I have to admit I have little time for fair-weather golfers. You know the sort…they arrive (usually late) on a dank November morning, whingeing that they’re doing us a big favour turning up.
At the first sight of being able to see their own breath, they mention it at the top of your backswing and then proceed to moan about conditions underfoot that prevent them getting appropriate grip on their white shoes, which within seconds are looking distinctly grubby.
And furthermore, after moaning all the way round – and having lost all side bets – they tell you they have to get back because granny’s coming to Sunday lunch. And they clear off without settling up.
Fair-weather golfers make my blood boil!
I’ve known a few in my time but fortunately the group of guys I generally play with these days are ultra reliable on a cold, frosty winter’s morning, having stopped off first to fill their faces with a full breakfast at a greasy spoon transport café in a lay-by beside the A1 (you know who you are!).
Sure we tend to play 18 holes of ‘if only’…if only my ball hadn’t buried itself in that wet bunker…’, ‘if only my approach hadn’t skidded on that icy temporary green…’, ‘if only my footing hadn’t slipped on that tee-mat…’
But that’s human nature. It’s all part of the game and as the passionate half a million who play during Britain’s winter months, we can call ourselves ‘real golfers’.
For many of you winter golf is for idiots. You can’t see the point of dressing up in thick woollies, waterproofs and even long-johns to trudge around four miles in often bitter temperatures in pursuit of golfing perfection.
‘Why punish yourself to get soaking wet and weary from a four-hour round? What have you got to show for it?’ you ask.
At times we have to ask ourselves the same question but I have rarely played a round –even in horrendous conditions - where I have not learned something.
At the weekend I played with 14-year-old Ben – a 16-handicapper whose game has improved by ten shots in the last year.
He strikes the ball nicely with little effort and usually in the fairway but he was let down on a few occasions by a short game that lacked consistency.
Three-putting the first three greens irritated him. Then I spotted that at address the toe of the putter was pointing upwards at almost 45 degrees.
The shaft might have been an inch or two too long, but by carrying his hands a little higher and standing taller he would be able to strike the ball more consistently out of the inset face of his putter. It would avoid the heel catching on the ground in the through stroke, which closes the putter face. By getting more of the sole of the putter on the ground he would limit those mishits.
I also suggested that with his chips from 20-30 yards he should keep the trajectory low, rather than to play a high lofted flop shot with a 60-degree lob wedge when there was nothing other than fairway between him and the hole. These cute, flashy Mickelson-type shots look good when they come off but, at our level, are so hard to achieve with any consistency.
Chances are you’ll thin them through the back of the green and be left with a 30-foot putt at best. I suggest a 9- or 8-iron would pitch the ball forward with more roll and be easier to develop length control.
When faced with an uphill chip from a similar distance when you can’t see the bottom of the flag don’t immediately reach for your sand or lob wedge, either. A 6-or 7-iron will tend to produce better results.
With an uphill chip you will automatically add loft to the clubface and this means the shot will demand even more precision to execute effectively.
Better to take a straighter-faced club which, when placed behind the ball, will offer enough loft to chip into the face of the bank and make the ball pop forward and roll.
Rather than seek the sanctity of the clubhouse and the pool table Ben, to his credit, headed for the practice putting and chipping green to try out the new scoring methods I’d suggested. I expect him to improve by two or three shots by next Spring and be hard to beat in the future.
Even on the most miserable of golfing days, there's always some fun, some satisfaction, something we can learn about this fascinating game. But if you're a fair-weather golfer don't expect any sympathy when you three-putt or duff a chip.