The Hacker: Arrested development after police inspector lays down law
Among the tell-tale signs of approaching spring last week were daffodils, crocuses, primroses and an old fool proving once more how treacherous it is to emerge from a long winter feeling as if the green shoots of improvement are creeping up your trouser leg.
The only thing that crept up my trouser leg on Wednesday was a wicked east wind that blew away all thoughts of springtime.
It also blew away the silly illusion that has been gradually building up over the past few months that my swing was getting more reliable.
You would have thought that my cruel betrayal by countless false dawns would have cautioned me but there I was in this column two weeks ago confessing to a slight stirring of optimism.
It wasn't totally baseless. I've been playing as regularly as possible during these interminable winter months and when your ball has either been bouncing madly off ice-bound fairways or getting bogged down in the mud, it is difficult to measure your game.
But my playing partners have remarked that I am hitting the ball more cleanly and straighter. It is an observation made not so much through studying my swing as counting the times that they have to trudge through the rough looking for my ball.
The clincher came a couple of weeks ago when I played with the Wednesday swindle, the Chips, and registered a 98, which is level par off my handicap of 28.
Granted we were playing off forward tees but the course was playing very long and it was, at the very least, an encouragement that my ambition of breaking 100 in a medal was in sight.
I played with the Chips again last Wednesday and it is now more like a mirage. I had a shocker and managed to scrape together a demoralising 18 points.
I didn't do my partner much good, either. The Chips is an individual Stableford competition but there is a draw for playing pairings. There were 17 of us and we each put a ball in a hat.
I was drawn with three others. We then threw the balls up and the ones that landed nearest together were the pairs. I was drawn with Paul against two Brians, one of whom is club president and both of whom are very steady golfers.
The Chips have their own handicapping system and for some reason they make me play off 24. But with Paul off six, I felt quietly confident. Despite the fact he has been a member for 15 years we hadn't met before and I don't think he knew what he was in for. I hit the ball all over the place and I would have been apologetic even if he wasn't a police inspector.
But he couldn't have been more supportive. He hits the ball a mile and some of his approach shots were excellent but an astonishing number of his putts shaved the hole and kept his score down.
Only once did he exhort me to pull my finger out, only not as crudely. We were three down with five to play and we came to a par five where, miraculously, I was on the edge of the green for three with a shot. Paul, who'd been in the trees, said: "I'm relying on you."
He then put a wedge within two feet. "What's the matter, don't you trust me?" I asked. He laughed and I promptly three-putted but I was first down and won the hole – the only time I came in all day.
We got them back to one down but our opponents played very well to keep their noses in front and we lost on the 17th. At a pound a head it wasn't a massive loss but the performance was a bitter disappointment.
Was this just a temporary setback, a warning not to get too far ahead of myself, or another indication of the severity of my task? As we say in Wales, it's back to the draining board.
Simon Iliffe's tip of the week
No 89: Feel for chipping
Many times I have tried to help someone who has just started to play, attempting to make them understand how to "feel" a chip shot. As it isn't a full swing, it's very difficult to tell someone how hard or soft to hit the ball.
Just imagine you are standing at the side of a green and you are going to throw the ball underarm on to the green towards the flag.
Picture how far your arm swings back and forward and how much effort you use.
Also you will notice, the higher you throw the ball the less it will roll. Now try to emulate this length of swing and effort with your golf club in hand. Remember, too, that you must pick a club with the right loft relative to how high you throw the ball. You'll see quite quickly there is a very similar feel to throwing the ball and chipping it.
Try this next time you are practising your chipping, and I guarantee that your distance control will improve.
Simon Iliffe is head professional at Bramley Golf Club, Surrey. www.theshortgame.co.uk
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