I was due to have a lesson on Sunday but the torrential rain put paid to that. Not ideal preparation then for the Jubilee Cup. It is one of the main honours board events at the club and normally fiercely competitive. We were drawn with El Capatino Steve Pierce and the handicap secretary Mick Brown. I love playing with Steve, as he never worries too much about the golf. What it will be it will be. I'd never had the pleasure of Mick's company but knew that on his day he was a good and steady player.
The conditions weren't good and off 3/4 handicaps I was playing off 9 and Hywel off 13. He was quietly confident as he usually takes me on off level at the weekends. Now I'm not sure what he had to eat and drink at his birthday bash on Saturday night, but there was a swagger about him yesterday even before we started. It was just like one of those old westerns where the hero rides into town and you know it's only a matter of time before the bullets start to fly.
We had made a solid if unimpressive start. He got a solid two points on the 1st and I chipped stone dead at the next. However it was on the 3rd that I got the first real inkling today would be special. Hywel hit his drive into one of three bunkers left of the fairway. I found the short grass but missed the green left. He then hit this recovery that cleared the bunker lip with ease and ended up no more than 12 feet way. He did scare both of us by leaving a three footer for par but made it. We both made a mess of the simple 4th. I don't know what it is about a 320 yard hole that is so hard but neither of us can seem to par it on a regular basis, especially in competitions.
Unperturbed he made a par at the 5th and hit a good approach to the back of the par 3 6th but left a long putt. Putting is probably his biggest weakness and the reason his handicap is still 17 but armed with a new Scotty Cameron, he two putted with ease. Finally I had an opportunity to contribute again and made a solid nett par at the 7th. On the short par three, the captain hit a great shot which looked like going in. Jubilee Day is one of those events you really don't want to be getting an ace. Hywel followed and his looked even closer. When I hit mine it looked good in the air and as it rolled on landing I was mentally checking my bar tab balance and whether I had my credit card on me. As it happened Hywel went first and sunk the birdie. Naturally neither Steve nor I could follow. Hywel made a 4 nett 3 for another three points at the 9th and by the turn Steve and Mick were tied with us on 21 points. They had been quietly rattling up the points and I thought it would be a tough old fight on the back half.
Cometh the moment, my partner suddently caught fire again and hit the par 3 11th in a very tough swirling wind after making a comfortable nett par at the preceeding hole. He should have made birdie but par and another 3 points were fine. There is something about him and our 12th hole. He always seems to find a way to make par and today was no exception. His drive was further right than intended but from the rough he found the green. Two easy putts for par.
I thought I'd better remind him that I hadn't forgotten we were supposedly a team and not a one man band. He hit the green at the long par 3 13th and I missed the green right and chipped to about 12 feet facing a downhill left to righter. To be honest he made a hash of his putt and raced it by and wasn't looking confident. My putting has been one of the few bedrocks of my game recently and although firmer than intended my putt was true and made a safe par. Just as well really as Hywel was well wide with his effort.
I was riding the back of Hywel's coat tails and his great play had sparked a confidence in my game that had been lacking for months. I was short of the 14th in two and had 92 yards to the front into the wind. I wanted to club up so the ball landed and took the slope to the flag so chose a 9 iron. I didn't hit it great but it ended up about 10 feet away. Hywel had already secured the nett par. There are some putts that you can stand over and you just know they are going in. This was one such putt and I allowed myself a bit of a fist pump (yes I know it looks lame) as the ball dropped.
Our 15th was playing downwind. There is a ditch around the 270 yard mark and only a sliver of fairway maybe 15 feet wide. My partner crunches one but it is a little right and both he and I fear it has found the hazard. Needing to step up I hit my best drive of the day slap bang in the middle. When we get up there, a ball is lying well over the ditch and on the fairway. I was tempted to get my 3 wood out and have a go but didn't want to take a risk until we knew it was Hywel's ball. It was. My 3 wood effort was poor but he just stood up and smacked a 5 iron onto the green. I pitched on. Faced with a long downhiller I wanted to make my 5 and give him a free run at the eagle. We knew by this stage we were going well and so were scrapping over every point. I wanted to get close but there was such a smug grin on my face and more than a little finger pointing at the hole as I drained it.
I made a solid nett par at the 16th but Hywel had the luck his brilliance all day deserved at the 17th. He hit a poor tee shot (crap was the word I used) and he was in the rough short and right. In all honesty he totally mishit the chip but it found its way onto the green. He then had the temerity to hole the putt for another 3 points. I finished the scoring with a nett par at the last. Once the sums had been done we'd got 44 points (21 out and 23 back) and (subject to ratification) had only gone and won!
To say there was some banter when Steve told the Ascot faithful how we'd got on would be putting it mildly. Even though he's only been at the club a while Hywel is fitting in just fine and was giving it back with the best. Like the gun slinging hero, I left him in the bar, enjoying a well earned drink and explaining how the West was won.
It was a shame when I recounted our moment in the sun on the Golf Monthly forum that a lot of the regular posters took it as an opportunity to question his handicap and suggest that he's a bandit or falsely protecting it. Total rubbish. Steve, and in particular Mick Brown who does such a diligent job sorting out all the handicapping issues, have seen that he's in all the competitions but can't translate friendly performances into a handicap cutting one. His time will come. Today really was his day and he was on fire.
So where do I go from here? Does this mean I've achieved one of the fundamental aims of the odyssey by winning a gold letter event? Part of me says yes but the realist understands that without Hywel's heroics it would have been mid-table anonymity yesterday. My golf is showing signs of improving but it'll have to get better PDQ as I'm playing Mike Dowling in my Summer knockout tomorrow. He's a very handy 9 so I'm very much the underdog. I just hope some of Fulham's European doggedness rubs off. I'll have a day of playing and practicing on Thursday. Hywel and I are entertaining a guy off the GM forum on Friday morning before the battle of getting my handicap cut is rejoined on Saturday in the monthly stableford (BMW qualifier).
If you see a horse in the car park sombrero on its back, and the theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly somewhere in the distance chances are Hywel's back in Dodge City and I'll be proudly riding alongside.
Total number of lost balls in 2010 = 12