Well, it’s golf’s big day next week – not the US presidential election on Tuesday, between two keen golfers, that’s bigger than big but the introduction of the new WHS on Monday.
The initials stand for World Handicap System and it’s taken years to thrash out and implement, the holy grail of a system that will be truly universal, ensuring that golfers will be competing on an equal footing wherever they’re playing, against whomsoever. I think that’s a reasonably accurate summation but there are no guarantees when you’re relying on a woman (me) who never managed to come to grips with the buffer zone, which, even for members of Whittington Heath, has nothing to do with railway lines.
Handicaps are a very important part of golf because they ensure that good players have to play well, often enough, to beat not-so-good players and give the nsg’s a fighting chance of turning a match into a proper contest. Not the most elegant summation perhaps, so I rooted out my copy of The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms by Peter Davies (no relation; according to the blurb he is (or was) “a classical scholar, linguist and lexicographer….A superb natural athlete and games enthusiast, his prowess as a golfer is in some dispute….”)
Anyway, the origin of the word was “doubtless borrowed from horse-racing” and as a noun it’s defined as “a compensation in strokes assigned to players on the basis of their past and current performance, designed to enable players of different abilities to compete together on approximately equal terms.”
As a definition that stands up pretty well, surely and one of the people we have to thank for the notion of a standard handicapping system is the redoubtable Issette Pearson, first honorary secretary of the LGU (Ladies’ Golf Union), founded in 1893 now defunct), a woman once described by a disgruntled/discombobulated journalist as “as despotic as the Czar/Tsar of Russia”.
I have, after some stumbles and a few swear words, managed to sign up to England Golf and all the joys of the new handicapping. I have my new index – 10.4 I think, which seems ridiculously low – but I got distracted, so didn’t carry on to multiply that number by WHGC’s slope (non-golfers don’t have to go there) rating off the red tees, divided by 113 to find my new handicap. Since it’s of no real interest to anyone else, at this late hour I’m not going to bother attempting to remember my CDH (short not for congenital diaphragmatic hernia but for central database of handicaps) number and root out my new password – that’s an excitement for another day.
One friend, who works with numbers, cracked, “If I sit here long enough trying to work it out, I’ll be off 36!!” In fact, she’s gone from 18 to 21 – apparently. Another friend, who has, presumably, done her sums correctly or read the appropriate list with her glasses on, plays off 30 at the moment but her index number is 35, so from Monday on, for a while at least, she’ll be off 41 on her home course….Yikes. Her nickname’s already Two Shots, she’ll be Three or Triple now, unbeatable and unbestable.
Mind you, in so-called friendly matches, handicaps are negotiable. J.P. McManus, financier, racehorse owner, restorer of Adare Manor, is a handy golfer but not in the same league as Tiger Woods, yet the Irishman devised a system that enabled him to beat the great man when he was in his prime, if not in full-on major-winning mode. If I remember rightly, it involved Tiger hitting two drives, then J.P. designating which one he should hit and so on and on. If Tiger didn’t play well, he didn’t win.
At the moment we here in England are still able to play golf, no, let me re-phrase that, we’re still able to go to the golf course and play. In Wales and the Republic of Ireland, golf is off limits again – for reasons that escape most of us – hence Mo’s stay-at-home tips. We probably don’t quite appreciate how much we can do to improve without setting foot on the course or the driving range. This is the perfect time to give it a go.
Someone asked Maureen for a list of books to read when we’re either banned from the golf course or deterred by the weather and I piled up a few of my favourites but in truth the list is nearly endless – anything by Henry Longhurst, Bernard Darwin, Peter Dobereiner, Dan Jenkins, Lawrence Donegan, Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott, Bob Rotella, Harvey Penick, Stephen Potter. There’s instruction, whimsy, biographies/autobiographies, club histories, fiction, whatever, thousands of books to choose from.
In my collection I discovered a tatty paperback from 1969: Play Better Golf with John Jacobs, based on the Yorkshire Television series and it’s full of sound advice. He finishes by saying: “Remember that golf is a game of how many, not how; that people may often be interested in what you scored, but rarely in how.
”Finally, I would ask you to do what sounds quite a simple thing but is, in fact, very difficult: to try your utmost on every shot. Golf can be the most frustrating and infuriating, as well as the most satisfying and elating, of games; but if it has one cliche that cannot be denied it is that the game is never over until the last putt has been holed.
”So, don’t give up – ever. Think about what you are trying to do, which is to make a good impact. Think about what will help you to make a good impact, which, to put it as simply as I can, is correct aim and stance followed by two turns, one to get your body out of the way while you aim the club, and one to get it out of the way while you swing the club through the ball. Think out the shots before you play them, then think of one key factor to help you to swing as you have planned.
”There’s never been a greater game for triers.”
To end on an even more upbeat, happier note, many congratulations to Bethan and Tristan Jones, two of the LET’s stalwarts through thick and thin, who’ve just had their first baby. I’m still beaming from ear to ear, so heaven only knows how they’re feeling. Love and hugs (virtual, of course).
It’s been a funny old week. It didn’t get off to the best start when my better half went out for his regular cycle ride with some of the neighbours. All went well until they arrived back into our road and he signalled he was turning right down our driveway. As he was making the turn he heard a car engine revving and managed to swerve to the left just as a car overtook him and with a glancing blow knocked him off his bike into the road. The driver did stop and tried to defend herself saying he was calling her on. Hmm, last time I looked at the highway code a right arm held straight out indicated a right turn but apparently not to her. Happily, there wasn’t much damage done – apart from a badly sprained thumb – because of the riding armour he wears to protect his hips and elbows, all casualties of previous accidents. Note to self, maybe it’s time I redoubled my efforts to get him to fall in love with golf, an infinitely safer pastime.
As we once again ease into a time of increasing restrictions most of my pals in Wales and Ireland find themselves unable to go to the golf course. It’s at moments like these that I really appreciate all that golf offers us on a plate each time we go out on the course. Leave aside the never-ending challenge of improving your ball-striking, your strategy and your scoring, the fresh air and exercise golf provides, normally in the company of good friends, and the mental health benefits that it bestows make it the sport that keeps on giving.
If you can’t get to the course for a few weeks, why not make a bit of a plan to keep those golfing muscles awake and active? Now, I don’t expect you to embark on a regime a la Rory or Bryson and bust a gut to increase the speed of your swing so you are unrecognisable when you emerge back on to the links, but how about a plan to reinforce good habits and feels that can be taken to the course when golf resumes? Try the following with a 7-iron:-
1 Five swings with your feet together. Keep your balance at the end.
2 Five swings, normal stance. Pause at the top, count to 3 and then swing to a full follow through.
3 Five swings, normal stance. No pause at the top but hold your finish for a count of 3.
Repeat this sequence with a different club. These little drills will help you stay centred in the swing (exercise 1) and find good balance (exercises 2 and 3). You can only deliver the power of which you are capable from a point of balance, so working on this is beneficial to your game. If you really want to test yourself try a swing with your eyes closed and see if you can remain stable.
Meanwhile, as ever, there are other golf-related matters to keep us interested and energised, most of them with an eye to future events. We are now only three and a bit weeks away from the Masters where Tiger will be defending. The usual questions will abound – can he win his 16th major? (No, not in my opinion, although Augusta is by far his best opportunity for another victory of any sort.) Can Rory win and, at the sixth time of asking, complete the Grand Slam? (Of course he can win, but WILL he? Not this time, I suspect but I’m optimistic about next April.) What on earth will Bryson look like and play like after this last month of more bulking up and adding speed to his swing? And will we recognise Augusta dressed in autumn colours?
Back in April the Masters was to be the first of four sorties of mine to the States this year, none of which, of course, have actually taken place. Patricia and I have planned that she will come over to me so we can plonk ourselves down together in front of the box with a decent bottle of red and watch the action unfold in our own little support bubble. We enjoy watching the golf together – we know (still) a great many of the players, nearly all the broadcasters and media and the machinations of how Masters tournaments are run. One advantage to not being on site and working there is that it’s extraordinarily liberating to be able to use normal golf terms. We can refer to the rough, not the first cut, talk about the pin positions and not the hole locations and bemoan the fact that this year there are no galleries as opposed to patrons. I’m interested to hear if they change the suspected mechanised tweeting-bird soundtrack to an autumn version. I’m sure they will, nothing is ever overlooked.
So as the clocks change and winter draws on do your best to keep something golf-related in your life on a daily basis. Reading always has the power to provide a bit of escapism from the dreary endless news that abounds everywhere, so consider also seeking out some of the great golfing biographies that will help while away a wet winter day. You won’t regret it.
There’s only one place for me to start this week – with apologies to Laurie Canter, it’s not with his first round at the Italian Open – and that’s with Sue Spencer’s 69 on the new interim course at WHGC on Tuesday. We’ve now moved into the new clubhouse – I had my first sausage and egg bap on Monday after an 0730 start, delicious – so our 1st hole is the old 5th, then we play what was the 4th as the 2nd, the old 2nd becomes the 3rd and on we go, one hole behind what we’re used to (the new markers are a bit simpler than the old stones, which were auctioned off). Anyway, it means that the incomparable Spenny, who is getting better and better with age, set the new course record. She even had a couple of bogeys, so, scarily, there’s plenty of room for improvement!
That translated into 40 points, so Sue won the comp too and we had a glass of prosecco to celebrate. Jayne Fletcher, my partner, played really well for 39 points and came second, unhindered by my rather wimpish effort of 31 points. In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that my game, while deserving of a four-letter description, is not really golf. Jayne took a photo that illustrated that to perfection.
That was confirmed the next day when I went to a Taylormade fitting and had my swing speed measured, along with the distance the ball went and various other depressing figures. Bryson DeChambeau should try playing this game with my numbers! Mind you, I didn’t have to glug down endless protein shakes or add 40 pounds, or whatever, to increase my yardages – I just had to use a more modern, up-to-date club. My clubs, which were, in fact, Dai’s, as Maureen reminded me, so hardly designed for me, are 15 years old. Technology has moved on a bit (mostly in a good way) and, of course, so have I (mostly in a bad way), so Mark, the fitter, had little difficulty in finding a club that improved my performance without any need for improvement from me. Hooray.
Canter’s numbers were spot on at Chervo Golf Club, San Vigilio di Pozzolengo, Brescia (what a marvellous language Italian is, whether you speak it or not) yesterday. The Englishman had a round of 60, 12 under par and was in severe danger of becoming only the second man to card a 59 on the European Tour – Oliver Fisher is still out on his own in that regard and since there was placing in Italy, Canter couldn’t even claim a course record. Still, the man who lists Bath rugby and red wine as his interests, couldn’t stop smiling: “It was just one of those days where you’ve just got to enjoy the ride. It feels great.”They’re not so happy in Ireland, where the government has put the country into lockdown and golf is now on the list of banned pastimes, despite being the poster sport for social distancing. People are not happy and there have been plenty of sarcastic comparisons popping up on social media and a petition to change the decision.
To finish, here’s a joke for you, sent by a friend who thought it might be a little risqué but I think it’s OK, though it’s maybe not for the more squeamish. Anyway, here goes (it is/was American but I’m sure you’ll understand the terminology).
A little old lady was walking down the street dragging two large plastic garbage bags behind her. One of the bags was ripped and every once in a while a $20 bill fell out onto the sidewalk. Noticing this, a policeman [who didn’t draw his gun; presumably the little old lady was white] stopped her and said: “Ma’am, there are $20 bills falling out of that bag.”
”Oh, really? Darn it!” said the little old lady. “I’d better go back and see if I can find them. Thanks for telling me officer.”
”Well, now, not so fast,” said the cop. “Where did you get all that money? You didn’t steal it, did you?”
”Oh, no, no,” said the old lady. “You see my back yard is right next to a golf course. A lot of golfers come and pee through a knot hole in my fence, right in my flower garden. It used to really tick me off. Kills the flowers, you know.
”Then I thought, ‘Why not make the best of it?’ So, now, I stand behind the fence by the knot hole, real quiet, with my hedge clippers. Every time some guy sticks his thing through my fence, I surprise him, grab hold of it and say, ‘OK, buddy! Give me $20 or off it comes!’”
”Well, that seems only fair,” said the cop, laughing. “OK. Good luck!
”Oh, by the way, what’s in the other bag?”
”Not everybody pays.”