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  • Alistair Tait

A dogged victim of inexorable fate

My ball came to rest 18 inches from the flag on the eighth hole of the Dukes Course at Woburn. That’s when I committed a sin I once told myself I would never again commit.

“I’ll finish” I told my playing companions. You know what happened next. Yes, I missed the putt. Eighteen inches. The same length from which Craig Stadler missed in the Ryder Cup. I wonder if the Walrus ever missed another 18 incher in his life.

How many times have we made mistakes we said we’d never repeat? Too many times. Is there another sport in which its adherents make the same mistakes over and over and over again? I don’t think so. What is it about this game that induces the sort of madness of repeating the same errors ad nauseum? In Mind Games: The Secrets of Golf’s Winners, Thomas Bjorn talks about what every golfer knows:

“Every professional golfer knows what to do to improve.”

Not just professional golfers, but amateur golfers too. We know not to make mistakes like rush putts, not try to hit shots we’ve hardly practised, not take on shots that only a scratch player would take on, to get the ball back in play instead of getting ourselves in more trouble, etc. Yet we do it repeatedly. I certainly do. Yesterday's competition round was a case in point. When I cast my mind back over my dismal 30 stableford points, I can identify at least six I frittered away because I made simple errors I shouldn’t be making.

Not just me, but those I play with too. I, we, see it on consistent basis. Yet it keeps on happening. It’s nothing new. As Bobby Jones once said:

“One reason golf is such an exasperating game is that a thing we learned is so easily forgotten, and we find ourselves struggling year after year with faults we had discovered and corrected time and again

Jones is talking about swing faults, but the same goes for decisions we take on the golf course.

I still cycle occasionally. I was into it in a big way before an adorable black lab called Izzy dictated that if I was going to go for exercise then it wasn’t on a bicycle, but a long walk with my faithful hound. (Besides, Izzy didn’t like sitting on the crossbar of my road bike. She said it was a bit uncomfortable.)

I can count the number of times I’ve fallen off my bicycle. Those clip into the pedal shoes took two falls before I learned to clip in properly. If I’d made as many mistakes cycling as I do on the golf course, I’d either wouldn’t be writing this or I’d have sold the bike years ago.

Two-time European Tour winner and Ryder Cup player Andrew Coltart once telling me he’d spent a week at home practising, but ended the week feeling as if he was holding a snake in his hands instead of a golf club. He struggled to understand how he could spend so many hours working on his swing and feel as if he'd gotten worse instead of better. Haven't we all felt that? I sometimes turn up at the golf club and feel as if someone else’s hands and arms have been transplanted onto my body. That’s how it felt on Friday over the Marquess course. So many awful shots I felt as if the devil himself had turned my arms into snakes.

Paul Anderson, the Berkshire Golf Club’s excellent professional, gave me a brilliant lesson four weeks ago. I hit the ball beautifully in the rounds that followed. Yet it only took a few outings to look at a particularly efficient aspect of a fellow playing companion's swing to start thinking, hmmmmm, maybe I should try that?

Pretty soon those nice straight drives I’d been hitting were going sideways. Thankfully, I have a wee video of the lesson Paul gave me. I just need to remind myself to watch it when those thoughts come on.

Bjorn also writes in Mind Games:

“I’ve seen golf devour people, bite by bite. … The game plays consistently with your mental health.”

No kidding!

A player in a group ahead of me yesterday said:

“Play well – and remember, it’s supposed to be fun.”

Aye, right! He reminded me of Tommy Bolt’s famous quote:

“The biggest liar in the world is the golfer who claims that he plays the game merely for exercise.”

Golf is an exercise – a maddening exercise. Maybe Jones was right, perhaps we’re all “dogged victims of inexorable fate.” Sometimes I wonder why I bother.

Better try and dispel these thoughts. I’m playing tomorrow at 10:40 on Woburn’s Marquess Course….

#JustSaying: “In golf, more than any other sport, to travel hopefully is better than to arrive.” Robert Browning

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