Friday, 13 October 2017

Don't Get Mad

Steve is still working, so he met me today after work to play the back nine before dark. It's that time of year when the days are getting shorter and the leaves are starting to fall; rather depressing if you are a golfer and not planning on heading south for the winter.

I had played the front nine by myself, playing three balls on most holes, and doing some experimenting. All I had seemed to gain from my experimenting was a very sore back. But, after taking some morphine on seven, I was finally starting to loosen up a bit on ten. 

Ten is our hardest hole, playing 415 yards to a green fronted by a pond. Unless you hit a solid tee shot, ten becomes a lay-up hole where you try to wedge it up and down for your par. And today, after a short drive, I had to do just that, laying up to 100 yards and wedging it to six feet, I made what Steve and I call a "Peter Cole par." Peter is a short-knocker who still manages to make par after par using his short game. I made a nice par on eleven, which is another tough par four when it's into the wind. Then I made birdie on the short, par four twelfth. Things were going pretty well.

But I was still doing some experimenting with ball position, thinking that I had allowed the ball to start inching too far back in my stance. I'd moved it up and was really hitting it well. But, as Harvey Penick said, you should take one or two aspirins, not the whole damned bottle. After two solid shots, I had a perfect wedge yardage to a back pin on thirteen. But, as I stood over the shot, I thought, "I've done well moving the ball up in my stance, why not move it up a bit more?" The result was a skulled shot over the back of the green and a bogey. 

On fourteen I was still fiddling with my ball position and drop-kicked my tee shot about 80 yards. Instead of getting mad, I said to Steve, "Let's see if I can't make a three from here." That's become my way of dealing with stupid shots. Instead of getting angry, I just try to see if I can minimize the damage. 

So, I proceeded to follow that lousy tee shot with a fat wedge shot that nestled into a lousy lie thirty yards short of the green. The ball was sitting in a muddy hole on the edge of the rough. Rather than get annoyed, I tried, despite the lie, to hole the next shot. Instead, I knocked it 35 feet past the damned hole. Double bogey was now looming large. But I still just said, to myself this time, "let's try and hole this putt and get out of Dodge." 

I stood over that putt, tried to focus with all my might on the front of the cup, and damned if I didn't roll it right in. Steve, meanwhile, had hit his tee shot short and left of the green, fluffed his pitch to about ten feet, and missed his putt for par after he saw my 35 footer go in. We had both made bogey. That's golf. I left the green feeling like I'd got away with something, and Steve was left to wonder how on earth we'd halved the hole. 

But this attitude I've managed to develop has really helped. Instead of getting mad when I hit a stupid shot, I just try to see if I can manage to get away with it by hitting a good shot, or at least not hitting another stupid shot. It doesn't always work out, but it makes me better company. It also saves me having to climb trees to fetch clubs I've thrown. And it sometimes infuriates my opponent when I get a half or a win on a hole I probably should have lost. That's my new approach to golf. Don't get mad, get even. Besides, I'm really not really good enough to get mad.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

What Should You Think About?

It seems to me that golfers, of which I claim to be one, can think of a great many things during the second and a half or so that it takes to swing the club and hit a golf shot. I was reading Bobby Jones' book, Down the Fairway, and came across an interesting point Bobby makes about the golf swing and what we should be thinking about as we hit a golf shot. 

Bobby had been analysing for us what he thought were the important components of his golf swing. He wrote:

    "It seems fearfully complicated, this trying to take a swing to pieces and see what makes it tick. I'd hate to try to learn to play golf synthetically. These attempts at analysis are quite puzzling enough. But it has been deeply interesting to me, in my feeble efforts at analysis, to encounter so many times, and in so many ways, the factor of body-turn in all shots.
     One bit of earnest admonition. Stewart Maiden maintains that he cannot think of any of these details, or of any other details, during the execution of a shot--that is if the shot is to come off. He adds that he does not believe anybody else can think of these or other details and perform a successful shot. I find this to be the case with my own play. I have to do all my thinking as I prepare to play. Once the swing is under way, the only thing I can think of is hitting the ball. To attempt to think of anything else is the most certain method of courting absolute ruin."

Now Jack Nicklaus wrote that he could have as many as five swing thoughts and still play well. But we are not Jack Nicklaus. For most of us, if we must think about our swing, we should think about it before, not during, the actual playing of a golf shot. That's Bobby's advice. And I know it's good advice for me. If I start thinking about my left arm, or my right knee, or my turn, during a shot, I can count on having trouble.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

The Root of All Evil

People like to talk about money being the root of all evil. The actual quote is slightly different. The actual Biblical quote indicates that it is not money that is the root of all evil; it is the love of money that is the root of so much of the evil we see in the world. 

Golf has changed dramatically in the past thirty or so years. The equipment has changed. The courses have changed. And much of it has been the direct result of the love of money. Equipment manufacturers want to sell equipment. That's why the equipment has to keep changing.

Golf course builders don't just want golf courses; they want to sell real estate. The result is virtually unwalkable designs that warrant the use of motorized golf carts to get the golfers around the course and increase the profitability for the owners at the same time. Follow the money if you want to understand why golf is so different from what it was in 1970, and why it may be in trouble. 

Gary Player bemoaned the fact that modern players, with modern equipment, have so beat up on the Old Course that it is becoming obsolete as a major venue. I don't necessarily agree with him. But, if it's true, it's all down to that love of money that seems to govern the game these days. 

A philosopher once said we should not ask why things were so much better in the old days. He felt that it was not an intelligent question. But I, for one, miss the days of persimmon woods and balata balls. I miss walking the golf course. I don't like motorized carts, and yet I'm so crippled I actually have to use one. I couldn't walk eighteen holes right now, and may never be able to again. I miss the old days. For me, they were better. But very little remains the same. Things change. But not the love of money; that's the thing that is still the root cause of so much of the trouble we see today.

Want to know why things are the way they are in golf today? Look no farther than the money--the love of money. That's your problem. And how do you fix it? That's the 64 million dollar question. As for the Old Course; that jewel of St Andrews and the golf world; that grand old lady will be just fine. She might get beaten up when the wind lays down. But just add some wind and rain and she'll hold her own.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Short Game Can Cover a Multitude of Sins

Short game. As Harvey Penick said, those are the magic words. A good short game can cover a multitude of sins. The biggest difference between pros and amateurs is their short game. And yet, when you think about it, it shouldn't be. It doesn't take great physical ability to chip, pitch, and putt.

The other day I shot 71 and I think I hit four greens in regulation. Today, I shot even par on the first nine, hitting two greens. The back nine was another story today as I pretty much mailed it in. But the fact is I'm only going to get worse as a ballstriker as my back deteriorates. But I can still post a respectable score if I manage to chip and putt well. 

Most amateurs--except the guys who are really wild off the tee--can manage to get within fifty yards of pretty much every green in regulation--and usually closer. It's from there that they really start throwing away strokes. So why, I wonder, is almost all golf advertising focussed on the long game. Equipment companies push new drivers that will hit it farther, and irons that will give you more distance. Where's all the ads for wedges and putters? Okay, there are some. But equipment manufacturers and golf teachers focus most on distance and the long game.

Now, I guess it's another chicken or the egg scenario. Do manufacturers and teachers tend to focus on the long game because they think it's most helpful to golfers; or do they focus on it because it's what the average golfer wants to hear? All I know is, most shots are taken within 100 yards of the green. And, if it's score you are interested in, that is where you should be most focussed. And yet, where do we see most players practising? On the range with long irons and drivers in their hands. 

Harvey Penick believed that the average player could take five strokes off his game if he practised his short game for just a week. He was probably right. But most of us won't do it. We'd rather work on getting another twenty yards off the tee. That's just the way golfers are.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Golf is Just a Game

lI must admit that it's pretty hard to focus on golf with all the madness going on in this sad old world. What with devastating hurricanes, the largest mass shooting in history in Vegas, North Korea and the Donald posturing and talking nuclear war, terrorist attacks in Britain and Europe, etc.; golf just doesn't seem as important as jt was. It's just a game; a brief distraction from the craziness.

You really have to wonder whether we aren't all headed to hell in a hand basket. But then, this has always been a crazy, mixed-up world. As my old grandmother would have said, "There's nothing as queer as folk." People can be pretty damned crazy. And yet, in the midst of the madness, the goodness and selflessness of some people shines through. When the going gets tough, the tough really do get going.

So, I may not be focussing on golf as much as usual. And that's probably okay. Golf will always be there to take us away from our worries for a few hours. It's the greatest game there is for your mental health. As Harvey Penick said, it's cured more crazy folk than psychiatrists. 

What I don't get is why the Donald golfs so much and yet remains such a thoroughly despicable man. But, I hear he cheats at golf, just like everything else. That would explain it. You can learn a lot about a person by golfing with them.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Mr Seventeen

I've been having some good matches lately with Steve and Chris. Playing their best ball, we've come down to the seventeenth with it being anyone's match to win.

But Chris has figured out the seventeenth, while I've had my struggles. The last three times out, Chris has won the seventeenth with a birdie and two pars. Once, it was birdie to win two and one. The second was par to win and go one up. And this afternoon it was a par to square the match. 

Steve and Chris have had my number winning two of the last three and halving the other one. And every time it's been Chris on that damned seventeenth hole. We're going to start calling him Mr. Seventeen.

It's really nice to see the progress the guys have made in their games. Not that long ago I was giving them strokes. Now it's straight up, and they're winning. The other day both of them shot 39 on the back nine. Chris has been as low as 83 and Steve has been as low as 77. 

I did manage to beat Old Man Par the other day with a 71, so I may not be done quite yet. It's just that damned seventeenth hole and Chris; Mr. Seventeen.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Is There a Natural Golf Swing?

I was watching the British Masters and one of the commentators talked about Shane Lowry having a very natural-looking golf swing. There was then some commentary about the golf swing not really being a natural thing. Interestingly, that view seems to be common among many golf professionals. Is there a natural way to swing a golf club?

Ben Hogan certainly didn't think so. In fact, he said something to the effect that we should reject every natural instinct and do just the opposite to swing the club properly. But is that really true? Bobby Jones would have certainly disagreed. In fact, he wrote about players with natural-looking swings. He said their appearance of naturalness often came from them having learned the game as youngsters where they went about hitting a golf ball with no more concern than they would have beating a rug, or chopping wood. They may not have had a competent instructor, but they had time, and liked the game, and kept whacking the ball until they learned how to make it behave. Many of these players never even considered their swing, or if there indeed was a swing at all, until they had reached a high level of competence.

How things have changed. Many promising golfers are, very early in the proceedings, taught the mechanics of a sound swing. As a result we see a lot of successful tour players with cookie-cutter swings. They are sound swings. But they often lack the natural appearance of players like Shane Lowry as they take pains to set up and swing the club according to Hoyle, or Hogan.

So, according to Bobby Jones, there is a natural golf swing. It isn't the same for everyone. It's the swing we develop when our focus is on striking the ball, rather than swinging the club. It might not be the prettiest swing. But it might just be the best swing for you.