My hands were trembling slightly as I held the telephone. It was as if I was back in my teenage years and anxiously asking a girl for a date. Would she say “yes?” Would she say “no?” Might she pause and say “maybe?”
If the slight nervousness was the same this time, the question was different. So was the person at whom the question was directed. This time it was: “Are you open today? Can I come and hit some balls?” To my pleasure, the answer from the man in charge of the local driving range was: “Yes. But remember we’ll be closing earlier than usual. It gets dark about 4 o’clock.”
I put the telephone down, feeling elated. Golf at last. A chance to work on a swing change. Because of COVID-19 there had been another lockdown in England and it had been more than a month since I had touched a golf club. In that time my clubs had lain on the back seat of my car and every time I climbed into the driver’s seat I could feel them looking at me reproachfully. In my part of England the lockdown had been fierce. We were allowed to do only food and essential shopping. No visiting the houses of friends. No chatty dinners in local restaurants. And certainly no golf – until last Wednesday.
I walked excitedly to the range and selected my place next to a young man with a good-looking swing. The thud as his club collided with the cheap range balls was impressive, as was the way the ball seemed to fizz off the clubface. It made me want to move farther away from him so as not to be overshadowed. “What’s your handicap?” I asked, expecting him to say 3 or 4 or 5.
“It was 9 before lockdown,” he replied.
If he’s a 9, I’m a 22, I thought to myself.
I swung and swung, hitting a couple of balls every minute. I tried to analyse what had gone wrong – or occasionally right – with each one. For a change, I picked out the grubbiest looking balls, the ones that looked as though they would hardly fly even if Rory McIlroy had hit them, and chipped them onto an adjoining green.
If I was assessing my performance I would say I hit a few good shots, a few mediocre ones and some unmentionables. I paid £5 for a bucket of 50 balls and I am not sure I got good value for money. It didn’t matter though. As the rain fell and the light began to fade on that damp December afternoon, I had been happy. I was able to reengage with a game I often hate and sometimes love and can’t abandon. That game is golf.