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?!