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Do you have a golf problem that’s keeping you awake at night?
Is there some aspect of your game that you simply can’t sort out?
Stop worrying because Dr Felix Shank, a more or less genuine expert on all aspects of the game, is here to help.
Illustrations by Tony Husband.

Now in my late 20s, I’ve been golfing since I was about 12 and, although I say it myself, am a pretty useful player. Eighteen months ago I got married and was keen for my new wife to learn how to play so that she could join my club and we could go on golfing holidays together. She was pretty terrible, blamed her poor performances on the fact that she felt intimidated by me and suggested she would feel more comfortable if I played lefthanded so that we could ‘struggle’ together.

Thinking this a good idea, I bought a half-set of left-handed clubs. Very soon it became apparent that I was a natural left-hander and my handicap rapidly tumbled from eight (right-handed) to four (left-handed). Although this was all very exciting for me, my wife now feels even more intimidated and is growing ever more resistant to the idea of playing golf.

Peter Parnell, Skegness

Your interesting experience when switching sides illustrates the fact that there are loads of golfers out there playing right-handed who ought not to be. Laurie Lebor, the Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of East Shropshire, wrote a fascinating book “Are You on the Wrong Side?” which suggests that 18% of golfers would play better if they switched from right to left. Curiously 2% of left-handed golfers would perform better playing right-handed. Although fascinating that doesn’t help you in your particular predicament. Clearly you have exhausted sides but you could perhaps play one-handed. I would suggest you start with just your left hand and then, if you get ‘too good’, you could try with the right hand only. Alternatively, you could persuade your wife to find another novice with whom to play.

I’m the secretary of a thriving golf club in the south of England. We have a lovely James Braid designed course, a healthy membership and a comfortable clubhouse. My problem is our principal, summer, knock-out, handicap competition – the Sneebold Trophy – which is the oldest and was formerly the most popular tournament in the club, has seen entries tumble from 212 three years ago to just seven this year. The reason for this dramatic decline is an unusual one.

After a succession of burglaries at golf clubs in the area where dozens of priceless trophies have been stolen, my club decided it would be safer if the trophies were effectively scattered around and we therefore obliged winners to look after them. The problem with the Sneebold Trophy is that it’s extraordinarily ugly. Made of solid silver and mounted on a wooden base, it depicts a fox biting the head off what is either a chicken or possibly possibly a duck. It’s grotesque and consequently noone wants it sitting on their mantelpiece.

Walter Graham, Haywards Heath

Perhaps a little skulduggery is required to restore the reputation of the Sneebold Trophy. What I suggest you do is carve the initials JB in very tiny letters on its wooden base and let it be known that experts believe that the design was the work of the legendary James Braid himself. You could perhaps add that they suspect he may have donated the trophy to the club as a ‘thank you’ for the commission to build the course. Golfers are suckers for this sort of thing and you should see renewed enthusiasm among your members to get their hands on such a unique piece of golfing history.

I’m playing a rather unpleasant chap, let’s call him Arnold, in the third round of my club’s principal, scratch, knock-out competition, the Mortimer Cup. As if it wasn’t bad enough being an investment banker, he’s also fiercely competitive and will resort to anything to help him win.

His principal weapon is a rather ugly terrier, which he tethers to his trolley. I love dogs and have one myself but this a rather nasty animal and I would be hard put to say which is more unpleasant, the dog or its owner. Anyway, what annoys me most is that the dog has, I’m certain, been trained to growl when anyone other than its master steps onto the tee. It’s very off-putting.

Name and address withheld

Your best solution is to level the playing field. I suggest you take your dog with you and tie him to your trolley. His presence will almost certainly provoke the terrier into barking continuously, which will be as distracting for Arnold as it will be for you. You might even secure a considerable advantage if you take earplugs, which will have the added advantage of sparing you the necessity of engaging the loathsome Arnold in conversation.

I first began playing golf about 15 years ago with a friend of mine called Nigel, with whom I struck a rather strange bet. We were rather reckless teenagers at the time and the bet was to see who could reach single figures first and was for a rather ridiculous £10,000. We soon both got down to the low teens but have been more or less stuck on and around 13 for the past 10 years. Neither of us, to be honest, looked likely to break through the barrier into single figures and so the foolhardy wager seemed set to remain what it had always been, a bit of nonsense. However, I have recently learnt from a mutual friend that Nigel, who has always been a little odd, is seriously contemplating a sex change and that he is proposing to fund the operation with the £10k he anticipates collecting when, off the forward tees, he is certain to save several shots a round and finally make it into single figures.

Mitchell Dalton, Pevensey, East Sussex

Like everyone else, I have known a great many golfers desperate to get down to single figures but Nigel seems prepared to go to much greater lengths and sacrifice more than most to achieve it. If nothing else, you must admire his commitment. Although my specialism is sports psychology rather than clinical psychology, my suspicion is that Nigel’s motivation is more complicated than simply a desire to play off the forward tees. However, your concern here is primarily the £10k that you stand to lose. Again, I’m no expert, but I think you can legitimately claim that your bet was with Nigel and not Nigella. In fairness to him, it might be as well to draw his attention to this fact BEFORE he goes into the operating theatre. Incidentally, it is my understanding that gambling debts are not legally enforceable so, in the event that he goes through with it, she won’t be able to pursue you through the courts.

I’m a pretty poor 28-handicapper who only plays once a year against an old chum from Eton. He went into banking and has made an absolute fortune whereas I, frankly, have rather struggled in a succession of poorly paid jobs and am presently working as a mini-cab driver. The winner always chooses the venue for the following year, which is invariably him and he always opts for one of the really expensive courses that charge a green fee of around £100. All I can think about the whole way round is the huge green fee, which makes it impossible for me to relax and play well. Consequently, I always end up losing, which not only dents my already low self-esteem but means that I’ll have to fork out another colossal sum the following year.

V R S Pemberton-Knightly, Dartford

Although it’s something of a golfing cliché to take one shot at a time, this is clearly what you must do. You should forget the overall cost of the round and instead reckon that, off your handicap, each shot is costing you roughly a pound. The real benefit of approaching it in this way is that you subconsciously will be endeavouring to reduce the number of shots you take. In that way, you stand a better chance of winning, boosting your sagging morale and choosing next year’s cheap venue.

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

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