Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Peaked Too Soon?

Hello one and all wherever you are. I hope 2019 has started well for you and that you've managed to somehow scratch that golfing itch to some degree so far. Thank you to everyone that read my last blog regarding the Three Off The Tee Youtube channel (if you missed out there's a chance to get with the programme and read it here The Three Off The Tee Youtube Channel Blog) and if you have watched any of the videos and more importantly, subscribed to the channel then a huge thanks. There will be a very brief update video coming soon with my aims for the channel in 2019, an idea of the type of content coming this year and hopefully a chance to get you involved. Having got that brief plug out of the way early doors, let me proceed to to the heart of the matter and address the title of the blog. Have I peaked too soon?

If you have read any of my recent blogs (thank you) or follow me on social media (Twitter - @hackergolfer, Facebook - Martin Bedborough and Instagram - hackergolfer) then you may be aware that since December I have been playing some steady golf which has continued into the new year. I managed a third place in Royal Ascot Golf Club's new year competition (open to both the men and women) on 5th January, which was a non-qualifying event for handicap purposes, have had a few pick ups in various roll up events and was down to play in the January monthly stableford on the 12th, off the yellow tees and which was a handicap qualifier.

What I have also done, is cut down on my practice, restricting my visits to the range to maybe once a week, but there have been weeks where I've not gone and hit balls at all. I'm listening to the words of some wise old heads at the club that say I simply need to get out and play more often. Now, up to a point I agree. However my focus has changed and I want to dedicate a large proportion of my practice once we can get back to the club in the evening, to the short game. I have actually been pitching well and chipping better than expected off the wet, muddy winter conditions but I want to work really hard on distance control, improve my chipping and bunker play and really knuckle down to improving the putting. With regards to the putting, my lovely wife treated me to a Visio putting mat (Putting Mat - 12 degrees) and the Visio putting gate pack (Visio Putting Gates). I've been using these indoors already and although it's early days, initial signs are positive. I will be reviewing both products for the Youtube channel in due course. The bottom line is, improving the short game and putting seems to be a long term solution to making better scores, even when ball striking is off.

Visio Putting Gate Pack

Visio Putting Mat
So, having typed all that and wasted thirty seconds of your life reading it, I decided to hit the range on the Monday (7th) and hit some balls. I wasn't trying to change anything per se and merely wanted to keep the swing and tempo ticking over. Nothing wrong in my golfing mind. What happened next was a disaster. We all know that you should stretch, warm up and begin by hitting a few short pitch shots. I did parts one and two but when it came to putting club on ball, I proceeded to shank (yes I said the dreaded word) every pitch. Deep breath, relax and pull a wedge and hit a few easy full shots. Socket, right and repeat. Five minute time out, check basics and pull a nine iron. Socket, right and repeat. Basically bar perhaps ten balls, everyone was a socket rocket to the extent I left a lot of balls in the basket and exited home in a grumpy mood.

The dreaded socket rocket otherwise known as the shanks
All the confidence exuded from playing so well evaporated in a twenty minute ball thrashing frenzy. I tried so hard to slow it all down, check basics, rehearse and execute to no avail. So what to do next. Nothing for it but to get back on the horse so I went back on Wednesday and managed to find something and I hit it half decently. Instead of leaving well alone, I went back on the Friday. Back to the socket rockets with a mixture of good ones chucked in to really scramble the head. No worries thought I. Hit the practice ground before I go out, hit twenty balls, relax and go and play. That would be too easy and no, back came the rights. Perfect and with only twenty minutes until I tee off. The competition was off the yellow tees and so the first shot would be about 160 yards to the opening par 3. A perfect scenario to someone incapable of hitting irons straight.

Let me simply say my opening tee shot was a combination of prayer, clenched buttock cheeks, a swing designed to try and find any part of the face except the hosel, and using more club than usually required. Somehow it went forward. Not a solid strike (a pattern would emerge) and not a technically sound swing but it found the back of the green and allowed me to two putt for an opening par.

I'm not really sure how to put into words what played out other than I took the old adage "it's not how, it's how many" to stratospheric new heights. While the driver wasn't on fire it didn't put me in too much trouble. However it was the irons where the issues lay. I don't know if you've been afflicted by the shanks, but it is really hard mentally and the worry over each shot is where will it go. Given my pitch shots had been affected it bled down into those shots on the course.

How then did I manager to play the front nine in two over par gross. I really, honestly, truly didn't feel like I hit a single iron or pitch shot well. I wasn't swinging with any conviction or freedom, less I hit the hosel. Granted I made some good putts and my new Odyssey Red O-work two ball fang putter (why do Odyssey give them such funky names?) was doing the business.
My new putter was on fire. I've been putting well since I got it. Long may that continue
The trend continued on the back nine. I was playing ugly but this was definitely my day. Even when I couldn't manage to find a green, I contrived a way to get the ball close. The back nine at Royal Ascot definitely plays harder in my opinion and so to play that in five over gross for a grand total of 77 gross (+7) and a massive 44 stableford points was beyond my wildest expectations even on a good ball striking day. Granted there were times when I rode my luck on the back nine, none more so than my drive at the last which I carved right but it managed to miss the out of bounds, land under a tree but still give me a back swing to progress it down the fairway. I bailed out left to take out the pond that lurks short and right and then played a sublime pitch stone dead to salvage a six. That had been what it was like all round.

February 2019 Statistics

Unsurprisingly, 44 points was enough to take division 2 of the competition by a decent margin. The good news is it should qualify me for the end of season "Masters" event for all division winners in monthly stableford and medal events as well as those winning other main club competitions (Captain's Day etc). That'll be the third year running now I've been in it so I am definitely doing something right each season. The even better news was I got a massive handicap cut from a starting position of 14.5 down to a new mark of 12.4 so I am now officially off 12. That was my goal for the season so I can't help feeling I've gone too soon, although it's tempered by the knowledge one bad round pushes it back to 13 again. All in all then a grand day out you'd think.

And here dear reader is the nub of the post. Fantastic that I won, even better that after ages the handicap is on the move the right way. Dare I even mention "The Quest For Single Figures?" However and this is where I think people will take issue, it really feels in many ways a hollow win from a personal perspective, I absolutely hated the way I hit the ball from start to finish and took no satisfaction over the quality of my golf. I had some luck, made some putts that on other days wouldn't have gone in and in my golfing heart feel I got lucky. I have played far better golf for far less return.

I posted on social media once the results were confirmed that golf is stupid and it really is. I basically spent the whole round trying not to his a hosel. That was the limitation of my thinking over the ball, so no focus on the shot, what I was trying to achieve and how I was going to swing the club to get the desired shot. My mind definitely wasn't clear, just the normal thought process had shifted to the anti-shank. Not really something I recommend going forward.

In the end though, I have to be in the glass half full (if not full up) camp. A massive cut and a win is always welcome irrespective of how you achieve it and while it was definitely "my day" it's nice when that happens. We all have far too many days where you know the golfing gods are yanking your chain. As always, as is my golfing DNA, maybe I'm being way too hard on myself and in the end found a solution to a problem. I went out on the Sunday with the normal roll up and simply swung and guess what, not a sniff of a shank. Suffice to say I'm giving driving ranges a wide berth for now.

Thanks as always for reading another opus and your continued support. As I've mentioned, don't forget my Youtube channel (Three Off The Tee Youtube Channel) and if you'd like to get involved filming an on course vlog or help with product testing, please let me know. Don't forget to subscribe if you haven't done so already as it really makes a difference.

So then a rather eventful start to the year. I definitely think I'll feel the three shot pinch for a while but if I ever want to make it to single figures I need to get use to playing off 12 and then go lower again. I definitely feel engaged and ready for the warmer weather and see where I go and I hope you join me on the journey. I think it'll be a good one. See you for the next instalment soon.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

The Three Off The Tee Youtube Channel

As you may or may not be aware, there is a Youtube channel that runs alongside this blog, imaginatively also called Three Off The Tee. If you've never seen it, have forgotten about it or just need reminding of where it is, please click on this link to go straight there: The Three Off The Tee Youtube Channel

So why am I mentioning it? Well there are several reasons. Firstly, I need your help to grow the channel. Once I can get to 300+ subscribers I can start bringing more varied and interesting content, and plan to include as many subscribers in this as I can. It also gives me a chance to offer better prizes to lucky subscribers. It's free to subscribe so I politely implore you (nay beg) to go ahead and do so now if you haven't already done so. Once I hit that 300 mark I'm going to give away a decent prize and as they say "you've got to be in it to win it". I'd love to get more folk from my home club, Royal Ascot involved too, so if you read this (and I know some of you do), subscribe to channel as well for a chance to get yourself and your golf game immortalised on film for the world to see.

Secondly, I'd like to get more involved with our contributors and golf companies, either here, via Youtube and on social media. I really enjoy doing the product reviews and giving a mid-handicapper opinion on the equipment which is unbiased, has no gadgets or gizmo's and is just me using the gear for three holes on the course and coming back and giving a straight forward opinion on what I thought. If there are any up and coming golf companies, established names in the golfing equipment market, or individuals that would like to work on me on any golf related project, please contact me here, on my Youtube channel or via Twitter at @hackergolfer

If you want a chance to see my reviews, please feel free to click on any of them from 2018 and beyond. To make it easy, I've included a link where you can see all the reviews to date (Review Playlist). I want to grow the channel this year and need the help of those in the industry as well as those that watch the videos and read the blogs. The bigger I can make the channel, the more opportunities I can give to subscribers to get involved. It becomes a win-win.

Finally, and as it's the new year it gives me a chance to bring to you my top five videos from 2018 for you to enjoy. Its been a tricky job to try and whittle it down as I've been really lucky last year to get involved in a number of different events as well as having the opportunity to do some equipment reviews. Here are my favourites of the past year.

1) Avril's Dream Charity Golf Day (when a Golfhacker met the King of the Jungle)
I had the chance to play in a charity golf day as part of Team Golfhacker, with the editor Nick Kevern, equipment editor, William Murfitt and Mark Sapsford who answered and 11th hour call to make the side up. Aside from raising money for a great charity that grants wishes to children with life changing or terminal illness, I had the chance to chat with now King Of The Jungle, Harry Redknapp. Check that out and watch for a great video bomb, and watch how Team GolfHacker got on (or didn't) as we tackled a tricky Chigwell Golf course

Avril's Dream Charity Golf Day Video

King of The Jungle - Harry Redknapp (he features highly on my video favourites for 2018). Lovely man.
2) Ryder Cup Round Table
Sometimes you are given a rare opportunity in golf to participate in something unique. This was one such occasion as Golfhacker magazine was given unique access to a round table discussion with four players who have all played in the Ryder Cup. These included Ryder Cup legend and winning captain, Ian Woosnam, two Frenchmen, Thomas Levet and Jean Van De Velde and Englishman Peter Baker who was a rookie in the 1993 event and scored three points (two wins partnering Woosnam and a singles win against Corey Pavin). This video shows the discussion in full so it is long (about 43 minutes) but is a fascinating watch as the four discuss the 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris, Tiger Woods and future Ryder Cup captains. It's an interesting discussion, even more so as they were only scheduled to talk for ten minutes and something that I'll not get to film again

Ryder Cup Legends Round Table Discussion Video

3) The British Par 3 Championships
Again I was lucky enough to be invited to the last day of the British Par 3 Championship at Nailcote Hall in Cheshire. It's a fantastic event where a host of celebrities and former professional golfers take on a testing par three course. I managed to film two pieces, one of which I hope captures the flavour of the day and the other shows me asking some quick fire questions to some of the celebrities taking part. I really enjoyed the whole day and plan to be back in 2019 to cover far more of the even

The British Par 3 Championship - A Flavour of the Event
The British Par 3 Championship - Celebrity Interviews

4) Linear Short Game
I have written on here a number of times about the linear short game method. If you type "Linear" into the search button it'll bring up everything I've written about it (and there's a lot!!!) but in essence it's a method of playing pitch shots, bunker shots and chipping around the greens as devised and promoted by one of the top UK coaches Gary Smith and which uses the bounce of the club to give a wider margin of error and more control. It's set up and the position of the club takes some getting use to, especially in bunkers but it really does work and has made a difference to my game. In 2018 I did several videos on the subject. Here I've included my mid-handicapper take on the method to show the basic set up for each type of shot.

I have also included a scramble test. If you don't know what this is, it's nine holes and if I hit a green in regulation I have to drop the ball off the green and try and get up and down and if I miss the green in regulation I carry on as it lies and again try to make an up and down. It is a way of working on improving the short game in a real time environment and so adds a degree of pressure you don't get from block practice. The idea is to get up and down (under par) as many times as you can. A chip and two putts counts as par and anything more is over par. Keep watching as there is a surprise on one hole!

Linear Short Game - A Mid-Handicapper Demonstration
Linear Method - Scramble Test

5) 'Arry and Vicki
To finish, I've included some off course footage of Harry Redknapp and actress Vicki Michelle taken from the evening entertainment at the Avril's Dream charity golf day. If you watched Harry get crowned King of The Jungle you'll already know he's got a fantastic sense of humour. This catches him talking football (it was the day after England lost the world cup semi-final) and its totally off the cuff. Be aware there is some strong language. There is no doubt he has a definite career as a stand up comic waiting for him.

'Arry and Michelle - Avril's Dream Charity Golf Day

I hope you enjoy these videos. Please give me feedback either in the comments section of the Youtube video (and please thumbs up the video and Youtube loves those) or on here and let me know what you liked. If there are any topics you'd like me to cover or you have any ideas let me know. Also comment and let me know if you want to feature in a video at some point in 2019. I'd love to do more course vlogs and get more of you involved. Similarly I'd like to offer you a chance to take part in more product reviews. It would really mean a lot to get to 300+ subscribers and I've a number of ideas in mind for 2019 content and really want others to be involved.

In the meantime happy new year and hope you have a great year on the fairways. Keep reading and supporting the blog and the Youtube channel and hopefully our paths can cross at some point. Here's to a great season and all our handicaps reducing.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

A Nod Backwards And Looking Forward

Happy new year. I'm back after a longer sabbatical than I'd planned but hopefully here to make up for lost time. As far as golf goes, there has been, very, very little to report as I simply haven't played. My last competitive round was on the 3rd November where I managed a pleasing second place in division two of the monthly stableford. Since then I've managed to find a decent bit of form. I took the money in a roll up over the Christmas break and had a couple of second places and all in all have managed to play some decent golf despite not feeling I'm swinging the club very well. Granted the majority of these have come off the yellow tees but with no roll and muddy lies around the greens, scoring still hasn't been easy so I'm hoping to take this late surge of form into 2019.

Is it just me or has the last few months of 2018 seemed to have flown past? It doesn't seem too long ago we were playing on baked courses under an azure blue sky, and then autumn seemed to come and go, the clocks changed and we were in winter. For me that period between the clocks changing and the end of January is always a source of frustration. I can't get to the club to work on my game and any meaningful practice is either a range session or means giving up a playing opportunity to give a part of my game some work. I have been trying to resist this as I wanted to play far more and practice less and only when the game absolutely required it. As you will have already read, even that simple plan hasn't quite gone as expected.

It has become a sort of blog tradition of mine to recap on my golfing year, perhaps pick out a few highlights and look ahead to 2019 and my hopes for a new golfing year. I have to be honest, 2018 was an eventful year golfing wise. I got to play some lovely courses, had some fantastic opportunities come up and of course there was the epic "Quest For Single Figures".

Let me start with the "Quest". As one of the resident wags at my home club refers to it (yes Mick Mills I mean you) the search continues. If you have stumbled across this blog and a) are still with me (thank you and well done) and b) have no idea what I'm talking about, The Quest For Single Figures is as it sounds and my attempt to get a single figure golfing handicap. It is something I was close to and did manage to get down to 10 a few years ago. Since then, a number of serious illnesses involving hospital stays, lack of form,  and taking my game down some blind alleys trying to improve has seen the handicap gradually go up and up.

There have been the odd oasis of hope and success in a desert of frustration and 2018 is another case in point. I started the year on a handicap of 14.2 and as I write this it's now 14.5 (so playing off 15). In reality I've gone up a shot even though the handicap has only moved 0.3 shots. I would actually argue that such little movement shows a far greater level of consistency than in preceding years which were blighted by a string of 0.1 rises. There has been success and a win in a monthly stableford as well as several second places. I had a definite summer slump and did return ten consecutive 0.1 returns from 21st July until 22nd September where I had a second place (and 0.6 cut). Since then, it has been far more consistent and I feel I am managing to make better scores even when I'm not playing that well which is something all the better players (and lower handicappers) at my club manage to do.

It's annoying as I've been much happier with my game this year. I've played more golf and practiced less and perhaps that has shown in my performances. I am frustrated that there were a few times when I've let potential wins and handicap cuts slip and either ended up in the buffer or got an increase but all things considered I do feel my game is on an upward curve. I have an action plan in place for the winter months, including a couple of lessons and a lot of work on my putting and short game. Will next year be the year? I really hope so but if I'm honest I'll take moving from 15-12 as a successful starting point.

So what about the rest of my 2018? Well I've been extremely lucky to have done some media work for Golfhacker (Golfhacker's Website) and so a huge thanks to Nick Kevern for his support and assistance. I managed to interview a few of the celebs at this years British Par 3 Championship and had a great day watching some of the play. If you didn't see the videos on my youtube channel you can check them here.

Par 3 Championship - Celebrity Interviews

The flavour of the par 3 championship

I also got to go to the Farmfoods European Senior Masters at the Forest of Arden and for me, perhaps the biggest highlight was getting unique access to a round table conversation about the Ryder Cup in Paris with some former Ryder Cup players including winning captain Ian Woosnam. Listening to Woosie, along with Jean Van De Velde, Thomas Levet and Peter Baker was a joy. We were only scheduled to have ten minutes but as you'll see from the video below they were still talking forty minutes later. It's a long watch but I make no apology. This is the interview in full and as you'll see, they cover not only Europe's great win but the tricky subject of future captains. Well worth a watch over this festive period!

Ryder cup round table interview

I've also been lucky enough to product test some equipment. These have mainly been different makes of golf balls and as always I've given my unbiased opinion as a mid-handicapper. My reviews have no gadgets, no gizmos and no bull. Just me and the product out on the course playing a few holes and coming back with a point of view. These have proved a huge success on my youtube channel and it's an area I'll be looking to expand in 2019. Talking of the channel, I really want to grow this in 2019 and I need your help. If you haven't subscribed, click here and hit the subscribe button (it's free to do). As I get more subscribers I can bring bigger and better content and also try and get some subscribers involved as well.

I've also been lucky enough to play some great courses and meet some great people. We had a great day at Chigwell Golf Club with Team Golfhacker on a charity day raising money for Avril's Dream, a great charity granting wishes to children with long term and life threatening illnesses. I even managed an interview with the King of The Jungle, Harry Redknapp. Check that here

Chigwell charity golf day

Perhaps the best course  played was Liphook which currently sits at number 66 in the new Golf Monthly top 100 UK course listing. It was part of a great day and the annual Golf Monthly Forum Help For Heroes Charity Day. I've already covered the day itself in a previous blog (Help For Heroes Day) but the course was superb as was the welcome we received from Liphook. In fact, the ladies section kindly gave up their usual Tuesday day to give us access to play. A superb gesture and much appreciated. The greens were the best I played on all year by a distance. They were so fast, almost tour speed and far too good for most of the field. I think if I was a member there I'd either be a brilliant putter or a gibbering wreck. There's no middle ground and even a two foot putt was a nerve jangler and it was easy to have four feet back the other way especially if you left yourself on the wrong side of the hole. That said. it's easy to see how it has risen in the Golf Monthly listings and it's a superb venue to play. It's not overly long by modern standards but just asks so many questions about all aspects of the game.

As you can see in this snapshot, there has been some really interesting times in 2018. Where do we go next year? I'm hoping that Nick and I can catch up again at the British Par 3 at Nailcote Hall in Warwickshire. I really enjoyed my debut and would love to get more involved over the whole week. Similarly with the 2019 Ladies British Open at Woburn it would be fantastic to get involved in some coverage for that. Add in the Senior Masters at the Forest of Arden and it could be an interesting few months.

I want to grow the youtube channel and really want to do some collaborations with some other content providers and perhaps do some more work with golf companies reviewing their products. I've a few irons in fires and hopefully will get some positive news in the new year.

As for my game, the aim is simple. Start getting that handicap moving downwards. As I mentioned I have an action plan in mind (weather and health permitting) to put some work in to improve my weak areas. It is no secret if you regularly read my blogs that the short game needs the most work. It is an area I spent a lot of 2018 working on especially my pitching. I feel it has really started to show some positive improvement but my chipping is definitely a negative and holding me back. That is where I aim to spend 80% of any practice in 2019, around the greens working on getting up and down from any lie. I'll also look to work on my bunker play (which I think is better than my handicap level) and
work really hard on my putting. I feel that area in the last few months has fallen away drastically. I need to pick a putter (I've been chopping and changing with alarming regularity) and stick with it. I need to get back to working on holing out well from 2-5 feet but I also want to do a lot more work on starting longer putts on a better line. I'm not convinced I'm finding the centre of the putter face and I'm not sure I start the ball accurately enough.

I'm definitely going to continue with this years plan and play more, practice less. I can see the dividend in that. I am going to do some more work with James Lambdon to improve my thinking process on the course. I wrote about some initial work (The Golf Psych) and it has really made a difference. Way back at the beginning of this blog (when you felt like you still had a life!) I mentioned making better scores when not playing well. In the second half of the year having worked with James, I simply felt much calmer every time I played. Bad shots didn't fry the mind as often as they did, leading to more errors and run of car crash holes. There are still bad holes in there and moments of madness but generally its improving. When I am playing the shot I am visualising much better, going through a clear process and accepting the outcome and moving on. There is a lot more stuff I want to do to improve this side of things and empty my head of any technical thoughts.

James is launching his new website early in 2019 and I urge you to bookmark the page and email to subscribe. It promises to bring a lot of information and help golfers everywhere (Think Clearly Golf Website)

And with that, 2018 gallops into history. I hope your own golfing season has been as busy varied and exciting as mine. Please feel free to let me know in the comments section what you've been up to. I hope you've some great plans for the 2019 season and that in the meantime you and your families have a happy and a healthy new year. Thank you for reading my words of madness in 2018 and hope you'll join me for more blogs this year. In the meantime I hope 2019 gives you everything you want, especially from a golfing perspective.