I love match play and learnt my craft at Sunningdale playing for the Surrey 7’s team. It was the golfing equivalent to the Champions League in football, playing the best teams in the county. Teams were made up of; yes you guessed it, 7 players, with a maximum of 5 single figures players and at least 2 in the teens.
We won it 3 times in a row and I played in all 3 wins. For the home fixture we always played the visually intimidating and very exacting New Course which played about 3 shots harder than the picturesque Old Course.
5 years of caddying gave me an eye for golf swings and I would meet my opponent, shake his hand and watch his technique with interest. Even if he striped it down the first fairway I could usually detect a flaw, so would just be patient and wait for it to unravel.
As I said the New Course is very exacting; rewarding well struck shots and punishing poor ones. The fairways are surrounded by a sea of 100yr old heather which lulls the poor player into a false sense of security. Your ball can land in it, appear to be sitting up well but come the critical point of impact, will grab the shaft, twist the clubface resulting in either very wayward or smothered shots. So, unless you have forearms like John Rahm, the trick, not surprisingly is:
- Avoid it
- If you do end up in it – just get back on the short stuff and take your medicine
So I learned to plot my way around the course (avoiding the heather and bunkers) I was playing off 13 at the time so bogeys were often good enough to win, especially on the tougher holes.
We were 7 individuals with one goal – win your individual match for the team and for the Captain, who was as tough as old boots. He played off scratch or there abouts and would sit quietly in the clubhouse and just give you “the look” as you entered the clubhouse. All it needed was a quiet thumbs up from you and he’d nod and almost smile (or it could have been a touch of constipation – I was never quite sure)
“The team” would leave you to it and never gather around the 18th to see you in, oh no! Why heap any unnecessary pressure on you, especially if the game was still alive.
Our competitors couldn’t be more different; matching team shirts, caddies as we approached the latter stages and even a small gallery of over excited friends, family and fellow members of their respective clubs.
I’d be delighted when this happened as firstly the caddy would add an element of doubt where normally the player would just trust their own judgement. The gallery would again add pressure as all their friends were watching and they didn’t want to mess up, so sure enough – they did! As I didn’t know any of their friends I felt removed from the pressure and just used it as an added weapon.
The dog licence
We were in the semi finals against St Georges Hill and up against a strong team. I was practicing at Parley ahead of the game. Peter Thompson had just arrived in the area and was scouting for new clients. He watched me hit a few shots and asked if I needed any help. I explained I had a semi final match the following day so maybe just one thing. Well he spotted my rather big sway away from the ball and suggested a fix. I tried it and it worked! The following day I stuck with it, demolished my opponent 7&6 (a dog licence) and shot 4 under my handicap for the first time ever on the New Course.
I was hooked, and ended up being coached by Peter Thompson for the next 10 years (no misprint) and became a serial winner.
Sometimes I’d be drawn against a young whipper snapper whose handicap couldn’t keep up with his improvement, I’d play out of my skin and still get hammered. Other times I’d play poorly but come against someone having a total shocker and win. If you play enough match play that’s just how it is. All you can do is prepare yourself well and do your best on the day and be a gracious loser!
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