Wednesday, 22 July 2015

That Was Short Lived - SOS

Well that didn't last long. There I was enjoying a brief moment of good form, winning a monthly stableford, a top ten in the monthly medal and picking up a few quid in the weekend roll ups. My golfing life was rosy and I was in a good place. I had even managed thirty three points in my last competitive round, after struggling with some swing changes and not feeling like I hit the ball very well. Granted it was 0.1 back on the handicap, but it was only a handful of poor shots that really did for me.

And then it evaporated like a puddle in the summer sun. I have lost my swing completely and had to put an urgent SOS call out to Andy Piper at Lavender Park Golf Centre for a lesson. I had been trying to bed in the changes ( and make a wider, slower swing. However somewhere, somehow things had got lost in translation and instead of taking the club back properly I'd taken it back too straight and too wide and the dreaded shanks and some terrible strikes had begun to manifest. I had tried to grind it out on the practice ground but couldn't pin point the issue. It had also begun to have an effect on my back and I was getting some soreness from the weird way I was trying to do things.

Things came to a head a couple of weeks ago. I had a shocking practice session on the Friday night and couldn't get a ball going straight or from anywhere near the centre of the club. I went home in a filthy mood and got to the club very early on the Saturday morning to warm up and find that missing spark before playing in the usual Saturday roll up. It was arguably worse than the previous evening. And then I got a sharp pain down my right side of the back, through the buttock and down the leg. Hello sciatica my old friend! I knew it was pointless trying to continue and if I'm honest it may have been a blessing. The round had the potential to be four hours of absolute hell and would have severely damaged my fragile golfing psyche. I've always been a streaky player and usually ride the wave of good form for a good few weeks before having to then go back and scrap for everything I get.

I have to be honest and say it had got so bad, I was seriously considering chucking the clubs on E-bay and walking away from the game. I couldn't see any light. I was hitting shank after shank, and nothing was going forward in a straight and high manner.

I was fortunate that Andy Piper could squeeze me in for a lesson. I was dosed up on ibuprofen and Deep heat gel to keep the back loose and ward off the twinge in the sciatic nerve. It was good enough to warm up. I told Andy he had thirty minutes to stop the clubs hitting the internet. No pressure. In the end what ailed me was relatively simple. Posture (remember I've spoken about that before) was too hunched again, the left shoulder was closed to the target line, and I was taking the club back too straight, mistaking that for width. The last point was the biggest issue and my arms had become disconnected which was why I was returning the hosel to the ball. Andy brought back a drill from the golfing archive, putting the butt of the club in my navel and simply keeping it there as I made a small turn. Instantly it connected body and shoulder turn, and took the club on a more rounded, but correct path. Posture was easy to fix as was keeping that left shoulder out of the way and square. The results were instant and my golfing psyche felt a wave of relief wash over it like the sunlight appearing from behind a dark cloud. Add in a return to a shorter, better tempo and it was flying off the sweet spot. All done in twenty seven and a half minutes and just enough time to touch on pitching and re-affirming what we'd worked on before. Good times.

However the good times didn't last. I returned to the range a few days later and the strike and direction barely resembled what I achieved in the lesson. I was sticking rigidly to the posture, and the trying hard to take the club away properly. I didn't want to play last weekend but with the club championships on the horizon I knew I had to get out and work through it on the course.

It wasn't pretty. A meagre 27 points. Conditions were tricky with a brisk wind. There were some good holes in there but so many poor strikes as well. One bright spark was the quality of my putting and I holed a number of good putts in the ten-fifteen feet corridor and holed the niggly two-three footers confidently. It was just getting the ball to the green that was the issue.

As you may have realised by now, I'm a stubborn so and so. Belligerent you might say. I know I'm good and I know single figures will be reached. Several teaching professionals have said my game stands up to their lower figure clients, and not just in lessons, but merely passing by at the range. Most haven't even coached me, and some haven't even spoken to me before so it's not a case of ego massaging (or touting for future teaching business). So what you say? Well, I hit the range on Sunday again. A familiar story began to play out. The strike was a tad better but I was directionally challenged.

Something strange was happening. Next door to my bay was a teaching bay. In it was a mat with a line indicating the correct takeaway path on it and with a mirror on the back wall to check the posture. I shouldn't really be in there but it wasn't in use so what was the harm. The crazy thing was, if I hit one or two balls on that mat, I was nailing the ball perfectly. Sneak back next door to my own bay and I couldn't replicate the move. Even putting my own visual aid down to replicate the mat, it wasn't working. Step back into the teaching bay again and BOOM, off it went. Why? How?

Put me on this mat and I can hit it properly. Why couldn't I do it in my own range bay without the visual aid?
The range session on Sunday hadn't gone to plan and confidence had plunged deeper than the Greek economic crisis. Determined to find something, anything, I ventured to the club in the afternoon to play a few holes. You can't play golf on a range. A familiar mantra. If confidence was low before I went out, the bottom had fallen out of my world by the end of nine holes. If the PC had been to hand I would now be blogging about a new hobby (threeofftheline if I take up fishing?). I was trying to swing slow, compact and paying attention to posture and that left shoulder. So why was it still not working. As I had an hour or two to kill, having got permission from the wife to be out for eighteen holes, it was off to the practice ground. Suddenly I found the middle of the nine iron. And then again. And then the middle of the eight. And the seven. Not every time but more in the space of thirty minutes than the practice sessions that week and more than in the twenty seven holes I'd played at the weekend.

So a new week dawns. Club Championships next weekend over two days. A halfway cut to survive on Saturday and back for the second round (hopefully) on Sunday. Realistically, I can't win the major prize for the lowest gross score but there is a prize for the lowest net score. I've survived the cut for the past few seasons and managed to register a sixth place back in 2012. The last couple of seasons have been blighted a poor round, usually the opener which has left me playing catch up. This year, with form so patchy I am not under any illusion that the halfway cut represents an achievement at this stage and mentally I've resigned myself to getting 0.1 back on the handicap on Saturday, and the same on Sunday should I play.

I'm not being negative or defensive. In fact I'm hoping that going in with zero expectations will actually free the golfing brain and let the technique I've striven to improve to flow forth. I managed to play yesterday. I can leave you the reader on a more positive note. Things were getting better. I found a way to get it around. The ball striking was better. There were too many missed greens and poor irons, usually following a decent drive. Some tee shots were wayward. I found out of bounds at the seventeenth trying something different off the tee. It was actually a good shot, just too far left of target. I found the pond right of the last green but from where I struck the shot from I couldn't see it properly and seemed to take a horrid kick sharp right into the water. My pitching and chipping are coming together following my recent lessons and this will help especially if the ball striking isn't perfect. However there was a birdie at the tenth, several sand saves and some par numbers as well.

I am still not 100% confident with where the game is. I'm back out tonight to work on the chipping, pitching and bunker play. Tomorrow is pitching and putting and then Friday is about putting the final touches to the long game ready to peg it up on Saturday. The threat of the clubs hitting E-bay has passed and while my game is not where I wanted it to be, peaking for the biggest weekend in the club calender, it is what it is. I'll try my guts out to do as well as I can. My take has always been try and score as well as possible and handicap cuts will take care of themselves. Nothing has changed.

I told you before, it was going to be  roller coaster ride. The last few weeks have been wilder than normal, but that's part of the fun of this pursuit towards single figures. You have to hit the lows every so often (not too often) to enjoy the climb back up again. The game is in flux but we'll see what the final parts of my build up to the weekend yield and what round one has in store. I'll be back to share the highs, and learn from the lows. Not quite the blog I envisaged and it shows how fleeting form is for the average club golfer is. Things were ticking along and then we hit a big pothole in the road to single figures. A few running repairs and the tracking is back online, the engine has been given the once over and I'm ready to motor towards the second half of the season.

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