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Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Bobby Jones on Golf: The Ultimate Object

The first chapter of Bobby Jones on Golf offers some very valuable information that golfers, including myself--perhaps especially myself--are inclined sometimes to forget.  The ultimate object of the game of golf is to get the ball from the teeing ground into the hole in the fewest number of strokes possible.

Of course, golfers know that this is what golf is about, but their actions often suggest that, while they know it, they don't necessarily understand it.  Unfortunately, unscrupulous teachers and club manufacturers take advantage of this general lack of understanding on the part of golfers in general when they advertise the latest and greatest driver, guaranteed to give you ten more yards.  Or offer gadgets, gizmos, and lessons guaranteed to give you more length, when what you really need is some understanding of how to score better.

If they really understood the game, most average players would never even use a driver, let alone buy the new, latest and greatest model, until they could hit the fairway nine times out of ten with their three or five wood.  In fact, most higher handicappers would actually hit it farther, as well as straighter, with a three wood.  But drivers continue to sell like hot cakes, even though they often do more harm to an average player's score than good.

While playing, you see golfers taking practice swings, and checking their takeaway over and over, obviously totally preoccupied with swing mechanics, when they should be thinking of nothing more than where they want to place the next shot in order to get the ball in the hole faster.  Once you take to the course, all that matters is the score.  How stylish or pretty your swing looks means very little.  As the saying goes, "There are no pictures on the scorecard."

In his chapter, The Ultimate Object, Bobby describes a shot he remembered fondly from the 1926 US Open.  He found himself in a bunker on the thirteenth hole and, after considering all the possibilities, and the dangers, he chose to scoot the ball through the bunker and up the bank onto the green using a four iron.  This was one of his most memorable shots in a fantastic career that included thirteen Major championships by the age of twenty seven, and all four in his final season to secure the Grand Slam.

Bobby wrote, concerning this shot:

"The general tendency, I think, is to overlook the possibilities in a shot of this nature.  I admit that it does appear unworkmanlike and amateurish to run a shot through sand and out of a bunker, but it sometimes becomes necessary to disregard appearances.  A few disasters resulting from a desire to display brilliant technique are enough to harden even the most sensitive nature.  To approach the hole remains the ultimate object in the game.  Once the round is under way, the business in hand becomes that of getting results.  Nothing else matters."

This is wonderful advice from arguably the finest player the game has ever known.  If we want to play our best, we have to leave our ego in the parking lot.  If it is our score we care about, perhaps we need to leave our driver in the trunk as well.  If we are honest in appraising our game, and identifying where shots are lost or gained, we might just approach the game a bit differently and actually find our scores improving.

The other day I played with a young man who has serious game.  He hits it a mile, and was one under after nine holes, without really making any putts.  I was struggling, and he had me by four or five shots at the turn.  From the blues, where we were playing, our course is only 6300 yards.  It's a tight course, with lots of fescue rough, tight fairways, and water designed to catch the unwary, or over-ambitious player.  But, for this young lad, every hole is a driver and a wedge; provided the drive finds terra firma.  After nine, I was saying to myself, this is why you need to consider playing from the whites and opting out of any future club championships. 

On ten, he hit a wayward drive, tried a miraculous recovery, hit a tree, and lost his ball.  On the next hole, he hit another huge tee shot into the trees and made bogey.  He did it again on thirteen, trying a huge carry over water and pulling it instead into the trees, making another bogey.  

On seventeen, a fairly short dogleg par four, he hit a massive drive he intended to draw round the corner which ended up through the fairway and out of bounds.  This is a kid who already hits it like a pro.  I couldn't resist suggesting at this point that, given his prodigious length, he could just as easily have hit a hybrid, or even a four iron, to the hundred yard marker.  He responded by saying, "I always hit driver here, and that's the first time I've hit it OB."  What he also said, however, when I pointed out the line he really needed to take if he was going to hit his driver, was that he had lost several balls taking that route. Obviously, driver is not the club for him on seventeen.

He's a great kid.  But, on this day he went home tired and disgusted.  I'm certain he will become a fine player.  In fact, he already is a terrific ball-striker.  I'd give my right arm to be able to hit it like he does.  But, until he learns the ultimate object of the game, old, fat, short-knockers like me will still be able to occasionally beat him.  That's golf: no pictures on the scorecard.