Monday, 15 June 2015

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

When your narrator left you at the end of the last entry, he was teetering on the brink of a handicap increase up to 13 and a step further away from the desired single figures target. As you'll know if you read my humble offerings regularly, it's not a case of playing badly a lot of the time and that it's close but I'm managing to chuck some bad holes into every round to ruin any good work I've put in during the round.

Last weekend was the monthly stableford. I'd had a short game lesson at Lavender Park Golf Centre with Andy Piper who changed my set up, grip and way I approached pitch shots and in particular bunkers and I'd invested most of practice time (which has been limited) into working on that. My long game had been a little neglected and there was a degree of nervousness after a practice session the day before hadn't gone to plan.

The weather was unseasonal with a very strong wind up around 20 mph promising to make it a real challenge. As all golfers know, the opening tee shot of the day, especially in a competition, is a scary proposition and the first hole at Royal Ascot is a long 229 yard par 3 with out of bounds close enough right to catch a sliced effort, a pond short and left for a hooked shot and two bunkers left and one right of the green. Despite the ever present danger, I picked a target, trusted the swing and bashed a five wood majestically onto the green. Two putts later and I was off and running with a par. I made par at the next and should have made it a hat-trick at the third but threw in an annoying three putt from twenty feet. And then one of this pesky road crashes popped up.

The fourth is a real sleeper. On the card it's only 320 yards with a Harry Colt style bunker in the middle of the fairway about sixty five yards short of the green to catch anyone trying to attack the green off the tee or getting to aggressive. The green is the biggest protection and slopes severely from right to left and back to front.

It should just be a fairway wood or hybrid and a wedge or short iron in. However I hit a poor tee shot right into heavy rough and a copse of trees. I had a back swing but a truncated follow through courtesy of a silver birch but managed to play a great nine iron recovery and considered myself unfortunate that it ran over the back and off the green. I didn't play a great chip but then three putted and didn't score any stableford points. All that good work in the opening holes pegged back in an instant.

If you are a regular reader you'll know I've embraced a concept called New Golf Thinking, a book (available on Kindle and Amazon) that helps you think better. I was lucky enough to meet John O'Keeffe, one of the co-authors at The Grove last year to go through the book and it's techniques. It has really helped and one of the chapters deals with spiralling down, which simply put, means not letting one bad hole lead to another, and then another. I made an up and down for par at the fifth and sixth to keep momentum going and managed to reach the turn with an under handicap score of nineteen points.

I made a net par and then threw in another three putt at the par three eleventh to lose ground. I made a par at the hardest hole on the course (according to stroke index) the twelfth. And then another road crash. A big snap hook of the tee at the 178 yard thirteenth into a hazard left of the hole. A drop, a hack, a chip and two putts and a seven and no points. The fourteenth is a left to right dog leg measuring 430 yards but usually plays down wind. This was the case and I managed to get a good drive down to the dog leg and a clear sight of the green. I hit a poor approach into a bunker thirty yards short of the green. For most club golfers the long bunker shot is tough and the last time I was in this bunker it was wedged under the lip offering no chance to get it out and on. This time it was playable on the up slope. I drew my 52 degree wedge, set up as per my lesson and played it to perfection. It soared out, pitched and checked and followed the contours of the green all the way to the bottom of the hole for a welcome if unexpected birdie.

Progress continued with a par and a net par and then at the seventeenth I threw in my third bad hole of the round. It's a tough par three at 218 yards with out of bounds hard left. That's where I stuck my tee shot. I played three off the tee which was so far right it was on the fourteenth fairway. I pitched well and two putted but that was an ugly triple bogey and no points.

I knew that I was going well and that a par (net birdie) at the par five final hole would give me 36 points. Now many of you will know that thinking ahead like this is a dangerous thing and it's something New Golf Thinking speaks about but it's been a while since I was in this position. With the wind wreaking havoc I was thinking it may have got me into contention. I hit a good drive and a fabulous fairway wood to leave a nine iron from 118 yards with the wind blowing hard into my face. I made a very nervous swing and pulled it left into a bunker. I trusted my new technique and splashed out to six feet and made the putt for a sand save par.

Conditions were so bad in the wind that CSS (competition standard scratch) went out to 73 (+3) and my final tally of 36 points was good enough for a nice 0.6 handicap cut back to 11.8. More importantly it gets me closer to 11. Furthermore, I managed to win division two. GET IN. Not only was it a win, and a handicap cut but I am now qualified for the Royal Ascot Masters, and end of season thirty six hole medal event open only to competition winners. A triumvirate of reasons to celebrate.

That winning feeling. It's been a long time coming at Royal Ascot but it's good to be back.
Despite all the reasons to be cheerful part three (as Ian Dury once celebrated in song) I am frustrated by my ongoing ability stop the bad holes creeping in. I've been moaning about this for ages and have been trying hard to be strong mentally but I'm struggling. It's never the same hole every time, the same type of error and seems to come from nowhere even when I think I'm going well. It is something I think I need to sit down with a professional and dissect in greater detail. I got away with it this time as the wind made it incredibly difficult and not many managed to score well. I won't be so fortunate all of the time.

June Stableford Statistics

I am happy though. You have to be whenever you win and get a handicap cut thrown in. I was thrilled that I got up and down from two out of three bunkers, and made up and down almost 50% of the time. Vindication of the good work I put in after my lesson and the difference a few simple changes can make.

This weekend was the monthly medal. Again, your narrator went into it not swinging well. I had two practice sessions on Thursday and Friday and neither were great. Too many moving parts and the swing felt out of kilter. I was still hitting it half decent but it was a struggle. Medal golf is tough. Every shot counts and there's nowhere to hide. This was going to be a bumpy ride.

I was in sand left of the green on the first and made a nervy escape and two putted for a net par. I was long with my approach at the second and tried to nudge a putter down the slope but I was woefully short. I should have chipped it. Unforced error. And then it began.....AGAIN. Our third has a carry over a protected environmental area and I hit a rubbish drive, pulled low and left and it was off to the drop zone to play my third and I still had to clear the hazard. I nailed a hybrid. I've worked hard on the pitching following the short game lesson, and I hit a great effort to five feet and holed the putt for a bogey five. A great escape.

I was really fighting the swing all the way. I never felt comfortable over any shot. I missed the green at the par five fifth with a short iron and came up short at the par three sixth. I made a rare (for me) par at out seventh hole, a long par four with a ditch crossing the fairway. This is at the landing zone for a driver forcing players to lay up off the tee or take on a long carry into a narrowing landing area. I hit a hybrid off the tee and the same club onto the green and two putted. I hit the green at the shortest hole on the course, the 139 yard par three eighth. And then it happened again. I chucked in a four putt green. Yes you read that correctly. Four putts from no more than twenty feet. How? Why? What a way to walk of with a double bogey having done the hard work.

I was out in 44 shots or three over my handicap for the front nine. I wasn't swinging great but for the most part was getting it round. It was functional, attritional golf. Not pretty. I opened the back nine with three straight pars, hitting greens in regulations. That said I still wasn't confident over the ball and wasn't feeling the swing. I returned to the scene of one of the meltdowns from my stableford win, the thirteenth. This time I hit a far better tee shot but it missed the target left into a heavy lie in clover. I chipped it out well. Too well really and it checked and came up eight feet short. I'd been struggling with my putting all round and hadn't come to terms with the speed of the greens. This time I got the ball to the hole and scrambled a good par. I was back in the game and back level with my handicap.

A net par at the fourteenth kept the round on an even keel. And then it happened. Another bad hole. I hit a terrible drive. A big yahoo that sliced right on a left to right wind and into heavy rough. I could only hack it out and then compounded the situation by hitting my third into a fairway bunker. The approach was short, the chip came up short and two putts later it was a miserable double bogey to put my round back on the back foot. I scrambled an ugly bogey down the sixteenth and didn't play the hole well but got away with it. The seventeenth was another bad hole the week before and this time I came up short and left. I chipped well. Again too well and it came up short, gripping on the surface. A majestic par putt from ten feet for a fine scrambled par.

I made a solid par at the last and it was back in 39 shots (+4) gross and a total of 83 shots, nett 71 (+1). It was safely in the buffer zone and good for sixth place in division one. I was short by three shots and while you can argue that four putt accounted for two of those, it's hard to see where the other was wasted. While you could argue the double bogey at fifteen was the culprit, I'd suggest that my game wasn't really good enough on the day. I wasted shots with missed greens (the second, fifth and fourteenth) and it was a struggle from start to finish.

June Medal Statistics

In hindsight, it has been a great couple of weeks. I won and perhaps more satisfyingly managed to construct a competitive medal round without playing well with no more than a double bogey on the card. That's progress and I'm in a good place. Work continues on the short game. In my head, I want to become the best short game player at the club, especially from sand. Perhaps an unrealistic aim but if I can get an electric short game that functions under pressure, something I've not had in the armoury for many years, it gives me a real safety net when I don't swing well as per the medal round.

Royal Ascot Golf Club is in a state of flux this week as the world famous Royal Ascot horse race meeting takes place. We give over swathes of the course to helicopters, coach parking and the sheer volume of traffic makes it hard to get in and out of and to be honest it's worth avoiding. I'm giving it a wide berth and opting to work on short game and have a lesson booked for Wednesday to try and get on top of my swing. It isn't far off so won't need major surgery. I'm heading to Oxford and a course called Studley Wood on Thursday. We have a reciprocal agreement with them and it has a fantastic reputation especially for their greens. On Friday I'm off to Reigate Hill for a social game with my best mate. This is a great facility and as well as a short but taxing course has a fantastic practice facility (http://www.reigatehillgolfclub.co.uk/surrey_golflab.htm).

It has been a long time coming readers and despite my fine round a few months ago at Blackmoor Golf Club, this was the first time in a couple of years that I've won at Royal Ascot. I'm chuffed, more so about the handicap cut and really feel that at last I am starting to get the rewards my efforts have deserved. I need to carry this forward. I am still certain I can make single figures. I have been told this by several teaching professionals and I know it is in there. I hope the shock of such a positive and upbeat post hasn't caught you unaware. I am a happy golfer and with big events like the club championship coming up, there's a lot to be optimistic about. Good news and time to reflect and enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. Well done on your win and 0.6 cut.
    Keep it going

    ReplyDelete