“You can’t put 100,000 people behind the goal.”
The unavailability of dangerously overcrowded terracing at England’s training sessions meant there was no point, as far as Bobby Robson was concerned, in practising penalties.
It’s a line of thinking that held for many years in football; that it’s futile rehearsing a fairly straightforward repeatable skill because you can’t replicate the pure blind panic you might encounter when you attempt to use it.
Although, when England began to practise penalties, they continued to miss penalties, so maybe Bobby was right. Maybe he spared them a lot of extra hassle, on top of the hassle they’d inevitably run into down the line.
No doubt there are a few Uncle Bobs among the golfing crowd too, who reckon the putting is a bit of a lottery, a necessary evil you leave in the lap of the gods while you master that swing.
Ben Hogan felt putting was a separate — obviously inferior — game altogether and believed there should be no holes, just flagsticks. And nearest ball should take the honours.
But there are holes and the ball rarely goes into them of its own accord, so Ronan felt the matter had to be tackled.
Before assembling a raucous gallery, a bank of photographers, a camera crew and a €10m purse to bring a sense of reality to proceedings, we started with the basics. Which putter to use?
Ronan watched me knock a few towards the hole, handing me a variety of high-tech mallets that bore only cursory resemblance to any putter I’ve carefully selected at a pitch and putt rental hut.
Thankfully, the broom handle years have been swept under the carpet, because if Ronan had decided that was the way to go, we were knocking this whole thing on the head and never speaking of it again.
We tried a face balanced putter, which some insist will more or less pick the ball up, drop it in the hole and sign your card too. No good. Seemingly, they only suit somebody who looks directly down on the ball and takes the club straight back and through.
Clearly it was the putter, rather than its handler, that sent everything well left.
Instead, Ronan found me a toe hang putter with a fairly thick grip. The toe hang works for the player who focuses just behind the ball and has an in-square-in path. Who basically putts like a door opening. Lads like myself and Jon Rahm.
The thicker grip helps take the hands out of play. Since the hands have tried to involve themselves in every other shot so far. Ronan tried to coax my right index finger out of its supervisory role down the right of the shaft, but negotiations are ongoing.
First, we worked on pace. Ronan likes a Jordan Spieth drill. Two markers, one at 10 feet, another at 20. Knock your ball just past the first marker, then your next ball past the first ball and so forth. Jordan would be looking for something in the region of 20 putts without going past the second marker. I’ve managed 11.
We worked a bit on reading the greens, on lining up the ball markers with your target and the line on the putter to make everything, in theory, a straight putt.
Then, while Ronan was waiting for the 100,000 strong gallery to assemble, he showed me the pressure drill he swore by when on tour.
Round the clock. Twelve balls around the hole. Four three-footers at 12 o’clock, 3 o’clock, six and nine. Next four six-footers on the same lines, then four nine-footers. Sink em all and knock off for the day. Miss one and start again.
For best results, Ronan advises, send a text to your wife saying you’ll meet her five minutes ago.
I was pondering whether I’d ever really have the discipline to stick to that regime when a potentially much more serious realisation dawned.
Before hanging up the boots, I missed my last three shoot-out penalties.