Almanac Golf: The 98 putts of Foxy’s debut




Tanunda Pines Golf Club: the first. [Look at that tufty grass]



James Fox makes wine at Rockford. Which is a pretty good thing to be doing. He’s young, and as fit as a trout. He recently ran the Barossa half marathon in a tick over an hour and a half. His residual fitness comes from time on the mountain bike, riding with one of his wine-making mentors, Ben Radford, up through the Barossa Ranges and Kaiser Stuhl National Park and Flaxman Valley, and playing hockey.


He’s closed the curtain on that hockey career, a sport which is popular enough here for locals to have built a top-class synthetic hockey field next to the (beautiful) cricket ground in Stockwell, one of the Barossa’s many villages.


Given the demands on Foxy’s time, he’s been looking to find a new sport. He does a bit of fishing in the Gulf, but that takes time, and preparation, and is at the mercy of the weather during the colder months. The obvious choice was to have a crack at the game of his other mentor and founder of Rockford, Robert O’Callaghan: golf.


Foxy’s played half a dozen times now, having joined Tanunda Pines Golf Club and, after being busy during Vintage which ran into May this year, he’s finally managed to get his third card in for handicapping. I marked his card for that third round.


Now, Foxy is a sharp-looking rooster, tall with a clipped beard. Put him in a lemon YSL pullover and he’d get a run in an for BMW Z3s in Golf Digest. He turns up in shorts – always shorts – and a Tanunda Pines golf shirt, with a new set of clubs he’s bought off some poor novice golfer who’s been soundly defeated after trying to learn the game, on Gumtree. His only worry is that he beats his previous best score which is on its way down from 134 and sits in the mid-120s.


I turn up with my half-century-old Rob Gibson Slazenger blades (once owned by journeyman pro Richard Backwell). My only worry is that the Tanunda Pines committee have a shirt tuck-in policy. If a cameraman snaps me at the first tee the photo might be used to promote Neurofen or Rectinol. My Slazenger blades may well be a work of art – in the right hands. I bought them in 1982 at a (happier) time in my life when I could get around Indooroopilly Golf Club (in Brisbane) in a reasonable score. It pains me to say that was forty years ago and I’m embarrassed to admit that my handicap has tripled since then.


It’s a calm, sunny day. Foxy stands on the first tee. “You go,” I say, every second of stretching time of benefit. He has an elegant address. He seems at ease over the iridescent lime golf ball. Then, whack! With a backswing that makes John Rahm look like John Daly, he sets the ball sailing with a slight push-fade well beyond 200m, catching the fairway about 60m from the green.


He’s strong through the ball all day – his irons are OK. But he struggles with club selection and course management and he finds the greens tricky. He’s out in 56 and home in 63 for 119 off the beater. That’s an improvement.


That night he sends me a screen shot from the GolfLinks website. Those responsible for Australian golf have given him a handicap of 39.5. Had there been lights around the golf course he’d have teed off that night.


But we wait.






I put our names down for last Saturday’s comp – an 18 hole stableford. Winter. Morning tee off time, just after an Apex pastie for brekkie. Fine and cool. A solid breeze from the north-east. Pleasant enough, once you get walking. We’re off the blue tees so Foxy’s handicap is 42. He’s even keener.


I am there for Foxy’s first shot in competitive golf. The backswing is no longer. Well-timed, the ball starts on a perfect line, fades and finishes 60 metres from the green.


I feel the wind over my left shoulder and, still in my 1980s body, think “I can get close to this short par 4.”


I’ve been watching the US Open from before dawn and I’ve decided that I can start well. Par at the worst.


But I haven’t hit a practice ball on the range, I’ve hardly warmed up, my lower back feels fused and yet I’m still willing to take on the 220 metre carry across the badlands to get close to the elevated green of the short par 4. My drive is adequate, in a powerless sort of way, and falls into the rough where it comes to rest on the far side of a massive tuft of Barnbougle-ish grass. I get my wedge caught on the downswing and promote the Titleist 10 metres or so. I’m still among the clumps and I have to hack into a wedge to ensure contact. It darts to the green and, no chance of pulling up, runs up the bank at the back and back down into the depression alongside the green. Handy enough, all things considered.


Meanwhile, Foxy has considered his options, and pulled out the pitching wedge. He thins it, the ball flies low, misses the upslope at the front of the green, and careers over the back, coming to rest on the slope beyond the back of the green. He chooses the putter, which is a good selection, given he’s on the downslope with a tight lie. He’s not nipping a delicate lob to a tiny landing spot. His nervy effort leaves himself 20 feet short.


The first green at Tanunda Pines is a killer. I survey my shot, a delicate chip which I’m no chance of pulling off. I’m a metre off the green, perfect lie and I just have to reach the top of the rise and let the ball run down to the hole. Ingloriously, I bail out with the putter. With a decelerating jab I leave the ball about a foot onto the cut section, 15 feet short. Foxy’s pulled down-hiller catches the break and keeps wandering away, finishing hole high but 12 feet left. “The pace was OK,” I say, encouragingly. He hits an OK putt which catches the right edge and flicks away about 12 inches. He taps the next putt so gently it darts across the face and misses. As he reaches to pick out his ball, he has that golfer’s look: how did that happen? But he retains his composure.


I am the golfer with half a century’s experience and I tell myself I need to get my down-hiller on line and let it fall into the hole. After a jerky crunch, I find myself eight foot below the hole. I am no chance on the one coming back. We’ve both had sevens.


The more significant statistic is that together we have used the putter nine times.


At the second, we have six putts, and seven putts at the third.


We have a combined 98 putts for the round. It would be poor form to mention the split.


In a way I’m disappointed that we didn’t make the ton.


That night I check the Tanunda Pines website. Foxy has lost C Grade on a countback! I didn’t get a ball in the B-Grade rundown.


Foxy is going to be very handy when he comes to terms with the greens.


Me? I’ve got some changes to make. The first is my writer bio which until now read: “I may not be the worst putter in the world but I am in the worst three.”


Make that four.



Addendum: At the 150-odd metre par 3 13th the wind was solid, into us right to left, the pin tucked left side on the lower tier under the ridge. I hit a ballooning high draw which tracked left, landed three feet from the pin on the top side and trickled with the slope to about two feet. I trickle-rolled the birdie putt five feet past and left the one back on the lip. Bogey four. I played the last five holes in a state of defeat. I did return home with 22,000 steps on the Fitbit which put me well ahead of the kids, so I’ve got that going for  me.




Read more from John Harms HERE


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About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and He has written 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 (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst four. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. When people ask me about my golf ability the standard line is “I played off 14 at 14 and have been getting steadily worse ever since”. My handicap now is 18 and my life goal to get back to 14 before Old Father Time or Old Tom Morris catch up with me.
    Only had the occasional social game for 30 years but really enjoy the walk and challenge of twice a week comps since retiring. The most enjoyable and surprising thing has been learning to compete. I was always pretty good at throwing in the towel when things got hard.
    I played senior pennants last year and got into the match play rounds of the B Grade club champs. Having a team and a team mate (pairs competition) taught me a lot about grinding & playing within my limits. First year I played with a lovely bloke for 4 weeks and went 2-2. Then I teamed with a ruthless competitor with a bad back. First hole “watch those bastards, I don’t think he counted the sideways one out of the trees”. At every turn they were cheating or got lucky breaks to beat us. Meanwhile he was cursed with unaccountable misfortune. I holed a 6 footer on the last to get the win. Felt ten feet tall. Over a beer I told him in front of the opposition that I enjoyed playing with him “because he taught me a bit of mongrel”. He bailed me up the next week to tell me he didn’t appreciate being called a mongrel in front of members of other teams. Took me no end of convincing to tell him the context and what I actually said.
    This year won all 6 pennants matches and probably my lifetime sporting achievement. Beating better players from Royal Fremantle in the wind and rain with strategic 150 metre nudges off the tee, skulled 4 irons, tight wedges and 2 putt lags was the icing on the cake. Good bogey golf goes a long way in competition (with a generous handicap).
    Welcome aboard Foxy. From long experience I can say that a bad golfing habit is a better return on time and money than any other vices. A man’s got to have a hobby.
    JTH – get a lesson from Joel Selwood. A bit of mongrel goes a long way.

  2. E.regnans says

    Love it JTH.
    Well played Foxy.

    That feeling after putting – of watching the ball curl, run an arc of micro-topography and gather pace on the green – just as you plotted – and then drop triumphantly into the cup… is one I can only imagine.

  3. John Harms says

    I can only imagine it too ER. That’s the problem.

  4. John Harms says

    PB, it’s a discussion I’ve had often over the last decade. At what point did the drive to compete leave me? For years we battled it out and took defeat hard – weekend matches and weekday matches among mates (which were fierce for about 20 years. Expectations ahve plummeted. No time to rectify and remedy all aspects of the game.

    The decline needs arresting.

  5. John Harms says

    The nearest the pin on the 13th got knocked off as well.

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