Tuesday, 30 August 2016

A Sombre Post

This post is not a happy one on a number of levels. From a golfing perspective, it was Longhurst Cup weekend at Royal Ascot Golf Club. It's a stroke competition played over the three days of the bank holiday and competitors can choose which two of the three days they wish to play on. The course is looking as good as it has done since it opened, and the new equipment our green staff now have at their disposal, is already paying dividends. As an ex winner of this event, it has fond memories for me and I was hoping this was going to finally kick start my season.

Sadly, my two rounds were far from what I'd hoped for. There was some good stuff in there, especially in the first round. It ended up as a net 75 (+5) but it could have been so much better, especially with two triple bogey's on the fourteenth and fifteenth holes. I had managed a good run from the second to the fourth, playing those in one under gross and played the eleventh to the thirteenth in one over gross. However I still struggled to find any level of consistency for the whole round, a problem that has been with me now for far too long and one I seem incapable of solving.

On the face of it my opening effort wasn't an out and out disaster. However, if round one was a story of some good blighted by some bad golf, my second round was a tale of if it could go wrong it would. I opened up double bogey, double bogey and then racked up a snowman (8) on the par four fourth, pulling my approach left, catching the down slope of the green and running out of bounds. The putter was stone cold, three putting three of the first six greens. My outward score had used my handicap allowance and then some.

The back nine was a struggle, hard to keep any enthusiasm and interest. It was as poor as the front nine. The funny thing was, I still felt as though the game was close. Yes I know that sounds like optimism, perhaps self-delusion, on a grand scale but it's how it felt. Despite this though, sombre point number one was the fact that for the first time in a long time I failed to break three figures (gross 101, net 88). It's strange but I hit more greens in regulation than of late and still managed 33% of sand saves.

It wasn't anything near what I wanted although I felt my first round was close. Very close. I couldn't put my finger on what happened yesterday. Of course I wasn't happy with my score. It's embarrassing but what can you do? You just have to keep working on the right things, keep trusting yourself and try and find a way to eradicate the car crash holes.

Of course that brings me to sombre point number two. With both rounds over handicap and both resulting in 0.1 increases, my handicap has teetered over to 13.5 or 14 in old money. That's the highest handicap mark for many, many years and is a million miles away from my ultimate goal of single figures. I've banged on about my health issues in 2016. It's definitely contributed and I am still a way away from being fully fit although the longer term prognosis for the rest of the year and beyond is far more promising and so I'm helping to be back to myself in 2017 and really can't use that as the real reason. It certainly put the pursuit of single figures on hold but I am simply failing to put consistent scores together on a regular basis. It's as simple as that. I've not pursued lesson after lesson, certainly on the full swing, and feel the short game stuff is beginning to make a difference. So where does that leave me?

I look at other members, and see some making scores around the handicap buffer zone week in, week out, and look at what they do compared to me and it's purely down to keeping it in play all the time. None have stellar short games, hit it miles or drain putt after putt. They simply don't have the car crash holes I seem to produce every round. How does that happen and what am I doing wrong?

At the end of the day though does it really matter? As much as I love this game, as much as it infuriates, and as much as I hate the way I don't seem to make any progress for the effort I put in, it has all been put into sharp perspective recently. Many of you will be aware I'm a fervent member of the Golf Monthly Forum (Golf Monthly Forum). As part of this, there is an annual charity event in aid of Help for Heroes, which has been run since its conception by one of the nicest guys you could ever choose to meet. With much sadness, the forum found out recently that he had suffered a massive heart attack playing his home course, Centurion, and despite the best efforts of the medical services passed away. Many have put into words far more eloquently than I ever could, some moving tributes (Rick Garg tributes).

However it brings home in very sharp terms how fleeting this all is. Above all he was a husband and father. Other than that for many he was the nicest person you could ever share a drink or game of golf with, with a wicked sense of fun and a permanent smile and he simply brightened up a room when he entered, although that may have something to do with his own unique (and colourful) golfing dress sense. Whether you shoot a personal best or like me, have a three figure round and a handicap spiralling upwards, it really doesn't matter. The next time your ball heads out of bounds or you win a few quid off your mates at the weekend just smile and enjoy playing this great game. He'll be sadly missed but never forgotten. RIP Rick Garg.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Gary Smith Linear Method - An Update

It has been about six weeks since I had a lesson with Gary Smith, a Golf Monthly top 25 coach and the inventor of the "Linear Method" for the short game. It's a rather unique (certainly in terms of set up) method, which is intended to utilise the bounce of the club in pitching, chipping and bunker shots and therefore give the player a bigger margin of error (Gary Smith - Linear Method lesson)

I have to say it's been a bumpy journey in the preceding few weeks and must confess that with pitching in particular I have dabbled with a more orthodox approach, despite nailing my colours firmly to the "Linear" mast. There has also been a problem with taking what I've worked on, both linear and conventional, onto the course, although that will undoubtedly be as a result of filling my head with too may thoughts and techniques, falling between two stools and not committing to the shot.

I've been playing some good golf recently although the handicap continues to steadily rise. This year has been far from a classic. I've struggled with a number of health issues, fortunately which are now getting better, and I'm still having issues with the killer holes and racking up big numbers. However, the one area I have enjoyed and feel I've made forward steps is in the short game. Despite, falling between two stools at times as per the previous paragraph, it has started to feel more natural using the linear method. The time has come to put aside other methods and embrace the linear method. Yes, I know I've said this before but sometimes you have to go backwards to go forward again. I have gotten back to working hard on the technique and have been filming my progress.

Forty yard pitch - down the line  (left hand flag)

Forty yard pitch - face on

I have a feeling the head position is a little low but other than that the strike was as I'd want it. Of course this was pitching to a flag on a hard practice ground and not a green and so the ball didn't always react or behave on landing but this was more a session to get the method working properly again, especially the feeling of the right hand feeding under and adding the loft.

I then moved back a further fifteen yards and so this pitch (still to the left hand flag) was from approximately fifty five yards and therefore requires a bigger body rotation although otherwise everything remains constant.

Fifty five yard pitch - face on

Fifty five yard pitch - down the line (left hand flag)

As mentioned, I've been using the linear method from bunkers and this has been a considerable success. My sand saves (getting up and down from a green side bunker) is 33% in the last month. I find it is far easier to feed the club under the ball and pop it out. By using the bounce I have a bigger margin of error and have been able to hit as far as 4-5 inches behind the ball and still get it out and on the green although ideally I'd be looking for an area more 2-3 inches from the ball and have worked hard on putting a line in the sand and simple trying to hit that every time.

I've filmed a simple ten yard bunker shot. As you can see, the ball flies out nicely and the divots I am taking are long and shallow. Ideal for this type of shot

Ten yard bunker shot - down the line (yellow flag)

Ten yard bunker shot - face on

I am planning to work hard on the chipping again with this method and will add some footage when I have it.

The linear method definitely works and it sits properly in my head and it's something I can buy into totally. I need to stop flipping and keep working on it. The issue I have is taking it on the course and there have been trust issues, especially on those short fiddly ones, either over an obstacle or when there's only a few yards to go. It will come.

I hope this gives you a flavour for what the linear method is all about and how it's starting to come together and finally beginning to bleed into my game. I will be following up with Gary Smith at some point, probably over the winter as part of an ongoing programme on my short game. It's still my weakest area in general, although if I can get my chipping working as well as my bunker play I'll be in short game heaven. It's a work in progress still and once I get this tough nut cracked, it's going to have a huge impact on my scoring, especially as I am still missing too many greens in regulation (another area of concern) and on days that I'm not striking it as nicely as I'd liked.

It does look unconventional. I have had all the comments you can think of regarding the posture in particular, but when it works, and it's doing so more often, I simply smile politely and point to the ball nestling close to the hole.

It isn't a method for everyone but Gary Smith is convinced it can help many golfers (he claims up to 98% of students have improved). Here is a link for him to show you how to do it properly (Gary Smith pitching). If you are struggling, it may be worth a look. The bounce can definitely be your friend

I hope you've enjoyed seeing my progress to date and I'll keep you posted with how I'm getting on, especially with how it's developing on the course and into my game. If, in the meantime you'd like to make a comment on what you've seen, or even ask a question about the linear method, please feel free to post a comment. It is working. It will get better. I can pitch, chip and play bunker shots. I will be a short game guru.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Club Championship Weekend - Round Two - Yang

What a difference a day makes. Five words that accurately sum up the second round of club championship weekend at Royal Ascot. The opening round had seen your narrator in a cool, calm place, in warm up and especially on the course. There were still some poor holes (isn't there always) but I'd let these sweep over me. Mistakes were forgotten and by and large I was extremely happy with how I'd played on one of the warmest days of the year.

However, sitting out in the heat of the afternoon sun enjoying a few cold ones and then adjourning to the in-laws and spending several hours entertaining my niece and nephews who are over from San Diego for the summer wasn't clever. I got home and knew I'd been out in the sun and was already feeling the effects.

Having had a good first round and sitting comfortably in sixth place, I was out towards the end of the field in net score order and just in front of the final twelve in the filed in contention for the gross prize. I work up feeling tired and listless and definitely paying the price for my exposure to the sun. I usually get to the club about ninety minutes before my tee tine, prepare slowly before going out to warm up and hit a few chips and putts. On the practice ground I couldn't find a spark. I was bored, dis-interested, lacked timing and cohesion and to be honest the warm up wasn't going as planned and I was getting edgy.

Walking onto the first tee, I wasn't feeling it. Where my opening drive twenty four or so hours before had found the green, this was a weak push straight right towards the line of trees that protrude some forty yards right as you can see below

The view from the first tee - an intimidating 229 yard opener
While I wasn't happy with the opening shot, we all assumed it hard at least got through or over the trees and shouldn't too bad. How wrong we were. Clearly it had scurried through, just where the trees rise in the middle of the picture, and had stopped and then rolled back down the bank the trees are perched on and was nestled firmly against the trunk of one of the trees. I had no shot, no option. I couldn't even get into it to make an attempt and so already at this early juncture in the piece I was taking a penalty drop. I salvaged a five (double bogey) but it had done nothing to help and my mind was definitely not on the task at hand.

I found the safety of the fairway at the next and then pushed a five wood perilously towards the out of bounds that runs the length of the hole. On the plus side it was in play. On the down side I had an overhanging branch ten yards in front, a bunker short, some forty yards from the green that took out the low running shot and a lush lie play from. I elected to hit nine iron from 112 yards and it came out well but missed the green left. I chipped and two putted for net par but I was making this hard.

The pattern had been established. Fairway at the next, missed green, this time into sand and although the recovery was good it was a net par when better was there for the taking. I went left off the next, and left on my approach but a fine chip and run to six feet and a putt made a par. Was this the catalyst? I was only a shot back off my handicap and so despite everything I wasn't too far off where I needed to be.

If you've read part one (Club Championship Round One) you will be aware that the fifth had caused issues when I found the bunker right of the green and then thinned the bunker shot miles too far and into deep ferns and a lost ball. What a difference a day makes. I was safely on the green in regulation this time. Granted I was forty feet away and had two tiers to negotiate but what could happen. Walking off some five minutes later having taken four, yes four putts it was another double bogey.

I had a head full of chocolate frogs coming to the sixth. It's a hole that historically I've struggle with. I try not to carry any baggage with me but this 178 yard par three just gets inside me. It doesn't suit my eye in any way and I will always take a bogey four and move on. A par always feel like a half shot gained for me. In truth, having pulled a hybrid, I simply put an atrocious swing on it and sent it sharp right out of bounds. Reloading I hit it better but sliced it and it failed to clear the trees right and suddenly I'm out of bounds again and five off the tee. Switching to a four iron. I simply stood there and swung. Ugly, quick and so many moving parts and feeling my face flushed with embarrassment I hit it forward short left. I chipped it up an two putted for a snowman (8) and a five over par score. That was my day done. My head was a mess. I had no swing, no timing and my head was anywhere but on the course. I threw another double in at the next, a bogey at the eighth and did finally manage a par at the ninth having found fairway and green in regulation. All in all my front nine was 49 shots (+14) and all my handicap allowance had been swallowed. It was a back nine simply for pride.

I had to swallow a large chunk of that at the tenth. Right off the tee and left in my approach into sand, I then repeated the error from day one and thinned a sand shot miles over the green. Given the length of grass, lack of options even if by some miracle I'd found it and the fact I was mentally shot, I took a penalty drop played a far better shot and walked off with a seven (+3).

The golfing gods have a macabre way of mocking the struggling golfer and so it was no surprise my tee shot at the par three eleventh would find sand. It's one of the deeper bunkers on the course but I played an exquisite recovery to three feet and saved par. My driving was the only thing holding together and I found the short grass again. I made bogey, net par but at least I had hit the ball better momentarily. In fact I started to look like a golfer. Par on the 186 yard par three, having found the green off the tee and the fairway at the next which should have led to par but for a poor second, and the card looked a little smarter. It was too little too late of course.

On the fifteenth I found the fairway and my second was in prime position about eighty yards short. Nothing to worry about. And then the idiot golfer returned. I chunked my approach and came up short, chipped on and walked off with another bogey from nowhere. I managed a par at the seventeenth thanks to an up and down and managed to hit the last in regulation. Given the ragged nature of my round it was no surprise when I then three putted. I was back in 43 shots. All in all it was 92 (net 79 +9). Another 0.1 back on the handicap and I went tumbling down the leader board to finally finish 27th place in the net event.

Club Championship Statistics - Round 2

Definitely not my finest moment on a golf course. In my defence, I wasn't feeling it and was definitely off colour. It started poorly and never got any better. The funny thing is as you can see from the statistics is that off the tee I was great. It hit 83% (8/10) in regulation and even my greens in regulation was better than normal at 22% and equates to my handicap. Sand saves was 33% (1/3). Despite that nightmare four putt on the fifth and the obligatory three putt at the last I only had thirty six putts in total which wasn't a disaster. Not as good as I'm use to but still two putts per round. What it does show, was that when it goes wrong, it goes wrong in grand fashion and is still something I need to eradicate from my game.

It wasn't my year but I'd done well in round one and need to simply park the second day and move on. There was enough out there to keep me interested and happy. I am still working hard on my short game and feel that sooner or later the improvements I'm seeing in practice will translate to saved shots on the course. My driving was as good as it could be. I need to continue to find a level of consistency in that area. From there I need to find more greens. Of course I'm disappointed and the effects of the sun the day before didn't help.

I'm not a million miles away from where I want to be. There are still health issues that are simmering below the surface which aren't helping and yes, the mockers will point to the ever increasing handicap, but while the pursuit of single figures remains parked until I get the clear health bill, I am actually encouraged, nay enthused still. In practice I am hitting it well. I just can't take it to the course and that's an area I need to look at and something Andy Piper and I will work on as part of a winter programme to strip away the imperfections layer by layer.

Definitely a ying/yang weekend and a competition of two halves. Keep the good stuff and find a way to make a score, eradicating the rubbish. Get the head right, even if I'm not feeling it. Learn to make a score. All stuff to keep working on. As you'd have gathered I love the journey and I'm not going to stop. I'm still going to get to where I want to go.