Never judge a book by its cover, or a golfer by the fact he chooses to cycle across a driving range on an old bicycle with no helmet on.
You get all kinds of people, from all walks of life playing golf these days. From old age pensioners who just want someone to talk to, to child protégés with pushy parents and everyone in between, just about anybody could rock up to your venue and ask for a taster lesson. It’s part of what makes being a golf pro so rewarding.
A young(er) Andrew Agnoli
I’ve seen (most of) them all, from the lonely housewife who would text for swing tips in the middle of the night, to an army-obsessed oddball who repeatedly asked me how I would react if he pulled out a gun mid-lesson.
But nobody can compare to the man who arrived in the storm.
It was a cold, wet Tuesday night in February when the storm-man came. I thought he was an animal at first, as he rode out of the mist across the driving range towards me on a bicycle. Because of the fog, and my assumption that no human would ever brazenly cross a patch of land with unclear vision and golf balls flying through the air at 100mph, I made the assumption it was some kind of giant deer.
When he got to within thirty feet of me, I realised it wasn’t a giant deer but a massive nutter. A nutter riding an old, creaky bicycle, attached to which were some even older, creakier golf clubs.
“Hello there,” he remarked casually, as he climbed off his bike, untied the rope holding it to his clubs and stepped onto the driving bays. “I take it you’re the pro?”
“Yep, that’s me,” I admitted.
“I’d like a golf lesson then, please.”
Of course you would.
I love coaching but at this point I wanted to get home. It was getting colder by the minute and hailstones were starting to appear. Plus, this guy was clearly some kind of local eccentric. There was the riding across the range obviously but there was also the matter of his clubs. It wasn’t that he’d tied them to his bike with a cheap bungee, or that I thought they were cheap knock-offs.
On the contrary, I was certain they were pretty valuable because they appeared to be a set of of Ben Hogans from the 1970s, which were made in an era when woods were made of actual wood. They were quite literally antiques. This man was clearly a few irons short of a full golf-bag.
But with no sign of lightning, I had little choice but to give him the lesson he wanted. It was going to be a long hour.
I asked how much experience he had. He told me he was “a decent amateur,” which set alarm bells ringing; I was expecting him to tell me he had started playing last year at the age of 63 and was now looking to make his mark on the PGA tour.
“Ok then,” I nodded with as much enthusiasm as I could. “Take a few balls to warm up and we can get going.”
“Hmmmm,” he mumbled as he stood over his ball, waggling the wooden club. “it’s been a few years since I gave this a go, you know.”
Oh, Christ. “How long?” I asked, as casually as I could.
He settled into his stance and glanced up at me. “Not since, ’76, my dear boy,” he declared as he began his back swing.
This was going to be excruciating.
Thwack. The small-headed, wooden club connected with the sweet spot of the ball and flew across the range, bouncing once, twice, and running to a stop somewhere between the 100 and 200 yard markers. The best golfers of the 70s hit the ball about 250 yards with wooden clubs. My new best friend had just hit it 175, and dead straight, at the age of at least 60.
Not since 76…
…“When I played with Nicklaus”, he grinned at me.
I didn’t need to ask if it was the Jack Nicklaus. I could tell by how well he had hit the ball.
It turned out the nutter on the bike really was a decent amateur. So decent in fact, that when Jack Nicklaus was playing in a British tournament in the seventies, he had asked my man if he was willing to be his caddy, and sought him out several more times down the years.
“I don’t always play golf. But when I do, I play with the GOAT.”
He didn’t need much coaching. He was hitting those old, wooden clubs straighter and relatively further than a group of students I’d taught earlier that day who were half his age. I just stood and listened to him regale me with stories of Nicklaus – and of course why modern clubs shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a golf course.
The hour long lesson turned into a three hour long drink in the clubhouse. I couldn’t get enough; I was getting the inside track on the greatest golfer of all time, from someone who had seen first-hand just how special he was. How Jack would survey the landscape, how Jack would select his clubs, how he lined up his putts, how he had treated a young, unknown amateur golfer so well when he was one of the most famous sportspeople in the world - and supposedly a grouch. I wanted to talk to this guy all night but I had to get home.
“Please,” I begged him as he left after yet another whisky. “Just tell me how Nicklaus prepared. Was he superstitious? What shoe did he put on first?
He probably thought I was a right weirdo.
Jack Nicklaus’ caddy came back for two more lessons, and two more evenings of reminiscing about the good old days. After he disappeared on his bike after the third lesson with a cheery wave, I never heard from him again; I suppose he had scratched his itch, or maybe he was just a bit freaked out by all my questions. Who knows.
One thing’s for sure, though. I’ll never judge a golfer by their clubs, age or rusty old bicycle again. You just never know who might turn up on a cold, wet evening in February when you’re about to go home.
If you'd like a golf lesson with Andrew, please book online. Don't show up unannounced riding a rusty bicycle across the range.