Good Morning Britain and Tipping Point presenter Ben Shephard reflects on the difficulty, frustration and unpredictability of golf and why his hole-in-one proved a damp squib. . .
Ben Shephard is Mr ITV. One of the most familiar faces on the small screen, there's a good chance when you switch on your telly that the popular presenter will be beaming back at you on one programme or another. He currently co-anchors ITV breakfast show Good Morning Britain twice a week, as well as hosting quiz show Tipping Point on a daily basis while at weekends he hosts ITV's hit Saturday night show Ninja Warrior.
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The 45-year-old West Ham fan loves most sports and is a keen kitesurfer and wakeboarder besides playing rugby, football and, of course, golf, but concedes "there are quite a few things that get in the way of improving my 18-handicap".
When I agreed to play in the British Masters Pro-Am at Close House, I had every intention of turning up and knowing where my ball was going off the 1st tee. But typically for a high-handicap golfer, those intentions went out of the window very quickly. Once you get that opening tee shot out of the way, you're fine. But on that 1st tee, you're never relaxed, are you? All you're trying to do is stop your hands from shaking.
Golf can be an irritating and unpredictable game. The next time you step up to the ball might result in the best, or the worst shot you've ever hit. I've a loose handicap of 18 which usually means if I hit a cracking shot I'm a bandit, but in truth I struggle to play to that because I tend to lose shots around the green. I did have a dream round at St George's Hill in Surrey. After a shocking front nine I had an eagle, two birdies and four pars on the back nine.
My club is Wimbledon Park next to the tennis courts. I play a lot down there with the pro, Dean Wingrove, who's done his best to guide me – he gets all the responsibility and very little glory! I love playing down there and my boys, 12 and 10, have just fallen in love with golf, which is very exciting. It's a good excuse for me to go out and play with them and thankfully they're not saddled with the anger and fury. If the ball doesn't go where it's supposed to, they just laugh, which is what we should all do really. When I start taking it too seriously, that's when I start getting angry about golf . But I don't have any right to expect my game to be better than it is, which is average at best.
I'm also a member at St Enodoc in Cornwall. That is the best course I've ever played. It's a joy to play and I so much want to play a really good round there simply because it's so beautiful and deserves good golf. Growing up, it was always my ambition to play the Church course, but my aunt kept telling me "you're not ready yet". So when I eventually got to play it with some friends, it was just magical. It's got spectacular views, tricky holes and a bunker called The Himalayas, which is every bit as intimidating as it sounds.
The most consistent club in my bag is probably my putter, as long as I can work out how fast the greens are. The biggest problem is whether I've managed to find my ball off the tee! I regularly get stuck on my back foot so I fade the ball a lot.
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Probably my best moment in golf so far was when I played in a golf day at Close House and we managed to win it along with Danny Willett before he went on to win the Masters – I like to think I helped get him in the winning frame of mind for Augusta!
Yes, I've had a hole-in-one and naturally got quite excited. But the people in front of us told us to keep quiet, which I didn't think was quite in the spirit of things! I would like to see golf relax a little bit – very often everyone can get caught up in the seriousness of the game at times. That's why I love the Hero Challenge, the new Golf Sixes format and the fact that the ruling bodies are trying to find ways of making golf more fun. I think players like 'Beef' have brought something really special and different to the tour.
Most of my family play golf – my father-in-law is full of tips and advice and also plays off 18, although he's good for that and should be a lot lower. My mum and dad both play and my mum also gives me plenty of tips – it's amazing how these 29-handicap players can tell you what you're doing wrong! I had that fantastic game with my brother at St George's Hill, burning up the back nine with 24 or 25 points – everything I hit was just amazing.
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I'm quite competitive and would like to think one day I could play off single figures. But, more than anything, like most golfers I'd just like to be consistent. I'd like to know on the tee I've a good idea where the ballisgoingtogoandifIcangetto that point then my handicap should come down.
I understand golf involves skill and concentration, but making it attractive and appealing so you can go along and really enjoy yourself is so important. In my view, 18 holes is too much for youngsters – and a lot of adults come to that – and I'm all for shortening the rounds, especially as I tend to lose concentration from holes 12-15 – they're my 'blobbing' time – before I get back into it again near the end.
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