Friday, 19 December 2014

The Wisdom of Bobby Jones: Management

There is a fairly new trend in golf towards appreciating and benefitting from sport psychology, with a number of good books having been written on the subject. Once again, however, Bobby Jones was very much ahead of the curve when he presented his master's thesis on golf psychology in his book Golf is my Game. 

Bobby devotes a chapter to what he terms, "Management." The common term used today is course management, but an examination of Bobby's words will show that management doesn't necessarily just begin and end on the golf course. After learning how a ball must be struck to produce the different and desired ball flights, which Bobby covered in Chapter two, I think Bobby would agree that this chapter on management is the most important for the average player to read and understand if he is to improve.

Bobby writes: "Having played the game for over forty years, always with the utmost thought and attention, I think I can tell a golfer a few things about the management of his ability which will enable him to get better results without the painful necessity of hours of practice improving his technique."

"The businessman golfer," Bobby continues, "takes lessons and reads books; imitates good players; he buys new clubs; he does everything he can to improve his swing, his shot-making ability. But he overlooks one important feature: he doesn't ask himself often enough if he is scoring as well as he ought with his present ability." Management starts with some honest self-appraisal.

"In every club," Bobby points out, "there is always at least one man who has the reputation of making a poor game go a long way, the man who seems always to beat a player a bit better than himself. He doesn't do it by any divine inspiration, nor yet by any trick of fate. He simply uses his head, analyzing each situation as it confronts him, always keeping in view his own limitations and power. That is what we call judgement, and it is a lot easier to use good judgement than it is to learn to swing a club like Harry Vardon."

"The challenge of golf is well known." Bobby writes, "But I feel that the average player sees the wide superiority of the expert and concludes that this is perfection. Is it not better for him to realize that there is no such thing as perfection and that no one has ever produced, or will ever produce, except because of the intervention of some chance, a shot in which no improvement could be made?" I wonder if Bob Rotella had Bobby's remarks in mind when he named his book, Golf is not a Game of Perfect.

"Golf, in my view," writes Bobby, "is the most rewarding of all games because it possesses a very definite value as a moulder or developer of character. The golfer very soon is made to realize that his most immediate, and perhaps most potent, adversary is himself. Even when confronting a human opponent, the most crucial factor is not the performance of the opposition, but the effect of this performance upon the player himself." We can either be our best friend, or our own worst enemy on the golf course. It is entirely up to us.

Bobby continues: "The play of the game at times exerts enormous pressure urging frantic efforts exceeding reasonable limits; at other times it offers a beguiling invitation to complacency and over-confidence, which can be equally deadly. The only effective defence in either case is a rigid discipline of self which will at one time shut out panic and at another maintain appropriate vigilance. The main idea in golf, as in life, I suppose, is to learn to accept what cannot be altered, and to keep on doing one's own reasoned and resolute best whether the prospect be bleak or rosy."

We need to just keep on plugging away, during the good times and the bad, as Bobby writes: "I have always found help in remembering that few things turn out as bad as promised, or as good; and that neither championships, nor even matches for that matter, are won by giving up when you are down or by becoming too happy during periods of prosperity." We need to not be discouraged by the bad times, or seduced by the good times.

Speaking of his early years as a golfer, Bobby writes: " I think I must have been completely intolerant of anything less than absolute perfection in the playing of any shot. I often heard Grantland Rice tell of seeing me break a club after hitting a pitch that stopped two feet from the hole, simply because I had not played the shot as intended. I don't remember this incident, but I know I habitually played every shot for its ultimate possibilities, regardless of risk. This lack of discretion must have been fairly obvious; for Bill Fownes, the resourceful Pittsburgh amateur, once said to me, "Bob, you've got to learn that the best shot possible is not always the best shot to play." In golf, as in life, the old saying holds true; discretion really is often the better part of valour.

Bobby writes: "J.H. Taylor, of the famous 'triumvirate' of Vardon, Taylor, and Braid, once described the ideal attitude of the golfer as one of 'courageous timidity', with courage to bear adversity coupled with enough caution to cause him to be aware of a limit to his powers. It took some doing, I'll admit, but it is a fact that I never did any real amount of winning until I learned to adjust my ambitions to more reasonable prospects shot by shot, and to strive for a rate of performance that was consistently good and reliable, rather than placing my hopes upon the accomplishment of a series of brilliant sallies."

Bobby came to adjust his ambitions as a result of an objective analysis of his own play. At the time, he was shooting consistent scores of anywhere from sixty six to seventy around his home course at East Lake, and would have expected, upon looking back on those rounds that he would have hit lots of shots that were, as he put it, "completely satisfactory." However, Bobby was amazed to discover, as he now writes: "in some rounds, fairly good from a scoring standpoint, I could find only one or two shots that had not been misfit to some degree... I finally arrived at a sort of measure of expectancy that in a season's play I could perform at my best rate for not over half-a-dozen rounds, and that in any one of these best rounds I would not strike more than six shots, other than putts, exactly as intended."

As a result of this honest self-appraisal, Bobby wrote: "If one should have confidence in such an appraisal, which I had, the following conclusions were inescapable: 

1. I must be prepared for the making of mistakes.
2. I must try always to select the shot to be played and the manner of playing it so as to provide the widest possible margin for error.
3. I must expect to have to do some scrambling and not be discouraged if the amount happens to be more than normal."

Bobby now sums things up for us by writing: "The main point of all this for the play-for-fun golfer is to emphasize the importance even for him of adjusting his attitude towards the game before he goes out on the course. Let him first divest himself of any thought that it may be unsportsmanlike or unworthy to prepare himself for the play as best he can. There is no point in going out to play a game unless one has the desire to play well, and golf was not meant to be played impetuously; nor is one likely to exercise the needed restraint and self-discipline unless one has prepared oneself in advance. You don't need to go into any ostentatious seclusion, but only quietly and within yourself, to get your mind on the game before you step on to the first tee."

So from now on, before I hit my first shot, Lord, forget about a swing like Rory McIlroy; give me a mind like Bobby Jones. Then I'll be in business. 

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