By the time I was a few weeks post op, the short British summer was starting to fade away into a boring, overcast and altogether uncomfortably humid late August. There were no killer anaesthetists in white NASA lab coats lurking about over me when I woke up (thank god), there was no petrol being spared as I gave my then-girlfriend lifts left right and centre, and there was no longer a prodigious amount of guilt hanging around in my mind over quitting Karl’s South Lancs League team. Overall, I was feeling good considering what I’d been through over the past few weeks. I was now ready to try and restore some sort of order in my passion and take on that addictive sport called golf again.
My last match I played before my op was the quarter final of the men’s four-ball-better-ball knockout competition- were me and my mate Josh played and beat two good friends of mine – Gary and Ian – on the 16th prestigiously kept hole of Grange Park Golf Club, St Helens. As small as the win was, it felt brilliantly energizing. It wasn’t the fact that we were through to the semi -final that was great, it was more who we’d beaten that put a giant cheesy grin on my face. See, Ian and Gary are very popular chaps at the club-still are-, and they were both good players, but it was always going to be a good standoff when they were facing the ‘’new kids on the block’’ so to speak. Namely, the pairing of myself and Josh were fast becoming known to be in good stead to win the whole thing by a few rounds in. Even with how shit I’d been playing all of the 2015 season, Josh brought this calm and steady reliability to the pairing. As a result I always seemed to play well with him – almost as if he were acting subconsciously as a peacekeeper to me golfing woes. Further to that, I actually looked up to Josh in a way. He was a great mate and a great golfer too. He played off about scratch meaning he was about 8 shots better than me and he was the only person I know who could turn up to The Rose Bowl competition (Lancashire’s order of merit) half pissed from a 6am calling the night before and win the whole thing comfortably. It didn’t make sense to me. How could myself and few of the other lads could practice three times as much as and still not even come close to him? It was a question I’d asked myself close to a million times. He was just a golfing freak in many respects with a large amount of natural dexterity every time he picked up a club. I had a lot to learn.
Adding to the already prominent competitiveness was the fact that I cancelled original match with Ian and Gary because it was pissing it down and I really didn’t expect Josh to want to play. There was all a bit of a farce when nobody could get in contact with each other that washed out week night to see what was going on. As it turned out, Josh had actually wanted to honour the original date set and play through the pissing down rain in 1000% humidity. I must add, I for one, did not. In cancelling the match I felt a bit of a dick that I’d let my mate down although I couldn’t help but laugh at the situation. Of course, our lack of communication caused a bit of a stir and made all four player fired up even more, so when we won it was a bit of a ‘I told you so’ moment as we all shook hands looking exhausted on the 16th green.
The matches with Josh weren’t all I was playing well in too. Me and my dad – who played off 23 – were ripping up the foursomes knockout competition just before my op too; in that we’d just beat two guys named Mike and John – again, both pretty good players- and we were now into the semi-finals where this time, we’d be playing against my best mate Josh and his partner Kieron – another good friend.
First up though was my match with Josh playing against a dad and lad due, who I was also friends with (can you see a pattern here? I was friends with the whole club). Their names were Jack and Mark. Jack was the son and he was only a few years my senior. He was a fairly sized guy with black hair and a light trail of dark stubble on his face that may of signified he could hit the ball further than me(whatever) and a common interest in Rugby. As a massive rugby fan myself, I made friends with him and found him out to be a real nice guy. His dad was the spit of him but with a slightly bigger build and a cleaner shaven face. Although I didn’t really know him as well, I figured he too must be a decent guy. As much as they were both great guys, all that went out the window for me and Josh on the course and we played mercilessly to say the least. I always found it weirdly amusing how we were so funny and joking off the course, but as soon as we stepped foot on that first tee it was a completely different story. Instead of non-stop talking about stupid shit like how many how many Russians we’d killed on the Call of Duty game, we’d simply funnel our conversation into a game plan…and not much else. We won that match against Jack and Mark on the latter stages of the back nine, and I celebrated conservatively with a firm handshake and a whopping big ‘Cheeeessee Gromit’ grin as we walked back to the club. Somehow, I suddenly found myself with a place in the final, and with all the shite that I’d gone through over the previous weeks – the whole season in fact!- it was a strange, satisfying and altogether unexpected conclusion.
My next match was with my Dad and against Josh and Kieron. In a stark contrast, myself and my dad were the dark horses really in that competition. I was off 8 and my dad was off 23, so much like josh in our pairing, I was seen as the steady pacemaker when paired with my dad. I think people thought we were just going to be beaten easily as my dad was a high handicapper and admittedly, I was hardly capable of holding up on my own. The reality was very different though. Yes, my dad was a high handicapper and yes, he wasn’t great, but on the holes where he did decide to pull his finger out, he played some pretty impressive shots for such a shit player-as a guy called Norman found out a few matches before. Some weeks earlier in mid-June, we were stood on the first tee ready to get our eagerly anticipated match underway. As the format was alternate shots, I told – ‘advised’ – my dad to tee off first with Norman so I would be teeing off all the par 3’s for obvious reasons. We flipped coins and Norman was up first – much to his delight. He nailed his ball about 220 yards up the right hand side of the left-to-right sloping fairway. He picked his tee and turned around to his partner Mark, whom was stood observing next to me and flashed him a confident and plausible smile. He turned to me as I nodded in approval then raised my eyebrows so as to say ‘’you think that’s good mate? Wait til you see my dad – the worst of us all – hit it past you’’ . I was laughing on the inside as my dad stood over the ball poised to prove me theory right. And he did just that. In one quick swoop he’d knocked one out the park and the tiny white dot went flying high and far straight down the middle of the fairway. Before my dad even had a chance to pick up his tee, Mark was looking at me shaking his head in disgust and Norman started exclaiming all sorts of scouse verbal diarrhoea like ‘’I canny believe ya off 23! Ders no fvuckin way ee’s off 23! No fvuckin way!’’ Well, I nearly pissed myself laughing as Norman carried on moaning and having a hang-up all the way through the match. The only thing stopping me from telling him to stop moaning was that I liked the guy a lot and it was too demoralizing on their behalf which was helping swing the game and their mind-set ever further into self-destruct mode. After that, I made a mental note not only to avoid Norman on a bad day, but to also remain quiet about my dad’s secret ability to throw the odd good shot in every now and then.
Fast forward back to late August and I was really looking forward to mine and my dad’s semi-final against Kieron and Josh. I knew it would likely turn into me versus Josh in a battle of golfing ego’s that would only make our friendship better. We all started the match off pretty solidly, halving most holes on the front nine making it ‘all square’ at the turn. As I’d predicted, it was mostly myself and Josh fighting it out however Kieron and my dad were still both scoring pretty well. By the time we got to the 18th tee, it had gotten pretty dark and we were still at locked horns so to speak as we me and my dad held a ‘1 up’ lead teeing off the last. It must have been about 9 45pm and we could hardly see a thing. To our right was the 17th green protected by massive slopes and traitorous bunkers, and to our left hung the great big dock off trees of Tailor Park drawing any remaining spec of much needed daylight away from us. I teed off first. It felt good as the impact travelled through the titanium clubhead, up the graphite shaft and deep into my adrenaline fuelled central nervous system. Just then I saw it shoot off down the middle left for about 0.1 of a second and then it vanished like a ghost in the night. That seemed okay, I thought, although how can I be certain when I can’t see the fucking thing! Kieron was next and he was complaining ‘’I can’t even see where I’m hitting here’’ as he stood over the ball on a make or break tee shot to save himself and Josh from possible defeat. Then he hit it. SMASH….. ‘’I don’t have a clue where that’s gone’’ he said as he turned and looked confused and hopelessly at Josh. ‘’Me neither’’ perked Josh shrugging his shoulders. ‘’I did, it looked like it headed towards the trees on the right mate… but I didn’t see it land’’ I offered. Great news, I thought. We’re down the middle with about 150 left in and they’re in the trees. This match is in the bag. In the end, they couldn’t score from where they found their ball and we won the match 2 up on the 18thin the pitch black darkness. And just like that, I was in two finals both being held on the same day about 5 weeks or so later. I came off and my leg was aching as I unpacked my gear into the tiny boot of my ten year old ‘midnight blue’ Vauxhall Corsa. But like I’d been doing for a good few months now, I shrugged it off as another golfing injury after and intense thriller of a match. It seemed even now, of all times, the pain running through my veins couldn’t take anything away from my golfing euphoria. Arrogance was the real winner there.
Two weeks later and I was off to France with my mum and dad. My then-girlfriend didn’t come though as she claimed she had college – which in the great scheme of things, I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t skippable. Besides I’d been doing it along with my sisters for years…for good reason too. See, every year when we’d look at skiing holidays for early spring the prices would be extravagantly hiked for half term holidays (crafty bastards), so I couldn’t blame my parents for taking us out of school in term time. After all, who’d rather spend time in a sweaty classroom full of thirty students and a boring teacher when you could be flying down the stunning French mountain piste’s on a pair of plastic skis at 60mph. I knew where I’d rather be. So you could imagine my confusion when she didn’t want to skip college for all of a few days to spend time in the grape ridden French countryside getting a tan with her boyfriend. I had an inkling that it had something to do with going with my parents, though I’d never get that sought after confession. Even more confusing was that she’d actually wanted to go away abroad with me for some time now, so it was a pretty contradicting move on her behalf. Either way, I wasn’t to fussed; I always had good holidays no matter who I went with. This one wasn’t going to be any different, so I pushed those thoughts far far away as we flew off on the Ryanair Boeing 747 to Biarritz, France in those cramped blue and yellow seats.
What a pose! I really struggled with allergic eye disease that year in France.
A few days in and the weather was glorious. Instead of being overcast, stuffy and humid, the sun cast bright yellow rays all over the elegant French countryside and brought with it temperatures in the high thirty’s. One had to wonder how all the shitness of North West England was less than a two hour flight away. It seemed impossible. Just this moment we sat in our next door neighbours rustic, orange tiled living room talking about all sorts of shit like how much Matt hated Arsenal football club. Our next door neighbour Matt was a lovely guy, but boy does he hate arsenal – or ARSEnal as he calls them. Matt was a big guy from Tottenham who’d lived and breathed Tottenham Hotspur all his life. I really loved his passion, it reminded me of the hatred the Saints (St Helens) fans had for Wigan in the rugby. His wife Sylvia couldn’t have been any further the opposite. Sylvia was a slim, slender German woman who was very well mannered and very well spoken. I remember the first time I met her she told me off (in English, which she spoke exceptionally) for not doing the traditional French welcome kisses. Despite this, I loved Sylvia for her straight talking-ness and Matt for his passion. Just now Matt was eyeing me up and down eagerly and I was wondering what the fuck he was staring at me for. He turned to my mum who was directly over his right shoulder and whispered – not so discretely- ‘’Sarah is Chris okay, he looks rather thin doesn’t he?’’. Of course, much like a few weeks ago in Fairfield Hospital, my bat-like hearing picked up every word and stored it in the curious part of my brain. Then he turned to me, eying me suspiciously again: ‘’Chris, have you lost weight mate? You’re looking rather thin’’. Here we go again, I thought. Just another one who thinks that I’m too thin.Trouble was, I got it all the time so how did I know when people really meant it? ‘’No Matt, I’m fine…why?’’ Why? Like I had to ask, I already knew the answer, for years now every man and his dog had though I was too thin. Strangely enough, Because Matt hadn’t seen me since the previous August, he’d noticed something that even the most observant eye would struggle to capture when seeing me every day. That was: my weight was falling off me like a leaf as I was growing in height – something you’d expect to go the other way when going through a teenage growth spurt. I couldn’t tell but looking back on pictures I wondered how I couldn’t have noticed. I must’ve lost half a stone in 6 months and nobody except Matt – the person I’d least expect to notice- had noticed. Though I didn’t know it yet, my second symptom that maybe there was something wrong had just been identified and exposed. Trouble was, arrogance won for the second time that month.