The Hacker: Author tries level best to break par but the real star is birdie at home

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Although our detractors don't believe it, most hackers go through a torment of attempts to improve their game. It's a long, hard struggle that yields encouragement to very few.

Indeed, the only thing that keeps us at our lonely toils is the knowledge that millions around the world are wrestling with the same frustrations.

Now comes a book that reminds us, if we needed reminding, of the size of the task and the sacrifices required. Not that we would all aim at what John Richardson set out to achieve. Just to look less ham-fisted, commit fewer atrocities on the course and gain a more respectable handicap would satisfy us.

Richardson went for broke. Struggling to break 100, he set out to score an under-par round on his home course within the space of one year.

It didn't seem to be the best time for such a task. Any man in his late thirties, married with a family and working 50 hours a week, would find it difficult to play one round of golf a week, let alone embark on an exhausting, all-consuming mission to break par.

Although he played as a youngster, he claims no natural talent and admits to being at a fairly low fitness level when he started the fateful year.

On the first day he played a round under the scrutiny of Debbie Hanna, a former European Ladies Tour player, who was the pro at his local Blackwood course in Northern Ireland and who offered to help him.

He scored 103 in that first round, which meant he had to shed 33 shots in the next 12 months to reach his goal.

Richardson did not confine himself to advice from Debbie. He consulted 60 instruction books – he had three on the go at any given time – and countless videos littered his lounge carpet. In traffic jams he would study Ben Hogan's swing on his mobile.

He haunted late-night golf chat-rooms on the internet, made a study of the mental game, spent too much on clubs "guaranteed to improve your game" and practised for more than 1,000 hours on the driving range.

He also acquired a few interesting fantasy golfing companions. Hogan was one but his main inspiration was Seve Ballesteros, with whom he would conduct frank discussions.

There is one hilarious passage when he decided to fiddle with the tempo of his swing. He promptly sliced three drives into the woods and hooked the fourth out of bounds. He'd lost four balls and was still on the first tee. He records Seve saying: "Meester Richardson, you are a dick."

There are so many tortures and anxieties in this book that hackers will recognise and they may well wonder a) whether it was worth it and b) where they can get an understanding wife like Mrs Richardson.

I won't reveal the outcome of his fascinating mission but in the final week before his last chance to break par, his nerves were so bad he spent two hours a day on the telephone to a psychoanalyst. Did it drive him around the bend? I can't possibly comment but you have to be mad to be a hacker in the first place.

'Dream On – One Hacker's Challenge to Break Par in a Year' (Blackstaff Press, £9.99)