Last weekend was the club championship at Royal Ascot. Played in blistering hot conditions, on a course set up to absolute perfection, there were two prizes on offer. There was the gross prize, the club champion, and one for the best net score. Clearly, there is only a handful that are really in contention for the big prize but there's always a fierce battle for the net prize and it does give everyone something to aim for and makes it an inclusive event. As always, it was played over two days with a halfway cut for the top sixty and ties with the scores out in reverse net order apart from the top dozen contenders in the gross prize which are sent out last to duel it out for the spoils.
As always, the aim is always to not play yourself out of contention in round one and remember you can't win it on day one but you can give yourself the Sunday off. I haven't played too much since my lesson with Andy Piper and so there was an element of doubt about what version of my golfing incarnation would turn up. Sometimes I can be excellent in warm up and play like a drain on the course or I can struggle for timing and tempo on the range and then string an acceptable score. Of course sometimes I can turn up and look like I've never picked up a club before.
However, last Saturday I arrived with an absolute air of tranquillity and calm. I started working on my putting, hit a few chips and then took a large bucket of balls to the practice ground. A few stretches and pitch shots to warm up and then into my routine. I was hitting it like a dream. No really! It was calm, in sync and going great. As it was so warm I left a lot of the balls, having hit a few bunker shots and retired to the cool clubhouse to prepare and get my card.
If you have followed my ramblings over the years, you'll be aware that the first at Royal Ascot asks some tough questions from the outset. Playing 229 yards off the whites, there is out of bounds right, a pond short and left, a line of trees right that jut out from the out of bounds towards the green and will catch anything pushed. Add in two bunkers left, another right and a lateral hazard left from the pond and behind the left hand bunkers and it's perhaps harder, at least mentally than the SI 10 on the card. In my calm state, I took a five wood, pegged it up and put it on the green some twenty feet from the flag to set up an early par.
I was only one over gross after the tricky opening quartet, and spurred by a great up and down for par at the fourth from behind the green to save par it was onto the fifth a 503 yard par five that offered a chance to make more progress. I was green side in three in the bunker. And then the air of calmness vanished as I bladed the sand shot through the green into deep foliage and a lost ball. In the end I did well to keep the damage to a double bogey. However it was the start of a scrappy run (bogey, double, bogey) from the sixth to the eighth. I was on the ninth in two after a good drive and majestic four iron from 188 yards. I walked off after three putting. Out in forty three and one over handicap. Not a disaster especially given the two doubles and that pesky three putt.
I blew a chance at the tenth missing the green on ten but made a solid par at the eleventh hitting the heart of the 178 yard par three. Another fine drive followed at the twelfth, SI 1 which was testament to Andy Piper's tuition in the lesson. I hit what I thought was a fine four iron high and straight expecting it to bounce onto the green from the baked approach. It dug in, caught some fringe grass and came up short. A good chip but a missed par. If I had made a few unforced errors to date, I was truly unfortunate at the 13th, another 178 yard par three. I hit a hybrid which just ran through the green. When I got there it was in a massive divot. It had looked like someone had tried a Phil Mickleson flop shot and taken a huge chunk of turf which they didn't replace. I couldn't get any iron behind it, nor a hybrid or fairway wood. In the end I tried to blade a seven iron, half heartedly and it came up short for a rather undeserved bogey.
I was nice and steady until the sixteenth, usually a hole I struggle with off the tee. With out of bounds tight left, no more than fifteen yards left, two large oaks on the right of the fairway at around the 220 yard mark and a number of young trees and lush rough on the right for those determined not to go left it is arguably the hardest driving hole on the course. I hit another fairway, missed the green from 198 yards but produced another up and down for par
Club Championship Round 1 Statistics
The last two holes were net pars. I hit the poorest drive of the round at the last into the right hand rough. I moved it forward but left myself around 165 yards. With a pond cutting into the green from the right, today wasn't the day to take this shot on. Saturday morning roll up and I'd have pulled a five iron and gone for it with gusto. The calm persona had returned and I just wanted to lay it up towards the fifty yard mark to leave a simple pitch in. I pulled it horribly and it was lucky not only to miss the bunkers short and left but to not kick on into the heavy rough separating the last from the ninth. Perhaps it was reward after my bad break at the thirteenth. I pitched on safely, two putts and time to shake hands.
When it was all added up, I'd come back in 41 which gave me a gross 84, net 71 (+1) and a decent sixteenth place after the opening round. It had been a good round, arguably the best I've played in the 2016 season. It was certainly the best I've felt about myself on the course, and made some very good decisions and executed with precision. I don't know what was different and as we'll find out later, it's something I wish I had bottled for future use.
My driving was much improved and the changes from the lesson have clearly paid off hitting 58% of the fairways. I even managed 28% of greens in regulation which is significantly improved on anything I've had all season. The only down side was the 35 putts and I really couldn't make a putt all day with many grazing the hole but refusing to drop, and the scrambling statistics with only 15% of up and downs. My bunker play was poor all day, prompted by that nightmare on the fifth after which I was tentative and nervy.
I was very, very happy. It was a good round that could have been a few shots better but I doubt even in my wildest dreams if it would have got close to the net 65 (-5) posted by the first round leader. On the plus side I was safely ensconced into the second round with a relatively late tee time. I left the club in the same calm state I'd had on the course and returned home thinking of daring deeds to come in round two and hoping a low score could have me right in the mix for the net prize. What a difference a day would make.