Golf on the box: the inner game

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The Independent Online
BOTTLE. Once again it all comes down to bottle. Lose it, and you're finished, a hollow shell of a man, a pitiful husk. Keep it, nurture it, feed it with rich food and gallons of champagne and it'll purr happily in the corner, ready for the moment you need it most.

Unfortunately, I lost it. Last weekend, watching the Ryder Cup, I could bear it no longer. And this wasn't even after they had lost. Peter Baker needed two putts to win on the 18th, and he rolled in a spanking 25-footer to win by two holes. Only I didn't see it. I had turned over to the motor racing 20 seconds earlier.

Now, one might point out here in mitigation that the motor racing was exceptionally interesting last Sunday, with some admirably skilful driving and one or two titanic crashes. But would you believe that? I wouldn't. I'd have watched Eastenders if it had been on. I'd just lost it. The nerve had gone.

Yes, everyone talks of the mental strength that's required to play the Ryder Cup, but what about the mental strength required to watch it? Barry Lane and Costantino Rocca may have frozen at the death, the poor sods - but what about the millions of us who were on the other side of the TV screen? What reserves of concentration did we have to tap into?

I tried eating, first real food, then comfort food, and then whole packets of Rich Tea biscuits and PG Tips so strong that even Tony Benn would turn his nose up at it. I tried going out for a walk. I reached my front door. I ran a bath. It went cold. I tried reading the newspapers, but ended up reading the golf pages. And because it was Sunday afternoon, the bloody off-licence was closed. The only drink in the flat was a miniature of Cointreau. I may be sad, I thought, but I'm not that sad. I couldn't, I just couldn't. I did.

The players can't hope to understand. As the cameras honed in on poor Rocca, just before he foozled that putt on the 17th, it was clear he was under enormous pressure. But the pressure was as nothing compared with the pressure suffered by the millions who were watching him suffering that pressure. We knew he was going to miss that putt, and we could do nothing about it. And we knew that when he missed, he would be a broken reed and would lose the next hole and that Faldo would halve with Azinger and that it was all over. And even though Eastenders had started on BBC1, we knew that we were going to watch this grisly pre-ordained defeat right to the end.

A defeat that, oddly, almost came as a relief. As Rocca was holding his head in his hands, on the verge of tears, I was lying on the sofa, eyes blank, smelling vaguely of orange liqueur. I was beaten. I had lost my bottle.

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