Saturday, 1 October 2016

The Darkest Hour

It is said, (according to the English theologian and historian Thomas Fuller) that the darkest hour is just before the dawn. He could well have been describing my golf. My last post was a sombre one ( for many different reasons but one of those was failing to be three figures for a medal round.

Since then, and I can't believe I've left you floundering without an update for nearly a month, my stop, start season continues to be exactly that. I've not managed to string regular games together and my weekends have been punctuated by life, the universe and everything getting in the way. I've put some hard work in on my short game, particularly the pitching and bunkers which I've been happy with. However getting out on the course and putting that into action has been tricky.

I had struggled to find any semblance of a golf swing in the days after my medal meltdown and it was inevitable that I sought professional advice and booked a lesson with Andrew Piper at Lavender Park, He's been great when my swing has gone AWOL and while the handicap may not reflect the progress our lessons are making, bit by bit, the swing is becoming more compact and with less moving parts. As I've said here and before, everything that has gone before in 2016 has made it a difficult golfing year, and one where I've reluctantly been forced to put Homer's Odyssey and the pursuit of single figures in dry dock for the year.

The prognosis from Andrew was reassuring. As so many of my issues have been, it was primarily set up based and again stemmed from a poor posture. I've been working hard on standing tall. However in doing so, my weight had moved forward to the toes and this made the plane very upright. That would explain the weak fades and perceived loss of distance. In turn, my base was very flimsy and my left knee was regularly collapsing inwards (Elvis legs as he called it). We simply firmed the base up, with more knee bend and the weight far more on the balls of the feet and not the toes.

Allied to this, my tempo (and we've spoken about this before dear reader) was quick and the take-away in particular was a quick jerky movement. Slowing it down and making sure everything, especially in the first two feet were connected, paid dividends. It was compact, no moving parts and long and straight.

I did have a chance to put it into practice in a club match against Oxford City Golf Club. As the format is four ball better ball I had a wing man, well a poor soul to carry me. My game wasn't great, but I had a great partner, Keith Feesey off 10, who did a lot of the work. I did loiter with intent and came in from time to time and we ran out easy winners. However it didn't mask the fact that my own game was still a long way off the mark.

I've been working hard though dear reader. All my long game focus has been on a firm base, good posture and not letting the left knee collapse. In practice, when it has been good, it's everything I'd want my game to be but I can't do it all the time. Last weekend was a rare moment when I was able to play both days. Saturday was the usual roll up and Sunday would be the monthly stableford. I'd been neglecting the short game, and was prepared for the putter to blow cold, and my chipping and pitching to be patchy. In my mind, this was about testing the long game where it counts.

There was a large number in the roll up so we started on the tenth, a 371 yard par four that dog legs right to left. There are some trees to the left of the hole you can take on and it makes the hole shorter but normally the line is on the dead tree in the distance. I hit a peach, a soft draw, in the middle of the fairway. From 138 yards I pulled a seven iron, twenty yards left onto the eleventh tee, It would set a pattern

The view from the tenth tee
I hit another great drive on the 12th, the hardest hole on the course, and crunched a five iron to the heart of the green for a par. And then the wheels fell off, followed by the exhaust and the axle. I was struggling and felt very trapped on the down swing and was losing a lot of shots short and right. I did make a rare birdie at the tough third hole but my back nine (the front on the course) crumbled away.

Regular readers will know I try and find a positive spin but while there was some good shots and the good ones were definitely better, I was definitely heading towards that darkest hour, especially with the stableford to come.

I started well. I hit a good shot just short of the firsts, chipped to two feet and holed out for par. A green in regulation at the next for a par, a net par, and a par at the fourth and through the tough opening stretch two under handicap. Another par at the fifth and that was three under handicap. It should have been better as my pitch from 84 yards to three feet was exquisite. My putt was tentative. Calm, collected, in a great tempo and right on it.

And then we reached the sixth........that bloody sixth hole. How many times has this hole killed promising rounds? How can a 178 yard par three be so difficult? How can a hole get so far into my head? Here I was, flying and all that hard work beginning to pay off. and having taken a four iron and now getting a shot (SI 14) I figured I could be short, chip on and two putt. It went straight left, with a bit of left. A huge pull, lost ball and pressure. My third shot off the tee was awful too. No points.

I bounced back. Fairway off the tee, a cracking shot too and a hybrid, not quite such a thing of beauty, onto the green. Despite the trauma of the sixth hole, I was out in nineteen points. It was going terribly well. The tenth was kind to me off the tee and although my iron came up short, I made another up and down. I hit the green on the par three eleventh and another par safely snaffled away. Back to three under my handicap.

And then dear reader. And then. How dark is that final hour before the dawn. Pitch black in my case. I pulled my tee shot left. I hit great, just left. Penalty drop, mind scrambled and another hole without troubling the scorer. On the next, another par three, I pulled my tee shot again. This was worse than the one on the sixth. It sailed towards the twelfth hole but was never seen again. From three under handicap, I was now one over. Our fourteenth is another dog leg, a shot hole and a chance to steady the ship. Instead it was left off the tee gain into deep cabbage. It was found but the only option was another penalty and I went back in line with the flag onto the fifteenth. A good recovery, a good pitch and a point scored. I was shipping water.

The tempo was getting quicker and quicker. Too many thoughts were entering my head and it was becoming harder and harder to find that ideal posture that had seemed so available on the first eleven holes. It did briefly reappear on the penultimate hole where a good three wood found the back of the green at the 218 yard hole but left a fiendish putt across a huge slope. I made two excellent putts for par. My last drive of the day was good. I nudged it forward with a five wood on the par five. and had 149 yards. I took a five iron into a stiffening breeze. You don't have to be mind reader to know which direction this took. Left. Huge left. So left in fact it was forty yards left of the green nestling in the fairway bunker on the ninth. A miserable double bogey to close the round.

I came back in a measly thirteen points to go with my nineteen points going out and thirty two in total. Another missed buffer zone, another 0.1 back on the handicap (now 13.7) and eleventh place in division two. When the results were published, 36 was all that was needed to win and I was in the box seat to do that. Where did it all go wrong?

I feel a little lost in truth. I was making a fine score without necessarily hitting every shot perfectly. It's what I'd sought for so many rounds, the ability to make a score. Some of my shots especially on the first five holes were what I'd worked so hard since my lesson with Andrew Piper. Leaving aside the nightmare that has become the sixth hole, everything was going well. It is in there and that's the most annoying thing. There was no hint of the left shots to come and to be honest I'm not sure what caused it. Was it tempo? Did I get ahead of myself? Did my technique let me down?

I hit 50% of fairways (6/12) and 33% of greens in regulation (6/18) and 33 putts and so there was a lot to be pleased about. There's annoyance that it was so close and that I was still only four points away from contesting. I spoke earlier about trying to find the positive side of things. The swing is in there and it's working in fits and starts. That's my golf year in a nutshell. There are still some gremlins in the works and to be honest, my mind is already on thinking towards working with Andrew Piper over the winter. Having played relatively badly the day before it was good to see that it didn't affect me. The short game worked well. That's pleasing. The putter is still hot and cold but I've neglected the necessary work to ensure I'm holing out regularly,

So where does that leave me? I'm pleased to say the darkest hour has passed and there golfing dawn is ahead, hopefully bright and sunny. I've a long way to go, further than when I started the 2016 season, towards single figures or even returning to my starting point of 12. On the downside, this weekend is another one bereft of playing so I'm still struggling to get any consistent playing. That I feel is my biggest issue. I'm simply not getting the game time on the course to work through the stuff I'm doing in practice. The swing is in there. The stableford shows that. I just need to produce it for a full round. That's not the first time I've written those words.

All in all, a far better post than the last offering I presented. It's coming, too little too late for 2016 but it's coming. I want a strong winter of consolidation with Andrew Piper, making the swing as simple and more importantly, consistent as possible. I will try and play as much as I can over the winter, weather and health permitting and will endeavour to make some forward progress before the year is out. I've a final hurrah at the end of October with the Golf Monthly Forum Help 4 Heroes day at Camberley Heath. You will recall in my last post that one of the forum stalwarts and the driving force behind these days since they started, was cruelly taken, suffering a massive heart attack. Everyone playing is determined to do Rick Garg proud and make it a wonderful and fitting tribute and I want my game to be spot on and to play well. It's not what the day is about in truth but I want to be able to play well in my last big golfing day of the year. That gives me a month to get everything firing on all cylinders. Plenty of time surely? What can possibly go wrong?

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