Saturday, 31 October 2015

Sam Snead on Golf's Most Underrated Move

Sam Snead played his best golf when he felt "loose as a goose."  He, like Bobby Jones, recognized that tension was fatal to a good golf swing.  In his 1975 book on the "Key" Approach to Golf, Sam devoted a chapter to the one move that he believed best relieved tension and promoted a smooth, "oily" swing.  It was the forward press; and Sam believed it to be golf's most underrated move. He wrote:

"For my money, the single most important device for getting nerves and muscles ready to execute the golf swing properly is the forward press.  I've never made a golf swing that did not start from a forward press, and I've never met a golfer who failed to play better after learning to trigger his swing this way."

Sam described the forward press as a "very simple move," where "both hands press the club very slightly toward the target, while the right knee simultaneously inclines slightly toward the ball." By making this press with the hands and the right knee, Sam tells us, the weight shifts a little toward the target and as the weight shifts back the takeaway begins "almost as a reflex or rebound action."

According to the Slammer, the forward press not only frees the player of any excess tension that might have built up while addressing the shot, but also helps you start the swing back in one piece, with everything moving in unison.  Sam wrote:

"Coordinating the action of the hands as they move the club back with the turning of the rest of the body is extremely difficult from a dead stop... The forward press eliminates that kind of initial jerkiness, by stimulating in one small action all the nerves and muscles used in golf, and thereby allowing the full swing to be initiated as a reactive movement, rather than in cold blood.  Although the action of the press may seem slight in some tour golfers, it must always be positive and never tentative.  That's why I tell golfers who are still in the process of grooving their swings to at first make the press so firm that they can see the shaft of the club bend a bit.  Later on, most players do not need to apply that much pressure.  But it really is up to the individual, finally, to decide just how pronounced an action he needs to take to get his swing triggered smoothly."

I have often had playing partners comment that I sometimes really bend the club shaft when making a forward press.  I never think about doing it.  It just happens; often more so when I'm under pressure, or facing a particularly difficult shot.  I had never really thought much about it until I read this information from Sam.  

Sam concludes by writing:

"There is thus nothing old fashioned or artificial about a good forward press.  It is a natural and vital part of your starting procedure.  It helps keep a young swing fluid and an old swing young."


Friday, 30 October 2015

Tiger Woods, David Feherty and Next Year's Masters

I just read an article about David Feherty and his network change.  Feherty is undeniably bright.  He is also a unique character.  I have gone from being a big fan of Feherty to more of a luke-warm fan as his attempts at humour seem to have ventured away from his traditional clever witticisms about golf and life to more banal subject matter, including jokes about flatulence.  Suffice it to say, I thought he was much funnier when he didn't try quite so hard.  But then again, who am I?  

As a fellow depression sufferer, I admire the fact that David has achieved as much as he has in and around the game of golf.  I also admire his openness in admitting to being another one of the "walking wounded."  Life, and golf, can present big challenges to those of us who suffer from depression and other mental illnesses.  Hell, golf can drive a sane man crazy; imagine what it does to us depressives.

I note that Feherty continues to be a huge Tiger fan; and he apparently believes that Tiger has been badly treated by the media.  This supposed maltreatment is apparently the reason for Tiger's reluctance to do a one-on-one with him.  

Obviously, Feherty has a more intimate knowledge of Tiger than I, or any other golf fan for that matter.  But I find it hard to comprehend how David could think the media--in particular the golfing media--has been anything but reverential for the most part when it comes to Mr. Woods.  In general, Tiger seems to enjoy a "free pass" from the golf media.  When interviewed, he is seldom asked any hard questions, and his often trite, or even non-sensical, answers are largely unchallenged; even when what he says this week sharply contradicts what he might have said last week.

For instance, in a recent press conference, we learned from Tiger that, despite his having claimed to have been healthy throughout his pitiable 2015 season, he was apparently regularly having back problems.  We are to understand from Tiger that he will be going through a long rehabilitation period to address a back problem he chose to keep hidden from the media until he underwent another back surgery.  We are also to understand that Tiger continues to have the goal of breaking Jack's record for Major wins; this after his good friend, Notah Begay, went on record saying Tiger now believed he was in the twilight of his career.

My point in all of this, if indeed there is a point, is that Tiger has never allowed the media to know what he is all about.  He has been secretive, disingenuous, and aloof with the media.  His treatment of his legion of fans, one might argue, hasn't been much better.  Contrary to what David Feherty seems to believe, I would suggest Tiger has, if anything, been treated like royalty by the golf world, including the media.  This might be understandable, because he has been a great champion. And probably even more to the point, he has made all those in and around the game richer because of the added attention he has brought to the game.  There is, after all, generally a tendency, even for the media, not to bite the hand that feeds you.

Feherty continues to believe Tiger is just as relevant now as when he won his last Major in 2008.  And perhaps that is so.  However, how much longer that will continue remains to be seen.  Eight years is a long time, and there are some pretty exciting young players in the game these days.  One thing is certain, we haven't heard the last of Tiger Woods.

What are the odds that, despite him talking about a lengthy period of rehab, Tiger tees it up at Augusta in April? It wouldn't surprise me one bit.  In fact, I'd be shocked if he didn't play the Masters this year.  TW certainly likes to keep his cards close to his vest and, if this year was any indication, he won't feel compelled to let us know whether he plans to tee it up before he's good and ready.

As for Feherty, I wish him nothing but continued success, and hope he gets his wish some day, and finally has his one-on-one with Tiger.  I wouldn't hold out much hope for that one-on-one being any more enlightening, or instructive, than any other of Tiger's interviews.  He has never been a particularly compelling interview; even if he remains quite a compelling figure in the game.  Then again, Feherty seems to be pretty canny when it comes to getting his guests to open up.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Brain Work

My game has really been in the toilet lately; especially my putting.  Try as I might, I can't seem to see the line, even on my home course--especially on my home course.  It's like I have a mental block.  I played Shelter Valley Pines last week and managed to shoot a respectable score, making most of the putts I should make, and a few that I probably shouldn't have.  But, suffice it to say, this game is no fun if you can't putt--and lately, I just can't putt to save my life.

After another miserable day on the greens yesterday, I just headed out to ten on my own and, finding a gap, just fooled around, hitting two balls and trying different shots until I caught up with Brian, who was also a single. We played the rest of the way in and then I met up with Spiros, Steve, and Big Bob for a late afternoon game.  

After the first hole, where Spiros made a nice putt for par and I, once again, lipped mine out, I decided to change things up.  I told them I was going to play against their best ball using just a six iron and a putter.  Not only that, I suggested that they should prepare themselves for a serious ass-kicking.

Spiros is a former soccer player, who emigrated to Canada from Greece and took the game up late in life.  He plays to about a 14 handicap, with a swing that makes you wonder how he could ever break 100.  But Spiros just loves to compete.  He's a different guy when there's a match on.  Steve is also about a 14, but usually makes lots of pars and bogeys with the odd birdie and one or two "dreaded others" thrown in just about every round when he suddenly, for no apparent reason, loses his mind.  Big Bob is a salt of the earth character who also took up the game late in life and is happy just to make doubles with the odd bogey or par thrown in when he least expects it.

Big Bob made a nice par on the par three second hole, and the boys were suddenly two up after two when I missed yet another makeable putt for par.

We played another couple of holes with me using the six iron and putter with no further blood spilled. Then Steve decided to also use just his six iron.  Spiros soon followed suit, as did Big Bob.  Actually, Spiros used his seven iron, because he had already shown up to play with a short set and didn't have his six iron.  We played along with me gaining a hole back, then two.  We were all thoroughly enjoying the challenge of using just one club and the putter.  We were playing quickly and managing, for the most part, to avoid the rough and the trees.

Steve made a nice par on the par five sixth for the win after I duffed a shot and eventually made bogey.  Spiros then won the par five eighth, when he bounced his fourth shot up the bank between two bunkers to the elevated green ending up about six feet from the pin.  He was tickled with his shot and said, "This is real brain work."

Both Steve and Spiros found that having to fabricate short shots around the green and from inside 120 yards with the six or seven iron forced them to use much more imagination and feel than they were used to using, especially for Steve, who struggles with hitting anything but full shots with his irons.  Big Bob was also fast realizing that any distance he sacrificed by using the iron off the tee was more than compensated for by the improved accuracy of his tee shots.  

I won the tenth hole to square the match.  Then, with daylight running out, we cut over to the par three fourteenth.

They have put in new tee boxes on 14, so we were using a temporary tee that gave us a shot of about 115 yards.  Steve, Big Bob, and I all hit it left of the green pin high.  We were short-sided, with the green running away from us and we had to chip the ball through some juicy rough.  Spiros, meanwhile, had hit it on the green about thirty feet past the pin.  Steve hit a reasonable chip to about twenty feet.  Big Bob and I tried to get cute and left our chips in the rough, still short-sided.  I had made the mistake of trying to bounce the ball through the rough with cut spin.  Note to self: draw spin goes through the rough much better than cut spin. 

Spiros then stood up and drained his breaking putt, which slid into the cup like a mouse into his hole.  He gave me "the look," followed by a tigeresque fist pump.  The boys were one up with two to play, since we had already planned to quit after sixteen.

After squaring the next hole, the boys were dormie and my back was against the wall.  I hit two decent shots on the par five sixteenth, and had about 130 yards to the pin.  We had played from the red tees because it was cold and we were, after all, using six irons.  Meanwhile, Steve had yanked his third shot left of the green behind a bunker, and Big Bob had hit three or four stinkers and was pretty much out of it.  Spiros had also duffed a shot and was about 115 yards from the pin in three.  

Feeling confident, I tried to hit a cutesy little cut shot, over-cut it, and found the right bunker.  Spiros stood up and hit his fourth shot, sweet as a nut, to less than a foot.  I asked him how in the hell he had managed to hit that shot.  He smiled and told me he had opened up the face of his seven iron to make it like a wedge.  "Simple," he said. 

Simple, or not, it was all over but the crying.  The boys had prevailed, two up.  It was a fun match.  It was also really fun to play with just one club and a putter.  If you haven't tried it, I highly recommend it.  I think the boys are now sold on the idea as well.  It really challenges you to use your imagination and develop some feel.  There's nothing like hitting bunker shots and shots from inside 100 yards with a six or seven iron to test your imagination and touch. 

Back in the sixties, we had an old pro named Fred Purcell.  That fine old English gentleman routinely played the course with just a five iron and a putter, and, believe me, he was a match for just about everyone.  It's amazing what you can learn to do with just one club.  Just ask Spiros.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Sam Snead on Finding the Swing That Feels "YOU"

I learned to play the game by first imitating my father's swing.  Later, as I watched the game on TV, I tried to copy Jack Nicklaus.  He was, after all, the best.  

I was quite athletic, playing competitive hockey, baseball, soccer, and rugby, so I had strong legs and, by copying Jack's swing, found that I could hit the ball high, far, and predominantly left to right.  It served me fairly well until I started experiencing back and neck issues that have now left me hobbling around like an old man, forced to use a golf buggy to get around the course.  

My legs, which were powerful, are now obviously not able to fire like they did when I could kick fifty yard field goals.  Now, when I'm wearing shorts, I'm often asked whether those are my legs, or am I riding a chicken--just kidding.  But the fact remains that changes in my body have necessitated making changes in my swing.  It hurts to hit a high fade.  My swing has flattened considerably and I tend now to hit a draw.  I don't like hitting a draw, having played the fade for so many years, but sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

Right now, I feel like I'm searching for the best swing, given my physical limitations, that will produce consistent results.  I'm not the same guy I was, and I have to go back to the drawing board.  That is why I was interested to read Sam Snead's take on finding the right swing.

Sam, in his 1975 book, co-authored with Larry Sheehan, talked about style.  Under the heading: "STYLE: FIND THE SWING THAT FEELS "YOU," Sam said:

"A golf swing is like a fingerprint, identifying its owner and also telling a bit about what the person is like.  In all the years I've played and taught, I don't think I've ever seen two swing exactly alike.  Physical and temperamental factors create some of the differences.  A short, fat fellow, for instance, naturally swings on a flatter plane and with a shorter arc than a lanky golfer.  An excitable kind of guy naturally swings faster than a placid individual...An aggressive person will tend to hit more with his hands, whereas a more timid fellow will depend on his body turn to generate power.

Other differences in style come from the random nature of the learning process...A good player goes with the type of swing that will work for him most consistently, no matter what it looks like or how hard it may be to execute.  Thus there is no end to the peculiarities on tour.  Lee Trevino looks like he's aiming 45 degrees left of target when he stands up to the ball.  Watch his swing and not where the shot goes and you'd guess he couldn't break 90!  Jack Nicklaus and Gay Brewer play with a flying right elbow on their backswings.  Miller Barber does a loop-the-loop in his swing that makes you dizzy...

The list of eccentricities in style, or departures from norm, is practically endless among good players, and it suggests that individual style in golf is not only inevitable but desirable.  Learning to play golf well becomes largely a search for your own personal style."

Sam goes on to say that his swing came to be used as a model because it was " simple and smooth and relatively free of idiosyncrasy."   He further said:

"This swing of mine came to have an easy-to-copy quality, I think, because when I set out to build a golf game--untutored, as I mentioned earlier--I worked from results backwards.  I had no preconceived notions of form when I began.  My only desire was to hit the ball hard and long, and reasonably straight.  If it had been necessary for me to swing with one foot in the air, or with both eyes closed, I probably would have done that.  I let results impose form on my swing, rather than theory or style or any other factor."

So, for golfers, the game is, and always must be, a search for a personal style and swing that produces workable, if not necessarily great, golf shots.  We need to let the flight of the ball teach us whether we are on the right track.  If the ball flies far and true, keep doing what you're doing.  If, despite having developed an orthodox swing, the ball flies crooked, perhaps we need to think outside the box and be a bit unorthodox.  It didn't do Lee Trevino any harm.  At the end of the day our golf swing is our swing.  We need to find it and own it.  As Sam said, you need to find the swing that feels "YOU."

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Sam Snead: Loose as a Goose

Tension, both in body and mind, is a killer in the game of golf.  Sam Snead, still golf's most prolific winner on the PGA tour, said that when he was playing his best, his body was "loose as a goose." He wrote:

"Tension is the product of technique or temperament, or both, and it just eats up the golf swing.  Without going into detail at this point, there is a big difference between my relatively free swing, which, "loose as a goose," minimizes tension, and the swings of my fellow tourists and numerous handicap golfers, where force, restriction, and inhibition seem to be at the core of the action."

Sam goes on to talk about the "force-type" swing verses a syrupy-smooth, free flowing swing like his.  He said:

"The force-type swing tends to severely limit, or exaggerate, the participation of certain parts of the body.  On tour, for example, certain players turn their shoulders fully but their hips hardly at all.  What that does is coil a lot of leverage into the upper body muscles that can be delivered to the ball in the form of club head speed coming down.  Fine.  But the fact is that only the supple muscles of youth can repeatedly execute such a stressful action--and even then only after a lot of training."

It's interesting that Harvey Penick wrote that he preferred watching the swings of the guys on the Champions Tour--the swings that had stood the test of time--to the modern swings on the PGA tour that he maintained would not last as the players aged.

When talking about the force-type swing, Sam went on to say:

"After thirty, that kind of backswing (in my kind both hips and shoulders turn in tandem) feels more like weight lifting than golf.  And remember that anything based on tension, as this paricular approach is, tends to dissolve in tension.  When the chips are down, the force-type swing is not an easy swing to hold together, even for a youngster...

Of course, some of these fine young athletes out on the tour can do just about anything with their bodies and still make the golf swing work.  But I, personally, believe that over the years the free-type swing has produced many more top players and consistent winners than the force-type swing.  And I know that a freer swing would be better for the great majority of golfers who play, not for a living, but for pleasure.  The swing made freely is not only longer lasting than the force-type swing, since it involves less physical and mental wear and tear, but it is one of the main reasons I'm still in the thick of things.  It is also, swing for swing, a far more enjoyable experience when you're out on the golf course."

Clearly, there are very few individuals who can produce a flowing, rhythmic swing like Sam Snead, Ernie Els, or Fred Couples.  But to avoid tension in the golf swing will surely help even us mere mortals, especially as we get longer in the tooth and weaker in the back and legs.  

Even on the tour today, if we consider the swings of top young players, we see a force-type swinger like Jason Day, and, to a lesser degree, Rory McIlroy, compared to the freer swings of Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth.  While the body is able, and the swing is in the groove, those force-type swingers can  produce some real magic.  But, over the long haul, I suspect we will see Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth playing at a higher level for a longer period of time, with fewer injuries.

With a ruined back and neck, I know I am now paying for having been a force-type hitter of the ball, instead of being a free-swinger of the club. Hopefully, a leopard can change his spots and I can learn to ease it up, get "loose as a goose," and let the club do more of the work.  It would certainly be easier on my old body, and probably my mind.

Monday, 19 October 2015

I'm Trying Not to Try

Way back in 1981, I joined the Correctional Service of Canada.  In those days, the training to be a Correctional Officer focussed as much, or more, on learning how to march and shoot straight, as it did learning how to communicate with convicts.  We drilled, and played with guns, and wrestled, and learned to use  the thirty six inch baton--my personal favourite--until we were hopefully ready to face just about anything.  Of course, the reality is that I spent much more of my thirty year career talking to convicts than I ever did wrestling with them. 

I know this is a golf blog, so I realize I have ventured off topic to a degree.  The reason I mentioned my career in Corrections is that during that training phase we spent lots of time exercising and getting fit.  We played ball hockey in the gymnasium, and it was during one of those sessions that I discovered something interesting.  

When we were warming up, I used the hockey stick like a golf club and hit shot after shot at the goalie.  I was able to consistently hit a low cut right at the target.  Watching me was a fellow trainee whose father was a golf pro, and who had himself secured his CPGA card but left the golf business in favour of the better pay offered to federal Corrections officers.  He was clearly taken aback by the way I was able to use a hockey stick to hit shot after shot right on target.  I never really thought much about it at the time, but I have since often recalled the incident.

I have recently been writing about Sam Snead's teaching.  In my last blog I talked about Sam's description of his state of mind and body when he was playing his best.  He said that his mind was blank and he was "loose as a goose."  That was how I felt on that day in the gym playing golf with a hockey stick and a plastic ball the size of a tennis ball.  I just swung the stick and sent that ball whistling at the goalie.  It was easy.

I have had other similar experiences with a golf club in my hand.  In bygone days, I have had people stop to watch me hit the ball on the range; many of them thinking I was a pro.  In every case, I had to say, "You haven't seen me putt!"  When on a range I was often able to hit every shot in the book--low, high, left to right, right to left, dead straight--it was easy.  I say "was," because my days of hitting balls on the range are pretty much over given the state of my back.  I figure I've only got so many swings left in me, so I don't want to waste any.  Besides, my swing bears little resemblance to the swing of my youth.  I'm not sure I could break an egg with my current swing.

Today, I missed my tee time with Carl and Billy.  I did, however, manage to catch up with them on the tenth tee.  It was 46 degrees and windy.  We were all bundled up and not exactly loose as a goose, given the weather.  Nevertheless, I tried to think of nothing over the ball and swing easy, like the Slammer.  A pushed tee shot into the trees on the eleventh, and a clumsy double on fifteen had me five over after nine.

Meanwhile, Carl the Grinder kept getting it up and down from everywhere and had happily announced that a par on 18 would be for 75.  "Not bad in this weather," he said, smiling like the cat who ate the canary.  He smiles a lot when he's beating my sorry butt.  

Sure enough, hitting it over the back of the green on 18 into some gnarly rough, Carl gouged it out and made the putt for his 75.  I decided to keep going and play the front nine alone.  I had found something on the last few holes and wanted to try to ingrain the feeling.  

What I had found was that "hockey stick" swing from the gym.  That relaxed, carefree, "take it back and let it go" swing of days gone by.  I played the next nine in one under par, giving me a 76.  It didn't better Carl's 75, but it wasn't so bad for an old, fat guy, playing in that weather.  If I can only keep that feeling.  Sam Snead said that he played his best golf when he felt like he was hardly trying.  That seems to be the key for me as well.  I have to learn not to try too much. I have to learn not to care as much.  That's when I play my best.

Carl is a grinder.  He plays every shot like it's life or death.  He grinds as hard for an 80 as he does for a 70.  He shot 70 again last week actually, which isn't too shabby for a guy who's 72 years old and swings like he's falling off a ladder.  Me, I'm much better being loose as a goose.  When I try too hard, I get tight.  To each their own.  The problem is, it's hard to feel like you don't care when you really do.  That's what makes this game so tough.

I'm going to try from now on not to try so hard.  That's what golf does to you.  It makes you try not to try.  No wonder I drink!

Sam Snead: Why Technique Works Better Than Method

In the golf world there are any number of "method" teachers.  There are the "stack and tilters," the "one plane swingers," the "left siders," the "natural golfers;" to name but a few.  All of these methods obviously work for some.  But Sam Snead, in his 1975 book covering the "Key" approach to golf, argues in favour of developing technique, rather than learning a method.

In chapter two he wrote:

"A free and simple approach to golf is more effective than a complicated method.  For instance, when I swing at a golf ball right, my mind is blank and my body is loose as a goose...over the past fifty years of playing top-flight competitive golf, it seems like my best results have always come when I'm hardly trying at all.  At those times my mind and body go on automatic pilot, I swing with my smoothest rhythm and greatest vigor, and the birdie side of each hole opens up for me like I owned the course."

I find this particularly interesting, because my experience, though obviously not playing at anything like Sam's level, has been the same.  Most of my best rounds, rounds under par and in the sixties, which have been relatively few and far between, have come when I've felt that I was totally relaxed and swinging smoothly and easily.  That happy state, where things feel easy, may actually just be the times when we find ourselves in that happy place called "the zone;" those happy times when our swing is in the groove and we don't have to think too much about what we're doing, or how we're doing it.

Sam goes on to say:

"Now that's bad news to a certain kind of personality. There's a type of guy who'd rather hear that golf is hard work, period.  He'd rather be told he needs lots of muscle and a special method to get around in a fair score.  Then he'll be able to go swing himself silly on the golf course and feel like he's done a satisfying amount of hard labor.

Well, golf is hard work--but not on the golf course.  It's hard work on the practice tee and on the practice putting green and in the practice bunker.  The golf swing is a learned motion, an acquired habit.  It's damn hard work thinking about what your swing really feels like, and where it could be improved, and what you have to do next to get yourself to play up to your potential.  It's a form of self-knowledge, and that isn't easy to come by in any field.  Like I said, the game is hard work--especially in the head.

As for 'method,' I've seen too many methods come and go in my half century in golf to really believe that the latest method on the market, whatever it may be, is going to solve anybody's golf problems for long.  I'm not doubting the sincerity or professionalism of the proponents of these methods.  As a matter of fact, I believe that even a poorly conceived method can indirectly help a certain type of golfer simply by getting him to think consciously about his game and about what it will take to improve it.  On the other hand, I've seen too many fine players on tour lose their winning edge because of a sudden conversion to some method or other that, once mastered, supposedly guarantees never missing another fairway or green."

Sam Snead was a classic feel player.  He knew how he felt--and how his swing felt--when he played his best.  He well knew that one size doesn't fit all in the rag trade, or in golf.  We are all unique.  The question is, when you played your best, or when you hit that great shot--because we've all hit great shots--how did you feel?  What, if anything, were you thinking?  Sam believed that this sort of thinking, or self-knowledge, was what can really make you a golfer.

Sam said his mind was "blank," and he was "loose as a goose."  In my next piece I'll cover what Sam had to say about that.  

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Sam Snead on Potential

On another thrift shop hunt my wife found me the book, SAM SNEAD Teaches You His Simple "KEY" Approach to GOLF.  Having spent the day reviewing the book, I realize that she, once again, found me a gem.  Authored in 1975 with Larry Sheehan, Sam provides some timeless advice aimed at the recreational golfer.  It is much like Sam's iconic swing; simple, direct, and easy.  

In the first chapter, entitled You Have More Potential Than You Think You Have, Sam cuts to the chase when it comes to the average golfer's apparent inability to improve despite the advances in golf equipment, golf-course conditioning and care, and golf instruction.  Sam writes:

"WHAT'S the practical challenge in golf?
     To get off the tee straight.
     To keep up your concentration for the second shot.
     To learn to play all the around-the-green shots as well as you can.
     To get the ball in the cup on each green in no more than two strokes.
 That about covers the game, don't you think?  Anybody who can do that for eighteen holes is bound to shoot in the 80s or better.

Yet more than half the people playing golf around the world today can't break 100!"

So, there's the rub.  With all this great equipment, on well-conditioned courses, and with all the great instruction available, why does the average golfer not find himself improving to the point where breaking 100 is not even a consideration, and breaking eighty becomes more the goal?  What's the problem?  Sam continues:

"Something's wrong somewhere.  Hard as this game is--and I'd be the first to call golf the most complex mixture of do's and don'ts in sport--there should be some way for more people to play it more enjoyably, which of course means better.  I don't mean pro-tour better.  I just mean better in relation to a person's natural talent.

I've spent a lot of time with all kinds of pupils, on the lesson tee in between tournaments over the years.  From what I've seen, I'm inclined to believe most people do have more potential for improvement than they think they have.  Most people, if they use their abilities properly and hold onto their common sense, can get around even the meanest track with a decent-looking score... my views may sound too simple and straightforward at times, but I've never been a great believer in complicating an issue unnecessarily.  A lot of instructional talk today comes out of the rare air in which a couple of hundred unusually gifted and highly trained touring pros operate, and really contributes little or nothing useful to the game of the weekend golfer."

Sam goes on to relate a couple of interesting stories.  In the first instance he got a chronic slicer to change his grip, curing his banana ball.  A couple of weeks later he encounters this fellow, only to find that he has changed his grip back and is back to playing from the trees on the right.  When Sam asked the fellow what had become of the grip he had shown him, the slicer responded by saying: "That grip was fine, Sam.  But I like my old grip better.  This is me!"  The moral of the story being, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.

Continuing on the subject, Sam wrote:

"Learning has to come from the inside, or it won't stick, as exemplified by the time I took a woman of average strength and coordination, who'd never played golf before, and steered her around a golf course in under 100.  I steered her through each and every set up and swing, and, of course, she shot the score with my feel and my knowledge, not her own.  When she did go out on her own, she flopped.  She had nothing inside to call on.

Something like that particular failure often seems to take place in players who are lured by all the new golfing 'methods' that happen along.  Actually, the fault lies not so much in the method as in the attitude of the golfer toward the method.  You can't let a new golf method 'happen' to you--in the manner that you can lie back in the barber chair and let your hair get cut--because nothing lasting will come out of the learning experience.  Your faults will grow back into your golf game just as surely as your hair grows back after a clipping.

So bear in mind, in reading this book, that building or rebuilding a golf swing takes a big commitment... Improvement takes time and patience and practice and desire, and none of it ever comes as easy as it looks.  But that's how a sturdy, workable, lasting personal style in golf is achieved."

So, Sam makes no guarantees.  He doesn't offer a fool-proof golfing system.  He encourages us to find our swing, and to develop our unique style in playing the game.  His next chapter, which I will next cover, explains why technique works better than method.  I hope you will enjoy this timeless advice from one of golf's greatest players and sweetest swingers.


Friday, 16 October 2015

Sugarloaf Golf Club

I played Sugarloaf Golf Club in Maine yesterday.  The leaves were beautiful.  The sun was shining.  The course was in terrific shape.  It is one of my favourite courses in the world.  After three putting three of the first four holes on those undulating greens, I just lost my pencil and soaked up the views.

If you get the opportunity, you just have to play this gem.  Kathryn walked the course and took more than three hundred pictures.  Here are a few that give you an idea of just how terrific this course is.  Bring lots of ammunition if you tend to hit it crooked.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

The Old Guys, the Afrikaners, and the Korean

I searched in vain to find a channel covering the matches yesterday.  Golfchannel said it was covering the matches, but didn't.  TSN didn't cover them.  I was not a happy Eastlink customer.  

A review of the results show that I really missed some good stuff.  The elder statesmen, Mickelson and Johnson have stood tall, earning two and a half of three possible points; earning a half only because of a rather silly rule violation and subsequent penalty.  I guess Phil has more than proven his worth as a team member, despite my initial doubts.  Zach Johnson, as always, has been a big-time player, who is tough as nails.

King Louis and Branden Grace are the team of the matches, sporting a perfect record.  Nick Price looks like a genius keeping the two South Africans together.  Any worries about Oosthuizen's fitness have been dispelled, and Branden Grace has now arrived.  He will surely become a fixture on the world stage after this season, and these matches.

Sangmoon Bae has an unbeaten record as well, proving the old "horses for courses" saying to be true.  Having won twice on Jack's course prior to the matches, he has now proven to be a player who can rise to the occasion on one of the biggest stages.

The Americans still look to be awfully strong for the singles matches.  The Internationals have a big mountain to climb, but must surely be energized and confident, having so bravely fought their way back into the matches.

I love the fact that Sangmoon Bae plays the final singles match.  It may not mean a thing unless his team produces some magic early.  But, at the beginning of the week I had hoped that he would be a big factor for the sake of the Korean fans, and the game.  He has certainly done his bit.  Now, he has the opportunity to really make a name for himself with his Korean fans and the golfing world.  It's funny how an event like this can change a player's career.  

I hope for two things.  First, I hope I can find some TV coverage to watch the damned matches.  Then, I hope it ends in a nail-biter.  So far, the Presidents Cup has delivered for the Korean fans.  As for me, I'm not very happy to have missed so much of the action, but hope springs eternal that someone will cover it for me.

Sangmoon Bae, Sangmoon Bae!

Friday, 9 October 2015

Sang Moon Bae Shines

After, somewhat surprisingly, being sat out on the first day, Sang Moon Bae produced some fine golf alongside Danny Lee on day two.

Rolling in a fifteen footer on eighteen to secure the win against the formidable team of Fowler and Jimmy Walker, Bae gave the Koreans something to cheer about, coming through in the clutch as his partner struggled on the greens.  Suddenly, with the heroics of Bae and the continued great play from the team of King Louis and Branden Grace, the Internationals look to make a real contest of the Presidents Cup.  

So far, Jack's course has not provided a birdie fest.  The players have struggled to read the greens and  there have been more balls than you would ever imagine finding the water.  Bubba and JB have been playing great and enjoying one another's company.  A happy Bubba is a dangerous Bubba, and I see the team is sticking together for the morning matches on Day three.

I am surprised to see the Adam Scott-Leishman pairing by Captain Price.  Neither have looked particularly comfortable out there so far.  I would preferred to see Lahiri out there again.  I'm also not thrilled by the Haas- Kuchar pairing, as both players have lots of talent but don't strike me as having a great deal of fire in their bellies.  Perhaps, in both cases, the captains will prove me wrong.  They obviously know much more than I do about who's ready, and who plays best with whom.  

I expect to see another closely contested session.  I see Bubba and JB winning their match against Scott and Leishman.  I also  fancy Bae and Matsuyama over Kuchar and Haas.  The first match between Fowler and Reed and Oosthuizen and Grace could be a real dandy, and the final match, with Spieth and DJ facing Day and Schwartzel, should also be a nail-biter.  

It's a damn shame that the silly rules violation impacted the matches, but I hope that it doesn't end up being the deciding point.  If so, it will have been a very poor show by the officials and those who made the rule to begin with.  In match play, loss of a hole for an infraction should be as bad as it gets.  This double jeopardy business is a crock.  Phil should have known better than to pull another ball and put it in play without checking first, but he called it on himself and the punishment didn't fit the crime.

Let's hope the story ends up being about the golf, and not the rules.  I want to hear the crowd shouting Sangmoon Bae, Sangmoon Bae!  I also want to see the best team win it fair and square.  It's been an interesting show so far.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

It Wasn't Pretty

It's deja vu all over again after day one at the Presidents Cup in Korea.  It wasn't pretty.  But then, if you're an American, I guess you didn't necessarily have to play well; just well enough to win.  

Despite wide fairways, we saw balls hit into water, including a dunked tee shot by Leishman right after DJ had drowned his tee shot.  We even witnessed Jason Day try, and fail, to hit a driver off the deck, over water, after his partner had hit his tee shot into the lake.  We saw a team flub three pitches in a row.  As Johnny Miller pointed out, at times it started to look more like a Pro Am than a collection of the world's best players.  But match play can sometimes be that way.  You do get matches where both teams seem almost determined not to win.

Once again, I enjoyed Jack's comments.  His view was, they've all earned the right to be on the team, so let them all play and enjoy themselves.  It's an exhibition where the winner enjoys nothing more than bragging rights.  It isn't a Major; and it shouldn't be a war.  I think Nick Price's heart was in the right place, wanting to change the format to 28 points and having to settle for 30 instead of the 34.  

In order to be more competitive, he probably felt he needed to be able to "hide" some of his weaker players.  The problem with that approach is that it probably doesn't feel very nice to be "hidden," after you've earned a spot on the team.  These "independent contractors" are already donating their time to an event for the sake of the game and charity.  They all deserve to be able to play and enjoy themselves, win or lose.

The Korean fans deserve to see their man, Bae--maybe even see him go up against Spieth.  Yeah, he'll probably get beaten, but what if he managed a win?  Remember the time they put Mike Weir, our Canadian hero, up against Tiger in the singles when the event was played in Canada?  The Canadians certainly do.  Mike beat Tiger.  In match play, you just never know.

I hope Nick takes a page out of Jack's book, recognizing that he's up against it, and tells his guys to just go out there and have a blast.  Tell them to just have fun and play like there's no tomorrow.  Tell them to give the fans something to remember, be it great, or bloody awful.  

The matches aren't over by any stretch of the imagination.  But, even if the Americans look to be the winners again this year, there's lots of golf left.  Give us a good show, boys.  Sang Moon Bae, Sang Moon Bae, Sang Moon Bae!

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Golf Needs to be the Winner

It's almost time to kick off the Presidents Cup.  I've enjoyed Golfchannel's pre-match coverage, especially with the addition of Paul McGinley to the crew.  

I don't particularly care who wins, so long as the matches are closely contested in the spirit of the game.  I was disappointed to hear Nick Price inject the idea that this was a must-win situation for the internationals, and that some players were talking about skipping the event in the future if the Americans dominate again.  It suggests his team already have a questionable attitude, and this may not bode well for them.  

I liked Jack Nicklaus' comments about the competition being about the game and not winning and losing.  I'm disappointed that Nick and some of his players seem to have other ideas.  I think Nick Price is one of the classiest acts the game has ever known, and highly suspect that his comments had more to do with what he was hearing from some of his players, rather than how he really felt about the situation.

I find some of the pairings for the opening matches are interesting, particularly Mickelson and Zach Johnson.  I thought Mickelson was added to the team for his experience and leadership.  If so, both would seem to be wasted on Zach who is both a leader and very experienced.  Perhaps, in this case, the thinking is that Zach may be expected to carry Phil rather than the other way round.  It will be interesting to watch.

I was very disappointed to see Sang Moon Bae sitting out the first session as the only Korean on the team, other than Korean-born Danny Lee.  I would have somehow found a way to include him.  But, then again, I am not Nick Price.  He obviously has his reasons, which apparently included not wanting to break up the team of Bae and Schwartzel.  He's in a tough spot if he really thinks he has to produce a win to somehow save the Presidents Cup from becoming irrelevant.  Second guessing the captains is all too common a practice in my mind anyway.  Ultimately, it's the players who must step up.

I look forward to seeing some exciting golf on a course designed to yield birdies, and expect to see great things from Lahiri, who is quickly making a name for himself on the world stage.  I hope Bae plays great and that Danny Lee continues his good form.  As usual, the Americans, on paper, look to be the superior team.  The great thing is, in this game, anything can happen.

As Jack so aptly pointed out, at the end of the day, golf needs to be the winner at the Presidents Cup.  I think it will be.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Golf - The Great Escape

Golf is a great escape.  Bobby Jones talked about how the game held such appeal for "men of affairs" because it provided an escape from those affairs of life that can really weigh you down.  For those four hours in which you find yourself struggling against Old Man Par it is almost impossible to worry about your troubles.  It's great therapy.

I woke up today and, having struggled through the last few rounds with my back, decided to follow my wife's advice and listen to my body.  I'm skipping my morning game with Carl the Grinder and Billy.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is awfully weak.  However, Steve has a game booked for 2:30, so I may not listen to this old body all day.  I was so disgusted with my putting yesterday that I took to putting with my wedge for the last twelve holes and putted pretty well.  That has given me a ray of hope that makes we want to get back out there and see if I can find a little magic on the greens.

Billy asked if I had a four and five wood kicking around that he might try.  He's been struggling with a couple of hybrids, and, like me, can't "get it up" with them.  It's the curse of being a couple of round-bellied, old guys; those high, towering shots are no longer in the arsenal--if indeed they ever really were.  The older we get, the better we used to be.  I don't know what it is about the hybrid clubs, but Billy and I both hit low bullets with them, even though they're supposed to help you get the ball airborne.  Carl has a Callaway two hybrid that he hits way up in the air.  But Carl is an enigma.  He's seventy two and he can still get the ball way up and out there.

I brought Billy three Callaway woods that I had retired in favour of my Cleveland 22 and 25 degree fairway woods; a four, five, and seven wood.  They are getting to be antiques, but he used them yesterday with some promising results and happily traded me the two Taylormade hybrids, which will either collect dust or be passed on to someone younger, stronger, and more able to "get it up."  I must admit, seeing Billy hit those woods up in the air made me just as happy as he was.  I hope they keep working for him.  

Fortunately, for me, the biggest worry I currently have is my putting.  I can either focus on that, or I can think about the latest school shooting, or the eight year old girl in Tennessee that I just read about, who was shot and killed by the eleven year old boy next door with his father's shotgun.  The reason?  She wouldn't show him her new puppy.  She was the 559th child under 11 killed or injured by a firearm in the US this year.  I can worry about my putting instead of the troubles in Syria, or Afghanistan that neither I, nor anyone else for that matter, can seem to do much about.  

Golf can be a great escape.  And for "men of affairs," like President Obama, perhaps we shouldn't begrudge him a regular round of golf.  Heaven knows, he, and other men like him, who have real worries and responsibilities, need some time on the links to worry about something a little less important; like their slice, or their chipping.