Saturday, 31 December 2016

Swingyde Training Aid

I've always been a sucker for a training aid. Many have been flash in the pan that have promised much and delivered little and have been consigned to a dark corner in my golf room (yes I know I have too much golf stuff, and yes the wife does keep nagging for me to a) tidy and b) de-clutter).

I have come across the Swingyde (The Swingyde Website) which is a simple plastic device that sits on the club and is designed to get the club in the right position and hinged properly to create better accuracy and power.

The Swingyde
I wasn't actually looking at trying any training aids. However I came across a video from Dan Whittaker on Youtube (Dan Whittaker - Swingyde Review) which was a glowing testament about it. He's usually very reluctant to be too overflowing with praise for products and it has to be really work, especially in a lesson environment for him to rate it. This one is a definite hit.

It's not cheap for what it is at around £25 and there are many, many cheaper versions out there although I'd be wary of these as they have reputations for being very flimsy especially when being used on full swings, and can snap getting it on and off the club. I'd definitely suggest buying from a recognised retailer.

So what's it all about and does it work? As I've hinted, it's all about ensuring a proper take away and hinge. Too quick and too inside and the cradle will miss the left arm (for a right handed golfer) to the inner part of the arm and too far outside the line and it'll miss the outside of the arm. The Swingyde does come with an band, which I'm not keen on and will look a bit naff come the warm, shirt sleeve weather, placed on the wrist. Fortunately, it's winter and the cradle rests on my top layer without irritation.

The Swingyde in the ideal set position
I tend to take the club away very quickly and have had tendencies in the past to fan the club open. Tempo has always been an issue but on the two range sessions I've used it on, I worked hard on half swings, without hitting balls, to ensure I took it away nicely and the cradle sat properly. From there, I needed to take it up to the top and then turn back into impact properly. To start with, when hitting balls (with an 8 iron) I was still very fast and the cradle missed, usually on the inside and it forced me to slow down, and ensure I took it back far straighter and smoother. It's a device that takes a little time to get use to and working properly.

I have a habit of swinging too far and my club extends beyond parallel, usually as the club gets longer, especially with driver, but one thing I felt, and I've not filmed any swings, so feel vs real may be two different things, is that the swing is more compact. It has felt there are a lot fewer moving parts, especially going back. I seem to have more time to into impact. I feel the contact has improved. My distance, while hard to gauge on a range, on a cold dark evening, with cold range balls, felt better. However, the dispersion left and right definitely improved.

The second session was a lot better. I'd been struggling with my driver. I was reticent to use it on the big dog, but decided that nothing ventured, nothing gained. It was very interesting. I still had a left to right shape, something that had been haunted me on the course, but instead of being a destructive slice had turned into a smooth controlled fade, something I could play with on a course. The good ones, the ones out of the middle, were arrow straight and a much higher, penetrating flight. This was pleasing.

I played on Christmas Eve and as part of my pre-shot routine I was focused on feeling that I was getting a good hinge position halfway back and then trust it. I hadn't played in three weeks and my form before then was patchy at best. I only had thirty points, but that in a large putt was due to a stone cold putter. There were several really wild shots, large push slices and I felt these were caused by coming too far inside and fanning the club. It was very apparent however that by using the Swingyde every day for five-ten minutes it is easy to feel  the correct position and that over time, it'll be possible to "feel" that more and more on the course. I also think part of my problems when I played stemmed from trying to feel the correct hinge on the actual shot and therefore thinking about it too much as I hit the ball. Feel it in the practice swing and then trust it.

So how do I rate it?

Size - it is relative compact and would sit easily in the clothing/side pocket of either a carry or cart bag to take to the range for a practice session. 7/10

Durability - it's made of plastic and so I guess there will always be a degree of vulnerability but I'm told it's far more durable than the cheaper copies on the market especially around the area where the bolt and wing nut fix the Swingyde to the club. With normal care and attention I can't see why it can't last and last. 6/10

Functionality - if you've watched the Dan Whittaker video at the top of this review, you'll see that he, as a reputable teaching professional, rates it highly and states he uses it on a regular basis and that in his opinion does the job it's designed to. From my own far perspective, as a mid-handicapper, it's really easy to use (once correctly placed on the club). It really does do what it's intended to and it works. It simply does and if you take the time to work at it in slow motion and feel the right way to take the club back and set it properly you can really feel the proper position to get into. Over the ball you'll feel the swing is more compact and the sequence from the top, into the transition and then impact works far better. 9/10

Instructions - The packaging was pretty poor and the instructions inside were pretty sparse and fairly confusing. There is a DVD, but it's poor quality and outdated and serves no real function. The website isn't that much better. However, the Swingyde is simple to use in it's basic form. The one thing that does need to be done with care, is fixing it onto the club. It has to be correctly aligned or it will give a false tale. It has to be lined perfectly straight and again Dan Whittaker shows perfectly how it should be done. The instructions doesn't explain this satisfactorily. 2/10

Overall - As a training aid, this one is right up there. It works. It's as simple as that. Not only that, but it's a device with longevity. As I mentioned at the very start, I've had my fair share of devices, many of which boasted more than they delivered. This one, simple as it is, has one aim, to get a golfer into the correct position in the back swing. It does this and does this well. It's already made a difference. I need to keep working with it, although this only needs 5-10 minutes repetition per day. I can see this making a difference to my swing, and alongside my lessons with Andrew Piper, will hopefully set me in good stead for the 2017 season. I would heartily recommend the Swingyde. 9/10

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

2016 (Where Did That Year Go?)

We're about to rush headlong towards 2017 and so it seems an apt time to take a look back at my golfing year and remember some highs and revisit a few of the lower points and chuck a cursory glance towards my goals for next year.

The Lows
My Health - It has been a recurring theme ever since I was taken into A&E in February and has been a contributory factor to some, but not all, of my golfing woes. It took me off the course and the range for several months and there have been some lingering problems, particularly with some eyesight and balance issues. The good news is the ongoing prognosis is this will improve in time. It hasn't been a good year from a health perspective but I'm still here and hopefully next year will be far better without any issues affecting my game.

* As an unwanted side note, I did have to call a paramedic out at 2.00am on Christmas morning with severe chest pains. Fortunately the ECG and tests were clear so no heart attack but something not quite right that'll need to be looked into. I wasn't going into hospital and missing Christmas unless it was an absolute necessity. I managed my lunch (no booze) and did the presents, so the wife and family are happy. Hopefully whatever is happening won't have a long term impact on my golf again in 2017.

My Handicap - This has been a really disappointing year. I started at 12.7 and was looking to kick on towards 11, and then make a concerted effort towards my golfing nirvana of single figures. There have been a number of issues, and while my health was one, significant as it was, it wasn't the only problem. I was stuck between conflicting short game techniques. I started the year with a conventional lesson (Conventional Pitching) but then invested a lot of time in a more radical technique which I found sat better in my mind and which initially provided some great results in all areas of the short game. The linear method used the bounce more and had the weight completely over the left side and I was lucky enough to have a lesson with one of the top UK coaches and "inventor" of the method, Gary Smith (Linear Method). Since then I've flipped between this and gone back to a more conventional pitching, chipping and bunker technique. Now there will be a long queue forming to say that this flip flopping backwards and forwards is not going to be consistent. I KNOW!!! I'm just trying to find what works for me, and what sits best in my head and inspires technique and confidence. I'm working hard on this over the winter and want 2017 to be one method and one method only

A Festival of 0.1 Handicap Increases - As my handicap increased I was stuck in a festival of 0.1 returns. I've rarely threatened the buffer zone, and a cut seems a distant memory. It wasn't always a case of playing badly from start to finish. There were rounds like that but an awful lot had real potential. Some even had a chance of top three finishes and a cut, They were undone by car crash holes, some real big numbers posted from nowhere when things had seemed to be going along well. These were never the same hole although the 6th at my home course (6th Hole - Royal Ascot Golf Club) has been a real nemesis. I'm working hard on improving my mental game and how I improve my strategy and on course thinking. Hopefully this hole, and more importantly these disastrous holes will disappear. If I can eradicate these, which is what the better players at my club do, then I can still give myself a chance to make buffer zones and maybe a cut or two, This year however has been poor year on the course and 0.1's an inevitable outcome

2016 Statistics - As a result of my poor play, one of my goals for the year, of improving my scrambling and in particular greens in regulation statistics hasn't come to fruition. There were a few bright spots, in particular my sand saves. My driving also improved. However everything else was over handicap, and greens in regulation went down from 19% to 18% this year. My putting is two strokes worse off despite some hard work in this area (2016 Statistics). However it is par scrambles, down from 22% in 2015 to a pitiful 13% that tells the biggest story. I've worked hard, and thought I was making progress, especially with the linear method, (Linear Method - An Update). However despite thinking it was going well, even before flipping back to a conventional method, the results were never there on the course. I couldn't replicate practice into scores. That has to change in 2017. I can't make scores without a short game. It really is that simple.

Losing Friends - This year has been a real annus horribilis and a lot of worldwide icons have departed including Arnold Palmer from the world of golf. On a personal lesson, I lost a golfing friend from the Golf Monthly Forum. Rick Garg was a generous man with one of the greatest sense of humour I've ever come across. He was also the driving force behind the Golf Monthly Help For Heroes Charity Day, and this years event, so soon after his untimely death was an emotional one but one which carried on his legacy to raise over £15,000 for this great charity (Golf Monthly Help For Heroes Charity Day)

Of course for every ying there has to be a yang and my 2016 golfing year hasn't been all woe is me and there have been some very enjoyable times.

The Highs
Help For Heroes - This year the event was held at Camberley Heath Golf Club, a Harry Colt heath land course that regularly features in the top 100 UK courses. I have played well here before and this year I'd paid to play with Rick Shiels and Peter Finch, two of the Golf Monthly top 25 coaches, who have a huge internet and you tube presence. They were wonderful hosts, very generous with their help and advice and it was great to see how two professionals tackled a course they had never seen.

Peter Finch and myself beside the lake on the 16th at Camberley Heath
I played reasonably well but made too many simple errors and got off to a slow start. In my defence it was all being captured on film for Peter's youtube channel and I was very nervous on the first few holes. I settled down and played some good stuff. It was a good day and raised a lot of money.

Rick Shield and me after the final hole at Camberley Heath
Aimpoint Express - If you have regularly followed my golfing exploits over the last few years, you will be aware that I use the Aimpoint green reading system. Initially this was a chart based method, but earlier in the year I undertook the Aimpoint Express course. This does away with the chart and is what you see the likes of Adam Scott and Lydia Ko use on the TV lifting their fingers to read the putts. It's not as complicated as it sounds, and is doesn't hold up play as it can be done properly in 15-30 seconds (Aimpoint Express). It has cemented what I took from the original course, simplified it and made my green reads much better. Of course you still need to put a good stroke on the putt and I'm working hard on improving that side of things but as a work in progress I am moving forward.

Linear Method - I have struggled over the last few years with all things short game and turned to the linear method as advocated by Gary Smith. It's a radical way of doing things with set up having all the weight on the left hand side and the hands level or even behind the ball, designed to utilise the bounce. My wife had bought me a lesson with Gary Smith. I was self taught from his DVD and so it was interesting to see what the man himself would make of my efforts (Gary Smith Lesson). I've got to hold my hands up and say that in recent months I've been tampering with a more conventional method of pitching. The linear method does resonate better with me especially in pitching and I was making good progress over the summer (Linear Method - An Update).

As you know I've been embarking on my "Quest For Single Figures" and initially need to get back down somewhere around 11 or 12 before kicking on again. I've been doing some work on my pitching and kept some statistics (Quest For Single Figure Practice Statistics) and plan to now repeat the process with the linear method and compare techniques. It should be very interesting.

Enjoying My Golf
Do you know what? Despite everything, and 2016 being a long way from what I hoped for, I've still really enjoyed myself. I love working on my game and then seeing it work (or not) on the course. I've enjoyed a few different courses and met some new faces and renewed some old friendships. I have tried so hard despite all the knock backs, the rounds that promised much and gave nothing, and the ones where it looked like I've never played before. to be a glass half full guy this year. I am still certain, nay dogmatic in my belief that I have what it takes to get to single figures. Along the way it's about taking the knocks and coming back harder and stronger and enjoying proving the doubters wrong and going out again and playing well and playing well more often.

The Aims for 2017
With my health issues beginning to finally go away fully, I hope to repeat the hard work of last winter. I've a series of lessons booked with Andy Piper at Lavender Park Golf Centre that I will be starting in the new year. I hope we can get my game in a good place and be ready for the start of the golfing season come the end of February and start of March. This year I intend to give A&E and weeks on the side lines a wide berth and get some good scores under my belt early and get the handicap tumbling downwards

I aim to carry on with my more structured approach to practice and recording my progress as I go. I'll carry on recording my statistics when I play as I can often seen patterns emerging and it's helpful to give Andy some tangible feedback on how I've been playing, whether that's in the period between lessons, as a season as whole or month by month.

Perhaps my biggest aim though is to nail the short game technique once and for all. It's so frustrating. I can have a conventional pitching, bunker or chipping lesson and the process will feel natural and work and then piece by piece unravel so I'll resort to the linear method. I have more faith in that method and more trust and it sits well in my head. On the flip side I want fewer moving parts which is what a traditional technique gives. It's a battle I've struggled with an one that has clearly held me back.

I want to play more courses. I'm off to Sunningdale to play both the New and Old courses and the day before will be playing New Zealand Golf Course. This is a true hidden gem, and it's not always the most accessible to visitors, so that will be exciting. I hope to be off to Hankley Common (a Golf Monthly top 100 course) for the Help For Heroes day in September. That promises to be another fantastic day. In between I hope to sample other courses for some social games and maybe the odd club match or two. Variety after all is the spice of life and to be honest I've normally fared well away from Royal Ascot where I truly believe familiarity can be a dangerous thing.

Short game, short game and short game. Fixing the battle of techniques in my head will open a pathway to a better and sharper short game. Finally I can make some respectable scores without having to have the long game on point all day. I've recognised over the last year or so that the low handicappers at my club, and I suspect at most clubs, don't necessarily stripe the ball every time. Some have more agricultural swings than my own impression of a giraffe on ice having a fit, but they find a way to make scores, especially when their own ball striking is off. I've known for many years it's not about looking pretty or textbook, and to be honest it's way too late for me on that score, but it's about making the best of what I have on any given day.

That is where I still fall down. This is where my NLP work this winter I'm hoping will help start to pay off and I can simply learn to trust what I have and what I have worked on. I want a clear mind, less thought over the ball and clearer targets to focus on.

It sounds when you write it down and read back, an awful lot of stuff for someone wanting a simplistic approach. Maybe so but in my own mind at least I've some clear goals, some clear focus points and some clear ideas where I want my game to go. I am in a good place, still with my glass half full at the end of 2016 and heading into the new year.

Let me finish by once again thanking everyone that has taken the time to read my offerings, either as an individual piece or part of my exploits towards my golfing nirvana. I have enjoyed reading and hearing all the feedback, both good and positive, with the occasional obscenity thrown in by the narrow minded. I hope you continue to enjoy what I put before you in 2017 and until then let me wish you, your family and loved ones a happy new year and hope it brings you everything you wish for.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Suaoki Laser Rangefinder

In my quest for single figures, I've invested in a laser rangefinder to get some accuracy into my game and practice. In truth, I already have a Garmin G8 GPS device (Garmin G8 GPS) which for my current standard of golf has been more than sufficient when I play. It's pre-loaded with most of the courses I'm likely to play and enough features to keep me happy.

However, as I've already mentioned in previous posts in the "Quest For Single Figures" thread my practice is taking a more structured approach and I wanted something to give me definitive yardages, particularly going forward with my work on my pitching and approach shots from 125 yards and in. As someone notoriously thrifty with my cash, I baulked at the cost of many of the main units on the market and wanted something that was cheaper but didn't compromise on quality or more importantly accuracy. I was put onto the Suaoki Laser Rangefinder through a couple of happy users via the Golf Monthly Forum and at under £100 it seemed meet most of my criteria.

Suaoki 600m Laser Rangefinder
It is capable of measuring in both metres and yards which is a handy feature. It's very simple to use with two buttons on the top, one for power/measure and a button to switch between modes (flagpole lock, roaming yardages, slope correction and fog mode when visibility is poor). Let me get it out in open at the outset, because it has a slope correction, although I've yet to test the units capability in this mode, it it highly likely it will fall foul of the rules of golf in competitions. That said, it's not what I bought it for primarily. I want to be accurate in my pitching yardages and build feel and distance control. I plan to use it on the course but this will have to be restricted to practice and social rounds, for getting exact yardages on par threes, and for anything from 120 - 50 yards. Inside of that I want to be able to trust my work on yardages, although I'll glance at the GPS if there's an element of doubt and the GPS will certainly suffice from 120 yards and out.

I've already given it a stringent work out on the practice ground when I worked on my pitching distances from 50, 40 and 30 yards recently. I was able to lock onto the flag on the practice ground and adjust my position to stand exact distances away. Once I used my alignment sticks to make a 16 foot circle to act as a reasonable target to land the balls in I was ready to go.

It is extremely quick and easy to use. I haven't the steadiest of hands and wear glasses to complicate matters. However with the unit on flagpole mode it's very easy to match the cross-hairs on the screen when you press the power button and once locked will give a reading. Even with a slight shake it was able to lock with no problems and looking through the eyepiece with my glasses on wasn't an issue.

Another handy feature of the rangefinder, is the fact that not only do you get the reading inside the unit when locked onto target but it has a large LED screen on the side which clearly gives the same reading. It makes it very easy to share the information with your partners or without having to peer into the unit. Perfect for me and my glasses.

Suaoki Rangefinder LED side display
It has also been given a run out at several local driving ranges. One, Lavender Park has numerous targets and although there are distance markers out there, I've always doubted the accuracy of these. It also has greens and flags without any distances assigned to them. It's been a best guess, especially on the green around the 100 yard mark and the one at approximately 150 yards when hitting balls in the past but now, irrespective of which bay I use I can get an accurate figure to work on. They also plenty of flags dotted around short of the 100 yard island which are perfect to keep my pitching ticking over and these aren't the same exact distances I've worked on at the practice ground at Royal Ascot Golf Club. This means my feel is having to develop to ensure accuracy. Perfect for what I'm trying to achieve.

On the course it has been very quick and easy to use with no issues in slowing play down. I've been able to get my exact number while my partners are playing their shots. I'm not too hung up on using it other than for distances close to the green (60-120 yards) and my GPS will suffice for most other distances.

It comes in a soft carry case and while that does the job sufficiently (with a cleaning cloth included) I'm getting a harder case to give it more protection in the bag. There isn't anything to protect the objective lens and two lasers (emitting and receiving) which is something other more expensive units do have. That said, with care and replacing it into the case after each scan I don't see why there would be an issue but for that added peace of mind I think the harder case will provide extra durability and protection.

So how does it rate? I've broken it down into a couple of sections to give an honest assessment.

The Unit

Size - very compact and will fit easily into most golf bags 7/10

Weight - it's a light unit that sits comfortably in the hand 7/10

Functionality - it only has the four basic functions which is perhaps fewer than others out there on the market. However for my needs, specific as they are, there is enough there for me 6/10

Power - its powered by a CR2 3 volt battery (supplied). I've invested in some renewable ones and a charger as I'm not sure of the life expectancy of the standard battery provided and I wanted peace of mind that it wouldn't die on me playing or when working on my game 5/10

Ease - as already mentioned in the review, even with glasses and a slight hand shake it will find and lock onto the target easily 8/10

Accuracy - I used it on the course alongside a partner who had a more expensive model (Bushnell) and there was no variance in 6/7 readings we took and the one difference was out by a yard 9/10

Price - this is where the Suaoki is a real winner. For less than £100 it gives anyone looking for an entry level (or perhaps just above that) rangefinder, without too many bells and whistles, something that works well 10/10

User Manual - the manual supplied is sparse at best and there seems limited additional information available online even on the Suaoki website. It fails to explain the functions in any depth or give any operating instructions and it is left very much to trial and error 2/10

Overall - as a unit for my needs it meets most of my needs with aplomb. It's a basic unit compared to some but at the moment I have very few gripes other than the case, slope mode (and what it actually is) and the manual 7.5/10


The Course

Speed of Use - the unit has been very quick to use for reading on the course It slips easily in and out of the protective case and responds quickly when the power button is pressed. It's refreshingly simple and quick to lock onto the target (flag) and give a reading and hasn't seemed to delay play in any way to date 7/10

Legality - this is my big bug bear. I need to find out more about the slope function (see my gripe about user manual) and see if it's a slope reading in the golfing sense which would make it redundant for a competitive round. Looking online, it appears it may be more for giving the height of objects but I remain to be totally convinced 4/10

Durability - the case isn't the most robust (I've purchased a more robust version) but the unit is waterproof according to the manual and their blurb and so it should function well in proper British winter conditions. I'm sure I won't have long to wait to put it through its paces in the rain 6/10

Practice 

Versatility - practice mode is what I purchased the Suaoki for and so far it has met all my expectations. I can scan targets quickly and easily and get accurate readings meaning I can stand there and trust my club selection. I'm trying to swap "technical mode" and swing thoughts for a more "game mode" practice routine and work on pre-shot routines, NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) and really make each ball count. It is easy to go from flag to flag and of course these vary depending on which bay (at range) or where on the practice ground I stand but I am now no longer without accurate distances - 9/10

Night Time - as it's winter, the ranges are floodlit when I use them. These lights aren't the best and certainly towards the far end of the range, it is pretty dark and sometimes hard to see the ball finish. However, I've still been able to pick a flag in the murk, without having to swap to "fog mode" and the unit has still managed to lock and load a number in. Ideal for hitting driver, fairway woods, hybrids and long irons 8/10

Quality of Practice - it is still very early days but I am finding it much easier to stand there and just swing, as I would on the course. I've not had a chance to repeat my statistics from the practice diary (Winter Practice Diary) but I'm hoping that the confidence and freedom the Suaoki unit has given me, it will allow me to improve on these numbers next time out. With the planned tuition from Andy Piper at Lavender park Golf Centre over the next few months I see myself hitting the ground running come the new season 8/10

Conclusion

There are many laser rangefinders on the market and many offer far more features but these seem to come at a price. The Suaoki Laser Rangefinder perhaps sits higher than a basic entry level model but at the price it is offers very good value for money. It meets all my requirements, has performed well at the range and on the course and seems well constructed and durable. There are some quibbles as I've highlighted, not least this slope function (and lack of clear definition and instruction) which would prevent use in competitive golf. That isn't a major issue with my Garmin G8 filling that void but it's an irritation that needs resolving once and for all.

It was perhaps something of an impulse buy, born from the thread on the Golf Monthly Forum about rangefinders, but is something I've considered for a while and the new "Quest For Single Figures" thread and my renewed vigour to improve, helped by some better health, made it an easy decision to push the "buy" button and enter my payment details. So far so good.

If you are in the market this Christmas for a laser rangefinder but feel that you perhaps don't play enough golf to justify the £200-£300+ price tag of most other units, but want better yardages when you are out on the course (or as an alternative to a GPS device) this could very well fit the bill.

Let me know if you have one of these and how you find it, or comment if you have any questions or points you want to make. You can either click on the comment box at the bottom or through Google+. Did this review help? Do you want to see more stuff, perhaps not necessarily main stream equipment being reviewed? Fear not, I'll be back soon with more Quest For Single Figures updates and some different bits and pieces for 2017. If I don't make it back here before the big day, a very merry Christmas to one and all. Thank you for taking the time to read my often rambling thoughts, and for those that have taken the time to comment here or on Google+, thanks for making the effort and providing some useful food for thought. A happy new year and I hope 2017 brings you everything you want for the golfing year ahead.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

2017 - The Quest For Single Figures - 1st Update

Having outlined my plans in my last post to turn my golfing fortunes around and start getting it going back down, ultimately to my golfing nirvana of single figures. It's going to be a long slog and I plan to split it into two targets, getting back to my 2016 starting point of 12 and then kicking on from there.

As I mentioned, the short game still remains an area of grave concern, especially in the pitching and chipping departments. I've been a huge advocate of the Gary Smith linear method and it sits perfectly in in head, particularly the way it uses the bounce. It's been particularly successful out of bunkers. I've struggled with the pitching on the course, particularly in terms of distance control and have started drifting back to something more orthodox while retaining the idea of utilising the bounce and taking a shallow divot at most but ideally grazing the turf.

I am working hard on my practice over the winter and working smarter by tracking my statistics as I go. I've been out again on Sunday 27th November to work on my pitching as the next area to get some baseline numbers. I've invested in a digital rangefinder, albeit a cheap but functional version (Suaoki Range Finder) to get more accurate distances, especially from 100 yards and in. I took it out to the practice ground yesterday and measured from 50 and 40 yards to a 16 foot circle with a four foot circle of excellence to aim for. From 30 yards, I narrowed my target down to a 10 foot circle with a three foot circle of excellence.

I've updated my practice diary to include a pitching section where I've recorded my first efforts and have used both my 58 and 52 degree wedges for each distance as they are my main go to clubs for this type of shot. As my technique improves, I aim to tinker with loft and trajectory to give myself a fuller armoury of shots for all conditions. One thing I have found with the linear method is it tends to give a high ball flight. This is fine off firmer summer turf with minimal wind but off wetter winter lies and into a strong, often cold wind it has caused issues. I think this is where my distance control problems have stemmed from and why I feel the need to adopt a more versatile approach.

Winter Practice Diary - Updated

The conditions were typical for the time of year. The grass was wet courtesy of the overnight rain and there were a few muddy and bare lies meaning correct contact was crucial to have any success. My opening effort with the 58 degree wedge from 50 yards wasn't that inspiring. One thing I have noticed though is a feeling of pressure doing this. I found that with the Jordan Spieth putting drill I did. Check my last blog (2017 - The Quest For Single Figures) for more details on that particular practice drill. I'm striving to post the best numbers I can each time, and hopefully improve my personal bests each time after that. Putting the base line numbers for each area means I'm trying on every shot and the pressure does tell. On the plus side I'm developing some good pre-shot routines.

My initial effort with the 58 degree wedge was poor but I improved with the 52 degree wedge. That was a bit of an eye opener and I got a quarter of my 20 balls into that magical four foot circle. From 40 yards my accuracy into the 16 foot circle improved as you'd expect closer to the green. However my accuracy into that circle of excellence dropped. This is the area I need to be hitting to set up birdie chances or rescuing par.

Finally from 30 yards I reduced the target area to a 10 foot circle with a three foot circle of excellence. Again, the number of shots in the general target area went up but also the amount into that ideal area was very small. It's highlight some very interesting things. My more orthodox technique especially from longer distances was poor with a number of fat and thin shots. This dropped as I got closer but they were still there. Also, my accuracy is wanting with 50 yards being especially weak. I'm hoping as my technique strengthens, my mental approach  and my pre-shot routines improve, so will my numbers. I need to extend this out to include pitch shots from 60, 70 and 80 yards, where these will be fuller shots with the 58 and more of a "feel" shot with a three quarter swing with the 52.

At least I've laid some markers down in this area. That leaves chipping and scrambling, including bunkers to do. I then want to move onto approach shots from 150 yards and in and I've got all my areas covered. From there, it's about working on these drills on a regular basis, over the winter and beyond. Couple that with trying to play as much as winter conditions in the UK allow (although I won't play on temporary greens as I find it a lottery and get little from it especially with huge bucket holes on winter greens) and I am confident that along with regular lessons this winter, that come the spring and the dawn of the 2017 season I'm in prime position to fly out of the blocks.

There is one area I've not tackled yet but it's imminent. It'll cause a degree of mockery, especially amongst my golfing peers at the golf club and on the Golf Monthly Forum but it's something I've touched upon over the past few years. My mental attitude on the course is shocking and I've let good rounds unravel and I've had times when I've been beaten mentally before I've played, usually when my warm up hasn't gone according to plan.

I've spoke before of NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) which is a convoluted way of stopping myself getting in my own way and letting my sub-conscious brain to dictate my thinking and just letting go and trusting the swing I've got and the work I've done. Andrew Piper, the teaching professional I use has a good reputation in this. I've also had a recommendation from Rick Shiels, a professional making a name for himself on social media (see my last post) with whom I played in a Help For Heroes charity day recently, to use Lee Cromberholme's site (Winning Golf Mind). I've also downloaded an NLP app to listen to.

Now I can hear the sniggers from here, and can second guess some of the cheap and smart comments that will be coming my way. However it's something I've recognised as a problem for a while. Logic (well in my head at least) dictates that the practice I'm putting in now and going forward, will, with the lessons I've got planned, get my game to a certain technical level, sufficient of putting together respectable scores. I need to then simply go out and play. That's something I simply haven't been capable of doing. I've lost count how many times I've heard people say at the club "you practice too much, why don't you get any better?" or "you're trying too hard" and both are perfectly valid. Why don't I improve? I simply can't put together a consistent round. How many times have I inflicted a blog on here upon you, the innocent reader, that contains some great stuff undone by two or three car crash holes.

The good players at my club, especially off single figures don't have textbook swings. They simply understand how to score, without these double and triple bogies (or worse) especially when they aren't playing well. I plan to learn how to think better, think smarter, quieten the monkey brain and let my golf do the talking for me.

It's an area I've been nervous about, not only having to deal with the scoffing and mickey taking, the accusations of taking it all far too seriously, but also because I've not really had the courage to admit that what I've done before in this pursuit of single figures hasn't worked. This is why I've taken a more statistical and results based approach to my practice. Despite all this waffle about targets and aspirations and my practice, the crux of 2017 is actually about taking a simplistic approach and that starts with simple thinking, clear goals and objectives and clear focus on how to achieve these. I need to work on all parts of my game and then harmonise that on the course and let it simply flow. I'm about to start doing the NLP and Winning Golf Mind work so I'll give you an update once I've started to use it and played a number of games with it. That'll probably be mid January. Until then I'll keep you posted on how my game is improving. The hard work has started and 2017 is going to be my year.

Monday, 14 November 2016

2017 - The Quest For Single Figures

Let's start at the beginning and be totally honest. My 2016 golf season had such high hopes and aspirations. Winter practice had been diligent and the lessons and hard work were coming together and I hoped to hit the ground running and really kick on and make this the year I got to single figures. Then I was rushed into A&E, my health took a distinct turn for the worse, and basically I've gone backwards in a big way. There has been some lingering effects of my illness. My golf has suffered and I've lost ground in a big way. I'm closer to 15 at 13.9 (14) than 9, having started the year with the handicap at 12 and nicely set to move lower. It hasn't been a very good season.

Fear not, my appetite has not diminished and if anything I'm more certain, more dogmatic in my ability to turn things around and get things moving in the right direction. However even I'm realistic enough to understand that going from 15 to 9 isn't going to happen in one hit or one season. I need to tackle it in stages and the first priority has to get back to my 2016 starting point.

As you may be aware, especially if you are a regular reader (and I thank you for that) I like a statistic. However one thing I've been remiss at doing is keeping a track of my practice sessions. I haven't really got a handle on what I've worked on and whether I'm making forward progress. As you will be aware, I was lucky enough to recently play with Rick Shiels and Peter Finch, two professionals who have their own goal, their Quest for the Open, trying to make it to the 2017 British Open and who have used their youtube channels to plot their progress. Check out my last link (Golf Monthly Forum Help For Heroes Charity Day) for the links to their channels. I was able to pick their brains as we played. I've come up with my own practice plan for the coming winter. More importantly I am going to be far more circumspect and chart my progress, as they've been doing, and see how each area, hopefully improves as we finish 2016 and move onwards to a fresh season in 2017. Hopefully my health issues are almost fully behind me and I should be fighting fit for the new season.

I've not done too much practice work recently but I've started to record my details Winter Practice Diary, Its early days and I'm just getting into it. I had a practice session last weekend at a local range on a very cold day, with a bitter north wind blowing into my bay along with heavy drizzle. I wasn't swing well and so only started my statistics by recording ten drives, trying to hit it between two targets representing an imaginary fairway and trying to hit a green on the range. Usually, from the bay I regularly use, it's about 105 yards and a smooth pitching wedge. In the conditions, it was a full nine iron and although I've called it the "100 yard target", it was actually playing more like 110 yards.

Today (Sunday 13th November) I had more time. Conditions were more favourable and I decided to embark on a putting challenge. It was inspired by a Peter Finch video where he has replicated a putting drill used (apparently) by Jordan Spieth. It's basically 100 balls x 10 different distances. That's a thousand putts! Now as a dedicated (some would say fanatical) worker on my game, that's too rich even for me. Even Peter Finch seemed to find it too much Peter Finch - Jordan Spieth Putting Challenge so as a compromise, I've filtered mine down to a relative bite size chunk and opted for 20 balls per distance. That's still 200 putts per session. That's more putts than I'd normally do in a session but now I have something more structured to work with. It took me two hours to complete the drill. To be honest I did find my concentration wane, especially on the twenty and thirty foot stations, and again on my final session at the ten foot station, where I think fatigue was definitely setting in.

The Royal Ascot Golf Club - my base for some intense putting practice (in not such nice conditions as these
I've managed to get some initial numbers. I was reasonably pleased with my three foot conversion rate, but there was then a big spike downwards, especially at five feet and seven feet. As I moved outwards I expected my numbers to drop. I was pleased to actually make at least one from twenty and thirty feet. The putting green at Royal Ascot has a severe tier through the middle and is relatively narrow and so I was forced to only have two stations at the longer distances (I had been using five per distance before that, two balls per station, so a group of ten putts per rotation times two - clear????) and I was forced to putt down and across the slope making it a harder putt to read and judge.

Without wanting to spoil the outcome of the Peter Finch clip too much (and it's worth a look if only to admire his dedication to the task at hand) I had a similar outcome when I moved back into the closer distances (4 feet, 8 feet and 10 feet) to finish. The longer two were better than the original comparable stations (7 feet and 12 feet) and so it clearly has an impact. It's a long drill and one I plan to only do every month or so depending on the state of the green as winter comes. I have other putting drills I will be doing along the way and I hope this is one area I can see quick, significant and long lasting results and is something I can take out onto the course straight away when I play.

Short game is next on the agenda. Pitching and chipping are still woeful. My chipping conversion is a pitiful 13% although my sand saves are a healthy 24%. I'm happy with my bunker play and that will only get better. I invested a lot of time with my pitching, trying to utilise the linear method. There was some definite forward progress. I'm very comfy with how the method sits mentally but I am finding it hard to take the discipline to commit to it out onto the course. I've booked a series of six lessons with Andy Piper at Lavender Park Golf Centre to utilise over the winter so I fear a fresh approach to my short game and a re-assessment is coming. I have a number of of pitching and chipping drills to utilise that I hope will help. By keeping these statistics and comparing them to the ones I keep when I play I should see some upward trends. That's the plan.

The way I see it playing out in my mind is simple. I will play as many qualifiers as the club run over the winter, weather permitting, and fight hard to avoid going up any further to a fifteen handicap. Should that happen, I'll take it on the chin. It doesn't affect the plan. I'm looking for a fast start and getting back to twelve as soon as I can. Under the guidance of Andy Piper I think we can get my game back to where it was ready to attack this year. I'm also aware that the tone of the recent posts hasn't been overly upbeat. I hope that this is the start of something far more positive. It'll be a big ask to get from where I am to where I want to get and so by splitting in half, makes it a more achievable. I want to harness some positive energy over the winter and feel charting my practice progress and seeing that transfer into some decent winter golf is the way forward. It's still a while until we get to 2017 but the hard work has already started.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

The 2017 Golf Monthly Forum Help For Heroes Charity Day

On Monday 24th October, close to eighty golfers descended on Camberley Heath Golf Club in Surrey for the 7th Golf Monthly Forum charity day in aid of Help for Heroes. It has grown rapidly since it's conception and is now without doubt the most eagerly awaited date in the diary for everyone connected with the forum (Golf Monthly Forum).

The day has always been supported by Golf Monthly magazine and once again Mike Harris, the editor, was in attendance with others from the magazine and as always had been generous with his time and supplying some wonderful auctions to be sold off in the post-golf auction.

This charity day was the idea of Rick Garg, He was a forum stalwart, fine golfer and family man and as I've mentioned before he was sadly taken, far too soon, suffering a massive heart attack while playing his home club, Centurion, in Hertfordshire. It left a huge void on the forum and everybody connected wanted to not only pay their respects to him via the day but to raise as much money as possible for a cause so close to him. Along with Rick, his close friend Richard Hart, had been the mainstay of organising this and each of the previous days. With the sad loss of Rick, he needed a new right hand man. Step up Robin Hopkins, who had been connected in the past by arranging some brilliant auction items that had raised lots of money for the charity. He has stepped up, got stuck in and stood shoulder to shoulder with Richard and together made sure no detail was left unattended to make it a perfect day for both the charity and as a fitting send off for Rick. These guys are regular blokes with their own jobs and family life yet each of them has given their spare time tirelessly to make each and every one of these charity days a roaring success.

Rick Garg - Forum legend and the man behind the H4H charity day
This year, I'd placed a bid on the forum auction page to play with two special guests, Rick Shiels and Peter Finch. Both are Golf Monthly top 25 coaches and both have a massive social media presence, especially on You Tube and Facebook as entertaining and innovative golf professionals using the internet to bring tips, advice, reviews and features to the general golfing public.

Rick Shiels Rick Shiels Facebook page - Rick Shiels YouTube page

Peter Finch - Peter Finch Facebook page - Peter Finch You Tube page

There were rumours they were going to film our exploits for one of their vlogs but even without this, it was a chance to watch two fun, sociable professionals close up. Both are trying desperately to qualify for the 2017 British Open and both are doing Quest for the Open videos on their You Tube channels and both channels are well worth a look.

The rumours of filming were true, although there were some technical issues at times. Peter Finch has recorded it as part of a bigger piece and so if you want to see four hours condensed into four minutes please look here Camberley Heath Golf Monthly Forum Day but be warned, some of it isn't pretty.

The day dawned cloudy but there was no rain forecast which was a big improvement on last year's event at West Hill which was played in an absolute deluge that tested both the diligence of those playing and the drainage capabilities of the course to the maximum. This time it was set fair, dry, if a tad chilly. Perfect Autumnal golfing weather

The 1st hole at Camberley Heath
It was a shotgun start and we were off from the 17th hole, a dog leg par four measuring 417 yards off the yellow tees. The Camberley Heath Golf Club website describes it:

"A good drive down the left is required to accommodate the left to right sloping fairway and give you a view of the green. Avoiding the large bunker on the right, a low approach is favourable as ball pitched short will find the green"

The 17th at Camberley Heath
My opening drive was a nervy affair, which I am putting firmly down to the camera being on me and being in the presence of both Rick and Peter, (plus another four ball waiting to tee off after us). It faded, ok, sliced right towards the trees level with the bunker but as luck would have it, was spat out and landed on the cart path giving me a shot around the dog leg. One piece of good luck was swiftly offset by some bad as the recovery shots bounced right off the sloping contours, kicked right off the path into some deep heather. A pitch out, three nervous stabs and I'd posted an opening double bogey for a single point.

It took until my third hole (the second on the course) which is a glorious par three, played uphill to a three tiered green to finally play a good shot and look like a golfer. The flag was situated on the top tier, back left as you look at the picture below. Playing a fraction over 140 yards, I clubbed up to a five iron and struck it well. It pitched on the second level, thought about holding on, and then rolled all the way back to the front right of the green leaving a horribly long putt of some 40 feet up two levels. In the end I did well to get it to within six feet and managed to somehow convert the par putt.

The 2nd hole - a delightfully short par 3 that can give a golfer many problems - length isn't everything
 From there on, it was a case of some good, some bad until we came to the sixth hole, another gem, a short par four of just 271 yards. I found the first left hand bunker off the tee and faced a bunker shot over the heather covered bank to a flag tucked away back left. I hit a wedge. It was a peach to three foot that drew a round of applause from both professionals and a nod of encouragement from Steve, my fellow Golf Monthly Forum Member making up the four ball. Peter Finch, my partner made his birdie and I followed him in.

The 6th hole - all aboard the birdie train
As you can see below, having come off back to back birdies, my partner was in fine form and despite feeling terrible with a bug, was playing some wonderful golf. He was terrific company, and both Peter and Rick were very open with how amazed they were with the way their Youtube channels have grown and grown, the huge opportunities this has generated for them, their "Quest for the Open" bid (check their specific videos charting progress to date) and their new teaching facility Quest Golf nearly Burnley in Lancashire and how they hope to build their reputation as teaching professional in this innovative new location.


I played the front nine of Camberley Heath one under handicap to go out in 19 points and was chugging along nicely. I'd made double at both the seventeenth and eighteenth meaning I was still chasing a net birdie to get back to an even keel. It wasn't to be. I seemed to find many bunkers around the greens and although my sand play was in fine fettle I was squandering chances. I made a good birdie at my penultimate hole, the fifteenth, hitting a fine drive and pitching to two feet from 87 yards for a simple tap in three. Unfortunately it wasn't a shot hole and by that time I was a couple adrift of where I needed to be. In truth I made a real mess of our last hole. The back nine had been tough for me and I scored 32 points in total to finish mid-table in 28th place.

After all the golf was done, we were treated to a great meal before perhaps the highlight of the day, the charity auction. This is hugely supported by many of the manufacturers, Golf Monthly, and by the forum members who generously arrange games at many prestigious courses up and down the country. It makes a substantial amount towards the overall total raised. This year, with money still coming in for the auction bids sold, the day itself has already raised over £12,000 for the Help For Heroes Charity.

There was one final award on the day. A special RickG award given to someone that had supported the event. It was carved from oak, based on a photo of Rick Garg and went to a magnificent lady called Sandy Catford who is a driving force at Go Kart the makers of a British built golf trolley http://www.gokart.co.uk/ She has often been the only lady playing on this day, a rose amongst so many thorns, and she and her company have been tireless supporters from the beginning. It was a complete shock to Sandy, who did well to fight back tears, but in her acceptance speech, she summed Rick and the nature of the man up perfectly. "What a bloody legend." A fantastic sculpture, and the worthiest of winners.

The RickG award, deservedly awarded to Sandy Catford of Go-Kart
We were privileged to be joined by several golfers from the Help For Heroes Battle Back scheme. These men had suffered some horrific injuries on active duties. The Battle Back (BB) scheme was set up with some key aims and is laid out on the Help For Heroes website (Battle Back Golf)

There will be some more pictures of the day courtesy of Golf Monthly and once they are published I'll provide a link. This day continues to grow year on year and it is a fantastic cause, and should this blog or the cause itself entice you to make a contribution you can do so here
www.justgiving.com/GolfMonthlyForumHFH2016

The Golf Monthly Forum itself is a fantastic melting point to discuss all things golf and non-golf related and if you're interested in getting involved and playing in next year's event, it is the place you need to be to be able to sign up. Join up, get involved and I'll see you next year to raise even more money for a great charity.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

The Darkest Hour

It is said, (according to the English theologian and historian Thomas Fuller) that the darkest hour is just before the dawn. He could well have been describing my golf. My last post was a sombre one (http://threeoffthetee.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/a-sombre-post.html) for many different reasons but one of those was failing to be three figures for a medal round.

Since then, and I can't believe I've left you floundering without an update for nearly a month, my stop, start season continues to be exactly that. I've not managed to string regular games together and my weekends have been punctuated by life, the universe and everything getting in the way. I've put some hard work in on my short game, particularly the pitching and bunkers which I've been happy with. However getting out on the course and putting that into action has been tricky.

I had struggled to find any semblance of a golf swing in the days after my medal meltdown and it was inevitable that I sought professional advice and booked a lesson with Andrew Piper at Lavender Park, He's been great when my swing has gone AWOL and while the handicap may not reflect the progress our lessons are making, bit by bit, the swing is becoming more compact and with less moving parts. As I've said here and before, everything that has gone before in 2016 has made it a difficult golfing year, and one where I've reluctantly been forced to put Homer's Odyssey and the pursuit of single figures in dry dock for the year.

The prognosis from Andrew was reassuring. As so many of my issues have been, it was primarily set up based and again stemmed from a poor posture. I've been working hard on standing tall. However in doing so, my weight had moved forward to the toes and this made the plane very upright. That would explain the weak fades and perceived loss of distance. In turn, my base was very flimsy and my left knee was regularly collapsing inwards (Elvis legs as he called it). We simply firmed the base up, with more knee bend and the weight far more on the balls of the feet and not the toes.

Allied to this, my tempo (and we've spoken about this before dear reader) was quick and the take-away in particular was a quick jerky movement. Slowing it down and making sure everything, especially in the first two feet were connected, paid dividends. It was compact, no moving parts and long and straight.

I did have a chance to put it into practice in a club match against Oxford City Golf Club. As the format is four ball better ball I had a wing man, well a poor soul to carry me. My game wasn't great, but I had a great partner, Keith Feesey off 10, who did a lot of the work. I did loiter with intent and came in from time to time and we ran out easy winners. However it didn't mask the fact that my own game was still a long way off the mark.

I've been working hard though dear reader. All my long game focus has been on a firm base, good posture and not letting the left knee collapse. In practice, when it has been good, it's everything I'd want my game to be but I can't do it all the time. Last weekend was a rare moment when I was able to play both days. Saturday was the usual roll up and Sunday would be the monthly stableford. I'd been neglecting the short game, and was prepared for the putter to blow cold, and my chipping and pitching to be patchy. In my mind, this was about testing the long game where it counts.

There was a large number in the roll up so we started on the tenth, a 371 yard par four that dog legs right to left. There are some trees to the left of the hole you can take on and it makes the hole shorter but normally the line is on the dead tree in the distance. I hit a peach, a soft draw, in the middle of the fairway. From 138 yards I pulled a seven iron, twenty yards left onto the eleventh tee, It would set a pattern

The view from the tenth tee
I hit another great drive on the 12th, the hardest hole on the course, and crunched a five iron to the heart of the green for a par. And then the wheels fell off, followed by the exhaust and the axle. I was struggling and felt very trapped on the down swing and was losing a lot of shots short and right. I did make a rare birdie at the tough third hole but my back nine (the front on the course) crumbled away.

Regular readers will know I try and find a positive spin but while there was some good shots and the good ones were definitely better, I was definitely heading towards that darkest hour, especially with the stableford to come.

I started well. I hit a good shot just short of the firsts, chipped to two feet and holed out for par. A green in regulation at the next for a par, a net par, and a par at the fourth and through the tough opening stretch two under handicap. Another par at the fifth and that was three under handicap. It should have been better as my pitch from 84 yards to three feet was exquisite. My putt was tentative. Calm, collected, in a great tempo and right on it.

And then we reached the sixth........that bloody sixth hole. How many times has this hole killed promising rounds? How can a 178 yard par three be so difficult? How can a hole get so far into my head? Here I was, flying and all that hard work beginning to pay off. and having taken a four iron and now getting a shot (SI 14) I figured I could be short, chip on and two putt. It went straight left, with a bit of left. A huge pull, lost ball and pressure. My third shot off the tee was awful too. No points.

I bounced back. Fairway off the tee, a cracking shot too and a hybrid, not quite such a thing of beauty, onto the green. Despite the trauma of the sixth hole, I was out in nineteen points. It was going terribly well. The tenth was kind to me off the tee and although my iron came up short, I made another up and down. I hit the green on the par three eleventh and another par safely snaffled away. Back to three under my handicap.

And then dear reader. And then. How dark is that final hour before the dawn. Pitch black in my case. I pulled my tee shot left. I hit great, just left. Penalty drop, mind scrambled and another hole without troubling the scorer. On the next, another par three, I pulled my tee shot again. This was worse than the one on the sixth. It sailed towards the twelfth hole but was never seen again. From three under handicap, I was now one over. Our fourteenth is another dog leg, a shot hole and a chance to steady the ship. Instead it was left off the tee gain into deep cabbage. It was found but the only option was another penalty and I went back in line with the flag onto the fifteenth. A good recovery, a good pitch and a point scored. I was shipping water.

The tempo was getting quicker and quicker. Too many thoughts were entering my head and it was becoming harder and harder to find that ideal posture that had seemed so available on the first eleven holes. It did briefly reappear on the penultimate hole where a good three wood found the back of the green at the 218 yard hole but left a fiendish putt across a huge slope. I made two excellent putts for par. My last drive of the day was good. I nudged it forward with a five wood on the par five. and had 149 yards. I took a five iron into a stiffening breeze. You don't have to be mind reader to know which direction this took. Left. Huge left. So left in fact it was forty yards left of the green nestling in the fairway bunker on the ninth. A miserable double bogey to close the round.

I came back in a measly thirteen points to go with my nineteen points going out and thirty two in total. Another missed buffer zone, another 0.1 back on the handicap (now 13.7) and eleventh place in division two. When the results were published, 36 was all that was needed to win and I was in the box seat to do that. Where did it all go wrong?

I feel a little lost in truth. I was making a fine score without necessarily hitting every shot perfectly. It's what I'd sought for so many rounds, the ability to make a score. Some of my shots especially on the first five holes were what I'd worked so hard since my lesson with Andrew Piper. Leaving aside the nightmare that has become the sixth hole, everything was going well. It is in there and that's the most annoying thing. There was no hint of the left shots to come and to be honest I'm not sure what caused it. Was it tempo? Did I get ahead of myself? Did my technique let me down?

I hit 50% of fairways (6/12) and 33% of greens in regulation (6/18) and 33 putts and so there was a lot to be pleased about. There's annoyance that it was so close and that I was still only four points away from contesting. I spoke earlier about trying to find the positive side of things. The swing is in there and it's working in fits and starts. That's my golf year in a nutshell. There are still some gremlins in the works and to be honest, my mind is already on thinking towards working with Andrew Piper over the winter. Having played relatively badly the day before it was good to see that it didn't affect me. The short game worked well. That's pleasing. The putter is still hot and cold but I've neglected the necessary work to ensure I'm holing out regularly,

So where does that leave me? I'm pleased to say the darkest hour has passed and there golfing dawn is ahead, hopefully bright and sunny. I've a long way to go, further than when I started the 2016 season, towards single figures or even returning to my starting point of 12. On the downside, this weekend is another one bereft of playing so I'm still struggling to get any consistent playing. That I feel is my biggest issue. I'm simply not getting the game time on the course to work through the stuff I'm doing in practice. The swing is in there. The stableford shows that. I just need to produce it for a full round. That's not the first time I've written those words.

All in all, a far better post than the last offering I presented. It's coming, too little too late for 2016 but it's coming. I want a strong winter of consolidation with Andrew Piper, making the swing as simple and more importantly, consistent as possible. I will try and play as much as I can over the winter, weather and health permitting and will endeavour to make some forward progress before the year is out. I've a final hurrah at the end of October with the Golf Monthly Forum Help 4 Heroes day at Camberley Heath. You will recall in my last post that one of the forum stalwarts and the driving force behind these days since they started, was cruelly taken, suffering a massive heart attack. Everyone playing is determined to do Rick Garg proud and make it a wonderful and fitting tribute and I want my game to be spot on and to play well. It's not what the day is about in truth but I want to be able to play well in my last big golfing day of the year. That gives me a month to get everything firing on all cylinders. Plenty of time surely? What can possibly go wrong?

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

A Sombre Post

This post is not a happy one on a number of levels. From a golfing perspective, it was Longhurst Cup weekend at Royal Ascot Golf Club. It's a stroke competition played over the three days of the bank holiday and competitors can choose which two of the three days they wish to play on. The course is looking as good as it has done since it opened, and the new equipment our green staff now have at their disposal, is already paying dividends. As an ex winner of this event, it has fond memories for me and I was hoping this was going to finally kick start my season.

Sadly, my two rounds were far from what I'd hoped for. There was some good stuff in there, especially in the first round. It ended up as a net 75 (+5) but it could have been so much better, especially with two triple bogey's on the fourteenth and fifteenth holes. I had managed a good run from the second to the fourth, playing those in one under gross and played the eleventh to the thirteenth in one over gross. However I still struggled to find any level of consistency for the whole round, a problem that has been with me now for far too long and one I seem incapable of solving.

On the face of it my opening effort wasn't an out and out disaster. However, if round one was a story of some good blighted by some bad golf, my second round was a tale of if it could go wrong it would. I opened up double bogey, double bogey and then racked up a snowman (8) on the par four fourth, pulling my approach left, catching the down slope of the green and running out of bounds. The putter was stone cold, three putting three of the first six greens. My outward score had used my handicap allowance and then some.

The back nine was a struggle, hard to keep any enthusiasm and interest. It was as poor as the front nine. The funny thing was, I still felt as though the game was close. Yes I know that sounds like optimism, perhaps self-delusion, on a grand scale but it's how it felt. Despite this though, sombre point number one was the fact that for the first time in a long time I failed to break three figures (gross 101, net 88). It's strange but I hit more greens in regulation than of late and still managed 33% of sand saves.

It wasn't anything near what I wanted although I felt my first round was close. Very close. I couldn't put my finger on what happened yesterday. Of course I wasn't happy with my score. It's embarrassing but what can you do? You just have to keep working on the right things, keep trusting yourself and try and find a way to eradicate the car crash holes.

Of course that brings me to sombre point number two. With both rounds over handicap and both resulting in 0.1 increases, my handicap has teetered over to 13.5 or 14 in old money. That's the highest handicap mark for many, many years and is a million miles away from my ultimate goal of single figures. I've banged on about my health issues in 2016. It's definitely contributed and I am still a way away from being fully fit although the longer term prognosis for the rest of the year and beyond is far more promising and so I'm helping to be back to myself in 2017 and really can't use that as the real reason. It certainly put the pursuit of single figures on hold but I am simply failing to put consistent scores together on a regular basis. It's as simple as that. I've not pursued lesson after lesson, certainly on the full swing, and feel the short game stuff is beginning to make a difference. So where does that leave me?

I look at other members, and see some making scores around the handicap buffer zone week in, week out, and look at what they do compared to me and it's purely down to keeping it in play all the time. None have stellar short games, hit it miles or drain putt after putt. They simply don't have the car crash holes I seem to produce every round. How does that happen and what am I doing wrong?

At the end of the day though does it really matter? As much as I love this game, as much as it infuriates, and as much as I hate the way I don't seem to make any progress for the effort I put in, it has all been put into sharp perspective recently. Many of you will be aware I'm a fervent member of the Golf Monthly Forum (Golf Monthly Forum). As part of this, there is an annual charity event in aid of Help for Heroes, which has been run since its conception by one of the nicest guys you could ever choose to meet. With much sadness, the forum found out recently that he had suffered a massive heart attack playing his home course, Centurion, and despite the best efforts of the medical services passed away. Many have put into words far more eloquently than I ever could, some moving tributes (Rick Garg tributes).

However it brings home in very sharp terms how fleeting this all is. Above all he was a husband and father. Other than that for many he was the nicest person you could ever share a drink or game of golf with, with a wicked sense of fun and a permanent smile and he simply brightened up a room when he entered, although that may have something to do with his own unique (and colourful) golfing dress sense. Whether you shoot a personal best or like me, have a three figure round and a handicap spiralling upwards, it really doesn't matter. The next time your ball heads out of bounds or you win a few quid off your mates at the weekend just smile and enjoy playing this great game. He'll be sadly missed but never forgotten. RIP Rick Garg.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Gary Smith Linear Method - An Update

It has been about six weeks since I had a lesson with Gary Smith, a Golf Monthly top 25 coach and the inventor of the "Linear Method" for the short game. It's a rather unique (certainly in terms of set up) method, which is intended to utilise the bounce of the club in pitching, chipping and bunker shots and therefore give the player a bigger margin of error (Gary Smith - Linear Method lesson)

I have to say it's been a bumpy journey in the preceding few weeks and must confess that with pitching in particular I have dabbled with a more orthodox approach, despite nailing my colours firmly to the "Linear" mast. There has also been a problem with taking what I've worked on, both linear and conventional, onto the course, although that will undoubtedly be as a result of filling my head with too may thoughts and techniques, falling between two stools and not committing to the shot.

I've been playing some good golf recently although the handicap continues to steadily rise. This year has been far from a classic. I've struggled with a number of health issues, fortunately which are now getting better, and I'm still having issues with the killer holes and racking up big numbers. However, the one area I have enjoyed and feel I've made forward steps is in the short game. Despite, falling between two stools at times as per the previous paragraph, it has started to feel more natural using the linear method. The time has come to put aside other methods and embrace the linear method. Yes, I know I've said this before but sometimes you have to go backwards to go forward again. I have gotten back to working hard on the technique and have been filming my progress.

Forty yard pitch - down the line  (left hand flag)


Forty yard pitch - face on


I have a feeling the head position is a little low but other than that the strike was as I'd want it. Of course this was pitching to a flag on a hard practice ground and not a green and so the ball didn't always react or behave on landing but this was more a session to get the method working properly again, especially the feeling of the right hand feeding under and adding the loft.

I then moved back a further fifteen yards and so this pitch (still to the left hand flag) was from approximately fifty five yards and therefore requires a bigger body rotation although otherwise everything remains constant.

Fifty five yard pitch - face on


Fifty five yard pitch - down the line (left hand flag)

As mentioned, I've been using the linear method from bunkers and this has been a considerable success. My sand saves (getting up and down from a green side bunker) is 33% in the last month. I find it is far easier to feed the club under the ball and pop it out. By using the bounce I have a bigger margin of error and have been able to hit as far as 4-5 inches behind the ball and still get it out and on the green although ideally I'd be looking for an area more 2-3 inches from the ball and have worked hard on putting a line in the sand and simple trying to hit that every time.

I've filmed a simple ten yard bunker shot. As you can see, the ball flies out nicely and the divots I am taking are long and shallow. Ideal for this type of shot

Ten yard bunker shot - down the line (yellow flag)


Ten yard bunker shot - face on


I am planning to work hard on the chipping again with this method and will add some footage when I have it.

The linear method definitely works and it sits properly in my head and it's something I can buy into totally. I need to stop flipping and keep working on it. The issue I have is taking it on the course and there have been trust issues, especially on those short fiddly ones, either over an obstacle or when there's only a few yards to go. It will come.

I hope this gives you a flavour for what the linear method is all about and how it's starting to come together and finally beginning to bleed into my game. I will be following up with Gary Smith at some point, probably over the winter as part of an ongoing programme on my short game. It's still my weakest area in general, although if I can get my chipping working as well as my bunker play I'll be in short game heaven. It's a work in progress still and once I get this tough nut cracked, it's going to have a huge impact on my scoring, especially as I am still missing too many greens in regulation (another area of concern) and on days that I'm not striking it as nicely as I'd liked.

It does look unconventional. I have had all the comments you can think of regarding the posture in particular, but when it works, and it's doing so more often, I simply smile politely and point to the ball nestling close to the hole.

It isn't a method for everyone but Gary Smith is convinced it can help many golfers (he claims up to 98% of students have improved). Here is a link for him to show you how to do it properly (Gary Smith pitching). If you are struggling, it may be worth a look. The bounce can definitely be your friend

I hope you've enjoyed seeing my progress to date and I'll keep you posted with how I'm getting on, especially with how it's developing on the course and into my game. If, in the meantime you'd like to make a comment on what you've seen, or even ask a question about the linear method, please feel free to post a comment. It is working. It will get better. I can pitch, chip and play bunker shots. I will be a short game guru.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Club Championship Weekend - Round Two - Yang

What a difference a day makes. Five words that accurately sum up the second round of club championship weekend at Royal Ascot. The opening round had seen your narrator in a cool, calm place, in warm up and especially on the course. There were still some poor holes (isn't there always) but I'd let these sweep over me. Mistakes were forgotten and by and large I was extremely happy with how I'd played on one of the warmest days of the year.

However, sitting out in the heat of the afternoon sun enjoying a few cold ones and then adjourning to the in-laws and spending several hours entertaining my niece and nephews who are over from San Diego for the summer wasn't clever. I got home and knew I'd been out in the sun and was already feeling the effects.

Having had a good first round and sitting comfortably in sixth place, I was out towards the end of the field in net score order and just in front of the final twelve in the filed in contention for the gross prize. I work up feeling tired and listless and definitely paying the price for my exposure to the sun. I usually get to the club about ninety minutes before my tee tine, prepare slowly before going out to warm up and hit a few chips and putts. On the practice ground I couldn't find a spark. I was bored, dis-interested, lacked timing and cohesion and to be honest the warm up wasn't going as planned and I was getting edgy.

Walking onto the first tee, I wasn't feeling it. Where my opening drive twenty four or so hours before had found the green, this was a weak push straight right towards the line of trees that protrude some forty yards right as you can see below

The view from the first tee - an intimidating 229 yard opener
While I wasn't happy with the opening shot, we all assumed it hard at least got through or over the trees and shouldn't too bad. How wrong we were. Clearly it had scurried through, just where the trees rise in the middle of the picture, and had stopped and then rolled back down the bank the trees are perched on and was nestled firmly against the trunk of one of the trees. I had no shot, no option. I couldn't even get into it to make an attempt and so already at this early juncture in the piece I was taking a penalty drop. I salvaged a five (double bogey) but it had done nothing to help and my mind was definitely not on the task at hand.

I found the safety of the fairway at the next and then pushed a five wood perilously towards the out of bounds that runs the length of the hole. On the plus side it was in play. On the down side I had an overhanging branch ten yards in front, a bunker short, some forty yards from the green that took out the low running shot and a lush lie play from. I elected to hit nine iron from 112 yards and it came out well but missed the green left. I chipped and two putted for net par but I was making this hard.

The pattern had been established. Fairway at the next, missed green, this time into sand and although the recovery was good it was a net par when better was there for the taking. I went left off the next, and left on my approach but a fine chip and run to six feet and a putt made a par. Was this the catalyst? I was only a shot back off my handicap and so despite everything I wasn't too far off where I needed to be.

If you've read part one (Club Championship Round One) you will be aware that the fifth had caused issues when I found the bunker right of the green and then thinned the bunker shot miles too far and into deep ferns and a lost ball. What a difference a day makes. I was safely on the green in regulation this time. Granted I was forty feet away and had two tiers to negotiate but what could happen. Walking off some five minutes later having taken four, yes four putts it was another double bogey.

I had a head full of chocolate frogs coming to the sixth. It's a hole that historically I've struggle with. I try not to carry any baggage with me but this 178 yard par three just gets inside me. It doesn't suit my eye in any way and I will always take a bogey four and move on. A par always feel like a half shot gained for me. In truth, having pulled a hybrid, I simply put an atrocious swing on it and sent it sharp right out of bounds. Reloading I hit it better but sliced it and it failed to clear the trees right and suddenly I'm out of bounds again and five off the tee. Switching to a four iron. I simply stood there and swung. Ugly, quick and so many moving parts and feeling my face flushed with embarrassment I hit it forward short left. I chipped it up an two putted for a snowman (8) and a five over par score. That was my day done. My head was a mess. I had no swing, no timing and my head was anywhere but on the course. I threw another double in at the next, a bogey at the eighth and did finally manage a par at the ninth having found fairway and green in regulation. All in all my front nine was 49 shots (+14) and all my handicap allowance had been swallowed. It was a back nine simply for pride.

I had to swallow a large chunk of that at the tenth. Right off the tee and left in my approach into sand, I then repeated the error from day one and thinned a sand shot miles over the green. Given the length of grass, lack of options even if by some miracle I'd found it and the fact I was mentally shot, I took a penalty drop played a far better shot and walked off with a seven (+3).

The golfing gods have a macabre way of mocking the struggling golfer and so it was no surprise my tee shot at the par three eleventh would find sand. It's one of the deeper bunkers on the course but I played an exquisite recovery to three feet and saved par. My driving was the only thing holding together and I found the short grass again. I made bogey, net par but at least I had hit the ball better momentarily. In fact I started to look like a golfer. Par on the 186 yard par three, having found the green off the tee and the fairway at the next which should have led to par but for a poor second, and the card looked a little smarter. It was too little too late of course.

On the fifteenth I found the fairway and my second was in prime position about eighty yards short. Nothing to worry about. And then the idiot golfer returned. I chunked my approach and came up short, chipped on and walked off with another bogey from nowhere. I managed a par at the seventeenth thanks to an up and down and managed to hit the last in regulation. Given the ragged nature of my round it was no surprise when I then three putted. I was back in 43 shots. All in all it was 92 (net 79 +9). Another 0.1 back on the handicap and I went tumbling down the leader board to finally finish 27th place in the net event.

Club Championship Statistics - Round 2

Definitely not my finest moment on a golf course. In my defence, I wasn't feeling it and was definitely off colour. It started poorly and never got any better. The funny thing is as you can see from the statistics is that off the tee I was great. It hit 83% (8/10) in regulation and even my greens in regulation was better than normal at 22% and equates to my handicap. Sand saves was 33% (1/3). Despite that nightmare four putt on the fifth and the obligatory three putt at the last I only had thirty six putts in total which wasn't a disaster. Not as good as I'm use to but still two putts per round. What it does show, was that when it goes wrong, it goes wrong in grand fashion and is still something I need to eradicate from my game.

It wasn't my year but I'd done well in round one and need to simply park the second day and move on. There was enough out there to keep me interested and happy. I am still working hard on my short game and feel that sooner or later the improvements I'm seeing in practice will translate to saved shots on the course. My driving was as good as it could be. I need to continue to find a level of consistency in that area. From there I need to find more greens. Of course I'm disappointed and the effects of the sun the day before didn't help.

I'm not a million miles away from where I want to be. There are still health issues that are simmering below the surface which aren't helping and yes, the mockers will point to the ever increasing handicap, but while the pursuit of single figures remains parked until I get the clear health bill, I am actually encouraged, nay enthused still. In practice I am hitting it well. I just can't take it to the course and that's an area I need to look at and something Andy Piper and I will work on as part of a winter programme to strip away the imperfections layer by layer.

Definitely a ying/yang weekend and a competition of two halves. Keep the good stuff and find a way to make a score, eradicating the rubbish. Get the head right, even if I'm not feeling it. Learn to make a score. All stuff to keep working on. As you'd have gathered I love the journey and I'm not going to stop. I'm still going to get to where I want to go.