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 love the Surrey heathland courses and seize every opportunity to play them. I was therefore delighted recently to accept an invitation from a business acquaintance to a society day at Camberley Heath. We enjoyed a delightful round and everything was going wonderfully smoothly until I discovered that I had forgotten to bring a tie. As luck would have it, I found one on the floor of the locker I was using and, although it was rather garish and clashed with both my shirt and jacket, I put it on.

As I sat down to lunch, a rather elderly man sitting opposite pointed at my tie and exclaimed, “My God, Royal Engineers!” He then stood up, saluted and shook my hand warmly. Instead of immediately confessing that I had found the tie, I tried to bluff my way out of the situation.

After a couple of glasses of red wine, I started warming to the task and even heard myself talking about my bomb disposal work in Northern Ireland . Anyway, at the end of the dinner my new ‘friend’ took all my details and invited me to the Royal Engineers Annual Golf Day. Naturally, I should have said I couldn’t make it but it’s at Walton Heath on the Old Course and so I accepted.

Well, I received a letter from him this morning asking if I would make a formal speech at the end of the dinner and talk about my bomb disposal experience. What on earth do I do now!
RP Blewitt, Wadhurst

The simplest thing would be to pull out, but then you would miss the opportunity to play wonderful Walton Heath. I don’t know how good your golf is but you’re quite evidently a scratch bluffer and I am therefore confident that you could bluff your way around for 18 holes. The speech, however, might present too big a risk given that your audience will be experts who will almost certainly see through you.

Here’s what I suggest you do. The 17th is a longish par three. Contrive to pull your tee shot into the trees left of the green. Whilst in there looking for your ball, ring the clubhouse on your mobile and explain that you can’t say much but a suspect parcel has been located at Epsom and that Captain Blewitt is the nearest available expert capable of dealing with it. Would you kindly locate him as quickly as possible and ask him to go immediately to Epsom High Street.

Dr Felix Shank

Three months ago, I met and fell in love with a beautiful young woman called Ellen. Previously, the only true love in my life had been golf. Anyway, Ellen recently moved into my one-bedroom flat and noticed how much space was taken up with my golf gear. Not only the clubs and bag, but the boxes of balls, clothes, shoes, tee-pegs, instruction DVDs and, forgive me, the piles of your magazine. They had, Ellen explained, taken over my life and so she encouraged me to get rid of them and literally clear some space in my life for what really matters.

Although extremely apprehensive at first, I took her advice and have to tell you that it was an incredibly liberating experience. To be blunt, I have never been happier. There is space in my flat and, just as important, now that my weekends aren’t wasted on the golf course I have time to explore other areas of human activity that I had previously neglected. Golf had taken over my life and now I feel blissfully free.
V L Attwater, Glossop

Although I know I should feel happy for you, I don’t. What you are experiencing is very similar to what people who have lost their jobs go through. Beware, the initial exhilaration at being freed from the perceived shackles that previously constrained you will soon be replaced by boredom in much the same way as those who are unemployed are more bored than liberated. And I must confess to being rather nervous about Ellen and her motives.

Instead of understanding that golf is a perfectly healthy recreation, the fact that she sees it is a threat as if it were a rival for your affection, is a worry. My hunch is that when spring comes, you will yearn to get back on the fairways. And come the summer, it will be Ellen’s things that will be cluttering your flat. Then you will have to make a choice. Although it would be inappropriate for me to interfere, may I simply say that, compared with most women, golf is cheaper,more tolerant and less demanding.

Dr Felix Shank

Two years ago, a friend of mine at my club (let’s call him Harry) begged me to partner him in the Winter Fourball Competition. Although he is rather unreliable, I reluctantly agreed. Anyway, he turned up 20 minutes late for our first round match and, under the rules of the competition, we had to forfeit. He blamed me because he said that I should have known that he might be late, should have allowed for this and given him an earlier time than the correct time. Twenty minutes, he said, was an “acceptable margin for error.”

So last year I told him that he “must be there for 9.40, although we don’t tee off until 10.” He turned up at 10.20, we were again disqualified and he again blamed me because he said that I shouldn’t have said, “…we don’t tee off until 10,” because that was the time he then registered in his mind. I said I would give him one last chance this year. We’re teeing off at 9.48, what time should I tell him?
S Bradbrook, Cardiff

Harry is a complete nightmare, doesn’t deserve a reliable partner like you and needs to be taught a lesson. Tell him that you’re teeing of at 8am sharp. Concede the match to your opponents and don’t bother turning up yourself so that he discovers what it’s like to be let down. If he says you told him that you would give him one last chance, explain that you meant no more chances and that telling him one was within an “acceptable margin for error.”

Dr Felix Shank

My wife and I have drawn my best friend Nick and his wife Maureen in the first round of our club’s knock-out foursome’s competition. Nick’s a lovely guy and I enjoy playing with him but he always pees up against the same three trees next to the tee before driving on each of the three par fives – the 7th, 11th , and 15th holes – because, he says, “it brings him luck”.

I don’t especially mind but my wife has a bit of a thing about people washing their hands after going to the toilet and I know she will be disgusted by Nick’s behaviour and, if she sees him do it, will refuse to shake hands when the match is over. Because the competition is a very minor one and I want to avoid a scene, I’m tempted to pull out.
Nick Usiskin, Oxford

The rather vexed issue of men urinating on the golf course is an awkward one that can cause embarrassment. Although seemingly harmless, there is a public health issue here which needs to be considered. However, my immediate concern is your forthcoming match and I believe that I have a solution or, rather, two alternative solutions. Which one you choose will in part be determined by the layout of your course.

It’s fortunate that the three par fives all come on odd-numbered holes. This means that, under the guise of chivalry, you and Nick could allow the women to drive off on the first and the three relevant holes. This would work if the women’s tees are, as they usually are on par fives, a considerable distance in front of the men’s. The hope is that your wife will be concentrating on her tee shot while Nick is weeing. If, for whatever reason, men customarily hit the opening tee shot and thence the odd-numbered holes, you must ensure that, when you reach the par fives, you have the honour. Insist that the wives go ahead to spot and contrive to hook or slice – whichever you feel more comfortable doing – your tee shot. You have already indicated that there are trees on the course and so, with any luck, your wife will have commenced her search for your ball and will be screened from Nick’s offending behaviour.

Dr Felix Shank

I was recently elected captain of my club and am really enjoying the first few weeks in the job. The only downside is the almost constant stream of members who come up to me to moan about the state of the fifth fairway or the 12th tee or the 16th green. Is there any way I can put a stop to it?
B McNicholas, Corby

Be sympathetic to everyone who approaches you with a complaint. Explain that you’re just as concerned as they are and that’s why you’re trying to raise money to carry out a feasibility study into the possibility of finding a way to deal with the very problem they’ve described. Then hand them an envelope and invite them to contribute to the ‘12th Fairway Feasibility Fund’ or whatever it is. I think you can feel pretty confident that they won’t either give you any money or raise the issue again.

Dr Felix Shank

There are two identical twin brothers at my club in their early 20s. They are absolutely impossible to tell apart other than that Simon is hugely talented and plays off three while Oliver is very average and has a handicap of 17. Two years ago I beat Oliver 7 & 6 in the second round of our big winter competition, the Norbert Shrimbold Trophy. Although I didn’t pay much attention to it at the time, he said something rather curious when we shook hands on the 12th green; “We…er, I mean I, will get my revenge one day.”

I drew him again last year but was comprehensively beaten 4 & 3. Although he didn’t play the whole round like a three handicapper, he showed flashes of brilliance, especially out of bunkers, that were enough to convince me that I lost to Simon, not Oliver. The two of them are absolutely identical and so I couldn’t prove it. Believe it or not, I’m scheduled to meet Oliver in the semi-final this year and fear that I’m again going to be thrashed by Simon.
MM Ziegler, Isle of Man

I suspect you are right as a 17 handicapper ought not to reach two consecutive finals of the same matchplay competition where strokes are given. It would appear that, by thrashing Oliver so soundly, you hurt the brothers’ family pride and they have exacted revenge by switching places. However, what concerns you here is the possibility of coming up against Simon again. You say there isn’t any way of telling them apart but there is. If Simon turns up, although he will remember the details of last year’s match, he obviously won’t have any recollection of the previous year when you beat him 7 and 6. Similarly, if the brothers feel that revenge for the heavy defeat has now been extracted and decide against risking a second switch, Oliver won’t be familiar with the details of your 4 & 3 defeat.

What you must therefore do is gently quiz whoever it is you’re playing with questions such as, “Do you remember when you stiffed it out of that bunker the last time we played?” And, “Was it on this hole that your first ball went out of bounds?” Whoever it is you’re playing will realise that you are onto them. If it’s Oliver, the thought of being exposed as a cheat will inevitably affect his game and you will certainly win. If it’s Simon, he will appreciate that beating you again will reinforce your suspicions and increase the likelihood that you will take the matter further. I’m sure he will therefore think it prudent to lose to you. So, whoever it is you play, you will win.

Dr Felix Shank