The Hacker: As a psychologist might put it, I can't see the wood for the trees

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The Independent Online

Two professional gentlemen are patiently waiting for me to break 100 in a medal.

When the happy day arrives, I shall reveal their names and explain how they have helped me break through a barrier that has defied me for over 10 years.

I firmly believed that last weekend would be the moment I got the ton off my back and gave them the credit they deserve. Alas, it was not so. Indeed, had their names been associated with the way I played, I doubt if either would have ever worked again.

One is a professional golf coach with a distinctive approach to the game aimed at eradicating tension from your swing and encouraging a smooth passage of the club-face through the ball.

He has improved my swing so much, I am hitting shots that astonish my playing partners and have brought me unexpected success in knock-out tournaments.

But inconsistency, the curse of the hacking fraternity, means I cannot guarantee to hit it right every time, or even half the time, which brings in my second advisor, a golf psychologist who wrote to say he could help train my mind to keep focused.

I've only had one session with him, enough to understand the benefits of creating a regular pre-shot routine and of visualising the path you want the ball to take.

Psychologists are all the rage among the top players these days. Darren Clarke called on the services of two before winning The Open last month, and last week Lee Westwood, who previously would have nothing to do with them, enlisted the services of one to unclutter his mind on the putting green with immediate results.

However, there is a distinct difference between the learning potential of a player of that quality and a raddled old hacker who has repulsed 30 years of good advice.

Persuading my body to do what it is told is a long job. Just as my life has been a constant struggle to stay on the path of righteousness, so my golf proved easy prey to waywardness.

But, ever the optimist, I feel that I am on the edge of the breakthrough, which is why the Centenary medal was such a disappointment last week.

One of the factors that usually bedevil my progress around a golf course is that I am not blessed with the best of luck. Hence when I slightly pulled my drive on the first, it didn't merely hit a tree, it rebounded at a right angle 25 yards into the greenside bunker on the 18th.

Had I been playing the 18th, the ball would have been nicely placed on the upslope of the bunker, but as I was playing in the opposite direction it was nastily placed on the downslope and my attempt to play it back through the trees resulted in it landing at the foot of one of them, and by the time I returned to the first fairway I had taken five and finished with a nine.

When misfortune of that scale hits you so early in the round, it isn't easy to soothe the rage within and recover the calm and composed frame of mind essential to my new approach. I managed to achieve a measure of tranquillity but on the fourth I was once more in the trees contemplating a narrow opening about six feet wide through an avenue of trunks.

Two men playing on the adjoining hole paused to watch, as people often do when I am attempting a miracle. "Watch out for the ricochet, lads," I joked. Just as well I did, for the ball rebounded from a trunk and flashed a yard past them.

To cut a long sob story short, I finished with 118. One of my playing partners offered a consoling word: "At least you putted very well."

Which is not very helpful. Think what I would have scored if I hadn't.