In love again but conscious of the description of second marriages as ‘The triumph of hope over experience’. Will I regret my impulsiveness?
My long weekend with William and Eleanor. At 15 they have taken on the normal sleep patterns of teenagers and I won’t see them for hours. My girlfriend Amanda decamped to Portugal on Wednesday with 3 close friends to celebrate her birthday. The lead story in the FT yesterday was that Portugal had left the Eurozone bail out mechanism, having raised money in the international bond markets for the first time since the financial crash. I do not think the two are unrelated. The presence of Amanda and her pals will give the Portuguese economy a significant boost, particularly the wine industry in the Algarve.
So I am on my own with a 7 o’clock cup of tea. Ellie has the afternoon inked in for a band practice with 4 friends – they have decided to form a girl rock group together. It is early stages but I am encouraged as they seem to be spending the appropriate amount of time choosing a name – rather than playing. Will is taking part in an inter school athletics meeting and I will try and drag him to the Motherwell game when it finishes. We got crucified last weekend at Tannadice so probably need to win our remaining three games to be certain of qualifying for Europe again.
I woke half an hour ago wondering how sensible this whole golf idea is. It is not going to be a gentle stroll back to single figures. I need good cards and a lot of competitions on the Gailes fixture list clash with my weekends with the kids. Not sure how I will manage that. Am I prepared to swap time with them for golf? Hard enough being a dad part time – a golf juggling dad even more difficult. Plus the evidence so far is my handicap will be much higher than I expected, or was deluding myself it would be. It’s very early but +13 at Gailes from the yellows for 16 holes suggests 15.
My second waking thought was ‘should I practice my putting?’ Where did that come from? Admittedly it has always been the weakest part of my game. But I have dealt with that logically. By not spending any time on it!! Because if I did, and it didn’t improve, the fault would therefore lie with me and not lack of practice or the particular putter I was using that week. QED. It is a bad idea to practice putting.
However, I decide to challenge the old orthodoxies which is how I find myself putting on the carpet upstairs. Trying to roll balls over a 20p piece from 6 feet. I started playing and putting left hand down. Then switched at 12 to a regular grip for both. I wasn’t really a terrible putter -just didn’t hole enough critical ones. About 10 years ago I developed the yipettes. Not the full yips, but the early stages. I switched to left hand down again on the greens and it was a semi cure or at least a palliative. Last year at my son John’s 40th birthday golfing weekend I had a short lesson from Sam, who persuaded me to switch back. Try and be less wristy. Stand more upright and develop a pendulum type action. That is the method I use on the carpet.
36 attempts. No danger of the engraving on the coin being effaced by the relentless pressure of balls hitting it. 12 out of 36. But I am going to catalogue that as success.
As I go downstairs for a second cup of tea and a well-deserved chocolate digestive I have a Copernican moment. My attempt to recapture past glories at golf isn’t supposed to be sensible. I shouldn’t be worrying about that. It’s an adventure – not a one way Saga cruise to Safety Island.
The much more positive attitude set the tone for the rest of the day. Motherwell beat St Johnstone 2-1. Not a great game but a fantastic result. In our own penalty area for the entire second half – I discovered I could hold my breath for 45 minutes! Then a curry in Ayr with the kids and Ellie’s pal Courtney. Don’t follow all of their conversation but enough to still feel in touch!
The next morning is more challenging. As part of my golf campaign I set three subsidiary tasks which I hope will help me to play better – A, lose weight B, get more flexible C, train regularly.
A – After initial progress I have relapsed. Pies at the football and curries mustn’t be as healthy as I thought. Put on two lbs. Just realised this sounds like a pastiche of Bridget Jones’ Diary. 31 putts. 4 pies. V bad!!! So this will be the last Epistle on that subject.
B – I found an old book on stretching I used years ago. Has a section -Stretches for the over 50s. I make the cut. Easily. But no section for older sub- groups. Presumably on the basis that very few Scottish men make it into that category and so it is an extremely limited market.
C – I am doing some gentle cardio/ weights. I see a trainer, Andy, once a week unless I can find an excuse to put him off. The main part of the new regime is to walk more. For the papers in the morning rather than take the car. But more importantly to carry my bag again when I play and not use a trolley. I have no problem with normal trolleys but, electric ones are different. Nothing more scary than to see one crest a slope on its own and advance down the other side with no-one in attendance. I imagine the Daleks mating with Terminator, spawning killer trolleys. On the other side of the ridge – a line of ex- golfers.
Bank Holiday Monday. On my own – down to Dundonald to hit balls and play round. But in the pro shop I get talking to Steven Peel, who is on the waiting list for DL and is keen to put in another card. Perfect. We agree to play together and mark cards for each other. Not sure whether Gailes will accept mine or whether it is a good idea to choose DL for the first attempt. Steven goes off for a cup of tea. I hit balls.
I have never met Steven before but that is not unusual. I would be hard pushed to name five members at Loch Lomond/DL I have played with since I joined and even fewer at Gailes. Sad. I am a golfing isolationist. I must change that as well. One of the great joys of the game is the company of other addicts. Steven turns out to be a good pick as my route back into golfing society. Bright, articulate and friendly. He is an ex IT specialist who specialises in business restructuring. Tells me about his early experiences working as a computer consultant in Africa for Shell. He has written a blog about it (coincidence) and agrees to send it on (he does and it is very interesting). He was born and brought up in Kilwinning. For those who know the town it is amazing that one of its sons has made it to Africa. All other evidence suggests that 99% of its inhabitants never move further than one mile from the centre of the town (other than on trips to Ibrox) and that for the remaining 1% the maximum emigration recorded is Irvine. I am playing with a singular man.
Dundonald links is the second Loch Lomond course. Originally Southern Gailes it went into administration before being bought in 2003 and redesigned by Kyle Phillips (Kingsbarns and The Grove). Now a UK top 100 course and moving up faster than Mo Farrah in the final two laps of the 10000 metres. Fantastic test. On the card the same yardage from the whites as Gailes. But feels much longer and in my view a harder test of golf. Gailes is a course you can waltz and woo to win it over. DL is wrestling. Not full cage fighting – like the last few holes at Carnoustie or the back nine at Troon into the wind, but a physical contest. It has ambitions to get on the Open rota and I am convinced it will. Good enough at present and will be perfect in a few years. More than enough space for all the paraphernalia which the Open now brings and designed as a viewing course. A new clubhouse planned and when it’s up the Scottish Open will hopefully relocate first, then the big one. My guess 2025 for the Open. (I will probably still be trying to par the 16th.)
The course is not an in/out links. Rather a series of mini loops. 1/4 back towards the clubhouse then 5/9 to the same place. The second nine is more traditional. Going out against the bounds of the course with Barassie on the left hand side, then the railway line and Western Gailes. Symmetrical. Four par 5s and par 3s combine for 72. The shape of the layout forces the correct tee shot – otherwise there is no prospect of scoring well. Not on line means an extremely difficult second to very tricky greens. All, apart from 7, 12, 17 and 18 are hugely undulating. Most extreme example is the 5th which is more severely sloped than some pistes I have skied. I have seen commentators describe the greens as containing subtle breaks. Yes!! Perhaps it is my experience of 3/4 putting on the 5th but in my view they are as subtle as a nude, mud wrestling match between Katie Price and Kim Kardashian. To put it in similar terms, 7, 12, 17 and 18 could be described as 32(B). The rest are 36(DD).
But I played really well. In fact I can’t believe how well. The first was a precursor. Good drive down the left side which just ran into the semi, short of the bunker. Hit a perfect 6 iron to 12 ft right of the pin. Second was similar. Great drive. Dead straight through the gap and past the left bunker. 9 pin high again. And it carried on. Can’t remember driving as well for years (ever?). Only missed two fairways. First by inches and the seventeenth – by a long way!! Out in 39 six pars three bogies. And set targets for the second half and the round, for the first time in years. Keep a proper card and discipline. Break 80. No double bogies. Keep a six of the card.
On the 17th tee all three were in sight. Needed two pars for a 77. Wind was now stiffer and spits of rain. Don’t know whether that affected me but I hit my only bad drive of the day. Probably tried too hard. Pulled it well left towards the deep bunkers which guard the carry over the corner of the almost 90 degree dog leg. Got a break – two breaks. Found it and it was lying not too badly. About half the ball visible. Then made a very bad choice. Should have hit 8 iron back on the fairway leaving a short pitch. Tried to hit a rescue!! Imbecile. Went sharp left again. But had third massive break. I could get a wedge into it. Flag was directly behind the front left bunker from my new vantage point. I kept my head down, good rhythm and hit it solidly. Over the stick to the back of the green. The sensible shot at last. First putt moved more left than I saw. 2 ft to navigate. Sort of putt I would have awarded myself for clean living in the last few years but not this time. Got it in. Saved the six and double bogey!!
Wind was directly behind on the long par 5 last and I took advantage. Best drive of the round. Hammered it down the left side. Now in my hands to see myself in and do what I had set at the turn. Only 240 to the pin but the last is the best and most difficult approach on the course. A long thin green with water in front and along the right hand side and bunkers on the left. Plus the green falls away if the shot isn’t full enough. Every golfer who has played has had the same dream on the eighteenth said the same thing to themselves in this position. “Par to win the Open.”
I considered going for the green. Really did. Take it on. I’m playing out my skin. I can hit the 3 wood I need to find the pin, but in the end sanity prevailed. Took a six to lay up short of the burn – and duffed it. Really duffed it. Thought it was going to run into the cross bunkers about 160 out but it skipped past and gave me a 9 iron to the pin. Talked to myself. Told myself to stay down. Hit it solidly. I did. Short though – about 25 feet. Misread the putt completely. Speed and line. Just those two!! Five feet long on the right. Only consolation was I had a flat putt. First of the day!! Wondered whether to switch back to left hand down but I knew that was a cop out, an alibi if I missed. Settled. Stroked it. Right on line. Straight in. Yes, yes, yes!!!
Steven played well for the first holes but had a disaster on the 5th par five which was playing directly into the wind. He has a nice swing with a slight left to right shape which we categorised as a power fade rather than a slice. Against the very stiff breeze it did falter a fraction and look a bit more like a s……. ! A no return unfortunately but he kept at it. Hit it solidly. Steven should be circa 12 – not the 19 he is currently on. He was a good companion and interested in helping me keep my own card going. Will it count? Will it be accepted by Gailes? I will put it in when I play my first medal round there.
Greens in regulation 10 -55% good
Fairways 12/14 – 86% (for me, outstanding)
Birdies nil pars 12 bogies 6 double bogies or worse nil Steady so steady played to 6!!!
The round coloured the rest of the week. Made it warm and fuzzy!