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 (

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. 

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