As regular followers will know, I've been dabbling with a very different method of playing all things related to the short game, the pitching, chipping and bunker shots. It's called the linear method as advocated by Gary Smith, a Golf Monthly top 25 coach and coach to the England Golf Squad. If you search linear method on here there are numerous blog pieces going back a number of years.
You may even recall that I was given an hours tuition with Gary as a Christmas present from my wife and so with Royal Ascot Golf Club difficult to get to amidst the mayhem of the Royal Ascot race meeting I opted to take it on Friday 17th June. It was booked for Gary's teaching base at Sutton Green Golf Club near Guildford in Surrey and all was set.
I have dabbled with this method on and off and feel I've ended up being caught between two stools, trying to persevere with the linear version, self taught via a Gary Smith DVD and utilising something far more conventional for which there are ready made coaching solutions should it go wrong. However mentally, the linear method sits better in my head and I feel it gives me more margin for error.
As always with a lesson I arrived early to get my bearings and warm up. I was shown to the their dedicated short game area. I started hitting pitches to a target approximately 30 yards away using the technique I've adopted. It was all going rather well. I ventured to the bunker, where things weren't quite so good. Finally I finished off with some chips around the green which were a little hit and miss but why panic when you are in the capable hands of an Advanced Fellow of the PGA. Bang on time Gary wandered across and with the introductions over, it was time to show him what I had. I don't normally get nervous in lessons but meeting someone with Gary's reputation and resume, and knowing that potentially I had bastardised his fantastic technique with my own take on things, this time was different. Fortunately the first couple flew off sweetly as he stood on and watched. I threw in the inevitable thin and fat to show him the full gamut of my short game repertoire.
Fortunately, he seemed suitably impressed with my overall interpretation and that all in all the fundamentals were sound. He made a few changes to the set up, standing a fraction taller, but more importantly getting my hips far more to the left to help promote a better turn. We tweaked the head at address and then he got me to hit some more, concentrating on simply letting the body turn and the right hand control the shot.
Gary Smith - pitch technique
It was then off to the bunker. As per my warm up this was a real mixture of the good, bad and indifferent. Again, my major issues related to set-up and posture and I need to stand taller and as per the pitching, adjust my hips and head. This felt far more alien than it had on the sanctuary of a mat but once I "felt" it and got use to turning and releasing with the right hand, the ball popped up softly and I produced bunker shots I'd only dreamt off. It just seemed so easy. Even moving onto the dreaded long bunker shot of some twenty five yards I put three balls down, on target, no more than a sand wedge apart. Simples
Linear method - bunker shots
Gary wasn't changing much at all. It was simply tweaking and improving what I had already and I felt pleased that I hadn't been off point too far. The ball position at address was perhaps the strangest looking thing as the hands were definitely placed a lot further behind the ball. It looks weird, weight forward, hands back and it's one thing I've been self conscious of taking it out on the course. I understood even better, how the correct set up now promoted greater use of the bounce and how in both sand and off grass, it really could work. It cemented in my head the thought that this technique was what worked best for me. I had been asked on the Golf Monthly Forum (http://forums.golf-monthly.co.uk/) about how this shallow of angle of attack would work off compact wet sand. The bunker was suitable wet and Gary quickly knocked up a compact scenario and we gave it a go. As the right hand keeps the loft on the club, even on hard, wet lies, it was still possible to take a shallow divot and allow the ball to pop up. I hoped it would be that easy and like the standard shot I was still able to escape with a slightly lower trajectory but which landed softly and stopped.
Our final stop was the putting green to sort my chipping out. Situated near the first tee at Sutton Green my air of self consciousness was heightened with a society mingling around ready to tee off. However, Gary and I got to work. The chipping method is marginally different, as there isn't the need for so much momentum to propel the ball forward.
Linear method - chipping technique
I'm not sure if it was the fact that others were watching on intently or I wanted this to work so well, being the weakest part of my short game but I struggled early on and the swing was too quick and dis-jointed. I kept at it and with a few tweaks, particularly softening the hands, it started to come. As the lesson ended and Gary and I shook hands and discussed what we had covered I decided to stay put and plug away. As Gary disappeared behind the club house, I holed one and then three balls later another. Dream land.
Unfortunately my playing opportunities have been somewhat curtailed in recent weeks and will be again this weekend. However I have managed a few practice sessions after work. It hasn't been as good as I'd hoped especially the bunkers but in my defence, the practice bunker has normally been partially flooded due to the huge rainfall we've had in June. The pitching has been there in fits and starts and is still a work in progress. I did play in the monthly stableford last weekend (the less said the better about my general game) but I chipped stone dead at the first for par, got up and down at the next and ended up making two out four (50%) sand saves. Although my up and down statistics weren't great overall, I chipped with more confidence than I have lately. I needed to putt better but that will come and is usually a bedrock. Sadly my long game is in sharp decline and hasn't picked up or kicked on since my lesson with Andy Piper. I don't know what the problem is and we're having a catch up next week.
I'll try and work on it this weekend, although health issues are making my playing and practice time sporadic. If I do, I'll try and get some video footage up. As I've mentioned, I'm not there technically yet. It will come. It sits right mentally, and Gary has given me more confidence to go out and work on it until I am happy and it stands up under pressure on the course.
It was a real pleasure to meet Gary Smith. He has developed a radical method but it works. He is a very good teacher, having seen it all before. He seemed pleased I had taken the first steps to learn the linear method and was happy to add meat to the bones. As one of the best coaches in the UK it could have been rather off putting but he was concise, friendly, open and able to pitch his teaching method perfectly to my learning style. All in all, it was an eye opening experience, one I enjoyed hugely and one I plan to repeat in a few months time to get Gary to monitor my progress. His rates are at the higher end of the scale but you do get what you pay for. Top quality coaching. All in all another very satisfied customer.