Tuesday, 29 November 2016

2017 - The Quest For Single Figures - 1st Update

Having outlined my plans in my last post to turn my golfing fortunes around and start getting it going back down, ultimately to my golfing nirvana of single figures. It's going to be a long slog and I plan to split it into two targets, getting back to my 2016 starting point of 12 and then kicking on from there.

As I mentioned, the short game still remains an area of grave concern, especially in the pitching and chipping departments. I've been a huge advocate of the Gary Smith linear method and it sits perfectly in in head, particularly the way it uses the bounce. It's been particularly successful out of bunkers. I've struggled with the pitching on the course, particularly in terms of distance control and have started drifting back to something more orthodox while retaining the idea of utilising the bounce and taking a shallow divot at most but ideally grazing the turf.

I am working hard on my practice over the winter and working smarter by tracking my statistics as I go. I've been out again on Sunday 27th November to work on my pitching as the next area to get some baseline numbers. I've invested in a digital rangefinder, albeit a cheap but functional version (Suaoki Range Finder) to get more accurate distances, especially from 100 yards and in. I took it out to the practice ground yesterday and measured from 50 and 40 yards to a 16 foot circle with a four foot circle of excellence to aim for. From 30 yards, I narrowed my target down to a 10 foot circle with a three foot circle of excellence.

I've updated my practice diary to include a pitching section where I've recorded my first efforts and have used both my 58 and 52 degree wedges for each distance as they are my main go to clubs for this type of shot. As my technique improves, I aim to tinker with loft and trajectory to give myself a fuller armoury of shots for all conditions. One thing I have found with the linear method is it tends to give a high ball flight. This is fine off firmer summer turf with minimal wind but off wetter winter lies and into a strong, often cold wind it has caused issues. I think this is where my distance control problems have stemmed from and why I feel the need to adopt a more versatile approach.

Winter Practice Diary - Updated

The conditions were typical for the time of year. The grass was wet courtesy of the overnight rain and there were a few muddy and bare lies meaning correct contact was crucial to have any success. My opening effort with the 58 degree wedge from 50 yards wasn't that inspiring. One thing I have noticed though is a feeling of pressure doing this. I found that with the Jordan Spieth putting drill I did. Check my last blog (2017 - The Quest For Single Figures) for more details on that particular practice drill. I'm striving to post the best numbers I can each time, and hopefully improve my personal bests each time after that. Putting the base line numbers for each area means I'm trying on every shot and the pressure does tell. On the plus side I'm developing some good pre-shot routines.

My initial effort with the 58 degree wedge was poor but I improved with the 52 degree wedge. That was a bit of an eye opener and I got a quarter of my 20 balls into that magical four foot circle. From 40 yards my accuracy into the 16 foot circle improved as you'd expect closer to the green. However my accuracy into that circle of excellence dropped. This is the area I need to be hitting to set up birdie chances or rescuing par.

Finally from 30 yards I reduced the target area to a 10 foot circle with a three foot circle of excellence. Again, the number of shots in the general target area went up but also the amount into that ideal area was very small. It's highlight some very interesting things. My more orthodox technique especially from longer distances was poor with a number of fat and thin shots. This dropped as I got closer but they were still there. Also, my accuracy is wanting with 50 yards being especially weak. I'm hoping as my technique strengthens, my mental approach  and my pre-shot routines improve, so will my numbers. I need to extend this out to include pitch shots from 60, 70 and 80 yards, where these will be fuller shots with the 58 and more of a "feel" shot with a three quarter swing with the 52.

At least I've laid some markers down in this area. That leaves chipping and scrambling, including bunkers to do. I then want to move onto approach shots from 150 yards and in and I've got all my areas covered. From there, it's about working on these drills on a regular basis, over the winter and beyond. Couple that with trying to play as much as winter conditions in the UK allow (although I won't play on temporary greens as I find it a lottery and get little from it especially with huge bucket holes on winter greens) and I am confident that along with regular lessons this winter, that come the spring and the dawn of the 2017 season I'm in prime position to fly out of the blocks.

There is one area I've not tackled yet but it's imminent. It'll cause a degree of mockery, especially amongst my golfing peers at the golf club and on the Golf Monthly Forum but it's something I've touched upon over the past few years. My mental attitude on the course is shocking and I've let good rounds unravel and I've had times when I've been beaten mentally before I've played, usually when my warm up hasn't gone according to plan.

I've spoke before of NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) which is a convoluted way of stopping myself getting in my own way and letting my sub-conscious brain to dictate my thinking and just letting go and trusting the swing I've got and the work I've done. Andrew Piper, the teaching professional I use has a good reputation in this. I've also had a recommendation from Rick Shiels, a professional making a name for himself on social media (see my last post) with whom I played in a Help For Heroes charity day recently, to use Lee Cromberholme's site (Winning Golf Mind). I've also downloaded an NLP app to listen to.

Now I can hear the sniggers from here, and can second guess some of the cheap and smart comments that will be coming my way. However it's something I've recognised as a problem for a while. Logic (well in my head at least) dictates that the practice I'm putting in now and going forward, will, with the lessons I've got planned, get my game to a certain technical level, sufficient of putting together respectable scores. I need to then simply go out and play. That's something I simply haven't been capable of doing. I've lost count how many times I've heard people say at the club "you practice too much, why don't you get any better?" or "you're trying too hard" and both are perfectly valid. Why don't I improve? I simply can't put together a consistent round. How many times have I inflicted a blog on here upon you, the innocent reader, that contains some great stuff undone by two or three car crash holes.

The good players at my club, especially off single figures don't have textbook swings. They simply understand how to score, without these double and triple bogies (or worse) especially when they aren't playing well. I plan to learn how to think better, think smarter, quieten the monkey brain and let my golf do the talking for me.

It's an area I've been nervous about, not only having to deal with the scoffing and mickey taking, the accusations of taking it all far too seriously, but also because I've not really had the courage to admit that what I've done before in this pursuit of single figures hasn't worked. This is why I've taken a more statistical and results based approach to my practice. Despite all this waffle about targets and aspirations and my practice, the crux of 2017 is actually about taking a simplistic approach and that starts with simple thinking, clear goals and objectives and clear focus on how to achieve these. I need to work on all parts of my game and then harmonise that on the course and let it simply flow. I'm about to start doing the NLP and Winning Golf Mind work so I'll give you an update once I've started to use it and played a number of games with it. That'll probably be mid January. Until then I'll keep you posted on how my game is improving. The hard work has started and 2017 is going to be my year.

Monday, 14 November 2016

2017 - The Quest For Single Figures

Let's start at the beginning and be totally honest. My 2016 golf season had such high hopes and aspirations. Winter practice had been diligent and the lessons and hard work were coming together and I hoped to hit the ground running and really kick on and make this the year I got to single figures. Then I was rushed into A&E, my health took a distinct turn for the worse, and basically I've gone backwards in a big way. There has been some lingering effects of my illness. My golf has suffered and I've lost ground in a big way. I'm closer to 15 at 13.9 (14) than 9, having started the year with the handicap at 12 and nicely set to move lower. It hasn't been a very good season.

Fear not, my appetite has not diminished and if anything I'm more certain, more dogmatic in my ability to turn things around and get things moving in the right direction. However even I'm realistic enough to understand that going from 15 to 9 isn't going to happen in one hit or one season. I need to tackle it in stages and the first priority has to get back to my 2016 starting point.

As you may be aware, especially if you are a regular reader (and I thank you for that) I like a statistic. However one thing I've been remiss at doing is keeping a track of my practice sessions. I haven't really got a handle on what I've worked on and whether I'm making forward progress. As you will be aware, I was lucky enough to recently play with Rick Shiels and Peter Finch, two professionals who have their own goal, their Quest for the Open, trying to make it to the 2017 British Open and who have used their youtube channels to plot their progress. Check out my last link (Golf Monthly Forum Help For Heroes Charity Day) for the links to their channels. I was able to pick their brains as we played. I've come up with my own practice plan for the coming winter. More importantly I am going to be far more circumspect and chart my progress, as they've been doing, and see how each area, hopefully improves as we finish 2016 and move onwards to a fresh season in 2017. Hopefully my health issues are almost fully behind me and I should be fighting fit for the new season.

I've not done too much practice work recently but I've started to record my details Winter Practice Diary, Its early days and I'm just getting into it. I had a practice session last weekend at a local range on a very cold day, with a bitter north wind blowing into my bay along with heavy drizzle. I wasn't swing well and so only started my statistics by recording ten drives, trying to hit it between two targets representing an imaginary fairway and trying to hit a green on the range. Usually, from the bay I regularly use, it's about 105 yards and a smooth pitching wedge. In the conditions, it was a full nine iron and although I've called it the "100 yard target", it was actually playing more like 110 yards.

Today (Sunday 13th November) I had more time. Conditions were more favourable and I decided to embark on a putting challenge. It was inspired by a Peter Finch video where he has replicated a putting drill used (apparently) by Jordan Spieth. It's basically 100 balls x 10 different distances. That's a thousand putts! Now as a dedicated (some would say fanatical) worker on my game, that's too rich even for me. Even Peter Finch seemed to find it too much Peter Finch - Jordan Spieth Putting Challenge so as a compromise, I've filtered mine down to a relative bite size chunk and opted for 20 balls per distance. That's still 200 putts per session. That's more putts than I'd normally do in a session but now I have something more structured to work with. It took me two hours to complete the drill. To be honest I did find my concentration wane, especially on the twenty and thirty foot stations, and again on my final session at the ten foot station, where I think fatigue was definitely setting in.

The Royal Ascot Golf Club - my base for some intense putting practice (in not such nice conditions as these
I've managed to get some initial numbers. I was reasonably pleased with my three foot conversion rate, but there was then a big spike downwards, especially at five feet and seven feet. As I moved outwards I expected my numbers to drop. I was pleased to actually make at least one from twenty and thirty feet. The putting green at Royal Ascot has a severe tier through the middle and is relatively narrow and so I was forced to only have two stations at the longer distances (I had been using five per distance before that, two balls per station, so a group of ten putts per rotation times two - clear????) and I was forced to putt down and across the slope making it a harder putt to read and judge.

Without wanting to spoil the outcome of the Peter Finch clip too much (and it's worth a look if only to admire his dedication to the task at hand) I had a similar outcome when I moved back into the closer distances (4 feet, 8 feet and 10 feet) to finish. The longer two were better than the original comparable stations (7 feet and 12 feet) and so it clearly has an impact. It's a long drill and one I plan to only do every month or so depending on the state of the green as winter comes. I have other putting drills I will be doing along the way and I hope this is one area I can see quick, significant and long lasting results and is something I can take out onto the course straight away when I play.

Short game is next on the agenda. Pitching and chipping are still woeful. My chipping conversion is a pitiful 13% although my sand saves are a healthy 24%. I'm happy with my bunker play and that will only get better. I invested a lot of time with my pitching, trying to utilise the linear method. There was some definite forward progress. I'm very comfy with how the method sits mentally but I am finding it hard to take the discipline to commit to it out onto the course. I've booked a series of six lessons with Andy Piper at Lavender Park Golf Centre to utilise over the winter so I fear a fresh approach to my short game and a re-assessment is coming. I have a number of of pitching and chipping drills to utilise that I hope will help. By keeping these statistics and comparing them to the ones I keep when I play I should see some upward trends. That's the plan.

The way I see it playing out in my mind is simple. I will play as many qualifiers as the club run over the winter, weather permitting, and fight hard to avoid going up any further to a fifteen handicap. Should that happen, I'll take it on the chin. It doesn't affect the plan. I'm looking for a fast start and getting back to twelve as soon as I can. Under the guidance of Andy Piper I think we can get my game back to where it was ready to attack this year. I'm also aware that the tone of the recent posts hasn't been overly upbeat. I hope that this is the start of something far more positive. It'll be a big ask to get from where I am to where I want to get and so by splitting in half, makes it a more achievable. I want to harness some positive energy over the winter and feel charting my practice progress and seeing that transfer into some decent winter golf is the way forward. It's still a while until we get to 2017 but the hard work has already started.