This article was written by the late Hector Macdonald ( Aimsir Eachainn ) and previously published in our Centenary Magazine.
If there is one quality, above all others, that is essential in the golfer, it is the quality to forget. The average hacker can wipe disasters from the slate while his stockings are still wet. On the other hand a rare good shot lodges in the memory like the imagined sunny summers of youth. The fact that I write this on the morning after the 1989 Western Isles Open illustrates this wonderful capacity to forget. Not only have yesterday's humiliations been forgotten, I fancy I can win next Saturday's competition or maybe even this coming Wednesday's.
This peculiar brand of unrealistic expectation must not be confused with mere optimism. A growing boy can be optimistic about some day being 6 foot 2 with broad shoulders. This is a reasonable hope because the boy hasn't tried growing before. The average club golfer has no such excuse for his wishful thinking: he has tried before many times, perhaps as recently as the night before the 'big one' and failed miserably. Very likely on the night before, he hit 96 bad shots and 3 good ones. This irrational mind expects to recapture the good ones on the day and repeat them consistently. In his fevered brain it is not impossible that he'll come close in the best gross score despite the dismal statistic on Galloway's computer showing that he hasn't broken 80 since 1969.
On the morning of the great event he is up at the crack of dawn cleaning clubs, removing hard skin from his own heels and has very likely eaten an extra black pudding for strength. Possibly he has treated himself to a new glove or even a new truss and a can of insect repellent so that his journey through 36 holes might be smooth and free of pain. At 08.00 our hero, having done innumerable practice swings and thus having wasted several of his good shots, presents himself on the first tee. Already he is sweating freely and breathless with anxiety. At 08.01 he is deep in the Castle jungle.
He has possibly lost his ball and is heading for at least an 8. But no, his ball is found and he spots an 18 inch wide, 120 yard tunnel to the green. Jack Nicklaus in his prime would not attempt it. Even Ballesteros would play back and settle for a possible 6, but not your 20 handicapper. Somewhere in the dim recess of his skull a voice whispers that the ball is only 1.68 inches in diameter. He squares his shoulders and lunges at the ball. When the leaves settle the gleaming new 65i is still in the same spot, only now it has settled deeper in the undergrowth. Our hero tries to smile at his partners who have come to gloat but can only manage a sickly grin. Anxiety has momentarily given way to embarrassment. He makes what he imagines is a nonchalant swing and rattles the ball off 6 trees. The ball is now lost and your man's torment is at an end. A dreadful 12 is recorded with 35 holes to go, but there is always next year.
In the meantime something much worse has befallen the last of the threesome to tee off. He almost made the gap at the Castle. He cannot quite see the green but he still manages to cut a 5 iron round the corner and sinks a long lucky putt for a miraculous birdie three. He is no longer one of us. He is out there on his own. This could really be his day. With only one major hazard behind him he is already indecent in his haste to reach his drive and has to be reminded from time to time that 'we' are still playing and to please mind his manners.
Round about the turn there is the customary pause and a little arithmetic is done. Our first hero has continued in the groove he found on the first and has now become a bit of a comedian. He always just comes out for the laugh. The other fellow, the guy with the birdie on the first, sits staring at his card in disbelief. His luck has continued and he sees no reason why it should not last all day. He starts to mutter quietly. "If I can get past the Dardanelles in 6 or even 7 "
This is not addressed to his partners or to anyone else for by this time no one else exists. He always knew he could do it and now, at last, this moment has come. He scrambles a 4 at the Whins with a long single putt, yet somehow thinks he was unlucky.
On the Dardanelles tee he delivers a long lecture about people who leave bunkers in a mess and he pulls his drive short and tight to the trees on the left. He is not unduly worried: he has a lot of strokes to spare. All he needs now is a longish hook. Although he has sliced incurably for 20 years as his 22 handicap certifies, he is at this stage convinced he can make a par. (Remember 7 would have been fine).
Twenty minutes and 2 balls later this distracted and disorientated individual can be heard wondering if it was a 13 or 14. His marker is marching slowly ahead like a mourner at a funeral who realises the exact age of the deceased is not important. The man who fell at the first has now become a philosopher and makes some observation on the quality of life and how it is better to go quickly than to suffer a prolonged and painful demise.
There is at this stage only the comfort of the 19th ward to look forward to. In the space of 2 pints a remarkable transformation takes place. Beaten, broken men are quickly mended and deep despair gives way to renewed hope. Whispered, isolated snatches of conversation merge to form a general hum. Pretty soon a distinctly audible "if only" can be heard on all sides. The healing process is now underway and although this day is lost it is already forgotten.
The day is certainly lost as the rules stand at present, but this need not always be the case. The Macleod brothers, John Neil and Ian, have long lobbied for reform in Golf Club tradition. Perhaps influenced by a boat building father, they feel the shape and beauty of the shot is of primary importance. Many good shots are lost balls and a million ugly hacks get better results than they deserve. With this in mind they propose a trial by jury at the end of each round. The best hard luck story wins the day.
My only fear is that the present membership includes too many silver tongued rascals like Dixie and Bronco who could more than make up for their physical disabilities with unbelievably true stories. Yet, there are so many in that age group whose only hope of ever winning anything had to be through the 'jury system' for THEY have lived too long for hope to triumph over experience.
- Hector Macdonald