SOMETIMES it’s nice to leave it to the experts.
So it was nice to head to Seaton Carew to watch the best in the amateur game show this occasional golfer – very occasional – how it should be done.
There are few sports which demand the sort of skill you need for golf.
Getting a tiny ball what seems like miles from tee to green and then down a hole is something which excites and infuriates us all in equal measure.
Doubtless those emotions were inside the 150-strong field for the FA Cup of golf, the Brabazon Trophy, which was back at Seaton’s magnificent links for the first time since 1985.
Some made it look easy and some experienced the nightmares us mere mortals have to contend with.
After dusting off his golf shoes, bought from Mike Gough Sports in 1993, one of this reporter’s first tasks after setting off armed with notebook and pen yesterday was to help look for a lost ball on the fifth hole.
For someone who has lost ball after ball at Middlesbrough Municipal, that made me feel much, much better. So did the moment later when the vast forest of bushes along the right side of 16th ‘snatched’ the ball of the gifted England international, Luke Johnson.
No offence Luke. The 22-year-old still finished at one-under-par and looks in fine fettle to contend at the top end over the next three days.
Yesterday was a wonderful journey around the miles of the splendid Brabazon course, set up to perfection by head greenkeeper Tony Cartwright and his staff.
If you are at a loose end today, Friday or Saturday, then I would strongly advise you take a stroll around Seaton and watch some excellent golf. Aside from an Open Championship or a European Tour event, this is about as good as it gets in the sport in these Isles and it’s on our doorstep.
What initially interested me was the vast differences in approach of the players.
Some had caddies, either a family member, mate, wife or girlfriend or in Mr Johnson’s case a ‘professional’ bag carrier, former Seaton rugby forward, Nick Procter.
But most pushed around their own bags on trolleys, including two of England’s top players this writer followed around the course, Ryan Evans and Jordan Smith.
The pair, for all they could be rivals for the title, seemed to get on famously and supported each other around the 18 holes.
Evans, the European Amateur champion, played some nice stuff and hit the green on a regular basis but could not turn several chances into birdies.
Smith, who described the rough as “brutal”, did not find it so easy but did hole a number of good putts for pars.
The thing which struck me most was the skill and confidence from around and on the green, the players rolling in what looked some difficult putts.
All three in match six finished under par – Evans shooting a two-under 71 and defending champ Smith a 72.
So too did Joey Lamb. The third member of the group should have been Thriston Lawrence, but the double South African title winner withdrew.
Step forward Joey, who played very nicely. For those of you who do not know Seaton, the 17th green is devilishly difficult to get the ball on. Lamb found himself in some horrible spot but his shot onto the egg-shaped surface was one of the best of the day.
“Great shot,” enthused his playing partners.
“When you go into it as much as I do you become an expert,” laughed the Blackburn lad. He made his par and minutes later signed for a 72 in the scorer’s hut.
Smith and Lamb were in a tie for 30th while Evans ended the day in joint 15th.
All three went into today very much in the mix.
Long after the trio had finished Cornwall’s Tom Fox showed form is no indicator of prospects for success.
After two missed cuts in his last two events, he had seven birdies on his card for a 68 which put him in a three-way tie for top spot with early starter Ciaran Doherty and late starter Sebastian Mork Andersen.
One of the fascinating tales could be the Johnson-Procter combination, the King’s Lynn golfer having what he described as a “nice, steady opener” for 72.
He hopes having Nick’s local knowledge on his side may aid his title challenge. The first aim is to make the top 60 come close of play this evening.
“One under was OK and we’ll try to find a lower number in the second round,” he told SportMail. “Nick’s spot on, he just gives me the right club and I hit it.
“He’s got all the knowledge around here. He even tried to take the blame when I drove into the bushes on the 16th and lost my ball. But it was me, I hit a poor swing.”
Procter will not be short on knowledge or words – he even found time to deride the chubby Mail reporter for his antiquated golf shoes – but can he help bring a measure of local success to a top national event? One thing for sure is that the winner will need to play some great golf on a great course.