Friday, 23 October 2015

The End Of The Season Cometh

It's been a very quiet time on the course. Work has largely got in the way and the brutal truth is I've been too tired to work on my game, a phrase almost unheard of on here, and the lure of the duvet has proven far too alluring for a silly o'clock start. My golf in the last few weeks have consisted of the September stableford and a roll up game a few Sundays back.

Since then, practice has taken a real nose dive and I've inherited a dose of the Sherman's, socket rockets or for those not of a nervous disposition, the shanks. The first time this hit me at Lavender Park Golf Centre was a range session of abject misery which had come after a short game practice session where they manifested in my pitching. To say it came from left field is putting it mildly. Even though my thirty one points (good enough for fourteenth place in division one) ensured I finally fell over the precipice and I went up to 12.5 or 13 in old fashioned handicap terms, and I was wary of leaving anything of more than fifty yards from the green in case I found the hosel, it wasn't a total road crash. In fact after five holes I standing on the tee at the par three sixth with a happy feeling inside and one over par gross on the card. Indeed had it not been for an errant drive on the fourth that found a shocking lie and needed a ground out up and down to save bogey, that could have been even better.

However the sixth hole took its toil again. My tee shot was actually well struck but too long and again found a difficult lie that my short game wasn't up to. A nasty double bogey soon wiped the smug smile from my face. Another horrible double on the shortest hole, our eighth and the round was in danger of unravelling. I was caught between a pitch, having hit a huge pull left, bringing the spectre of the shank in, or playing a long chip and run which in truth wasn't really the shot but the option I chose.

In the end I was out in seventeen points when a sub-handicap front nine was there for the taking. The rut continued with back to back double bogey's on the eleventh and twelfth and by the time I made another at the fourteenth the die was cast and my race run. It wasn't so much bad ball striking but a cumulative effect of unforced errors and silly mistakes including a three putt.

September Stableford Statistics

In fact I played the last four holes in a relatively sane +2 gross but it all came out to a miserable 31 points and as I alluded to, my handicap is now officially 13. Not what I set out to achieve at the start of the season. However, I still have a steadfast belief in my ability that I am doing the right things and sooner or later the golfing gods have to grant me a spell of good playing without the need to blight my rounds with several big scores per round.

My range form showed no sign of improving and the shanks had infested not only my pitch shots and short irons but the long game too and I was no hitting right with wilful abandon. Desperate times call for professional help and so I booked a session with Andy Piper at Lavender Golf Centre for the Saturday 4th October. It didn't take long to source the root cause. Open shoulders, open club face, weight on the toes and shoulders too far forward. Aside from that it wasn't looking too bad. As is the case, a few tweaks here and there and suddenly the ball was under control again. However I was playing the following day in the roll up. Not time to practice what I'd changed. What could possibly go wrong?

Nothing apparently. Again it started so well. One over par after four holes and then I started with the double bogey trail at the fifth. Standing on the fairway with a five iron in my hand I hit a nasty pull. I played a great pitch (no really, and there's a reason I see Andy Piper) to within ten feet. There was still a chance to make par. I hit it well and although it stayed out I was only a foot away. I wasn't expecting to miss but I did. I chucked another double in that next and we were back in familiar territory. A par at the last on the front nine got me out in seventeen points again.

And so another back nine starts with a double. Can you see a pattern yet? In my defence your honour, having missed the tenth green with a huge pull I played an exquisite chip, keeping it low from the overhanging branches, around the tee marker on the eleventh tee box, pitching it short and holding the green all with a six iron. And then I three putted from twenty feet. What an idiot. Then dear reader something strange happened. That chip at the tenth inspired me. I hit a sixty yard bunker shot at the twelfth to six feet and sunk the putt for par. I hit a wedge from 91 yards to six feet at the fourteenth to save par having gone right off the tee and been blocked out for my second. I missed the green left on the fifteenth from 99 yards and splashed from sand to twelve feet and made another sand save par. In the end I flattered to deceive and while a par (net birdie at the last) would have got me in with thirty six points, I hit the worse tee shot of the day, and had a nightmare from start to finish to end with a double. In the end it was another thirty four points but enough for second place. Close but no cash

October Roll Up Statistics

Since then, practice time has been sparse. Not only through work but it's now too dark to get to the club after work and work on the short game and pitching and I've not really had the inclination to hit the range. I did get up to the club yesterday, and whisper it quietly, may have found the pitching magic again. We'll see next time I play.

We've also hit Winter rules and time to pick and place on the fairways again and so the end of the season definitely cometh. The dark nights are here, although I love playing at this time of the year with the crisp air and the trees resplendent in their ever changing coats of many colours. I'm in the medal next weekend which should be interesting with little practice and even less playing time in the last few weeks. I had been driving rather well lately but you can guarantee now we can pick and place I won't see another until March 2016.

There have been a few changes. I've found myself a new partner for the Winter knockout as my (now ex) partner has found a new man. They've gelled well but I was left at a loose end until Michael Mills, a man with winning form in this event, came to my rescue. I fancy if we're both on our game we can go a long way off our handicaps and I can't wait for the draw to come out next week. My focus is still firmly on single figures and I think even the most eternal optimist will suggest it'll be hard to achieve now for 2015 with a dwindling competitive diary.

As a result, I'm using Winter, as I've done before as a period of consolidation. It's all about the short game this time. I think I may have mentioned before on here that if I can get 100% in my chipping and putting, which is definitely on the up, and can start making the ball dance around the flag from inside a outside a hundred yards, it'll be able to let me score even when the longer game isn't firing. The last two or three winters have been about trying to get the longer swing into something more robust and reliable.

Let me share some interesting statistics. From 100-125 yards I only get it to within fifteen feet 47% of the time, missing 12% either long or left and 21% short and 15% right. However from 75-100 yards that  fifteen foot circle is found 81% of the time with 7% missed left, only 2% short and 5% are too long. Funnily enough as I get closer in the 50-75 yard range, the success rate drops to 73% and the misses short rise to a staggering 24%.

However if you take the same figures over the last five rounds, the longer distance, from 100-125 yards holds almost steady at 40%. My middle distance, 75-100 yards is up at a mighty 92% and in the closes region to the green it actually rises to 78%

So what you may say if you're still awake. Well apart from statistics and damned lies, it shows that from close to the green I am not really good enough hence the plan. The dose of the shanks have shown that around the green I am not good enough technically. The one thing I've seen not only from the good players at Royal Ascot Golf Club, but when I've played in Golf Monthly Forum events is that even when they aren't hitting well they score thanks to a stellar short game. This is something Andy Piper and I can really get to grips with and I can go away and drill down. I have to be honest and say when the frozen weather arrives and we are on temporary greens, or if we get deluged like most of Britain was a few winters back, I'd rather not play as I don't enjoy it and would rather work on distance control or technique. I accept the frozen ground will give random bounces but as long as the ball is pitching at the correct yardage that's all I need to be working on. I can still play around with ball position, opening and closing the face and generally enjoy playing and learning what I can and can't do

I've spoken to Andy and to be honest apart from lapsing into bad set up habits, which led to the recent shanks, my swing is better than when we first met last December. There haven't been masses of lessons and we've not changed too much. It's really down to a better, one piece takeaway and that magic word tempo. I still need to reign the speed down and swing smoother but when I do, I have minimal moving parts and have time to swing properly. Strangely enough, the ball goes straighter too.

It may have sounded at the start of this episode like the end was nigh. It may even have felt like it, especially when every club in the bag was going right. However with sparse playing and practice time, my last outing in the roll up and my practice session yesterday have whetted my appetite and I'm hoping the medal next week sees a start to more golf before the weather and light starts to close in. Once it does I've a clear idea mapped out of how to spend my time wisely and hope when I come out ready for 2016 the game will be razor sharp and after so many false dawns, high hopes, dashed efforts and time invested I can finally get to the nirvana of single figures. If not it won't be for a lack of trying and there's still plenty to enjoy and share along the way.