I think it was in 2011 that I took up golf. Helen, my wife, started playing before me, and I know that I wasn’t playing in March of that year, because we went to a hotel where she took a few lessons, and I wasn’t interested at that stage.
It was probably later in 2011 that, having walked the Par 3 with her at our home course, I decided to give it a go.
At first I hired an iron and a putter for the Par 3 Pitch and Putt course, but soon after I bought a couple of irons (8 & SW) and a putter. I didn’t do badly at the Par 3 and we then progressed to the Church Course, a 6-hole course that was effectively a cut-down practice course but with full-length holes. I amazed myself by scoring a 6 on the first hole, a 367 yard par 4. Although the Church Course has now been closed, even after a number of years and with a complete set of clubs I still struggled to do better than a 5 on this hole. So I must have had a bit of natural ability to have got a 6 with my two irons and a putter. However, when we got to hole 4 on the Church on that first outing, a 407 yard par 4, I really struggled, and this was the cue to buy some more clubs. I bought a set of irons and woods marketed under the PGA label as the EZ3 Collection. These were improvement clubs, which was what I needed, but I soon found that I wasn’t that good with the irons. As for the woods, well, like many aspiring golfers, I tended to slice badly.
Some lessons were taken, which showed me what I should be doing, but in all honesty tended to make things worse. It seemed that any natural ability that had shown itself when I first started had been subsumed by all the stuff going around in my head as a result of the lessons, copious advice from other golfers and countless videos and articles. Only when in 2015 I read The Inner Game of Golf by W. Timothy Gallwey did I realise what damage all this advice can do to your natural ability, as the brain wrestles with all the tips and methodology during what should be a natural action. That’s not to say that you don’t need technique, but that too much information can impede rather than assist progress.
“There is no movement in the golf swing so difficult that it cannot be made even more difficult by careful study and diligent practice.” – Thomas Mulligan
During the ‘indoctrination phase’ I tried different clubs in the hope of finding the right fit for me. In some cases this led to improvement but it was often short lived. And so I soldiered on, transitioning from the euphoria of an occasional good round to the depression of the more frequent disasters. There is a quote from an unknown individual that says “Golf can best be defined as an endless series of tragedies obscured by the occasional miracle” and I think that this sums things up quite nicely.
A sort of turning point came when I spied a Ping G20 23 degree iron hybrid in our golf shop. I had been playing with some cheaper hybrids, which often, but not always, yielded really impressive results. I asked if the shop manager would tape up the head so that I could give it a try on the range. The results were astounding. I hit shot after shot of impressive lengths and, more importantly, straight! The first time out with this club we were playing with a another pair who I didn’t know, and one of them asked me what my handicap was. I didn’t have one at that stage, so he said that he would mark my card. I proceeded to have perhaps one of the best rounds that I’ve ever played, thanks in no small part to the new G20 hybrid.
The older I get, the better I used to be.
I subsequently presented two more cards to the handicap secretary, neither of which were as good as the first, but he responded by giving me a handicap of 24, this I believe being largely based on that first good card. I must say that he was being overly optimistic and, up to the end of 2016, I struggled most the time to play to 28, which would have been a far more realistic handicap in the first place. After a succession of mediocre cards and a discussion with the handicap secretary, I started 2017 with a handicap of 26.7: far more realistic.
I acquired a set of the G20 hybrids, 17, 20 and 27 degree clubs in addition to the original 23 degree one, although I rarely used the 17 degree club. I used these hybrids instead of long irons, having never seemed to have mastered the long iron shot. I had also sold my original improvement irons and acquired a secondhand set of Callaway X14s, and had bought 3 and 5 fairway woods from the Ping G20 range. The driver was wayward and was in and out of favour, and while the 3 and 5 woods rewarded me with some incredible shots, like the driver they were unpredictable. This led to a period during which I took the woods out of the bag and used the hybrids both to tee off, and for the majority of shots.
A perfectly straight shot with a big club is a fluke.
- Jack Nicklaus
More recently I spied a set of Wilson FG Tour irons in our golf shop. Finished in black, they looked smart, and when I enquired on cost it transpired that they had been delivered as a demonstration set, but with the 9-iron missing. In view of this I was able to buy them for £80, which I regarded as a bargain. During the time I had been using the hybrids I had modified my swing, and when I applied the same approach to these new irons I found that I was hitting them very well. The forged heads were more forgiving than the steel-head X14s, and it occurred to me that the Callaway clubs had probably been ill-suited to my game. Consequently I now use irons a lot more and am more confident with them.
If you really want to get better at golf, go back and take it up at a much earlier age.
My game is certainly nothing special, but the early days of spending too much time in trees, or worse, have largely been consigned to history. I rarely lose a ball and I don’t get into many difficult lies, which is as well, since I find that once it starts to go wrong it’s often hard to rescue the hole.
As a postscript to this account, I would mention that towards the latter end of 2018 I was troubled by sciatica caused by a back problem that has plagued me since the early 80s. It got so bad that I stopped playing golf in October of that year and only returned to the game in August 2019. The sciatica hadn't gone but was much improved.
My handicap had increased to 31 largely because of poor play leading up to my decision to stop playing. To try to protect my back I've modified my game, electing generally to 'over-club' while reducing my backswing and follow through. I'm pleased to say it's working although I'm still experimenting on judging distances with this approach, which is unorthodox and relies on 'feel' more than assigning a given distance to each club.