Lore of the coarse on the course

The Final Word
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The Independent Online
They say you've got to know the Augusta National well to be a contender in the Masters. I don't buy that. I know Muswell Hill like the back of my hand but it never seems to do me any good.

Everyone loves the Masters, the strangest of the majors. The course is designed so that is virtually impossible to cover the first 98 per cent of any hole in any more than two shots. It is then virtually impossible to complete the remainder in less than two. It is a putting contest on greens which play like a warped bowling alley.

I found my first set of clubs behind a yellowing stuffed polar bear in Nobby's Junk Shop, off the Dalton Road in Barrow-in-Furness. It was a matched set, but not with each other. I struggled manfully to turn my rounds from good darts scores into something else, cosy in the knowledge that the day I could afford decent gear courses would get ripped apart. This is the most self-deluding, and expensive, thought you ever have in golf.

Professional players earn huge amounts and manufacturers prosper because hackers the world over believe new clubs mean better scores. They do not

While I was kidding myself, I got the chance to work a scoreboard at the 1979 Open at Royal Lytham, the championship when Severiano Ballesteros became a heroic figure to local car body shops. The board I operated was narrow and each player's initial was jammed tight up to his surname. This got embarrassing when Tom Watson made a charge.

It took me quite a while to discover the key to low scoring, the system that turns you from a 100-plus duffer into someone who can regularly break 90. The procedure (one that is used by all my playing friends) is on every hole to enter one shot fewer on your card than you actually take. If Greg Norman had remembered this on Thursday he would have shot a 45, which is a pretty useful round.

It was, of course, no surprise to see Norman at the top of the leader board this week, more puzzling that Ray Floyd, Justin Leonard, Tommy Aaron and Payne Stewart were not up there with him. One of the immutable laws of life is that you have a better chance of leading your field if your surname is also a christian name (witness Brian Lara, Allan Donald, Elton John, Mother Teresa etc). Norman, though, did not appear as though he needed much help as he thumped away underneath those odd latticed hats. He will never have to buy another colander again.

I don't know why Norman did so well because John O'Leary told me that Ernie Els would win. The Irishman still has the big hair-do he carried around on the Tour but it has turned steel grey and looks rather like a squirrel's drey these days. John is the professional at the Buckinghamshire Golf Club at Denham and has obviously lost none of his nerve and courage because he let me play on his course.

The round was marvellous and I finished with the same ball I started with. But then I did use another "system".

You must always start the 18 with the oldest, grubbiest cheapo in the bag to guarantee you do not lose a ball. If you buy a new one and kick off with that, something watery is bound to happen very early on.

Manners have, as usual, been impeccable at the Masters. Even when disappointed all the players have maintained a polite countenance, all that is except Craig Stadler, who has the raging look of someone who has had his moustache trodden on when a short putt slips by.

Etiquette reminds me of a golfing tableau involving a great friend of mine (we'll call him Mark because that is his name). Mark was given the chance to play at his father's snooty club, and was soon aware that it was not to be the most relaxed of rounds. Mark Snr told his son that his colour scheme clashed, his haircut was inappropriate, the golf bag too dirty.

By the 16th Mark was drowning in protocol, having been admonished for playing out of turn, cleaning his ball and whispering too loudly. Then his father sliced wildly into the forestry and disappeared for some time, leaving Mark in a dilemma. Should he stay put or help Papa find his ball? Selecting the latter, our hero blundered through the undergrowth only to discover the guardian of correctness in squatting posture, his tartan trews around his ankles. I wonder what Golden Bears do in the woods?