Saturday, 14 November 2015

Fair Weather Golfer - Too Right

Welcome to the latest instalment in my humble blog offering. You find your narrator in somewhat of a holding pattern courtesy in the main to the vagaries of the British weather at this time of year. Royal Ascot Golf Club has over the last two weekend had Dickensian pea soup fog that made it impossible to see more than fifty yards at time and caused the course to be shut, and last weekend was subjected to a deluge of rain and winds touching gale force at times on the Saturday.

So what you may say, aside from an out of depth weather report. Well call me a fair weather golfer but I see no merit in getting wrapped up in a set of waterproof, struggling with an umbrella in the winds, going through numerous towels and gloves to keep my grips dry to play a social round of golf. Don't get me wrong, there were some in our usual Saturday roll up that did just that. Brave, dedicated, fools, martyrs or plain insane. I think you're best left to decide that one yourself. Definitely not for me I'm afraid. Clearly no-one can play when there's fog and so the decision is made for you.

However I've not been idle. I've said on here over the last few weeks that my focus is going to be on short game, short game and short game. However regular followers will also know that this hasn't been without incident and I'd been suffering a worrying dose of the shanks with my wedges on all my pitch shots. It had led me to re-visit a different tack, the linear method to try and resolve this. However, this has also been not without it's issues and a fortnight ago even this method wasn't working as planned. Back online and looking at more Gary Smith (advocate of the linear method) for help. I know the method I just couldn't get it to transfer to my practice (Gary Smith pitching video)

I assumed that given the biblical rain last Saturday that the course would be sodden and opted to get back out there and work on the pitching from a number of stations on the practice ground at 25, 40, 50 and 60 yards. It started off, from the closest distance, well. The poor shot was a thin but the majority grazed the ground properly. The week before amidst the shanks. the contact was heavy with huge divots which was definitely not what the linear technique encourages. However as I moved further away from the target, the linear method started to fall apart and was inconsistent. Not great but fear not dear reader for an unexpected twist in my tale materialised. I started, born out of a hint of desperation to go back once more to a more standard method. This video by Peter Finch shows what I'm getting at (Peter Finch pitching video)

I can see that the doubters and naysayers will be on here saying I'm dabbling too much, falling between two techniques and getting paralysis by analysis. What I will say, simply and without apology is that the more traditional method has less moving parts and while I love the linear method and the way it utilises the bounce more, it's something I can't seem to get it to work as I want it or can trust on the course. Back to basics worked. The twist I hinted at, was that the linear method promotes a turn onto the target and I've found that I'm now doing so with the traditional pitching style. This has stopped the hosel shots and my pitching is back on song.

Aside from the technical aspects (and are you still with me) I've worked very hard on distance control. With a method I trust now (and working) I was able to really dial in some control. From the 25 and 40 yard areas I was getting most inside a fifteen foot circle and many were much close and definitely in up and down range. That's exactly what I need to be doing. It isn't just with one club. I've been playing with my PW (46 degrees) 52 degree gap wedge and 58 degree sand wedge. I've played about with opening the face, moving ball position and generally found out what I can and can't do with a wedge.

As I moved further out to the 50 yard area, I started to lose some control especially with my most lofted club, swinging a little longer (almost to ten o'clock). Going back to a lesser loft and a more controlled (nine o'clock) swing, accuracy was still very good. Contact was still good. There were more divots and I've concluded I'm a digger. It may be something I need to look at with my next wedge purchase. I tested the Vokey range with Golf Monthly at Silvermere Golf Centre back in March. They have a huge range of loft, bounce and grinds (Vokey Wedges). Very insightful especially the type of grinds as I'm sure you'll agree if you go through the options. However, my preference would be to keep to Ping as my other clubs in the back are all that make (and I'm a tad OCD that way). Not sure they quite have the same options but that's a quandary for another time. When I reached the 60 yard area, I'm getting very close to my maximum distance for my sand wedge. I wasn't pitching but hitting full shots. However this is where my gap wedge and pitching wedge come into their own as I was hitting three quarter shots with more control. Naturally my dispersion and control wasn't what I wanted but this is why I'm dedicating the winter to improving. Hard work and the right technique is the only way forward.

Of course short game isn't just pitching. I've been working equally hard on my chipping. I've been using the linear method again. This has been far more successful and is a technique that has served me well in the last few weeks (Gary Smith chipping). However, as with the pitching, I had taken lessons with my teaching professional Andrew Piper at Lavender Golf Centre in the summer and we'd simplified my technique (closed shoulders, open feet and hips was a recipe for disaster). Aiming square, weight forward and back and a turn through was working up to a point. However a few bad rounds had me scrambling for the lifeboat I call the linear method. While I can't get it working on the pitching, on the chip shots I have been getting better and better. And here is the crux again. In my golfing brain, warped as it undoubtedly is, now wants to have the same traditional method for both pitches and chips. With that in mind, it was back to the chipping green on Sunday. Back to a proper set up (Peter Finch basic chip shot) and the results were very good.

It shouldn't have been a surprise as Andy Piper has a very good reputation as a short game coach and he and I had worked hard on pitching and chipping (and bunker play) and so I've found it a source of huge frustration that my hard work hasn't produced the results on a regular basis and that I've had issues which has prompted the reversion to all things linear. And here I have a conundrum and while I want to square off all things short game under one technical umbrella, there is a nagging voice that says linear, using the bounce, gives wider margins of error. Offset that is the traditional way where I can play with spin, loft and ball position. More options against a bigger safety net. Issues, confusion and questions. I thought short game was easy.

As it happens, the traditional method produced satisfactory results and so the pitching and chipping session was three hours well spent. I was pleased with how I chipped using the conventional method and from a range of lies including heavy, wet and deep, clover filled lies, and those fiddly ones where the ball is lying on top of the deep grass and the risk is that the club will slide underneath. The whiff enters the equation.

And so dear reader where am I in all this? I'm having issues squaring methodology in my mind but the results I've seen in the far simpler to execute traditional method convince me I am on the right path and just need to square it all mentally. What I do know is that I am definitely happy to become a fair weather golfer and that spending time on the short game rather than smacking ball after ball at the range, or traipsing around the course in pouring rain and strong winds will pay rich dividends. Of course, I need to take it out onto the course. I need to know I can do it under pressure. I have to play and reconcile practice with scores. Common sense n'est-ce pas?

However, dear reader, you find your narrator in a happy golfing place if truth be told. I did some long game work at the range while the wind and rain did its thing. Posture and tempo was the order of the day and things are shifting slowly into place. I had a very productive session and so tie that in with the good short game work and I'm raring to go.

I'll be coming back to pitching, chipping, as well as bunker play and putting as Winter progresses and keeping you up to speed on how it is developing, how it's impacting my golf and what it is doing to my scores and statistics. Of course, I understand that Winter isn't ideal to be shooting my best scores and all I am looking for is a higher level of consistency throughout my game but from one hundred yards and closer in particular. A stellar short game can mask a host of issues with the longer game. That's where I feel my avenue to single figure lies. For the most part, if I can halt the car crash holes I seem to throw in with wild abandon in most competitive rounds (and that is another thread altogether) I can get my ball round in a reasonably competent fashion most of the time. It's when competency goes out of the window a tad that I'm going to need the short game more than ever. If I am playing nicely, getting up and down will get the cuts I crave and who knows, maybe a win or two along the way. All in all I'm happy with the work and progress has been made. Good times.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Back In The Game - But Still Not Happy

Welcome back faithful reader. You left your narrator in determined mood, if a little off golfing colour with some short game angst courtesy of a dose of the shanks, lack of playing opportunities and having just toppled over into a thirteen handicap. Well steady yourself for I have good news. I'm back in the game.

Last weekend was the monthly medal at Royal Ascot Golf Club. I'd had a practice session the Sunday before where ball striking had gone well and the I'd worked hard yet again on the short game. Deliciously under prepared I think you'd call it. The weather was allegedly going to be showery and there was a tricky wind to keep it interesting. To spice things up further I'd been moved forward to plug some gaps in the draw and not only was I partnering my new winter league partner Mick Mills, but I had no time to warm up and managed five or so full blows in anger on the practice ground. That was it, a couple of putts and off onto the first for a medal round. What could possible go wrong?

The opening tee shot at the 229 yard first could have gone anywhere with no warn up. Instead it was a well struck blow with a hint of draw that was a tad too excessive and it finished up on a bare muddy lie just behind one of the bunkers left of the green. Nothing like a tricky pitch on the opener to remind you about the recent shanks. However I played it to perfection with no sign of the hosel anywhere the ball and it ran to twelve feet. I missed the putt but the net par was a solid enough start.

I found the fairway on the second. As the statistics will reveal later, this was to be a novel experience. I pushed the fairway wood into the semi-rough and my nine iron came up just shy. I was able to get a putter on it and holed it from thirty five feet for a cheeky little birdie. Get in.

The third found the tee shot in the right hand fairway bunker. I played a decent seven iron but it missed right and I was left to chip back to a tight pin. A delicate shot to three feet and a par save. That's why my focus has been on all things short game. I made a mess of the fourth, pulling the tee shot left, missing the green left and I found another bare muddy lie. I had to pitch up a bank to a green on a big slope. It was well placed but ran past the hole and I had a four foot putt back down the slope. I was scared of it and didn't put a good stroke on the putt for a bogey. Still one over after four was beyond my expectations at this stage.

It was two over by the sixth tee, having had some issues on the par five, including missing the green from 160 yards having found a poor lie in the rough off the tee and in the semi-rough after the second. Still the pitching was holding up.

If you follow these trials and tribulations on a regular basis you'll know I've spoken of car crash holes, coming from nowhere, with no sane reasoning behind it, that have scuttled many a promising round and made me miss buffer zones or played myself out of contention. And so it came to pass that the sixth would be one such hole, not for the first time. A horrible tee shot from 174 yards with a hybrid was a huge slice into the trees, lost, although it would probably have been out of bounds anyway, and I'm suddenly reloading. I found the green, just, with the second tee shot but with the flag at the back I had a forty five foot putt. I judged it perfectly but it added up to a double bogey. I thought I was going to compound the problem when I went way left with the same club off the tee on the seventh, landing up on the adjacent third fairway. The hole has a protected environmental area, out of bounds if the ball goes in, which was in my way. I could have played over a large oak onto the correct fairway but I pulled the five wood and from 228 yards took aim. It came up some thirty yards short but it was well struck and I played a pitch of beauty to four feet. Another one putt and a par saved.

I parred the next and a net par at the ninth although that involved another missed fairway, a poor second that flirted with the out of bounds right, and a slightly thinned pitch finished by two putts. Still I was out in gross 40 (+5) and bearing in mind that included that double bogey at six, that was great going as I wasn't actually hitting it well.

My curate's egg of a round continued on the back nine. On the tenth I missed another fairway right, another green right, was too bold with a pitch and had to putt from off the back of the green up the slope and then downhill once the ball found the green. It went four feet past but I squeezed the return in. It's funny how the golfing gods recognise a weakness and then ensure you have to face it again. So far I'd hit a hybrid right off the tee (lost ball) and way left. The eleventh is a par three and the three hybrid was the club. I hit this one straight but thin and low and it barely got above head height but found the narrow gap at the front of the putting surface, and rolled gently off the back edge. I putted up for a fortunate but welcome par.

I got up and down from twelve feet at the thirteenth for another par scramble and another one putt green and repeated the feat a couple of holes later having pulled my approach left at the par five fifteenth. A safe bogey at the sixteenth and seventeenth, both shot holes and therefore net pars didn't cause any panic.

I have to admit I knew I'd kept the scorecard ticking over and so a par or a bogey would put me in a strong position and definitely in contention. I was perhaps a little nervous over the tee shot. In my last round I'd fired it way right towards the out of bounds and got very fortunate that it came back and I could cobble a double bogey. This tee shot was also right, not struck that well and came up short, right and in a very so so lie. I wanted to aim down the left side of the hole, assuming the lie and the left to right shape I'd had all day would move it back towards the centre or right edge of the fairway. Instead I hit it left into heavy rough and from there it was full scale panic mode. In the end I did well to make another double bogey seven. It left a nasty taste. However I'd carded a respectable 42 gross (+7) which meant I'd gone round in 82 (+12) for a nett 69 (-1). It could have been so much be so much better

October 2015 Medal Statistics

In the end, I came third in Division One, by a single shot and if I had made par instead of double on the sixth or last I'd have won. Of course that's all if's and but's and to be honest as you can see from my fairway and greens in regulation statistics wasn't something I really deserved. I really didn't play well all day and rode my luck enormously. However I only had twenty eight putts and my par scramble was 35% so you can see where the score was constructed. I did manage to win some cash from the roll up kitty which softened the blow of that double bogey. Best of all though, you will be pleased to know that your narrator enjoyed a 0.3 handicap cut as I was one under the competition scratch score (CSS). This means I drop from 12.5 (13 handicap) back to 12.2 and back to a twelve handicap again.

I really enjoyed playing with Mick Mills and although he didn't have a great day, there was enough between us to indicate that we could become a rather tricky proposition for whoever we are drawn against in the Winter knockout.

I wasn't happy with my ball striking and I could have played on Sunday but instead tried to hit some balls in practice and work on takeaway, posture and tempo, all the things I've been trying to improve in my lessons with Any Piper all summer. There was some glimmer of improvement but I wasn't happy but rather than continue bashing balls I wanted to focus on short game again. I was still having issues with the pitching. Those of you that have been with me all the way on this monumental journey towards a single figure handicap will remember I was using a fairly new and somewhat unconventional method for chipping and pitching called the linear method (Linear Method) which utilises the bounce of the club more and rotates around the front leg. Stack and tilt (for those that know of this) for the short game if you will. I've tried really hard to change to a more orthodox approach but having now started shanking I've reverted. It produced immediate and improved pitching results from around the sixty, forty and thirty yard distances. I even took it onto the putting green and re-introduced it into my chipping. Again, confidence soared as I holed a few and put most very adjacent with this method. It's something I intend to take out this weekend in the roll up and trial again.

As usual where does this leave everything. Well I hit the range this week. There were some shanks in the full swing early on, perhaps caused by a rapid tempo courtesy of a full on day in work. It did improve and I had to work hard on the posture again. All my shots still had a left to right arc but these were more Colin Montgomery like fades as opposed to anything to destructive. The quality of the strike on the whole was much improved. In my mind, with limited competitive play to come in the next few weeks it's the perfect time to start the winter work, especially short game and while I have these shanking issues on the pitches I'll persist with the linear method. Funnily though, when I reverted to a "text book" method after a linear session it was much improved. I'm hoping one will bleed into the other.

I'm back of twelve. Back in the game and somehow ground a score out. Yes I do think it was there for the winning but if I can get it round hitting it that poorly imagine what I can do going forward. I am a happy golfer

There is much still to work on and improve but this is the time of year to do this and not worry overly about scores. I need to be playing functional golf for the winter knockout first round but aside from that it's about refining and improving what I've got. For a lot of 2015 this hasn't actually been too bad. Yes I started on a handicap of 11.7 (12)  and I'm now on 12.2 (12) so the handicap never shifted towards the promised land of nine. However given all the poor rounds, rounds I undid with road crash holes and missed opportunities I've only gone up 0.5 all year. My putting has improved from 33.16 putts per round in 2015 to 31.89 in 2015. My par scrambles in 2014 were a meagre 16% and my sand saves down at 12%. This year these are up at 22% for par scrambles and a huge jump in sand saves to 24%

These numbers (are you still with me?) are testament to a lot of hard work and grinding it out in the short game area. The longer swing is definitely more robust and has less moving parts than at the start of the year. It has improved although the only fly in the ointment has been greens in regulation down at 19% this year from 26% last year. Fairways in regulation have stayed steady down from 44% to 43% this year. Not really good enough but that can be fixed.

All in all I'm glad to be back in the game but still not happy I let a good chance slip by again. Still, in it to win it and all that. On the plus side I'm happy to give you something a lot more positive to read and peruse. I'm a glass half empty type of guy by nature so finding nuggets of good fortune sometimes comes hard. Not this time. Play badly, putt and scramble well and pick up a few quid of the usual suspects. Not a bad result all things considered. Back in the game.