The Hacker: This old buffer has hit buffers but the only way is up

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The Independent Online

I have had worse Christmas gifts but never one as hurtful. It was a letter from the match and handicap committee informing me that after the annual review of my performances my handicap has been raised to 28.

Some might think that by giving me an extra shot they are doing me a favour, making it easier for me by helping me out when I play against players on lower handicaps.

But at the moment it feels more of a burden than a gift. There is no higher handicap; 28 is as far as you can go into the depths of the doomed.

That's it; the end of the line. An old buffer hits the buffers.

I had hoped to keep it quiet for a while but at the winter league dinner last week my humiliation was publicly announced by the chairman and, to the glee of all present, he advised me to have breast implants and join the ladies section where, of course, they are allowed to have handicaps up to 36. Hackers never get used to the scorn. Stoicism is central to the dogged courage we show by even turning up at the course to expose our golfing frailties, but the mockery still wounds.

The journey to this ignominy has been slow and painful. Twenty years ago I was off 19 which is little to be proud of but I had been playing for less than 10 years and was at least moving in the right direction.

Then I was appointed golf correspondent and stagnation set in. Paradoxically, I spent most of my time on golf courses around the world but rarely had time to play. And when I did find more time, I developed the chipping yips. I just couldn't get the clubface through the ball smoothly. I would either jerk it or miss the ball altogether.

Far better players than me have suffered from it, professionals even, and although I've managed to some extent to purge myself of the problem, it has left a sad legacy on my wildly inconsistent game.

Every now and then my golf bursts into a purple patch that amazes my friends and me. Just as quickly it collapses.

I spent so much time watching the best players in the world you'd think some of it would have rubbed off. Many were even kind enough to give me tips that have yet to work.

I've often said that the secret of golfing success is not so much a good swing as how many shots you can get. I can't get any more.

As this column has been proving over the last 10 years or so, I do try to make light of my troubles and find the bright spots among the gloom.

I am not alone. There are millions of hackers around the world and one of the great virtues of golf is that you don't have to play well to get value out of it.

But you should never cease trying to improve and I am encouraged that my forlorn attempts to do so have been a comfort to some of those who are similarly afflicted.

As I was saying in the bar the other night, I must think positively about being a 28 handicapper and convince myself that now I've reached rock bottom the only way is up.

Someone replied, rather cruelly, I thought: "Some might say the only way is out."

Taunts like that will only drive me into 2010 with firmer resolve.

Tip of the week

No 33: the moment of impact

It will come as no surprise that if you look at the PGA Tour, there are hundreds of players of varying builds and shapes. Each player has their own style and swing, many are long and flowing, others short and attacking. However, they have one thing in common. The path and descending angle of the club will be incredibly similar for the two feet into and through impact. The club will arrive slightly from inside the ball to target line, straight through the ball, and back inside as the body rotates through impact. The club will be descending with iron shots and slightly ascending with the driver. If you clear your mind of technical jargon and concentrate on producing a good swing path and angle of attack, you'll produce much better ball-striking.

Simon Iliffe, Head Professional, Purley Downs GC Surrey