Saturday, 26 March 2016

Journey's End - Who Knows?

If you have been reading my recent posts, you'll be aware that I've recently had some medical issues and I write this with a heavy heart. It seems that there are going to be some ongoing issues, in terms of balance and eyesight, at least in the short term. Given this I'm not going to be able to play as much golf as I'd like or practice as hard as I'd want. I'm only going to be able to golf when my health dictates and will be on a very much as and when basis. This means that while I remain totally convinced that there is a single figure golfer in there, trying to break out, I am calling time, short term at least, on Homer's Odyssey and my pursuit to single figures and just trying to get out and play when I can and enjoy the chance to do so without worrying about the effect it has on my handicap. I am assuming this will start to see a steady rise northwards until I get myself fit and healthy again.

However the good news (or bad if you aren't a fan) is this isn't journey's end and I will still be posting on my trials and tribulations, equipment I've tried, and review gadgets and events I've used or attended.

That brings me nicely to the monthly medal last Sunday, which was also a qualifier for the Royal Ascot Cup a matchplay event where the top eight men, qualify to play the top eight women in the knockout event. To be honest, (and always good to get excuses in early) I felt really unwell in my warm up, going dizzy and feeling very light headed. If it wasn't for the fact that the third member of our group didn't show and I felt compelled to go out and mark the card for my playing partner, I'd have withdrawn.

I actually started reasonably well with a net par on the opening two holes before the round began to unravel with a quadruple bogey at the third and a triple at the next, including and ugly four putt. I was struggling with concentration, balance, tempo and co-ordination and felt totally out of sorts. I managed a couple pars before another ugly double bogey at the shortest hole on the course put the skids on any thought of a comeback with the failure to escape from a bunker being the culprit. I then managed to par the tricky 400 yard ninth. It was a case of one step forward and two backwards.

March 2016 Medal Statistics

I actually started the back nine with a degree of form and three net pars, although I didn't find a fairway or green in regulation and I was working flat out to get anything. My ball striking was solid but I seemed to lack any power and my distance was a long way down on normal. Bad shots were weak slices to the right. I didn't know why and couldn't find a remedy. Sadly, by the fourteenth, I was a spent force and back to feeling very dizzy over the ball and struggling. I was resigned to getting my 0.1 back on the handicap taking me to 12.5 and now playing off 13 and to be honest I was just wanted to get round and get home. A run of double, single, double bogey, killed off any waning enthusiasm and even though I hit the green at the 218 yard penultimate hole, a rare feat in recent times even at full fitness, for a par, I topped my tee shot into the hazard in front of the tee at the last, and struggled to a closing triple bogey. The score was an irrelevance really but it was two nines of 47 for a gross 94, nett 82 (+12) and a 17th place finish in division one.

I'm not sure where my golfing future is going to take me. I simply cannot keep playing feeling as bad as I did last weekend and so I will be picking and choosing when I can play depending on how I feel on any particular day. It has put the skids under my chances to chase down single figures in 2016. I've been told the prognosis going forward is positive, but still have a barrage of tests to get through. However, what it has done in a bizarre sort of way is change the game plan totally.

While I've always enjoyed my golf, good bad or indifferent, and certainly enjoyed the hard work and time I've invested trying to improve all aspects, by parking the pursuit of single figures, at least for now, it has opened up the opportunity to simply go out and play, and swing with perhaps more freedom. The handicap is going up. That I'm afraid is an inevitability, although if I have a good day, then with more shots, I could be very, very dangerous. I still plan to practice when I can, but this is going to be restricted to all things short game. No bad thing in itself.

This isn't some woe is me tale, Crap happens to everyone at some point or another and it's how you deal with it that defines how bad you let things get. I'm back playing over the Easter weekend in our annual bogey even at Royal Ascot Golf Club. This is matchplay against the course in essence, and players must play two round over the four day Easter period, but can choose which days they want to play. I've already played my first round on Good Friday. I am still blighted with a lack of distance, especially off the tee and I played very poorly, but managed to cobble a reasonable score of three down to the course. If I can play that badly and still score reasonably, in relative terms. then there has to be hope going forward once I sort the swing issues out. I'm due to play tomorrow (Easter Sunday) but with gale force winds and very heavy rain showers due throughout, it's going to be a round of attrition.

I have no expectations tomorrow or for the 2016 season going onwards. Is it journey's end? Who knows but I don't think so in the longer term. It simply means I need to work even harder to get the shots off and that after this hiatus I am just starting from a higher point. The intent and the belief remains the same, to get down to single figures. In the meantime, I intend to simply play until I get the clean bill of health and then it's pedal to the metal and flat out to make up for lost time. Who knows, this may even be a weight lifted off my shoulders. There have been many, both at my club and on social media, that have said that my goal has become a burden and in fact has held my golf and progress back. They say I try too hard, work on too many things, have to many swing thoughts and generally get in my own way. Well these unforeseen circumstances and the break in trying to get to single figures will see if they were right.

This is far from journey's end but a short term change of focus and direction. I've become acutely aware that health and family come a long way before trying to get better at golf and while I won't let recent events define me, I have to listen to the medical advice and my body. Getting out for any sort of golf or practice is a bonus at the moment so I plan to seize these with renewed vigour and swing freely, enjoy the surroundings and the company and not worry at all about the score. There's a long way to go with Homer's Odyssey and it isn't over by a long way. Have a great Easter and enjoy your golf.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Aimpoint Express

Turn on the TV coverage of any golf tournament across any of the tours and you'll see a bunch of players on the green waving their fingers in the air. Are they checking the wind or sending some weird semaphore signals? No. What they are doing is reading the break in the green using Aimpoint Express.

As a regular reader reader of this humble offering (what do you mean you aren't?) you will know that several years ago I attended an Aimpoint clinic to learn the original chart based method of reading greens (Aimpoint Clinic) which has transformed the way I read greens and being universal has allowed me to get accurate reads even on courses I've never seen before.

However times have changed and so has Aimpoint. What you see on the TV is the latest incarnation of green reading which has taken the time taken to get an accurate read down to a matter of 15-20 seconds and has done away with the necessity to carry the chart with you. Like the graph based system it's accurate and universal to any green and any stimp speed.

My course was at Downshire Golf Centre and the class consisted of Jamie Donaldson, Aimpoint's Senior European Instructor (http://jamiedonaldson.co.uk/) who works with a number of tournament professionals to use and understand the process, Rhys ap Iolo, teaching professional at Downshire, and one other pupil which meant we got a lot of expert one on one tuition. In essence the Express system allows a player to use his feet to gauge the percentage of slope and then relate that to the number of fingers to use in the read. Of course it isn't quite as simple as that and there are differing techniques based on this principal for reads from 1-6 feet, 7-20 feet and over 20 feet. We also learnt how to deal with those annoying double breaking reads too.

Adam Scott looking at another Aimpoint read
Now I know what all the naysayers and doubters will be saying. It's mumbo jumbo and sticking fingers in the air can't possible work. I can't give you the mechanics and science behind it, and if you have any questions I suggest you either a) book a lesson and try it for yourself, b) contact Jamie directly (or a US based teacher at http://www.aimpointgolf.com/findInstructor) or c) google it. The bottom line is simple. The chart worked and Express works equally as well and is much quicker. If it was a fad or rubbish, why would Scott, ladies number one Lydia Ko and a host of others put their chances of winning in jeopardy with something that doesn't work?

The session started with learning to feel how slope changes on a green and getting a personal reference point for gradient ranging from 1-5% and once we practiced making a decision on the percentage on a number of putts on Downshire's undulating practice green, it was time to start with those pesky 1-6 foot putts. We learnt how to make the read and then wandered around the green, making various reads and then more importantly trying to sink the putt. Even moving out to the 5-6 foot range, usually a problem, I was making a good number of these and those that missed were good reads and usually a result of not starting the putt where I aimed. That of course isn't unique to Aimpoint and it doesn't matter how you read a putt, if you can't start the ball on line regularly then you won't make many putts.

There is a different way of taking the read for those mid distance putts which again we learnt and then put into practice trying to make putts. I knew from using the chart that sometimes the amount of break you are being told by the Aimpoint read seems huge and there could be no possible way it was that big a slope. However time and again, we all set the ball out where the read told us and time and again the ball took the break and all scared the hole and left a tap in of a few inches, or dropped. It's wonderful for the confidence to see the ball disappear and you only need a couple of these per round to really make a difference to scores and handicaps.

The longer putts follows the same methodology of using the feet to gauge the percentage of slope but again the way the break is actually read is different and spread over the length of the putt. The expectation of holing anything over 20 feet is low, even for tour professionals and so at my humble mid-handicap level, it's about not three putting and making the second putt as stress free as possible. As slope percentage increased, so does the amount of break and having finally found a vicious side hill putt I gauged at 5% slope I needed Jamie to explain how to read it. I'm not planning on leaving too many of these and in truth, my putt wasn't great but that was down to pace and not the read. Second time around I put the ball next to the hole so the read wasn't the culprit.

Once we had a final round up and a question and answer session to clear any remaining problems it was a case of staying out there and working on green reading and making the putts. Now as I've alluded, while Aimpoint is proven to give repeatable and accurate reads, it still requires the player to make a solid stroke on the putt which relies on solid technique. That comes down to me getting out there and working on my stroke, something that will happen more now Spring is in the air and I am over my recent illness. A good read and a good stroke are a recipe for success. Last season I got my putting average down to 31.71 per round. If I can make this closer to 30 in 2016, I can save valuable shots and hopefully get those crucial handicap cuts.

Aimpoint isn't a fad and will only continue to grown in both the amateur and professional game and the proof of the pudding really is in trying it. Yes, the course could be seen as expensive at £90 but for two hours of tuition and something that you can use on any green it is money well spent, especially when you consider how much of the game is played on the greens. I'm confident the new method will see me in equally good stead as the chart did. I simply haven't played enough golf yet, something that is going to change, but this will really help going forward. Time will tell.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Stuttering False Start

I'm back. I was hoping to get on the course recently and start playing more, putting into practice all the work I'd done, especially on my short game. However, I wasn't expecting a trip to the A&E department, a short stay in hospital and some necessary R&R. Fortunately I'm on the mend but my golf has taken a real knock and there's been precious practice or playing opportunities.

I did manage to get out at Royal Ascot a couple of weeks ago. I was a little nervous about playing, partly as I was desperately rusty and out of touch but also because I still wasn't feeling A1 and totally tickety boo having only just started to recover. On the plus side, I had the usual Saturday morning roll up to get all the rubbish shots out of the system with a monthly stableford lurking on the horizon the day after.

I started well enough with a solid tee shot down the first but then carved one out of bounds at the next. I made par with the second ball but a pattern had been set. A double from nowhere at the third was compounded at the next and then the putter decided to remind me that I've been neglecting my practice and I three putted two consecutive greens. I rallied with a rare par at the par three sixth and then it was back on the double bogey train. I finished the front nine with a massive twelve points.

The back nine started with a continuing mix of double bogeys (and the odd treble) and to be honest by the fourteenth not only was I feeling the effects of my recent medical problems but I'd started to lose the will. I actually thought the ball striking in places wasn't too bad but there were so many unforced errors, so many three putts and every thing short game I'd worked so hard on had disappeared in the space of one round. I was disappointed of course but part of the bigger picture is to not dwell or worry about the bad ones, and stride effortlessly forward to the next opportunity.

The Sunday dawned cloudy with a blustery wind, that at times touched gale force. Competition time and it was going to be a tough one, not only with my stuttering form but with the inclement conditions. I wasn't full of warm fuzzy feelings. I started better, with a good opening tee shot that was unfortunate to find a greenside bunker. Still a net par (with my shot) was solid enough. I should have parred the next two but the pesky putter still wasn't behaving and I three putted both having hit fairway and green in regulation.

If you have read these ramblings on a frequent basis (and I thank you) then you'll know 2015 and beyond were blighted with good rounds turning bad and the ability to throw car crash holes into otherwise solid performances. It seems it's a hard habit to break and on the fourth I hooked two out of bounds left. There must be a good thirty yards left of a wide fairway and so these were massively offline. I managed to par the next which helped. I missed the green at the next, and found a bare muddy lie with the edge of a bunker to flirt with to a short sided flag. I saw another option. I could play a chip and run along the edge of the trap, down the slope on the green to nestle next to the hole like an old dog in front of an open fire. I saw it so clearly, and for a fraction of a second as the ball made the journey, it looked to great. It ran out of steam and lamely dropped into the bunker almost apologetically. No score.

No score was repeated at the next when I took on a risky second shot from the semi-rough which Seve in his prime would have shirked at. Schoolboy error and a definite note to self in the course management journal. With a bogey at the shortest hole on the course, the eighth, as I tried to play a links type punch off the tee to keep it under the wind, a shot that didn't come off and a net par on the ninth, I was out in a miserly dozen points. Aside from maybe four or five actual poor shots, I was hitting the ball well but getting punished heavily when I made mistakes.

I threw away a golden opportunity to get a point back with a three putt bogey (net par) at the start of the back nine. The eleventh was playing into a huge right to left wind. I set it out right of the green and it came back sublimely to finish ten feet away. Suddenly the putter came to life and I drained a birdie putt. I was back in the game. I hit another good drive at the twelfth letting the wind move it around the dog leg. I nailed a five iron into the heart of the green and two putts later made a par (net birdie). Suddenly the buffer zone seemed within touching distance. I gave a point back at the thirteenth, playing much longer than the 186 yards on the card but then made yet another par (net birdie) at the fourteenth.

By the time I reached the fifteenth tee, I was feeling rather faint and light headed and while I got a reasonable drive away, I was struggling physically and a reminder that I am not fully recovered yet. I hit the second on the par five into thick rough, came up short and walked away with a messy bogey. From there, it was a bit of a battle to get round, both my ball and myself. It was perhaps a bit much too soon after my hospital visit. I made some poor shots on the final few holes, failing to trouble the scorer on the sixteenth and seventeenth. I was forced to lay up short on the last and was left with a tricky shot of 105 yards into the wind coming hard from the right, forcing me to set the ball out over the lake guarding the green. It came back and finished eight feet away and a pleasing single putt for a par gave the round a touch of gloss. Seventeen points back, which could have been even better. It was enough for twenty nine points. With conditions so harsh, it was also good enough for twelfth place although of course there was another 0.1 back on the handicap. This puts me in dangerous territory at 12.4 and on the cusp of an increase back to 13.

February 2016 Monthly Stableford Statistics

There were a number of positives to take away in terms of fairways and greens in regulation but the putter took a hefty toll on my scoring again. I'm struggling in terms of distance control from long range and I'm failing to hole out well enough from 1-3 feet. I couldn't make a sand save, although my bunker shots were actually quite solid.

There were far too many holes I didn't score on (five in total) but the ones I did make a score on were excellent. Ball striking was much improved but yet again too many unforced errors and a round where every poor shot seemed to be punished severely. Given what had proceeded the golfing weekend I was happy.

Practice has still been sporadic and intermittent and what I have done hasn't been of the highest standard. I haven't played last weekend or this as I still haven't felt too good but the forthcoming weeks see the competitions beginning to come thick and fast. Realistically I'm not in the best place at the moment and so another 0.1 and a 13 handicap won't be too hard to swallow. Good things usually happen when I get to this level and I'm convinced there's a great season ahead. Despite my pitching having regressed before I went into hospital, I think there was enough good stuff done over the winter to see me starting to score well from seventy yards and in once I get some chipping and putting work under my belt I'll be ready for the Easter weekend. This heralds the first big competition of the year and in my mind is always the start of the season proper.

I have managed a range session today, despite the bitterly cold conditions and was very pleased with the quality of the ball striking. All things being equal I'm off to work hard on the short game tomorrow and with a chance to get a few holes or some practice in midweek with an afternoon off booked. Despite the recent trials and tribulations on and off the course, I have a chance to get myself together again and put this stuttering start to the season firmly behind me. This rocky road towards single figures was always going to have some obstacles to overcome and while I was prepared for the golfing ones, the last few weeks have perhaps just changed my perception on how important this really is in the bigger scheme. However as they say "what doesn't kill you can only make you stronger" so onwards, ever onwards