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Sunday, 30 August 2015

Carl the Grumbler Shoots his Age

I like to tease Carl about being "the Grumbler," but he can still play pretty good golf for an old budgie.  I had a message from Billy and it seems Carl shot 71 the other day while I was away playing somewhere else.  Carl is 72 years young, so he actually didn't just shoot his age, he bettered it.

I know Carl has shot 72 at least once this year as well, but I think this is his first under par, and under-his-age, score of the year.  Bill told me that I'd better get my game together, and I'd better get back out playing with them right away, because he didn't want to hear Carl tell him, blow-by-blow, how he shot 71 again.

I phoned Carl to congratulate him, and he told me the round could have been a lot better since he actually missed three or four short putts.  I guess the glass is still half empty for the Grumbler.  Actually, he was very happy to have "brought it in" this time because he knew he was close.

Carl admits that he tends to be too aware of what he's shooting and often makes some bogeys coming down the stretch to cool off his hot rounds.  He may be a grumbler sometimes, but Carlos can still play some golf.  He swings like he's falling off a ladder, but he can chip and putt with the best of them, even if he can't help thinking about the putts that got away.   

Bill's right; I'd better up my game if I don't want to have Carl taking any more of my money than he already does.  Congrats, Carlos.

Against the Wind

Wind is a big part of the game.  In fact, for the famous links courses in the British Isles, and particularly the Old Course, the wind is the main source of protection against the top pros going real low.  The wind also adds interest to a golf course that you may play regularly, because a strong wind, or a different wind, changes the way each hole plays.

While cross winds are probably the most difficult winds to play, the average golfer tends to get in trouble playing against the wind.  Bobby Jones, as always, provided some excellent insight into playing against the wind in his book Bobby Jones on Golf.  I know, as I get older, I find myself wondering whether I'm not always playing against the wind. Some days it seems every hole is into the wind for me.

Bobby Jones wrote:

There is probably no shot in the game that bothers the average golfer so much as any shot into a head wind, where distance is of importance.  Of all the hazards likely to be encountered on a golf course, wind is the most formidible for nine-tenths of those who play the game, because of its disturbing effect upon the mind.  It is simply impossible, and understandably so, for an inexperienced player to maintain his mental equilibrium in the face of a strong wind.

Two things are most natural to do in this situation; one, to press the shot in order to make up the distance the wind takes away; the other to try to hit the ball low so that it will escape the effect of the wind.  The first of these, pressing, is, of course, fatal; the second is all right for the expert, but usually bad for the ordinary player, because he does not know how to accomplish his aim.

Now let's just stop and look at the thing for a moment.  There is no way for me or anyone else to tell a man how he can hit a golf ball as far against the wind as he can with it, or in calm air; it simply cannot be done; so let's not consider this as a possibility.  If we suppose that a certain player, at his ultimate, can reach a four-hundred-yard hole in two shots when there is no wind, then if the wind against takes ten yards off each shot, his limit will be reduced to 380 yards, and the four-hundred-yard hole will be beyond his reach.  Most likely, if the hole actually measured twenty yards more than his limit, in calm air, he would not worry about reaching it; then let him regard the wind as adding just so many yards to the hole.

I prefer to regard the wind hazard in just this way--to treat it as part of the golf course--and to direct my efforts toward doing the best I can with respect to it.  The main thing I think about is holding the ball on line.  I try to get as much distance as I possibly can, with safety, but I never try to do more than I can.  Direction is always of the first importance, and since an opposing wind magnifies errors in striking, it allows fewer liberties than could be taken at other times."

Bobby goes on to advise us, as the saying goes, to swing easy when it's breezy.  He writes:

"I think the best advice, when hitting a shot into a breeze, is to take things even a bit more quietly than usual, the very opposite of pressing.  Primarily, of course, the reason for this is to give better direction, but it will also be found, surprisingly perhaps, that in this way the actual loss of distance will be lessened."

Bobby goes on to advise against efforts to hit the ball down, or punch it, when playing into the wind, explaining that these efforts, at least when made by the average player, more often than not result in a shot that may start low, but tends to baloon up into the wind because of the added spin. He noted that what we really want is a shot that bores into the wind and keeps going forward when it lands. When talking about that shot, he tells us:

"This sort of flight is not accomplished by hitting the ball down.  The best stroke is one that takes the ball almost squarely in the back, while the club head is moving just about parallel to the ground; it applies only a very little backspin to the ball; and the more it can be made a sweep, instead of a sharp hit, the better."

This is great advice for the average player for every shot, not just for into the wind.  I was interested to learn that Tom Watson, who knew a little something about playing in the wind, to which his five Open Championships attest, didn't bother with changing his swing, or altering his trajectory, when playing in the wind.  He simply took more club where required to do so and made his normal swing.  That would seem to be a great idea to follow.  Why try something fancy, when taking one or two more clubs and making your normal swing will suffice?  Golf is difficult enough without complicating things, or trying to get fancy.

I like playing in the wind.  As the Scots are quick to point out, nae wind, nae golf.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Playing Your Own Ball

I was playing a match the other day against Steve and Spiro, where I was playing their best ball.  We have a lot of fun with these matches, that include lots of good-natured teasing and trash talk.

I had about a ten footer for par on one hole and knocked it in.  Steve and Spiro had shorter par putts, but they were both longer than six feet.  I said to Steve, after making my putt, "That just made yours a little longer, Steve my son."

Steve stood over his eight footer and knocked it right in the center of the cup.  Steve looked at me and smiled, saying, "I play my ball, not yours."  Spiro then calmly made his putt for par as well.

This reminded me of the great quote from Bobby Jones, who said, "The golfer very soon is made to realize that his most immediate, and perhaps most potent, adversary is himself.  Even when confronting a human opponent, the most crucial factor is not the performance of the opposition, but the effect of this performance upon the player himself."

I thought I might have been able to rattle Steve by holing that ten footer, when he probably expected me to miss.  But, as Steve aptly pointed out, it wasn't an issue to him because he was playing his own ball.  What happened with my ball was of no account to him.  

It's easy to say that you are just playing your own ball--not being affected by your opponent's play--but it's not as easy to do.  Good on ya, Steve.

Playing From the "Long Shit"

Jeff and I made the hour and a half drive from Picton to Bellemere Winds, a lovely course that looks over Rice Lake near Keene, Ontario.  We were paired up with two lovely and charming young women, Laura and Cindy, who kindly invited us to accompany them.

Every round of golf is a new adventure, and today was no exception.  My first tee shot found the fescue and it served as an accurate foreboding of just what sort of day it was going to be. On the first hole, I heard Laura calmly inform Cindy, who was asking where the ball went, that the ball was, in fact, in the "long shit."  Cindy, of course, had plenty of company, as Laura, Jeff, and yours truly also found ourselves in the "long shit" on the first hole, and more than a few times thereafter.

You are generally able to learn something from every round, if you are paying attention.  Today I learned two things: I shouldn't give up my day job, and this game is much more difficult if you keep hitting it in the "long shit."

As for Bellemere Winds; it's a lovely course, but you would be well advised when playing it to avoid the "long shit."  And, believe me, there's one heckuva lot of the "long shit" to avoid.

Friday, 28 August 2015

To Waggle or Not to Waggle

I played with Steve, Brian, and Tim again today at one of our favourite "away courses," Shelter Valley Pines near Grafton, Ontario.  A fun day was had by all.

Tim is an aspiring comedian who is something to behold on the golf course. His game is somewhat erratic, with the occasional birdie, followed by the inevitable sevens and eights.  We were saying afterwards that some of his antics on the course would be great for his act.  He is a great guy, but he's sometimes awfully hard to watch, particularly if you are having a bad day and just want to get on with it.  

Tim, after finally deciding on a weapon and the shot to play, sets up to the ball with murderous intent.  He takes a few waggles, eyeing up his target, digs himself in like a batter in baseball, and then freezes over the ball, staring it down like it's a venomous snake.  He's a lefty, and likes to set up right next to the tee marker on the left side of the tee box, likely in an effort to accommodate his fade, which is really more of a slice.  After this ritual, he sets his club behind the ball and takes a vicous swing.  It is only after the dust settles that you realize this was, in fact, a practice swing.  Your first thought is, "he missed it!"  The process then repeats itself, this time with the ball being struck.  The results are not very predictable, but his full finish is; even if the shot fails to get past the ladies tee, as it did on several occasions today.  You can pretty much count on Tim holding that finish.  He holds the finish like a champ.

At first, being one who likes to play quickly, I would find myself being faked out by Tim's routine, starting to move to my next shot, only to realize that this first, deliberately vicious, swipe was, in fact, only his practice swing. I've pretty much got it now, but tend to try not to watch this routine as much as possible in case some of it wears off.  If there is a real positive, in discussing Tim's pre-shot routine, it's that his practice swing certainly matches his regular swing.  Both swings are identical, and they are all business.  There's no patty-caking it where Tim is concerned.

This, eventually predictable, pre-shot routine by Tim got me thinking about all the ways in which players set up and prepare to hit the ball.  I must admit that I find it quite fascinating to watch the varied contortions and rituals most players will go through just to hit a ball with a stick.

One thing that was perhaps made popular by Ben Hogan was the waggle.  His book Five Lessons contributed to a generation of wagglers, but he was certainly not the father of the waggle as I discovered by reading Bobby Jones on Golf.  Tim's definitely a waggler.  But, come to think of it, we don't see as many waggles on the PGA tour these days, other than perhaps Jason Dufner.

The question is, therefore, should we waggle?  Is there any virtue in it, or is it simply an affectation that contributes very little to the success of the shot?  Bobby Jones saw some real virtue, not necessarily in the waggle alone, but in staying in motion prior to starting the swing.  In a chapter entitled Staying in Motion, Bobby wrote:

"The function of the waggle and the movement of the body preceding the actual beginning of the backswing is to avoid or destroy tension in the position from which the swing is to make its start.  Smoothness is an essential quality of the correct golf stroke, and since a smooth start cannot be made if the muscles are tense or the posture strained, it is of the utmost importance that the player should be completely relaxed and comfortable as he addresses the ball.  Provided the waggle and the player's manner of falling into his first position accomplish this, it matters little what form the movement takes.  Practice among first-class players varies from one waggle of the club to Sandy Herd's famous seventeen. (I once counted them.)

My own preference is for a manner of addressing the ball that wastes little time.  Having decided upon the club to use and the shot to play before stepping up to the ball, I can see no reason for taking any more time in the address than is necessary to measure one's distance from the ball and to line up the shot.  The more one fiddles around arranging the position, the more likely one is to be beset by doubts that produce tension and strain.

It is far easier to maintain perfect relaxation if one keeps continuously in motion, never becoming still and set.  It sounds farfetched, I know, bit I have have had a few players tell me that after forming the habit of taking great pains in addressing the ball, they reached a point where they simply could not take the club back...

I do not think it wise to prescribe any definite number of waggles. (Bobby wrote that, when he took more than one, he could expect trouble.)  That depends too much upon how long is required for the player to settle into a comfortable position; but it is important to make the movement easy, smooth, and comfortable, and to form the habit of getting the thing done without too much fussing and worry.  In many cases, it will help to determine for awhile to just step up to the ball and hit it."

I don't really think about my pre-shot routine.  I know I always step in from behind the ball, first aiming my club face.  I know I also tend to start every swing with a forward press, but I'm never really conscious of whether I waggle or not.  I don't really think Bobby would recommend some of the deliberately elaborate pre-shot routines we see these days.  Whether we choose to waggle or not, I think he would definitely prefer that everyone, especially amateurs, be resolved just to "miss it quick."  All I can say is, "Amen to that."

In the picture, below, Tim is on the left, Brian is on the right, and I stand, like a rose between two thorns, in the middle of the seventeenth tee at the Sanctuary Club on Cat Island, near Beaufort, South Carolina. 


Thursday, 27 August 2015

Are We Entering Another Golden Era of Golf?

People always like to argue in favour of their favourite player when it comes to discussions about who was the greatest player of all time, and what era produced the best golf.  We all tend, naturally, to be biased in our views in favour of our favourite player, or players.  But, I suspect, only three or four names will generally always be considered in any discussion of who was the greatest player.  As for golf's greatest era, unless you are really long in the tooth, or you are a student of golf history, you tend to go with the era you know best, namely your own.

I suspect most golfers, or golf fans, would have on their list of the greatest players ever in golf's modern era Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods.  I would probably add Byron Nelson to that group, if only because of his unbelievable 11 wins in a row, and 18 wins in one year.  That has to be the greatest golf ever played in a year's span.  Furthermore, I believe the records show that, when playing against Hogan and Snead, Nelson was most often the better man.  

The fact that Jones, Hogan, Nicklaus and Woods were all from different eras, we will never have the luxury of seeing any of them go head to head.  And, in the case of Hogan and Nelson, Hogan rose to dominance only after Nelson took a relatively early retirement.  That, of course, means the debate as to who was the greatest player ever will continue forever.  The argument can never really be settled.

What prompted me to write this was a piece Sam Adams just wrote in the blog, Essentially Golf, which made the point that, regardless of whether we ever see a Tiger resurgence or not, golf's future looks extremely bright.  He also made the point that the golf we have witnessed from Jordan Spieth this year in the Majors, and in particular his dominant performance at the Masters, which tied Tiger's record score on a course that was tougher than the course Tiger played, puts Spieth's season firmly in the running for one of the greatest we've ever witnessed.  From a scoring standpoint it was, in fact, the greatest.

So, we really need to give Spieth and some of these new men some respect.  The numbers tell us that Tiger, even in his prime, would probably not have dominated in today's fields the way he did from '97 to 2008.  He would no doubt have won his fair share, and we would likely still be talking about how great he was, but I'd be willing to bet that Spieth and McIlroy in particular would not have folded like cheap suits the way so many other top players did against Tiger in his prime.

The same argument could be made with respect to Nicklaus' generation when talking about Tiger.  Nicklaus faced fields that might not have been as deep in terms of sheer numbers of good players. But Nicklaus certainly faced more great players while earning his 18 Majors and amassing his astounding record of top threes in the Majors than did Tiger.  Think about who Nicklaus faced.  He faced Palmer, Player, Casper, Johnny Miller, Tom Watson, and Trevino, to name but a few.  Most, if not all, of those men have significantly more impressive resumes than anyone Tiger had to face, other than possibly Mickelson.  Okay, Big Ernie was no slouch, and Vijay was pretty amazing as well, but let's face it, Nicklaus faced some incredibly strong competition in terms of guys who didn't back down from anyone.  And, I didn't even mention Raymond Floyd.  Nicklaus faced some great players who wouldn't, and didn't, blink.  They were hard men.

But then, so did Hogan--who played against Snead, Nelson, Demarat, and many others--face some hard, battle-tested men who were genuinely in the category of great players.  Actually, so did Bobby Jones, who faced Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen, to name but two.  I think, in terms of facing champions, Tiger might have had the easiest run of all the great players in terms of having to deal with two or three world-class champions to stare right back at him at the Majors.

The reality is, however, as time goes on, the fields might get deeper, but like in every generation, the few truly great players find a way to rise to the top of the heap and make a special name for themselves.  And, at the end of the day, when striving to be called a great player, all you can do, and all you should have to do, is beat the guys you play against.  

Tiger was truly great. No one in their right mind would dare suggest otherwise.  But, looking at the golf scene today, in terms of excitement; in terms of fields full of talented, fearless players; there is reason to believe that we are entering an era that just might someday be looked back upon as being a golden era--an era perhaps like the era of Hogan, Snead, and Nelson; or Nicklaus, Watson, and Trevino.  An era of big-time players enjoying big-time rivalries.  

Tiger never really had himself a rivalry, like Nicklaus, or Hogan.  He often won with relative ease.  He won fourteen of fourteen Majors where he had secured the third round lead. A mind-boggling achievement, but I think it's only fair to say that the excitement of those wins was somewhat diminished by their predictability and the relative ease with which Tiger won them.  Yes, we were witness to brilliant golf, but there wasn't much drama.  His wins were often secured with an atmosphere of inevitability.  Once Tiger secured the lead in a Major, at least until a fellow named Y,E. Yang came along, Tiger knew, we knew, and, more-importantly, his opponents knew, that it was pretty much all over but the crying.  Golf is much better for the fans when we are glued to our seats, holding our collective breath, as we watch to see who will win.  We want to see great players.  But, we want to see them truly tested.  Nobody really likes a foregone conclusion, or a blowout.

With Spieth and McIlroy we just may finally get another great rivalry, supported by a large cast of superb players who will be there to steal the show if those two aren't at their best.  Both Spieth and McIlroy have shown that they are capable of truly dominant performances like we saw from Tiger.  Surely, sooner or later, we will see these two heavyweights face eachother in the last round of a Major.  Now that is going to be a treat.

We may just be entering another golden era of golf.  Golf doesn't look to be in much trouble at all, if this year is anything to go by.  I would argue that it just doesn't get much better than this.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Bobby Jones on Swinging the Club Head

There are exceptions to every rule.  But, generally speaking, what is most obvious when watching the better players swing the club is the timing, rhythm, and fluidity of their swings.  Very few really good players look like a caveman killing his lunch when they strike the ball.  The better players swing the club head.  The poor players try to use the shaft of the club to transmit force to the ball.  As Bobby Jones put it, they might as well be swinging a broom handle, rather than a finely crafted golf club.

In his book Bobby Jones on Golf, Bobby elaborates on just what it means to swing the club head:

"Two of golf's most eminent instructors, MacDonald Smith and Ernst Jones, built all their teaching around the one conception, 'Swing the club head.'  There are other details to be thought of, of course, in developing anything like a sound swing, but in the end it will be found that this is the prime necessity.  Those who are able to sense what it means to 'swing the club head' will find that they can thus cover up a multitude of sins, and those who sense it not will find no amount of striving for perfection in positioning will quite take its place.

In order to make easier the discovery of this sense of swinging, the club must be swung back far enough so that there will be no need for hurry or quickened effort coming down.  This is the one point I have tried to stress more than anything else--the necessity for an ample backswing if one is truly to swing the club head.  The man who allows himself only a short backswing can never be a swinger, because his abbreviated length does not allow space for a smooth acceleration to get him up to speed by the time the club reaches the ball.

Rhythm and timing we all must have, yet no one knows how to teach either.  The nearest approach to an appreciation of what they are is in this conception of swinging.  The man who hits at the ball, rather than through it, has no sense of rhythm; similarly, the man who, after a short backswing, attempts to make up for lost space by a convulsive effort initiating the downstroke has no sense of rhythm.

The only one who has a chance to achieve a rhythmic, well-timed stroke is the man who, in spite of all else, yet swings his club head, and the crucial area is where the swing changes direction at the top.  If the backswing can be made to flow back leisurely, and to an ample length, from wherevthe start downward can be made without feeling that therevmay not be enough time left, there is a good chance of success.  But a hurried backswing induces a hurried start downward, and a short backswing makes some sort of rescue measures imperative.  A good golfer will not like to be guilty of either...

Stiff or wooden wrists shorten the backswing and otherwise destroy the feel of the club head.  Without the supple connection of relaxed and active wrist joints, and a delicate, sensitive grip, the golf club, which has been so carefully weighted and balanced, might just as well be a broom handle with nothing on the end.  The club head cannot be swung unless it can be felt at the end of the shaft.

So swing, swing, swing, if you want to play better golf; fight down any tautness wherever it may make its appearance; strive for relaxed muscles throughout, and encourage a feeling of laziness in the backswing and the start downward.  Go back far enough, trust your swing, and then--swing the club head through."

It's funny, but as I read this instruction, I think of Freddie Couples and his full, lazy, rhythmic swing.  No wonder I like to think about Freddie when I feel I'm getting too quick, or like I'm lurching at the ball, instead of swinging through it.  That Bobby Jones was sure able to paint the picture.



Bobby Jones on the Pendulum Stroke

In putting, as in the full swing, there is more than one way to skin a cat--do people really skin cats?  We probably see more variations in grip, stance, posture, and stroke in putting than in any other part of the game.  It seems to me, that there continues to be a number of people who consider the perfect stroke to be a pendulum stroke.

That being the case, I think it is worthwhile examining what Bobby Jones had to say on the subject in his book Bobby Jones on Golf:

"There is one thing I wish people would stop talking about and writing about, because I think it causes much confusion in the beginner's mind.  I refer to the theory of the pendulum putting stroke.  It has been described and expressed in different ways, but when boiled down, each demonstration resolves itself into a thing absolutely impossible of accomplishment so long as human beings are built as we know them.

Unquestionably, a pendulum-like golf club with an absolutely true face, swung precisely along the line of the putt and suspended from a point exactly over the ball, furnishes the ideal conception of accurate striking.  But so long as human toes stick out in front, and until a golf club turns into a croquet mallet and can be swung backward between the legs, there is little hope that this can be attained.  For the present at least, it seems to me far better that we strive to find some way to improve our performance, using the method more or less familiar to us all...

The important considerations in putting are that the putter should be faced properly when it strikes the ball, and that, as it strikes, it should be moving in the direction of the hole.  If these two requirements are met, it makes no difference in the world whether or not the club was faced properly or moved along the projected line of the putt throughout the backswing."

There you have it; this advice is from, almost unquestionably, the greatest player ever to play the game, who also happened to have a degree in mechanical engineering, not to mention a degree in English literature from Harvard, and was a lawyer to boot--Mrs. Jones didn't raise no fool.  So, it might be wise to forget trying to make a pendulum stroke so long as your toes stick out in front of your body.  Better just to pick your line and knock it in the hole with a stroke that pretty much resembles your golf swing--only shorter.

Makes perfect sense to me.  But then, what do I know?  Take it from Bobby Jones, who wielded his famous putter, Calamity Jane, with pretty fair success.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Bobby Jones on Taking the Breaks in Stride

Our golf course is actually quite difficult.  It is not long, playing only 6300 yards from the back tees, but it is designed in such a way that, on many of the shorter holes, including the par fives, the long hitter must hit driver at his peril.  There is enough trouble, in the form of deep rough, fescue, and water to force you to use course management, or face the inevitable consequences.

The rough this year is about as tough as you can imagine, and a fairly good drive can end up in a nasty spot by being just a yard or two off line.  It can be tough, but it's the same for everyone.  Sometimes good shots, or at least fairly reasonable shots, can and will end up in some nasty spots.  So, it is incumbent on anyone playing our course to be resolved to expect, and accept, some bad breaks.  Of course, this is not just limited to our course.  In every round, on every course, you are going to get some bad breaks.

Bad breaks are just a part of the game.  Perhaps the problem is that we tend to be more infuriated by the bad breaks, than we are grateful for the good ones.  Perhaps we aren't all that way, but I certainly have been guilty of thinking nothing of a poor shot that just stopped short of a hazard when it might just as easily have gone in, but getting mad as hell when a good drive found a divot in the fairway.  I'd like to think I'm more balanced in my thinking now, but I am still occasionally guilty of moaning about my luck, or lack thereof.

Bobby Jones offered some wonderful advice in his book, Bobby Jones on Golf, in a chapter called TAKING THE BREAKS IN STRIDE.  He wrote:

"Incidentally, by cultivating the habit of accepting difficult lies as part of the game, we can derive for ourselves more pleasure from the playing of it.  It will help us to remember that we tire of banging balls on a practice tee, where for each successive shot the lie of the ball and the problem is the same as for the preceding stroke.  We must have a change of scenery, but when we get too much of it, we curse our luck.

One of the reasons Walter Hagen was such a great competitor was his habit of accepting readily any problem the breaks of the game may have tossed his way.  Once a spectator, standing by Walter's ball after it had taken a wicked kick into long grass, remarked to him as he came up that he had had bad luck.  "Well," said Walter with a smile, "here it is and from here I have to play it."

The continual striving to improve our score, although entirely natural, nevertheless does detract to some extent from our ability to enjoy golf.  When we become slaves to the card and pencil, we become inclined to regard as total losses those rounds in which our score mounts beyond our reasonable expectancy.  When we take pleasure in the game only according to the scorecard, a bad start is likely to put entirely away the possibility of an enjoyable afternoon.

The real way to enjoy playing golf is to take pleasure not in the score, but in the execution of the strokes.  A brassie shot to a green can be just as interesting when played after a recovery from trouble as when it follows a perfect drive.  By cultivating this attitude, one finally comes to welcome unusual situations, in which there is the possibility of pulling off something a little out of the ordinary.  And again, such an attitude in itself brings better results because it sustains interest and keeps one trying to the end."

Fred Shoemaker expressed this same idea in his book Extraordinary Golf, talking about viewing every shot as an opportunity to hit a great shot.  Your attitude really means everything.  Imagine, the next time your ball finds a crummy lie in a bunker, saying to yourself, "Here's an opportunity to hit a really tough shot well," rather than cursing your luck.  Your chances of recovering are much better in the first instance.  And, should you fail to recover, the shot will still be more fun if you embrace the challenge, seeing it as an opportunity rather than punishment from the golfing gods.

I have actually tried to adopt this approach.  Golf really is more fun when you finally accept bad breaks as being part of the game and an opportunity to maybe do something special or different, to pull off a shot you've perhaps never hit before.  Anyone can hit a shot from a good lie, but a ball in a divot, or in a heel print in a bunker, now that's where we get the chance be creative, and to see what we're really capable of.  It might fizzle and fail, but the fun is in the trying.  That Bobby Jones was one very wise man.  

Patience

Patience is a virtue; in golf and in life.  How often don't you hear the third round leader tell the interviewer that he's going to try to be patient when playing the final round.  It's very important.

I remember a poster from my youth that showed two buzzards sitting in a tree.  The one was saying to the other, "Patience, my ass.  I just wanna kill something."  That relates to golf.  You have to be patient.  You can't force things to happen.  If you try to recover a lost shot or two by trying to hit high risk shots, you are more likely to crash and burn than make birdies.

Jack Nicklaus was perhaps the most patient player of all time.  He never panicked.  I'm told he started every round playing within himself until he found his groove.  Once he was in the groove, how often didn't he make that classic Nicklaus charge to victory.  

Lydia Ko was a study in patience last week, winning in Canada, despite not having her best stuff in the final round.  That's what got me thinking about patience.  Most of us have to learn to be patient.  Bobby Jones talked about learning not to rely on a series of brilliant sallies to win; relying instead on playing within himself.  It took him seven years to really learn it.  After he did, he was about as dominant a player as we've ever seen.  Lydia seems to have learned that lesson much easier, or at least much sooner.

I'm finally learning to be a bit more patient.  I've found that a bad start doesn't mean a bad round, if you exercise a bit of patience, don't panic, and keep your composure.  Golf is played one shot at a time, but it's an eighteen hole marathon, not a sprint.   So, I try not to be that buzzard.  Patience is definitely a virtue, and good things, including birdies, often come to those who wait.

She's Back, Baby

Lydia Ko won her third Canadian Women's Open last week.  I taped it, so I missed the playoff.  But, in one respect at least, it was classic Ko.  She was completely unflappable.

I have wondered why she has sort of disappeared lately, after her ascendance to number one.  I hear she had been changing things under Leadbetter, which certainly caused me some concern.  I know golfers are always learning, and trying to get better, but to start making changes when you're at the top of the game doesn't make a great deal of sense to me.  I don't really know what's happening there, so I won't advertise my ignorance any further on the subject.

Suffice it to say, Lydia is something to behold.  She seems so calm.  Playing that last round, with all the madness, and watching Stacey Lewis, among others, threaten her lead, she just kept plodding along, although clearly not in possession of her best stuff.  She was a study in patience.

She didn't panic.  She never lost her composure.  Whatever she's taking, I need to get me some.  She has always seemed to be blissfully unaware of what she's accomplishing.  She just rolls along.  She's not the longest.  She's not the best, I suspect, in any statistical category, except perhaps getting the ball in the hole in the fewest strokes this week, which is the only stat that really counts. 

Lydia reminds me of Jordan Spieth in this respect.  She gets a heckuva lot from what game she possesses.  She doesn't seem to have Spieth's fire; although I suspect she has plenty of fire in her belly.  She just doesn't let us, or her opponents, know what she's thinking like Spieth does.  She's inscrutable (I like using that word).  This week, like many others we've seen with Lydia, she was a study in composure, and in patience.  She's a champ.  

And how about that new little Korean gal, Sei Young Kim; isn't she something special?  I thought she was going to birdie the last hole which would have got her into the play-off.  She's definitely got the right stuff.

These ladies can flat out play.  They're definitely not just pretty faces.





Monday, 24 August 2015

It's All Relative

I wrote an article today, essentially bragging, about my latest round of golf.  I was feeling rather self-satisfied--not because I'd shot an even par round--because, for perhaps the first time ever, I'd managed to really do the best I could with what I had to work with. Looking back on the round, I couldn't think of a single shot that I hadn't tried my best on.  I may have hit a few stinkers, but I'd made the same effort on every one.  That felt very rewarding.

Someone was kind enough, after reading the article, to congratulate me on being "some player."  I thought about this and, while I appreciated the compliment, I also realized that it is all relative.  Whether a person is a player or not has very little to do with his score in my opinion.  What counts is how he plays.  I, for one, would rather play with someone who can't break a hundred, but is good company, has a good attitude, and respects the game, than a scratch player who is miserable, self-absorbed, and arrogant.


Golf teaches you quite a bit about life if you're paying attention.  For one thing, golf teaches you that no matter how good you may think you are, there is always someone who is better, or at least will be better on a given day.  You might be the number one player in the world and you will still find yourself being beaten more often than you win.  Actually, that isn't quite true, because, over a seven year stretch, Bobby Jones won more than sixty percent of the Majors he entered.  Tiger had a stretch where he was just about as dominant.  But, the fact remains, golf teaches you to be humble; whether you like it or not.

Golf teaches you that life isn't just about winning and losing.  In fact, the best golf we ever play, or ever watch, is the golf where it could go either way.  And, while we may remember the winner more than the guy who lost, without the challenger, it wouldn't have been as fun, or as memorable; for the winner or the fans.  In golf it really is more important how you play the game.

I think everyone, regardless of what they score, or where they place, should be content to say they gave it their best shot, and did the best they could with what they had to work with.  This is true in golf; and I think it's true in life.  We can't all be CEO's, and we can't all be champions.  But if we play the game with honour, integrity, and a good attitude--and live our life the same way--no one can expect more from us, and I think we should be satisfied.

There was a time when all I cared about was what I shot.  Now, I try only to care about how I played.  If I had a good attitude, tried my best, gave every shot, or almost every shot, the attention it deserved, then I am satisfied.  We all want to score our best every time out, but we won't.  Golf isn't like that.  I regret all the rounds I wasted because I was so caught up in how I was scoring, instead of focussing on how I was playing.

I've had some incredibly enjoyable matches that I've lost.  I've also had some very forgettable matches that I've won.  It really is true: it's not whether you win or lose; it's how you play the game that really counts.  That's true in golf, and it's true in life.


If You Know What to Do and Don't Do It

I think, after fifty years of playing this game, I have finally settled on what I need to do to play my best.  Believe me, I've tried just about everything in this game except the long putter.  I've stacked and tilted, one-plane swung it, two-plane swung it; I've hit it with my right hand dominating, and went to left hand dominance.  I've tried the rotational swing.  I've tried swinging the way Hogan taught us to swing in his Five Lessons.  I've tried the vertical swing.  I've tried to swing it like Jack, Freddie, Lee Trevino, Nick Faldo; hell I've even tried to copy Moe Norman's swing.  I swear, if I haven't tried it, it probably isn't worth trying.

Finally, I've settled on the method I think works best for me.  I figure the way that works for me is to push the club straight back with my left hand and arm, and pull  it through down the target line with the same hand and arm.  I picture a nail going through the center of the ball right along the target line and try to hammer it.  I want to do this on virtually every shot, from the driver to the putter; except bunker shots and little finesse wedge shots where you need to slide the club under the ball.

I was awake at three o'clock in the morning, and, like a man with a mistress, was once again absent from my matrimonial bed, downstairs hitting putts, and then outside swinging a wedge.  It's an obsession.  I guess it's better than being addicted to dope, gambling, or philandering, but I must say my wife shows more than a little patience dealing with me and my golf addiction.

At three in the morning, it struck me.  I had been advising Billy to use the "push and pull" method, along with saying the mantra, push and pull, as he swings.  He has done this with some positive results, including winning the B-flight championship at our course.  I have convinced Steve, who loves to get all caught up in swing mechanics, to go to the hammer the nail method and stop thinking about his swing, which has been producing some much-improved shots; although he's still not scoring as he really should yet.

I have advised others, but too often haven't taken my own advice, jumping around from one idea or method to another.  I have professed to know what I need to do, but haven't been consistently doing it.  So, after my three AM epiphany, I went to the course today determined to, no matter what happened, practice what I've been preaching on every shot.  

After a routine par on one, I hit my tee shot on the par three second into a greenside bunker.  I played a weak bunker shot, and promptly three-putted from about twenty feet for a double.  Lately, I've been plagued with lousy starts like this.  But I stuck to my guns, and, despite missing a three footer on five for a another bogey, made three birdies to make the turn in even par.  On the back, after finding myself two under, courtesy of a couple more birdies and a string of pars, I made a weak bogey on fifteen when my second shot came to rest against the collar of the green and my bellied wedge came up five feet short.  I missed the putt.  

On sixteen, I hit a reasonably solid tee shot that was slightly pushed.  With the help of the push and a cross wind, the ball actually ended up perched, as pretty as you please, in the branches of a small blue spruce that sits on the right side of the cart path.  The spruce catches a lot of balls, and is named, at least by some, the Douglas fir, after my former brother-in-law who routinely tangles with it.  Dazed, but undaunted, I took my penalty drop and made another bogey.  

Two pars later, including a sand save on the par three eighteenth, I managed to tie Old Man Par.  For me, any time I can tie, or beat, Old Man Par, I'm a pretty happy camper.  Given that it was a windy day, and I'd managed to also beat Carl the Grumbler, I was pretty darned satisfied.  But what gave me the most satisfaction of all, when I looked back on the round, was that I had, perhaps for the first time ever, followed the same routine on every shot.  I had picked my target, visualized the nail going through the back of the ball to the target, and pushed and pulled every shot with my left hand and arm, hammering the nail.  Not only had I done this, I'd also managed to repeat the mantra push and pull with every shot. 

For a guy like me, with the number of toys I've got kicking around in my attic, this was a major accomplishment.  I've been the kind of guy who, at the first hint of trouble, or after a bad shot or two, can't resist trying something else.  I'm a tinkerer.

But today, while I didn't play perfect golf; and I didn't shoot my best score ever--or even my best score of the year; I played one shot at a time and made the same swing every time.  I can hardly believe it. I honestly don't think I've ever managed to do that before.

I really shouldn't be surprised that things turned out so nicely for me today.  I was finally doing what I was supposed to be doing. I actually managed to practise what I'd been preaching.  And, when you really think about it, there isn't much point in knowing what to do, if you don't do it.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Swing Envy

There have been some sweet swingers over the years.  I was just watching Carlos Franco, the stylish Paraguayan, swing the club in the Champions Tour event out on the west coast.  Talk about poetry in motion; it just looks effortless.  And then, there's Freddie.  Guys with swings like that; you'd think they'd win every week.

The fact is, while there is artistry in the swings of some of the great players, at the end of the day, looking pretty means nothing in this game.  We might all like to swing like Big Ernie, or Freddie, but we certainly don't need to to play reasonably good, and even great, golf.  For every sweet swinger, there's been a guy whose action wasn't very graceful, or pleasing to the eye, but who managed to get it done just as well or better.  

But then, just look at Trevino, Arnie, or Moe Norman; you wouldn't probably ever try to teach their action--actually they have tried to teach Moe Norman's swing, even though he never recommended that anyone try to copy him--but when it comes to getting command of the golf ball, perhaps we might learn as much, or more, from their swings as we do from the ones that seem to be perfect because of the rhythm and tempo--the way they flow.

My problem has been that I must be a bit of an imitator.  The more I study golf swings--and I'm studying them all the time--the more I'm tempted to try to copy the swings I see.  I suppose, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, it is only natural that we might try to imitate the swings of our favourite players, but I'm now at the stage of the game where I'd just like to be able to find my swing, or instead of finding a swing, have no swing at all, just a strike that propels the ball where I'm looking. 

The problem with golf, as I see it, is that we may just have too much time to think.  I think it might be easier if we only had a split second to see the target, react to it, and hit the shot.  Then we wouldn't perhaps get caught up in thinking about how we were going to swing the club.  We'd just hit the damned thing, understanding that there were no style points being awarded.

I was watching Franco hit a three wood.  He took that beautiful, stylish swing and thinned it, the ball never getting more than ten feet off the ground, catching the lip of a bunker.  What a swing it was, but not a very pretty result.  Just goes to show you, it isn't the swing, it's the strike that really counts.

I know it's the strike that's all important, but I still would love to be able to swing it like Freddie Couples, or Carlos Franco.  I guess you might say I've got a case of swing envy.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Dreaming of Sedgefield

I must admit, at least when it comes to golf, I'm old fashioned.  I don't tend to buy into the mentality that new is better.  As I sit and watch Tiger making a run at the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield, I can't help but think that this is about as good as it gets.  I love the old golf courses, especially the Donald Ross tracks, with those greens.

Love of money may be the root of all evil, and I've never been that interested in having more than just enough, but when you look at clubs like Sedgefield, and the many other wonderful Donald Ross private clubs, I can't help but admit that being independently wealthy certainly must have its perks.  There are so many wonderful courses I'll probably never play because I'm not wealthy enough to move in the circles of those who can afford it.

That being said, there are many great public courses that a joker like me can still enjoy.  But, watching them play on that wonderful Sedgefield course, I must confess to being just a little envious.  But then, if you love golf, who wouldn't be envious?  

Oh, and isn't it nice to see Tiger back to playing decent golf?  I must confess, I've never been a fan of his behaviour on the golf course, but what a golfer.  And give the devil his due, Tiger has sure brought in the punters.  They had to print 49,000 extra tickets at the Wyndham because Tiger showed up.  I guess, if it's about bringing out the fans and bringing in the bucks, Tiger, on his game, is undoubtedly very good for golf; very, very good for golf.

And, if you are a golfer, Donald Ross was very good for golf as well.  I intend to play as many of his courses as I can before someone--and I'm not talking about the wife--says, "It's enough."  Any Sedgefield members who might feel inclined to take pity on a poor, old, golf-crazy, retired guy like me, I'm game to play anytime.  It will take me about fourteen hours to get there, so I'd need about sixteen hours notice.  I promise, I'd be on my best behaviour.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Should You Hit Hard?

In 1965, Julius Boros had a well-known book published, entitled, Swing Easy, Hit Hard.  Three years later he became the oldest person to win a Major At 48 years, 4months and 18 days old.  I think it would be a great addition to your golfing library if you happen to find a copy.  Boros was renowned for his smooth swing that produced what appeared to be effortless power.

My father's great memory of Boros was having the privilege of using the porta-potty after him at the Masters one year.  True story, though I suppose it really isn't all that relevant here.  It's funny the things you remember.

In chapter one, Mr. Boros begins his book by writing: "People often ask me, 'How do you hit the ball so far when you swing so easy?'  The answer is simple. I hit hard."

Almost everyone I talk to who has watched the pros play says the same thing. They notice that the pros seem to be swinging so easy, and the ball takes off like a rocket.  Very few pros appear to lash at the ball.  It seems to be all about timing, rhythm, and tempo.

But what about hitting hard?  Bobby Jones devoted a chapter to the subject in his book, Bobby Jones on Golf.  He wrote:

"The more one sees of golf, the harder it becomes to make anything out of the various theories about how hard or gently a ball should be struck.  We hear that 'pressing' is a thing to be avoided; but when we determine to avoid it, the first thing we know, some kind friend will inform us that we are steering the ball, and that we should hit it harder.

Truly, it is a difficult thing to know just what to do.  There is unquestionably a world of grief ahead for the man who continually goes all-out after every shot.  Extremely hard hitting necessarily involves considerable sacrifice of control, often with no increase in length, because the ball is not squarely struck; but there is equal danger when the player pulls his punch, easing up the stroke in an effort to guide the ball down the middle of the fairway."

Bobby went on to tell the story of playing with a fellow at Pebble Beach named Phillips Finlay.  Apparently, Finley was famous for being a big hitter, and when he was having a bad day with his driver, he often heard from others that he must be pressing, or swinging too hard.  He had bought into this criticism to the point that, when he was hitting it poorly, he would find himself easing up.  Bobby suggested that he would probably be better off if "he would take a good healthy wallop instead."  Sure enough, this advice seemed to work for him.

After telling this story, Bobby went on to conclude:

"This does not indicate by any means that slugging should be the order of things.  It shows merely that a conception of hitting that will cause a player to hold-up, or fail to go through with the stroke, is entirely wrong--probably it will cause more trouble than the other in the long run.  In driving, it has always been my idea that one should hit as hard as he can without upsetting the balance of the body and the timing of the stroke.  Pressing causes trouble mainly by speeding up the backstroke.  If that can be made slowly, and the downward stroke started leisurely, there may be any amount of effort thereafter without cause for worry."

So, there you have it.  Julius Boros and Bobby Jones would seem to agree; we need to swing easy, or slowly and leisurely, until it's time to hit the ball.  If we can maintain our rhythm and tempo, until it's time to strike the ball, then we should feel free to hit hard.  Swing Easy, and Hit Hard.  

Power

They say, in life, that power corrupts, and absolute power, corrupts absolutely.  Power is seductive.  This is true for golfers as well.  Almost every golfer wishes he had more power.  After all, the long ball is sexy.

If you go to a driving range, you will see golfers hitting one driver after another, tiring themselves out, and annoying the ball picker, who keeps having to go off the property to collect all the wayward balls. While the average players hit driver, the good ones are hitting wedges.

The club manufacturers love this obsession with power, because it keeps the punters coming in to buy the latest and greatest driver.  If they could come out with one guaranteed to land, and stay, in the fairway, now that would be a driver worth purchasing.  But, it appears that drivers continue to out sell wedges and putters, even though the wedges and putters are the money clubs.

Even the top players are not immune to power's seductive qualities.  In fact, that was what prompted me to think about this subject.  I just read a piece that indicated that Tiger, in his good round yesterday, was observed hitting three woods and two irons off many of the tees.  I can't confirm this, but I have the round taped, so I'll have to check it out.  Tiger, arguably one of the greatest golfers ever to tee up a ball, has not been immune to power's siren call.  In his desire to be explosive, and hit it out there with the big boys, Tiger has actually let the other guys have a chance.

Tiger had that famous stinger; a low, straight bullet, he was able to put in the fairway time after time.  He didn't invent the shot, but he certainly had command of it, and made it famous.  He was also a wonderful long iron player, and could quite readily use his three wood to get himself in scoring position.  In his prime, he was absolute magic with the wedges, and as for the putter, forget about it.  He was a holy terror on the greens.  But, he has always found bashing his driver to be irresistible.  

He did play, and win, an Open where he only hit his driver a couple of times, if at all.  I forget the venue, but I recall at the time, and many times since, saying that it was a good thing for the rest of the field that Tiger keeps hitting driver.  There was a time--I don't know about now--when he would have been virtually unbeatable but for his persistence with that pesky, and disobedient driver.

We have watched the emergence of Jordan Spieth as a major force in the game of golf.  The naysayers--yes, there are naysayers--who are as infatuated with the long ball as most golfers, maintain he isn't long enough to dominate the game.  His record-tying score at the Masters, his fantastic performance down under prior to that victory, and his record breaking performance in relation to par for all four Majors this year, strongly suggests, at least to me, that these guys don't know what they're talking about.  But, they will keep believing it, and saying it.

In this "bomb and gouge" era, where many of the top players bash a drive, go find it, and gouge it out, making some exciting birdies, and some inopportune doubles as well, we still see guys like Zach Johnson and Jordan Spieth fare rather better than most with average length off the tee.  It may be less exciting to some, but in Majors, you have enough excitement without having to search for your ball in the trees, or the fescue.

Recently, we have seen Matteo Manaserro lose his game, apparently trying to hit it longer.  I hear he's gained at least twenty yards, but he isn't near the top of any leaderboards.  Power is a grand thing to have, so long as you control it, and it doesn't control you.  There is a time, in golf, when being about to "let out the shaft," or "let the big dog eat," can be a big advantage.  We saw it with Jason Day at the PGA this year.  Was it sixteen, in the last round, where he hit a 382 yard drive, and a 190 yard nine iron to the par five, essentially sealing the deal?  When you are hitting your wedges great, putting well, and getting your drives in play, power is a big bonus.  

Wayward drives have cost a lot of great players a lot of money, and caused them a lot of grief.  How can we forget Phil's drive into the trees on 18 at the US Open when he finally had one in the bag--or should have. There are hundreds, if not thousands of similar tales, of tournaments lost because of long, but wayward, drives.

I don't recall a single tournament ever won with a long drive.  It's almost always a putt that does it.  Sometimes it's a sand or lob wedge from a green-side bunker, but they don't call the wedges and the putter the scoring clubs for nothing.  If you are a long driver, and you have control, you have a definite advantage, but only if you can putt.

Perhaps Tiger has figured something out this week.  If he keeps the driver in the bag, the rest of the guys might have to watch out.  Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to be the same player with a wedge, or a putter, in his hands.  If he parked the driver and got his short game back, he'd be that scary dude he once was.  Only time will tell.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Everybody's a Critic

It seems that everybody's a critic, especially when it comes to golf.  We like to look at the top players from the relative comfort of our armchairs and talk about what they're doing wrong, or what they should be doing.  We've seen it with Tiger.  And now, we're seeing it with Jordan Spieth.

I just read an article that was actually critical of Jordan Spieth.  The gist of the article was that Jordan was boring.  He was too nice.  His play wasn't exciting enough.  He wasn't long enough.  He didn't play aggressively enough, and he needed to work out more.  

I must admit, I was taken aback by this article, but I can't say I was surprised.  In this day and age, where we are surrounded by so-called experts, the top players are inundated with, more often than not, unsolicited advice and criticism.  

Jordan Spieth is in the last stages of one of the greatest seasons we've ever witnessed in professional golf, and there are people out there who are saying he needs to change.  It boggles the mind.  But this is the way it is, especially when it comes to golf.

All I can say, in response to the critics of Jordan Spieth, is that I hope and trust that he will have enough sense not to listen to the naysayers, or the guys with a "better" idea; and that he will just keep doing what he's doing.  As of last Sunday, Spieth had just become number one in the world and set the all-time lowest scoring record in relation to par for the four Majors.  His worst finish in a Major was one shot out of a play off at the Open.  He finished second last week to a guy who set the record for the lowest 72 hole score ever posted in a Major. And, believe it or not, there is someone out there who is suggesting he needs to change.

What can you say?  Everyone, it seems, is a critic.

Hammering the Nail

Steve was telling me about a buddy of his who likes to perform at the driving range.  He stands there and announces, "Now I'm going to hit it like Arnie."  Then he tees up another and says, "Now I'm going to hit it like Lee."  Then he hits one "like Freddie."

Steve says that funny thing about it is that every swing looks the same.  Maybe Peter Jacobsen can imitate other golfers' swings, but this guy wasn't much of an impressionist.  Even if he felt like he was swinging like Arnie, his own swing showed up.  

Many of us tend, from time to time, to think of other players' swings in an effort to help us.  We often try to copy Big Ernie's smooth swing when we feel we are getting too quick.  Or, we might think of Freddie Couples when our swing gets out of sync.  I like to think of Lee Trevino's swing when the wheels are coming off, and I just want to get it to the house using a push fade.  But, what we think we're doing, like Steve's buddy, may very well not really be what we are doing.  The feel may not quite match the cold, hard reality revealed by the video.  All we can do is go with feel. 

Sometimes, I think it's best not to think about swinging at all.  Rather than trying to swing a particular way, it helps me to think about something possibly a bit less complicated.  Yesterday, Steve and I played at the Shelter Valley Pines course near Grafton.  It was hotter than the hubs of hell, and the combination of the heat, maybe too much golf, and a general lack of talent found us by the twelfth hole wondering why the hell we were even out there.  We just weren't playing worth a hoot.

I suggested that we just forget our swings altogether and just start "hammering the nail."  By hammering the nail, I mean picturing a nail going through the back of the ball straight down the target line.  You just picture the nail and hammer it.  No swing thoughts; no thoughts of rhythm, or tempo, or swing plane, or grip pressure; just pick your target, see the nail going through the back of the ball to the target, and hammer it.

I often use this when I begin hitting fat or thin shots, or the wheels seem to be coming off.  Sure enough, both Steve and I started playing some golf again and felt energized and enthusiastic. By the time we finished the round, we went from saying, is it only the twelfth hole; feeling like the round would never end; to saying, "Man, is it the seventeenth already!"

So, the hammer the nail thing was the ticket today for both of us.  It generally works for me.  In fact, I don't know why I don't do it all the time, instead of going to it after I've hit a few stinkers.  Steve says he's going to keep using it, and that, for once, maybe I might just know what I'm talking about.

The problem is, as Steve often says, there are just so many things to remember when it comes to golf. And, the older you get, the worse your memory tends to be.  For today, and likely until the wheels start coming off again, Steve and I are going to become carpenters out there.  We're going to hammer the nail.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

The Secret

What is it about secrets?  Like most people, golfers love to know the secret; the secret to hitting the ball farther, or the secret to hitting it straight, or to making more putts.  And they seem to also love to share the secret.  Therefore, none of these "secrets" remain secret for long.  After fifty years of searching, I think I've finally learned the secret. And, since I'm a golfer, I feel compelled to share it.  The secret is; there is no secret. There may be information not generally known or understood, but there are no secrets.  The vault of secret information, as far as golf is concerned, is empty.

I worked in the penitentiary service and, as part of my work, was sometimes privy to secret information.  What I came to learn was something well known among most convicts, namely that the only way three people can keep a secret is if two of them are dead. So, in life, and in golf, you can pretty much forget about there being any secrets that aren't going to be revealed sooner or later.

Just look at all the books, videos, and articles offering to tell you the secret to better golf.  We buy the books and the videos, read the articles, and, occasionally, actually think we've found the secret.  The problem seems to be that, for me at least, the secret that worked like a charm last week doesn't seem to work this week.  Perhaps the problem with secrets is, once they are learned, their charm sooner or later wears off.

Instead of looking for secrets, I think we have to rely on cold, hard reality.  Golf is a game where just about anything can happen; and often does.  But, there are some irrefutable facts when it comes to golf.  For instance, a putt that never gets to the hole can't go in.  Bobby Jones wasn't particularly enamoured with the whole "never up, never in" mentality, preferring that people hit their putts so they are dying at the hole.  He liked to say that a putt that gets past the hole isn't in either, but this is not necessarily true, because I've seen putts roll back and fall in the back door because of the slope.

When we use the term "secret," in relation to the game of golf, we aren't really talking about a secret at all, we really tend to mean the solution, or the answer, rather than the secret.  We hope to discover the answer to the mysteries and problems of playing this deceptively simple, and endlessly complicated game.  And there are many secrets, answers, or solutions, that might work for Joe Blow, but don't seem to work for me, or Mary Jane.  That's why teachers encourage golfers to learn the fundamentals of the golf swing, rather than relying on moving from one secret to another.  However, all one has to do is watch the different swings of all the great players over the years to realize that there are many ways to get it done.

The best information I've ever read on golf, and the real secret to golf, if there is a secret, is, for me at least, contained in the second chapter of Bobby Jones' book, Golf is my Game. The chapter is entitled Striking the Ball.  This information, though not really a secret, is the one thing Bobby Jones maintained every golfer needs to know, understand, and remember every time they hit a golf shot if they want to have a high probability of success. And he believed that knowing this information could make all of us a better player, literally overnight.  I have covered that information in a previous blog.  It is all about impact.  That's where the proverbial rubber hits the road.

Thanks to that information from Bobby Jones, I now know that if I can figure out a way to strike the ball with a square club face, with the club travelling down the target line towards the target, a straight shot must result.  This will always be the result, provided of course there is no wind to move the ball off line, and provided the ball is not out of round, and provided there is no mud on the ball.  That's about as certain as golf gets.

In golf, there are no secrets.  There are only facts.  And, the only thing I know for sure is that a putt that never gets to the hole never goes in. And, actually, I'm not sure I really know that for certain.  I think, at the end of the day, all you can do is keep on hitting it.  It's got to go in the hole eventually, provided you are hitting it at the hole with a square club face, and there isn't any mud on the ball, and the green isn't breaking too much...

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

A One-Way Miss

There's a lot of virtue in having a one-way miss; to be able to count on the fact that, if you miss it, the ball will only go one way.  As a young man who grew up trying to swing like Jack Nicklaus.  I always held the face open, perhaps more like Lee Trevino than Jack Nicklaus, and tended to hit a high push-fade.  I was able to hit it plenty long, and I never hooked the ball.  I might pull it left sometimes, but it never hooked.  I came to visualize most of my shots moving left to right towards the target.  Come to think of it, I always liked to cut, or slice, the ball when I played table tennis or regular tennis as well.  But I wrecked my back, and everything changed.

Steve and I played Trillium Wood golf course in Corbyville, near Belleville, Ontario.  It's a lovely course designed by Steve Ward, who is a member at our club in Picton and designed our new nine as well.
We played with Rick.  I'm pretty sure I had played with him once before, but he didn't remember.  I never forget a face, probably as a result of my time in the penitentiary service, so I told Rick that we'd either played together before, or he'd done time.  He assured me that he had never been locked up, so there you have it.

Rick played a pretty steady game, hitting what amounted to a push-fade which sometimes bordered on being a slice.  He took a real rip at the ball, starting every shot well left of his target and watching it come back to the right.  He hit fairway after fairway, and hit lots of nice shots into the green.  Had his putting not been off, he would have easily scored around 80.  He only missed one fairway that I could recall, when he started his ball too far left and, though it tried to come right, clipped some trees lining the fairway. 

Watching Rick reminded me of the fact that a one-way miss is a really effective way to play decent golf.  As I said earlier, I spent most of my early life hitting a fade.  However, after I injured my back and neck--and put on about fifty pounds--I turned into a guy who suddenly draws the ball instead of fading it.  Although some people find my draw to be quite serviceable, I tend not to be enamoured with it.  I guess that's because I'll probably always be a fader at heart.

I still find myself trying to fade it, even though my ball really wants to draw.  The end result has been a very sore back, and some ugly double-crosses where I start the ball left and it goes farther left, instead of coming back to the right.  The double bogeys that often result from this are almost as painful as my ailing back.  

On the way home, Steve and I talked about the round and remarked on Rick's surprising consistency.  While Rick's was not a swing you'd want to copy, and his fade/slice was not the ideal shot shape, he always knew where the ball was going and he played for it.  I told Steve that I still longed for my old fade.  He reminded me that my draw had been producing quite a number of decent scores for me lately and that I might want to learn to love it. Steve believes the draw is a stronger shot, but I keep hitting draws and grimacing if the ball draws more than a few yards, because I'm always worried about it hooking.  After all, you can talk to a slice, but a hook won't listen.

Steve thinks I'm nuts, and believes that if the ball wants to draw with my natural swing--the swing I make when I'm just swinging without making any adjustments--then I would be well advised to play the draw whenever possible.  After all, I still eliminate one side of the course, just not the side I'd prefer to eliminate.  I guess he's right.  It's much easier to just start aiming ten feet right of the pin, or down the right side of the fairway, and having the ball move back to the left, than making all sorts of adjustments trying to make it move it the other way.  

I have always been surprised when I hear announcers talking about tour players having a tough time getting to a left or right pin because they play a fade, or a draw, and the pin calls for the opposite shot shape.  I often wonder that a tour player should not be comfortable moving it both ways.  But I suppose the reality is that, while they all can move it both ways, most tour players are just naturally more comfortable moving it one way or the other, and they choose to try to go to their natural shot shape whenever they can because it's easier to play and the results are more dependable.

If tour players go with their natural, or dominant, shot shape--as good as they are--I guess a mug like me should be grateful that I have a dominant shot shape, and I should learn to embrace it, instead of fighting it.  Though I wish I could fade it as easily as I once did, there have been, and still are, some pretty good players who draw just about every shot.  Billy Casper was pretty good playing a draw.  So was Bobby Locke.  But, then again, I'm definitely no Billy Casper--or Bobby Locke for that matter.  Those guys could play; and, man, could they putt!


Monday, 17 August 2015

The Champion and the Askhole

I played today with Steve, Radar, and Billy.  

As we were preparing to tee off, Billy asked me if I was going to congratulate him.  I asked for some clarification, and he advised me that he was the B-flight champion in the club championship.  He said it was all down to the "push and pull" method that he'd adopted thanks to the "John Haynes School of Golf."  

I was really pleased for him because he's certainly been having his struggles.  I was pleased that my suggestion had helped.  Steve piped in, as he is inclined to do at times like this, and reminded me that I had pretty much single-handedly taken him from a 14 to a 20.

I reminded him that you can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear.  Furthermore, I informed him that he was actually an "Askhole;" someone who asks for advice and then doesn't take it.  While I'm not a teacher, I wonder how many teachers out there vainly try to help guys like Steve.  You can't help an Askhole.

We had a fun match, with Steve and Radar against Billy and I.  Billy and I had won the match after fifteen, so Radar decided to press.  And again, Billy, the B-fight champion, and I took them down on 18, when both Steve and Radar missed short ones for par.  

I told them they should have expected nothing else.  After all, they were up against a champion.  It was a fun day.



Sunday, 16 August 2015

"Tears in my Eyes Too, Mate"

To watch Jordan Spieth and Jason Day fight for the Wannamaker trophy and show such respect for each other as they did so was something to behold.  It wasn't quite like watching Nicklaus and Watson battle it out, because Nicklaus, by then, was already a legend.  But it was close.  It reminds us what golf is all about.  You give it your best; lay it all on the line; and if your best isn't good enough, you congratulate the person who was better than you on the day.  

In golf, there is no real shame in losing.  It just isn't the kind of game where you can win all the time.  Contrary to what some people might believe, in golf, second place doesn't "suck."  How great it was to see Spieth give Day the thumbs up as Day lagged his sixty foot putt on seventeen, stone dead, essentially dashing any hope Jordan might still have had to somehow win.

In what other sport would you see two warriors show such respect for one another?  This kid Spieth is something to behold.  He fought to the end.  Did you see the bunker shot he made to secure his birdie on sixteen?  I mean, this kid is magic.  But even his magic wasn't enough to rattle Day as he marched to his first Major victory.  Day was even better, with his majestic drives and towering iron shots.  Have we ever witnessed golf played at a higher level?  

As for Jordan Spieth, I am as impressed as much by the way he loses, as by the way he wins.  He reminds me of a certain Jack Nicklaus.  He's not quite a legend yet, but, like Jack, the kid is pure class.

Remember when we thought we'd never see golf played at a higher level than it was by Tiger in 2000?  Guess what?  We're seeing it.  To see the spirit in which it was played, and to see this fine young man, Jason Day, finally realize his dream; it brought tears to my eyes.  I guess I had plenty of company.  As Ian Baker-Finch said, watching Day sign his card, "Tears in my eyes too, mate."



Great Day

Golf is such a wonderful game.  Jason Day, a troubled boy, who had lost his father, showed potential.  His mother sacrificed to send him to a good school where his potential could be realized, and a wonderful father figure and friend found.

Hard work, determination, and belief are rewarded at last with a win for the ages.  Not only did he post the lowest seventy two hole total ever in a Major, he did it playing head to head with the best player in the game.  I admit, I found myself shedding a few tears of joy for this young man.  He earned this victory.  It didn't come easily, and because it didn't come easily it was that much sweeter.

Jason Day is now number three in the world, behind Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy; all twenty-somethings.  And, chances are there will be much more to come from this determined young man.  He's now one of the big three.  He's found the winning formula, which he said before the round was to have more fun as he played.  Work hard, dream big, never give up, and remember to have fun.  Who'd have thunk it?

Golf is in a very good place.

Wouldn't It Be Nice

Wouldn't it be nice.  Wouldn't it be nice to watch the best players in the world hit, sometimes magnificent, golf shots without having to listen to some moron scream, "Mash potato!" 

I thought it was bad enough to hear, "Get in the hole!"  This, just at, or slightly before impact on the player's drive.  Or, "You da man!"  

I don't mind some enthusiasm being expressed by the patrons, but yelling, "Get in the hole," as the player hits a drive on a five hundred yard par four?  I mean, are these people golfers?

I think it should be automatic ejection for every character who yells any of these things.  I'm amazed that none of them have found themselves sporting bloody noses or black eyes as a result of yelling this stuff in some real golf fan's ear.  Corporal punishment should be legal when it comes to dealing with these jokers.

It's just not cricket; or golf.