Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Bobby Jones on Scoring

My buddy Steve often experiences a letdown in his game when we play.  And we have discussed this more than once; including our last time out, after he played miserably on the heels of having had a really good round a few days earlier without me being present to put him off.  It happens so often that I fear he may decide that I'm just plain bad luck to play with and stop answering the phone.

Routinely, after a lousy round, Steve hits a few balls to try to figure things out.  He hates to leave the course with a bad taste in his mouth.  More often than not, his post-round shots are really good.  And this really annoys him.  I have suggested that the only explanation I can come up with is that he must be somehow being negatively affected by mental pressure.  He is obviously more than capable of hitting really fine shots.  I have suggested that he perhaps needs to somehow convince himself that the results don't matter when he's playing--to just hit the ball and let it go where it goes.  Of course that's easy to say, but when you care about playing well, how do you detach yourself from the results?

Steve is not any different from the rest of us.  We all can have our games undermined by becoming too aware of our good play just as much as by our poor play.  And we can all fall victim to mental pressure.  As usual, Bobby Jones wrote an exceptional piece about this in his book Bobby Jones on Golf.  Under the heading Scoring, Bobby wrote:

"Why is it, someone asks, that so often after making an exceptionally good score on the first nine holes, a player apparently loses all touch with his game and comes home in astonishingly bad figures? Isn't it strange that this explosion should occur when he is in his best stride?  Apparently, there is a lower limit fixed upon the score a person may turn in, and if he goes many strokes below his allotment in the early stages, it is more than likely that the closing will even the count.
  Yet it is no law of averages, or anything like it, that is responsible for the levelling process.  It is almost impossible to measure the force with which the awareness of a good score in the making weighs down upon the performer.  The nearer he approaches his goal, the harder each shot becomes, until the meanest obstacles appear almost insurmountable.  There is far less nervous strain involved in overcoming the effects of a bad start than in maintaining the standard set by a well-made beginning.
  This mental pressure is responsible more than anything else for the fact that the third-round leader rarely finishes in front of an Open Championship field.  What presses him down is not that he has 'shot his bolt,' as the saying is, for if the fourth round were a separate affair with everyone starting even, he could probably do as well as anyone; but the thought of the few strokes' lead he must protect makes him over fearful and over cautious.  The man drawing up from the rear, on the other hand, finds himself in an aggressive state of mind, with nothing to think about except playing golf.  Very often he can play himself into a winning position before has time to appreciate the import of what he is doing.
  The shopworn admonition to forget the last shot and play the one in hand was meant to apply to the good ones as to the bad.  It is just as important to forget the 3's as the 6's.
  I have never forgotten the comment made to me several years ago by a well-known professional.  We had just heard at the clubhouse that Walter Hagen had run into a phenomenal string of sub-par holes.  'You know, Bobby,' said the pro, 'the greatest thing about Hagen is that after he makes a few birdies he thinks he can keep on doing it, whereas if you or I do it, instead of continuing to play golf we begin to wonder if this isn't too good to be true.  We begin to be suspicious of our good fortune and to expect a 6 or 7 to jump up any minute.'
  Of course, one may say that it is easy to understand why there should be considerable mental strain in a tournament, but the same conditions do not bear upon a Saturday afternoon of golf.  It is a different situation, of course, but every golfer knows what it means to beat his best score over his home course.  The putt that turns the trick, is fully as momentous, for the player, as the winning stroke in any championship.
  In 1916, my best score at East Lake was 74, not in competition, of course, and like anyone else, every time I went out to play I tried to beat it.  I tried all summer and all the next year without success.  I remember at least four occasions when I stood on the seventeenth tee needing only two pars, a 4 and a 3, not merely to beat 74, but to beat 70.  Each time I arrived at that point, I began to think about what I was about to do, and each time I would use up just enough strokes to bring my total up to 74.  It was two full years before I could break through the barrier raised by that 74.  If I could have refrained from thinking about it, I should have probably beat it in a few months.
  So the average player's difficulty in breaking 90 or 85 is no different from the expert's trouble when he tries to win a championship.  When I hear a man censured for collapsing in the last round of a competition when he apparently had it won, I always want to ask the critic if he ever had three 5's to beat his best score and if he got them.  Whether the score be 70 or 100 is of little moment.  It's all a question of what it means."

Bobby was not a fan of calling someone a choker.  He realized just how prone all of us are to being over-fearful and over-cautious when trying to put the finishing touches on an important round.  We must all learn to deal with pressure, just as he did when trying to break 74 for two years at East Lake.  If you needed three 5's to shoot your personal best score, would you do it?  I don't know about you, but I know I wouldn't be betting the ranch on me doing it.

Monday, 28 December 2015

A Putter Change Was the Writing on the Wall for Tiger

There has been lots of conjecture about what caused Tiger to stop winning Majors.  There was his public disgrace.  There were his injuries.  There was a swing change, or three.  There was his loss to Y.E. Yang when he had the lead heading into the final round of the PGA Championship.  And, there was a putter change.

Who can forget the putt he made to secure a playoff with Rocco Mediate in the 2008 US Open? Everyone, including Rocco, knew the playoff was going to be a mere formality.  Tiger was the best putter since Jack Nicklaus--maybe the best putter the game has ever seen.  He did it with that famous Titleist putter.

Now I know it's not the fiddle, it's the fiddler.  But when you've putted like Tiger had, why would you ever change anything?  Crenshaw had little Ben.  Bobby Jones had Calamity Jane.  Tiger had that Titleist putter that broke a lot of hearts and won him 14 Majors.  Why did he change it?

They say the first thing to go with all the great champions is their putting.  And Tiger is definitely not the man he was on the greens.  He was scary from six feet.  It seemed he never missed.  Now he misses lots of them.  Just another of the many unsolicited opinions about why Tiger is no longer the man, but look to the putter change as the proverbial writing on the wall.  His last significant putt in a Major was made with that Titleist in his hands.  I always suspected that this was the case, but I just watched the video to be sure.

Bobby Jones on Getting That Certain Feel

I was reading Bobby Jones on Golf again and learned that, while Bobby Jones obviously played the game on a much higher level than most of us have ever dreamt of playing, in some respects his experiences were similar to yours and mine.  He didn't go out every day and play his best.  In fact, he had just a few rounds in his career where things felt easy.  The rest of the time he scratched out the best score he could on the day, just like everyone else.

In Bobby Jones on Golf, Bobby talked about "getting that certain feel"; figuring out how hard to swing to play his best on that particular day.  I think it contains some excellent advice for good players and average mugs alike.  Bobby wrote:

"To determine just how hard to hit a golf ball in order to get the best results is often a perplexing problem.  Everyone knows the dangers of pressing and the troubles one can encounter when trying to hit too hard.  But the shoe can rub the other way, too, and the fellow who tries to swing too easily is often just as close to disaster.  Somewhere between the two extremes is the happy middle ground the golfer must tread.
  I cannot recall that I ever accomplished any really good scores or won any matches by trying to knock the cover off the ball.  Good driving has been a part of all the really fine rounds I ever played.  It is true that, except for those occasions when a putter goes phenomenally hot, a man must be driving well to score well.  But all that is needed is ordinarily good length and a good deal of accuracy, the latter feature being by far the more important of the two.
  I got as much fun as the next man from whaling a ball as hard as I could and catching it squarely on the button.  But from sad experience I learned not to try this in a round that meant anything.
  But there is the other extreme that is just as bad.  Whenever one becomes too careful and begins to steer his shots, he can get into just as much trouble, and his trouble may be found a lot farther from the green than if he had taken a good, healthy swing.  Easing up almost always leaves the left side in the way--there is not enough pull to get it around where it ought to be--and when the swing finds itself blocked, there is no way for it to go through cleanly and smoothly.
  Of all the times that I have struggled around the golf course, there are a few easy rounds that stand out in my memory.  These are the ones I should like to play over again, and it would not take long, for there are not that many.  One at Sunningdale, England, one at East Lake in Atlanta, two at Augusta, Georgia (both in one day), one at Interlachen in Minneapolis, and that's about all.  Other scores were as good, but no other rounds were as satisfying.
  Strangely, perhaps, one thing stands out about all those rounds; I had precisely the same feel on each occasion; I was conscious of swinging the club easily and yet without interruption; my left side was moving through without hindrance, yet I was making no special effort to get it out of the way; in fact, I had to make no special effort to do anything.
  Sunningdale came first.  I did not recognize the symptoms, because I had never had them before.  Then, the next year, we had an open tournament at East Lake.  In warming up before the second round, I suddenly realized that I had the same feel I had at Sunningdale--and it worked again.  It is not unnatural that I tried to get it every time I went out on the course, but only a few times did it come.
  I think it is helpful to begin a round, or better still, to begin warming up for a round, swinging the club as easily as possible, gradually working up speed until you play yourself into a tempo that feels about right.  After you have found the right rhythm for the driver, try to carry the same beat down through the other clubs.  In other words, vary the selection of clubs for the fairway shots so they can be swung as nearly as possible in the same rhythm.  If you are able to swing the driver easily and get good solid contact and good direction, it is more likely that on that particular day you will have better luck with your irons if you will take the stronger club and swing it easily also.  If you find that in driving it is necessary to swing hard in order to move the left side out of the way, the chances are that the irons will be better if the more lofted clubs are chosen and swung more nearly with full force.
  No matter how 'average' one's game may be, there are always vast possibilities in this matter of finding the proper beat for a given day.  It is really a sort of tuning-up process everyone can go through with profit.  And always the start should be made on the low side, swinging easily at first, gradually increasing the speed until the thing begins to click.  And remember, it is not length that is wanted so much as accuracy and consistency."

So there you have it; from the master himself we learn that we can't always swing the same way every day.  We can't always find that ideal, easy swing that makes the playing of the game seem effortless.  We are not robots.  Therefore, if you sometimes wonder why those easy rounds have been so elusive; and why you can't replicate your best golf every time you tee it up; wonder no more.  It's the same for everyone; including the greatest that have ever played the game.  It's called golf.

And, the next time you see the advertisement offering to teach you how to hit it great every time, don't eat that, Arthur.  Golf is a constant search for that perfect tempo and rhythm that makes the game seem almost easy.  When you find it, you will always remember it.  It's just too bad you can't bottle it and call it up every day.  Every day on the golf course is a new search, and a new adventure.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Bobby Jones on the Golf Swing

In golf writing I daresay more has been written about the golf swing than any other subject.  It seems to be a source of endless fascination, conjecture, and theorizing.  While Bobby indicated that he never knew his teacher, Stewart Maiden, to engage in a discussion of the golf swing, Bobby was somehow convinced to do so.

Bobby was nothing if not practical in his discussion of the golf swing.  In chapter 6 of Golf is my Game he talked about what really mattered in the golf swing.  It turns out that what really matters is what your mind is doing--not your body.  The golf swing, according to the master, is all about knowing what to focus on.  Bobby wrote:

 "The swinging of the club back from the ball is undertaken for the sole purpose of getting the player to a proper position for striking.  So the one influence most likely to assure the satisfactory progression of the swing is the clearly visualized contact between club and ball still at the forefront of the player's mind.  Just as the backswing should not begin until this picture is adequately established, so the movement should continue until there results an awareness that the player has become capable of striking in the intended manner.
  I stress this point, and intend to continue to do so, because I know that the unrelenting effort to play golf this way can do more for a player than anything else he can possibly do.  When every move of the swing is dominated by the determination to strike the ball in a definite fashion, the complicated sequence of movements must acquire purpose and unity attainable in no other way."

While most dubs focus on keeping their head still, or their left arm straight, or turning their shoulders, or whatever; the top players focus on how they want to strike the ball.  They don't swing until they have a clear picture of the shot they intend to play, along with an understanding of how the ball must be struck to produce that shot.  After that, the primary focus and purpose of the swing is to put themselves in the best position to deliver that strike.

I have to continue to remind myself of this every time I hit a golf shot.  It will, if nothing else, keep my mind on the job at hand, which is to play a shot--not necessarily to look pretty while doing so.  It really is--and always will be--all about the strike.

Golf is my Game by Bobby Jones

I'm sure I must sometimes must sound like a broken record.  Most of my golf references or discussions either begin with, or at some point include, the phrase, "Bobby Jones said..."  While I hope this isn't too annoying to those who bother to listen to me, or read my blogs, I simply find it necessary to give credit where credit is due.  

Bobby Jones--see, I'm referencing him again--wrote what I consider to be a rather important introduction to his book Golf is my Game.  I think it provides a glimpse into the mind of this great champion, and brilliant man.  Golf has produced many great champions and fascinating characters.  Most of them have contributed to the betterment of the game in many different ways, and especially by sharing their insights on how to best play the game.  But, for me, Bobby Jones was the greatest of them all.

I thought I might quote from Bobby's introduction to his book as a way to hopefully interest others in finding a copy for themselves.  For me, Golf is my Game and Bobby Jones on Golf, have become my golf Bibles.  Golf is my Game was written by Bobby well after his playing days were over and he had had time to reflect and observe the next generation of champions.  

Although the game might have changed to certain degree, with better agronomy and improved equipment, I think Bobby was satisfied with the fact that his ideas about how to play the game did not have to be modified, changed, or updated to any significant degree.  His original writings were as sound as ever, and were in fact being repeated, or paraphrased, by new teachers.

In introducing Golf is my Game Bobby wrote:

"I have written this book because I thought I could help golfers of all classes to play better and to get more enjoyment from their play.  I have never tried to teach golf, having always been on the receiving end of any such exchange, but I have spent many years trying to learn something about the game.  At times I have thought that I had learned pretty well, but I always found more to learn.

Teaching anything requires a great deal more than knowledge of the subject.  It is quite on thing to possess knowledge or the ability to perform-- quite another to be able to impart that knowledge or skill.  I am sure that I do not even know all the qualities needed by a teacher, although I have read several treatises on the subject.  It is enough for me to know I have no right to pretend to be one.

On the other hand, in golf at least, I can claim to have been a fairly successful learner, and I more than half suspect that any golfer may rightfully attribute more of whatever skill he may possess to his own ability to learn than to the ability of someone else to teach.  At any rate, I have written my book as a learner, rather than as a teacher.  I am not ambitious to teach teachers to teach, but if I can help learners to learn, I shall consider my reward sufficient...

Just now, I do not intend to try to produce a guide for real study of the game.  I may attempt such a thing later on, but even if I do, I shall be ever mindful that this sort of development takes a lot of time and is best done under the supervision of a competent instructor.

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..."

Golf is my Game is a wonderful book.  It reveals the mind of a great, and thoughtful, champion.  It makes no promises of instant added yardage, or immediate reductions in your scores.  It simply invites you to think about the game in much the way Bobby Jones did and, by so doing, become the best player you can be, given your physical ability, and the time and energy you have available to devote to learning the game.  

Get a copy if you can.  You'll be glad you did.  If not, you'll still find me quoting liberally from the master.  

Friday, 25 December 2015

Bubba Golf

It seems Bubba Watson might not be all that comfortable with the limelight; and has even talked of retiring if he reaches number one in the world, or ten wins--which seems to be pretty much a given the way he's been playing.  

Bubba is nothing if not himself.  No one swings remotely like him.  No one is able to curve the modern golf ball the way he can.  His shot out of the pines to beat King Louis at the Masters will be remembered as one of the most audacious, and brilliant, shots ever witnessed at that great tournament.  As a two-time Masters champion, Bubba, whether he likes it or not, is part of perhaps the most elite, and cherished, clubs in golf.  And he will be a lifetime member, whether he retires from the game or not.

Bubba is also a wonderful example of the fact that, in this age of technology and swing instructors, nothing beats a great set of hands.  At the end of the day, golf is still played with your eyes and your hands.  While the modern swing theories tend to try to take the hands out of it to a certain degree, the hands remain your only link to the club, and a person with a good set of hands, and some imagination, can still work some magic with the golf ball.

Sam Snead admonished us not just to hit the ball, but to paint beautiful pictures by playing shots.  As an artist with a golf club in his hands, Bubba certainly paints in bold curving lines.  He is no paint-by-the-numbers player.  He's a Picasso off pine straw.

It seems Bubba learned to shape shots playing with those plastic practice balls with the holes in them. He just learned to make those whiffle balls curve all over the place on demand.  He plays golf like he's playing table tennis, cutting, and chopping, and spinning the ball.  It may not produce consistently great golf, but, when Bubba is inspired, it certainly produces brilliant golf.

Bubba is great for the game.  He reminds us that golf is not about textbook swings.  Golf is about seeing shots, and using your hands to produce them.  Nothing beats a great set of hands when the inspiration is there.  

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Bobby Jones' Father and I

Bobby Jones had, by all accounts, a wonderful relationship with his father.  The two worked together, and golfed together.  And Bobby seemed to get a kick out of his golf-crazed father.

According to Bobby, they had adjoining offices and his father was inclined to come into Bobby's office every morning with a golf club in his hand and engage his son in a discussion about the latest idea or theory he had dreamt up about golf, or the golf swing.  He was obviously a compulsive tinkerer, and Bobby humoured him by, for the most part, patiently listening to his latest ideas about the game.

I have but one thing in common with Mr Jones Sr.  I don't have a golfing prodigy for a son, to whom I can air my ideas.  I'm not a lawyer.  But I am certainly a compulsive tinkerer, who, left to my own devices, can really mess up my game trying something I've read about, or dreamt up as being a better way to swing the club.  It's a curse.

Today I arrived at the course with a plan.  I was going to patty-cake the ball, and I was going to accentuate the top hand in the swing; both ideas that have worked in the past.  However,  after necking the tee shot, and then shanking my approach shot into the trees, I made a solid double bogey.  My plan, as often is the case, was for nought.

I confessed to Steve, who had witnessed the dreadful shank, that I had been "trying something," instead of just swinging my swing and hitting the damned ball.  He just shook his head, as much as to say, "What else is new?"

From then on I managed to play with my regular swing--the swing I make if I close my eyes and just swing the club--and I played pretty decent golf.  How nice it would be to just always swing your swing; to go to the course with no plans other than to hit the ball at the target.  The sad part is, "my swing" generally serves me reasonably well if I just leave it alone.  But do you think I can leave well enough alone?  The admonition, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," seems to be lost on me.

There should be a group for guys like us--Tinkerers Anonymous.  My name is John, and I'm a tinkerer.  I guess I'll just have to try to play golf one shot at a time--like the drunks.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Golfing on December 23rd in Ontario

Steve and I played Salt Creek Golf Links today.  The weather was just fine, about 11degrees Celcius.  I still think in terms of Fahrenheit and struggle with the calculating, but suffice it to say we were quite comfortable with a sweater and a thin windbreaker.  To be able to play in this part of the world on December 23rd is a pleasant surprise, if not a shock.  Several years ago I played on December 26th, which is pretty much the record for these parts unless you play in the snow.

We played eighteen and then decided to hook up with Doug and his daughter, Aleysha, for another nine.  It was a very pleasant time, and made me appreciate golf as an avenue for making new friends, and for players of all abilities being able to enjoy playing together.

On the last hole we invited the elderly gentleman behind us to play the home hole with us, and he happily agreed.  It turned out that this 86 year old gentleman, originally from the Midlands, named Jim, was a fellow I had heard about when playing with a couple of other Salt Creek members.  I knew it was him as soon as I saw him grip the club and make a smooth swing, sending his tee shot straight down the middle of the fairway.

We chatted amiably and learned that Jim had joined the British navy in 1949.  He had later emigrated to Canada where, it seems, he had become the man to beat at the Warkworth golf club, winning their club championship several times, and their senior championship eleven times in a row.  You could definitely tell that he was a player by the way he gripped the club.  It just looked like it belonged in his hands.

Jim told us that this round was his 114th of the season.  He had walked every round, and figured he had walked 700 kilometres on the golf course this year.  I figure it was probably closer to 700 miles.  But, either way, it was pretty impressive for an 86 year old.  We ended the day saying that we hoped we would get to play again sometime.  And we certainly meant it.  In this game you meet some terrific people.

Note to self: best not to play Jim for money.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

The Golf Swing

I keep finding myself thinking about the golf swing.  I can't seem to resist.  It's an endless topic of interest and discussion, even if the results of these discussions tend not to be particularly helpful.  Despite all the study of the swing, even with the benefit of current knowledge and computer technology, the average golfer still remains average.  Our swings may, on the whole, be more mechanically sound as a result of all the swing instruction available, but our scores don't seem to be significantly improving on the average. This is because golf really isn't about the swing.

As usual, I like to go back to Bobby Jones when I get thinking too much about swing mechanics.  Bobby Jones continues to be my favourite teacher, despite the fact that he never actually claimed to be one.  Not only was he the best player of his generation, if not all time, he spent much time and energy trying to impart the sort of advice designed to help everyone enjoy the game more, and play better.  Unfortunately, a crippling disease left him incapable of playing golf at a relatively young age.  But Bobby, rather than sinking into a mire of depression or self-pity, used his time to study the game and write about it.  We are the beneficiaries of the wisdom he shared in his books.

Bobby wasn't a big proponent of teaching the golf swing.  Bobby learned the game by playing and observing the pro at his club, Stewart Maiden.  Maiden did not spend time on the practice tee giving Bobby swing instruction.  In fact, Bobby claimed that, to the best of his knowledge, Maiden never allowed himself to be drawn into a discussion about the golf swing.  To Stewart Maiden, golf was all about striking the wee ball.  Bobby might have been convinced to write about the swing, but I suspect he did so with mixed emotions.  He was not a man who believed in playing the game in a mechanical way.  He was not a fan of what he called, "rigid adherence to prescribed routine," in the teaching and learning of the golf swing. 

Bobby wrote: "Even if a person may not have begun to play golf at an early age, I believe that he may gain much by emphasizing naturalness in his learning processes. I think he has the right to convince himself that an effective golf swing can be made without rigid adherence to a prescribed routine and that there is room for differences in physical structure and capabilities. No matter how nearly equal in performance the top-rank players may be, yet they are as recognizable by their swings as by their faces.

"What the average golfer needs more than fine spun theories," Bobby wrote, "is something that will give him a clearer conception of what he should try to do with the clubhead... When we speak of sound method or good form, we mean nothing more than that the possessor of either has simplified his swing to the point where errors are less likely to creep in and he is able consistently to bring his club against the ball in the correct hitting position."

Speaking of those who are caught up in the mechanics of the golf swing, Bobby wrote: "We think, talk, and write so much about the details of the stroke that we sometimes lose sight of the thing that is all-important--hitting the ball. It is conceivable that a person could perform all sorts of contortions and yet bring the club into correct relation to the ball at impact, in which case a good shot must result. The only purpose of discussing style and form at all is to make it easier for the player to maintain this correct relation. In a crude way, he may do it only occasionally. In a finished, sound, stylish way, he will be able to do it consistently and with assurance."

Bobby, like Henry Cotton, believed that golf was played with the hands, and a golfer with nothing more than a good pair of hands could play good golf.  He wrote:  "Let it be known right here that many acceptable golf shots and drives of good length can be produced by players who have nothing more than active hands and a good sense of timing. These players will never achieve the consistency nor the extremes in length attainable by the expert with good form, but they will, nevertheless, be able to get a lot of fun out of playing golf."

And, at the end of the day, golf should be fun.  As I get older, weaker, and less flexible, I take some comfort in knowing that I will still be able to use my hands to play and enjoy this game as long as I remain on the right side of the grass.  I've still got some ugly great maulers, even if my back isn't worth a hoot.  I've got hands of stone.  If you don't believe me, just watch me putt sometime!

Monday, 21 December 2015

So Hard to Swing Easy

Getting old takes some getting used to.  It may not always be fun--all the aches and pains--but one has to believe it beats the alternative.  Getting old as a golfer requires a certain degree of acceptance.  One has to accept that, regardless of whether you have been lucky enough to remain relatively free from injury, or whether you've kept yourself reasonably fit and limber, you simply cannot hit the ball as far, or as high, as you once might have done.  In fact, it's the same for all athletes. But at least, as golfers, we can still hang around until we're old and grey; and even still play a decent game.  We just have to adjust our expectations, and accept our limitations.

I have gone from being able to bomb the ball, to watching my swing speed dip to under one hundred miles an hour.  Three years ago, a good swing with the driver was still 105 miles per hour; slower than it was when I was thirty, but still fast enough to get the ball out there a respectable distance.  I could still manage to play from the tips on any course I encountered.  I might not have always wanted to play from the back tees, but at least I could do so if my playing partners were so inclined.  I guess I still do venture back to the tips if I'm with some flat-bellies. But I usually end up wearing out my fairway woods and struggle to make some long carries.  I can still manage for the most part, and, when I no longer can, I'll just move up a tee box or two.

Several years ago, I was playing in Myrtle Beach during the winter and found myself pretty much the only one on the course at Farmstead.  It was cold and miserable, so only Canadians and guys from Wisconsin were out there.  Being alone and having no one to push me, despite the cold, I decided to play one ball from the back tees and one from the regular men's tees.  I think the back tees were about 6900 and the regular ones about 6300.  At the end of the round I had shot the same score from both tees.  It was actually a pretty decent score, but the point wasn't the score. The point was that the extra yardage was not really a significant factor.  It just meant I was coming into the green with a longer club on the back tee ball.  

I think most golfers are too inclined to think that distance is more important than it really is.  Golfers spend more time trying for more distance, when it's accuracy that really counts.  I was talking to Steve this morning and he told me that he played the other day using the nine o'clock swing that we had worked on the last time we played.  He was even par on the front and four over on the back in cold weather.  By gearing back on his swing and thinking of swinging it back to nine o'clock--in fact he actually takes it more to ten o'clock or 1030--he was hitting the ball just as far, but with more control.  His concern was, can he keep doing it and not go back to over-swinging.

More shots are ruined by trying to hit it hard, or trying to get the maximum out of a seven iron when you could just hit an easy six.  Sam Snead was a big proponent of swinging easy.  He was convinced that he actually hit the ball better, and farther, swinging at what felt like 85 percent.  I'm sure he was right.  My best golf is always played when I take lots of club and feel like I'm just patty-caking it.

I was at GolfTown a couple of weeks ago testing four woods.  In my current set I go from a 15 degree three wood to a 22 degree fairway wood, and I was wondering whether I should add something about 18 degrees.  My back was out, and I probably shouldn't have been hitting balls, but I was hitting them anyway.  My swing speed was coming up on the monitor at somewhere around 83 miles an hour, and I was only carrying the ball about 190 yards.  Needless to say, this didn't inspire me to want to buy a new four wood.  In fact, it made me want to take up shuffleboard.

At any rate, I decided to just patty-cake a few shots, letting the club do the work, and my swing speed immediately increased six miles per hour.  I had the proof right there.  A swing that felt like about fifty percent actually produced more swing speed.  I definitely do hit it better when I patty-cake it.  Given the state of my back, I'm almost certainly never going to swing at 105 miles an hour again.  But, if I just swing easy, I can at least maximize what speed I still have.  

The obvious question is, why don't I just patty-cake it all the time?  The answer is also obvious in my case.  For me, it's just plain hard to swing easy.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Top Hand Golf

When I decided to start a golf blog it wasn't that difficult to settle on a name.  People sometimes ask me about Top Hand Golf.  My answer is usually a rhetorical question.  If there was one thing upon which Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Lee Trevino, and Moe Norman--among many others--agreed to be an essential part of the golf swing, would it not be worth our while to pay attention?  Every one of those great players, some of the greatest ball strikers of all time, taught that the top hand--the left hand for a right-handed golfer--controlled the golf swing.

Every one of those great players took, or rather pushed, the club straight back with the left hand, arm, and shoulder--they're all connected after all--and pulled the club through with the left arm.  On my site there are videos from all of them talking about the importance of the top hand.  It's interesting that I recently read where Arnold Palmer believed that the only essentials for a good golf swing, provided your grip was sound, was to have a still head and take the club straight back for the first twelve inches the clubhead travels in one piece, without breaking the wrists.  This is best accomplished using the left hand and arm.  It is the right hand that inevitably causes the wrists to break too early, or pulls the club inside or outside the line.

With a good grip, the back of the left hand essentially mirrors the clubface.  If the back of the top hand faces the target through impact, a straight shot will result.  Controlling the swing with the left hand and arm makes it virtually impossible to come over the top, the biggest swing fault among high handicappers.  It also prevents taking the club back too far inside, or outside, the target line, and prevents an early release of the club from the top, which results in a loss of power and adding unwanted loft to the club.  

Byron Nelson, who, in arguably the greatest season of golf ever witnessed, won 11 tournaments in a row, and 18 in total, struggled with a hook early in his golfing life--like many Texans.  Byron arrived at that one swing thought that, once discovered, he never left.  That swing thought was controlling the swing with his left hand and arm, and making sure the back of his left hand was driving towards his target through impact.  

Moe Norman, regarded by many as the greatest ball striker ever, eventually had a couple of golfing systems developed that were said to be based on his unique swing.  However, Moe actually never suggested anyone try to copy his unorthodox set up, or swing.  He did, however, make it abundantly clear that he controlled his swing with his left hand and arm.  In fact, in at least one video, he can be seen hitting shots and letting his right hand come off the club after impact to demonstrate how his left arm pulled the club to the finish.  

Bobby Jones considered the golf swing a back-handed strike with the left hand.  And it's interesting to me that in the only formal golf lesson I ever had, which was in England in 1970, the young pro had me hit balls with just my left hand.  At the time I thought it was a waste of time.  I only wish now that I had understood the lesson.  I still manage to get distracted, and start tinkering with other ideas from time to time.  But some day I hope I will be a full time top-hand player.  I know there is no "secret" to playing golf.  But if there is one thing you can hang your hat on, as far as the swing is concerned, it is the importance of the top hand.

Golf is a two-handed game.  But the top hand is in control.  If the left hand stops, or gives up control, and the right hand takes over, Bobby Jones said trouble was sure to follow.  Ben Hogan is famous for saying he wished he had three right hands to pour on the power, but he also said that this was only so long as his left hand was driving through impact in the lead, so those three right hands couldn't ruin the shot.

Top hand golf is obviously not my idea.  My advice or ideas on the golf swing and a dollar wouldn't get you a coffee.  But, if Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Lee Trevino, and Moe Norman were all top hand golfers; that's certainly good enough for me.  And, if you're looking for a swing thought that might help you hit the ball straighter, try making sure that left hand and arm is pulling the club down the target line through impact.  

It may not be "the secret" to the golf swing.  It may not be the only way to swing the club, because there is definitely more than one way to skin a cat.  But, if it was a key for Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Bobby Jones, and Moe Norman--to name just a few of the greats--it might be a good idea to try it if you haven't already done so.  What have you got to lose?  It's not like I'm recommending that you hit balls with a basketball between your knees.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Clipping Dandelions

Since I've stopped having the lawn sprayed, I have an excellent crop of dandelions.  And dandelions can be really good for your golf game.

I think the one thing I often forget, especially when facing a particularly difficult shot, is that the golf ball is small, light, and easy to get moving.  That being the case, why is it that I keep hacking at it like a caveman trying to kill his lunch?

I have been convinced of the fact that there is some real genius in Harvey Penick's "clip the tee" drill.  He claimed not to know why, but clipping the tee under the ball caused the golfer to square his clubface.  Harvey liked to see a golfer just clip, or sweep, the ball off the turf.  He wouldn't have been impressed with some of the divots I take--divots you could bury small mammals in.

Remove that golf ball, that just stares back at us, daring us to make a mistake, and our swing becomes smoother, more relaxed, and more effective.  It's that damned ball that seems to mess so many of us up.  If we could only trust the fact that the ball is small, and light, and that our clubs are well designed and more than capable of getting the ball in the air and on its way, we would be much better players.  I am convinced that if I could just keep clipping the tee, or brushing the grass under the ball--swinging like I'm just clipping the heads off daisies, or dandelions--I would continue to see better results with much less effort.

Yesterday I was clipping the tee like Harvey taught, and was hitting some great shots straight at the pin.  But for the fact that I missed quite a few putts, I would have felt like a real golfer.  I was just brushing the turf, or taking nice bacon-strip divots.  It was effortless, and my back wasn't hurting.  That Harvey Penick was one smart teacher.

This Spring I intend to spend more time in the yard just clipping the heads off those dandelions.  It's great for my swing.  Until then, when I'm consigned to the indoor range, I'm going to focus on just brushing the astroturf under the ball, instead of bashing my club into the turf like a caveman.  My swing feels so good and relaxed when I'm just clipping dandelions.  And man, do those dandelions fly.

I watched, and posted, a video of Bobby Jones.  His swing was so free and effortless.  I think the last shot filmed was a 245 yard fairway wood to a couple of feet on a par five.  He looked so relaxed, you would have thought he was just clipping the head off a dandelion.  Not that I really have a problem with dandelions.  People use them in salads, and make wine with them.  But they are also an excellent swing aid.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Ocean City-Newport Bay

We played the Ocean City-Newport Bay course today.  While the dormant Bermuda fairways took something away from it's beauty, the course is beautiful nonetheless, with almost constant water or marsh views.  As my son said, the course must be terrific in the summer when everything is green.  The greens were excellent.  From the blue tees, Newport Bay plays 6307 yards, which is just about right for an old guy like me.

It was another one of those "if" days, where but for two silly holes where I made triple bogeys I would have given Old Man Par a serious run for his money.  On the other hand, an old guy like me is pretty happy to break eighty from the blue tees on a course he's never played before.

I managed, all day, to just play with my natural swing.  By my natural swing, I mean the swing I use when I swing with my eyes closed, or the swing I use when I'm just clipping the heads off dandelions.  It's a swing where I just swing and think of nothing, and I hit the ball about as well as I've hit it in ages.  After today, I hope I can be convinced to just keep doing the same thing.  But, once a tinkerer...

I really enjoyed the course, but was advised by the young man in the pro shop that, while Newport Bay is the prettier of the two courses at Ocean City, Seaside is his preferred course because of its shot values.  Therefore, I'll have to try to play it as well.  

This was my favourite course in the Ocean City area so far.  I may, however, play Rum Pointe before we make the trek back to the north country.  It's a Pete Dye and son collaboration, which is supposed to be another scenic gem.  One thing is for certain, Ocean City has some terrific golf on offer at very affordable rates.  This will definitely not be my last trip to this neck of the woods.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Ocean City Blues

It's funny how many of us just never learn.  We played Ocean Pines Golf and Country Club near Ocean City, Maryland.  It's a Robert Trent Jones design, and, considering it's the middle of December, was a bit wet, but otherwise in very nice shape.

As usual, being one who can't seem to follow my own advice, I started playing using several different swings and putting styles on the front nine before I settled in to just hitting the damned ball at the target.  

For some reason, the course either seemed to play longer than its yardage, or I was just hitting it shorter.  Either way, many of my approach shots finished short, and I was forced to do lots of scrambling for pars that often ended up being bogeys.  Momma said there would be days like this.

In the end, it was a nice day with my son on a very nice course.  And, on the last hole, I actually played some golf.  After pushing my tee shot into the right trees, I punched a six iron out low towards the green.  It came to rest short and left of the green, leaving me short-sided to a front pin.  I grabbed my 60 degree wedge and headed for the ball announcing to Matt that I wouldn't be needing my putter because I intended to knock it in.  

Sure enough, I hit a nice little chip that hit the flag dead centre and ended up a few inches from the hole.  Matt just shook his head and said, "Thank goodness that ball didn't go in.  There'd have been no living with you."

I said, "Remember that article I wrote about call shots? That, my boy, was what you call a call shot."

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Call Shots

I have discovered something quite interesting in my own game, and with others I've played with.  When you call your shots, you have a much better chance of making them.  I've seen it work time and again.

Having spent a lengthy time being discombobulated by different swing thoughts and theories, I have managed, for the last couple of rounds at least, to get back to picking a target, a shot, and just hitting it.  Whether it lasts--or how long it lasts--is really up to me.  The fact is, we are all actually better players than we often think we are; at least if we get out of our own way and let it happen.

I think I first noticed this call-shot phenomena playing scrambles.  When you play this format; picking the best shot, and everyone playing from there, I noticed that I was often able to hit some amazing shots after having called them.  A buddy of mine and our fathers played in a number of scrambles over a period of several years, winning several of them. 

I remember bumping into his father years after and him saying to me, "Remember that shot you hit on seventeen?"

I had hit a driver from under a tree, off a scruffy lie, up a hill to three feet on a par five.  We made eagle.  I had seen the shot, and called it.  It came off just as I described it; a cut that started low, under the branches and climbed enough to get up the hill, land twenty or so yards short of the pin, and after a bounce, curled around onto the green and snuggled up to the pin.  It was like magic.

There have been plenty of other shots over the years that were like that; shots that I first imagined, then described to my playing partners, and then produced.  I don't know how many times I've announced that I was going to hole a lengthy putt, or a chip, or a bunker shot, and then promptly did it.  

I've had buddies who have done the same thing.  In fact, a buddy and I used to routinely play call shots, where we would announce our target and describe our shot before we hit it, be it a low cut, or a high draw--I hate the high draw.  It always surprised us how often we managed to pull the shot off.

A few days ago, after struggling through another lousy round, preoccupied with swing thoughts, I came to the last hole.  I had eighty yards to the pin and said to myself, "I'm just going to knock this in the hole."  I was playing with only seven clubs, so I had to use a pitching wedge, producing a feel shot.  I struck the ball and watched it fly just as I imagined it, and from where I was standing seem to disappear into the hole.  I heard it rattle the pin.  As it turned out, the ball had not gone in.  It was about ten inches, directly behind the hole.  But it was a perfect shot.

I drove home, thinking about that last shot.  It convinced me to try to start playing call shots every time.  I've been trying to do it faithfully the last couple of rounds and have played pretty well.  The interesting thing is that it helps me not to think about my swing.  I seem to be able to get caught up in just hitting the shot, really focussing on where I'm going to hit it, instead of how I'm going to hit it.  The thing is, though, it takes discipline to do it every time.  You have to first imagine a shot; then picture it; then commit to it.  Then you just hit it. 

We see it every time we watch the pros play.  They are often heard discussing the shot with their caddie.  They settle on a shot, and then the pro, after describing it, often produces it.  Sure, they don't always pull the shot off.  But they do quite often.  I think that is one of the virtues of a caddie.  You have someone you can call your shot to who won't think you're an arrogant so-and-so.  In fact, the caddie wants you to call it, because it means you are committing yourself to hitting the shot; not just thinking about keeping your head down, or keeping your left arm straight.

I'm playing with Steve tomorrow and I'm going to try to get him to play "call shots."  It's amazing how often he produces the shot when he calls it.  Awhile ago, I had said to Steve, "I'm going to try to cut this drive off that end tree."  We were on number fifteen at Picton.

I missed the shot.  (Notice I told Steve I was going to try to cut it.  I should have said I'm just going to cut it--not try to cut it.)  Steve said, "Here, I'll show you how to cut it."  He teed one up and hit the prettiest cut you ever saw.  Sometimes--in fact, often--it works.

You don't even have to call the shot out loud if you don't want to.  You can call it in your head.  I often talk to my old father in my mind sometimes, telling him I'm going to hit this shot or that.  Damned if I don't often do it.  If you haven't tried it, I recommend you try playing call shots, just like when you're playing pool.  Better to play call shots, than to rely on fluking one in.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Spiros the Hammer

I played a friendly match the other day with Spiros.  That wee Greek so-and-so seems to really have my number lately.  

We were playing at Salt Creek Golf Links, near Warkworth.  It is a par 64, with a number of interesting, short holes, with Salt Creek meandering through it.  Having beaten me our last couple of outings, Spiros was content to accept a stroke on all the par fours and fives, which amounted to nine.

He promptly went out and shot 33 on the front with nothing worse than a four on his card.  This is a guy who claims a sixteen handicap.  I, on the other hand, couldn't piddle a drop on or around the greens and found myself five down after nine.  

Fortunately for me, Spiros tallied up his score after nine.  That proved to be a little more than he could comfortably handle.  After all, the awareness of a good round in progress can really weigh a man down.  Thanks to a couple of doubles by Spiros, and a couple of birdies by me, we arrived at sixteen with Spiros now only one up.

Spiros then made a par four on the tricky sixteenth, where the creek comes in to play off the tee and on the approach.  He then made another par on seventeen and beat me two and one.  Spiros had ballooned to 42 on the back, but still shot 75 in cold weather on greens that hadn't been cut, or the pins changed, for a couple of weeks.  Not bad for a sixteen handicapper.

Spiros feels that playing me has been good for his game.  He loves the competition.  I must admit that having to play my absolute best to try to beat him is good for me as well.  That's what makes this game so great.  Anyone can have a good match with anyone else, provided you get the strokes right. Spiros thinks, if I am willing to continue to let him beat me next year, he can get down to a ten, or twelve.  

Every round you learn something.  I learned that Spiros does not need nine strokes to beat my sorry you-know-what.  I also learned that Spiros really enjoys beating me like a drum.  But, most importantly, I learned, once again, that you can get whipped and still have fun, provided it's close.

Next time, Spiros.  Next time I'll be ready.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Free Advice

I love P.G. Wodehouse's quote.  He said, "I always advise people never to give advice."  If you are looking for advice, there is no subject on earth that has more words devoted to advising others than golf.  Even the worst golfers are inclined to try to help other golfers with words of wisdom.  I can certainly be accused of spending an inordinate amount of time and energy offering advice that I often fail to take myself.  But then, no one ever said that all golfers are inclined to practise what they preach.

Actually, however, there are some golfers who have successfully put into practice what they preach.  They are the great champions.  That is why the majority of the advice I pass along comes not from the famous golf instructors, but rather from the great golf champions.  They are the guys, and gals, who have proved by action that they know whereof they speak.  

All of us want to play our best.  And, whether we always remember it or not, golf is about getting the ball in the hole in the fewest possible number of strokes.  It isn't about looking pretty while doing so.  "The secret of low scores," Bobby Jones said, "is the ability to turn three shots into two."  We see it every time we play.  The days we score well are not necessarily the days when we hit it long and straight.  But they are definitely the days when we made putts and managed to get the ball up and down when we missed greens.

Many people still want to focus on hitting the ball farther.  And some prominent teachers, to the delight of club manufacturers, still promote distance off the tee, and distance in general, as being vital to good golf. The great players, and the teachers who are more interested in helping players improve than selling videos, know and preach that it is the short game that most of us need to be focussed on improving.  As Harvey Penick said, "The short game.  Those are the magic words."

It seems to me that there are two areas where most golfers let themselves down.  The first is off the tee, by just automatically reaching for the driver.  The reality is that many players would hit the ball longer and straighter off the tee with a three wood.  But, if you occasionally tag one, and you've spent four hundred bucks on the latest driver, you want to let the big dog eat as often as you can; even if, as Harvey Penick said, "The woods are full of long drivers."

If you drive the ball reasonably straight, that is an advantage.  If you drive it really long, it's a big advantage; but only if you have a good short game.  It's up to everyone to do a regular post-mortem after they play to see if the driver has helped them or hurt them.  If the driver routinely hurts you, forcing you to take three off the tee, or play your next shot from the trees, it might just be time to listen to what one of the game's greatest drivers of the ball had to say.  Greg Norman advised, "If you can't hit the driver, don't."

The second area where we often let ourselves down is from a hundred yards and in.  That's where the average player really starts to fritter away shots.  Tony Lema recognized this fact when he said, "Heartaches usually begin when you're 50 to 75 yards out from the green.  This is the vale of tears."  From 75 yards and in is where I am sorely deficient.  I know this, and yet I still spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about my full swing, rather than my short game.  Oh well, no one ever accused me of being particularly bright.

This winter, circumstances have made it likely that I will spend most of my time in the north country, snowed under.  That being the case, I intend to spend my time chipping and putting in my man cave.  This may actually help me in the long run.  As my hero, Bobby Jones, said, "The chip is the greatest economist in golf."  

And Bobby Locke is credited with being the first great player to utter the famous words: "You drive for show, and putt for dough."  If I spend some more time and energy on chipping and putting, I just might play some golf when the snow finally melts.

In the meantime, besides chipping and putting, I'll watch the real golfers play in sunnier climes through the magic of the Golfchannel, I'll try and spend some time on the Total Gym, and I'll probably spend lots of time offering up free advice that I am often guilty of not taking myself.  

Monday, 7 December 2015

The Number One Disease in Golf

I have no idea how many golf balls I've hit.  I've made three holes in one. I've made a double eagle.  I've holed out from the fairway, I don't know how many times.

I've shot as low as 65 on a par 72 course, and still am able to shoot par or better when the putter is working.  And yet, I still find myself thinking about how to hit the ball.  And there are many much better players than I who suffer the same affliction.  Why after all the thousands of golf balls I've hit should I still feel compelled to think about how I'm going to hit it, instead of where I want to hit it?  And I am not alone.  This disease affects many, and I'm not sure there's a cure.

I played the other day with Steve and, after tinkering most of the day with my swing, ended up disgusted and discouraged.  I finally said to Steve that I was just going to hit the damned ball.  Sure enough, I played much better.  

"It's like an illness," I said to Steve.  "I can't seem to stop tinkering, and thinking about my swing."

He agreed that it was a ruinous disease, and reminded me of his brother, Bobby, who had started playing with me as a kid.  Bobby became a very good player and eventually found himself suffering from paralysis by analysis as well.  He has apparently cured himself of the affliction and is back to "just hitting it."  I hope Bobby stays cured.  Because, I think the compulsive tinkerer will always be one bad shot away from tinkering again.

The problem with golf is that the ball just sits there.  We have too much time to think, instead of just reacting, as we must do in virtually every other sport where we hit a ball with a stick, or a racquet, or a bat.  As Sam Snead said, "That little white ball is always staring back at you, daring you to make a mistake."

Sam Snead understood the affliction.  Whether he ever suffered from paralysis by analysis himself, I don't know.  Certainly, if he did, he didn't suffer as long, or as often, as so many of us.  Sam said, "Thinking, instead of acting, is the number one disease in golf."

Of course, Sam was absolutely correct, if by thinking, he was talking about swing thoughts.  Golf is a game where we do need to think.  We need to have a strategy for playing the course if we are going to play well.  Golf is a bit like chess in that respect.  But we need to act, or better yet, react.  Once we pick our shot, and our target, we have to stop thinking and act or react to the target.  If we've played the game long enough, we know how to hit the ball.  So why do we not just do it, instead of thinking about how to do it? Why can't we stop thinking about how to hit it and start thinking about where we want to hit it? If I had the answer to that question, I'd probably be able to sell it, and I'd be a much better golfer.

When we're learning the game, we may need to do some thinking about how.  Bobby Jones said that we had to come to understand the golf swing in general, and our own swing in particular.  If we don't develop a basic understanding of the golf swing, and an intimate understanding of our own swing, we will be lost when things inevitably start to go wrong.  Sometimes we must have some swing thoughts.

We have to use our head in golf.  We have to think.  But I like what Bobby Jones said:

"When I think about three things during my swing I'm playing poorly; when I think about two things, I have a chance to shoot par; when I think of only one thing I could win the tournament."

Saturday, 5 December 2015


With Tiger back in the news after his revealing interview with Lorne Rubenstein, once again we see just what a polarizing figure he has been in the game of golf.  While he has more than his fair share of detractors, there are also legions of fans who maintain that, whether he makes a comeback or not, he is the GOAT--greatest of all time.

Sam Snead, when asked about who was the greatest of all time, said that all you can really do is beat the guys you play against.  Tiger, without a shadow of a doubt, was the greatest player of his generation.  Should that not be good enough?

It seems that Tiger may never be fully fit again.  But I find it hard to imagine that he won't play again.  In fact, I've already suggested that he'll tee it up at the Masters in the Spring.  He has even talked, after his Time magazine interview, about being a playing assistant captain at the next Ryder Cup.  That doesn't sound like a guy who is about to retire from the game.  That doesn't sound to me like a guy who is ready to throw in the towel.

Tiger Woods was the greatest golfer of his generation.  He may not break Jack's record for Major wins.  He may not even surpass Sam Snead for most PGA tour wins.  He will definitely never win eighteen in a season and eleven in a row, like Byron Nelson.  But the guy was the best of his day.  He was in a league of his own.

That, I would think, should be good enough.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Method in Michelle's Madness?

I saw a photo of Jack on a Rolex commercial crouched over a putt.  It made me think of Michelle Wie's seemingly unorthodox approach to putting of late.  Suddenly, it seemed that perhaps she is on to something.  There just might be some method to her madness.

Were it not for her long legs, Michelle and Jack might not look so different over a putt.  They both get very close to their work.  If only Michelle could hole them like Jack.

Golf is a Walking Game

Because of injury, I haven't walked a round of golf for almost a year--until yesterday.  It was great to be out there with just a few clubs in a Sunday bag, walking the fairways again.  For me, golf is definitely not a good walk spoiled.  It was so nice to walk from shot to shot, taking the time to shake off any bad shots, and to size up the next one.

Golf is meant to be a walking game.  I can't imagine it was ever supposed to be a game where you jumped in a cart to race from shot to shot.  The golf cart is a wonderful invention for those who really need it because of mobility problems, but I have to believe golf courses that have a mandatory cart rule, like the majority of the courses in Myrtle Beach, are doing this for only one reason--money.  Golf carts don't, in my estimation, speed up play.  They also often do damage to the course, especially in wet weather.  And then, as if to add insult to injury, you sometimes get told you must play cartpath-only golf.  That's when you might be better off staying home. 

The unfortunate thing is that so many new courses are being designed as much to sell real estate as to promote the game of golf.  The end result is you have route marches between holes that make some courses damned near impossible to walk, even if you wanted to.

That was one of the things I loved about St Andrews in particular, and Scotland in general.  While I think they will make exceptions on most of the courses for those who have a disability and must use a cart, generally-speaking, if you want to play, you walk, laddie.  

I suppose, if you want to use a cart, that's your prerogative on most courses now, and so maybe it should be.  If the extra revenue helps keep courses going, and if it keeps more people playing the game, that's all good too.  All I know is, when you can't walk the course, you sure miss it.  I just hope I can get back to being healthy enough to walk again most of the time.  Heck, I don't know if it was because I was walking yesterday, but I even played better.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

To the Hilt

I've been reading Arnold Palmer's book My Game and Yours.  It's quite an interesting read, dealing more with the mental side of the game than the mechanics of the golf swing.  He has one chapter entitled How to Reach Inside Yourself which, I think, contains some great advice for all golfers, regardless of their ability.

Arnie suggests that we should all play the game "to the hilt."  He writes: "Most amateurs give up too quickly when they get in trouble on the golf course."  He talks about the businessman playing a fifty cent Nassau with his buddies who gets himself in trouble and basically just gives up.

Arnie writes:

"If that same businessman was faced with ruin at the office, you'd never catch him taking his bad luck lying down.  He'd grit his teeth and start thinking.  He would concentrate so hard that he wouldn't know it was lunchtime...One way or another he'd weather the crisis and save the business.  Why not at golf?  Try it.  Start thinking your way around the course, calculating the risks and advantages of every possible kind of shot...And when you get in trouble, reach inside yourself.  You'll probably find more there than you ever knew existed.

"Sometimes, of course, you'll fail--miserably. (The pros do, too.)  Maybe you'll fail most of the time.  But until you've dared to try and brought off an impossible shot from the rough or from the water, or have salvaged a hole by laying a monster of a two iron stiff against the pin, you'll have missed golf's greatest playing thrill.

"I've told many businessmen golfers, in person, the things I have been saying in this chapter.  And sometimes I've run into a reaction that you may also have at this point.  'I just don't want to play the game that hard,' the amateur will say.  'I'm playing for fun and relaxation.  I don't want to make a federal case out of it.'

"Well, now, wait a minute.  Sure, the amateur plays for fun.  The question is: How can he have the most fun?  Only, in my opinion, by playing the game to the hilt.  If all you're doing is walking around the course and swinging the club aimlessly, without thought and without concentration, you may as well be taking a walk in the woods, which is cheaper and will give you an equal amount of exercise.  But if you're playing golf as a sport--and I'm convinced that most people play it as a sport, not just for the exercise, as is proved by the recent popularity of golf carts, which take most of the exercise out of it--you have to play to win in order to enjoy it.

"You want to have fun.  You want to relax and get away from your business woes, your personal problems, the tensions of everyday life.  The way to do it is to concentrate on the game, to think about golf and nothing but golf.  Your four hours on the course should take you into a different world, where you are totally absorbed in a form of thinking, action and strategy completely different from anything you do the rest of the week.  That's the way to get the utmost in pleasure and energy-restoring refreshment out of golf.  The harder you work at the game, the more it will relax you...

"So play golf to the hilt.  Win, lose or draw, good day or bad, you'll be happier for it and you'll live longer."

Thanks, Arnie, I needed that.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

How to Play Golf

Golf really is a simple game that golfers, including myself, often feel compelled to complicate with a long list of dos and don'ts.  Fortunately, there have been some exceptionally practical and pragmatic golfers who have managed, for posterity, to capture the essence of the game.

Perhaps Chuck Hogan summed it up best when he said:

"Go play golf.  Go to the golf course.  Hit the ball.  Find the ball.  Repeat until the ball is in the hole.  Have fun.  The end."

I would really only add two further quotes to that.  The first is from Sam Snead, who said:

"Nobody asked how you looked, just what you shot."

The second is from Harry Vardon, who said:

"Don't play too much golf.  Two rounds a day are plenty."

Okay, perhaps golf should also come with the following warning from B.C. Forbes:

"Golf is an ideal diversion but a ruinous disease."

Arnold Palmer on the Golf Swing

I happened to come across Arnold Palmer's revised edition of the book My Game and Yours in a thrift shop.  I'm just starting to read it, but am really impressed with some of the things Arnie has to say. Of course, it should come as no surprise that I should be impressed.  Arnie was one of golf's greatest and most exciting players.  It should be little wonder that he should have an interesting and somewhat unique take on how the game should be played.

In the first chapter, entitled Golf is Easier Than You Think, Arnie begins by writing what has to be one of the best explanations I've read as to why golf is the greatest game:

"GOLF is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated.  A child can play it well and a grown man can never master it.  Any single round of it is full of unexpected triumphs and perfect shots that end in disaster.  It is almost a science, yet it is a puzzle without an answer.  It is gratifying and tantalizing, precise and unpredictable; it requires complete concentration and total relaxation.  It satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect.  It is at the same time rewarding and maddening--and it is without doubt the greatest game mankind has ever invented."

Arnie was never known as a teacher.  And I suspect he would never claim to be one.  I also suspect that his simple view of how the game should be played, and how the club should be swung, remains shaped by the instruction he received from his father as a boy.  My view continues to be that we should always look to the great players to learn how to best play this game.  I think the best teachers also happen to be those who have been the best players.  They have been the ones who have most successfully put theory in to practice when it comes to golf.

From what I've read so far, Arnie's simple view of the "endlessly complicated" game is what is most appealing.  This is particularly the case when he talks about the golf swing.  Arnie might not be the guy you might think of if you were to talk about the ideal golf swing.  He was perhaps more of a hitter than a swinger.  But it is interesting to see that his views are very similar to those of Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, and Sam Snead when it comes to swinging the golf club.

In chapter 4, entitled HOW TO SWING HARDER WHILE TRYING LESS, Arnie talks about his swing and the two rules that he believes will make anyone a better swinger of the club, provided they have developed a sound grip.  He first talked about his big turn, which, until injury and age modified it, caused him to rotate his body to the point that his back was turned to his target on the backswing.  When speaking of that huge turn, Arnie said:

"Did I plan my swing that way in the early years?  No, I never did.  Neither did my father when he was teaching me the game.  In fact, at one of my early professional tournaments when many of the other pros we're seeing me play for the first time, one of them nudged my father, who was also watching me, and asked, 'Did you teach him that turn?'  My father replied, 'Now wouldn't that have been a silly thing to do?'

What he meant was that a teaching pro should never urge his pupils to think one way or the other about the turn, and the golfer himself should never worry about whether he is making a large turn or a small one.  I certainly never worried about it.  I had this kind of turn because it came natural to me... A big turn is a wonderful asset in golf, for the turn generates your power, and the bigger the turn the greater the power.  But it's not something you should plan or worry about.  If your leg, torso, and shoulder muscles have the strength and agility to give you a big turn, you'll have a big turn.  If not, you'll have to settle for a little less.

As a matter of fact, almost everything that has been written or discussed about the golf swing--all the millions of words devoted to the turn, the pivot and the weight shift--have been unnecessarily complicated and confusing.  I urge you to forget them and start your thinking all over, for the truth about the swing is just this:

The swing is the easiest part of golf.  Once you've got the right grip, and if you hold your head steady, it is almost physically impossible to swing badly.  There are two rules, and two rules only, that you have to remember, and they are so simple and natural that you can make them part of your second nature in a mere half hour on the practice tee."

As I read this, I could just imagine how all the golf teachers, who make their living teaching the golf swing, might react to this statement from Arnie.  The swing is the easiest part of golf?!  That sounds almost sacrilegious.

And just what are the two rules--and only two rules--you must follow? According to Arnie:  

"Rule No. 1 is to take the club back, as you start your backswing, smoothly and without breaking your wrists.  You have to take it straight back 'in one piece,' as they say around the golf course, without any wrist action at all.  Do this for the first twelve inches that the clubhead moves...and you've got the swing practically licked."  

Okay, sounds easy enough to me.  What's rule number two?  Arnie says:

"Rule No. 2 is to keep the club under control at all times or, to use a phrase that I like, to keep the swing compact.  It's an easy, natural rule to follow--at least it should be.  Yet, strangely, even many pros violate it at times, and most amateurs violate it most of the time."

No way!  It can't be that easy, Arnie.  What about my right knee?