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 play golf regularly with a friend o fmine, Kevin. He and I are members of the same club, of roughly the same standard, have handicaps in the low teens, traditionally help one another with our various swing problems and our matches, until very recently at least, have always been close.
One of the areas we both struggled with is bunker play until, suddenly, Kevin started splashing out to within three or four feet of the pin absolutely every time. Naturally, I asked him what the secret was but he refused to tell me. At first I thought he was joking but it's been three months now and he still won't reveal it to me. He's won the last eight matches on the trot, almost entirely due to his superior bunker play. In a couple of months we play our annual Grand Match. I'm the reigning champion, which means that Kevin has to call me 'Sir' whenever he addresses me on a golf course. I have the honour on every tee regardless of who won the last hole and I choose the venue of the next Grand Match. Although I recognise that it's really just a load of nonsense, I nevertheless can't bear the thought of losing, which I will do unless I can discover his secret.
M Geary, St Albans
Despite the fact that your Grand Match is, as you say, ''a load of nonsense'' nevertheless these things matter to the people concerned and winning is evidently very important to you. Discovering his 'secret', however,might prove rather tricky.
You are members of the same club, could you perhaps try something rather devious like persuading a fellow member to arrange a game with Kevin at which he could admire his bunker play and try to tease the 'secret' out of him? My suspicion, however, is that Kevin will smell a rat and not say anything. Another possibility might be to book a few lessonswith your pro in an effort to improve your own bunker play. But that, too, might not work.
I note that you live in Hertfordshire and therefore suggest that when you come to exercise your right as reigning champion to pick the venue for the next Grand Final, you choose Berkhamsted,which has no bunkers. Assuming you win, you could offer to waive your right to be addressed as ‘sir’ in return for his bunker secret.
Every March I fly to Arizona, take a week's holiday and play some of the very best desert courses including Troon North, TPC Scottsdale, Grayhawk, Kierland and We-Ko-Pa. I honestly believe that Scottsdale is blessed with some of the finest courses in the world.
Anyway, I take about a dozen balls with me and proceed to find at least three or four times that number over the course of the week. They're really not difficult to find especially if, like me, you're willing to search among the cacti. My problem is that having so many balls either in my bag or suitcase invariably pushes me over the airline's weight limit and the cost of the excess baggage is considerably greater than the value of the balls.
Although the obvious solution would be not to search for them in the first place, I simply can't seem to stop either looking or picking them up when I find them.
Jeff McWallach, East Kilbride
Ordinarily, finding balls is one of golf's greatest pleasures and an enormous consolation if you're not playing particularly well. But your efforts in Arizona are clearly costing you money and are therefore a bit of a waste of time. Since you evidently derive considerable satisfaction from finding balls, the aim should be to continue to do so without penalising yourself financially.
What I suggest you do is take about half-a-dozen reasonable balls with you. You will, I'm sure, soon find another six. Once you have a dozen, continue to look for balls but, at the end of each day, go through your balls, keep the best 12 and bin the rest. In this way, there will still be some meaningful purpose in looking for balls but you won't have to pay to bring them home.
I’m 56, have been playing golf since I was 12 and have a handicap of 15. Golf has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember and has been a source of great pleasure. However, the other day when I was standing on the 12th tee at my club, I looked at the pin in the distance on this particularly long par four and thought how preposterous it was of me to be even thinking about getting a stupid little ball into that distant hole in just four shots.
Suddenly I felt completely useless and thought how daft I was to waste my life struggling around a golf course. Incredibly depressed by it all, I had to apologise to my playing partners and walk in. I didn’t even wait for them to finish but got in my car and drove home. That was six months ago and I haven’t hit a ball since. I’ve not found anything else to fill my time but I just can’t see the point in playing golf any more. My subscriptions to both my club and this magazine are shortly due for renewal and, the way I feel right now, I don’t think I’ll bother.
L. L. O’Sullivan, Belfast
Oh dear, you are quite clearly suffering from what is known as “mid-handicap crisis”, which tends to affect golfers of your age with handicaps between 10 and 19. You have, in effect, fallen between two stools.
Single figure players are content because they believe they have more or less mastered the game. High handicappers are really only interested in having a bit of fun and don’t worry too much either about their scores or how well or badly they are playing. You, however, are a reasonably good golfer who subconsciously feels that, having played the game for so long, you really should be a lot better. You consequently feel a failure and are not unnaturally depressed by your inability to improve. No one in their right mind should ever give up golf and therefore you should definitely renew your subscription both to your club and, even more imperative, to this magazine.
Having, in effect, re-committed to golf, you should find that your interest returns. If it doesn’t, try something dramatic like experimenting with an interlocking grip. It could be the trigger that re-ignites your enthusiasm for the game.