Free Press Deputy Sports Editor Russell Claydon takes on a David versus Goliath contest amid a Biblical downpour to launch our golf competition (to see how to enter read on after the feature).
There are not too many opportunities that come along to play alongside a sportsman at the top of his game.
So when Barrie Trainor, the county’s only qualifier for the prestigious BMW Open at Wentworth in May after recently moving across the Irish sea to coach in Suffolk, offered to play me at Thetford I couldn’t let it pass me by.
This is a Euorpean Tour player who can claim to have beaten fellow countryman Rory McIlroy in competition play before and who is currently ranked 7th out of 4,000+ PGA professional across the UK and Ireland after December’s play-off in Turkey.
By contrast, I only took my first swing for a column for the Suffolk Free Press with teaching at Stoke-by-Nayland in the dying embers of the summer of 2010.
Since those year-long lessons with Roly Hitchcock, which ended with a daunting appearance in the English Challenge Pro-Am at Stoke as the Sky television cameras prepared to cover the next day’s main event, I have been very much a fair weather golfer without ever having a handicap calculated — and in case you hadn’t noticed, there hasn’t been much fair weather about to get me on the greens!
So the great leveller I had prayed for, a constant stream from the heavens on Saturday, was really more in favour of my opponent than myself, with Cornard Tye-based Old Joe’s pro Barrie quipping if we added 30 mph winds he could be back home in Ireland.
The only other obstacle in my way is a familiar one right in my eye line — Free Press photographer Roger Arbon with his long intruding lens.
Back in May 2011 at the Pro-Am, my first two holes had been ruined by a combination of a large crowd applauding me on to the tee and the pressure of performing for that man with that camera, ready to report back what he saw to the office.
I had hoped this occasion would be different, after a very encouraging nine holes round Bury St Edmunds Golf Club 24 hours earlier. But it was the same train crash on a different track, a heathland course I had never played before.
My scuffed tee shot barely rolled its way past the ladies’ tee markers, taking up a massive divot (apologies Thetford green keepers).
Feeling the pressure to retrieve my error, I then topped my second shot with an all-too-fast eager swing, leading Barrie to step in with some advice.
But third time lucky, my ball sailed up in the air and landed on the green, and for once, my putting wasn’t what let me down with two more shots earning a double bogey five, while Barrie seemed almost embarrassed at his par three.
As I made a mess of my tee shot with a driver off the second, slicing it to the left, I told Roger it would all fall into place once he left.
Luckily, he took the hint (and the chance to go get dry), and gradually more and more of those shots from the previous day’s golf returned.
What didn’t go away though was the rain, which was so bad it had earlier seen nearby Thetford Town FC’s match postponed, meaning it was hard graft to work our way to the greens, some of which were beginning to have puddles appear on them (and for a sand-based course that drains extremely well, this said something).
I was happy to bide my time though and wait for one headline moment to report. And after praise from Barrie on a smart bunker recovery (the only sand trap I ended up in all day, I might add), it finally came on the 414-yard 9th.
My driving had improved considerably from the calamitous second tee (I chickened out and used a five iron on the first) and after Barrie, only playing with new Taylor Made sponsored clubs for the second time and a laser-sighted pair of binoculars, pulled his drive into the trees to the left, I stepped up and landed my ball right, slap bang in the middle of the fairway.
So for one brief moment, the four guys behind us would have guessed the guy fumbling about through the trees was that novice Russell Claydon, while the smily chap on the fairway was most certainly Rory McIlroy conqueror Barrie Trainor.
Somehow laser-guided Barrie quashed this pleasant daydream by beating me on the hole by two clear shots, for his first bogey of the day (naturally, he cursed while I would have rejoiced).
In total I hit four double bogeys over the first nine holes, unfortunately, that was as good as it got for me, while Barrie, who has just retired from six years touring with the likes of Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer and co to teach at split sites between Sudbury and Thetford, ended the first half of the course on a one-over par 36 (for what it is worth I carded a 25-over 61!).
With the rain not relenting, and soaked to the bone, like many others we decided to call it a day after the 13th, conveniently opposite the hot shower that awaited in the clubhouse.
Barrie went out with a birdie to finish on par (in four times of playing Thetford, where he teaches youngsters, he has never gone over par) while ‘unlucky’ putting cost me with eight on a par five.
As we began to warm up in the bar, Barrie shared two videos he had craftily taken of my swing and put on an app on his iPhone and began to tell me where I was going wrong.
Like all good golf teachers, it was mixed with enough encouragement for me to believe I can quickly rectify the problems in my backswing, meaning there was no need to chuck my clubs in anger in the now flooded plains around Thetford on the way out.
The Free Press has teamed up with Barrie Trainor’s employers, the Stuart Smith Golf Academy, which runs lessons at Old Joe’s Golfing Range in Cornard Tye near Sudbury and Thetford Golf Club, to offer two lucky readers a free 18-hole lesson at Thetford, one of East Anglia’s prize golf courses.
All you have to do to be in with a shot at winning is answer the following question and email your answer to: firstname.lastname@example.org or post it: FAO Russell Claydon, Barrie Trainor golf competition, Anglia Newspapers, King’s Road, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk IP33 3ET, to be received before the closing date of March 22.
The two winners will be picked at random and notified on March 25. Only one entry per person. Dates are flexible and to be agreed with Barrie Trainor and the Stuart Smith Golf Academy. Over 16s only, no cash alternative available, the usual Anglia Newspapers terms and conditions apply.
question: what is the maximum number of clubs that can be carried in a competitor’s golf bag in competition play?