Hitting the Wall
Like a present-day Don Quixote, I had the windmill firmly in my sights. It was clear that timing would be crucial.
I can’t pretend: My palms were sweaty, my throat dry and my heart pounded so much that I expected it to burst, John Hurt-style, out of my ribcage.
Taking a deep breath, I decided to go for broke. Time seemed to slow down as I yelled “GET IN!” and punched the air with my putter in triumph. To my huge relief and unbounded delight, I watched the ball pass safely between the blades, disappearing down into the hole on the other side. My very first shot of the World Crazy Golf Championships had ended with a hole-in-one.
What made my Tate & Lyle moment even sweeter was the fact that I had teed off with Tim “The Ace Man” Davis, the world’s undefeated crazy golf champion.
Predictably, my lead was short-lived. Before long I was playing catch-up, ultimately failing to make the cut and being left to try to salvage some pride among the rest of the also-rans.
The reason I found myself in Hastings, on the south coast of England, in the first place was because my friend Mark and I had reached a rather unusual agreement — to compete in 30 UK world championship games in a single year. Considering we’d taken part in sports like “Worm Charming”, “Snail Racing”, “Pea Shooting” and “Cheese Rolling”, Crazy Golf would be a more conventional event.
From arcade games in a smoky Belfast bar to snorkeling in a freezing-cold bog at the back end of the Welsh countryside, our quest emptied my bankaccount. I also clocked up a whopping 12,500 miles, which gave me a carbon footprint so big that even Godzilla would get a touch of the green-eyed monster.
Why did I put myself through it? Partly it was down to the fact that, at the wrong side of 25, my hopes of a call-up to the England football team were fading fast.
Even if I didn’t become a world champion in any of these disciplines, the fact I’d have competed in so many events in such a short space of time would surely be considered an achievement in itself.
Strangely, my favourite moment of 2006 was also my worst. Deep in the heart of the Cotswolds, I found myself struggling to carry a four-and-a-half-stone sack of wool up a hill that had a strength-sapping gradient of one-in-four. As sweat cascaded down my forehead, I could feel my legs begin to buckle. If heavyweight comedian Rory McGrath can prove that his own recently televised attempt at the Tetbury Woolsack Race was done in one take, then I promise to buy him a fish supper. It was only when I heard screams of encouragement from hundreds of spectators lining the street, that I found the strength to reach the finishing line.
Of course, there were times during my epic quest with Mark that I felt like packing it all in, particularly after I caught food poisoning from a dodgy prawn stir-fry. Despite being unable to hold down any form of sustenance for three-and-a-half-days, I still managed to drag myself down to London and take part in the World Marbles Championships.
This reminds me of Lance Armstrong’s cameo in the film Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, when the American cyclist reveals that he, too, felt like quitting after being simultaneously diagnosed with brain, lung and testicular cancer — but none of this stopped him from going on to win the Tour de France five times in a row.
Unlike me, Mark actually became a world champion. Okay, so it was in sponge throwing, but the fact he spent the rest of the day smiling like a Cheshire cat with a strawberry-flavoured bum indicated that it felt good – perhaps even better than a hole in one against the world’s greatest crazy golfer.