The sport to finally get me hooked was one largely played by Conservatives in terrible jumpers...
“Did you watch the Ryder Cup?” I asked my dad.
“I TRIED TO,” he replied. “BUT THEN ONE OF THE EUROPEANS STARTED LIPPING HIS WEDGIES IN A FOURSOME SO I WENT AND CUT OUR GRASS INSTEAD.”
“That’s a shame. It was brilliant. One of the best ones ever. Amazing climax. Garcia was incredible.”
“THAT’S GOOD. I TRIED TO GET IN OUR OLD CAR IN AT THE CO-OP YESTERDAY. I FORGOT THAT WE'D SOLD IT 3 YEARS AGO. I THINK I MIGHT HAVE OLD-TIMERS' DISEASE. I WENT TO B&Q AFTER THAT. THERE WAS A LIFE-SIZE ALAN TITCHMARSH THERE. I ALMOST STABBED HIM WITH ONE OF HIS OWN GARDENING FORKS BUT THEY'VE GOT CCTV SO I JUST WHISPERED A SWEAR WORD AT HIM.”
My dad has never understood golf, though I have to give him credit: over the years, with the odds stacked against him, he’s done his best to do so. Between the ages of thirteen and seventeen, I played golf almost every day and, when I wasn’t playing it, I was usually either dreaming it, walking it, or talking it.
Although my parents weren’t sporty, they’d always encouraged my numerous athletic fads in my teens, but the fact that the sport to finally get me hooked was one largely played by Conservatives in terrible jumpers bewildered them somewhat. There they were, Left Wing teachers from poor backgrounds who now had Henry Miller books in their living room and an arty photograph of a naked German woman on their bathroom wall, and here was their only child, purchasing blazer badges and shaking hands on a daily basis with 60-year-old men called Lloyd who owned their own lawn mower companies.
Suppressing the questions that must have been running through his mind, such as “Have I spawned a monster?” my dad was terrifically supportive from day one, offering me lifts to tournaments, and even caddying for me, though the latter was a one time deal, after he put me off by getting in the way of a crucial chip shot at Sherwood Forest Golf Club in North Nottinghamshire. “HE REALLY SHOUTED AT ME AND THREW A NINE WOOD AT MY LEG,” my dad snitched to my girlfriend recently.
The retelling of the incident has got less factually correct with every subsequent year, but, looking back, I was probably a bit unappreciative of him.
I’d actually got rather lucky, in a sport that was rife with Competitive Dads. While many of the other fathers on the Nottinghamshire junior golf scene invested a little too much of their own psychological troubles in their offspring, watching their every move like hawks, mine would wander casually off into the trees for long periods or say “WOW! HAVE YOU SEEN THE SIZE OF THAT BUDDLEIA?” as I lined up a putt.
On the day in the summer of 1992 when, after messing up the last of a succession of big amateur tournaments, I decided to abandon my hopes of being pro, he didn’t criticise my bad play or lecture me on how golf had messed up my GCSE results and left me with nothing; he took me to a David Byrne concert.
I decided to give golf another serious go in 2006, answering the lingering question “Would I have been good enough if I’d kept at it?” with a resounding “No” by forsaking my amateur status and proceeding to make precisely zero pounds on the lower reaches of the pro tours. The night before I played in my most crucial event - the qualifying stage for the world’s biggest golf tournament, The Open Championship - I stayed at my parents’ house.
“YOUR MUM’S MADE YOU SOME LASAGNE TO EAT ON THE GREENS,” my dad said. “DO YOU WANT ME TO COME AND WATCH?” I thought about it, but then I had an old vision of myself slicing a three wood shot into the trees as a teenager, distracted by the sight of my dad in my eyeline, sitting on the umbrella seat that he used to bring to all my tournaments. I didn’t say “no” but did just enough to discourage him from accompanying me.
I felt really bad about that afterwards - of course my dad should have been there watching me in the biggest golfing event I’d ever played in - so a couple of years ago, when my old friends and I got together at the golf club where we grew up for a reunion, I invited him along.
It was great fun and I know my dad enjoyed seeing the eclectic, unexpected ways in which we’d all grown up. It also gave him the opportunity to apologise to my friend Robin for mistaking him for an old taxidermist friend of his two years previously in Nottinghamshire Broadmarsh Centre and keeping him talking about stuffed owls for thirty five minutes.
“THAT LOOKED LIKE A GOOD SHOT,” my dad said as my friend Steve hit a poor drive, getting underneath the ball too much. “IS THAT THE OBJECTIVE? TO MAKE IT GO AS HIGH AS POSSIBLE?” He reminisced about the amount of golf I watched in 1989: “CURTIS PAYNE WAS TOM’S FAVOURITE GOLFER BACK THEN,” he said.
Back then, when golf was a matter of life and death, and these would have been faux pas that would’ve embarrassed me for months to come and seriously affected my social standing amongst my friends. Now, though, they just laughed. None of it mattered. We’d all long since failed, to our greater or lesser extent, in our ultimate sporting dream. Now we were just a bunch of blokes, enjoying escaping the dull business of earning a living on a weekday and getting the chance to hit a little white ball vaguely in the direction of a hole.
Read more stories about Tom's dad in his latest book, Talk To The Tail (Simon And Schuster, £8.99) or at a discount from the
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