Saved by the
blessing of 31 shots

There have been dramatic developments in my golfing year. I am now fully fit to walk courses in the foulest weather — twice around Royal Porthcawl in howling gales and rain have proved that.

And after nine months beset with a high pitched squeak instead of a voice, I am now able to shout ‘fore’ in almost manly fashion.

But the improvements stop there. The cancer treatment may be working but I am still playing crap golf and my form in the winter league has been inconsistent to say the least.

Last Sunday, my partner, Dave Ellis and |I, narrowly escaped humiliating defeat against a player who was giving us 31 shots,

There are harsh rules in our winter league in which we play foursomes. If one of a pair doesn’t turn up, the other must give the full difference in shots to the opposition.

The pair we were due to play, Paul and Graham, played us in the first of the ten-game pre-Christmas league and when we went five up after the first five holes we were looking forward to an early drink. But the transformation in their game was such that we didn’t win another hole and lost on the last.

So we were looking forward to getting our revenge. However, neither of them could play and they arranged for two subs to take their place.

But when we got to the first tee only one of them had turned up. He was Andy Warner and he wasn’t very happy. He’d driven eight miles for a competitive game of golf and now faced the prospect of a bloody good hiding.

Normally, we play half the difference between the two handicaps but if only one turns up he has to give the full difference. Since his handicap is 11 and our combined is 42, that meant 31 shots.

He then proceeded to lose a ball on our first hole, drive out of bounds on the second and then cock up the third.

To be three down after three did not sweeten his demeanour. ‘I’m determined to give you boys a game,’ he said.

And he proceeded to do just that. A massive hitter, Andy can be a bit wayward but anger added accuracy to his armoury.

On the next hole, a par-five of over 500 yards, he was on the green in two. We had two shots but they didn’t help much when we took five to get to the green and he claimed one back.

He was pin high for two on the next, another par five, and just short of the green on the one after, a par four..

Our shots were giving us an obvious advantage but on the longer holes he was easily over-powering us for distance. After our eleventh hole, another par five he devoured, we were only one up and very worried.

But he found a deep and nasty greenside bunker on the next to go two down. Another par five followed but his soaring drive dribbled into the trees and he had to take a drop. This coincided with me hitting a good fairway wood for the first and only time and we were on the green for three nett one and he was there for four.

He kept fighting and won another hole but he lost a ball on our 16th and we won 4 and 2. We would have all been a lot happier had we not finished on the furthest point of the course from the clubhouse and had a mile walk back.

But he had turned a potentially lop-sided disaster into a very good and close game and went home a proud man.

This means that we have won only three out of the nine games we have played and one of those was with the help of a super-sub, my dentist Martin Price when Dave was away in the States.

But it has been a feature of most of our defeats that one or both of our opponents have played out of their skin. I have a theory that this very column may play a part in this sudden surge of opposition form.

They are desperate not to lose to us in case I take the piss out of them in The Hacker. As if.

But we are not out of danger yet. We are still in wooden spoon territory and we must win our last match on Sunday to be home and dry. Although I don’t think we’ll be dry for long on that day.

How I became
owner of a frog

I don’t know what a violin-playing frog has to do with being a bad golfer but I have a very handsome statue of one on my mantle-piece — the latest addition to my pathetically sparse collection of golfing trophies.

It was gained at the annual Chips and Crisps golf day and supper at which we celebrate the Wednesday and Thursday swindles. About 50 took part and a good day it was. There seemed to be prizes for everyone. Mine, of course, was at the bottom of the list.

With only 17 points I didn’t expect much sympathy but it was a pleasant experience, nonetheless.

We hackers usually moan about the amount of derision we receive but we are sometimes treated with touching sensitivity. The ghastly term ’Booby prize’ is generally affixed to the award received by the poorest performer in various sports but in golf the words ‘Best Endeavour’ are often used — a far kinder title for the disgrace.

Slightly mocking it may be but it is as if they recognise that scoring the worst total can require a lot more effort that bringing home a more respectable score, which in many ways is true. Anyone who thinks that playing golf badly is easy has never had to undergo the torment.

And the frog is way above the usual tawdry reward a hacker gets and I shall treasure it as a very artistic appreciation of my labours. If only they had left it at that.

The other part of my Best Endeavour prize was less than subtle; a packet of tees called ‘Nuddie Tees’. These are utterly tasteless and take the form of a naked lady with a flat head and a pair of legs intended to go into the ground for the teeing-off process. If they think I’m going to put my balls on them they have another think coming.

I had been drawn with Nick Crofts as my partner which was not good news for him because there are prizes for the highest pairs as well as individuals so that was one prize he was out of before the start.

This also applied to Jeff Osborne, another decent player, because he was drawn with Mike Hennessy who, like me, has had a debilitating year. He has a shoulder problem and faces an operation later this month.

At least, Mike and I were able to share a buggie so if they wanted to moan about us we were usually well out of earshot. Not they would, of course, being patient and forgiving men.

Mike was managing to do better than me but he was suffering so much he called it a day after the eighth. Strangely enough, I started hitting the ball better on the back nine but I couldn’t make sense of the greens and 17 points was the miserable outcome.

But the Chips and Crisps are an enjoyable and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The day for notable for another event — it turned out that it was my last round in a buggie. I’d been hiring one since I began chemo treatment back in March.

It tires you out a bit so I’ve been needing wheels to get around but I was determined to get back walking. Trouble was, I needed to be sure I could complete the round but the winter league forced me to find out the hard way.

I’m afraid things haven’t been going too well in the league. My partner, Dave, and I lost our first three matches thanks to my inconsistency. While I bring the blessing of 28 shots to the partnership I also bring many other things, like shanks and air-shots.

We did manage to win the fourth match against Derek and Ian. Derek only took up the game at the beginning of the year but he is sticking manfully to the task. Unfortunately, he made more mistakes than me.

The following week we came up against Paul Brown and Ged Donovan and ran into a whirlwind. Paul, who is off 15, hit some tremendous approach shots, while Ged, off 22, also got into the act and as well as Dave played — and me, sometimes — they beat us 3 and 2.

I had occasion during the game to question Paul’s handicap and threatened to report him to the handicap committee. It turns out that he’s on the handicap committee. But it was all good natured and I was in a good mood because the ground was too wet to allow buggies so I had to walk the course and only rarely was I puffing like an old goat.

Last week we encountered Bob Bubbins and Kevin Parry who, like us, had won only one out of five which I was surprised at because they should be a solid pair.

On the first tee I asked Bob how they had lost four out of five. He pointed at Kevin and said:’ He’s playing crap.’

That’s what winter league golf is like, it tends to be the coarser end of the game. Needless to say, Kevin played nothing like crap and we found ourselves fighting for our lives again.

I was driving the evens with Bob and he was hitting it miles past me. But it was all good fun on a lovely morning and I didn’t play too badly with just the odd atrocity.

I think we did very well to take them to the 17th and afterwards we had a good laugh and a drink and my son had to come and pick me up. And I walked the course again and felt great — which means I can’t make any more excuses about being an invalid.

Wales hand the
spoon to England

The Welsh Golf-writers team returned in triumph from an excellent event in Turkey last week. We didn’t win the Home Internationals championship but we didn’t lose it either, beating England 3-0 in the 3rd/4th play-off.

Actually, we should have finished second but more of that later. Let’s concentrate instead on the fact that we gave the English a whitewash and sent them home with the wooden spoon that is normally our fate.

The Home Internationals have been going for 23 years and I am the last of the original captains — Alistair Nichol has died, Colm Smith and Michael McDonnell have retired — although I missed the last one through illness.

Bringing together four six-man teams of golf writers from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales for an annual tournament was the brainchild of Pat Ruddy, an Irish journalist and golf course creator, who figured that we spent all year covering grand events it would be good to have one of our own.

Accordingly, we had team colours, a band and a proper flag-raising ceremony at the St Margaret’s course, north of Dublin.

That was the pattern for the first few years and the internationals eventually moved to Pat Ruddy’s brilliant links course at the European Club on Brittas Bay, Wicklow.

The tournament then toured the rest of the home countries while maintaining its popularity as a hotly-contested annual battle. Finding the right venues has been increasingly difficult in recent years but we jumped at the chance of taking it abroad when we were invited to stage it in Turkey this year.

We couldn’t have asked for a better venue than the Montgomerie course at the Maxx Royal Golf & Spa hotel in Belek. This will be the scene of the Turkish Open next month so we did our best to leave it in one piece.

We were flown by Turkish Airlines from our various countries to Antalya ,which is only a short distance from the golf-rich area of Belek, Because of time limitations we had to truncate our usual format and draw for opponents with the two winners playing for the title on the second day and the two losers playing for the wooden spoon.

Wales drew Ireland which wasn’t good because the Irish traditionally have a very strong team. They seem to have a greater golf-writer per capita ratio of any other country. Wales, on the other hand, have a select but small selection of the golfing literati, hence my continuing role as captain.

And so it was that we took a hammering although it didn’t hurt very much on a sunny 75 degree day on such a lovely tree-lined lay-out.

I was playing with Paul Williams, late of the Western Mail and now the Celtic Manor, against Denis Kirwan of TV3 and Gary Moran, the RTE sports editor.

We were playing greensome foursomes in which both of you drive, you select the better shot and then play alternately. They were giving us ten shots and could have afforded to give us a few more.

We managed to hold our own for a while but they hit the ball so well that their consistency overwhelmed us and we lost five and four. A very friendly and enjoyable game but a hammering nevertheless.

Dave Facey of the Sun, who organised he trip, fared little better with freelance and top-twitterer Paul Mahoney. Simon Curle, of the South Wales Argus, and Martin Johnson, of the Sunday Times, put up a sterner show but also lost and we suffered a whitewash.

Meanwhile, Scotland overcame England 2-1 and earned the right to play Ireland in the final the following day leaving us and England to fight over the scraps.

That evening we were treated to a delightful Turkish meal that had more dishes than a Welsh dresser and afterwards retired to one of the Maxx Royal’s eleven bars.

Thankfully, we were not required to play until 11 am the next day. We had changed our partnerships and David Facey had to put up with me. Fortunately, we found ourselves matched against an English pair who ten years ago had made us a laughing stock.

We were playing at Carton House in Ireland against Jim Mossop, of the Sunday Telegraph, and Bob Cass, of the Mail and Sunday, and swept merrily into the lead. We were six up after seven holes and then suffered a series of golfing mishaps too embarrassing to recall. We finally lost 2 an 1 and they’ve never let us forget it.

When I wrote about it at the time they complained that I called them a pair of gnarled old Fleet Street veterans. I promised not to do it again. This time I have to refer to them as wizened old Fleet Street has-beens — a description from which I can’t spare myself.

But we got our revenge. It didn’t look that way at the start because Jim chipped in over a steep bank at the third to take the lead. And they soon increased it to two and kept us at bay until they began to flag near the end when Facey’s long hitting was the telling factor.

I wasn’t a great help and offered an air-shot as part of my contribution but I kept my end up and we were one up going down the 18th. . To cut a long story short, I needed a 15 footer to clinch the match and I sank it with some aplomb to a burst of applause from the terrace above.

To be fair to Cassy, he followed in with a slightly shorter putt to get the half but we won one up. Our other pairs, Curle and Williams and Mahoney and Johnson, also won to register a 3-0 victory, which is never a bad result against England.

In the main match, the Irish team led by their captain Brian Keogh of the Irish Sun demolished the Scots 3-0 to claim the Joe Carr trophy we’ve been competing for since 1993. Our Turkish hosts generously added another splendid trophy to play for in the future.

It was a sad day for the Scots and their captain Martin Dempster of The Scotsman. Their team included John Huggan, who was one of the UK’s top amateurs in his day and who now writes for Golf Digest, and some other doughty performers.

I hate to mention it but they won only two games over the two matches while Wales won three but I’m not claiming second place because I’m sure it was the bloody referendum that wore them out.

A woeful

It was a double-whammy weekend that fell well short of my hopes if not my expectations. My last chance to break 100 in 2014 came in the Centurions’ Medal — a competition especially for those who had failed to score below 100 at least once in the season.

The following morning was the first day of our winter league, the Snakes and Ladders, an altogether different proposition because it is foursomes and hackers are only responsible for half the shots.

Considering my form in the few medals I’ve played this year, I wasn’t over confident of success in the Centurions but, ever-optimistic, I sailed happily into the fray and not even an eight on the first dampened my enthusiasm.

That eight was the result of a three-putt which turned out to be the pattern of the day. I didn’t hit the ball all that badly but I just couldn’t get the pace of the greens.

It was a rare round for me because I didn’t score double figures on any hole. Usually, my card is ruined by two or three disaster holes but this time damage was more evenly spread around the 18 holes Perhaps consistency is creeping into my game.

But my wretched performance on the greens was depressing. The 18th was typical. My tee shot on the 190 yards par three was high and straight and finished about 20 feet from the pin. I had visions of a birdie and a share of the ball-sweep but I proceeded to three-putt again.

My final score was 113 which doomed me to finish the season on a low note. However, there appeared to be one consolation — I was told that mine was the highest score and I’d win a bottle of scotch.

Sad to say, another saddo came in with 113 and to cap both of us someone else weighed in with 126 and deserved a series of stiff drinks.

But I did enjoy the round which started off in pouring rain but gradually turned into a decent day. My two playing companions were Dan Barnett, who plays off 22, and Dave Virgin who is a 20 handicapper.

Both were far steadier than me. Dan and I had both paid two quid to enter the ball sweep and on the tenth I was on the green from the tee but my attempt at a two was miles out and I three-putted again. Dan, however, chipped in for a two from 25 yards away and the sweep paid out nine balls — so I’m so pleased we’d agreed to share.

Sadly Dan, who’d looked certain to break 100 by a distance, found a bunker on the 17th and scored a ten that saw him finish with exactly 100. David, who’d scored a ten on the third, recovered well for a 97.

The following morning I was back for the start of the winter league with my usual partner Dave Ellis who is a perfect partner because he not only plays a good game off 14, he is patient and forgiving enough to put up with my golf for ten Sundays in a row.

Our opponents were Paul Mathias, off 21, and Graham Prothero, off 19, and they had to give us one shot — which looked to be last thing we needed because we were five up after the first five holes.

We were playing quite well. Even I was hitting good shots while they were struggling to get their act together.

The fifth hole summed up their plight. It is a sharp dog-leg left and way to the right is our half-way house, a cabin situated behind the eighth green and the ninth tee.

Graham’s drive went so far right it finished underneath a table outside the half-way house where half-a-dozen or so were scoffing their pies. You can imagine the ribaldry when Paul arrived to play the next shot.

While the pie-eaters reluctantly relinquished their seats, he took a drop and proceeded to execute a shank that threatened a few pies, narrowly missed the cabin, bounced off the toilet wall and rebounded back to finish nestling against the cabin wall.

To the background of merciless laughter, Graham had to play a left-handed shot with the back of a club to put the ball back in play. Needless to say, we won the hole and our opponents were gloomily looking forward to getting back to the clubhouse for an early drink.

We never won another hole. Paul and Graham underwent an unbelievable transformation. Graham, particularly, began hitting the ball long and straight and we could hardly contain them.

I contributed to their cause by cocking up the eighth but I’m not sure thery needed my help as they won three of the next four holes. We managed to keep them at bay by gaining a few halves but they went one up after 15, two up after 16 and won two and one at the 17th.

Five up after five and getting beat. It takes a bit of doing and it didn’t help that Graham confessed that he hadn’t played for ten weeks.

’If he played regularly, he’d be a very good player,’ said Paul.

’He’s not too bloody bad now,’ we said, but not in a nasty way.

Hackers’ last
hope for glory

With the possible exception of Gleneagles last weekend, the greatest Ryder Cup show of all will take place at The Glamorganshire golf club on Saturday.

It’s Wales V Rest of the World and is so hotly contested it is a wonder wars don’t break out as a result. But the special part of the day is that it doesn’t just embrace the top players — the worst players in the club also get their chance at glory.

The teams for our Ryder Cup comprise 18 a side — 14 on merit with four captain’s picks.

How all that works out is explained on the right of this page.

For obvious reasons, I am more concerned with the lesser lights who will be doing battle that day.

When the Ryder Cup was introduced in 1998 it was such an immediate success that the club felt that it should do something to involve the higher handicap players in the jollities of the day.

It so happens that my struggles to break 100 in a medal date back to the early days of our Ryder Cup and I had begun to write about it in my Hacker column in the Independent on Sunday.

An examination of our medal records revealed that I was not alone in being unable to get under the magic mark. More than 150 had failed to do so at least once in the season.

So they formed the Centurions and announced there would be an annual competition called the Centurion Medal to be held on the same day as the Ryder Cup.

Some of us were delighted, others were decidedly undelighted. Lower handicap players who had found themselves bringing in a score of 100 plus once or twice did not want to be bracketed with the regular hackers.

For the first year or so when the names of the Ryder Cup teams were put on the notice board the names of those who qualified for the Centurions were also put up.

There was an outcry from those who didn’t want their failures made public and the club were forced to discontinue the policy. The Centurions therefore remain anonymous apart from those of us who are happy to turn up to play in the competition.

What is remarkable in how the number of Centurions has increased over the years. This year the number of those who fail to break 100 has risen to about 22 per cent of those who enter.

And a new phenomenon has arisen — the number of ’no returns’ in each medal has shot up. There are bound to be instances in which a player loses his ball, decides not to bother to go back and play another and puts ‘nr’ on his card thereby voiding it.

Some players, however, are so frightened of returning a score in excess of 100 they ’nr’ to avoid the ignominy.

It is difficult to say how many ’nrs’ are genuine but the figures for the August medal are worth studying. A total of 177 took part in what were very tough conditions — with only four players breaking 80.

Forty players failed to break 100 but there were an astonishing 29 ’nrs’. Since this was the medal in which I recorded a career-worst 142 you would think it have been less painful for me to ’nr’ but I believe in facing up to my deficiencies no matter how humiliating.

Obviously, others don’t. It is a comfort to hackers, however, to know that scoring 100 or more is not uncommon. Indeed, our results show that around 22 per cent of those who playing in our medals this season have registered 100 or more at least once.

If you include the ’nrs’ in the figures then 33 per cent of those who entered failed to break the ton for one reason or another.

So the 70-plus who set out in the Centurions Medal on Saturday are not that rare a breed. We needn’t hang our heads in shame. At least we face up to our failings and we’ll be busting a gut to break 100 as usual.

Sand tricks Andy
out of his fiver

Modesty forbids me claiming a world record but I bet it’s a Welsh record — an improvement of 31 shots in medal rounds just a week apart.

Mind you, not many golfers return a medal card showing that 142 strokes have been made over a round of 18 holes. It should be a criminal offence.

But, at least, I finished the round on what was a difficult day for scoring. Only three broke 80 and there were over 40 Nrs — golfers who didn’t complete their cards for one reason or another.

One of them was Andy Ferrier who had had a fiver bet with me. Since he didn‘t complete his card even my 142 was the winner.

Naturally, he wanted a chance to win his fiver back and, as luck would have it, there was another medal the following Saturday which was last weekend.

The difference was that whereas we played in different three-balls on the previous Saturday we would be in the same group this time– and would be sharing a buggy. We weren’t likely to fall out despite the tension.

In fact, it was polite a sporting encounter as you would expect between lifelong hackers. The third member of our group was Phil Mardon who plays off 15 and was unaware of our revenge battle.

He was also unaware that we were both 28 handicappers but it was too late for him to back out.

Although my start was an improvement on the previous week, my six on the par four first was topped by Andy’s 5. He then parred the second while I produced another six via a bunker.

The par-five third turned out to be troublesome for Phil who slightly tugged his tee shot and we assumed it took a dive into the woods because we couldn’t find it. I offered to give him a lift back to play three off the tee but he said he wouldn’t bother.

Later he admitted that he was struggling with his back and when we reached the half-way house asked us if we minded him calling it a day.

So were left to battle on alone. Andy, in fairness, was much the steadier. He hits the ball further than me, though not always in the right direction, and he has a more consistent short game.

After nine holes I had taken 60 shots (15 better than the previous week) while he had a 58.

And he continued to keep his nose in from and on the 15th, a long uphill par four, he was four shots ahead and my prospects didn’t look too good.

Then, his third shot went into the greenside bunker. His first attempt looked good but just caught the top lip and bounced back into the sand. His next attempt did the same, and the next. I shouted at him to stand back and take a moment but he pressed on and the ball wouldn’t budge until his eighth attempt.

He had to settle for a 15 and his morale in free-fall. He battled on bravely but the gap was too big to pull back.

That’s the trouble with us hackers. We can proceed in a fairly decent way and there’s always one hole that kicks you in the stomach.

When I stood on the par three 18th tee I needed a four to break 110 and my tee shot finished only ten yards short of the front of the green. Foolishly, I decided to use my putter and take a whack at it. The flag was well to the back but my ball sent like a rocket and finished off the green about 10 yards beyond the pin.

There was a sizeable crowd of members who had finished their rounds and were enjoying a beer. Knowing about our bet, they were also quite explicit in their mockery at my efforts particularly when I knocked the return eight feet past.

I finished with a six and a total of 111, a Nelson they call it in cricket, while Andrew had a 117.

There’s another medal this weekend but Andy can’t play so there’s no money to be earned but whenever we play in future we’ll have a fiver on it because we think it will spur us towards breaking the 100 barrier . God knows we’ve tried everything else.

Andy fights for
his fiver back

Andy Ferrier, my fellow 28-handicapper who last weekend lost a fiver to me despite my returning the shameful score of 142 in a medal, is seeking his revenge — and, especially, his fiver.

Last week we weren’t playing in the same three-ball but had a fiver on the outcome. He was in the three behind and while I was finding trouble after trouble he seemed to be doing well. At least, every time I looked behind he was happily waving at me.

So when I reached the clubhouse I was ready to pay up. But it was he who handed me the money. He’d started six, eight and 12 and when he lost a ball on the fourth he voided his card.

So that made me the winner and him a laughing-stock. Of course, he claims that had he carried on he would have scored far fewer that 142 but I doubt it.

Anyhow, there is another medal this weekend and he is determined to win his fiver back. I don’t think I could ever play as badly again so I’m confident. I’ve been playing a few holes on my own during the week and haven’t hit the ball badly.

Andy played in the Wednesday swindle and scored only 19 points so his form is not bright. He hit’s the ball a hell of a long way but, like me, finds trouble in ways you can’t possible imagine.

But the golf will be played in the best possible spirit and since we are sharing a buggy it better be.

How to play crap
and make a profit

Scored a career-worst 142 in the Bank Holiday medal. The fact that I still won a fiver in no way dilutes the disgrace of such an abysmal performance.

If I hired a top QC to put in a plea of mitigation on my behalf, I have no doubt he would make much of the fact that I hadn’t played for five weeks and that in the previous four months had been hampered by dollops of chemo and radio therapy.

But I refuse to hide behind lame excuses. However, I will point out that, despite it being a fine day, most people found the course playing harder than usual.

The standard scratch was 73 and only three golfers out of 200-odd broke 80. Even my friend Porky, who plays off a steady five handicap, came in with 89 and a stunned expression on his face.

There were over 35 nrs (no returns) which is a sure indication that some would prefer to pick-up than to hand in a card they would find embarrassing.

Not me. I believe in honesty, in facing up to my limitations and ploughing on to the bitter end — and I‘ve never had one more bitter than 142.

Part of the problem was the greens which were not only a bit on the rapid side, but some of the pin positions made it extra difficult.

You could putt from three feet and if you missed the hole the ball would roll 12 feet past or even off the green.

I managed to four putt the first for an eight. On the second, my putt for a par scraped the edge of the hole and then ran ten feet past. My next stopped a fraction short and rolled back to my feet — another four putts.

My two playing partners couldn’t have been more sympathetic. But I don’t think they realised how long that sympathy was going have to last.

Wayne Strong plays off six and Tony Warrilow is off 12 and are sufficiently acquainted with my struggles not to be shocked at such a gargantuan score. Although they were surprised that one man could encounter so much misfortune during one round.

One of the players I normally play with in medals is Andy Ferrier, a 28 handicapper of similar wretchedness to me. Andy was playing in the trio immediately behind us and on the first tee he suddenly demanded that we have fiver bet on our cards.

I readily agreed but was beginning to regret it when my scores started to multiply. Tony was marking my card and was grateful for his career in finance as he struggled to keep count of my adventures.

As we approached the half-way house on the ninth tee, I was aware than my score was already well over 60 and I wondered if I should carry on.

They were both playing very steadily and my travails must have been a distraction. I would have already lost my fiver bet so I made a vague suggestion that I should end my struggles and leave them in peace.

But they seemed resigned to their fate so I decided to carry on in the hope that my game would gather strength on the back nine.

Sadly, it didn’t. I managed a couple of half decent holes but I also managed to find a variety of bunkers from which I found it difficult to escape.

By the time we reached the 17th I knew I was heading for my personal worst. But my companions were still going well. Tony, especially, was looking as if he could feature. But his approach to the par four 17th found a greenside bunker. His shot from the sand came out like a rocket. I was in the bunker on the opposite side of the green and it flew over my head and into the trees next to the boundary fence. I found the ball but I didn’t do him any favours. He would have been better off not finding it.

It was only just playable and he ended with an 11. ‘It’s a frustrating game, isn’t it,’ he said. I considered that to be a mild reaction after all the effing and blinding I’d be doing all morning but I couldn’t disagree with him.

When we got to the clubhouse and totted up the scores, I waited for Ferrier to come in and claim his fiver.

‘How many did you score,?’ he asked. I told him and reached for my back pocket. But he produced a fiver. ‘Well done,’ he said. ‘I nrd on the fourth after starting 6,8,12.’

‘I should have stayed with it, shouldn’t I?’

No matter how bad things are, you should always stay with it. A lesson for us all.

A disgrace
on Captain’s Day

Every year, I get a chance to embarrass a better golfer. Not by beating him but by playing with him. Such delights are part of our Captain’s Day at The Glamorganshire golf club which, I venture, is the best anywhere.

For a start, it is a most democratic competition in which the weak can be combined with the mighty, the shy with the braggarts, the abstemious with the bon viveurs….. in other words you get pot luck who you play with.

Club golfers normally tend to play within their own select groups, which is only natural, but it does us good occasionally to play with someone completely different. And the format of our Captain’s Day ensures that not only do you play with him, you spend most of the day with him in what usually degenerates into a big raucous party.

We play foursomes and the pairs are drawn at random, with the top half of the handicaps going in one hat and the bottom half in the other.

The mid-way point is 16. Thus you get many hackers mixed with the club’s elite in some very unlikely pairings most of whom have had little to do with each previously.

There is no greater test of a golfer’s forbearance than to be required to take alternate shots with a stranger. There are those who don’t find it an enjoyable occasion.

Indeed, such are the strains of the day that the best players rarely get to win the top prize. We have a sweepstake and each players is allowed to bet up to a total of £20 on the pair or pairs he expects to do well.

With up to 200 players involved, that amounts to a lot of money and it is not often that the favourites come in.

I once played with a good player whose level of patience can be gauged by his words to me after the first couple of holes:-

‘Do me a favour,’ he said. ‘Stop saying sorry after every shot — just make one big apology at the end.’

Happily, the rest if my enforced partners over 30 years or so have been far more forgiving — in fact, some of them have played worse than me — and have seen the day as one to be enjoyed. Just as well, because I have never featured among the winners.

This year, I was a little wary of entering because I haven’t been playing much because of my chemo treatment but I thought I’d give it a go and was delighted when I was drawn with Malcolm Wood who I have known for years.

When I was covering Cardiff City for the South Wales Echo in the early 1960s, Malcolm was on their books as very promising youngster. He wasn’t very big so they used to give him Mackeson stout to help build him up (pity they didn’t do that for Messi).

The crunch came when they wanted him sign full-time. He was two years into a carpentry apprenticeship and didn’t want to abandon that so he decided not pursue a football career at that stage.

He went on to play to a good standard as a part-timer in the Southern League for Barry Town and did very well in his chosen career. He also reached a single-figure handicap in golf.

But he was playing off 15 when we were drawn together which meant we had a combined handicap of 43 giving us the top allowance of the day of 22 shots. I wouldn’t say we fancied our chances but we looked forward to a good round.

We were off at about 11 am on a beautiful day with the course looking absolutely pristine. Malcolm was driving the odds and he put me bang in the middle of the fairway on the first.

I’d been having a little practice and felt confident that I could propel the ball a good way towards the green from about 180 yards with a five wood.

‘Swing smoothly’ I said to myself. And so I did. It couldn’t have been smoother because the ball didn’t get in the way. I missed the bloody thing completely

Is there a more embarrassing place to have an air-shot, with the ball sitting up nicely in the middle of the first fairway on Captain’s Day? I don’t think so and I immediately glanced up at Malcolm who somehow managed to arrange his face into a ‘never mind’ smile.

‘Do you fancy going back to the clubhouse and getting pissed?’ I asked plaintively.

’Don’t worry,’ he said generously. ’Just relax.’

I don’t think relaxation of a body contorted with contrition was entirely possible but I did my best to cheer up. We couldn’t have gone back to the clubhouse, of course, because we had to mark the card of the pair who were partnering us — Phil Parker and Malcolm House, who were very sympathetic.

‘It can happen to anyone,’ comforted Phil. I doubt if it ever happens to him because he is one of the keenest golfers in the club.

He drives what he claims is the most expensive vehicle in Cardiff. It’s a state-of-the-art, all-singing-and-dancing street–cleaning vehicle which he drives for the council. He is out scouring the streets of Cardiff from 5 am until 1 pm, after which he’s straight down to the first tee.

There’s not a happier man in the place and despite my appalling start we had a jolly time.

There are ample opportunities on Captain’s Day to drown your sorrows while still playing. Supplies of beer are left at various tees around the course and at the halfway house, the captain is waiting to shake your hand and offer you refreshment.

This year’s skipper is Leon Reece, a recently demobbed RAF officer who is doing a great job and had set-up an excellent half-way buffet of pulled pork and all the trimmings with strawberries and cream to follow.

You could have your choice of drinks, including a chilli flavoured Zambuca which I found particularly welcome, before continuing with your round.

Although my play did improve I did manage to disgrace myself on at least two further occasions and despite Malcolm’s efforts we came in with uninspiring 25 points. Phil and the other Malcolm had 29.

Happily, there were enough other pairs with much lower scores and I felt better as we sat down to our free lunch and had a few pints. If it wasn’t for the air-shot, it would have an utterly enjoyable day.

The following week, Malcolm won the monthly medal with a nett 66. ‘Playing with you turned out to be an inspiration,’ he told me. I’m not sure what he meant but I’m daft enough to take it as a compliment.

in the rain

There are few harder challenges to a golfer’s sense of etiquette than when it is pouring down. When you set out with two playing companions for a monthly medal it is right and proper you all return together; if not successfully then, at least, in harmony.

Unfortunately, rain can have a dissolving effect on the resolution of some of us and I suspect much depends on the state of your card when the wet starts penetrating the nether regions.

With regular partners, you have a good idea of your collective attitude to playing in the rain. Some will head for the bar at the first appearance of a dark cloud; others will give it ten minutes before deciding whether it is a passing shower or ‘ in for the day’.

But playing in a medal with unfamiliar partners it becomes a more delicate and diplomatic decision. If there is a good card blossoming among the three of you then it is matter of honour that, no matter how foul the weather, the possessor is accompanied for as long as he wants to be.

Whatever the circumstances, however, it is not done to be the first to bring up the subject. You may be desperate to call it a day but you’d prefer someone else to moot it. Saying; ‘How much longer are we going to put up with this crap‘ is not very helpful when the other two are trying to concentrate.

Neither is moaning about your shoes leaking or your grip being affected. You have to soldier on until a natural consensus arrives.

In the May medal I was playing with one of my regular partners, Max Kipling, and Alan Davies, who was coach to the Welsh rugby team in 1991-95 and was previously coach to Nottingham RFC and a member of the England coaching staff.

Rain had been forecast but we were hoping we could get in a good few holes before it struck. Unfortunately, it started before we got to the first tee and the gloomy sky was scarcely promising.

It wasn’t too bad for the first few holes but it was gradually getting worse. We took it like the brave souls we are but it wasn’t easy going especially not for me. Because of my chemo I am not playing regularly and my game is not even up to my low standards.

I wasn’t complaining because I was delighted to be out and I’m happy enough to get around in whatever state. But when we got to the halfway house after the eighth hole the rain was starting to be a real pain.

Still, we munched our meat pies without even a mention of quitting. One of the group behind us poked his head around the cabin door and asked: ’Are you boys hoping to hear the hooter?’

The hooter is sounded when they decide to cancel the round and call everyone in. We assured him we were going on but they were welcome to go through. He said they wanted to stop for refreshment.

When we walked out to the tee and gazed up the ninth, it wasn’t an inviting sight. The ninth is a 533 yard uphill par five which takes you away from the clubhouse towards the furthest extreme of the course.

The rain seemed to be getting worse and I didn’t fancy it at all. I’d already scored 65 and my prospects of bettering that on the back nine were slim but I wasn’t going to be the first to buckle.

Then one of us, I can’t remember who, said it would be just our luck if they called it off when we got to the far end of the course. Then we agreed that the greens were already showing signs of ponding.

There was a unanimous turn of the bodies back towards the clubhouse. ’No point in going on,’ was the tacit agreement. Nobody was more delighted to see us depart than the group behind us. We’d made up their minds as well and as soon as they finished their pies they followed us home.

When we got back to the clubhouse a few hardy souls were on their way out. We warned them but they wouldn’t listen. We were comfortably ensconced in the bar three-quarters of an hour later when the hooter sounded to postpone proceedings. We felt good — home and dry and with honour intact.