Saturday, 24 January 2015

2015 - The Season Start Here

The astute will notice that there has been a lack of updates since the turn of the year. Fear not. I've been working as hard as I can, given the winter conditions, freezing temperatures and gale force winds that have gripped Berkshire in the last few weeks.

I've had a couple of lessons with Rhys ap Iolo at Downshire Golf Centre but not had much opportunity to venture onto the course. The lessons have been focussed on making the club more stable through impact. It's been a tough period with a lot of range time and work on the practice ground at Royal Ascot Golf Club. Progress has been slow but gradual and I was working towards a competitive debut for the year in the monthly stableford last Sunday.

Warming up before the round I felt in good shape with a nice tempo and hitting some good shots. It was bitterly cold with a light drizzle in the air. I was partnered with Gordon Barr, a fine six figure handicapper with a lovely languid action. He is always good company and I was looking forward to the day.

I'd managed nine holes the preceding Sunday afternoon. My first shot of any description on the course at Royal Ascot in the new year found the green on the par three opening hole with a solid five wood. I was therefore full of confidence standing on the tee and looking to a fast start to my year and my bid to get to a single figure golfing nirvana.

What transpired in the next few moments rocked my golfing world to its core. The opening competitive shot of 2015 was a block right, purely struck but straight right and out of bounds by a comfortable margin. Having let my partner play his shot, I reloaded. I was still confident in the work I'd put in. However, the second attempt was a horrible swing and the result was the same. Two shots played in anger and both out of bounds. Not the start I'd had in mind.

I consolidated over the next few holes although in truth I was fighting the swing on every shot and it felt all of the hard work was falling apart. I was trying to stick with what I'd been doing with Rhys in the lessons without consciously thinking about in and filling the head with swing thoughts.

I made a sloppy double bogey at the fifth, a long par five of 503 yards. I only had 101 yards left for my third but pushed a wedge into the right had green side bunker. A poor bunker shot off the wet, compacted sand sent the ball across the green into another trap. A better execution to four feet followed but I missed the putt.

The sixth would have been described as a nemesis before I discovered New Golf Thinking (available on Kindle as an e-book). These days I think of it as a hole owing me a par or better. However the tee shot I made was frankly as poor as it gets. It was so far off the toe of the club I barely made contact and the ball shot off out of bounds right. Again, the second attempt wasn't great although in play.

Golf has a habit of testing you and if you hit a bad shot with a particular club you can be sure you'll be asked to use the same implement again very soon afterwards. In this case it was the hybrid I'd failed with off the tee on the sixth and I needed it for a positional shot off the seventh tee. At least this time I made better contact although it missed the fairway left.

In the end, I managed to struggle out in fourteen points, or four over my handicap. Given I hadn't scored on the first and sixth, the other holes were actually reasonably consistent. The back nine started with a slight hook into the left semi rough. I actually made a good swing with a seven iron but my approach just missed the green right leaving a short chip, having short sided myself. I played a chip and run with the seven iron and nuzzled it next to the hole for a tap in par.

I missed the green on the par three eleventh although it was a better swing. Again I had a chip with little green to play with and a dip in the ground to negotiate. Again I played a chip and run with the seven iron. It wasn't as good as the previous hole and ran out to six feet. However a single putt rescued another par. I got shots on these holes and so I was starting to make inroads into the deficit from the front nine.

I played the twelfth poorly. It's stroke index one, the hardest on the course. It has been made even harder in recent weeks. The club has invested heavily in drainage works and there is now a new ditch that runs down the right edge of the fairway. It use to be possible to take the carry on over the trees that protect the right edge. It's still possible but the ditch now ensures the player has to make sure the strike is flush as the carry has increased and there an increased element of risk/reward in taking it on

I missed the fairway, hit a poor second from a heavy lie in the rough and then pulled a nine iron left and long. Again I had a chip and run to play. This time I went for more loft and played it with a nine iron. It was a good shot to within four feet and made another single putt to rescue a bogey (net par). I found the green at the 178 yard thirteenth for a safe par.

On the fourteenth I hit a good drive but was blocked out by the trees at the corner of the dogleg. I tried to thread a hybrid low and under the limbs but missed the green right. It was an ambitious shot, not really one to take on in a competitive round. I was left with a pitch over a bunker off a bare and muddy lie. Not one for the faint hearted but I played it well to six feet and made another solid putt to secure an unlikely par.

Suddenly I was only a shot behind my handicap and a chance to post a good score. Sadly, I made a terrible three putt from thirty five feet for a bogey at the next, a careless double bogey at the sixteenth having laid up after missing the fairway right and then missing the green from 105 yards with a pull left with a wedge.

My issues at par three holes continued at the penultimate hole. I hit a top into thick rough some fifty yards in front of the tee. A decent recovery to the front edge and two putts for a bogey but it was third consecutive single point hole.

I saved my best drive of the day for the last hole, nailing a great shot down the middle of the fairway. My second was also solid but too far left into the heavy rough. I was left with 116 yards from a poor lie. There's a pond to the right of the green and I was acutely aware of its proximity. In the end I baled out left into a bunker. I hit an exquisite escape to four feet in full view of the masses already in the 19th. Sadly I couldn't finish it off with a putt for par.

Below are my statistics for the round. It's something I'll be doing on a regular basis to add some meat to the bones of these post and highlight the good and bad parts and pick out any trends that may be forming.

Monthly Stableford Statistics - 15th January 2015

In the end, my thirty two points was good enough for twelfth place in division one and a solid mid table finish. To be honest, given how inconsistent my swing had been all round, and the fact that my short game had held the round together around the turn it was arguably a better return than I deserved. There was definitely room for improvement and it was disappointing that all the hard work I had put in along with the tuition hadn't given me a more solid basis and that the first time out in 2015 hadn't gone better. Still it's important to remember it was the first round, conditions were difficult with a lot of wet and muddy lies and there was a degree of rustiness to the performance.

Perhaps the most annoying aspect wasn't the number of poor shots and the fact the bad ones were really bad, it was getting another 0.1 back on the handicap and the fact I missed a buffer zone by a point. With three single point holes in the last four, two holes I didn't score on at all, it's irksome that I could have and should have made the buffer. Last season was blighted by rounds of this nature where a cut or buffer zone was undone by several poor shots to ruin lots of good, solid playing. It cost any chance of reaching the nirvana of single figures and I don't want this year to be a repeat.

So what can I take away. The short game, so often a short coming last year, was solid. It bodes well. I holed out well and made several clutch putts from three to six feet. There is some good stuff in there. The longer shots are still an issue and perhaps there wasn't the trust, sub-consciously at least, in the work I'd put in and the changes I made.

I've been back to Rhys this week for a debrief. I showed him the numbers and explained I wasn't totally comfortable with the new swing. I wanted to revert to the one I'd had while still retaining the control of the club head through impact. Talk about wanting it all.

We've done some work. I'm infinitely more comfortable utilising the swing I had and we've taken out my strong grip and weakened it off significantly to introduce an degree more control. I'm fresh from a range session (in minus temperatures) on Wednesday and feel the grip is starting to feel more natural in the new position and that I can still make significant impact. Using the launch monitor in the lesson last night the distances were at least ten yards down on what I had been averaging. However Rhys was more interested on club path (in to out) and club face at impact. We were getting a much better relationship between these two figures. The work tonight has strengthened this work and the distances were beginning to return.

I am confident that majority of the errors were a result of pushing too big a swing change through too late into the winter programme of lessons and it left me between a rock and a hard place and a state of flux between what I'd been using and what I was trying to change to. Going back to a swing I trust 100% and adding some elements of control will leave me in a strong position going forward as the season begins in earnest.

I'm still in a happy place and my determination to reach single figures burns as strong as ever. It'll be a long road and for someone for whom golf has never come naturally, there will be some lows as well as some highs. I hope you'll stick with me on the journey and that if you like what you're reading that you'll take the time to share this, post comments on what you think on each post and generally get the word out there about this blog.

Rest assured there's more to come as well as more general posts about what being a member of a golf club means in 2015, the challenges faced and my take on some of the talking points around golf. Keep golfing!

2015 Starting handicap - 11.7 
Current handicap 11.8
0.1 increase year to date

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Back In Safe Hands

I thought I'd start 2015 with a story from my own golf club, Royal Ascot, based a nine iron away from the world famous race course. We've managed to get back a trophy that was last held over a hundred years ago and was seen by one of the members for sale on e-bay.

The trophy which was originally presented to Mr HS Ferguson in 1908 for winning the a bogey competition. For those that aren't familiar with this rarely played format, it is basically the golfer playing matchplay against the course. A net birdie is a win, a net par is a half and anything above that is a loss. The player with the best score against the course wins.

Some 108 years after it was presented a group of twenty or so members of the club grouped together to buy it back

Club Captain, Roger Wing (front left) and member Andy Davidson who found the trophy for sale and some of the members that helped buy it back and get it back to the club
The trophy was presented back to club captain Roger Wing and general manager Alison Hall following restoration at the AGM and it has been decided that it will now be presented annually to the player scoring the best round in the Haig Cup, the bogey competition the club runs every Easter.

The original recipient, Harold Ferguson MBE was born in London in 1851 and served in India with the Royal Artillery. He eventually became director of the state museum at Trivandrum in south-west India. He was a gifted footballer, playing for Scotland against England in 1871 & 1872 and he retired to Ascot where he lived until his death in 1921