We can win this

Friday. Early morning. Most Footy Almanac writers and readers remain fast asleep. Four of us, however, have risen with the fishmongers. We fumble around for ball-markers and tees, caps and golf shoes, before grabbing the keys and heading out into the darkness.

In Footscray Medium Dazza Smith picks up the sheet of paper upon which are written important instructions. In St Kilda Jake Norton (of the wandering eye) consults a tram timetable. In the backstreets of Geelong Peter Flynn, naked, looks down over his belly, and  wonders whether his socks will pass muster at the Barwon Heads Golf Club.

In Northcote I have that anxiety which sits in your middle before you’re about to engage in something of consequence. I am wondering whether the four of us will represent The Footy Almanac adequately at the Women’s Cancer Foundation Country Classic Golf Day. It is, after all, the first-ever Almanac golf four, and there are many unknown quantities. I have never seen the golf swings of Flynn, Norton or Smith.

However, I have played in these days before at the invitation of one of the world’s finest ratbags, Jim Fidge, Almanac writer and bon vivant. Thinking of Jim settles the nerves. I recall one charity day when the lunch was finishing around sundown the remaining revellers broke into song: the ditties of Gilbert and Sullivan and a selection of hymns, me singing baritone arms around the shoulders of a flakey tenor who claimed he was the Monacan consulate, while Jim didn’t miss a word, or a note. “Praise to the Lord the Almighty the King of Creation” was a highlight. It reminded me of my wedding.

That was before kids. And now, at 5.30 in the morning, I am sneaking out, trying not to wake the progeny: the three kids four and under who have kept me off the golf course in recent times. I’m not sure why Freud never theorised about that.

I pick up Jake from under the clocks at Flinders Street, and we head across the Bridge. He is chatty. He has been selected because he goes well on the Bellerine, if that day at the Geelong Cup a couple of years back is any indication.

Meanwhile, Medium Dazza has made sense of the instructions and found P. Flynn at his Geelong abode, and has made it to Barwon Heads. They sit at breakfast in the clubhouse.

We walk into the magnificent building which has a hint of the Hotel New Hampshire about it. We join them. The mood is very good. Golf on a Friday will do that to you. Over the past week,  all email correspondence between the four of us has been dispatched under the subject ‘We Can Win This’ which was predominantly ironic – but, playing with those I know to have fancied themselves as sportsmen at some stage during their lives, was also designed to find that ember within.

It is on the practice green that I first notice the way P. Flynn stands out from the crowd. I can’t work out if it’s the way he looks like P. Falk’s dishevelled cousin, a situation amplified somewhat by the attention to golfing fashion many of the others have paid, as a matter of course. It may be the ancient Brosnans which fill the circa 1975 brown golf bag which sit on the hire buggy like a featherless galah. Or it may be his ability to nail anything inside five feet and the commentary which accompanies his Seve-stare into the middle distance, “I’m good on the short ones.” I’m not sure if this is a public statement or positive self-talk that sports psyche post-grads write theses about. P. Flynn has been selected because he grew up on the Bellerine.

Medium Dazza, by contrast, has the kit and looks the goods, and also has a decent-looking putting stroke. He has been selected because he knows where the Bellerine is.

We make our way to the seventh tee, chattily, for the shotgun start. We have been told we are second group off, and as we get there, the chorus of “We can win this” disappears. Indeed, we are silenced. Not because we have good golfing manners. But because pushing his tee into the ground is one James Bartel. Standing at the back of the tee is Tom Hawkins. I reckon that’s Blake Caracella. The fourth in the group, a nuggety, PE-teachery, back-pockety, wicket-keepery, fit bloke wanders over and shakes hands. “Stephen Wells,” he says.

Now we are really nervous in that first date sort of way and no matter how cool you play it you’re actually thinking to yourself, “I am teeing it up behind J. Bartel and T. Hawkins.”

P. Flynn doesn’t speak for minutes.

Jimmy belts it. Blake, off 7, belts it. S. Wells, off 5, belts it. Then we watch as T. Hawkins winds up with an arc like he’s the bloke in that Michelangelo sketch (the one that used to be on uni sweat-shirts in the `80s). He makes good contact and the ball hangs in the air forever; it’s a massive shot, but over wide mid-off.

No drama. It’s an Ambrose, where you just take the best shot, and everyone plays from there.

P. Flynn is grinning. “I’m only playing with balls numbered ‘3’,” he announces. And then, “How’s Tommy?”

“His hands are too far back,” I say. “He just needs to push his hands forward a bit.”

Medium Dazza, a Saints fan, has had enough already. “Why didn’t you just go around behind him, and wrap your arms around him, and adjust his hands for him?”

“I thought of that,” I say.

Then comes the moment; the moment when your instincts as a selector are in strife; when finally you view the swings of the blokes you’ve chosen on gut feeling to represent The Almanac.

P. Flynn is first. He starts with a disclaimer. “I’ve got a wicked hook,” he says.

A man true to his word, P. Flynn’s first drive, the result of an energetic thrash, starts down the left before bending severely left into the Cyprus pines.

“That’s wicked,” someone mutters.

There is snickering and suppressed laughter from behind him; snickering which is an instant from the quantum leap to guffawing. But we give him encouragement and rationalise his lot. He is, after all, breathing the CO2 expelled from the lungs of J. Bartel.

Medium Dazza addresses the Optima. Nice stance. Relaxed. Nice take-away. Nice through the ball. A nice drive. Promising.

Then Jake caresses one down the centre with a swing which has a hint of The Big Easy in it. I like it. I bunt a 2-iron out of the heel which does little but cause my vertebrae to creak.

We hit the green in regulation and two-putt for par. At the par 3 eighth we all miss the green but get up and down. At the ninth we make another two-putt par. At 10 we start to get a little concerned. P. Flynn has confided in us that his preparation for the big day has been roast lamb “with the Old Cheese. All the trimmings: mint sauce, gravy, and 12 cans each.” Some bloodlines I think to myself. But each player has to contribute four drives and that may be a factor if we are to win this. So we point his feet towards extra cover. He hits it straight there, but we use my drive, knock it on, and all miss the 12 foot birdie putt. At 11 we all miss a 20 foot birdie putt.

Up ahead the team of premiers is crunching drives and making putts, and having so few shots they get a full hole ahead of us.

And so it goes on. We are looking like having 18 pars when out of the scrub at the back of the thirteenth emerges a golf cart driven by a bloke called David Jarman. He is offering refreshments.

“Oh,” says P. Flynn, first to the esky. “Haven’t seen Traditional Lime for a very long time. Better have one.”

J. Norton concurs and rips the top off his.

We birdie 14. “We can win this,” someone says through lime-green lips. At 15 J. Norton drains a 25 footer for birdie and is a man so satisfied he calls for a cigarette and 30 minutes of nothingness.

We’re on a roll.

At 16, P. Flynn pulls off an approach from 40 meters which an eight-frame camera may not do justice to. It is a chip of many moving parts: a sort of back foot, runaway-to-square-leg, mobile scoop. Effective though, and we birdie from short range. At 17 I knock a 4 iron on and in she goes thanks to Medium Dazza’s trusty blade, and we make our fifth successive birdie at 18.

Six holes to go. “We can win this.”

The key factor now is making sure everyone has had the four drives. Jake still needs one, and P. Flynn needs two. We are pointing him further and further to the right as the round progresses and from the elevated first tee he spanks a draw-hook that covers a lot of territory insofar as i and j vectors are concerned and finishes at the bottom of the gully on the left-hand side. That’s one. We make par.  He then belts a 3-iron onto the second. Another par and P. Flynn looks contented.

He holes a 3-foot birdie putt at the fourth, after which there is glove-tapping in the style of I.V.A. (I have never glove-tapped before.) “We can win this.”

Now Jake is nervous because he’s got a drive to make but he smashes it down the fifth fairway and lets a significant breath out. We birdie the short par 5, and then P. Flynn pops in another 5-footer at the final hole having struck the left-to-right putt like a hardened pro, never giving the hole away, and with perfect pace. It’s the only shot he’s moved left-to-right all day.

We sign the card for an 8-under 62, which we could hand in to the tournament officials, or mail to Richard Dawkins as proof of the existence of God. It gives us net 52.375. “We’re right in this,” says P. Flynn.

“Perfect conditions,” I say. “We might get pipped.”

In the clubhouse the beers flow. The premiers have had 58 off the stick – 12 under. But they have a tiny handicap. We’re the leaders and no more information is to be divulged by the officials until the presentation.

After a few drinks we take our seats at lunch. P. Flynn is again speechless: he will sit next to Jimmy Bartel. Just when he is regaining his composure in walks Geelong coach Chris Scott and sits down opposite him. Chris Scott is very friendly and responds freely to P. Flynn’s rapidfire questioning. (It is the only time I have seen P. Flynn agree with 100% of what he’s hearing.)

No-one notices J. Dunne arrive.

In the pissoir soon afterwards P. Flynn is floating. “Chris Scott is the best bloke ever,” he says to anyone listening. “No. No. Take me seriously; I’m fair dinkum. He is the best bloke ever.”

The roast is superb. Ian Cover is as bright with the mic as ever, and interviews Chris Scott, while bagging everyone else in the room. (Appropriate really)

Covey then announces the results. The footballers have finished second. “The winner,” says Covey, “is The Footy Almanac team.”

“We’ve won this,” someone says.

With the formalities over, we adjourn to the bar, taking to heart the words of the great Wayne Bennett, “You have to celebrate your victories.” P. Flynn and I. Cover become involved in a chapter-and-verse conversation about G. Ablett snr moments. This goes for about an hour and a half.

Having thanked Jim, who has again made plenty for the Women’s Cancer Foundation (three 2011 Almanacs went for $600 in the auction) we eventually head back up the road to Melbourne.

We won this.

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au He has written many columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf’s Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV’s Offsiders.

He can be contacted j.t.h@footyalmanac.com.au

He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids – Theo9, Anna8, Evie6.

He might not be the worst putter in the world but he’s in the worst three.

His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. craig dodson says:

    gutsy play with a 2 iron off the first tee john – not even gary ablett could hit one successfully

  2. Bloody hell, John.
    Peter Flynn naked! What an introduction!

  3. John Butler says:

    PF, did Chris Scott end up having to drive you home? :)

  4. Peter Flynn says:

    A very enjoyable day.

    Thanks JTH.

    Enjoyed reliving most of it.

    How good was that lime?

  5. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t unsee the mental picture of P Flynn naked.

  6. Seriously…
    Gents, congratulations !

  7. Yes congratulations…

    But a 2-iron off the first tee?

  8. John Harms says:

    Litza, A small test to see whether any discs remain between my vertebrae. The first shot of the day, even with a 2-iron, feels like a heavy chain being dragged along blue metal.

  9. Good point, well made – I’ve taken to using a hybrid off the first tee and it seems to have worked… it’s a downward slope from there though.

  10. John Harms says:

    I know, I was at the top of that slope about a decade ago.

  11. Congrats and ambrose day’s are always unpredictable, it just relies on every one doing ‘something’ good

  12. Great stuff. Great victory. Great story. I hope well celebrated.

    I know P Flynn is a man of great courage. One night in January my wife and I dropped P Flynn off at the Footscray railway station at about 11.45pm following a night of food and beer and red wine (the same night that D Warner went nuts with the bat in the Sydney test – or was it Adelaide?). My wife was very concerned. “Will he be alright?” she kept asking as P Flynn strode purposefully across the road to the platform. “Never worry about P Flynn” I said, “He’s a man of great courage.”

  13. Andrew Fithall says:

    Those Geelong representatives (I am having difficulty referring to them without doing a small vomit) may have had a tiny handicap. My take on reading this was that your team wasn’t unencumbered. Good effort.

  14. ‘Those Geelong representatives’; ‘those Geelong people’; faceless men perhaps AF Rudd.

    That Carracella person did disgrace himself in 2006 but fortunately has seen the light and is a born again cat at a time when it is a very good time to be a born again cat.

    Mr Bartel is currently the best player going around, Mr Hawkins is the best centre half forward going around and of course Mr Wells, well well well what can I say?

  15. pamela sherpa says:

    Sounds like a good day was had by all. Well done Almanac team. Were the footballers in awe of you after your win? How did they take the loss? Did they ask you for any advice for next time?

  16. David Downer says:

    Top yarn and even better result!

    Trophy must be on display at all almanac lunches this year (with opportunity for all knackers to be photographed with the Cup).

    Hoping Bartel and co don’t recover from this.

    Traditional Lime indeed.

  17. Peter Baulderstone says:

    The Australian Sports Anti Doping Authority are launching an inquiry and will be contacting you shortly for retrospective testing. Your sudden surge of form seemed to coincide with the arrival of the ‘drinks’ van with the ‘lime cordial’. I am told that the barman was a skinny Spaniard told Alberto. This turn of events coincided with the FA team shortening from 80/1 to Evens in the Betfair market on the Tournament – and I don’t accept the excuse that they were only holding $43 on the event. Police investigators are doing character and credit checks on all involved. Its looking ugly.

  18. Peter Flynn says:

    We caught them in an even-numbered year.

  19. Harmsy you look ‘athletic’ . Can this be so?

  20. brilliant.
    just brilliant.

  21. Maybe you should form a footy coaching consultancy John.

    None of the great contemporary gurus, that get many of the Knacker non believers weak at the knees, seemed to be able to match it with that cat foursome last year.

    You blokes seem to have the key to the door.

  22. John Butler says:

    Why does the photo remind me of the Zevon song Desperadoes Under The Eaves?

  23. Medium Dazza says:

    The skipper has been very modest; he was like a zealous Headmistress at a junior school dance – he just kept putting us back on the dance floor, and we did the rest.

    The Geelong boys left before presentations (draw your own conclusions!)

    Unfortunately (from memory) I’m not sure that the trophy was part of the deal; it was commandeered from the clubhouse – we may need to have a replica commissioned in the spirit of the Ashes urn.

    As a collective body, we should also be aspiring to field at least two teams next year.

    It was a great day.

  24. Medium, Not often I get the chance to play my approaches from the fairway. I think your fairway wood to the difficult par 4 12th? was a clincher. And P. Flynn’s 3-iron which was entitled to carry on at the 45 degrees to the line of the hole path on which it was travelling until his pill hit the seam and held its own. Straightened down the line I think is the expression.

    The trophy is at The Ratbag’s engraver and will be delivered to us soon.

    We can take as many teams as we like. Jim would love that. Almanac Geelong, Almanac Carlton, etc

  25. Peter Flynn says:

    JTH,

    Most would think it was a Bartel-iron.

    I have to declare that it was a Mackie (a mashie).

    Cheers,

    PJF

  26. Stirling effort boys.

  27. Skip of Skipton says:

    Are those strides made from old Queensland Sugar sacks, John?

  28. Hello boys, I cannot remember an article and responses that I’ve read that I’ve enjoyed more and understood less. Not a golfer but am a crazy, so I get the joy and madness and being a little bit Cat-struck. We need a model of the cup at the Almanac Functions and I’m sure, like all the Cats recent premiership wins, we’ll hear about it WELL into the future. The Almanac can only produce winners.

    Yvette

  29. The scary thing is the older and drunker they get the better they will get on this day…

    Like the “featherless galah” line too!

  30. Richard Naco says:

    This does, of course, make you lot the ones that everybody else will be gunning for next year.

    But “those Geelong people” would be quite familiar with that sort of situation (even the “best bloke ever”).

  31. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Enjoyable read had a good laugh at the comments very ironic that this Season 2013 has been the year of drug suspicion and accusation did the , Footy Almanac Golf Team , get in early ?
    Good laugh , JTH am surprised not to have heard you speak of this triumph !

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