Mark Townsend: I’ve been helping grow the game (it won’t happen again)

The Scoop

NCG deputy editor Mark Townsend on helping a beginner get to grips with the game..

I’m a nice person. I know this because I tell myself every day. Occasionally other people tell me this, mainly my mum, and I believe every word.

Other than being a regular, swell guy I have factual information to back this up. I have recently finished one morning a week helping in a local primary school. Here I would give up my own time to help a collection of young hopefuls improve their reading and writing, pass on a few nuggets about the nine times table and explain why ‘i’ comes before ‘e’ except after ‘c’. And then avoid eye contact when the words science, foreign and sufficient come up in that week’s spelling test.

Not a penny changed hands. I’m a nice person. And then I play golf with someone who rarely gets the chance to play. And I’m not a very nice person. I’m an impatient, intolerant tosspot who shouldn’t be allowed to leave the house.

grow the game

In non-golf life I can let things pass. I don’t feel the need to correct everyone, all of the time, with my rubbish opinions. I simply wriggle my nose and tell myself that it’s fine.

Then someone stands behind me when I’m about to hit a 20-foot putt and the red mist descends. And, as is the way in modern journalism and sticking with the general lazy tone of this column, I have collated a list of my Top 4 nonos (that spelling doesn’t look right does it?) on the golf course.

1) He writes down his score

This is supposedly a ‘fun’ after-work game so stop asking me what I scored after every hole. Golf Genius, VPAR and Golf GameBook (other ‘real-time leaderboards’ are available) could all join forces and they still wouldn’t have a better idea of exactly what score I’m on and where my shots are. I try to sound casual – ‘oh, don’t worry about me’ – but there he is after every hole. I make a 10 at the 2nd to put an end to all this nonsense.

grow the game

2) He uses a 3-iron

All the time I very quickly lose sight of the fact that he is using his late uncle’s clubs, and that Uncle Ken stopped playing in 1997, and slowly go to pieces inside as a variety of poorly flighted irons leave the clubface. I make noises about the benefits of the driver or, at the very least, moving up to a 5-iron but the long iron keeps getting wheeled out – from the tee, the rough, the fairway bunker. I give up.

3) He cheats 

Not by doctoring his precious scorecard but by treating the grass around the ball as some sort of loose impediment. Various wispy strands fly up as he channels his way towards the ball so, by the time he gets to play his shot (with the 3-iron), he has created a perfect runway for club and ball to emerge from. As the round progresses there are also bad drops, incorrect markings of the ball and no grasp of what stroke and distance means.

grow the game

4) He always has to hole out

The green is where I generally inwardly crumple and lose the will to live. On the tee represents a private battle with myself – he stands in the wrong place, he makes too much noise, he’ll rummage in his bag too long, he won’t have a tee, his ball will fall off the (my) tee and he will play his provisional before I play my initial shot – but it is the green where I will implode.

This is where we are flung together and where I can’t escape, him or the incessant chatter of my head. I almost take it as given that he will stand right behind me as I putt but my whole body begins to distort and contort when he finally, finally puts the finishing touches to his hole. ‘That’s fine,’ I suggest, as his putt comes up six feet short but, for the sake of the scorecard, the drama will continue for at least another 20 seconds.

grow the game

The final act will be delivered, like a dagger through the heart, as he holes out, his size 10s all over my line, and casually steps away with his ball still underground. Months on I still can’t fathom why anyone would do this but, at that moment, it was as if a force field had been thrown around the hole and, although there might well be room for half a dozen balls to nestle happily inside the hole, I couldn’t see how his and mine could do likewise. I miss.

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