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Friday, 12 June 2015

Bobby Jones on Golf: Golf as Recreation

I almost never practise. This is mainly due to my physical ailments, the absence of a proper practice area at our club, and probably a certain amount of laziness on my part, preferring to play, rather than practise. My failure to take time to practise, however, is doubtless responsible for some of my poor play of late. But my real problem is toys in the attic.

Yesterday, I played my worst nine holes of the year. I shot 43 on the front nine. I had arrived at the course with a plan. I knew the way I wanted to approach my round, but quickly, after missing a short par putt on the first hole and three putting the second hole for another bogey, I started to get into tinker mode. I started tinkering with my putting stroke. Then, after a poor drive on three, started tinkering with my swing.

When we were on the eighth hole, my partner, Radar, joined our threesome. He had not been informed of our tee time, so got there when he could. We waited to start our usual match against Bill and Carl until the tenth hole. In the meantime, I told Radar that I had some serious toys in the attic; that I had already tried at least four different swings today, none of which seemed to work worth a hoot. He laughed and said he felt my pain, because his attic was full as well. He was struggling with a hundred different swing thoughts; toys in the attic.

On the tenth tee, after learning just how bad the front nine had been, I announced that I was intent on just swinging easy for the rest of the round and giving my spinning head and aching back a rest. It worked reasonably well, and I cruised home with a relatively effortless, if unspectacular, 39. It was another frustrating day, ruined by my compulsive tinkering on the course. 

When I got home, I sought solace and advice from the book, Bobby Jones on Golf. I have read many instructional books about golf and never found any to compete with those by Bobby Jones. That is partly because of the man's golfing genius. It is also because he was so literate, and such a keen observer of golfers, duffer and champion alike. Despite being arguably the greatest golfer ever, he had the ability to relate to the recreational player, as well as the champion golfer. This was no doubt largely to do with his having played so many rounds with his father and his cronies, having the opportunity to closely observe what we mere mortals go through on the golf course. His common sense and practicality, as well as his empathy for those of us who struggle, really shines through in his writing. 

In the short chapter from his book "Bobby Jones on Golf," entitled "Golf as Recreation," Bobby gives some priceless advice to those of us who want to enjoy the game, may be struggling, and have not necessarily set our sights on winning championships, other than perhaps our club championship or one of the flights. Reading this chapter really reaffirmed what I already knew I was suffering from. Given that his books are not always easy to find, I intend to reproduce the chapter verbatim, because I think he has already pared his writing down to the absolute essentials and I wouldn't want to mess with perfection. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did:

"The golfer with a fairly good swing who never seems able to score well is a familiar figure on any course. In many respects, he is in the same boat with the tournament player who burns up the course in practice rounds, but does nothing in actual competition. Obviously, there is a great deal more to playing golf than merely swinging the club.

There is scarcely one golfer of the so-called average class who could not benefit from an effort to school himself in applying good sense, judgement, and a little intelligent thinking to his game; and this without reference to the mechanics of the swing. Merely by adopting measures that will help get a consistently high rate of performance from what ability he has, a surprising improvement can be made.

The trouble with all of us, who grumble over the game and thus spoil an otherwise pleasant afternoon with congenial friends, is that we do not understand the game, nor ourselves. In this, we could take a number of lessons from the dub. For no matter how good we may be, if we should fancy that we have mastered golf to the extent that we can go out day after day and play as we please, then we are greater fools than ought to be left at large.

A skillful golfer, who knows what he is about, can often play himself back to his game in the course of a round; but the average player, when he goes out for an afternoon, would best leave all his tinkering and theorizing behind. Too many come out eager to try some new discovery made while shaving, or lying awake in bed, and, instead of going to the practice tee to find out if the idea has any merit, they set out  hopefully to beat their record for the course. It would be difficult to think of a more infallible way of spoiling what might have been an enjoyable game.

The virtues of golf as a pastime and a means of recreation have been appropriately extolled. But no one, with more than the barest outside chance of being believed, is going to tell me, or any other golfer, that he gets any fun out of hacking around a golf course in ten or more strokes above his normal score. The ninety player does not expect to break eighty; he ought to be, and usually is, satisfied to play a game that is reasonably good for him. But when he plays a really bad round, and drags himself into the locker room, it is easy to see that he is tired and disgusted, and has done anything but enjoy himself.

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

When we come to the all-important matter of getting real enjoyment out of the playing of the game, I think we will find that all must employ the same set of rules. To find enjoyment, we must produce a round fairly close to our usual standard. To do this with a fair degree of consistency, no matter to which class we belong, we must avoid experiment, refuse to try anything new, and play the game instead of practicing it.

The best single piece of advice I could give any man starting out for a round of golf would be 'take your time,'not in studying the ground, and lining up the shot, but in swinging the club. Strive for smoothness, strive for rhythm, but unless you are something of an expert, save 'monkeying' with your hip turn, your wrist action, and the like, until you can get on a practice tee where you can miss a shot without having to play the next one out of a bunker."