Saturday, 24 January 2015

Watchesaw Plantation East

I played Wachesaw Plantation East, in Murrells Inlet, SC. on the heels of a major rainfall. Having just arrived from Canada, I was determined to play, even if it was cool, windy, soggy, and cartpath only.

As it turned out, I was the only player on the course in the afternoon, so I promised Larry, the cart guy, that I would endeavour to play in two hours so he wouldn't have to wait too long. My long-suffering wife joined me, albeit rather grudgingly, to help with managing the cart, and so I would have some pictures to share.

Wachesaw was the 2007 Myrtle Beach course of the year, has hosted an LPGA tournament and was one of the top fifty courses in the US in 1998. It's a really good track which was once completed by Meg Mallon in sixty two shots. Believe me, it's not a pushover, so Meg definitely golfed her ball that day.

I played from the blues, which I'm told is probably where Meg played from. It's 6618 yards with a course rating of 72.4 and a slope of 136. Well, Meg Mallon I was not, but I did keep my promise to Larry and finished in two hours. My only bright spot was a holed bunker shot on nine, after I had hit an approach shot right over the flag into the back bunker and flubbed my first bunker shot. I marked four on the card and noticed with some chagrin that Kathryn was taking pictures of birds as I holed the bunker shot, so she had to take my word for it.

After a respectable thirty eight on the front, I developed a case of the lefts, made a sixty footer for par on ten, which was, in retrospect, another bright spot, and then got on the bogey train. I righted the ship coming in, missing a three footer for par on the last that would have been a very muddy and hard fought seventy eight.  If Meg had given me a stroke a hole, I would have nipped her by one. It's funny how little facts like that put things in perspective for you.

Oh well, at least I'm finally back at it after my three month layoff. Tomorrow, it's off to Charleston and a round at Charleston National.

Friday, 16 January 2015

It's All About Having Fun

Golf is one of those games that can really get a grip on you. It can literally drive you crazy. It is one of those games that, the harder you try, often the worse it gets. Golf is great therapy for someone who is a perfectionist, because you can never be perfect at this game. You can always play better, and you can always play worse, but you will never get it perfect.

Quite often, lately, you hear professional golfers, who are playing for their livelihood, being interviewed and talking about trying to have fun when they play. Recently, I heard Hunter Mahan, when asked about his goals for this year, talk about just trying to have fun and appreciate how lucky he was to be playing this game for a living. Is this because Hunter doesn't care about winning? I don't think so. I suspect Hunter is a player who wants to win as much as, or more, than anyone else out there. I think he just realizes that the only way he's going to do it, is if he has fun.

Golf at any level is meant to be fun. Yes, you should try to play your best, because you won't be happy with yourself if you don't give it your best, and anything worth doing, is worth doing to the best of your ability; but you should do nothing in golf at the expense of having fun. Ben Hogan worked at the game harder than anyone, but he, as serious as he was about the game, had fun. He loved to work at his game, it wasn't drudgery for him, it was pure joy. He couldn't wait for the next day to dawn so he could get back at it. And, despite his cold, calculating demeanour when he was in the zone, Hogan was reputed to actually be a character who liked to have fun on the golf course. He and Jimmy DeMaret were great pals and often played together, and Jimmy DeMaret was the king of having a good time. 

If you watch Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler out there, they are having fun. Sure, they are focussing and playing hard, but on the first day of the tournament at Abu Dhabi, the announcers were commenting about how they were "nattering to each other like a couple of old women," not a very politically correct comment, but the point was that they were doing battle, but they were enjoying each other's company and having a good time. They both shot sixty seven. Having fun doesn't impede your game.

I was thinking about the last time I played a competitive round. It was an Ontario Golf Association match play event which matched our club against three other clubs. The format involved me playing an eighteen hole match against three other players at the same time, a rather unusual format. Because I tend to be a nervous type anyway, and because I wanted to play well, just like my fellow competitors, I was a little keyed up when we started, so much so that I double bogied the first hole, then gagged my way to being four over par after three holes. I was starting to seriously wonder whether I was going to be able to break ninety. 

On the fourth hole I hit a good drive and was the last to hit to the green. My fellow competitors had been kind enough to congratulate me on the drive, even though they were probably secretly wondering to themselves what the hell I was doing playing in this event. As I stood over my approach shot, I suddenly decided that I was going to just relax and enjoy the day. I stepped away from the ball, turned to the other guys and said, "I know you probably don't believe it, but I'm actually pretty fricken good."

They laughed. I laughed, and then I proceeded to start making birdies. By the sixteenth hole, I had to stop playing because I had won all my matches. I was one under par. I am not a great player, so any time I beat Old Man Par, I'm a happy camper. Pars are good in my book. But it really wasn't the score that mattered to me, when looking back, it was once again appreciating that the simple act of relaxing, and deciding to have fun, turned my game around.

Golf is one of those games where you can definitely try too hard. Bob Rotella speaks about that. There is an optimum effort level, beyond which we actually get in our own way and actually play worse. And, when I look back on my golf, I am constantly reminded that I play my best when I just relax and let it go. But, being something of a perfectionist, and having played a number of other competitive sports, having fun at golf is not something that comes naturally. I tend to want to put on my game face and do battle with myself and the course. I have to remind myself that, regardless of how I play, I will still get my supper, and hopefully my wife will still love me. It really isn't supposed to be a life and death struggle out there.

So, all I can suggest, to those who might find themselves struggling and working hard at this game, is that you ask yourself whether or not you are having fun. If the answer is no, you shouldn't try harder. You should either quit, which I sometimes think might not be such a bad idea, or you should remind yourself, just like Hunter Mahan, how lucky you are to be out there playing this great game. I bet, just like me, if you make it your goal to have fun, instead of to play your absolute best, the results will come. And, if they don't, at least you'll be having fun; and isn't that what golf is all about?

Thursday, 15 January 2015

What's Happened to Matteo?

The Italian whiz kid, Matteo Manaserro, looked very average and very unhappy today, playing alongside Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler in Abu Dhabi. He hit it short, crooked, and often. It was yet another poor start in what has been a steady descent down the world rankings after reaching the number eleven spot in 2013 when he won the BMW PGA championship at Wentworth for his fourth European Tour win. 

Manaserro has quite the resume. He was the youngest player to win the British Amateur, the youngest player to be the top amateur at the Masters at 16 years 11 months, he won the silver medal as the top amateur at the Open, and very quickly, after turning pro became the youngest to win a European Tour event. He has won four times and he is still only twenty one years old. However, since his great win at Wentworth, he has managed only two top tens in 2014. He has fallen off the radar.

The word is that he has been making swing changes in order to get longer. Once again, we see a top player, in this case a kid with an unbelievable resume, a kid who was surely destined for greatness, who has somehow been convinced, or convinced himself, that he has to make swing changes in order to get more distance. And now, he has, at least temporarily, lost his game. It's a damned shame.

The frightening thing about making swing changes is that, if they make you worse, you sometimes, maybe even often, can't go back. It's happened to some great players in the past, even Manaserro's boyhood idol, Seve Ballasteros. I just hope it hasn't happened to Matteo. I hope he can find his swing. Whether it is a new, improved swing, or the one that brought him such phenomenal success so soon.

I hope he knows what he's doing, but I fear the worst. In golf, as in life, it's better to dance with the one you brung. If it ain't broke, don't try to fix it, and always remember, the woods are full of long drivers.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Patrick Reed: The Nerve of this Kid

I don't know about you, but I'm becoming a huge fan of Patrick Reed. But, the nerve of this kid. He fights his way onto the tour by Monday qualifying, what was it, six times? He arrives on the scene with his wife caddying for him, not a professional looper. He wins soon, and he wins often, and he does it dressed like Tiger Woods.

Patrick Reed has cojones. He gets himself in hot water with the media, who always claim to want an honest, forthright interview, but often can't handle the truth. Imagine, Reed had the honesty to admit that he considered himself one of the top five players in the world, and very few people applauded him for his honesty. I thought the kid had guts to admit that he considered himself to be one of the five best players in the game. To have that kind of self-belief, and to be willing to admit to having that kind of self-belief, well, that takes a lot of self-belief! 

This kid has a set of cojones on him that you could use for book ends. He went out and played with Tiger at the Hero World Challenge wearing Tiger red and black. He then whipped Tiger soundly. The nerve of the kid. Looks like he plans to sport the red and black regularly. He's definitely sending a message, and it ain't that he's there to amass top tens. This kid is there to win.

Obviously, he can play, but he's not the longest, or the straightest. I haven't checked the stats, but I suspect he doesn't top any of them, except perhaps in wins in the past couple of years. He looks more like Porky Oliver than Tiger Woods, and hopefully he'll stay that way, continuing to avoid spending hours in the gym, consulting the swing teachers, the mind coaches and professional loopers in favour of being what he clearly is, an old school champion who has self-belief in spades.

Starting the day two shots back, Patrick Reed certainly knew he was in with a chance to win. But, his pre-game interview says a great deal about his maturity and his champion's mindset. When asked whether he needed to play aggressively, Reed said he already considered himself an aggressive player, and that what he needed to be was patient. Now, we hear this stuff all the time from players being interviewed, the old standard, one shot at a time like the drunks quotes, but Reed is still a good interview, despite his bad experience with the media after having the honesty, not the temerity, as some people saw it, to say he considered himself one of the top five players in the world. Patrick Reed is a champion. He thinks like one, and he plays like one.

In his interview, he explained in some detail what he meant by being patient, that he didn't need to get too aggressive and make any silly mistakes. But, he was still thinking of shooting three or four under on the front nine and then seeing what he needed to do on the back. The nerve of the kid; talking about being patient and not making any silly mistakes, but still thinking about going three or four under for the first nine holes. 

As the round progressed, no one, with the possible exception of Patrick Reed, thought he was going to win. According to Johnny Miller and the rest of the gang, it was a two horse race between Jimmy Walker and Matsuyama. But, remaining patient, Reed just kept on hitting the ball and, lo and behold, he holes out with a wedge and the rest, as they say, is history.

So, is there anything that we mere mortals can take from all of this? I think there is. It is the fact that a little patience, and a whole lot of self-belief, can serve you really well in this game. We can also begin to understand that this kid isn't just going to tell you how good he is, he's going to show you. If you find him a bit brash, you might better get used to it, because he's not likely to be going anywhere. Patrick Reed is the real deal.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

The Unruly Right Hand or Three Right Hands

Sometimes people talk about the mythical "natural golf swing."  The reality is, there isn't much that's exactly natural about the golf swing.  Just ask Bobby Jones, or Ben Hogan.  They'll tell you; or they certainly would have.

Hand any right-handed beginner a right-handed golf club, and ask them to hit a golf ball, and you will generally observe them snatch the club away with the right hand, usually sharply to the inside, lift it, instead of turning their body, and strike at the ball with their right hand.  The result is generally not a good one, and the swing is not likely to be very pleasing to the eye.  It is perhaps natural that they might swing this way, but the golf swing isn't necessarily about doing what comes naturally.

Moe Norman thought hitting a golf ball was dead easy, and they have even developed a system of teaching the golf swing that is supposedly built around his action.  But Moe was not only a ball-striking genius, he hit more than a million golf balls on his way to becoming the person many who saw him consider to have been the best ball-striker ever.  It's interesting that, when asked whether anyone should copy his swing, Moe responded with a categorical, "No."  But, that's another story.

I played golf with Herb and his son the other day.  He was hitting some dramatic pull hooks, which, as far as I could tell, were the direct result of an unruly right hand.  Herb gripped the club with his right hand turned under, in a very strong position, and had his right thumb pressed against the shaft in an effort to hold the face square.  He swung hard, his left side stopped, or stalled, fouled-up the works, and his strong right hand produced some prodigious hooks.

The right hand, or rather an unruly right hand, ruins more shots for a right-handed player than just about anything.  I have called my blog Top Hand Golf for this reason.  All the great ball strikers, from Bobby Jones to Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Lee Trevino, and Moe Norman, stressed the importance of the top hand in the golf swing.  For right-handed golfers, this is the left hand.

I was introduced to this concept as a youngster.  I had my first, and only, formal golf lesson in England in 1969.  The young professional had me hit balls with my left hand.  That was the lesson, or at least all I remember from that lesson.  I thought he was nuts, and, as he made no effort to convey to me the value, or the rationale, in what he was having me do, I promptly dismissed the whole thing as having been a big waste of time.  I suppose he didn't want to get too technical with a twelve year old, but had he been able to convey to me the importance of what he was teaching, it might have proved very useful, and saved me a lot of grief, and a lot of searching, in later life.

The point he was making to me was the importance of controlling the swing with the top, or lead, arm and hand.  As a right-handed person, playing golf right-handed, this is contrary to what comes naturally; as is the case in most things in golf, as we eventually come to learn.  But the fact is, while golf is indeed a two-handed game, you are going to be in big trouble if you don't keep that right, or bottom, hand under control.

Speaking of the unruly right hand, in Bobby Jones on Golf, under the subject of Delaying the Hit, Bobby Jones wrote:

"Whenever you see a player (who is apparently going along easily) blow wide open under the strain of competition, the chances are that the most immediate cause of the detonation is an unruly right hand, a hand that has gotten out of control because of the anxiety and nervousness of the player.

I think I can say truthfully that I am always on guard against a misapplication of right-hand power, but that even then it gets me.  For a right-handed person it is, of course, perfectly natural to want to do everything with that hand, and it becomes necessary not to call it in when it is needed, but to keep it out when it is not.  The consciousness is of exclusion rather than of use.  To my mind, the right hand is absolutely useless, except as a steadying factor, throughout the entire backswing, and nearly half of the downstroke, or hitting stroke.  It's first real use comes when it assumes command for the actual delivery of the blow.

If we allow the right hand to take hold at the very beginning of the downstroke, we are hitting too soon.  The swing has not a chance to get started in the right groove, and the power is apt to be spent too soon; the wrists will have been uncocked before the stored-up energy can be expended upon the ball.

Of course, so long as we swing a golf club with two hands, in order to swing it properly, both hands must be used correctly.  But with most players the effort must be to subdue the right at certain important stages, rather than to direct it to positive activity.  It has been said that the correct swing is a wholly artificial, unnatural procedure.  In the sense that a naturally right-handed person must force the left side and discourage the right, this is certainly true.

This alone is sufficient reason for stressing the left side most strongly; since it must be used, and yet it is unnatural to use it, it requires more conscious direction than the right.  A right-handed person, swinging a right-handed golf club, will not need to think about hitting with his right hand; he will need only to make certain that he does not begin to use it too soon, or incorrectly.  On the other hand, if he does not think about moving his left side, it will surely get in the way, and gum things up.

My conception of the correct swing is built around the one thought of making the left side move, both in taking the club back and in swinging it through.  This is the main idea.  The use of the right hand, though important, is yet a subheading.  It has to be thought of only in order to keep it from over powering the left, and asserting itself in a disastrous way."

I remember talking to a well-known teacher, who will remain nameless, about this idea of the top hand and left side controlling the swing.  As I was not a PGA master professional who had been voted teacher of the year for his State, like he was; and in spite of the fact that, when we played nine holes together, I had outplayed him; he perhaps had reason not to want to engage me in any meaningful discussion about the golf swing--unless, of course, I was paying him.  However, his brief, and rather dismissive, response is worth discussing.

First of all, he said that, were he to stress using the left hand to hit shots to his students, they'd all slice the ball.  Secondly, as though it provided an irrefutable answer to my question, he said, "Ben Hogan wished he had three right hands."  To him, that was it; end of story.  Essentially, He was telling me that I  didn't know what the hell I was talking about.  Well, I suppose you can't blame the man.  He probably has to listen to people like me wanting to discuss their favourite swing theories all the time.  

However, contrary to what he asserted, I have found that any of the people, including myself, who have followed the top-hand approach, do not generally slice the ball.  In fact, if they don't hit it straight, they tend to draw it; and, if they miss, the miss is generally a hook.  But, the more important issue, is the rather smug reference to Ben Hogan, as though his comment refutes any notion of a correct swing being controlled by the left hand and side.  Mr. Hogan is often quoted as saying he wished he had three right hands.  But, he is not being quoted in context.  When just that quote is given, without the preamble to it in Hogan's book Five Lessons the Modern Fundamentals of Golf, it can be very misleading.

In his book, Five Lessons, Hogan spoke of the swing being a two-handed action, using the analogy of throwing a medicine ball at a target.  When talking about this he wrote:

"The great value, as I see it, of thinking in terms of a two-handed action is that it keeps the left hand driving all the time.  During the climactic part of the swing, the left wrist and the back of the left hand begin to supinate very slightly... (this is where Hogan gets into pronation and supination, which sounds very complicated because of the fancy words, but is actually quite simple.  The crux of what he teaches is so important, it is in capital letters.) AT IMPACT THE BACK OF THE LEFT HAND FACES TOWARD YOUR TARGET, THE WRIST BONE IS DEFINITELY RAISED. IT POINTS TO THE TARGET AND, AT THE MOMENT THE BALL IS CONTACTED, IT IS OUT IN FRONT, NEARER TO THE TARGET THAN ANY PART OF THE HAND.  When the left wrist is in this position, the left hand will not check or interrupt the speed with which your clubhead is travelling.  There's no danger either that the right hand will overpower the left and twist the club over.  It can't.  As far as applying power goes, I wish that I had three right hands!"

So, there you have it.  Hogan wished he had three right hands; but only so long as the back of his left hand was driving toward the target, and supinating very slightly, so as to ensure that those three right hands couldn't ruin the shot.  Besides, Hogan might have wished for three right hands; but we are not Ben Hogan.  One right hand, kept from becoming unruly, should suffice for us mere mortals.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Has Tiger Been Good for Golf?

Tiger Woods stormed the golf world as a professional in 1997 after an amateur career the likes of which we hadn't seen since Bobby Jones. His impact was immediate and stunned both the fans and the players. His abilities as a player have never been in question, although the current major drought, injuries, and ongoing swing changes leave everyone speculating on whether he will ever again dominate the golf world.

The golf scene has never been the same. It has changed radically, with purses soaring, sponsors lining up, and, at least when Tiger is playing, television ratings through the roof. Tiger has become incredibly rich and his mere presence has enriched the rest of the players, as they take advantage of the larger purses. But, the question is, has Tiger really been good for the game?

Has Tiger's presence made golf more exciting? Undoubtedly, it has for many. But, his incredible dominance was not necessarily a blessing for those looking for excitement in the form of close finishes and a heavyweight rivalry. Run away victories at the Masters, the U.S. And British Opens were incredible for their sheer golfing brilliance, but they were anything but exciting to watch. There was no drama involved. Of course, there were exciting tournaments to watch, but there was almost an inevitability to Tiger winning once he had secured the lead that left me, for one, heading for the golf course and not bothering to record the Sunday result.

Tiger has been brilliant. There is no other word for it. If he is not the greatest player ever, he ranks with only Bobby Jones and Jack Nicklaus as one of the best three men to ever play the game. But, has he been good for the game?

What has Tiger's behaviour on and off the golf course done for the game? He arrived with the attitude that you must win; because second place sucks. He displayed no grace when losing, and no humility when winning. I recall his last US amateur win, when he rallied from a large deficit to beat the hapless young man, Steve Scott, who had played his heart out with his little girlfriend on the bag. I watched as Tiger fist-pumped and celebrated his victory with his entourage, while Scott stood waiting to shake his hand. That display caused me to believe that Tiger had no class. Nothing he has done since has altered that opinion.

Golf is not about winning at all cost, including having the patrons move boulders for you after you've hit a poor shot. The greats of old all wanted to win just as much as Tiger, but few of them, if any, resorted to the kind of displays of temper and bad sportsmanship that have become almost the norm when he isn't winning. Contrast that with Jack Nicklaus, who was not only the greatest champion the game has ever known, but also the best loser, if finishing in second place in majors is really to be considered losing. What sort of example has that sort of behaviour from Tiger set for future generations of golfers?

There was the hope among many, including myself, that Tiger's dominance would lead to an opening of the floodgates, as far as attracting African Americans to the game. As far as I can see, it hasn't. I suspect that this is partly because the majority of African Americans do not relate or identify with Tiger any more than they have identified with the game. In fact, I wonder if anyone identifies with, or relates to Tiger. His aloofness with the fans and the media is almost legendary. Arnold Palmer he is not.

I had sort of hoped that age, disappointment, and public embarrassment would have produced a more humble, likeable and approachable Tiger Woods. If it has, I've not seen it. Tiger could have done so much for this sport, besides lining people's pockets. He has proven to be a major disappointment to me. But then, who am I? Just another golf fan with an opinion.

Bobby Jones on Practice Swings

Bobby Jones was a great observer of the game. He was not only a student of the game, he clearly knew a thing or two about human nature and how it is often revealed on the golf course. One of the things he wrote about in his book, Bobby Jones on Golf, was practice swings.

Bobby pointed out that there was certainly nothing in the rules of golf prohibiting practice swings, but I suspect he would not have objected to such a rule. While confirming a player's legal right to take as many practice swings as he likes, Bobby writes: "While thus defining the player's legal rights, it is only fair to say that his moral right to make a nuisance of himself is not so clear. It is probably natural that a man playing golf is interested in nothing so much as his own game. It is also natural that he should attend to his opponent's game only enough to hope that said opponent will encounter enough trouble to cause him to lose the hole. But if he feels this way, he ought to remember that his companion probably entertains some such notions of his own play, and that he certainly has not come out to spend the greater part of his afternoon watching someone else take practice swings and fiddle around over a golf ball in making preparations to strike it. The ethics of the game allow each person a reasonable opportunity to play each shot carefully, but they demand also that the player step up promptly to do his bit without unnecessary delay."

Bobby goes on to talk about the habitual practice swingers and their "uncanny talent for taking their swings at precisely the wrong times." Bobby writes: "Everyone has had the experience and knows how annoying it is hearing the swish of a club behind him just as he is in the midst of his swing. He has to be very fond of the culprit to restrain a desire to bash him on the head with the club, even when he knows that the guilt is only of thoughtlessness."

Many teachers extol the virtue of taking practice swings as part of preparing to hit a shot. The only problem, in my mind, with this recommendation is that most average players have a practice swing that bears little or no resemblance to the swing they make when it counts, when there's a ball to hit. That being the case, it becomes hard to argue that there is much virtue in the practice swing if it can't be copied when it comes time to actually hit the ball.

Bobby once told the story of playing golf with his father, who, after hitting a particularly poor tee shot, took a practice swing, turned to Bobby and asked, "What's wrong with that swing?" Bobby replied,"Nothing. Why don't you use it sometime?"

In conclusion, if you are one who prefers to take practice swings, that is certainly your right. But, please, for the sake of the game, the pace of play, and the sanity of your playing companions, take your swings judiciously. The game is hard enough as it is.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Bobby Jones on Golf: Memorable Advice

As I find myself stranded and snowbound in Canada, watching the pros play in warmer climes, I am dreaming of the time when I will be able to get back on the links. I am also looking forward to another fresh start, where I will hopefully improve in my ability to play this great game of golf despite the fact that I'm not as young, or as strong, as I once was. 

If I'm going to get better, I realize it will only be the result of my getting wiser, not fitter, or stronger. My old back and other assorted injuries are likely to ensure that I won't be hitting any more three hundred yard drives. Besides, while strength and fitness are certainly great attributes for a golfer, but a great golfing mind will keep me playing my best for years to come. Also, golf is one of those games that often proves the saying true, that old age and treachery can beat youth and skill every time. Okay, perhaps not every time, but old age and a bit of treachery in golf can definitely beat youth and skill some of the time, which is good news for old farts like me.

In my estimation, Bobby Jones possessed the finest, most astute golfing mind, and we are very fortunate that he chose to share his wisdom with us. Bobby learned the game as a young boy and continued to learn the finer points of the game by observing and listening to other great players and teachers who shared their insight with him. I think that one of the remarkable things about golf, and golfers, is the willingness of players to share with others the secrets of the game; even sharing advice and information with players they are trying to beat. In what other game would a competitor take the time to help a fellow competitor struggling with his game? Perhaps it happens, but it is so common in golf, it is actually the norm, not the exception. It's one of the things I love about the game. In golf, the vast majority of the great players competed hard and wanted to win, but they helped each other. They didn't want to win at any cost, they wanted to see their fellow competitors play well.

In his book, Bobby Jones on Golf, Bobby devotes a brief chapter to two important pieces of advice on how to play the game that he received from two of golf's legendary players, Harry Vardon and J.H. Taylor. I think they are worth sharing again for those who haven't read Bobby Jones' books.

"Two of the greatest golfers of earlier times were the English professionals Harry Vardon and J.H. Taylor who," Jones writes, "between them won eleven British Open Championships. Among the many wise things both observed about the game, two especially impressed me. 'No matter what happens,' Vardon once said, 'keep on hitting the ball.' In effect, this is what I remembered and tried to do when playing a tournament round. Vardon was a man of immense gifts, not the least of which was his practicality."

When speaking of J.H. Taylor, Bobby said, "J.H. Taylor made the statement that all the great golfers he had known had possessed a quality he chose to call 'courageous timidity.' That happy phrase expresses exactly the qualities a golfer, expert or not, must have in order to get the most from whatever mechanical ability he may have. He must have courage to keep trying in the face of ill luck or disappointment, and timidity to appreciate and appraise the dangers of each stroke, and to curb the desire to take chances beyond reasonable hope of success. There can be no doubt that such a combination in itself embraces and makes possible all the other qualities--determination, concentration, nerve--we acclaim as parts of the ideal golfing temperament for the championship contender as well as for the average golfer."

As for myself, being somewhere quite short of a champion golfer, and somewhat more expert than an average player, I hope, when next able to get out there and challenge Old Man Par, that I can be courageously timid in my approach and, regardless of what befalls me, keep hitting that damned ball.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Bobby Jones on Slow Play

In the book, Bobby Jones on Golf, Bobby Jones devotes a short chapter to the subject of slow play. "Golf," Bobby writes, "depends for its growth upon public interest. Nothing can be less entertaining to the spectator than a round of golf drawn out by minute examinations of every shot."

Bobby concedes that "the deliberation necessary depends entirely upon the man who is playing the game; it is his business to play the shot, and he should never be required to play until he is ready." However, Bobby points out that there is "one very cogent reason why the older heads and more prominent players should make an especial effort to avoid unnecessary delay; that is, because of the effect of their examples upon the youngsters coming along."

"When I see a much-considered shot go astray," Bobby continues, " I can't help thinking of the lawyer who had unsuccessfully defended a client charged with murder. The trial had been long drawn out, lasting nearly a month, and the lawyer had made quite a lot of noise and stormed eloquently in his argument. Meeting a brother lawyer on the street a few days later, the case came up in discussion. The lawyer, whose client had been convicted, asked his friend what he thought of his conduct of the trial. His friend replied, 'Well, I think you could have reached the same result with a whole lot less effort.'"

"More often than not, the first impression in golf is the best. There is no man," Bobby concludes, "capable of hitting a golf ball with sufficient exactness to warrant concern about the minute undulations a very close examination might reveal. If he can care for the difficulties he can see at a glance, he will have done well enough."

I wonder, what would Bobby think now of the state of the game and it's four and a half hour rounds. 

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

You Can't Buy Your Game

A new year is beginning and many folks are thinking about buying new clubs in order to improve their play. Lee Trevino said you needed to watch out for the guy with the squinty eyes, deep tan, and a one iron in his bag. That's the guy who is liable to take your money, not the guy with the newest Ping or Taylor Made driver in his bag.

Of course, we don't see too many bags with one irons in them anymore, but the squinty eyes, the tan, and perhaps the irons with quarter-sized wear marks in the centre of the clubface are a good indication of what you are up against. The fact is, you just can't buy your game, despite what the club manufacturers tell you. You improve your game only by playing and sound practice. The deep tan and the squinty eyes are what gives the hustler away. He earned both of them out there playing the game.

Bobby Jones felt the only way to properly learn this game was by playing it. Anyone who promises to alter your game, save you five or seven shots a round, or make you a player, by selling you new clubs, or some new-fangled swing aid, might as well be selling you snake oil. If it were really possible to buy your game, we'd all do it, and the average golfer would be scoring better than he did fifty years ago. After all, the equipment is better. Apparently, the teaching is better. The courses are in better condition. But the average player continues to aspire to play better than bogie golf, even with the latest and greatest, game-improvement clubs in the bag, along with all the cool new teaching aids available.

A golf game simply cannot be purchased. It is earned with sweat, and sometimes, blood, and tears. So, rather than buying that new driver, or those shiny new irons, save your money and head out to the practice green. Work on your short game and you'll start to see your scores improve. This game has no price. It can't be bought. And, after all, isn't that just as it should be?