Monday, 28 December 2015

2016 - Looking Forward To It

Let me start by hoping all the members at Royal Ascot Golf Club, all my golfing friends and everyone that reads this offering had a wonderful Christmas and that you and your family have a terrific 2016 and that it's a great one on and off the course.

This holiday season gives me the ideal time to look forward to my 2016 and articulate my thoughts on how I plan to attack my aim to hit single figures. Nothing earth shattering aside from some changes in emphasis, doing some stuff differently and better, and not doing some things as much. I've enjoyed looking back at my 2015 statistics and seeing exactly where my mistakes have come. I've known in my mind where my good and bad golf has come from but always good to see something solid to back it up and reaffirm it.

It has been a very good Christmas for your narrator in terms of golfing presents. I've booked in for an Aimpoint Express reading course at the Downshire Golf Centre for March just as the greens begin to come back to life. and run smoother. I've an Aimpoint Express DVD coming which will give me the heads up before the course and something to refer back to at a later date. On top of that my lovely wife has bought me an Aimpoint Express PLG (putter line gate) which allows me to work on my putting, using Aimpoint to get an accurate read. It should make a world of difference to my putting practice next season (Aimpoint Express PLG). I learnt the original mid-point Aimpoint system using a chart to get my read. Times have changed and while I use a self taught Aimpoint Express read I need to learn all the nuances to make my putting even better. I now average 31.71 putts per round in 2015 down from 33.16 so I've made progress. I just need to shave that down closer to 30 putts per round.

Aimpoint PLG - a device to improve my putting and green reading in practice
Regular readers will know I've had some real issues with the short game and in particular chipping and pitching, the latter being a real thorny problem. I've been caught between a traditional pitching method and the linear method. If you look back at my post from an unconvincing practice session Fair Weather Golfer things were confused. I've worked hard on this aspect since and finally feel that I've made forward progress and I'm nailing my colours to the linear method mast. It's a technique I feel more confident with mentally and so I want to take this forward. Picking, sticking and refining the technique should allow me to take it forward. I'm using it for the chipping as well and again, I feel this year it has helped although I've fallen foul of trying to utilise several techniques. And the point of this waffling? It's very simple. My wife also bought me an hour with the innovator of the linear technique, Gary Smith (Gary Smith Coaching). A chance to get comprehensive tuition from one of the top golf coaches in the UK (Profile) and finally get to grips with this method for all things short game.

Gary Smith - Innovator of the linear short game method
So I have solid plans in place to work on putting and the short game. These are the real areas I need to get right. I seemed to spend time in 2015 on long game lessons and this is perhaps the first area I'm looking to change my emphasis on. I've worked hard with Andrew Piper on my long game. There were times when form completely deserted me and I felt I compelled to get a lesson to address the wrongs. Most times, the problems initiated from the same source, poor posture and alignment and shocking tempo, normally way too fast. I've worked hard this year to improve the posture, and now standing taller and the correct distance from the ball. My alignment issue revolve around a delinquent left shoulder either too closed (right of target) or open (pointing left) which then has a knock on effect once the swing starts. I'm still working hard on getting this right but it's something I can now self manage in practice sessions (I'm coming to them). My tempo is gradually being slowed to a blur. It's much slower than it was when I started with Andrew. I've probably got a way to go on this but for now I'm slower and giving myself more time, with less moving parts to make the shot.

The emphasis in 2016 is to move away from lesson upon lesson. I'll still use them if I lose form totally or a if a damaging fault manifests. Other than that, I intend to utilise the linear method for short game, get a follow up session mid-season with Gary Smith to get the short game nailed. This is where my emphasis will now focus. For the greater part I can get a ball around a course, but a stellar short game, it'll help when I've not got an A or even B game to keep the scores respectable. When I'm playing well this will help me fire some low scores and some handicap cuts. I simply don't need to be overdoing long game lessons and it doesn't need to consume my practice.

I've a cunning plan for practice. Quite simply there will be less of it. I've been guilty of working too hard on all aspects of the game and in truth probably over egged the pudding trying to refine my game. I aim to have a maximum of two practice sessions per week, all based around the short game. My focus is switching from practice to playing. That's perhaps the biggest change for 2016. Get out on the course, and simply play, without worrying too much about the how and why. Everyone I've seen move forward better than me are playing at every opportunity and learning how to make a score.

This brings me neatly onto the next major shift for 2016. Stop the mind working too much and make sure it's only working on what will help. That isn't going to be thousands of swing thoughts per shot. I was using New Golf Thinking as a way to focus on one shot at a time, not dwell on mistakes and prepare properly for every shot before playing it. In truth, I've neglected this in 2015 and allowed my head to be filled with too many technical thoughts (a by product of too much practice) and then doing things poorly mentally when I step on the course.

This will be the final game changer for me going forward. Better thinking on the course. As I sit here typing these thoughts for you to peruse, the concept seems rather simple. I need to re-read New Golf Thinking and redo the tests within the book as a base point. From there, go out, play as much golf as possible, socially and competitively and let the game look after itself. I'll invest in the scoring area with my short game, and the rest should follow. Play with more freedom and trust your game. I've been told by a number of teaching professionals I've either used or have seen me practicing over the years that I have the components of a single figure golf swing. Some of those that have simply seen me swing have had never met me or taught me, or had any concept of my pursuit of single figures so I must be doing something properly. I've proved in Golf Monthly Forum events and at my home club, that I am capable of winning and performing well. Getting my mind right, keeping the monkey brain quiet and just letting the good and positive thoughts emerge will be every bit as powerful and constructive as long game tuition. I do want to speak with Andrew Piper about my on course thinking, along with a review of my 2015 statistics and ensure I'm on the right track. I am sure I am.

And there we have it. Three major changes
1) Linear method for all things short game, a lesson with Gary Smith (and a mid season refresher) and a couple of practice sessions per week

2) Cut back on long game tuition, practice, and get out an play and learn how to utilise the improved short game and craft a score even when not swinging on top form. Learn to play golf again.

3) Get the mind right. Stop over thinking everything. Keep the mind quiet on the course and lose the technical thoughts when I play. Go back to New Golf Thinking and use it to get me set up perfectly over every shot and then trust my decisions and my technique.

I'm really looking forward to the start of 2016 and the next chapter in my golfing odyssey (Homer's odyssey if you will given that's my nickname). I'm not working now until January 4th 2016 and while I've had a self imposed exile for the last month bar a little bit of short game practice, now is the time to get out, play a few games and get ready for a full on assault on single figures next year. I hope whatever you want from your golf in 2016, that you achieve and surpass your expectations and that you enjoy it. I know I will

Friday, 11 December 2015

Pulling The Tiger's Tail

It's been a quiet old time in terms of playing and practice. I've been fully booked over the last few weekends and therefore unable to play and have struggled to find the motivation to grind it out on the cold range knowing there was no chance to put practice into play. A full golfing sabbatical is almost unheard of for me but to be honest I've not missed it as much as I'd feared. Given the weather in Berkshire over the past two weekends especially the gale force winds, I can't help feeling I dodged a bullet. Inevitably there will be repercussions next week when I start to hit the driving range and I can't help thinking it's going to be messy, out of kilter and frustrating.

However as always, it hasn't been totally quiet on all fronts. I've had some interesting times online. Firstly, an acquaintance from the Golf Monthly Forum (Golf Monthly Forum) has started his own blog. It's his first foray into these murky waters but it's well worth a look at the world of a Coventry Golf Addict (Coventry Golf Addict). You'll notice this big banner "I'm coming for you Homer" my nickname for many a year (this blog was nearly Homers' Odyssey). That's fine Fish my old mucker. Bring it on. I love a bit of friendly rivalry and the fact that both of these humble offerings are getting some attention from the Golf Monthly Forum members will intensify the battle once the 2016 arrives. I've known him online for a good few years now and enjoyed his company at a number of Forum meetings and he's one of golf's good guys. I hope he can achieve his personal targets for next year.

All well and good. However, as is the nature of the beast when using an online forum, the peace didn't last long. There was an interesting thread about someone having golf lessons and seeing some excellent progress (Lessons Work). As regular followers will know, I am a big advocate of lessons and have regular tutelage. I've worked hard on my game in 2015, especially around posture, and tempo which have been the main focus in the long swing, and have had a number of lessons around the short game to find something I can trust and which works under pressure.

I happened to innocently post my support of lessons, with a word of warning about needing to keep working on drills and ensuring old habits don't slip back. All good or so I thought. Someone then posted that if I was having these lessons and they were so good for me why hadn't my handicap tumbled and indeed why had it gone up. And like a fool, having had the tale of the tiger well and truly tugged I bit.

In my defence, and as I posted, I firmly believe that a handicap cut is only one barometer of measuring progress. Granted the whole ethos of this blog is my pursuit of a single figure handicap, and so my last statement will seem totally at odds with that, but in my own mind, the need for a more robust swing, with the better tempo, allied with a stellar short game (in my dreams a day will come when that happens) is the initial steps to getting these cuts. This is why I've worked so hard on slowing the tempo down, giving me more time, reducing the number of moving parts in the swing and improving the striking. And on the whole I have been more than satisfied with the work I've done under the gaze of Andrew Piper at Lavender Park. As for the short game, it has been a different story. As in the last few years every time I see real progress, I seem to regress backwards. I've been caught between techniques and philosophies, not for the first time in recent seasons, and it is still a source of endless aggravation.

The upshot of course was I bit into what I think was an online fishing line and my whole ethos and progress got shredded. Having let the dust settled, it has got me thinking. No more than that, it has got me well and truly fired. If you're going to pull this tiger's tail then you better get out of the way of the teeth when it turns around. My resilience to get to my single figure goal is now re-invigorated and I am even more fired up for 2016. Of course people are entitled to their opinion. They may think they have point and they may even think they're right and my lessons aren't working. It simply isn't a view I share. The great thing about a forum, it's a place where opinions are exchanged openly.

My winter work has been been all about the short game, especially the scoring zone from 30-70 yards out and improving my pitching. Add in some better chipping, more success holing out from 2-3 feet and more improvement from bunkers and then mix that with the work I did in 2015 on posture and tempo and I'm convinced I can really kick on next season. With my golfing mojo back and the range calling next week, the hard work starts again with gusto.

It also got me thinking about my 2015 season. Was it really that bad and have the lessons not paid off. Well let's start with the handicap. It's what most use to measure progress. I started at 11.7 (12) and at one point we did teeter over to 13 when I hit 12.5. I now sit at 12.2 (12) so the whole thing has moved by half a shot. I managed to banish the ignominy off hitting 13 with a third place in the October stableford and a nice 0.3 cut. Over twelve months given the number of competitions I played, is half a shot really that bad? Not ideal when you want to get to 9, but I'd hardly say it's the end of the world.

If that's a negative, lets look at the flip side. I had a win back in the June stableford which was my first competition win at Royal Ascot in several seasons which qualified me for the annual "Masters" invitational for competition winners only. First time in a couple of years for that too. I also got through regional qualifying in the Golf Monthly Forum "Race to Hillside" event at Blackmoor. I came second overall but with the winner not being able to participate I got in. Having got to the illustrious links course, I finished third overall out of the seven regional winners and picked up a few quid as a result. Again hardly hold the front page stuff but a solid enough effort.

I thought it would be interesting to look at my statistics from 2014 alongside those from 2015 and see what had changed.

2014 Statistics

The most obvious number here is the greens in regulation (GIR) of 26% which was better than handicap. My driving (FIR) wasn't too bad at 44% but the putting numbers, my sand saves and my par scrambles (my short game) were very disappointing. It was very clear where a lot of my weakness lay, in the short game, which is why I wanted to have lessons in this area. My handicap stayed constant having started and ended at 12 and having re-visited these tonight for the first time in a while they flag some areas of improvement. It was around this time last year I had my first lesson with Andrew Piper and it was him who wanted tempo and posture to be my two areas for the long swing.

2015 Statistics

This is where I think it gets interesting. Driving accuracy is down by 2% to 42% which is annoying but is not the end of the world. A lot of these drives off target have found the semi rough which has left a shot into the green. However it is the green in regulation figure down to a miserable 19% that is the biggest concern. This is a big drop and not good enough. What has surprised me is my putting has improved to 31.9 putts per round and I think I can get that even lower. My sand saves have doubled from 12% to a very strong 24% which I consider testament to the my hard work this summer. However most pleasing of all is par scrambles which I've improved from 16% to 22%. Granted my shoddy approach play and lousy green in regulation number has given me far more practice than I was anticipating. Despite messing around with techniques and thinking I wasn't going forward the numbers seem to tell a different tale.

Let's be honest, numbers on a blog aren't the whole story. However they do show some interesting trends. I wasn't aware I was missing so many greens and that's something I'll be sharing with Andrew Piper when I have a lesson in the new year. The bottom line is, there's room for improvement across the board.

So what can you the reader take from this latest rambling? Well the bottom line is beware if you pull the tale of this tiger. I don't mind critique where it's deserved but if you post about my ethic, my approach and lessons being a waste of time and money then I will respond. That's not an invitation to log on and test the theory. That slightly gnarly statement aside, what Fish's blog, or Robin Hopkins to give him a full mention, has done is given me something to compare myself against and motivate myself with to get better. I have a plan over the winter to work on the scoring area, which I feel will keep scores ticking along even when I'm not hitting it that well.

I'm itching to get back to the range and after a few days away this coming weekend to see family, I have a couple of weeks to get back into the old routine ready to work hard on my game over the festive period, including some practice rounds to see how my game is shaping up where it matters. I want to play even more than I did in 2016. I enjoy playing, even on the bad days. In fact I enjoy my golf, whether it's working on my game, a weekend roll up with the usual cronies, a competition or a Golf Monthly meet somewhere. That's still something a lot of people find hard to comprehend. They see this pursuit to single figures as all consuming and sucking me dry. I have always had a solid, dogmatic approach to a lot of my sporting pursuits, in fact a lot of areas of my life and golf is no different. There's a single golfer deep within. Whether I bring it out in 2016, the year after or the year after that, it will happen. I can't wait to see what the new year brings.