Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Turning A Corner Or Flattering To Deceive - Hillside Awaits

As you will recall, your narrator was waiting on the final placing for his dismal net 82 in the last medal. It was only good for 23rd place in Division one and it was a very poor performance. Undaunted I was able to enjoy some social golf last weekend with no handicap pressure or card in pencil in hand. 

Both rounds on Saturday and Sunday were a curate's egg of good, bad and a few "oh my god's" that defied description. It has been an ongoing problem for a while and it's killing my scores. I didn't disgrace myself too much and finished mid-table in both roll ups. I'm still working hard on improving posture and slowing the tempo down to give myself more time to actually complete the swing going back and finish it off after I strike the ball. In practice it's been steady progress but hasn't transferred to the course...yet.

On Thursday I'm off to Hillside, which is situated next to Open venue, Royal Birkdale and is an final qualifying course in its own right and rated number 30 in the Golf Monthly top 100 courses. I'm not that conversant with the nuances of links golf, rarely getting an opportunity to play this type of golf. It is the Golf Monthly Forum "Race To Hillside" national final and I am there as one of eight regional qualifiers having got through at Blackmoor Golf Club (http://threeoffthetee.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/lightening-strikes-twice.html)

Regular readers will notice your narrator struggling of late and the handicap has gone out from a starting point of 11.7 in 2015 to 12.3 and dangerously close to the 13 mark. Not what I wanted and not ideal in a pursuit to single figures but I never said the journey would be quick or easy!

I hit the range last night and there was some good stuff there. Some not so good but enough to persuade me the 225 mile journey may not be quite the waste of time my current form might indicate. It promises to be a tough test and the forecast is for 15-20mph winds to keep it interesting. They haven't announced which tees we'll be off but it will not doubt be a tough examination

The view to the 1930's style clubhouse
I managed to get today off and was up at Royal Ascot by 7.00am to get a final practice round in before setting off. I have to be honest I wasn't sure what to expect but what transpired may just be a sign I'm turning a corner. I started par, par, birdie, par, par, standing at -1 gross on the sixth tee, It's been a bit of a tricky hole and doesn't suit my eye. It was blowing into a stiff breeze (ideal preparation for my links golf examination) and I hit a four iron to the front edge. Sadly I was to tamely three putt. I dropped a shot at the next after a poor tee shot but it's stroke index 2 (so a net par). A par at the eighth and a I got a good drive away at the ninth. I hit a poor approach, way too fast in my tempo but pitched on and two putted. Out in +2 gross

It was going well until the 12 where I hit a terrible drive, pulled low and left and destined never to be seen again in shin high grass. It led to an ugly triple. It's these killer holes that blight the card too often. I then hit one of those "oh my god shots" off the thirteenth tee off the toe and nearly missing it completely. It led to another double. The fourteenth is a dog leg left to right. I hit a good tee shot but pulled it left of my target line and again it cost me a lost ball and a triple. I'd gone from +3 to +11 in four holes. I can't stop the bleeding. 

I made par at the fifteenth, a battling bogey (net par) at the sixteenth and found the green at the long 218 yard penultimate hole hitting it with an excellent hybrid. I didn't hit a great drive at the last and it found a juicy lie in the rough. I didn't make good conduct but my third was a great fairway wood. I pitched well to twelve feet but couldn't make an unlikely par. All in all it ended up as an 82 gross (+12) and level handicap.

It had the potential to be so much better. Playing on my own (but holing out everything) there was not pressure but on the front nine I was picking my targets and playing the wind magnificently. Definitely some of the best golf I've played for ages. 

Have I turned a corner of am I still flattering to deceive. There's not doubt Hillside will provide a proper examination especially in the predicted winds. If I do what I know I should be doing and swinging that much smoother and slowing it down to Mach 1 or below then who knows?

One thing is for certain, the first will be a tough opener. It measures anything between 386 and 396 yards depending on the tees we'll use. According to the website:

"The railway dominates the left hand side of the hole and the fairway bunkering means that a well positioned drive is crucial. If you manage to stay on the fairway the approach to the green should be relatively straight forward.

The first hole. Not exactly a gentle opener
I'm not convinced and that bunker by the green looks daunting but we'll see how it goes. I'm energised by my performance this morning and I'm too long in the tooth to get overly excited. I've had too many false dawns but it does reiterate the fact that the work I did from Andy Piper at Lavender Park Golf Centre on posture and tempo is starting to pay dividends. There is a good golfer in there and single figures is achievable and still firmly on my agenda. I have a stubborn steadfast belief in what I'm doing and that I'll get there. 

I'll be sure to give you all the details, the good and the ugly and hopefully your narrator will have tales of daring deeds, exciting golf and a good performance. Ideally a win would be good and I always play to win (but lose graciously as my dear old dad use to say) and I am invigorated and ready to go. The bag is packed, the outfit chosen and I'm ready to hit the road. A front nine of +2 gross would be nice. Hopefully the corner has been turned and that Hillside isn't another episode of flattering to deceive.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

And So It Goes On - But With Tinges Of Promise

Last weekend was a Bank Holiday and a chance to enjoy copious amounts of golf. Saturday was a monthly stableford and on the Monday I played in the Jubilee Cup, a pairs competition, better ball stableford off three quarter handicaps with my regular playing partner Adam O'Neil at Royal Ascot Golf Club.

As you are no doubt aware by now my golf is going through what is commonly known as a slump. Well on the course it's a slump. In practice I'm actually hitting it reasonably well. There was a couple of comments on my last post. Both are coming from the same direction, that my practice is perhaps not realistic enough and that I have too many lessons and too many technical thoughts in my head when I'm playing.

I replied to the post regarding the unrealistic practice (thanks for taking the time to put both comments on there - http://threeoffthetee.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/golf-sucks.html) and if anyone else has anything to say on anything I write about, feel free to put your own thoughts. With regards the latter comment, there was a period a few seasons ago where that was undoubtedly true and my head was full of chocolate frogs and my game was paralysed by technical thoughts. However I've worked hard in the last few years to play with an empty head and New Golf Thinking has done a lot to help me just take a practice swing, pick a target, get over the shot and fire. In terms of the lessons, then I try and have a few over the winter to get ready for the next Spring. I try and have a couple during the season, usually if something goes astray. I want to work specifically on the short game but aside from that I've nothing planned for the moment. The last lesson worked on posture and tempo and these are things I just need to work on in practice now and take onto the course.

Let's start with simple facts. I scored 29 points in the stableford and another 0.1 handicap rise. That means I'm up to 12.2 (starting 2015 on 11.7). However there was some good stuff in the round. I actually hit the ball better than I had done in competitive rounds of late. I missed too many fairways and greens but by fine margins (into semi-rough and the fringe of greens or bunkers). The quality of the ball striking was better.

May Stableford Stats

In the end it was good enough for 17th place in Division One. Aside from another annoying handicap increase I was frustrated but pleased. I felt like I didn't get any breaks and that the work I've put in isn't being repaid. Patience is key and as long as I feel I am doing the right things on the course I am realistic to think that this dip in form has to end soon.

I played in a Sunday roll up the following day. I started poorly. Very poorly and was struggling by the turn but I played the back nine in a much better manner and eventually wandered home in 31 points. Not enough to win any cash by a long chalk but a long way from the bottom of the pile. The last nine holes actually gave me some encouragement that I wouldn't be a hindrance to my partner and that perhaps we had a chance in the Jubilee Cup especially as he's been playing well lately.

I am a former winner of the Jubilee Cup (with a different partner) and have had a few near misses. My partner Adam O'Neil and I were very close in the annual pairs competition a few months ago, missing out by a couple of points which were frittered away and left a bitter taste for a while after.

The format is better ball stableford off three quarter handicap. We started off well and were going along nicely as a pair. I was far more steady playing the front nine better than I had done for a while. I holed out on every hole and was out in forty shots (+5 gross) and that was the sort of form I knew I was capable of. It is in there I just like to keep it well hidden.

My partner struggled a little as we rounded the turn and in truth was getting a touch frustrated with his own game. We had gone out as a pair in twenty one points and were in great position to kick on and another nine holes in similar fashion would post a score that may have been in contention.

I managed to play the first six holes of the back nine steadily. We were going along well but not making the gross pars we were on the front side and it was becoming a bit of a scruffy performance. Again, the ball striking was solid enough but too many missed greens when a fairway was found.

Jubilee Cup Statistics

Although we were chugging along, our chances of a winning score were drifting away. They ground to an earth shuddering halt at the sixteenth hole. It plays 425 yards (stroke index 3) and has out of bounds tight left. I had been hitting the ball with a left to right all day and on this tight driving hole I suddenly hit a horrible hook out of bounds. Not a problem. I was sure my partner would get me out of jail. Apparently not as he hit an even bigger hook even further out of bounds. A cardinal error in a pairs event which meant we didn't score on the hole.

The 16th at Royal Ascot. The trees left are out of bounds. Not he place to go, so guess what....
We could only make a single point on the penultimate hole, a monster par three of 218 yards. I came up short and despite a good chip my putt was scared of the dark. I made a mockery of the last although my partner came good and made a fighting par. We finished 14th overall, nicely placed in mid-table. I finished eight, four, eight (quadruple, bogey, triple) which was annoying but take those three holes out of the equation, bearing in mind this was a pairs event, and I had a respectable twenty seven points for the first fifteen holes off three quarter handicap.

All in all then, the problems continue and the golf is way too erratic. There has been some good stuff, especially in the Jubilee Cup. I guess having a wing man makes it easier and takes the pressure off a little. I can do it. Some holes are really solid but why do I still have to chuck in the one or two car crashes. It happened last season (it's all in here folks, just go back and read the back posts!) and I thought this year was going to be the breakthrough one.

I'm not entirely sure where I go from here. Well I do, to a degree at least. I'm taking the advice posted on the "Golf Sucks" thread (and please put your own thoughts here or on any blog as I'd love to hear your views) and the advantage of the warm weather due to arrive for the early part of the week and getting out and playing. Clearly I can do it in practice and not replicate that on the course so I'm playing as much as I can for a while. Let's see what difference this makes.

I need to do something and fast. I'm writing this on the back of another medal meltdown this morning and although the scores have yet to be checked and ratified, I signed for a net 82 (+12 over handicap). It will be another 0.1 back unless there weren't many good scores under handicap and it's reduction only competition for handicapping (I live in hope). Things were as bad today as they were good for most parts in the Jubilee Cup. Triple bogey on three and four set the tone, the latter courtesy of a pulled nine iron out of bounds from 114 yards. That's agony.

To be honest my game was all over the shop and I didn't feel the club or the swing all day. I lost interest after another treble bogey at the twelfth and the final few holes were an exercise in going through the motions. I did try on every shot but focus and intent had left me.

It seems medal play has a hex over me at the moment and I am racking up some horror scores in this format. Of course it's the purest form of the game and the biggest test as every single shot counts and has a consequence but I seem to melt and capitulate. I don't know why. It's certainly not nerves and I'm definitely not trying too hard or thinking too much. As far as I am aware I am trying to do the same things I would do in a roll up game or a stableford.

And so it goes on. The handicap will be out to 12.3 (almost back to 13) if the competition isn't reduction only and golf continues to bite me hard. I am trying to stay positive as there's enough in snippets in the roll up last Sunday and the Jubilee Cup to know there's a golfer in there and a score trying to break out. I'm changing tack and playing more and we're see where that takes me. Get out and play my way out of this dip.

Keep the faith dear reader. I promised you the road to single figures would be rocky. Granted I wasn't expecting this many bumps in the road but heck, at the end of the day the determination is still there in droves and I will get there. The tinges of promise keep reminding me that I can do it. I need to look at things like course management. I'm sure playing my home course regularly makes be blase about the holes and I don't always plot my way round. When I play an away course, especially a new one I've not played before, I seem to swing smoother and plot my way around better. There's got to be a lesson there. I need to ensure tempo work continues and I slow the swing down and maintain a good posture. It's in there. I need to let the good times return. I'm sure they aren't far away, even with my medal score today. I do hope so!