Haunted by memories of my golf shame

It soon became apparent that I was 'a rabbit'
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The Ryder Cup has been launched with unprecedented fanfare. Radio 5 Live even commissioned an entertainment (conceptually unfathomable to me, but admittedly I didn't listen to it) called The Symphony of Medinah. It commemorated the dramatic European win of 2012, but I wonder: can you have a symphony about golf? It's like writing a sonnet about Tesco. (But then golf is a tin-eared game. Even in the wildest fantasies of Jean-Claude Juncker, people don't jump up and down shouting "Europe! Europe!". Yet they do in the Ryder Cup.)

The degree of hype points unerringly to one fact: golf is in decline. Sales of equipment are sharply down in the US and UK. Apparently the game does not engage the "millennials", which is what people aged between 13 and 30 are now called. The fear is that golf is seen as boring and uncool, which is gratifying to me, because the game scarred my childhood.

My father took a laissez-faire attitude to my young ambitions. If you'd asked him what A-levels I was taking, he couldn't have told you. But he made one pointed intervention when I was about 11. "The best job I can imagine," he said, "is to be a pro golfer." He played the game himself, to an appalling standard, so his ambition on my behalf was born of his own frustration. He enrolled me in his club, and it soon became apparent that I was "a rabbit", meaning no good, as betokened by the way I could never master the lingo. Even after a year, I was speaking of the "flag" instead of the pin.

My fellow juniors always spoke of "a good golf shot" whereas I took the view that, since we were all on a golf course, and it was perfectly obvious that we were playing golf, there was no need to interpose the word.

My colleagues approached the holes with "strategies". "Dog legs slightly to the left," they'd mutter, "wind quartering a little." My own strategy was to hit the ball. If I did happen to hit it, and it got off the ground, I would be delighted. I didn't much care where it went. Today, when I watch Justin Rose or Ian Poulter hit a tee shot, and the camera pans complacently along the middle of the fairway, looking for the ball, I want the director to cut suddenly to the immediate left of the tee – about 10 yards off, and discover the ball there, as I often did, the result of "shanking".

I still own the copy of Play Golf with Player by Gary Player, given to me one Christmas by my father, and I am haunted by his chapter on "the shank". ("… I would rather have a 'fresh air' than a shank…") I still play golf occasionally, on public courses, but always alone, and at the time that golfers call – unexpectedly poetically – "twilight", when it's cheaper because there isn't enough daylight left for a full round. My game is not fit to be seen, and as I watch the Ryder Cup men in their blaze of hype, "jealousy" is the honest summation of my reaction.

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