For a very brief period in time - about ten minutes all told - my ten year old son Christopher was the greatest golfer who has ever lived. Indeed, if he had taken my advice at the time his incredible performance would today eclipse anything Tiger Woods or Bobby Jones has ever achieved. Here's how it happened.
I was playing golf with my eldest son David at Tarland Golf Club, a beautiful rural course not far from where we live. Christopher was caddying for me and up to that point had never swung a golf club in anger. We reached the short par three eighth which is hidden in the trees well out of sight of the clubhouse. Christopher begged me to let him have a go. I looked around. The course was deserted and there was no-one coming up behind.
"Okay," I agreed with a somewhat condescending smile on my face, "I'll tee the ball up for you as long as you give me time to stand well clear."
I handed Christopher a seven iron and he addressed the ball. Well, he didn't so much address it as send it a very long letter written in an extremely shaky hand. Eventually the club tottered high above his head and he wound himself up to take a mighty slash at the ball. Somewhat to our surprise as the club descended with an audible swoosh he actually managed to strike the ball a glancing blow and it shot off to the right, ricochetting about twenty yards down the fairway. He looked downcast.
I suddenly felt sorry for him. Golf looks such an easy game but of course it's anything but. "It's okay, Christopher. Don't worry about it. Just slow your swing down a bit and you'll be okay."
David and I played our shots but neither of us found the green. Together we walked up to Christopher's ball and this time I handed him a nine iron. He took another mighty swipe and the ball rolled forward thirty yards as he fell over backwards.
"You're still swinging too fast," I muttered as I gently picked him up and brushed the mud off his back.
David and I played our second shots and this time we both found the green, albeit neither of us was close to the pin.
"What will I hit this time?" asked Christopher, as he peered down at his ball nestling in the rough about twenty yards from the green.
"I'm not sure it matters," I replied, looking at the nasty lie, "Here, try this." I handed him a sand wedge but it could equally have been a driver for all the difference it would have made to his control over the shot. Even at this early stage in his career I could see that finesse wasn't going to be a major part of his golfing armoury.
We watched with some trepidation as he took another mighty swipe at the half-hidden ball. To our surprise the ball jumped cleanly out of the rough and curved gracefully towards the green where it bounced twice then trickled along somewhat erratically for several yards before tumbling into the hole.
"Good God," said David, "That's unbelievable."
I was too stunned to speak as the realisation of what my son had just achieved began to dawn on me. If he stopped now his record would be unique. The list of his achievements ran through my mind like wildfire. In his golfing career my son had parred every hole he had ever played. He had never had a bogey. He had never taken more than three on any hole he had ever played. He had never missed a put. In fact, he was so good with his irons that he had never even needed to put. If he stopped now his average score on any round would be fifty-four, way better than anyone who has ever lived. If...well, the list seemed endless. A marketeer's dream. Pound signs began to flash in front of my eyes and I suddenly felt faint. For a moment I even believed that there actually was a God.
As we made our way to the next tee - David and I both having bogied the hole - I tried to convey to Chris the momentous import of what he had just achieved. I begged him never to lift another golf club again. I promised him sporting immortality, his own entry in the Guinness Book of Records, untold wealth and fame (which I, naturally, as his manager, would share).
He was having none of it. Buoyed up by his success he insisted on playing the next hole. Reluctantly I handed him a three wood. Twenty-three stokes later he finally cajoled the ball into the hole. In the space of two holes he had gone from being the best player who had ever lived to one of the worst. Again I begged him to stop. The Rolls Royce was rapidly disappearing over the horizon but the manager in me figured we could still make a modest living peddling the story of his precipitous descent into ignominy.
Again he was having nothing of it. He insisted on playing the next hole and the one after that. Even worse he subsequently took up golf as an enthusiastic amateur becoming, as the years passed, a pretty decent player.
Which is why neither you, nor anybody else, has ever heard of him and Tiger Woods sleeps soundly in his four-poster bed at night, safe in the knowledge that HE, and not my son, is the greatest golfer who has ever lived.