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Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Wisdom of Bobby Jones: Golf is my Game on Learning

All of us have or had our own reasons for deciding to take up the game of golf, and then, once having done so, deciding to stay with it. In his introduction to Golf is my Game, Bobby Jones offers some insight into the teaching and learning of the game that I think are worth carefully considering.

Bobby first addresses the notion that golf is a difficult game. He writes: "It is a popularly accepted notion that golf is a difficult game to teach and a difficult game to learn. It doesn't have to be either. It is all a question of the level of skill to which the learner aspires, or upon which the teacher intends to insist. Considered objectively, it is quite obviously a very simple matter to propel a ball with a stick across some specially prepared ground and into a hole which is of sufficient size to accommodate it by a good margin. Simple, that is, provided there is no limit upon the time or the number of strokes required. The matter is further simplified by reason of the fact that many earnest people have spent a lot of time, thought, and money upon the development of clubs and balls ideally suited to the process, and of greens keeping methods which assure that the field of play will be more than reasonably well conditioned."

This was written in 1959, so, if it was true then, how much more is it so today with all the modern developments in club design, course maintenance, et cetera. Bobby concludes: "I must insist, therefore, that one who sets out with the object of learning to play golf well enough to get both pleasure and benefit from the pursuit of the game has a very good, if not one hundred per cent, chance of success, provided he sets for himself exactly this goal, and no other." Bobby pretty much guarantees that all of us can learn to play "well enough to get both pleasure and benefit" from the game as long as that is all we are after.

Bobby further explains: "it seems to me that there are two quite reasonable ways in which a person may take his golf. If he has the time and the inclination to do so, he may set out to give the game a proper amount of serious study and practice with a view towards elevating himself considerably beyond the average-golfer class; or if he has only a very limited amount of free time, as many have, he may be content to knock around with his regular foursome, who play about as he does, in search of a little fun. But it will not do to mix the two, especially to hang the ambitions of the first man upon the labours of the latter." 

This is the crux of the matter. In golf, as in life, we will get out of it what we put in to it. So, we have to be careful about our expectations. As Bobby says, we can reasonably expect to learn to enjoy and benefit from the game, but we cannot expect to play like Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy unless we are willing to work just as hard as they have. In fact, if you are reading this, you have no right to expect to play like Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy, even if you are prepared to work as hard as they have. There is only one Tiger Woods and one Rory McIlroy.

Bobby explains that he is not intending, in writing Golf is my Game, to "produce a guide for a real study of the game...What I have attempted in this book, although less ambitious, I believe will appeal to the vast majority of people who play golf. I have suggested ways of making a mental approach to the game, of thinking through the playing of shots and of managing one's resources so as more often to enable the player to approximate the highest level of performance to which he has a right to aspire." Bobby does not promise miracles. He offers no money-back guarantees. Because again, in golf, as in life, there really are no guarantees other than the fact that it is up to you just how much you will get out of the game of golf and life.

In terms of deciding to try to become a better than average player, Bobby addresses the virtue of taking lessons and working on developing a sound golf swing. He writes: "Long ago I described form in golf as a measure of efficiency. I can think of no better way to say it today. When one has good form, he is able to make the maximum employment of his physical resources in producing a powerful, accurate contact between clubhead and ball. Good form also affects the regularity with which the player may be able to repeat the process. To become a really fine golfer, a person must have a knowledge of the basic requirements of the proper golf swing and work hard to drill his muscles in the performance of this exacting ritual, but he still does not need to do this in order to play enjoyable, often very good, golf."

While not necessarily encouraging anyone to take lessons, Bobby had the following advice: "Never should I knowingly discourage any man from trying to learn to swing a golf club correctly, for I think that the game is well worth whatever effort one may make towards this end. But if one is not willing to take lessons and practise, he will do better to make up his mind to worry along with what he has, rather than mess up all his rounds with misguided tinkering. It is my very definite conviction that any player will consistently perform closer to his usual standards if he will refuse to tinker and experiment during a round and will play the game, instead of practising it."

As one who has been guilty of having ruined many rounds by tinkering with my swing, this is great advice that can be difficult to follow. If you are not necessarily convinced at this point, hopefully continuing to read Golf is my Game will convince you that you can learn to enjoy and benefit from playing golf, even if you haven't the time or perhaps the inclination to undertake a serious study of the game and the swing. For most of us golf is about having fun. We will be guaranteed to do so if we manage our expectations and put into practice some of the things Bobby suggests.