The Hacker: Magic wand loses its stardust and I putt John in his place

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The Independent Online

You would have thought that Barack Obama had enough problems being US president without taking on the extra frustrations of being a golfing hacker, but he was happily thrashing his way around Hawaii during his Christmas break.

He plays fairly regularly and not all his countrymen approve. His political enemies believe he should be concentrating on more weighty matters whereas others are merely curious about how good he is.

He doesn't seem keen for them to find out. No media are allowed on the course when he plays and neither are cameras. Four of his loyal staff play ahead of him, clearing the way and looking out for spies.

When pressed on the subject, his political advisor David Axelrod said his score is a matter of "national security". On the president's recent visit to Asia, the prime minister of India asked him about his handicap. "It is too high to be mentioned diplomatically," answered Obama.

Someone who has sneaked a look at him play estimates that his handicap is in the mid-20s and "he has a cramped swing that is not so pretty". Hackers everywhere will sympathise with his sensitivity on the subject – a man's golfing struggles are nobody else's business – and, furthermore, anyone who can face up manfully to the many problems a duffer encounters on the course should have no trouble running a country.

There's nothing like golf to teach a man humility, keep him in touch with harsh realities and to nourish a determination to fight on against all the odds.

It's not a doddle out there as my friend John was reminded on Wednesday. The previous week he had ended 2010 on a high. Not only had he been given an extra shot in the annual handicap review, he went around Royal Porthcawl in 37 points, taking money from mein the process.

If his putting hadn't been so awry, his points tally would have been much higher and he announced that a major improvement in his putting was his main new year's resolution.

It was pouring down last Wednesday morning and most of those who arrived at Porthcawl took one look at the glowering skies and foaming sea and went back home.

We decided to wait for an hour or so and, after a coffee and a medicinal brandy, we took a browse around the pro's shop where a display of shiny new putters caught John's eye.

These days, putters are neither cheap nor uncomplicated and he eventually chose one that looked like a branding iron but felt like a magic wand in his hands.

He couldn't wait to try it out and, thankfully, the rain stopped and a pleasant enough day developed with even a spell of pale sunshine.

Unfortunately, John's new putter was not an instant success. They both need time to adjust to each other. As often happens, his frustration spread to the rest of his game and I was four up with four to play.

Then, thanks to a confident eight-foot putt, he struck back with a par on the 15th, our hardest hole, and on the next hole a long putt from off the green saw him win that, too.

From dormy four, I was now dormy two and worried. But he three-putted the 17th to give me a half, a 2 and 1 victory and my money back from the previous week – or most of it because I cocked up the 18th so badly he was able to four-putt and still win the back nine. As for my own resolution to keep my head down, I am able to report a slight improvement in my game. On New Year's Day I played in a hard school where the stake is a fiver a head.

My 30 points weren't too bad considering how many bunkers I was stuck in and, with the first and second prize-winners each buying a pint, I wasn't even out of pocket.

Tip of the week

No 83: Controlling the clubhead

Many times I have had players come to me who have been trying for years to shorten their swing because it's too long at the top and the player is losing control.

They are always saying they can either see the clubhead out of the corner of their eye or even that the club shaft hits their shoulder at the top of the backswing.

What is actually happening is that the club is simply too long for the player and the head too heavy.

The player cannot control the weight and length of shaft at the top of the backswing.

This is more common for lady golfers who buy "off the shelf" and younger juniors who use dad's old cut-down set.

This can so easily be corrected by having the clubs corrected with a fitting session, and it doesn't have to cost much for the alterations.

Before you spend hours trying to change your swing, make sure your clubs are suitable and will allow you to make the changes.

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