There comes a time in every golfer’s life when the unthinkable has to be thought: ‘I can’t do it any more.’
For some, it’s because other things are standing in the way; a young family, a job with antisocial hours, or worse, no job at all. For others it is the cruel march of time; your body just says no.
The great Henry Longhurst stopped playing because he wasn’t enjoying it any more. In Golf Gives Me Up he wrote, ‘A small voice within me said, “You don’t have to do this,” and I thought, “No, by God, I don’t.” A great wave of relief came over me and on D-Day, 1968, I put the clubs up in the loft with the water tanks, closed the hatch, removed the steps and walked away.’
Henry was a very decent amateur golfer, scratch for 20 years, who caught the yips and was never the same again. A fellow who lives near me was also a very fine player. Indeed, for about a two-year stretch in the late-70s he was probably the best amateur in the world. He was small and slender, couldn’t hit the ball very far, but from 100m in he played like Seve.
But as he got older, he got grumpy watching the youngsters bombing the ball miles past him, so he just stopped. Like Henry, he walked away and found something better to do with his time.
Here’s the point, though. There is nothing better to do with your time. At the humble golf club I call home, there are dozens of members who plan their lives around the game. Many are retired, and as a matter of fact, some have been retired for almost as long as they were in gainful employment.
Their bodies have been spared by the golfing gods, so while they might not be able to walk 18 holes, they can ride to the ball, stand tall enough to make a swing and in the aftermath, their language is as colourful as people 50 years their junior.
Recently, I gained new respect for these indomitable golfers, when my own body raised the white flag. Repetitive strain injuries from my days as a very poor cricketer could be ignored no longer. I was hospitalised for a minor operation and when I awoke, the pain had gone.
I waited for the surgeon to tell me the good news. Early the next morning he appeared at my bedside, confirmed that the operation had been a success and then came the blow to the solar plexus:
‘When can I play golf again?’
Talk about having the rug pulled from under you. That’s why I needed a general anaesthetic, I suppose.
A lethal injection would have been more appropriate. I asked for more information, he told me that rotation of the spine was not good and that Tiger Woods had had three back operations already and he was much younger and fitter than I was.
A week went by, I didn’t need the painkillers any more, and then it hit me. Comparing what my swing does to my spine with what Tiger does to his is just plain silly. And furthermore, if God had wanted me to be able to touch my toes, he’d have put them on my knees.
See you on the tee.
– This column first appeared in the December 2023 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine.
Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images