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.
I’ve been playing on the Challenge Tour for about four years. Frankly, it’s a struggle even covering my expenses but, like so many others, I’m hopeful of one day making it onto the main tour.
Anyway, as my fiancée always expects a present whenever I play abroad, I always try to bring her back the shampoo invariably supplied by whatever cheap hotel I’m staying in. As I think it looks rather mean to give her anything less than a full bottle, I try not to use the shampoo for the five or so days that I’m there. However, by the time we’ve reached the final round, I’m conscious that my hair is rather greasy, which is an unwelcome distraction at a time when I should be focusing 100% on my game.
Name and address withheld
I hope your fiancée appreciates the sacrifice you’re making more than she does greasy hair. Anyway, assuming that you don’t want to give her anything else that the hotel provides – like a shower cap or loo roll, for example – the obvious thing for you to do is take some shampoo with you so that you don’t have to use the stuff you’ve so generously earmarked as a gift for her.
If your stretched budget can’t cope with that, you could always take an empty shampoo bottle with you and fill it up with the free stuff usually provided in the clubhouse showers. Incidentally, I’ve started saving the soaps on my own foreign trips so that I’ve a suitable gift when you eventually get married.
Although I’m a pretty steady 15 handicapper, my short game has always been unbelievably poor. Chipping from just off the green has been my greatest single problem. And it’s not through lack of practice because I work hard on my game.
Anyway, one day when I was hitting balls onto my club’s designated chipping green before a first round Summer Cup match, it occurred to me that I was very much more accurate when casually knocking the balls back one-handed than I was when taking enormous care and trying to chip in the conventional way. Thinking I had absolutely nothing to lose, I employed this technique in the match and simply strolled up to the ball and hit it one-handed. Remarkably, I got up and down in two no fewer that seven times and won comfortably.
What was particularly interesting was that my opponent was completely rattled as was the chap in the following round. Although thrilled that I’ve reached the quarter-finals, I’m concerned that there would appear to be a growing body of opinion that believes my technique, if not illegal, is against the spirit of the game.
Gavin Creal, Robertsbridge
Let me first of all explain what’s happening here. It is perverse but often true that the harder we try, the less we succeed. And when we try really hard, we fail spectacularly. I suspect that when you were chipping, you were so anxious that your muscles tightened and, scarred by so many bad experiences, an awful outcome was almost inevitable.
On the other hand, when you casually walked up to the ball and flicked it one handed, you were totally relaxed, which is obviously the most desirable mental state to be in. Although that explains the dramatically improved performance, the reaction of your opponents is something entirely different.
What is rattling them is your apparent casualness. It’s as if you’re saying, “I am so much better than you that I can win this without really trying.” You must continue chipping in the way you have discovered works for you but must not reveal why you do so as that would undermine the psychological advantage you have established over your opponents who evidently believe you are simply showboating.
I was wearing a green shirt when I won my first ever medal and consequently, believing it to be lucky, I have worn a green shirt for every important match thereafter. Had my superstition ended there, it wouldn’t be a problem but it didn’t. Since I suspect you don’t want to fill your page with a list of my superstitions, I shall just mention the first halfdozen that occur to me.
1) I must play with an odd numbered ball; 2) I always tie the lace on my right shoe first; 3) I take two practice swings every time; 4) If using a coin to mark my ball, it must lie tails side up; 5) I have to put the wood cover back on before returning my driver to the bag; and 6) I have to take my cap off before putting.
As I say, there are dozens of others and the list is growing all the time as I can’t seem to stop inventing more. It’s driving me mad.
S Tuckwell, Portsmouth
Sport is fertile ground for superstition. By convincing a player that it gives him a mystic edge, it can even be helpful. However as you, I’m sure, can attest, it can easily get out of control and be a crippling disorder. Like swing thoughts, one can be beneficial whereas too many simply produce paralysis. You must select the one that you prefer above all the others – say, the green shirt - and convince yourself that it only works in isolation.
For example, the benefits of wearing a green shirt are nullified if you take your hat off when putting. When you next play, deliberately play with a ball that has an even number, tie up your left lace first, put the driver back in the bag before slipping its head cover on, etc. Be warned, however, that if you play well, for goodness sake don’t come to the catastrophic conclusion that you must always use an even numbered ball, etc., otherwise you will immediately revert to where you are right now.