There’s something rather discomforting about watching a grown man cry, it’s akin to witnessing the scolding of a child, you don’t quite know where to direct your eyes. The modern era accepts the need for men to let their emotions show, and that’s a good thing, but nevertheless, it can be perplexing when you see a bloke ‘blarting’ (Birmingham word).
I’d cried, openly, only twice in my life until this weekend. First, when attending the birth of my daughter Emily, and second, when watching Villa beat Tranmere in the 1994 cup semi-final, a victory which signalled my maiden trip to Wembley. Given the fourteen year gap since my last public sobbing, I thought I might get through the remainder of life without another, however this Sunday my golfing ‘performance’ provided grounds for an unwelcome hat trick.
More of that later, but first let me summarise the top scores from this week’s winter league gross doubles competition, a tournament which myself and Keith Douglas so far find ourselves stinking out to high heaven.
Messrs McGillivary and Dempster had the unwelcome distraction of playing this week’s round alongside myself, and myself alone, given my partner Keith Douglas’s latest reprehensible absence. Once again he found other fish to fry rather than participate in our doubles tournament (the clue’s in the title Douglas, get with the programme).
Barry McGillivary and Stuart Dempster are good golfers, they strike the ball crisply, pitch it confidently and putt it soundly. The game can be pretty simple when you do as they do, it was drama free golf from beginning to end. Not for them Hamlet cigar moments in bunkers, monstrously wayward drives landing upon adjacent fairways, or a processions of golf balls disappearing over cliff edges, they played with the minimum of fuss, positioning their drives up the middle, clipping their irons onto greens and holing out within two putts. I, on the other hand, played like I’d swilled ten pints in the Market Bar prior to teeing up and demonstrated a level of golfing incompetence not seen since my grandmother attempted pitch and putt for the first time while on holiday in Ilfracombe, 1983.
Army golf they call it (left, right, left, right), when there’s simply no telling what is going to happen next, and I completed as hapless a round of golf as I’ve ever had the misfortune to produce. I could scarcely get off the tee but the most outrageous shenanigans were reserved for the green side where a plethora of duffed chips and fearful knifings had me performing an X-rated horror show which found my playing partners visibly shaken. I wasn’t so much playing golf as making a public spectacle of myself. It was abominable.
Eventually, after thirteen holes of lamentable golf, my resolve weakened and I cracked. I’d pushed my tee shot wide right, again, almost out of bounds this time, and had a twenty yard pitch to the green. Now, any half competent golfer would consider this type of shot elementary, rather like a tennis player playing a routine half volley from the baseline, it was a bread and butter kind of shot. But when your confidence is shot to pieces, and you’re approaching each chip as if it were a hand grenade about to go off, you have little chance of executing it satisfactorily, and sure enough, I duffed yet another. Not even the luxury of a preferred lie, permissible in the winter, (whereby a player can spot the ball up like a cherry on a cake) could encourage me to produce an acceptable golf shot, and for the umpteenth time I chunked the ball six feet in front of me and grimaced as if experiencing a bout of trapped wind. This farrago was occurring around every green and by now I was reduced to a gibbering wreck, my bottom lip quivering and upper body convulsing. I wanted my mummy or a straight jacket, I wasn’t fussy which. One last try I thought, you can do this, so I stepped forward sheepishly…only to rocket yet another ankle height exocet twenty paces beyond the green. It was the last straw, I broke down and sobbed.
Barry was the first to console me, putting his arm around my shoulder and offering gentle words of comfort. Stuart took the pitching wedge from my hand, before I saw fit to damage myself with it, and gingerly escorted me away from the scene of the crime, kindly producing a handkerchief with which I could wipe away my tears. The two of them completed the hole, their comfortable par three doing nothing to improve my mood, and then returned to care for a patient who was now lying on the next tee, in the foetal position. This was golf at its cruellest, a sport reducing a grown man to ribbons. Oh how I hated this game.
After a few more words of consolation from my playing partners, I put my shoulders back to complete the final few holes, smiling through the tears and endeavouring not to feel patronised when being congratulated for the most average of shots. I’m sure their hearts were in the right place when they accompanied my lame hundred yard thinners with a deep throated ‘good shot!’ but in truth I wanted to volley them squarely in the cobblers. My golf didn’t improve and I shuffled forward like a moody teenager, hands deep in pockets, kicking every loose piece of turf I came by. There was room for one last farce around the 16th green when I bladed one that threatened to snap Stuart in two, so I picked up and skulked off to the next tee.
Having negotiated the 17th without further humiliation, I didn’t play the last hole, preferring to get the coffees in rather than subject those in the clubhouse to a festive pantomime show. I nestled into my chair and looked on as Barry and Stuart skilfully completed another solid par to card a fine eighteen hole total of 65. (For the record, I’d no returned as early as the 2nd hole when racking up a preposterous eight, topping my tee shot out of bounds before chunking two chips and three putting).
Hopefully Douglas is on form next Sunday otherwise we face the humiliation of finishing tenth in this winter league. Bad enough in itself, worse still when you consider there are only nine entrants. Meantime, let me wish McGillivary and Dempster the best of luck as they compete in forthcoming weeks for a place on finals day, an occasion you can be rest assured I’ll be attending in a spectating capacity only.