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 DR FELIX SHANK

Do you have a golf problem that’s keeping you awake at night?
Is there some aspect of your game that you simply can’t sort out?
Stop worrying because Dr Felix Shank, a more or less genuine expert on all aspects of the game, is here to help.
Illustrations by Tony Husband.

After taking part in my club’s monthly Stableford last weekend I feel compelled to write to you. I’m an avid golfer but having reached a handicap of 14 and stayed there, camped like a survivor on a life raft for the best part of 10 years, it's time to reluctantly admit that neither my unreliable putting stroke nor unsightly lunge at the ball that passes for a swing, are likely to advance me any further up golf's great handicap ladder. I have, I think, hit a glass ceiling and it has left me in a miserable no-man's land (a kind of handicap purgatory) where I receive none of the respect commanded by those single–figure heroes to whom I defer, nor the vast bank of shots wielded by my category four chums at the very bottom of the food chain. This was dramatically illustrated by the second-hand car salesman with whom I played in the Stableford I referred to earlier. Claiming a handicap of 24 (not to mention one of those impressive looking Bushnell rangefinders), he crunched his opening tee shot 275 yards with just a hint of draw, grunted with disdain and strode on to compile 27 points on the front nine. I happened to have a decent day myself, holing the odd putt and generally keeping it in play, but was appalled to see that, having carded 34 points, I finished some 11 points off the pace. So, do I cling admirably to my 14 handicap, knowing it is never likely to improve or indeed yield any £20 pro shop vouchers? Or do I instead give up the game for six months, join another club and declare myself a 26 handicapper, which would at least allow me to compete on a level playing field with those unscrupulous types who can look you in the eye while signing for 40+ points for the fifth consecutive occasion?

R J Witherspoon, Woodstock

Your letter highlights the awful dilemma that confronts so many handicap golfers: is it more satisfying to brag about a low handicap and win nothing or feel mildly embarrassed about a high handicap and carry home the goodies? It really is a matter of individual preference and, perhaps more importantly, social conscience. If you are the sort of golfer who, when stepping onto the tee, hands back to whoever teed off before you the tee-peg you find lying there then you are probably not the kind of player who would feel comfortable with an inflated handicap. If, however, you would have no compunction when arriving at a particularly difficult course to go straight to the practise area to pocket half-a-dozen range balls, then you would probably feel perfectly comfortable playing off 26 and cleaning up.

I write to you on a matter of great delicacy. The great Bobby Jones once said, “Golf is a game that is played on a five-inch course – the distance between your ears.” I don’t deny this sage piece of advice but, sadly, the space between my own ears is considerably more than five inches because I was born with an unusually large head – a condition known as macrocephaly. Consequently, although I am blessed with a far bigger golfing brain than most, there is no golf cap that properly fits me. I am very reluctant to wear one that is too small since I always seem to play badly with one. I once saw Robert Rock triumph in Abu Dhabi without a hat, yet it seems donning one is part of golf’s etiquette. Thus, my question to you is simple: is it essential to wear a golf cap?

Name and address withheld

The principal argument in favour of hats is that they keep your head warm but research conducted by Professor Wolfgang Shnitzelberger at the Universityof Cologne into “Temperature and Sporting Performance” in 1982 is very relevant. In a controlled experiment, rats were given various ‘athletic’ tasks to perform. These were divided into two categories – ‘simple’ where little or no thought was required such as walking and running, and ‘complex’ such as climbing ladders and knocking balls into a hole. In all activities the rats were rewarded for performance. The only variable was the temperature. The results seemed to suggest that the temperature had less effect on the performance of ‘simple’ tasks than it did on ‘complex’ tasks where, broadly speaking, performance was in inverse proportion to temperature. Put simply, ‘complex’ tasks are better performed at lower temperatures. Below freezing, however, is another story. Golf is undoubtedly a complicated task and a cool head is therefore required. In other words, you’re better off not wearing a hat unless it’s to keep the sun off.

For the last eight years I’ve gone away with seven friends on a golfing holiday. Called the “Wandering Minstrels”, we play six rounds of golf, aggregate the Stableford scores and let the winner takes home a modest trophy. Unfortunately, there is a real bandit in our group who has won on no fewer than seven occasions. The only time he didn’t win he had food poisoning, missed the final round but still came second! Because he organises everything except the trophy which, since I’m a jeweller, I sort out, no-one dares suggest his handicap is dodgy because he would resign and we wouldn’t survive without him We’re going to Tenerife this year and I’m wondering if there is anything that can be done to stop him winning?

S L Gower, Brentwood

Short of giving him food poisoning (again?), which seems a bit extreme, I’m not sure there is. However, you can punish him. As you arrange the trophy, I suggest you have an extra engraved plaque made that, in the almost certain event that he wins, you should attach to the biggest rock you can find. From my recollection of Tenerife, you’ll have plenty to choose from. No doubt the airline that brings you home will extract a hefty excess baggage charge from your friend which you should regard as a sort of fine for handicap abuse.

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

 
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