Have I told you about my pal across the road? Marks his name and for the past few years golf has been his game. Now 61, Mark came to golf late, although his wife, Mandy, occasionally says that in her opinion he came to it too early. She says this in that stoical-yet-piercing manner that wives sooner rather than later master and that husbands recognise with a heavy heart. Best, I feel, to ignore these occasional outbursts, smile readily and agree to the new, fitted wardrobes that suddenly have become essential if life is to go on.
Anyway, I mention Mark because it has been interesting in a vaguely anthropological way to witness his inauguration into the grand, old game. An accomplished sportsman throughout his life rugby, tennis, lacrosse and, occasionally, strip-poker ball games have come easy to him. Eventually, however, degenerating hips, dodgy knees and a tendency to squint meant he had to cast his sporting net wider.
I like to think I had some influence on his decision to try golf on for size. Certainly Mandy blames me. It took some influencing. Mark is many things but patient isnt one of them and, of course, what golf demands above all else is patience. In the early days as I oversaw his introduction to the games basics of grip, stance and posture (yes, God help him, I was his first golf guru) I could only stand and admire his ability to swing, miss and swear wonderfully in the same nanosecond of fruitless endeavour.
At the same time I enjoyed the opportunity to step forward occasionally, take the 9-iron
out of his hands and then effortlessly smack the ball off the driving range mat. Naturally, the ball described its usual slapped fade movement that is my trademark. Mark, however, thought I was quite possibly the next best golfer on the planet after Tiger.
This was an opinion I encouraged and that was fuelled by a reasonably steady stream of trophies I brought back for him to admire. These were the result of my success in a couple of the Association of Golf Writers tournaments we stage throughout the season and they are always glittery, impressive things. Crikey, Mark used to say wistfully. Dyou think one day I could win something at my club? I wish I could say I did not seize this chance to patronise him utterly.
However, what he did not realise was that these golf writers things are often contested by only a handful of chaps and chapettes and that the majority are either preparing to go into hospital or have only recently emerged from some serious replacement treatment. The couple of healthy journalists who pitch up invariably are too hungover to pose any serious threat to anyone who has the rudiments of a repeatable swing and who, as I often seem to, enjoys a significant slice of luck.
Mark, however, is nothing if not persistent. He is one of those blokes who likes to master stuff. And so while I preened and pranced hither and thither he knuckled down to actually learning the game. Without a by your leave he took himself off to a pro teacher and behind my back began to take a series of lessons that seemed to go on longer than the average PhD course.
He traded in the cheap clubs he originally purchased and switched to some all-singing, all-dancing, carbon-shafted jobbies and took to practising, a concept that I have never managed to embrace properly. He devoured instruction articles in magazines and even cut them out of this one, pinning them to his study wall where he whiled away the tedious hours he wasnt at the golf course by committing this tip and that to memory. He has no idea I write for Golf Monthly because he never reads anything that does not come with an explanatory photograph and the picture that accompanies this article does not fit the bill. Mandy, meanwhile, has decided to devote herself to a lifetime of retail therapy.
Two days into 2008 I found him lifting his clubs out of his car. It was cold, damp and unappealing. Shocked, I asked him if he had
been playing? Yes, managed 27 holes before it got dark, he replied. Actually, I also managed
to go round in 82 which is my best yet. What do you think?
What do I think? I think Ive unleashed a monster. He cares little about the history of the game, pays next to no attention to what is going on in the wide world of golf and has become something of an expert on which ball to use if it is wet/cold/dry or hot. Mark doesnt follow golf, he plays it and what is now seriously irritating me is that three years after he started he is better at playing it than me.
Now the fitted wardrobes are in I am beginning to feel it is time to move house. I dont need a new challenge, I need a new neighbour and preferably one who has just taken up reading as a hobby.
Part of my Christmas break was spent reading Georgie Bests last book. George never took to golf it took too long, there werent enough attractive women around and the bar was always too far away but he did suggest something in the book that I feel Nick Faldo might do well to consider as he plans his Ryder Cup campaign.It was while reminiscing about the 1960s and 70s that Bestie lamented the passing of the communal bath in sports. It was, he said, the most bonding thing a team could do, to jump naked into the same patch of hot water after battle was done. This should be considered for the Euro locker-room at Valhalla. Apart from anything else it is yet another reason for wanting Monty to make the side. I can see it now. Can you?