Monday, 27 June 2011

There's someone in my way...

I'm a reasonable man. I'm patient, understanding and relatively stable mentally (give or take the occasional self destructing blow-up on the golf course - one has to let it out!). Having said all this, there's one guy who really gets on my nerves. I can say without hesitation that this person is to blame for most of my bad experiences on a golf course.

I've been playing with him for a long time. We get along pretty well most of the time but lately I've started to think he doesn't like it when I win. To be more precise, I've been thinking that he actually tries to stop me from winning. Let me give you some examples of the crazy stuff this guy has done over the years.

I can recall many occasions in the past where I've told him;

'I'm playing well at the moment, I'm feeling good about my game'.

He's supposed to be a friend, and a good friend at that - but what does he say when I tell him this? Does he offer support, encouragement and sound reassurance that my good play will continue for as long as I want it to?

No, he doesn't.

His usual reply is something along the lines of; 'You've been lucky lately, it's all going to fall apart again soon!', or 'You're a decent player but you're very inconsistent'. Most annoyingly I can recall several times where's he's whispered in my ear something to the tune of; 'You're one of those players who can never win a big event. Second place is what you can expect at best.'

And you know, sometimes I think he's probably right.

I think I know how to play the game of golf. OK, I'm never going to be a professional. And my chances of making the seniors tour are pretty slim. Even Peter Kostis says so, check out the tweet he sent me on this very subject. BUT, I think I've got what it takes to win an amateur competition at my club, maybe two, maybe more. I think I've got what it takes to get my name on that wall.

However, if I'm standing on the 18th tee, with a potentially winning score on my card, what do you think my good 'ol buddy says to me? Does he say;

'Play it one shot at a time, don't add them up until you're done. Stay in the moment. You can do this!!'?

No, he doesn't.  Instead he stands there with that smug look on his face, waiting for me to fail. I know what he's thinking too, he's thinking 'his swing will fall apart on this last hole, he can't handle the pressure.'

I hate to say it but I think he's right about that too, something always tends to go wrong.

Tempo is something I've struggled with over the years. I'm a quick thinker, and I reckon I've got a high metabolism. I'm always running around the place doing some thing or other, and I'm a keen multitasker. Watching TV, having a conversation with my girlfriend whilst tweeting is no problem for me. (Although it is a problem for her, and rightly so!) Finding that 'Zen' like inner calm is not something that comes naturally to me. Chaos is my calm.

I've worked hard on slowing my swing down in spite of all of this. From time to time I think I've got the hang of it. I overcome my natural instinct to swing the club aggressively and it produces a much more consistent result. In practice rounds I've played fantastically well when I focus on producing a steady smooth swing rhythm.

I can do this in a competition too. For the first few holes. Yep, for the first few holes I'm swinging it like I've been playing golf since I was 4 years old. You know, once in a major competition at the club - a guy actually said to me on the 5th tee; 'You've played those first 4 holes like a professional, keep it up.'

But as I progress through my round, trying to stay focussed on maintaining this graceful golf swing, in my mind I can hear the voice of my good old friend. Like clockwork!

Do I hear him say; 'This is easy for you!!, you're capable of maintaining this perfectly balanced swing. You have got what it takes to see this through!! ?

Well I think by now you can guess the answer - of course he doesn't.

His usual 'words of encouragement' are along the lines of; 'You're starting to speed up, your swing is getting a bit snappy. Do you have any idea where the club is when you are on your backswing?'

And with this, I speed up, I get snappy, I lose confidence in my swing and in myself. And even if I focus hard as hell and manage to pull it back, the best I can ever do is finish second. Usually shooting 1 or 2 shots more than the winner.

I think it's about time I kicked this so called 'friend' of  mine into touch. I don't need him anymore. Would any of you people out there put up with this?

The only trouble is I can't exactly cut him out of my life. At the end of the day, he's all I've got. He's my best friend. Wherever I go, he goes.

And every time I look in the mirror he's standing there, smirking. Smirking and waiting for his next opportunity to cut me down to size.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Three things to work on: Short game, short game and short game.

I've lost count of the number of times (over the 7 or so years I've been playing golf) that someone has told me to focus on my short game and give it priority. I recently read on Twitter that Luke Donald spends twice as long working on his short game over his long game. Of course I always ignore this, and spend most of the time on the range or on the course practice area, hitting driver or irons into the distance. Not always straight :)

I think it's common for a beginner to focus on their long game, because everyone wants to hit that sweet shot that goes exactly where they're aiming or boom a drive down the middle of the fairway, having smashed it with the middle of their 460CC clubhead. At this level of experience, it's like a drug. When I was a beginner (and for the first few years of playing), I had a simple philosophy; If I could hit one pure shot in every round, it would be enough for me to want to play again.

I think it's fair to say things have changed, so it's high time that my approach to my game should change too. Putting this into context, I usually go back over a round in my head after I've played it. It's occasionally my pre-sleep routine :) I think about the good shots and the bad and how I could have avoided the bad ones by playing more sensibly or differently. I think about the putts that lipped out or the silly mistakes I made around the green.

Lately I'm finding that when I do my post game analysis that the majority of errors / bad choices I make during a round have been from approximately 80 yards in (including putting). Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that I'm always accurate of the tee. But if I do end up in the trees or a ditch or heaven forbid, three off the tee, I can usually recover and get in the region of the green without too much trouble. However, if my short game is not sharp I'm usually headed for a disaster in these situations because the pressure is now on my short game to help rectify the damage I've done off the tee! Is this making any sense? I think this is how the 7's and 8's crop up on my card occasionally. I don't make it to the green in regulation and then I compound the damage by fluffing a chip, taking two to get out of a bunker or three putting.

What I'm trying to say is that its about time I listened to the wise advice I've been given about focussing on my short game. If I had confidence in that part of my game, it wouldn't necessarily matter if my long game was slightly off. If I could get up and down in two shots maybe 30 or 40% of the time from 80 - 100 yards in, I'm sure I'd knock 2 or 3 shots off my handicap in a reasonably short amount of time.

So my friends, without rabbiting on for infinity on this topic I shall end by vowing to work on this area of my game for the next few weeks. I'll let you know how I get on!

Thanks for reading, and if you play golf tomorrow - make sure you enjoy it no matter what!


Thursday, 16 June 2011

There's more to winning than swinging.

Back to winning ways

I played in the monthly stroke medal at the golf club last Sunday (5th June). I played pretty well, ending up with a nett 67. I didn't think I'd win, but wasn't 100% sure because it was a very windy day, so in the back of my mind I thought I had a chance. I wasn't obsessing over the result, a couple of days passed by without me finding out where I had finished overall. Then, on Tuesday I received an email. I opened it up and this is what I saw (please note that I've removed surnames for obvious reasons):

Needless to say, I was very pleased! It was a good medal to win as it qualifies me for our annual 'medal winners' tournament, not to mention the boost it gives to my '2011 order of merit' ranking.

Now I could go on about how I should have had a a nett 64 or even moan about the two 7's on my card. Those of you who've read my previous posts will know I've been swing rebuilding over the past few years and made a lot of changes during the Winter. But this post is not about swing mechanics, shoulder turns, changes I made to my grip, stance, posture or what could've been! Let's just say this post is for those of you out there who KNOW you can win, but for one reason or another things have not gone your way just yet. You've got the game, so why aren't you producing the results? For the record, that's the question I've been asking myself for the past few months. I stopped asking it on Tuesday. :)

There's no denying that practice is vital and whenever I'm preparing for a competition, I put in the hours beforehand, let's assume that you do the same. If you're not practicing enough, I recommend that you start! It's one of the reasons you're not winning. But there are other things you can do that can help you get to the top of that leaderboard, next I'll list four of these areas and give you examples of what helps me to work on them. As they say, 'different strokes for different folks', so what works for me may not work for you - but hopefully my experiences will be of some help to someone out there.

I've practiced, I feel I've got the game, what next?
  1. Build confidence
  2. Cultivate patience, especially on the greens
  3. Learn to let go 
  4. If you need to, let it out!
1. Build confidence

There are many ways to build confidence in your game but here's one that works for me.

It doesn't matter how many lessons I've had, how many hours I've practiced or how often I'm told my swing looks good, I'm one of those people who absolutely needs to see a video of my swing at least twice if not more times a season. I can't play consistently without doing so. I don't have eyes in the back of my head so when the club is behind me on the backswing, I don't have any idea where it is. This uncertainty tends to fester and grow in my mind, the only way I can swing confidently is to watch a video of my swing, usually shot from a couple of angles. I find that this helps me to build confidence, once I've watched a few good swings I can stand over the ball and think 'I know I'm swinging well, I could see that on the video earlier.'

2. Cultivate patience, especially on the greens

You can't possibly win every competition you enter. You can't possibly hole every putt. The day before I won my competition I had no less than 5 putts lip out on me. Instead of getting frustrated, I thought to myself, 'Maybe tomorrow or maybe another day they'll drop'. And they did!

Previously, after having a day where multiple putts lipped out, I'd go home feeling the golfing gods were against me and I'd complain to anyone who'd listen about how unlucky I'd been. This 'poor me' approach didn't serve me well, for the next time I played I'd be so tentative over putts that they'd either miss by miles or continue to lip out.

The only way I could get through this vicious circle was by practicing patience. So how's this for a motto?: 'They didn't drop today, and they might not drop tomorrow but I'm going to be patient because they WILL start dropping soon!'

It worked for me :)

3. Learn to let go

In recent months I've been very tentative over almost every shot, whether it was a tee shot, approach, chip or a putt. A few days before my win, I started to stand over the ball, lock onto my target and then push myself to have one final thought before swinging. 'I don't really care where this ball goes' :)... As ridiculous as it sounds the ball started to go where I was aiming much more often as a result of this pre shot routine!

4. If you need to, let it out!

Last bit not least, I'll admit I don't have the patience of a saint. If things aren't going my way I tend to get a bit frustrated. I'm not one of these people who can keep quiet, I've tried and it doesn't work. Now, I'm not saying you should start throwing clubs around the place or swear at the top of your voice anytime things don't go your way. BUT, if you hit a bad shot and you're the kind of person who gets frustrated, I suggest you let it out in a controlled way. Good term, lets call it 'controlled agression'! Once you've scolded yourself after your sliced drive or misread putt, move on and forget about it. Never carry the woes from the last hole the next one.

Also on the subject of 'letting it out', I've found online forums and social networking sites such as Twitter to be very useful. I've met some cool people on there, many golfers going through the same rollercoaster stuff as the rest of us. A few words of wisdom from a fellow golf addict can go a long way to helping you get through those times when your game is not going as well as you'd like.

And with that, I'll end this very long post.

Thanks for reading, let me know how you get on!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

First tee nerves - Incidence #2

About 14 years ago I lived in Somerville, Massachusetts - not too far from the wonderful city of Boston. I was working in an Irish bar at the time. Myself and a friend were invited to play in a Texas Scramble tournament with the owner of the bar plus the manager. It's important to mention that back then, I could and did drink A LOT. What else is there for a young male to do other than drink and play golf? OK, chase girls maybe - but what else?

Anyway, the night before the tournament we went out on a major drinking session. We got home at about 3am. The next thing I remember was being woken up by my friend at 7 am, telling me we needed to dash out the door otherwise we'd miss our lift to the golf course. I was severely hungover and my friend, he looked half dead and smelled even worse.

I fell out of bed, quickly put on my clothes, grabbed my clubs and we dashed out the door. My heart was thumping as we ran up the high street to meet our playing partners. It was beating so hard I thought it would explode. My head was painfully pounding and my legs were like jelly. Nevertheless, the adrenalin got us there and we made it just on time to catch our ride to the course.

It was a humid mid summer morning and from what I recall it was a pretty long drive from Somerville to the golf course. (I can't remember the course name.) To make matters worse, the rear window I was sitting next to was jammed shut. My hangover was starting to kick in. I started to feel ill but in a tragic attempt at manliness, I didn't ask the driver to stop. Besides, he probably would have said no as we were running late. My temperature began to rise, my stomach began to churn - just thinking about it now makes me ill! I looked across at my friend who was sitting beside me in the back seat and thought, 'he looks exactly like how I feel'. It was mildly comforting to know I wasn't the only one in pain.

We arrived on the course, it's here that the 'first tee nerves' part of this tale begins in earnest. Within moments of getting out of the car, we were summoned to tee off with the other guys in our group. They were by now, well aware of our ill state of health and found it altogether amusing. My friend and I staggered zombie-like through hazy bloodshot eyes carrying our golf bags on our backs.

I didn't make it directly to the tee.  My high seas stomach forced me to take a diversion, I dashed into the nearest bush I could find and vomited under a tree, all over the golf shoes I'd borrowed the previous day from a housemate. As I climbed out from the wilderness with the remnants of last nights 3am bag of chips on my shoes, I started to feel better. I looked over and could see that my friend was taking a practice swing. He looked confident.

He stood over the ball, swung at it gracefully, but completely missed it. I watched as he pirouetted 180 degrees on his follow through and collapsed into a hungover mess on the ground. Everyone around erupted with laughter.

Needless to say, we didn't win the competition, but the memories of that day are forever etched in our minds!