Since we jumped in the car and drove to Southport after the Exeter Chiefs’ win in the Premiership semi-final on Saturday 19th May we were on an extended tour of the country playing golf. Between then and Sunday 8th July I played: –
3 National Championships
County Senior Championships
2 Senior Channel League matches + the Southern Counties Foursomes qualifier over 36 holes
A County Senior Order of Merit tournament
4 County inter-club trophy matches, 2 scratch and 2 handicap
National Final of a Club Secretary’s event
2 club knockout matches
A club medal, and a society day
I’ve missed a Channel League game for Devon (whilst away at the Scottish Seniors) and my Club Championships (mentally shot away and too damn tired to play)
It has been bloody good fun. I’ve played 7 courses I’ve previously never been to, including three in the UK top 100. I’ve had a mixture of results between great and ghastly, though this isn’t about playing outcomes. I do know I’m knackered, mind. No, this is much more about the things I have learnt; I’ve had an insight into what it must be like to do this for a living, and have come out of the experience with huge respect for the way the guys deal with everything you face when you travel and play seriously.
If you aspire to play good level Senior golf in this country you have to resign yourself to the fact that the fixture list is ridiculous. Three of the Home Country’s National Championships take place in a 4-week period in June. If you want to play all four there is a 2-week gap between the Irish in mid-May and the English in the first week of June. I played only those in June.
A couple of things came out of the whole experience. The first one is there is a limit to how much really intense golf anyone can actually play without taking proper breaks for recovery.
The physical task of bashing a golf ball around a golf course isn’t truly that demanding, even at my advanced age. Most anyone can amble round 4 or 5 miles in 3 or 4 hours. The challenge isn’t physical. It is mostly mental.
There are all sorts of clichés one could trot out at this point, but the simple truth is you have to stay alert. You have to be alert to what’s going on around you in terms of the weather, in terms of changing course conditions and in terms of how you are actually performing; how you are striking the ball will determine the decisions you are going to make. And you have to stay alert to make the right decisions.
The week away at the English (which followed an inter-club match) we played 5 days straight at the Coxmoor and Sherwood Forest clubs, 2 in practice and 3 in tournament play. I hung around the top 10 first two tournament days before dropping back slightly on day 3 (T16). Course set-up was demanding, with the course starting to run fast and enough big rough to be an issue. A really nervous, anxious start was what caused the problems on day 3, but I stuck with the task and produced an OK finish. It was a calm, collected and focussed week, playing without the “A” game on show.
By the time I went to the Scottish 10 days later I was, mentally, toast. I played 5 times again during that intervening week, with another inter-club knockout match, two club knockouts, a County Order of Merit event and I ran a small society bash on the Sunday. Only in one of these did I play especially well, and in none of them did I have the concentration necessary to produce the results I wanted. By the time I’d driven to Ayrshire I had nothing to give, and performed accordingly, missing the cut by a country mile. Which was obviously disappointing, not least bearing in mind I loved the golf course, Irvine Bogside. What I’d needed between the two tournaments was a quiet week with the odd game and an opportunity to practice. Not what I had.
Poor decisions started as early as the 2nd hole, and continued throughout the first 10 holes I played, which required 50 hits; and that was achieved with an outstanding up and down from 60 yards for a double on 10 and parring the two hardest holes on the entire course, 1 and 9! The rest? Least said, soonest mended.
The one thing the dreadful performance in Scotland allowed was a weekend off, although we had 36-holes of inter-counties foursomes at Exeter on the Monday before travelling to Wales, again very poor fixture arrangement. Pennard is a magnificent golf course, but the conditions were nightmarish as the course trended from yellow to completely bleached white as the sun did its thing.
But there was a least something in there; I dropped half the shots of the entire week in the first 8 holes, but found enough sheer bloody-mindedness to hang in, make the cut and end up 20th. I knew I didn’t have much left though, and so it proved.
Back to inter-club on the Sunday and I played a wrong ball in a losing game. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before, certainly not for 25 years. Then a county match, where again I couldn’t sustain focus. My club pal in the county side was our hero in against Wiltshire, scoring 2 birdies in the last two holes to level his own game and win the match for Devon, but I saw the price he paid for that the following night, when playing together we lost in another inter-club match and he had a very untypical patch of play in the middle of the round. He was mentally tired. There is always only so much gas in the tank.
I was coming out the other side though, and had to for County Champs, but it was still a struggle. Should have had a 3-shot lead after 18, but made poor decisions on that last hole and took double. Threw in a treble in the afternoon 9-hole dash but then played the last 6 in 1-under; found a bit of git in me to fight back with and win.
Since then the volume and intensity of golf and of competition has dropped. The recent scores show it; 69, 66, 72 and 69. My ability to concentrate and to play well has significantly improved as there is more downtime between each competitive round. And therein lies the key. I’ve got to learn that there have to be breaks between what I try to do, pauses for reflection, pauses, even, for practice for maintenance and repair of a method being tested in intense circumstances.
One other thing I’ve learnt a lot about is travel and accommodation, especially the latter. For the three big weeks away we had two pretty OK hotels, which coincided with the two better weeks, and one absolute dive which undoubtedly contributed to the poor week. I was already done tournament-wise by the time I went back for the second night there, but having to listen to the couple in an adjoining room having a loud “conversation” – the type where the bed squeaks – then deal with a security light shining into my room every 45 seconds as something loose in the wind continually set the sensor off; well, it was like trying to sleep in a lighthouse.
The lesson is to make sure where I’m staying enhances the experience, not detracts. You have to be comfortable in order to be rested and ready to play, especially when you can face some very early start times on one or another day of a Championship. Off street car parking, good and easy access to the tournament venue, good food choices. All play a part.
The respect I have for the professionals who do this all the time now knows no bounds. I’m doing all this for fun, and I’ve found it wearing. The guys who do this as a living, crossing continents and time zones, different food, water and languages. Different beds and people. Different grass. It takes real strength of mind and good people around you to make that survivable. And all I’m doing is driving the motorway network!