Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Back To School

It doesn't seem so long ago, that my golf game seemed to be in a good place and I was finally making some good scores. Granted they were often blighted by one or two nightmare holes but that's been an ongoing issue for a while and nothing new. However, if you cast your mind back to my last humble offering, I'd come off the back of a lesson with Andy Piper, the professional based at Lavender Park Golf Centre in Ascot I regularly use for tuition. He'd changed a lot in terms of set up and losing a cupped wrist position at address and at the top of the swing. Things hadn't been going well and I struggled on my trip to Kingswood. Things back at my home club, Royal Ascot, hadn't got any better, culminating in an all time low point total in the second round of the Stone Cup over the bank holiday weekend.

The set up changes seem to have led to weak cuts. Distances with all clubs are down and the driver has a mind of its own, determined it seems to carve the ball as far right as possible into the deepest rough each hole has to offer. To be honest, Royal Ascot Golf Club is now looking an absolute picture, the best it has since it moved to the new course and we started playing in August 2005. However accuracy is now at a premium, and if I was to err on a note of slight criticism, the semi-rough is too long and it's a lofted club to get the ball forward. It really needs an intermediate cut, then this depth of rough and then the real bundra we have, which to be honest, if your ball goes into it, you deserve to be reloading. Of course that muttering is just my point of view although I know it's a view others have voiced in the 19th. Maybe the word will get back. Maybe the club just have a sadistic streak and not happy with taking our subs annually enjoy watching us suffer each weekend as well!

This week is the world famous Royal Ascot horse racing festival. Although the club is technically open, playing on a reduced course, to be honest the aggravation of getting to and from the club with revised traffic flows, huge crowds and a lack of practice facilities, mean I tend to give it a wide berth each year. We do have a number of reciprocal agreements and many use this week to take advantage and travel to sample other courses.

As my game has unravelled a little, I'm using it to have a number of lessons. On Tuesday (14th) I had an hour with Andy Piper to sort all that ailed my game in recent weeks. On Friday I am having an hour with Gary Smith, an England Golf coach, a Golf Monthly top 25 coach and inventor of the Linear Method of short game. This is down at Sutton Green Golf Club in Guildford and has a designated short game area (Gary Smith in Surrey Golf Magazine - turn to page 26/27).

I have spoken many, many time about Linear Method pitching and chipping and it's a technique I feel more comfortable with than a more conventional method. I've been working on it, self taught via an instructional DVD, but now I've a chance to get the top man to make sure I am doing it properly, give me the absolute chapter and verse on this (the search on the front page of this site will give you all you need to know about all things Linear). That's still to come though. This was about getting my swing back on track.

As well as a teaching professional, with a portfolio including many single figure golfers and professionals, and being an examiner and coursework assessor for the PGA, Andy Piper teaches golfers at all levels under the ethos of "Enjoy the Challenge" and tailors and approach to suit golfers of all abilities.

Andy Piper - the name in charge of trying to sort my ailing golf swing - Brave man!

I'd hit a few balls in warm up and it wasn't going too badly. Andy arrived and watched me hit a few. It didn't take long for Dr Golf to deliver his prognosis. We started with an old friend, poor posture. Too stooped over with the shoulder in front of the feet. From there, I'd over egged the pudding from the last lesson. I got the hands too far forward which had now opened the shoulders. From that position it was inevitable that I'd get ahead of the ball and so the weak fades and lack of distance was a foregone conclusion.

The cure, as always with Andy was simple. We started by getting taller and closer to the ball so the shoulders were much more over the top of the feet and not in front. From there, we tweaked the hand position at address and moved the head position slightly back. Think the iconic Jack Nicklaus head turn. From there it was simply a case of making the same swing I had, ensuring I stayed behind the ball at impact and bingo, the ball began travelling straighter and further. In fact distance was a few yards up on what I'd consider my average per club. There were still some bad shots, but these derived from a poor tempo, far too quick in the takeaway. We call it the excited puppy, where I see progress, and like a puppy get way too excited and so don't go through the checklist in set-up and swing way too quickly.

Having tweaked the irons we moved onto the driver. As I alluded to earlier, the semi-rough we currently have at Royal Ascot is rather long and penal and finding where the mower goes is vital. We didn't play around too much with the set-up we'd created and it was a case of simply swinging smoothly, feeling the toe of the driver was taking over through impact as I had a tendency to want to hold onto it and push it down the line instead of letting it release. Again, distance returned and dispersion was far tighter.

This was an hour long lesson. Like the usual thirty minute ones, time flew by and it was over so quickly. I feel back in tune with my game and plan to work hard over the next few days to get the set up changes in place before the course re-opens fully next week and I can get out and test the revamped swing. I don't feel we've re-invented the wheel with the changes and I haven't got a plethora of swing thoughts in my head. I've a basic checklist to go through, mainly about the initial address position and standing closer and taller, then trusting it and letting it flow.

So far so good with my return to school week. I've a new swing aid to tell you about once I get it for my 50th birthday tomorrow (16th) and I've given it a test. I've also got the hour of tuition with Gary Smith on Friday. This I'm really excited about as I feel the Linear Method is far better suited to my short game. It sits better in my head and I feel I can commit better to the shots. I'm self taught to date and so hopefully Gary will add some meat to the bones and he'll tweak what I've done myself and get my short game really firing.

I've a lot of work to do in the next week or so to make these changes from both lessons feel natural and get them working out on the course. As always, I'm committed to the challenge and while the odyssey towards single figures remains in hiatus with health issues curtailing as much playing and practice as I'd like, its still game on as far as that's concerned. For now, I need to get the ball into play off the tee more often, something I feel more than capable of doing, and then using the new set up to stay behind the ball and deliver a solid strike onto target. After Friday if I do miss the target, my new short game skills should see me right. After all, what can possibly go wrong?