Enough of the News of the World! I’ll have you know I won a prize yesterday for another form of hacking. I won it for playing golf.
You read that right: golf.
Yes, I know I’ve spent a lifetime as a paid-up member of the Good-Walk-Spoiled Society, but it’s never too late to try something new – even something I’ve often dismissed as pointlessly time-consuming.
Believe it or not, my wife is to blame. For my sixty-ninth birthday two months ago, Martha, in collusion with neighbours I had once considered friends, gave me a brand new set of golf clubs. I was completely surprised, not to mention flabbergasted, which I suppose is just as well because, if I’d known about the plot in advance, I would almost certainly have sabotaged it.
Yes, I know there’s a message here. And for weeks I’ve dutifully been leaving the house every other day for a practice round at our very own nine-hole community golf course. I own a share of the course, a remarkably pretty one, along with fifty of my fellow residents. A number of them have spent the last ten years trying to get me out there. My prediction now is that they’ll soon be wishing they hadn’t.
So what about this prize? I can guess what you’re thinking: I must have improved remarkably in such a brief golfing career to have won my first trophy. Well, let me tell you that I haven’t improved very much at all. If anything, I’ve regressed, which in itself is worth a prize, as regressing from a state of total incompetence is arguably an achievement of sorts.
I received my award yesterday at the closing ceremony of the annual residents’ golf tournament, which I had been browbeaten into entering as “a bit of fun”. I didn’t come first. I didn’t place in the top three. I had no hole-in-one (a hole in single figures had me punching the air in triumph). No, my award wasn’t for winning, it was for losing – a category euphemistically entitled “The Most Honourable Score”. Translated, that meant mine was the highest total of the day.
If you’re wondering what the number was, keep wondering. All I’m prepared to say is that it was sufficiently large that if I’d been batting at Lord’s my name would have gone up on the honours board. Even my enormous handicap, humiliatingly announced before play began, was rendered inadequate.
Irritatingly, I had often played better in practice – much, much better. I can’t explain why I performed so badly in my first tournament; nerves, perhaps. One negative factor, I’m convinced, was my designated playing partner, a neighbour I had never met. Obviously a fine and dedicated golfer, he was also a thoroughly lugubrious companion, a thin, austere-looking fellow completely lacking, as far as I could tell, in humour, warmth or charm. Watching with ill-disguised contempt my desperate efforts to lift the golf ball more than a foot off the ground, he refused to offer even a hint of advice on the grounds that it was “actually against the rules of the tournament”.
At one point, having spent five minutes hacking away fruitlessly in a sand trap, I recorded my score for the hole as 10. “I think you’ll find it’s actually 11,” he insisted. “Fair enough,” I said.
What I was really thinking was, “Y’know, this is not the fucking British Open.”
He couldn’t overnight have turned me into Jack Nicklaus, but a tip here or there might have shaved my score, perhaps even brought it down to a respectable figure.
This morning, bones stiff and ego bruised from a public humiliation, I hate the game. Yesterday wasn’t just a good walk spoiled, it was a personality destroyed.
Now I have a decision to make: either I look forward to spending countless hours hacking my way out of long grass, excavating sandpits and hunting for balls lodged in dense bramble patches, or I simply donate my clubs to the charity shop.
Right now, I’d say it is touch and go.