Thursday, 28 January 2016

Finally Off And Running

At long last, my 2016 competitive season has got under way with the monthly stableford at Royal Ascot Golf Club. Since Christmas the course has suffered from the heavy rain that has fallen, and in the last week or so been reduced to temporary greens due to persistent frost. Id' not played at the club since the start of December.

I hadn't practiced heavily either. I'd had a few range sessions and a refresher lesson with Andy Piper the last weekend. The good news was that the work I had done last year on posture, alignment and more especially tempo all passed the critical gaze of Andy. We tweaked the swing path, primarily how it exits after impact but aside from that there wasn't much to change. The correction was to get the path exiting better and to keep me hitting down on the ball. The change to the flight and the direction was rapid and pleasing. I've had a couple range sessions since and I was hitting it well. The monthly stableford had come at the right time. Or so I thought.

I was partnered with two members I'd not had the pleasure of playing with before. Warm up went well and I was ready. My opening tee shot of the 2016 season was a three wood to the 229 yard par three first hole and I caught it well. Maybe a tad too much right to left if I was being critical but it should have been good enough to find the green. However, it landed, plugged and stopped obligingly next to the pitch mark some fifteen feet short. I hit a reasonable chip to seven feet and had a reasonable chance to make par. My putt finished just past the hole, less than a foot away but I missed it, being far too careless. A double bogey. And so a theme was set. Careless would be the order of the day.

I missed a green at the second, and while I holed a ten footer for par at the third, I managed to miss the green at the fourth from the middle of the fairway and only 114 yards away. Another three putt green meant I didn't score. I went out of bounds at the sixth, a trifle unfortunately, having hit it low and watching it hit a bridge and ricocheting out of bounds. I didn't score at the eighth either and limped out in a miserable fourteen points. I had high hopes but they had been dashed. In my defence, I had actually driven the ball reasonably but the putting in particular had been rusty.

The drive at the tenth was my best of the day. I missed green again, hit a good chip but couldn't save par. And then the wheels came off. I hit a horror tee shot at the par three eleventh, topped a tee shot at the next, something I rarely do and followed that with another horror off the thirteenth. I managed a sublime pitch to six feet and saved a par. At the fourteenth I hit another good drive, and yet again it plugged on landing. No reward for a good shot. With the card already shot, I reached for the three wood from 224 yards and nailed the shot. I was frustrated when it kicked sharp left on landing and found a bunker. Definitely no justice and a three putt again was an inevitable conclusion. I did manage to finish with a par five without finding any short grass until the green and a single putt from twelve feet.

In the end, I managed to amass a measly twenty eight points which was good enough only for nineteenth place in division one and a 0.1 handicap increase taking it to 12.3. The annoying thing was that for the first ten holes, there were some good shots. There was a lot of rustiness in there especially on the greens. I was more annoyed that the swing went AWOL for large parts of the back nine. That's a trait I suffered last season and one I wanted to have put to bed. More work technically and mentally I think. However on the positive side, while conditions weren't easy and my lack of on course play was shown up, I hit some nice shots too. It wasn't a total disaster.

On Sunday I was faced with the option of playing or working on my short game. As we'd had heavy overnight rain I really didn't see the point in playing on already sodden course now made even wetter. I've spoken about my pitching issues for the last few months of last year. I've been torn between the linear method and a more traditional pitching method. I've wanted to utilise the linear approach as that's how I've been chipping but I can't nail it for pitching. Fortunately I have a lesson with Gary Smith, the innovator of the linear method to nail it down. In the meantime I've been working on a more traditional method. As regular readers will know, at times I've struggled with this and the dreaded shanks have manifested.

It's been a real issue. With the course wet, closed or on temp greens I've been investing my time in all things short game. I have been making forward progress with the traditional method, slowly but definitely making progress. However my mind, and therefore no doubt sub-consciously, my technique, is confused between the desire for the linear method and the more conventional method. While the latter is getting results, in practice but not on the course as yet, I'm not wholly comfortable with it. That said I spent two hours working on it yesterday and it was much, much better. Distance control is beginning to develop, the contact, is crisper with the divots much shallower. There were issues at the 50 and 60 yard marks where it was at the top end of my 58 degree sand wedge. It may be because this came at the end of the session and fatigue had crept in, but when I switched to my 52 degree wedge, the dreaded hosels came back and I lost control of the technique. Good but more work to be done. It definitely hadn't transferred to the course, bar my pitch from deep rough at the thirteenth.

From the pitching area I wandered to the practice green. I hadn't worked on my chipping at all in the last month or so. I started with the linear method, something that I am familiar with and which still works for me. Things went well and it was working well. However dear reader I gave myself a conundrum. I reverted to a traditional chipping set up, uplifted by the pitching success and it was good. Eerily good. I chipped as well as I can remember using a normal set up. Now where do I go? In the monthly stableford I was swapping between techniques. I had actually tried to go traditional at the start of the round. A mistake in hindsight having not really worked on it. The results told their own story. As I swapped to the linear method the chipping improved.

My issues remain the same. I need to nail my colours to one particular short game mast, traditional or linear and commit. However with both having plus and minus points at the moment (linear pitching worse than traditional, linear and traditional chipping both working, although traditional the better) I'm confused. Where do I go? Yes I know I'm over thinking it by at least 1000%. That's who I am and contrary to popular belief and these ramblings, I am trying to simplify it on the course.

At the end of the day my season is off and running. It wasn't the start I wanted and the lack of on course golf shone through and showed my inefficiencies. I still think I've a big season ahead of me and that this really could be the season I get close to or reach single figures. Get the short game sorted (one way or another) and hopefully the course will dry out to encourage me to get out and play a lot more. Some say winter golf is good for your game. I simply disagree. Plugged balls, even in the fairway, especially in the rough, compacted bunkers and bare, muddy lies really aren't appealing. I see this period as an opportunity to get the short game ready, my putting improved and use the range to hone the swing. I'm in a happy, if slightly dazed and confused place and happier now my season is finally off and running