They say all good things must come to an end. And what an end it was too. The annual dinner at the Frontline Club to round off an incredible year being captain of the wonderful Press Golfing Society society.
Something happened on the way to dinner tonight. Jon Snow phoned me from Sri Lanka. It’s too late Jon, I told him, you had your chance to perform in front of my guests … and you blew it. Royally.
Listen to me, he says, this is a really bad line and I can’t speak for long but I wanted to tell you something really important … I’m in a karaoke bar in Colombo and they’ve got American Pie on the jukebox. Do you think it’s too late to arrange a duet for your dinner?
Several weeks ago Jon and I and several other thirsty hacks popped out for a quick drink followed by dinner at the local Italian. I’m not entirely sure what happened over the next few hours, but before I knew it, Jon and I, two Spag Bols to the wind, found ourselves in a karaoke bar performing a determined duet of that timeless classic American Pie.
Seriously though Hayley, he says, this has been bothering me for a while, if you’re so good at golf and winning all this silverware, why are you at Channel 4 News and not a golf professional earning millions?
I can’t chip.
You can’t skip?
Chip Jon chip, I can’t chip.
I heard you, but why can’t you skip?
My knees collapse!
I would have thought collapsing knees would be useful for skipping?
Jon, don’t you have American Pie to go and sing?
You’re absolutely right Hayley, he says, I just wanted to phone and tell you once again how truly sorry I am to have dropped you in it leaving you guest speaker-less at the 11th hour. I know how desperately hard you’ve been trying to find someone of a similar ilk at such short notice – and I hope your guests have an opportunity to see me grilling you about your recent golf victory on screen. (See video below)
So in the absence of Jon Snow … and a roll call of distinguished names who all turned me down … for tonight, or at least for the next 20 minutes can we all just take this opportunity to pretend that … I am exceptionally well known, a bit of a national treasure if you will, exceedingly wealthy, mind-blowingly skinny and with an uncanny ability to get up and down from 16-yards off the green.
Big Mac I can only assume I am here today because of my subtle and layered tones singing American Pie on previous Wryter Cups with you. And for that I say, you chose wisely.
I was incredibly honored the day Big Mac plucked me from obscurity to be his vice captain. And if my vice captain was here tonight … I have no doubt he would be saying the same thing. Except that he isn’t here. Despite the fact this dinner… the prestigious captain’s dinner… the ceremonial handing over of the bling dinner has been in the PGS diary for the last 109 years.
When I think back to the great and the good that have been in this celebrated position before me, from Lord Emsley Carr to the late great Bob Warren, I can’t help but wonder … what the hell has happened to this society.
Now some of you may have heard that our French friends, the APG, recently suffered a devastating loss – at the Maul in Porthcawl. Now I am not, for the sake of an easy laugh, going to exploit our Parisian opponents, their youth, inexperience in the bar or inability to stay awake past 10.30pm.
The PGS is already on shaky ground with the French Wryter Cup team, given the last time we saw them they were glaring at us while standing nearly naked in a Welsh hotel car park at 4 in the morning – through no fault of their own – two hours before they were to depart on their 9-hour drive back to Paris.
I am delighted that so many of my Wryter Cup champs could be here tonight – with the hand of history upon your shoulders. I have to admit there are days when life seems comparatively dull since our return. And on those rare dull occasions … I turn to a little number crunching to cheer myself up: 8-nil whitewash, 20-12 romp to victory, one victorious woman captain … and above all else … every single member of the Wryter Cup team brought in at least one plucky point.
A lot of people have asked did I adopt an insufferable Colin Montgomery or an amiable Ole style of captaincy. The answer is neither – as my teammates will confirm. I adopted a robust Mugabe-esk take no prisoners approach, and rather hoped that by emulating Zimbabwe’s redoubtable leader and his authoritarian style of no nonsense leadership, the team would readily fall into line. Alas, it was not to be.
My two golden rules for success … just say NO to negativity and always remember … Mugabe expects. Not surprisingly I had to issue one particular member of my team with his own set of rules which included among others: don’t leave your shower running between the hours of 3 and 4am as it will result in a) the fire alarm sounding, b) the entire hotel being evacuated and c) 16 angry nearly naked Frenchmen glaring at us from across a hotel car park.
But back to the Wryter Cup, I will never forget the look on Paolo’s face when he walked off the course after the afternoon’s 4-balls to a sea of blue shirted, beer guzzling, grinning, PGS’s standing around the 18th green … to be told that everyone in our team had won their matches and achieved an incredible 8-nil whitewash. A priceless look of sheer disbelief. And this is a man who had to witnesses some heady defeats in our team over recent years.
It has been suggested by some unkindly folk, that far from spending months strategising about my 4-ball and foresomes pairings, I simply I struck lucky, when I jotted down names on the back of a fag packet while being chauffeured down the A3… and that’s simply not the case … we had already crossed the Severn bridge and we were well into Wales when I came up with our winning combos.
I never thought I would say this, but there are several things I will miss about being PGS captain. The golfers who have quite simply become amazing friends, having my own uber professional personal secretary in the form of Paolo, teeing off on the first at the Berkshire meeting and not least the free beer.
Here’s the thing, it’s a tactic I developed called meaningful communication … throughout the year, I discreetly mentioned to a number of key players that should they not qualify for the Wryter Cup team, I would be considering them for a wild card. And in a matter of seconds you would hear those glorious words: “Skips would you like a bottle or a pint?”
The only thing I will not miss … my regular public addresses to you. My recent Wryter Cup experience proved somewhat of a linguistic adventure. What kind of crazy fool came up with the notion that it would be a good idea for our “not a single word of French-speaking PGS captain” to make her victory speech in French. Fortunately the French team and I have more in common than you think. Coming from a small remote African village – we both have English as our 2nd language.
They say some life changing moments happen on a golf course. And there’s no doubt – despite the fact that my perfect prose were laboriously phonetically transcribed by the Corky in return for a lifetime of Gin and limes, delivering those perfect prose in a foreign tongue was certainly life changing.
Several years ago I had another life changing moment on a golf course. In fact it was one of the more surreal moments in my life – the day I got engaged on the 13th tee.
The boyfriend and I had been going through a somewhat difficult period of late and we were on what you might call a make or break week away in the depths of France somewhere.
We found ourselves playing golf on this charming course, a lot of water, lightening greens …. More to the point I found myself 5 up with 6 holes to go.
There I was standing on the 13th tee, driver in hand and mentally psyching myself up for his imminent and crushing defeat, when he suddenly turned to me and said: I think we should get married.”
I’m sorry what?!?!
And then it happened … down he gets down on one knee… “Will you marry me?”
And I’m like “For the love of God will you please get up.” I can’t help but notice that little groups of Frenchmen in the distance are peering in our direction, pointing their golf clubs with vaguely bemused expressions.
Then from nowhere he produces this shiny, silver, immaculately sized … Wrigley’s wrapper in the shape of a ring. Are you friggin kidding me with this? Sweet baby Jesus, I beg of you, please get up.
He’s having none of it. And now he’s going on about selling up our place in London and moving to France. I kindly suggest that if he gets up now I give him a couple more shots over the last 6 holes. No! I’ll throw in a mulligan. Still no.
By this stage the little Frenchmen have now become a small gathering just off the 13th tee. He’s still down on his knee and now he’s going on about wanting us to have lots of children … at least three, he says. I think about this for a second, there’s an obvious positive and negative to having children. On the plus side, what if they share the same gene pool as Seve? And on the flip side, what if they inherit his putting and my chipping?
By now he’s in full flow and completely oblivious to the growing French numbers surrounding our tee. I couldn’t tell if they spoke English or not, but I could tell they weren’t moving on until they heard a “wee-wee monsieur” from me. The pressure was palpable.
And so it was, in a less than romantic setting, with an audience of little Frenchmen and a Wrigley’s wrapper for a ring on my finger, I reluctantly agreed to marry this man … who I have to say, I was not sure I was even entirely crazy about.
Now I could end the story there and start a slide show of what should have been our cherubic children … or I could tell you how this became the shortest engagement in living history.
Once the crowds dispersed, I was able to get back to the business at hand – this crushing defeat. But it was while striding down the fairway, driver in one hand and ring on the other, that the enormity suddenly hit me.
There I was, a bump and run from victory except somehow I’ve just agreed to walk down an aisle, move to France and have three children.
I have to tell you the thought proved mind-blowingly distracting over the next six holes. In fact, the effect to my golf swing was somewhat catastrophic, the ball was sprayed around left and right, in the water, behind trees and if you thought I couldn’t chip before the proposal … I don’t need to explain how ugly that turned.
In essence, he wrecked my game. And it dawned on me that if four little words could cause such devastation to my game, could you imagine what three little children could do.
It was a dizzying time and before I knew it I was standing on the 18th green dead even with my now fiancé … who was contemplating a nasty downhill 6 footer to half our match.
And it was while he was stood over his putt, that I had made my 2nd rapid-fire decision of the day. If he slots in that putt, I’m getting married. If he misses, the engagement is off.
He missed. Granted it wasn’t the crushing defeat that I had hoped for or the longest of engagements.
But before you all start feeling too story for him, I have since learnt that he went on to marry a delightful Russian lady and they have three charming little daughters.
On the plus side, I got to keep the ring.
Before we get to the most important part of the evening … the last time we get to hold our trophies before they’re left on tubes, trains, taxis and in skip in Southend … a few very grateful thanks.
Huge thanks to our Paolo. Without him and his constant support for me this year and the society year after year, we would have frankly all ended up in a skip in Southend.
To all everyone in the PGS, it has been an amazing year as your captain – a genuine privilege and an honour.
To all our new members, you’ve given something very special back to the PGS this year, not least the Wryter Cup.
You’ve embraced the society and everything that it stands for … the friendship, the humour, the banter, supporting each other when the chips are down, both on and off the course and above all … having fun.
That is why this year I choose to present the Vic Woodman trophy in memory of a great man to rookie Laura Cork – someone who has quite literally embraced all that the PGS has to offer … and always with a slice of lime.
To LoudmouthGolf for sponsoring our magnificent trews in Wales – I’m not sure we could have done it without you.
And finally to my Wryter Cup champions … what else can I say, except … “We’ll always have 8-nil.”