Epic Saturday

Tomorrow is going to be a rather massive day on many fronts. Golf and nostalgic ones. Essentially, I am playing in the Autumn Meeting on the Old Course at 8am and then rushing down to Edinburgh to play at my old club, Mortonhall, in their Gents Open in the afternoon. That’s if I can make it.

The issues are tee times and transport. I don’t drive and I have a booking on the 125 from Leuchars at 12.23. However, it is unlikely that I will be round the Old in four hours and so be able to nab a cab and catch it. I tried asking the St Andrews club and a friend if they would swap my tee time for earlier. My friend said yes I can have his 6.50am start which would have been perfect. Unfortunately the club said no. I then tried to get a later time at Mortonhall and the nice pro chap did his best to phone some members and see if they were willing to change with me, But they unfortunately weren’t. So it looked as if I was doomed and would have had to compromise Mortonhall if I was shooting a good score over the Old or just walk off and try my luck in Edinburgh if I wasn’t.

However, all was saved when the nice chap from Mortonhall phoned later to say there had been a cancellation and I was now off at 3.10pm. Excellent. Well, so long as it doesn’t take more than four and a half hours on the Old as the next train is at 12.49. But it should all now come together. And that’s a rum thing.

Yes I have fond memories of Morty. It’s the most beautiful course next to the incomparable Braid Hills, with stunning views up to the Pentlands and over the city. I spent my childhood there. It’s all a bit of a dream of a place to be honest. The oak lined and meandering fourth hole is called ‘Poet’s Walk’ in remembrance of Siegfried Sassoon who was convalescing at nearby Craighouse during the war and would play there. Yes it’s a bit of a Grantchester all told.

Anyway, don’t let me get poetic.

But, God catch me a train.

When the pressure is on

We all remember Jean Van der Velde making a complete horlicks of the last hole at Carnoustie when he had the Open Championship in the bag. A five would have got the job done for the hapless Frenchman with two solid eight irons. Unfortunately though, he disengaged his brain and for some reason hit a two iron which risked going into the burn before the green. Which it did. That was not the right way to play that hole. And his caddie should have told him so.

There was no such excuse as the heat of the moment for England’s dismal performance in the penalty shoot out in the Euro 21 final on Sunday evening. Indeed the manager had the team practising them for months by all accounts. Really I ask? But did they discuss the mode of taking a penalty? It doesn’t look like it.

For this is one thing I don’t get in football and it seems so self-evident, so common sensical. A powerfully hit penalty has much more chance of beating the goalie than a strategically placed one. Is that not so? And is this not primary school stuff?

Yet England’s last three penalty takers all tried to outwit the goalkeeper and pamper it into the net. So did Jorghino of course with his pretty little hop, skip and jump routine. But he is an exuberant, exhibitionist Italian and was just playing to the crowd. Anyway, he missed too.

So why didn’t Southgate just say put your laces through it guys? I think that is the correct terminology. Don’t try and be clever or showy. Because It really comes down to the simple laws of physics, speed and reaction time and all that.

I mean there must be stats on all this I would think? but maybe not.

Anyway comments please. I’m well mystified.

Well done Phil

It’s the huge story in golf at the moment. Phil Mickelson bagged the PGA Championship at the age of fifty, becoming the oldest winner of a major.

I would suggest however that he still has another major inside him. Possibly more. I wonder what Mr Ladbroke’s are giving on that?

There is indeed hope for us oldies. I’m more and more believing that. In fact at aged fifty-nine I feel my best golf is still ahead of me and I’m hitting it as well and as far as ever. Age is a funny old thing. Look at Gary Player.

Of course you have to take care of yourself. And I believe Phil has a new diet and is tinkering with meditation and Napa Valley reds. I would personally forget the meditation and double-up on the Napa Valley reds. Meditation then morphs into a far more productive, rumination kind of thing and one can go places with a bit of productive rumination kind of thing. Forget all that esoteric stuff, it will mess with your head. Stick to the Napa Valley and the reds.

However Phil appears fundamentally on the right track.

Back here in St Andrews I am having a mad golf-fest this week. Two rounds on the Old Course on Tuesday, two rounds on the Eden yesterday, a round up at the Castle today and then two on the New tomorrow. One has to get value from one’s 240 quid a year links ticket.

I’ve been rather flattered this week too on the writing front, as I got a nice email from Neil Sagebiel, author and pen to the popular ‘Armchair Golf Blog’. He wants to put one of my ditties up as a guest post. Now that’s very kind of him and a very rare thing indeed. I think apart from that I’ve only had one other positive written comment in seven years of blog writing, from this nice sounding chap in Hong Kong.

Hope springs eternal and all that.

Well, with some help from the Napa Valley reds.

The greatest major?

This is the big question in golf of course and one likely to elicit many interesting responses.

The choice is between The Open (British obviously!) and The Masters. And at heart it’s a tricky one given the monumental stature of both tournaments in the world of golf. They are both colossal but very different. The Open is mainly played over the old style links course, while The Masters is only ever played at the incredible Augusta National in South Georgia, USA.

So it’s a bit of a choice of rough or smooth, old versus new, tweedy traditional taking on the silky modern, the Dad’s Army of antiquary up against the vanguard of the American dream. And so I suppose at the final call it’s what rocks your boat.

For me it’s a no brainer though. That green jacket does it I’m afraid, The green jacket ceremony and all. Moreover you get to keep it and it’s quite tasteful too! None of your usual garish or dull golfing gear. It’s very finely cut and a lovely shade. I expect It’s worth a good few bucks into the bargain.

But it’s all the rest of the ceremony that is The Masters that I kind of love. You know the black-tie dinners, the old timers driving-off, the family thing, the nine hole comp, the pitch-perfect azaleas and all that palatial Macy’s window sill stuff. It’s a golfers dreamland. I mean Sandy Lyle has been pitching up and playing some very fine golf for the last hundred years. He still looks like a man in his sixties. And as for Gary Player, he seems to look younger every time he appears. It’s kind of all unreal to be honest.

Even the journalists are put up 5-star style and treated to lobster bisque, steak tartare, pimento cheese and Crozes Hermitage all week. Not that bad a gig.

However, I don’t think I’ll ever get there unfortunately. In any capacity to be honest.

I’m far too much of a hacker for one. And as a possible hack? Hmm.

Odds on I’d end up in the caddy shack.

The kilted caddie is on a roll

Yes, there is no doubt that the kilted caddie has had a belter of a week. At the time that they were teeing off in Augusta National for the Masters, I ventured out onto the Jubilee in St Andrews for the Thistle April Medal, in rather windy conditions. I bagged first place with a solid NR including a birdie, three pars, a ten and two omitted holes. Not perhaps the pinnacle of my golfing career, but a solid result in the conditions and I can just be thankful that my playing partner never signed in for the tournament as I think he would have pipped me with his NR on a back-nine countback. Or back-seven countback to be exact, as we skipped holes eleven and twelve.

Otherwise, I had a cracking practice session on Friday and was hitting the ball solidly. My handicap is back up to nine I’m afraid, but I do feel I’ve never been striking the ball better. I know you’ll find this very hard to believe as my handicap goes in the wrong direction but have faith and watch this space as I say. I’ve had a bit of a Damascene moment on the swing front.

The Masters is warming up to be a classic I feel. I bet Dechambeau in-play at 60 to 1 after he was 5 over early in the second round and he has started to get into gear. I also fancy McIntyre for a top ten place and am very impressed by the young debutant Zalatoris. I went for the lay on Rose for a top ten place after his amazing first round. He simply can’t keep that up on a course as difficult as Augusta and their are so many excellent players in the wings with 3 rounds to go.

Poor Rory McIlroy. I think he’s history. Maybe he should think about changing his caddie or indeed giving the kilted caddie a call for some mentoring on the mental and technical fronts.

Because boy, I’ve been there and back and got the proverbial t-shirt.

The Dechambeau Top

I was rather fascinated to see Bryson Dechambeau, the miracle man with the 198 mph Ferrari golf swing, top his ball a hundred yards into the drink at the Players Championship. As well as this, that chap Brendon Todd managed to pull-off a complete shank. But for Dechambeau, that was surely a seriously expensive top, given the first prize of 2.7 million dollars, as it cost him a double-bogey and he eventually finished two behind. Ouch!

Now I don’t want to glee too much over this, but isn’t it good for us amateurs to know that these golfing gods can hit some howlers too? In fact, I’m surprised that we don’t see more shots like these at this level of the game, given the major championship pressure that these guys are under. Because as everyone knows, there is a very small margin for error in the hitting of a golf ball. It’s a huge feat of coordination and timing to correctly connect with that tiny thing. So much can go wrong. As poor Bryson Dechambeau found out yesterday.

However I’m sorry, but it’s good to see that these guys can do what we amateurs habitually do. It’s just that Bryson old boy, please don’t do it when I’ve got money on you.

In my first St Andrews Club medal of the year, I ceremoniously topped my drive off the first tee of the New, the ball travelling just fifty yards and settling a few feet short of the gorse. My ‘playing to the gallery’ shot. Miraculously I saved the day though, with a chop-out recovery and a pretty good wedge to two feet. A par four! Not pretty. But I’m not pretty.

Also, as I said, I had a complete shank plus a few impressive thins and one completely fluffed chip. All part of the amateur’s arsenal of course. And to this end I love Jack Nicklaus’s revelation that he reckoned he only hit one shot per round as he absolutely intended. So I suppose golf then is all just about the degree of the mishit.

In the end, I actually got it round in 80, which wasn’t too bad on a fresh and windy March morn over the New. In fact, I managed to scoop first position in my handicap division and secure a place in the medal finals over the Old.

The journey continues. Shanks, Dechambeau tops and all.

Fare forward passengers.

Oochaa!

‘Oochaa’ is pretty widely acknowledged in the lexicon of caddie phraseology and can be used in a number of situations when the wish to express oneself verbally may be inappropriate or impossible. As with the Asian tongue it can mean many things, depending on the user’s intonation and as you may have guessed, we’re mostly not in positive territory here.

I first came across this at the Dunhill, when I arrived on the practice area, with David Walsh, wearing very loud and garish bright blue saltire trousers, kindly given to me by Royal and Awesome. The reaction from an old timer caddie on seeing me was an immediate exclamation of ‘oochaa’ in a most negative tone. It was as if I’d kind of just winded him or something like that.

Now I am introducing you to this term as it would be the best way to describe my golf last Thursday over the Old Course in my first St Andrews Club medal of the year. Let’s say, that if Peter Alliss had been observing my play, then golf’s most eloquent and articulate commentator would probably have been reduced to an ‘oocha!’

Now, my playing handicap has taken a turn for the worse and I am presently off ten. Yes ten. That’s going the wrong direction folks.

But first, let me tell you how I navigated the first two holes of the Old Course. A driver off the tee was not the wisest choice of clubs as we were slightly down-wind and off a well-forward black tee. I went down the shaft and down the left and somehow lucked out by hopping over the burn, but leaving myself a tricky second into a forward positioned pin and wind. So I took plenty of club to make sure I got over the burn and indeed did, but got over the green too. A straightforward chip from the back of the green I over-hit into the burn, dropped it out, missed a short putt and got a seven.

The next hole was an utter Horlicks. A poor drive left towards the hotel, left me a 3 iron into the green. I shanked it and just avoided the gorse, leaving a very tricky shot to the green over that tree up the right, which I thinned into the tree. I found it and dropped. I hit it again into the tree but this time lost it. Another drop and after a few more feeble attempts, I walked off with a nine. Two three-putt bogeys on the ensuing two holes, left me reeling at ten-over par after four holes.

So at this point I’m again reflecting that this old game of golf may really not be for me. But then something inside urged me on and made me want to stand up and do battle with the old lady. She’d got me and she’d got me bad, but I was going to give it my best shot.

And indeed I did. I somehow managed to play the next fourteen holes in level-par and that may I say, included three 3 putts on a back nine where I somehow hit the greens in two-under regulation. I drove onto the upper level of the 12th green for the first time and then I hit the best drive and five iron of my life into the fourteenth, but unfortunately missed my 8 foot eagle putt. But this was more like it. The dream is still alive.

So, as I’ve said, I’m on a mission with my golf this year. It’s proving to be an interesting journey though, as my handicap continues to go in the wrong direction as I said. Up from eight to ten this year is not that impressive. However, I do feel I’ve got my swing technique kind of sorted. And it’s changed fundamentally over this week to be honest. A better set-up, a much better take-away, and crucially a far more solid position at the top. And it’s really all come from concentrating on one simple aspect of the swing, to which I will come to later.

Now I’m just wondering why some golf teacher hadn’t got me anywhere near this after nigh-on fifty years in the game? And I can name biggish names as teachers here; notably Jim Farmer, Ian Young, David Thomson, Sandy Stephen, Colin Brooks, John Boath, Douglas Horne, Stevie Craig, Ian Butcher, Tom Ainslie, Malcolm Leighton…(there are many more!)

And so I’ve certainly had a few! But either I wasn’t getting it or they weren’t. One thing for sure, it’s an extremely hard game to teach.

I would also add the legendary Jimmy Hume at Gullane back in the very old days, but I do remember him taking one look at my swing and saying ‘don’t think about taking it back son, just take it back’ Not exactly textbook PGA. But who really wants all that?

So, I’ve been through the mill let’s say and over an awfully long time. It’s been rather tortuous to be honest, but I do genuinely now feel that I’m getting there. However I’m doing DIY now. Ok, with the help of a few golf buddies, you tube, my smart phone and a whole lot of time on my side, gifted as a result of me being a pretty shocking businessman and altogether, pretty unemployable.

Fare forward folks.

As a wee aside, you may be amused to learn that the kilted caddie did try his hand at golf teaching for Club Med at the back-end of last century (indeed at ski teaching too!)

In Spain and in french! To beginners obviously.

But ooh la la! I got sacked.

From both alas!

And some people may not be surprised at that.

My Jean Van der Velde moment

Ok I didn’t lose the Open Championship yesterday but I threw away winning the St Andrews Thistle Club’s Bruce Trophy in rather spectacular fashion, on a windy day over the Jubilee Course.

We all remember how Jean van Der Velde made a complete and utter Horlicks of the last hole at Carnoustie, when he took out a two-iron to try and hit the green, knowing that he only needed a bogey to win the most prestigious golf tournament in the world. He ended up hitting a finely struck shot which was heading towards the green and his manifest glory, but it just caught the side of the grandstand and rebounded into the burn from where he famously tried to play it out. Needless to say he lost The Open, gifting it to Paul Lawrie.

Well my story is slightly different but parallel. I had played very well in the conditions and after six holes was in fact one-under par (not too shabby off my playing handicap of ten). I did make a slight mess of the next couple of holes but got it back nicely. So, when standing on the fifteenth tee I knew that I only had to finish with four bogeys to win the competition. After 20 rounds of the Bruce Trophy I was in a massively strong position. As a betting man I would say that I was in fact a very heavy odds-on favourite. In fact to be definitive, I would say that my in-running odds (for I was surely running) would have been somewhere between Man City winning the Premier and Ergumene pulling off the Arkle Chase.

Now, the fifteenth on the Jubilee is not that hard a hole. In fact after the event I realise I could easily have taken my putter off the tee and got a five. But I didn’t. And what I did do you will not necessarily believe (well apart from those people who really know me well that is). First, I took out my five iron and hit a terrible shot straight out of bounds on the right. Next, I made a move to grab my driver in utter fury, but prevailed upon myself to hit another five iron which unfortunately just caught the bunker up the left. Then, I probably did the most crazy thing of all. I forewent the sensible route of taking my medicine and playing out safely. Instead, I took out my 8 iron and attempted to hit the small green from a hundred or so yards out, into a strong cross-wind and a steepish bunker face in my direct line to the green. To avoid this I tried to aim right of the green and draw it back (bear in mind that right of the green is out of bounds!). I did in fact make seriously good contact, but neither me nor my playing partner saw the ball. And alas, I never saw that ball again. Game over. I got a nine. What a complete numpty!

That is probably my worst ever experience on a golf course. And in one way I can kind of really sympathize with Monsieur Van der Velde. However, I also feel most stupid and annoyed with myself at my actions. What was I playing at? Indeed what was going through Jean’s mind too? We had done all the really hard work.

All he had to do was take out an 8 iron and play to the safety of the open fairway and leave himself another easy 8 iron into the green. Ok not overly sexy, but it would have got the job done and bagged him The Open. And as I said, I just really had to take my putter out or hit a little half-punch iron-shot a hundred yards or so up the fairway. Ok not exactly playing to the gallery, but there wasn’t one.

And I suppose Jean may have been able to lean on that ‘playing to the gallery’ aspect as some sort of excuse, given that he has all that Gallic stuff going on?

However we both failed. And we both failed badly.

This brings to mind my pal, Scotty, who works on the mindset and mental performance aspect of the game. Indeed he has a business doing so, ‘Quiet Mind Golf’, and is a brilliant golfer into the bargain. He always chastises me for spending so much time tinkering with my swing and technique. He believes that most of golf is between the ears.

So now, lets say, I’m buying much more into his school of thought. He indeed has a formidable point.

So fare forward I say!

But didn’t I say that in last week’s post?

Yes I did! But I will say it again as I’m a stubborn old oaf.

Fare forward.

 

 

 

 

A certain lack of course management

I played in the Bruce Trophy over the Jubilee on Thursday and got off to a solid start and although I three putted the second, I was level par after five, which is ok off my present handicap of eight.

But then I did something very stupid indeed. I took my driver out of the bag on the 6th tee, pulled it a tad and ended up in thick rough and a seven. I was livid as a four iron off that tee would not have brought any danger into play and I still could have got the green with my second. However, now riled, I then did something even more stupid on the narrow par 4 seventh and went for the green with my driver. I ended up with a nine! I carried on with this incensed madness on the next hole when I again selected driver and lost another ball. This was crazy behaviour over this part of the course, especially as I was building a score.

Course management is probably the most underrated aspect of the game. At least in the world of amateur golf that is. It’s all very fine being able to strike a golf ball well, but if you’ve got no brain and no strategy of how to play a golf course, then that and a quarter won’t get you onto the proverbial bus.

So, I’ve told myself that I’m going to learn from this. Fare forward. It’s just the ‘if you’ve got no brain’ part of the equation that I’m concerned about. And some of my friends would readily agree.

Unfortunately in life I’ve rather tended to jump headlong into things and then mostly sink swiftly. My last venture, the restaurant in Edinburgh was quite a good example. I was totally romanticized up about it, but soon had to get to grips with the chilling realities of the whole thing, the toilet cleaning at midnight, the seventeen hour days, the people stealing your wine, the abusive phone calls, the fickle customers demanding the earth, the damage of misunderstandings, the lies, the malicious gossip, the nasty sidings, the back stabbings.

It’s a tough school.

At least in golf I’ve only got myself to blame.

Now where is my driver?

 

 

Progress Report- the take-away issue

Things are still going well on the goff front. I’m still feeling much more confident over the ball and am  continuing to analyse stuff.

I do think I’ve been getting to hung up on the takeaway front. Not on the Greggs front, of course, but on the first and perhaps the most critical part of the golf swing.

However, I looked at a Dustin Johnson video yesterday and thought wow! Look at how that guy takes the club back? His hands are well away from his body and it’s real square. I’ve been getting hung-up on trying to take it away more inside the line, and I’m not sure that’s doing me any real favours. So I’m now going to forget that. I will concentrate on width from a balanced and relaxed set-up and then try my Garcia thing at the top.

I never really think about the swing thereafter to be honest, apart from sometimes going for a high and balanced follow-through.

So that’s it this week. I have a comp on Thursday on the Jubilee. Handicap still lingering at 7.7. But it’s very early days.

Must dash as I’m playing on the New at 9.44 am. Pretty cool, the Old yesterday and the Jube tomorrow.

Someone has to do it.