Friday, 31 December 2010
Six months ago as England were in the middle of a shocking World Cup, talk began of who would succeed Don Fabio if things didn’t turn around in South Africa. They didn’t of course, and the man who was on most people’s lips to replace Soho Squares famous Italian import was Roy Hodgson.
Now six months on, you have to wonder if Hodgson had been hired just how bad England’s Euro 2012 qualifying campaign would be.
Instead of Wembley, Roy ended up on Merseyside and was handed a squad that whilst in need of a lot of work, still had a decent amount of talent. So how has he ended up where he is now, teetering on the brink of the sack?
For starters he has had to deal with the ownership issue and it could be argued that this has had an effect on the squad as a whole. But this was sorted out months ago now and their form is as bad as ever. Whilst seeming to raise themselves for big games in patches, they have been truly awful in ones which a club like Liverpool should be winning.
Things were tough enough for Roy before Blackpool produced arguably the result of the season. Lacking in any type of real response, it became clear then that Liverpool's problems were not limited to just off the field.
As an inept derby performance seen by many Liverpool fans followed at Goodison and since then any good result has been followed by two bad ones. Victory at home to Chelsea was followed by a draw at Wigan and a defeat at Stoke. A 3-0 hammering of Villa was followed by a lacklustre defeat at Newcastle and the latest disaster at home to Wolves on Wednesday night. They have eight defeats at the turn of the year. Eight!!!!
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Despite all the turmoil of the field, Hodgson can't point to a lack of funds last summer. Yes Mascherano was sold, however two replacements were signed in Poulson and Meireles, neither of which have paid back any of the fee that was spent on them. Then there is Joe Cole...Pointless is the only word I can come up with for his signing.
The players must take some responsibility for sure, Gerrard and Torres have been lifeless all year (granted they have both had injuries) with no one else seeming like they want to do anything about the situation. It's down to Hodgson to motivate this team and he doesn't seem capable of it. If new players aren't brought in, and by new players I mean quality players, Hodgson is on course to lead Liverpool to its worst season since the days of Souness. With no one really willing to do business in January it doesn't look good for Uncle Woy.
New Years Days Picks
WBA v UTD – Draw
I will be getting up at 7.30 to head the hawthorns on Saturday morning with a stupid hangover to watch United throw away another lead late on. Why this team can’t finish off other sides is anyone’s guess.
Liverpool v Bolton – Draw
Hodgson’s last hurrah? Well not quite. Bolton were unlucky not to beat Liverpool at the Reebok back in October and will fancy their chances here. Liverpool look completely lost.
City v Blackpool – Home Win
After thrashing Villa last week, they will be hugely confident but I’ve written off Blackpool so many times that I now hesitate to do so. That said, City should have too much here.
Stoke v Everton – Away Win
Everton have taken 4 points from there last two away games and are unbeaten in four whilst Stoke lost at home to a Fulham team who have been awful all season. I can’t remember the last time a Delap throw in lead to a goal either.
Sunderland v Blackburn – Home Win
The Mackams hadn’t lost all season at home until Blackpool turned up on Wearside, and I don’t see them doing so again here. The sacking of Big Sam is, at the moment anyway, proving to be disaster for Blackburn.
Spurs v Fulham – Home Win
It’s hard to see past anything past a Spurs victory here. If they can beat two teams win three days with ten men then I can’t see them slipping up against Fulham.
West Ham v Wolves – Away Win
Both teams have had some good results recently but I’m picking Wolves here. Confidence will be sky high after winning at Anfield on Wednesday night and after winning 3-1 in the corresponding fixture last year they should be confident of repeating the same trick here.
Birmingham v Arsenal – Draw
Can anyone remember the last time Brum lost at home to a so called big team? Last season is the answer you are looking for my friends. Everton won in early October at St Andrews but no other team has managed it all season and the Gunners will need to be on their best form in order to take all 3 points here.
Chelsea v Aston Villa – Home Win
Mainly because Villa are so bad, even a severely lacking in confidence Chelsea team shouldn’t have any trouble here. Villa has some talented youngsters but Houllier needs more experienced players in Jan.
Wigan v Newcastle – Away Win
“Ladies and Gentlemen, CLEVERLEY vs CAROLL, its Super Sunday live on Sky Sports”. Seriously, this is the first “Super Sunday” of the year. I couldn’t be less excited. The Geordies will sneak this because they have, despite the sarcastic intro, a top player in Andy Carroll who will make the difference here.
Happy New Year to everyone.
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Friday, 17 December 2010
So the draw for this years knockout stage threw up some interesting ties with Arsenal preparing for a tonking off Barcelona whilst Bayern will be confident of getting revenge on Inter for last year. United and Chelsea will fancy their chances of getting through but Spurs will find it tough to get past Milan. If they don't win at White Hart Lane they are going out as they concede way too many goals away from home and Milan have been on fire this year.
Initial predictions on Quarter Finalists:
And onto this weeks picks. Last week a respectable six out of ten although I must add that that is in part to Didier Drogba and his inability to score from twelve yards.
Sunderland v Bolton Home Win
Gut feeling here is a Sunderland win. Bolton played with ten men for a decent amount last week and got a great result but this has the feeling of a let down game for them.
Arsenal v Stoke
Flat track bullies win comfortably here.
Birmingham v Newcastle
Brum look good at home. Pardew might find out he has only really 4 players of quality.
Blackburn v West Ham
Big Sam's sacking is hilariously stupid and what these guys who've taken over are thinking I don't know. It's ironic that he will take Avram Grant's job after he gets beat at Ewood on Saturday.
Wigan v Aston Villa
Despite them drawing the last couple of games, I still believe they are the worst team in the league.
Liverpool v Fulham
Liverpool reasonable at home, terrible away. So logic dictates they win on Saturday night.
West Brom v Wolverhampton
This West Brom team is the best of the three teams promoted, and Di Matteo could get a better job somewhere next year if they keep doing what they are doing.
Blackpool v Tottenham
This game may not happen if the cold weather sets in. Maybe they could play it on the beach. Even if they did play on sand Spurs are still winning this game.
Chelsea v Man Utd
Chelsea had looked below par to say the least in the last few weeks but were showing signs of life at Spurs last week. Add that to United's rubbish record at the bridge and I'm worried.
Man City v Everton
The Tevez story is just strange. What message it sends the rest of their squad is another matter. Add that to Balotelli's strop last week at West Ham and they would in theory be a complete mess. Yet they are still getting results and with Everton being all over the place they should win here.
Friday, 10 December 2010
"People think I'm mad to take the job" I don't Alan, not at all. If anything you are a genius. You've managed to get yourself a five year contract at the most unstable football club in the country. Succeed and you are a genius. Fail and you get a lovely compensation payoff. Incredible!
Why Houghton was sacked is beyond me. You take a club back into the Premier League and have them mid table at Christmas and that’s the thanks you get? Holloway and Di Matteo must be crapping themselves.
The only way that this decision could have been justified was if they had brought in a big name, and when Martin Jol resigned from his position at Ajax, it seemed that Mike Ashley might have pulled off something of a coup. But instead they have gone for a man whose sole achievement in football management is a trip to Cardiff with West Ham back in 2006. Since then Pardew was sacked at West Ham, albeit slightly harshly, struggled terribly at Charlton and left League One Southampton under a cloud of controversy.
But this isn’t Pardew’s fault; Ashley is the man to blame here. Just when it seemed like all was quiet on the Anti-Cockney Mafia front, the owner of the world’s worst sports store has managed to once again rile up the Geordie faithful. Will he ever learn? I can understand that he is ambitious and wants to take Newcastle to the next level but this season isn’t about that. Survival should always be the aim for a newly promoted team. And if European Football is Ashley’s ultimate dream Pardew is hardly the man to take them there.
And with that here’s this week’s SS Selections. Three out of nine last week was a truly atrocious performance and this week’s games are also to tough to call.
Villa v West Brom - Draw
Villa look knackered at the moment and the baggies appear to have hit form again with a couple of good wins.
Everton v Wigan - Home win
Cos Wigan are awful really. Not much more to add here.
Fulham v Sunderland - Draw
Basically because Fulham appear incapable of anything else.
Stoke v Blackpool – Away Win
I've written off Blackpool too many times this season to make the same mistake again.
West Ham v City - Away win
The Hammers are showing signs of improvement but City should have too much for them.
Newcastle v Liverpool - Draw
Pardew won't have the same luck as Gullit did years ago against the scousers. Hodgson looks a bit clueless away from home but I don't think Pardew will give the Toon a huge lift.
Bolton v Blackburn - Home win
Owen Coyle should enjoy showing Big Sam that you can keep the ball on the deck at the Reebok.
Wolves v Birmingham - Draw
Another West Midlands derby, another draw. Brum don't score more than one a game an Wolves will be up for it after getting battered by Blackburn last week
Spurs v Chelsea - Draw
Spurs are on a high at the moment and Chelsea look so out of sorts that i wouldnt be too surprised to see Ancelloti replacing Rafa at Inter by the start of the new year. That's said Chelsea will turn it around sooner or later and they have the quality to get a result here.
United v Arsenal - Home win
I am biased and I don't care.
Friday, 3 December 2010
Before I delve into this week’s Premier League picks, I feel I should take the blame for United’s defeat at West Ham on Tuesday night. In this blog I stated that I thought West Ham were doomed and were rubbish. Whilst I still believe this to be the case, I had clearly jinxed United’s second string who decided that after a long slog down the motorway to East London that they couldn’t actually be bothered to play football on Tuesday night. I don’t want to be too harsh on Johnny Evans, but I can’t remember seeing him have a worse game. As for John O’Shea; well I don’t think I have enough words to some up my feelings on him getting an £80k a week contract extension.
Last week I managed to put up a respectable performance getting half of my picks right. Not too bad, although I was way off on Everton and was saved by a couple of late goals in the Wolves and Spurs games.
Onto this week then...
Arsenal v Fulham – Home Win
Is there a manager in the Premier League who looks like he could care less than Mark Hughes. Despite some recent troubles at home the Gunners should have no probs here.
Birmingham v Spurs – Away Win
This may be a rare game where Spurs don’t have to come from behind to win as Birmingham don’t actually believe in shooting all that much. I actually believe Spurs should be deducted of all points until Aaron Lennon gets his stupid shaved eyebrow/shaved head (see number 8) concoction sorted out but that’s a whole different story.
Blackburn v Wolves - Draw
Wolves finally got the result they deserved last week against the Mackem’s and after Blackburn’s non performance at Old Trafford last week, they will fancy getting a result at Ewood. That said I think there will be some sort of reaction from Rovers so I’m going for a draw here.
Chelsea v Everton – Home Win
Everton have picked up results at Stamford Bridge in the past, but with Essien returning to the line up Chelsea should have enough with a suspended Arteta not available for the Toffees.
Man City v Bolton – Home Win
The curse of the Manager of the month strikes here as Owen Coyle scooped last month’s award today. Add that to Elmander winning player of the month and this has disaster written all over it. (Side note: if Tevez does actually in fact not enjoy the life of a footballer, can he get on with it and leave already. Every month he comes out with some spiel about this, and no one is ever going to sympathise with him)
Wigan v Stoke – Away Win
You have to fear for Wigan; they were battered by West Ham away from home last weekend and will return to the JJB to a half full stadium and a they are without Hugo Rodallega, their only real goal threat.
West Brom v Newcastle - Draw
Newcastle are very up and down and this week they are due to be down and the Baggies confidence will be high after a 4-1 win at Goodison last week, however with that all being said, Joey Barton returning is big for Newcastle as he is the best crosser of the ball in the squad and Andy Carroll will thrive off his return.
Sunderland v West Ham – Home Win
Just because they won Tuesday night doesn’t really mean anything has changed on the road for Avram. Sunderland to win comfortably here for me.
Liverpool v Aston Villa - draw
This was the game last season (despite it being only the third game of the season) where everyone saw that Liverpool were not going to be a contender. We already know that this time around, and so a young Villa team will have even less to fear this season.
Friday, 26 November 2010
I am aware that this sounds like I am selecting people to join Hitler's rather controversial policing unit but alas this is just my Premier League picks for this weekend.
Villa v Arsenal – Away win
The Gunners have had some big wins away from home in the league and despite losing their last two games against Spurs and Braga (in Europe) they will probably have too much for Houlier’s young Villa team.
Bolton v Blackpool - Home win
Coyles team march on here. They also have one of the most underrated players in the league in Lee Chung-Yong.
Everton v West Brom – Home win
Everton were much better than Sunderland on Monday night and West Brom appear on a slippery slope. No brainer really
Fulham v Birmingham – Draw
Birmingham beat Chelsea at the weekend but had just one shot in 90 mins. Fulham were woeful against City and Hughes can't seem to buy a win.
United v Blackburn – Home win
United will continue to be dull, Nani will annoy the hell out of everyone for 90 mins and will then do something out of the ordinary that will win the game.
Stoke v City- Away win
Despite Mancini not been the man for the job (and for City’s owners the job is them winning the title) I have a feeling their players will do what they want here and they’ll win 2 or 3 nil. And Tony Pulis will cry.
West Ham v Wigan – Draw
Bold prediction here... this will be shown last on Match Of The Day and it will be 0-0. Both teams are so poor it’s beyond belief.
Wolves v Sunderland – Home win
I think Wolves are better than their position suggests and Sunderland are so unpredictable. Awful at Newcastle, okay at Spurs, brilliant at Chelsea; I can’t figure this team out.
Newcastle v Chelsea – Away win
Ancelotti isn't losing three games in a row. Just isn't happening. Can see Drogba destroying Newcastle here.
Spurs v Liverpool – Home win
Usually I would pick a draw in this situation and by Sunday I may have persuaded myself that Spurs Euro exploits would have rendered them knackered, but without Gerrard, I cant see Liverpool getting anything here.
In one of my early blogs, I waxed lyrical about how I go through obsession phases and vowed that golf wouldn't be one, and I might add that it wasn’t. I played until mid September before Saturday league football started again and free time became precious. I never did manage to break 90 but rest assured the clubs will be out again come April and hopefully sooner than that.
What did appear to be nothing more than a fad was this very blog. Having smashed my way through six in four to five weeks, nothing has been forthcoming in the last three and half months. As a result of rather indirectly selling my soul to Murdoch, the truth is that I’ve not had the time to put any thoughts down on paper and for a couple of months i barely had time to watch as much football, NFL, golf, or cricket as I normally would.
The workload continues to increase but as my last blog post back in August focused on what I thought would be of interest in this year’s Premier League, a good way to get blogging again would be to see how the five topics that were supposed to keep everyone interested this season are progressing.
1. Javier Hernandez
I’m going to come off extremely biased here but I simply don’t care; this guy looks the complete package so far. Chicharito has seven goals this season, including the winners at Stoke in the league and Wolves in the Carling Cup. His first goal at Stoke however is the one that sticks in most people’s mind, as he somehow managed to arch his back and place a header into the back of the net using the back of his head. I mentioned a few months back that I was really looking forward to seeing him play with Rooney, however young Wayne’s well documented issues on and off the field have meant that this partnership hasn’t really got started. Even without Rooney though, Hernandez has blossomed into United’s most likely threat if a goal is needed.
2. They say in America that parity usually rules supreme in the NFL, and for the first time in a long time, the Premier League is starting to head in that direction. The standards may have dropped somewhat but overall this makes for a more exciting league. Chelsea currently top the table and have four defeats in late November. FOUR DEFEATS!!!!. Last year they had six in total. But Chelsea isn’t the only team to have odd results. Sunderland who ran out 3-0 victors at the Champions ten days ago, had two weeks previously been battered 5-1 at their biggest rivals Newcastle. Newcastle themselves were beaten by the same score line at Bolton (this years surprise package) this past Saturday. West Brom have travelled to the Emirates and won and taken a point at Old Trafford, yet managed to be beaten 3-0 at home by a Stoke team who are on a three game unbeaten run having lost their previous five. One thing that does stay constant, West Ham are rubbish. Their performance at Anfield last Saturday evening was nothing short of a joke and they are surely dead certainties to go down.
3. My early season prediction looked something like this.
At the moment the table looks like this
With Liverpool currently in ninth and so inconsistent they can’t be trusted to put together two wins against teams in my Saturday league, the top six will more than likely stay that way, but I would swap Bolton and Spurs around. Bolton are a completely different side under Owen Coyle and are playing some great football that has got them big results recently against Spurs, Newcastle and Wolves. Plus they were one kick away from an impressive win at Goodison a few weeks back; I can see them sticking around.
As for the title race itself, at 12.45 last Saturday I had Arsenal, at. 1.45 I was ready to sign into Oddschecker and find the best price, at 2.40 I didn’t know what to think. Chelsea then went to St Andrews and got beat, whilst United plodded past Wigan without much fuss or fanfare. I’ve talked about Chelsea already but as for United, they hardly look inspiring yet somehow they remain undefeated. This is not a team that would win the title in any other season but this year with the other team slipping up anything is possible. City? Well they have talent but as I’ve said before I don’t think Mancini will bring them the title or even a trophy. Winning 4-1 away at Fulham was a step in the right direction but any manager who brings on Gareth Barry and thinks it will bring them a goal isn’t convincing me. As for Spurs, they may be the most exciting team in the league in terms of entertainment and they have made the best signing of the season in Van Der Vaart, (excuse me i’m just thinking of him playing every week at Old Trafford....... sighs), however they are more susceptible to a draw or defeat at home to a so called lesser team and so Harry’s dreams of a title will have to wait. As a famous commentator once said “It’s Up For Grabs Now”.
4. The blue half of Merseyside once again had a terrible start, blowing my prediction of them making the Champions League right out of the water. Losing Rodwell at the start of the season didn’t help a huge amount, but they have lost just one of their last eight games, the 2-1 home defeat to Arsenal. Whilst that run sounds impressive, too many draws in that sequence have meant that they haven’t really climbed the table as much as they would like. They have two tough away games ahead of them at Chelsea and City, places they managed to take four points in total from last season, and with some very winnable home games coming up Moe from the Simpsons, Albert Steptoe and the rest of the toffees will be climbing up the table, I’m still pretty confident of that. They may even finish higher than the red half of Merseyside.
5. I owe the people and supporters of Blackpool an apology. Currently residing in 12thplace they already have more points than I thought they would amass the entire season. Ian Holloway has brought with him a much needed breath of fresh air in terms of post match interviews and he has also brought with him a squad with a huge amount of fighting spirit as demonstrated by their "heroic in defeat" performances against City and Villa and of course their famous win at Anfield. With the talented Charlie Adam patrolling the midfield, and Luke Varney and Marlon Harewood coming up with some big goals, including Varney’s candidate for goal of the season against Wolves, the Tangerines have a great chance of staying up. And here’s hoping they do as a lack of cash means I can’t make the United trip there in a couple of weeks.
Tuesday, 10 August 2010
This past Sunday I went to Wembley for the Charity Shield despite saying like I do every year that it’s a waste of time. My £20 ticket price was the main reason for my attendance; that and the fact that I haven’t been to a game since Paul Scholes’ last minute header at Eastlands sent me into delirium.
United deserved to win but as the new season gets underway this weekend I’m struggling for things to look forward to. Here’s a cobbled together list of what I think will be of interest in 2010/2011:
1. Javier Hernandez
When United signed this kid from Mexico I was pretty sceptical. For starters recent young strikers signed to the club haven’t exactly been successes; Dong, Manucho, and to a lesser extent Diouf have hardly lit up Old Trafford over the past few years. Yet there is something different about this lad. His two goals in the World Cup filled me with some optimism, but then again so did Karel Porborsky. His movement looks fantastic and in 5 minutes on Sunday he did more than Owen managed in 45. What we didn’t see on Sunday was him play with Rooney. Whilst it was great to see Rooney smack in goal after goal last year, I can see his natural ability to link with players like he did with Ronaldo, to be of great benefit to Hernandez who appears to have a good eye for the target. This kid has potential. Plus he has the ability to kick the ball against his own face and still score.
2. People whinging about the league been rubbish because the standard has dropped
Last season I heard people complaining that the league was rubbish. The reason? The big teams were losing too many games and therefore the standard of the league had dropped. Whilst this may be the case, this doesn't make the league as a whole not good to watch. If anything it makes it a more entertaining league because it gives fans something to talk about. There was a point last season where Everton beat Chelsea and United in the space of three days at Goodison Park. Two years ago United and Chelsea took maximum points from those trips to Merseyside whilst a year later both could only manage a draw. It shows that the standard of the teams that are outside the so called ‘big four’ is improving, which is surely better for the league in the long run because it makes it more competitive. A more competitive league makes for a better, dare I say it, product as fans will maintain interest. Which, in a way, leads me onto my next point.
3. The Title Race
Six teams could win the league this year. That’s right, six. At the moment I have Chelsea as favourites but wouldn’t be overly shocked if United, Arsenal, City, Liverpool or Spurs go close. If Chelsea had of had a fit Michale Essien last season they would have won the league by nine points. Even though he is returning this year, the squad is continuing to get older and they have lost a creative player in Joe Cole who has great ability. Whilst United and Arsenal have added a couple of players, they are by no means world beaters who have taken the squad to another level. City have spent a lot of cash this summer and will compete whilst Spurs and Liverpool have added one or two players to the mix. I have Chelsea winning it from Arsenal, with United third and and City fourth just ahead of Spurs and Liverpool. But one team could blow that prediction out of the water.
4. Everton to continue their good form
Everton are a team that I would be keeping a close eye on next season if I were Spurs, City or anyone else who ends up in the fight for a Champions League place. If the team can stay healthy they can certainly make a push for fourth spot. Last season with a fully fit squad the Toffees had the third best form after 1st January, behind United and Chelsea, losing just two games. They seem to have fought off the advances for some of their best players in Arteta and Jagleika and are producing talent such as Seamus Coleman and of course Jack Rodwell who looks to be the real deal. David Moyes has put together a fantastic bunch of players, which may be lacking a little in depth but make up for that in spirit. They have a great chance this year.
5. Blackpool to beat Derby’s low points record
In 2008 Derby County managed just 11 points all season long and this year it will be touch and go as to whether or not Blackpool will beat that record. I don’t mean to have a go at Blackpool because in all honesty I don’t know enough about them to break their squad down bit by bit. What I do know about them is that they have an unproven manager at top level, no players with top flight experience and they already appear to be having money issues, as they have only just managed to pay bonuses to players for last seasons promotion. They are struggling to get their ground ready and already have had to switch one fixture around. No matter what pundits may say, off the field problems do have an influence on the pitch when teams are struggling; look at Pompey last year. Their one shining light looks to be Charlie Adam who from what I have seen looks fairly useful. They have to go to Arsenal, Chelsea, and Liverpool by early October where they will surely take a hiding. Big defeats at grounds like that can have a huge knock on a teams confidence and they will find it very hard to come back from that.
And that’s about it. The lack of movement in the transfer market has meant that there are no huge big players going back to former clubs where feelings will run high and the atmosphere will be good. There haven’t been a huge number of managerial changes either. It’s been an incredibly dull summer. What the league needs is a couple of great games in the first weekend of the season. Spurs v City and Liverpool v Arsenal has the potential to do the trick.
Sunday, 1 August 2010
I arrived at the 17th tee at Hanbury Manor on Wednesday in fantastic spirits.
“So what club you taking?” says Keith, who I have known for no longer than the four hours we have spent out on the course.
“3 Iron as always” I say.
I strike the ball and it flies down the middle of the fairway. Boy did that feel sweet.
Fast forward to a few minutes later… “Lads, can anyone see my ball?, Seriously where the hell is it?” The search continued for ten minutes before I gave up and took a drop. My fantastic back nine was about to be blown to pieces.
I am a man who will readily admit that I go through what I guess you could call obsession phases. In the past they have included what have been dubbed my friends at work as “man crushes” on David Villa, Wesley Sneijder and a minor fatherly crush on Tom Watson (although it pales in comparison to a work colleague who says he is the best man on the planet). I do the same thing with TV shows. At present I am currently flying through episodes of Seinfeld on a nightly basis, despite having seen them all and I’m sure in a few months I will move onto some other show like Mad Men or Curb Your Enthusiasm. These are usually just phases and to an extent I am going through one with Golf at the moment. I've been here with Golf before, although it feels a bit different this time around.
Last Sunday I played Silvermere, a lovely little course near Woking in preparation for a corporate golf day at Hanbury Manor, a course that had previously hosted the English Open in the late nineties. As always we were playing twilight and were due of at 5.30. We planned to make it there for 4.45 in order to get in some time on the range; however for some reason we didn’t bother and managed to get ourselves onto the course 20 minutes earlier. The problem here being that I need time on the range in order to get rid of all the rubbish shots that are bound to feature in the round if I don’t do so. So, on we rushed and sure enough it was terrible. I fluffed the ball off the first tee, managed to smack the second shot into the adjacent driving range, and fluff two more before eventually sinking a putt for a ten. A TEN ON THE FIRST!! It could only get better. Well it sort of did. A five on the par three second wasn’t great but as we went on things did get a little better and I started to hit the ball reasonably well; until we reached the eighth. Now the eighth hole is a dogleg left par three that is the hardest on the course apparently, although to be honest it isn’t hugely difficult, just long. I hit a decent tee shot and an average second shot to leave myself around 90 yards to the pin; however I had low hanging branches that made the shot a lot harder. I took out my seven iron and tried to punch it in. It looked great and as the ball zipped towards the centre of the green and my hopes of a par putt looked nailed on, but the ball didn’t stop. It kept rolling and rolling and fell off the back of the green leaving me with a nasty chip. When I tell you I got an 8, I don’t need to tell you that the chip didn’t work as planned. Two bad putts on the par three ninth brought more misery and after that it was dreadful. And not just for me either, my mate Joe had a shocker as every ball he hit seemed to have a magnet towards a bunker.
I came off the course after hitting 106, seriously considering taking lessons if I was going to get any better. I am 110% sure that I am one of millions of amateur golfers who has gone through the same emotions. Rather desperately I purchased a Tom Watson DVD called lessons of a lifetime. As a guy who has used the interlock grip his entire golf life, it didn’t fill me with much confidence that Tom said I should use the overlap grip. What the hell I thought, nothing else is working. I went to the range the night before and after a few shockers the ball started to do what it was supposed to. I remained very cautious however; hitting the ball on the range and hitting the ball on the course in front of a group of lads that you don’t know and are more than likely to be silently judging you (because let’s face it that’s what I would do) are two very different things.
I arrived at Hanbury Manor more in hope than expectation. The place is comfortably the best I have ever played and looked magnificent. You never realise how well kept private courses are kept in comparison to public courses. This was like golf pornography. Inspired by the magnificent surroundings I played the best I had all year. With my new grip intact the ball simply flew off the club.
Sure there was the odd shocking effort but as I approached the par five 9th I had hit 43 and was full of confidence. A rather stray five iron meant that I had ended up in the first of three beaches. I proceeded to go in all three of them before ending up with a nine and a score of 51 on the first nine. What followed was seven holes of the most consistent golf I had played all year with putts been sunk from all sorts of distances. And then I arrived at the seventeenth.
This was a 440 yard par five that looked reasonably straight forward. A decent tee shot was needed to avoid having to go over some water on the right hand side to reach the green. What happened to the ball I still can’t figure out. Maybe it travelled into another dimension or something. Or a seagull picked it up and flew off with it. I was so worked up about it but still managed to smash my dropped third shot towards the green leaving myself an approach over a bunker to land it on the putting service. However still feeling a sense of injustice I went over not just the bunker but also went over the green and half way down the hill at the back. The resulting 8 meant my anger levels were at an all time high as I drilled my tee shot off the final hole into the sun glistening lake. This was like Van Der Velde all over again and after managing to calm myself somewhat, I finished with a 6 meaning I had hit 100 dead on.
Coming off the course I was gutted. All I could think of was that ball. That damn Nike 3 ball. On the drive home I spent two hours driving through central London and managed to gain some perspective. On Sunday I had played awful. Today was, by my own standards, great. Two bad holes aside I had played the best all year. And now I am more determined than ever to get better at this game. I have set myself a target for the year. Nothing ridiculous, the aim is to break 90. This is my new obsession. And this one will not be a fad. Coulsdon Manor on Sunday awaits.