Trying to look all nonchalant and groovy on the first tee of the Wednesday comp at Twin Creeks is not unusual for me. In fact, it’s a regular occurrence. Mid-week comps are always relaxed, always social, always an opportunity to wear something new and ridiculous. I was auditioning a sleeveless woollen vest that may have been a little tight and I was feeling self-conscious. Two of the playing partners were new to me. One was the club pro, Asif, who I can’t help thinking of as ‘As If’. As in, “As if you’d wear your nanna’s knitting vest to golf.” Or, “As if I’m not going to watch you swing today and not offer you a lesson by the time we finish.” Asif is nothing like As If – it’s just how I think he must think because he’s a golf pro.
Then, there was this random, willowy guy on the range slugging balls into oblivion who joined us, too. I said to the fourth guy (who was looking decidedly normal and amateur for a three handicap), “Who’s that bloke?”
“Grant Thomas. Pro golfer.”
I thought Grant Thomas [pictured] looked long and consistent and good. Now, I don’t know how you go playing with pro golfers, but I have a tendency to spiritually crap my panties. I know, it’s stupid – there’s no logic to it. But I get all nervous and clammy-handed around them. Golf crush? Maybe. And I was wearing my ‘nanna’s knitting vest’.
So the big boys hit off first and were all tight and tidy between the bunkers while I looked for a paper bag to breathe into because I was overexcited. To be safe – and show I could handle the heat and not get involved in a long-drive slugfest – I hit a 4-iron … straight into the shizen. Then I narrowly avoided it with a provisional third from the tee.
By the time I found the green (in five, first ball lost, second against a tree), I could hardly breathe. I certainly couldn’t putt. You see, I knew what they were thinking, even though they weren’t saying it. It went something like this…
Oh great; exactly what we were hoping for … golf with a buffoon dressed up like Matt Preston minus the cravat … Ah yes, the I’ve-read-lots-of golf-magazines-pre-shot-routine with the finger in the air for wind … Oh for God’s sake, get on with it!
Because they were thinking that, I just got up and hit the ball. Badly. They would have had feelings about that, too. If I had a pack of beta-blockers in my bag I would’ve scoffed them because by the end of the first my heartbeat was knocking my eyes out of focus. It was ridiculous. The temperature couldn’t have been above nine degrees and I was sweating as if I was in a Norwegian sauna. What a waste of energy it was to assume what they were thinking. While I was emotionally turning myself inside out trying not to look and play like a goose, something much more exciting was going on, and I was missing it. Grant Thomas was playing well. Asif was playing well, too. But Thomas was quietly doing something special. On the occasions I was able to extract my head from its dark hole I noticed he was hitting lots of greens but not hitting many putts. After birdieing the 17th, a new tension seemed to descend upon us. Everyone was rooting for Grant. “Great drive, Grant.”
“That opens the green up, Tiger.”
He put his second shot to eight slippery little left-to-right feet from the hole. “This for a 29,” said my mate, Brad, the fourth golfer in the group. He was two feet further out on the same line. It was clear he’d been playing well, but given Grant was so utterly normal, it would have been easy to miss the show that was unfolding. On the way round we’d talked about everything from footy and cricket to his tennis pro dad to Nick Kyrgios and his dummy spits. Good bloke; a sharer of golfing wisdom with some pretty funny tour stories. Brad slapped his putt into the back of the hole and the stage was set: the first 29 of Thomas’ career. Now I really wondered what he was thinking. Sadly, the ball slid by the hole – just. Thirty for the back nine. A round of 8-under par. I congratulated him. “Thanks; it was fun,” he said. “Where’d you get that vest? “My mum has one just like it.”