CONGU to the
rescue again

Hackers have been given a big handicap boost — and they must now stand back and withstand a negative reaction from their fellow club members.

CONGU, the organisation that governs handicaps in GB and Ireland, have decreed that we are not getting enough help and that we can at last burst through the 28 ceiling and get a handicap that more fairly represents our capabilities.

The ladies will receive similar treatment and be able to get more than their 36 shot limit. The new ceiling for men and women will be 54, just like the juniors.

I doubt if any of us will reach anywhere near 54 but it will bring relief if we can creep up above the present ceilings. During recent years the re-jigged handicap system has been particularly beneficial to those whose handicaps were in the lower- to mid-teens.

As long as they don’t do anything daft like finishing high in a medal, they’ve crept up towards, and sometimes past, the twenty mark.

I know a few at our club who used to be off single figures and are now in their late teens. To be stuck at 28 and watch these blighters advancing relentlessly towards you hasn’t been pleasant.

But a more immediate result in the new revision will come in four-ball better-ball events. In both match and stroke play competitions the handicap allowance will be nine-tenths the difference instead of three-quarters.

This has been a bitter pill for the high handicappers to swallow. If two 28-handicappers played two scratch players, the higher pair would lose seven shots each and the scratch players none. A player off plus two would actually gain a shot.

It was a nonsense and CONGU have done well to sort out this anomaly. Doubtless, there will be moans from the better players but the assessors study thousands of club results to arrive at a fair deal for all.

There was an outcry a few years ago when CONGU ruled that in match-play the full handicap difference should apply when a player met someone with a lower handicap. For decades the rule was that only three-quarters the difference be granted. No one ever knew where this figure came from. I’ve questioned many of the top authorities but no-one is sure how that figure was arrived at.

When they made a deep examination of club records they came to the conclusion that the fairest allowance would be one-and-a-quarter the difference. They didn’t feel brave enough to make that big a change so they settled for the full difference.

Even then they faced a mutiny from the better club players many of whom threatened never to play in knock-out tournaments again because they would have no chance. The reactions were absurd and although there were a few instances of rare wins by hackers –I had a couple myself, I’m not ashamed to say — the old order was soon re-established and the prizes have been largely claimed by the usual suspects.

How precisely the new system will proceed will be explained to clubs during a sequence of workshops held around the country for match and handicap committees to attend.

The changes are mandatory and will apply only to club-run competitions and cannot be used in opens etc. Although the changes are from January 1, 2016 they will not come into force until March 1.

There are a few other interesting changes which I have not dwelt on here but all will be revealed early next year. Suffice to say that we hackers are considered important enough to have our interests looked at by an official group constantly aiming to assist club members to have handicaps which truly reflect their playing ability.

My playing ability tends to defy description but it is comforting to know that someone is working on it. I thank them very much.

I’m back — but
so is the frog

It has been a long time since I put pen to paper (or, rather, finger to keyboard) to describe the continuing saga of my bad golf. The absence has been due to a mixture of illness and fatigue — I was sick and tired of it.

For 15 years or so I had been banging on about the burden of being a bungling oaf on the golf course, of how I’d failed to break 100 in a medal during all that time.

My weekly woes had started as a column in the Independent on Sunday and when they threw me out three years ago I switched it to this website mainly because I felt I had a duty to the many lost souls who told me they were comforted by the knowledge that there was someone suffering even worse than they were.

But by May this year, when I started comparing my lot to that of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, it was clear that I was cracking up. There is nothing wrong in pointing out that golf is such a great game there can be similarities between those at the very top and us at the very bottom. But I was running out of straws to clutch at.

The truth is, I was always hoping for a breakthrough. Although it may have seemed at times that I was revelling in my uselessness — some even accused me of playing badly on purpose so I had something to write about — there was a genuine ambition to become a better player….. The ugly duckling turning if not into a swan then into a better-looking duckling.

There is a strain in trying to say something fresh about the same subject week after week and I would stare at the blank screen on a Monday morning and eventually say ’F— it’ and go and read the paper.

I decided I would wait until something positive happened to me on the course before I would venture to trouble my readers again. Sadly, the picture of pointless endeavour failed to improve.

I once had thousands of followers but gradually they have dwindled away. The records show that they kept checking with the site but months of no fresh columns subdued their interest.

I’ve had letters, emails and texts enquiring as to my whereabouts. My fellow club members have almost stopped shouting ‘where’s the bloody hacker’ when I walk in the bar.

Two things happened recently that persuaded me to tap out another hacker and will, perhaps, return me to the weekly inquest into my inadequacies.

This has always been a words-dominated site but a year ago I introduced a rare picture. It was a statue of a frog playing a violin. Not an item of beauty, I grant you, but a nice little cameo and one deemed suitable to give me as a booby prize.

The occasion was the annual prize day of the Chips and Crisps, two mid-week swindles that involve about 50 members. In the Chips, the winner buys chips for everyone else; in the Crisps, the loser buys crisps for everyone else. Don’t ask.

Every November, the founder and organiser Charlie Caldwell holds a golf day when we go out and play for an enormous number of prizes for individuals, pairs and teams of four. The prizes are both generous and inventive, no more so when it comes to the booby prize.

Last year he produced this frog when I came in last. Not one to be churlish, I didn’t dispense with it but suggested to Charlie that it was such a good booby prize it should be presented every year.

So this year, I stuck it in a Tesco bag and handed it back to Charlie with the words: ‘There’s no way I want that bloody thing back again.’

Off I went with my allocated partner Richard Salt and the two other members of our four-ball, Mike Hennessy and Alan Duncan.

Unfortunately, Mike’s back started giving him trouble early on and by the eighth he could go on no longer. This was a shame, not only for him but for me he as was showing all the signs of finishing with a score lower than mine.

Actually, he would have been hard pressed to do that because I found it so difficult to score. My partner, Richard, was burning it up and went on to score 40 points, only one point short of being the overall winner.

I was a dead loss as a partner, although he was too polite to say so. I didn’t play atrociously, in fact I drove the ball quite well, but when I reached the green my putter turned to putty in my hands.

On most greens, I was failing by only one shot to get among the points but that’s no excuse for coming home with a pathetic score ten points. As I said at the presentation, it could have easily been 11 or 12.

The frog was duly returned to me, along with a massive golf ball, which they said I’d have more chance of hitting, three balls, a miniature bottle of Hendricks Gin and a set of tee-pegs in the shape of a naked lady.

The frog is now on the mantelpiece as a daily reminder of my disgrace. Every other attempt to improve my game having failed, perhaps shame will prove my spur

Rory’s part in
my disgrace

It does a golfer good to know where he stands in this great game of ours but I wasn’t prepared for the revelation at the weekend that I stand precisely 69 shots away from Rory McIlroy.

After Rory’s amazing record victory at the Quail Hollow tournament on Sunday someone who is knowledgeable about these things calculated that if Rory was an amateur he would have a handicap of +16.

It so happened that the previous day I had played in one of our club’s most prestigious tournaments, The Barbarian Cup, and, to cut a long and disastrous story short, I recorded a score of 123 which is 53 above par and for which I am utterly ashamed.

There is no-one in the world able to get anywhere near Rory at the moment so who am I to complain about being so far adrift of him?

But a gap of 69 shots puts me several planets away. That having been said, it does raise the question of what would happen if I played him according to those scores.

If full allowance applied he would have to give me four shots on 15 holes and three shots on the other three.

If you think about it, it might be worth playing him for a £1, £1, £1 — but I definitely would draw the line at 50p for birdies

We are now entering the realm of fantasy, of course, because Rory would never play me. He’s far too busy.

And even if he did, certain other considerations would come into play. For a start, when professionals play against amateurs they play off scratch and when hackers get on the tee they play off a maximum of 28.

So my dream of playing Rory off the full difference of 69 wouldn’t materialise and I certainly wouldn’t play him with only 28 shots so we’ll have to leave it.

All of which, of course, is a blessed distraction from the serious part of this report which is my deplorable display on the course. It will not amaze you that I do have a good reason for my wretchedness. I won’t call it an excuse because it carries a certain amount of self blame, quite a lot of it actually.

The previous evening I attended a convivial dinner at which I had determined to keep in mind that I was due to play golf the following morning. Unfortunately, my memory isn’t too good these days.

And when we reached home, I had a couple with my son-law-law. At 2.30, he went to bed and I popped into the office to check my emails. When he got up at 7.30, he found me still sitting at the computer fast asleep.

I can’t tell you how stiff my neck was. It was pointless going to bed at that time so I had a sausage sandwich and made my way slowly down to the club. I was playing with |Mike Hennessy who’d had a similar night at a different function.

Luckily, we had booked a buggy but I have to say that our attempts at a smooth swing were not impressive. I won’t bore you with the details apart from the astounding fact I didn’t go into one bunker so I can’t blame getting stuck under a lip or anything like that.

Mike scored 120, which he regarded a a major triumph, but it wasn’t pretty and we both delivered withering self-bollockings. How the hell can you take yourself or your game seriously if you don’t prepare properly and present yourself at the tee in decent shape. It was a valuable lesson at the start of the season.

But I rather resented the fact that I came in bottom place. It wasn’t an easy scoring day. There was a nasty, cold wind and only two scores out of 200 were nett under-par and the lowest gross was 76. The telling figure was 22 Nrs.

An NR is the golfing opposite of a VC — the cowards medal. If you are ashamed of your score you enter a ‘No Return’ and your score stays a secret. I know of one bloke who scored in excess of 140 and tore his card up another who started 10, 7, 14 and got stuck in a bunker on the 4th and finally threw his ball out in disgust.

At least I had the courage to face up to my failings and the ignominy I inevitably suffered. It make me all the determined to break 100 in this my 80th year or give up trying. Even Rory couldn’t say fairer than that.

Yip-hit on the
Old Course

Posted April 27, 2015

My yipping match with Tiger Woods last week was a bit of a damp squib. While my first chip at the Old Course in St Andrews plopped pitifully into the Swilcan Burn, Tiger’s yips didn’t show up at all at The Masters.

It seems that his yips were part of a wider malaise his game went through a couple of months ago. Most of the wiseacres gloomily predicted that he would never be the same again.

His top-20 finish at the Masters seems to suggest otherwise. Mind you, the yips have the habit of biting back when you least expect them. The sad thing is that if he did anything specific to fend them off last week, he’s not going to tell us.

All he said was that he worked his arse off which is not much use to those of us looking for a miracle cure. I suppose we could work our arses off, too, but that’s not generally our style. Also it depends on how big your arse is, some will take much longer to work off than others.

Meanwhile, I am stuck with the curse which attacked me on the first hole of the Old Course. This is a hole where humiliation is easy to come by.

For a start, the drive on the first looks one of the world’s easiest. There’s out-of-bounds on the right admittedly but there’s so much room on the left you can pull or hook to your heart’s content. But the moment you step up to the tee in front of the imposing façade of the R & A clubhouse the weight of 600 years of history suddenly lands on your shoulders.

We’ve been going up there for 17 years and the prospect never fails to make the best of us nervous. The feeling that you daren’t cock up a drive at such a hallowed place was heightened this time because the stands for The Open in July were being constructed and the ones on the right of the first were almost complete.

They were occupied only by a few workmen but slicing into those empty seats would have been a colossal embarrassment.

There were only four of us this year while over the last five or years there have been as many as 18. But last year the younger members said they fancied a change and opted to find another Scottish venue.

Organisation not being their strong point, they failed to do so The four more senior members, however, plumped for St Andrews because we revere the place.

Just before we left some of the younger ones said they regretted not being with us. It was too late, of course, because you have to book up for the St Andrews Links winter offer about six or seven months previously.

I almost didn’t make it myself because a week or so before we were due to go I was hit by a heavy chest infection that took me to bed for four days and left me considerably weakened and with no appetite.

I lost six or seven pounds and was feeling very low but I was determined not to miss the trip and felt better when we’d booked into the Rusacks Hotel in brilliant sunshine and I’d had my first malt whisky overlooking the brilliant vista of the first and eighteenth holes.

My first venture onto the courses, however, was not a success. I had hoped to have a buggie but they had all been taken. I started off well enough on the Jubilee course but after three holes I was knackered and trudged back to the hotel where I seated myself by the window in the splendid Rusacks’ lounge and gazed out over the sunlit links fortified by Mr Macallan’s fine product.

Feeling slightly better the following morning, I made my way to the aforementioned first tee of the Old Course. My companions were John Dodd, Bob Edwards and Roger Meacham who I usually play with at Royal Porthcawl and who are all vastly superior to me.

To my great delight I was not at all intimidated by that first drive and my ball soared down the middle of that famous fairway as far as I’ve ever hit it. That shot alone was worth the trip.

Then I had an air shot. I was about 80 yards from the pin and 60 yards from the notorious Swilcan Burn which has foiled me many times. I was tempted to have a go for the green but eventually decided to pitch short of the burn.

That dithering didn’t help and I missed the bloody ball altogether. But my next attempt lofted the ball perfectly to within a yard of the edge of the burn.

It was time to challenge the chipping yips and after several firm and controlled practice swings the yips took over and I scuttled the ball into the water.

I didn’t have any more yips but I didn’t perform too well. At least, I finished the eighteen. No part of me was in good shape but I got around.

Fortunately, I was able to get the assistance of a buggie to play the New Course on the third day and, at last, managed to score some points. I actually got a two on one par three but couldn’t amass more than 25 points.

But this put me only one behind John while Roger scored 30 and Bob won with 32. So I wasn’t too far out of the mix and, thanks to the forbearance of my comrades, I had a great time in St Andrews. The weather was brilliant, better than we‘ve had at this of the year.

I got a bollocking from my doctor for going but until she comes up with a cure for the yips I won’t take much notice.

Tiger and I
against the yips

Mindful of the trails and tribulations ahead of us this week, Tiger Woods and I stride manfully towards our challenges — his in The US Masters at Augusta National, mine in a pound-a-corner four-ball better-ball at the Old Course, St Andrews.
Two sacred venues that for this week embrace the whole spectrum of golfing ability, from one of the world’s greats to one of the game’s most pitiful wretches.
Pure fate has decreed our paths should be linked this week. He is coming back after a long and anguished absence from the game and I am at St Andrews on our 17th annual trip to golf’s cathedral.
And we are both accompanied by an unwelcome companion — the chipping yips. His are a recent invader into his game. Mine have been with me for bloody years.
When he went off into the wilderness to seek a cure for the yips that were destroying his game he took with him the good wishes of millions of hackers. If he could find the answer to this most pernicious of golfing ailments he could lead us to the promised land and spend the rest of his life in an aura of loving gratitude.
I shall be thinking of him every time I draw the club back to execute a nifty little chip to the flag from off the green and risk making a right berk of myself again..
I hesitate to say that I have a slight advantage but I am playing at the Old Course which is fairly flat and has close-cut fairways than run right up to the green. So, as long as there is not a bunker in the way you can putt from miles away.
I’m sure those who created the game at the Old Course long ago used to use their putters from way out, it seems natural. Then some fancy-arse invented chipping and put a lot of us in trouble.
There’s nothing more satisfying than a 100 yard putt that rolls close. It is not easy, mind.
Friends of mine still tell the story of when I was playing the 16th on the Old Course and I was heard to complain: ’I’ve three-putted and I haven’t reached the green yet.’
I shall endeavour to do better this week but I have had a week in bed with flu, or whatever they call it, and I am not at my strongest and three rounds in three days may be a bit too much.
But I will soldier on while keeping an eye on Tiger in search of the inspiration I trust him to provide.

Hacker abuse
rears its head

It was more like the Texas Chain-Saw Massacre than a Texas Scramble. Four knackered old hackers, denied the use of buggies, sent out first onto a boggy course on a cold and windswept morning — and we were docked four shots before we’d started. It was a recipe for a slow, disastrous round — for which we collected a heap of abuse for holding up the rest of the field.

And we had been so looking forward to our return to competitive action. Mike had been out for a year because of a shoulder operation, Roger had only recently returned from a similar op that had kept him out for even longer, Max hadn’t played 18 holes for ages and I hadn’t played since Christmas when I won a statue of a frog as a booby prize.

Since we also suffer from a combined age of 296, we felt a couple of buggies were essential to help us get round.

Imagine our dismay on the morning of the comp when buggies were banned because of the wetness of the course. We weren’t sure our legs would get the distance unaided. Luckily, powered trolleys were allowed, otherwise we wouldn’t have bothered.

Being first out at 8.10 wasn’t a great idea but was the only slot available when we got to the head of the queue to put our names down.

As if we hadn’t had enough bad news on a miserable morning, we then learned that there was a combined handicap limit of 60. Roger and I play off 28, Mike off 24 and Max is 22. That’s a total of 102.

Texas Scramble not being an officially recognised competition, rules differ from club to club. At ours the handicap allowance is ten per cent so we worked out we had 10.2 shots coming. Then we heard about the 60 limit they’d dragged up from somewhere and, for reasons I will go into elsewhere, we were even less happy than we had been hitherto.

For anyone not familiar with Texas Scrambles, each of the four takes a drive as usual, you pick the best one and everyone takes the next shot from there, and so on.

It’s largely a fun competition, but there are those who begrudge hackers any enjoyment. Apart from slapping a handicap limit on them there is another of our Scramble rules that causes some anguish.

Obviously, you can’t have a situation in which a group containing one ace driver can benefit from taking all his tee shots. Every member has to play his part and for each to have to contribute three tee-shots is fair, and it causes some extra excitement if one or two are not driving particularly well.

But we need each player to contribute four and for some hackers the provision of four half-decent tee-shots is a week’s ration not one round’s.

There’s nothing more dispiriting before a round than to feel you are beaten before you start and when we dropped three shots on the first three holes our hopes were as leaden as the skies.

But we also felt the pace and by the sixth the four behind were hard on our heels. We also noticed that they were reaching the far fours in two while we taking three at best.

We resolved to let them through when we reached the refreshment cabin behind the 8th green where we found to our dismay that they didn’t have any Clark’s pies. But they had sausage rolls and we were chomping into them when we noticed the group behind went straight to the ninth tee.

They’d decided that getting in front of us was worth the sacrifice of their halfway refreshments. We were going to let them through anyway but a cheerie request would have been welcome. Happily, one of their number apologised the following day.

As for us, we soldiered on with ever-weakening legs before sinking gratefully into seats in the bar. Our next big effort was getting to our feet to go home.

We had a scored a gross 82 which was a nett 76. This was 23.4 shots behind the winners. Good job they slapped that limit on us, otherwise we would be within 19.2 of them which, we have to agree, is far too close for comfort.

It was a couple of days before the acute stiffness began to creep out of our legs but as the season progresses we will get quicker. Meanwhile we will hire buggies to speed our progress around the course..

If buggies aren’t available we’ll have to decide whether it is worth risking the wrath of the more nimble and able bodied.

Travails of our
Winter heroes

Those of us waiting for the weather to improve before we venture back onto the course can have nothing but admiration for our more courageous colleagues who are playing in the winter leagues.

I played in our winter league in the ten weeks leading up to Christmas but declined to face the bleaker months in the second half of winter.

I was not the only one. There were about 120 of us in the first half but only 88 are competing this time. In support, I go along every Sunday morning to see them return to the clubhouse bedraggled but proud to have braved the harshness of this winter. I even commiserate with them over a pint. It’s the least I can do.

Only once in eight weeks has the Glamorganshire course been unplayable, which is not bad considering the weather, and the event continues to produce dramas.

There’s been plenty of dramas at the top flight of golf where the European and PGA Tours have been playing in warmer climes but the beauty of golf is that you can get excitement and intrigue even at rock bottom level in cruel conditions.

And out on those cold, wet and windswept fairways is where you find the true spirit of golf — but not every one of those heroes appreciates that.

There are a few pot hunters at our club for whom the expression bleak winter has a whole different meaning.

Leon Reece was our captain last season and, following an unusual set of circumstances that saw us lose two secretary/managers, he has ended up as secretary/manager.

This means that he is no longer a member. He’s entitled to play the course if he ever gets time but can’t enter any competitions –apart from the winter league which is not rated an official competition.

Leon, who plays off seven, is partnered by John Letton, who is a dead-eye putter and off 14 is not to be taken lightly. They would have undoubtedly fancied their chances but came an early cropper.

But a bigger blow was to follow. When they turned up the following Sunday, they found that one of their opponents hadn’t turned up. This usually very good news for pot hunters because the man who did turn up has to play them on his own and give the full difference in handicap.

Normally, the handicap allowance is half the difference. Leon is off nine and John is off 13 which gives them a combined handicap of 22.

Their sole opponent, Rhys Lakin is off 16 which meant he had to given six shots, which is not fun when you against two better players.

But Rhys, a well-known local rugby player (his father, Bob, played No 8 for Cardiff), proceeded to putt the living daylights our of them and win 3 and 2. It caused no end of jollity and Rhys was the hero at the lunchtime raffle.

Leon reckons Rhys will be off single figures in a year. Not only did he hit the ball very well, he sank one putt from 25 feet and three from 20 feet.

In sharp contrast John, rated one of our steadiest putters, missed four times from four feet and their prospect of a prize has receded somewhat.

Better fate has befallen Maurice Flynn who, like me, carries the heavy burden of a 28 handicap. This leads to a lot of ribaldry. It would be so bad if we could play to this handicap occasionally but we rarely get to within five or six shots of it.

This has led us spending a large number of winter leagues sweating on the wooden spoon — I got close enough in December to win a sack of potatoes — which Maurice has collected a few times.

Fortunately, in this session Maurice has the benefit of playing with James Barnett, a young man who is a single figure golfer. They have won two games in succession and, by all accounts,

Maurice has acquitted himself very well. Back to back wins is a rare pleasure. Brave

There’s nothing like playing with a good player to improve a hacker’s game. What it does for the good player has yet to be established.

As it happens, Maurice and James’s first defeat was against Leon and John. These are the ups and downs of winter league life. There’s nothing comparable in golf anywhere in the world.

Only Tiger can
kill the yips for us

Has Tiger Woods been sent from on High to lead us chipping sinners to a better place? Has the great short-game exponent been deliberately inflicted with the yips in order to help us cleanse our game?

Tiger hasn’t quite reached the wretched depths occupied by millions of hackers. But his shaming 82 in the second round of the Waste Management Open in Arizona last weekend plus his withdrawal from Torrey Pines on Thursday, has brought him far enough down the road to hackerdom

From here, he can be an example to us all, a beacon, a shining light to show us the way out of the wilderness.

Chipping is not his only problem at the moment but we know it is at the root of his troubles and we’re going to be intently watching the way he cures himself because this is the most insidious manifestation of our inability to get the golf ball to do our bidding.

Chipping should be one of the more straight-forward of golf shots. Hitting the ball a short distance to the green with a lofted club is not one of the game’s most difficult processes.

Obviously, it requires great skill and a deft touch to get the ball consistently close but, in itself, it isn’t a complicated operation. But when a yip suddenly causes you miss it altogether, clunk it couple of feet or blade it across the green it is a horrible experience.

We can cope with cocking-up our tee shots, murdering our mid-irons, shanking our approaches and sometimes failing to connect altogether but the chipping yips is the curse most capable of destroying our souls.

Not to be confused with the putting yips, the chipping yips are far more spectacularly humiliating, as Tiger has been proving in embarrassing fashion. And whereas we fiddle about uselessly in search of a remedy, he has to find a solution very rapidly. — and we’ll be watching like hawks.

We will also be relying on those wonderful gatherers of wisdom, the golf writers, to tell us exactly what steps he will be taking to fight this evil. Then we can follow him to the promised land.

I’ve had so much advice from pros about losing the yipsand so many lessons I’ve lost count. One pro even gave me my money back when I kept yiping away after all his efforts. That’s not something they normally do.

The problem is that only a fellow sufferer can really understand what you are going through. And when a player who was the best golfer in the world becomes a fellow sufferer he has the makings of a messiah.

It won’t be easy. No one can even agree on the cause. Some think it is physical, others call it the result of a ‘mysterious mental disorder’.

Over many years I have managed to cut down the number of yips I suffer and can sometimes go a whole round without an attack. But when you can sense the yips just waiting to strike without warning, you are never comfortable and it affects your entire game.

The yips quite literally ruined my game. I didn’t take up golf until my mid-forties but managed to get down to a handicap of 19 with every expectation of a gradual improvement.

Then I was appointed golf correspondent of The Observer. A great job but, paradoxically, it meant my playing opportunities were severely limited. I spent most of my life on the best courses in the world but rarely was there a chance to play –especially in weekend medals.

On the odd occasion I did play, the yips began to creep in and became a major problem. I spent hours practising, had some very highly-qualified advice, but often during a competition I brought the clubface towards the ball for a simple chip there would an involuntary jerk of my hands and I would lucky to make any form of contact.

It was a nightmare, ruining nearly every game I played. Unless there was bunker in the way, I would putt from miles away from the green.

I became quite good at 30 yard putts from the fairway. It doesn’t always work. Once, at the Old Course at St Andrews, I once three-putted before I reached the16th green.

My handicap wandered out to the maximum 28 where it still rigidly resides. I’m determined to break 100 and get my handicap down but it won’t budge until I rid my short game of this curse.

Because of the weather, I haven’t been able to practice on the course much lately but I’m constantly chipping plastic balls onto the armchair in the lounge. This works mostly but transferring it to live action is always a problem.

What I and countless others want is a miracle only someone of Tiger’s stature can perform. Save us, Tiger, we beseech you.

Knackered but I
dodged the booby

Darts is a great game, as the World Championships on TV have been proving recently, but to suggest that a hacker should go and play it instead of golf is a disgrace — and that nearly happened to me over Christmas.

I played in the Egg Cup on the Saturday and was fearful that I would finish the year with another booby prize.

I wrote last time about how my latest collection of booby prizes were a statuette of a frog and a sack of potatoes.

And when I came in with a sad 21 points, I feared I was going to be handed another mocking award. But, somehow, someone managed to beat me to it. Did they take pity on me or did he really score fewer?

We’ll never know because no scores were announced but I do know that poor man had to read out a golf poem and was then presented with a set of darts.

As a suggestion that you should go and play some other game, how pointed is that?

My one excuse for my low score was that I was knackered. The previous day, which was Boxing Day, we had our traditional Cross Country event in which we traverse the course instead of proceeding up and down the fairways as normal.

We go from the first tee to the fourth green and then zig-zag our way around nine make-piece holes; some of them very strange, going over ditches and through trees and measuring up to 800 yards long.

I actually won the event many years ago partnering Simon Curle who played off one or two at the time. But I had to do my bit as we play greensome foursomes which means you both drive, select the better one and then play alternate shots.

Because of the terrain and the obstacles to be overcome it is by no means straight-forward and you both have to be resourceful, long and accurate. We won it easily and when Simon was teased for taking advantage of a high-handicapper’s shots, he happily pointed out that we won it with our gross score.

It was probably my finest hour and I’ve never come even close to so successfully bashing my way sideways around the course.

This year I played with Leon who had just completed his year of captaincy and was probably looking for a little light relief. He didn’t get it. I was a burden and it turned out that one of the Christmas presents I didn’t realise I’d received was a shank.

Our playing partners were two of the South Wales Constabulary’s finest former officers, Keith Nicholls and Steve Summers, who have somehow managed to avoid the CID investigating their handicaps.

We played them for a fiver a corner and although neither pair looked like challenging the leaders we had a very tight tussle which went to the very last putt. It looked as if we were going to finish level when Steve sank a 25 footer to take the money.

It was a great game but the weather was appalling. Not only was it blowing a gale, there was a driving drizzle that found its way through your waterproofs. Never mind, you have to take your pleasures where you can.

I didn’t realise how much it had worn me out until the next morning when I turned up for the Egg Cup which is a tournament organised by Arwyn Williams to celebrate his birthday.

He invites about 50 of us to play for individual and team prizes and then we get a sausage and mash supper. We have to pay, of course, but since he’s a former bank manager what do you expect ?

Anyhow, it’s always a lot of fun and the weather was a bit better than it had been on Boxing Day. Unfortunately, one of our team of four missed the first hole. Tony Edmunds, who insists on being called Slug, had got the times wrong and when he turned up accused us of starting ten minutes early.

As a team, we never got over that bad start and Slug certainly didn’t. He was almost as bad as me. The other team members, Alan Buchan and Chris Pickles, did better and got among the winners but it was hard going and I was flagging well before end.

After our sausages and mash I actually fell asleep in the bar. Next year, I think I’ll stay home in the warm and drink my Christmas presents.

Stirred up
by the spoon

A couple of dozen winter leaguers at The Glamorganshire are sweating under the threat of receiving the dreaded wooden spoon at the prize-giving supper on Saturday evening — all because of a sadistic Chief Snake who refuses to name the luckless pair until the last minute.

You would think that in any well-ordered competition the rules of engagement would be quite straightforward, with the top prize going to the best pair and the worst pair getting the wooden spoon.

But no-one ever accused the Snakes and Ladders of being well-ordered. Actually, the format is excellent. It embraces 72 pairs — that’s 144 golfers — and each Sunday the winners move up the ladder and the losers move down ensuring that the following week winners play winners and losers play losers.

Thus, over the ten weeks, the cream rises to the top and the crap to the bottom of the ladder which has pride of place in the bar.

There are vague rules, such as how many subs each pair is allowed, but generally the competition is run under the iron-fist of the Chief Snake who traditionally operates under just two rules:-

Rule One: The Chief Snake is always right.

Rule Two: In the event of the Chief Snake being proved wrong, Rule One applies.

It works well because there is nothing wrong with a benevolent dictatorship and our current Chief is nothing if not benevolent. Dave Hancock is very popular and this has been his first session in the job.

He took over from Peter ’Jammie’ James who was a very difficult man to follow. The main duty of the Chief Snake is to preside over the Sunday lunchtime raffle and give a scathing account of the morning’s play, naming all those guilty of air-shots and other golfing atrocities.

Jammie would have a packed bar of about 150 in stitches with the quality of his badinage interspersed with saucy jokes.

If there were any doubts that Dave, an ex-copper, would be able to maintain that standard he has soon dispelled them with his own brand of humour which makes up in comedic strength what it may lack in subtlety.

They do say that golf is a funny game but on winter Sunday mornings at our club it is positively hilarious and as far away from the game’s staid image as it possible to get.

Last Sunday was the final day and those in contention at the top and the bottom took out Stableford cards in case tie-breakers were needed to finalise the finishing order.

There was no problem in deciding the top five prize-winners but even though one pair hadn’t won a single match it was announced that they wouldn’t automatically win the wooden spoon. The Chief Snake wanted time to consider if other pairs were more deserving of the disgrace.

Winning the spoon means having your names engraved on a giant spoon above the fireplace in the bar and having to make a much-heckled speech at the presentation supper. In order to avoid it, hackers will persuade better players to sub for them at a crucial stage.

My partner Dave and I have won three matches and with plenty of pairs having won fewer than that we thought we were safe but for some reason we are mentioned as possible spoonists. We tried to make it four wins last Sunday but ex-printers Dave Virgin and Phil Salter beat us four and two.

Our cause wasn’t helped by Dave jarring one of his fingers which affected his driving and long fairway shots but, oddly enough, my ball-striking improved considerably.

‘Ten weeks, and now he starts hitting it,’ was Dave’s unkind comment.