The Hacker: I got through to the semi-finals but it's still all Greek to me

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The Independent Online

As befits a long-term hacker, I have often found myself in the strangest of places; in ditches, up trees, over walls, in a cemetery, and I once pitched my ball into an opponent's golf bag. But last week I appeared in the most unlikely of places: the semi-final of one of our club's knock-out tournaments.

Admittedly, the Veterans Cup is not one of our more glamorous competitions. But since our club has a high proportion of gnarled old sods, it is nevertheless hotly contested and not one in which a pitiful wretch playing off a 28 handicap is expected to flourish.

This is particularly so when my score in the medal two weeks ago was 118, which is a staggering 48 over par. It was a cruel setback when I fancied I was on the edge of a breakthrough. Hence the lack of confidence when I turned up for my quarter-final last Tuesday against Nick Fisher, a 25-handicapper who had to give me three shots, which was a measly allowance against a player I'd been told was very steady.

And steady he turned out to be, winning the first two holes before hitting a decent drive up the hill on the par-five third. I hit a miserable one that went 150 yards at the most. He then piled into his second shot, which hit the marker post in the middle of the fairway and rebounded at right angles 40 yards into the woods. I couldn't believe it. That's the sort of freakish thing that happens to me.

I managed to win that hole, and after he'd hit two into the woods on the fourth I won that too, although I must say I did have a par. I also parred the fifth but then he sank a 10-footer for a birdie and went back in front.

It turned out to be a good game with neither of us playing like complete hackers, apart from the odd mishap, and Nick was very good company.

He retired two years ago as professor of ancient history at the University of Wales but still wrote learned papers, specialising mainly on ancient Greece.

"So you speak Latin then?" I asked, realising immediately what a stupid question it was. He was kind enough not to laugh, replying: "A little, but mainly Greek."

We came off the ninth green all square and I stuck my tee shot on the par-three 10th just over two feet from the flag to go one up in the match for the first time.

It didn't last long. He won the 11th, 12th and 14th to go two up with four to play. It wasn't that I was hitting the ball badly but he always seemed able to go one better. On the 15th, however, I hit two very good shots to win the hole with a five nett four.

We halved the 16th and after a nervy chip over a bunker I won the 17th and we were all flat as we stood on the par-three 18th tee.

I pushed my tee shot high right and it was heading over the trees towards the first fairway. He's got me on toast, I thought as he lined up his shot.

Somehow, the ball squirted from the heel of his club and flew low and left into the auxiliary car park. There's an impenetrable row of 20-foot high leylandii trees dividing the car park from the 18th and I left him pondering what to do while I went off in search of my ball. Miraculously, it must have hit a tree because I found it four yards from the green. Then, with much cracking of branches, he emerged from the middle of the leylandii screen and shouted: "What are you there for?"

"One," I yelled back.

He threw his hands up. "I've had six. I surrender," he said.

Based on such little scenes, a hacker's joy can last a lifetime.