The Hacker: I finally sober up but Dr Em is an albatross around my neck

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The Independent Online

It was in the Jigger, a cosy little pub just over the wall adjoining the 17th at the Old Course, St Andrews, that the challenge was laid at the back end of March.

My delusions of grandeur having been swollen by a few pints, I readily agreed to a fourball better-ball battle back at our home club, The Glamorganshire.

I don't usually volunteer for suicide missions but my courage had been bolstered by the best round I've ever played on the Old. This is not saying much because the most hallowed of all courses usually devours me whole.

But on this, our 12th annual pilgrimage to St Andrews, I registered a staggering 21 points on the outward nine. The back nine restricted me to 12 points but a total of 33 was still, by my standards, a heartening score.

Chris, the playing partner who marked my card. was so impressed that he suggested that we play together in the next fourball at our club. Since Chris plays off three, this was not an invitation I was likely to turn down. Good players usually run a mile from the prospect of playing with me. It wasn't long, however, before his confidence in me attracted a couple of predators. Emyr, a GP who is fighting back after being laid low by MRSA, and Mike, who plays with me most weeks and is well accustomed to my false dawns, challenged us to a game for a fiver a man.

Last Monday, the game took place, and I approached it in a mood slightly different to that in which I'd accepted the challenge five weeks earlier. For a start, I was sober and, secondly, the intervening weeks had not treated me kindly in the form department, and the euphoria I had experienced at St Andrews has been slowly eroding.

I believe, and those who play with me agree, that I am hitting the ball better than ever but, sadly, the frequency of the sweet strikes has yet to outnumber the sour ones.

I am working on a more relaxed swing and I am finding it difficult to repel the sudden surges of tension that inflict me but I am getting there. Unfortunately, I hadn't got there by last Monday and Chris had to soldier on with only flurries of assistance from me and we lost the money by three shots.

The handicap rules regarding fourballs don't help.

Whereas we get full allowance in other competitions, we get only three-quarters in fourballs. This seems fine for match-play but in stroke play it is ridiculous.

It meant that Chris lost one shot, I lost seven off 28, Mike was docked five off 23 and Dr Em lost four shots off 15.

But the big difference was Em, who was hitting the ball so well he had a net birdie on the first and a net albatross on the third.

With Mike keeping his end up as well, Chris had a major job on his hands. On the three holes at which I had two shots, I scored precisely nothing, the nadir coming at the 15th when my drive shot right and disappeared into a leylandii tree.

My provisional screamed to the left and into another leylandii. Neither ball re-emerged and they are still lodged in the depths of these appalling trees.

I'm with 30 of the lads in Cardigan this weekend, playing three games in three days and hoping to cope better with my tension demons.

Help may be on the way. A sports psychologist has been reading about my woes and he reckons that he can cure the mental block that bedevils my game. He obviously relishes a challenge.