The descent into lunacy by playing too much golf alone
Mark Townsend puts in the hard yards and solves all manner of questions about his game in the space of less than two hours
It’s 7.55pm on a Tuesday and I’m just about to begin a round of golf at Headingley. I haven’t checked the daylight hours, as I’m trying to look at my phone a bit less, but I suspect that I’ve got two hours at the most.
Just about time, if I get a wriggle on, to squeeze in 18 holes.
I always tee off with the sole ambition of marking a medal card, every shot counts, which will help me mentally for when I return to competition proper. Me, myself and I – and a card and pencil, of which I have neither.
My perseverance lasts one shot as I find the fairway bunker with a fairway wood.
In the space of the 210 yards or so it takes me to scuttle to my ball I now decide this will be a night of vigorous, exhaustive club testing. I have with me two 4/5 woods and a pair of wedges, the more lofted of the two which is thrust into action by chopping it out sideways. Being a new wedge I make a half-arsed attempt to clean out the grooves with a tee peg, something that will never happen again.
I give myself a pep talk walking down the hill to the 1st that these stolen moments will be the making of my season. Come bedtime I will have a clearer viewpoint on three possible new clubs while simultaneously putting into practice a new magic move which would be a variation of Gary Woodland’s chipping technique.
There is a hint of jazz spin on my wedge over the brook that a) reinforces my need to keep cleaning out the grooves and b) thrusts one of the wedges straight into the starting line-up.
On the short walk to the 2nd tee I both congratulate myself on making the effort to getting out of the house while also giving myself a ticking off for having not brought these wedges out sooner.
The scene on the 2nd tee is a desperate one; a 48-year-old man with a wrench, a collection of balls and two fairway woods. The club that put me in the sand at the 1st has already been viewed with great suspicion and I now have a faint memory of it being highly unsuitable at some point back in 2017.
I add 0.75 degrees and tell myself that everything’s going to be OK. I hit the fairway but it travels a risible distance given only the bottom grooves have made contact with the ball. I reach the conclusion that it’s not for me.
My thoughts turn to a 5-wood that has a Tour S shaft which makes me more anxious than it ought to. I make a committed/throw everything I have at it swing and there’s a hint of a trappy draw in there. I do it again. And again.
I’m now staring at the shaft and some exotic lettering that makes no sense to me and am bending it ever so slightly. The wrench comes out and, this time, I throw an extra half a degree into the mix.
And, hey presto, this gives me the ball ‘traj’ (I say this to myself like Tiger would, matter of fact and without a hint of irony) that I’m after. I wander off the tee wondering to myself that if my wife was watching this charade would she stay with me?
I spend a bit of time chipping by the green and there’s more than a hint of check on each shot which reinforces my thinking that, after 20+ years of on and very occasionally off bursts of chronic chyips, I am finally cured.
This is pretty much a given when I spend any time on my own, things are better than they used to be, but this bears no resemblance to anything like proper golf so it barely matters what I do. I enjoy it for what it is though, the extreme thrill of repeatedly getting a 10-yard shot airborne, and get back to the grind. The other wedge is now also in the bag.
As regards any swing improvements I try and stand a bit taller and a bit more on my toes and away from my heels and manage to hit a 6-iron solid and straight. I mentally pat myself on the back that I am now compressing the ball much more and that my fellow players would probably notice a different, much louder, sound to my irons, a bit like Henrik Stenson.
With this now sorted I take a deeper dive into my course strategy and play a hole, in my head, backwards. Which, put simply, involves hitting my new cranked fairway wood rather than the chief to leave an unfathomable distance in. But, to my immense credit, I’ve taken all the trouble out of play and, simultaneously, also the green which now requires another fairway wood.
The pantomime comes to a close in near darkness with some green-reading and stroke work at the 18th. A small party, probably a club match, are having a bite to eat in the clubhouse and seem to be having a better time than I am but I press on and hit all manner of putts from a variety of angles and to nothing in particular in the search to free things up.
Like Faldo in his pomp I reason that no shot is ever wasted and that I’m doing myself all manner of favours when it comes to muscle memory and the sound of a good putt.
I finish on a good one, a six-footer that never looked anywhere else, and I make an affected move to retrieve the ball from the hole. I head for the car, it’s raining quite heavily now, convincing myself that this was a good a work-out as it could have possibly been and that it’s nights like this that I’ll look back on when I finally pick up a prize.