Tuesday, 4 August 2015

2015 Club Championship

I'm not sure about you but for me the pinnacle of the golfing season has to be the annual club championship. At Royal Ascot Golf Club, we have a prize for both the best gross and net scores. Realistically I  don't have a prayer of winning the gross prize and it's all about the net for me. The competition is organised in handicap order with the lowest handicaps setting off first on the Saturday morning and there is then the small matter of surviving the halfway cut which sees the top sixty and ties back for a second round on the Sunday. This time it's in score order so the best scores are out last.

The first round was played in dry conditions, although a tricky breeze ensured that scoring wouldn't be too easy. The green staff at the club had done a fantastic job of getting the course ready and in my opinion, the greens haven't been any better in the ten years we've been playing on our new course.

Practice had been curtailed by a distinct lack of form and I was struggling with a bad back which was hampering my turn (http://threeoffthetee.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/that-was-short-lived-sos.html).

I started off in steady fashion and by the third hole I was in a comfortable place, level with my handicap and hitting it reasonably well. And then I imploded. A snap hook off the tee at the fourth meant chipping away from the out of bounds fence which was the catalyst to a double bogey. No matter, the fifth is a par five I can reach in regulation. A good chance to make a solid par and steady the ship. I found the fairway and placed my second into position A+. A simple nine iron from 118 yards with all of the green in front of me. I pulled it left into a bunker. If you follow my adventures you'll know I had a bunker lesson not so long ago and have worked hard on improving my technique. It was a simple escape. The green staff had freshly raked every bunker and I should have made no more than a bogey. I caught it thin. No sand at all and the ball sailed merrily miles over the green, out of bounds. A triple to follow the double.

The golfing gods have a way of sensing weakness and playing with it. The sixth is a par three and I missed the green right into another bunker. Were they mocking me? The ball was under the lip to compound matters. This time I splashed it out to seven feet and converted for par. I made a solid net par and then came to the shortest hole on the course. It's only 139 yards and I missed it short and right. I should have just pitched on, two putted and moved on. However it was sitting nicely and I thought I could slide a wedge under it and land if softly. Instead I knifed it over the other side of the green, duffed another chip and walked off with yet another triple bogey. I walked off the ninth with a bogey and out in 47, or +12 gross and all my stroke allowance used already. The back nine would be tough.

It started off badly with another double bogey. A welcome par followed and I made five at the hardest hole on the course the SI 1, twelfth. A chip and a putt par at the thirteenth and suddenly I was looking like a golfer. It was going terribly well until the sixteenth. I hit a wild drive right of the fairway and then played a great recovery under the trees to leave 129 yards and a simple eight iron. My hard work was undone with a pulled approach into knee high rough, left of target. In fact, I was lucky to find it and luckier still to get it out. Yet another triple bogey. I limped in with a bogey at seventeen and net par down the last but it all added up to a horrid gross 91 (net 79). Surely not good enough to make the cut?

2015 Club Championship Round 1 Statistics

In fact I made it.....just. I was third group out on the Sunday. On the plus side I'd continued my run of successive cuts and this was the fourth consecutive time I'd pegged it up in round two. Conditions in the first round had been warm, but with a pesky wind. On day two, they were nothing short of horrendous. It poured down with rain. It had been raining heavily overnight and the course was saturated in places with several bunkers already filling with water.

I don't like playing in waterproofs but having worked hard on a slower, more compact swing, I felt confident that the hard work on the range might have stood me in good stead. A net par and a fairway found at the second. The first round had been blighted by too many rash decisions, poor execution and bad thinking. From the middle of the fairway at the second and a mid iron for position, I was expecting to have a simple pitch in. Instead I blocked it right and was lucky to avoid out of bounds. I had to pitch out sideways and an early double bogey to blight a card.

It was hard work even by the third to keep the grips dry, the glove dry and concentration levels high. Coming to the fourth I was determined to avenge the mistake of the previous day. I hit a great drive. Normally I'd hit a high shot with my gap or sand wedge, to the right of the green and let it feed down to the middle of the putting surface. So why did I off a bare, wet lie did I decide to play an eighty yard chip and run. I made five. It should have been par. I did par the next two and so was trundling along. In fact I was out in gross 42 (+7) and so was close to my handicap despite the horrific conditions which showed no sign of abating.

A chip and putt par at the tenth and all was going well. I went into sand on the right of the eleventh. Another poor escape barely got out of the bunker and a chip and three putt brought my world crashing back down. I started to struggle and another double soon arrived at the fourteenth and a another at the penultimate hole. I signed off with yet another at the last hole.

In the end I limped back in a miserable 48 shots for a total of 90 gross (net 78). It was a shot better than my first round despite the conditions. I went through five towels and seven gloves during the round and had worked diligently to keep everything dry.

2015 Club Championship Round 2 Statistics

My efforts were only good for 43rd place overall out of 60 who made the cut. Very disappointing as were the two 0.1 handicap increases which sees it languishing at 12.1. I really hoped I had a chance of a good showing and I'm struggling to pinpoint exactly why my good form has been so fleeting.

I've spoken about these poor shots before and I was hoping they were becoming a thing of the past. I haven't practiced well and the niggle in the back has hampered progress. The silly thing is I went out in the week after the club championships when the back allowed and was hitting it well. Back to that old issue of taking it out on the course. It certainly isn't a case of over working it, although I have neglected the short game again.

The calendar is going quiet for a few weeks. I'm playing in a club match against Caversham Heath at home (Royal Ascot Golf Club). We have a commanding lead after the away match and we should close it out and take the trophy we compete for. The following week we're closed as the Red Bull Air Race is coming to town and we give part of the golf course over for their air gates. It is good business for the club and we are grateful for their income (http://www.redbullairrace.com/en_US/event/ascot-2015). During the weekend the course and the club are shut as they need to protect a "sterile" area as the planes fly over.

From there we crank it up for Captains Day, another staple part of the calendar, followed by a big competition, the Longhurst Cup over the bank holiday. It is one of the Royal Ascot "majors" and I won it back in 2000. After that we have "The Masters" a thirty six hole medal event over one day. It's invite only and open only to competition winners over the past twelve months. I'm in courtesy of my June stableford win. Plenty then to work hard for. I am still confident of getting to single figures. Maybe not in 2015 but eventually. I know the game is in there. I just need to stop the car crash holes.

I have been working with Andy Piper at Lavender Golf Centre in Ascot on and off since the start of the year, usually on an intermittent basis when I feel old faults are creeping back in, as well as freshening up the short game. We've talked about a winter programme and evaluating my 2015 season, seeing where the damage is being done. He wants some detailed statistics on how I play each hole to see where the bad shots come from. We'll look at technique again and try and be disciplined in my mental approach and take the work I've done with New Golf Thinking forward and playing with confidence in my swing and a mind devoid of thoughts.

In the end the net prize was won with a 73, 68, the latter being a great effort in wet conditions although the rain had eased as the leaders went out. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. The gross prize was one with 76, 72 again the +2 score being admirable in the damp and under pressure.

Your narrator is laid up again with a sore back. I tried to play the monthly medal on Sunday and lasted one hole and two shots down the par five second before I had a searing pain down my back, through my buttock and down my leg. It took me fifteen minutes to shuffle back to the sanctuary of the clubhouse. I've been working hard at keeping it warm and loose and have several physiotherapy sessions booked so hoping it'll be right by midweek and in time for some short game work.

Not what I wanted then but I'm pleased how well I dug in in the second round even when the back nine started getting away from me. It would have been easy to blame the rain, stopped working to keep the kit dry and just blasting away. I tried on every shot. I am still in a stronger place than the start of the season and the swing and set up tweaks are helping. A winter with Andy, some strong focus on the scoring zone from 100 yards and in between now and the Winter and hopefully I'll rediscover the form that saw me do so well earlier in the year. Rest assured I'm still working towards the magic land of a single figure handicap and will get there. I'm still hoping it'll be in 2015 but if not I'm back in 2016 even more determined. Until then I'll keep you posted on how my progress is coming along.

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