The Hacker: Getting my handicap down may be mission impossible but I choose to accept it

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The Independent Online

Any golfer can self-destruct, and in considerably fewer than 10 seconds. But the better the player, of course, the less likely it is to happen. And despite what manufacturers would have us believe, playing well has got little to do with possession of the latest hi-tech equipment. Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying nothing to do with it, because although the likes of Lee Westwood could undoubtedly go round under par with a set of hickory shafts, we could not.

There is certainly pleasure and perhaps along with that some confidence to be gained from gazing at the new shiny-shiny in the bag. But most at hacker level are perfectly aware that the cause of serial incompetence is not in our hands, but mainly in our heads. The inability to stay focused is largely what keeps handicaps high.

Some score well enough when it doesn't matter but implode as soon as they get a card in their hands. Others of us are sharper under the pressure of competition but can't keep brain engaged for the full 18 holes. At this stage let it be noted that it was only the freshly tined greens that caused me to drop six shots over the last five holes in the monthly Stableford on Thursday. Of course it was.

Golf has been described as 90 per cent mental with the other 10 per cent mental too, and not in the sense that you have to be 100 per cent mental to play to start with. So it follows that help with that aspect is probably worth infinitely more than any wonder driver or computerised swing analyser. And, as most of us can't afford a one-to-one with Dr Bob Rotella, if such help doesn't cost very much, so much the better. Which brings me to GolfMission. Some years ago, Geoff Chapman, then a high-flying chef and restaurateur and a scratch man to boot, had an epiphany moment after he presented some friends with a series of little challenges during a round of golf. He quickly realised that what was just a bit of fun had serious potential as an aid to improvement, and has now hung up his Sabatiers.

The concept is simple. GolfMission comprises a set of cards, each different, outlining six tasks of varying difficulty on predetermined holes for each player, for example not to have more than six putts in total on the first three, to score no more than bogey on index 18 or to have three threes or better on your card. The number of "missions" to be completed during a round depends on handicap.

This game can give an edge to a social round (last to complete buys the coffees or takes the pot, that sort of thing), thereby helping develop concentration for qualifers. It can help a player keep focus for a full 18 holes. And by completing missions, you will, necessarily but unconsciously, notch up an improved score.

It sounds a blindingly good idea and, at just under £20 for a set of 10 cards in a sturdy zipped pouch, well worth trying. Our mission – and who wouldn't accept it – is to improve. Impossible? Those who have tried Geoff's product over a period of months say not and have the handicap certificates to prove it, so watch this space. All together now: de-de, de-de de de, de-de, de-de de de....

Tip of the week

NO 29: hybrid heaven

Most players have converted to at least one hybrid in their bag, slowly replacing their long irons. This is one of the best moves any amateur (and, in most cases, pros) can make. The weighting is much lower in the head with the centre of gravity further away from the face. This increases the launch angle of long shots into the green. The face itself is shallower than an iron so it's easy to get the club to the bottom of the ball, again helping to get loft. The shaft is also shorter than the equivalent fairway wood, so giving more control. The most common mistake I see when watching golfers play a hybrid is not hitting down enough into the back of the ball. Don't try to help it up, position the ball in the middle of your stance, strike down and let the club do the work.

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