Monday, 30 November 2015

Pail of water

I don't know who first came up with the idea, but I like it.  The golf swing is like throwing a pail of water.  It really is, when you think about it.

If you want to hit a fade or a draw and you imagine throwing a pail of water and making the water go left or right, you wouldn't be far off.

If you want to have good tempo, and get the speed in the right place, just imagine throwing that pail of water and you'd be in business.  If you swung back too fast, or tried to accelerate too soon with that pail of water, you'd either get wet, spill the water too soon, or both.  

If you tried to throw that pail of water without making a good turn, or using your legs, you wouldn't make that water go very far.  You'd have a hard time throwing that water just using your arms.

If you wanted to understand how the hands work together, again the pail of water image helps.  Try to swing that pail with just the right hand moving towards the target, and the left side not pulling, and see where the water goes.

Throwing water from a pail can be very instructive.  So can throwing anything heavy.  Ben Hogan talked about thinking of throwing a medicine ball.  It's the same idea. The acceleration is gradual, with real effort happening at the bottom.  

I think I might try selling the idea--selling pails as a golf aid.  You could have people on the range practising throwing the water.  But then you'd have to have a tap, or a hose at the practice tee.  And it isn't good to waste water.  I guess the medicine ball is a better idea.  But then you'd get tired pretty quickly: throwing a medicine ball.  And you'd keep having to go and fetch it.

Okay, maybe it wouldn't work as a golfing aid.  But I think it's a really good image.  If you want a good swing, think about tossing that pail of water-- or the medicine ball.  To each their own.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Right-Arm Action According to Jack Nicklaus

Ken Venturi said, "Golf is a game of finding what works, losing it, and finding it again."  Bobby Jones said pretty much the same thing, suggesting that he always had one or two things he thought about to keep his swing in good working order.  But those one or two things were always different, needing to be changed as they lost their charm; often because he began to exaggerate the move until he over-did it at the expense of something else.  

While there are times when you don't have to think too much about the swing, and you can just look at the target and let it go, those times tend to be few and far between for most players, even the really good ones.

I've been thinking lately about how I might be able to get the zip back in my swing.  Just like everyone else, I suppose, every year I seem to be losing a few more yards.  My back and neck troubles have made things worse.  A big turn is now pretty much out of the question.  Also, the fact that the past year and a half or so I've been forced to ride a cart, means my legs aren't as strong as they were.  Put the two together and it's a recipe for a serious loss of power.

I have decided I need to focus more on using my hands to get the zip I want.  In using the hands rather than the big muscles to generate speed, there is always the danger that the stronger right hand will take over and ruin the shot.  I was a softball pitcher and have been figuring lately that I need to use that pitching motion to get the club head firing at the target.  I find that I can still pitch a softball with lots of pop, and accuracy, despite my wonky back.  So I've decided to give it a whirl.  Actually, I remember Harvey Penick talking about a fellow he taught who was a former softball pitcher and used that under-handed pitching motion in his golf swing to some success.

Yesterday I found a new copy of Jack Nicklaus' Golf my Way at a thrift shop.  I already had an old one, but as I read through the new one again, I discovered what Jack had to say about the right-arm action, which tended to confirm what I've been thinking.  Jack said:

"In most good golf swings the right arm is slightly bent and the right elbow pointing down, not out, at impact.  Otherwise there's a danger that the right side will grab control of the swing, invariably with dire results.  Past impact, however, the right arm does straighten and extend toward the target.  To me, the movement feels very similar to that used in bowling or in pitching a softball.  It's a "sweeping-through motion from which I get the feeling I could reach out and retrieve the flying ball with my right hand."

I had tried using my softball pitching motion the last few holes the other day after my back started really giving me some grief.  The results were very promising.  It's 34 degrees out this morning, but bad back be damned, I'm going out to try that under-handed pitching motion again today.  Thanks, Jack.  I knew I was on to something.  

It may just work for awhile.  At least until I over-do it at the expense of something else.  That's the way this game is.  What worked like a charm yesterday stops working today, and you must find something else--something you probably already knew but had over-looked in favour of your latest swing thought.  That's golf.  There are lots of swing keys that work.  It's just that none of them work every time.  If they did, this game would be easy.

Friday, 27 November 2015

You Had Better Learn

Putting is the great equalizer.  Good putting covers a multitude of sins in other areas of the game.  I tend to agree with Raymond Floyd, who felt the most important shot in golf was the six foot putt.  In golf, it almost inevitably comes down to making putts if you are going to score.  And there are often times when I resent the importance of putting; especially when I have those days where I might have out-played my opponent from tee to green, but been beaten because he putted better than I.

Once again, I find Bobby Jones had some excellent insights into putting; the part of the game that has been called "the game within a game."  In Golf is my Game, Bobby wrote:

"Often--too often, I think--putting has been referred to as 'a game within a game', implying that in some way the putting stroke is, or should be, different from that employed in playing other golf shots.  I do not think this is true, and I know it is anything but a useful conception for the learning golfer.  Somehow it conveys the notion that on the putting green, at least, one should be able to reduce the simple physical act into a precise routine of infallible accuracy.

To make a completely honest confession, I have myself been the victim of this delusion, and can be thankful that it only arrived after my serious playing days were over, and so caused me merely a few temporarily painful experiences in the Masters Tournament.

It is remotely possible, I concede, that my jittery putting in Augusta may have been some early manifestation of the nerve affliction from which I am now suffering, or some alteration of my attitude towards tournament play because of my earlier withdrawal from competition.  It is my own conviction that my putting troubles began when I started to struggle for a precision in my putting stroke which I would never have considered possible in any other department of the game.

The fact is that the direction of the stroke in putting is so much more important than the exact alignment of the face of the putter.  Any well-made golf club will seat itself in an approximately correct position when it is rested on the turf behind the ball.  The wiggling and twisting some players employ in an effort to make the alignment precise only serve to set up so much rigidity in the player that a smooth, rhythmic stroke becomes impossible.  I think the very height of folly, or of imposition upon the credulous golfer, is represented by the spirit levels and sighting devices now being offered for sale as aids in putting.

The putting stroke should be thought of as just another golf stroke, except that it ought to be the simplest.  The same requirements are to be met here as in driving from the tee.  The posture at address should be comfortable and relaxed, the swing should move freely back and forth beneath a stationary head, and the blow should be directed along the line upon which it is intended that the ball should begin its travel.

I regard the putting stroke as so truly a miniature golf stroke that I think it is a mistake to try to exclude any members of the body from participation in the action.  In other words, I do not believe in trying to hinge the stroke upon either wrist, or in trying to restrict the movement to any sort of fixed base.  Naturally, the shortest putt requires only the gentlest tap, actuated only by the hands; a putt slightly longer may require that the arms should swing a bit; and the long approach putt may need a stroke long enough to induce a little movement in the hips and legs.

In putting, and in chipping too, it is important that the backswing should be long enough.  Nothing can be worse around the greens than a short, snatching stroke.  I have had some real masters of the short game tell me, and I heartily agree, that it is most helpful to swing back a little farther than needed on the first few chips or putts of any round.  In this way they can be certain of a smoothly-floating club so necessary for a delicate touch."

As I read this, I find myself thinking of Ben Crenshaw's smooth, flowing stroke.  Watching Ben swing the putter we see no effort to do anything other than smoothly stroke the ball along the intended line.  He would seem to putt exactly as Bobby Jones recommended; nothing forced, or controlled, just a swing of the putter head.  Bobby continues, by writing:

"Actually, this touch is the key to good putting.  Very few putts of any length are dead straight, so that no line is right except for one speed; and the player who tries to straighten even the shortest putts by charging the hole will miss a lot of those coming back.

I will guarantee that more putts under twenty feet--the kind you like to hole--will go in, and three-putt greens will pop up less often, if the player will forget about the precise alignment of his putter and learn to adjust his touch so that he may always keep his ball above the hole and always reach the hole with a dying ball.  A ball dying on a slope above the hole often topples in, and always stops close; nothing is more disheartening than to watch a ball barely miss the lower side of the hole and then curl down the slope some five or six feet.  And remember, even on short putts, that the hole is of full size for the touch putter, while it presents only an inch or so to the charger who has to hit the exact centre of the cup.

I like to think of putting as very much like rolling a golf ball from my hand across a green towards a hole.  I know I should then not worry too much about the backswing of my arm.  I think it would instinctively take care of itself.  So in putting, I don't like to worry too much about the alignment of my putter at address or about my backswing, except that it be long enough.  The picture I want uppermost in my mind is of the line I want the ball to travel on, and of how hard I want to hit it."

Having given his view of how best to approach the task of putting, Bobby once again returns to the subject of whether or not putting is really a game within a game.  I think it perfectly addresses the issue.  He writes:

"There occurs to me one other reason for saying that putting is a game within a game.  It makes it much easier to say or to think, "I played very well, but I couldn't putt", or "He's a fine golfer, but he can't putt."  I know--I have done it myself--but how can a man play golf well or be a fine golfer if he can't putt?

One thing is certain: you won't win any medals or many friendly bets if you can't get the ball into the hole.  If you are not reasonably good at it, you had better learn."

So what can we learn from this information from Bobby Jones?  He did not believe that putting is a game within a game, as is often attributed to him.  He did not believe in being overly precise about putting.  He believed the putting stroke was just a simple golf swing, and that touch was the most important thing to learn.  

Having tried virtually every putter known to man--I've got about thirty of them still around the house--and just about every conceivable grip, stance, and stroke; I might just give up and try getting back to just trying to roll the ball on the right line, at the right speed.  If nothing else, it will save me buying any more putters.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Swing Easy and Accept the Extra Distance

Bobby Jones said, "Many shots are spoiled at the last instant by efforts to add a few more yards."  Ain't that the truth.  And yet do you think I can learn to swing easy?  

My best golf is always played when I feel like I'm just patty-caking the ball.  When I feel like I've got lots of club, and I feel like I don't have to strain, the ball tends to come off the club like a rocket.  I wish I could learn to play with my lay-up swing.  But put that driver in my hand and I suddenly want to kill something.

My father used to say, "Swing easy and accept the extra distance."  He was right, of course.  

I've been reading a book by Bob Toski called The Touch System for Better Golf.  In the book Mr. Toski recommends learning to play by feel by working from the green back to the tee; learning to hit solid putts, then chips, then wedges, working your way back to the driver.  He believes too many of us have not progressed as we might have because we essentially tried to run before we learned to walk.  We didn't master the simple shots and swings before we reached for the big dog.  

In that book Bob Toski also explains why we should never swing hard.  Why, as Julius Boros also taught, we need to learn to "swing easy and hit hard."  He explains that we are hitting a ball that weighs less than two ounces with a club that weighs about fourteen ounces.  Why then do we feel we need to swing out of our shoes and lunge at the ball to get it moving?  He also explains that kinetic energy is derived from an equation involving mass and speed, with speed being the most important part of the equation.  So we need to make the club move faster and hit the ball with optimum mass, in other words in the centre of the club face, if we want to maximize the energy we transmit to the ball.  It is speed we want, not force.

Toski advises us to think about the ball as though it was a ping pong ball, or a bubble.  We want to swing through it instead of at it.  We need to realize that, if we relax, and let the club do the work, we can hit it farther with must less work.  

I think I'm going to try to remember just how small and light that golf ball is compared to the club.  If I do, maybe I can learn to resist ruining as many shots by trying to add a little extra at the moment of truth.  I am going to try to take Harry Vardon's advice when he said: "Don't press.  You can hit hard without pressing."

Bobby Jones on Addressing the Ball

Today, I was thinking about how often shots are made or missed before the club has even been swung.  When you think about it, how often have you seen someone addressing the ball and just known they were going to miss the shot?  In fact, how often have you stood over a shot yourself and just known you were going to miss it?  On the other hand, how often have you watched a good player step into the shot and just known he, or she, was going to hit it dead solid perfect?  Addressing the ball with the correct attitude, physically and mentally, is vital to playing good golf. 

I was reviewing the book, Golf is my Game, where Bobby Jones deals, surely about as well as anyone possibly could, with the subject of addressing the golf ball.  In Golf is my Game, after having first dealt with the concept of learning by playing, then how the ball must be struck, and then how the club should be gripped, Bobby turned his attention to how to approach actually playing a golf shot.  It was written before the popularization of the idea of a "pre-shot routine," but it essentially deals with this as well.  Bobby wrote:

"The act of beginning to play a golf shot is called addressing the ball.  We already know that at this point there must be in the player's mind a very clear picture of the manner and direction in which he intends to hit.  As he approaches the ball and places himself before it preparing to strike, he must, of course, arrange his posture so that he feels capable of delivering a blow along the desired path.  He must become aware of this capability before the swinging of the club can have any purpose.  But the striving for this awareness of proper positioning can be far more effective than any effort to fit the stance to a prescribed diagram.

The keynote of the address position should be ease, comfort, and relaxation.  Above all else, the first posture must be one from which the movement of the swing may be started smoothly without having to break down successive barriers of tension set up by taut or strained muscles.  To go a bit further, the player should feel himself alert, sensitive to impulses, and ready to move in either direction.

It is always better at this point to be one's own natural self than to make an effort to look like someone else.  Any posture that feels uncomfortable is certain to produce a strain somewhere that will cause the ensuing movement to be jerky.  It is well to remember that there are no forces outside the player's own body that have to be resisted or balanced.  There is no need for him to set or brace himself, for there is nothing to brace against.  If one can conceive that he is standing naturally with a golf club in his hands, and that he bends over enough to ground the club behind a ball not too far distant, the resulting posture will be quite good."

Contrast this advice from Bobby Jones with the sort of prescribed, or standardized, address positions we are taught by many golfing experts.  Bobby's emphasis is on comfort and relaxation, rather than trying to make your body conform to some prescribed position.  Once you have picked your shot, and understand how the ball must be struck to produce that shot, Bobby tells us to set ourselves in the manner that feels most natural and comfortable in order to execute the required strike.

Bobby liked Abe Mitchell's golfing phrase: "A golfer must always move freely beneath himself."  Bobby liked this phrase, as it helped the golfer appreciate that he needn't root himself firmly to the ground, as if preparing to lift a heavy object, and that he must move his body, not just swing his arms.  Bobby wrote:

"My conception of the correct golf swing is built entirely around the one thought of assuring a full backward turn or wind-up of the trunk during the backswing.  This must be accomplished by the legs; and since the trunk must be turned around the spine as an axis under a motionless head, I think the player must truly 'move freely beneath himself.'"

It is here that Bobby deals with the idea that has become popularized under the name "pre-shot routine."  Bobby writes:

"This much is about enough for the beginner; but for others, and for him after he has played a bit, I want to make the suggestion of a further preliminary which I have found to be very helpful.  It is essentially to standardize the approach to every shot, beginning even before taking the address position. 

It is far easier to maintain a complete relaxation if one keeps continually in motion, never becoming still and set.  This sounds far-fetched, I know, but I have had a few players tell me that after taking great pains in addressing the ball, they have reached the point where they simply could not take the club back. It is a manner of freezing, and is well known to tournament players as a form of the 'yips'.

Long ago, and with no remembered intention, I standardized my approach in the following way:

Having decided upon the club to use and the shot to play, I could see no reason for taking any more time than was necessary to measure my distance from the ball and to line up the shot.  The more I fiddled around arranging the position, the more I was beset by doubts which produced tension and strain.

I began then to approach every shot from behind the ball looking towards the hole.  It was easier to get a picture of the shot and to line it up properly from this angle than from any other.  Ordinarily, coming up from behind, I would stop a little short of what my final position would be, just near enough to the ball to reach it comfortably.  From there, the club was grounded, and I took one look towards the objective.  The club gave me a sense of my distance from the ball; looking down the fairway gave me the line while my left foot swung into position.  One waggle was begun while the right foot moved back to its place.  When the club returned to the ground behind the ball, there was a little forward twist of the hips, and the backswing began.  I felt most comfortable and played better golf when the entire movement was continuous.  Whenever I hesitated or took a second waggle, I could look for trouble.

The little twist of the hips I have mentioned is a valuable aid in starting the swing smoothly, because it assists in breaking up any tension which may have crept in.  Often referred to as the 'forward press,' it has been regarded by many as the result of a movement of the hands.  In actual fact, the hands have nothing to do with it.  The movement is in the legs, and its chief function is to assure a smooth start of the swing by setting the hip turn in motion.  Without it, the inclination is strong to pick the club up with the hands and arms without bringing the trunk into use.

I do not think it wise to prescribe any definite number of waggles.  This depends too much upon how long is required for the player to settle into a comfortable position and obtain a proper alignment.  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 worrying."

Imagine how pleasurable it must have been to watch Bobby Jones approach his ball and let it fly; with a minimum of fussing and fidgeting.  He did not suggest we imitate his exact routine.  He suggested we instead be ourselves.  Nevertheless, as you watch the top players play, I can't think of one who doesn't approach the ball from behind, looking down the target line.  If you aren't doing that, you are making it more difficult to aim the club.

Imagine the comfort of picking your target and your shot shape, moving without undo fuss to the ball, and then letting it go.  No time to worry, or get tense; just a smooth unbroken rhythm.  No need to imitate anyone else.  No need to develop affectations, like tugging on your shirt sleeve, or opening and closing the flap of your glove; you just step up and confidently and comfortably hit the damned ball.  You might still miss it, but at least you'll have missed it quick.  Besides, most shots are missed before the swing has even started.  Don't I know it.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Play For Something

At the end of the day, golf is a game.  Like every other game, it has a winner and a loser.  That's why you should always play for something; even if it's just bragging rights. I haven't always felt that way.  In fact, I've generally avoided playing for money, or playing too many serious matches over the years.  But I'm learning that the competition is an important part of the golfing experience.

The other day Steve and I went to Salt Creek Golf Links near Warkworth.  There we met Doug from Brighton who I'd played with a few days earlier for the first time.  On the first tee, I announced that we would have a match; me against their best ball.  

I sensed that Doug, who is fairly new to the game, was a little taken aback at this idea, wondering what he was getting himself in to.  But as the round progressed, I think he enjoyed being part of "the game."  In fact, after Steve got in trouble, Doug had to hang in there for their team, and he actually did more than just hang in there, he won two holes.

As often happens, it came down to the last few holes.  In fact, Steve played well on the front and I found myself three down after ten.  In the end, we were all square playing eighteen.  It doesn't really matter who won, it just added something to the day for me.  Steve and I are not inclined to be ultra competitive on the golf course.  Put a hockey stick in my hand and I'm a different animal, but playing golf I tend to want my opponent to play well.  I like to win, but I prefer it to be close. I hope Doug enjoyed the day as much as Steve and I did.  I think having a friendly match helped us play a little harder, and added some pressure, which helps you focus.  

If you aren't playing for something, you're not really playing golf, you're just practising.  I like the quote I found from Walter J. Travis.  He said:

"The human element in the shape of an opponent is essential.  Always play for something, no matter how small, even though it only be a black cigar."

He also said:

"I only bet a quarter, but I play each shot as if it were for a championship."

That quote reminds me of Carl the Grinder, who plays for two bucks as though it was the Open championship.  My father always played for a dime a hole, or a dime a stroke--double for birdies.  It doesn't matter what you play for, as long as you play for something, and you play your hardest. That's the way to really enjoy golf.  

And yes, Bobby Jones said the same thing, so it must be so.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Head Cases

I have several times talked about these new young guns on tour who can play like stink and still seem to be enjoying the camaraderie out there on tour.  We saw it again this week with Andy Sullivan and Rory McIlroy as they essentially separated themselves from the field and went head to head for the tour championship.

It was a friendly, respectful match, with the two smiling and, at least until the pressure really amped up, chatting to one another.  We've seen the same from Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, and Rickie Fowler as they've battled for championships.  It's the way golf was meant to be played; in a spirit of good sportsmanship and camaraderie.  

Who was more of a competitor than Jack Nicklaus?  And yet, as hard as he tried to win, he accepted defeat as graciously as anyone ever could.  What a great example he set.

Another great competitor on the women's side was Nancy Lopez.  She was one of the best ever, and she was also one of the nicest.  I found this great quote from Nancy.  She said:

"Successful competitors want to win.  Head cases want to win at all costs."

Driving is about Seventy-Five Percent Mental

I think most people agree that the three most important clubs in the bag are the driver, the wedge, and the putter; not necessarily in that order.  

Ben Hogan felt the driver was the most important club, because a good drive set you up to be able to attack every hole.  It's hard to argue with that logic.  

This week in Dubai Rory McIlroy showed just how long, straight driving could help you dominate--even if the putt he made for bogey on seventeen will probably be most remembered as the moment when he really put his name on the trophy.

Sam Snead was a wonderful driver of the ball.  He also drove it long, and straight, and with a smooth rhythm that made it look effortless.  I like this quote I discovered from the Slammer:

"Driving is about seventy-five percent mental, so I believe in giving the ball some sweet talk on the tee. 'This isn't going to hurt a bit,' I whisper under my breath.  'Sambo is just going to give you a little ride.'"

I think I might just try a little sweet talk myself.

Don't Hurry

Walter Hagen was quite a piece of work.  He was one of the best match play players ever, as evidenced by his five PGA championships when the PGA was a match play event.

He probably did as much to elevate the stature of the golf professional, who at one time was not even permitted in some club houses, as anyone.  He was probably the first professional who lived like a king.  He was famous for saying he never wanted to be a millionaire; he just wanted to live like one.

His cavalier approach to golf tended to psych out his opponents, as he always seemed to just be having a good time as he routinely claimed the lion's share of the prize money.  The fact that he had one of the best short games ever didn't hurt.

As far as his attitude to golf, and to life, is concerned, I think he nailed it when he said:

"Don't hurry.  Don't worry.  You're only here for a short visit.  So don't forget to stop and smell the roses."

Imagine the Ball Has Little Legs

Henry Cotton, who was well before my time, but was reputed to be no slouch as a player and a teacher, said, "Imagine the ball has little legs, and chop them off."  I believe he was the first teacher to teach the "impact" approach, having students hit a tire with one hand, then the other, and then both, learning to make a solid, square strike and building some golfing muscle in the process. (There are some good videos on YouTube showing Cotton's tire drill)

As someone who got lost in swing mechanics, I have found myself at the point where I can no longer even find my old swing.  However, I have found this idea from Henry Cotton very helpful in the recovery process.  Imagining those little legs under the ball and chopping them off works like a charm to give you the right strike.  

Harvey Penick taught his students the same thing when he told them to "clip the tee" under the ball. Harvey said he didn't know why, but clipping the tee caused the club face to be square.  It was like magic.  Harvey also loved to see a player who just brushed the ball off the turf, taking little or no divot.

Johnny Miller also likes to talk about the "brush, brush" drill, especially with chipping where you make sure you brush the grass under the ball.  This approach beats the hell out of beating down on the ball and taking divots big enough to bury small mammals in, as I am sometimes prone to do.  

Since I've fiddled with my swing to the point of almost total confusion and paralysis, I am back to trying just to cut those little legs out from under the ball.  It beats the hell out of worrying about my backswing.

If you're having trouble with your swing, or your ball striking, maybe chopping the legs out from under that pesky little ball might help you as well.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Rory Shows his Mettle in Dubai

What a wonderful final round in Dubai by Rory McIlroy.  Forced to be patient, and produce his best stuff by Andy Sullivan, who came charging out of the gate riding a hot putter, Rory showed why he remains one of the three best--if not the very best--players in the game.

Sullivan, who is no short-knocker himself, found himself routinely forty or more yards behind Rory after the tee shot.  He was clearly out-gunned, but, until he started losing tee shots left, fought valiantly and, as the two separated themselves from the rest of the field, forced Rory to dig deep and show just why he is a great champion.

With a two shot lead on the seventeenth tee, Rory found himself having to wait on the group in front.  During the wait, he and Sullivan, along with their caddies, apparently engaged in some light-hearted conversation.  Whether this caused Rory to temporarily lose his focus, we may never know, but his tee ball thirty to forty yards right of target and into the water suddenly made he and Sullivan tied as they stood over lengthy putts on the seventeenth green.  Sullivan missed his attempt.  Rory stood up and stroked a putt that never left the hole, making his bogey, and retaining a one-shot lead heading to eighteen.

After both players made pars on eighteen, Rory secured his third Race to Dubai title and the DP tour championship; a fitting end to what, perhaps might be called a disappointing season for Rory, only insomuch as he failed to win a Major.  

Two things to be learned from this week in Dubai are that Rory McIlroy is still going to be a force to be reckoned with, and, as Doug Ford once said, "It's just as important to sink a bogey putt as it is to drop one for a par."

Saturday, 21 November 2015

A Couple of Up-and-Comers Shine in Dubai

That was some pretty impressive golf in Dubai from a couple of serious up-and-comers in Emiliano Grillo and Andy Sullivan.  

Grillo, playing with Rory, fashioned a terrific 64, while Rory shot his second 68 to find himself two shots up on his closest challenger in the Race to Dubai, Danny Willett.  Rory struck the ball better, but continued to be luke warm at best on the greens.  However, the quality of the man is that he still managed back-to-back 68's and staying in touch while not playing his best.  The great ones are able to do that.

Willett seemed to lose his cool after hitting a sloppy lay up out of a fairway bunker which nearly found a hazard.  Bad shots are inevitable, but it's always difficult to recover mentally from loose shots.  Fortunately, Willett managed to bear down and, when it looked like he was really going to stagger his way to the house, save his par on eighteen by holing a good putt to keep Rory in his sights.

Andy Sullivan, who is the only guy with three wins this year on the European tour, smiled his way around the course, giving his fan club wearing the smiley shirts plenty to cheer and smile about, especially as he rolled in a lengthy putt from the fringe on eighteen to grab a one shot lead with his second round of 66.

There is plenty of golf to play, and although Rory looks to me like winning the race to Dubai, if he wants to catch Sullivan, he better get the flat-stick warmed up. It's always down to the flat-stick in the end.

As for Sullivan and Grillo, me thinks they are both going to become much better known in the years to come.  They are really starting to feel their oats.  Speaking of up-and-comers, Matthew Fitzpatrick is another kid who looks to be a world-beater.  With nine top tens and a win in his rookie season on the European tour, this kid is definitely no flash in the pan and looks likely to be in the top ten again this week.

It's probably too soon to pick a winner, but one thing for certain, it's going to be a great tournament with lots of quality players still in the hunt.  I will be sure to set my video recorder.  In fact, I may even get up in the wee hours to watch it live.  It's going to be a dandy.

Thursday, 19 November 2015


Golfers are prone to talking about "if."  Spiros and I were talking about this yesterday.

Spiros loves to compete.  He's a sixteen handicapper who can play much better when the chips are down.  We played the Warkworth course yesterday.  It was cold and breezy, but it was November and we knew our days were numbered as far as golf was concerned.  It's a long winter in Ontario, so we play until all the courses close; the weather be damned.

I had told Spiros to bring lots of money because I intended to give him the business.  He was more than happy to respond to the challenge, and, after we settled on me giving him twelve strokes, we played match play.  Spiros was on his game, and after shooting 40 on the front nine, had me two down.  He had made nothing but pars and bogeys, so I was really up against it, and I knew it.  

I was striking the ball well. But after holing a nice putt for birdie on five, the hole closed up and Spiros ultimately won four and three.  He had played really well, shooting 83 or 84, depending upon whether he wanted to accept the eight foot putt I gave to him on the one hole at Warkworth that, so far, has his number.  I forget the number of the hole, but it is a long dogleg left around a marshy area, with a big willow on the corner of the dogleg.  The first time Spiros played it, which was last week, he was BIPLI (Ball in Pocket Lack of Interest) after hitting it into the marsh three times before picking up.  Yesterday, he hooked his tee shot into the marsh and made either seven, or eight, depending on whether you count the eight footer he backhanded at the hole in disgust as a gimme or not. 

At the end of the round we got to engaging in the "ifs."  I told him that I thought he had played about as well as I'd ever seen him play and if he hadn't made that mess of the dreaded dogleg left hole, and if he hadn't made that silly six on seventeen, he'd have really had a good score, especially considering the weather.  He responded in kind, saying that if I hadn't missed three birdie putts inside of six feet, and if I hadn't three-putted from three feet on fifteen to lose the match, I would have had a good score, and it would have been a good match.

I suggested to Spiros that this was the funny thing about the ifs; golfers tend to talk about missing three footers as though they are some sort of anomaly that, in retrospect, should be written off as bad luck.  We tend to say we might have shot a good round if we hadn't missed a few short ones.  We don't tend to admit that we might have scored a lot higher if that hooked tee shot on ten hadn't kicked off the tree and stayed in bounds, allowing me to make my par instead of a double or worse, which happened to me yesterday.

Golfers will probably always engage in the what ifs, or if onlys, after a round.  But the sad truth is, as a buddy of mine likes to say, "if your aunt had had nuts, she'd have been your uncle."  Or, as Steve likes to say, "It is what it is."  Spiros gave me the business and we both took as many shots as we took.  No point in talking about what might have been.  What actually was, was pretty damned good.  We had fun, and that's all that really matters for old fat guys like us.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Do You Need an Attitude Adjustment?

I know I can't ever seem to resist quoting Bobby Jones.  The reason, of course, is that with regard to virtually every subject related to golf he seemed, to me at least, to have said it best.  

Consider in part what Bobby had to say about adjusting your mental attitude in his book Golf is my Game.  This was written some ten or twelve years after he was forced to give up the game because of a crippling disease.  He wrote:

"The businessman golfer takes lessons and reads books; he imitates good players; he buys new clubs; he does everything he can to improve his swing, his shot-making ability.  But he overlooks one important feature: he doesn't ask himself often enough if he is scoring as well as he ought with his present ability.

In every club there is always at least one man who has the reputation of making a poor game go a long way, the man who seems always to beat a player a bit better than himself.  He doesn't do it by any divine inspiration, nor yet by any trick of fate.  He simply uses his head, analyzing each situation as it confronts him, always keeping in view his own limitations and power.  That is what we call judgement, and it is a lot easier to use good judgement than it is to learn to swing a club like Harry Vardon."

I think this is really the crux of the matter.  We can make all sorts of decisions about how me might, over time, improve our game.  We might commit to getting more fit.  We might undertake to practise more, or take lessons.  We might buy yet another putter, or driver.  But the real question is, are we playing as well as we should right now, with what we presently have to work with?  If we aren't using good judgement, and we don't have the proper attitude, the answer is obvious.

Bobby Jones, despite being a prodigious talent who burst on the American golf scene as a fourteen year old, had to learn some things and adjust his attitude before he played consistently great golf and became a steady winner of Major championships.  One of the things he needed to learn was that one can't expect perfection.  He wrote:

"The challenge of golf is well known.  But I feel that the average player sees the wide superiority of the expert and concludes that this is perfection.  Is it not better for him to realize that there is no such thing as perfection... Golf, in my view, is the most rewarding of all games because it possesses a very definite value as a moulder or developer of character.  The golfer very soon is made to realize that his most immediate, and perhaps his 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...

In my early years I think I must have been completely intolerant of anything less than absolute perfection in the playing of any shot...I habitually played every shot for its ultimate possibilities, regardless of risk.  This lack of discretion must have been fairly obvious; for Bill Fownes, the resourceful Pittsburgh amateur, once said to me, 'Bob, you've got to learn that the best shot possible is not always the best shot to play.'"

Bobby analyzed his game and came to understand that he needed to become less of a perfectionist.  He wrote:

"It took some doing, I'll admit, but it is a fact that I never did any amount of winning until I learned to adjust my ambitions to more reasonable prospects shot by shot, and to strive for a rate of performance that was consistently good and reliable, rather than placing my hopes upon the accomplishment of a series of brilliant sallies...

I finally arrived at a sort of measure of expectancy that in a season's play I could perform at my best rate for not over half-a-dozen rounds, and that in any of these best rounds I would not strike more than six shots, other than putts, exactly as intended.

If one should have confidence in such an appraisal, which I had, the following conclusions were inescapable:

1.  I must be prepared for the making of mistakes.
2.  I must try always to select the shot to be played and the manner of playing it so as to provide the widest possible margin for error.
3.  I must expect to have to do some scrambling and not be discouraged if the amount of it happens to be more than normal.

The main point of all this for the play-for-fun golfer is to emphasize the importance even for him of adjusting his attitude towards the game before he goes out on the course.  Let him first divest himself of any thought that it may be unsportsmanlike or unworthy to prepare himself for the play as best he can.  There is no point in going out to play a game unless one has the desire to play well, and golf was not meant to be played impetuously; nor is one likely to exercise the needed restraint and self-discipline unless one has prepared oneself in advance.  You don't need to go into any ostentatious seclusion, but only quietly and within yourself, to get your mind on the game before you step on to the first tee."

I know I keep quoting Bobby Jones, but if ever there was a better summary of the attitude required to best play this game, I've certainly never read it.  

Monday, 16 November 2015

How'd My Swing Look?

It seems to me that one of the hardest things to do in golf is to stop thinking about your swing.  We often hear that impact, or the strike, is what really counts, but I still can't resist thinking about my backswing, or my left arm, even though I know "you don't hit the ball with your backswing, laddie."

I watched Dubuisson and Patrick Reed hit the ball this week.  It was very instructive.  Both of those guys have swings that are perhaps not quite textbook, but they can both flat out play.  Did you see the fairway bunker shot that Reed holed for eagle in the last round in Shanghai this week?  It was magic.

Those guys are ball strikers.  They hit more shots with cut-off, abbreviated finishes than probably anyone else in the game.  Dubuisson sometimes looks like he finishes with his weight on his back foot when he lashes at a drive.  You might not necessarily be inclined to recommend those swings to anyone.  But, man, do they ever strike it sweetly.

Steve is beginning to embrace the concept that is so obviously understood by Dubuisson and Reed, namely that the strike is what is all important.  Steve, who took up golf later in life, has always been caught up in the idea that it is the swing that counts.  When we first started playing together, he would often ask me how his swing looked after he played a shot.  My usual response was to ask him how the shot turned out.  After all, there really are no style points in golf.  

Yesterday, instead of watching Steve swing, I was focussing intently on his strike.  I would see him catch the ball first, brush the grass, and produce that nice sound and, without watching where the ball went, would say, "Good strike."  When he caught the ground first, or hit it thin, I'd say so, so he was getting some extra feedback from me on the strike, as opposed to his swing.

More often than not, the good strikes produced very acceptable results.  I'd then smile and say, "Terrible swing. But great strike."  

Bobby Jones, who I always feel compelled to quote from because he often said it first, and more often than not said it best, talked about why it is that golfers, paricularly golfers who take the game up later in life, look so uncomfortable.  In his book Golf is my Game, in chapter two, Bobby wrote:

"Those players we see today who have the appearance of naturalness and ease in their play are immediately identified as having begun to play as youngsters.  I think they have this appearance because they first thought of the game in terms of striking the ball.  So they set about doing this with no more self-consciousness than we would associate with chopping wood, throwing stones, or beating rugs.

I am confident that the adult golfer can and should approach the game in the same way.  He may not have the time available to the youngster, but he has the advantage of adult understanding.  In a few minutes study of this material in this chapter, he can learn as much about the possible means of controlling a golf ball as a boy could learn in years of play.

I am not one who enjoys heaping ridicule upon the average golfer.  It seems to me that those grotesque characters we see in cartoons are rare in real life.  The unskilled golfer often looks uncomfortable, strained, unsure, sometimes even unhappy, but he hardly ever presents a ludicrous aspect.  And I think that a great measure of his discomfiture is derived from his conscious efforts to follow prescribed routine, to look and move like someone else, or as he has been told.  I think he would present a more natural appearance if he should put his mind upon striking the ball, rather than upon swinging the club...

Golf is played by striking the ball with the head of the club.  The objective of the player is not to swing the club in a specified manner, nor to execute a series of complicated movements in a prescribed sequence, nor to look pretty while he is doing it, but primarily and essentially to strike the ball with the head of the club so that the ball will perform according to his wishes.

No one can play golf until he knows the many ways in which a ball can be expected to respond when it is struck in different ways.  If you think all this should be obvious, please believe me when I assure you that I have seen many really good players attempt shots they should have known were impossible."

So, all of us, it would seem, have a choice.  We can continue to focus on improving our swing, or we can focus on the part of the game where the rubber really hits the road; the strike.  I say "we," because I am just as susceptible as the next guy to getting caught up in thinking about swing mechanics.  

I have covered in depth Bobby Jones' information from this chapter in a blog entitled, The Wisdom of Bobby Jones: Striking the Ball.  I invite you to check it out if you don't have access to the book Golf is my Game.  It's the most important information you can ever learn about golf.  That's not just my opinion, because my opinion really doesn't amount to a hill of beans, it is Bobby's assertion.  After all, there are enough characters out there telling you how to swing the club.  But Bobby Jones tells you what's really important; how to strike the ball with the club head.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

How the Game Should be Played

I have been so happy to see the emergence of this new crop of young stars on the PGA tour.  As impressive as their games are, one thing that is quite remarkable is their behaviour on the golf course.  In an age where common courtesy is not necessarily quite so common, these young guns are setting a fine example of just how the game should be played.

Leading the pack in this respect, I think, are Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler.  They are exciting to watch, have their own unique styles and swings, and they comport themselves wonderfully on the golf course and in their dealings with the fans.  I've enjoyed watching Spieth, Fowler, Day, and McIlroy play together.  Often, even in the heat of battle, they look like guys out playing a regular Sunday round.  They openly chat to one another.  They smile, and acknowledge great shots played.  They actually seem to be having a good time.

This, of course, stands in stark contrast to the behaviour of some other players who seem to embrace the win-at-all-cost mentality; most infamously of late, being Suzann Pettersen's display of poor sportsmanship at the Solheim Cup.

When one thinks about Jack Nicklaus, we may remember his power, his ability to hit those majestic, high-fading iron shots, and his incredible putting that often made us think he really could will the ball into the hole.  But, as I see over and over again as I read people's comments about Jack, the one thing about him that is always mentioned is what an absolute gentleman he is and was.  He personified good sportsmanship on the course.

Jack was a huge admirer of Bobby Jones; and I daresay he paid close attention to the example Jones set as a gentleman.  I was just reading what Bobby Jones had to say about etiquette, and just how he believed golfers should behave on the golf course.  In his book, Golf is my Game, Bobby wrote the following, under the heading RESPECT THE RULES AND ETIQUETTE OF THE GAME, Bobby summed up, surely as well as any person could, the way golf should be played.  He wrote:

"It is of the very essence of golf that it should be played in a completely sociable atmosphere conducive to the utmost courtesy and consideration of one player for the others, and upon the very highest level in matters of sportsmanship, observance of the rules, and fair play.  There is no place at all for gamesmanship in golf...

Since we want to enjoy our golf, one of the most important necessities for this enjoyment is that we make ourselves agreeable companions on the links.  We want other people to enjoy playing with us as much as we enjoy playing with them.  There is nothing at all inconsistent in being competitive and at the same time companionable.

So the one of the most important things for the beginner to acquire as soon as possible is an adequate understanding of the rules and etiquette of the game.  The rules of golf, considered in their entirety, provide material for almost a lifetime of study...

On the other hand, there are two basic conceptions upon which the game of golf has been developed which most effectively point the way to the proper solution of any question that may arise.  The first, with respect to the rules, is that the player must start and finish each hole with the same ball, playing each stroke as it lies, or accept some penalty for failing to do so. (This, of course, is a bit of an over-simplification, as we know there are occasions when a ball may be moved, or even changed without penalty.  But, the notion of playing the ball as it lies is integral to the game.). The second, with respect to etiquette, is that the player must in no way interfere with the play of his opponent or anyone else in the game.  This right of the player to play his own game unmolested by other players or agencies outside his own game is fundamental to golf.  So it is quite enough in the beginning, I think, if the player should understand that he is to play every shot with the ball as it lies, or accept a penalty, and he must so conduct himself as to interfere with his opponent or partner in no way, shape, of form...

On the side of etiquette, I think the golfer could well be guided by the rules of simple courtesy.  He knows well enough not to take practice swings while his companions are trying to play shots, or to talk or make distracting noises while the same process is going on.  Golf requires considerable concentration, which is not possible in this sort of atmosphere.

Always play to win.  You don't have to be a doormat to be a good sport.  You owe it to your opponent to let him know that he only wins from you when he overcomes the best you can do.

It is by no means necessary to play well to be an entirely acceptable golfing companion, but you must try.  You must be able to keep the ball in play.  You must not dilly-dally around.  You must be ready to play your shot when your turn comes, and you must be aware of and respectful of the rights of others in your game.

If you can fill this bill, you need have no hesitancy about playing in any company.  Indeed, better players will be delighted to help and encourage you in the game.  They like golf, and they will want you to like it, too.  The better your partner, the more tolerant he is likely to be."

I'm only sorry I never got to see Bobby Jones play.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Isn't It Great?

Isn't it great; the advances we've made in the game?  The equipment has improved.  The courses are in better shape.  And, because of technology, the average 90 shooter can now look at his wrist, or focus in with a fancy gizmo that even vibrates to let him know he's locked on, and be assured that he is exactly 127 yards from the pin.  We're now able to know precisely how far we are from the hole.  Hell, with GPS we can know how far we are from a pin we can't even see.  It's incredible.

However, with some scientific advances, there are downsides.  For instance, if we haven't got enough problems with slow play thanks to amateurs imitating the pros with elaborate pre-shot routines and rituals, we now have guys who can't break 100 standing beside the 150 yard marker and staring at the flag through a fancy rangefinder so they can get their exact yardage.  Then, more often than not, they pull out a seven iron and leave it short in the bunker.  It's just another reason why rounds take longer, and another excuse for me to drink.

There are fellows at our club--good players--who play the course five times a week and still check the yardage through one of those gadgets before every shot.  They can be literally one pace from the 100 yard marker, with a middle pin, and they will go to their bag and take out their rangefinder to get an "exact number."  I routinely guess their yardage before they take a reading and seldom have I been out by more than three yards.  But, I suppose if you're going to fork out three or four hundred bucks for one of those gadgets, you're damned well going to use it; even if your playing partners want to strangle you.

The point I'm trying to make is that some people have become fooled into thinking that golf is some sort of exact science that can be conquered by better equipment and gadgets.  We get advised to find out, presumably through diligent practice, exactly how far we hit all our clubs--as if that's even possible or likely to happen with the average player.  We then get sold expensive devices to tell us exactly how far we are from the pin.  Supposedly, this makes the game easier, because we have an exact number.  But golf is not an exact science, and we don't always hit our seven iron exactly the same distance.  

Nothing is ever constant in golf--other than the fact that we're all going to miss some shots. That's part of the fascination.  The wind, the temperature, the elevation, how we feel on a particular day, how well we're swinging the club; they all influence how far our seven iron will fly.  What also influences how far our seven iron will travel is the trajectory, and the amount of draw, or fade spin applied.  I've seen me hit a three wood 150 yards on a hole, and a pitching wedge the same distance two holes later.  That's golf.  It's not always that simple to pick the right club, and knowing the yardage is just one of the factors.

like the story I once heard about Ben Hogan, who was apparently uncanny in his ability to judge distances.  On a par three in a casual round, a playing partner asked Ben what club he used.  Disgusted, Ben apparently grabbed a handful of balls and threw them down.  He then proceeded to use four different clubs to hit the ball on the green, all of them ending up within thirty feet of the hole.  Sam Snead was supposedly quite adept at taking a little something off a club and messing with players he found taking an interest in what club he was using.  The point being, there is no one club that can, or should, always be used for a particular shot.  Sometimes you even need to play a wedge from the putting surface.  Therefore, knowing our exact yardage, while it might be nice, doesn't in and of itself provide us with the solution to our problem. Being confident we have the correct club in our hands is nice, but we still have to have the experience to weigh all the variables and pick the right club.  Then we have to hit the right shot.

Call me old fashioned, but I do not now have, nor will I ever have, a yardage device.  I have yet to meet one person whose game actually noticeably improved by purchasing a rangefinder or GPS device.  I've never seen one person get better, but I've seen them get slower.  If you have one, please use and enjoy it if it seems to help.  But please; if you're one yard from the 100 yard marker, and the flag is in the middle of the green, don't take any extra time to get an exact reading--at least not when it's your turn to play and the rest of us are waiting.  

Unless you're a tour pro, or a top amateur, three yards, one way or the other, isn't likely to make much difference, unless the pin sits just over a bunker, or on the back edge with a steep bank on the other side.  And besides, in those cases, unless you are an ace ball striker, you should be playing for the middle of the green anyway.  Even the top players rarely fire at pins with more than a wedge in their hands.  So why do recreational players like us seem to think we need to know whether it's 150 or 152 yards to the pin?  It's vanity.

Don't get me wrong.  I like to have a pretty good idea about how far I need to hit a shot, just like the next guy.  And a rangefinder can be very helpful on a strange course, giving you distances to hazards and bunkers, and to the pin.  But, in my mind, the only thing worse on the golf course than yardage devices, especially when used by someone who can't break 90, is cell phones.  Don't even get me started on cell phones!  Actually, I guess you can now use an app to get the exact yardage from your cell phone.  Isn't it great?!

"I'm Going to Swing Like Nick Price"

Golf is a game that is deceptively simple, and endlessly complicated.  While it surely shouldn't be, golf, as Bobby Jones said, is the one game that gets more difficult the longer you play it.  He said that the longer he played the game, the more ways he found to miss shots.  

Steve and I played what might just be our last round of the season at the Loyalist Golf Club in Bath, Ontario.  It was the final day for green fee players at Loyalist.  The tee blocks were conspicuous by their absence, the rakes for the bunkers were gone, but the flagsticks were in, the greens were still good, and it was about seven degrees Celsius, which, I figure, is about 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  For November in this neck of the woods that was pretty good.  

We teed off behind two young guys who had obviously been watching lots of golf on the tube and, thanks to elaborate pre-shot routines and crooked tee shots, kept us waiting most of the day.  In fact, we ended up being joined after a few holes by Danny who was from Belleville and was playing as a single.  Even with the addition of Danny, we still found ourselves waiting on those two flat-bellies.

Despite the cool and the wind, thanks to chipping in for birdie on one, and holing some nice putts, I was able to go out in 35.  On the first few holes, as is my wont, I was fiddling around with my swing.  But, after a couple of wonky shots, I settled in to my "natural swing;" the swing I make when I close my eyes and just swing the club.  That's the swing that tends to produce a draw, and the swing I keep tinkering with because I have a tough time fading the ball with it.  

Steve was struggling, but Danny was playing like a man possessed.  On the first hole he played with us, which was a par three, Danny thinned his tee shot and watched it scamper onto the green to about four feet.  He made the birdie and then promptly holed out from about 155 yards on the next hole for eagle, causing me to inquire as to just who the hell he was.

In any event, we both tended to lose the plot a bit coming home, and I settled quite happily for a two over 74.  Danny had a few dreaded others and didn't indicate, or seem to care, what his final tally was.  I think he was really just happy to be out there, like I was.  Steve, on the other hand, struggled to a 93.  He was not all that happy a camper.

After the round we stood in the parking lot by the car and Steve seemed reluctant to put the clubs away.  He said he wanted to hit a couple of shots and have me take a look at his swing.  Why he wanted me to look at his swing is a good question.  But, if you are feeling desperate, I suppose any port in a storm will do.  So we went to the range and he threw down a scruffy ball.  He took a practice swing, brushing the grass nicely, and looked at me.

"What did you see?" Steve asked.

I just shrugged.  It looked like just another swing to me.  That's the problem with trying to help someone with their swing.  As Bobby Jones pointed out, often what matters more is what a golfer feels he is doing than what he is actually doing.  Golf is a feel game.

Steve likes to talk about a buddy of his who used to stand on the range and say, "Now I'm going to swing like Nick Price."

His buddy would then tee another one up and say, "Now I'm going to swing like Freddie Couples."

The funny thing was, according to Steve, every swing looked just the same.

I suggested to Steve that he just hit one concentrating on making the club-face strike the ball going straight down the target line.  He hit it and produced what for him was a dead-straight, perfect seven iron.  He looked at me and shook his head.  

That's one of the problems with golf.  We worry about our swing when it's the strike that really matters.  I know I keep harping on about Bobby Jones, but that's because he was so brilliant.  He said that, when he was competing, he focussed intently on the strike and left his swing to take care of itself.  I try to do the same thing, but my powers of concentration are sadly lacking.  Eventually, I get back to thinking about my swing just long enough to screw things up.  

Saturday, 7 November 2015

The Colonel

With November 11th fast approaching, many of us remember the old soldiers we've known; the men who, sometimes as boys, went to far off places to fight for freedom, or to stop tyranny. 

My old father was one of those kids who joined up at 16, landed on a beach in France, and fought his way through Europe.  He was a respected soldier who had a fine military career, commanding an army battalion, and serving as the military attaché to Turkey, Iran, and Iraq.  Along the way, he even met the queen a couple of times--not too bad for a working class kid from Toronto.

He was affectionately referred to as "the Colonel" in his later years, but spoke only rarely about his military experiences.  Some people might like to say he was a hero.  He did fight bravely and still carried shrapnel in his body to his dying day.  But he once told me that, when he joined up, he and his buddies didn't head to fight with the notion of giving their lives for their country.  For them, it was an adventure.  They were off to places they'd only read and dreamed about, to face what they never probably imagined.  And, when circumstances caused them to do something heroic, or brave, it was for their comrades that they put themselves in harm's way and sometimes paid the ultimate price.  He never would have considered himself a hero, just a soldier.

His great love was golf.  I really miss him.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Bernhard Langer

After his opening round 63 at the Schwab Cup Championship, Bernhard Langer looks awfully good to become the first player to win the year-long Schwab Cup race for the third time.  I, for one, would certainly not bet against him.

Bernhard looked like a man on a mission, for fourteen holes at least, playing almost flawless golf.  Meanwhile race-leading Colin Montgomery looked shaky and very unlike a man ready to get the job done.  He and Jeff Maggert, leading contenders for the Schwab Cup heading into the championship, seemed to feed off one another and played miserably. 

I realize that there are 54 holes yet to play, and anything can happen in this game, but is there anyone who believes Langer won't seal the deal this week?  Checking on Bernhard's record, I note that he's won 98 professional tournaments, including two Masters titles.  What I didn't know until today was that he also held the distinction of being the first official world number one in 1986.

Very workmanlike in his approach to the game, Langer may not be particularly flashy; but, at 58 years old, he still looks fit as a fiddle and, in the heat of battle, he's obviously still as hard as a coffin nail.  As was obvious in the several post-round interviews, Bernhard is much respected by his peers, who, better than anyone, know just how good, and how tough, he is.

In terms of being mentally tough, here's a man who has not only won two green jackets, he's also managed to overcome the dreaded yips, had the bad luck to be the one to miss a decisive putt at a Ryder Cup, and just came back, if anything, even stronger.  With 25 champions tour victories, including five senior Majors, only Lee Trevino and Hale Irwin have been more prolific winners after the age of fifty.  

I will be just another fan who will be very happy to see Langer achieve another first, when he lifts the Charles Schwab Cup for the third time.  Bernhard knows that there are still 54 holes to play, and he won't be counting his chickens quite yet.  I certainly don't want to dismiss the possibility that Colin Montgomery or Jeff Maggert could battle their way back. But, is there anyone betting against Langer at this point?  Certainly not I.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Throw a Dog a Bone

Those golfing gods seem to be that way.  When you're feeling like a whipped dog, and just when you are ready to take your clubs to the charity shop, they throw you a bone.

Every Fall I seem to struggle with my depression, finding myself starting to descend into the abyss.  I don't know if it's what they call seasonal affective disorder, or simply the fact I'm increasingly aware that another golf season is coming to a close, and this year I won't be spending the whole winter in sunny climes.  Whatever the case, trying to play good golf in a depressive fog is just about impossible.

After several weeks of struggling, especially on the greens, I finally saw some light at the end of the tunnel.  Today, for the first time in recent memory, I reeled off four birdies in a row, and shot 32 on the front nine.  What made this start particularly pleasing was the fact that Carl the Grinder, who has been beating me like a drum lately, shot 35 on the front today as well and still found Randy and himself eight points down to Radar and I in our match.

Naturally, having played so poorly for so long, it was well nigh impossible not to start thinking about what I was doing.  This, of course, is the kiss of death.  Sure enough I hit it in the woods on eleven and made a double.  Then the muscles really started to tighten up, and the voices started playing in my head.

Making a birdie on seventeen helped me manage to limp in with 39 on the back to beat Old Man Par by one.  As for Carl the Grinder, he just kept grinding away, despite the fact that the putts weren't dropping, and had me worried that he would do it to me again.  For example, on the par five sixteenth, Carl hit his second shot into a green-side bunker.  From the bunker he hit it across the green, through another bunker and onto the back lip.  From that seemingly impossible lie he chipped it across the green again onto the fringe.  I two-putted for par, only to watch Carl putt it in from off the green for his five.  This is what the guy does to you.  He makes pars when you think he's sure to make bogey, or worse.  

Anyway, just when this old dog was about ready to quit, I somehow managed to beat Carl the Grinder, thanks in part to Carl hitting it out of bounds on seventeen and making double.  

"I never miss it there," Carl told me.

Never say never, Carl.  Not only that; my partner and I beat those boys so badly, as Radar said afterwards, "If they'd been eggs, they'd have looked like omelettes."

It just doesn't get much better than that. The golfing gods have taken the force field off the cup; at least for today.  As for tomorrow, Carl and Randy will be looking to exact their revenge.  I just hope the golfing gods throw me another bone, and Radar keeps backing me, at least until my nose starts bleeding.  Heaven knows, I feel like I've suffered enough.  

Monday, 2 November 2015

Sei Young Kim Still Smiling

That was some win by Sei Young Kim at the Blue Bay Resort in China this week.  With her third win of the season, this diminutive Korean rookie is shaping up to be yet another star from a country that seems to be producing the finest women players in the game.  

After hitting it in the hazard on ten, Kim, who seems to have a knack for the dramatic, pitched in to save her par.  It was then that this smiling wee assassin made it emphatically clear that she was not about to go away.  

I thought it was interesting to watch Sei Young smile her way to victory, as she fended off Candie Kung, Kim Kaufman and Stacey Lewis, who early in the round looked to be finally ready to end her winless drought in 2015.  You hear more and more these days how important it is to have fun on the golf course, and it was obvious that, in the final group, Sei Young and Candie were both really enjoying the competition and managing to stay relatively loose out there, despite the pressure.  Stacey, on the other hand, looked to be pressing, and clearly was not having any fun at all.

Suzann Pettersen, who also looked to be a possible winner at the start of the day, played with her usual grim determination and lost her cool when the putts stopped going in.  I must admit I don't envy her caddie, who seems to be regularly on the receiving end of her foul moods on the golf course.  She seems to continue to believe that grinding it out and being miserable on the golf course is the best way to get the job done.  I must say that I had hoped she might have learned something from her Solheim Cup experience, but clearly nothing has changed.  I can't help but think that she might actually play better if she could learn to lighten up and embrace the competition instead of adopting what seems to be a win-at-all-cost mentality.

Golf, at any level, should be fun.  Nobody competed harder than Jack Nicklaus.  While competing, he was always a perfect gentleman who showed grace in victory and defeat.  On the women's side, it seems to me that all the great champions have had a similar attitude.  They didn't feel the need to put on a game face and scowl their way around the golf course.  I simply couldn't imagine Annika, or Nancy Lopez, scowling or having hissy fits on the golf course.  

I didn't see Lydia Ko having temper tantrums out there this week despite a tough start to the tournament.  She kept her composure and finished with her usual style and grace.  I know everyone is different.  But I'm so glad that golf is one of those games where nice guys, or gals, don't finish last.

Congratulations to Sei Young Kim for another great win.  Keep smiling, kiddo.