Retief Goosen, the new US Open champion, became the hero of hackers everywhere when he proved last week that missing a short putt need not be the end of the world.
Indeed, when Goosen's 2ft putt slid wide of the 18th hole, there would have been whoops of joy from golfers to whom such a calamity is an everyday occurrence. Much Retief all round, you might say. This reaction was not prompted by a sadistic pleasure in the pain of others – although there is a distressing prevalence of that among the game's lower orders – but by the welcome reminder that when it comes to making someone look a right berk, the gods of golf do not discriminate.
Goosen's error drew gasps of sympathy from the crowd, compassionate clucking from the TV commentators and an emergency session with his personal psychologist that evening. At our club, he would have been laughed off the green.
It so happened that last weekend was Captain's Dayat our club; an event so charged with tension and potential disgrace I doubt the pros could stand it. This day is centred on a comp-etition in which 256 good and bad golfers are randomly mixed in partnerships that are often fraught and acutely embarrassing. The format is foursomes, which means the players play alternate shots. The fact that the winners plus several runners-up receive handsome prizes in addition to wads of cash from side-bets means missed putts are not easily forgiven. My own son, playing in the four behind mine, missed from a little over a foot on the first green and a stony silence ensued until they came with earshot of me, whereupon his partner shouted: "For Chrissake, Peter, buy him a new putter for his birthday."
This was by no means an unusual outburst. I overheard one exasperated man say to his partner: "Stop saying sorry all the time. Just give one big apology at the end of the round."
I'm happy to say that my partner, an infinitely better golfer than me, had infinite patience, and, to be fair, we had a useful score over the first seven or eight holes. Then came a deluge, but we were mindful that the rules of golf forbid undue delay, and that "bad weather is not of itself a good reason for discontinuing play". We proceeded gamely, but when I teed up on the 12th the water was flowing from my bald head and doing a Niagara over my eyebrows.
That I could barely see the ball led me to take such an almighty lunge that I missed it by some distance. Worse than that, the club flew high out of my wet hands, arced through the leaden sky and looked likely to break the Welsh hammer-throwing record until it hit the top of the course-boundary fence and clattered back.
For that, at least, I was grateful, not knowing the penalty for sending your club out of bounds, but my partner was not sympathetic. After he had trudged all the way back down the fairway to play the next shot, he growled: "That's the worst tee-shot I've ever seen in my life."
We hardly scored another point. His hands were cold, my heart was broken and the partnership was dissolved. It took Goosen to restore my cheerful disposition.Reuse content