Golf is back from its Coronavirus closure and award-winning comedian, BBC Radio 5Live host and Bad Golfer John Robins' return to the course saw him putting like a pro... for a few holes, at least.
There is no better way to start my latest Today's Golfer column than with words doubtless uttered on every fairway, green and tee box this last month: It’s good to be back. And, I daresay, it may even have been said in the odd bunker, gorse and thicket. My oh my it feels nice to play golf again.
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My return was not an impressive one according to the scorecard, but what the scorecard didn’t show was the delight in meeting familiar faces, the camaraderie, the planning, the fresh air and beaming smiles. True, it also didn’t show many points or pars, but as someone who obsesses about their performance, and can tend to be a little hard on themselves, I genuinely didn’t care.
As my hips keep telling me, I’ve played as much as humanly possible since we were allowed back. About eight rounds in the last month. As a self-confessed bad golfer, I have to admit that I’m not blessed with a natural swing, so it takes a bit of time to hit some form. My handicap has gone up from 18.6 to 19.8 since golf opened up again but a few things that happened out on the course reminded me why it’s not so bad to be bad, and also just why I love golf so much.
I’ve never been a good putter. In fact, I’ve never really been an average putter. I’m tentative, tense and when I say I have a tendency to leave it short, I don’t mean a tantalising inch short, I mean a please-ground-swallow-me-whole six feet short. No matter how much I repeat in my head ‘Hit it! Commit! DON’T LEAVE IT SHORT!’ something happens in my body during my stroke, a split second panic of hitting it too hard that is neither conscious or avoidable.
On my first round back, however, it would seem I have completely lost this fear from distance, and it gave me one of the strangest experiences I’ve ever had on a golf course.
After a leisurely double on the first and a scrambled bogey on the second we approached the 3rd hole, a longish par 4 on which I would usually snap your arm off for a bogey and two points. It’s a dog-leg right which, as a leftie with a slice is very ominous sight. I ditched the driver to keep it safe, and after two decent hybrids found myself in the very unusual position of being stood just off the green with a putter in my hand, 61 feet from a birdie. And there, dear reader, I stayed, as I watched my putt track, track, turn and sink into the hole.
For us mid-to-high-handicap golfers these are rare moments. As an amateur, birdies on par 4s always feel the hardest to get. And I don’t think I’ve ever sunk a 61-foot putt before. When you’re playing off 19 there is no better feeling than walking away from a green knowing no golfer in history could have played that hole any better. One of those occasions where you take a little video in your head, to remind you just how good this game can make you feel. A one off.
Or so I thought...
On the next hole, a poor drive, poor approach and half decent chip left me 33 feet for par. In it went.
I should point out my three playing partners had never played with me before, and they’d just seen me cover nearly 100 feet of putts in two strokes. They stared in awe before checking for the hidden camera. Forget shooting 36 points in a midweek roll up, this kind of putting will win you the Masters.
This was it. It was happening. The fairytale where, through sheer chance, everything was just clicking on one magic day. Over the course of the rest of the round I holed two further 15-foot putts to give me around 124 feet of putts holed in just four strokes.
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But John, you said your return to golf didn’t produce an impressive score! Ah...
You must have got another birdie at least?
I did actually...on the par-4 18th.
Two birdies! Wow! It sounds like you lit the course up!
So was it your lowest ever score?
We can never escape ourselves, can we? Despite having four moments of genuine world-class putting, they came at a price. The golfing gods had smiled on me from about six feet and out. But what I am about to tell you will send a chill down the spine of any golfer.
I missed seven putts from less than three feet. And when I say less than three feet, I mean a foot less than three feet. And, in two instances, I mean two feet less than three feet.
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And there you have it, the bogey golfer’s fate laid bare. At my glorious best I had out putted the average tour pro. From within the length of a school ruler I had put in a shift that would make a toddler blush. That’s four putts to cover 124 feet, and 14 putts to cover, being generous, eighteen feet.
I cannot tell you why it happened. But I can tell you that as I approached every single one of those putts, I knew I was going to miss, and maybe that’s the key. The more I tried to be confident, the more I said “this one’s in!”, the more the devil on my shoulder rolled his eyes. The more practice strokes I took, the easier I tried to make it look, the more I was guaranteed to hear my previously dumbstruck playing partners groaning with sympathy.
But you know what, being a high-handicap golfer I still stepped off the course feeling like I’d done something exceptional. I have a friend who plays off near enough scratch and after watching him launch a drive into the clouds I asked him what it was like to be that good. “You know what, the better I get, the more frustrating I find golf. When I was a kid getting a par was massive, now I have to get them, it’s expected. And If I make a double bogey I feel like my whole round is ruined”.
After hearing those words I felt pretty happy with my lot. Even my worst round will contain a handful of shots where I turn to imagined galleries to acknowledge their applause. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to play badly, and rest assured my next lesson is booked to address this new 24-inch demon. But even having left seven shots on the green, it still felt so good to be back.
WITB: Bad Golf's John Robins
Click the club names to read reviews and tests of John's clubs
Driver: Cobra King Speedzone Xtreme Loft: 10.5º set to 11.5º. Shaft: Tensei blue 65 reg
Hybrid: Cobra King Speedzone Loft: 2H. Shaft: Recoil reg
Irons: Cobra King Speedzone Lofts: 5-GW. Shafts: Recoil reg
Wedges: Cobra King MIM Lofts: 52º, 58º. Shafts: STD wedge shaft
Putter: Odyssey O-Works 2.0 R-Line
Golf ball: Bridgestone E6
John Robins is an award-winning stand-up comedian and radio host. Listen to his BBC Radio 5Live show every Friday from 1pm or download the podcast here and watch his comedy special 'The Darkness of Robins' on Netflix here. You can also follow John on Twitter and Instagram.