The Hacker: One wise man in season of goodwill

*** What a hacker needs as he or she ventures forth into a new season are a few wise and calming words about the unequal challenges ahead. If your local bishop is too busy to deliver what is essentially a spiritual message then you have to seek guidance elsewhere - like I did unwittingly last week.

What you mustn't do is step straight back on to the course with your head buzzing with ill-founded confidence and your body bursting to belt hell out of the ball.

These are treacherous feelings a long winter can instil into the unsuspecting mind. The longer you're away from the game the more your brain can convince you that you are better than previous evidence suggests. A few practice putts on the lounge carpet and the odd chip into a bucket in the back yard can help fuel this dangerous optimism.

I have fallen into that trap too many times; stepping on to the first tee full of the zest of spring and being reduced to quivering misery a few holes later. I was ready to make the same mistake when I was intent on joining the bunch of desperados who have been playing at our club every Thursday through the winter.

But I held back. Why should I give them my money and be subjected to the sort of merciless ribaldry that could set me back weeks? I went instead to a local golf range where I could ease myself gently back into the swing of things. It was obviously not a prevalent thought among hackers because I was the only person occupying any of the 30 bays.

Since I was there last, they had introduced a splendid system whereby you load your bucket of balls into a hopper, select a height for the tee and after every shot another ball appears.

I calmly composed myself and launched into a swing that I considered contained all the necessary ingredients for perfection. The connection sounded superb but when I permitted my eyes to follow the flight of the ball I saw it soaring high and right, over the fence and into the trees alongside the range.

I made several adjustments to my grip, stance and mind-set and placed the clubface behind the ball for another go. "That feels better," I thought. Then I lifted my eyes and watched as the ball traced the flight of the previous shot so accurately that even Nasa could not have plotted it any better.

By the time I needed a fresh bucket of balls, I was hitting it straighter but not so consistently that I can consider my wild days to be over. And, although my attempts at chipping and pitching showed a big improvement, I left the bay grateful that I had not gone directly to the course.

As I turned to leave, a notice on the wall caught my eye. It was from the range professional who suggested that any problems we had just encountered were "because you try too HARD, THINK too much, use too much FORCE and are too TENSE."

The sign went on: "A golf swing should be a thing of beauty, not an act of violence." Those are just the sort of words that a hacker needs at this time of year. I shall heed them.

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