Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Power to your elbow

One final word on distance for women. I’ve just been given a very old (1975!) golf book (The Complete Woman Golfer, by Vivien Saunders - amazing what turns up in the charity shop!) which has at least one comment I haven’t seen elsewhere, viz, that for a woman to hit distance she has to consciously use her strength to damn well hit the ball. Men will naturally use a lot of power, hence all those exhortations to use a relaxed swing and not try to hit the ball too hard. But for women of average physique and athleticism, that’s not going to be enough. This rings true with me. I spent a long time trying to learn a decent serve in tennis. I didn’t think my action was too bad, but where was the speed? Answer, I wasn’t hitting the ball hard enough! The same goes for golf. You have to get a decent swing, but when you think you can do it, give it some wellie!
Okay, maybe I'd better qualify that, i.e. giving it wellie as in 'producing speed through impact while maintaining the tempo of the swing' rather than 'hitting it hell for leather', as we know that's rarely a good idea. (You can see I have all the jargon. Think I've been reading too many golf books!)

Short game, long game

I’m interested in Dave Pelz’s observation that high handicappers should concentrate on the short game rather than constantly striving for more distance. It ties in with a criticism of top women golfers (which has really got Golf Chick fuming) as being less adept around the greens than men. You can see the basic idea. If for whatever reason you’re always going to struggle with distance, why not polish up the rest of your game? I know of one golfer who played off less than 10 and freely admitted his distance was unimpressive, and I certainly know of (very) high handicappers who can freak out partners with much better swings, just by their artful use of the chip and run. Cutting my handicap this summer has definitely come from improved iron shots (which for me is anything less than 120 yards) and it’s so-o satisfying to chip inside your partner!

But who wants to practice the short game, and when you do, where can you do it? Practising short shots from a mat is pretty useless, and very few clubs I have been to have a practise area where you can really chip or pitch in conditions that mimic the course. (Practice putting greens disallow chipping; chipping and pitching greens have poor surfaces.) Pro’s will offer a short game lesson, but very few courses are quiet enough to provide the opportunity to go away and work on what you have learned.
Maybe we need more of the big name players (women and men) to remind us how important the short game is, and the club manufacturers to stop obsessing over distance. As it is, you feel pretty much of a weirdo sloping off at dusk to the first green with a bagful of balls…

Monday, 27 August 2007

Bad round bears fruit

Swanning around the Grouchy Golf Blog the other day, I noticed a link to research by Dave Pelz on the advisability of keeping the flag in while chipping or putting from off the green. Apparently it’s far more likely to help than hinder your ball reach the hole, except in one or two exceptional circumstances, which you can read for yourself.
It was pretty good to prove this for myself on my very next round when I had an awkward downhill putt from a tangly bit of fringe then had the pleasure of watching my ball trickle down, hit the flag and disappear for an unexpected (and arguably undeserved!) par 5.

Sadly this was the highlight of my golfing week, as my rounds went, if not from bad to worse, certainly from reasonable to downright frustrating. It started with a singles match in which I played well up the fairway, but more or less handed the honours to my partner ( struggling with his own game) on the putting green. Two more rounds with MOH, one in blazing heat and the other in a chill breeze proved equally disappointing. Putting got better, but fairway shots got worse. On the bright side I got a lot of bunker practice and hit some great recovery shots, and more than one sojourn in the bushes reminded me the blackberry season was well under way. Later in the afternoon I set off down some quiet lanes and found a bumper crop. Luckily I had taken a old six iron with me (no, not one of my new Callaways!) and put it to good use pulling down the high branches, so all was not lost.

No golf today. I am nursing nettle stings and making pastry.

Monday, 20 August 2007

The great trolley debate

There’s been a lively thread on the Golf Monthly forum which has lined up the trolley pushers v. the bag carriers, with each side getting quite heated in defence of its preferred transport option (and that’s without throwing buggies into the equation!) Previously a confirmed trolleyist, I was forced to carry a bag for a few weeks last winter when our course was too boggy for anything with wheels, and I did find the experience unexpectedly liberating.
First of all, I had to lighten the load by divesting myself of most of the gear that accumulates in the trolley bag and even removing my least favourite clubs. Thus unencumbered, I set off feeling like a leaner and fitter player. The next discovery was that I no longer needed to take detours around ditches, or leave the trolley behind while I negotiated other hazards, i.e. I actually had less far to walk. It was also great to just heave the bag out of the car (and in again at the end) without having to manhandle the trolley.
When the weather improved I went back to the old trolley, but now I’m wondering why. I suppose I just like to have that extra sweater and all my clubs to hand. Meanwhile my own trolley is coming to the end of its days, and although MOH has done some running repairs, I don’t think my course cred is improved by pulling something around that’s held together by a couple of big rubber bands.
I’ve looked at some options but still can’t decide what to do. I’m thinking of asking the guys on Golf Monthly. I’ll keep you posted!

Ladies European Tour (and a guilty conscience)

Women’s golf doesn’t get much TV coverage here in the UK, but does that excuse my ignorance? Already embarrassed at recognising so few of the field at the Women’s British Open, I seriously considered going to Machynys last weekend to watch the Wales Ladies Championship of Europe. In the end, a two hour drive and the likelihood of bad weather was enough to dissuade me.
Meanwhile congrats to Joanne Mills from Australia for coming through in the wind and rain, to Georgina Simpson of England only one shot behind, and all those who clinched their Solheim Cup places at this event. Next venue in this country is the De Vere Scottish Ladies Open at Loch Lomond on September 20th, just after the Solheim. That does sound tempting. Perhaps I’ll start checking the long-range weather forecast!

Gentlemen please look (and walk) away

I’m sorry, but nothing on this earth would persuade me to use the recently advertised Shewee, or portable urinating device for women, and if I am ever senile or incontinent enough to change my mind, I hope that someone will tell me to give up golf!
It just smacks too much of the kind of ‘surgical appliance’ I would rather not think about, never mind deal with.
As to the problem of being ‘caught short’ on the course, I fail to see why this is more of a problem for women than for men, and think that the solution should lie with the golf club, not the suffering golfer. Okay, so it’s easier for men to unzip and let flow, but does that make it a good thing? I play with men who see no problem in relieving themselves more or less in front of me, and I really wish they wouldn't. Similarly, although I’m no longer embarrassed at excusing myself for a quick sojourn behind a bush, I’d just prefer not to.
Luckily, many modern courses are designed with a return to the clubhouse between 9 and 10. Where this isn’t the case, I think there’s no excuse for a club not to provide toilet facilities on the course and keep them clean.
To me this is the sign of a good course. What a shame there are so few of them.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Golf in Belgium

Golf, Belgium - two concepts that may not have occurred to you as obvious partners, but after spotting some lovely photos in the Golf Breaks brochure, I decided to give it a try and dragged the rest of the party with me. It has to be said that, despite some dodgy weather, on purely golfing terms it was pretty good.
We were booked in at the Chateau du Lac in Genval, and after many dusty hours on the motorway it was a great relief to arrive at such a gorgeous place. The rooms were lovely and the hotel staff very helpful. They had booked us four rounds on local courses (Golf Pass Brabant Wallon) and issued us with detailed fact sheets for each course including directions from the hotel. Needless to say we still got lost a couple of times, but that added to the fun (well, in retrospect, anyway!)
I could easily write a whole Belgium golf blog, but will confine myself for now to a brief report for each course. By the way we did have two non-golfing days and managed a trip to Bruges and spent the last day, when the sun miraculously returned, lounging on the hotel roof garden and treating ourselves to a gourmet meal in the restaurant – nothing like a good finish!

Day 1: Golf Club D’Hulencourt
Lovely open course, maintained by a small army of green keepers. Downpour on last few holes compensated by great hospitality from the club’s (Welsh) Hon Sec who treats us all to shots of the local Genfer – vive la Rhondda!

Day 2: L’Empereur
Not only is this called 'the golf course at the end of the world', but the entrance road is closed for tree felling! We get completely lost and return to hotel who issue new directions. Tee off 3 hours late but bolstered by a substantial lunch. Good weather, steep terrain – buggies definitely a good idea.

Day 4: Chateau de la Tournette
Rain and more rain. We eventually tee off at mid-day and give up after 9 holes. What a shame, it looks a lovely course and my partner plays a blinder even in the downpour. Probably the most luxurious facilities here and the weather again allows us to sample the club’s great hospitality – possibly the best moules in the world?

Day 5: Sept Fontaines
We arrive in a gloomy atmosphere to play the appropriately named Foret course which is short but very challenging with narrow fairways and many hazards. A pity that the greens have just been hollow tined and treated with a strange white mousse. On the low-lying holes I fear my golf is being affected by chemical inhalation (or that could just be an excuse). Pity we didn’t have time to try the main Chateau course.

The acid test. Would we go back? Well, despite the charms of Bruges and Ghent, I still wouldn’t rate Belgium as a tourist destination, but Chateau du Lac is gorgeous and there are several fine courses near by. For a golf break with easy access from the channel tunnel and courses much quieter than in the Calais area, I’d say give it a go.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Tiger Triumphs (and Catriona too)

Sorry about the sudden silence on the blog. I forgot to tell you all that I was off on a week’s holiday to Belgium, of which more later.
Meanwhile Tiger has triumphed at the US PGA and today I sense a kind of relief in the press. Tiger has won a major, the world is as it should be, and we are treated to the usual round of congratulation and anecdotes of his prodigious childhood. He deserves it all, of course, the win and the adulation, and Lewine Mair in the Daily Telegraph is right to quote Monty’s view that Tiger has benefited the game in all kinds of ways, including attracting more money. Other achievements pall beside his and will continue to do so for some time to come, but don’t let’s forget that this is his first major win this year. His is the dominant force in the game, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we have another golden run coming on, but compared to other ball games, golf is unique. It’s about individual performance rather than competition. You play the course rather than your ‘opponent’. In some ways you are playing against yourself. Eventually Tiger will have another bad day, and, unlike in tennis, there will be no one on the far side of the net zapping down a serve to snap him back into focus. It may be a while before he’s beaten in a big tournament. But he’s human. No-one should doubt that, or doubt their ability to match him, sooner or later.

Despite her failure at St. Andrews, it's also good to hear that Catriona Matthew had a win to celebrate in Sweden. It''s not so long since Catriona returned from 'maternity leave' - maybe she was the brave soul changing nappies in the Royal and Ancient!

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Women's British Open, St. Andrews

I’m really sorry to be missing the last day of the championship as we’re off on holiday. So far it’s been a fascinating contest, particularly on Day 2 when a Scot – Catriona Matthew, put in a great challenge, finishing 5 under. Sadly today she slumped completely and it looks like Ochoa will be unstoppable. Still, on a windy day when no one looked glamorous, Matthew did have the prettiest lavender polo I have ever seen (sadly can’t find a photo that shows it).
Catriona is now based in the States, and her husband is usually her caddie. Interesting how these family caddie things work out; Luke Donald’s brother caddies for him and then there was the strange case of Graeme Storm. I like the husband/wife idea. Who’ll be first to reverse the picture – wife caddying for husband?

The championship has also prompted an interesting discussion on the BBC blog about attitudes to golf in the R&A and at St. Andrews – not, apparently, to be confused (make sure you read the comments!) Good luck to all the girls tomorrow, and hope that devilish wind drops.

St. Andrews - where I used to live

I’m ashamed to say I’m not too well up on the women’s tour, partly because there isn’t much T.V. coverage in this country. But this week it’s different. The girls are on show at St. Andrews in the Women’s British Open. St. Andrews is dear to my heart because I lived there for four years as a student, and even though I wasn’t playing or following golf it was a great time in my life and there’s nothing MOH and I like to do better than watch them play up the eighteenth, towards that ugly red hotel, formerly the student residence where I used to live!
Last year we went back on a sentimental journey and had our photo taken on the Swilken Bridge. Sadly I can’t find that picture, but there are lots of great views on the St. Andrews Links Trust site. Here’s another from flickr with my old room marked. What you might call a room with a view!

Photo by Herman on flickr

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Golfer's Elbow: the agony and the ecstasy

The ecstasy of my good round was pretty short-lived because for quite a while I have been suffering (not always in silence) with golfer's elbow, and now that I've discovered its correct name is medial epicondylitis, it feels even worse.
Oddly, it doesn't bother me much on the course, but catches up with me in an apparently random assortment of activities (holding a phone, eating an apple, or lying in bed in the wrong position).
Today I googled my debilitating condition and have found many depressing facts and alarming treatments that include injections or even surgery (I don't think so). However, I'm glad to be able to recommend sportsmedicinedr.com which takes a much more sane and realistic approach in the form of treating the elbow with ice and doing some simple exercises (though I'm not sure that squeezing a rubber ball while driving is such a good idea - shouldn't I have my hand on the wheel?) I think I'll stick to the wrist-curls and hope for the best.

Distance or accuracy? Tales from the long grass

Equalling my personal best score made today a very good day. As usual with these things, it happened quite unexpectedly (especially after my Cornish disaster) and it did make me think about why last week felt so difficult.
The weather is the obvious candidate; a persisitent strong south westerly made 9 out of 18 holes in Cornwall a real battle, whereas today was warm and wind-free. But, to be honest, I don't think the wind was as crucial as the course set-up, and in particular the rough. On our home course, there are lots of hazards and some pretty long carries over water, but I admit that the rough is, with one or two exceptions, pretty tame. But at Bowood Park even the light rough was pretty testing, especially since it was getting regularly drenched with rain. My faithful rescue club wasn't always up to it, and in the heavy stuff I was pretty much stuffed.

Judging from recent events, staying on the fairway is just as crucial to the Pro as to the club golfer, and despite all that technology invested in producing distance, the majority at Carnoustie were leaving their drivers in the bag and taking irons off the tee.
It's a comforting thought. Maybe there's no need to make courses longer for the top competitions, just make the fairway narrower. Then the pros can give up their high-tech clubs and leave them for mere mortals like us!

Phil Mickelson and Hugh Grant - blood brothers!

A friend of mine has a soft spot for Phil Mickelson, and I know what she means. Even if his looks verge on the goofy, he has a sort of boyish charm. One of the first tournaments I watched on TV was the Volvo PGA at Wentworth and without knowing much about the game (maybe because of that!) I did find him quite appealing. Fast forward to last night when my daughter was watching Bridget Jones The Edge of Reason with Hugh Grant doing his rakish bounder act and it hit me quite forcefully that there's a definite resemblance there. Phil would have to lose a few pounds, but if that day ever dawns, I think they could pass for brothers. Sadly unable to provide visual evidence on this page, but check out these two photos. http://www.thesportstruth.com/wp-content/uploads/2006/10/mickelson_phil.jpg

See what I mean? I think it's the eyes. Anyone care to comment?

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