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 At the 19th

Today’s lesson? Science ticks all the boxes

Regular readers of this column (if there are any) will have noticed (if they’re paying attention) an increasing note of desperation about the state of my game as it spirals inexorably downwards into the abyss. Even though golf is such a jolly game that you can play badly and still enjoy the exercise, scenery and beer, it’s indisputably more fun if you hit a few fairways and hole the odd putt.

Coming to terms with playing rubbish has been almost as much of a struggle as golf itself. To retain even a semblance of self-respect and avoid the ignominy of seeing it soar into the stratosphere, I have effectively put my handicap into hibernation by avoiding all qualifying competitions. Although the asterisk next to my name at my club indicating an inactive handicap is an embarrassing blot on my character, it’s nothing as compared with the humiliation of signing for either an ignominious century (medal) or a derisory couple of dozen (stableford).

A naturally gutsy competitor, I have been obliged to shift my focus away from individual events and morph into a team player.

Since it’s hard to hide in a pairs’ event, I have found myself concentrating on fourball team competitions and have developed into an absurdly enthusiastic exponent of the Texas scramble, which I now regard as the purest form of competitive golf. Since driving is the least unreliable part of what’s left of my game, even those pressured events where the team has to use at least four of your tee-shots don’t faze me.

Facts & figures: instant analysis via TrackMan provides all the necessary data a coach needs to translate what is actually happening at impact and thus identify the key areas to focus on in your swing. Clive’s figures are, er, interesting...

By carefully avoiding all serious competitions and pretending to enjoy meaningless knocks with fellow hackers, for several years now I have successfully concealed my shame, which is, to put it bluntly, that I can’t play decent golf anymore. Perhaps at 65 I should either gracefully accept the inevitable decline or switch to bowls.

But the man who has probably won more golf umbrellas than any other this side of the Urals is not about to give up! In fact, the fightback begins right now as I drive the best part of three-quarters of an hour to the Kings Hill Golf Academy north of Tonbridge to have a lesson. Without being disrespectful to ordinary lessons and ordinary pros, this is no ordinary lesson and the man standing next to me is no ordinary pro.

Previously best-known as an accomplished competitor on the European Tour who finished third in the Russian Open and runner-up in the Austrian Open, Benn Barham is now a topnotch coach who could seal his place in golfing history by helping me climb back up to mediocrity. Although blissfully unaware of it, sorting me out will undoubtedly prove to be the greatest challenge of his career so far.

To loosen up, I crunch a couple of 9-irons the best part of 80 yards before he hands me my 7-iron without realising it’s my favourite ‘go-to’ club. Whether stuck up against a tree in the Open or confronting an intruder in my pyjamas, I feel I could cope with a 7-iron in my hand. I flush the next couple and draw admiring gasps from the modest gallery. Possibly sub-consciously concerned that Benn might be thinking I have no need of instruction and am wasting his time, I shove the next one significantly to the right. Possibly sub-consciously over-compensating, I pull the next significantly left.

A lesser player would almost certainly have difficulty adjusting to what happens next, but I take the slight strengthening of my left hand on the grip in my stride. Benn then demonstrates how I’m taking the club back on the outside. Again I make the necessary adjustment without much in the way of fuss. Like so many others before him, Benn comments on the quality of my shoulder turn, which I presume must be a thing of beauty. Do I detect slight envy in his voice? Is he perhaps thinking if only he had my shoulder turn, he might have won both the Russian and Austrian Opens and, who knows, several others beside?

As well as Benn’s expert eye, TrackMan is monitoring my graceful shoulder turn and a couple of dozen other equally critical aspects of my swing. This state-of-the-art gizmo plots my shots and feeds hundreds of facts and figures to Benn from attack angle to spin axis. Absolutely certain I have tried everything and not only exhausted every swing thought but also every conceivable combination of swing thoughts, I’m genuinely taken aback when Benn suggests something entirely novel to me. Not wishing to overwhelm you with technical jargon, I will simply say it involves keeping the clubface on plane. Instead of fanning it on the backswing, he tells me to take it straight back and CARRUMPH!!! The ball soars towards the outskirts of Maidstone. CARRUMPH!!! So does the next. And the next.

Benn shows me his iPad and the evidence of TrackMan is incontrovertible. Although my clubhead speed remains remarkably steady at a somewhat sedate 80 mph, the ball speed has gone up a gear to a frightening 90 mph. What’s more, the ball is soaring higher, travelling further and going straighter. Most exciting of all, my SMASH FACTOR has rocketed to, wait for it, 1.29! In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, the ‘smash factor’ is simply the efficiency and effectiveness of the blow delivered by the clubface on the ball. Hit with an open or shut face, and your smash-factor dwindles.

Strike it pure with the face perfectly aligned and, if you’re really good, it could rise all the way to… er, 1.29 (possibly more, but I doubt it).

April medal? Bring it on! Thanks, Benn.

Issue 122

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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