my own goal

Ted Dexter
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The Independent Online
THE former England cricket captain and chairman of selectors is also an outstanding golfer. But on what should have been a dream trip to play some of the finest courses in the United States, he made an offer as rash as it was generous.

IT WAS the autumn of 1991, and a friend of mine asked me if I had ever played at Augusta, where the Masters is held. No I hadn't, I said. "Well, would you like to?" That was any golfer's idea of heaven, so off we went.

I played three and a half rounds at Augusta altogether. The greens were excruciatingly difficult of course, but I was pretty happy with my putting and I had a couple of rounds in the low 70s so I was perfectly happy.

On we went from Georgia to the West Coast, where I met up with an Australian friend. The first thing we did was head off to a golf shop, because equipment in the States is much cheaper than it is in Britain. I wasn't particularly looking for anything except I thought I might buy a new set of irons, just to have as spare or perhaps even to sell when I got back home.

My own irons were Mizuno TP11s. I saw a set of Mizuno TP9s which seemed very similar. As they cost so little, relatively, and as my friend was very impatient and wanted to get out of the shop within about five minutes I bought them without even trying them.

Next stop was somewhere near Phoenix - the Thunder Creek Golf and Country Club or some such fancy name. There we met an assistant professional, a very helpful young man who even re-booked our flights for us because were getting a bit tight for time.

He also took a shine to my set of irons. "I've never seen such beautiful clubs," he said. Perhaps he did this with all the mugs like me. Anyway, he had looked after us so well that I offered to let him have them, knowing I had this new set back at the hotel. They weren't quite an outright gift. I told him that if on his travels he ever found a driver with a head made of persimmon - a very hard, dark wood that you don't find so much nowadays - he should pack it up and send it off to me.

So now I was left with my new Mizuno irons which had looked so nice in the shop. But even though they couldn't have been very different from my old set, the effect they had on my game was disastrous. I was shanking absolutely everything. When the ball comes off the neck of the club and shoots to the right in the desert, you don't bother to look for it. You might run into a snake.

This went on for the rest of the trip and continued after I'd got back home. It was permanent humiliation. My confidence was shaken to a degree I could not imagine. Quite what was wrong with the clubs defeats me. But any golfer would understand how this can happen. I was obviously going to have to get rid of them. I took them to the professional's shop at Sunningdale and put them up for sale at pounds 300, which was more than I'd paid for them but much less than you would pay in England. I told the pro to accept any reasonable offer, however. In the end a chum of mine bought them from me.

I now have another set of Mizuno TP9s and I'm very happy with them. The strange thing is I was never much of a club freak. I've seldom bought new ones. Some people are obsessed with this or that shaft and so on. I remember when I was younger winning a competition in St Moritz using my mother's clubs. But I think the moral of the story is that if you're happy with what you have got, don't change them. As for the assistant professional in America who has got my old clubs, I've never heard from him since.