The Hacker: Over the Moonie after putting my partner in some strange places

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The Independent Online

Seeing our winter league go off on its new session last week was like watching one of the Moonies' mass weddings. Couples drawn together by a common interest embarking on a journey into the unknown.

Of course, there are no women involved, no vows are taken and certainly no approval of a higher power has to be sought.

But our winter leaguers enter into partnerships which have a solemn purpose and will test their faith in each other severely for 10 weeks.

Of all the golf formats, foursomes can be the most demanding because playing alternate shots means you rely so much on your partner.

When men and women play together it is usually in mixed foursomes and, particularly with married couples, the strain imposed can be intolerable.

A few bad shots can lead to so many domestic grievances being brought up that it might be worth having a representative of Relate on duty in the clubhouse.

Naturally, it is different to playing with a male who is a relative stranger. There tends to be a polite formality aimed at relieving your partner's embarrassment at a bad shot.

But not many golfers can maintain this level of pleasant tolerance for long. One of my partners once put a heavy hand on my shoulder and said: "Will you please stop saying sorry every time you cock up a shot. One big apology at the end will do."

You may wonder why good players put up with their ham-fisted brethren. The reason is they have to. One of the rules is the combined handicap of a partnership can be no lower than 20.

For some unscrupulous pot-hunters this involves keeping an eye out during the summer for a likely-looking hacker who could be capable of playing better than his handicap with the right encouragement.

I'm not saying that Nick, our club champion, was a pot-hunter; at the time he just wanted a game and since he was off one and I was off 19, we made the minimum combined.

It was a memorable experience. Some of my most uncomfortable moments were playing foursomes, putting my partners into appalling places and, once they had escaped, putting them somewhere even worse.

But Nick put me at my ease, asking me just to concentrate on hitting it straight, not long. I put him into some strange places, but it was a pleasure to watch him make the most of whatever situations I concocted and we won the pre-Christmas session.

You have to change partners for the 10 weeks leading up to Easter. Nick played with Liam because I wasn't able to commit myself to 10 weeks.

Normally, the winners of the first session play the winners of the second for the championship but with one week to go Nick and Liam needed only to win the final game to take the second half, which would have meant the three of us sharing the title.

But Nick was unexpectedly called away on family business. It was decided I would substitute for Nick but we faced a formidable pair and not much was given for our chances.

Liam and I both played out of our skins to win 5 and 4, and when Nick phoned to learn the score he refused to believe we'd won until he came back and looked at the board.

Because of the snow and ice, it has been difficult to find pairs for this session but we've managed to get 94 playing, including eight new members who will find it a daunting experience.

But it will get them immersed in the club's strange ways, and maybe it will uncover a partnership that works.