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.

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