Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Golf Sucks

Golf sucks. There I've said it. Certainly the way I'm playing it does. Another monthly medal on the hallowed turf of Royal Ascot Golf Club and another dose of ignominy with a net 82 and a massive twelve shots over my handicap. Oh golf swing where art thou?

The thing is, I worked really hard on my game last week and in practice I was really happy with the ball striking, flight and dispersion. I was in a smooth tempo and in a very confident, almost bullish mood. Even in the warm up prior to the round there wasn't a hint of the carnage to come. This has been the case recently. If you are a regular reader of the trials and tribulations of a fanatical golfer and his obsessive desire to reach a single figure handicap (and if not I want a written explanation as to why) then you’ll know from recent posts that my current form is nothing like good enough to make this happen any time soon and yet within these are reports of progression being made in practice.

Simply put I cannot replicate what I am doing in practice on the course. I've been back through New Golf Thinking and worked on things like RAF (Rehearse, Aim, Flow) and know I am doing the same thing regarding pre-shot routine. I've been checking posture (a big issue in recent months) and standing over the ball with a clear mind, free from technical swing thoughts. I've spoken before about tempo and how at times I need to slow it to a blur and again it’s something I focused on a lot last week and my swing had a lovely speed and feel to it.

The round itself started off in strange fashion. My tee shot at the 229 yard opener was sweetly struck but a push right. It found a horrible lie in heavy rough, on a down slope and with a bunker to go over. No prizes for guessing where my next was played from. I splashed out well to about ten feet and made the putt for a bogey (and a sand save for the statistics).

And then the rot set in. I lost my tee shot on the second out of bounds right. It was a horrid swing. Way too quick and there was barely a pause between setting up over the ball and pulling the trigger. I was actually aiming for the left side of the fairway and so this slice was forty yards off line. It got what it deserved and an ugly triple bogey put me behind the eight ball.

I steadied the ship over the next few holes and came to the fifth, a 503 par five that starts by curving from right to left off the tee and then snakes back the other way towards the green. This has a wide fairway and room towards the rough right and is definitely one to open the shoulders normally. However, I was aware that the swing wasn't dialled in and so deliberately looked to stand and make a smooth and controlled swing and find some of that elusive tempo it had been lacking. Whether I was too careful or just sub-consciously speeded up is irrelevant. I hit a horrid duck hook left and out of bounds. It would lead to another triple bogey.

The sixth hole is a par three of 178 yards and in the past I've had issues here. However in recent months I have had more success and it holds no fear. It’s nothing more than a smooth long iron or hybrid and plenty of room right once you get past the tree line and the out of bounds lurking. The one place not to miss is left where out of bounds awaits very close by and there is precious little room that side of the green should the ball stay in play. I tried so hard to wipe the memory of the previous hole. My round starts from here and we can still salvage respectability. Not after another supersonic swing close to Mach 1 and another duck hook out of bounds. Another triple bogey. You cannot win a medal with three of those in your opening six holes.

There was nothing that resembled anything I’d worked on all week. By the time I’d limped through the opening nine holes I was a massive +14 gross and had used all of my handicap allowance and would need to play the back nine in +1 gross to have any sniff of the buffer zone and a chance to prevent a handicap increase.

I lost that shot on the tenth with an annoying three putts having found a green in regulation for once. I made double at the next, taking three to escape from a green side bunker at this par three. I eventually made up and down (another sand save) but the damage was done. Our twelfth hole is a sharp dog leg of 409 yards and is stroke index one. I got a good drive away (for once) although it found a juicy lie in the rough. I took a five iron knowing it would come out low and fast and it did exactly that and landed short and rolled up and onto the green to within twelve feet. For once the putter worked and I made a birdie. Too little too late to make a difference but pleasing all the same.

The remaining holes were a combination of bad shots, unforced errors and the occasional glimpse of a proper golfer. It was messy and added up to a disgusting 94 (+24 gross less my handicap to give the net 82). It was only good for a miserable 28th place in division one and almost at the very bottom. Close but not quite thanks to another golfer having an even more torrid time than me.

Golf sucks and the weekend medal was a nightmare of huge proportions
So what happened? Again it’s hard to say. Clearly going out of bounds three times would be the root cause and I didn't drive the ball well all day hitting only 42% of fairways. Naturally this is always going to put pressure on the rest of the game and 22% of greens in regulation illustrates that I never gave myself a chance. I can live with thirty three putts. Not great but not a disaster despite several three putts.

I really don’t know the way forward and my game seems entrenched in a rut. The handicap has gone up yet again and is now 12.1. That’s a million miles away from the 9.4 I need to reach the odyssey of single figures.

I played on Sunday in the normal roll up. Again the opening few holes laid the template. Hook off the tee into a hazard on the first. No points. I carved my second on the second towards out of bounds from the fairway and was lucky it stayed on the golf course. The provisional ball didn't. I missed greens when I found a fairway and the front nine wasn't great. I made a double at the twelfth and then seemed to play well for the final few holes. In the end it was a respectable thirty one points. I still made mistakes and the swing still felt out of sync but I found a way to make a score and get it around.

The game isn't right but I don’t know why and suspect it’s only a tiny problem. I have hit some good shots, enough to convince me I still know what to do some of the time at least. The driver would seem to be the biggest culprit and yet in my practice last week it was behaving obediently. It has to boil down largely to tempo. I'm not making any swing changes and not changing my address position or posture (and I'm being quite circumspect and ensuring it’s good over the ball).

I can’t carry on this way. Golf sucks when you chop it round live a novice and I am so much better than this garbage I keep serving up. I still have a rock firm belief in my talent, ability and sheer stubbornness to get to single figures and the golf professional I have tuition with shares those views. However I need to find a solution to my woes and fast. There are a lot of big events coming up, including the Jubilee Cup at Royal Ascot on Bank Holiday Monday. This is a pair’s event, better ball stableford off three quarter handicaps and I'm a former winner. It’s one of the Royal Ascot honour board events and so quite prestigious. I've also got the Golf Monthly Forum “Race To Hillside” national final (at Hillside naturally) at the end of May and that’s a links course that will take no prisoners, especially if the wind blows and my game is in no shape to deal with the questions that will pose.

The thing is, despite chopping it around like a muppet in the medal I tried on every shot. The head didn't wander or drop as it had in the March medal where I’d carded a gross 91, net 79 and wrote on here how that was as bad as it gets. How very wrong I was as Saturday proved. What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger or so they say. I think it’s still a very fine line between this rut I'm in and the form I displayed not so long ago at Blackmoor Golf Club. Nothing has fundamentally changed and aside from a quick tweak with the pro at the range about posture I've not had any further tuition and the work I did over the winter was holding firm.

I'm always keen to hear from others, particularly better players and pros who have gone through similar or worked with club players like me to improve. Where am I going wrong? What can I do differently? If you’d care to comment at the bottom of this I’d be interested to hear your views, especially in light of my recent doldrums. Is it too much practice and too little actual golf played? To me it keeps coming back to tempo and a failure to simply give myself time on the shot to complete the back swing and get back through the ball properly. The transition in particular is rushed and I end up trapped or making compensations on the way back. Let me know what you think.

I hit the range on Monday night and the nightmare continued. I hit the panic button and hastily arranged a lesson for yesterday with a guy called Andrew Piper at Lavender Golf Centre. I've seen him a couple of times before and he never seems to make any major changes but just tweaks what I have. Last night was no different. The posture had regressed again with the shoulders too far over the feet, so back to standing more upright and the weight back on the balls of the feet. And then the big change and a major mind melt.

As suspected and despite my best efforts the tempo was still supersonic. What he asked me to do was swing as slowly as possible and stop once I made a ninety degree shoulder turn. From there just hit it. Wow. So much time through the ball and time on the way back to make a good coil. Of course it wouldn't be me if there wasn't a but coming. I could do the turn as slowly as Andrew wanted, and it really did feel like it was taking ages, but my hands kept on going once I reached a ninety degree turn. With them working independently it was hard then to get back to the ball consistently. When I turned and stopped it was fine. Let the hands carry on and it was carnage, especially when it came to the driver.

I hit the practice ground tonight to hit off grass rather than a range mat and it was very hard. I wasn't helped by a keen wind blowing. I struggled again to stop the hands working too far after my turn. Good ones were nice. Bad ones would have been off the golf course. It's only a first session and not in ideal conditions and so I'm not too upset. Back to the range tomorrow and try again.

Trust me this can’t and won’t continue. I’ll find a way. I hate it when golf sucks. I hate playing badly. I hate not seeing the fruits of my labour in terms of time invested not paying off and I hate not playing anywhere near the ability I know I have and swinging anywhere near the way I’ve done over the Winter. The swing isn’t broken so I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel and I prefer to look at it as being AWOL over the last few rounds. I’ve sent out search teams and once I find it, hopefully in the medal this weekend, you’ll be one of the first to know. Keep the faith dear reader. This ain’t done yet

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Still Not At The Races - Struggling

The golf season is gaining momentum but after by recent good performance at Blackmoor Golf Club, my form has been patchy to say the least. I played very poorly in the last monthly medal and really struggled from start to finish. To be truthful the head and drive left me early on in the round, something I've been working hard with New Golf Thinking to avoid. The consequence was inevitable and one bad shot led to another and there were too many careless mistakes and errors.

The Easter weekend saw the Haig Cup take place at Royal Ascot Golf Club. Competitors play two rounds over any four days of the elongated break (their choice as to which days they play). It’s a bogey format, essentially a matchplay game against the course. Net par is a halved hole, net birdie or better a win and a net bogey or worse is a loss. It’s one of the honour board events at the club and this year there was a new trophy up for grabs for the best individual round which the club recently recovered via e-bay (http://threeoffthetee.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/back-in-safe-hands_1.html)

I’m afraid my efforts left rather a lot to be desired. My opening round was -2 (two holes down to the course) which wasn’t a disaster in what is a rather unyielding and difficult format. However behind that is a story of having to really work hard to make that score and a round that spluttered and faltered, punctuated by some good holes and far too many poor shots. Can anyone see a pattern here?
Any thoughts about making a second round charge and challenging for the title or even the cup for the best round faltered in spectacular fashion. In simple terms I was atrocious. In fact I probably wasn’t even that good. My swing completely deserted me, I had no idea where the ball was going and frankly wanted to be anywhere else but struggling on over the back nine. No amount of New Golf Thinking and positivity were going to save this. I finished the round -12 on the day and an overall score of -14. I wasn’t going to win anything with that.

So what went so wrong? The simple answer is I didn’t play well. However, I don't know why that happened. I have been struggling for some form for a few weeks and a lot of it has been tempo related. However that was the one swing thought I’d kept in my mind for the second round of the Haig Cup and was making a conscious effort to make a smooth swing. Clearly that didn't work.
The short game wasn’t great and the putter was stone cold. Now regular readers will know all about my short game woes and it’s a recurring theme.  I am working hard to rectify this area and have some tuition planned to make it robust and trustworthy. The putter just had an off day. Maybe my new Ping hadn’t read my glowing review I posted on here about it. Maybe the usurped Odyssey putter was practising some black magic from the spare golf bag

I had a week off work last week and so after licking my wounds and sucking in another 0.1 handicap rise that sees my new figure up to a disappointing 12.0 (a 0.3 increase in 2015) it was back to hitting balls and playing some practice rounds and trying to find a spark to relight my game. I did a lot of work on the basics and in particular posture. It’s an issue that has been highlighted to me by a number of teaching pros and I do tend to make the common mistake of getting to hunched over. I'm working hard on standing much taller, and a little further away and giving myself as much room as I can to make a full turn and swing through the ball. When I get it right the results are much better.

A big issue is when I practice either on the range or the practice ground is I can get bogged down chasing technique and not trusting what I have. This leads to too many swing thoughts and it was something I was guilty of again. I should have put the bad Haig Cup down to a bad performance (everyone has them) but I thought too much about the how and not letting the ball flight dictate what was actually going on. In the end I got to a stage where I was hitting better but it took a lot of effort to clear the mental rubbish and stand there and hit it. Another thing to be worked on this year.

Last weekend saw the first club match of the new season, away to Caversham Heath. These are friendly matches, although some do have trophies up for grabs, including our one with Caversham Heath and while everyone wants to play well the camaraderie rather than necessity to win is what these games are really about.

I was picked to play with the Royal Ascot club captain for 2015 Roger Wing, a more than capable nine handicapper and we were matched against the Caversham Heath captain and vice captain. I say these matches are friendly games but no-one told our hosts as their vice and then their captain made a birdie to win the first two holes. I pulled one back at the third to halve the deficit and Roger worked hard to make it all square by the seventh. We lost the only par three of the front nine, the eighth hole and finished the front nine one down.

I should have won the tenth after a massive drive and good pitch but three putted horribly from fifteen feet. I did win the next to square the game. Roger was working hard on the back nine, especially the closing holes as my driving became a little erratic and I struggled on the greens. It was nip and tuck and we were two down with four to go but we managed to win the sixteenth and were gifted the seventeenth, a lovely par three over water. The match went down the last and the Caversham Heath captain had a putt on the last green to win. He missed and it was perhaps fitting that such a good game, played in great spirit should finish all square. However, the rest of the Royal Ascot team were in pulsating form and all won their matches to give the club a 5 ½ - ½ lead with the return fixture to come at Royal Ascot later in the year.

I was a little more pleased with my game, especially the driving on the opening fourteen holes or so but I did miss far too many greens from good positions on the fairway. The greens at Caversham Heath are notoriously difficult and heavily contoured (elephant graveyards as someone described them) and are always a very quick speed. However it was a much better ball striking performance and with Roger being able to carry me home we did well to get a half from a tricky situation.

I’ve been afflicted by the curse of the working classes and have been back to the grind this week. Practice has continued after work and I’m slowly improving the swing and ball striking again. There is short game and putting work to be done and I’ve been selected to play another club match away to Maidenhead Golf Club on Saturday. There greens are smaller and while not as heavily contoured are arguably some of the quickest in the area and in the warm conditions we’ve been enjoying in Berkshire they should be very fast and challenging.

There is a downside. I’ve managed to lose the weight port out of my Ping I25 six iron and it’s currently on the way back to Ping to be replaced. Not a problem and I have been hitting with my old Taylor Made Tour Preferred irons in case it doesn’t return in time for my next round  and so I have a full set of irons and know the yardages. The problem has been compounded by the seven iron weight port falling out as well and so this will have to go back and so I’m going to be short of another iron. I’m not happy although the six and seven irons are the work horses of my practice sessions and so I can see how they may have worked loose. 

I have stumbled across a set of Ping S55 irons at a silly price online and on a whim have acquired them. They are intended as a better player club, certainly not a category my recent form would put me in. With a smaller head and less forgiveness, you may wonder what the interest is. I’m working on a principal gathering momentum amongst a number on the Golf Monthly Forum and that using “harder to hit” clubs in practice and having to work hard to get decent results should make life easier when going back to the bigger and more forgiving clubs, in my case my I25’s. Even if the plan doesn’t work out, at the price I paid I can shift them on again for a similar amount of money and so it seems a low risk opportunity. Who knows, should I find a rich vein of form they may even find themselves being used on the course at some point too. I'm using them as a motivational tool to get them in the bag as a single figure golfer. 


The S55 irons - a better player club I've bought on a whim - aspirational as a reward for single figures and part of a plan to use regularly in practice to improve tempo and ball striking
It’s an interesting concept. Some on the forum have acquired bladed clubs, arguably as hard to hit as you’ll find and have been using those at the range. The initial feedback via the forum is positive and many have found that the ball striking with their normal make and model has greatly improved. To be honest my old TM Tour Preferred irons aren’t as forgiving as the I25 and I managed to hit them well this week so perhaps there is a degree of method amongst this madness and the S55's is just another step forward in this process.

I've had one session with the new purchase. They have Dynamic Gold S300 shafts so stiffer than the R flex I had in my old Taylormade Tour Preferred irons and they feel heavier than the stock CFS shaft in the I25. This means to get optimum distance and find the middle I'm having to swing with a slower and controlled tempo (part of the plan to drill this into my overall game) but when you do hit them properly they are as sweet as any club I've used. Miss the middle though and distance is certainly compromised. That of course is the jeopardy for me at the moment as I'm not good enough to use them consistently enough and will struggle on a course with them. Fine to miss a few on a range when there's always another chance but no good in the pursuit of a handicap cut. However, hitting the S55 well will drip back into my I25's and with their greater forgiveness I should stand over the ball oozing confidence and able to strike them so much better.

Below is my statistics for the season to date and so you can begin to see where the mistakes are being made. I'm hoping the work on the ball striking will be a key component and improve not only greens in regulation but into my tee shots and therefore fairways in regulation too. Better shots will hopefully get the ball closer and so I can convert more birdie chances and tidy up the putts per green number. You can see the method in my cunning plan

2015 Statistics

All in all, it hasn’t been my finest few golfing weeks and not the fast start to the season I was hoping for. Despite my hard work over the winter and initial good play at Blackmoor Golf Club, I feel I’m not quite at the races. It’s not far off in the most part, save for the horror show in the second round of the Haig Cup and more of the same inconsistent play that’s blighted my game for a while. The handicap however continues to rise taking me ever further away from single figures and that’s perhaps the most soul destroying part of the process to date. I’m working hard, playing well in patches and not able to find a key to get the job done and get some handicap cuts. It will happen. It has to happen. 

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Ping Cadence Putter Review

For the last few seasons I've been using an Odyssey Protype Tour #9 putter and by and large we have had a happy and successful relationship. It’s a milled face, beautiful on the eye and a piece of precision machining. The face has a lovely buttery feel without being too soft and feels so much nicer than the traditional Odyssey inserts. So far so good but I've a dark secret. The Odyssey isn't my true love.

When I first realised that the golf bug had bitten and that the golfing mistress had me with her siren song, I bought a Ping Anser 2. I still have it at home with the solid metal face. In my opinion, there really hasn't been a putter design before or since that compares to the iconic simple shape of the Anser blade and there is no wonder every putter manufacturer has their own version of this model in their range or why it is still the design most popular with both professional and club golfers alike.

I love my Odyssey and it’s been a faithful companion and helped me to most of my golfing achievements (few and far between as they've been) and I've developed a putting style that suits. In recent months I've added an Odyssey jumbo grip to keep the hands quieter in the stroke, especially on the shorter putts and everything has been fine and dandy. It isn't you dear Odyssey. It’s me. You've done nothing wrong but I've spurned your love for another who has turned my eye. 

I've had the hankering to go back to an Anser style putter for ages. It’s a nagging, recurring desire. Every summer when the greens are at their peak, I've put the old Anser in the bag for a while and loved it. However it’s too light these days and the face doesn't seem so friendly, especially away from the tiny sweet spot and inevitably I’ll go back to the Odyssey. However for those brief few weeks when I have it in my hands it’s like all my golfing yesterdays and I feel as young and invincible on the greens as I had as a golf mad youngster.

That has now changed. Ping has introduced the Cadence range of putters and I've taken the plunge with an Anser 2. There I've said it. The Cadence range comes in two styles. There is a traditional range, symbolised with a blue TR (true roll insert) which Ping say is aimed for those with a mid-quick putting tempo. There is also a heavier range, with a black TR insert for those with a slower stroke which Ping say will also help on the shorter putts for those that struggle. 

The True Roll inserts vary in width and depth to provide unmatched ball-speed consistency and accuracy on putts of any length. Anything not struck out the middle will, according to Ping, still roll out fully and have a chance of making the full trip to the hole and dropping.

The Anser 2 Heavy (left) and Anser 2 Traditional (right)

This is what Ping say on their website:
Engineered to fit a golfer's stroke tempo and feel preference, Cadence TR models advance putter fitting by varying head weights utilising different-weight face inserts. Traditional-weight heads feature an aluminium insert (blue face and grip) to fit mid-to-faster tempos, and offer help with lag putting. Heavy versions (black face and grip) have a stainless steel insert, adding approximately 25 grams for slower tempos and can improve results on shorter putts. (Traditional and heavy grips weigh the same.)

Both face inserts feature the next generation of True Roll Technology grooves that provide forgiveness by normalising ball speeds across the face. They vary in depth and width from the centre of the face to significantly improve ball-speed consistency on putts of any length.

Both the traditional and heavy models come with a PP58 Midsize pistol grip designed to keep the wrists firm and ensure a stable stroke for improved accuracy and consistency. The traditional model has a striking blue grip to compliment the blue face insert and the heavy range has a darker grip that matches the face in that range.

The Traditional putter grip. It sits beautifully in the hand and is firm without compromising feel 
Enough of the marketing blurb. I've had the Anser 2 model in the bag for about a month now. How has it performed? Let me start with the aesthetics. It simply looks fantastic behind the ball and the grey finish and clear white alignment line along with the classic simple lines make it look fantastic behind the ball. The pistol grip sits nicely in the hand and is firm but still retains a sense of feel. Performance wise I love this heel/toe design and the Anser 2 is designed for a slightly arced stroke which is something I've always felt comfortable with. On the shorter putts, I've always been more back and through type of guy and this putter will still let you do this without trying to manipulate you into making a stroke more in to square to in again.

The Odyssey #9 always seemed to have a stronger arc. No bad thing but as I've said I always felt I’d had to change my stroke to match the putter. I found that my arms were closer than normal to my body while using this putter. My back swing with the putter definitely followed an arc inside much more than normal. It didn't feel unnatural, just different. The weighting of the head and the position of the hands made it relatively easy to reproduce.

With the Ping, I feel my arms hang more freely and as a result I seem to find it easier to stand with my eyes more over the ball as some sessions with a putting mirror has confirmed. The stroke seems more fluid although perhaps that’s more “new putter syndrome” and I'm just relaxed with the new toy and putting with a better and technically correct stroke.

Performance wise, the Anser 2 has given me everything I was looking for and reaffirmed why I was right to nurture this long lasting desire for this type of putter. Again, whether this is a placebo effect of the new shape behind the ball but I seem to be making a lot more mid to long range putts. I will be honest and say from the crucial 3-6 foot range I seem to have missed a few but I'm not sure how much that has been down to a lack of practice, bobbly winter greens, or simple pilot error.

I have plans to do a lot of work with a putting mirror and raised string line and get the stroke grooved ready for the season and those short range putts will be the first thing to be addressed. With an improving short game I am aware the putting statistics will get skewed as I make more up and down saves but ultimately it's a game of scoring and those putts still have to be made.

If you are in the market for a new putter then the new Ping range is definitely worth keeping an eye on. Whether it’s just me or not, but I've only seen the traditional (blue) range in set shaft lengths (usually 33-36 inches) where the heavy (black) range seem to come with the adjustable shafts that Ping have had in their releases for a while. Here is the link to the options as per the Ping website (http://www.ping.com/clubs/puttersdetail.aspx?id=18298). I'm not sure why this is but I’d like the option in the traditional range to adjust the length, especially if the stroke isn't working. Sometimes standing differently can make a difference and spark the stroke back to life. It’s always nice to tinker too.

That small gripe aside I am more than happy to have finally gone back to my one true love. Yes I feel guilty the Odyssey #9 is lying in the spare bag spurned and unwanted. However I’m not convinced my putting is built for monogamy and I’m sure there will come a time in the future where I'm whispering sweet nothings to it and wooing it again. I do think though that this is a long way down the line (but never say never). 

I'm really happy with the Anser 2. It ticks all the boxes in terms of looks and so far performance has exceeded expectation. It has all the things my original Anser 2 had all those years ago but with a modern twist. I do think the TR insert has made a difference although I had a dampener inserted into my milled Odyssey face which stopped vibrations and so I could get away with mis-hit putts just as well. I don’t think you can necessarily compare a milled face (without the additional help of a dampener) and the TR version and so if you are undecided then it’s definitely something you’d need to consider and hit a good number of putts to decide how the off centre ones work for you. The putter has a nice balance and the matt finish works well in sunlight and isn't too harsh behind the ball.

It's nice to have this putter in the bag and I hope we'll have a long and happy relationship. It's a great addition to the Ping range and as with everything they produced, a well constructed piece of equipment. I'm acutely aware how personal putting and putters are but this has suited my own game and stroke. I feel confident on the green and with the way the Anser sits behind the ball you really do feel able to make every putt. As I put more work into the putting as the season progresses I hope this facet will only get better and I can shoot some low scores.