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.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

It's Still All About How Many

At our course, we don't really have a driving range. We have a tee box where you can hit as much as a seven or eight iron to some patchy ground with a couple of markers; but that's pretty much it. We have a small practice green where it's hard to find anything close to a straight putt. But at least you have a view of the lake.

Ours is not really a club for those who love to practise. We all generally head from the car to the first tee wondering what we've brought that day. We might hit a few practice putts, and maybe even a few chips, prior to teeing off. But that's about it. Funny, when we go elsewhere to play, or compete, we often have the opportunity to hit balls first. But I'm not sure it helps an old cripple like me. I'm usually aching before I tee off if I do. So I prefer to just focus on trying to find the best way I can to get the damned ball in the hole.

I just arrived in Murrells Inlet last night. Bright and early this morning, I was on the porch enjoying a coffee and my pipe, and watching two guys get ready to play. My porch overlooks the practice tee and the practice putting green at Wachesaw East. It's a really good course that hosted an LPGA event for a number of years. 

One of the guys headed to the practice tee and hit one shot after another, with barely a pause before raking another ball over and whacking it. He was done in about seven minutes and announced to the other guy, who was on the putting green, that he hadn't hit one decent shot. 

The other guy had started putting four footers; making the lion's share of them. Then he practised hitting lag putts; putting them all out. And finally he hit some chips and pitches before heading to the first tee. It looked to me like he had a really decent short game. And he seemed calm and ready to play.

I don't know about you; but I'd have been willing to put a fairly substantial wager on the guy with the short game. But, who knows, maybe the rapid-fire guy can putt like a demon. In the end, it really is all about who can get it in the hole in the fewest number of strokes.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Old Age and Treachery

Golf is becoming a challenge for me. Actually, I guess I should say it's becoming more of a challenge for me. I began the season as a three handicapper, crippled with a bad back. I'm now an eight. The game is tough.

But the other day I played a match with Levi. I was giving him the gears about how he must be so discouraged, being two down after ten to an old cripple. Levi responded by winning twelve, fifteen, and sixteen, to go one up. Suddenly, I wasn't quite so cocky.

On seventeen, we both missed our drives left. Levi was in jail in the trees. I was in the rough and blocked by the trees on the corner. To hit the green, I needed to play a thirty yard hook with a five hybrid out of thick rough. Somehow, I pulled it off and found my ball on the front edge of the green about twenty feet from the hole. Meanwhile, Levi had to pitch out and missed the green with his third. Two putts for par and I was back to all square.

Levi and I made par threes on 18 and decided to go extra holes. We both hit it over the back into thick rough on 18. We then both chunked our chips. Levi played his third about six feet past the pin, and I stood over my chip and told Levi I was going to make it. Sure enough, I did--not the first time I've managed to do that to Levi.

Golf is becoming increasingly difficult for me with this damned back. Most of the guys I p,ay with, including Levi, drive it forty yards past me. I'm hitting hybrids where they are hitting nine irons and wedges. But I still absolutely love this game. Sometimes old age and treachery can beat youth and skill. Not always, but sometimes it can. Sorry, Levi.

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.