Derek Clements decided that he wanted to reduce his golf handicap from 12 to nine by the end of the year. With the help of the European Tour Performance Institute, he travelled to the south of France on the first part of his journey. The next step was completed much closer to home, at the London Club...
MUCH has happened since we last spoke after my trip to Terre Blanche in the south of France - not all of it good. I should say here and now that if reducing your golf handicap was a simple matter then everybody would be doing it, but I didn't realise quite how challenging it was going to turn out to be.
You may remember that world-renowned biomechanist Jean-Jacques (or JJ as he is universally known) Rivet gave me a series of exercises designed to strengthen the left side of my body while improving my flexibility. I realised that there were no short cuts and that if I didn't do the exercises as recommended a) JJ would know, and b) I would only be kidding myself that I really wanted to improve my game.
So I have been doing them religiously, and when I hooked up with JJ at The London Club for our second session he was able to confirm that I had improved my flexibility by 15% - even I know that is a fairly impressive improvement, and that my hard work had started to pay off.
I have also received my new custom-made TaylorMade golf clubs - a set of R11 irons fitted with regular flex steel shafts, RBZ driver, three wood, five wood and rescue club. Still to come are a Ghost putter and wedges. The woods are lighter than anything I have ever used before, and I have to single out the three wood for special mention. The advertising blurb claims that it will give you an extra 17 yards (how they arrive at such figures, I don't know), but I am here to tell you that it is more like 20-plus yards. Or at least it will be when I find a swing that works consistently.
And that brings me to my woes. Since leaving Terre Blanche I have been focusing on two things - keeping both feet grounded throughout my backswing and for as long as possible through the ball, and breaking my wrists at the start of my backswing. The results have been horrific - I entered a medal the other week and played so badly that I refused to submit my card, something I have never done before.
But the thing that has kept me sane and convinced me to stick with it has been the quality of strike on the few shots that I did actually manage to strike properly.
Apart from catching up with JJ again when I arrived at The London Club, I also met Paul Stuart, the club's director of golf, and a man with a fantastic reputation as a coach.
Arriving at any golf club for the first time is a nerve-racking experience but I needn't have worried about this one as I received a warm welcome from Paul and the rest of the staff. This is clearly a club with a wealthy membership but their philosophy seems to be that golf is, first and foremost, meant to be fun.
Paul asked me how things had been progressing and I told him how uncomfortable I felt with the early wrist break. I thought that he registered a look of surprise, but he said nothing until we headed over to the driving range to hit some shots.
Paul had a quiet word with JJ and then told me to stop making a conscious effort to cock and uncock my wrists, saying that I should just let it happen naturally. Having been told one thing by one teaching pro, it is rather confusing to be told something different by another one but I had no problem with what Paul was telling me. I had been very uncomfortable with the thought of an early wrist break from the start, so it was easy enough for me to stop doing it and focus instead on a slow one-piece takeaway.
I am not going to tell you that I immediately saw the light, but I very quickly found that I was hitting solid iron shots that were flying where I intended them to go. I was thrilled, until JJ summoned me to see the results on a computer screen.
My swing movement was monitored using the latest AG Techcentric video analysis software, and this stuff doesn't lie. Yes, my feet had more or less stopped moving around during my swing, but my weight distribution was, and is, still all wrong. At the top of my backswing, more than 70% of my weight was on my right foot - even I knew that was not good because it promotes a reverse pivot.
The cause is my propensity to overswing, coupled with an obsession to strive for a huge shoulder turn in my pursuit of long drives. The cure is to focus on keeping my left knee "quiet" during my swing, while keeping the toes of my right foot off the ground and trying to feel that the weight on my left foot moves towards the toes. It sounds complicated and, like anything that isn't natural, it feels very strange, but my enthusiasm for this project has been revived after a pretty depressing five or six weeks.
After I had beaten golf balls for two hours, Paul suggested playing 18 holes. Despite the fact that the rain was coming down in stair-rods, I happily approached the first tee on the highly-rated Heritage course, which has played host to the European Open. My driving wasn't great, but before the rain forced us from the course after eight holes, I hit the green on two par threes and struck a four iron that was so accurate that the ball landed, bounced once and hit the flag. That single shot was enough for me to believe that maybe, just maybe, this is the start of bigger and better things.
Speaking of bigger and better, the London Club, already a European Tour Preferred Destination, hopes to build a world-class hotel and spa complex, due for completion in 2015. I am not one to jump the gun or to fly the flag unnecessarily, but the Heritage is lined by hills and banks that provide a natural amphitheatre on just about every hole and would be perfect for...the Ryder Cup. Just a thought, guys, just a thought.
It is early days yet, but the club already boasts two fabulous golf courses, bars, restaurant areas, meeting rooms, full wedding reception facilities, external balcony and decking. It is a fabulous facility, and when the work has been completed it is going to be a mind-boggling one, among the very best in Europe.
But let's go back to my tuition, shall we?
Like everything else I have tried to take on board, I am once again working on new moves, and I have to focus on them with every single full shot that I strike - knowing I can always fall back on my old technique is a huge temptation, especially after the opening day of a recent golf weekend when, other than a couple of decent drives, I really struggled to play a golf shot worth the name. But then came the second day, during which I somehow found myself propelling most of my drives and iron shots straight and true through the air. And there were a few that took my breath away.
I am not going to tell you that I have cracked it as I have played this game long enough to understand that it can jump up and slap you round the face with a wet kipper.
The best news of all is that Paul has agreed to coach me for the rest of the year, so at least I now know that I only have to take on board the thoughts and ideas of one man - in this case, somebody with a gift for teaching the game. JJ will continue to monitor the biomechanics.
So it is back to the driving range for me this weekend, to hit hundreds of golf balls and, hopefully, get used to doing all the right things this time around.
As I will be spending more time at the London Club throughout the season, it is my intention to keep you up to date with things and give you more details of what is planned.
Paul Stuart's email address is email@example.com or you can contact him on 01474 875 737. Check out the London Club at www.londongolf.co.uk
Reproduced with kind permission from The Sunday Times