Friday, 31 July 2015

Getting Old

There's something to be said for getting old.  For one thing, it probably beats the alternative. 

Sure, there are the aches and pains; the occasional bout of erectile dysfunction--just kidding--but generally, there is almost, for me at least, a sense of relief.  You've got nothing, or at least very little, left to prove.  Your best days might be behind you, but, on the golf course, sometimes you can still find a little magic. And best of all, not much is expected of you anyway, so if there's no magic, no one is really going to be disappointed, including yourself.

Golf is such a head game.  You eventually learn that your most potent adversary is not your opponent, or the golf course; it is definitely yourself.  You can really beat yourself, and you are really ultimately in control of whether you have a good day, or a bad one.  

I played with Steve and Radar today, and it was a great day, marked by lots of talk and laughter about golf and life, and little or no worry or stress about how we were playing.  Actually, Steve was playing really well, while Radar started with four straight bogeys and, while playing better as the round progressed, didn't have anything to write home about today. But, like me, Radar is accepting of the fact that his best days are also likely behind him.

I was even par until the fifth, when I swung hard and quick off the tee and hooked it into a bunker.  I had an uphill lie; took a mighty swipe, hurt my back, hit the lip, and barely got it out.  From there I made bogey and, after two more bogeys before the morphine kicked in, finished the front nine in 39.  

My morphine took effect, the back spasms subsided, and I found myself back to even par standing on the seventeenth tee, after making an eagle on sixteen. I actually thought I was four under on the back, and told  Radar that I was in a similar spot yesterday, sitting four under on the back, only to then finish with two bogeys, both of which were the result of missing putts of three feet or less.  

Radar said, "Good for you.  You're facing your demons."

I'm not sure that I was really facing my demons, but I was sure as hell admitting to them being there.  There was a time when I would have still worried about getting it into the house, especially after yesterday's debacle, but I'd have kept it to myself.  Instead, I readily admitted that I was thinking, and perhaps even worrying a little, about choking my way home.  The good thing was, being an old guy, while I really wanted to get it to the house with a little more style than yesterday, I knew I'd survive either way.  It's kind of a blessing when you come to terms with the fact that, whether you choke or not, you will survive.  Golf shouldn't be a life and death struggle, and it's a relief when you get to the point where your self esteem isn't all tied up with how well you are playing.

I hit a nice tee shot, then hit a 58 degree wedge to about three and a half feet.  I calmly hit my putt at the right edge and the little bugger horseshoed right back at me.  But, it was still a par.  On the final hole, I pushed my tee shot into the right bunker. But it skipped out and left me a tricky pitch.  I pitched it to about five feet and barely missed the putt that I thought was for 71.  As it turned out, the putt was for an even par round of 72.  I try not to think about my score when I'm playing, so I'm often not quite sure where I stand against Old Man Par until I add it up.

There was a time when I'd have really been cheesed off, missing a four and a half footer for 72 on the last hole.  Today, being an old guy, I have come to accept and understand that missed four footers are just as much a part of your round as the good shots.  They are really not some strange occurrence, and so I really try not to see them as such, even if they do seem such a waste.

I used to be one of those guys who would say, "I would have shot 72, but I missed a short putt on 18."  In fact, as I see how I've just described this round, I'm still doing the same thing.  I essentially suggested that I would have shot 72 today, but for a missed short putt on 18.  But, the truth is, I might also have shot 75, but for an eagle on 16. 

The fact is, I shot 73.  I hit some good shots.  I hit some bad shots.  I might have tied or beat Old Man Par, which is what I love to do, if I hadn't missed a couple of short putts.  But, that's not reality. As a buddy of mine used to say, "If my aunt had had nuts, she'd have been my uncle."

So, now I just want to count myself very lucky.  I had a great day, with a couple of good guys; I played about as well as I could reasonably expect to play, and my back is hardly hurting.  These days, that's about as good as it gets.  Anything beyond that is just gravy. 

Bobby Jones on Tournament Preparation

It's hard to believe, but it seems another summer is already coming to a close, and it will soon be time for many to play in their club championships.  It is always an interesting time, when you get to see whether any work you might have done, or changes you might have made, will pay off.  For those who don't play many tournaments, like myself, the club championship might be one of the few opportunities to really test your game.  With that impending event in mind, I thought it would be interesting to review what Bobby Jones had to say about tournament preparation and see if it might be helpful.

The interesting thing about Bobby Jones was that he really was, for the most part, a part time golfer.  He essentially played a few times a week with his father and his cronies, stashing the clubs away for much of the winter, before scraping off the rust every Spring.  He then entered and played in only the biggest amateur and professional events every summer, where he often soundly thrashed the top players, including professionals, in the world.  He truly was a wonder.

Since he played only a limited number of competitive rounds, Bobby Jones was perhaps more like us; certainly not in terms of ability, for he was one of the best, if not the best, who ever teed it up, but in terms of being an amateur who wasn't playing week in, and week out, against stiff competition.  Therefore, his advice on competing should be more applicable to us weekend warriors than might be advice from someone who plays golf for their living and has perhaps forgotten what it's like to compete only a few times a year.  Concerning tournament preparation, in his book Bobby Jones on Golf, Bobby wrote:

"There are two distinct kinds of golf--just plain golf and tournament golf.  Golf--the plain variety--is the most delightful of games, an enjoyable, companionable pastime; tournament golf is thrilling, heartbreaking, terribly hard work--a lot of fun when you are young with nothing much on your mind, but fiercely punishing in the end.

Competition in any line of sport is today frightfully keen.  In golf, both the professional and amateur fields embrace far more dangerous players than were to be found twenty years ago.  The game is spreading like wildfire.

This means that to keep step with the field, from a competitive angle, is growing more and more difficult every year for the men who have businesses and professions to look after.  One has to either enter a competition, conceding his opponents the advantage of practice and preparation, or to take the time himself at the expense of other endeavours to play himself into form.

Aside from the time required for preparation, there is the equally important question of keenness.  When a youngster embarks upon a career in competition, the whole thing is a great lark; no one knows who he is nor expects him to do anything; he can play to beat all if he likes, fight as hard as he can and congratulate himself if he makes a good showing.  Being completely free of responsibility, he can have a great time.  But let him begin to win and all this changes; he is now expected to do things; he carries a weight of responsibility on his shoulders; he is followed about the course, and if he fails, he is not allowed to forget it for a long time.

Of course, the first thing one must have in order to be successful in tournaments is a sound, reliable game.  Yet this is a thing to be built up over a period of years, by patient study and practice on top of at least a moderate amount of aptitude.  Like cramming for a final examination, a week or two of perspiring  practice in preparation for a tournament is more likely to do harm than good; if the game is not already there, it is not likely to be acquired at the last moment.

On the other hand, to do too much experimenting on the eve of a tournament is always a bad thing.  Many players beat themselves because they will not leave their swings alone long enough to play through the competition.  Most of us have all the year to practice and experiment, to tinker with our swings and to improve our method.  When a tournament comes along, it is time to forget all that, time to leave off experimenting, and, placing complete trust in the muscular habits we have acquired, to concentrate on 'getting the figures.'

The most important part of preparing for a tournament is to condition oneself mentally and physically so that it will be possible to get the most out of what game one possesses.  Rigorous physical training is neither necessary nor beneficial.  A physical condition that is too fine usually puts the nerves on edge.  What one needs most is to play golf, to harden the golfing muscles, and to get the feel of the little shots around the green.

How much to play is something everyone must learn for himself.  The happy state is one of complete familiarity with all the shots and clubs, and a keenness for the game that thrills in anticipation of the coming contest.  Too little golf is bad, but too much is worse.  To be jaded and stale before the tournament even begins is an entirely hopeless condition.  Yet no one can say how much golf another can tolerate."

So, in light of Bobby's advice, as the time for the club championship and a few other events draws near, I'm going to resolve not to panic; not to try to start making changes, do more push ups, or hit more balls.  I'm going to try to be in that happy state where I am looking forward to the competition, while firmly resolved to take what game I possess to the first tee and just let it happen.  If my game isn't ready, no amount of last minute cramming is liable to make it any better.  You can't, in a couple of weeks, make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

But, as Ken said yesterday, "Sow's ears are actually quite nice."

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Bobby Jones on Golf: Never Imitate

I saw a Golfchannel Academy clip featuring Dave Stockton on the subject of five foot putts.  Dave Stockton seems to be the go-to-guy these days for putting.  He has really helped a number of top players, including Rory McIlroy.  It was a good piece, with some good advice, even if he only made one of the two five footers he tried during the segment; in which there is a message for those of us who might erroneously think there's a way to make every five footer.

That's really the crux of golf instruction, particularly when we are dealing with putting; the reality is that there is no method that will ensure you make every five foot putt.  The vagaries of the greens, foot prints you can't even see, or the donut affect that Dave Peltz talks about, a spike mark, or some other imperfection in the green can cause even the best played stroke to miss.  That's just golf.

The other thing is, Mr. Stockton basically took us through his routine for making five foot putts, which included starting with the putter head in front of the ball.  My first thought was, I can just see a bunch of people who watched that clip going out to the course the next time and starting with their putter in front of the ball, thinking it might help.  And, the reality is it will likely not help a bit.  The other advice, about keeping in motion, keeping the putter head low, not feeling like you have to make it, is all good; but imitating Dave's set up, or mannerisms, will likely not help you one bit.  You have to be yourself.  You have to swing your swing, or make your stroke.

When I get putting poorly, I often find myself trying to imitate Jack Nicklaus.  He was my golfing hero, and the guy who made more putts when he had to than anyone I've ever seen; other than perhaps Tiger, before the fall.  My imitation Nicklaus stroke worked pretty well, but it never came close to being like the real thing.  And, it wasn't all that comfortable for me, especially with my back. The good thing about using your stroke, is that it will likely be, or at least should be, more natural and more comfortable for you.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and we see it a lot on the golf course; players copying what really are just mannerisms they see their favourite players displaying.  You see it especially in pre-shot routines; a favourite for a long time, while Tiger was the man, was the adjusting the shirt, shoulder-tug thing, he did before he set up to it. That was really big, especially with the young bucks.

Lately, I notice the opening and closing of the golf glove fastener, like Ernie Els, is very popular.  We have a guy at our club who not only does the Ernie Els golf glove thing before every shot, he also does the "will I, or won't I" stagger-step thing that Keegan Bradley likes to do.  If he could get the Tiger Woods shirt tug thing thrown in there, he'd be unbeatable.  I'm joking, of course, but the point is that just imitating a favourite player's mannerisms isn't likely to help your ball flight.

Bobby Jones, in his book Bobby Jones on Golf, advised us to never imitate.  He wrote:

"In all my writings on golf, as well as in my motion pictures, the one thing I have tried to stress most is the necessity for assuming a comfortable position before making every shot.  There are peculiarities of stance and address that tend to produce certain results; of course, these have to be watched after the player has progressed, but in the beginning I think it is safest simply to stand before the ball in a position that is so comfortable that it is easy to remain relaxed.  This, to the beginner, is far more important than any worry about the exact location of the right or left foot.

What I have said is of paramount importance in putting, and in the short game, and I think there is no one who has had a more convincing experience than have I.  Up until 1921, my putting was about as bad as one could imagine; I had experimented with it for years, but most of my experiments had taken the form of attempted imitations of some of the good putters I had seen, notable among whom were Walter Travis and Walter Hagen.  I had studied the styles of these men, particularly that of Hagen, and would always try to assume the same posture at address, and attempt to swing the putter in the same way.  The result of these efforts--and it was a result that should have been expected--was a tension throughout my whole body that would not otherwise have been present, so that however accurately I might reproduce the stroke that had been successful for the man I was imitating, the effect of it was destroyed because I could never relax.  After all these experiences, I determined to putt naturally.

The putting stroke is the simplest of all because it is the shortest; once a person has developed a fairly good sense of what it is all about, and once he has developed a rhythmic stroke that can be counted upon to strike the ball truly, the only thing he should worry about is knocking the ball into the hole.

From day to day, I found that my putting posture changed noticeably.  I always employed the same grip; I always stood with my feet fairly close together, with my knees slightly bent.  Always, too, I saw to it that my backstroke was ample; but sometimes I felt most comfortable facing directly toward the ball; at other times, perhaps a quarter turn away in either direction.  Again, there were times when my confidence was increased by gripping the club a few inches down from the end; at other times I liked to hold it at the very end of the shaft.

There are, of course, good putters among the so-called average golfers who by patience, study, and practice have developed putting methods they follow as they would a ritual; on the other hand, these instances are rare.

Anyone who hopes to reduce putting--or any other department of the game of golf for that matter--to an exact science, is in for a serious disappointment, and will only suffer from the attempt.  It is wholly a matter of touch, the ability to gauge a slope accurately, and most important of all, the ability to concentrate on the problem at hand, that of getting the ball into the hole and nothing more.  I think more potentially good putters have been ruined by attempting to duplicate another method than by any other single factor; by the time they can place themselves in a position they think resembles the attitude of the other man, they find themselves so cramped and strained that a smooth, rhythmic stroke is impossible."

As I watched Dave Stockton, I must admit I momentarily contemplated placing the putter in front of the ball before I stroked it the next time out; maybe even with a forward press--actually I already have a bit of a forward press sometimes--but I think this review of Bobby Jones' advice has prevented me from going down that road.  I would love to putt like Dave Stockton, but will have to settle for putting like John Haynes.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

I Wonder What They'd Think

Call me old fashioned, but I just can't believe the stuff that passes for golf instruction these days.  

I love the story Bobby Jones told about the time he had read some instruction by Harry Vardon about how to hit a particular shot.  I think it was what we would call the punch shot these days.  Bobby went to the range and started trying to put into practice Vardon's written instructions.  He hit an entire bucket of balls, dug a lot of dirt, and didn't hit one decent shot.  His teacher, Stewart Maiden, had been giving instruction to someone else when Bobby began trying to learn this shot, but when finished, and thoroughly disgusted, he turned to see Maiden sitting on a bench, shaking his head and chuckling to himself.  Bobby resolved never to try to learn to swing, or hit a shot, by following instructions from a book ever again.

Bobby Jones didn't believe in swinging by numbers, or trying to copy someone else's swing.  In fact, he wasn't in favour of teaching swing mechanics at all.  To him, it was all about the strike, even if he did find himself writing about the golf swing to some extent.

I just saw a post on Google, with a clip from Fred Shoemaker, which purported to say that somehow the yips wasn't such a bad thing.  In the Golfchannel clip, Shoemaker had his student hold the putter and just feel his hands while he rocked his shoulders for him.  Apparently, according to Fred, if you could "surrender yourself" to someone who would rock your shoulders for you as you hit putts, in a couple of weeks or so, you'd be cured.  If you believe that, I've got a hundred acres of swampland in Florida you've just got to buy.  I mean, are we really serious?  I can just see me asking Billy Gallagher to come to the putting green and rock my shoulders for me, while I "surrender myself."

Fred Shoemaker wrote a good book called Extraordinary Golf, but this bit on Golfchannel?  Freddie, give me a break.  If you could cure the yips in two weeks just by getting someone dumb enough to rock your shoulders for you, all you'd have to do is find someone dumb enough to rock your shoulders for you.  Wouldn't Bernhard Langer feel silly, not having thought of that?  He could have saved himself one helluva lot of time, energy, and grief.

And then we have that guy on the Golfchannel; the one that did the School of Golf with that buxom gal who bombed recently doing the interviews at the US Open.  He's a Brit, and he likes to have you use all kinds of things you have to buy in a hardware store to help you play better.  I loved the one where he suggested you hit balls with a basketball between your knees.  I can just hear the boys now.  "Look at Haynes hitting balls with a basketball between his legs.  Why don't we try that?"

I just wonder what Stewart Maiden, or Bobby Jones, or Ben Hogan would think if they could see the kind of stuff passing itself off as golf instruction these days.  I know Maiden would laugh.  I don't know about Bobby, but I suspect Hogan would either want to be ill, or just cry.  Actually, Hogan was reputed to have a good sense of humour.  Maybe he'd laugh as well.

Bobby Jones Helping Learners to Learn

I love the introduction by Bobby Jones in his book, Golf is my Game.  He is the source I always go to first whenever I'm encountering problems, or whenever I am asked for advice by someone who is struggling, or trying to learn.  While he didn't consider himself to be a teacher, he has certainly helped, and continues to help, this learner, and who knows how many other learners over the years, to learn.  He was the best and the brightest this game has ever produced, even if he would never admit it himself.

In his introduction, 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 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 one 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 that 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."

Bobby was humble, almost to a fault, if there can be such a thing as being too humble.  He was, at the time this was written, undoubtedly the greatest golfer ever to play the game.  He is still, arguably the greatest there ever was.  The things he explained and revealed in Golf is my Game, and Bobby Jones on Golf, have more than stood the test of time.  His ideas have been rephrased and repeated by virtually every teacher of any prominence since.  He might not have considered himself a great teacher, but as a great learner, teaching other learners to learn, he had, and still has, no equal. 

I have had the pleasure of reproducing some of Bobby's words in my blog.  His books may not be that easy to find.  But, if you are a learner, looking for help learning, you would be richly rewarded by seeking those books out for yourself.  If you want to try to get a better handle on this game, why not go to the best golfer ever to play and then write about it?

Two Things

It was a stinker today; hotter than the hubs of hell, and muggy.  Fortunately, we teed off early, before the worst of it.  But, we were a tired, bedraggled foursome coming in.

Billy Gallagher and I played a match against Carl the Grumbler and his grandson, Kyle.  Fortunately for us, Kyle was struggling and Carl finished six over for his last five holes, so we didn't have much trouble earning the bragging rights today.

But we were definitely feeling it.  My back was aching after I slipped twice and had to go to the morphine.  Billy was having some breathing issues as well, but we hung in there and got 'er done.  

On the eleventh tee, Billy said, "This day's only good for two things."

I asked him what that was and he told me a story he thought was one for the blog.  Years ago, he was down in Myrtle Beach.  It was a rainy day, and Billy, like most of the golfers, was checking out a liquor store on the main drag.  A grizzled, old southerner was perched behind the cash.

With a deep, raspy voice which was likely the result of too many bourbons, he said to Billy, "This day's only good for two things."

"What's that, sir?"  Billy asked.

"Fixin' broken pistols and new brides."

Oh, that sweet southern charm.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Grits is Grits

I have written several stories about my dearly departed buddy, Gerry.  He was my best friend.  The interesting thing about him was his capacity to make everyone feel that way.  I can name more than a few people who would also claim Gerry as their best friend.  Brian is one of them.

The three of us went on a very memorable trip to Myrtle Beach.  They say, two's company but three's a crowd.  But, that never applied when Gerry was in the mix.  

He was a mountain of a man, standing six feet five inches, and weighing in somewhere over three hundred pounds.  He had hands like frying pans, and he was quite able to use them if required. But, given his size, and his capacity for fun, he was seldom called upon to demonstrate exactly why it was a good idea to stay on his good side.

We both worked in the Penitentiary Service.  In fact, that's how me met.  We joined the same day.  It was April 1st, 1981, and we liked to say it was the longest April Fools joke ever played on us.  There are many stories about "the pen," but that would entail writing a book, so I'll stick to our trip to Myrtle Beach.

While still working, we had our yearly trips to Myrtle Beach in the winter.  Sometimes we managed more than one trip, but we generally always found a way to make at least one jaunt.  We set off, probably in a snow storm, which was generally the case heading from Kingston, Ontario down 81 through Watertown and Syracuse, New York.  On that stretch through New York State in the winter, if it wasn't snowing, you simply had to wait five minutes and it would be.  

We stayed at the Sea Mist in Myrtle Beach on one of their golf packages.  I haven't stayed there in years, but in those days, it couldn't be beat.  We had a great room across the road from the ocean, with a hot tub conveniently situated just outside the door.

Every morning we enjoyed a complimentary breakfast--at least we considered it complimentary, since it was included in the package--which included the whole nine yards, even catfish.  I'm not really a breakfast eater, but Gerry would tuck in with abandon, particularly taking a shine to the grits, which he would slather with butter.  He loved them.

Now, I guess you are either a grit person, or you're not.  I'm not.  Brian, as I recall, could take them or leave them, but Gerry just loved them.  They were right up there with Mac and cheese in his books.  Being Canadians, we hadn't been raised on them, so Gerry considered grits to be some sort of exotic southern delicacy. Now, don't get me wrong, Gerry loved good food.  He could cook as well.  In fact, at night, rather than head out to eat, we made a variety of curries that we consumed with suitable quantities of beer.  But this trip, Gerry fell in love with grits.

On the drive home, we found ourselves in a little grocery store in some small town in North Carolina.  How we ended up there, I'm not quite sure, but Gerry was grit shopping.  He was standing in the aisle looking at the assortment of grits for sale, when he noticed a little African American girl, who obviously worked there.  

He said to her, "I'm looking to buy some grits to take home with me.  Could you recommend the best kind to buy?"

She looked up at this strange, gigantic foreigner and uttered words we have since come to live by.

She said, "Grits is grits."

That's so true.  No matter how you cut it, at the end of the day, grits is just grits.  But, they're better with salt and butter; and maybe a little hot sauce.  We miss you, Big Man.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Shank You Very Much

I don't know if there's something in the water, but I have been playing with three guys this year who are afflicted by the shanks.  It is an affliction so terrible, so frightening, that you really shouldn't even say the word out loud.  It is a mysterious affliction, the cause of which apparently varies from case to case.  In fact, whenever I'm asked what caused it, I either shake my head, or simply say, "You hit it off the hosel."  Which, I'm told, is not terribly helpful.

Yesterday, Steve hit several shanks.  He did the same thing the last time we played, looking desperately at me, hoping I would provide him with the answer as to why.  All I could do was shake my head and look away.  Today, Carl hit two shanks that ultimately ruined what was shaping up to be a pretty good round.  Billy shanked one today as well.  I just hope it isn't contagious, because I've got all the problems I can handle without adding the shanks to the list.

My old father would sometimes get the shanks right out of the blue.  He'd be cruising along, when suddenly, I've seen him shank his way all the way around a green.  It's mystifying.  It's frightening.  I thought, having witnessed several of these rather startling shots recently, I would see what Harvey Penick had to say on the subject.  In his Little Red Book, he wrote the following about the Shank Shot:

"A shank shot is so ugly that I hate to write the word.  Let's call it a Lateral Shot instead.

I had a student, a good player, who started hitting these lateral shots all of a sudden.  He called me to the range and showed me.

Knowing he was a good player and thinking he would work his way out of it, I said, 'I'll bet you can't do that twelve times in a row.'

So he stood there and did it twelve times in a row. 

'Now what?' He said.

'Go home and come back tomorrow,' I said.

Most people think this shot is caused by hitting the ball with a closed blade at impact, but this is improbable.  Usually the shot is caused by blocking off a pull,(Don't you just hate that, when you block off a pull?) or what you think is going to be a pull.

The ball may be too far forward.  Beginners may be standing too close to it.  Experienced players may be standing too far back.

Many times it is caused by the player trying to hold his or her head down too much.  This drops the head way down and extends the arc of the club, resulting in a bent left arm at impact.

Or it can be caused by poor eyesight.  Any pilot will tell you eyesight will change a bit from day to day.

Cures for the Lateral Shot:

Try conscientiously to hit every iron shot on the toe of the club until you stop shanking.

Never aim to the left.  You would do well to think you are aimed to the right.

Feel like the toe of the club is rolling over.

Place a pasteboard box or a tee about one inch outside of the ball lined up at the target (I'm not sure what a pasteboard box is, but I think he means the box should be laid along the target line, about an inch outside the ball, thereby preventing you from swinging outside in, or over the top.  If you do, you hit the box, or the tee). Hit the ball without hitting the box or the tee.

It is almost impossible to hit a Lateral Shot if the blade is closed.  Try it sometime.  Close the blade and make your best swing and follow through.  Keep it closed throughout the swing.  The ball may go left--but I don't think you can hit it laterally."

Harvey also told a story, which I can't seem to find right now, about being invited to a club that had become infested with shankers.  It seems the pro at the club had been stressing to them that they needed to hit down on the ball.  Harvey got them "clipping the tee," instead of hitting down so much on it and they were cured; at least until the pro started telling them to hit down on it again.

As for my buddies, who seem to be temporarily infected with the shanks, this is from Harvey, through me, to you.  As for me, I'm just going to try not to look.  I just hope it isn't catching.

It Is What It Is

Golf is like life.  You just never know what's in store for you.  You can make all the best plans; you can prepare yourself mentally, and physically, buy the best equipment and, at the end of the day, be the victim of a bad bounce and lose the match. Golf isn't fair.  But then, life isn't fair either.  So it helps if you are able to be somewhat philosophical, or even fatalistic, in your approach to golf and life.

I look back on my golf, and my life, and think of all the things I worried about, and all the plans I made, and how rarely the things I worried about happening came to pass, and how often my best plans came to nought.  That's golf; and that's life.  So, now that I'm old, a little tired, but doing the best I can with what I've got to work with, I tend to be more accepting.  From being a young man who saw everything as black and white, I've come to see that there is a lot of grey.  The older I get, the less I know for sure. But one thing I have come to understand and accept is that, when all is said and done, it is what it is.

Steve is a bit of a philosopher, at least on the golf course.  He accepts his occasional shank with as much dignity and grace as he can muster.  He doesn't allow himself the luxury of complaining about his lie after he's hit it in the thick stuff.  He just tends to shrug and say, "It is what it is."  In fact, he's the one who got me saying it.

I used that phrase once with a woman--I can't recall the exact circumstances--but I do recall her being quite vexed about me using it.

She said, "I hate that expression.  What does it even mean?  It is what it is?  It doesn't mean anything."

As I tried to explain to her, it means a great deal.  There are many times in this life where things will just happen and there isn't a damn thing you can do about it.  And, when these things happen, you can get annoyed, curse your luck, snap your putter in two, or you can just accept it and drive on.  When you accept what life, or the golf course, has given you, you have recognized that, regardless of whether it was fair, regardless of whether things might have been different if your ball hadn't come to rest in someone's unrepaired divot, it just is what it is.  You might as well accept it.

I was writing this and suddenly realized I had a tee time in thirty minutes and I wasn't even dressed.  I rushed to the course, arriving within a minute of the tee time, and with two quick practice swings, hit a perfect tee shot.  That's not the way you should play this game, but it is what it is.

I told Carl the Grumbler--who isn't grumbling nearly as much since I've started calling him that--and Billy that I was right in the middle of this blog.  We all thought that the expression was quite apropos when it comes to golf, and eventually found ourselves using it during the round.

I was hitting it quite well, but had missed a couple of short putts to find myself one over after seven.  Billy, who has been struggling, was making everything, and Carl was just being Carl, getting it up and down from everywhere.  On eight, a par five, I chose to lay up with a 22 degree wood and, going completely blank over the shot, smothered it about 80 yards into the rough, behind a tree.  After remarking that, if nothing else, I had at least got it past the ladies' tee, I hit the same club again to just inside the two hundred yard marker and then hit my next one on the fringe, pin high, but about thirty feet from the pin.  Billy and Carl had hit two good shots, Billy hitting his third to about fifteen feet, and Carl, who was about forty yards from the pin in two, hit, what was for him, a rather weak chip and left himself about twenty feet short of the pin, and on the fringe.

I stood up and chipped mine in for birdie, while the boys settled for par.  Carl clearly thought this was grossly unfair, wondering out loud how he could have messed up that chip so badly.  I felt compelled to remind him that it is what it is.  Perhaps the golfing gods were listening and thought me a bit smug, because I promptly found myself bogeying the next two holes, courtesy of a flared tee shot on nine, and three putts on ten.  Carl, who was tied with me after seven, went par, bogey to take the lead.

I said to Carl, after the three putt on ten, that you just can't play this game putting this way.  He agreed, but assured me that it is what it is, and I would have to just keep plugging away until they started dropping.  I only had to wait until I got to the next green, where I holed a fifty footer for birdie, after pulling an easy eight iron approach.  Carl and I were even again.  

Carl then birdied twelve, after I missed a fairly easy eight footer for birdie, and the see-saw battle continued.  Thirteen is a short par five, with a tricky tee shot that has to negotiate a pond on your right, and trees and thick rough on your left.  Carl, electing to play smart, chose an iron to lay it back short of the pond.  He shanked it into the thick rough and had to take an unplayable, eventually making a seven to my par.  He was rattled and never really recovered.  

I managed a couple more birdies coming in for 71.  I had beaten Old Man Par, which happens less often every year.  Carl made a double on the par 3 eighteenth, half shanking a six iron out of bounds, for 78.  Billy, despite a double on seventeen, shot 80, which, the way things have been going this year, was a pretty good result.  

I told Billy that he had played really well, and talked about what a shame it was that he had taken four from the edge of the green on seventeen to make double. I figured he could easily have, and probably should have, broken 80.

"Oh well, " Billy said, "It is what it is."

Ain't that just the truth.


Sunday, 26 July 2015

I Think I've Got an Attitude Problem

I've been focussing lately on my putting.  I have come realize, after an honest appraisal of my game, that I'm never going to improve unless I become a better, more consistent, putter.  But, it seems, when it comes to putting, I've got an attitude problem.

In his book Bobby Jones on Golf, Bobby addressed the all-important subject of attitude when it comes to putting.  He wrote:

"Someone told me a story about an experienced professional who regained his putting confidence by rather drastic measures in the middle of a round.  Playing well otherwise, he suddenly lost all ability to hole a short putt.  After missing several, he was left, at one hole, with a mean one of about four feet.  This time he walked quickly up to the ball, closed his eyes, and rapped the recalcitrant sphere straight into the middle of the cup.  He holed the next one or two in the normal way and thereafter pursued his way rejoicing.

I should never attempt nor recommend the method employed here, but there can be no question that anxiety and too much care cause most short putts to go astray.  When you see a man obviously trying to guide the short putt, or hitting quickly with a short, stabbing stroke, even though he may hole a few, it will not be long before he meets trouble.  A short putt, even as a long one, must be struck with a smooth, unhurried, and confident stroke.  The best way to accomplish this is to decide upon a line and to determine to hit the ball on that line and let it go hang if it wants to.  I have never had any better advice in golf, from tee to green, than was contained in a telegram sent me by Stewart Maiden in 1919.  It read: 'Hit 'em hard.  They'll land somewhere.'  You must not apply this advice literally to putting, but its application is obvious.  Hit the putt as well as you can and do not allow worry over the outcome to spoil the stroke.

It is worthy of observation that nearly everyone finds it easier to stroke properly putts of twelve to fifteen feet than those from less or greater distances.  There is a very good reason why this should be true.  The player fears he will miss a shorter putt, and fears he may fail to lay a longer one dead, but when he is putting from middle distances, he merely hopes he may hole out, without feeling that he must guide the ball into the hole--and he knows that he will not likely take three putts.

We would all profit greatly if we could cultivate this attitude toward putts of all lengths; it ought to be easy, too, for we all know, or should know by this time, that worry does very little good.  If we must be wrong, we may as well make our mistakes gracefully by choosing the wrong line as by allowing a nervous, overcareful stroke to pull the ball off direction."

Bobby went on to talk about putting as a kid in the moonlight with his friend and how they actually putted better when holing out on the putts up to eight or ten feet.  He concluded:

"There must be something learned from that moonlight putting.  I believe it to be this--the men who putt well on greens good and bad must have schooled themselves to see a putting green as we used to see it in the moonlight.  Let me say here that I do not believe any man can be so accurate in striking a golf ball, or so uncannily precise in his judgement of speed, borrow, roll, and all the other things that go to make a perfect putt, that he can propel a golf ball over ten yards of uneven turf with such unerring certainty that it will find a spot the size of the hole.  There are so many factors to be taken into account that the skill required is simply beyond me.

I wonder how many putts that are holed follow exactly the path laid out for them in the player's mind.  I should say that as many of those that go down deviate from that path as follow it.  It appears to me that the good putter is simply the man who can keep coming close--who gets more times within one-foot radius--and that such a man holes more putts because of the greater number that come close, a greater number more likely will go in.

Working on this idea, it must appear that we should concern ourselves mainly with the more general contours of a slope rather than to try to account for every little hop or roll the ball is likely to take.  This does not mean that we should be taking a haphazard shot at the hole, but only that we should determine upon a line upon which we want the ball to start and hit firmly upon that line.

Worrying about rough spots in the green has no effect except to make the stroke indecisive, and I believe that bad putting is due more to the effect the green has upon the player than to that it has upon the action of the ball."

Reading this again, I was reminded of when I started golf as a youngster.  A buddy and I would ride our bikes out to the course in the morning and often still be on the putting green at dark, putting for dimes, after we'd gone round and round the nine hole course.  We could putt like demons in the growing dusk or dark; or at least we thought we could.  We had a great attitude in those days.  We tried to make every putt, rather than trying not to miss them.

Somewhere along the way, I got worried and careful with my putting.  I developed a bad attitude.  I need to get back to putting like that kid in the moonlight.

It Ain't the Fiddle

Putting is the one part of the game that continues to mystify me.  How I can go out one day and make just about everything in the "makeable" range, only to go out the next day and be lost?  I've experimented over the years with virtually every kind of putter on the market, including the belly putter.  

I've tried every kind of grip, and stance.  I've putted looking at top of the ball, the back of the ball, the hole; I've even putted with my eyes closed.  I've tried the rap stroke, the pendulum stroke, putting with my left hand low, putting with my right hand only, the saw grip; you name it, and I've tried it.  And still, I find myself wondering why my putting is so inconsistent.  The only thing consistent about my putting is its inconsistency.

In part, I suppose I've provided a good part of the answer to my putting woes in what I've already stated.  How can you putt consistently if you change your method and your equipment on a regular basis?  Talking about choosing a putter, and speaking to characters like me, Bobby Jones, who was by all accounts a pretty good putter, wrote:

"Nine times out of ten, a change from one type of putter to another will effect no lasting good.  The new one may work better at first or on occasions, but consistency would be better served sticking to the old one and making friends with it.  It is, of course, up to the individual to choose the kind of putter he wants.  The design makes little difference so long as the balance is good, the club is easily handled, and the face is true."

I did a quick count of the putters I currently have within easy reach, and found, over and above the ones that have come and gone, I still have nineteen putters.  On any given day, probably every one of them might work just fine.  And yet, most of them are collecting dust, just in case I decide to call them off the bench in desperation.  I have been pretty much resolved lately to stick with my old faithful, a Bullseye I found in a bin and bought years ago for five dollars.  It has been my best putter, or should I say, I seem to have putted my best with it.  But while I call it my old faithful, I haven't been all that faithful to it.  As recently as yesterday, I left it in the trunk and tried a PING instead.  I putted horribly.

Bobby Jones stuck with his Calamity Jane.  Ben Crenshaw stuck with Little Ben.  They were faithful to their putters, and, by all accounts, those putters were faithful right back.  By sticking to their fiddle, they really demonstrated their trust in the simple fact that, at the end of the day, you can buy all the putters you want, because it ain't the fiddle, it's the fiddler.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

The Grumbler on Marking Your Ball

Sometimes we can get into some bad habits that can get us in trouble.  Carl the Grumbler has developed one that I finally felt compelled to mention the other day.

We were playing the tenth hole, which is about 414 yards, with a pond in front of the green that makes life difficult if you don't hit a good drive.  The best approach, unless you fade your drive, is to carry a stand of cedars that curve into the right half of the fairway.  The wind was in our face and Carl and I both caught one of the end cedar trees and had to lay up.  We both laid up to about ninety yards.  I went first, choosing a sand wedge which came up about thirty feet short of the back pin.  I had thought it wasn't the right club, but  went ahead and hit it anyway, even though that little voice had been telling me to skip a low pitching wedge back to the pin; it was another damned anyway shot.

Carl half chunked a nine iron, just clearing the pond and rolling to about five feet.  Carl has a way of doing that kind of thing.  I called him a phoney so and so, and Carl asserted that there was nothing phoney about it, he was playing that shot.  What really cheesed me off was that he really was, even if he had chunked it.  I was still mad at myself for playing an anyway shot.

I putted up just short of the hole and tapped in for bogey.  Carl made his par, adding a fist pump, and a big shit-eating grin, because he knew he'd got into my kitchen again. It was then that I elected to point out something he'd been doing that I knew could bite him in the ass in competition sometime.

Carl had somehow got into the habit of being careless about replacing his ball after he marked it on the greens.  He regularly replaces the ball about half to three quarters of an inch in front of the marker.  I told him that he could be called on this, because, after marking the ball, you must replace it exactly where it was before marking it.

Carl shrugged, saying he hadn't realized he'd been doing this.  I assured him that I didn't think he was intentionally trying to cheat.  I added that it was only a half an inch, so it wasn't that big a deal.

Carl said, "Maybe not in golf, but it could be if we were talking about sex."

That's men for you.  

The Anyway Shot

We all hit bad shots.  It's the nature of the game, hitting a ball to what is hopefully a clearly defined target, with tools poorly designed for that purpose--just kidding--will result in misses, sometimes big misses.  

Bobby Jones was the best player of his generation, if not all time.  He was confident that, when he was playing well, in any given round he would hit no more than six shots, other than putts, exactly the way he planned to.  The rest were usually quite serviceable, Bobby's misses generally being better than anything the average duffer might hope for.  In golf it's all relative.  The shot that slightly annoys a top player, might very well delight the duffer.

Since we are going to miss shots, it is important to accept that fact and not get too irate, or discouraged, if we happen to miss a few more than usual occasionally.  We're human, and golf is a hard game.  Where we should get annoyed is when we miss shots, not because of a physical mistake, but because we made a silly mental error.

The worst ones are the "anyway shots."  I'm not sure where I first heard the expression, but it is an apt description of the one miss that should really cheese us off, because it's a miss that could have been easily avoided.  The anyway shot is the one you hit when that little voice is telling you something is wrong, but you hit it anyway.  Sometimes, you just feel uncomfortable standing over the ball; that you're not aligned correctly, or that you're standing too close or too far from the ball; or maybe you are pretty sure you have the wrong club, but you hit it anyway.  The result is seldom good.

I'm a fairly quick player.  Once I've decided on the shot I want to hit, I tend to prefer to get on with it reasonably quickly.  I don't generally take a practice swing, and usually a couple of looks, a waggle or two, and I'm hitting it.  I prefer, if I'm going to miss it, that I miss it quick.  I think my playing partners probably prefer it that way as well.  I think most people will play better if they play reasonably quickly.  Taking more time than is absolutely necessary just allows time for doubt to creep in and annoys your playing partners.

But there is a time to stop, regroup, and take a little more time.  That is when you are not comfortable, and that little voice is warning you that something isn't quite right.  That little voice is like our golfing conscience.  We all have one, provided we are not complete dullards, or absolute sociopaths.  Our conscience hopefully becomes better trained the longer we play, so it's wise to listen to it.

We need to resolve never to be that person who hits a stinker, and then announces, "I knew I wasn't set up properly, but I hit it anyway."  It isn't really a good excuse for missing it.  In fact, it's a terrible excuse.  Those anyway shots are killers.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

The Golf Widow

My long-suffering wife is a golf widow, a term that my father used, but was probably coined by someone in the distant past who recognized the phenomenon.  She is really quite good about the fact that she has lost her husband, at least much of the time, to golf.  She actually doesn't seem to mind it all that much, preferring, I suppose, a husband who spends much of his waking hours either playing, thinking about, or, since I've started blogging, writing about golf, to a husband who chases younger women, drinks, or gambles.

Not that I don't drink.  I like a couple of beers, especially hoppy ones, and I occasionally gamble, but only on the golf course, and never for more than I can readily afford to lose.  And, fortunately, I don't have a hankering for younger women.  I figure I've got enough trouble in my life already, and why would a younger woman be interested in an old goat like me anyway?

When we got together, it not being my first rodeo, or Kathryn's for that matter, we were honest with each other.  I told her I was a golfer, and that I always would be.  This she readily accepted, probably because she really didn't comprehend just what this meant.  I also told her that, given I was now an only child, my sister having died in a car crash, I would be looking after my parents when they needed looking after.  This she accepted, again not knowing what that might entail either.

Kathryn had only one rule; actually two rules.  She would not share, and she would love me faithfully as long as I was nice to her.  I could live with both those conditions, given that I had no intention of seeking any other female comfort, and I always figure it's better to be nice anyway.

So, Kathryn accepts her widowhood, finding ways to occupy her time while I'm either playing, thinking, or writing about golf.  She even walks the course with me, taking pictures and finding me previously-enjoyed, but obviously poorly behaved, golf balls.  She helps me find deals on places to travel and play, and she feigns interest, if and when I bend her ear about my trials and tribulations on the course.  What more could a man ask for?  

Well, maybe one thing.  I wish she'd make her lasagna more often.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Bobby Jones on Golf: Spotting the Line

I think there is a tendency to think that golf is a different game from the game played by Bobby Jones in the 1920's.  The reality is, the only thing that's changed is the equipment and the condition of the golf courses.  Because of improved technology, the game is easier; we may be hitting the ball a bit farther, and a bit straighter, and we may do a little better on improved greens.  But the game, and the challenge it presents, namely of knocking a ball into a hole that tends to be too small, with implements singularly ill-designed for that purpose, has changed not a bit.  

It's because golf is still the same game that I tend to spend so much time reading Bobby Jones' teaching.  It's as relevant today as it was when it was written.  The implements in golf may have changed, but the nature of the creature wielding them certainly hasn't.  And Bobby Jones understood golf, and golfers, as well as anyone ever has, or likely ever will.  

The Open at St Andrews should have once again reinforced the fact that golf will always be a game that is more about precision than power.  If you have to choose between being a long driver and a good putter, the choice becomes obvious when we remember who took home the Claret Jug this year on a course that was touted by some as a bomber's paradise.  

That's why I've gone back to reading Bobby Jones' advice on the subject of putting.  I have days, like today, when putting seems easy.  But generally, I feel like the most inadequate character I know with a putter in my hand.  I know much of that is attitude, but I also feel as though I still have much to learn, or remind myself, when it comes to putting.  In Bobby Jones on Golf, Bobby had this to say on the subject, under the heading Spotting the Line:

"Certainly, I lay no claim to having reduced the art of putting to anything approaching a science in which there is no variation from day to day, but I found my average performance on the putting green to be greatly improved by following a few principles, none of which has to do with form or the details of the stroke.  The first one is to resist the inclination to look up to the hole while in the act of striking the ball, an inclination that becomes stronger when one's putting becomes uncertain.  Other players have devised for themselves ways of guarding against this tendency.  It makes little difference how long the head is kept down so long as one makes certain that the ball has actually been struck before the eye leaves it.

Absolute concentration upon the ball is materially aided by substituting for the objective of the putt, instead of the hole itself, a spot on the green somewhere along the intended line.  For a putt of six to ten or twelve feet--of the length one would normally at least hope to hole--the spot selected should be about half way to the hole; for a putt of more than this length, the spot should be no more than fifteen feet from the ball.  It should then be the player's aim to strike the ball so that it will roll directly over this spot, and he should forget the hole entirely except insofar as his mental picture of the length of the putt will affect the force of his blow.  In order to become more consistent, the player should make up his mind to concentrate every effort upon striking the ball truly.  If he succeeds here, he cannot go far wrong.

Many good putters will declare that they putt well because they follow through straight toward the hole.  Whether or not the follow-through is a virtue, it certainly cannot be a prime cause, for when it takes place, the ball has started on its way.  I have never been a believer in a fixed putting style.  It has always been my idea that more attention should be given to gauging the effect of a slope, and to estimating the speed of a green--in other words, to training the eye--than to the mechanical perfection of the stroke.  It is evident that no matter how accurately the ball may be struck, it must be started on the right line and at the right speed.

As an indication that the line is the important thing, I can truthfully say that I have holed very few putts when I could not see definitely the path the ball should follow into the hole.  Sometimes this line seemed to be as clearly defined as if someone had marked it out with white paint; I cannot remember failing to at least hit the hole when I have been able to see the line this clearly.

There is one thing a golfer should always remember and always practise.  In any round there are always numbers of times when the proper line to the hole is obscure; if it were always visible, we should miss few putts.  But it is always a good practice, when the correct line cannot be determined, to borrow generously from any slope and to attempt to cause the ball to pass a tiny bit above the hole. If the ball remains above the hole, there is always a chance that it will fall into the upper side, and it is certain that it will at any rate not stop far away.  But once a putt begins to roll below the hole, every inch it travels takes it farther from that precious cup.

The art of appraising slope and speed--that is, of reading a green--can be derived only from experience.  The player who sees only the greens on his home course is at some disadvantage because he comes to know these in spite of himself.  In order to broaden his experience, he should play other courses as often as possible."

So, from this short segment from Bobby Jones we get the idea of spot putting, trying to miss on the high side when the correct line isn't obvious, and not looking up at the hole until after the ball is struck. These principles have been, and are still followed by the best putters in the game.  

Unfortunately for me, spot putting has not worked very well because I seem to seldom be able to see the exact line a putt will take to the hole.  This may be because I am not a visual person.  I seem to be more feel oriented, tending to feel the break with my feet, rather than seeing it. I have also taken to looking at the hole when I putt, which stops my head and eyes from moving in an effort to follow the putter head, or to see where the ball is going. But, for those who are more visual, and able to visualize the line, you would be well advised to follow Bobby's advice about rolling the ball over a spot on the intended line, rather than worrying about the hole.  It worked for him, and was adopted by, among other top players, Jack Nicklaus. 

I intend to continue sharing Bobby Jones' teaching, because, in my opinion, many have copied it, but no one has managed to improve upon it.  Whenever I read modern instruction, except perhaps as it relates to swing mechanics, I am constantly reminded that Bobby not only said it first, he also said it better.  He was, and still is, as that young St Andrews caddie once exclaimed, a wonder. 

Monday, 20 July 2015

A Historic Open

This week we had high hopes of seeing a historic Open at the grandest stage in golf.  It certainly looked, when the day began, that this was exactly what we were going to get. 

We had Jordan Spieth trying for the first three Majors in a row, not accomplished since Ben Hogan in 1953.  We had a young Irish amateur, Paul Dunne, trying to be the first amateur to win the Claret Jug since Bobby Jones did it in 1927, entering the final round tied for the lead with Louis Oosthuizen, who was looking to make a little history for himself by winning back to back Opens at the Old Course.

While the young amateur quickly exited the stage, with shaky bogeys on the first two holes, Spieth and Louis kept us guessing until the last hole; Jordan in regulation, when he barely missed a desperate attempt to make birdie from the Valley of Sin to join the playoff; and Louis by missing a  very makeable putt for birdie to extend the playoff with Zach Johnson.

It probably wasn't the result anyone was hoping for, unless they were in the Johnson camp.  Zach Johnson is a worthy champion.  He's a tough competitor, hard worker, and great wedge player and putter.  But, even Zach had to admit that he hates to see tournaments that are won because of putts missed, rather than putts made.  That is exactly what we got.  We had the excitement of a great putt made by Zach on eighteen in regulation.  Other than that, we will remember the putts missed by Louis and Jordan.

Congratulations to Zach Johnson.  He broke some hearts, dashed some dreams, and made a little history himself, now having won golf's two greatest prizes on golf's two greatest stages.  It doesn't get any better than that. 

Dare We Dream?

This could be a magical day.  There are so many things that could happen at the Open today.  It isn't like the days when Tiger dominated, and there was a certain inevitability to his winning.  He would secure the lead after three rounds and then grind out a win, the challengers, if any showed up, falling away one by one.  Then, along came a relatively unknown character named Yang, and there have been no more foregone conclusions for us to make.

Phil has had a pretty good run as well, with his Masters victories, finally an Open and a PGA championship, or is it two?  I can't recall, because, for me the PGA has never really felt like a Major, at least not the way the others do. I never seem to get really excited about it.  In fact, for me it's the Open and the Masters that are the big ones.  Not being American, the U.S. Open isn't quite so special, I suppose.  But, it's got history, and esteem, and every great player wants to win one. The same can be said for the PGA championship, I guess, but it has just never seemed to get me where I live.  Has any kid ever stood over a putt on a practice green and said to himself, "This one is to win the PGA championship?"  It's always the other three.  I don't know why.

But only one Major entitles you to be called the champion golfer of the year.  Today, we will learn who that is.  I have to admit that I've hoped to see Spieth win.  I picked either him or DJ to win this week, but also had this feeling that either Oosthuizen or Branden Grace might take it.  King Louis is right there, tied for the lead, and a win would be wonderful for this meek, unassuming character with perhaps the sweetest swing in the game.  Two Open wins at St Andrews would put him in some very select company.  It would be historic.

Spieth, completing the third leg of the Grand Slam, would be historic, and remove all doubt, if there still is any, that we are looking at a great of the game, and the dawning of a new era in golf.  The scary thing is, I think he's going to do it.  Did I just say that?  I just don't want to jinx the kid.  I daren't think it, I daren't let people know I actually believe it.  A year ago, would any of us have dreamt we'd be looking at anyone, other than a revived Tiger Woods, or Rory McIlroy, with a chance to win the first three Majors of the year?  I just hope he can do it.  I really do.

And then, there's this Irish kid, Dunne, ranked 80th in the world.  Sorry, not 80th in the world, he's 80th in the world amateur ranks, and he's leading the Open after 54 holes.  Am I dreaming?  Could this kid actually win the Open?  I must admit, I seriously doubt it, but we can dream. 

I love what I've heard from Louis, Jordan, and Dunne in their post game interviews.  They all look like they actually believe they can win, and it's what they believe that's most important.  Spieth is making no bones about it, he's going out there today to win.  Dunne admits he will just be hoping to make contact with the ball when he stands over his first tee shot, but he's going to pick a score to shoot for and go after it, because the ball doesn't know who's hitting it.  It's true, but really?  As for Louis, he just loves the place and he knows he can win there.

There is a possibility that, someday, they could be making a movie about this week.  It could be historic.  It could be magical.  Dare I dream?  

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Short Putts

Putting was once again a big part of the story at the Open this year.  It usually is.  In fact, this year's Open may be remembered as much for the number of makeable putts that were missed, as it will be for long putts made.  That is a bit of a shame, but that's golf.  That should also in no way deter from Zach Johnson's victory.  He went out there and won it, and he deserves all the credit in the world.

Putting can drive you nuts.  I've had times when I could have happily quit the game, I was so disgusted and demoralized by my poor putting, especially on the short putts.  I've never been officially "diagnosed" with the yips, but I've been afflicted with nerves bad enough that the shortest of putts have sometimes looked impossible to make, and often were.  I still occasionally have that little internal flinch, that momentary queasy feeling, when I hit one stiff for a birdie, or chip one close to save par, because experience has taught me that they're almost all missable, and I hate to miss putts I know I really should make.  I often think I'd rather have a six footer for birdie than a three footer.  Doesn't make a lick of sense, I know, but I also know from bitter experience that missing a three footer feels much worse than missing a six footer.  That's just how messed up I still am.  

I am putting much better now, having found that putting looking at the hole is very helpful for someone in my condition.  It was Bob Rotella, not Jordan Spieth, that turned me on to looking at the hole, and I'd recommend it to anyone.  I suspect Jordan Spieth's success using that method on his short putts will have everybody trying it, although Jordan would likely admit that his putting let him down this week. 

I couldn't help but notice that Spieth doesn't look at the hole on all his short putts.  I have to wonder whether he wouldn't do better to always do it, rather than changing it up depending on how he's feeling.  I also observed that Louis Oosthuizen got himself in the hunt at the Open, putting exceptionally well on Sunday, looking at the hole.  But, he went back to looking at the ball in the final round, missing some key putts down the stretch.  I think, once the round is underway you have to pick your poison and stick with it in golf.  You've already got more than enough to worry about when standing over a putt, with speed, and line, and sometimes grain, without trying to decide whether or not to look at the hole as well.

They say only good players get the yips.  However, whoever they are, they might have been afflicted themselves and were just trying to make themselves feel better.  It is true, however, that the yips tend to afflict better players.  A friend of mine, who once won four club championships in five years, is now so rattled by short putts that he can barely imagine making a putt from more than a few inches away when it counts.  I met him the other day after he'd played and lost another match against a fellow who, although good company and a pretty fair player, couldn't have hoped to have beaten him before he succumbed to the yips.

We had a beer and he recounted the numerous missed putts that resulted in him losing, including a four putt from twelve feet when he had been just hoping for a two putt to win the hole.  He says that the damnedest thing is, when he practises, he putts fine.  But, just have the putts count for something and watch him start to twitch and jerk.  He literally looks like he's being zapped with electricity as he strikes the short ones.  He'll often have a three footer for par, and find himself looking at a six footer coming back for bogey.  He's a desperate man.  He'd probably quit if he didn't love the game so much.  I have suggested, as a fellow, though not nearly as chronic, sufferer, that he might try looking at the hole when he putts.  He is reluctant to do it, but I've suggested that he really hasn't got much to lose at this point.  He can't putt any worse, and perhaps there is some comfort in that, though I doubt it.  There's no way but up, I suppose, once you've hit rock bottom.

I don't know whether Bobby Jones ever got the yips, but he certainly understood the affliction.  In fact, he devoted a chapter of his book Bobby Jones on Golf  to those blasted short putts. Among other things, he wrote:

"To miss a putt of a yard length seems the most useless thing in the world... The mental attitude in which we approach a short putt has a lot to do with our success.  When we walk up to a putt of ten or fifteen feet, we are usually intent upon holing it; we know we shan't feel badly if we miss, so our entire attention is devoted to the problem of getting the ball into the hole.  But it is quite different when the putt is only a yard long.  Then we know that we ought to hole it easily, and yet we cannot fail to recognize the possibility of a miss.  Instead of being determined to put the ball into the hole, we become consumed with the fear of failing to do so.  Our determination, if we may call it such, is negative.  We are trying not to miss the putt rather than to hole it.

A good many short putts are missed because of rank carelessness; the thing looks so simple that it is hard to view it seriously.  Yet it will be observed that comparatively few very short putts are missed in the course of a friendly informal round.  This would argue that tension and anxiety cause more misses than lack of care, and we might be convinced of this were it not for the diabolical perversity every golfer knows to be inherent in a golf ball.  A casual tap with the back of the putter is enough to hole any short putt when no one cares whether it goes in or not, but once large issues are placed upon the result, two hands and a world of pains are required to steer the ball into the hole.

There is nothing so demoralizing as missing a short putt.  Many times I have seen a man's entire game, from tee to green, destroyed in the course of a few holes as a result of one little putt.  One missed, the next one looks doubly hard; that cast away, too, then the approach putts begin to stop at all distances from the cup, applying the pressure with ever greater force, soon putting becomes impossible, and the player begins to force his long game, trying to place his second shots so close to the hole that he will have to do little putting.  A rapid progression through these stages before long can result in utter rout.

I do not need to recount the matches in important championships that have been turned by the missing of a tiny putt.  Every man who has played golf knows how quickly the tide may turn on such a thing; for the miss not only destroys the player's confidence, it also inspires his opponent.

Long ago I learned that no putt is short enough to take for granted.  I have long since recognized the folly of one-handed, backhanded, and all other kinds of disgusted efforts.  When it mattered at all whether or not the next stroke went in, no matter how short the putt might have been, it received from me as close attention as I was able to give.  I always took a stance and address, even when the ball was lying on the very edge of the hole.

I shall never forget my feeling as I prepared to hole my last putt at Scioto, in Columbus, Ohio, to win the United States Open in 1926.  The thing could not have been over three inches in length.  Yet, as I stepped up to tap it in, the wildest thought struck me.  'What if I should stub my putter into the turf and  fail to move the ball?'  I very carefully addressed the putt with my putter blade off the turf and half-topped the ball into the hole.  Sounds a bit psycho, doesn't it?  But golfers can get that way."

So, in view of what Bobby Jones said, I guess we shouldn't feel too bad if we suddenly find ourselves trembling over a short putt.  It just means we care, and we know, if we aren't careful, we just might miss the damned thing.  I must admit, I'll probably always tremble, at least a little, at the three footers.  I doubt it ever really goes away completely.  In fact, I think they should put on my tombstone, "He never saw a short putt he really liked."

I Don't Want to be Critical, But...

I don't want to be critical--have you noticed when people start a sentence with I don't want to do something, that's exactly what they're going to do?--but this Oberholser character on the Golfchannel really cheeses me off.

Did you listen to him last night, pontificating about how Dustin Johnson was driving it so well he was going to run away with the Open?  This is the same guy who asserted that Jordan Spieth could never dominate the game because he wasn't long enough.  

Does this guy know anything about the game?  He played on the tour, didn't he?  I can't believe this guy gets paid to spout the sort of nonsense he spouts.  

I had high hopes for DJ.  In fact, I wrote a blog about him a few months ago, calling him a man on a mission, in which I suggested he was looking really good since his return, and that he just might start winning Majors.  I haven't changed my mind.  But DJ won't get a Major just because he hits it longer and straighter than everyone else.  That is only one third of the game.

He has to also wedge it, and putt it well enough to win.  His wedge game is much improved, but the putter is still the unknown quantity.   When he's putting well, he's a force to be reckoned with.  But, his putter comes and goes. 

He's also got some scar tissue from his near misses in the Majors, including Chambers Bay.  I am a fan.  I hope he breaks through and gets a Major.  I hope he gets several of them.  But, with the luck he's had, the first one won't come easy.  If he's human, he'll be coming down the stretch trying not to worry about disaster striking again.  But, I'm almost certain, if he keeps putting himself there, he'll break through.  He's phenomenally talented.

Perhaps, coming from behind will actually help him tomorrow.  He'll be chasing instead of protecting, and it might just free up his putting stroke.  I wish him luck.

As for Oberholser, someone needs to explain to him why they say, "Drive for show, and putt for dough."

Nice Guys Don't Finish Last

Golf is in such a good place.  I'm so excited to see the number of players, who are so likeable, and such gentlemen, taking centre stage.  It reminds me of the days of Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus.  They played their hearts out, but never forgot to be gentlemen.  They respected each other and, while wanting to win, wanted the other player to play his best as well.

My heart was warmed see Louis Oosthuizen smiling and rooting on young Mr. Dunne as he finished his round, almost unbelievably, tied for the lead in the Open after three rounds.  And, don't kid yourself, Louis still has designs on taking home the Claret Jug for the second time.  But, still in the thick of it, he was even adding a little body English to try to help Dunne's putt go in on the road hole.

It was great to see Spieth and Garcia enjoying their round together and rooting one another on, while playing for golf's greatest prize on golf's grandest stage.  It appears the future of golf is in great hands.

Mr. Spieth, You're a Wonder

There are three things we could use less of in this life; politicians, lawyers, and weathermen.  Can you believe the golf today at the Open?  If we believed the forecasts, we would have expected lousy weather.

It's too bad we couldn't have had thirty six holes today.  It would have been a shootout.  Now, like a kid at Christmas, I'm going to have to wait until tomorrow.  I'll bet the R&A might have been persuaded to give us thirty six holes today if they'd have known the weather would have cooperated.  

The boys are lighting it up.  And what a great cast; even Paddy Harrington and that Irish amateur, Paul Dunne.  I forecasted DJ or Spieth at the beginning of the week, but suspected Oosthuizen or Branden Grace might steal the jug.  So far, Spieth and Louis are looking great.  DJ, not so much.

Spieth just tied the lead with Dunne.  Mr. Spieth, you're a wonder.  That's what Bobby Jones' caddie once said to him at The Old Course.  If Jordan keeps it up, forget about comparing him to Tiger, we'll be talking Bobby Jones.

Fifty Shades of Grey

It appears, watching the Open, that Grey is the new black on tour.  Orange has taken a back seat to a more muted approach to golf attire by the world's best players.

My father told me that, if I couldn't be good, I should at least be colourful, and I have religiously followed that advice.  My closet is full of trousers, sweaters, and shirts in a variety of shades of pink, purple, lime green and orange.  It looks like I'd better consider a change in view of what the real golfers seem to be wearing this week.

I must say it's nice to see grey trousers now in style, instead of the white ones that have been de rigueur of late.  I'm much too prosperous to wear white trousers, tending to look more like Monty than DJ these days.  Large-arsed men tend to look silly in white trousers.  Besides, white trousers would soon look like John Daly's loudmouth pants if I were to wear them, with my penchant for spilling coffee, catsup and mustard on anything I choose to wear.

Grey also tends to go well with just about anything.  Grey and beige doesn't really work, but my wife tells me beige just washes me out anyway,  So, not wanting to be "washed out," I never wear it.  I must say I still favour those nice pink sweaters, like the ones Louis and Matsuyama were wearing, and lime green trousers (did you see the nice ones Lahiri is wearing today?) that really get you noticed.  They can see me coming from miles away in my golfing duds.  Those bright colours are also handy if you tend to find yourself in the woods, especially during hunting season.

So, perhaps we golf lovers will have to follow suit and start wearing grey.  Any of the fifty shades will "do rightly," as my old Irish grandmother would say.  Orange is passé.  Even Rickie wears orange only sparingly these days.  Grey is definitely the new black.