TG's man has never had a hole in one... so he took matters in to his own hands.
I'm part of the (not so) merry band of golfers who have never had a hole-in-one. It's not for the want of trying; I've just never been that accurate or lucky. In my 16 years playing the game, my list of achievements on the course could be scribbled down on the back of a fag packet. And even then it would probably go up in smoke, just like the majority of my rounds.
I always said I would quit playing golf if I ever made a hole-in-one, so maybe my subconscious has been trying to do me a favour. Whatever the reason, I knew today was going to be the best chance I'll ever have of joining the ace club.
The challenge I was going to attempt was ambitious, but not impossible. The odds of making an ace are 3,000-1 for a pro and 12,000-1 for someone like me. I had watched Edoardo Molinari try (and fail) to make a hole-in-one from 500 balls last summer and openly ridiculed him for it.
I believe my words were: How hard can it be? (Since then, fellow Tour pro Brandon Stone has also tried - and failed - to make a hole in one from 500 golf balls.)
My logic – if there was any – was that hitting 500 balls from the same distance on the same hole meant the odds are probably in your favour.
To prove I was right, I trekked 100 miles to Foxhills Golf & Resort in the hope of doing what Molinari, and Stone, could not. I set up camp on the 3rd tee of the Manor Course, armed with 75 balls and several hundred tees.
"I'll be done by lunchtime," I bravely predicted. That seemed a bit optimistic once I clocked eyes on the target. The yardage to the hole read 152, but my eyes were drawn to the small sliver of green and the road behind it. The nerves began to kick in, and I found myself wiping sweat off my hands and trying (unsuccessfully) to stop my knees from shaking.
Ready to go at 10am, I grabbed my 8-iron and launched myself into the ball with all the grace of a lumberjack wielding an axe. It started right and drifted right, narrowly avoiding a stream and bunker before clattering into something hard. And no, it wasn't the pin.
Undeterred, I hit a second and the same thing happened. It took another six shots before I hit the green. The angle of the tee box meant I had to start the ball left and over trees, hoping the wind would bring it back onto the green.
Working that out was easy; the hard part was trying to do it. My first 20 tee shots were splattered about like a Jackson Pollock painting. One short, two in a ditch, three in the bunker, six in the trees and the rest on and around the greens. Molinari never struck shots like these, I complained. I was hitting balls in batches of 30, hoping the rest in between would do me some good. It didn't.
It took nearly an hour to find a groove, not to mention all the balls. By the time I finally hit something resembling a golf shot, a small gaggle of spectators had given up watching. This was it, I thought, as my eyes started flittering between the ball and the hole. For once, it pitched on line and no more than a foot from the pin. All it needed was one hop forward but it hung, unwillingly, in its pitch mark. It had taken 38 shots, but that was my marker. Or so I thought.
Another hour passed before I came vaguely close to threatening the pin again – and even then the ball trundled over the back of the green. "Too much adrenaline," asked our photographer? "Too much anger," was my response.
The two shanks that preceded it were unwelcome, and expletives were now greeting almost every shot. My patience was wearing thin, but then everything started to click. The mishits were replaced by pin-seekers, and my percentage of greens in regulation was reaching a respectable level. I was still losing balls, but nowhere near the rate I started at. I had been hitting shots solidly for five hours by the time I topped up on caffeine and carbs. It was only when I stopped that I realised the mess I had created. Broken tees were slung in every direction, as were divots, water bottles and energy bar wrappers. Thankfully my game seemed in much better shape, even if my body did not.
My severe allergy to grass (yes, really!) meant my eyes were streaming and my nose was running. It was a welcome distraction from the pain in my backside – both figuratively and literally – so I kept persevering. With every passing hour, my swing speed slowed down and more balls were donated to the woods, never to be found again.
What started out as a fun challenge had turned into a soul-destroying slog. As I dispatched the 400th shot, I was nursing a bunch of blisters and running out of balls... and daylight. Clubbing down wasn't working, so I clubbed up and tried to draw the ball into the hole. Cue a succession of wild shots and a lot of club banging.
I was on the verge of accepting defeat by the time I hit the 500 mark, and yet I still had an hour left before sunset. I kept going and two shots later, I was nearly rewarded. My cries of "get in the hole" echoed around the now empty course as the ball kissed the pin and crash-landed inches from the lip. I sunk to my knees, begging for the spin which never came. If the golfing gods wanted a grandstand finish, now was the time. I dispensed another batch of balls onto the green and into the trees before deciding to hit what I had left.
This was my last chance. I wasn't holding out much hope, but then something amazing happened. Ball No.557 looked like it had a chance. My attention spiked as I held the pose, praying this was the moment. The wind had died down and I knew I had the distance. This was no time to start pre-empting my celebration, but I couldn't help myself. I dared to dream, and watched expectantly as a white speck fell from the night sky.
I gritted my teeth as the ball began its merry dance around the hole. It skipped to the left, then to the right, and skirted the edge. I ran down to the hole, head in hands, confirming what I already knew – the ball hadn't dropped. The pitch mark was about a foot before the pin; the ball a foot past it. I wanted another go, but I knew I had run out of time. My hands were battered, and my ego was bruised. For all my protestations that a hole- in-one challenge would be easy, I can now admit that golf is anything but. It's just a shame it took me nearly 12 hours and a whole lot of pain to figure that out!