It’s been an interesting couple of weeks. My run of sub-80 scores is well and truly over but on the plus side I played 18 holes with a former World Champion and also got to meet Tommy Fleetwood before playing a round at Sunningdale, in which I blew the socks off a former Manchester United player who saw me hit what might have been my best shot of the entire year.
I’ll get to that later, but first up, playing with a World Champ at my local course, Hurlston Hall in Ormskirk. I’m a trustee for the Roy Evans Foundation and we had a golf day to raise funds. There were quite a few celebrities present and I was paired in a four ball that included snooker legend Dennis Taylor, much to my delight (as you can see!).
Dennis is well into his 70s now but he still plays off a nine handicap and was hitting the ball a solid 220ish off the tee. It obviously helps having a son who is a pro golf coach but still, if I’m off single figures when I’m in my seventies I’ll be well pleased. Actually I’ll be pleased if I’m still able to even walk around a golf course when I’m his age.
Prior to this I’d been playing great (apart from my putting, obviously) but my driver started misbehaving and I spent so much time in the forest I felt like Robin Hood. There was one point when I was so deep into the trees that I had no escape route in any direction. Honestly, I was stood in there like this….
I don’t think I can remember being in that situation before, where there was just no shot at all. I don’t even know what the rule is there as I was too far in to take any relief. I’d already hit a provisional off the tee but that too had gone into the same trees. I wasn’t hitting a third shot off the tee as we were playing the two best scores from our four ball on each hole so there was no point, but I didn’t want to NR the hole as I like to keep my own score fro handicap purposes.
I found my original ball so I knew I could still potentially make a score we could use, but I had no window to get out of the trees. Playing out backwards or sideways was as risky as trying to advance it so I figured if I was going down, I was going down swinging. He who dares, right?
I chose a narrow window, took out my 5 iron and tried to knock it out under some branches. Almost had it too, the line was perfect but it was a bit high, smashed against a branch and ricocheted off back into the heart of the woods. I tried again, and this time found a gap and advanced it up the fairway about 80 yards. Probably the best shot I played all day really.
I salvaged a double out of it but the driver kept finding trouble so eventually I gave up on it and started hitting 3 wood. After that I did ok on the back nine until the last hole when I pulled one and left myself blocked out by trees. I thought I could just about clear them with a six iron but I thinned it a bit. It smacked into a big tree 30 yards away and incredibly ended up rolling all the way back to me, coming to rest at my feet. All I could do was laugh before hitting again from virtually the same spot. This time I hooked it around the trees to the back of the green but ended up three putting (again).
The highlight of the day was when Dennis chipped in for birdie. I glanced over to see if he had bust out the famous ‘cue over the head’ celebration when he beat Steve Davis but sadly he hadn’t. I thought about doing it myself but this scene from Father Ted came to mind and that kept me in check.
I did almost say to him “hey Dennis, tell your ball it’s about to have company” but then I realised I’m not that guy. I just don’t have that much swag and ‘calling my shot’ is not something I can pull off, especially when I’m trying to impress a world champ. So I said nothing, and then immediately regretted it when I produced a near perfect chip that ended up so close to the hole Madeline Sagstrom nipped onto the green to pick it up and throw it back to me.
All in all though a great day and Dennis was brilliant company. What a lovely fella. For the record, I shot 87.
A week later I was back at the Beacon, home of three sub 80 rounds from me recently. I was on pace for a fourth too but dropped nine shots on the last four holes after suddenly developing a pull hook out of nowhere. I finished double, par, triple, quad to shoot 87 once again. Seething. Considering the 18th is just a pitching wedge onto a big wide green with the only trouble the deep rough way left of it, dropping four shots on that hole is some feat.
Finally, I got to play the Sunningdale new course this week at the Tommy Fleetwood Golf Day put on by TagHeuer, one of Tommy’s sponsors. It was a long way to travel but well worth it to play that course.
The day started with us sitting around having breakfast watching Tommy being interviewed about the upcoming Ryder Cup by Sky’s Nick Dougherty.
Then we went outside to the practice green where Tommy put on a chipping and bunker shot clinic for us. I got to have a quick chat with him and told him that we were basically neighbours (he’s from Southport and I live in Halsall, which is only a few minutes drive from him). He’s no doubt driven past my house loads of times as it’s on the main road from Southport to Liverpool, so I told him to look out it for next time he’s passing and that he’ll know it because of the big putting green in the front garden.
We said our farewells, I wished him luck at the Ryder Cup and Tommy said that next time he’s passing he’ll stop and we’ll have a putting competition, which was a bit awkward as I didn’t have the heart to say that Evertonians aren’t welcome. Hopefully he was just being polite and won’t be knocking on my door, as frankly it would be uncomfortable having to turn him away.
Anyway, after Tommy’s chipping clinic I only went and holed a flop shot on the first for birdie didn’t I? All modesty aside, Tommy’s chipping hadn’t been that great so maybe I should have been giving him a clinic? I jest, that was probably the only good chip shot I made all day and I had a lot of them because some of those greens were difficult to hit.
The highlight of the round was a birdie on the par 5 6th hole, especially because I did it in front of former Manchester United star Wes Brown. He was part of a fourball in the group ahead and because we were a twoball they hit their tee shots and then waited for us so we could play through. This is them teeing off, just look at the view down that fairway. Gorgeous.
Playing through another group can be quite stressful as they’re all watching you hit and you feel like you need to go quickly, but when one of them played for a team you’ve despised your whole life there’s added pressure! Luckily I flushed a 3 wood down the right side of the fairway that settled in the semi rough, but I still had 235 yards left, up the hill to a two tiered green in which the pin was near the back on the upper level.
I walked down the fairway with my new pal Wes and had a pleasant little chat with him. I didn’t tell him that I’ve made a living writing about Liverpool for the past twenty odd years, which therefore means I’ve almost certainly written some disparaging things about him during that time. Nothing immediately comes to mind but it’s inevitable that I’ll have had a go at him over something.
I’m happy to redress that balance here though and say what an absolutely top fella he was. Just a genuinely nice lad, friendly and humble. He’s got a totally false impression of my abilities as a golfer though after seeing me play this hole. Maybe I need an ex United player with me every time I play, because honestly, you should have seen the two shots I hit when he was there. Roy Keane would be great company I reckon. Not Gary Neville though. Eurgh.
So anyway, 220yds is usually the maximum for me with a 3 wood off the deck but I smoked this one out of the rough, got a bit of a flyer and a helpful bounce, and up it went onto the green and continued rolling up the hill onto the top tier, leaving me about 15 feet for eagle. Wes was impressed and was very complimentary. As I said, nice lad.
Thankfully he didn’t see me misread the putt so badly that it ended up four feet right of the hole. I just about made the birdie though so all good. At least it was until disaster struck around the turn. Holes 8 through 10 absolutely killed me. Eight shots gone in those three holes.
I didn’t play them well but part of it was due to not knowing the course and where you can’t afford to miss. The bushes and heather around the greens are absolute score wreckers at Sunningdale. I’m not used to that where I usually play as the greenside rough is usually thick enough to stop wayward approaches reaching the really bad stuff. Not here though, anything that misses the elevated greens will kick away and if you’re luck is out you’ll be in the shrubbery.
I found the fairway on the 8th but my approach missed to the right. Not by much, but it caught the bank on the right of the green and the ball ended up shooting off into the middle of a thick bush, forcing a penalty drop and a double bogey.
Similar story on the next hole. Cracking tee shot, approach shot misses a bit right, catches the bank and shoots off into all the crap. I was in the heather but the ball was sitting ok, other than there were roots directly under it. Not a problem if I’m just hitting a normal chip out of there, but I had an eight foot high bush between me and the green so needed to hit a flop shot. I’m actually decent at that kind of shot but the roots behind the ball were worrying me. I went for it, there was too much ‘flop’ and it plopped in the middle of the bush. Lost ball, penalty drop, poor chip, three putts, quadruple. Goddammit.
Onto the next, with Nick Dougherty on hand to offer some tee time tips. I pulled it, caught a the mound on the left of the green (see below) , rolled down the bank and ended up in the heather in a horrible lie.
Nick found my ball and told me how to play the shot but I let him down with a hack that just sort of dribbled out of the heather into the rough. I then hit a nice, blind flop shot up to the elevated green but couldn’t make the 12 footer and that was two more shots gone.
Eight shots in three holes! A complete meltdown. The punishment didn’t fit the crimes though. The approach shots on all three holes were poor but they didn’t miss by THAT much. One resulted in an unplayable and the other two lies I had were just too much for a golfer of my limited skillset. I’m sure the pros would have been able to either get up and down or at least come very close to it, but I had no chance.
I was solid after that and had four pars and four bogeys over the closing eight holes. I never holed a putt all day outside of six feet and I missed probably half a dozen from inside that. Just the 37 putts for the round. Jesus, it’s actually getting worse rather than better. 37 putts would be bad if I’d hit every green, but I missed 10 greens so that means I was chipping on quite a bit, which in theory means the ball should be closer to the hole than if I’d hit the green in regulation. So that number is even worse.
And it’s basically for 17 holes and not 18 as I chipped in on the first. Pitiful. You know that line from Joe Pesci in Goodfellas when he says “Just once in my life I wish I was big”. Replace ‘was big’ with ‘could putt’ and that’s me, every time I’m on the course.
I might have to relax my “no Evertonians on my putting green” rule and get Tommy round after all. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
The 18th was the scene of longest drive competition. There were two markers in the fairway. One looked like it might just about be reachable if I caught it perfectly and got a friendly bounce but the other one was so far off into the distance both myself and my playing partner just looked at it and said “Ah well, forget that then”.
Shout out to my playing partner by the way, Keith Jackson from Sky Sports Golf. It was a five hour round but it didn’t feel like it as Keith was great company and had so many stories from behind the scenes at golf events he’s covered. None of which I can publish, unfortunately. If he ever writes a book though, you should buy it.
Having seen that marker on 18 I didn’t even hit driver as there was no point, but when we got to the first marker and checked the names we realised that this was actually the target and that we could have possibly reached it (Keith definitely could have). So what was the other one then? When we eventually got up there (it was miles up the fairway) and had a look, it said it was Fleetwood’s drive. He must have hit one up 18 before we went out.
It was quite sobering. Obviously we all know the pros hit it miles and we hear the numbers so often that we’re almost immune to it. They’re hitting it 300 yards as an absolute minimum and then you have the likes of Bryson carrying it 360 at times. I feel as though we become numb to that though and lose sight of how far it actually is.
Standing on the fairway next to where Tommy’s drive finished brought it home big time. I’d estimate it was maybe 340-350 yards but it looked like miles back to the tee. Tommy isn’t even one of the super long hitters either. They really are playing a different sport to the rest of us.