Paul Gallagher is trying to find answers to an ailing golf game that has been knocked off course
I’ve become brain dead on the golf course. One poor decision after another. It didn’t used to be this way. How has this happened? And more importantly, how can it be rectified?
Not so long ago, it used to be steady as she goes. Rarely spectacular but a safe pair of hands, and on good days the card matched par or occasionally dipped just under around Royal County Down (RCD). These days it’s nigh on certain to have a handful of ‘dings’ ‘scratches’ ‘nil-point’ scattered over the stableford card. And when that happens you can forget it, especially when there’s only two shots to play with.
There is no God-given right in this game, but this is a new departure. And as someone who overthinks most things in life, I’m curious to find out why this is happening? Put aside that I’m into my 40s with plenty of miles on the clock. Of course there are some mornings you wake up needing WD40 to get the engine up and running but I feel fitter now than ever, so I refuse to let age be an excuse – just yet.
I like to think we are still playing the front nine.
I’ve been playing a regular weekly game with Hugh Smyth (HB), the former Irish international who is also a member of Mourne Golf Club in Newcastle. HB is still a wily fox on the golf course. The competitive juices never switch off and his tall frame and rhythmic motion still know how to get the job done.
We’re both playing off two these days. But that’s where the comparisons in our golf game end just now.
HB might tower above the rest of the group, but the fast hands that often get me into trouble usually generate some extra yards off the tee. However, you won’t need a fore caddy to find HB’s ball whereas mine might be 25 yards further but invariably has missed the short stuff.
And why am I hitting the same stupid shots at the same places every week. The pull hook off the 11th tee at RCD, the smothered mid iron to bring the water into play at 14. I’ll swear the RCD green keepers have cleared gorse bushes between 11 and 18 for they can see I’m running out of balls every week.
I suspect course management is another aspect that rarely comes into club golfers’ psyche, especially when playing your home course, week-in, week-out. We all tend to do the same things, reach for the same club on the same hole without giving a second’s thought that there might be a better way. Course management is definitely on the improvement list for 2018.
And let’s not start on the putting stroke. It used to be silky smooth, relishing those six-footers or annoying playing partners by draining another 20-footer across the green. They were regular occurrences, but birdies are hard to find these days. It’s fast becoming a shaky ‘de-cel’ and we all know that’s the road to no town.
Scar tissue has built up. A golfing guru would have a field day – or run a mile?
I’ve spoken to many fellow club golfers. We all have our issues. It doesn’t matter if you play off scratch or 18, that’s just a number, the game is relative. Is there another sport with more variables? Golf requires sustained mental fortitude to get the job done, and not just for 70 or 80 minutes in the company of team mates. On this lonesome journey, we put ourselves through the ringer for four hours and more until the final putt drops.
But we never give up the ghost. There are always enough diamonds in the rough to bring us back for more. For this hacker, those diamonds are hard to find at the moment, but golf’s funny like that, it gives and it takes. We are simply players going along for the ride.
I do believe proper supervision is required. Kevan Whitson, the RCD head pro, and I have talked about a coaching programme. Talking doesn’t cut it, so that prudent step has yet to be taken. I have no doubt time spent with Kevan would be beneficial, both to the technical and mental parts of my game.
Just now we keep persevering. It might seem strange given everything I’ve just highlighted, but every week I learn something new from HB. The debriefs in the Mourne car park or chat between holes are invaluable. How to plot your way around the course, breaking the short game down, setting mini targets for the round have been recent topics. It all makes sense when laid out.
The mechanics are what we have. Little will change now for this 42-year-old. No, it’s time to clear the clutter, put the brain back in gear and start playing some golf.