Thankfully, it would appear that I have taken a bit of control and, if the evidence of my last two rounds are anything to go by, my mojo was actually at the bottom of my bag all along.
For years, my 'regular' shot shape was a R to L fade - it might morph into a slice from time to time - and, at the back end of 2011, I had developed a semblance of control with this shot, particularly with the driver & 3-wood. This meant I could produce it on demand and it was very much a fade as opposed to a slice. I plotted my way around this tricky little track and felt confident about the state of my game given what I knew was coming up.
Towards the end of May, I was lucky enough to have a spare Saturday in New York and, having schlepped my sticks across the Atlantic, I decided it would be rude not to try and play the fabled Black course. After all, my game was in decent shape so it would be $150 well spent. Hmm.
My opening tee shot (granted, it was just after 7am and I'd been awake for more than five hours already), having set up for a fade, was less than ideal. The ball followed the line of my feet beautifully, stayed arrow straight and ended up under the trees to the right of the fairway. This is where, in my mind, the rot first set in. Throughout the day, I battled against the same shot shape - occasionally, I kept the ball in the short grass but, time after time, the ball flight was L to R rather than my expected R to L.
Since that day, I experienced the same issue time and again, the nadir being my round at Royal Birkdale towards the end of August. This round formed part of the trip for the Tweet Golf Cup at Dundonald Links and, given Birkdale's place as my favourite UK course, I was very much looking forward to tackling it again. Imagine, if you will, the disappointment as I struggled through the round, producing only one drive of any real quality (thankfully on #18), failing to break 100 (I can't remember when this last happened) and battling with not really knowing where the ball was going to go. The hook affliction started to make its way down through the bag, meaning attempts to play an iron off the tee to keep the ball in play simply resulted in a shot from the rough from even further out from the green. I am sorry to say I hated it and, had it not been Royal Birkdale and part of a larger trip, I would have packed it in after 9 holes.
What has changed since 'Rock Bottom at Birkdale'? Well, after the conclusion of the Tweet Golf Cup trip (where, incidentally, 45 minutes on the range helped to install a modicum of confidence in my iron shots) the bats stayed in the shed for the guts of a month. I played one round at the end of September and, for the first 9 holes at least, something clicked. There was still the occasional wayward and ugly shot but, for the first time, I felt I trusted that I could aim up the left of a hole and the ball would turn to the right, an approach which had, until then, been completely alien.
Subsequently, in early October, I made a trip to the driving range, something I hadn't done since frequenting Chelsea Piers in New York back in May. Again, putting aside the odd fugly swing, the shots were generally pretty good and I felt like I had an idea what the results would be. This theme then continued over the two rounds I played towards the end of October and now, looking back, I wonder what all the fuss was about back in the summer.
I found I can swing the club with a much steeper angle of attack than I ever used to - my swing used to be very much cast from the Ian Woosnam/Darren Clarke mould of swatting at the ball - which seems to have greatly reduced the instances of a hook, especially off the tee. I am sure that my weight loss since the turn of the year has had an impact on my swing - whilst I am no Peter Crouch, there is certainly less of me for the club to try and swing around! My timing was properly out of kilter but, in the recent rounds, it felt like it was working together again.
In terms of taking something away from this - a lesson to be learnt, if you will - the tunnel is never that long and if you have played well before, you can play well again. I am glad that I didn't do anything drastic like quitting playing - I think I would have regretted that decision. I am still waiting to break 80 again but, for the first time in ages, I feel it's not far away.
I am the Part-Time Golfer