The Road to Alwoodley – Week 6: An epiphany

The Scoop

In week 6 of his diary, Tom Irwin's preparations for the Brabazon Trophy take a turn for the more expensive on a trip to England's Golf Coast

I have always wanted to play in the English Men’s Open Amateur Stroke Play Championship – the Brabazon Trophy to you and me – and now I am.

It is taking place at my home club, Alwoodley, and my handicap is good enough to get in. So I am not going to pass up the chance to take part.

This diary is going to track my attempts to prepare – bearing in mind that I am fitting this in around my wife, two toddler boys, trying to run a company – and now having to write this. So I hope you enjoy it.

Before we start, here are some people you’ll hear about in the blog and some other notables…

Hardware sponsor: Ping

Ball sponsor: Vacant

Apparel sponsor: Wolsey

Fitness coach: Rachael Tibbs

Swing coach: Jack Backhouse

Short game and putting coach: Gary Nicol

Pyschologist: Karl Morris

Caddie: Vacant

Also thanks to Swing Plane Perfector, Garmin, Sky Trak, Arccos and my wife, Justine.

If you want to stay right up to date with this nonsense then please feel free to follow me on Twitter.

Monday May 6

It’s a Bank Holiday so I start the day with a PT session in the park at 6am. For reasons that are unclear to me – and I presume are becoming foggier to them – Bentley have loaned me a car for the week. I drive it to Cleethorpes.

Tuesday May 7

I have to do a month’s work today and leave the office at 3.30pm for a lesson. Jack is his usual ebullient self. We, well I, have an epiphany about ‘thoracic extension’ on the backswing. Miracles happen. I am elated. Jack says he tried to explain this to me about 18 months ago but I dismissed it as “faddy claptrap”. Any port in a storm.

Wednesday May 8

I have got a meeting this morning which we have arranged at Royal Liverpool. The meeting is at 9.30, so I set off on the two-hour drive at 5.15 with one eye on an hour or so on their amazing short-game area.

As it turns out the M62 is closed, and I spend five hours twisting and winding a £220,000 car around roads down which it doesn’t fit in the touchier-feelier parts of the Pennines.

We do the meeting and then we head out to play golf.

There are four of us there but I am only interested in Geoff. Geoff has, quote, “no interest in your blog or your Brabazon entry”. Not to matter, I have a lot of interest in him.

Geoff is in his 30s, left handed, used to be a tour pro, now plays off +4, and he wins things. He never practises. Ever. He has a style all of his own. He does it his way and he absolutely owns his golf game. I want to take a swab of Geoff and mutate it into a pill I can take each day, I want to create an Eau de Geoff and bathe myself in it. I want to capture the essence of Geoff and keep it in a jar. I want to become infected with the the worst possible strain of the Geoff virus. I want to be Geoff.

I have two days in Geoff’s company and I am not going to waste a minute.

At Hoylake, Geoff – and therefore we – are playing strategic golf a la Tiger in ’06. We are laying up short of bunkers, we are barely using driver, we are taking the trouble out of play, we are hitting a lot of mid irons.

Goodness me golf is easy. I never want to stop hitting fairway woods and hybrids followed by 6- and 7-irons and 30-foot lag putts on perfect flat greens. I never want to stop being near Geoff. It is safe here, this is my happy place.

We have to go though because Geoff has to do the school run.

I get back in my Bentley and whizz to Formby Hall, five minutes from British Masters venue Hillside, and check in next to Matt Wallace. I go to to dinner and literally bump into Eddie Pepperell coming out of the lift. Robert Rock is the first person I see when I get in the dining room. I have already forgotten about Geoff.

I sit two tables away from Rock, order a glass of wine and spend the next two hours fixated, imagining that I am genuinely part of the scene. I leave when he leaves and realise that fake me has just drunk a bottle of wine on his own. Bad fake me.

Thursday May 9

It is remarkable to me that the type of hand-in-mouth, dire performance I regularly produce in competition play still has the power to surprise me, but it does.

It’s as if putting on your best “competition clothes” has the exact opposite effect of a superhero costume. I think if Brooks Koepka were to put on his best clothes for the PGA Championship, clean his clubs the night before, organise his sack of tees, and remove the banana skin from the big pocket, he too would scab his way round in level 80s. To this end I need to get better under pressure.

Karl says that the way to do this is to play people better than you for a meaningful amount of money. Somewhere about half way down his bottle of wine, fake me had arranged to play Geoff for £10 a hole. Despite being two miles and a WhatsApp away, fake me felt the crack as his hand was snapped off.

I am there early, stretches, drills in the net, a bit of chipping, a few putts. Geoff texts to say he is still in his pyjamas. Dammit Geoff. Geoff eventually arrives and the bet is on.

Geoff does not start well, by which I mean he does not hit the ball where he wants it go. Instead he holes a 15-footer for par on the 1st and the 2nd and a 30-footer for birdie on the 3rd. But still when I make the best birdie of my life on the 6th I am 1-up. No one can really believe this. I am so shocked I sort of top thin it off the next and we are quickly back to all-square. We half the weird par 5 in birdies. Geoff wins the 9th with the most outrageous par you have ever seen and I turn £10 down. I am over the moon.

Then something strange happens. Geoff cannot stop flagging it. He hits stiff on 10 and 11 and over the flag on 12, 14 and 16, and makes birdie on the par-5 17th. My golf disintegrates and I handover £50. I have been well and truly Geoffed. He shot 68 off the tips, on a rainy day, at Formby. I consider invoicing Karl for my losses.

That afternoon we assess the morning’s golf courtesy of Bentley hospitality at Hillside. We conclude I need to get left sided earlier in my downswing.

I pass out in my room around 7pm and wake up at 11pm in a cold sweat panicking about the 1st tee shot in the Brabazon. I eventually drop off at about 4, two hours before my alarm.

Friday May 10

I have a foursomes match this morning. I drive it particularly well but cannot hit an iron because I am so far into my left side in the downswing I can’t stop fatting it. My partner has the snap hooks. We lose 1-down. I spend the afternoon doing the remainder of the month’s work

Saturday May 11

Power work in the gym this morning before a very last-minute decision to play in the May medal.

Something odd happens: I enjoy the round. I am playing in new company, they are fun and want to do well but are not obsessed with it. It is easy, nice. I shoot 74 which isn’t great, but my ball striking is good, and I play a kind of assured game that makes me happy.

I realise that for all the obsessing that golf is a game, it is supposed to be fun, and the more you enjoy it, the more result doesn’t matter, the more chance the result has of improving. Whatever happens with my golf from now on I am going to enjoy it more.

That is the point after all.

Missed week 5 of my preparation for the Brabazon Trophy? Head to the next page…

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