The Hacker: John’s return is plain sailing but he almost loses a ball

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The Independent Online

Playing with better players is reckoned to be good for your game on the grounds that being amid golfers of a higher standard will inspire you far more than the clapped-out old codgers you usually go around the course with.

This wasn’t my experience last Wednesday. I played with better players and got a bloody good hiding.

Not that it wasn’t a pleasure. The rest of the country seemed to be immersed in drizzle but Royal Porthcawl was sunny enough to foster shirt-sleeve golf.

My two companions revelled in the conditions. Mike, who plays off six, only dropped three shots and took the money despite a bold challenge from John.

Although I didn’t play disastrously – and won three holes – I trailed in a distant third. John is on the comeback trail. He used to play off six 35 years ago but opted to concentrate on sailing.

He has hardly golfed in the meantime but now he has decided to play regularly again. He struggled painfully at first but he had a lesson just before we played – the week before last – and it was just my luck that he starting finding his form.

He beat me seven and five and I don’t think I’ll let him play off 20 any more.

Last week we were joined by Mike, who is not only a cracking golfer but a real gentlemen. He proved that the first time we played together about 30 years ago.

I hadn’t been playing long and we met in a knock-out competition. It was a very enjoyable game and as we were walking off the 11th green, Mike said to me: “I think we are supposed to shake hands now.”

He had murdered me and not only had I felt no pain, I didn’t even know I was dead.

In those days I would only have had three-quarters of the difference in handicap; now I get the full allowance, which was 20.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever given 20 shots,” Mike said. Obviously he’s been playing in the wrong company.

His golf was a joy to watch and I think I did very well to win three holes. But I did have an embarrassing moment while we were playing the 16th hole. I was in the rough just off the left-hand side of the fairway and John was on the edge of a bunker on the right-hand side 60 yards further on.

While I was lashing at my ball with a rescue club, John was in position to play his shot. Although I thought that I had made good contact, I could see no sign of the ball up the fairway. Then I noticed that John was behaving in a very agitated fashion. I had savagely shanked the shot and when John turned to see if I had played, he saw it whistling towards him and before he could take any evasive action, the ball had gone between his legs and hit the club he was holding.

A couple of inches either side would have delivered a nasty blow to the leg and a few inches higher could have had even more catastrophic implications.

It hasn’t stopped them agreeing to play with me again and it may work out well. My golf might improve but their sense of danger definitely will.