There are four things of which I have a mortal fear: snakes, planes, Snakes On A Plane, and the first tee of any golf course.
The first three are obvious. Ophidiophobia and aviophobia afflict large swathes of the population so, by default, any film that combines the two is one to avoid.
The latter, admittedly, is a little more niche but every bit as debilitating. No matter where I’m playing or with whom, I get beset by nerves when I’m about to hit my first shot of the day.
It’s hard to articulate but a million thoughts rush through my head as I address the ball, none of them particularly helpful and one particularly prominent: don’t top it, don't top it, don't top it, don't top it...
In any case, they say the best way to conquer your fears is to confront them and, luckily, I have a job where there are plenty of opportunities to do just that. Take the Monday before the 2016 Open at Royal Troon, for example. I was invited by TaylorMade to play in a Ryder Cup-style challenge match at Prestwick between their trade partners and the media. If I recall correctly, there were around 24 singles ties and one of them pitched yours truly against the pro at Ranfurly Castle. Thank God for handicaps.
For those unfamiliar with it, the first tee at Prestwick is directly in front of the clubhouse and the hole plays parallel to the Glasgow-Ayr railway line, separated from it by a small stone wall. It’s pretty intimidating. As well as the usual barrage of thoughts that ransack my mind pre-round, I was struck down by another: try not to skelp it through the driver’s window of the 11:48 to Stranraer. I could just see the headline: “INEPT GOLFER DERAILS TRAIN, HUNDREDS DEAD”. I don’t think they do golf insurance for that.
There were also dozens of people surrounding the tee, which was great because that’s just what every bang-average golfer wants – an audience.
Anyway, my moment of reckoning finally arrived and I was announced on the tee… by Ivor Robson. Yep. That Ivor Robson. “On the tee, representing Team Media, Michael McEwan”. He said it with that characteristically light, singsong lilt of his, which, in its own way, was weirdly intimidating. This is the sort of introduction reserved for the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods; not some Glaswegian hack. Still, I couldn’t turn and run so I walked, jelly-legged, onto the tee, glancing at the crowd as I went.
That’s when I saw him.
There, standing next to Ivor, was Dustin Johnson. The winner of the US Open just weeks prior. Oh sh*te!
As I put the tee in the ground, I said a silent prayer – hey, even devout agnostics get desperate – and gave thanks for 460cc drivers. Except I wasn’t holding my driver. I had my hybrid. My small-faced, frequently disobedient hybrid. I could have swapped it but, really, I just wanted to get out of there. I swiped hopefully at the ball and, to my disbelief, made contact. Decent contact, too. With a slight fade (I’d set up for a draw) it flew down the fairway, with a small smattering of applause from those watching.
Fear conquered? Don’t be daft. But as they say, better to feel something than nothing, right?