The Hacker: Why do they find it so easy to get into the swing of things?

Hackers everywhere will be encouraged to hear that Tiger Woods has spent a little time on the edge of their territory recently. He was explaining last week what it was like picking up a club again after a two-month break.

"It is always the same," he said. "The first time I hit it like God. Then I become a five-handicapper, then someone who plays off 18. Now I'm trying to get back to looking like someone who plays off zero."

I'm surprised he knows what it's like to play off 18, but the moral of this tale is that even the greatest get rusty when they take a lay-off.

Which brings me to a type of golfer for whom I always feel sympathy. A player of my meagre accomplishments has a cheek to feel sorry for anyone, but it's always sad to see a once-good golfer who hasn't played for ages seeking to recapture the skills of old.

Being a late starter and a hacker who is in a permanent state of arrested development, I have no old skills to recall, which poses the question: is it better to have golfed well and lost it than never to have golfed well at all?

On a recent trip to Tenerife I played with Mark and Gerard, who confessed to not having played much, if at all, in recent years but whose swings were silky enough to suggest a stronger command of the game in younger days.

The golf swing is invariably a giveaway when judging a player's golfing pedigree. Mine was once described by the great golf writer Peter Dobereiner as like a policeman breaking down a door.

My two companions, in contrast, swished their clubs smoothly around the Las Americas course. The ball did not always respond correctly but they both swallowed their disappointments manfully.

We were part of a group of 12 who came from various occupations and backgrounds and were having a whale of a weekend, and golf wasn't being taken too seriously.

Mark Hix was a schoolboy golfer and played off six at the age of 16, but was then waylaid by the demands of a career that now sees him as head chef at four London restaurants: Le Caprice, Sheekey, the Ivy and Scott's.

He did so well on the back nine, it was obvious that if he played regularly he would be very good again. But how to fitit into a busy life? Besides, he likes fishing, too.

As a hospital consultant in the centre of London, Gerard is in the same situation. It wouldn't take long for him to regain a lower handicap but, with a young family, his time is committed. He, also, is keen on another sport. He plays polo whenever he can. It's a bit like golf on horseback, he said.

It's one of the ironies of life that I, who struggle to put together a half-decent game, can play whenever I like but they, who can play so well, won't see a course until the next trip, which is planned for next spring.

Between now and then I will beat my brains out trying to improve and avoid the booby prize I picked up on this trip.

They, on the other hand, will just saunter out and pick up where they left off. Why the hell do I feel sorry for them?

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