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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.