The other day it looked like Louis Oosthuizen, the amiable South African golfer who destroyed the field to take the claret jug in the Open at St Andrew’s a couple of years back, was going to break 60. He hit seven birdies in a row in the PGA event in Boston, before returning to earth and finally carding a 63. For the professional golfer, of course, the ultimate scoring achievement is to break 60, though it’s hardly ever happened in tournament golf – only three times before this year when oddly it’s been done twice. Woods, Nicklaus, Snead, they never did it, though David Duval did once hit a 59.
But for the good amateur golfer, the ultimate aim is to break 80. You might feel like Rory McIlroy, you might even sometimes hit a shot like Rory, but all you really want to do is break 80. Just once. It’s every intermediate golfer’s dream, and now there is a wonderfully crisp, charming and moving book for you. It is called Breaking 80 (reviewed a few weeks back in these pages by Marcus Berkmann) and written by David Godwin, a literary agent adored by his clients and feared by publishers, especially those who he thinks might be short-changing his writers. He is obsessed with books and golf and in this gem, he brings his passion for doing the deal onto the links as he tries to bring his handicap down and break 80.
As my Times colleague Philip Webster, the sage of political reporting and a golfer of some renown, told me: ‘For the average good golfer, breaking 80 is the dream. I had been playing for years before I broke 80 and I did it, of all places, at the Old Course at St Andrews – which is by no means as hard as people think and is, without doubt, the easiest Open course. Nevertheless, as a golfer playing off 11 to come in with a 77 was fantastic and made me feel I could play. “Oh, I broke 80,” said with a modest shrug, is the ultimate golfing one-upmanship. It is proof to you and the world in general (or at least your friends) that you can play the game. It is the yardstick.’
Now, I am as likely to break 80 as I am to walk on Mars, but I found my hands shaping to grip an imaginary five-iron as I read about Godwin’s endless coaching sessions. And anybody who enjoys any sport will recognize in Godwin’s account the pitiful struggle of the amateur to improve and the gap between the flawless game you play in your head and the one you manage to thrash out around the course.
The publishers are the admirable Yellow Jersey press. Rachel Cugnoni, who set up the firm, commissioned Godwin at a party. ‘All the amateur golfers I know are obsessed in the way David is,’ she says, ‘and I had it in mind for years to get a writer to describe that obsession and do a sort of Fever Pitch for golf, with jokes.’
Of course, there are no jokes in this book but there could never have been. Enthusiasts of any type don’t find what they’re doing amusing, and it is Godwin’s earnest and relentless, though always engaging, the pursuit of his goal that people will appreciate, recognize and warm too. Like most men, Godwin is said to find it baffling when things don’t work out as he expects or wants, or when the world doesn’t seem to realize that such and such a book is a masterpiece. It’s that kind of passion and dedication and fury that he brings to the course. Read it and enjoy.
So what is making Cristiano sad? Ronaldo has been moping around for days, saying his Madrid colleagues know what’s causing it but he’s not saying. It’s probably the same as the madness that has infested Lewis Hamilton’s relationship with Twitter. You can look at it for as long as you like but it might just be the realization that they will only be as good as the teams they are in and that there is always someone better.