The Hacker: The day I outscored Goosen and drove better than Hamilton
Sunday 07 June 2009
There's pressure on the first shot of the day, and there's pressure on your first shot of the day. There I was, looking down from an elevated tee towards a long, thin green guarded by seven bunkers. The course was strange to me, the wind was howling, the rain had started to lash and the sodden sea of long grass to carry was surely moving, racked by malevolent swells.
And there he was, the team leader, standing behind, watching. Retief Goosen. Yes, that Retief Goosen, the dual US Open winner, placed in three Masters. The occasion was the Pro-Am before the European Open at the London Club in Kent 11 days ago. And I swear the deck on which I was trying to balance was churning.
I had already experienced one panic; misunderstanding directions to get to the 11th hole for the shotgun start, I found myself wandering lost, increasingly wild-eyed and babbling, down a winding woodland path. I was eventually put right by a charming American who, if the name on the bib of the chap with him was correct, must have been another Major winner, Ben Curtis.
Our opening hole was par three, though the flag, bent by the gale, looked at least 500 yards away. Please, not an air shot in front of the great man, at least not first time of asking. Deep breath. Slow it down. Shorten your backswing. For God's sake remember to follow through. My goodness me, the ball is not only airborne but vaguely in the right direction. And I'll take the short rough to the right of the green 11 times out of 10.
Some minutes later, having chipped out to six feet, I was lining up my putt, helped by my new best friend. Left edge, Sue? Just what I thought, Retief. Nice par, Sue. Thanks, Retief. What were you down for? Four, was it? US Open – you're 'avin a larf.
Needless to say, bragging rights ended right there. That course, under those conditions, was way out of the comfort zone of a 20-handicapper. The rough, which I got to know rather too intimately at every available opportunity, was of a hitherto unknown deep, clingy consistency; it was the Velcro hooks and the fluffy bit was on my club. The greens seemed to wobble as if in a hall of mirrors. I tell you, those guys are good.
But, the weather and the cringe-making golf apart, gosh, it was fun. I was able to watch the focus and fluid swing of a world-class professional at close quarters, I was an object of envy for the punters outside the ropes. I got five "good shots" from the amiable, if reserved, South African star and one ripple of applause from a small, faithful wet gallery as I chipped on to two feet. And yes, I did nonchalantly tip the peak of my cap.
Despite Retief's brave efforts, and those of fellow amateurs Ian and Nick, our Rolex-sponsored team failed to make the prizes. But those below us on the leaderboard included some genuine celebrities, including the reigning Formula One world champion. Which made me wonder, can I now claim to drive better than Lewis Hamilton?
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