The Hacker: Deadly Derek thought he had won but will have to start from Scratch

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The Independent Online

A A Milne, the creator of Winnie the Pooh and many other smelly animals, once said that golf is so popular "because it is the best game in the world at which to be bad".

Milne was a keen golfer and probably wasn't a hacker but at least he understood the hacker philosophy, that we benefit from being part of a game that embraces the widest variances of skills and application.

I can think of no other in which the ungifted can have a role which, however menial, still makes a contribution to the game as a whole (in financial terms if little else).

It has to be a strength that so many of golf's participants are fired by no visions of glory but by the chance of playing a half-decent game once in a while. There must be millions of us and my recent disclosure of yet another failure to break 100 in a medal brought a sad story from Russel Matthews of Hinksey Heights golf club in Oxfordshire.

One of the stalwarts at his club is Derek, formerly of the RAF and the long-serving secretary of their members committee. Derek, now in his mid-seventies, faithfully enters every competition but in 10 years has never came close to winning anything.

His handicap has been stuck on 28 since he started and he has been desperate to come down. The handicap secretary once cut him to 27 out of sympathy but within a short time he had worked his way back up to 28.

The only thing he has ever won was the wooden spoon in the winter league and he would proudly lift up his grandchildren so that they could see his name engraved on the spoon.

Last week, Derek entered the monthly midweek medal with his usual high hopes and low expectations and suddenly broke through the 100 barrier for the first time.

His scintillating 98 (nett 70) saw him win the medal from a four-handicapper by one shot. But to his horror he was told that although his 70 was two under the par for the course, the Competition Scratch Score came in at 70 so there was no handicap reduction.

"Such is the sympathy throughout the club for Derek," says Russel, "a special meeting of the handicap committee is being convened to remedy this wrong."

I look forward to Derek breaking 100 regularly because I have a theory that once you've broken the barrier it ceases to become an obsession. Unfortunately, that has not been the experience of Richard Taylor, who wrote to me a few weeks ago to ask if he was still a hacker.

Richard had reduced his handicap over the summer from 24 to 20 and wondered if this elevated him out of hacker status. He provided his own answer last week. "The golfing Gods obviously thought I was getting up myself. I played with my son at the weekend and went round in 110, my worst since April," he wrote.

Even ex-hackers are allowed a slip or two and, coincidentally, 110 was also my score in the medal last weekend. I blame the obnoxious leylandii that disfigure our course. I lost two balls stuck up them.

Strangely enough, when I was looking for a ball stuck in a bush I noticed a profusion of blackberries. I went back at 8.30 the following morning without my clubs and picked three pounds. I also found two field mushrooms for my breakfast and two balls.

Golf is also the best game at which to be a good blackberry picker.

Tip of the week

No 21: control the fade

Shots into the green need distance control and the best method for this is the fade. To play it, left-to-right spin must be used. The ball needs to start left of the target, so open your stance to the left. Position the ball a little further toward your left foot (forward in the stance) and aim the club at your target. Swing normally along the line of your feet but feel as though your hands finish higher in the follow-through. This will stop your right arm releasing. The art is to practise how much you need to open your stance and how high your hands need to finish in the swing.

Simon Iliffe, Head Professional, Purley Downs GC, Surrey.