Thursday, 11 February 2016

Not Pitch Perfect

As regular readers will be acutely aware I've been working hard on my short game over the winter particularly the pitching. To be honest conditions have been atrocious for golf at weekends and the course has been suffering and so I don't feel I've missed out by not playing. I've been struggling between two methods, the linear and a more traditional method, the latter recently feeling as though it's more consistent and results beginning to back this up. Yes, there is still a degree of inconsistency in the strike at times and yes, there are still the odd socket rockets in the equation, but all in all I've been happy that my pitching is moving forward.

About eighteen months back, I'd booked a series of short game lessons at Pachesham Golf Centre, near Leatherhead in Surrey. I'd forgotten about them and never finished the block of lessons but recently had an email from the head professional Stuart Martin to inform me that the pro I was using had left but they were going to honour the 2 x one hour lessons left. It was a superb gesture especially as the expiry date had long since passed.

The pitching area, with targets ranging from 20-70 yards
The centre has fantastic short game facilities including a seventy yard pitching area, decent practice bunker, and a dedicated chipping area to a maintained green. Add in a putting green (currently being refurbished) and a large range with good quality balls and mats and it's one of the best practice facilities I know. It's just a shame it's a forty five minute drive to get there.

The Pachesham Golf Centre putting green with the chipping area behind

Having not hit any balls at all for a week, I decided to start off proceedings by working through the bag on the range. I was pleased with how well I was striking it. I adjourned to the pitching area. In parts, it was as good as it had been over the last few months but again lacked consistency. I adjourned for lunch before the lesson. I'd not me Stuart before (Stuart Martin profile) and we wandered out to hit some balls off the grass. The first was fine, the second a little heavy, then I chucked a couple of shanks in, a fat, then a thin and then several decent ones as he filmed from behind and the side. I did say I was inconsistent and at least he saw the whole range of my short game shots. As he finished getting data together the heavens opened and we sought sanctuary in a teaching bay to look at the laptop and see the faults.

In essence the problems were simple and probably caused by a feel v real issue. My hands at address were now too far forward and while the initial takeaway wasn't too bad from the ball to halfway back, it then became very steep and very narrow. In short I had no room to swing back down without creating some and moving around.

The fix was to make the swing much shallower. I found it difficult to implement the first par of the change which was to get club on a better plane. I'd been struggling in earlier short game lessons in 2015 with taking it too far inside. This move felt as though I was going back down that road. However Stuart filmed some and showed me side by side with where it had been. He wanted the right elbow to be tucked in more as it had a tendency to fly. By making the turn better, with less wrist action, and compact, it was in a better place to simply make a turn and pull the club through keeping the wrist angle through impact and into the finish. Shallower, right elbow in, turn, and keep don't cup the wrists through impact and into the finish. That was the simple version I had in my head.

It was difficult to do, but after a while the strike improved and I could feel when I'd regressed back into something steeper or the wrists had become over active. It was good to see some final footage of the club going back on a great plane back and through. Once the lesson ended I went back to the range and a bay with a mirror behind. That let me monitor the swing in slow motion from behind and turning to face it front on, to make sure my address position was now correct with the shaft only just ahead of the ball. It was so much better. To finish I went back to the short game area to work hit to lots of different yardages and get a feel for distance. So much more consistency than anything I'd managed over the winter working alone for the most part.

I have my other lesson next weekend and plan to get there early and work hard on my pitching and really drill this in. I have a much clearer picture in my mind over the ball about where the club is going, and can feel that much better, especially with the elbow tucking in. The next lesson is all about the chipping area. While I'm proficient with the linear method in this department, I'm keen to keep it simple and not have a multitude of techniques and so embrace something more orthodox.

I felt I'd made progress once I decided on one pitching method. Clearly I wasn't as pitch perfect as I thought but I am now in a strong position to move my short game forward once again. Add in a refined and improved chipping technique after my next lesson and my winter work to improve my up and down statistics is going to hold me in great stead once the season starts in earnest. I need to then look at my GIR (greens in regulation) number as I only hit a paltry 19% last season. No-one with single figure aspirations can get there with that number, no matter how good the short game now is. However, it's one step at a time and for now there's more short game practice to be done.