Sunday, 24 January 2010

Lessons In, Er Golf LDO

Still in La Manga, coming back on Friday. For some reason. Alright, I miss grinding online poker. Which is good, because it means I still have the desire to play, which I wasn't sure about before this break. Anyway, sticking to the golf, I wasn't hitting it very well last week, although I would still have scored quite well if I hadn't putted so badly [1]. I thought my grip was off so I changed it a bit with marginal improvement but a certain amount of discomfort in the left wrist (especially after playing). So on Friday I thought it would be best to have a lesson just to check up on fundamentals, it is expensive out here but so is everything else golf-related, what can you do.

The pro was very good and almost immediately said my grip was pretty much fine either way and that we would be better off looking at my swing. Basically I was kind of swinging outside-in which meant I was cutting across the ball, slicing it and taking distance off the shot by effectively adding more loft to the club (so for example I was hitting a 6-iron like an 8-iron). So we had an hour where he was trying to get me to swing inside-out. It felt really weird to start with, but with his video box of tricks I could see how much better the swing looked with the new technique.

Now I've had two afternoons on the range trying this out (courses are busier at weekends anyway and the weather hasn't been great so no real loss not playing the course). About 70% of my shots are no better or worse than what they were before, on average - but the other 30% just go PIIIINGGGGGG into what seems to me like outer space, but is probably just how I should have been hitting it in the first place. The 30/70 ratio seems to be slowly improving as well, so we're going to give it a spin on the course tomorrow, and probably every day Monday-Thursday while I'm here. It's likely (but not inevitable) that my scores will suffer for a few rounds, because before I had at least a reasonable idea where I was going to mis-hit it, and distance control is going to be an issue if I'm hitting 1/3 of my shots 20 yards further than the other 2/3. But sometimes you have to take a step back before two forward (like in late November) and at least it's a beautiful setting in which to play whatever the scores on the doors. Bring it on !

[1] I know, putting is such a big part of the game that it's a bit like saying, I would have played well if I hadn't played badly. One thing at a time ...

PS Apologies to SeanB for not responding to a comment for 3 months. I didn't see it - better late than never :)

Sunday, 17 January 2010

La Manga

As I mentioned elsewhere, I was going stir crazy sat at home looking out of my window at the snow, so I packed up to La Manga to leave everyone to it. I'm not sure what to expect here but it does seem quiet, and the geezer who came round to fix the boiler said that the whole operation has been struggling a bit over the last year. It's not a major surprise as renting, or even owning, a property here is going to be one of the first things people cut when times get tough.

Anyway, that's not my problem ; it might even be to my benefit as I think I have a pretty good deal on the rental. On the course, I have been steadily improving. It's a lot different to Enfield :), and I did find it very difficult on the first round. I won't give you my list of excuses, er I mean reasons why. I did a bit better today, my total score wasn't exceptional because if I find trouble then it tends to be big trouble and that can easily put a few high numbers on the card to bust a good score. Apart from that I managed 5 pars and 4 bogeys today, 14 pts v scratch, which is pretty close to what I should be doing handicap-wise (I calculate mine to be 23 at the moment based on scores back home). One thing in my favour is that it's not a very long course, and I'm starting to judge the greens much better (they're very quick).

I have a lot to do to be more relaxed on the course, although it was better today. I wouldn't go as far as the Danish estate agent I played 9 holes with the other day, who didn't even keep score ! Maybe I should do that for one round to see how it feels. But if I was doing well I'd definitely want to count it back :). Meditation ought to help with staying in the present moment - forgetting the last hole (good or bad) and thinking ahead to what score I might end up with are both distractions that I want to minimize. It's easier said than done though, like when someone says "Don't think about an elephant !". Go on, don't. Not that easy is it ? Anyway this is all a bit philosophical for a couple of weeks in the sun whacking a golf ball around. It's very good for me fitness wise, I'm cooking for myself, eating well and all in all it should make a good detox, not that I'm all that toxed up usually !

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

I Love It When A Plan Comes Together

I didn't quite manage 46 points in the winter league on Friday ; I had to settle for 45. Ship the Trekmate Wind Stopper RX7 synthetic leather palm gloves. Needless to say the word "bandit" was mentioned more than once. If only there was a word for lazy fat bastards who are scared to leave their comfort zone in case they fail and instead try to denigrate people who diligently apply themselves to become better at something in a year than they have managed in 20. "Golfers" might fit it. Or "poker players" come to think of it. Let's just say "people".

Last time I shot 91 I followed it up with 103, so I was pleased to card a 92 playing on my own yesterday. I can see what writers mean when they talk about how you can apparently "plateau" for a while before a sudden improvement ; I think that's happening here. Everything I've been working on and absorbing, including the mental side, is coming to fruition. Or it's the constant short game practice, it could just be that. It's quite exciting because I can see there's still a lot of potential to improve. When I was shooting 105 it would generally be with something like 15-20 shots wasted through tee shots out of bounds, fluffing fairway irons and 3-putting. So if I was now shooting 92 with like 5 shots wasted, it would look like there's a "ceiling" to my play. But in fact yesterday I chucked 11 shots through various profilgacies [1]. I hit 5 greens in regulation and got up and down 6 times, so I'm finding ways to pick shots up as well as cutting down on mistakes. If we suffer from any prolonged rainfall though the course will be underwater so I'm trying to fit in as many rounds as possible before that happens.

[1] Technically I could argue 13, but I rescued two of them by getting up and down after a fluffed chip & bunker shot.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Winter Rules

Something's really clicked in the last few days and I've been playing tons better. In fact it's not an indefinable "something", it's keeping my left arm straight. This means I get better compression, particularly on the long irons, and the swing is just that much more repeatable so I'm not tearing up huge divots/topping the ball so much. I've also been practising my wedges, often just in the park, stick my bag down here and my coat down 20 yards away there and chip from one trying to land it on the other. This is so much better for improving your scores than whaling 100 balls into space at the driving range it's scary. I didn't really notice a difference for a couple of rounds but today especially I was pitching and chipping much more freely.

Unfortunately, Enfield GC is in kind of a natural bowl and it soaks up the rain very quickly. So half the course was unplayable today, but I did manage to play 3 balls round 2-8, 21 holes in total, in 21 over par. Of course it's a little easier to play 6 holes with 3 balls than 18 straight, and they aren't the toughest holes on the course, but it was still a big improvement. With the course being wet, obviously you lose distance off the tee, but a good pitch shot just stops dead and putting is a lot easier. Hopefully the course will be OK for the "winter league" on Friday, if I can replicate today's scoring I'll be a super 46-point bandit off my current handicap :).

Friday, 9 October 2009

Keep It Simple Stupid

"Hit the shot you know you can hit, not the one you think you should." - Bob Rotella

As there was a match on at Enfield today I rolled up to Trent Park for a quick 9 holes. It ended up being 13 as I was playing well and wanted to complete a round. I couldn't quite, as I ran into a three-ball and didn't really want to hang around behind them in the rain and probably not finish before it got dark anyway. But it was a round of three thirds :

- Holes 1-4, +9, thanks mostly to a couple of errant tee shots on 2 and 4
- Holes 5-8, +5, much steadier
- Holes 9-13, level par, ZOMG !

9-13 I went par, par, birdie, double bogey, birdie ! By the 13th I was really in the zone, that's a 450 yard par five, driver and 3-wood to 15 yards short of the green, up and down, ship it. It's probably been 4 months since I played a round at Trent Park, and while my scores at Enfield haven't come down as much as I'd like, Trent Park felt so much easier today that I'm much more confident that progress is being made. Here's what I'm thinking about on each kind of shot :

Driving : Every drive is a lay-up. This is a tip from Zen Golf. Instead of trying to smack the cover off it, just think of the tee shot as a lay-up to roughly where you'd like to be. 210 yards up the middle >>> 240 yards in the rough (never mind the bushes). And in fact, when I sometimes play a second shot and try to hit it harder just to see what happens, even if it comes off I usually only gain about 15 yards. Just hold the tee shots back a little bit and lay them up into the middle of the fairway. Every par 4/5 is so much easier when you play your second shot from a nice central position.

Fairway Woods : Hit down on the ball to make it go up. Especially with the 3-wood, the temptation is to try to scoop the ball up, when instead you just play a normal swing and hit (very slightly) down on it. Let the club do the rest. That worked much better today.

Fairway Irons : Hit the shot you know you can hit, not the shot you should hit. If I'm 130 yards from the green and I think I need a 5-iron to get there, I'll take a 5-iron. You're more than welcome to laugh at me, take out your 9-iron, launch it, not quite get it right, and play your next shot from the bunker on the front. Especially now it's wet, I know I don't hit the ball hard, any turf I take cuts down the power even more and of course the ball won't run on after bouncing. I can't remember which book this was in but you should play the club that gets you to the back of the green if you catch it perfectly, not the middle. Because unless you're playing off like 6, you don't catch it perfectly often enough. As and when I start going through the back of greens, I can rethink this, but it's not happening yet.

Chips and Pitches : Get them up to the pin. It's the same concept as above really ; generally I find that if I do go past the flag, it's not by as much as I tend to leave it short when I don't think about getting it there. And it's surprising how often you think you've pulled one quite badly, but if you get the length right, it ends up much closer than you think.

Putting : Hit the ball, don't roll it. For a long time I was too intent on keeping the putter head moving at a constant speed, and kind of rolling it through the ball. That makes it too difficult to get the pace right. You have to let your natural touch come in by just sort of "clipping" the ball and I find my distance control is much better.

So putting all that together, after the first four holes I played 9 holes in 39 which must be my best so far ! I almost forgot as well, that was with 8 clubs. It was just (meant to be) a quick 9 holes and Trent Park's two miles on the bus so I didn't want to cart a full set around. I just played Driver, 3-wood, 5, 7, 8, P-wedge, S-wedge, putter. You'd be amazed how often that's enough. I certainly don't recall thinking "damn, I really need a 6-iron here" or anything like that.

In the interests of fairness, I did play like an utter (&*% yesterday with Lovejoy, so it's not there every day. But concentrating on the above, just one thing for whichever shot I was playing, put me in a great zone today and the more often I can do that, the more often it will happen on its own.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Send It

"A golfer has to train his swing on the practice tee, then trust it on the course." - Dr Bob Rotella

It's not that I've had nothing to write about on here ; more that there's so much that I don't know where to start ! One thing that's hugely important when you're working on your swing is to differentiate between practice and "real play". On the range, or if you're just knocking a few balls around the course, it's fine to think about your swing mechanics, what you're supposed to be doing, and what you're doing wrong. Any time you're trying to record a good score though, you have to forget about it !

It seems paradoxical, but when you're trying to put a score together you really have to forget about improving your swing during this round. Dance with the swing you bring. Trusting the swing you have will work much better on the day than trying to change stuff as soon as you hit one bad shot. When I saw a book called Zen Golf in the bookshop, of course I couldn't resist buying it. It's very good. It talks about using a "key phrase" just before you swing, mentally telling yourself "let it fly" or "it's all yours" to turn off the thinking mind and just let the shot go. I'm trying to use "send it" because it amuses me to say that to myself in the style of a poker player (Action Dave was a great one for "send it"). It's also good because the book talks about sending the ball to the target rather than hitting it, or at least that's how you should think about it. Obviously in reality you do still actually hit it. I played a social round today which was good fun, although a little trying towards the end when the group in front were holding us up. After a break for a sandwich I had two more hours trying to sort my drives out. I just managed to work the change I need before collapsing with exhaustion so we'll work that out some more on the range and have another bash soon.

Friday, 4 September 2009

The Difference Between 91 and 111

20, duh. In golf terms, 20 shots, double duh. But how exactly do I add 20 shots to my score in the space of 9 days ?

First of all the 91. This came as quite a shock after fighting against something of a mental block about breaking 100. I had shot 99 a month previously, after doing my level best to choke by playing the last 3 holes in +8, but since then had been finding creative new ways not to break 100 again twice a week. Looking back to the 91, I don't remember playing many particularly good shots - I just played a lot fewer bad ones. I missed a couple of putts and put a tee shot out of bounds on the 16th [1] which I pretty much always do anyway. That was about it. After going out in 44 (+7 for 9 holes) I was well on course to break 90, but tightened up a little bit in the stretch and ended up with the 91. Still pretty damn good and it's not every day you take 8 shots off your best score.

After trumpeting that on Facebook, Pete B warned me about hubris, and correctly so, but I thought the 103 in the next round wasn't too much of a problem. The interesting thing about the 91 was I left the driver at home and played all the par 4/5 tee shots with a 3-wood. Not surprisingly, this resulted in fewer tee shots out of bounds. In the meantime though I was practising with the driver and thought I was playing it well enough to give it a spin today. That resulted in four tee shots OOB for an immediate +8, and another three sufficiently errant to require a sideways second shot, although I scrambled a shot back on two of those around the green. Chuck in six 3-putts and a 4-putt (I know) and that's 19 shots. And 111 minus 19 would be 92.

When you think about playing golf well you have a mental picture of sending drives 250 yards and crisp fairway irons arcing towards the flag. But that kind of thing is much less important when it comes to scoring than just hitting the fairway and 2-putting the greens. I liken it to poker tournaments (expect much more of that in this blog) ; everyone thinks it's the big bluff and setting up the guy to call when you have the nuts when in fact it's mostly about good fundamentals and knowing how to play a short stack. Here's a quote I found that didn't help me with a blog title but it nails what we're talking about here :

"I just try to put it on the fairway, then the green and not three putt. - Peter Thompson"

And that's to shoot par ! All I have to do to shoot 90 is put it on the fairway, around the green, chip it on and not three putt. Sounds a lot easier than it is. It will, however, be easier if I can manage to leave the driver in the bag when there's any danger (whether due to the layout of the hole or the way I'm playing) of going out of bounds. It's worth giving up 30 yards just to play the second shot off the fairway. Then when I get around 90 every week, instead of once in a blue moon, I can think about hitting it further.

[1] Yes, it looks simple enough, but what that picture leaves out is that the tee is at about half past four looking at a clock face.