For the past month or so it has, in one way, been sheer pleasure to be a golfer. That last term is always used loosely, you understand, for in another way life on the fairway (again, a word that is used generically) has been the usual mixture of frustration, disbelief and resignation. And woods have been responsible for the range of emotions.
To deal with the positive first; who cannot have felt a surge of good-to-be-alive happiness this Indian summer when out on the golf course, with a bright autumn sun sparkling on nature's tapestry of myriad colour?
My home course, Bury St Edmunds, is tree-lined and its natives – particularly the maples and cherries – have put on a show worthy of New Hampshire, with hues from palest gold to copper to a rich, burnished maroon.
On the breckland at nearby Thetford, where heath and forest meet, dark stately pines rise in intricate black shapes against a wide, high East Anglian sky. On such a day even the young men showing their own mettle from Lakenheath in deafening low-flying F15s could be accepted as part of the scenery, and blamed with amused tolerance for missed putts.
Last week at Swaffham, the vista from the fourth tee, in composition, palette and light, would have had Turner reaching for a canvas. And my use of the fruits of the majestic sweet chestnuts that flank the approach to the 18th – a cluster of prickly shells on the ground took the sting from my thinned, horribly wide ball and diverted it to three feet from the pin to save nett par after an expedition through a clump of gorse – was of course entirely intentional.
Mention of such a shot returns us to default Mark Twain mode, i.e. lovely walk, shame about the golf. Against all the odds I had reached the final of a matchplay competition at Newmarket, an excellent annual event called the Links Challenge. During a given week in the spring, women from Newmarket and other clubs play a round, with the top 32 Stableford scores going forward to a knockout over the summer.
Newmarket is surrounded by land used for training the racehorses for which the town is famous, but that was no excuse for my galloping incompetence. One of the Laws of Hackerdom states that if one part of your game is by some miracle going well, another part will descend into the mire to compensate.
On the day of the final, against Hilary from the home side, my irons were fine. Neither chipping nor putting was any more of a problem than usual. But getting off the tee was barely possible. I became regularly and intimately acquainted with stands of beautiful grey-barked, bronze-leaved beech.
Another well-thumbed part of the Laws manual is the section on luck, with particular reference to the hometown effect of the local landscape and flora. We were all square on the 15th, with me hanging on by my fingertips. Hilary's second shot took an unlucky bounce and dived at speed into a small copse. My brief, uncharitable flutter of hope was instantly stilled as her ball rebounded straight back into the middle of the fairway.
She went on to a deserved victory. Unlike me, she was hitting the woods just fine. And getting out of them was no problem either.
Tip of the week
No 25: the uphill lie
One of the less awkward lie positions, it encourages loft, making it easier to get the ball airborne. The big danger is to drive the club into the slope, causing heavy and de-lofted shots. Firstly, take the extra club, as the hill will encourage higher shots and take distance off the ball flight. Position the ball towards your left foot (for right-handed golfers) with the weight on your right. This will help you to play with the hill and not into it. Playing uphill will create a shallower swing path into the ball, encouraging a right-to-left ball flight. You may need to aim a little to the right to compensate for this. Try to keep your weight on the right foot through impact, which will give a good, sweeping strike through the ball. Remember, good balance is the key to all awkward lie shots!
Simon Iliffe, Head Professional, Purley Downs GC, Surrey www.theshortgame.co.uk