The Hacker: Beaten by my favourite landlord? At least he didn't get my money

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The Independent Online

Whatever misfortunes have dogged my golf during the past year, I could always draw some pleasure from my performances in matchplay.

Thanks to my receiving a full allowance of shots, I have managed to beat several players of a much superior handicap.

Indeed, my form in the head-to-heads has been better than at any time in my life and vastly superior to the way I've played in medals.

Why this should be is puzzling. I can only conclude that my continuing failure to break 100 has created a mental barrier through which I am doomed never to pass.

Thankfully, there are no more medals until next April so I intended to spend the winter trying to beat my pals in matchplay.

But I have to learn to stop falling for sob stories. I got well beaten at Taunton Vale last week after I agreed to play off levels against someone who I know is a better player.

James is mine host at the Exmoor hostelry where I go to recover from the harshness of the world. The Royal Oak at Luxborough is the bolt-hole from heaven and its ancient, flag-stoned bar with a roaring fire is not the least of its attractions.

This isn't a shameless plug because it has been named Inn of the Year in the Good Pub Guide – which proves I'm not the only one who likes it.

As for James, I'm going to nominate him for Bandit Innkeeper of the Year after he claimed his game was in a terrible state and proceeded to beat me 5&3.

He is one of these occasional players who doesn't have a handicap but if he belonged to a club he could easily play to 15 or so.

Like most of those who began playing at a young age, he has the permanent rudiments of a youthful swing which are denied to those of us who started in our mid-40s.

He hadn't played for six months when I took him on, and he swore he wouldn't be any good. I usually insist on claiming shots from him but I agreed to play off scratch, especially as he had paid the green fees.

It was a miserably dull morning but he was grateful there was no one to see his first drive. But it was my tee-shot that was rubbish. He hit his 250 yards and was four-up by the eighth.

I wasn't playing badly but he was driving the ball more than 50 yards longer and hitting some excellent approach shots.

Taunton Vale Golf Club is 20 years old and laid out attractively across a spacious piece of undulating Somerset farmland with a small valley containing some inconvenient water running through the middle.

The toughest hole is the 11th, which slopes down to the water and up to a raised green. James reached it in two splendid shots that got him a par. The 12th is a similar hole and he almost got another par. I took 11, which stopped me breaking 100.

Next time I'll demand at least eight shots but I can't begrudge him a victory which cheered him up immensely. What cheered me was that we weren't playing for money.

As it happens, I know the captain of Taunton Vale. Rhys Morgan is an old friend and when I last saw him, on a beach in west Wales in August, he had asked me to say a few words at a club function at the end of November.

When he wrote to confirm the date, it clashed with an invitation I had received to play golf in Bermuda. He very kindly agreed that, difficult a choice as it is, I should go to Bermuda.

The event is the Cambridge Beaches British Airways Bermuda Celebrity Golf Competition, which also includes some UK journalists.

We're competing for the Hackers Cup, which has nothing to do with this column. But if it's hackers they're after, they've come to the right place.