The Hacker: For once the chips are down as gin proves the perfect tonic

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The Independent Online

Admittedly, it wasn't the best chip shot you've ever seen but it certainly didn't deserve the scorn that has been heaped on it over the past few days at Turnberry.

It would have been bad enough had this sneering been directed at any of the 156 golfers contesting The Open over the Ailsa course.

But they escaped the mockery that rang around the media centre because it was aimed at me. It was my chip and it narked a lot of my fellow grafters in the press.

Usually, a hacker can enjoy his time at The Open because he doesn't have to play and face the normal humiliation.

Indeed, it is therapeutic to be able to spend hours wandering around a truly splendid golf course watching the best players in the world wrestle with the rough.

But sometimes the social life can contain a surprise. As a break from our labours during Open week we sometimes accept invitations to various soirées and one which caught the eye on Wednesday was from a gin distillery.

Ever inquisitive about manufacturing processes, we arrived en masse at the Girvan distillery, which is chiefly engaged in the making of Grant's whisky but has a small corner devoted to an up-market gin called Hendrick's.

After sampling a glass or two of Ailsa Breeze, which is part gin and part ginger ale, we were invited to take part in a nine-yard niblick challenge.

This involved using an ancient niblick, the original name for a wedge, to chip into an ornamental flower pot, diameter 18 inches, nine yards away. Each player had nine shots at it. Simples, as a meerkat might say.

Yet the first dozen or so who tried failed to land one in the pot. When I stepped up there was much chortling because my chipping is notoriously bad and when I stabbed the grass behind the ball at my first attempt, hilarity ensued.

But a stunned silence greeted the sight of my second shot travelling at knee height, just clearing the front lip of the pot and dropping just below the back lip to settle in the bottom.

There followed an outbreak of language that I ignored as I completed my nine shots without troubling the pot further. My name was written on a blackboard and I was told there would be a play-off later of all those who chipped in.

I went back to the bar and an hour later my name was still the only one on the board. It was estimated that more than 40 had entered so there had been over 400 attempts and only one success.

I was presented with a pocket-watch and chain inscribed with the legend Hendrick's Gin. I am amazed by how many colleagues still begrudge me it. Jealousy can be an appalling part of golf.

It reminded me of a story that David Howell told in a wonderful speech at the Golf Writers' Club dinner the day before. Playing in the 2004 Ryder Cup in the States, he had thinned a six-iron on to the 17th green and it helped him and Paul Casey to win a vital point against the USA.

That thinned shot was later named as Shot of the Year.

I don't expect an accolade like that but credit where it's due, I say.