The Ryder Cup makes demands on our finest players of a sort they don’t encounter even in the major championships. Nerves, tension, emotions — every tournament carries pressures potent enough to overwhelm the strongest of characters but, as the US captain Davis Love said, nothing compares to the conflict facing the players at Medinah this weekend.
Well, Davis should try being a 28 handicapper who on Saturday is facing the year’s final monthly medal in a forlorn attempt to break 100 for the first time in 12 years.
If I fail, and complete another year of abject failure and frustration, I will have the excuse that over the past eight months I have been endeavouring to get over a nasty cancer.
Please don’t say I’ve been battling against cancer because that would be wrong. Others have been doing all the battling, and doing it brilliantly. All I’ve done is to hang about wanly, hoping for the best.
So far, my recovery after the operation has been very encouraging and I am back on the golf course. I have played four full rounds over the past month, all with the help of a buggy, and while I have produced nothing earth-shattering, I have gently hit enough half-decent shots to induce a modicum of optimism.
Mind you, optimism is not the hacker’s best friend. Most of us are suffering from an over-active hope thyroid without which we would have given up the unequal struggle years ago.
And just as we mere mortals can only imagine what our heroes are going through in the Ryder Cup, they’ve got no idea of the demons we face chasing far more modest ambitions.
How the hell can Tiger Woods know what it is like to constantly fall short of the simple target of 100 in a medal? Tiger first broke 100 when he was five-years-old.
I didn’t take the game up until I was 44 and although I was never better than 19, breaking the ton was not a problem until I developed the chipping yips which destroyed a game that was already under threat when I became golf correspondent of The Observer in 1990.
It is a paradox of a golf writer’s life that they spend almost the entire year on the best golf courses in the world but rarely get a chance to play. When I did get a chance, I found myself beset with difficulties in executing the simplest of chips.
I found it almost impossible to get the club head smoothly through the ball. My hands would give an involuntary jerk just before impact resulting either in an air-shot or a clunk a yard long. I had advice from the best — one pro gave me my money back after a lesson because I was worse than I had been before — but it took a long time before I managed to conquer the condition.
In the meantime, of course, the rest of my game suffered and when I gave up being a golf correspondent to go straight and returned to playing regularly my form was in a mess.
Since there’s more fun to be had writing about bad golf than there is about the good stuff, I started a column called the Hacker in the Independent on Sunday over 12 years ago and this website is a continuance of that.
Unfortunately, my efforts to break 100 became central to the column and the more I wrote about my failings the greater the task seemed to become. I could play quite adequately in match-play but put a card in my hand and my scores rocketed. It became a self-defeating obsession.
It affected other member of the club, too. Previously, scoring over 100 on occasion didn’t bother them. Now it has become a fateful number, especially since the club decided to run an annual Centurions tournament for all those who score over 100 in a medal at least once a year. Well over 100 qualify each year and it could be more because we have an unusually high number of ’non-returns’ after each medal. Players would rather rip up their cards than be labelled a Centurion.
Now, I have to stop this pre-occupation with 100. If I break it once I know I can do it more often. It has become a mental barrier that I must break through.
Perhaps my long break will help me this time. Because of the seriousness of my operation, I can’t risk lunging at the ball like I used to. It has forced me to slow down and my swing has improved as a result. It still may need a lot of practice over the winter but I’m determined to make a steady attempt this time. I’m not hiring a buggy but I’m sure I can handle walking the course.
All eyes will be on Chicago this weekend but mine will be fixed on a soggy Glamorganshire course and my need is just as great as theirs.