Last Thursday and Friday I had my two annual outings on to the golf course, part of a get together with a few friends.
I love golf and I hate it. When you hit a beautiful drive off the tee – it can happen – or a lovely five iron from the fairway, or a wicked chip out of the bunker, or a fifteen foot putt into the hole, all is well with the world. But the rest of the time… aaaaagh!
Thursday was at Kirtlington Golf Club, a few miles out of Oxford. A newish course, not too many hazards, and some lovely views of the rolling hills and woods in the area. It was just me and my mate Dave. Usually there is another, Jon, but he was plying his wares at a conference. We started with a solid full English breakfast – very good value at about £6 – and hit the tee just before 11am. First shot since last year… topped and sliced the ball, went about ten yards to the right! Recovered, staggered along the fairway, massively overhit a few putts and got a ten. Oh dear. Next hole, smashed the tee shot as far as the ladies’ tee, about twenty yards ahead. Again fought own incompetence and managed a ten. This was not looking good. It got better, thankfully, and around the turn (holes 8 and 9) I managed a par and a bogey. I then hit another dip and started to lose hope. I had a cold and started to feel that made things impossible. Then, amazingly, I hit a decent tee shot and somehow the feeling of cold receded. I got another par and finished feeling like golf was quite an easy game.
In the end I scored 122. A bit worse than usual, but not much. Dave was on a roll. He got an 86, his best ever. He proceeded to tell everyone he talked to about it. I would have done the same!
It’s the ultimate mind game, golf. Every shot needs preparation, poise. The head must stay still. You stare at that little white ball and think, surely I can hit it. But half the time your body says no, I cannot do it. The mind has to win. Sometimes it does, often it doesn’t. If the head goes up, if you chase the ball, you are stuffed. You top it and it goes a few yards. Or you carve a huge lump out of the fairway, only incidentally moving the ball along.
But sometimes it all clicks, and you think, that was brilliant, why can’t I do that every time? And the next shot comes up and you think, what did I do right last time, and you’ve forgotten.
But it’s alright, it’s still fun, most of the time…
On Friday we travelled down to a course on the outskirts of Cheltenham, called Lilley Brook. A really beautiful setting. The first twelve holes gently undulating, with some lovely trees. Lovely to look at, that is. Hell to play alongside – or amidst. It’s as if they and the ball had a magnetic attraction. The start of the course wasn’t even that difficult. But my shot making was even worse than at Kirtlington. What was grim was that I knew that it got really hard when at hole 13 you climb up a steep hill and start to play holes where the moment you go off course you can slide fifty yards down a hill.
I was just all over the place. My cold started to feel worse. I told myself it didn’t matter, it was just a bit of fun, but the frustration grew. I took 76 on the first 9, the easy bit! I stopped caring and actually had a good couple of holes on the outward nine. Until we hit the hills… The scenery is fantastic: wonderful views over Cheltenham. But you look ahead as the exhaustion creeps in and think, how on earth am I going to get to the green?
As we ended I was beaten, beaten up. Jon, who was keeping the scores, announced them. 145. My worst ever, by some way. 73 over par! No wonder I was knackered – I’d played twice as many shots as a scratch golfer would. But I was strangely relieved – I hadn’t gone over 150.
That evening I had a very sore right forearm. All that fairway digging. The forearm takes the impact as you slam your five iron into the turf.
There are all sorts of factors in play: only playing once a year, age, lack of talent, psychological deficiency, illness (this time). It’s so challenging! But, you know, I’ll be back next year, looking forward to it in a bizarre kind of way.
I did have a lesson years ago. At the time I used to hook the ball (to the left) a lot. I once lobbed the ball over some trees protecting a road from the course and heard the crunch of ball on car roof. The professional said, looking at my positioning of my feet, that it was impossible to hook the ball. Well I proved him wrong! He pointed out about five things wrong with the way I played and I decided I was beyond redemption. I settled for mediocrity. That meant scores of just over 100 in younger life. It creeps up every year. Now something like 115 is satisfactory. I hope the Lilley Brook experience was an exception, but I have to be prepared for the worst!
Doesn’t actually matter in the grand scheme of things. But it’s so annoying, especially when after three attempts you hit that perfect shot. Why can’t I do that all the time?!
I’ll be back, next year, hoping for something better, but enjoying the whole experience. Sort of.
Love and hate.