I?ve always felt that had I played golf seriously as a junior maybe as an adult I could have turned pro. We had a golf team at school but there was no formal tuition as such. We just rocked up to the course, grabbed our clubs and played. More important than the golf was the chance to have a sneaky half in the clubhouse afterwards and impress your peers by coming back smelling of beer. I wasn?t a junior member of any club at home, so my holiday golf just consisted of the odd round at Richmond Park Muni. Having, despite this, reached the dizzy lows of a four handicap surely had I concentrated more on the game earlier, I could have made it to the tour.
At Moor View golf centre, a driving range in Sheffield (actually the only driving range in Sheffield), I took a bay next to a tall, lithe fellow busy talking on his mobile. I placed my balls in the dispenser and began warming up with my wedge. Then from behind me thwack! That unmistakable sound that is only produced by the purest of ball strikes. I turned to view the swing that produced this luscious noise. It screamed pro ? the swing and the Titleist blade in his hands.
Ten minutes later he asked me if I?d like to take the rest of his balls as he?d finished his practice. (Surely another sign of a pro. I hit down to the very last ball and if that?s not a goodie, I?ll pull one from my bag.) Gratefully accepting the balls, I complimented him on his swing and asked if he was a professional. Mark Allen was not only the professional at Hillsborough Golf Club, but had seen and enjoyed (thank the Lord) Chicago. He invited me to play early the next week ? an invitation quickly accepted.
Early next week turned out to be very early indeed. At 8.30am (yes, there are apparently two 8.30s in a day) Tuesday morning we teed off. With the actor receiving four shots, the game promised to be a close one. Well that?s what I thought. Mark won the first, I clawed it back to all square on the second (due to a Mark three-putt). That was the last time I achieved parity in the match.
Now I consider myself to be a longer than average hitter of a golf ball and was shocked to find Mark 40-50 yards ahead of me off nearly every tee (once on a par3, but that was more to do with my duffed 5-iron). His swing was a fluid motion of perfect angles. He had amazing flexibility, enormous speed and balance that a Chicago dancer would have been proud of. Surely a game like his deserved to grace the main tour?
Mark told me that he?d played on some of the minor tours with a modicum of success. In his own words: ?I had the game, but not the brain.? He recalled a time in 2000 when he played with Lee Westwood (this was Westwood?s most prolific season). Mark was the longer of the two (this made me feel slightly better) but from 150 yards out it was a different story. While Westwood would put his ball to 10ft at worst, Mark varied from 2ft to 42ft. The 30 odd feet was the difference.
On the 18th, having lost the match 4 and 3 (and the bye 2 and 1) I hit my best drive of the day. It sailed 300 yards down the fairway, a mere 20 yards behind Mark?s effort. When I made him aware of this, he said ?Yeah, I hit a bit of a heely-fade there.? It took all my strength and determination not to heely-fade him with my 4-iron.
It had been an awesome day. Not only was Mark a great golfer, but also great company. We had a drink afterwards (my shout ? the match) and a packet of crisps (my shout ? the bye). Then it was back to the theatre.
That night in my dressing room an awful truth dawned ? no matter how much I?d played as a junior, if someone with Mark?s talent couldn?t make it on tour, then I would?ve had no chance. Anyway I hadn?t been good enough to turn pro at the sports I had concentrated on as a youngster – football and cricket – what made me think golf would have been any different? I felt rather deflated: a long time day-dream shattered.
I opened my dressing room door and made my way to the stage. At that moment, one of the chorus girls passed me wearing a black leather bra and knickers covered by an all-in-one fishnet cat-suit. Suddenly all thoughts of the tour disappeared. Being an actor wasn?t so bad after all!