My week in golf: For better (ball) or worse...
The omens weren’t good.
I’d had four hours sleep. Last night’s chicken tikka balti was doing a drum solo in my stomach.
Think Cream’s Ginger Baker in Toad (anyone under 30 consult YouTube).
It looked like a 10 minute job to de-ice the car and, had it just been up to me, I’d have curled back under the duvet and not left it all day.
But never let it be said I don’t think of others.
For in the year’s opening winter fourball at Sandburn Hall, there was a partner to consider and he was relying on me turning up.
With his straggly white hair and huge whiskers, John looks he’s come straight out of the pages of a Charles Dickens novel.
He doesn’t possess a swing so much as a lurch.
Ungainly doesn’t describe it but what he has is raw power in abundance.
When John grips it and rips it, the ball cries out in pain.
Getting the right partner to shoulder the weight is crucial in any betterball competition.
Hit it off and you can dovetail to glory. Hit it badly and it can be three and a half hours of uncomfortable silence.
They must be the yin to your yang. The Lennon to your McCartney. The Ant to…well, you get the drift.
Just to complicate matters, the golf shop staff have been in mischievous mood.
Rather than the Stableford we’re all expecting, they’ve unleashed a medal on us. There will be no blobs today but there could well be double figures.
After confusing a hangover cure – namely that a bit of grease is what’s required to perk me up – I’ve tried to force down a bacon sandwich and merely added to my intestinal anguish.
So when I lashed a drive so hard on the 1st tee that my ball was a full 40 yards past my playing partners, it struck me that I might actually pull off an incredible golfing heist.
With 96 yards to go for my 3rd shot to the opening par 5, I took a wedge out of the bag, lined myself up and swung with abandon.
And that, as it transpired, was where things started to go wrong.
Instead of tracing a high arc into the middle of the green, it travelled no further than 40 yards.
I’d hit it so fat the divot almost went further.
In one shot the big bluff was over. When my drive at the 2nd went straight left, I buckled up for a long morning.
Never fear. A betterball is exactly that. Better ball. John will come to my rescue, won’t he?
Any Great Expectations we have are crushed the moment he pulls back the putter blade.
It’s an off day on the greens for John and an off colour day for me.
But here is why I love playing with him.
He doesn’t really care if he shoots 65 or 125. If a putt slid by, and it did a lot over the opening few holes, he merely let out a little shrug and pottered off to the next tee.
So when I recorded a 9 on the 12th, assisted by an attempted fade that very much resembled a word beginning with the letter S and three bashes from the face of a bunker, John didn’t bat an eyelid.
I’ve got a free pass for failure.
It lifted me out of my torpor.
John and I haven’t had the honour all day, quite an achievement when we were standing on the 15th, but he hit a brilliant approach, finally drained a putt and a birdie had us heading the queue at the 16th.
Good golf is suddenly infectious. I unloaded a howitzer to 65 yards, wedged it to 10 feet and hammered it into the back of the hole.
Why couldn’t we have done this 10 holes earlier? We should have had a birdie at the 17th as well and we then parred the last as we recovered to sign for a two over 74.
A 61 is already in the clubhouse but, after we shook hands, I found myself smiling as I walked away to the car park.
It was the realisation that we’d had a ball, a great morning’s golf that didn’t rely on a score to make it enjoyable.
Either that, or wind.