If Seneca were my Caddy I’d be off scratch now

"Madam, you'll never reach with the 5th with an 8 iron. Relent I beseech you!"
"Madam, you'll never reach with the 5th with an 8 iron. Relent I besech you!"

When you put your drive for the 10th on the motorway; when they refer to the sand trap on 14th as Byron’s Bunker; when your woods really are made of wood; when no-one dreams of giving you a 6 inch putt; when a 4 ball medal match plays through your friendly 2 player match play; when your putter carries the name of a long-dead, hardly-remembered golfer; when your 3 wood has the word spoon inscribed underneath; when your preferred ball is a Spalding Executive; when Titleist sponsor you….. to wear Nike then it’s time to think about change.

Having been in a number of the above situations I do sometimes think about changing. I do know, however, that change is very, very difficult. A piece of research carried out in America looked at people who had had major heart surgery. They were told that after the operation they would need to change their life styles or basically, they would die. They needed to stop drinking, quit smoking – basically give up whatever vices they had that would cause them another heart attack. Only 1 in 10 changed. So, what hope is there for me getting lessons from the pro for a relatively minor (in non-golfers eyes) slice?

However, I would like to change and I’m convinced the best, most useful change I could make wouldn’t be a 3 week intensive course with Butch Harmon, or a new set of Majesty Prestige golf clubs, John Lobb made to measure golf shoes and a box of Maxfli Black Max balls. No, if I had a fairy golf mother – the change I would make would be to acquire the services of the 1st Century Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca as my caddy.

An unusual choice – granted, and perhaps Seneca’s knowledge of the bumps and borrows on the undulating Bargoed Golf Club greens may not fantastic. However……

Assume I’m playing in a monthly medal competition at Bargoed, Celtic Manor, Pontnewydd or any of the major South East Wales golf courses. I could be having a really good round. I tend to start carefully, play each hole on its merits, taking no real risks and enjoying being on the fairways and greens in the company of my playing partners. After 9 holes I could perhaps have dropped just 6 shots. This is excellent news as I’m playing off 22 and in my mind I’ve doubled that, gone in at 10 under and won the competition by a mile. Then I reach the short, but narrow and tricky tenth.

I hit my drive out of bounds. Still emotional, my second ball ends up in the long grass close to a tree. I noisily hack out onto the fairway and hit my approach ten yards short of the green. However there’s a bunker between their ball and the flag and I find the bunker with a topped chip and a curse. A superb bunkershot, it has been known to happen, finds me six feet from the hole. I walk up to the ball and hit it with barely a glance at the hole, and again and again, and loudly shout “at last” when the ball finally disappears. On the card I angrily scrawl a big fat 10 and mentally retire to the bar. I start moaning and groaning at everyone, try an impossible shot on the next hole, start hitting three woods from everywhere and generally grizzle my way around the back nine for a final score of 103. I’ve had a miserable time and ensured everyone within snarling range has had a miserable time as well.

*****

Seneca, the Roman philosopher, and caddy, would argue that the only thing that causes unhappiness is a desire to see things as they aren’t. He believed that people get angry, upset and disillusioned because they are too hopeful, and often unrealistically optimistic.

One of the main reasons people get angry is that they refuse to accept the truth. There is an example he cites of a famous Roman nobleman who became really upset when a servant broke one of his plates. The nobleman kills the servant. Seneca argues that this is totally unreasonable. Plates will break. This is neither unfair or surprising. There are features of life that are predicable and inevitable. Plates break. People who think plates don’t, or shouldn’t, break simply has a very strange, and incorrect expectation of the world.

*****

Back to my woes in the monthly medal;

If Seneca had been my caddy things would be different. At the half way stage he would have given me a bit of a reality check.

“Look” Seneca would say, in Latin presumably, “Well done you on the front 9. But you’ve been lucky so far. Going by your past 10 years of playing golf you’re due for a bad hole somewhere along the line. Isn’t that true?”

I, who happen to be able to understand enough conversational Latin to get by, would smile knowingly and say “Etiam,tamen is vicis is ero diversus.Ego sentio is!” (trans. “Yes, but this time it’ll be different. I feel it!”)

Seneca will point out, with a rye smile, that this could happen, but basically the odds are that it won’t and would warn me of false hopes and quixotic ideals.

As my drive on the 10th flies over the wall I would growl once then look at Seneca and smile ruefully and take a deep breath. The next ball would find the fairway, there would be a bad shot along the way and the hole would be completed with a disappointing, but acceptable 8. I would finish the round in the high eighties, or, on a favourable day, mid eighties and it would be smiles and harmony all around.

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