The Hacker: Safety-first golf is a bit boring but I have a spring in my step

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The Independent Online

There is no more appropriate time than spring to embark on a new beginning, but winter was still applying its icy grip when I tried out my new plan at Royal Porthcawl last week.

Despite the cold, however, the golf was very encouraging. I lost only one ball, which is a big improvement on my normal toll, although I have to share the credit with the reduced rough at Porthcawl.

It has been cut back over the winter, making it much easier to find a ball. No doubt it will soon grow to an even more fierce depth but its shortness has given enormous pleasure to the regularly wayward.

The other factor was my new policy of safety-first golf. I am slowing my swing, curbing my ambition and concentrating on keeping it down the middle.

It's difficult to change a deeply flawed style that has taken decades to develop but I believe that I'm making progress in adopting a less swashbuckling approach.

If, say, there are 200 yards to go, it is wiser for a high- handicapper like me to hit a nine iron and a wedge rather than blaze at it with a wood.

Risk avoidance may sound a bit boring but what's the point of an adventurous spirit if it keeps landing you in trouble?

I explained all this to my dentist and playing partner, Geoff, on Wednesday and he said: "Alexander Cadogan".

When I asked who the hell he was, Geoff said an old pro advised him that if he wanted to slow his swing down, he should say "Alexander Cadogan" during his swing.

It worked. There were times when Alexander acquired a double-barrelled surname – the first part of which I wouldn't care to repeat – but repeating his name smoothed my swing's tempo.

Geoff is on a golfing mission different to mine. He was a single-figure handicapper but gave up the game for many years and is now attempting to recapture his long-lost form.

Once you've been a good player it is hard trying to get your body to recall how it used to perform on a course, and he's been getting so frustrated he has persuaded me to head for the bar after eight holes.

But he played and felt more like his old self on Wednesday and was so happy he actually complimented me on a shot I made to the sixth green: "That was an elegant shot."

No one has ever said such a thing to me before. The great golf writer Peter Dobereiner once said I had a swing like a policeman breaking down a door, and that's the sort of comment I am used to. But there was better to come.

On the 12th I was short of the green and not far from two greenstaff working on a bunker to my right. That old negativity that bedevils all hackers flashed a warning to my brain that they were within range, so I took my putter.

I had 25 yards sloping up to the green and another 10 to the flag. I hit it firmly and was glad to see the ball reach the green and roll towards the hole. I turned round to put the putter back so I didn't see it go in, but the boys gave a cheer.

It's a rare pleasure to hole from a distance and even rarer to have appreciative witnesses. Dare I hope that things are looking up?