mind, the need for a more robust swing, with the better tempo, allied with a stellar short game (in my dreams a day will come when that happens) is the initial steps to getting these cuts. This is why I've worked so hard on slowing the tempo down, giving me more time, reducing the number of moving parts in the swing and improving the striking. And on the whole I have been more than satisfied with the work I've done under the gaze of Andrew Piper at Lavender Park. As for the short game, it has been a different story. As in the last few years every time I see real progress, I seem to regress backwards. I've been caught between techniques and philosophies, not for the first time in recent seasons, and it is still a source of endless aggravation.

The upshot of course was I bit into what I think was an online fishing line and my whole ethos and progress got shredded. Having let the dust settled, it has got me thinking. No more than that, it has got me well and truly fired. If you're going to pull this tiger's tail then you better get out of the way of the teeth when it turns around. My resilience to get to my single figure goal is now re-invigorated and I am even more fired up for 2016. Of course people are entitled to their opinion. They may think they have point and they may even think they're right and my lessons aren't working. It simply isn't a view I share. The great thing about a forum, it's a place where opinions are exchanged openly.

My winter work has been been all about the short game, especially the scoring zone from 30-70 yards out and improving my pitching. Add in some better chipping, more success holing out from 2-3 feet and more improvement from bunkers and then mix that with the work I did in 2015 on posture and tempo and I'm convinced I can really kick on next season. With my golfing mojo back and the range calling next week, the hard work starts again with gusto.

It also got me thinking about my 2015 season. Was it really that bad and have the lessons not paid off. Well let's start with the handicap. It's what most use to measure progress. I started at 11.7 (12) and at one point we did teeter over to 13 when I hit 12.5. I now sit at 12.2 (12) so the whole thing has moved by half a shot. I managed to banish the ignominy off hitting 13 with a third place in the October stableford and a nice 0.3 cut. Over twelve months given the number of competitions I played, is half a shot really that bad? Not ideal when you want to get to 9, but I'd hardly say it's the end of the world.

If that's a negative, lets look at the flip side. I had a win back in the June stableford which was my first competition win at Royal Ascot in several seasons which qualified me for the annual "Masters" invitational for competition winners only. First time in a couple of years for that too. I also got through regional qualifying in the Golf Monthly Forum "Race to Hillside" event at Blackmoor. I came second overall but with the winner not being able to participate I got in. Having got to the illustrious links course, I finished third overall out of the seven regional winners and picked up a few quid as a result. Again hardly hold the front page stuff but a solid enough effort.

I thought it would be interesting to look at my statistics from 2014 alongside those from 2015 and see what had changed.

2014 Statistics

The most obvious number here is the greens in regulation (GIR) of 26% which was better than handicap. My driving (FIR) wasn't too bad at 44% but the putting numbers, my sand saves and my par scrambles (my short game) were very disappointing. It was very clear where a lot of my weakness lay, in the short game, which is why I wanted to have lessons in this area. My handicap stayed constant having started and ended at 12 and having re-visited these tonight for the first time in a while they flag some areas of improvement. It was around this time last year I had my first lesson with Andrew Piper and it was him who wanted tempo and posture to be my two areas for the long swing.

2015 Statistics

This is where I think it gets interesting. Driving accuracy is down by 2% to 42% which is annoying but is not the end of the world. A lot of these drives off target have found the semi rough which has left a shot into the green. However it is the green in regulation figure down to a miserable 19% that is the biggest concern. This is a big drop and not good enough. What has surprised me is my putting has improved to 31.9 putts per round and I think I can get that even lower. My sand saves have doubled from 12% to a very strong 24% which I consider testament to the my hard work this summer. However most pleasing of all is par scrambles which I've improved from 16% to 22%. Granted my shoddy approach play and lousy green in regulation number has given me far more practice than I was anticipating. Despite messing around with techniques and thinking I wasn't going forward the numbers seem to tell a different tale.

Let's be honest, numbers on a blog aren't the whole story. However they do show some interesting trends. I wasn't aware I was missing so many greens and that's something I'll be sharing with Andrew Piper when I have a lesson in the new year. The bottom line is, there's room for improvement across the board.

So what can you the reader take from this latest rambling? Well the bottom line is beware if you pull the tale of this tiger. I don't mind critique where it's deserved but if you post about my ethic, my approach and lessons being a waste of time and money then I will respond. That's not an invitation to log on and test the theory. That slightly gnarly statement aside, what Fish's blog, or Robin Hopkins to give him a full mention, has done is given me something to compare myself against and motivate myself with to get better. I have a plan over the winter to work on the scoring area, which I feel will keep scores ticking along even when I'm not hitting it that well.

I'm itching to get back to the range and after a few days away this coming weekend to see family, I have a couple of weeks to get back into the old routine ready to work hard on my game over the festive period, including some practice rounds to see how my game is shaping up where it matters. I want to play even more than I did in 2016. I enjoy playing, even on the bad days. In fact I enjoy my golf, whether it's working on my game, a weekend roll up with the usual cronies, a competition or a Golf Monthly meet somewhere. That's still something a lot of people find hard to comprehend. They see this pursuit to single figures as all consuming and sucking me dry. I have always had a solid, dogmatic approach to a lot of my sporting pursuits, in fact a lot of areas of my life and golf is no different. There's a single golfer deep within. Whether I bring it out in 2016, the year after or the year after that, it will happen. I can't wait to see what the new year brings.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Fair Weather Golfer - Too Right

Welcome to the latest instalment in my humble blog offering. You find your narrator in somewhat of a holding pattern courtesy in the main to the vagaries of the British weather at this time of year. Royal Ascot Golf Club has over the last two weekend had Dickensian pea soup fog that made it impossible to see more than fifty yards at time and caused the course to be shut, and last weekend was subjected to a deluge of rain and winds touching gale force at times on the Saturday.

So what you may say, aside from an out of depth weather report. Well call me a fair weather golfer but I see no merit in getting wrapped up in a set of waterproof, struggling with an umbrella in the winds, going through numerous towels and gloves to keep my grips dry to play a social round of golf. Don't get me wrong, there were some in our usual Saturday roll up that did just that. Brave, dedicated, fools, martyrs or plain insane. I think you're best left to decide that one yourself. Definitely not for me I'm afraid. Clearly no-one can play when there's fog and so the decision is made for you.

However I've not been idle. I've said on here over the last few weeks that my focus is going to be on short game, short game and short game. However regular followers will also know that this hasn't been without incident and I'd been suffering a worrying dose of the shanks with my wedges on all my pitch shots. It had led me to re-visit a different tack, the linear method to try and resolve this. However, this has also been not without it's issues and a fortnight ago even this method wasn't working as planned. Back online and looking at more Gary Smith (advocate of the linear method) for help. I know the method I just couldn't get it to transfer to my practice (Gary Smith pitching video)

I assumed that given the biblical rain last Saturday that the course would be sodden and opted to get back out there and work on the pitching from a number of stations on the practice ground at 25, 40, 50 and 60 yards. It started off, from the closest distance, well. The poor shot was a thin but the majority grazed the ground properly. The week before amidst the shanks. the contact was heavy with huge divots which was definitely not what the linear technique encourages. However as I moved further away from the target, the linear method started to fall apart and was inconsistent. Not great but fear not dear reader for an unexpected twist in my tale materialised. I started, born out of a hint of desperation to go back once more to a more standard method. This video by Peter Finch shows what I'm getting at (Peter Finch pitching video)

I can see that the doubters and naysayers will be on here saying I'm dabbling too much, falling between two techniques and getting paralysis by analysis. What I will say, simply and without apology is that the more traditional method has less moving parts and while I love the linear method and the way it utilises the bounce more, it's something I can't seem to get it to work as I want it or can trust on the course. Back to basics worked. The twist I hinted at, was that the linear method promotes a turn onto the target and I've found that I'm now doing so with the traditional pitching style. This has stopped the hosel shots and my pitching is back on song.

Aside from the technical aspects (and are you still with me) I've worked very hard on distance control. With a method I trust now (and working) I was able to really dial in some control. From the 25 and 40 yard areas I was getting most inside a fifteen foot circle and many were much close and definitely in up and down range. That's exactly what I need to be doing. It isn't just with one club. I've been playing with my PW (46 degrees) 52 degree gap wedge and 58 degree sand wedge. I've played about with opening the face, moving ball position and generally found out what I can and can't do with a wedge.

As I moved further out to the 50 yard area, I started to lose some control especially with my most lofted club, swinging a little longer (almost to ten o'clock). Going back to a lesser loft and a more controlled (nine o'clock) swing, accuracy was still very good. Contact was still good. There were more divots and I've concluded I'm a digger. It may be something I need to look at with my next wedge purchase. I tested the Vokey range with Golf Monthly at Silvermere Golf Centre back in March. They have a huge range of loft, bounce and grinds (Vokey Wedges). Very insightful especially the type of grinds as I'm sure you'll agree if you go through the options. However, my preference would be to keep to Ping as my other clubs in the back are all that make (and I'm a tad OCD that way). Not sure they quite have the same options but that's a quandary for another time. When I reached the 60 yard area, I'm getting very close to my maximum distance for my sand wedge. I wasn't pitching but hitting full shots. However this is where my gap wedge and pitching wedge come into their own as I was hitting three quarter shots with more control. Naturally my dispersion and control wasn't what I wanted but this is why I'm dedicating the winter to improving. Hard work and the right technique is the only way forward.

Of course short game isn't just pitching. I've been working equally hard on my chipping. I've been using the linear method again. This has been far more successful and is a technique that has served me well in the last few weeks (Gary Smith chipping). However, as with the pitching, I had taken lessons with my teaching professional Andrew Piper at Lavender Golf Centre in the summer and we'd simplified my technique (closed shoulders, open feet and hips was a recipe for disaster). Aiming square, weight forward and back and a turn through was working up to a point. However a few bad rounds had me scrambling for the lifeboat I call the linear method. While I can't get it working on the pitching, on the chip shots I have been getting better and better. And here is the crux again. In my golfing brain, warped as it undoubtedly is, now wants to have the same traditional method for both pitches and chips. With that in mind, it was back to the chipping green on Sunday. Back to a proper set up (Peter Finch basic chip shot) and the results were very good.

It shouldn't have been a surprise as Andy Piper has a very good reputation as a short game coach and he and I had worked hard on pitching and chipping (and bunker play) and so I've found it a source of huge frustration that my hard work hasn't produced the results on a regular basis and that I've had issues which has prompted the reversion to all things linear. And here I have a conundrum and while I want to square off all things short game under one technical umbrella, there is a nagging voice that says linear, using the bounce, gives wider margins of error. Offset that is the traditional way where I can play with spin, loft and ball position. More options against a bigger safety net. Issues, confusion and questions. I thought short game was easy.

As it happens, the traditional method produced satisfactory results and so the pitching and chipping session was three hours well spent. I was pleased with how I chipped using the conventional method and from a range of lies including heavy, wet and deep, clover filled lies, and those fiddly ones where the ball is lying on top of the deep grass and the risk is that the club will slide underneath. The whiff enters the equation.

And so dear reader where am I in all this? I'm having issues squaring methodology in my mind but the results I've seen in the far simpler to execute traditional method convince me I am on the right path and just need to square it all mentally. What I do know is that I am definitely happy to become a fair weather golfer and that spending time on the short game rather than smacking ball after ball at the range, or traipsing around the course in pouring rain and strong winds will pay rich dividends. Of course, I need to take it out onto the course. I need to know I can do it under pressure. I have to play and reconcile practice with scores. Common sense n'est-ce pas?

However, dear reader, you find your narrator in a happy golfing place if truth be told. I did some long game work at the range while the wind and rain did its thing. Posture and tempo was the order of the day and things are shifting slowly into place. I had a very productive session and so tie that in with the good short game work and I'm raring to go.

I'll be coming back to pitching, chipping, as well as bunker play and putting as Winter progresses and keeping you up to speed on how it is developing, how it's impacting my golf and what it is doing to my scores and statistics. Of course, I understand that Winter isn't ideal to be shooting my best scores and all I am looking for is a higher level of consistency throughout my game but from one hundred yards and closer in particular. A stellar short game can mask a host of issues with the longer game. That's where I feel my avenue to single figure lies. For the most part, if I can halt the car crash holes I seem to throw in with wild abandon in most competitive rounds (and that is another thread altogether) I can get my ball round in a reasonably competent fashion most of the time. It's when competency goes out of the window a tad that I'm going to need the short game more than ever. If I am playing nicely, getting up and down will get the cuts I crave and who knows, maybe a win or two along the way. All in all I'm happy with the work and progress has been made. Good times.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Back In The Game - But Still Not Happy

Welcome back faithful reader. You left your narrator in determined mood, if a little off golfing colour with some short game angst courtesy of a dose of the shanks, lack of playing opportunities and having just toppled over into a thirteen handicap. Well steady yourself for I have good news. I'm back in the game.

Last weekend was the monthly medal at Royal Ascot Golf Club. I'd had a practice session the Sunday before where ball striking had gone well and the I'd worked hard yet again on the short game. Deliciously under prepared I think you'd call it. The weather was allegedly going to be showery and there was a tricky wind to keep it interesting. To spice things up further I'd been moved forward to plug some gaps in the draw and not only was I partnering my new winter league partner Mick Mills, but I had no time to warm up and managed five or so full blows in anger on the practice ground. That was it, a couple of putts and off onto the first for a medal round. What could possible go wrong?

The opening tee shot at the 229 yard first could have gone anywhere with no warn up. Instead it was a well struck blow with a hint of draw that was a tad too excessive and it finished up on a bare muddy lie just behind one of the bunkers left of the green. Nothing like a tricky pitch on the opener to remind you about the recent shanks. However I played it to perfection with no sign of the hosel anywhere the ball and it ran to twelve feet. I missed the putt but the net par was a solid enough start.

I found the fairway on the second. As the statistics will reveal later, this was to be a novel experience. I pushed the fairway wood into the semi-rough and my nine iron came up just shy. I was able to get a putter on it and holed it from thirty five feet for a cheeky little birdie. Get in.

The third found the tee shot in the right hand fairway bunker. I played a decent seven iron but it missed right and I was left to chip back to a tight pin. A delicate shot to three feet and a par save. That's why my focus has been on all things short game. I made a mess of the fourth, pulling the tee shot left, missing the green left and I found another bare muddy lie. I had to pitch up a bank to a green on a big slope. It was well placed but ran past the hole and I had a four foot putt back down the slope. I was scared of it and didn't put a good stroke on the putt for a bogey. Still one over after four was beyond my expectations at this stage.

It was two over by the sixth tee, having had some issues on the par five, including missing the green from 160 yards having found a poor lie in the rough off the tee and in the semi-rough after the second. Still the pitching was holding up.

If you follow these trials and tribulations on a regular basis you'll know I've spoken of car crash holes, coming from nowhere, with no sane reasoning behind it, that have scuttled many a promising round and made me miss buffer zones or played myself out of contention. And so it came to pass that the sixth would be one such hole, not for the first time. A horrible tee shot from 174 yards with a hybrid was a huge slice into the trees, lost, although it would probably have been out of bounds anyway, and I'm suddenly reloading. I found the green, just, with the second tee shot but with the flag at the back I had a forty five foot putt. I judged it perfectly but it added up to a double bogey. I thought I was going to compound the problem when I went way left with the same club off the tee on the seventh, landing up on the adjacent third fairway. The hole has a protected environmental area, out of bounds if the ball goes in, which was in my way. I could have played over a large oak onto the correct fairway but I pulled the five wood and from 228 yards took aim. It came up some thirty yards short but it was well struck and I played a pitch of beauty to four feet. Another one putt and a par saved.

I parred the next and a net par at the ninth although that involved another missed fairway, a poor second that flirted with the out of bounds right, and a slightly thinned pitch finished by two putts. Still I was out in gross 40 (+5) and bearing in mind that included that double bogey at six, that was great going as I wasn't actually hitting it well.

My curate's egg of a round continued on the back nine. On the tenth I missed another fairway right, another green right, was too bold with a pitch and had to putt from off the back of the green up the slope and then downhill once the ball found the green. It went four feet past but I squeezed the return in. It's funny how the golfing gods recognise a weakness and then ensure you have to face it again. So far I'd hit a hybrid right off the tee (lost ball) and way left. The eleventh is a par three and the three hybrid was the club. I hit this one straight but thin and low and it barely got above head height but found the narrow gap at the front of the putting surface, and rolled gently off the back edge. I putted up for a fortunate but welcome par.

I got up and down from twelve feet at the thirteenth for another par scramble and another one putt green and repeated the feat a couple of holes later having pulled my approach left at the par five fifteenth. A safe bogey at the sixteenth and seventeenth, both shot holes and therefore net pars didn't cause any panic.

I have to admit I knew I'd kept the scorecard ticking over and so a par or a bogey would put me in a strong position and definitely in contention. I was perhaps a little nervous over the tee shot. In my last round I'd fired it way right towards the out of bounds and got very fortunate that it came back and I could cobble a double bogey. This tee shot was also right, not struck that well and came up short, right and in a very so so lie. I wanted to aim down the left side of the hole, assuming the lie and the left to right shape I'd had all day would move it back towards the centre or right edge of the fairway. Instead I hit it left into heavy rough and from there it was full scale panic mode. In the end I did well to make another double bogey seven. It left a nasty taste. However I'd carded a respectable 42 gross (+7) which meant I'd gone round in 82 (+12) for a nett 69 (-1). It could have been so much be so much better

October 2015 Medal Statistics

In the end, I came third in Division One, by a single shot and if I had made par instead of double on the sixth or last I'd have won. Of course that's all if's and but's and to be honest as you can see from my fairway and greens in regulation statistics wasn't something I really deserved. I really didn't play well all day and rode my luck enormously. However I only had twenty eight putts and my par scramble was 35% so you can see where the score was constructed. I did manage to win some cash from the roll up kitty which softened the blow of that double bogey. Best of all though, you will be pleased to know that your narrator enjoyed a 0.3 handicap cut as I was one under the competition scratch score (CSS). This means I drop from 12.5 (13 handicap) back to 12.2 and back to a twelve handicap again.

I really enjoyed playing with Mick Mills and although he didn't have a great day, there was enough between us to indicate that we could become a rather tricky proposition for whoever we are drawn against in the Winter knockout.

I wasn't happy with my ball striking and I could have played on Sunday but instead tried to hit some balls in practice and work on takeaway, posture and tempo, all the things I've been trying to improve in my lessons with Any Piper all summer. There was some glimmer of improvement but I wasn't happy but rather than continue bashing balls I wanted to focus on short game again. I was still having issues with the pitching. Those of you that have been with me all the way on this monumental journey towards a single figure handicap will remember I was using a fairly new and somewhat unconventional method for chipping and pitching called the linear method (Linear Method) which utilises the bounce of the club more and rotates around the front leg. Stack and tilt (for those that know of this) for the short game if you will. I've tried really hard to change to a more orthodox approach but having now started shanking I've reverted. It produced immediate and improved pitching results from around the sixty, forty and thirty yard distances. I even took it onto the putting green and re-introduced it into my chipping. Again, confidence soared as I holed a few and put most very adjacent with this method. It's something I intend to take out this weekend in the roll up and trial again.

As usual where does this leave everything. Well I hit the range this week. There were some shanks in the full swing early on, perhaps caused by a rapid tempo courtesy of a full on day in work. It did improve and I had to work hard on the posture again. All my shots still had a left to right arc but these were more Colin Montgomery like fades as opposed to anything to destructive. The quality of the strike on the whole was much improved. In my mind, with limited competitive play to come in the next few weeks it's the perfect time to start the winter work, especially short game and while I have these shanking issues on the pitches I'll persist with the linear method. Funnily though, when I reverted to a "text book" method after a linear session it was much improved. I'm hoping one will bleed into the other.

I'm back of twelve. Back in the game and somehow ground a score out. Yes I do think it was there for the winning but if I can get it round hitting it that poorly imagine what I can do going forward. I am a happy golfer

There is much still to work on and improve but this is the time of year to do this and not worry overly about scores. I need to be playing functional golf for the winter knockout first round but aside from that it's about refining and improving what I've got. For a lot of 2015 this hasn't actually been too bad. Yes I started on a handicap of 11.7 (12)  and I'm now on 12.2 (12) so the handicap never shifted towards the promised land of nine. However given all the poor rounds, rounds I undid with road crash holes and missed opportunities I've only gone up 0.5 all year. My putting has improved from 33.16 putts per round in 2015 to 31.89 in 2015. My par scrambles in 2014 were a meagre 16% and my sand saves down at 12%. This year these are up at 22% for par scrambles and a huge jump in sand saves to 24%

These numbers (are you still with me?) are testament to a lot of hard work and grinding it out in the short game area. The longer swing is definitely more robust and has less moving parts than at the start of the year. It has improved although the only fly in the ointment has been greens in regulation down at 19% this year from 26% last year. Fairways in regulation have stayed steady down from 44% to 43% this year. Not really good enough but that can be fixed.

All in all I'm glad to be back in the game but still not happy I let a good chance slip by again. Still, in it to win it and all that. On the plus side I'm happy to give you something a lot more positive to read and peruse. I'm a glass half empty type of guy by nature so finding nuggets of good fortune sometimes comes hard. Not this time. Play badly, putt and scramble well and pick up a few quid of the usual suspects. Not a bad result all things considered. Back in the game.

Friday, 23 October 2015

The End Of The Season Cometh

It's been a very quiet time on the course. Work has largely got in the way and the brutal truth is I've been too tired to work on my game, a phrase almost unheard of on here, and the lure of the duvet has proven far too alluring for a silly o'clock start. My golf in the last few weeks have consisted of the September stableford and a roll up game a few Sundays back.

Since then, practice has taken a real nose dive and I've inherited a dose of the Sherman's, socket rockets or for those not of a nervous disposition, the shanks. The first time this hit me at Lavender Park Golf Centre was a range session of abject misery which had come after a short game practice session where they manifested in my pitching. To say it came from left field is putting it mildly. Even though my thirty one points (good enough for fourteenth place in division one) ensured I finally fell over the precipice and I went up to 12.5 or 13 in old fashioned handicap terms, and I was wary of leaving anything of more than fifty yards from the green in case I found the hosel, it wasn't a total road crash. In fact after five holes I standing on the tee at the par three sixth with a happy feeling inside and one over par gross on the card. Indeed had it not been for an errant drive on the fourth that found a shocking lie and needed a ground out up and down to save bogey, that could have been even better.

However the sixth hole took its toil again. My tee shot was actually well struck but too long and again found a difficult lie that my short game wasn't up to. A nasty double bogey soon wiped the smug smile from my face. Another horrible double on the shortest hole, our eighth and the round was in danger of unravelling. I was caught between a pitch, having hit a huge pull left, bringing the spectre of the shank in, or playing a long chip and run which in truth wasn't really the shot but the option I chose.

In the end I was out in seventeen points when a sub-handicap front nine was there for the taking. The rut continued with back to back double bogey's on the eleventh and twelfth and by the time I made another at the fourteenth the die was cast and my race run. It wasn't so much bad ball striking but a cumulative effect of unforced errors and silly mistakes including a three putt.

September Stableford Statistics

In fact I played the last four holes in a relatively sane +2 gross but it all came out to a miserable 31 points and as I alluded to, my handicap is now officially 13. Not what I set out to achieve at the start of the season. However, I still have a steadfast belief in my ability that I am doing the right things and sooner or later the golfing gods have to grant me a spell of good playing without the need to blight my rounds with several big scores per round.

My range form showed no sign of improving and the shanks had infested not only my pitch shots and short irons but the long game too and I was no hitting right with wilful abandon. Desperate times call for professional help and so I booked a session with Andy Piper at Lavender Golf Centre for the Saturday 4th October. It didn't take long to source the root cause. Open shoulders, open club face, weight on the toes and shoulders too far forward. Aside from that it wasn't looking too bad. As is the case, a few tweaks here and there and suddenly the ball was under control again. However I was playing the following day in the roll up. Not time to practice what I'd changed. What could possibly go wrong?

Nothing apparently. Again it started so well. One over par after four holes and then I started with the double bogey trail at the fifth. Standing on the fairway with a five iron in my hand I hit a nasty pull. I played a great pitch (no really, and there's a reason I see Andy Piper) to within ten feet. There was still a chance to make par. I hit it well and although it stayed out I was only a foot away. I wasn't expecting to miss but I did. I chucked another double in that next and we were back in familiar territory. A par at the last on the front nine got me out in seventeen points again.

And so another back nine starts with a double. Can you see a pattern yet? In my defence your honour, having missed the tenth green with a huge pull I played an exquisite chip, keeping it low from the overhanging branches, around the tee marker on the eleventh tee box, pitching it short and holding the green all with a six iron. And then I three putted from twenty feet. What an idiot. Then dear reader something strange happened. That chip at the tenth inspired me. I hit a sixty yard bunker shot at the twelfth to six feet and sunk the putt for par. I hit a wedge from 91 yards to six feet at the fourteenth to save par having gone right off the tee and been blocked out for my second. I missed the green left on the fifteenth from 99 yards and splashed from sand to twelve feet and made another sand save par. In the end I flattered to deceive and while a par (net birdie at the last) would have got me in with thirty six points, I hit the worse tee shot of the day, and had a nightmare from start to finish to end with a double. In the end it was another thirty four points but enough for second place. Close but no cash

October Roll Up Statistics

Since then, practice time has been sparse. Not only through work but it's now too dark to get to the club after work and work on the short game and pitching and I've not really had the inclination to hit the range. I did get up to the club yesterday, and whisper it quietly, may have found the pitching magic again. We'll see next time I play.

We've also hit Winter rules and time to pick and place on the fairways again and so the end of the season definitely cometh. The dark nights are here, although I love playing at this time of the year with the crisp air and the trees resplendent in their ever changing coats of many colours. I'm in the medal next weekend which should be interesting with little practice and even less playing time in the last few weeks. I had been driving rather well lately but you can guarantee now we can pick and place I won't see another until March 2016.

There have been a few changes. I've found myself a new partner for the Winter knockout as my (now ex) partner has found a new man. They've gelled well but I was left at a loose end until Michael Mills, a man with winning form in this event, came to my rescue. I fancy if we're both on our game we can go a long way off our handicaps and I can't wait for the draw to come out next week. My focus is still firmly on single figures and I think even the most eternal optimist will suggest it'll be hard to achieve now for 2015 with a dwindling competitive diary.

As a result, I'm using Winter, as I've done before as a period of consolidation. It's all about the short game this time. I think I may have mentioned before on here that if I can get 100% in my chipping and putting, which is definitely on the up, and can start making the ball dance around the flag from inside a outside a hundred yards, it'll be able to let me score even when the longer game isn't firing. The last two or three winters have been about trying to get the longer swing into something more robust and reliable.

Let me share some interesting statistics. From 100-125 yards I only get it to within fifteen feet 47% of the time, missing 12% either long or left and 21% short and 15% right. However from 75-100 yards that  fifteen foot circle is found 81% of the time with 7% missed left, only 2% short and 5% are too long. Funnily enough as I get closer in the 50-75 yard range, the success rate drops to 73% and the misses short rise to a staggering 24%.

However if you take the same figures over the last five rounds, the longer distance, from 100-125 yards holds almost steady at 40%. My middle distance, 75-100 yards is up at a mighty 92% and in the closes region to the green it actually rises to 78%

So what you may say if you're still awake. Well apart from statistics and damned lies, it shows that from close to the green I am not really good enough hence the plan. The dose of the shanks have shown that around the green I am not good enough technically. The one thing I've seen not only from the good players at Royal Ascot Golf Club, but when I've played in Golf Monthly Forum events is that even when they aren't hitting well they score thanks to a stellar short game. This is something Andy Piper and I can really get to grips with and I can go away and drill down. I have to be honest and say when the frozen weather arrives and we are on temporary greens, or if we get deluged like most of Britain was a few winters back, I'd rather not play as I don't enjoy it and would rather work on distance control or technique. I accept the frozen ground will give random bounces but as long as the ball is pitching at the correct yardage that's all I need to be working on. I can still play around with ball position, opening and closing the face and generally enjoy playing and learning what I can and can't do

I've spoken to Andy and to be honest apart from lapsing into bad set up habits, which led to the recent shanks, my swing is better than when we first met last December. There haven't been masses of lessons and we've not changed too much. It's really down to a better, one piece takeaway and that magic word tempo. I still need to reign the speed down and swing smoother but when I do, I have minimal moving parts and have time to swing properly. Strangely enough, the ball goes straighter too.

It may have sounded at the start of this episode like the end was nigh. It may even have felt like it, especially when every club in the bag was going right. However with sparse playing and practice time, my last outing in the roll up and my practice session yesterday have whetted my appetite and I'm hoping the medal next week sees a start to more golf before the weather and light starts to close in. Once it does I've a clear idea mapped out of how to spend my time wisely and hope when I come out ready for 2016 the game will be razor sharp and after so many false dawns, high hopes, dashed efforts and time invested I can finally get to the nirvana of single figures. If not it won't be for a lack of trying and there's still plenty to enjoy and share along the way.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

The Spirit Of Golf - Is There Such A Thing?

Last week's shenanigans at the Solheim Cup was far from a great advert for the game of golf, especially with a decline in the number of females taking it up. There has been a huge media campaign under the "This Girl Golfs" banner (This Girl Golfs video) (Meet The Girls) and so the Solheim Cup should have been a heaven sent opportunity to show the best in the game, going head to head in fierce battle but with golf being the winner. While the opening skirmishes were tense, nothing indicated the furore that would explode at the 17th in the conclusion of the foursomes.

For those that have missed it (and that's hard to do) the Americans picked up their marker on a relative short putt and assumed that the European Team player Suzann Pettersen had conceded it. Her partner Charley Hull had already moved away from the green and Pettersen wasn't close to the putt. Alison Lee the American, picked up the marker but with the putt allegedly having not been conceded therefore forfeited the hole. It sparked huge controversy, tears, recriminations and massive press coverage around the world. Having seen it, live and retrospectively, the incident has got me thinking about this so called spirit of the game and whether such a thing does and can exist in golf, both at the upper echelon of the professional game but also right back down at club golf level.

Let me be very subjective. If Pettersen didn't concede the putt and she's adamant it wasn't given, then the rules of golf are very clear and the Americans lost the hole. That's irrefutable and this is where the problem begins, certainly at club level in the weekend roll up for a few quid with mates. You can't pick and choose which rules to ignore, no matter how unpalatable. However if you see your best mate unwittingly transgress in your Saturday game, how many of you will pull him up and enforce the penalty. Not many. Why spoil a good friendship and a good game, even for £5 on the game, for a minor infringement. Is this where this spirit of the game truly lies? You can see how this is opening Pandora's box. What about your monthly medal when you see your playing partner inadvertently move the ball addressing it in the rough. The rules would say there's a penalty but he's not going to beat 100 and nowhere near contention and already having a bad day. Do you ping a penalty to compound his misery. You have a duty to all the fellow competitors and so, with heavy heart, I would. You can't ignore the rules.

As the dust has settled, Pettersen has issued an apology and talks about not seeing "the bigger picture" (Pettersen apology - Pettersen apology) but what is this? The US broke the rules and yes it was handled poorly immediately after the event and in the hours that followed but what bigger picture was there?
Solheim Cup controversy - but what about the "Spirit of the game?"
Of course there have been examples of huge displays of sporting behaviour including Phil Mickleson acknowledging Justin Rose's monster putt at the Medinah Ryder Cup. Perhaps the most famous incident was Nicklaus conceding a putt to Tony Jacklin to tie the Ryder Cup with the famous line "I don't think you'd have missed Tony but I didn't want to give you the chance" Nicklaus concession

This has been held as a banner for the spirit of the game but when you strip it down wasn't it just an illustration of supreme sportsmanship. Is this one in the same? Of course there have been examples of horrendous behaviour, with the green invasion at the Brookline Ryder Cup being perhaps the most famous. The US ran onto the green after Justin Leonard's outrageous putt from miles away all over the line of the Europeans putt for a half. Clearly no rules were broken but this spirit of the game was surely blown away. Again doesn't it simply boil down to poor sportsmanship or is this what we call the spirit of golf? It seems the Solheim Cup has previous for this sort of thing (Solheim Cup Incidents) where this spirit of the game has been held up as tarnished and where in the cold light of day things would undoubtedly have been done differently.

So here's my take. "The spirit of the game places the responsibility for fair play on every player. Highly competitive is encouraged but should never sacrifice the mutual respect between players, adherence to the rules of golf, or the basic joy of playing" 

Honesty, integrity and courtesy. Three words that have come to represent the spirit in which the game of golf is played. Part of that spirit sits beneath the term etiquette and part of it relates to to the rules of golf but surely the spirit goes much deeper than those two tangible items. It's something that every golfer should develop an innate sense of something that's born from golfs unparallelled history and something which lifts golf, in my own mind at least, above other sports.

Whether it's through divot or pitch mark repairs, or simply a respectful silence on the tee, the spirit of the game dictates that players make sure they give others on the course, despite them effectively being opponents, a fair chance to play the best golf they can. For most of us, the game of golf is self regulation. We seldom have a referee so are reliant upon our own honest adherence to the rules to enjoy the game. As a result we are all occasionally forced to call a penalty on ourself for infringements which often go unnoticed by everyone else. It is this dependency upon honesty and courtesy that has elevated the spirit to sacrosanct status.

I've played golf for over thirty years and at many of the top courses around the UK and so I am pleased to say there is such a thing as the spirit and do you know what, it is alive and in rude health. What I do know is that this spirit is perhaps unique to golf. Perhaps it's the battle between you and the course and the struggle to play as well as you can and get the handicap down. Films like the Legend of Bagger Vance seem to play up to it and romance it.

I started by holding up the Solheim Cup and the "Gimmegate" incident as a missed opportunity especially for encouraging women into the game. It applies equally as much to the men's game, in fact golf in general. I'm glad the spirit of golf is there. Even as a novice, unaware of the intricate nature of the rules, struggling to break 100 and dreaming of days when I would be better, there was something unique about golf. Was that the history, the surroundings, the difficult nature of the game itself? I will never be sure but it got inside my soul and I've been hooked since. I talked about the bigger picture in Pettersen's apology and I guess this comes back to the spirit itself and mutual respect all of which were sadly lacking on that Sunday morning. To that end I feel that Alison Lee has also been at fault by not coming out and issuing an admitting she was initially at fault.

I asked if there was such a thing as the spirit of the game or whether simply by playing to the rules and etiquette was one and the same thing. I am certain it is something over and above that. Perhaps intangible and unspoken it is there and needs to remain so. What do you think?

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Stop Me If This Sounds Familiar

Last weekend and it was time for the Royal Ascot "Masters" event. This is a thirty six hole medal event and is an invitational event open only to competition winners at the club over the preceding twelve months. I qualified courtesy of a win in the June 2015 stableford.

I had a lesson with Andy Piper at Lavender Golf Centre in Ascot the Thursday before. It was an hour long split into two sessions, one of short game, mainly pitching with a little work from bunkers and the second half looking at the full swing. As always, the topic of conversation kept coming back to one word, "TEMPO." My initial pitching was flawed by a few set up issues but primarily I took the club away to quickly with the hands, and too far inside the line. It resulted in a few ugly shanks, never a good feeling or sight. Once I started using the arms and chest to turn better, I found ball striking was cleaner, certainly in terms of the depth of divot. It was also easier to control distance and trajectory. There was a secondary motive. By working on more of a one piece action for the pitching my teaching pro hoped this would bleed into the swing and make the takeaway for the full swing much smoother and with a better tempo. Indeed as we headed back to the teaching bay after nailing the pitching, he said he wanted me to spend hours just working on pitches and hit as many balls as possible, not only to improve that area, but to get that feeling of a smooth start to the swing and using the big muscles to control it.

I'd been struggling with weak shots to the right, not a fade or slice per se but a shot starting right of target and continuing straight right but without the usual power and quality of strike. I showed Andy what I was doing. The good news was the posture is much improved with a nice straight back but it came back to the same issue. Too fast at the start and too much input from the hands. We worked on a smoother start akin to the pitching worked we'd just done. Suddenly it fell into place and tempo slowed, the swing was shorter and the ball striking was improved.

I went away and spent Friday religiously working on my pitch shots and bunker play (which also necessitated this slower and better turn and tempo) and was happy when I eventually moved on to hitting fuller shots. All was set for a practice game on the Saturday before the big one on Sunday. My round on Saturday didn't work out as I hoped. It was full of wayward shots and I never really felt comfortable over the ball and was probably thinking too much about technique, tempo and a host of other things rather than letting it flow.

I warmed up as normal prior to my first round in the Masters. I was worried that my pitching technique seemed to have deserted me. I hadn't pitched well in the previous day's round and I hoped it was a blip. Clearly not. However the tempo and takeaway on the full swing was holding together and I'd hit some nice balls warming up.

I decided that I had nothing to lose. Medal play takes no prisoners and the game is in a state of flux so I just wanted to go out, play and not worry too much about the score although there was always that nagging voice at the back of the mind saying "don't make a fool of yourself". I decided not to worry about anything technical but to pick a target over every shot and picture Andy Piper behind me just saying "TEMPO" and feeling as though I was back on the range.

The opening hole is a long par three coming in at 229 yards of the tips we were playing from. It was originally designed to be the tenth hole on the course but is now a stiff opener with out of bounds right, a line of trees some thirty yards short that eat in towards the fairway and green and with a pond short left. There are two bunkers left and one to the right.

The view from the first tee
I struck the opening shot well but pushed it right towards the line of trees. It cleared them but I had no back swing on my second and could only move it forward a few yards. I pitched on and two putted for an ugly double bogey. Not the start I wanted but onwards and upwards. I steadied the ship over the next few holes and came to the fifth off the back of a couple of pars. I hit the fairway and although my approach missed the green left I should have been able to chip on, two putt and walk away. Instead I duffed the chip, opted to take the putter from the fringe grass and left the first putt woefully short and suddenly walked off with another double bogey. With another double coming at the shortest hole on the card, the 139 yard eighth, I was out in 44 shorts (+9 gross). The annoying thing was there had been some good shots in there and the focus and concentration for the majority of shots had been good and my tempo in particular was good, if anything a little too slow and deliberate in places. I needed to work hard on the back nine.

I played some decent stuff but putts were agonisingly close, shaving the hole on occasions. I was holing well from the crucial two-three foot range but just couldn't make a putt from distance. I stood on the fourteenth tee at +12 and so all my shots were used with a tough finish to come. I found the fairway but had to fade it around a large tree on the corner of the dog leg. I moved it but it was short and right and I was left with a forty yard pitch. It should have been bread and butter as it felt as though that's all I'd done for two days but when I really needed to execute all I could do was scuttle it over the back and that was another double bogey.

Still, it was still possible to post a reasonable score and perhaps hit the handicap buffer. I stood on the sixteenth in with a chance. I then hooked a tee shot out of bounds left. It is a tough driving hole as you can see in the picture below, the trees left (out of bounds) are adjacent for the length of the drive.

The view from the 16th tee. The trees left signify the out of bounds. Not much room for anything left off the tee
I was forced to reload but repeated the error. Playing five off the tee I finally nailed a drive and followed it up with an excellent hybrid from 205 yards onto the green and I made par with the ball in play but it was a show stopping quadruple bogey eight. I've spoken about these show stoppers before. Stop me if this sounds familiar. As always, I had no idea it was coming and hadn't hit a single tee shot left off the tee all day. Not a sniff. These were straight left of the club face.

In the end it all added up to a gross 89, less my 12 handicap and a net 77 (+7). Not what I had hoped for and if you looked at the score on its own you'd think it had been a real horror. However apart from some careless shots that led to silly a silly double bogey, I had been pleased with the quality of ball striking and in particular the tempo was very good. I had probably played myself out of contention but there was an afternoon round to be played and a chance for a degree of redemption.

Any thoughts of redemption and a chance to right the wrongs were blown away from the start. In fact my scorecard resembled an overseas dialling code 7, 5, 7 (quadruple, par, triple bogey) and seven shots from my handicap allowance of twelve gone in twenty minutes of terrible golf. I really didn't feel comfortable and that feeling of calm I had taken with me in round one evaporated. I steadied the ship with a par at the fourth, but three putted the next. The flag was at the back and my ball finished at the front and I had three tiers on the green to contend with. I left the first woefully short. I dropped two more shots on the way to a nightmare 45 shots for the front nine (+10) and a shot worse than my morning effort.

And then an outbreak of the golfer happened. I made five straight fours playing some tidy golf including a par at the hardest hole (SI 1) the twelfth. It did include dropped shots at two par threes and so by the fourteenth hole I had used my handicap allowance and there were still five holes to play. I made a great par at the fourteenth, courtesy of a lovely pitch from 45 yards to six feet. Perhaps the hard work was paying off. I dropped a careless shot at the next, three putting after a green in regulation but no matter, I was only one over handicap and the buffer zone beckoned. On to the sixteenth tee.

I managed to avoid the out of bounds left. However I went way right and progress was impaired by a tree. A chip out, a bunt forward from heavy rough was followed by an approach into the fairway bunker. A pitch on and the obligatory three putts added up to yet another eight. With the chance to protect the handicap gone and fatigue kicking in I made a bad tee shot at the par three seventeenth to tally another bogey. I could have gone for the green at the last from 156 yards but I opted to lay up wide of the pond guarding the green, pitched on and nearly rescued par from nine feet. In the end it was another 89, net 77 (+7) and a total of 154 (net) for a 25th place finish

2015 Masters Statistics

On the plus side I was in the field so I had won in the past twelve months to qualify. Signs of improvement as I'd missed the previous two years. On the down side I got another 0.2 back on the handicap and teeter on the precipice of an increase to 13. Mind you the last time we were here I managed to get my win. Here's hoping lightening strikes twice.

Bearing in mind I had tinkered with tempo and the swing a few days before the Masters and had played poorly on the Saturday, there was some good stuff. I think we can consign the nightmare of the sixteenth both times to the golfing room 101. There were some lazy double bogey holes, especially in the first round and on par three's in particular. However I thought the tempo was showing signs of moving forward although I can't explain where the horror start to the second round came from.

It all sounds rather familiar doesn't it? A number of good holes blighted by two or three car crash holes. It's beginning to play on my mind and I need to stop the rot and stop it quickly. I don't know what the answer is yet and will be reporting back with the facts and figures from my endeavours to Andy Piper for a debrief and see if he can shed any light on the matter.

I enjoyed playing in the Masters. It's been a while and I use to have a pretty consistent record of qualifying for it. Considering the toll the sixteenth hole took on my score in both rounds and the disgraceful start to the second, my twenty fifth place overall wasn't too bad. I did play some good golf but again, I seem to have spent a lot of the 2015 season saying that, and although there has been some success, it remains a season of huge frustration. I get the feeling that these posts have a familiar ring to them now. So how do I stop the bad holes when they aren't the same nemesis hole each time or the same type of errant shot? I'd love to hear from you, the patient reader, if you've had similar experiences and if so how you created a more bullet-proof game. I do feel the mind is strong and I utilise New Golf Thinking (What Is New Golf Thinking?) and I've read the stuff the likes of Bob Rotella have written. I have a pre-shot routine I stick to for every shot and over every putt, so it isn't as though I think I do anything different, especially under pressure.

The bottom line as I see it is a two pronged one. Perhaps, and in my mind it's a big perhaps, I'm tinkering too much and still looking for what isn't there or isn't necessary with my game. As I've said before though, golf doesn't come naturally and I've always had to graft to get my game to any semblance of a good level and I'm an advocate of lessons to try and cut out the need for compensations in each swing and reduce the number of moving parts. The other issue, particularly in the summer, is that I need to just get out and play more, rather than honing the game in practice. It's perhaps too late in the year now (getting dark about 7.15pm) to do that but I would probably hold my hand up and say I've not played as much as I can. That could be key. Perhaps by being out on the course more, I'll develop more understanding on how to compile a score, even when rushing onto the course straight from a days work. Please feel free to comment and let me know if you agree, disagree or if you think I should be doing something different and there is a better way to stop the bad holes happening.

As for now there's a medal to play and even though I stand on the precipice of an increase to a handicap of thirteen I'm looking forward to the challenge. I want to start the road to recovery sooner rather than later. As I've said, and stop me if this sounds familiar, I am hitting some good stuff in the practice. The short game is moving forward with pitching and bunker play starting to come to good. I need to do some work on the putting but on the whole it's pretty solid for my level of golf, and the work I am doing on tempo and the better takeaway is starting to feel more natural but does need constant attention.

All in all, your narrator is frustrated but happy to have been in the event to start with. It's another step backwards in terms of handicap progression but I feel, no, I know, that a good score and a run of good scores is in there. I need to keep patient, keep plugging away and keep trying.

Monday, 31 August 2015

A Change Of Tack - Coming To An Inevitable Conclusion

I have a love hate relationship with golf and right now, it is firmly in the hate camp. My form has deserted me yet again and my swing and scoring is in the doldrums. You find your narrator wallowing in a pit of self pity and misery with his game and he's been thinking. My approach to this needs a fresh angle and I'm changing tack. The premise is still the same. I still have an unyielding faith in my ability to get to single figures. I just have a feeling my approach to this has been all wrong.

I had a lesson a few weeks ago. For the first few sessions afterwards at the range I was striping the ball and everything was in sync and temp was fluid and compact. Sadly my ability to play was severely restricted with the course shut and I didn't really get a chance to get out and try it, real time where it really counts.

Since then, form has been tailing off. I played poorly in Captain's Day in terms of ball striking terms and had to work overtime but managed to score reasonably although it was off the yellow tees and so the course was playing shorter and arguably easier. I played in the roll up the day after. Another round where I was fighting my game from the opening tee shot until the final putt dropped. I've been to the range in the last week to try and get to the bottom of the problem. Back to checking posture, checking tempo and working on a better one piece takeaway, all key elements from the last lesson. And all to no avail.

Range sessions have been unproductive and I'm hitting it poorly. The stock shot seems to be a weak shot right. The contact itself feels fine but it's starting right of target and moving further right. To be honest I'm just a little bit lost right now. It has been Longhurst Cup weekend at my club, Royal Ascot Golf Club. It's a medal format and players choose which two days out of the three of the bank holiday weekend they want to play. I played my first round on Saturday. It was a slog. I didn't hit a single iron shot well. I had managed to drive reasonably, especially early on, but missed green after green. I was fighting the swing throughout and in the end felt like I was playing every shot with fear and trying to steer it. I ran out of luck on the seventeenth hooking it out of bounds and then going for the green at the last from 149 yards, knowing I wasn't hitting irons well and carving it into the lake right of the green. A lay up, and a chip and two putt for bogey (net par) was the sensible option. My total was net 75 (+5) and so another 0.1 back on the handicap and to be honest if it wasn't for some decent chipping and putting in the middle part of the round it could have been a real car crash round.

And here's the thing. I could of played yesterday and got my second round done and dusted. I didn't and opted to spend a day with the wife. I just didn't fancy playing. I slipped out and hit a few balls late in the day but it was terrible. It meant I was forced to play my last round today. I knew what the forecast was and it wasn't good with heavy rain due. I opened the curtains and there it was. I simply went back to bed and haven't even bothered playing. I have never done this before. Can't say I feel great about it but I didn't enjoy my round on Saturday and there was no way I wanted to endure four hours in non-stop heavy rain just to submit a card and get another 0.1 back on the handicap.

I have a lesson booked for Thursday. It was supposed to be an hour working on the short game and giving myself an edge in an area that has been improving of late. It seems now I need an MOT on my swing and something to fix the problem. What that is and where it's come from is something I'll be sitting down with Andy Piper my teacher to find out. We'll be discussing where I go next. I still think lessons are important to my game. I've said many times golf has never come easy and I'm not blessed with natural co-ordination and timing. However I can't keep having lessons, making small forward steps forward and then huge backward strides. Why isn't it sticking and why isn't it working?

And yet I feel I know the answer in my heart already. A guy called Adam Cook took the time to comment on my last post (The Benefits Of Lessons). Thank you for taking the time (and if anything I write provokes you, please feel free to follow his example and post a comment). He talked about "finding positions" in my swing. While I don't agree with that I concede that I do seem to be trying to groove drills and swing changes too often. If I am going to work on my game, short game is where it should be at. I've become a range jockey bashing balls and trying to find a swing that perhaps isn't there. I just need something functional more often than not. Pretty or even technically perfect isn't necessary.

I need to change tack. This approach clearly isn't paying dividends. My handicap is heading north and while I have had degrees of success in 2015 I am no nearer getting to single figures. The biggest rub is that I look around my club and see guys who wouldn't know the way to a driving range or practice ground if you gave them directions. They barely work at their game and yet seem equally as consistent, if not more so than I am. Their handicap in many cases is lower and they hit buffer zones more regularly. Their game seems no better or worse than mine. They simply play more. If I am going to work on my game, it has to be from a hundred yards and in and on the putting green.

But here's a paradox, perhaps part of my DNA. I have a lesson and work on my game and move a little way forward. If I don't work on my game and then chop it around I feel I need to go back out and work harder on my swing. Perhaps I need to practice smarter and better. If I don't work on my game I don't play well. At least that's how it has always felt in my mind. We have winter on the horizon (sad but inevitable) and so playing opportunities are reduced to weekends and even then only if the great British weather permits. Does that mean I sit about and resist going out and working on my game? Do I use the dark months to re-evaluate my target. Is single figures even realistic any more, especially as a handicap of 13 beckons. Sitting here, morose with the rain auditioning at my window, the answer is still a YES. A change of tack is necessary and as I've alluded to it has become almost inevitable. Single figures are still achievable.

Something has to give. I've decided I'm still going ahead with my block of lessons over the winter. The work I've done in 2015 to date with tempo in particular has paid some dividends allied to the better takeaway it does give a swing of fewer moving parts.....when it works. However the biggest area has to be translating what I can do on a range onto a course and that into low scores and handicap cuts. To this end I'm absolutely certain I've over thought this now and my equation of working on technique equalling better golf is incorrect. Good technique is essential, hence the need to work on a smoother tempo and swing. However getting my head right is even more important. I need to clear the junk, de-clutter my golfing my mind and play with freedom on the course while bringing my range game with me.

This should be an interesting challenge for my teaching professional but one he seems up for. He seems convinced, like me, that we still have a single figure golfer in there. I just need to look at a fresh way of tapping into him. To this end, range sessions are being restricted to one per week on the full swing. No more than that. I'll play every opportunity I have over the winter. I usually baulk at playing on temporary greens in the winter as they are usually stuck on the edge of a fairway, are impossible to hit into effectively with an iron and it become a lottery to get it close with a chip or putt on frozen and rutted ground. However I'll be swinging the club, not having any technical thoughts and can use it to work on short game and driving, two areas that can always be better. If the weather is totally inclement any additional range work will be looking at distance control and pitching, looking to improve accuracy with short irons (8 iron down to sand wedge).

Having read this post so far, please don't get the idea it is all doom and gloom. Yes your narrator is frustrated with the state of his game and the fact that in hindsight I should have submitted a second score yesterday and posted a total (I've effectively no returned having only put one card in). However, with a lesson to come this week to cure all that ails me, I have a great opportunity at the weekend to reignite the flame with a strong showing in the "Masters". It's an invitational event open only to competition winners at the club over the last twelve months. I'm in courtesy of my win in the June stableford. I don't think the swing is far away. Laughable when you consider how I hit my irons on Saturday (and at the range last week and yesterday) but every time I've seen Andy Piper for a lesson it has been a quick tweak, a bit of remedial work and away I go. The problem has then come over egging the pudding and grinding it out on the range to get the changes to bleed into the swing. The first and second sessions post lesson are usually very good before it tapers off. This has to change.

The equation is simple. More play, less practice, certainly on the long game. Short game still needs work and that area of the game is now my main focus. Others seem to be playing and improving and I am working on my game and not doing so. Change of tack. Fresh approach. It can't do any harm.

So what can you the reader derive from all this waffling? Nothing more significant than I've reached a turning point in my golfing pursuit of single figures. I didn't enjoy my round at the weekend and perhaps this odyssey has become all encompassing. Golf is suppose to be fun at this level. I am always a glass half empty sort of guy. Always have been. That said I do normally enjoy my game and there's always something to bring me back. On Saturday there were some good up and downs and so the chipping and clutch putting is getting better. I drove reasonably well in places. See, not all bad. In fact, the chipping in particular is coming along nicely.

Let's see what Thursday and next week brings. No point looking back. Single figure golf doesn't come without effort, some set backs and disappointment along the way. Time to take stock, reassess and try a new way. I see it as an inevitable change of tack and I'm back under full sail again.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

The Benefits Of Lessons

If you are a regular follower of my pursuit of a single figure handicap, you'll be aware that golf doesn't come naturally and that any small triumph and handicap cut is the result of dedication and sheer hard work, along with some bloody mindedness. I have been having one of those frustrating seasons where I'm doing a lot of things right and have been blighting my competition cards with one or two poor holes.

In recent weeks, the swing has felt out of kilter and full of too many moving parts and I've been struggling at the range and on the course to find a level of consistency. As a result, I booked a lesson at Lavender Park Golf Centre with Andy Piper. I've been seeing him since the winter, usually for a fix when the swing has fallen away and I can't find the repair manual myself. I like his teaching methods and he's kept it simple. We've tinkered with tempo and swing length a little in recent months and that is probably as intense as we've got and is something we'll re-visit in more detail over the winter. For now, it was about getting the swing working again.

Following my previous lesson, we'd worked on takeaway, which had been hands driven and too far inside. In the last few range sessions I've struggled and a big pull has materialised from time to time from nowhere. On the course that's caused a number of issues and big scores and I had no idea what the cause was. I was also missing right with a weak strike. I did say the swing was out of kilter.

Andy watched as I hit a few. As is the norm, I striped the first couple straight and true. Then came a couple of the big pulls and a couple of the ones going right so he got to see the full gamut within the first dozen shots. There was some good news, and some not so good. I'd been working hard all season on posture and he was very happy with where I was. One box ticked. The tempo was better. Not great but better. The pull was easy to diagnose and cure. All I was doing was aiming the left shoulder too far left of target and then simply swinging down that line. A simple change to the address position to get both shoulders square eradicated that. The bad news was that the swing was still too dominated on the take away by the hands getting too quick and coming inside too quickly.

We worked hard on a one piece action, letting the shoulder and the chest initiate the start of the swing. Tempo and the length of swing improved as I got into a flow and worked the club back better and on a correct path. The second part of the fix, to encourage me to strike down, ball then turf (mat) and get the club exiting better was to simple think of hitting a fade and working the club more to the left. I wasn't actually trying to move it right to left, and the flight wasn't moving in the air and it was more a feel rather than "real". To reinforce the feeling he placed an alignment stake about three yards outside the bay and asked me to imagine that was a sapling and I had to fade it around it.

These tweaks were minimal. A slight tweak to the shoulders, a more neutral start and a small change to the path and suddenly I was a different player. Every ball was higher and longer than in recent months. It all felt compact and there were no excessive moving parts and it felt compact and solid. As the lesson ended we talked about a plan for the winter. I still want to work on tempo and the length but when I swing as I had been in the lesson it all falls into place. The other big area I want to look at is the mental side. I am still working hard on New Golf Thinking and have gone back to the Kindle book and read one or two key chapters to remind myself what I need to be doing. However the key are for me is taking range performance onto the course and replicating what I am capable of on the course.

After the lesson I adjourned to a nearby bay to work on the takeaway and bask in the enjoyment of getting the ball to behave as I wanted. I had been hitting a six iron in the lesson and started to play about with longer clubs until I got to the driver. Wow. It was like a different, proper, golfer holding hitting it. Even with range balls I was hitting the back fence at about 220 yards almost on the fly. More importantly, dispersion was gloriously tight.

The biggest down side was Royal Ascot Golf Club was shut last week to accommodate the Red Bull Air Race taking place on the famous race course across the road. The course and facilities were shut to provide a sterile flying area. I was also away and so I haven't been able to work as diligently on the take away in particular as I'd hoped. I had ventured down to the golf club and the practice ground a couple of times after work earlier in the week before the closures took effect. In patches it was good but I came away with a tinge of disappointment. It wasn't as good as I hoped and I'm still struggling with the hands dictating the start and it coming too far inside,

However I feel I'm back on an even keel and with a nod towards my short game to come and an hour of tuition booked soon, I'm in a happy place with the game. We had Captain's Day on Saturday and I hoped it would come together in a strong performance. It's a hugely popular day in the calendar and this year we were raising money for the Berkshire Air Ambulance, a needy and under resourced which provides valuable support in life and death situations and gets the seriously injured to hospital in time to make a world of difference. A great cause.

I am still a huge advocate of getting regular lessons. The cynical out there will say it has made precious difference to my game and that my handicap has been on a plateau between 10 and 12 for the last few years and I still show precious little sign of cracking on towards my utopia of a single figure handicap. In simple terms they'd be correct if you take the handicap as the sole measuring tool. However in terms of progress towards a swing that is more than capable of seeing my goal fulfilled, it is getting better and better.

Captain's Day arrived. I hadn't been on the course for a fortnight. Practice had shown some forward momentum but as any golfer knows, there's a world of difference between playing on the course, one ball, once chance and hitting a number of balls off a nice flat mat. Warm up went well and I meandered my way to the fifth hole in time for the 8.00am shotgun start.

Things started well enough with an opening par, offset with a bogey on my fourth hole (the 8th). I wasn't hitting it perfectly, but riding my luck as my thinned tee shot at my seventh (11th) showed as it rolled up to within ten feet of the hole. I didn't make birdie but it was a stress free par.

I was compiling a score. I wasn't pretty but it was functional. As we came to my 15th (the 1st) if I could make a couple of pars, net birdie, I could get close to forty points. I missed the green but chipped well to three feet but failed to make the putt. I repeated the feat on the next, coming up short of the green in regulation but chipping to two feet but again missing a par putt. I finally converted an up and down for par at the penultimate hole. A closing par wasn't pretty. I hit a horrid three wood off the tee which was off the toe and scuttled away down the third fairway. I hit a solid recovery with an eight iron and two putted. In the end, I came in with a respectable thirty eight points. Not enough to trouble the prize table or pick up any money from the usual roll up group but a couple under handicap. The biggest shame was the event wasn't a qualifier and so there's no cut to come.

I played again today. Again warm up was good and I was hitting it well. My opening tee shot wasn't good but I chipped close and should have made par but was happy to settle for a net par and move on. I drained a monster putt for birdie at the second. Things started to go awry from the sixth where I hit a horrid snap hook. I did the same at the next but worked hard to recover for a net par. I then made horrible double bogey at the eighth and a lot of my early hard work had been undone.

I was steady at the start of the back nine, gave all the ground back with another snap hook off the tee at the thirteenth. These hooks had come with irons or my three hybrid and the driver finally joined in at the fourteenth. I put my third into a lateral hazard, dropped under penalty, and pitched to twelve feet and holed out for a double bogey (single point as I get a shot). By then the rain was falling heavily. Welcome to the British summer. I made a mess of the fifteenth but then hit a good drive down sixteenth and followed it with a hybrid to the edge of the green some fifteen feet away. I had put the Ping Cadence Anser back in the bag and it rolled another birdie putt. I made another putt from ten feet at the seventeenth to save par. My closing tee shot was another snap hook but I found a way to make a bogey at this par five thanks to a good fairway wood and a seven iron to the heart of the green from 142 yards in torrential rain after initially chipping the tee shot back out from heavy wet rough.

Again, it added up to a level handicap thirty six points and I am conscious that the two birdies (four points each) masked a lot of poor holes. I seemed to lose my tempo completely on the back nine today. It was in and out yesterday and today and so the work I've been doing isn't there yet. It is better than it was though.

The season is beginning to build towards a climax. It is a bank holiday next weekend and it's the Longhurst Cup, a medal event, where you play two rounds but can choose which two of the three days of the long weekend to compete. It is a major at Royal Ascot and an event I won way back in 2000. The following week, it is the Masters, an invite only event, thirty six holes of medal on the one day. It is only open to competition winners over the last twelve months and I'm in courtesy of my win in the June stableford.

The moral of this yarn is simple. Your narrator had been struggling and couldn't find a fix. A simple lesson and I am back enjoying the golf again, and in swathes playing some good and consistent golf again. There are still issues as my hooks today show but I feel I've not really put too much work into the game over the last week as the club was closed and practice was protracted. I have a full week of practice scheduled this week to work hard on the take away and tempo. The session last week showed me what I can achieve and that with the benefit of lessons and a regular look at the fundamentals, the swing is moving on, baby step by baby step and I am building something that will work more often, get my scores and handicap down and get me to single figures. If that could start next week it would be nice.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

2015 Club Championship

I'm not sure about you but for me the pinnacle of the golfing season has to be the annual club championship. At Royal Ascot Golf Club, we have a prize for both the best gross and net scores. Realistically I  don't have a prayer of winning the gross prize and it's all about the net for me. The competition is organised in handicap order with the lowest handicaps setting off first on the Saturday morning and there is then the small matter of surviving the halfway cut which sees the top sixty and ties back for a second round on the Sunday. This time it's in score order so the best scores are out last.

The first round was played in dry conditions, although a tricky breeze ensured that scoring wouldn't be too easy. The green staff at the club had done a fantastic job of getting the course ready and in my opinion, the greens haven't been any better in the ten years we've been playing on our new course.

Practice had been curtailed by a distinct lack of form and I was struggling with a bad back which was hampering my turn (http://threeoffthetee.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/that-was-short-lived-sos.html).

I started off in steady fashion and by the third hole I was in a comfortable place, level with my handicap and hitting it reasonably well. And then I imploded. A snap hook off the tee at the fourth meant chipping away from the out of bounds fence which was the catalyst to a double bogey. No matter, the fifth is a par five I can reach in regulation. A good chance to make a solid par and steady the ship. I found the fairway and placed my second into position A+. A simple nine iron from 118 yards with all of the green in front of me. I pulled it left into a bunker. If you follow my adventures you'll know I had a bunker lesson not so long ago and have worked hard on improving my technique. It was a simple escape. The green staff had freshly raked every bunker and I should have made no more than a bogey. I caught it thin. No sand at all and the ball sailed merrily miles over the green, out of bounds. A triple to follow the double.

The golfing gods have a way of sensing weakness and playing with it. The sixth is a par three and I missed the green right into another bunker. Were they mocking me? The ball was under the lip to compound matters. This time I splashed it out to seven feet and converted for par. I made a solid net par and then came to the shortest hole on the course. It's only 139 yards and I missed it short and right. I should have just pitched on, two putted and moved on. However it was sitting nicely and I thought I could slide a wedge under it and land if softly. Instead I knifed it over the other side of the green, duffed another chip and walked off with yet another triple bogey. I walked off the ninth with a bogey and out in 47, or +12 gross and all my stroke allowance used already. The back nine would be tough.

It started off badly with another double bogey. A welcome par followed and I made five at the hardest hole on the course the SI 1, twelfth. A chip and a putt par at the thirteenth and suddenly I was looking like a golfer. It was going terribly well until the sixteenth. I hit a wild drive right of the fairway and then played a great recovery under the trees to leave 129 yards and a simple eight iron. My hard work was undone with a pulled approach into knee high rough, left of target. In fact, I was lucky to find it and luckier still to get it out. Yet another triple bogey. I limped in with a bogey at seventeen and net par down the last but it all added up to a horrid gross 91 (net 79). Surely not good enough to make the cut?

2015 Club Championship Round 1 Statistics

In fact I made it.....just. I was third group out on the Sunday. On the plus side I'd continued my run of successive cuts and this was the fourth consecutive time I'd pegged it up in round two. Conditions in the first round had been warm, but with a pesky wind. On day two, they were nothing short of horrendous. It poured down with rain. It had been raining heavily overnight and the course was saturated in places with several bunkers already filling with water.

I don't like playing in waterproofs but having worked hard on a slower, more compact swing, I felt confident that the hard work on the range might have stood me in good stead. A net par and a fairway found at the second. The first round had been blighted by too many rash decisions, poor execution and bad thinking. From the middle of the fairway at the second and a mid iron for position, I was expecting to have a simple pitch in. Instead I blocked it right and was lucky to avoid out of bounds. I had to pitch out sideways and an early double bogey to blight a card.

It was hard work even by the third to keep the grips dry, the glove dry and concentration levels high. Coming to the fourth I was determined to avenge the mistake of the previous day. I hit a great drive. Normally I'd hit a high shot with my gap or sand wedge, to the right of the green and let it feed down to the middle of the putting surface. So why did I off a bare, wet lie did I decide to play an eighty yard chip and run. I made five. It should have been par. I did par the next two and so was trundling along. In fact I was out in gross 42 (+7) and so was close to my handicap despite the horrific conditions which showed no sign of abating.

A chip and putt par at the tenth and all was going well. I went into sand on the right of the eleventh. Another poor escape barely got out of the bunker and a chip and three putt brought my world crashing back down. I started to struggle and another double soon arrived at the fourteenth and a another at the penultimate hole. I signed off with yet another at the last hole.

In the end I limped back in a miserable 48 shots for a total of 90 gross (net 78). It was a shot better than my first round despite the conditions. I went through five towels and seven gloves during the round and had worked diligently to keep everything dry.

2015 Club Championship Round 2 Statistics

My efforts were only good for 43rd place overall out of 60 who made the cut. Very disappointing as were the two 0.1 handicap increases which sees it languishing at 12.1. I really hoped I had a chance of a good showing and I'm struggling to pinpoint exactly why my good form has been so fleeting.

I've spoken about these poor shots before and I was hoping they were becoming a thing of the past. I haven't practiced well and the niggle in the back has hampered progress. The silly thing is I went out in the week after the club championships when the back allowed and was hitting it well. Back to that old issue of taking it out on the course. It certainly isn't a case of over working it, although I have neglected the short game again.

The calendar is going quiet for a few weeks. I'm playing in a club match against Caversham Heath at home (Royal Ascot Golf Club). We have a commanding lead after the away match and we should close it out and take the trophy we compete for. The following week we're closed as the Red Bull Air Race is coming to town and we give part of the golf course over for their air gates. It is good business for the club and we are grateful for their income (http://www.redbullairrace.com/en_US/event/ascot-2015). During the weekend the course and the club are shut as they need to protect a "sterile" area as the planes fly over.

From there we crank it up for Captains Day, another staple part of the calendar, followed by a big competition, the Longhurst Cup over the bank holiday. It is one of the Royal Ascot "majors" and I won it back in 2000. After that we have "The Masters" a thirty six hole medal event over one day. It's invite only and open only to competition winners over the past twelve months. I'm in courtesy of my June stableford win. Plenty then to work hard for. I am still confident of getting to single figures. Maybe not in 2015 but eventually. I know the game is in there. I just need to stop the car crash holes.

I have been working with Andy Piper at Lavender Golf Centre in Ascot on and off since the start of the year, usually on an intermittent basis when I feel old faults are creeping back in, as well as freshening up the short game. We've talked about a winter programme and evaluating my 2015 season, seeing where the damage is being done. He wants some detailed statistics on how I play each hole to see where the bad shots come from. We'll look at technique again and try and be disciplined in my mental approach and take the work I've done with New Golf Thinking forward and playing with confidence in my swing and a mind devoid of thoughts.

In the end the net prize was won with a 73, 68, the latter being a great effort in wet conditions although the rain had eased as the leaders went out. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. The gross prize was one with 76, 72 again the +2 score being admirable in the damp and under pressure.

Your narrator is laid up again with a sore back. I tried to play the monthly medal on Sunday and lasted one hole and two shots down the par five second before I had a searing pain down my back, through my buttock and down my leg. It took me fifteen minutes to shuffle back to the sanctuary of the clubhouse. I've been working hard at keeping it warm and loose and have several physiotherapy sessions booked so hoping it'll be right by midweek and in time for some short game work.

Not what I wanted then but I'm pleased how well I dug in in the second round even when the back nine started getting away from me. It would have been easy to blame the rain, stopped working to keep the kit dry and just blasting away. I tried on every shot. I am still in a stronger place than the start of the season and the swing and set up tweaks are helping. A winter with Andy, some strong focus on the scoring zone from 100 yards and in between now and the Winter and hopefully I'll rediscover the form that saw me do so well earlier in the year. Rest assured I'm still working towards the magic land of a single figure handicap and will get there. I'm still hoping it'll be in 2015 but if not I'm back in 2016 even more determined. Until then I'll keep you posted on how my progress is coming along.