The Hacker: When the chips are down, my new approach is a breadwinner

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The Independent Online

The first week of my new game plan has not been an outstanding success but it has been far from a disaster. I'll even go so far as to say I'm encouraged.

Since the plan requires a dramatic change to an optimistic approach that has served me for 30 largely fruitless years, I shouldn't expect rapid improvement.

Instead of my carefree, full-blooded lunges at the ball I am intent on developing a dull, robotic style that cuts the risk of wayward shots and aims only for a modest advance down the middle.

But it will be a slow job curbing my natural instinct for a thrash and I am not finding it easy to get the cavalier out of the system. I understand that Oliver Cromwell once had the same trouble.

I start the backswing with the clear resolve of delivering a smooth, slowly accelerating clubface to the back of the ball. But when I get to the top I am apt to be possessed by an urge to batter the bloody daylights out of it.

That wasn't the only problem I encountered when I gave the new plan its first outing at Minehead and West Somerset Golf Club last week.

I couldn't have had a better start. I was playing with James, mine host at the pub I frequent on Exmoor, and Matt, a young man just taking up the game.

We were joined on the first tee by Alec, who had wandered curiously out of the clubhouse to witness the transformation I'd been banging on about in the bar the previous night.

Any hopes he had for mockery were dashed when my slow, rhythmic drive sailed straight and true for 210 yards. I couldn't believe it. Plans never work as quick as that.

And, true to form, mine didn't thereafter. I scored three points on the first and was then beset with problems that I'd never met before, including scudding the ball left off the heel of the club a dozen times.

It didn't help that Matt, the rookie who has hardly played the game, was hitting the ball like a world-beater. While we were busy advising him where to stand, whose turn it was to play and how the Stableford system works, he was blistering his way to 19 points in six holes.

He couldn't keep it up and finished with 32 points but he is going to be an excellent player. I, meanwhile, finished with a humiliating 12 points and my confidence in ruins.

So it took some courage to turn up at the Glamorganshire club on Wednesday to join the 20 or so gnarled veterans who play in a weekly swindle called the Chips.

It's a pound in the kitty and the winner buys the chips plus bread and butter. So the losers at least get a snack while they moan into their beer.

The Chips are short on sympathy for hackers down on their luck and they made me play off 24 despite the fact that my club handicap is 28.

But, helped by encouragement from my partners Colin and Mitch, I put the misery of Minehead behind me and after 13 holes was leading the trio with 23 points.

Colin surged ahead to win but my 28 points was a distinct improvement, especially as I suffered more than a few mishaps due entirely to adjusting to my new swing.

I duly put a pound in the kitty, paid Colin a pound and gave Mitch 20p for a birdie. So my chips cost me £2.20 but you have to pay to learn, and I ate them with the satisfaction of a man on a mission that might get somewhere.

Tip of the week

No 40: Fill the gaps in your wedges

Do you realise your pitching wedge will have in the region of 46 degrees of loft and your sand wedge 56 degrees? That's a 10-degree difference.

For the average golfer, four degrees' difference in loft equates to 10 yards in distance and is the normal gap between each consecutive iron. So a 10-degree gap between your wedges can equate to as much as 25 yards that you will need to "manufacture" a shot for. Professionals carry as many as four wedges, as they know these are their scoring clubs, and they want as many options as possible to play shots from within 100 yards of the green.

Just because your wedge has 54 degrees stamped on the sole, it doesn't always signify the exact loft. Ask your pro to check the lofts on your wedges to make sure you are not leaving any large gaps.

Simon Iliffe, Head Professional, Purley Downs GC, Surrey.