The challenge continues!

It is some time since I posted – and my golf has continued to progress (and periodically regress) over the last few years.

Gawler 4thOver the last few years  my golf has improved, and I AM hitting the ball better and am capable of better scores. For a brief period of one week a handicap of 1.0 was achieved – and then back to a playing handicap of 2.While manageable on my home course the challenge of playing on other a new track, and playing close to my handicap, is still great.

With the opportunity to play in the South Australian Senior Amateur came a chance to test the “new and improved” game in a different setting. After three competition rounds it became clear that home ground advantage is great, and playing on a  variety of courses under competition conditions is important to raise the standard of your game.

Gawler Golf Club, at Sandy Creek in the Barossa Valley, South Australia, is a sandbelt  country course,with kikuyu fairways and well maintained greens.

Gawler 2013Unusually each nine starts with a par 5  (parallel holes). And there is one quirky hole – the 8th. A blind tee shot over a rise to a narrowing fairway is the  most unusual, and perhaps the worst aspect of the course design. Despite this it is an interesting hole.

The 8th was difficult but manageable. Three rounds – bogey, par, birdie.  Any drive over 200 metres needs to hug the right of the narrowing fairway or it will run into the rough down the hill on the left. The approach, from a downhill lie, needs to be right of the flag to avoid bunkers on the left, and  stay on the left sloping green. Once on the green the problems are not over. Any putt over about three feet is easily miss-able.  My par was the result of a missed four foot putt, the birdie a 12 metre putt, left breaking about 8 feet and running down the hill! Go figure!

Gawler 10thThe ‘easy’ par 5’s (at less that 450 metres) proved difficult. No bunkers, but a well placed second shot is needed to be in a position to see down the hill to see the small greens that seem to slope away toward the back.  Despite being capable of reaching these greens easily in three my score against par for the 6 times I played these holes was 7 over!

While scoring better on the shortest hole on the course (4th Par 3 97 metres downhill) three putts on two occasions on this vast green did not help my overall result.

At the end of the competition I walked away in 19th place, and ranked 219 on the Australian Seniors Order of Merit from my one Seniors event for 2013.

 

What did I learn from the experience?

  1. Good driving and high Fairways in Regulation % does not guarantee good scores.
  2. The short game is king…. too many three putts doesn’t help your score or confidence
  3. A few good holes is not enough to have a good score. Day 2 included a 7 over nine, with two triple bogeys!
  4. Confidence is vital.
  5. A home club handicap is not a true reflection of a golfers capability.
  6. In the end it is only a game.

 

 

 

Turning it around – 1.

From July to October my handicap moved from 5.5 to 8.2

At the start of the year my aim was to reduce my handicap from 5 to 2.  A couple of lessons to establish a solid foundation, and regular practice, seemed to have little positive impact on my scores.

Over the last eleven months I have hit more golf balls, and played more regularly, than at any other time over the last 40 years – but there have only been glimmers of hope. My scores were consistently between 8 and 13 over. Under the new handicapping system the low scores from late last year dropped out of calculation, and my handicap suffered.
The problems were many.
  • Erratic driving. Fairways in regulation were regularly less that 30%. As a result Greens in Regulation rarely reached 50%.
  • Inconsistent putting. 31-34 putts were the norm, with at least one three-putt most  rounds.
  • Between tee and green my iron play was not up to the task of scrambling pars or bogeys from behind trees or under bushes.
In the last three months things have turned around…..

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What has changed?

With my handicap increasing with every round there are golfing matters to be addressed.  How do I identify the major factors in my golfing demise?

A number of things have changed…

First there is the change in the handicapping system. Averaging the best ten of the last twenty scores instead of adjusting by +0.1 if the nett score was over CCR or -0.2 per shot under CCR has made a difference. Under the old system I would be off 6.7 rather than 7.8.  This tells me it is not the handicapping system that has caused the problem.

Second there have been planned changes in set up and swing. A couple of lessons and a lot of practice, and I am generally happy with the result.  I am playing and practicing more consistently that I have for years, but not scoring anywhere near as well.

Perhaps the biggest factor is my change of course! For six years I played on a course that has four bunkers, and three of them are fairway bunkers.  Miss a green, and it was a chip.  Miss a fairway and there you could generally make good distance towards the green. While water was in play on twelve holes, it was only a major factor in risk factor on one.  Now there are close to 90 bunkers on my home course.  Only four of the driving holes DO NOT have fairway bunkers, and all but  six of the greens have bunkers LEFT and RIGHT. The rest of the holes only have bunkers to ONE side of the green. Miss a fairway and there is a good chance you will be hacking out on to the fairway.

Is my course the reason for my golfing struggles, or are there other factors that are more significant?

Do we let goals go OR defer them?

At the end of August my handicap went out to 8 for the first time since 1995.  Now it is exactly 7.8.

Then it was over eight because I resumed competition after a six year lay off. Now I have just changed my home course.

Then I had good reason to be 2 or 3 shots over my previous playing mark. Now there are other factors, but none of them add up to the difference  (or at least I don’t think so).

Then I wanted to get my handicap below 8. Now I have a goal to reduce my handicap from 5 to 2.

Do I give up that idea entirely, or just shelve it for now?

Back to the course

After a couple of weeks it will be good to get back on course to play 18 holes where only MY score counts.  First it was fousomes, then a fourball aggregate, and then a week off. With weather warming up a little, depsite snow on the mountain, a day on the golf course is looking good.

My last round was passable – 34 points.  Sitting back when the game was over and analysing the round it was fairly obvious that I actually played well!  How can that be?  After a great drive down 13 I wiped the hole, one bad shot, a bad bounce (= one shot penalty), and too much aggression on my approach meant I had one shot too many. A poor shot was followed by a poor thought process. That is a recipe for disaster.  SO…ignoring that hole I still hit 8 bunkers and had over 30 putts. With that background 34 points was a good result.

Highlights and shots to remember.

  • Birdie, birdie sequence on 16 and 17. Both birdie were set up by three-woods to the middle of the fairway.
  • Nine iron approach on 6  that finished pin high and ten feet to the right of the pin.
  • Nine iron approach on 7. The swing felt good, and the ball flew on a line direct to the pin, struck the top f the flagstick and dropped finished about six feet passed the pin.

Statistics:

FIR: 50% GIR: 33%  Putts: 31 Score: 34 points  Handicap: reduced by .1 to 7.1

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Eighteen holes is TWO nines!

Weather: mild and slightly overcast, with a gentle but cool breeze.  Course condition: good, with greens a little slower than usual but no frost. Company: three good golfers that I had played with previously.  All set for a good round of golf!

Forty minutes on the practice fairway the previous night allowed me to experiment with a slight adjustment to my swing. The new swing thought brought a little more consistency to my ball striking, and a better swing path. Twenty minutes warming up on the practice range confirmed the change and confidence was high as tee time approached.

Nine holes later, 5 of seven fairways had been nailed. Two poor tee shots caused some difficulty but six of nine greens were reached in regulation, and one birdie had resulted. At one over the card things were going well.

Just why the wheels fell off I am not sure, but 21 points on the front doesn’t compensate for a struggling 11 points on the back.  Zero of seven fairways hit, six bunkers explored, and seventeen putts contributed to ten dropped shots in nine holes.   My concentration was thrown over a minor issue, a few shots were poorly executed, and my thinking was poor on a number of occasions. It added up to a poor nine.

Even so, one over on the front nine reminds me that my present handicap is a temporary aberration, and things are soon to turn around.

Shots to remember:

  • Three wood off the tee at 14.  The hardest hole on the course requires a good straight drive. With a poor history off the tee on this particular hole only one image was entertained – a good swing and the ball flying towards my chosen target. A good strike resulted in the ball finishing in the middle of the fairway two hundred and thirty metres from the tee and leaving a comfortable six iron to the green.
  • Gap wedge from 75 metres on 17. After splitting the fairway off the tee a good shot was required to the pin in the back third of the green. Rhythm was good as I concentrated on my two key swing thoughts. The ball started on my aiming line just left of the pin and finished two metres beyond the pin to set up a birdie opportunity.
  • Four iron on eight. At 175 metres into a gentle breeze it was at the  limit of the iron. Good rhythm, the left foot planted and the right arm coming through on the inside and the ball flew straight at the pin, finishing on line about 7 metres short of the hole.

Statistics:

FIR: 5 of 14    GIR: 8 of 18    Putts: 33   Points: 32

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Still going the wrong way…

For the first time in weeks my Fairways in  Regulation hit 50%.  Unfortunately the statistic that didn’t move forward was Greens in Regulation, a mere 30%.  Alongside these numbers were 29 putts, an overall result that was passable but included two three-putts on my back nine.

The bald statistics only tell part of the story, and three holes blew my stroke score out of the water.  I did not think that the cold I was struggling with was a factor, especially after being only 4 over at the turn. Two double bogeys, two three putts, and a shanked chip conributed to bogey golf over the last nine holes, and a final score of 85.  It is not a score that satsifies, and the impact on my handicap was severe. Another 0.6 was added and at 6.8 the handicap is as high as it has been for over 7 years.  A combination of new handicapping system and a new (and tougher) course has all contributed to this dose of reality.

At the turn  things were was positive. A front nine of 4 over (including two penalties) was not disastrous, and I had been playing fairly consistently.  What followed was a litany of bad luck and poor golf that did not reflect the first nine holes, nor my ball striking.  As always, it’s not how – it’s how many.  How many? Too many!

Memorable moments:

On the par 3 15th a pushed tee shot ended in the tea tree. With an unplayable lie I oicked the ball up and retreated about 30 metres – there were no alternatives as the ball was deep in the  scrub. Faced with a 50 metre pitch my aim was to get the ball on the green.  Unfortunately I came off the shot a touch, and hit it low and straight into the tea tree again. I found it 10 centimetres from where I had picked it up just moments before.  Another drop, a pitch and a 10 metre putt had me marking a 6 on the card. It was a good six!

Shots to remember:

  • A pure 8 iron on 4 that covered the pin, and settled 8 metres past the hole and directly on line.
  • A chip from the rough on 18. In the rough and fifteen metres from the hole the chip landed neatly over ridge and stopped just over one metre below the hole.
  • My focus on the 6th tee was good. I selected my line, established my key swing thoughts and swung through the ball. despite hitting into a slight headwind from the back tee the ball started just right of centre and drew slightly into the left half of the fairway. With just over 200 metres left to the green the 230 metre drive was one of my best for the day.

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Last Saturday…

After a few weeks of improved golf my last round was approached positively.

My previous round (35 points, 20 of them on the back nine) was the best I had played for over a month. Statistically I hit 5 of 7 fairways on the back. Hitting fairways set up a sequence of 8  4’s that ended with a  missed birdie putt on the last.   After that sort of form I was looking forward to getting on the course again.

After 18 holes I signed for 30 points, and needed a birdie on the last to get that many.

What went wrong?  On six holes I was in excellent position for my approach to the green only to leave the ball in a greenside bunker, or even wide of a bunker. There goes 6 points.  There were other errors, but my approaches to the green  (usually sound) were just a bit off, and it turned out to be costly.

What do I want to remember?

  • My drive on 9.  With a little left to right breeze I planted my left foot to start the downswing and let rip through the ball.  A 250 metre drive left me with a chance at birdie on the 491 par 5.
  • Fairway bunker on 2. Ninety metres from the green with another yawning bunker a couple of meters short of the green. A crisp nine iron picked the ball off the sand but went a little longer than expected. It was on the green, even if I was left with a 20 metre downhill putt for birdie.
  • Greenside bunker on 17.  After three poor shots the 60 degree wedge came into play with a long bunker shot. I attacked it hard and was surprised when the ball landed pin high left of the flag, took a bounce forward and then spun back right of the pin to finish about a metre from the hole.

It was a good days golf. I struck the ball well off the tee (mostly), and my touch around the greens was very good.   The positive signs keep coming and a handicap reducing round is on the horizon.

Statistics:

FIR 47%  GIR 27% Putts 26

Related posts:

Revising Goals…

Six months after declaring a goal it is time to revisit.

At the start of the exercise my handicap was 4.9, it is now 5.5.

At the start of the exercise I was without a golf club, I now play at one of the top 100 courses in the country.

Before this year I had two lessons in 6 years, I have now had two in 6 months.

So where is my golf heading?

The statistics tell me my handicap could soon be closer to 7 than 5. In the next few weeks two of my best rounds will drop of my ‘last 20’. My last five rounds have not been in my best ten!

Familiarity with the course has made me more aware of the hazards, more confident in my putting, and more strategic in my approach to each hole.

Early season swing changes have settled in, and my ball striking is more consistent.

What is missing are low scores.

Where to now?

210 metres to the bunker...I made it easily!

My handicap goals have not changed, but getting there is tougher.

Continuing to work on aspects of my game that are off the mark – driving accuracy (<50%) and greens in regulation (<50%) – will eventually bring results.  Attention to ‘the mental game’ has already increased my enjoyment and reduced my stress, but is yet to end in lower scores.

My current emphasis?

Timothy Gallwey identifies the Performance, Enjoyment, Learning triangle.  No matter how I perform enjoyment remains, and learning can take place.

Golf is a great game.  There are no excuses, no-one to blame if things go wrong. I will continue to enjoy the challenge and strive to achieve my goals.