OULD be unfair to blame it on the crocodile. This, I thought, was definitely the strangest technique of any player, in any sport, in the history of the universe.
And I thought what I had seen in Monaco a few years earlier would never be surpassed. Back then, I was playing doubles tennis and one player was rather uncoordinated, like Mr Bean with fleas. But he loved to try to put spin on his shots. So when he hit the ball, he would flick his racquet from very near the ground to above his shoulder. At the same time, he would shout a friendly warning, “Top spin!” which in his heavy Austrian accent was more amusing than alarming. But he would often do mis-hits, which would sometimes send a ball flying over a fence. At one point, however, it wasn’t the ball that misbehaved.
As my mate yelled out “top spin,” his racquet came loose from his hand and went rotating high in the air, seemingly flying like a helicopter. There was a moment of panic, as we watched this out-of-control rotor chopping up the sky. Fortunately, there were no injuries – the racquet came safely to rest in a neighbouring garden. Technically that garden was in France, not Monaco, so my mate is surely the only person ever to accidentally launch and land a racquet into another country.
On this occasion, though, I was playing golf in Australia with two Aussie mates, Tim and Will, and the friendly warning was from the guy at the golf shop. “Just be careful out there today, cobbers [friends]. We think there might be a salty [croc] in one of the billabongs [pool of water]”. That worried us as we went out on the course. It was remote and quiet, and no one else was around. “Struth! Was he fair dinkum?” [Is it the truth? Was he serious?]. So we made a plan: whenever we had to retrieve a ball from near any water, we would form a human chain linked with golf clubs. The instant any hungry 20-foot reptile jumped out, we could yank ourselves to safety. As if!
Will is a very good golfer, and the plan that day was for him to give Tim and me some tips. I hit off first and the ball went a short distance into some long bushes. Will was immediately able to summarise my talents. “Ricko, you’ve only got three things wrong: your stance, grip, and swing.” Then after a little moment, he added dryly, “But that’s really all there is in golf.” Thanks mate.
Tim was up next, and what I saw will stick in my mind forever. He readied himself about 6 feet from the ball and started doing practice swings. They were not high swings; only his arms and the club moved while the rest of his body stayed completely still. And there was no pausing, he just kept going like an upside down windscreen wiper.
This was already rather odd, but what followed set a new benchmark in bizarreness. He started walking forward, but he didn’t stop swinging! He was now like a walking elephant. After a few steps he reached the ball and somehow, somehow, made contact. It was not a big hit, but it was fairly straight.
The rest of the day’s golf was pretty similar. Will played well, I played poorly, and Tim elephant-trunked his way around the course. I tried to lift my game, but by the end of the round I had the worst score. It made me think that sometimes, rather than being mundane, it’s better to be different and take your chances. Just not with the crocodiles. Thankfully we never saw one.
Richard Farleigh has operated as a business angel for many years, backing more early-stage companies than anyone else in the UK.