The Hacker: The Claw faces indignity of wielding the wooden spoon

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The Independent Online

There will be a few players shivering around our course this morning and not just because of the cold. It is the final day of our winter league foursomes and the candidates for the dreaded wooden spoon will be nervously negotiating the frozen fairways.

Well over 100 have been contesting the 10-week session and although there are glittering prizes awaiting the top pairs, the first priority for everyone is to avoid the ignominy that awaits the winners of the spoon.

The format for the league, which is called the Snakes and Ladders, is that each Sunday the winners move up the ladder and the losers move down so, gradually, the best and the worst end up playing each other. Down among the dross is where the intensity is fiercest.

Two huge spoons, bought off the back of a donkey in Spain, are displayed prominently in the bar. One is for the session leading up to Christmas and the other for the 10 weeks leading up to Easter. To have your name displayed there is a permanent disgrace.

There's a tinge of sadness about the poor wretches who are in contention because among them is Lennie Ingram, a good footballer and cricketer in his day, who didn't take up golf until six years ago, aged 61 and already suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.

The condition hasn't improved and his hands are so bent and gnarled that it is a miracle he can hit the ball at all.

But with special grips on his clubs and indomitable enthusiasm he enjoys his golf as much as anyone. He is much admired and with that sensitivity for which winter golfers are renowned he is known affectionately as "the claw".

Last spring he surprised everyone by winning the winter league along with partner Peter Goodfellow, a 13-handicapper. Despite playing off the top handicap of 28, Lennie's half-swing kept the ball straight and between them they proved a formidable foursomes pair.

This time, alas, Lennie has fared less well with his old partner Maurice Flynn. Maurice, who plays off 28, is well-known as an air-shot specialist and wooden spoon recidivist and up until last weekend they had won only one match.

With Lennie away last Sunday, Maurice called on a steady substitute in Gwyn Griffiths and they had high hopes against Andrew, the club pro, and Roger Alban, another 28-handicapper.

To his credit, Andrew always plays with a high-handicapper but, cruelly, he has to play off scratch despite the fact he rarely plays. He puts up with the mockery manfully and, despite having to give Maurice and Gwyn 10 shots, he and Roger won on the 19th.

When Lennie came home he was neither happy nor complimentary about Maurice. In turn, Maurice has been complaining about Lennie's fall from form. He has been telling people confidentially: "After winning last winter they dropped him from 28 to 27 and I think his new handicap has gone to his head. He has delusions of mediocrity."

Today Lennie and Maurice will have to settle their differences to meet the challenge of the pair they beat earlier, Ged Donovan and Brian Jones, two 21-handicappers who haven't won a single match yet and are out for revenge.

On the final day, contenders for the top and bottom prizes take out Stableford cards in case of ties and if they lose and have an inferior points total the shadow of the spoon will be upon them.

Their only hope then would be the mercy of the chief snake, Bob Bubbins, who has it in his power to award the spoon to someone other than the bottom pair.

Renowned for his warped sense of humour, he could well single out the club's honorary solicitor, Bob Edwards, who has had a wretched session with his partner Peter Morgan. It depends whether being singled out for this dishonour without due cause is actionable.

Tip of the week

No 78: Know your balls

If you're looking for more length it can be just as important to use the correct ball as the right driver.

Golf balls are constructed in layers, with a core and outer cover for a two-piece ball and a core, a mantle and cover for a three-piece ball. Some even have another layer to produce a four-piece ball.

With more layers you will gain extra control around the greens. That doesn't mean you need to sacrifice distance.

But the most important factor is the compression of the ball. Most amateurs will select a ball with far too high compression, which means they can't compress the ball enough at impact, therefore losing distance.

If it's purely distance you're looking for many men will hit a ladies' golf ball further as it has a much lower compression.

Next time you're playing, ask your professional to help you select the right ball for your game.

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