"The day I realised the brutal truth about my game"

Michael Chopper Column

I had an epiphany not so long ago that has completely transformed my relationship with golf. 

Like all of the most fulfilling moments of self-discovery, it happened by chance.

There I was, feet planted in a bunker, preparing a fourth hapless attempt at getting out, when the red mist started to descend. I could feel the blood boiling in my veins and the early quivering stages of rage begin to bubble and froth.

In days gone by, this would have built rapidly into an unpleasant crescendo whereby my insubordinate club would be tomahawked, Last Of The Mohicans style, into the trees. But not this time. This time, a voice in my head spoke to me.

Michael,” it sighed. “You’re nowhere near good enough at this game to be this upset by it.”

It was the ultimate truism and calmed me almost instantly.

I’m not a tour pro. I’m not a pro. I’m not off scratch. I don’t have a single-figure handicap. I don’t play often enough. I rarely practice. When I do, it’s with no purpose. I just shell a bucket of balls into a field and go home ten quid worse off and no better a golfer. I have no right to expect great things to happen when I walk onto a course.

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And yet I did.

Call it whatever you like: arrogance, naivety, stupidity, presumptuousness. It’s why I haven’t enjoyed some rounds as much as I could have. I know that because, now, I’m enjoying golf more than ever.

No longer am I especially bothered if I triple-bogey the first or thin one into the boondi. By rights, that’s what a player of my ‘calibre’ should be doing.

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It’s embarrassing to look back on some of the stuff I used to get up to.

I remember playing in a medal one day when, by virtue of nothing more sophisticated than dumb luck, I’d got off to a good start. I was one-over after four and had driven the short, par-4 fifth. That gave me an eagle putt for the first time in my life. If I holed it, I’d get into red numbers – another unprecedented achievement. I should have embraced the novelty of the moment. Yet I strutted absurdly to the green like this happened all the time, a pigeon in a peacock’s feathers.

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It was a lengthy putt, probably a good 50 feet or so – and good Lord I milked it.

I prowled every blade of the fringe, looking at my putt from all angles. Behind the ball, behind the hole, side-on, everything.

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Of course, I had no idea what I was doing. To the casual observer, it probably looked like I was processing lots of invaluable info. In reality, I was processing nothing but barely suppressible excitement at having an eagle putt.

In the event, my putt barely made it halfway to the hole. I threw out an arm as if to imply some malevolent force had performed dark arts on my ball as it left the putter face. What a fool. I knocked my next putt ten feet past, missed the one coming back and walked off with a bogey. I NR’d that day.

There have been flung clubs, hissy fits, and a particularly pretentious disregard for taking my medicine when I’ve encountered trouble. Why be sensible when you can pretend you’re Seve? That was my philosophy. The hubris of it! I must have been a nightmare to play with.

These days, it’s different. I’m no longer in denial.

My name’s Michael McEwan and I’m a chopper.

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This article first appeared inissue 166 of bunkered (August 2018). To subscribe, click here.

Bunkered Issue 166 Crop

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