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

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