My friend Andy, a fellow 28-handicapper, has been insufferable over the past week. Some say he's that way most weeks, but what made him so on this occasion was the sort of golfing triumph not normally associated with a hacker.
There was no competition at the club a week yesterday and when Andy arrived in search of a game there didn't seem to be too many prospects available. The previous night had been our winter league supper and prize-giving; a typically raucous and late-ending affair from which there were not many survivors willing to play the following morning, me included. But Andy hadn't been able to attend the festivities and thus was bright-eyed and shining with that high-handicapper's optimism which is so often the harbinger of doom.
As luck would have it, he fell in with Jim, Jamie and Darren, who play off 8, 8 and 11 respectively, are fierce competitors and as predatory a trio as an innocent hacker could encounter.
Why don't you join us, they entreated, in a friendly little Stableford for a modest £5 a head. Game as ever, Andy was up for it despite the odds being heavily stacked against him. Normally, you would have given Red Riding Hood a better chance, and she had only one wolf to contend with. But there was a factor in Andy's favour.
The recent icy spell has caused much serious grief around the country and rendered many courses unplayable but, at The Glamorganshire, we dodged the snow and although it has been thoroughly iced up, we've managed to keep playing most days.
Like everywhere else, to avoid damaging the greens we have temporary greens, but not exactly where we would want them. The cold snap came before proper temps could be cut and we are using those utilised by the greens-staff when they are moving cutting machinery around. Consequently, some holes are to be found in nasty places and even though they are eight inches in diameter, the short game has become a lottery.
They say in football that mud is a great leveller, hence the number of giant-killers in the FA Cup at this time of year. In golf, frost is an even better leveller. Erratic bounces foil big hitters and deadly chippers when pins are in unfamiliar places. It jerks them out of their comfort zone. Being a hacker, of course, Andy doesn't have a comfort zone, and he reacted to the unusual conditions by playing very well.
He usually hits the ball straight and he was helped by the course being shorter by several hundred yards. I've always said that the most important weapon in golf is plenty of shots. If things suddenly go well for you they can be as valuable as a good swing, and Andy made the most of the full allowance of his 28 shots. He had two shots on the par-five 11th and hit a birdie four which was worth five points. He revelled in the conditions and, eventually, he came home with a match-winning 45 points.
You could have sold tickets to watch each of his opponents handing over a fiver, and Andy is not one to allow such a rare occasion to go without a large amount of crowing. Now that he has claimed the Christmas bragging rights, Andy is claiming that he is ready for anything and is already talking up 2011 as the year when he is going to make the big breakthrough.
Since we play together regularly, and share in the monumental frustrations that hackers are prey to, we have long dreamed of the day when we can start reducing our handicaps. Can the momentum that now propels him be an inspiration to me and the rest of us in the dead-beats section? Will his success be contagious? Andy has brought hope to us all and, suddenly, the new year looks more attractive.
Tip of the week
No 80: Proper warm-up routine
Last week I talked about turning up late and what to do for a quick warm-up. This week I'd like to take you through what you should do for a full warm-up routine.
Firstly get to the course at least an hour before your tee time. Spend a good 15 minutes doing some gentle stretching and warm up with some smooth five-irons.
Don't start with a short iron as this will put too much pressure on your back due to the extra tilting forwards. After a few five-irons go to a hybrid or fairway wood and finally hit just a few drivers.
Remember this is just a warming-up session, not the time to start changing your swing. Finally, finish with a few wedge shots once you're fully warmed up. This long-game session should consist of no more than 30 balls and last a maximum of 15 minutes.
Next move to the short-game area and hit some chips and putts. Get a feel of the firmness and speed of the greens, and how much borrow the greens are taking.
Get a general feel of pace but concentrate more on holing some short putts (under six feet). These are the ones that can really save a score. You're now ready to head for the first tee, fully warmed up and raring to go.
Simon Iliffe is head professional at Bramley Golf Club, Surrey. www.theshortgame.co.uk