It’s not often I’ve outscored a European Tour professional — in fact, now I come to think of it, I’ve only ever done so in my dreams. But last week saw me triumphant over John Bickerton in a gruelling contest.
John has been a Tour pro since 1994 and has won three titles, including the French Open in 2006 and the Alfred Dunhill championship South Africa in 2008, and has won over 5 million euros in prize-money.
Quite a scalp, you must think. Unfortunately, the sport at which I beat him was not golf but sea-fishing.
Mind you, I might have had a chance at golf because John has just has a serious operation on his elbow and his arm is strapped across his chest. Having played with him, however, I don’t think he’d need both arms to beat me.
John has been suffering from arm problems for two years or more. Last year he managed only 11 tournaments and this year has been even more frustrating because various treatments have not worked.
Recently, he had surgery that we hope will solve the problem once and for all. He goes back to the surgeon this week to have the plaster off and the results examined.
Meanwhile, during his enforced lay-off from the fairways of the world, John and his lovely wife Annette, who used to work on the European Tour staff, have become popular residents of the village of Luxborough, on Exmoor, and join in all in the local activities. John even takes a hand in mowing the village green and is a frequent visitor to the Minehead and West Somerset golf club.
When he gets back to playing on the Tour he can be assured of a large and enthusiastic following, not least from the Royal Oak Inn at Luxborough where he and a group of hearties are always planning adventures.
As a frequent visitor, I am often aware of their escapades but had carefully avoided them until one fateful night when I agreed to go sea-fishing in the Bristol Channel. Since I live on the other side of the Channel, and had already experienced what an unpredictable stretch of water it is, you would have thought I’d have had more sense but, apart from catching mackerel from a dinghy in Cardigan Bay, I had never been sea fishing.
I promise you, I shall never go again. This is not to criticise my five comrades or Steve, the skipper of the Scooby Doo Too, who took us out from Watchet harbour at 11.30 am. White horses charged at us as we bumped and rocked along and Steve said it was too rough to go towards the middle of the channel so we anchored about a mile off shore.
He baited our hooks with generous portions of sprat, squid and lugworm and the six of us took our allotted places at the rail and waited….. and waited.
The boat rocked and rolled as we held the rod with one hand and the rail with the other. It’s another version of having a swell time.
After three hours I enquired, quite innocently, why we didn’t call it a day and go for a pint. I was informed that because of the tide, we couldn’t return to Watchet until 8.30 that evening. I’m not sure if it was that news that churned my stomach or the constant rocking of the boat.
Since the fish weren’t being very cooperative, it turned out to be a long day, especially as I hadn’t brought any grub.
Our first successes were two small skate caught, remarkably, almost simultaneously by Anthony and Paul. They were thrown back which was sad, I thought, because we could have done with the company.
I then hooked a conger eel which was also ejected, a dog fish we kept and a smaller dog fish we threw back.
That made me top catcher with three, Anthony and Paul had two apiece, John and Sean had one each and Bill, who had kindly organised the trip, drew a blank.
We got off the boat about nine hours at sea, walking a little unsteadily at first, and went for a welcome couple of points and a curry. I was careful not to brag to Bickerton about my catching more fish. He is a keen fisherman while I didn’t have the faintest idea hat I was doing. In any case, when he gets back to playing I’d like him to take me out and give me a few tips.
Actually, five days later I had my best game in the winter league. Ironically, when I stood on the 17th tee at Glamorganshire last Sunday and looked over the Bristol Channel it was completely flat calm and there were a couple of dozen boats floating blissfully on it and, I’m told, catching loads of cod.
I’m sticking to golf — as bad as I am, it never makes me feel sick. And, for a change, I didn’t make my partner, Dave, feel sick.
We were up against Dan Miller, who plays off 18, and Roger Edwards, a 28 handicapper like me. We had to give them three shots, which is not a situation I’m used to.
But we didn’t let the fact that Dan is an ex-policeman and Roger is a former HM Customs investigator intimidate us and we played very well. I hit the ball straighter than I’ve done for ages and I hope Dave doesn’t get too accustomed to the middle of the fairway.
We had a great game and the weather was one of those phenomenally beautiful autumn days so to come in with a three and two victory was a pleasure. We are not yet clear of wooden spoon territory but at least we are on terra firma.