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 At the 19th

Mistaken like a true pro
For a fleeting moment our man at large found himself in the unique position of being mistaken for a bona fide PGA professional. Then, the moment he stepped onto the tee, the crushing reality set in...

A small knot of curious spectators gathered by the starter’s hut at Aphrodite Hills in Cyprus as Jim stepped on to the first tee, casually swished his driver a couple of times before letting rip a monstrous drive that disappeared into the azure sky. The knot grew progressively larger over the course of the next 25 minutes as booming drive followed booming drive. Word that a group of professional golfers was staying in this splendid 5-star resort and was teeing off in the early morning had obviously leaked out. What had probably not reached the ears of the expanding army of admiring spectators was that included in the group was one hapless hack who was quite overtly not a professional golfer.

Curiously, pros are, in some respects, almost like normal people. For example, they come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and there is nothing immediately obvious that would, until they hit a golf ball that is, instantly identify them to a casual observer. Although perhaps a tad thinner of arm and significantly older than the others, I was pretty well indistinguishable from the 15 men who had preceded me on to the tee. For the extremely perceptive spectators that morning, apart from the ashen complexion and gently knocking knees, there were a number of subtle clues, not least of which was the presence of mud and absence of covers on the clubheads that surely revealed a tell-tale absence of anal obsession, which, apparently, is a vital ingredient of golfing greatness.

Although tempted to walk over and explain to the gallery that I was just a humble hacker invited by Golfbreaks.com to join a group of club professionals in checking out Cyprus and that they should now turn their backs and go about their normal business, I didn’t. Partly because it would take too long and partly because I was rather enjoying being mistaken – albeit extremely temporarily – for a pro, I did nothing. As I had always dreamed of being a professional and this was about as close as I was ever likely to get, why spoil the moment?

It would be nice to report that I somehow drew inspiration from the 15 spectacular drives that preceded mine and that from somewhere, I know not where, I found it within me to drill the ball a prodigious distance, but I can’t. Instead, I hit a sort of a semi-blocked, halfsliced, duck fade that squirted off to the right, floated lazily about 165 yards through the air, rolled another five and came to an unhappy halt in the light rough. It is a shot with which I would ordinarily be quite pleased but in this instance and this company it seemed desperately pathetic.

Well versed in the art of encouragement, my three playing partners uttered words of support that were neither too patronising nor condescending; a skill they were doubtless taught at PGA School. Despite this, however, there is a lingering suspicion that they must wonder why it is we ordinary folk find hitting a golf ball properly so fiendishly difficult.

Over the next couple of days and subsequent rounds at Menthis Hills and Elea, I develop a considerable fondness for what could be described as the revolutionary Am-Pro format, where one amateur takes responsibility to nurse three professionals around a golf course. There is a downside, however, which includes endlessly exclaiming ‘good shot’, coming to terms with the fact that my only chance of being longest off the tee is to take too much club on the par-threes and having to express an opinion on a range of dull subjects from the profit margin on Mars bars to the latest hosel design.

On a more positive note, I do learn a few things about pros. Unlike journalists, they are obsessively punctual and are always there on the tee, the bus or in the hotel lobby well before the specified time. Not unlike gorillas, they love bananas, and before you can say ‘Don’t you feel embarrassed walking out of the dining room at breakfast with bunches of bananas tucked under your arm?’ they will have stripped a restaurant bare of their preferred performance-enhancing fruit.

Although they didn’t much care for my suggestion that I should divide my anatomy into as many different parts as there were of them (e.g. heels, hips, elbows, wrists, etc.) and give each of them responsibility for a different bit, pros are by nature helpful and generous with their advice. What could I offer in exchange? Handy tips on sentence structure and punctuation?

Despite the fact that the yawning chasm in ability narrowed not one millimetre during the course of the trip, an undoubted bond developed between us that was forged in the heat of sporting battle and cemented over unending mezes. Rooted in the game we love, it perhaps grew out of a recognition that we all had, to a greater or lesser extent, sacrificed a more conventional and secure existence to pursue our passion. Instead of enormous wealth, our reward was hugely enjoyable golf in the warm winter sun.

March 2011

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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