The art of letting yourself down in front of a pro

The Scoop

What is it about hitting a shot in front of a proper golfer that makes us all crumble. Mark Townsend assesses his own misfortunes in Notebook

I completely understand 1st tee nerves. Whatever your experience or skill level there is always at least a slight feeling that you’ve never done this before. You might have played your home course a thousand times before but, every time you begin a round it’s a new start, an unblemished card, and the faint hope of unlocking The Secret.

We can all very easily pinpoint a handful of occasions when this situation has maybe gotten a little bit too much for us and bad things have happened. My own personal low came at Blackmoor in Surrey where, clouded by an unfortunate mix of hangover and general fretfulness, I felt like I was locked into some sort of golfing paralysis stood over the ball in which no part of my body would ever move again.

The opening shot, with a hybrid, went out of bounds. The next, with a driver, took one bounce and went straight into a ditch. It was never a driver but the prospect of doing anything else might have resulted in some sort of breakdown.

Welcome to a day of 36 holes which, before even leaving the tee ground, had already begun with a blob and a subsequent bit of an episode.

What I don’t get is why playing a single hole with a professional should produce the same levels of anxiety and consternation. These people have spent years upon years on a golf course, they have probably spent even longer on a practice ground or driving range, and they will have been to some very happy places and some even darker ones with the game.

We know this but it’s always worth reminding ourselves that they genuinely won’t care how you hit an 8-iron at some remote par 3. Try and see it on the same level as your wedding day speech: nobody wants to see you mess up, they’re all right behind you. They might enter into a bit of well-meaning banter but, at the end of the day, they really don’t care what happens next.

All of this might become clear to me when I’m about to take my final breath but, for now, I will continue to try and be accepted by being able to hit a golf ball to no more than 25 feet and, better still, going overboard with the funnies in the short period of time that we have together.

Please like me, I want to be your friend. I’m off 8, you know, I can do this. Pay no attention to what’s about to happen, I’m two better than level 2s to this point.

My latest episode of letting myself down came last week and it re-opened a few old wounds…

Darren Clarke, Kingsbarns, 8th hole, 2018

The setting could hardly have been more idyllic as we gathered for a Loch Lomond Whiskies day at, if not my very favourite course in the UK, at least in my top three. Darren Clarke was set to be unveiled as the face of the award-winning single malts with the The Open heading to Royal Portrush next year, the sun was out, and we had what looked like a fairly straightforward short iron to a huge green.

The first few holes had been fine, there had been a missed six-footer for the chance of back-to-back four pointers and my most recent iron shot had sort of come out of the middle. All in all nothing to really set any alarm bells ringing.

But, within five seconds of shaking hands and the not overly unsettling greeting of “Hi, I’m Darren”, I had gone to pieces. Things were speeding up, the last thing that went through my head as I put the tee in the ground was how much of a bad feeling I had about what was just about to happen, I was too self-conscious to do my silly little pre-shot drill – it’s an old Nick Faldo move of pretending to shake hands with someone stood behind you – and my inner chimp was now screaming about the possibility of piping it.

The ball went straight left, my new friend tried to break the now awkward silence with “Did somebody move the green?” while the ball was still in the air and I shuffled off to the side and made a terrible joke about how much I liked long putting.

My next shot, given it was almost in the North Sea, wasn’t a putt but a repugnant/straightforward chip. To my enormous credit, and helped by necking one of their malts on the tee, I bunted it up the hill and rescued bogey.

Gary Player, Royal Birkdale, 10th hole, 2017

I’m not sure I’m ready to go over this particular piece of old ground yet. Should you have any interest then you can have a read here.

Ian Poulter, Sunningdale (Old), 13th hole, 2013

The mind plays tricks over time but I’m pretty sure I took an overly-casual approach to this one. I’m not sure why but I don’t remember being too anxious and I can’t recall any particularly lunging moves at the ball.

It was, though, a 7-iron that was as lifeless as it was straight, finishing five yards right of the green. Which then did bring on a variety of flutters as a bunker sat in between my ball and the pin. There was a route out sideways, it still required a chip and run, which would leave a 20-foot putt.

I took on the risk-and-reward almost backwards recovery and sclaffed it to an area of the green that bore no relation to where the pin was cut. The Postie looked a bit perplexed by the efficiency of the whole episode, with the back-left hole not even a consideration, and I gladly lagged it hole side for a point.

Peter Hanson, PGA of Sweden National (Links), 5th hole, 2009 (I think)

I can’t quite place the year for this. He definitely wasn’t a Ryder Cup player by this point but he was getting there, so maybe 2009?

None of which matters given this was just a wedge shot in the middle of an impressive but basically a wide, sprawling field with someone who couldn’t care less, in the nicest possible sense, what the outcome was.

The outcome, should you care less, was a knee-high knife which stemmed from 8% concern over whether I had enough club and 92% jitters that showed themselves just after beginning the transition.

By the time I made contact with the ball my 6-foot-4 frame had been reduced to about 2-foot-6 as my knees and mental well-being collapsed in equal measure.

The whole pantomime then had to be played out with a variety of swishes from some thick fescue beyond the green which made for some painstaking progress before missing the break on a 30-footer.

“Great to meet you, Peter…”

 

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