Saturday, 28 March 2015

Inconsistency - Same Old Story

Fresh from my success at Blackmoor Golf Club in the Golf Monthly Forum Race To Hillside (Southern Area qualifier) it was back to Royal Ascot Golf Club and the golfing season is starting to truly get under way. Last weekend was the Jack Jarrett Trophy, a pairs stableford event played off 3/4 handicaps with both scores counting.

My regular partner was away sunning himself in the Gulf so I was forced to seek a new partner in Mark Goodall normally off a very handy 17 handicap but down to 13 for this event. I'd only had the pleasure of his company once before but we seemed to hit it off.

It was a testing day with a gusty wind and cold temperatures. I started erratically with two double bogey's but then began to find some consistency. It was one of those frustrating days. I seemed to miss greens from prime position and putts refused to drop. My partner was suffering the same woes and although we kept grinding away, we never really got sufficient momentum to really challenge.

I managed to produce the odd moment of magic including a long bunker shot on the par five fifteenth from 67 yards to three inches for a simple birdie. It was one or two rotations from dropping for an eagle after I'd tried to hit the green in two.

I was struggling with the swing all the way round and the game just lacked a spark. There were too many loose shots, not only compared to the round at Blackmoor but also compared to recent rounds at Royal Ascot. There were just too many missed greens, too many missed fairways and I couldn't scramble well enough or make enough putts. It wasn't a disaster by a long way. I know Mark felt the same way about his game. He played nicely in patches, threw in the odd bad hole, and like me couldn't make the scrambles when required.

Jack Jarrett Trophy statistics

In the end, we finished eighth out of twenty nine teams and so it was a decent enough return with fifty eight points (neatly we both scored 29 points). We were only two points off a top three and six off the winning score so they weren't big margins. It was a pleasure to play with Mark and it's something we both want to do more of in the future.

I felt that I was struggling to get the club in front of me and feel cramped for room at times. It's an issue I've spoken about before and was working hard during the round to feel as if the club was coming from a steeper place and I was striking down on the ball. When I got it right it was good. The bad ones not so good.

I had a lesson last Wednesday night. I gave my teaching professional Rhys ap Iolo some feedback from the two rounds and in particular the issues I had in the Jack Jarrett event. He had a look and tweaked the set up a little and I found that instantly I had more room to turn and particularly clear properly. Everything was back on track.

Cometh the weekend and Saturday was a roll up game with the normal cronies. I brought a guest from the Golf Monthly Forum who is considering joining as his own course (Blue Mountain in Bracknell) is closing down and being developed by Bracknell Council for housing. A very sad and contentious case (http://www.bracknellnews.co.uk/news/bracknell/articles/2014/11/01/105017-blue-mountain-golf-club-to-close-in-six-months/) and (http://www.getreading.co.uk/news/local-news/binfields-blue-mountain-golf-course-7258096)

I played very consistently. There was a much better feel to the swing following the lesson and a much better tempo and groove to the swing. I putted nicely, despite suffering five putts that did a full 360 degree lap of the hole and refusing to drop. I scored thirty six points, bang on handicap. It was encouraging and good enough to pick up a few quid for second place. Onto the first monthly medal of 2015 in a positive frame.

It was very similar to the Jack Jarrett. A round that held some potential undone by a catalogue of poor shots. I started off reasonably but missed the green at the second. I got away with murder as I sculled the chip to ten feet and made a putt for par. The golfing gods equalled the score on the next. I hit a great drive but it rolled towards a fairway bunker and I was left with a tricky stance. I came up short but managed to salvage a net par. A three putt at the next started to set the scene of what was to come. I did the same thing on the next having found the green in regulation.

The remainder of the front nine was a mixture of good and bad but I'd managed to scramble out in a respectable one over handicap 42 gross (+7). The 10th and 11th are a short par four and a par three and represented a chance to get the lost shot back and kick on to try and make a buffer zone or better still a handicap cut.

What followed was a back nine collapse. I missed the green from the fairway and found a bunker. There was little sand in it but I played a bad shot and thinned it over the green to sow the seed of a double bogey. I missed the green at the par three, came up short with the pitch and chipped to seven feet and missed for another double. That isn't where handicap cuts are born.

I scrambled a net par at the twelfth, stroke index one. Again I found the fairway with a great drive, fading gently around the dog left into position A. I was left with 176 yards and took a four iron but carved it way right. It was a poor swing. I hit a reasonable pitch but it came up short and I had a big swinging putt from the fringe. I got it to within two feet and holed the next.

I was still only a few over handicap and a couple of good holes coming home could still rescue a buffer zone finish. I made a par at the fourteenth to keep me going but I lost the plot and finally the will with a debacle on the par five fifteenth. I found a green in regulation, but was twenty five feet away. My first putt was good  but came up short and I missed the par putt. Realising I didn't get a stroke and I was now even further from the buffer I was annoyed and tried to tap the ball in from the other side of the hole and barely moved it and so registered another double.

It was very unlike me. New Golf Thinking had strengthened my resolve and I was much more prepared for the battle. Realising now that the game was up, both for a cut (that had long gone) and the buffer zone, I melted a bit. The mind wandered and it became nothing more than a ball hitting exercise. Two more double bogey's at the sixteenth and seventeenth followed and although I got a net par at the last it was too little too late.

In the I came home in a miserable 49 shots (+14) for a grand total of 91, net 79 (+9) and a lowly fourteenth place in division two and another 0.1 on the handicap. I have to be honest and say the swing disintegrated. There was no feeling, no trust and no consistency but that wasn't the whole story. I'd worked in my last lesson on a more conventional chipping action. In fact we'd been working on it for a few lessons but I hadn't always trusted it and had reverted to the linear method. In the medal I tried to stick with the new action and frankly it wasn't fit for purpose. My arms were stiff and each chip felt like an accident waiting to happen. There were so many sculled chip and only a few that were acceptable. I am determined to find something robust and resilient and ideally more textbook with fewer moving parts than a linear chip. Perhaps it was too much too soon or just a sign of a bad golfing day.

I am trying to find a positive spin. There were some good shots but far too many bad ones and it is becoming a recurring theme. Inconsistency. I appreciate I will have bad days and yesterday was just that but when you play well the day before you surely have the right to expect the game to stand up ore firmly, especially on the coat tails of the Blackmoor game.

Monthly Medal Statistics

The statistics tell their own story but you can discount the final few holes as I'd gone into serious meltdown. Had their been a lake I can't guarantee I wouldn't have done a "McIlroy" and chucked a club into the watery grave. I doubt Mr Trump would have paid a diver to rescue it and present it to me either.

So what do we get from this tale. Well, there is still much to be positive about. Despite not swinging well in the Jack Jarrett Trophy I managed to grind out a score and on another day we could have sneaked a top three finish. When I find the groove as I did on Saturday and at Blackmoor, I am good and getting better. I still need to use New Golf Thinking to stop myself getting ahead of everything on the back nine. I seem to just let it happen going out and then by the twelfth or thirteenth start to think about scores, holes ahead and targets. All big NO NO's. It's something I still need to work on but at least I'm in contention. Yesterday was a round from the dark days especially the short game. I've consigned that to the scrap heap and this has been my cathartic, cleaning of the golfing soul.

At the moment the potential is still there and the golfing season has barely started. I start again competitively over the Easter weekend and so can just go out and play next week with no pressure. I can always work on my game, especially the chipping, should the need arise. There is definitely no need to hit the panic button and one bad round doesn't mean the swing is broken and the work I've done is a failure. Not quite the positive vibe I had from the last post but still a lot going right. Definitely more right than wrong and I'm convinced I'm still on the right path. Onwards, ever onwards towards single figures

2015 Starting handicap - 11.7 
Current handicap 11.9
0.2 increase year to date

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Lightening Strikes Twice

The regular followers will know that I am actively involved on the Golf Monthly Forum and over the past couple of seasons they have run a national competition for the forum members with regional qualifiers before a grand final. This year the final is being staged, as it was last year, at Hillside Golf Club in Southport.

I was fortunate enough to win the Southern Area qualifier on count back last year. It was staged at Camberley Heath Golf Club and I put together one of my best rounds of the season to shoot net 68 (-3 on my handicap) http://threeoffthetee.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/king-of-kings.html?updated-min=2014-01-01T00:00:00Z&updated-max=2015-01-01T00:00:00Z&max-results=32

This year, the Southern Area qualifier was held at Blackmoor Golf Club in Hampshire. Established in 1913 it was originally laid out by Harry Colt. The course consists of two loops of nine holes created from heathland surrounded by heather, pine, birch and oak trees. Colt's design has stood the test of time as golf is still played over sixteen of the holes he created. Blackmoor has hosted regional qualifying for the Open Championship from 1998 to 2003 and regularly features in most top 100 guides to UK courses. It promised to be a stiff examination

The day was bright and sunny and Spring was definitely in the air as forty three golfers nervously congregated to play.

My four ball standing on the first before battle commenced
The first hole is a gentle par four playing uphill. However there's a ditch that crosses the fairway that needs to be treated with respect. I took a hybrid off the tee to lay up short and found the fairway. From there it was a simple nine iron into the green. So far so good. However the Blackmoor greens have a fearsome reputation and I three putted, downhill, from twenty feet for an opening bogey.

I started a little nervously. I was hitting the ball nicely but not quite converting early chances. The fourth hole is stroke index one. It usually plays into a prevailing left to right wind and with heather guarding both sides, an accurate drive is needed to leave a mid or long iron into a green protected on the right by water and left by a deep bunker. There is also out of bounds left to really get your attention. I hit a reasonable drive right into the semi-rough but with a good lie. With 189 yards left I hit a lovely four iron, fading nicely into the heart of the green before running up to within five feet. I managed to coax the putt in for a gross birdie and my round was really off and running.

The view from the 4th tee on the 415 yard par 4. It's a tough driving hole


My driving has never been a strong facet of my game but I was driving the ball rather well on the front nine and it was ensuring I was able to make strong progress. The seventh hole, stroke index three is another long par four measuring nearly four hundred yards. There is a bunker to the left of the fairway which needs to be avoided to leave a longish second shot into a two tiered green. I found another fairway and hit an exquisite hybrid into the green finishing no more than eight feet away. I managed to gander another gross birdie. It was beyond my wildest dreams.

I three putted the next, a par five, from thirty feet after a mediocre approach but found the heart of the green at the ninth. It's only a short hole, playing uphill as many of the par three's Colt designed do. I was faced with a slippery downhill putt that screamed caution and I got it down to two feet but only just made the par putt. However it dropped and it concluded an opening nine holes of 38 shots (+3 gross) and twenty one points.

However I was acutely aware that I'd only done half the job. New Golf Thinking has helped me stay very much in the moment. There was still work to be done and the tenth is the second hardest hole on the course. It's another long par four that dog legs left to right. Again it has heather running down both sides and with out of bounds right, it needs a good drive, ideally with a fade to leave a chance to hit the green in two. With cross bunkers forty yards short of the green and bunkers left and right the approach to an elevated green has to be well hit. Sadly I caught my six iron fat. It was the first bad swing I'd made all day but I made a net par. No damage done

The 10th hole from the tee. Another not for the faint hearted and ideally it needs a fade off the tee
I made a fine par at the next and then came to the shortest hole on the course. Played over banks of heather there are bunkers left and right to catch an errant shot. I caught my tee shot way too clean and it rocketed through the green and down a steep bank. With the putting surface running front to back I couldn't get too aggressive so opted to get the ball on the green, take the resultant bogey and move on. Not ideal but not a disaster and a pragmatic approach.

I made a bit of a mess of the following two holes. I played the par five poorly, missing the green left into sand for a nasty bogey. Fortunately it was a shot hole and a net par but with only a short iron in I had a great chance to make my par and really keep the momentum going.

The fourteenth is an innocuous par four. Miss the pond to the right at the 230 yard mark and it is a chance to make a par and maybe a birdie. I did the first bit and hit a lovely drive to leave an eight iron in. I hit it fat and again it was a poor shot. It yielded a bogey from nowhere and this time there was no shot on the hole to save the day.

Part of the New Golf Thinking mantra is not spiralling down and letting a bad shot or bad hole lead to another and one poor hole suddenly becoming a run of two or three. The fifteenth, according to the Blackmoor website, is one of the hardest par three's in Hampshire. I'm not entirely convinced I'd agree. It was playing around 185 yards to a green shaped like an upturned saucer with plenty of bunkers guarding the putting surface.

The 15th. Not sure I'd agree with Blackmoor's claim it's one of the hardest par three holes in Hampshire
I found the green with a five wood. It ran to the back of the green and I left myself with a nervy three footer for my par. It dropped. A fine time to get a par, net birdie. The sixteenth is another par four that is protected by heather left and right off the tee. The green turns a little to the right and having missed the fairway right, I was faced with a choice. I had a tree in my way. Could I go aerial and make the green or would I have to go low. I decided I was too close to miss the tree and tried to play a very long pitch and run with a four iron from around 120 yards. I wanted to play it to the left to give myself the widest landing area but I made a bit of a hash of the shot and missed the green on the short side and right. My chip and run wasn't convincing but I fluked it to six feet and made another par putt. It was a streaky par but as the old adage goes, there are no pictures on a scorecard.

The penultimate hole is another uphill par three. Again it isn't long, playing around 150 yards to a green protected by deep bunkers all around. I didn't execute and missed short and right leaving a touch pitch over a bunker from a tight heathland lie. It wasn't a time to get cute and fancy and I played a conservative shot to twelve feet. I never really threatened the par putt and it was another single point hole.

The last is Blackmoor's signature hole. Another par four just shy of four hundred yards, and a good drive still leaves an uphill shot. With out of bounds left in front of the clubhouse and a deep pit to the right of the green, the approach has to be deadly accurate. I hit my worse tee shot of the day, a quick swing leading to a low hook into the heather. I was lucky to get a good lie and I advanced it to within seventy five yards of the green on the fairway. The green has a fearsome reputation and is long and heavily contoured. With the flag at the back, the correct shot should have been a low running shot. Instead I hit a high pitch. It landed on the front third and the contours took the ball back to the front edge. It was no surprise my round ended as it has begun with a three putt.

I'd come back in 41 shots (+7 gross) and seventeen points for a grand total of 38. I had broken 80 (79 or +10 gross). To be honest I thought with so many players that would be at least a point shy. Indeed it was and there was a score of thirty eight in. However as the player concerned wasn't entered into the Race to Hillside, he was ineligible to qualify. That meant my score was good enough for second place overall and the Southern Area qualifier for a second year running. Lightening had struck twice. Granted I wasn't the winner on the day and perhaps fortunate to have qualified but in my own mind at least, I had played really well and so perhaps deserved my touch of good fortune. Either way, I'm off to the grand final at Hillside in May.

Golf Monthly Forum Race To Hillside statistics

Without doubt I was very happy with my performance. Over 60% fairways in regulation and a healthy 39% greens in regulation were the building blocks to the good score. A respectable 35 putts, despite several three putt greens on large and undulating putting surfaces was pleasing. However, and you knew there would be a however, I was very unhappy with my iron play on the back nine. I hit a number of heavy approaches, missing the green with not much club in hand. I hit a poor tee shot at the seventeenth and was way short and right. In general the iron play on the second nine lacked any sparkle.

If I was being honest, I think I became acutely aware of how my round was progressing and the fact I was likely to be in contention. I think I got ahead of myself thinking what hitting the green on particular holes would do to the scorecard. On the front nine I was playing with more freedom and just swinging and executing. On the back nine, I almost became to conservative and tried to be too careful. Off the tee I was still swinging without shackles to try and hit the fairway to set up the chances.

Despite that, it was a fantastic performance and I am more than happy, not only to be the Southern Area qualifier for the second year running, but to see how the work I have put in over the winter is beginning to play off. In recent rounds, I have started to play nicely. There have still been a few poor shots and disaster holes to take the gloss off a good round but it is still very early in the season and so there is much to be encouraged about.

I'd like to thank Blackmoor Golf Club for their impressive hospitality and for getting the course looking so good so early in the season. Without doubt in a few weeks time, when the greens are running quicker and the heather grows a little more it will be a brute of a course. Beautiful but dangerous. I'd like to thank all of the Golf Monthly Forum members who played for making it a great day and it was good to catch up with old faces and meet some for the first time. Finally a big thanks to Richard Hart, Blackmoor member, for his hard work organising the day.

I knew I'd been playing well and that the game is beginning to come but I really had no ambitions about qualifying. I wanted to play as well as I could and see what happened but the outcome surprised me. My game is coming and in reasonable shape. Bad shots aren't necessarily round busters and the good ones are now very good. There is still much work to be done on the short game (I've spoken about this before) and it's an area I'll be working on once the clocks change.

For now, I'm planning my trip to Hillside and I guess I better learn some links skills like the long bump and run, low drives and the Tiger Woods stinger. In the meantime, if you fancy seeing what's going on on the Golf Monthly Forum have a look here http://forums.golf-monthly.co.uk/index.php and feel free to join in the fun and games. Who knows, maybe next time I could be playing with you. If that doesn't put you off, there are always games being arranged around the UK and Ireland and Golf Monthly provide a lot of money can't buy opportunities specifically for forum members.

I'm hopeful this form will continue and I'll carry on working hard on my game. I've a feeling I am going to give my ambition of single figures in 2015 a really good run for my money and we'll see how close I can really get.

Monday, 2 March 2015

What About Me?

Despite recent posts about Woods and testing the latest Titleist gear, there has been very little mention on here about my own golf and my pursuit of the golfing nirvana of a single figure handicap in 2015. In truth there hasn't been a whole lot going on, certainly in terms of individual performances and certainly no qualifying events to affect my handicap.

However fear not. There has been plenty of other activity. I've been playing in the Winter knockout at Royal Ascot Golf Club. I've got a new partner this year, as my previous partner inconveniently decided to move house and joined a club much closer to home. To be fair, the course he's at, Blackmoor in Hampshire is a gem. A heathland course it has some testing greens and is a tricky layout. If I lived closer, then I'd be considering it. However out with the old and in with the new and my new wing man Adam O'Neil playing off a dangerous fourteen handicap has been a revelation.

In our third round game we had a difficult looking game. In the end, our opposition were sorely out of touch and we managed to run out comfortable 4&2 winners to book a quarter final berth. In the end, that match was a bridge too far and we were trounced by a very efficient pairing. Truth be told we didn't really gel on the day and didn't make enough putts at crucial times. As I'd never progressed beyond round two before this was a new experience. We've definitely sown some healthy seeds and there is much potential in our partnership.

Away from that, I've been showing now healthy shoots of progress myself. I've been playing some nice golf in our usual weekend roll ups. I've managed to take some money from the Saturday crowd. Practice has been going well too and I've been focused more on tempo than anything too technical and it is paying dividends. It hasn't all been milk and honey and I'm still making errors on the course. In terms of the short game, I've reverted to the linear method (http://threeoffthetee.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/chipping-linear-method.html) and to be honest, I'm finding it consistent and reliable especially off the tricky, muddy wet ground around the greens. Winter golf.. Don't you love it.  It isn't how I'd like to chip and have always considered myself an orthodox player but I am struggling with conventional methods and seem to fill the head with too many thoughts. The linear way lets me make a bigger move and to be honest I can control it a lot easier. With my par scrambling figure for the season to date around 31% compared to 16% for the whole of 2014 and you can see my issue. Stick with something a little way out, not widely taught but clearly working or try and knuckle down and chip in a more conventional manner. The idea for my 2015 season is KISS (keep it simple stupid).

At the range I'm working much harder on the fundamentals, especially my address position. I was getting the shoulders too far forward over my shoes and not giving myself room to turn properly. Stand taller and I can make a fuller turn. So basic but so easy to slip into bad habits and so hard to spot if you aren't working on the basics all of the time. I'm happy with the work I'm doing in practice. There's much to do especially in the bunker, around the green and putting but with the facilities at the course sometimes being shut for frost, time has been short. We are officially in Spring now and so it won't be long before I can invest an hour a night after work. Nearly there.

I managed to get my ugly mug in the latest issue of Golf Monthly magazine. Sorry for those of a nervous disposition but it isn't a flattering shot! It was a piece following up the day I spent at The Grove in Watford working on New Golf Thinking (http://threeoffthetee.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/the-secret-is-out.html). It really has been a worthwhile exercise and is a great tool for helping clear my mind before a shot. It can also help stop the "downward spiral" where one bad shot leads to another and then another. In all there are seven techniques to utilise and it's available on Kindle or in paperback via Amazon. The piece in the magazine was a follow up to see if any of the test panel were still using the system and how had they found it. The author John O'Keeffe took to Twitter too (https://twitter.com/NewGolfThinking/status/571675619429355520). I have found it excellent. It has really cleared my mind on the course, given me clarity and the ability to cope with bad shots.

The new season is nearly upon us, certainly here in the UK. I've got a stableford event on Sunday, a day out at Blackmoor on the 11th with the Golf Monthly Forum, the Jack Jarrett Trophy (a pairs stableford event, combined scores, and I'm having to use another partner as Adam is away), and then the first medal of the year at Royal Ascot. Plenty to be getting my teeth into. That will show how much the Winter work has helped and I'm hoping for a fast start of the current 11.8 handicap and down to that elusive single figure mark.

I'm convinced I can do it and recent form has shown that it's in there. I've played well under pressure and made some good scores but have still thrown one or two bad holes in these rounds so that needs to be eradicated. It's a problem that blighted my game last year and is something New Golf Thinking will hopefully help stop. I need to. So many potential cuts or handicap buffer zones were tossed aside last season with bad shots at the wrong time. Not in 2015.

It might have seemed that it's been quiet but rest assured I'm working hard behind the scenes. Constructive practice, not just bashing balls and working hard on the building blocks of the swing. I've worked hard on path and keeping the club in front of me and not getting trapped and having seen it on video after a recent lesson, it is coming. There are still several idiosyncrasies that I don't think will ever go entirely but I've built a swing around those. I can trust it and it seems to be more robust and repeatable. Let the new season play out and see where it takes me!