I’m looking out at a dreich Cheshire morning. The rain is spilling from the skies and I’m losing the resolve to last out till October before lighting the fire. I’m not going to make it.
The sister is an hour up the road at Hoylake, or Royal Liverpool, to give it its proper title, home of next year’s Open Championship. She’s playing in an AGW (Association of Golf Writers) event and when she rang from there she, too, was looking out at tumbling, relentless rain. “I’m not going out in this if it’s like this tomorrow,” she declared. I didn’t fancy her chances of getting to unleash her rather unorthodox action on one of our finest courses
The weather is mirrored by my lack of inspiration for a blog topic for this week and apathy and a distinct lack of action abound. I don’t particularly want to write about the Presidents Cup and another comfortable win for the US although, in fairness, the International team made a decent fist of things after an appalling opening two days.Leona Maguire, trooper that she is, flew from the west coast of America to play at Dromoland Castle in the west of Ireland and came up a shot shy of a play-off, all the time fighting jet-lag and shouldering the expectations of a nation. She’s some girl.
So, there was nothing for it but to resort to the huge bowl containing little books of matches, collected from the Madill golfing travels all over the world. For those who don’t know, this collection was started by Mum (a non-smoker) decades ago when every hotel, pub and even golf course had little books of matches scattered about for their customers’ use. Dig your hand into the bowl, rummage around for a bit and whatever book of matches is pulled out will surely trigger a memory or yarn from times past. It’s a real memory bowl, reminiscent of the memory pool-y type thing in Harry Potter, the name of which, true to form, I can’t remember.
The book of matches that surfaced this time was from the University Park Hotel, Gold Coast, Australia. That was a result! One abiding memory was instant and I could almost feel the sunshine soaking into my bones. Again, I thought of Mum who always loved following the golf being played in far-away, hot places during our winter.
In the 1990s, in February/March time I used to go out to play two or three tournaments on the Australian tour. The WPGA Tour Australasia is now going from strength to strength under the admirable guidance of Karen Lunn, former Women’s Open Champion and Ladies’ European Tour stalwart. Back in the day, we had two or three main tournaments with a handful of pro-ams sprinkled in between. It was in one of these breaks that I was persuaded to go on a little jaunt with Alison Nicholas of major championship and Solheim Cup fame.
We were staying at the University Park hotel and Ali had booked a flight to Cairns intending to go from the tournament and have two or three days scuba diving off the Great Barrier reef. A qualified diver, she was keen to have company but none of the Aussies (who were all good divers) was free so I said I’d go with her and have a few days’ break but I would not be diving.
On the way up in the plane I was asking Ali about her training, which she’d done in the UK. I found it really interesting and I remember asking her what on earth you did if your mask filled with water. She demonstrated how you put the heel of your hand on a certain place on the mask and then lifted it up so the vacuum you had created would whoosh out the water gathering in the mask. (Apologies to divers if these details are sketchy/mis-remembered/wrong, whatever.) She’d had several training sessions in swimming pools to perfect this and many other techniques. Ali’s enthusiasm was infectious and I was looking forward to the break, reading, soaking up the sun and exploring.
When we checked in to our hotel there was a huge notice at reception: “Great Barrier Reef. Hand-held dives; Leaving tomorrow 7.30am. No previous experience necessary. Sign up.” That was it – those four little words did it. No previous experience necessary. I signed up.
The following morning we had a three-hour trip out to the outer reef and the chance to meet our instructor. There were only three in our group as most of the divers were Japanese and with the Japanese instructors. The third member of our group was a guy our age and as inexperienced as I was so I felt a little more reassured. I repeatedly said I had no experience whatsoever, had never had a wetsuit on, never mind tanks on my back and the answer came back, “Don’t worry. This is what we do.”Suited and booted we stood on a little pontoon at the side of the boat, had five minutes’ instruction and then, motioning to us to follow him, the instructor was off, into the deep. Two seconds later I was on my own as the others followed suit. This was it……did I go or stay? I took a deep breath and went.
I was now diving in the most amazing, beautiful place in the world…..and I hated it. I was terrified from beginning to end, severely distressed and my jaw was so tightly clenched it ached afterwards for days. The guy in our group was taking to it all like the proverbial fish to water which served to make me feel I was inadequate and making a mountain out of a molehill. Ali was away off exploring the wonders before us and the instructor, despite remaining at my side, seemed oblivious to how I was feeling.
Remnants of Ali’s and my conversation from the plane the previous evening came flooding back to me. I knew you could absolutely not bolt for the surface under any circumstances, yet that was what every fibre of my being was screaming to do. I felt my mask filling with water and tried to ignore it but it kept on. I have no recollection of where the instructor was at this point. It came to the bit that I had to try and clear my mask and the thought occurred to me that it was strange that it could all end down here.
I faithfully tried to reproduce what Ali had told me and lifted my mask. I couldn’t believe it! It worked! When I replaced my mask there was no water on the inside. I felt euphoric but not as euphoric as when the instructor signed that we were going to start ascending. When we got back on the pontoon I felt utterly sick to my stomach. It was the worst forty minutes of my life and the result was that I threw up every couple of minutes for the next seven hours. I truly know the meaning of being sick with nerves.
You’ll not be surprised to learn that Ali was on her own diving for the next couple of days.
I suppose the fact that our companion in the group had no problem made me feel that the lack was in me. However, when we returned to the next tournament the Aussies were keen to know how we’d got on. Rather shamefacedly I told them. They were aghast, outraged and couldn’t believe that I was taken down there with no experience and five minutes’ instruction. They couldn’t have been more appalled which served to make me feel a lot better.
So, it was back to tournament life and what I was used to – grinding to make the cut. Five pars to finish and ensure playing at the weekend when you can’t hit your hat?
Pah! Wee buns.
* The Wirral weather turned out better than ours and P played – and won. Perhaps her long-suffering colleagues regretted neglecting their rain dance?