'I was a hazard to my fellow golfers – if I did practise it would be in solitude'

Golf News

You won't meet a more self-deprecating tour golfer than one-handed chipper Jason Palmer. Mark Townsend reflects on his career as he hangs up his spikes

There’s a good chance that you might have missed this news last week. It didn’t make many, if any headlines, but for a good number of golfers and fans alike the news that Jason Palmer was retiring from professional golf was particularly sad.

The one-handed chipping maestro has been battling wrist problems since qualifying for the US Open at Chambers Bay in 2015 and has now, after two and a half years of small steps forward and big ones back, decided to call it a day.

In the interim he has caddied for his good mate Charlie Ford on the Challenge Tour and worked on the main Tour working on the green scanning. He starts a new job as a golf trader with Metric Gaming in March.

It says a lot about him that his peers all came out in force on Twitter with their messages of support for the Kirby Muxloe 33-year-old, including Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood. Palmer replied to every one.

Another came from man of the moment Chris Paisley who turned pro the same year as Palmer – both played on the Alps Tour, Paisley is two years younger. Palmer got his European Tour card via the Challenge Tour, the same year Paisley did likewise at Q School.

The Geordie is currently fourth on the Race to Dubai after winning the South African Open and was fifth in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai to move up to 80th in the world.

Palmer now won’t play competitively again.

Jason Palmer

My curiosity with him began with his chipping irregularities and continued having spoken and met with him. And not before too long he became a bit of a hero for me.

The majority of golfers will hide behind all sorts rather than discuss any weaknesses. When you have resorted to chipping one-handed there really isn’t anywhere to hide. Like me and thousands of others I knew that he had known the pain and misery that only a golf ball and a lofted golf club together can bring.

“At one point I wouldn’t practise because if anyone else was near the vicinity of the chipping green I could wipe them out. I was a hazard to my fellow golfers. If I did practise it would always be in solitude.”

You get the picture. Palmer is particularly self-deprecating and funny.

He turned pro in 2009 and, by the early part of the 2010 season, his mind and nerves were slowly getting shot.

Someone once told me a funny yet depressing but still quite funny story of Palmer. He drew a circle on the ground roughly three feet in diameter with the imaginary ball in the middle and said Palmer was capable of making contact with any part of the ground inside that circle when attempting to hit a chip.

Soon after he was persuaded by his good mate Neil Chaudhuri to go one-handed.

“I would freeze if any shot required loft. I couldn’t figure out a way of getting the club back to the ball in the correct way. On full shots it’s not a problem. I was at rock bottom and decided to change and the minute I did I loved the short-game aspect and fell in love with golf again. I am fortunate that I don’t think of technique one-handed and just think of where I need to land it. I know I can get it on the green one-handed whereas with two it can be like watching a tennis match.”

A few years ago, after Palmer came through the Challenge Tour, we did an instruction shoot with him and I came away that day with my mind fairly well blown away.

We played a few holes together and, with all due respect, he wasn’t the longest off the tee, the swing wasn’t overly pretty and his iron shots didn’t fizz like a tour star but the end product generally resulted in a 15-foot putt for birdie. A few weeks later he would play his last 29 holes at Walton Heath in 9 under to claim a spot in the US Open at Chambers Bay.

It was so good that we had to throw a few balls down around the greens to see what all this one-handed malarkey was about and this was genuinely incredible. The most impressive recoveries being a collection of flop shots over sand before playing from the sand and being able to splash them out to gimme range.

“Playing a chip with one hand it really brings the bounce in and this helps. With two hands I was so bad as I played it too much with the leading edge. I can’t play a flop shot with the speed of a Phil Mickelson but I can get it quite high and land it fairly soft. I have to be quite shrewd with my long game and miss greens in the right spots. If you are attempting a flop shot then you’ve made an error in your course management.”

To get to this level of skill without both hands on the club, something you have done all your life, was something else and added another layer to his hero status.

We’re all vulnerable little beings but to demonstrate your skills in this manner, in front of your peers and make a healthy living, takes some amount of character. That first time you had to chip one-handed in competition, all the double takes from players and supporters, answering all the same questions, blading one through the back of a green and second-guessing yourself and to then just keep going about your business with the same smile and positivity is bloody brilliant.

In all honesty I personally couldn’t care less about the FedEx Cup or the Rolex Series or the world rankings or definitely all the publicity stunts on the Tuesday of a big tournament. What I really get a kick out of is seeing someone whose skills are rewarded at the relatively lower end of things.

My favourite golfing moment of 2017 came not at Augusta or Erin Hills or Birkdale but at the 12th hole on Lumine’s Lakes Course at Q School on the fourth of six rounds, where James Heath made the most unlikely of birdies, walking in a 35-footer having somehow found the green from the face of a fairway bunker 180 yards away minutes earlier.

I then had to hide behind a solitary tree to punch the air a few times and, at the age of 46, got very close to having a little cry at the prospect of someone super talented and super nice maybe getting back onto the European Tour. In the end he made it by two shots with a birdie at his 108th hole.

James Heath

In Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch there’s a brilliant extract that I can never get out of my head and I often think of it when some of these lesser lights are struggling with the game and how we so easily forget quite how brilliant they are and have been for years.

For your information Gus Caesar played 44 games for Arsenal from 1984 to 1991 and, for large chunks of that period, was a figure of fun due to his ability to make high-profile mistakes.

“Did Gus commit himself to the life he had picked? Of course he did. You don’t get anywhere near the first team of a major First Division football club without commitment. And did he know he was good? He must have done, and justifiably so. Think about it. At school he must have been much, much better than his peers, so he gets picked for the school team, and then some representative side, South London Boys or what have you; and he’s still better than anyone else in the team, by miles, so the scouts come to watch and he’s offered an apprenticeship not with Fulham or Brentford or even West Ham but with the mighty Arsenal.

“And it’s still not over, even then, because if you look at any First Division youth team of five years ago you won’t recognise most of the names, because most of them have disappeared. But Gus survives, and goes on to play for the reserves. And suddenly, it’s all on for him. Don Howe is in trouble, and flooding the first team with young players: Quinn, Hayes, Rocastle, Adams, Keown. And when Viv Anderson is suspended over Christmas 1985 Gus makes his debut as part of a back four that’s kept a clean sheet away at Manchester United.”

There wasn’t a happy ending for Caesar, his final club was Hong Kong Rangers, and there won’t be, golfing wise, for Palmer.

But what an effort and what a show of strength to say that his penultimate tournament start was the 2015 US Open. Good luck in everything that you do.

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