Saturday, 31 December 2016

Swingyde Training Aid

I've always been a sucker for a training aid. Many have been flash in the pan that have promised much and delivered little and have been consigned to a dark corner in my golf room (yes I know I have too much golf stuff, and yes the wife does keep nagging for me to a) tidy and b) de-clutter).

I have come across the Swingyde (The Swingyde Website) which is a simple plastic device that sits on the club and is designed to get the club in the right position and hinged properly to create better accuracy and power.

The Swingyde
I wasn't actually looking at trying any training aids. However I came across a video from Dan Whittaker on Youtube (Dan Whittaker - Swingyde Review) which was a glowing testament about it. He's usually very reluctant to be too overflowing with praise for products and it has to be really work, especially in a lesson environment for him to rate it. This one is a definite hit.

It's not cheap for what it is at around £25 and there are many, many cheaper versions out there although I'd be wary of these as they have reputations for being very flimsy especially when being used on full swings, and can snap getting it on and off the club. I'd definitely suggest buying from a recognised retailer.

So what's it all about and does it work? As I've hinted, it's all about ensuring a proper take away and hinge. Too quick and too inside and the cradle will miss the left arm (for a right handed golfer) to the inner part of the arm and too far outside the line and it'll miss the outside of the arm. The Swingyde does come with an band, which I'm not keen on and will look a bit naff come the warm, shirt sleeve weather, placed on the wrist. Fortunately, it's winter and the cradle rests on my top layer without irritation.

The Swingyde in the ideal set position
I tend to take the club away very quickly and have had tendencies in the past to fan the club open. Tempo has always been an issue but on the two range sessions I've used it on, I worked hard on half swings, without hitting balls, to ensure I took it away nicely and the cradle sat properly. From there, I needed to take it up to the top and then turn back into impact properly. To start with, when hitting balls (with an 8 iron) I was still very fast and the cradle missed, usually on the inside and it forced me to slow down, and ensure I took it back far straighter and smoother. It's a device that takes a little time to get use to and working properly.

I have a habit of swinging too far and my club extends beyond parallel, usually as the club gets longer, especially with driver, but one thing I felt, and I've not filmed any swings, so feel vs real may be two different things, is that the swing is more compact. It has felt there are a lot fewer moving parts, especially going back. I seem to have more time to into impact. I feel the contact has improved. My distance, while hard to gauge on a range, on a cold dark evening, with cold range balls, felt better. However, the dispersion left and right definitely improved.

The second session was a lot better. I'd been struggling with my driver. I was reticent to use it on the big dog, but decided that nothing ventured, nothing gained. It was very interesting. I still had a left to right shape, something that had been haunted me on the course, but instead of being a destructive slice had turned into a smooth controlled fade, something I could play with on a course. The good ones, the ones out of the middle, were arrow straight and a much higher, penetrating flight. This was pleasing.

I played on Christmas Eve and as part of my pre-shot routine I was focused on feeling that I was getting a good hinge position halfway back and then trust it. I hadn't played in three weeks and my form before then was patchy at best. I only had thirty points, but that in a large putt was due to a stone cold putter. There were several really wild shots, large push slices and I felt these were caused by coming too far inside and fanning the club. It was very apparent however that by using the Swingyde every day for five-ten minutes it is easy to feel  the correct position and that over time, it'll be possible to "feel" that more and more on the course. I also think part of my problems when I played stemmed from trying to feel the correct hinge on the actual shot and therefore thinking about it too much as I hit the ball. Feel it in the practice swing and then trust it.

So how do I rate it?

Size - it is relative compact and would sit easily in the clothing/side pocket of either a carry or cart bag to take to the range for a practice session. 7/10

Durability - it's made of plastic and so I guess there will always be a degree of vulnerability but I'm told it's far more durable than the cheaper copies on the market especially around the area where the bolt and wing nut fix the Swingyde to the club. With normal care and attention I can't see why it can't last and last. 6/10

Functionality - if you've watched the Dan Whittaker video at the top of this review, you'll see that he, as a reputable teaching professional, rates it highly and states he uses it on a regular basis and that in his opinion does the job it's designed to. From my own far perspective, as a mid-handicapper, it's really easy to use (once correctly placed on the club). It really does do what it's intended to and it works. It simply does and if you take the time to work at it in slow motion and feel the right way to take the club back and set it properly you can really feel the proper position to get into. Over the ball you'll feel the swing is more compact and the sequence from the top, into the transition and then impact works far better. 9/10

Instructions - The packaging was pretty poor and the instructions inside were pretty sparse and fairly confusing. There is a DVD, but it's poor quality and outdated and serves no real function. The website isn't that much better. However, the Swingyde is simple to use in it's basic form. The one thing that does need to be done with care, is fixing it onto the club. It has to be correctly aligned or it will give a false tale. It has to be lined perfectly straight and again Dan Whittaker shows perfectly how it should be done. The instructions doesn't explain this satisfactorily. 2/10

Overall - As a training aid, this one is right up there. It works. It's as simple as that. Not only that, but it's a device with longevity. As I mentioned at the very start, I've had my fair share of devices, many of which boasted more than they delivered. This one, simple as it is, has one aim, to get a golfer into the correct position in the back swing. It does this and does this well. It's already made a difference. I need to keep working with it, although this only needs 5-10 minutes repetition per day. I can see this making a difference to my swing, and alongside my lessons with Andrew Piper, will hopefully set me in good stead for the 2017 season. I would heartily recommend the Swingyde. 9/10

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

2016 (Where Did That Year Go?)

We're about to rush headlong towards 2017 and so it seems an apt time to take a look back at my golfing year and remember some highs and revisit a few of the lower points and chuck a cursory glance towards my goals for next year.

The Lows
My Health - It has been a recurring theme ever since I was taken into A&E in February and has been a contributory factor to some, but not all, of my golfing woes. It took me off the course and the range for several months and there have been some lingering problems, particularly with some eyesight and balance issues. The good news is the ongoing prognosis is this will improve in time. It hasn't been a good year from a health perspective but I'm still here and hopefully next year will be far better without any issues affecting my game.

* As an unwanted side note, I did have to call a paramedic out at 2.00am on Christmas morning with severe chest pains. Fortunately the ECG and tests were clear so no heart attack but something not quite right that'll need to be looked into. I wasn't going into hospital and missing Christmas unless it was an absolute necessity. I managed my lunch (no booze) and did the presents, so the wife and family are happy. Hopefully whatever is happening won't have a long term impact on my golf again in 2017.

My Handicap - This has been a really disappointing year. I started at 12.7 and was looking to kick on towards 11, and then make a concerted effort towards my golfing nirvana of single figures. There have been a number of issues, and while my health was one, significant as it was, it wasn't the only problem. I was stuck between conflicting short game techniques. I started the year with a conventional lesson (Conventional Pitching) but then invested a lot of time in a more radical technique which I found sat better in my mind and which initially provided some great results in all areas of the short game. The linear method used the bounce more and had the weight completely over the left side and I was lucky enough to have a lesson with one of the top UK coaches and "inventor" of the method, Gary Smith (Linear Method). Since then I've flipped between this and gone back to a more conventional pitching, chipping and bunker technique. Now there will be a long queue forming to say that this flip flopping backwards and forwards is not going to be consistent. I KNOW!!! I'm just trying to find what works for me, and what sits best in my head and inspires technique and confidence. I'm working hard on this over the winter and want 2017 to be one method and one method only

A Festival of 0.1 Handicap Increases - As my handicap increased I was stuck in a festival of 0.1 returns. I've rarely threatened the buffer zone, and a cut seems a distant memory. It wasn't always a case of playing badly from start to finish. There were rounds like that but an awful lot had real potential. Some even had a chance of top three finishes and a cut, They were undone by car crash holes, some real big numbers posted from nowhere when things had seemed to be going along well. These were never the same hole although the 6th at my home course (6th Hole - Royal Ascot Golf Club) has been a real nemesis. I'm working hard on improving my mental game and how I improve my strategy and on course thinking. Hopefully this hole, and more importantly these disastrous holes will disappear. If I can eradicate these, which is what the better players at my club do, then I can still give myself a chance to make buffer zones and maybe a cut or two, This year however has been poor year on the course and 0.1's an inevitable outcome

2016 Statistics - As a result of my poor play, one of my goals for the year, of improving my scrambling and in particular greens in regulation statistics hasn't come to fruition. There were a few bright spots, in particular my sand saves. My driving also improved. However everything else was over handicap, and greens in regulation went down from 19% to 18% this year. My putting is two strokes worse off despite some hard work in this area (2016 Statistics). However it is par scrambles, down from 22% in 2015 to a pitiful 13% that tells the biggest story. I've worked hard, and thought I was making progress, especially with the linear method, (Linear Method - An Update). However despite thinking it was going well, even before flipping back to a conventional method, the results were never there on the course. I couldn't replicate practice into scores. That has to change in 2017. I can't make scores without a short game. It really is that simple.

Losing Friends - This year has been a real annus horribilis and a lot of worldwide icons have departed including Arnold Palmer from the world of golf. On a personal lesson, I lost a golfing friend from the Golf Monthly Forum. Rick Garg was a generous man with one of the greatest sense of humour I've ever come across. He was also the driving force behind the Golf Monthly Help For Heroes Charity Day, and this years event, so soon after his untimely death was an emotional one but one which carried on his legacy to raise over £15,000 for this great charity (Golf Monthly Help For Heroes Charity Day)

Of course for every ying there has to be a yang and my 2016 golfing year hasn't been all woe is me and there have been some very enjoyable times.

The Highs
Help For Heroes - This year the event was held at Camberley Heath Golf Club, a Harry Colt heath land course that regularly features in the top 100 UK courses. I have played well here before and this year I'd paid to play with Rick Shiels and Peter Finch, two of the Golf Monthly top 25 coaches, who have a huge internet and you tube presence. They were wonderful hosts, very generous with their help and advice and it was great to see how two professionals tackled a course they had never seen.

Peter Finch and myself beside the lake on the 16th at Camberley Heath
I played reasonably well but made too many simple errors and got off to a slow start. In my defence it was all being captured on film for Peter's youtube channel and I was very nervous on the first few holes. I settled down and played some good stuff. It was a good day and raised a lot of money.

Rick Shield and me after the final hole at Camberley Heath
Aimpoint Express - If you have regularly followed my golfing exploits over the last few years, you will be aware that I use the Aimpoint green reading system. Initially this was a chart based method, but earlier in the year I undertook the Aimpoint Express course. This does away with the chart and is what you see the likes of Adam Scott and Lydia Ko use on the TV lifting their fingers to read the putts. It's not as complicated as it sounds, and is doesn't hold up play as it can be done properly in 15-30 seconds (Aimpoint Express). It has cemented what I took from the original course, simplified it and made my green reads much better. Of course you still need to put a good stroke on the putt and I'm working hard on improving that side of things but as a work in progress I am moving forward.

Linear Method - I have struggled over the last few years with all things short game and turned to the linear method as advocated by Gary Smith. It's a radical way of doing things with set up having all the weight on the left hand side and the hands level or even behind the ball, designed to utilise the bounce. My wife had bought me a lesson with Gary Smith. I was self taught from his DVD and so it was interesting to see what the man himself would make of my efforts (Gary Smith Lesson). I've got to hold my hands up and say that in recent months I've been tampering with a more conventional method of pitching. The linear method does resonate better with me especially in pitching and I was making good progress over the summer (Linear Method - An Update).

As you know I've been embarking on my "Quest For Single Figures" and initially need to get back down somewhere around 11 or 12 before kicking on again. I've been doing some work on my pitching and kept some statistics (Quest For Single Figure Practice Statistics) and plan to now repeat the process with the linear method and compare techniques. It should be very interesting.

Enjoying My Golf
Do you know what? Despite everything, and 2016 being a long way from what I hoped for, I've still really enjoyed myself. I love working on my game and then seeing it work (or not) on the course. I've enjoyed a few different courses and met some new faces and renewed some old friendships. I have tried so hard despite all the knock backs, the rounds that promised much and gave nothing, and the ones where it looked like I've never played before. to be a glass half full guy this year. I am still certain, nay dogmatic in my belief that I have what it takes to get to single figures. Along the way it's about taking the knocks and coming back harder and stronger and enjoying proving the doubters wrong and going out again and playing well and playing well more often.

The Aims for 2017
With my health issues beginning to finally go away fully, I hope to repeat the hard work of last winter. I've a series of lessons booked with Andy Piper at Lavender Park Golf Centre that I will be starting in the new year. I hope we can get my game in a good place and be ready for the start of the golfing season come the end of February and start of March. This year I intend to give A&E and weeks on the side lines a wide berth and get some good scores under my belt early and get the handicap tumbling downwards

I aim to carry on with my more structured approach to practice and recording my progress as I go. I'll carry on recording my statistics when I play as I can often seen patterns emerging and it's helpful to give Andy some tangible feedback on how I've been playing, whether that's in the period between lessons, as a season as whole or month by month.

Perhaps my biggest aim though is to nail the short game technique once and for all. It's so frustrating. I can have a conventional pitching, bunker or chipping lesson and the process will feel natural and work and then piece by piece unravel so I'll resort to the linear method. I have more faith in that method and more trust and it sits well in my head. On the flip side I want fewer moving parts which is what a traditional technique gives. It's a battle I've struggled with an one that has clearly held me back.

I want to play more courses. I'm off to Sunningdale to play both the New and Old courses and the day before will be playing New Zealand Golf Course. This is a true hidden gem, and it's not always the most accessible to visitors, so that will be exciting. I hope to be off to Hankley Common (a Golf Monthly top 100 course) for the Help For Heroes day in September. That promises to be another fantastic day. In between I hope to sample other courses for some social games and maybe the odd club match or two. Variety after all is the spice of life and to be honest I've normally fared well away from Royal Ascot where I truly believe familiarity can be a dangerous thing.

Short game, short game and short game. Fixing the battle of techniques in my head will open a pathway to a better and sharper short game. Finally I can make some respectable scores without having to have the long game on point all day. I've recognised over the last year or so that the low handicappers at my club, and I suspect at most clubs, don't necessarily stripe the ball every time. Some have more agricultural swings than my own impression of a giraffe on ice having a fit, but they find a way to make scores, especially when their own ball striking is off. I've known for many years it's not about looking pretty or textbook, and to be honest it's way too late for me on that score, but it's about making the best of what I have on any given day.

That is where I still fall down. This is where my NLP work this winter I'm hoping will help start to pay off and I can simply learn to trust what I have and what I have worked on. I want a clear mind, less thought over the ball and clearer targets to focus on.

It sounds when you write it down and read back, an awful lot of stuff for someone wanting a simplistic approach. Maybe so but in my own mind at least I've some clear goals, some clear focus points and some clear ideas where I want my game to go. I am in a good place, still with my glass half full at the end of 2016 and heading into the new year.

Let me finish by once again thanking everyone that has taken the time to read my offerings, either as an individual piece or part of my exploits towards my golfing nirvana. I have enjoyed reading and hearing all the feedback, both good and positive, with the occasional obscenity thrown in by the narrow minded. I hope you continue to enjoy what I put before you in 2017 and until then let me wish you, your family and loved ones a happy new year and hope it brings you everything you wish for.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Suaoki Laser Rangefinder

In my quest for single figures, I've invested in a laser rangefinder to get some accuracy into my game and practice. In truth, I already have a Garmin G8 GPS device (Garmin G8 GPS) which for my current standard of golf has been more than sufficient when I play. It's pre-loaded with most of the courses I'm likely to play and enough features to keep me happy.

However, as I've already mentioned in previous posts in the "Quest For Single Figures" thread my practice is taking a more structured approach and I wanted something to give me definitive yardages, particularly going forward with my work on my pitching and approach shots from 125 yards and in. As someone notoriously thrifty with my cash, I baulked at the cost of many of the main units on the market and wanted something that was cheaper but didn't compromise on quality or more importantly accuracy. I was put onto the Suaoki Laser Rangefinder through a couple of happy users via the Golf Monthly Forum and at under £100 it seemed meet most of my criteria.

Suaoki 600m Laser Rangefinder
It is capable of measuring in both metres and yards which is a handy feature. It's very simple to use with two buttons on the top, one for power/measure and a button to switch between modes (flagpole lock, roaming yardages, slope correction and fog mode when visibility is poor). Let me get it out in open at the outset, because it has a slope correction, although I've yet to test the units capability in this mode, it it highly likely it will fall foul of the rules of golf in competitions. That said, it's not what I bought it for primarily. I want to be accurate in my pitching yardages and build feel and distance control. I plan to use it on the course but this will have to be restricted to practice and social rounds, for getting exact yardages on par threes, and for anything from 120 - 50 yards. Inside of that I want to be able to trust my work on yardages, although I'll glance at the GPS if there's an element of doubt and the GPS will certainly suffice from 120 yards and out.

I've already given it a stringent work out on the practice ground when I worked on my pitching distances from 50, 40 and 30 yards recently. I was able to lock onto the flag on the practice ground and adjust my position to stand exact distances away. Once I used my alignment sticks to make a 16 foot circle to act as a reasonable target to land the balls in I was ready to go.

It is extremely quick and easy to use. I haven't the steadiest of hands and wear glasses to complicate matters. However with the unit on flagpole mode it's very easy to match the cross-hairs on the screen when you press the power button and once locked will give a reading. Even with a slight shake it was able to lock with no problems and looking through the eyepiece with my glasses on wasn't an issue.

Another handy feature of the rangefinder, is the fact that not only do you get the reading inside the unit when locked onto target but it has a large LED screen on the side which clearly gives the same reading. It makes it very easy to share the information with your partners or without having to peer into the unit. Perfect for me and my glasses.

Suaoki Rangefinder LED side display
It has also been given a run out at several local driving ranges. One, Lavender Park has numerous targets and although there are distance markers out there, I've always doubted the accuracy of these. It also has greens and flags without any distances assigned to them. It's been a best guess, especially on the green around the 100 yard mark and the one at approximately 150 yards when hitting balls in the past but now, irrespective of which bay I use I can get an accurate figure to work on. They also plenty of flags dotted around short of the 100 yard island which are perfect to keep my pitching ticking over and these aren't the same exact distances I've worked on at the practice ground at Royal Ascot Golf Club. This means my feel is having to develop to ensure accuracy. Perfect for what I'm trying to achieve.

On the course it has been very quick and easy to use with no issues in slowing play down. I've been able to get my exact number while my partners are playing their shots. I'm not too hung up on using it other than for distances close to the green (60-120 yards) and my GPS will suffice for most other distances.

It comes in a soft carry case and while that does the job sufficiently (with a cleaning cloth included) I'm getting a harder case to give it more protection in the bag. There isn't anything to protect the objective lens and two lasers (emitting and receiving) which is something other more expensive units do have. That said, with care and replacing it into the case after each scan I don't see why there would be an issue but for that added peace of mind I think the harder case will provide extra durability and protection.

So how does it rate? I've broken it down into a couple of sections to give an honest assessment.

The Unit

Size - very compact and will fit easily into most golf bags 7/10

Weight - it's a light unit that sits comfortably in the hand 7/10

Functionality - it only has the four basic functions which is perhaps fewer than others out there on the market. However for my needs, specific as they are, there is enough there for me 6/10

Power - its powered by a CR2 3 volt battery (supplied). I've invested in some renewable ones and a charger as I'm not sure of the life expectancy of the standard battery provided and I wanted peace of mind that it wouldn't die on me playing or when working on my game 5/10

Ease - as already mentioned in the review, even with glasses and a slight hand shake it will find and lock onto the target easily 8/10

Accuracy - I used it on the course alongside a partner who had a more expensive model (Bushnell) and there was no variance in 6/7 readings we took and the one difference was out by a yard 9/10

Price - this is where the Suaoki is a real winner. For less than £100 it gives anyone looking for an entry level (or perhaps just above that) rangefinder, without too many bells and whistles, something that works well 10/10

User Manual - the manual supplied is sparse at best and there seems limited additional information available online even on the Suaoki website. It fails to explain the functions in any depth or give any operating instructions and it is left very much to trial and error 2/10

Overall - as a unit for my needs it meets most of my needs with aplomb. It's a basic unit compared to some but at the moment I have very few gripes other than the case, slope mode (and what it actually is) and the manual 7.5/10


The Course

Speed of Use - the unit has been very quick to use for reading on the course It slips easily in and out of the protective case and responds quickly when the power button is pressed. It's refreshingly simple and quick to lock onto the target (flag) and give a reading and hasn't seemed to delay play in any way to date 7/10

Legality - this is my big bug bear. I need to find out more about the slope function (see my gripe about user manual) and see if it's a slope reading in the golfing sense which would make it redundant for a competitive round. Looking online, it appears it may be more for giving the height of objects but I remain to be totally convinced 4/10

Durability - the case isn't the most robust (I've purchased a more robust version) but the unit is waterproof according to the manual and their blurb and so it should function well in proper British winter conditions. I'm sure I won't have long to wait to put it through its paces in the rain 6/10

Practice 

Versatility - practice mode is what I purchased the Suaoki for and so far it has met all my expectations. I can scan targets quickly and easily and get accurate readings meaning I can stand there and trust my club selection. I'm trying to swap "technical mode" and swing thoughts for a more "game mode" practice routine and work on pre-shot routines, NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) and really make each ball count. It is easy to go from flag to flag and of course these vary depending on which bay (at range) or where on the practice ground I stand but I am now no longer without accurate distances - 9/10

Night Time - as it's winter, the ranges are floodlit when I use them. These lights aren't the best and certainly towards the far end of the range, it is pretty dark and sometimes hard to see the ball finish. However, I've still been able to pick a flag in the murk, without having to swap to "fog mode" and the unit has still managed to lock and load a number in. Ideal for hitting driver, fairway woods, hybrids and long irons 8/10

Quality of Practice - it is still very early days but I am finding it much easier to stand there and just swing, as I would on the course. I've not had a chance to repeat my statistics from the practice diary (Winter Practice Diary) but I'm hoping that the confidence and freedom the Suaoki unit has given me, it will allow me to improve on these numbers next time out. With the planned tuition from Andy Piper at Lavender park Golf Centre over the next few months I see myself hitting the ground running come the new season 8/10

Conclusion

There are many laser rangefinders on the market and many offer far more features but these seem to come at a price. The Suaoki Laser Rangefinder perhaps sits higher than a basic entry level model but at the price it is offers very good value for money. It meets all my requirements, has performed well at the range and on the course and seems well constructed and durable. There are some quibbles as I've highlighted, not least this slope function (and lack of clear definition and instruction) which would prevent use in competitive golf. That isn't a major issue with my Garmin G8 filling that void but it's an irritation that needs resolving once and for all.

It was perhaps something of an impulse buy, born from the thread on the Golf Monthly Forum about rangefinders, but is something I've considered for a while and the new "Quest For Single Figures" thread and my renewed vigour to improve, helped by some better health, made it an easy decision to push the "buy" button and enter my payment details. So far so good.

If you are in the market this Christmas for a laser rangefinder but feel that you perhaps don't play enough golf to justify the £200-£300+ price tag of most other units, but want better yardages when you are out on the course (or as an alternative to a GPS device) this could very well fit the bill.

Let me know if you have one of these and how you find it, or comment if you have any questions or points you want to make. You can either click on the comment box at the bottom or through Google+. Did this review help? Do you want to see more stuff, perhaps not necessarily main stream equipment being reviewed? Fear not, I'll be back soon with more Quest For Single Figures updates and some different bits and pieces for 2017. If I don't make it back here before the big day, a very merry Christmas to one and all. Thank you for taking the time to read my often rambling thoughts, and for those that have taken the time to comment here or on Google+, thanks for making the effort and providing some useful food for thought. A happy new year and I hope 2017 brings you everything you want for the golfing year ahead.