Fortunate though I am to be playing as prestigious a role as Billy Flynn in a premier musical like Chicago, after nearly 370 shows, 6 nights/8 performances a week, for almost a year, I found myself losing enthusiasm.
Stupid mistakes began to creep into my performance (mainly unnoticeable to an audience) due to a combination of over-familiarity and a lack of concentration. As mentioned in a previous blog, this is when stage-fright kicks in and all enjoyment disappears. It became so bad that I dreaded going on stage, not a good attitude for an actor.
My golf was giving me similar grief. Playing so often, I began to take it for granted. Scoring well became the be all and end all: of course the reverse began to happen. The worse I scored, the more I tinkered with my swing, the more I tinkered with my swing, the worse I played. I became so bogged down with technique, had so many swing thoughts going through my head that I could hardly start my swing let alone complete it. A classic case of paralysis through analysis.
Fortunately the cures for both ailments, acting and golf, were administered last week. As it turned out the causes of both problems were remarkably similar.
Wednesday last, I was given what is called “a show watch”. My understudy performed my role while I had a night off to watch the show. I?d seen Chicago once before in town after I?d been offered the part. Although I?d enjoyed it, I was too concentrated on the actor playing Billy to take in the show as a whole. This night was different. It was truly astonishing. Having lived in each other?s pockets for nearly a year I regarded my colleagues more as friends, rather than the highly talented and skilled professionals they are. I was quite simply blown away by the performance. Though I knew every word, I saw the show through new eyes: those of an audience member. I laughed, applauded and cheered along with the rest of them, totally caught up in the moment.
The following day, I turned up at Canterbury Golf Club. Having used their brand new range facilities, I was intrigued to play the course. (It turned out to be delightful ? small but perfectly formed and very challenging.) Having turned up on my own as usual I was lucky enough to hook up with Alison and Moira (that doesn?t sound quite right does it?), out to practise for that weekend?s competition.
With Alli off 7 and Moira off 21, we decided to have a Stableford comp. And it was the actor who, after birdieing the first three holes, jumped to an early lead. A silly bogey on the par-5 9th left me at 2 under par. A good front 9. But that bogey brought on the demons. Was my swing too upright? Was I laid off at the top? Should I begin my downswing with my hips or my arms? Get wider, for God?s sake get wider??
The collapse, both mental and physical, was spectacular. Etiquette dictated that I kept an outward façade of bonhomie, but inside I wanted to bury myself in the divot I?d just created (and believe me, it was possible).
After a “Hitler” (2 shots in a bunker) I hit what can only be described as the dreaded J Arthur, the Armitage, the Sherman tank, the Spanish El Ho Zell, my ball coming to rest in a particularly deep clump of fescue. When I reached said ball somehow it had suspended itself about 4 inches above the ground. I just stared at it, not knowing what a golf club was, let alone which one to take.
?How lucky you are!? piped up Moira in her melodic Zimbabwean accent.
?I?m sorry?? I replied.
?How exciting to be playing a shot from there!? she said. ?What fun would it be if you were always playing from the fairway??
Golf (21) psychology (scratch). I could only smile. It was brilliant.
On the next tee, the par-5 18th, I pushed my tee-shot into the right-hand rough. How lucky to be able to hit a shot from there. I took my rescue club, gave it my all. The ball flew from the rough, sailed over the cross-bunker and rolled to the foot of the green. I took my putter, slowly back/slowly through and ??. 3 putted. But hey, a par on the back 9 had been a rarity.
You see, what I had forgotten is that the reason I love golf and the reason I love being an actor is that it?s so much fun. Seeing how much the audience enjoyed the show reminded me a) what a great show it was and b) how much fun it was to perform. Moira reminded me that golf is a game, not a mathematical equation. Playing badly is part of the game and, after all, playing badly is better than not playing at all.
Moira took the money that day, pipping Alison by a shot, with the actor a very distant third. But through my loss, I gained something rather special ? my love of golf was back.