CLAYDON ON COURSE GOLF COLUM: The Pro-Am that filled me with fear

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AFTER watching The Open in the build-up to taking part in my first ever golf tournament I had imagined standing on the first tee to a ripple of applause and then taking up a big divot as I swept under the ball.

The first part of this happened just as I had imagined in the Stoke by Nayland English Challenge Pro-Am last Wednesday, but unfortunately the divot is not always a good thing, as I found out when my ball sliced off into the rough on the right.

Disaster had struck. You really can’t underestimate what the pressure of people and professionals watching on does to you, not to mention our photographer Roger Arbon with his long lens honed in on me.

On the practice nets beforehand I had been hitting some great shots time after time, but when it came to that first hole I have to confess I crumbled.

The next two shots in the rough were completely scuffed before I got a nice connection with an eight iron to send my ball flying up to the right of the green. And finally I was away, sort of.

In truth it was not until the second shot on the second hole on the Gainsborough Course (my first with a new 13 degree loft driver I had hastily acquired a few weeks before the tournament that I am yet to master controlling was lost) that I really got going.

Having only been on a golf course for the first time in March this year, having started my lessons on the driving range with Stoke’s head teaching professional Roly Hitchcock in July 2010, my sights were never set high. But playing on a team of four with the two best stableford scores going forward to our total on each hole, I had hoped to accomplish Roly’s target on contributing on two holes.

With our ‘media 2’ team made up of Southend professional Matthew Southgate, the MD of Stoke by Nayland Susanna Rendell and East Anglian Daily Times sports writer Mike Bacon, all seasoned golfers, I was worried about contributing anything. This fear heightened when I turned up to the registration to be told my handicap was not to be the 24 I had been told, but was moved to a maximum of 18. Did they not know my one round of 18 holes previously had left me with a score above 130?

But aside from having to pick up the booby prize hats at the gala dinner (69 points, with DJ Spoony’s team winning with 96), my day was a success, with my par three on the third hole and six on the tricky par four sixth giving me a birdie and a par when taking my handicap into account and giving us four stableford points. So there you have it, on the scoreboard twice and mission accomplished. I even held it together at the ninth when Roly came to watch me tee off.

The other big achievement was conquering ‘the hardest hole in East Anglia’ 10th – where you have to go across water to the green – without losing my ball. I got a double bogey there but had enough good shots to have our pro Matt and other team members applauding, which I could never have imagined when me and Roly started out on this process.

As the round got on I did have a run of poor holes and my lack of faith in my driving control led to me switching to a four iron from the tee, which did at least regularly get me onto the middle of the fairway.

Another highlight of the day was Rocky Hambric, the CEO of Hambric Sports Group, the lead sponsor of the English Challenge who had pumped in 160,000 euros of prize money, raking a bunker for me after I had hit a decent recovery on to the green.

And looking back at the scoresheets there were two players that picked up less stableford points than me for their team, and I bet they hadn’t only been on a golf course since March.

So will I be carrying on playing golf? Well, it certainly isn’t the relaxing game it is made out to be at times but looking at my scorecard I am always convinced I can beat it next time by some way. And now I’m into the swing of it I believe as long as that carrot is always dangling in front of me there will always be a next time...