Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Free Advice

I love P.G. Wodehouse's quote.  He said, "I always advise people never to give advice."  If you are looking for advice, there is no subject on earth that has more words devoted to advising others than golf.  Even the worst golfers are inclined to try to help other golfers with words of wisdom.  I can certainly be accused of spending an inordinate amount of time and energy offering advice that I often fail to take myself.  But then, no one ever said that all golfers are inclined to practise what they preach.

Actually, however, there are some golfers who have successfully put into practice what they preach.  They are the great champions.  That is why the majority of the advice I pass along comes not from the famous golf instructors, but rather from the great golf champions.  They are the guys, and gals, who have proved by action that they know whereof they speak.  

All of us want to play our best.  And, whether we always remember it or not, golf is about getting the ball in the hole in the fewest possible number of strokes.  It isn't about looking pretty while doing so.  "The secret of low scores," Bobby Jones said, "is the ability to turn three shots into two."  We see it every time we play.  The days we score well are not necessarily the days when we hit it long and straight.  But they are definitely the days when we made putts and managed to get the ball up and down when we missed greens.

Many people still want to focus on hitting the ball farther.  And some prominent teachers, to the delight of club manufacturers, still promote distance off the tee, and distance in general, as being vital to good golf. The great players, and the teachers who are more interested in helping players improve than selling videos, know and preach that it is the short game that most of us need to be focussed on improving.  As Harvey Penick said, "The short game.  Those are the magic words."

It seems to me that there are two areas where most golfers let themselves down.  The first is off the tee, by just automatically reaching for the driver.  The reality is that many players would hit the ball longer and straighter off the tee with a three wood.  But, if you occasionally tag one, and you've spent four hundred bucks on the latest driver, you want to let the big dog eat as often as you can; even if, as Harvey Penick said, "The woods are full of long drivers."

If you drive the ball reasonably straight, that is an advantage.  If you drive it really long, it's a big advantage; but only if you have a good short game.  It's up to everyone to do a regular post-mortem after they play to see if the driver has helped them or hurt them.  If the driver routinely hurts you, forcing you to take three off the tee, or play your next shot from the trees, it might just be time to listen to what one of the game's greatest drivers of the ball had to say.  Greg Norman advised, "If you can't hit the driver, don't."

The second area where we often let ourselves down is from a hundred yards and in.  That's where the average player really starts to fritter away shots.  Tony Lema recognized this fact when he said, "Heartaches usually begin when you're 50 to 75 yards out from the green.  This is the vale of tears."  From 75 yards and in is where I am sorely deficient.  I know this, and yet I still spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about my full swing, rather than my short game.  Oh well, no one ever accused me of being particularly bright.

This winter, circumstances have made it likely that I will spend most of my time in the north country, snowed under.  That being the case, I intend to spend my time chipping and putting in my man cave.  This may actually help me in the long run.  As my hero, Bobby Jones, said, "The chip is the greatest economist in golf."  

And Bobby Locke is credited with being the first great player to utter the famous words: "You drive for show, and putt for dough."  If I spend some more time and energy on chipping and putting, I just might play some golf when the snow finally melts.

In the meantime, besides chipping and putting, I'll watch the real golfers play in sunnier climes through the magic of the Golfchannel, I'll try and spend some time on the Total Gym, and I'll probably spend lots of time offering up free advice that I am often guilty of not taking myself.