The Hacker: This is not the same old story, I really did tame the Old Course
Sunday 03 April 2011
Not being one to brag – mainly because I've never had much to brag about – I find it difficult to recount my experience on the Old Course at St Andrews last week without a note of triumphalism creeping in.
It is also out of context in a column that for 12 years or so has been devoted to relating the frustrations, tribulations and calamities of being an incurably bad golfer to describe something overwhelmingly pleasant and satisfying.
I scored an amazing 21 points on the front nine of the oldest and most revered golf course in the world. This patch of purple didn't last, of course. I scored only 12 on the back nine but I sill finished with 33 points which is a personal best at the home of golf.
We've been taking advantage of the winter golf package at St Andrews since 1999. This year there were 16 of us, staying at the Rusacks Hotel and playing three rounds, including one on the Old, over three days.
That much golf is not easy on the legs for us older folks and we've had to face a wide, and often wild, variety of weather conditions but we've never failed to have a great time. This was one of the best – the weather was kind for the time of year; a bit chilly at first but plenty of sun, little wind and no rain.
Our third and final round was on the Old on Monday and, after two rousing nights, some of us were a little fragile when we stood on the first tee. There's hardly a more trouble-free vista in golf but, somehow, the aura of the place makes it a very nervy drive.
Chris, who plays off three and was making his debut, hit one straight down the middle. I did likewise and Potty, who plays off 14, sent his slightly down the right.
Martin, a four-handicapper and whose dental surgery I frequent, pulled a head-high drive to the left and we all shouted "fore" as it headed for a three-ball coming up the 18th. They saw it but it pitched low, swerved left and caught the middle man a nasty blow on the shin. Ashen-faced, Martin hurried over to give his apologies and I followed at a safe distance.
As we passed one of his partners he said: "I'd better warn you that he's one of the top litigation lawyers in Scotland." He wasn't, of course. He happened to be an old friend of mine, Malcolm Campbell, the well-known golf writer who lives close by.
As Malcolm put Martin at his ease, I explained: "He's a dentist, they're always hurting people." He must have been winning because, far from showing him any sympathy, his other companion said: "A pity you didn't hit him when he was playing the first."
Martin promptly hit his next shot into the Swilken Burn and I walked forward to find to my delight that I had outdriven the others. I carefully placed the ball on to the Astroturf mat you have to use on the fairways in winter and sent a nine-iron soaring towards the green.
It looked a peach but then dropped into the burn. They all gave me a bollocking for not taking an eight but after that I hardly put a shot wrong. The boys couldn't believe how well I was playing. I certainly couldn't. It was like floating on a magic carpet and my 21 points going out was three better than Chris who was havinga good day himself.
As I feared, the bubble burst on my two least favourite holes – the 13th and 14th – which I blobbed, but when we arrived at the 17th Chris informed me that if I did the last two in eight shots I'd finish with 99. Alas, the Road Hole found me out. I went through the green and over the road and took an eight.
At least my 33 took me into joint sixth with Simon, our club champion, and only three points behind David, the winner over three rounds. That is a distinct improvement on my previous 11 visits when my usual prize has been a chocolate golf ball for finishing last.
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