UA-33754892-1 Gecko Tour - El Pariso, Atatlya, Guadallhorce, Finca Cortesin, San Roque. | Jason Kelly Golf

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Gecko Tour - El Pariso, Atatlya, Guadallhorce, Finca Cortesin, San Roque.

It’s been a pretty rough start to 2014. I finished 2013 playing some solid golf, finishing in the top 10 pretty much every week on the Gecko Tour and getting into contention when the putter behaved. The first three Gecko events of 2014 saw the putter go ice cold and the rest of my game turn pretty average too.

The Gecko Tour is a relatively new tour based in Marbella. Most of it’s events are played between Malaga and Sotogrande. This season they have attracted full fields (85-100 players) as the prize money is a little deeper than previous seasons and I assume, to a certain extent, because of the horrible, wet winter most of Europe has suffered this year. The depth of the fields are not great as there are no categories in place so entries are on a first come, first served basis. This is possibly the only thing the tour may wish to change going into next season. There are enough high quality players wanting to play and I think it is important to keep the standard high. It reflects well on the tour and encourages sponsorship.

Having said this, the top end is of a high standard. There are 5-10 players each week that have held European or US Tour cards as well as other established players and top young amateurs who have just turned pro. It is rare for a winning score not to be an impressive number.

The key to this tour for me is to finish in the top 10. If I do this each week I cover my expenses of being based out here in Spain. The top 20 players get paid but with a €200 entry fee and €400 for 10th, €200 for 20th, you don’t want to be finishing outside the top 10. If you play ok and think well you should top 10 it, but as I have found out this year, there are no guarantees!

Fortunately, as I mentioned, I had done ok before Christmas. A 2nd place finish behind Manuel Quiros at San Roque perhaps the highlight. But I had made enough on top of my expenses to make the decision of coming down in January a given.

The first event of 2014 would at El Pariso. A course I have played almost every Saturday since I have been here. A friend of mine from Wentworth, Keith Donaldson, is a member and I play in a club competition with him here. I like the course and it is always in good shape, especially the greens. It should be a nice advantage to know the course better than others.

I made a solid start making good chances early on and eventually birdied the 6th. This was followed by a quick 3 putt on 7 where I missed from a couple of feet. This is where the problems started. 35 putts on a low scoring course is not going to be competitive.

For the last few months I have been using a ‘strokes gained’ putting statistic. Basically it is based on the putting stats from the PGA Tour, so if a player has an 8 foot putt, on average he would take 1.515 putts. Therefore if you hole an 8ft putt you gain 0.515 of a shot on the field, if you two putt you lose 0.485. This gives you very accurate feedback on how you have putted, relative to the length of putts you have faced that day.

On day one of El Pariso I had a loss of over four and half shots in putting. I shot a four over 75. James Maw led, shooting an impressive 61. He played his first 10 holes in 9 under! He would go on to win in a close finish. As for me, a level par 71 on day 2 with an improved 34 putts (two, three putts on my last 2 holes) saw me finish way down in 42nd.

Aloha

Next up was Atalya. This is a good, old, traditional course. Before Christmas I finished 9th here on -4. I hit the ball badly but putted nicely, so I thought I had a decent chance this time around. The course was in good shape and the weather perfect. The only thing I didn’t like was on 13 occasions one can’t see the putting surface when hitting the approach to the green. I find it hard to picture shots when I can’t see where I want to land it, especially on approach shots.

I played ok on day 1. I only hit 8 fairways but managed to find 15 greens in regulation. This is a good number of greens at Atalya as the par 3’s are difficult. Two of them are over 225 yards with small greens. The putter remained cold but a 71 (-1) left me in a fairly competitive position going into day 2.

I changed putter for the 2nd day after a long session on the practice green after my first round. I have been using the armlock method since arriving in Spain, better known as the Kuchar method. I like it as it feels solid and makes a lot of sense, but slowly I was falling out of love with it. I switched to the short putter. I lost over 7.5 shots putting in round 2. 4 three putts. It obviously wasn’t the putter! I shot 77 (+5) on day 2 to finish +4 total which was good for a share of 34th. I had hit over 80% of the greens in regulation and shot +4. Not a good feeling and another week of no prize money.

Guadallhorce near Malaga was next. This is the home club of Pablo Martin. He is the guy who won the Portuguese Open when ranked number one amateur in the world. He won twice on the European Tour since, both of these wins came in the Alfred Dunhill at Leopard Creek. A place I love. I played my practice round with him and got some insight into how the course should be played. Although he has lost his exemptions and categories everywhere apart from on the South African Sunshine Tour, you can still see the raw ability of the guy. Add to that he is a top bloke. He has lost a lot of love for the game but you can’t help but think he will eventually get back to winning ways, he just has a few wild ones in there he needs to cut out.

Anyway, I knew what I had to do and it was fairly clear that the scoring would go pretty low. I had no excuses then and I am struggling to find one now! Pace of play was pretty slow is about as good as I’ve got! I hit is badly 57% of fairways, 61% of greens. My short game was poor 35% scrambling, 20% sand saves and I putted awful, which accounts a little for the poor short game stats. I lost 7.27 shots putting over the two days. A pair of 77’s saw me finish 44th. Simply a bad week and my funds took another hit!

I turned up at Finca knowing I had to pick up a cheque to justify staying out in Spain. The entry for Finca is a little more expensive at €250. It was the last of my pre Christmas profit. I love Finca Cortesin. Most people have mixed feelings as the course is fairly exposed and if you play it on a windy day it can beat you up quickly. It is such a long course and although fairly lenient from the tee, if you do stray, there is no point looking for it. I am fortunate that I have been allowed to play at Finca a fair bit. It is always immaculate, without doubt the best conditioned course in Spain. And yes, before you ask, better than Valderrama.

We play it a touch forward, mainly the par 3s. A few other tees are moved to make the course more playable. The first day the course offered the players a chance. Despite it’s challenges there is still a score to be shot here. Playing with Carlos, the Director of Golf, Patrick Hanrahan, a member there, and an other member I shot -7 there pre Christmas. Day 1 had similar weather. I hit it good enough to shoot a good one. 79% of fairways and 83% of greens. I had a lot of looks but putted miserably again. 37 putts for a loss of over 6 shots. I shot 76. No good on an easy day.

Finca Tee 1
1st tee at Finca, day 2. Wet, windy, long day!

Day 2 could not have been any more different. It hammered it down from the start and a decent wind blew all day. It was impossible to keep anything dry and although the fairways flooded, the greens didn’t, so we had to continue playing. It was a long, hellish day. You could shoot 62 and not enjoy it one bit! I didn’t, I shot 81. I was using a Ping moon bag, not ideal! Remarkably I only missed one fairway and that was a perfect drive that pitched on the bank right of the par 5 8th. It is the optimum landing spot but the ball just plugged. I did the tee to green thing well, and that should be the hard part considering the inclement weather, but the putter was again my downfall. Another 37 putts for a loss of over 6 shots. A shocking new low. I lost over 12 shots putting over the two days.

81 didn’t drop me back, I maintained position on a tough day for everyone. I finished 18th and picked up my first cheque of 2014. It was only for €212.50 but considering how things had been going, it felt like a small victory rather than just a step in the right direction. It would pay my entry for the next week’s event.

That event would be San Roque. Despite my poor form I was looking forward to playing the San Roque New course again. I have played there twice before and finished 1st and 2nd. Last November I closed with a 67 to finish 2nd and I always have good vibes coming back here. The key would be sorting the putter out. I hit it good enough at Finca to win, but didn’t even get close. Instead of playing a practice round I decided to putt. I putted using different drills, games and aimpoint for nearly 5 hours to try and build some confidence and to find something to go into battle with. I switched my routine to the same as I use for my long game and went back to the arm lock method, just trying to set up a little squarer.

It worked nicely on day 1. We had a perfect day. Warm with a stiff breeze. Perfect for me. The course played a little different to normal as we had a lot of rain in the days leading up to the event. I got off to the perfect start. I hit a 6 iron to 8ft at 1 and rammed it in the middle, a nice confidence builder. I hit a rescue to 1ft at the par 5, 2nd. -3 thru 2. I birdied number 5 too before dropping a shot at 9, missing from 2ft. I bounced back with birdies at 10,12 and 13. I left a 7ft birdie putt short on the hard 14th before parring in for 66 (-6). That would be good for a 3 shot lead. I had hit 92% of fairways, 88.89% of greens, scrambled 66% of the time but most significantly I had gained over a shot putting. My first gain since using the stat!

Straight after the round there was talk of the weather overnight, and the next day, being so bad that there was a chance of no play on day two. It bought mixed feelings as I would like to win it properly, but if someone wants to give you a win it is hard to turn it down! It did rain hard overnight and in to the morning. At 09.30 Pablo Mansilla, the Tournament Director, almost called it during a heavy downpour, but as he was discussing the idea it stopped and stayed dry for a couple hours. It was on.

I felt pretty good on day 2. I knew if I played solid someone else would have to do something special to beat me, and if they did, fair play to them. In the final round I played with Manuel Quiros and Alfredo Garcia Hereda, two former European Tour players and despite the rain and wind, they came at me fast.

San Roque Focus

Manuel started birdie, birdie to get within one. Alfredo started par, eagle to also get within one. My par, par looked pretty average by comparison. I kept plodding, trying to do my own thing and not react to what others were doing. Manuel took a triple on the par 3, 4th and I birdied 5. I missed decent chances for birdies on 6 and 7 before missing a pair of 6 footers on 8 and 9, both for par. Alfredo made a great birdie at 9 and another at 10. From three ahead I was now 2 behind. I had not done a lot wrong, Alfredo was just playing very well.

I hit a lovely approach to a foot on 12, a much needed birdie, especially as it coincided with an Alfredo bogey. We were tied with six to play. 13,14 and 15 are tough holes, especially in inclement weather. My three pars gave me a three shot lead. Brian Casey, the talented young Irish player who has just turned pro and won the Alps Tour School before Christmas, was now my closest challenger. He was -3. I should have birdied 16 but failed to get an easy bunker shot up and down. A good 6 iron to 12 feet and a lagged birdie putt on 17 meant a bogey 5 on 18 would be good enough to win, no matter what anyone else did.

I hit a good drive on the par 4 before laying up with a 9 iron. There is water right of the green and left is not a good miss. Going for it from 208 yards with a ball covered in mud made no sense. I pitched on and two putted. Job done.

San Roque Presentation

I won by 2 on -5. 66-73. Amazing how much more fun golf is when you can knock the short ones in!

Next up is La Canada on Tuesday.

San Roque win
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