‘One good shot’ I tell myself.
I’ve just parred the 17th to go five under my handicap. It’s the monthly medal at Sandburn Hall and my mind is swirling. ‘I’m going to win’.
Shut up. Don’t get ahead of yourself.
The 18th is a tricky finish. It’s 160-odd yards over a pond with a sizeable tree blocking your view of the green.
You’ve got to get it up and over the tree but hit it high enough that it lands softly as the water moves round to envelop the left side of the green.
It’s a calm day. I’ve got 170 to the flag. It’s a 5 iron. All day long.
Except right now, it isn’t anymore.
I’ve always laughed at Monty’s excuse for blowing the US Open at Winged Foot ten years ago.
Having crushed a monster drive into the middle of the final fairway, the Scot talked himself out of the Major he craved thinking adrenalin would kick in.
Instead, he caught his 7-iron approach heavy and dumped it into the really deep stuff on his way to a double bogey and a blow up that haunts him to this very day.
So I am not listening. I’ll make a good swing, walk off with a par and wait to pick up a trophy at presentation day.
I line it up, look at my target line – a branch right at the top of the tree – and swing. It soars into the air. And I know immediately I am in big trouble…
How the hell did I get here?
About three weeks ago I made an alarming discovery.
I’ve long suspected I wasn’t a very good putter. The ball not going into the hole is usually a bit of a giveaway.
What I hadn’t realised was quite how bad. There’s a nifty new feature on Game Golf called strokes gained and it had shocking news for me.
After running my numbers, it concluded that on the green I lost a stroke a round to a 25 handicapper.
Let me repeat that. A 25 handicapper was a better putter than I was.
I was playing off 13.
Now what I should have done (and what you should all do in the same circumstances) was consult a PGA professional.
But that takes time, money and effort. All things I would rather not spend.
So I took the easy way out, and changed my grip.
This half-arsed approach to improvement doesn’t work very often. That’s because it’s desperate but, to my amazement, putts started flying into the hole.
Suddenly, I couldn’t miss.
A third placed finish arrived in a Sunday competition, dropped my handicap back to 12 and so I go into the October medal full of confidence.
Shot by shot
It might not be a board competition but, in my eyes, the monthly medal is a huge deal.
It’s the benchmark in club golf tournaments and I’ve been trying to win one for about 15 years.
Nothing at the beginning suggests this is going to be my time. I par the 2nd but it’s only a steady start.
Then I par the 5th. And the 6th. As well as the 8th and the 9th. I’ve gone out in 40 and I’m starting to get excited.
I’m not hitting many greens in regulation but my short game is on. On the occasions I’m not within 5 feet, I’m rolling them end over end right into the hole.
I birdie 11 and I par 14. I don’t even strike the putt properly. I look away in disgust but it keeps going, from 40 feet, and hangs on the hole for a fraction before dropping.
I hit an approach so well at the 16th, a shot to a raised green that always causes me trouble, that a par is guaranteed. When I sink a 4-footer on 17 for a 5, my hands are shaking.
Get a par at the last and it’s mine.
Back to reality
I haven’t just crushed my tee shot, I’ve sent it into orbit. It doesn’t hit the green. It doesn’t hit land at all.
It sails over the putting surface and splashes into the water. I’ve just hit a 5-iron about 190.
I feel crushing disappointment. I’ve blown it. But there’s still work to do. Concentrate. Maybe it will all work out.
I’m trying to act non-plussed but my heart feels heavy. I chip on, miss a 10-footer for a 4 and walk off with a double bogey.
My nett 67 is now a 69.
I’m sat in the clubhouse nursing a pint and watching the leaderboard scroll round and round. I can’t take my eyes off it. Amazingly, despite my final hole faux pas, I’m at the top.
But I teed off early. Most of the field are yet to come in. So now I am fixated.
As each player taps on the touch screen to enter their score, I’m eyeing them nervously.
Everyone is a threat.
I’m going to need a miracle to hold on. And I get one.
The little drops of rain that threatened as I was finishing off my round have worked themselves up into an angry downpour.
There’s puddles forming everywhere and I’m out there doing a rain dance.
The long wait
The email drops into my basket at 7.41am on Sunday. I’ve been up for nearly two hours.
I’d like to tell you it’s because I’ve got an 11-month-old and she’s misbehaving but she’s snoring her head off in the next room.
I dreamed that I’d lost so I can barely click on the message. It’s like getting those A-level results all over again.
I sat with the envelope on the table for 10 minutes before I plucked up the courage then.
But there’s no point prolonging the agony. I push the button and there it is…
I’ve done it.
Every hair on my arms is standing up. I’ve cleared the space on the mantelpiece. I don’t care what the wife says. That little cup is getting pride of place.
Is this how the professionals feel when they finally win a big one? When they achieve something they’ve worked so hard for?
This isn’t a Major. It’s just a monthly medal. But it still feels absolutely fantastic. I’m now off 11. I’ve never been lower.
I can’t wait to do it again.