As part of my holiday home to Ireland, I also planned to compete in a couple of Tournaments while I was home. There was two planned, the Southern Championships at Headfort golf club and also a pro-am at the amazing Gleneagles golf club in Scotland.
When you’re absorbed in teaching golf as your career, it really is so easy to forget what it is like to actually play competitively, in fact, you completely forget just how difficult it actually is! I recently read a post from Bill Harmon about instructors always posting their positive results with students, and never really discussing any negatives, and it made me think that this would be an ideal time to share some thoughts from the week…. The good, the Bad and the UGLY!!
Stepping out of my comfort zone
After my first event and a reasonable result last week at Headfort golf club (a course I was very familiar with), I was extremely excited to step into the unknown and play a 3-day pro am at the Former Ryder Cup venue, Gleneagles golf club. There are 3 courses at Gleneagles, the kings, the queens and the PGA (Centenary) course or also known as the Ryder cup Course.
My preparation leading up to the event was not ideal as I was at the open at Royal Birkdale for most of the week (meaning no practice from Monday to Thursday), but I did manage to sneak 9 holes and an hours practice in before flying to Glasgow early on Monday Morning. I arrived to The Gleneagles hotel around 11am, and was immediately blown away by the entire venue!
Being the only member of my team to arrive early doors on Monday I thought It was a good time to get some constructive practice and preparation done. After getting off any flight I am usually exceptionally stiff (in particularly my hips and back) so my first stop was the gym for a light rotational workout, swiftly followed by a trip to the range. The range session lasted about 3 hours, mixing in a minimal amount of block practice (hitting the same shot repetitively), with some random target and shot shaping work, followed by some short game and putting. All in all the swing felt fine, nothing major stood out and I felt ready!
The Practice Round(s) – Far from perfect
Our plan for the practice round was actually to play twice! In the Morning we played the PGA course which was the Ryder Cup venue in 2014, and in the afternoon we played the Queens course, a very different challenge all together!! The PGA course is a relatively long Par 72 with large fast greens and some extremely difficult and tricky holes that require some good drives. The firmness of the greens and the undulations can often make it extremely hard to get close to the flags and make birdies. The queens, on the other hand, is what I would call a more traditional golf course, however, the unusual thing is that it is, in fact, a par 68 with only one par 5 on it. The course is designed with lots of doglegs and forces you to place the golf ball on the course, however, it also offers several opportunities to make birdies with short Irons approaching the greens.
The practice round’s…… well ….. without using any expletives, they were terrible!! I hit the ball all over the golf course!! In particular, I struggled from the tee box with the driver, even trying to resort to my usual “go to” shot of driver from the deck, just was not working… To make matters worse I began to struggle with the putter on short putts…. Not Ideal the day before you play a tournament!
Round 1 – Weather Warning
Tuesday morning arrives and after one look outside we realised the first round might not happen! The rain was pouring down, and after a quick trip to the pro shop, we were told they would be reassessed at about 1 pm. We were supposed to be about the 7th or 8th group out so if the course opens we would be out about half 2. Anticipating a relatively long wait we went for some lunch before we had to get ready, and this was where I made my first mistake of the week. During lunch, I was not paying particular attention to time or what was going on with the tee times, and I only realised at about 2 pm we were teeing off in 20 minutes! This meant a slight rush to get the bag ready and get to the tee without a proper warm up.
As I stood on the first tee, for the first time probably ever I had no clue about what shape was going to come once I struck the shot. All I knew was that yesterday, everything (and I mean everything) was to the right! The idea for the day was to just tweak the club face a little more shut at the beginning and swing as normal, nothing more! Despite a long opening hole, I hit 3 wood to try and get somewhat comfortable from the outset. A good strike up the left side of the fairway was a good result and yielded a slightly scrappy par which pretty much set the tone for the day. The first 8 holes were basically into an extremely strong wind, given they are the tougher holes I knew the goal was to get through them (damage limitation) and make a score on the way back in. The last 10 holes suited my eye, and I had a game plan ready for them. After 8 holes I lay 5 over, which given the extreme conditions and how long those holes were playing I was comfortable with (Definitely not happy as it included 2 3 putts, but even putting was proving tricky). The next 3 par 4’s were all about smart placing from the tee, however, a lack of tournament golf showed. After a good tee shot on 11 leaving about 90 yards, a slight pull to about 20 feet left me with a slick downhill putt. The first putt was overly aggressive and resulted in a silly unforced bogey. This was swiftly followed by the worst shot of the day, a cold top off the tee into the long rough….. YES, A TOP….. it went about 20 yards. A few shots later and another 3 putt from long range I’m walking to the green with my first double of the day, and from being comfortable I am now frustrated….. and quite frankly pissed off!
Going to the par 3 13th the goal was simple, calm down, regroup and stick to the original game plan that we had for each hole. With that in mind, I made a few birdies down the stretch to finish with a frustrating 74
Round 2 – The Ryder Cup course
After learning my lesson from day 1, Day two began with a slightly more structured warm-up! There were two main things to focus on during the warm up, continue with the routine & feeling I had the previous day from the tee to feel like I could keep the ball in play from the tee, and secondly “Calibrate” my short putting so I actually gave myself a chance to make some birdies & not leave so many chances out there.
My sole thought from the tee was quite simply “stay on top of it” the reason being the bad shot was generally coming from me getting the club stuck too far behind (or underneath) me, causing a huge block right. When It came to the putting I simply did some starting line work with alignment sticks and some tees and added in some routine work to go along with it.
The PGA course at Gleneagles is a very different challenge to the Queens, it’s a Jack Nicklaus signature course which normally means long with big greens and lots of trouble! The greens themselves were significantly faster than the Queens, and the wind was well and truly up.
All in all, day two produced much better ball striking. From the tee, I felt like I had the driver under control and at no point was I really in any kind of difficulty from the tee. Iron shots were reasonable and putting was definitely better overall. However on 2 occasions face with relatively short putts, the wrong side of the hole and downwind my positivity with the putter got the better of me as I raced the ball passed the hole, and even further than the original putt resulting in missing the return.
After a couple of loose shots down the stretch, I ground to the 18th in a better position than the previous day, yet on the much tougher course! After two good shots to lay up to 60 yards or so, a poor pitch and several poor putts later, I was walking off 18 with a double bogey, feeling extremely frustrated and annoyed with myself! What could have been!!
Round 3 The Kings Course
I was excited for day 3, the kings course was the one that almost everyone mentioned as their favourite, from the caddies to the staff in the pro shop, however it also was the only course that we had not played a practice round on. It really did not disappoint!! The first hole is a simple one, a wide open par 4 that climbs steeply uphill to a semi blind green. A birdie chance narrowly missed set the tone for the first part of the round. Generally some solid ball striking with a few chances on the first 11 holes. Standing on the 11th hole I was 2 over par, with a number of short par 4’s and a reachable par 5 to come. Unfortunately getting ahead of myself and taking the 12th tee shot for granted I hung it far right of my intended target. Unfortunately, it resulted in a lost ball and a double bogey. It’s amazing how one poor shot changes your whole feeling towards a round! One poor shot and all of a sudden a closing stretch with a number of chances suddenly became a grind to hold on tight! A 76 finishing score for the day meant a 7th place finish and an overall fun, but a frustrating week.
I have to say as much as my game throughout the week frustrated me, for the amount of work I have put into my game over the last number of years, you have to say it should be expected. Week in week out I encourage people to practice hard, work on their game and they will get better, yet I can hardly remember a single “constructive” practice session that I have done in Dubai over the last number of years. It is without a doubt hypocritical at best!! The way I see it is either don’t practice, but play with very little expectations…. Or put some time aside to practice what you preach, even if it is not a huge amount of time per week…. You have to do it if you want to play! Your expectations must match the amount of work you are willing to put in.
The best way to get good at tournament golf…… Is to play tournament golf!!
This is my biggest takeaway from this month!! As much as I knew this in the past, it really became obvious this month more than any other. No matter how much you practice, or play with/against friends, the feelings just are not the same. If you want to be good in tournaments…. You need to play tournaments…. And lots of them!!
Do not underestimate how important it is to be golf fit
Fitness is always an interesting topic in golf. There is such a wide variety of fitness, from the traditionally strong and clearly fit and athletic looking Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka, to the slightly less traditional “fit” body types of Aphibarnrat and Shane Lowry. As much as we look at the latter and say they may not be your traditional fit looking body type, I promise you they are golf fit!! And don’t underestimate how important this is. To be golf fit you must be first of all mobile, secondly, you need to be able to be able to focus for long periods of time despite how tired you may be f the course or the conditions, and finally you need to have the physical capacity to do more practice on top of potentially 6 or 7 rounds in a week period. Although by the end of each day I was not necessarily tired, my body was sore and tight, in particular, my hips. If you have a limitation, a weakness or a lack of stamina you will be found out later in the round. As something gets sore, or tired your focus gets taken away from the important thing…. Your scoring!rom
Playing the course as the designer wants you to
It’s funny what you can pick up while you are on the road. One of the most interesting discussions came from my team mates after our practice rounds on Monday. Khalid mentioned that you should always “play the course like the designer wants you to play it”, and funnily enough as simple and obvious as this may seem, it’s something that never really occurred to me. The designer wants you to hit the ball in certain places, and particularly for relatively short golf courses with tight dog legs, you are most likely going to be far better hitting the club that is required to find the “space” that the designer has given you to hit into, rather than taking very aggressive lines with lots of risk, and almost little to no reward!!
All in all a fantastic week, I really enjoyed both Gleneagles, and the fun we had as a Team!