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Rules of Golf

There’s more to life than flagsticks and knee-high drops

The new Rules of Golf might be capturing all the headlines but getting out on the course remains as magical as ever for Mark Townsend
 

I never saw Brexit coming due to a cosy mixture of both ignorance and surrounding myself, either online or in person, by the same sort of people. The same, sadly, happened with Trump.

We all have similar opinions, or just parrot one another, and we’re then outraged when things don’t go to plan.

For the past two and a bit months I’ve convinced myself that everyone, everywhere is debating Li Haotong’s caddie or worrying how Denny McCarthy and Adam Schenk are, less so Denny.

I now wonder if a walk around the park with my family is going to be blemished by comedy characters re-enacting Rickie Fowler’s No. 2 drop. Golf’s become a laughing stock and it’s all running away with itself.

I’ve already got enough going on in my head with swing thoughts, clothing choices to either guarantee whether I am too hot or too cold, how many tees to start out with or forever wondering why my laser never works.

And I’ve not even started to fuss over how many there are of us playing and what the format is and what tees we might play off and who’s doing the scoring.

Rules of Golf

And then you get into the real nuts and bolts of the round and you’re brooding over whether Player A will talk too much about themselves or if Player B will still be going through his painstaking pre-shot routine and taking you to one side to fill you in on his winter rebuild or if Player C will still be commenting on all of your shots when you just want a bit of post-impact peace to revel/self-loathe in your efforts.

Occasionally, not very often, you find ‘The One’ on the golf course, a playing partner where it, you know, just works.

Years ago it was an old work colleague who couldn’t hit a shot without giving you a running commentary of exactly what he was doing. Not to show off as he wasn’t overly blessed with golf skills and had the rare quality of being able to produce something quite abysmal when it was most unwanted, but more to shuffle himself into the zone and try and get rid of his jitters.

“Just one nice, steady stroke, back and through, come on now, you’ve done this hundreds of…. I must have pulled it.”

More often than not I’d get the better of him when, after a particularly one-sided run of not losing for about three years, he went one up with a birdie two at the 17th which prompted a Hale Irwin-like celebration around the green at Sale.

Hale Irwin

A few minutes later he emerged from a greenside bunker looking as crestfallen as anyone I’ve ever seen on a golf course. His ball was sitting six feet away but he then picked up my ball which was twice the distance away.

“I bloody double-hit it. What are you drinking?”

My newish best golfing friend is Dave who brings all manner of positives to the table. He’s off the same handicap so there’s no discussion of what’s right or wrong, just straight-out mano-a-mano combat, he plays at Moortown which, I won’t lie, is a delicious layer to our friendship, he doesn’t talk about his own golf other than a little chuckle when he holes a 40-footer, he’s happy to provide a few pointers when the magic goes temporarily missing, but only when asked, and he hits enough bad shots to keep things nice and light.

Moortown

I can hit it a bit further though he’s just got a new driver which might even things up while he has the ability to pitch it stone dead, something for which I have no reply.

We play at a time when nobody else fancies it, the score is mentioned every few holes and he listens which, away from his new-found pitching prowess, is his greatest asset. Of all the people I know I reckon I could name only three who give you their full, undivided attention, away from their phone or laptop or a susceptibility to simply glaze over when the chat has moved away from what they want. I try to do the same back but imagine I come up a bit shy.

We’ve touched upon the new rules, we’ve experimented putting with the flag in and the flag out – our exhaustive research found that we quite liked it in from distance, much like everyone else and that it was strangely liberating – I have now performed a knee-high drop which was fine but, two weeks on, still feels odd while we forgot about tapping down spike marks and the three-minute ball search.

But that was about it. Otherwise it was plain, old, brilliant golf, nothing had changed, the setting was sensational, there was just enough to give us both hope that this year would be our year and I had over-dressed only in the sense that I had too many layers on.

And, as he always seems to do, he beat me on the 17th with this putt.

Mark Townsend

Been watching and playing golf since the early 80s and generally still stuck in this period. Huge fan of all things Robert Rock, less so white belts. Handicap of 8, fragile mind and short game

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