Better to have loved and lost?

First published on the Golf Monthly website on Thursday 6th March 2008

A particularly bad run of form has led Fergus to wonder if he’ll ever play good golf again.

In his poem “In Memoriam” Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.’ I’m sure there are many happy bachelors and heart-broken cuckolds who would beg to differ. In fact, I think there are numerous cases when you’re far better off never to have something than to get it, cherish it then lose it.

I’ve never been able to play the piano. It doesn’t bother me that I probably never will. I still love its sound and watching other people play. I would think, though, if I’d learned to play as a child, dedicated years of my life and become reasonably proficient then being able to play the piano would be something I defined myself by. Imagine then if I injured my hand or received a bump on the head and completely lost the ability to play. It would be a disastrously distressing event and would forever change my life for the worse.

I’m saying all this because I seem to have completely lost the ability to play golf and I must confess it’s making me rather depressed. I’ve dedicated a good portion of my life to the sport and did, for a time, get to a point where I thought I might be quite good. Golf was, and still is, something I define myself by. If a stranger asked me to tell them something about Fergus Bisset, my first instinct would be to say, “I play golf.”

I don’t know what’s caused my recent dramatic downturn in form. I’ve hurt my shoulder and that could be it. It could be a fundamental flaw in my swing or it might just be psychological. Whatever it is, it’s affecting every part of my game (apart from my putting which remains as decidedly mediocre as ever.) I can’t find the middle of the clubface and even when I do the ball is firing off at some odd and severely varying angles.

Playing around Fraserburgh yesterday I felt like a complete novice. I had no idea what I was trying to do or where the ball was going. From the tee a blocked slice seems to be my shot of choice. From the fairway it could literally be anything: slice, hook, fat, pull, thin. The only consolation is I’ve avoided any J.Arthurs so far. From 50 yards and in I’m either fatting or thinning every shot. So, it’s pretty bad.

I’d guess I wouldn’t find my bad play so depressing if I’d never been able to hit a decent ball but I remember the glory days of a couple of months ago all to well. And, even now, there’s the odd glimpse of those great moments. Yesterday, for instance, the 10th was playing 280 yards with a crosswind. I hit a perfect tee shot that landed on the front edge and rolled up to within 10 feet (missed the putt). This tantalising flicker of light was, however, quickly extinguished by another high floating block off the 11th tee.

I played with dad and Derek yesterday. Both were in the prizes last week so they were hoping to continue their good run. Unfortunately I managed to drag them down to my level. Between us, we racked up nearly 260 shots and there were some real crackers in there. Derek did hole a few great putts including one that defied the laws of physics. From off the green, down a 20 degree slope, the ball was travelling at about 25mph when it hit the flag and dropped. Incredible stuff.

So, on reflection, would I prefer to have played good golf and lost it than never to have played good golf at all? I think it’s the former really. Despite my current state of self-loathing, I know I’ll re-find my game at some point. Maybe I left it down at the driving range. I’ll go and have a look.

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