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  • Alistair Tait

The 12 golfers of Christmas - The Natural

Welcome to my Christmas series highlighting a few characterisations of golfers I’ve played with over the years. A wide variety of people with a vast array of personalities play this game. I’ve distilled them down into 12 types to entertain you over Christmas.

I obviously pre-wrote them so I didn’t have to write my daily blog over the holidays. No flies on me. In other words, I’m incommunicado enjoying time with my family, eating and drinking too much and taking Izzy for long walks. So, in true BBC style, please don’t respond to these blogs; they’ve been pre-recorded.

2. The Natural

The Sunday Game at Tuscawilla Country Club in Oviedo, Florida is just a variation on any swindle groups of golfers play. Twenty dollars a man with a blind draw for partners who may or may not be in the same group as you, with pot money for eagles, birdies, best nett/gross scores, etc.

Myself and Dave Seanor turn up one Sunday and a guy about 20 years younger joins us. I didn’t see him warm up on the range, hit chips on the short game area or even have a practice putt. He pulls up in his cart with a nondescript looking bag on the back with a collection of eclectic clubs that look like they’ve seen better days.

He says hello then walks to his cart and pops the tab on a can of beer. It’s just after 8am.

He sets up to the ball with awful posture. His knees are so bent it looks like they’re not strong enough to support his torso even though he’s a skinny runt. I think: this could be a nightmare. That thought disappears when he rips it long and straight down the middle of the fairway.

He pops his second beer on the third tee after parring the first two holes. He’s one over par and onto his fifth beer by the time he finishes the ninth hole.

I pick up a coffee on the way to the 10th tee. He eyes it, gives me a quizzical look and raises his beer can in salute. I make some sort of comment about how I struggle to play golf sober never mind with a few beers in me, and he comes back with.

“Sunday mornings are for beer and golf, right?”

Not in my world I think, but it takes all kinds.

On the back nine I quiz him about his game since he obviously a bit of a player. He tells me he’s never had a lesson, never practises and has never taken the game that seriously. He says his only swing thought on every shot is just to hit the ball towards the target like some sort of amateur version of Bubba Watson.

I hated him!

He was a natural. I come across them every once in a while. Those people who just seem to take to the game so easily. They used to irritate me no end, but I’ve mellowed.

I used to think the natural and the person less talent who worked hard could be equal. I have my doubts.

I’m not sure I believe in that 10,000 hours theory. I think natural talent is always going to win out, especially if the natural is also putting in the hours playing the game.

Years ago, I practised at a local school on weekends. I’d take my pitching wedge, a bag of balls and hit them back and forth between the goals on the football pitch. The school caretaker’s son, a 10-year-old, would sit and watch me, and we’d chat.

He was obviously quite keen to have a go, so I cut down an old 7-iron and put a grip on it. The following Saturday I gave him the club and a dozen balls. He was thrilled. I patiently explained how he should grip the club, how he should stand to the ball, the basics of the backswing and downswing and then let him loose.

Disaster! He could hardly make contact with the ball, and quickly became frustrated he couldn’t follow my instructions.

I changed tack. I told him to forget everything I’d told him. I said he could hold the club any way he wanted, stand any way he wanted, that all I wanted him to do was hit the ball into the hockey net about 50 yards away.

He put a cack-handed grip on the club, took an almighty swing and the ball sailed into the hockey net. I told him to do it again. Boom, he hit another ball through the hockey net.

I’d obviously tied him up in knots by trying to get him to swing orthodox rather than just allowing him to hit the ball whatever way he wanted. I sometimes wish I’d just been given a decent grip and then just told to hit the ball towards the target.

Maybe I’d have become a natural too.

#JustSaying: “I found the game so easy that I never had to practise. I didn’t believe in practising – all those good shots wasted on the practice tee before you start a tournament, wear yourself out before you get to the first tee? Not me. Hitting a golf ball is the easiest thing I’ve ever done.” Max Faulkner

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