How to get out of bunkers like a pro

How to get out of bunkers like a pro

A couple of weeks ago I had a lesson on bunkers, because one of two things tend to happen when I end up in the sand: either the ball stays in or it flies 40 yards past the green. It turns out my positioning was all over the place, my feet were the wrong way around and don’t get me started with the clubface. Anthony explained how to use the bounce of the club and where to stand to get the ball out of bunkers. It’s helped a bit, so I thought I’d share his tip. It’s worth watching to see his happy little face at the end – it only took him 12 takes to get it right!

So I bought a new set of Lynx irons

So I bought a new set of Lynx irons

When is a good time to change your irons?

Opinions vary wildly on golfers’ forums, but the consensus seems to be “whenever you find a good excuse to treat yourself to a shiny new set”. Drivers, woods and irons don’t really wear out, so it can’t really be because they become unusable. In my case, I have been thinking about it for a while, because I’ve always struggled with my irons. They’ve always been a weak part of my game, as established when Anthony and I came up with a plan and then again before my golfing holiday. I bought mine four and a half years ago, six months after I started playing. In the meantime, my swing has changed a lot and what was appropriate at the time probably no longer is.

I know what you’re thinking: a good workwoman never blames her tools. But I will. Even though they’re excellent TaylorMade irons, I never thought they were right for me. However, I couldn’t really justify the expense of buying a new set. Until… I lost my 9 iron two weeks ago. I waited and waited two whole days in case someone handed it in, but nothing, so I decided to buy a new set of irons.

New set of irons

The day I lost my 9 iron, I found a bee. It’s amazing what you find on a golf course.

It’s imperative to test several brands before making your choice

When I mentioned getting new irons, several people advised me to book a fitting at a place offering all the various brands. I should try all of them, test them and compare them to make sure I picked the exact right irons for me. Brands and types of clubs vary widely and I needed to make sure I picked the ones with the feel and performance that suited me best. The problem is, I don’t like shopping and I’m incredibly indecisive, so this sounded like a nightmare to me. So I decided to do the exact opposite. It just so happened that a Lynx rep was coming to the club to sell his wares last week.

I decide to test just one brand because I don’t like shopping

This was perfect: I didn’t even have to travel far. Did I know anything about Lynx? No. I did a quick search and it seemed to be a decent, good value brand. And that’s good enough for me. I’m an average amateur and I really don’t think spending a lot more money on a premium brand will make a big difference to my golf. I did a search to try and have a vague idea of the questions I should ask and what I should be looking for. I found that there are different types of irons, I learnt about iron club terminology and that choosing the right shaft is essential. Also, men’s and women’s clubs are very different. But really, I was counting on the rep to guide me through my purchase.

Trying men’s and women’s club heads and shafts

He asked me about my game and watched me hit a few balls. He was trying to get an idea of what type of club head and shaft I needed. Indeed, women don’t necessarily need clubs that are made for women. A woman’s swing is generally slower than a man’s, so the club manufacturers compensate by making club heads that are slightly lighter and shafts that are more flexible than the men’s. This helps with getting the ball in the air and adding distance. However, my shots, although inconsistent, have always been lofty, so I don’t need extra help in that department, and my swing speed is ok.

We decided to try a woman’s club head with a man’s shaft: a mix of better forgiveness and less flexibility should help me achieve good loft, distance and consistency. The Frankenstein club didn’t really work out. So we tried men’s club heads and that was better, strangely. He gave me three club heads to try with a man’s shaft (regular flex), as he thought that my current shaft was too flexible for my swing, which could explain my inconsistency problem. One was quickly discarded because I didn’t like the look of it. The other two were a cavity back and a blade heads and I hit the first one better than the second. This was expected, as cavity back irons are known for being easier to hit. The weight is moved to the periphery of the iron head, which means that balls are easier to get off the ground and you get away with not hitting the ball dead centre. On the other hand, blade heads are less forgiving, but they give extra control and feedback and make it easier to “shape” shots if you know how to (I don’t). Anyway, the balls went far, high and mostly straight. The price was good (£340 for 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and PW), so we did the deal.

The lowdown

They arrived on Thursday and I spent Saturday and Sunday practicing with them. The result was a bit up and down, but I didn’t worry too much, because it takes time to get used to new clubs. Then yesterday I had a match and apart from a thin approach with my pitching wedge, I didn’t hit a bad shot. And the dodgy approach was after the match was over, so I was distracted by the thought of sandwiches and cake. The clubs felt solid, heavier in a good way and consistent. I’m really pleased, but I’m moderating my enthusiasm, because I tend to play well in a match situation. Now I need to play well in a stroke play competition to finally, finally get my handicap down. Will my new irons help me? To be continued…

Statistics and SkyPro to improve my putting

Statistics and SkyPro to improve my putting

Statistics to properly analyse my putting stroke

On Friday my lesson was on putting with the help of some nifty statistics. I waste a lot of shots on the greens, so improving this area of my game could really help with my goal. Best of all, Anthony had a gadget to analyse my stroke. I love gadgets! Gizmos! Machines! Anything with flashing lights and buttons, really. Ideally a screen. Better yet: SkyPro analyses your technique under every conceivable angle to help you work out how to improve it with a game! Say you’re hitting the ball with your club face too closed. The gizmo gives you ten shots to correct it. You end up with a score and you keep practicing until you get close to 10/10. It’s very satisfying.

A dizzying array of statistics

A dizzying array of statistics

Face angle at impact and shaft lean at address are the main problems

We identified that pretty much every single aspect of my putting stroke was off. The worst statistics were the face angle at impact, which was too open, and the shaft lean at address, which was too backwards. So that’s what Anthony asked me to work on. Move my hands towards my left leg at address, then imagine that the club face is finishing towards my left heel. Basically, the club face needed to follow more of an arc.

A more efficient stroke

The results were very interesting. I always thought that I was useless at lining up my putts, because although they go towards the general direction of the hole, they never actually finish in it. However, with this new stroke, the ball followed the intended line a lot more closely. I also noticed that the ball seemed to go further with less effort. This is due to the change of face angle, according to Anthony. He warned me that I was probably going to make more putts, but also to three putt more as I needed to get used to a different pace. This was somewhat inconvenient, as I had a match the day after.

The impact of the changes during my match the day after

The result? Statistics don’t lie. Actually, they do. Quite a lot. These are the numbers from yesterday’s back 9.

Back 9 statistics

Lies, damn lies and statistics

Statistics to improve my putting

I lost my putter headcover, but then I found this really nice one on the course, but then I lost it as well *sad face*

First, it should be +6 and just one double bogey, as my Garmin Approach X40, which I otherwise love, doesn’t realise that women play golf. The scorecard it uses is the men’s and we have one more par 5, so our standard scratch is 35, not 34. Second, 2.3 putts per hole is pretty dire, isn’t it? Yes, but no in this case. I putted well. I did! As Anthony predicted, it was a mix of 1 putt and 3 (and even one 4) putts. I struggled with the different pace. Besides, we’ve had a beautiful week, so our greens have gone from sluggish to lightening fast. Net result: I overhit a lot, but this is something I should be able to correct with a bit of practice. I should end up with a better, more consistent putting technique.

So, 6 over on the back 9, then. It just so happens that I was also 6 over on the front 9. 6+6 = 12. Maybe finishing the year with a 12 handicap isn’t so impossible after all.

My swing improves and I get my first handicap cut!

My swing improves and I get my first handicap cut!

Improving my swing: it’s been emotional

We’ve had our ups and downs, Anthony and I. We’ve spent the last 12 weeks trying to improve my swing, and it hasn’t been easy. There was the time when he forbid me to play in competitions to focus on practicing. The time when, following a change of swing, I spent two miserable hours hitting horrid shots on the practice ground. Then I started slicing every shot. And finally, he completely changed my grip and I got a blister on my pinky. Several times I’ve gone to the brink of golf despair and almost shut down this blog, hoping to pretend I never started this whole thing.

My improved swing leads to my first handicap cut

Rich (left) and Famous (right)

Weeks of torture finally pay off

Nevertheless, I persisted. I practiced (I did!) and I became comfortable with the new technique. I still have a disfigured pinky, but that’s ok. My swing has changed quite a lot. It looks better (which really is the main thing): the plane is wider, the club face is more open, the rhythm is smoother. As a result, all my shots are much more consistent: even my irons have started behaving. And on Wednesday, we had our first medal of the year and I shot a nett 67. That gives me a grand… 0.3 handicap reduction! It’s the tiniest of cuts, but it’s enough to bring my handicap down to 16 (16.2), so yay! Back to 16! And £50 for Anthony.

The way forward

Along with my swing, my putting has also improved. We haven’t worked on that part of the game yet, but I have been practicing it regularly and it seems to be paying off. I still can’t read greens, but I’m getting a smooth roll in the general direction of the hole. Looking at my stats, my main problem seems to be that I don’t get to the green in regulation often enough: 31% of the time. It looks like I need to improve my short game and particularly the approach shot, which should land near the pin, but rarely even finds the green. Now that I can hit the ball cleanly most of the time, I need to learn the art of precision. I have a feeling this could be an even harder task than improving my swing.

My right hand is too weak, so Anthony decides I should try the baseball grip

My right hand is too weak, so Anthony decides I should try the baseball grip

Friday had started so well. The sun was shining and I had a weekend of golf and friends to look forward to.

Then I had my weekly lesson with Anthony.

“How’s your golf?” He asked. “Great! I played well in Portugal and I feel like my swing is comfortable and consistent. I even won the foursomes competition on Wednesday.” “Excellent”, he said. “Let’s go to the net with the swing analyzer. We’ll measure how far your clubs go.”

And the nightmare started. Ball after ball started flying right. It was horrible. Puzzled, Anthony had a look at my grip and noticed that it was too weak. It’s an old problem: my right hand is turned too far to the left. I keep trying to place it in a better position, more to the right, but it just isn’t comfortable and it ends up going around again.

“Your hands are very small. Maybe the baseball grip would help you keep the right hand in the right position,” he said. “I’ll try anything to make the pain stop,” I replied.

I hit a few balls with the baseball (also called 10 finger) grip and it was a disaster. My shots were all over the place. It felt like the club had acquired a mind of its own, and it was the mind of a tantrumy 2 year old. However, when we looked at the data on the machine, one measure stood out: my clubhead speed was much higher than with my usual interlocking grip. This meant that if I could learn to master it, I would gain lots of distance. And I liked the sound of that.

Peanut butter M&Ms to survive the change of grip

I felt so down after my lesson that I had to have crisis peanut butter M&Ms

Long story short: it felt completely wrong at first, but I persisted. Then I developed a blister on my pinky because of the change of position. Went whimpering into the office and Lindsay gave me a plaster. Walked back out to practice on the driving range and started getting to grips with it. It feels like I’ve taken a few steps backwards, but if it means it’s the only way I’ll get used to the grip that best suits my tiny Trump hands, so be it.

I had a look online to learn about the pros and cons of interlocking, overlapping, neutral, weak, strong and baseball grips. What I concluded is that there is no real consensus over any of it, because so much depends on the swing itself. Just check out this amazingly detailed review of the golf grip. The amount of research that went into it is impressive, but reading these types of articles just confuses me. I did enjoy reading this six page thread on experimenting with the baseball grip, though.

My conclusion? I will carry on trying to master the baseball grip because it does feel more comfortable and my clubhead speed is much higher. I also need to accept that the process of becoming a better golfer is anything but linear. Five steps forward, ten backwards. And blisters.

A golfing holiday that comes at the perfect time to consolidate my swing

A golfing holiday that comes at the perfect time to consolidate my swing

Cheese is part of my strategy to consolidate my swing

Check out this Corsican beauty

Anthony warned me that my proficiency at different parts of the game would switch around as we go through our plan, and he wasn’t wrong. Now that I’m getting used to my new swing, my long game is back on top. I tell you, it feels like coming home after being stranded in a country with no cheese and no wine. This is what my game looks like at the moment (this is how it was two months ago):

  1. Mental
  2. Driving
  3. Fairway
  4. Chipping
  5. Short irons
  6. Long irons
  7. Putting
  8. Bunkers

Two months after starting my challenge, I’m doing quite well, playing to my handicap or slightly under. This is encouraging, as the wintery conditions remain challenging and I’m still adapting to a new technique. Wednesday wasn’t a qualifier after all. We only played 13 holes due to foul weather coming in and I scored 25 points with a blob due a nasty bunker. My progress gives me hope that I can start improving my handicap in the not-so-distant future. To this end, the next big competition is the Spring medal on 29 March, which gives me plenty of time to consolidate my swing and do something about my intense dislike of bunkers. Or it gives me plenty of time to forget how to play again. Who knows?

In Portugal and keen to consolidate what I've learnt so far

Geared up and raring to go



Either way, I’m in Portugal for a week of golfing (obvs). Anthony and I played four holes yesterday and he’s pleased with my progress. All he wants right now is for me to carry on focusing on my stance, my take away and the flow of my swing. When I come back, we can start working on the items at the bottom of my list: bunkers and putting. So that’s my plan: in between eating bacalhau, terrincho cheese and natas and drinking Douro wines, I’ll be doing my best to consolidate my new, improved swing.





Basically, my aim is to look like Mel Reid. Is it really too much to ask?