Here, listen to this; I’ve just had a drink with a bloke who reckons he can shave ten shots off my handicap. Interested? Of course you are but before we get to him, come with me to the South Terminal at Gatwick Airport.
I’ve been going to the South Terminal for over thirty years now. In fact I know this place like I know the back of my hand. To be fair, I prefer the back of my hand which, on balance, seems to have survived the last three decades somewhat better than the ageing, rather decrepit and certainly depressing South Terminal.
Imagine my joy therefore when after parking at the South Terminal for a 7am flight to Faro and thence on to the golfing delights of the Portuguese Algarve I discover that I should have been at the slightly superior North Terminal. This small frisson of morning pleasure was swiftly diluted by the news that the 7am flight was in fact due to depart at 6.35am.
So, to sum up here, I had gone to the wrong terminal for a flight that was departing 25 minutes sooner than my brain had decided was the case. Somehow, I made it with seconds to spare, EasyJet staff covering themselves in glory as they ushered me to the front of a queue made up of irritated people who clearly would rather have still been in bed.
Good, old EasyJet, I thought, so much better than Ryanair although this is probably by a country mile the smallest compliment I’ve ever paid anything or anyone. This admiration for the airline was, however, diminished significantly a few hours later as I and four colleagues found ourselves staring at an empty conveyor belt that should have been clankingly full of our clubs.
We were in Faro but our clubs were…well somewhere else. Not a great start to a couple of days that should have been filled with gaiety and laughter. Reassuringly, it was only going to turn worse. No sooner had our clubs rejoined us the next day than it started raining. Proper rain this, real hissing down stuff that put off even those confused enthusiasts who believe that golf is a test of character and therefore must be played even when there is a reasonable possibility of drowning.
There was nothing for it but to have a drink. Okay, it was 10 o’clock in the morning but our wives were safely at home and, generally speaking, our livers were up for it. It was while sipping my second one that I asked the man next to me what he actually did for a living.
Turns out he is the Tour Manager for Wilson clubs. Amongst many other important things, Phil Bonham, a former pro squash and tennis player, is in charge of one of those ridiculously impressive trucks you occasionally pass on a motorway and that are on their way to a tournament where they act as a sort of giant Playstation for professionals who have nothing better to do with their time than to fret about lofts and lies, grips and shaft flex and weight and stuff.
Mr Bonham is also the expert-in-residence to Padraig Harrington. Apart from winning his three Majors, Padraig is the obsessive’s obsessive when it comes to clubs. The Irishman has had many perfect sets of Wilson clubs over the years, but he has yet to find any of them perfect.
This is where my new friend comes in. He says that Padraig can hold a club up in the air, squint at it, squeak knowingly and then declare that the grip is half a centimetre too far to the left for him to use it properly. Mr Bonham then duly adjusts the club until Mr Harrington is satisfied. This is a process that can take days and so requires acute expertise and a great deal of patience on everyone’s part.
At which point I asked Mr Bonham what difference it would make to me – off a 15 handicap – if he were to put together a set of clubs specifically with my swing in mind? “If I was to watch you play and then create a set with the right shafts, the correct lofts and lies and so on then I could take ten shots off your handicap.”
Really? Ten shots? “Yes. Without doubt, at least five shots but I’d hope for more”, he grinned mirthlessly. “Proper custom-made clubs are the greatest step forward any golfer can make.”
And the cost? “Too much for you,” he said. Ah well, at least I knew I was flying back to the North Terminal. Mind you, my car was at the bloody South.