The Hacker: Bale struggles to hit the target at Vale – but it's only a friendly

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The Independent Online

It's always rewarding to see a golfing hacker shine in other spheres of life. We revealed recently that Barack Obama and David Cameron were both enthusiastic beginners but probably neither has spent too much timeon the course lately.

There's no doubt, however, that football's newest sensation is doing us proud. In between scoring a famous hat-trick against Internazionale at the San Siro three weeks ago and destroying the European champions at White Hart Lane last Wednesday, Gareth Bale spent a few days trying to improve his golf back home in South Wales.

I am told that hacker wouldn't be a harsh description at the moment. Gareth played at the Vale of Glamorgan's National course with two friends behind a three-ball from my club. Play was so slow that they were queuing on most of the tees and, football fans as they are, my friends were impressed at how pleasant and friendly he was. As for his golf, he hit the ball miles but all over the place.

At one hole, a 105-yard par three over water, my pal Richard hit a wedge to within three feet. Gareth asked him what club he had taken and when it was his turn to play he hit a wedge over the water, over the green and over the hedge at the back. It went at least 150 yards.

For the time being, at least, Gareth is finding that hitting a green is nothing like as easy as hitting a goalmouth.

At least he had decent weather. I played three times in three days last week and had a harsh reminder that winter is on the way.

On Tuesday I played at Radyr, where the sports broadcaster Ron Jones was my host, and the former Glamorgan and England cricketer, Peter Walker, made up the three-ball. Unfortunately, in his eagerness to play with me, Walker arrived an hour and a half earlier than the appointed time and had to leave for an appointment after nine holes.

That was long enough for him to show the touches that have made him a low handicapper all his life. A high wind didn't help any of us, especially my slice, but Ron and I had a great 18 holes on what is a splendid course high in the hills above Cardiff.

I was back at sea level at Royal Porthcawl the following day when the wind was higher and the weather wetter. The occasion was the weekly gathering of the Sparrows, a long-established section in the club, which comprises those who play golf for enjoyment rather than serious accomplishment.

My regular playing partner, John Dodd, and I were initiated into this happy throng who run a unique Stableford competition in that you play in threes and keep your own score in your head.

This may seem open to abuse but not, of course, if you are a Sparrow. Despite the foul weather, I carefully added up 15 points on the front nine. That was the end of my scoring, because the light and the weather deteriorated so much that we packed it in on the 12th.

This turned out to be quite a good idea as the clubhouse wind-gauge registered 25 knots which is, I am told, a Force 5.

The Sparrows have another endearing feature. If you haven't scored many points, you can take advantage of the default score, which they fix according to the conditions.

Last Wednesday it was 20 points and when the Chief Sparrow comes round for the scores, you quietly say "Sparrows" and he gives you the default score.

This is my sort of game and I look forward to many more outings, particularly as it is followed by a very jolly evening.

It wasn't as jolly as it could have been for me because I had volunteered to drive three of my friends and therefore had to practise abstinence which does not make the heart grow fonder particularly when they won't come home when you ask them to.

Tip of the week

No 74: How good's my lining up?

It's amazing how poorly some golfers can line up putts of more than 20 feet in length, and often it's because their perception can alter what they see as a straight line.

This great exercise will show how well you line up a straight putt (for this drill, you will need help from another person).

Set up to a ball 20 feet from the hole on a putting green. Keep in your set-up position and have a friend position a ball halfway along the line of the putt.

Stop them once you feel they have positioned the ball directly between your ball and the hole.

Now stand directly behind your ball and see how accurately you've judged the ball being positioned along your line.

It's amazing how often the ball is positioned six inches offline. If this happens to you, you can learn from your tendencies to help you set up better to putts.

Simon Iliffe is head professional at Bramley Golf Club, Surrey.