There are few more daunting prospects for a hacker than to play with a partner you have never met before. This is particularly so in foursomes, in which you take alternate shots and the chances of putting him into deep trouble on a regular basis are embarrassingly high.
It helps if he is a hacker himself, and I was mightily relieved when the partner to whom I was introduced on the first tee at Royal Porthcawl last weekend was a 24-handicapper. That didn't mean he wasn't vulnerable to a miserable round of retrieving my rubbish, but there is a bond of understanding between hackers that can dilute the shame.
As it happened, David was very pleasant and agreeable company, but when he struck his drive straight and long down the middle on the first, I felt that our new relationship might be at risk.
Thankfully, my nine-iron soared 100 yards to the elevated green. It ran about 50 feet past the pin, but he hit a good putt just a yard short.
It was a great opportunity to start with a par but I missed it. It was a good beginning nonetheless, and we looked forward to a tidy round.
Alas, reality soon imposed itself. We each lost a ball on the next two holes and went on to lose another two or three. Porthcawl is in great nick but the rough is still merciless if you stray off-line.
The occasion was a meeting of the Cardiff & County Club Golfing Society, who are having a revival, and a healthy number of 20 turned up. Healthy may be the wrong description, though, because the first stage of the meeting is a lengthy lunch on the previous day.
If you miss it you lose two shots, and no excuses are accepted. I was at a wedding but it wouldn't have mattered if it had been my own.
David, who enjoys the nickname of Choco because of the colour he goes after a holiday in the sun, is a solicitor, as is Ceri, who was one of our playing companions and plays off 10. He and his partner Robert, a venture businessman specialising in the catering industry, won the competition with 31 points.
Choco and I managed 19 points, which kept us well clear of the booby prize – a 5p piece shared between two – and it was thoroughly enjoyable playing with other golfers for the first time. It reminds you that the game appeals to all walks of life.
Two days previously I had played at Oake Manor, near Taunton, with James, an innkeeper, Andy, a police sergeant, and Geoff, who is in stationery. James and I managed to beat Andy and Geoff, who haven't been playing long, but it was a close thing at times and a revenge match is in the offing.
What impresses me is not only do you meet a cheerier class of people at the top end of the handicap range but that there are an awful lot of us.
Hackers are the backbone of golf. Not always a flexible backbone, perhaps, but a vital part of the game in that there are more of us than any other category of player.
I base this claim partly on statistical evidence and partly on an educated guess that most of those who play the game can't – or, at least, can't do it properly.
Last weekend, James the innkeeper saved the life of a diner at his inn who choked on a piece of pork. Not only are hackers everywhere, they sometimes come in useful.
tip of the week
No 26: the downhill lie
Concluding the awkward stances, I've saved the toughest shot till last. The most common mistake I see when watching players attempt the downhill lie shot, is to underestimate how much loft they need. The stance alone will de-loft the club considerably, so first take at least two to three clubs less than normal (e.g. if you'd normally play a five-iron, take an eight-iron). Then place your weight on your lower foot and position the ball nearer your higher foot (further back in the stance).
The lie will naturally steepen the swing plane and hit the ball lower. However, make sure to swing down with the hill, don't scoop to gain loft – this will only result in fat and thinned shots. Hybrids and lofted fairway woods are the best clubs to use for long downhill shots. Lob wedges are the best to use from downhill banks around the greens.
Simon Iliffe, Head Professional, Purley Downs GC, Surrey www.theshortgame.co.ukReuse content