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Friday, 31 July 2015

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."