The Hacker: If I stop playing like a nervous meerkat, I'll improve. Simples!

It was like watching pit ponies brought up from the mine for their rare break above ground. On the day the Royal Porthcawl coursere-opened last week, golfers came blinking into the daylight and breathing in the fresh air.

The fact that the air was full of fog and drizzle mattered none. Toa regular golfer, even a couple of weeks housebound and out of action can get you stir-crazy.

It was a delight to be out. Ian Kinley, our excellent course manager, had been surprised at the swiftness of the thaw but gave us a course with only one winter green.

I had another reason to be thankful to him. I had lost my car keys somewhere on the course a few weeks previously. My bag had fallen off the trolley a couple of times in the rough (where else would I be?) and they must have slipped out of the pocket.

Miraculously, Ian spotted them in the long grass a week or so later and left them behind the bar.

We weren't the only souls glad to be out on Wednesday. Large waves were pounding the beach on Rest Bay which runs alongside the first three holes and there must have been 40 or 50 surfers in the water.

"They must be bloody mad," we said. If they saw us plodding up the first fairway, they were probably thinking exactly the same thing as they sat astride their surfboards waiting for the next wave.

I wondered, idly, if the sportof surfing has its equivalent of hackers. If so, they probablydrown quite quickly.

But on the course, it was my partner John who was drowning quickly and I was two up after two holes as he thrashed around in a post-Christmas haze.

He managed to pull himself together on the third hole and produced a five to my six. He plays off 20, so he has to give me eight shots, and since the stroke index was eight on that hole, I cheerfully claimed a half. "Sorry," he said, "I forgot to tell you that I have been put up to 21 in the annual handicap review, so you didn't get a shot there. It was my hole."

I was so flabbergasted that I lost the next one as well. John used to be a single-figure handicapper but gave up the game for 30 years and is now making good progress in recovering his skills.

He certainly doesn't need any extra help to beat me. He's been playing well enough to lose a shot or two, not gain one.

And but for that shot we would have halved the front nine and I wouldn't have lost a quid. Eventually, he won the match 3&2 and won the back nine on the 18th to make it three quid.

Not that I was too upset because we had a very good game and it's the best I've played at Porthcawl all year. To think that I've had to wait until a damp day at the end of the year to do it.

My 32 points were not exactly world class but I missed only one fairway and finished with the same ball that I started with. Some of the credit for that is due to the imaginative rough-cutting Porthcawl has undergone recently.

John had 37 points which could have been over 40 had his putting not been so awry. At least one of his New Year resolutions is clear – more putting practice.

And my main resolution is even clearer. I've got to keep my head still. The nearer I get to the green the more trouble I have in stopping my head shooting up like a nervous meerkat as the club is about to strike the ball.

If I can conquer that fault, the year 2011 will hold fewer sorrows. It is amazing how one half-decent game can wipe out the memory of an entire year of misery.

tip of the week

No 82: Turn fast for more speed (part 2)

Hopefully after last week's tip you're starting to drive that right knee to encourage a faster turn and increasing your clubhead speed.

Now take this one stage further. From the top of the backswing, try pulling your arms into your body as you start down.

Most golfers either throw the clubhead at the ball or pull the club down too vigorously. If you throw the clubhead at the ball you'll widen the arc, actually slowing the clubhead down.

If you simply pull your arms into your body you'll accelerate the club smoothly and further increase your body's rotation speed.

Imagine an ice-skater spinning on ice: to spin faster they pull their arms into their body, to slow down they widen their arms out from their sides.

Practise this move and you'll definitely see some added distance to your game.

Simon Iliffe is head professional at Bramley Golf Club, Surrey.

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