Haven’t done one of these for nearly two years but things are going well at the moment so I wanted to document them. It’s been a weird couple of weeks in which I’ve played the best golf of my life while undermining it with some of the worst putting you’ll ever see. Mind you, my putting is usually terrible so I’m not sure how low this recent debacle ranks. Six three putts in a round of 80 tells its own story though I think.
I’ve been playing off a 14 handicap this year, which is about right based on my scores but would seem way off if you only watched me hitting drives and approach shots. I feel like I should be playing off high single figures and I’m always uncomfortable saying I’m off 14 as I know if I can putt even half decent it’s going to look like I’m a bad scumbag bandit.
I’m flushing my irons right now but the improved driving is the real game changer. I’ve never hit the ball like this off the tee before and often I find myself just staring in admiration as the ball flies off into orbit, arrow straight and runs out to around the 250 yard mark. I actually had one go 280 right up the middle on the par 5 9th hole at Bootle last week. I stood next to it, looking back at the tee in wonder and kept double checking my watch to make sure the number was right.
It’s wild. I’ve never experienced this level of consistency off the tee and it’s all down to one minor change I made that has added an extra 20-25yds to my drives. I’m not swinging it any faster, I haven’t changed anything in my swing, all I’ve done is move the ball forward six inches. I don’t address the ball now, I don’t even look at it. I set up exactly as I always did, except the ball isn’t there anymore, it’s six inches further forward.
I have always hit it shorter than I should do with driver, and I’ve always been prone to an occasional massive right miss that usually results in a double, triple or worse. After a few decades I eventually figured out that the reason for this is that I hit down on the ball with driver, causing backspin and a loss of distance. Also, sometimes I wasn’t getting the face square at impact as the club was lagging a little behind. By moving the ball forward I’m now hitting it on the up and the face is always square or slightly closed.
I rarely miss wide right now, but I have an occasional hook that gets me into just as much trouble. It’s a bit of a sickener that I didn’t discover this fix until a month before my 50th birthday like, but better late than never and I’m reaping the results of it now. It won’t work for everyone but if you have trouble hitting up on the ball with driver, give it a try.
Anyway, I played nine holes on Bootle Golf Course a week or two back. It was a spur of the moment decision to go down there as it was a nice evening and I fancied getting out. Usually I would have gone to Beacon Park where I was a member, but West Lancashire council closed it down at the end of March so I’ve been golf homeless ever since.
So I thought I’d give Bootle a try, but unfortunately others had the same idea and from the 5th tee onwards I was stuck behind a six ball. Yes, that’s right, a six ball. That’s the risk you run at cheaper golf courses but Bootle takes the worst things about public golf courses and magnifies them tenfold. I still love the place as it’s where I played when I was a kid so it will always have a special place in my heart, but it’s a different world to the fancy private courses that’s for sure.
The issue wasn’t that there were six of them though. Had they waved me through it wouldn’t have mattered to me if there were 12 of them in the group. But they didn’t wave me through. They made me wait. On every tee. And every fairway. Even when I’d left the previous green and was standing there, waiting for all six of them to tee off (and invariably hit it 40 yards into the rough or trees), at no point did any of them tell me to play through.
A couple of them had carrier bags full of ale hanging from their trolleys and at least one of them was smoking weed. What can you do in that situation? I could have asked politely but they knew I was there, waiting, yet they chose not to let me play through. Would asking them have done any good? Maybe, it could have just been ignorance of golf etiquette on their part, but you’ve got to understand something here; it’s Bootle, and there are six of them. I’m not that brave.
So I decided discretion was the better part of valour and I waited, killing time by messing about with the functions of the Garmin Approach S70 watch I was testing for a review. Sometimes it’s difficult to play about with the different features when you’re conscious of not playing slow, but the oversized group in front gave me time to explore it properly, so something good came from it.
It was a nice sunny evening and there are worse ways to spend time. In truth I was far more annoyed with my own putting than I was the “Bootle Six”. I finished seven over for the nine holes I played, despite feeling like I’d played as well as I have ever played. I three putted three of the first four holes though, and you just can’t do that.
A few days later I returned to Bootle. This time there was nobody in front holding me up and it was a really enjoyable round, despite terrible putting killing my score once again. Six three putts in 18 holes, yet I still managed to shoot 80. Over that stretch of 27 holes I’d hit 18 of 21 fairways and 16 of 27 greens. Yet I was 17 over par! My head was done in. How can I be this bad at putting when two years ago I turned my front garden into an artificial turf putting green and I’ve practiced more or less every day since?
Every other part of my game has really come on, but my putting is as bad as ever. I heard this week that Scottie Sheffler is number one on tour in driving and approach shots and he’s top fifteen around the greens, but that he’s basically dead last in putting. That must make me the mid-handicap version of Sheffler.
My putting woes are a mental thing, it’s nothing to do with technique as I’m fine on my own green. Get me out on a course though and the whole thing falls apart if I start badly. I’ve even bought Bob Rotella’s book on the subject, “Putting out of your mind” which is all about the mental aspect of putting. I probably should read it sometime instead of letting it gather dust on the bedside table.
Anyway, undeterred by the awful putting and excited by the great ball striking, I next headed out to Southport Links. The last time I played there was in December when it was a mud bath. Big difference now. Firm fairways, greens in lovely condition, lovely weather. A perfect evening for golf. How would I putt though? That was the only thing on my mind as I made the 15 minute drive from my house to the Southport coast.
So you know what I did? I just thought of the title of Rosella’s book and I “put it out of my mind”. I just didn’t think about it. I decided that what will be will be, and if I putt badly then I putt badly. No point beating myself up over and letting it ruin an otherwise impressive round of golf.
And I actually putted ok. I didn’t have a single three putt all night. I wasn’t really making anything that you wouldn’t expect to make but I wasn’t missing any I shouldn’t be missing either, which is massive progress. I had a tap in birdie on the second after a 7 iron approach missed the hole by an inch and rolled two feet by. I almost missed that but it crept in the right edge after a nervy stroke. I don’t know if I would have recovered if I’d missed that.
I had several other reasonable looks at birdie that I didn’t make but I had two needless doubles as a result of hooked drives and lost balls. One of them was an absolute disgrace as I should never have been hitting driver. It was a reckless, stupid decision, but that’s me. I’ll never learn. When it’s a shortish par 4 with the wind behind and you know you can get there if you really catch one, the temptation is always too much for me. That’s why the 11th at Southport is such a great hole. It tempts you even though you know it’s a bad move. I should have hit 7 wood and wedge and walked away with no worse than par, but the little Del Boy in my head saying “he who dares wins” always gets the better of me. I hooked into the trees and lost the ball. What a moron.
I bounced back with three pars and then it happened. A short par 5 with the wind behind. A 275 yard drive left me with around 165 to the pin. I flushed a seven iron right at it but the green was elevated at the front and I couldn’t see the base of the flag or where my ball was. When I got up there my arse started twitching like a rabbit’s nose. A four footer for eagle. Not only have I not made an eagle in over 25 years, I’ve not really had many chances to make one. But now the extra distance I’m getting off the tee is bringing more par 5s into range, and here I was with a four footer to do something historic.
Historic for me, I mean. I’m a couple of weeks away from turning 50, I’ve been playing golf since I was 15 and in that time I’ve had two eagles, and none since I was in my early twenties. Short putts are my biggest weakness and now you’re asking me to make a four footer for eagle? Yeah I was terrified of missing. It was a straight putt and the green was in great condition so there would be no excuse for missing this and it would haunt me for the rest of my days if I did.
I handed my phone to my playing partner and asked him to video it “just in case I make it”. Clearly I was not exactly brimming with confidence. Over the ball the only thing I thought about was making a good stroke. I wasn’t thinking about where it was going, I just wanted to make sure I struck the ball out of the middle of the putter and that should be enough. And it was. Such relief. I celebrated it like Ian Poulter in a Ryder Cup match.
My head was all over the place though and I made bogey on the next before finishing with a couple of pars for a 76. I only missed three fairways, and one of those was with a 3 wood when I had to lay up because there’s a ditch I can’t carry with driver.
This was the best I’ve felt after a round of golf in a long time and it’s got me raring to get back out there. Having given up on the dream of ever shooting level par, I’m now starting to think I’ve got a shot at it, on the right course and if things go my way. I thought that ship had sailed when I bogeyed the last at Kirkby Valley for a one over par 73 five years ago, but maybe I’ve still got one more run in me?
Golf is cruel though and next time I go out I’ll probably miss every fairway, chunk my irons but turn into Cam Smith on the greens. It’s so hard getting everything to work at the same time, but if it happens then I’ve got half a chance.