Friday, 7 September 2018

The Secret's in the Strike

This new kid, Bryson DeChambeau is really making some noise lately. Have you checked out his swing? Not what one might call pretty, but definitely effective. One wonders, if he starts winning Majors whether other golfers will start trying to imitate his swing.

Golfers often seem obsessed with the golf swing. I know that I've tried more than a few different swings in my day. I saw a cartoon recently showing a student taking a swing under the watchful eye of a teacher and missing the ball. The instructor said something to the effect, "Great swing, but you missed the ball." The sad truth about golf is, that despite the emphasis by most golfers on the golf swing, the secret is really in the strike. The sweetest swing in the world isn't worth a damn if it doesn't produce a solid strike.

The fact is, you can swing the club in many different ways and, if the strike is right, a good shot will result. Bobby Jones wrote that, when playing golf, he intensely concentrated on the strike. He let his swing just happen. I have experienced myself that when I am able to focus on how I want to strike the ball, instead of how I think I should swing the club, my shotmaking dramatically improves. 

I've seen this with other golfers over the years. In fact, I've seen this to the point that I try not to make any suggestions about the swing, except that it be rhythmic. But I constantly refer to the strike. I don't even watch another golfer's swing. I just focus on their strike. Bobby Jones wrote that he learned different shots by watching other players. But when watching them, he said he took no notice of how they swung the club. He learned to make those shots by observing how they struck the ball.

There are more than a few great players who had what might be termed unorthodox swings; swings that didn't conform to the ideal swing--if there actually is one. No one, for instance, would likely teach a beginner to swing like Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, or Raymond Floyd. And, though some try to teach Moe Norman's swing, Moe himself said he wouldn't recommend anyone copy his swing. And yet, what wouldn't you give to be able to strike the ball as they did?

The secret is in the strike. And golfers are more capable than they think of producing a good strike, if only they would come to understand how the ball needs to be struck to produce the various shots in golf. Bobby Jones said that a golfer could literally change their game overnight by gaining this information about the strike, which is covered in my featured article, entitled The Wisdom of Bobby Jones: Striking the Ball.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018


Routine can sometimes kill you. I worked in the Canadian federal penitentiary service for thirty years. Things run a certain way, and except for the occasional flare up, it is often a mundane, mind-numbing job for a guard. Life expectancy for guards is 59. I guess that statistic itself tells the story.

But many convicts tend to find a certain comfort in the routine. They get to know the rules of the prison and the convict code, and they get to know their place. My first suicide involved a young inmate who had found himself in trouble. He asked to go to segregation, claiming he needed a transfer to the regional psychiatric centre to get his head straight. He never mentioned any suicidal intent, and we suspected what his problem really was was drug debts.

In any event we put him in the hole and I happened to be assigned there for the midnight shift on overtime. I spoke to the inmate during the early part of the shift, but he was soon asleep. I went home to my bed. 

The next afternoon I returned for my regular shift to find that this inmate had hung himself that morning at breakfast time. Whether he had actually wanted to die, or was just trying to secure a fast transfer to the psych centre, we'll never know. But it could be that he was killed because of routine.

When the meal cart arrived at the hole, the routine was for it to go to the far end of the range first. This inmate had spent time before in the hole and anticipated that routine. It seems that when he heard the meal cart arrive, he strung himself up on the bars in his cell at the far end of the range, likely anticipating the cart to arrive momentarily and the staff to cut him down. 

In this case, however, there was a new officer transferred in from Millhaven in charge of the hole. He decided to tell the staff to start feeding from the front end--a departure from the routine. When they finally got to this inmate's cell he was long gone. 

A buddy of mine, who had started in the service at the same time as I did, was working in the hole that morning and told me that as they were wheeling the inmate out a grizzled, old guard muttered: "I wonder if his shoes would fit me." A slice of life in the big house.

What has this got to do with golf? Perhaps nothing, but there is an emphasis on routine in golf as well as the joint. Golfers are encouraged to develop a pre-shot routine--a sort of ritual they perform prior to hitting a golf shot. This came about from teachers observing good players and noticing that they did pretty much the same thing prior to hitting a shot. Some of those things might be mannerisms, like tugging on a shirt sleeve, or taking a certain nummber of wagglles with the club, prior to making a full swing. But good players tend to follow their own routine, whether they are aware of it or not. So many teachers encourage us all to do it.

Now you see average players opening and closing the flap on their golf glove prior to the shot, like Ernie Els does, or tugging on their shirt sleeve like Tiger did when he wore those baggy shirts. We see them doing lots of things like a ritual before they play a shot. And sometimes this routine they perform has nothing to do with actually preparing them to hit a shot. Sometimes these rituals are empty and do nothing to actually insure that they have decided on the shot they want to hit, where they want to hit it, or that they are mentally and physically prepared to hit it. In this case, their routine could be killing them--in a manner of speaking.

Golf is anything but a routine game. Every day is different. So, be careful that you don't get lulled into a routine approch to the game. Treat every shot as a new opportunity. Commit to your shot. Do the best you can. It might just end up being one of the best shots you've ever hit. And, as I write this, I realize that this is something I need to work on as much as the next guy. When you do it, golf can be really fun, not just a good walk spoiled.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Got a Coin?

Moe Norman was a ball-striking genius. Everyone who saw him hit balls were amazed. His set up, with his feet set wide apart, his extended arms, and his palm grip, generally fooled people into thinking they were watching a twenty handicapper. But when he struck the ball they realized they were witnessing something very special.

There are those who have tried to teach what they deem to be Moe's method. And while good results are claimed, no one stands out in the golf world as a disciple of Moe. And, interestingly, Moe never suggested that anyone try to copy his swing. His swing was his own, refined over the years after hitting literally millions of golf balls. 

But Moe demonstrated something for us. It had little to do with his wide stance, or extended arms. But it did have to do with the manner in which he struck the ball. Moe believed his ability to hit laser-like shots, dead straight, time after time, was because he was able to keep his clubface square to the target for so long before and after impact. He practised hitting balls and clipping a coin set as much as sixteen inches past the ball on his target line. Managing to do this eliminated the possibility of him hitting it crooked.

Another great ballstriker, Byron Nelson, had the clubface square to his target line 12 inches past impact. His secret was thinking about the back of his left hand going to his target. Byron admitted that this swing initially cost him some distance, as it did Moe, but both compensated for that by a incorporating a strong lateral drive with their legs. 

Bobby Jones believed that it wasn't necessary for the clubface to continue straight down the line for any appreciable distance after impact. And he was right. But he also admitted that he never struck the ball like Byron Nelson either. Bobby did, however, believe that focussing on the strike, rather than the swing, was the key to good golf. So, if you're confused about swing mechanics, or struggling with consistency and accuracy, why not forget about how you are swinging the club and start focussing on how you want the clubface to strike the ball. It can literally change your game overnight.

If you aren't happy with your ballstriking, maybe try placing a coin on the ground six inches in front of your ball, directly on the target line, and think about clipping it with a square clubface. See what happens. You might just be surprised with the results.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Sometimes You Have to Improvise

A good rule in golf is to save your tinkering for the range. But in my case, given my back issues, trips to the range are pretty much nonexistant, as hitting multiple shots in a short period of time leaves me crippled. Besides, my father seems to have passed on the tinkeritis gene to me, so I will likely always be prone to fiddling with my swing, both on and off the course.

I've struggled with my game this year. But I've discovered the last few years that my natural swing is the one I use to clip daisies, or the one I make with my eyes closed. It generally works quite well when I use it, instead of the four or five other swings I often resort to trying.

Yesterday was the Quinte Cup. It's a yearly matchplay event between four clubs in our area that has been held every year since the twenties. I just barely made the team this year, needing a playoff to do it. But the day before I had played using my natural swing and had shot 78. That's not normally a great score for me, but this year so far anything under 80 is good. 

So I set out to play yesterday determined to play with my natural swing. In the current format, we play all three guys at the same time in an 18 hole match. It's not an ideal format for match play. But, as Big Bob always says, it is what it is. Despite my poor play this year I was sent out in the number three spot which had me a bit nervous. I was also pitted against my old nemesis from Napanee, Rick Gerow. And I certainly didn't want to give him the satisfaction of beating me like a drum.

Well, my natural swing, after nine miserable holes, had me down six, four, and two in my matches. I was seemingly on my way to being skunked. Rick was struggling as well, so he only had me down two. But I was pretty sure Rick figured he had me in the bag, the way I was hacking it around.

Waiting to tee off on ten I decided that I was either going to have to change things, or accept being humiliated by my poor play and just quit. I know I had resolved to stick with "my swing," but today my swing just wasn't good enough. So I tried to find some sort of action that would keep me in play, and to just find a way to make a score. And I did just that. I chose a shortened swing where I just focussed on having the back of my left hand strike the ball straight down the target line. 

At the end of the day I managed to halve two matches and lost the other. This was not the result I'd hoped for. But, under the circumstances, I was happy that I chose to improvise and to keep fighting hard. As for Rick; he hit his tee shot out of bounds on eighteen and let me halve the match. 

Golf is ultimately about getting the ball in the hole. It isn't about making pretty golf swings. I'm sure the swing I used on the front nine looked much better than the abbreviated punch I used on the back nine. But in golf it's only results that matter. I will try to use my natural swing as often as possible. But I learned again yesterday that sometimes you just have to find something--anything--that works. If the game has gone off the rails, what do you have to lose? And again I learned that there is a great deal of virtue in simply refusing to give up. You won't always win. But you'll feel better for having tried as hard as you can.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Golf Rarely Goes as Planned

Golf, like life, seldom goes as planned. All you can really do, in golf as in life, is refuse to give up no matter how miserable it is.

I played in the qualifier for our club team yesterday. I didn't have particularly high expectations, since I've struggled mightily with my game this year. But I never expected to putt as abysmally as I did. I hit the ball as well as I've hit it for years, but couldn't buy a putt. I missed at least six putts inside five feet, including a couple of two footers.

In the end I was tied with Randy for the last spot on the team and we had to play off. Randy had become angry on the fifteenth hole when, after searching in vain for his ball for at least ten minutes, I said we had to move on. I advised him that five minutes was the time allotted by the rules to look for a lost ball and we had well exceeded that. He was furious. But that's the rule.

As we were about to tee off for the playoff Randy angrily stated that there wouldn't have had to be a playoff if he had found his lost ball. I replied: "Yep. And if your aunt had had nuts she'd have been your uncle." I didn't bother mentioning all the short putts I had missed.

The first hole is a short dogleg par four. I hit a perfect three wood, leaving myself sixty yards to a front pin. Randy tried to take the Tiger line over the trees to the front edge of the green, managed to clatter through the trees, and had about a forty yard pitch over the pond.

I hit it to about five feet. Randy hit a pitch just over the pond into the thick grass and his ball somehow bounced through the rough, onto the green to about two feet from the pin. Levi had driven out to watch the playoff, and I had told him I was going to look at the playiff like a new round, forgetting all the lousy putts I'd hit. I assured him I was going to just stand up and knock that putt in, with the expectation that we'd be going to a second playoff hole.

Sure enough, I stood up and knocked it in the hole. Randy was probably vexed that I was making him putt his two footer, but I'd missed a couple, and he was being a prick, so I made him putt it. Sure enough, Randy lipped it out, banged his ball off the green in disgust, and actually threw his putter at his cart. He drove away without shaking my hand.

So, the moral of my story is: don't give up, Randy is a dickhead, and, if your aunt had had nuts, she'd have been your uncle. Golf rarely goes as planned. But, if you keep trying, things sometimes work out. And sometimes they won't, but at least you'll have the consolation of knowing you tried your hardest.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Try Harder

Bobby Jones identified these two things that he felt made him able to win championships. In his wonderful book, Golf is my GameBobby wrote: 

    "I have always said that I won golf tournaments because I tried harder than anyone else and was willing to take more punishment than the others." 

Sometimes great golfers can make the game look easy. They can appear relaxed and maybe even casual as they go about their business. But the great players all try the hardest. They refuse to give up, or to take shots for granted. They realize that one shot played carelessly can cost them a tournament. 

Now, if I'm being honest, I don't think I've ever played eighteen holes of golf where I gave every shot my full attention. I've come close, but if you've ever tried it, it's hard work to concentrate that hard and maintain your intensity on every shot for 18 holes of golf. And where you tend to have the let-downs are when you have what appears to be a relatively simple shot. It's easy to focus and try hard on the tough shots. So, trying hard is a key element in becoming a good golfer. Golf, as Bobby Jones once pointed out, is not a game to be played impetuously. You've got to try on every shot; whether it's for birdie or double bogey.

And golf does punish you. The other day I played with Steve, Levi, and Justin. Justin and I were teamed up and I started with three doubles in a row. In fact, I played the first nine holes without making a single par, shooting 49. I cannot remember the last time I shot 49 for nine holes. Needless to say, Justin wasn't overly thrilled to have me as a partner. Not only that, but I had only brought one pain pill which I had taken at the start of the front nine. These days, with my back issues, I tend to require a hydromorphone every six holes to get around without being in agony. 

So, after nine holes I felt well and truly punished. If ever a man felt like quitting it was me. But, as I drove to the eleventh tee after finally making a par on ten, I told Levi that, while I really wanted to just quit, I was going to keep trying. I was bound and determined to just keep on hitting it, no matter what happened, which was Harry Vardon's advice to Bobby Jones--the best advice Bobby felt he'd ever received. Suffice it to say, not giving up worked, and I came home in 37. And, Justin and I actually came back and won the match.

Golf is a lot like life. You never know what can happen if you just keep trying and refuse to give up. So trying hard and being willing to endure the punishment--the trials and tribulations this game can put you through--is the first key to winning golf. In my next article, I'll write about what Bobby Jones felt was the second key to great golf.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Thirty for Thirty

Rickie Fowler shares the lead after two days in Scottsdale this week at the Phoenix Open. Two rounds of 66 have him in a position to perhaps win one that got away after he had that emotional loss in a playoff to Matsuyama; one that he really wanted to win for his grandpa who was in attendance.

These guys are good. That's what they say about PGA tour players; and it's true. But where they are really good is on the greens. Bobby Jones, when assessing the next generation of top players, felt that it was on the greens that they were really better than players of his generation. Part of this had to do with better agronomy that allowed them to putt on better surfaces, but part of it was simply better putting.

Consider Rickie this week. After two days he is thirty for thirty putting from 10 feet and in. Thirty for thirty: I mean that is simply crazy good. When Dave Peltz did a study of tour pros he found that they made fifty percent of their putts from six feet. Rickie is one hundred percent from ten feet. That's not putting; that's magic.