Golfing update

It’s been a while since I updated you (hello, anybody there?) with my golfing adventure.

Just to recap, the last time I wrote I was in the middle of having lessons and had just been out with a colleague from work for a round which went pretty poorly.

Well, the good news is that I’m still playing. The game has me captivated and isn’t letting me go. The not so good news is that I’m still not ready for the tour! Progress is, well, slower than I’d like. This is probably down to my natural inclination to want to be as good as possible at the things I do, and also down to the fact that I’m not a natural at coordinating the various parts of my body involved in swinging a club.

However, good signs are there and when the gods are smiling on me I can hit the ball very well. The lessons have been great, with Joe Murray from Hollystown doing a good job of focussing on the bits I’m getting wrong without rushing too far ahead.

We recently went out on the course for an hour’s lesson. I’d been hoping to get this in before our holiday in August, but that didn’t transpire. As such, thanks to the awful Irish summer and work I didn’t get much chance to practice and went into it pretty cold. After looking forward to it for a long time it came as a crushing disappointment to spend the hour fluffing nearly every shot I hit. Joe showed the patience of a saint as I hacked my way around a few hole, with us both knowing that mentally I wasn’t in a place to respond to any coaching. With hindsight it was a combination of too much anticipation, nerves (playing with a pro) and inability to take every shot as it comes. Lessons learnt, and not about my swing.

Since then the one lesson I’ve had saw hardly a bad shot get hit, and my practice on the range is coming on well. I’ve also played a few rounds and am now getting to the point where I’ve set a definite target of getting a score under 100. On Monday, during a day off work, I went round Hollystown during a fairly windy and overcast day in 109. Not the easiest conditions, and the front nine included two nines, and a nine and eight on the back nine too. There were three pars along the way. The problems could be narrowed down to noticeable areas:

  • Inconsistency off the tee. On the Sunday on a nice day with not a breeze I was hitting fantastic 3 woods off the tee. Seriously good shots, even cutting the dogleg left ninth over the trees (and trying for it I might add) but couldn’t hit my driver for some reason. On Monday I therefore started off hitting the 3 wood, but the high ball flight saw it get taken wildly by the wind causing loss of distance and lost balls. On the par four sixth I realised that getting out the driver and teeing down to produce a low flight might be better and immediately got par. Pretty much every drive after that was good.
  • Fluffed chips. Mainly due to not committing to the downswing and trying to lift the ball. There’s nothing like duffing the ball three feet forward or into a bunker!
  • The odd poor iron shot. Although much better than previously I still have a tendency to get off plane on the backswing which is down to doing the wrong things with my wrists.

So, the hope is that by being a bit more conservative sometimes and focussing on these issues 100 should come soon. The other milestone will be my first birdie. I’ve had putts for it but they’ve typically been from distance.

Golf lesson #7

Was actually a week ago, but I’ve only just got around to this and #8 is tonight…

The most notable thing was that I played my first round since starting these lessons last week. A work colleague is a member at Ashbourne Golf Club, North of Dublin and invited me out for an evening round. He plays off 18, so it was always going to be interesting, and the course itself is a step above anything I’d played before – with some very challenging holes and a fair bit of water about.

Needless to say things didn’t go well. My 3 wood off the first tee set the tone, skying almost straight up and landing short of the fairway. From there the slice came back big time and I found every bit of water and OOB going. I think I went through nearly ten balls. I was analysing my swing too much and ended up overswinging and not relaxing. There were some higlights however, some of my drives were pretty good, and there were a few good shots around the green. It was certainly a lesson in the fact that the game is easily as much mental as physical/technical. As such I’ve been reading Golf is Not a Game of Perfect by Bob Rotella.

The good news is I had a lesson the next day, so it was a case of back on the horse.

The focus of this lesson was very much back the the beginning and the swaying out movement in my right leg on the backswing which had returned. The drill this time was to place a small rubber block (or a ball works as well) under the outside of my right foot to get the body used to feeling the weight shift onto the inside of the right foot, encouraging the knee to stay put. This worked almost immediately (along with a smoother, more relaxed swing) and the shots I were hitting were lovely. I’ve since been on the range almost every day working on this and things have definitely improved.

I also treated myself to a couple of new clubs at the weekend.

When I first got my set of irons they came with a couple of hybrid/rescue clubs as replacements for a 3 and 4 iron. However they were heavy (75g shafts) and never inspired confidence hence never came out of the bag. After reading up on some magazine reviews I decided on getting a TaylorMade r7 CGB Max 19° rescue club, which TaylorMade claim is as easy to hit as a 7 iron. So far on the range it has proved to be lovely, with shots from the mat soaring out.

I also bought a new putter, in anticipation of spending at least one lesson on the putting green. Again, I’d had a cheap and cheerful blade putter which I knew wasn’t helping my alignment and instead splashed out on an Odyssey White Hot 2 ball SRG putter instead.

Golf lessons #1,2,3

I first had golf lessons about ten or more years ago whilst working as a student at Ford in Essex. They had a brilliant scheme whereby any salaried employee could obtain a yearly grant of around £200 to use for pretty much any learning you wanted. Brick laying, snowboarding, you name it (there was a list of approved activities but it was very wide.) I used mine to have six golf lessons. I’d never played before and unfortunately didn’t really start playing after. Thus, over the next few years I maybe played once or twice and lost the memory of everything I’d learnt.

When we moved over to Dublin I started playing with my father in law Bruce. At first we just made visits to the local par three course. It’s 18 holes and most are around 130-150 yards. There are two over 200 yards and four very short <100 yard holes. I would normally shoot about 85-90 for a round. There was obviously lots wrong. Over the last winter (yes, winter!) we progressed to the local pay and play full courses and whilst I could enjoy a round I was still really poor, never getting under 120.

Unfortunately, Bruce broke his wrist recently, so without a partner I’ve been wondering what to do. I don’t feel confident or ready to even think about joining a club and knew I needed to improve.

So, I’ve recently invested in a set of lessons. It was obvious to me that I needed to get the fundamentals right, so this seemed like the best approach. I went with Joe Murray at Hollystown Golf Club mainly because it is near work and it’s also where we’ve played the most. It occurs to me that I should probably be blogging about my progress, so here’s a recap on the first three lessons:

Lesson 1

On turning up Joe asked me what my handicap was. I replied Golf 🙂 Actually I didn’t, but I did get a bit embarrassed when saying I was a novice. He looked at my bag, complete with Nike Sumo driver and 3 wood and I said “All the gear and no idea!”

Joe started off just telling me to hit some balls with my 8 iron from the tee. About 20 balls later after watching from various angles he stopped me. He then proceeded to demonstrate my swing as-is and made a rather exaggerated backwards movement with the whole body bending as his hips shifted to the right through the backswing. At least I think it was exaggerated for effect, but then maybe not! The rest of the lesson focussed on position and posture through address – tucking my knees inwards and concentrating on keeping the legs still through a half swing with the aid of an inflatable beach ball.. I was soaking up the advice and put it into practice straight away. A lot of focus was put on getting the right address to the ball for the club length. I’d previously been standing way too close it turns out.

Inbetween

I hadn’t had any chance to put things into practice between the first and second lesson, but I had been doing the posture and swing exercises Joe had left me with.

Lesson 2

The initial hit of ten or so balls showed I’d retained the advice given. I was still finding a tendency to slice the ball, but Joe said he knew why and didn’t want to overcomplicate things at this stage. This lesson concentrated on the backswing and getting the correct takeaway, hip and shoulder rotation. Working with a 7 iron and 3 wood mainly. On a few of the balls there was some evidence starting to emerge of a ‘natural draw’ which encouraged me. I could feel a well hit ball, it’s a case of being able to replicate it consistently.

Inbetween

Between lessons 2 and 3 I made a couple of trips to the par 3 course over the weekend. On the first I went round in 74, never hitting more than 5 shots in a hole and getting par on a handfull. No birdies yet, but I hit the green in one a few times, including on the 212 yard 12th with my 3 wood. My shots off the tee were a hundred times better than they used to be, but my achilles heel was chipping around the green and putting. My chips were very inconsistent and either coming short or running off the back of the green as I topped them. They never got any height either. Putting from distance I tended to under-hit them and mis read the green.

Either way with scores of 74 and 76 there was marked improvement.

Lesson 3

Lesson 3 started with chipping after I’d told Joe about my scores (I neglected to mention the bit about the course being par 3 at first though 🙂 ) It was immediately apparent where my chipping was going wrong. I was too square in the stance whilst trying to open up the club face. My backswing was stilted and I was trying to force the ball into the air (causing the topping) All classic errors. Joe opened up my stance, put my weight more to the left foot, choked down on the grip and got me to swing more naturally. They were better and with a sand wedge there was some backspin on them as well. The ground was very wet however so it looked better than reality!

We moved back to the full swing for the second part of the lesson and got the driver out for the first time. We worked on getting more of a full shoulder turn and keeping the club on the right plane. To be honest I wasn’t at all happy with the swing and put in this lesson and could feel it going wrong. Whilst it was a bit of a come-down to not feel myself moving on in leaps and bounds it’s a case of keeping practicing and getting the right feel. When I feel it going wrong I have a tendency to over swing and try and force the ball too much, losing the natural swing and rhythm.

So, that’s it so far. Lesson four is tonight and from now on I’ll blog about each of them. If anything it acts as a handy review of what I’ve learnt – helping to keep it fresh in my own mind.

Faldo’s Seve trophy stupidity

So is Nick Faldo showing his infamous stubborness in this week’s Seve Trophy? The Seve Trophy is a golf competition between teams representing the UK and Ireland versus Europe. It is being held this week in Killenard, Ireland. Nick Faldo, English golfer and winner of six masters is the captain of the UK and Ireland side – a role he will be taking up for Europe in the 2008 Ryder Cup.

Given the tournament is in Ireland you would think that Faldo would find it sensible to include one or two Irish players in his wildcard picks. Afterall, there’s a few of them around. To be fair Padraig Harrington, winner of this year’s Open was in but had to withdraw. However Faldo decided to leave out Paul McGinley, one of his named Ryder Cup vice-captains, who has now pulled out of that role as well.

The Irish media (and the players) have been complaining about the poor attendance at the event yesterday and today, well I’m sure crowds would have been swelled a bit if there was a bit of home interest out on the course. The fear is that Faldo has too much ego to do the right thing, and it already appears to be affecting the Ryder Cup preparations.

Of course, the other reason for low crowds, which the UK media have gleefully picked up on, is the fact that the Irish National Ploughing Championships are taking place at the same time just up the road from the Seve Trophy. Now I’d never heard of these championships until they were mentioned in conversation earlier in the week. Apparantly they really are a big thing, and are pulling in 50,000+ crowds! To be fair, it is much more than the name suggests and is Irelands largest agricultural fair.