Welcome back to you the faithful reader of my humble offering. It's been a quiet few weeks. My golf club, Royal Ascot, was affected but the world famous Royal Ascot horse race meeting and it meant the course was down to twelve holes but with access in and out severely limited it was a virtual no-go zone.
I opted for a lesson on the Wednesday with Andy Piper at Lavender Park. I was hoping for a mid-season swing MOT. Instead I got two fairly hefty swing changes, both things we'd discussed previously. The first thing was to slow everything down. Speed kills and my swing is way too quick. I have needed to slow it down for years. When my timing is on, all is good. On a bad swing day I'm too erratic. The other change, and the one that is going to be the real stumbling block is to shorten the swing. Those that have seen the swing in action will know I struggle with a huge over swing, which results in a lift of the head on the back swing as the shoulders continue to rotate. The wrists over hinge and again it takes timing to get it all working. After thirty years of doing the wrong thing, it's going to take time to break a cycle.
The results were not pretty post lesson. I struggled to marry a slower tempo, almost slow motion, with stopping the swing after completing the turn and resisting the thirty year pattern of keeping going. In itself I would normally hit the range for a number of sessions to groove the changes and work on the drills. However in this case that wasn't an option as I had a game booked the following day at Studley Wood in Oxfordshire and Reigate Hill in Surrey on the Friday. Neither round will live in the memory although both courses, especially Studley Wood, were excellent.
I have been working hard. Very hard, and I have to be honest, it's been a bit of a grind and rather frustrating. The tempo side of things I can do. It takes a lot of effort and will power but I can do it. As for shortening the swing, that has been so, so hard. I can do it. When I do and I tie it in with a slow tempo to allow me the time and the room to make a proper coil and release, it's sublime. I'm longer and straighter and it's abundantly clear why Andy has insisted I try and work through this to give me the best chance of finishing the 2015 season as strongly as I can.
I have been experimenting with the S55 irons I bought not so long ago with the intention of using the smaller head and heavier shaft to improve my ball striking. (http://threeoffthetee.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/still-not-at-races-struggling.html). It has helped a lot and I can really feel the turn and when the wrists start to over rotate. It's harder when I go back to my normal I25's and the issue I have is I'm not good enough (yet) to be able to use the S55's on the course regularly. The I25's being lighter are a little harder to feel where they are in the swing and to make a compact short swing
The competitive diary has been light at the club in the wake of the Royal Ascot race meeting and it has given me a chance to play some practice rounds in the usual roll up groups and hit the practice ground as well. Whilst I've not shot the lights out, my play has been steady but there have been some serious trust issues on the course. It's really difficult, and perhaps hard for the reader to appreciate, how hard to break something so ingrained is and still try and play without a plethora of swing thoughts over each and every shot.
It was back to competitive play at the weekend and the monthly stableford. I was in a happier place with my swing after another week of grind and practice. It is still a work in progress and far from the finished article but I'm not hiding and will take it out on the course at every opportunity to try and play with it. Being paired with a young three handicapper in Luke Downey and a fine Scottish chap off seven called Stephen Hamilton I was in a tough school for a first outing in anger with the new game.
I started reasonably well. I was unlucky to find sand at the first off the tee but made a safe net par and was ahead of the scorecard after the first three. I was only 104 yards out on the fourth hole, with a wedge in my hand from the semi rough left of the fairway. I hit a massive pull left that hit the bank on the side of the green and rolled out of bounds. It was inevitable once I saw what I'd done and given the firm conditions and I was reaching for a new ball before the shot had touched down. In the end it was an ugly quadruple bogey with a duffed chip, after the second approach with a wedge went long. I bounced back with a par at the next, gave one back at the sixth and another at the eighth. In the end I turned in sixteen points, which considering the horror on the fourth, was a pleasing effort. There were some fine shots in there and one or two wayward ones but it could have been a whole lot worse.
July Stableford Statistics
I made a par at the tenth after an excellent tee shot and again was unlucky to miss the green at the eleventh and find sand. I was even more unfortunate at the twelfth, the hardest on the course when a superb six iron from 165 yards was a matter of inches from clearing the trap and being very close. Golf can be a game of fine margins. I gave a shot back at the par three thirteenth although this hole often plays harder than the stroke index of 17 would indicate and I'm often happy to take bogey here and move on. My obligatory bad hole on the back nine came at the fourteenth. A hooked drive (tempo too quick and a swing far too long) into deep rough meant I could only chip out. I hit my third right into a lateral hazard, dropped under penalty and pitched and putted for a double bogey, although it added a single point to the total. Another point went at the fifteenth but I made a rare par at the sixteenth (SI 3). My drive was a little right, but a fantastic hybrid from 221 yards told me exactly why I've embarked on the swing changes. Two putts later and a safe par secured. I missed the green right, at the penultimate hole, a 218 yard par three, although it was another fine tee shot that came up just shy of the green. A so, so chip to eight feet and then a great putt salvaged a par.
My tee shot at the last was arguably the best of the day. Sadly it got me over excited and I reverted to a quick, long swing for the next and left my ball just short of a tree in the rough on the right with water between my ball and the green. I went for the miracle shot and it didn't come off. A penalty drop and with the green side pond to negotiate again. I didn't hit a great pitch technically but it made the journey to the sanctuary of the green and I made a good putt (even if it did a lap of honour) in front of the masses enjoying a drink on the patio in the summer sun. Always play to the crowd.
In the end, my 33 points was one shy of the buffer zone and so it's 0.1 back on the handicap which now stands at 11.9 (12). However it was a pleasing first effort and perhaps the competition came a week or two too soon. So what can we make of all this? Why am I doing it? Shouldn't I leave well alone?
The simple answer is while the work I have done over the last few winters has moved the swing forward enormously compared to where it was even two years ago, it isn't as robust and consistent as I know it can be. The issues can always be traced back to tempo (swinging too fast) and length (over swing and lifting). Both then require compensatory moves. Fine when I'm on and a dog to get right when I'm off. I have spoken to Andy Piper, a coach with a fine pedigree and stable of clients including professionals, county players and many single figure golfers and he feels I am beginning to gain the credentials to get myself to where I want to be. The short game is still an issue, not for the first time and I will need to switch attention to that again, but for now the focus is on the long game and bleeding the changes in again and again.
The biggest part of the swing change, and reducing the length of swing, involves a wider take away, without breaking the wrist and coming inside as has been my want for so long. From a wide start it should be a simple shoulder turn into what would probably be considered a "two plane" (for those familiar with Jim Hardy's one and two plane work) position. It is this last bit I struggle with and it's still a fight to stop and not let the hands work independently and onwards making me lift. When I do it right it feels like a three quarter length swing (but I'm actually making a coiled full turn). As I've alluded, distance and dispersion are beginning to come as a pair.
Many on here will see this as more mumbo jumbo, way too many technical thoughts, more snake oil and way too much detail. You may be right and perhaps putting it in print, although cathartic for me, isn't actually doing justice to what I seek to achieve and perhaps I need to find a before swing and take one of where we are now for those that know about these things to consider and view.
Whatever your take, and you're all welcome to your own opinion, it's something I'm working hard on right now. It wasn't something I planned to be doing but I have found that Andy Piper hasn't really changed too much since I started using him, and that for the most part the tweaks we've made have helped and got me back playing good golf and even back into the winner's circle. You can't get better than that (http://threeoffthetee.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/winner-winner-chicken-dinner.html)
If he feels this is the time to make the change and that the swing and my progress towards single figures will benefit then I trust him. We're not reinventing, we're refining, albeit after thirty years of it being wrong. I've a match this Wednesday in the Nike Matchplay (a national better ball matchplay event) and my partner and I have a home draw. I'm hoping the swing will continue to manifest into something robust, reliable and with fewer moving parts and at least I'll have a wing man to carry me along.
Going forward will be attritional. I am under no illusion that there will be set backs and the swing won't be perfect overnight. I've always said I'm here for the long haul. For now though I'm happy that the club is fully up and running again and we're back on the course. I'm in a happy place with the new swing, even if it can still be improved a lot more yet. I had a couple of dodgy holes in the competition and still threatened the handicap buffer zone. It's a monthly medal next weekend and there really is no hiding place there. Let's see where it take me.