Handsome Bastard

Words by: Alex Ames
Photography by:Graeme McCubbin

“Handsome bastard.” Said Alister.

“I know, he’s also really good at golf.” I added.

“What a tosser,”; Alister confirmed.

If you wanted to describe the new creative at MANORS in just a few sentences, this text conversation between me and one of our suppliers does a pretty good job. But I’ll give you the slightly longer version.

James Wilson, AKA short side, is a professional golfer, who recently decided not to pursue a career in the sport. He has blonde hair, a centre parting and he looks a bit like a world war two hero - behaves like one too. He plays off +5 with a nice baby draw, runs a small art business and maintains his own blog (www.shortside.org). He’s an irritatingly decent bloke. I know, I know we’re all waiting for a scandal - maybe he’ll get caught drop-kicking a cat or spitting at an old woman - but right now he’s got a clean scorecard. I caught up with James to find out how his love of golf started, where it took a left turn and what the future holds.

Like so many others, James’ plans for golfing greatness started with Tiger Woods.

I won a PE award at school - “Tiger Woods - How I Play Golf” - I must have been 11 years old. I became sort of obsessed with his mental mastery and how much he sacrificed to the game.

Quite an insightful take for an 11 year old? I probed.

Ye well, Mum tried to balance me out a bit and get me interested in other things but Dad and I were having none of it. I remember my coach asked what I wanted to accomplish in 10 years and I said I wanted to win 1 of every major. I remember my dad and coach looking at each other and smiling in a kind of patronising way.

You’ve got to love the ambition.

Despite his grand plans James wasn’t always the cream of the crop, a theme that continued during his time on Stirling University’s golf team, but that only added to his determination. James describes his decision making process at the time as a flow chart. Anything that didn’t lead to improvement was dumped in the bin, anything that enhanced his chances of golf immortality was quickly integrated. I asked him what that meant for a teenager.

Well, I guess in hindsight I made a lot of sacrifices, but I wouldn’t necessarily have seen them as such because I wanted to play golf all the time. I wasn’t interested in nightclubs or sitting in the park drinking vodka and my social development was probably stunted as a result. I made less friends, and had less romantic relationships. It just limits your time so much and any time not spent practising led to guilt, so that was a sacrifice for sure.

Anyone who follows professional golf closely understands it’s a difficult life. Very few make it to private jet status and even those that do must compete mercilessly in gruelling schedules under immense pressure. At times, James’ relationship with pro golf was a toxic one.

There’s something very attractive about her (pro golf), but you have to do all the hard work, she rarely gives you anything back. Then, every once in a while when you’re feeling really down on yourself, and you're just about ready to throw in the towel, you play great: she buys you flowers or chocolates and takes you out for a nice dinner and you think, oh ye, this thing has legs. We’re going to go the distance.

Even for us high handicappers - this is relatable. If golf bought me petrol station flowers and a Snickers before a quickie in the parking lot, I’d be good for a couple years. So how did you get out of the relationship? I pressed.

I played well on the UK amateur circuit in 2019 and was gearing up to try and make the Walker Cup team the following year. Then everything stopped because of COVID. For the first time in my life the performance hamster wheel came to a stop, I didn’t have to feel guilty for not playing, practising, training. I started drawing more, reading more, watching a load of movies I could never get around to. Suddenly golf seemed a little less significant and all these other things opened up to me.

I remained silent. James was on a roll.

Golf is this very narrow minded journey and no matter how hard you work you may never get to where you want to be. The input doesn’t equal the output and that's part of the sadistic pleasure of it, like pulling a slot machine. To excel you have to shut everything else off. You put all your eggs in this basket and only about 50 people in the world get the pay off - and at what cost? The Full Swing Documentary probably revealed to a lot of people that when your focus becomes so narrow at an early stage in life it can limit your personal development. With learning, art and expanding your mind, there’s no limit, there’s no end point, more is more, you can’t fill your cup.

So, whilst the rest of the world discovered golf, you discovered the rest of the world? I offered, knowing it was a bit cheesy.

Yeah I guess so…

Was all he’d give me back. I pivoted. So what’s it like playing with a bunch of plonkers like us (The Manors Team) now?

When I quit I thought I could conceivably give up golf, I didn’t really have any reason to play, at least for a year… but then obviously I started working with you guys and you know… now that I’m not playing with professionals I realise it’s a pretty hard game.

I began nodding.

And you know…without wanting to sound arrogant… I’m pretty good…

More nodding.

And I realise that a lot of you guys would give your left ball to be able to hit certain shots the way I can.

Both balls.

So yeah… that’s nice. Golf has taught me so much about character development, and the value of hard work, structure, trying to master your body and your mind. You are essentially self employed, all the responsibility lies with you and that's part of what appealed to me about it. But now it’s gone from this really anti-social thing to actually being a way for me to write, and explore stories, and meet people. I can just enjoy it. It turns out not thinking about your downswing every waking minute is a nice change of pace.

That’s about as much as James will give away. He’s unbelievably composed - as you’d expect after a life of mental control. But the better we get to know him, the more he offers up. I can tell he’s excited about his life beyond the fairways.

COVID was a disruptive force in Golf, that much has been apparent for some time. Artists, writers, actors and more took up the sport and lowered its fences. But who would have guessed that on the other side would be a few golfers like James, waiting to head the other way.

Read James Wilson’s Blog at http://www.shortside.org or www.manorsgolf.com/Journal