Sunday, 14 July 2019

Dead Aim

I haven't been writing for some time now because my game has been in the doldrums. When you can't score, you tend to feel like you're in no position to suggest to others what they should be doing on the golf course, even if the advice you're giving comes from golf's greatest players.

But recently Steve and I rediscovered the one thing every golfer must do to play their best golf. Harvey Penick had perhaps the best advice you can give to any golfer. He said we must "take dead aim." Golf is a target game. And the best golfers are able to choose, and then commit to hitting, a specific target. That target may not necessarily be the pin, or the exact centre of the fairway, but it is a specific target.

Too many golfers stand on the tee and just try to hit the fairway. The fact is that a thirty yard fairway is simply not a specific enough target to enable you to take dead aim and for your mind body to perform at its best. It would be like playing darts and just trying to hit the board instead of the bullseye. Your target needs to be something small, like the white 150 yard marker in the middle of the fairway. When hitting into the green, the target might not necessarily be the flagstick. But it can't be vague enough to be just hitting the green.

Of course, taking dead aim means identifying your target, properly aiming your clubface at that target and then making a swing with direct intention of hitting the ball to that target. And while that may sound obvious, it is amazing how often we don't do it. When I think of taking dead aim, I can't think of a better example than Jack Nicklaus and the obvious care he took to aim at his target. Jack said that most shots were missed before the club was even taken back, emphasizing the need for setting up to hit your target and having the correct mental attitude.

After another frustrating round today, I realized that I had been caught up in thinking about my golf swing instead of taking dead aim. When I mentioned it to Steve, who was also struggling, he realized he was doing the same thing. We played the last few holes telling eachother what our target was. We didn't always hit it. But we both played better. In fact, I finished with back to back birdies.

The time to think about your swing is on the practice range. When you hit the links, it's time to take dead aim. That's the way to play golf.

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Teach Golf as it is Learned

So many golfers, myself included, spend an inordinate amount of their time focussing on their swing. This search for mechanical excellence never seems to end for many of us when it is quite possible that many of us would be better off learning to play with what we have. 

In his book, Golf is my Game, Bobby Jones wrote about the state of the game in his day. About teaching, he wrote:

    "It seems obvious to me that writing about the golf swing has become too technical and complicated, and even the most earnest teaching professional presents the game to his pupil as a far more difficult thing than it really is. It is equally obvious that what the game needs most if it is to grow in popularity is a simplification of teaching routines which will present a less formidable aspect to the beginner, and offer the average player a rosier prospect of improvement.
    The trouble could be, and I think it is, that golf is not taught as it is learned. It is taught more as a science or as a prescribed set of calisthenic exercises, whereas it is learned as a game."

Today, we still see the vast majority of teachers focussing on helping golfers improve their golf swing, as though this was the way for them to improve as players. To some extent, I suppose, they are giving golfers what they think they want or need; namely a path to a sound, conventional golf swing. And Bobby said he would never discourage anyone from pursuing that goal with a qualified teacher.

There is, however, often a problem with this approach--this swing focussed approach to learning golf. Bobby Jones wrote: 

    "It is folly for either teacher or pupil to expect that any swing can be perfected in an afternoon, a week, or even a season. It is significant that Stewart (Stewart Maiden, Bobby's teacher) did not try to fill my head with theories. He merely put me in a position to hit the ball and then told me to go on and hit it."

Bobby Jones believed that you learned to play golf by playing it. Sounds obvious, but if we examine what is happening today, we might wonder. Bobby wrote:

    "I have always said that I won more golf tournaments because I tried harder than anyone else and was willing to take more punishment than the others. More immodestly, I will say now that I think a large factor in my winning was a greater resourcefulness in coping with unusual situations and in recovering from or retrieving mistakes."

Bobby credited his success to his ability to play the game, not on a perfect, repeating golf swing--something he believed was impossible to obtain. And I think teachers who really want to see their students improve would do well to emphasize the playing of the game over the swinging of the club. At every level we see golfers with unorthodox swings beating golfers with textbook swings. Why? Because they play the game better.

While I am not a teacher, I have seen players I've attempted to help make improvements in their game by working, not on their swings, but on course management, learning to play bunker shots, and choosing the right clubs and shots when they find themselves in trouble, or when they are around the green. Golf is a game. It is best learned, as Bobby Jones said, by playing it.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

No Grousing Rule

Do you grouse? I know I do. I hit shots, and even before they've stopped rolling, I'm moaning that I pushed it, or hit it fat, or didn't hit it. And sometimes those shots that I've "groused" about turn out just fine. It's a bad habit that is no doubt annoying to anyone forced to listen to my complaining.

Today I played at English Turn in New Orleans with David. I asked him to join me as we were both singles. On one hole, I hit a ten-foot birdie putt and immediately moaned that I hadn't hit it. Sure enough, the putt just made it to the hole and dropped in. 

David said: "You owe me two bucks for grousing."

He explained that this is a rule with the guys he plays with back in Detroit. You owe each guy in your group a dollar if you grouse and the shot turns out okay. If it turns out really good, it's two bucks. I think it's a heckuva good rule. And it would soon teach me to keep my grousing to myself.

We had a great day on the course. After starting the day with a chip in for birdie on the first hole, David capped it off by making a great birdie on the 476 yard par four 18th--bookend birdies. His second shot on 18 from 208 yards into a pretty stiff breeze ended up about five feet from the pin. The guy can really play. As for me, I did manage to play the back nine in even par for a 77. But I played from the whites. David played from the tips.

I'm planning on instituting the grousing rule next year when I tee it up with my buddies back home. Hopefully it will motivate me to keep my moaning to myself.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Hyde Park Golf Club

I must admit that I'm a Donald Ross fan. I love his golf courses whether they beat me up or not. This trip to Florida I've made my usual stops at the Ross munis in Palatka and New Smyrna. I wanted to play the Bacon Park course in Savannah as well, but they had a tournament scheduled for the day we headed to St Augustine from Murrells Inlet, just south of Myrtle Beach, so I had to just drive right by.

Of course, a lot of Ross courses are private. So, unless I'm prepared to drive to them and try to ingratiate myself with a member and get an invite to play, I'm pretty much out of luck. Them's the hazards of not being a man of means. But I discovered another Ross muni in Jacksonville, called Hyde Park, and Marvin and I played it the other day with two of his buddies, Elder and Mike.

The day was about as perfect as it could be. Around seventy two degrees, with just enough breeze to keep me from sweating too much and to make the southern boys think about putting on a jacket. Mike and Elder played the senior tees, but I decided to play with Marvin from the whites at sixty one hundred and change. Sixty one hundred doesn't sound like much, but it's plenty for an old cripple like me when it's a Ross design. 

Since I only drive it about two hundred yards these days, I was approaching most greens from around 150, which generally means I'm using my, usually trusty, five hybrid. But on this day my hybrid was not cooperating. A hook into the trees on the first hole led to a disgraceful seven, thanks to a fatted pitch and three whacking it on the green.

To make a long story short, I shot 43 on the front and, after a string of bogeys, 42 on the back. It wasn't pretty, but I did cap it off with a nice 4 hybrid shot to about five feet on the last hole that I managed to covert for my only birdie. As for Marvin and the lads, they got a little more bang for their buck. Marvin was 97, Mike was 102, and Elder was around 107. But we had a helluva good time. It was my first time playing with Elder and he was a lot of fun. 

I can't wait to play Hyde Park again. It's got some terrific holes and it's my kind of place. I'm really a muni kind of guy. For now, though, it's off to the Gulf Shores, AL; and a week in New Orleans.

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Coming Home in the Dark at St John's Golf and Country Club

My buddy, Marvin, and I played St John's Golf and Country Club between Jacksonville and St Augustine yesterday. We've played the course before and have thoroughly enjoyed it. The staff are friendly and accommodating. The course is well-designed and very "playable", with enough room off the tee, enough water, bunkers, and trees to make you think, greens mostly open on the front to allow you to run it up, and fast greens that can initially be a shock to your system depending upon where you normally play. (I four-putted the first hole.)

We had a 2:20 tee time, so beating the darkness was always going to be a challenge at this time of the year. The starter was good enough to get us off a little early by pairing us up with Randy and another Marvin, two brothers from Jacksonville. And it was quickly apparent that these two brothers, though grizzled veterans like us, could really play. They were not just pretty faces.

Suffice it to say, we had a grand time, making a few birdies and a few "others." But, as we feared, we ended up finishing in almost complete darkness. The strange thing was we played really well in the gloom. On the last hole we drove into total darkness, found our balls and the three of us--my man, Marvin had quit because he was freezing--hit our second shots to a green we couldn't see. Marvin suggested I aim at the left edge of a back bunker and gave me the yardage. My buddy, Marvin, used his phone to illuminate my ball and I flushed one into the dark. Randy said he flushed his as well. Marvin had made no comment on his, so we had no idea whether it was a good one or a stinker.

Upon arriving at the last green, we found all three of us on the dancefloor. Marvin was about twelve feet from the hole, slightly long and right of the pin. Randy was about four feet left of the pin, and I was three feet past the pin, directly behind the hole. I could have holed it for the same money. Just goes to show you that playing in the daylight might be slightly over-rated. Still, St John's is best enjoyed in the light of day.

We exchanged numbers and will hopefully get to play again sometime this winter. Those brothers were not only pretty damned good players, they were good company.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

The Golfer's Mind

Golf is a game of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter. There is an ideal attitude for a golfer. Bobby Jones wrote about this. He wrote that a golfer must be prepared for the making of mistakes. Not only that, but a golfer must not be discouraged on the days when he makes more of them than usual.

When you are hitting it solid--and the putts are dropping--golf can seem almost easy. But, inevitably in this game, the wheels will start to come off. It happens to the best players. What defines the best golfers is how they react when this happens. The best golfers refuse to become discouraged; and they refuse to give up.

I've played a couple of rounds with my friend, Charlie, and his wife, Kathy, from Toronto. We are down in South Carolina, escaping the crappy weather in Canada. Riding with Charlie, we've discussed this attitude that is so important for golfers--this acceptance of bad shots and the refusal to give up. Charlie admits that he does not possess what he calls "the golfers mind." He is more apt to become frazzled after a poor shot, and, in that state of mind, often allows one bad shot to beget another.

Yesterday, playing the River Club, I went out in 39, which was okay given that I putted poorly. But, at the turn--which in our case was the first hole--the wheels suddenly came off. I couldn't find the center of the clubface and I couldn't chip and putt worth a damn. After four holes, I had dropped six shots to par. Charlie was having his own struggles as well.

I said to Charlie, after finally making a par on five, that we should try to play the rest of the holes in even par. Charlie just smiled, not convinced that such a thing was likely, or even possible. I made pars at six and seven--only by virtue of some scrambling. On eight, a nice par three over water, I failed to get it up and down for par from the front edge and needed birdie on the last to reach my goal of finishing the last five in even par.

Rather than become discouraged after missing an easy up and down, I announced that I was going to finish with a birdie. I hit a good drive, but thinned my approach into the front bunker. Now, I had to hole quite a lengthy bunker shot to make good on my promise. I focussed as hard as I could and struck the sand perfectly. I watched in amazement as the ball rolled right into the middle of the hole, not even touching the flagstick.

As crippled as I've become, my game is not likely to do anything but get worse. I can't change that. But at least I can keep working on developing that "golfer's mind" that is so important. It's amazing what you can overcome if you don't give in to discouragement, and refuse to quit.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

The People You Meet

One of the great things about golf is the people you meet. The game is all-consuming when you are playing it; so, for four hours or so, you can forget your troubles and just worry about making the damned ball behave. You are generally playing in pleasant surroundings, with birds and various critters sharing the park-like setting with you. But it's the people you meet in your golf travels that really makes it special.

This week I arrived in Murrells Inlet, SC and, as a single, was lucky enough to be paired up with Richie and his nephew, Henry, at Indian Wells; and with Mike, from Cornwall, Ontario, at Wachesaw Plantation East. 

Richie is 81 and claims he played at a six when he kept a handicap. He drove it by me all day and had all the shots, and confessed that he made a lot of money playing as a six. I know I wouldn't have wanted any of his action. Henry struggled a little with his game, but was also great company on the course.

Mike is a five and, at 62, still bombs it. We played the senior tees and he generally had little more than a flip wedge to the par fours. The first time we played at Wachesaw he shot 73 with a double on the last hole. I shot 43 on the first nine, so my 35 coming in did little to prevent me from being thoroughly whipped.

Today I managed to arrange a skins game with Richie and Mike. Henry had to leave for Virginia. Richie and I played the senior tees at just shy of 6000 yards, while Mike had to play the whites at 6300. After nine holes, we each had one skin. Mike and I won ours with birdies, while Richie won his with a par on the tricky third. Richie went out in 39. Mike and I were one shot better.

Mike announced on ten tee that it was now "game on," and wasted no time in winning another skin with an impressive birdie from the right trees. I birdied 12 and 14 for two skins. Mike made par on 15 for a skin after Richie and I failed to get it up and down from the apron. I won another skin on 16 with a par and headed to 18 with a one skin lead. 

Eighteen at Wachesaw is rated as the second or third toughest finishing hole on the Myrtle Beach grand strand. It's a beast. But as luck would have it the senior tees were about fifty yards ahead of the whites today. Mike hit a perfect drive, right in the middle of the fairway, that, unfortunately for him, had about two yards of roll. He was left with about 160 yards into the wind. Richie and I hit good drives leaving me about 120 yards and Richies about ten yards less. 

Mike hit a solid shot that didn't draw for him, leaving him about 30 feet for birdie. I hit a punched 8 iron to about 20 feet, and Richie hit it onto the back apron after the wind layed down on him. When they both missed, all I needed was a solid two putt for the win. However, there is nothing worse than needing a two putt on the last to win, unless it's needing a one putt from thirty feet, downhill
 and breaking left to right. Anyway, I stood over the putt and announced to the boys that I just needed to hit a solid putt. Sure enough, it went straight in the hole for birdie. 

I never birdie 18. Oh, I birdied it once by chipping one in, but birdies are few and far between on that hole. It was a great day with two really nice guys and two pretty damned good players. Mike shot 75 and hit the pin twice without the ball going in. Richie shot 79, breaking his age again. Something that was obviously no big deal to him, given how solid a player he is.

I managed a 73. I've shot 73 at Wachesaw atleast half a dozen times. But I can never seem to shoot par on this track. We're scheduled to play again tomorrow if the weatherman is wrong about the projected thunder storms. The great thing about golf is the people you meet.