This time I mean it: I've absolutely played my last game of golf

There's something rather tragic about footballers who announce their "retirement from international football" when it's clear to everyone they weren't going to get picked anyway. With that in mind I today announce my retirement from golf. Why? Because it makes me miserable.

There's something rather tragic about footballers who announce their "retirement from international football" when it's clear to everyone they weren't going to get picked anyway. With that in mind I today announce my retirement from golf. Why? Because it makes me miserable.

I came to the game late and took to it with all the enthusiasm of a convert. I played my first proper round the day before I got married in 1998 at the Gower Golf Course in South Wales. I was hopeless but on the 8th hole I picked up a driver for the first time. I swung like a caveman and, improbably, middled it. It was a beautiful feeling. I was hooked.

I spent my wedding day thinking (roughly in this order) about my love for my wife; how the Albion would get on at Stockport (drew 2-2); and when I could next get out on a golf course.

Ten days later I was standing on a green mat at Chiswick Bridge Golf Range in west London with 100 balls in front of me and a teacher called Terry behind me. He set about building me a swing from scratch which was fine as I had no bad habits to unlearn anyway.

Soon I was out on the course swinging, if not scoring, like I actually knew what I was doing. It was midwinter and the weather was awful but I'd play 18 holes anyway most afternoons, on my own, usually in pouring rain. Then I'd often stop at the golf range on the way home and hit another hundred balls. Truly, I was obsessed. I was driven by the thought that, at the age of 31, this was the only sport I could now hope to get better at. With everything else I was bound to be in decline.

Within three months of taking up the game I'd even managed a hole in one. It was on the 4th at Stockley Park near Heathrow. I clonked a three iron 191 yards down the hill. It bounced twice and went in. My two playing partners, aghast, were stunned into silence but then swore terribly. On the next hole, still shaking, I managed a 10.

My handicap was down below 20 by now and I was sure I was on to something. I thought about little else. For months on end I read nothing but Ben Hogan's Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf and assorted golf magazines; I bought newer, more expensive clubs.

I reasoned that if I'd got to an 18 handicap in six months I could be down to nothing at all before very long. But it doesn't work like that, especially with me. At nearly everything I've turned my hand to I've shown early promise then gradually settled into something well below mediocrity.

And so it proved: I just stopped getting better. At some stage in every round whoever I was playing with would watch me play a decent shot and grumble, "18 handicap, my arse!" But within a dozen holes I'd shown them enough dross for them to be saying "18 handicap, my arse" in a different tone of voice.

I persevered, often, quite literally, crying with frustration. Back I'd go to Terry the teacher, having rung him to book a lesson with all the urgency in my voice of a 999 caller. He'd ask me whether I was hooking or slicing. I'd tell him I was hooking and slicing. Then I'd hit a couple of balls. Then he'd move my thumb one millimetre down the shaft. And then I'd be swinging like Ernie Els all over again. Many's the time it was all I could do to stop myself kissing Terry full on the lips. And then, half-way through the next round, it would fall apart all over again.

There were high points, there must have been. I just can't remember any. Oh yes, there was the time I played in a pro-am at Gleneagles with Kenny Dalglish, Laura Davies and Jimmy Bone.

There were 40-odd people in the gallery. "On the tee: Kenny Dalglish." Applause. Kenny hit it miles straight down the middle. "On the tee: Laura Davies." Applause. Laura's ball was still rising as it passed Carlisle. "On the tee, Adrian Chiles." Puzzled silence.

At the top of my backswing I had a kind of near-death, out-of-body experience. What am I doing here? Time stood still then I swung, struck it sweetly and nearly fainted with relief. "Nicely done," said Laura. "Lucky bastard," muttered Jimmy Bone. For three holes it went well, then I lost a ball. This I could cope with, but the stress of having Kenny Dalglish and Laura Davies looking for my ball was simply too much. And before long I fell apart. But it was all worth it for that shot on the first.

As for a whole decent round, there was only one. It was in a wind of 0.0000mph at Turnberry. Playing on my own, I broke 80. Other than that, of the hundreds and hundreds of rounds I played, I never but never had less than two double-figured disasters on my card.

It wouldn't have bothered me if I was crap all the time but I wasn't. But when I wasn't I knew I soon would be. Eventually the good spells of play made me just as miserable as the bad spells because I knew I'd be in the grip of another bad spell imminently. I know you're supposed to deal with these twin impostors evenly but in golf it's just impossible, so wide is the gap between everyone's bad shots and their good shots. In no other sport, nor anywhere else in life for that matter, do you fluctuate so wildly between the sublime and the subhumanly bad.

How on earth the pros cope with it I simply cannot imagine. I still absolutely love watching the game but mainly through sheer schadenfreude. And when I drive past a golf course on a sunny day I'm long past envying those out there in the sunshine. I shake my head and think you poor, poor devils.

My last round was nine holes at Blair Atholl in November on the day of a friend's wedding in Pitlochry. I was rubbish. On the 8th green I resolved to give my clubs to the first charity shop I saw. Then, on the par-five9th, the cruel, cruel God of golf tried to reel me back in by granting me a 250-yard drive; a perfect four iron; an excellent lob wedge and a two-putt. Not this time, though. It's over.

adrian.chiles@btopenworld.com

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