My dressing room here at the Congress Theatre overlooks the Eastbourne tennis centre, an impressive complex of twenty grass courts and the venue for the pre-Wimbledon women?s tournament.
Today however, a senior (over 35, some well over 35) women?s county match is in progress. On the court directly below me, a tight doubles match is being contested by, on one side, two slim, tanned ladies, and on the other, one slim and one, wearing a very lurid pink top, not quite as lithe. All four players are playing well, but in the last few minutes, a few unforced errors have crept into Pink Top?s game. Her partner, far from being supportive, gestures to the heavens, hangs her head in her hands, exasperated at every mistake.
With my tennis as poor as it is I would never foist myself on a partner but in golf, team competitions are my forte. Be it in four-ball, but mainly my favourite format foursomes, I transform into a completely different golfer, far more relaxed than when I?m playing for myself.
Having been brought up on team sports i.e. football, hockey and cricket, maybe it?s the camaraderie and the banter between partners that keeps me relaxed. Maybe the responsibility of playing not just for myself but for another, notches my concentration up a level. Perhaps, as David Owen (the American golf writer, not the politician) alludes to in his excellent book Hit And Hope, you don?t mind playing the plugged ball on a downhill lie in the bunker, because it wasn?t you that put it there in the first place. You have none of the guilt of the bad shot: you can only be a hero. However, if it was you who sliced the ball into the bunker, at least you don?t have to play the next shot.
Maybe two heads playing the same ball are better than one. A problem shared is a problem halved. One tempers the other by suggesting alternative options. And by not wanting to put your partner in trouble, the more conservative play may contribute to better scoring.
Whatever the reason, I prefer playing with a partner, than playing as an individual. And if my partner plays a bad shot, I would certainly never through up my arms and bury my face in my hands. To console and encourage, that?s what true partners do, that?s how successful partnerships thrive.
The tennis match ends and Pink Top and her partner are victorious. I cannot help but applaud ? not her partner, who only had two players to overcome, but Pink Top herself who, it seems, had to overcome three.