The death of Eric Bristow in April got me thinking about putting.
Now Eric wasn’t a golfer, or at least not a terribly enthusiastic one. The Crafty Cockney, as he was known, was the best darts player in the world around the late-1970s and early-80s.
I ran into Eric towards the end of his great period, at the 1986 World Championships in Frimley Green, Surrey. A few of his fellow competitors were able to play golf at Windlesham, just around the corner, darts being a nocturnal pastime. But Eric used the daylight hours for sleeping.
When the television coverage ended at about 9:30 in the evening, he would repair to the hotel and begin the important work of the day. The likes of Jocky Wilson, John Lowe and Keith Deller were his adversaries again, this time at the card table. Sometimes it would be brag or gin rummy, but more often than not it was poker.
At the quarter-final stages of the World Championships, they would play through the night, winning and losing the money they hoped to earn from their darts expertise. I left them to it at one in the morning and they were still there when I emerged for breakfast eight hours later.
Again, I hear you ask,what has this to do with golf?
Well, that year Eric developed ‘dartitis’, a neurological condition that made him unable to release the dart. Learned papers have been written about dartitis and it has been identified as a form of dystonia, a range of movement disorders that cause muscle spasms and contractions.
Ah, so that’s where golf comes in. Yes, the yips and dartitis go hand in trembling hand. And, as the old saying goes, ‘If you’ve had ’em, you’ve got ’em.’ As with the dreaded shank, they can lie dormant for years, like a desert rose waiting for rain.
The point is, dystonia is only really an issue if you want to make a living from something. We know about Eric because he was a multiple champion, just as we know about Ben Hogan, Bernhard Langer and Peter Alliss. Incidentally, is there a greater example of grace under pressure in the world of sport than Langer, still making cuts at The Masters and contending every week on the seniors circuit?
If you can’t putt you don’t win, and that’s as true of Rory McIlroy as it is of John O’Public. But the latter can choose to stop playing or, in extreme cases, throw his clubs into the lake. And the fact is, at the more humble level of the game, how do you tell the difference between a yip and a bad putt?
I knew a senior lady who took up the game late to spend more time with her husband. He paid for lessons and she began to hit the ball consistently enough to get from tee to green. But she couldn’t putt. She had a long-suffering caddie who would line her up, give her the perfect read for a three-footer, then she would smoke it 10 feet past the hole.
The next one would get halfway, the next halfway again and then came the blunderbuss once more. And so it would go on. She played and played and never managed to ‘feel’ a putt. There are worse things than the yips.
– Andy Capostagno is Compleat Golfer’s voice for the hacker, he writes a monthly magazine column