Jelly Legs

Thursday, December 16, 2004

When I was 23, I played in a golf tournament at Mount Edgecombe Golf Club, near Durban. The format dictated that the field play four rounds against the card (to decide the Strokeplay Champion) before being cut to just 32 players to play head-to-head (to decide the Matchplay Champion). The eventual winner that week (John Hugo) had to play 9 rounds of golf in 6 days. Ordinarily, that wouldn’t be a problem, especially with a caddy and plenty at stake, but it can get a bit muggy in Durban in March.

With three holes left of the third day (and of my fourth round of the tournament - my second since breakfast), I was lying well up the field and feeling almost certain that I would qualify for the top 32. I had come with another mission though.

In 1974, my dad played in the same tournament. In that year, it was hosted in Port Elizabeth. He reckoned he had finished 13th in the strokeplay stage, before going on to beat the subsequently famous Mark McNulty in the matchplay event on his way to the quarter-finals. 13th was my target. I had to finish no worse than 12th.

As I walked off the 15th green (a nasty par three that had cost me four shots and destroyed my score in the first round) with a par under my belt, I felt that the danger was behind me. I was level par for the day, four over par for the tournament, and (by my own reckoning) lying in the top ten. The temperature was 106 degrees in what little shade there was to be had, and the humidity was 100%.

I stood on the 16th tee waiting for the group in front to get out of range and thinking about how humidity can be 100% anywhere other than underwater. I bent down to tee my ball up. Everything went dark. When the lights came back on, the group in front were nowhere to be seen and my fellow players (and a couple of spectators) seemed to be taking it in turns to throw water over me as though I had somehow caught fire.

I had passed out. I played the final three holes in a daze (and in four over par). My caddy, Derek, had to tee my ball up for me and retrieve it from the hole to avoid me falling down again. I slipped back from a share of 7th place to a share of (brace yourself) 13th.

I was exhausted. I was more tired than I’d ever been before and than I’ve ever been since. I was excited to have made it into the matchplay tournament, but for the life of me I didn’t know how I was going to recover enough in the 16 hours I had until it started. I got myself home and sat in the pool drinking specially formulated (but utterly disgusting) salty drinks to try and replace everything my body had given up during the day.

The next morning, I felt great – high as a kite and eager for the off! I bounded onto the first tee after a very comfortable warm-up on the range. I shook hands with my opponent and then hammered my first tee shot almost onto the green of the par four first hole. I thanked the starter and headed off down the fairway.

Then it hit me, like debilitating wave. I turned to Derek and he read the expression of panic on my face.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’ve forgotten something.”

“What have you forgotten?”

“My legs. There’s nothing there where my legs should be.”

I was walking on jelly all of a sudden. It was as though my legs had realised what I was about to ask of them (“Another round of this brutal course? In this heat? Are you nuts? We liked it in the pool.”) and they’d just decided to shut up shop. I cranked my usual stride down to a shuffle. I managed no better pace for the 13 holes it took my opponent to thrash me.

On Tuesday night of this week, two days after John and I walked 20km, the traffic on the way home was at a standstill. The bus was full of coughing, sneezing, gabbling people, and it was heating up fast. I decided to walk home; it was only another 5km or so. I hopped off the bus, thanked the bus driver and strode off up the Iffley Road.

I managed to get about ten yards and suddenly I was back in Mount Edgecombe in 1998 - my legs just weren’t there. I hadn’t felt overly tired on Monday or Tuesday during the day, but here I was feeling that jellied emptiness that I’d not felt for well over six years. I made it home – eventually – but by the time I did, I was fit for nothing more than collapsing in a heap on the sofa.

On the one hand, I felt tired and mildly ashamed of my poor level of overall fitness; but on the other, I felt like I’d finally done something a bit more worthy of the cause I’ve undertaken than running after a shuttlecock, or batting a table tennis ball around a leisure centre.

- - -

As a post script to the long and rambling South African Amateur story:

In hunting around for links, I came across this one, which I found rather interesting. It is interesting because it shows me that two of the field in the 1974 South African Amateur that my dad played against, were also in the field that I played against in the 1999 South African Masters at the Oppenheimer Park Golf Club in Welkom (Mark McNulty and Jeff Hawkes). It is also interesting because it gets my dad’s nationality wrong (he’s about as South African as the Giant’s Causeway). Oh yes, and it’s also interesting because it turns out he finished 20th in the strokeplay that year, not 13th.

I suppose it’s better to find these things out after they’ve eaten you up for six years than to never find them out at all. I might sleep a little better tonight.


John said...

Needless to say, I e-mailed my dad a link to this latest entry. He replied:

"Another myth exploded! Strange how the mind plays tricks over the years. Before Mark McNulty writes in and complains, it wasn't the SA Amateur I beat him in, it was the Transvaal Amateur."

*smug grin*