After two days of performing Sunday is a day off and I would normally take this opportunity to flop. There will be no relaxation today however, for it is the day of The Great Golf Match.
JD and I are due to go head to head this afternoon and my concentration needs to be tip top. Over the past couple of days JD and I have been playing a psychological war, which mainly involves getting our own excuses for terrible golf into the mix.
The pressure is mounting: for two nights I have slept soundly, despite the fact that I have had performances looming. No nightmares of walking onto stage naked, or discovering that I’m in a completely different show to that which I’d planned for. However last night I writhed, tossed, turned in my bed, dreaming of swinging hopelessly at a golf ball which remains resolutely in place. On the few occasions that the club does touch it the ball moves either a matter of inches or flies off in completely the wrong direction. Oh, this is bad!
During the morning JD heads off to the gym (an underhand bit of training, I call it) and Liz and I head back into Kilkenny. We walk around the castle grounds and have a coffee but most of the businesses in town are closed.
After a relaxing time we go back to the house to make final preparations. JD comes back from the gym looking fit and buoyant.
We load my clubs into the car and we all set off (Liz is coming with us, for the walk and to ensure fair play!)
The venue for the match is Mount Juliet, a magnificent golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus that has hosted the Irish Open and other PGA events. It is a money-no-object facility the like of which I have never played on before.
As soon as we arrive JD heads off to the pro-shop and I dash after him, as I’m determined to pay for something during this trip. The generosity of Nicky and her sons is unbelievable.
Fortunately on this occasion I manage to get there before him and not only get our rounds paid for but also buy a Mount Juliet cap, a course guide and a few extra balls, which may well be necessary.
At precisely two o’clock, Liz, JD and I walk to the first tee.
JD has the honour and as he warms up I can see that he has an elegant, powerful looking swing. He stands over the ball, waggles the club, pauses and then the match is on. His first tee shot flies long but right into an area of rough.
And now it is my turn: forget about those bad dreams, concentrate. I try to keep the swing short and slow and am rewarded with the sight of the ball soaring into the sky in a dead straight line, landing just to the right of the fairway.
JD doesn’t find his ball and has to drop but I put my second into a greenside bunker. We halve in six.
The second we halve in six too, and move onto Mount Juliet’s signature hole.
When Jack Nicklaus got his hands on the patch of land near Kilkenny he spotted a short valley which was a perfect par 3 length. Having dug a lake, he put the tee at one end of it and the green 170 yards away at the other.
JD still has the honour and hits a shot onto the green. Now I begin to self destruct. First shot: plop! into the water. Second shot: plop! into the water. Somehow the third gets across but I’m now one hole down.
My demons follow me to the next and I’m soon two holes down. At the fifth I go three down. This is shaping up to be a rout.
The one great hope for me is JD’s putting which is fragile at the moment. He is playing beautifully from tee to green (assisted by his seemingly magical rescue club) but once there he is struggling to finish the job.
From the sixth I start playing again. My drives are long and the approach shots decent. While JD still can’t find form on the greens I pull myself back to level as we reach the ninth.
At the ninth tee there is another example of the luxury of Mount Juliet, a little telephone in a box with a menu attached. You simply place an order for a burger, wraps, drinks and snacks and by the time you have navigated your way to the green the food is waiting for you to collect on the way to the tenth.
Our match swings back and forward. For a while it looks as if I am in complete control but, as I had done earlier in the round, JD fights back to level again.
All square as we start the seventeenth. We halve.
All square and everything to play for at the last.
The sun is setting and the shadows are long as we look down the eighteenth fairway. JD slices his ball and is placed in short rough on some hillocks. I hit my best drive of the round into the middle of the fairway and when JD fluffs his second, only advancing a short distance, I am definitely the favourite.
The lie is good and I take a 3 wood to clip the ball off the immaculate turf and send it towards the hole. The swing is good, the contact is clean and the ball climbs into the sky with plenty of power behind it. I am almost celebrating until I realise that it is arcing away to the left and what runs up the whole left side of the fairway? Water.
For a moment I hope that I may just clear the water hazard and reach the bunker beyond. However it is only a fleeting hope and frustratingly once more my ball plops into the lake, a fountain of silver briefly marking its landing point.
JD, now back on the fairway, is in charge once more.
It soon becomes apparent however that neither of us seems ready to win this match, for JD’s ball follows mine into the lake.
Throughout the round JD’s composure and sense of calm has been remarkable. He has played a superb game, getting out of trouble with that rescue club of his and scoring consistently. But now, half way up the eighteenth fairway it all collapses.
As we walk to the point where his ball has gone into the lake his trolley and bag start to roll down the bank towards the water. We all make a leap to save them but in his haste JD knocks over one of the red stakes marking the edge of the hazard. For a moment it looks as if he may follow the balls into the lake but although he saves himself his composure is lost.
He drops a ball but the tempo of the swing is hurried and it flies into a bunker. He swipes at the ball angrily, taking three to get out of the sand, but his next shot, a magnificent long putt, almost rescues his day. Sadly for him the ball pulls up a few inches short.
In the meantime I have played a scrappy shot to the front of the green followed by several nervous putts to the hole.
After four hours, 6554 yards, some great shots from both us and some frankly embarrassing ones, it has all come down to this final green and I crawl over the line first, taking the match by a single hole.
It has been such a fun round (I would say that, wouldn’t I?) JD has been great company throughout and it has been fabulous to have Liz with us.
We pose on the green for pictures and make our way to the clubhouse where we pore over the scorecards and they reveal a perfectly democratic result, for while I won the matchplay game by that single, final hole, JD triumphed on strokes by 3. We both won!
JD has let Nicky know that we are finished so she and Una drive out and join us in the clubhouse.
For all of Mount Juliet’s superb qualities the service in the bar isn’t brilliant and we have a bit of a wait before a) we can order and b) we get served our plates of fish and chips, chicken and a bowl of soup.
I am seriously beginning to flop now and the various conversations carry on around me as I subside deeper into the large leather chair.
When we have all finished, we take a little bit of time to walk through the grounds of the magnificent 5 star hotel which is attached to the golf course.
JD wants to show us the hotel’s putting course, and our walk takes through the extraordinary walled garden. It is a complete dream in there, helped with the golden evening light. The beds are extravagantly planted with riotous colours and set off with dream-like, whispy grasses blowing in the breeze. It is like an oasis of flowers. We could be anywhere right now, the location is completely forgotten.
We leave the garden and return to the real world and there JD shows us the putting green. It is a complete miniature replica of the main golf course, complete with bunkers and those dreaded lakes. I scowl at the third hole and we walk back to the cars.
Back at the house it is time to pack the car. Our adventure in Ireland is almost at an end and tomorrow morning we have to leave at 5.45 to pick the ferry up in Dublin.
For once the evening does not extend as far towards midnight and we say our ‘good nights’ early and head for our various beds.