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Monday, 21 August 2017

The Match

Match play is a wonderful format for playing golf. Sometimes it is also a terrific format for viewing the game. The benefits of match play in terms of playing the game are, or should be, obvious. Without the need to hole everything out, or to finish every hole, match play is played faster. And faster is good in this era of five hour rounds.

Match play also permits you to interact with another player in a much different way than you would were you playing stroke play. In match play you are playing your opponent, not the golf course. Score is relevant only insomuch as it is low enough to halve or win the hole. And matches end up being a shared experience between you and your opponent. If played in the right spirit, matches leave you with a real appreciation for your opponent. You realize that your opponent actually can assist you in playing your best. You push each other to achieve. 

At the Solheim Cup we witnessed a wonderful match between Lexi Thompson and Anna Nordqvist. It was a thrill ride that included initially some lousy golf from Thompson, some absolutely inspired golf, also from Thompson, and a near-perfect eight iron to the last hole from Nordqvist to halve the match after it had seemingly slipped away from her. The match was also played in the true congenial atmosphere that was considered to be mandatory by the great Bobby Jones. It was probably quite fitting that there was no winner in this match. Actually, there were three winners: Anna, Lexi, and everyone who witnessed the match. Both players will remember that match for the rest of their lives. And it will have been something they shared. You can be quite certain that if they weren't already, they are now good friends.

Most of my golf now is match play. I love it; especially when it comes down to the last hole or two to decide the winner. And match play isn't just about winning. The most memorable match Bobby Jones ever played was one that he lost--I believe it was to Chick Evans. No tears or sour grapes from Bobby. It's all about the shared experience with your opponent. If you haven't tried it, why not lose your pencil the next time you play and have a match. I'm willing to bet you'll become a believer.

Friday, 18 August 2017

The Long Ball

To comb the net related to golf instruction very quickly reminds us that the major focus or preoccupation of most golfers, and therefore teachers, is on how to swing the golf club. Furthermore, a central theme seems to be ways in which golfers can learn to hit the ball farther. Golfers seem to be in continued awe of "the long ball."

I recently wrote an article dealing with the amount of coverage Rory was receiving because of his long driving. In that article I pointed out that it was the end of the matter that was so much more important if it was low scores you were looking for. Rory may have been driving the ball incredibly well, but he didn't win any championships. If you want to win championships, you had better be able to chip and putt.

Steve has started playing some really decent golf. After struggling for the past couple of years, he is now regularly scoring in the high seventies, instead of the low nineties. There is a big change in his game. And he looks like a different player on the course. He is more relaxed and a lot happier. Having worried for the past couple of years that I may have helped Steve go from being a low eighties shooter to a low nineties man, something has clicked for Steve-O.

One of the changes Steve has made is the switch to using his three wood or his four iron off the tee on the par fours and fives. Playing with his TourEdge Exotics three wood--a club I found in South Carolina and passed along to him--Steve hits the ball pretty much as far as he hit his driver, but much more often in the short grass. He is so pleased with the results from this approach that he no longer even carries his driver. He has become thoroughly convinced of the benefits of hitting the ball a few yards shorter in some cases, but keeping it in play.

Steve has also made huge improvements in his short game. He pitches and chips the ball much better. And it is here that he is saving so many more pars when he misses greens, as all of us do. Steve is visibly more relaxed on the golf course. He looks so much more confident when playing. And it all boils down to two things: getting the ball in play off the tee, and scrambling. 

If golf is about shooting the lowest score you possibly can, then perhaps we can learn something from Steve. We all need to use whatever means necessary to get the ball in play off the tee, rather than simply trying to just hit it as far down the fairway as possible. And we need to develop our short games. It may not be as sexy, or exciting, an approach to playing the game as swinging from your heels and going for the long ball. But, so long as golf is about shooting the lowest score rather than hitting it the farthest, perhaps there are a lot of players out there who might do well to leave their drivers in the trunk of the car like Steve. Just a thought.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Something in the Water?

It's strange. A lot happened in golf this past weekend. And this is, after all, my golf blog. 

JT won the PGA championship, his first Major, at Quail Hollow. I played in the same group for two days in our club championship with a thirteen year old boy who ended up beating us all. And yet, none of that seems to be worth writing about in view if what transpired in Charlottesville, Virginia this weekend. This has been a very strange year or two watching what has been going on in the States. 

In the case of the election of Trump, and the circus that has followed for over two hundred days now, I would have said the truth is indeed much stranger than fiction. But now, I just don't know what to say. As the Brits would say, I'm gobsmacked. 

I guess all you can do, at a time like this, is remember that there are more good folks than bad in the US of A. And, ultimately, the kinder, quieter, and gentler folks will prevail. The racists and bigots will crawl back under their rocks. Trump and his band of merry men will be gone, hopefully before they've managed to do too much harm, and the restoration will begin. Either that, or Trump will actually blow us all the hell up. I just don't know anymore.

My thoughts go out to my friends south of the border. Most Americans are good people. But, you really have to wonder sometimes whether there isn't something in the damned water down there.

Friday, 11 August 2017

The End of a Matter

Rory McIlroy has been driving the ball about as long and straight as we've ever seen anyone drive it. It's been something to behold. When the subject has been discussed it has sparked some debate about equipment, and especially the golf ball. And rightly so, in my opinion. It just isn't right. I just can't relate to these guys playing 7800 yard courses. They're playing a game with which I am simply not familiar.

But, then again, there is a saying that goes something like: "The end of a matter is more important than its beginning." And this is particularly true in golf. It is a truism that has upset many a golfer. Every golfer wants to hit the driver long and straight. Most golfers wish they could hit it longer and straighter. The equipment manufacturers have made a lot of shekels because of this preoccupation by so many golfers. But a three hundred and fifty yard drive in the middle of the fairway doesn't amount to a hill of beans if you then chunk your wedge shot into the pond. In golf, it's the final score--the end of the matter--that's important.

Ben Hogan quite rightly said that the three most important clubs in the bag were the driver, the wedge, and the putter. He believed the driver was the most important club because it set you up to attack every hole. Now, far be it for me to claim to know more than the great Ben Hogan, but in this case I have to disagree. And I've got plenty of company. 

How many winners of the long driving contests do we see on the tour? Rory put on a driving display, the likes of which we've probably never seen, last week. Who won? The driver is an important club. No doubt about it. But, until they change the rules of golf and give you points for the length or accuracy of your drives, you had better be able to putt. 

The end of a matter is more important than its beginning. Not that long ago, I made birdie on number eight after duffing my tee shot just past the ladies' tee. I also remember missing a two-footer for eagle on a par five after a three hundred plus drive and a near-perfect second shot. Believe me, I wasn't the least bit consoled by the length of that drive. A good wedge shot, or a good putt, can cover a multitude of sins. A good drive is just a good start. Golf, until they change the rules, is still about "how many," not "how far."

Thursday, 10 August 2017

You Can't Always Get What You Want

What it was obvious the talking heads at the Golfchannel were hoping to see--and so was I, if the truth be told--was a shootout between Rory and Jordan Spieth at the PGA championship at Quail Hollow this week. But, in golf as in life, you can't always get what you want. Both stars failed to shine on Thursday. But they haven't totally fizzled out either. A good round tomorrow could easily put them both right back in the hunt.

Meanwhile, Rickie Fowler, despite a miserable seven on his card, ended up two under par and sitting comfortably at two back of the leaders, Oleson and Kisner. Rickie looked awfully good playing with Rory and Rahmbo today. He wasn't at all fazed by Rory's drives; or Rahm's for that matter. He just went about his business, looking cool as a cucumber on a course, albeit somewhat changed, where he has had some success, winning head to head against Rory.

We may not see what we want; with a final round shootout between the two young guns who both lack only one Major to get their career Slam. Not that Rory and Spieth won't come roaring back tomorrow. They very well could do just that. But, even if they don't, we just might see Rickie Fowler finally get his first Major. He certainly looks ready and able.

In the end, we may not see Rory, Rickie, or Jordan lift the trophy this week. You can't always get what you want. But, one thing for certain, whoever does win this week will have to have the nerve and the touch of a safecracker on those Quail Hollow greens. Man, are they scary.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

The Chicken or the Egg

While I often talk about the strike being more important than the swing, there is no doubt that a sound swing, just like a good grip and a good set up, enhances your chances of making a good strike. That's why it's kind of a chicken or the egg thing when it comes to what is more important and what comes first--a good swing or a good strike.

I say this because I seem to be an expert at not practising what I preach. I suggest, based on Bobby Jones' advice, that people focus on the strike, and then find myself fiddling with my swing. In that respect, I'm a really golfing hypocrite. I say one thing and find myself regularly doing another. I wish I had never discovered just how many ways there are to swing the club--all of which can work quite well, or not work at all. 

The problem, of course, with fiddling with your swing is that you are essentially distracting yourself from the business at hand, which is to knock the ball towards the hole. The other problem with fiddling with your swing is the fact that things can always get worse instead of better as a result. For every top player who has made swing changes and actually got better, we can probably name one or more that have actually got worse by making changes. And the question is always whether or not the golfer making those changes might have improved his play anyway had he not made the swing change.

Tiger is perhaps the best example. He took the golf world by storm. He was the best at every level he played. When he went from Butch to Hank Haney, Brandel Chamblee argued recently that he actually got better. But, was there not a period of time during that swing change where he was actually worse until he got better? If I am not mistaken, when Tiger switched to Haney he didn't win a Major for at least a year and a half at a time when he was the overwhelming favourite to win every time he teed it up. 

Then, of course, Tiger made other changes under other coaches and now finds himself pretty much out of the picture. Tiger's woes on the golf course obviously have had to do with things other than just swing changes. Injuries have been a factor. Personal issues have been another, as has an obvious loss of confidence ever since he was chased down at the PGA championship by a little known Korean player, losing a lead in a Major for the first time in his career. That he's never won a Major since Yang beat him is no coincidence. Tiger found out that he wasn't invincible with a lead after all.

I think the record shows that while Tiger was making changes to his swing, even if he did eventually become a better ballstriker, at least under Haney, there was a period of time where he stopped winning while he was incorporating those changes. And I think that was because his focus during those intervals was on swinging the club instead of getting the ball in the hole and winning golf tournaments.

The obvious question that begs to be asked, but can never be answered, is what Tiger might have accomplished in the game had he not made any swing changes. I think Tiger would, could, and probably should, have smashed virtually every record in the game had he just stuck with the swing he had when he arrived on tour under Butch--had he just danced with the one he brung. That's the thing about making swing changes; we never know whether we will get better or worse. And, if we get better, we will also never be absolutely certain it was because of the swing change and not just the fact that we learned to play better.

Ultimately, golf is all about getting the ball in the hole the quickest. There are no pictures on the scorecard, and the best players don't always have the best, or prettiest, swings. Therefore, I really believe the more our focus remains upon doing just that--getting the ball in the hole--the better off we will be. I, for one, very much regret having gone down this road, experimenting with my golf swing. I wish I had just danced with the gal I had brung. Others, of course, may feel differently.

I believe that it's all about the strike. But it's the old, which came first argument--the chicken or the egg--the swing or the strike. All I know is I just wish I could practise what I preach and go out every day focussing on striking the ball in such a way as to make it behave; and putting all my mental and physical energy into just trying to get the damned ball from the teeing ground into the hole in the fewest strokes possible. That is, after all, what golf is really all about.

Running Like a...

I play with one character, name withheld to protect the guilty, who is a writer. Given my love of writing, as well as golf, we often have fun with ideas and expressions as we play.

We like to try to put just the right spin on what's happening on the golf course. I had annoyed Spiro, much to the amusement of ny writer friend, by once exclaiming that Spiros' worm-burner was "running like a Greek with a handbag." Spiro was offended by the insinuation that any self-respecting Greek would steal a handbag.

Not to be outdone, my writer friend hit a low runner the other day and exclaimed, "That's running like a lone midget at a fetish conference." Now that may not exactly be politically-correct. But you have to give him an "A" for originality.