If I can think of anything about which I believe the whole world should know my opinion in less abbreviated form, then I might write it here. Until then, it’s all on Twitter here. Or the columns which I write for Today’s Golfer are available below. Warning - these are about golf...
I first played golf when I was three years old. And the helpful voices started not long after.
“Imagine you’re balancing a glass of water on your head. And as you swing, try not to spill a drop. Keep your head PERFECTLY STILL”.
With this slightly menacing tone from my father and the resulting fear of imaginary spillage, I would then swing as if head to toe in plaster cast, the ball would dribble gently off the tee and I would collapse to the ground, sobbing hysterically, and offering up the imaginary glass, with imploring eyes “SEE! I DIDN’T SPILL ANY FATHER.....DID I DO WELL?!?”
Anyway, although the passing years may have exaggerated this episode in my memory, it is my first clear recollection of a golf lesson. And there have been many since, with several different figures and of varying quality.
The worst, even worse than my early paternal tutorials, have been the well-intentioned but ill-timed snippets from a caddy or two.
At this point I should stress that I am not some modern-day Bertie Wooster, employing a faithful bagman to carry my clubs, laugh at my jokes and offer me nips of gin, while I use expressions like ‘Hang it all....‘ Rather, a caddy has very occasionally been given the job from Hell at a golf day, or pro-am. I then get depressed because I’m not only letting myself down but also bringing shame on my new friend for the day. And before long there comes the well-meaning advice.
“Just let the club do the work.”
“Just let the club do the work for you there”.
“Really? Could it be that I hold in my hands a MAGIC CLUB?!? Do I just stand here and it DOES IT ALL FOR ME?!!”
“I’m not getting a tip, am I....”
But there are also are the lessons at the other end of the scale. Those which make you realise just what a great coach can see and do.
Through my work I have been able to pester some of the leading minds in the game. People who have guided the finest talents, but are equally gifted at offering major overhauls to lost causes.
And we do come to rely on them so much. Golf must be one of the most coach-dependent sports of all, because it is so technical. Because someone else can see so clearly what is wrong and one little tweak of the grip, or a tiny shift in alignment can bring instant results and instant happiness. For a short while at least.
Coaches become messianic figures in knitwear. Healing the sick of swing with a simple word and a gentle, caring smile.
Either that or they shock you into submission by showing you a video of your latest effort.
You stare at a man bearing a vague resemblance to yourself, apparently playing Twister while waving a golf club in the general direction of the ball.
“Just looking for a little less movement in the knee there”.
Or, as he tells his colleagues in the pro-shop later on:
“Ha! Look at this guy I’ve just been teaching! What a CLOWN!!”
But despite the possibility of humiliation, it is well worth getting yourself to the best. The journey might be longer and the cost a little more, but it will be invaluable for what it could do to your game.
The problem is, that a coach can only start you down the right path. It’s up to you how far you travel down it.
In his book ‘Outliers - The Story of Success’, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the ten thousand hour rule. In effect, that to achieve mastery of a task requires practising it repeatedly for that length of time.
Which means that at two hours a day of hitting balls, you should reach that target after about 13 and a half years. And yes, this also explains why a lot of top sportsmen aren’t sparkling social creatures.
Of course, it is a spurious figure. Vijay Singh probably broke the barrier by the age of seven, whereas the blissfully natural Monty is still languishing around the half-hour mark, although has logged upwards of ten thousand scowling hours.
In fact, in golf, there IS such a thing as a quick fix. Most pros will be able to give you that in just an hour or two. But the fix will soon unravel unless you subsequently put in the practice.
“Just five thousand balls and you should be able to bed in those changes nicely” said my wise coach after my latest lesson. And I left, knowing that I would scarcely touch the clubs until we met again.
One part of his advice did hit home, though. I have developed a sway in my head during the swing.
“Keep your head still there in that initial movement.” said my guru.
“As if I have a glass of water on my head and don’t want to spill it?” I suggested.
“Yes - that thought would work”.
Perhaps my father knew what he was talking about after all.