Sunday, 31 January 2016

Spieth Still in the Hunt in Singapore

Well, Jordan Spieth didn't bring his game or his caddie to Singapore.  But he brought that bulldog determination that has made him the best in the game today.  

There wasn't much from a shotmaking perspective to marvel at when you look at Spieth's week in Singapore.  He was missing fairways.  His iron shots were nothing to get excited about.  His play around the greens was adequate at best.  And the putts, for the most part, just weren't dropping.  And yet, refusing to give up, Spieth has scratched and clawed his way to two shots back of the lead, with a marvelous up and down from the trees on sixteen, and a fifteen footer to save par on seventeen after another lousy tee shot and an indifferent pitch.  Standing on eighteen he had a five footer for birdie, which would put him within one of the leader, Younghan Song, who was facing a longer putt for par on sixteen.  That was when the horn sounded to end play due to dangerous weather conditions.

We will have to wait and see whether Jordan can find a way to win the event.  He will need some help from the leader, who has finished second six times, but never won.  Song has showed some real grit himself in hanging on to the lead.  But how well he will sleep, thinking about that putt he needs to make for par, is anyone's guess.  He does look composed and unaffected by the situation he finds himself in; with a chance to beat the best player in the world for his first professional win.  It's a great opportunity for him.

What we do know is that this Spieth kid gives you 100 percent every time he tees it up.  And he finds a way to make a score, whether he's got his best stuff or not.  He may not have wowed the crowds in Singapore with his golf shots, but, win or lose, he's given them a show nonetheless.  

There is simply no quit in this kid.  That is what makes a great champion; the ability to grind out a score when nothing seems to be going right.  I don't know if that kind of determination and grittiness can be taught.  You may just have to be born with it.  You just have to be plain stubborn.  Most everyone else would have probably just figured it wasn't our week and given up.  But not this guy.

We shall have to wait and see whether Jordan can somehow pull off a win.  But, whether he does or not, he's no doubt made lots of new fans in Asia.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Branden Grace Wins in Qatar

It was another nice win by the 27 year old South African Branden Grace this week, to be the first player to successfully defend the Qatar Masters title   On a tough day, with the wind blowing, he remained composed, made some solid up and downs, and kept pouring in the key short putts on those tricky greens to cruise to victory as his challengers struggled.  

Holding a two shot lead on the tee at the par five eighteenth, Grace hammered a draw, although he prefers to play a fade with the driver, and left himself a relatively easy second to the green.  Once that was accomplished, he was in the enviable position of having four putts for the win.  It doesn't get much better than that.

Grace played very well in the Majors last year, especially in the US Open at Chambers Bay, where, but for one errant drive, things might have been very different.  You have to think this 27 year old is poised and ready to join the party at this year's Majors.  And, if he does break through a get one, he will likely continue to give part of the credit for his rise in the game to his caddie, Zack Raswego, who caddied for Louis Oosthuizen when he won the Open at St Andrews.  

Zack took Branden's bag at the 2011 European Tour school after seven years with Oosthuizen, and, two events later, the pair had a win at the Joburg Open, followed by a win the following week at the Volvo Championship, where Grace went head to head with his two idols, Els and Goosen.  Zack was voted the HSBC caddie of the year in 2012.  

I look for a big year from Grace this year.  Bolstered by his solid performances in the Majors last year, his brilliant play in last year's Presidents Cup, and now this win, he is seemingly poised to become yet another Major champion from South Africa.  It seems to be only a matter of time.  And should he do so, we can expect to see Zack on the bag.  There's alot to be said for a good caddie.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Where is Matteo Now?

I've been thinking about Matteo Manassero lately.  I wrote an article on him about a year ago, talking about how this golfing phenom had apparently lost his game by trying to get more distance.  After a year, this can't miss kid has fallen to 684 in the world golf rankings.

For those who may have forgotten, this was a kid who was the youngest to win a European Tour event at the age of 17, who had four European Tour victories by the age of 20, was the youngest to win the British Amateur, the youngest to win the silver medal as low amateur at the Open, the youngest to make the cut at the Masters, finishing 36th and low amateur.  This kid was about as good as we've ever seen as a seventeen year old.  Now, he's in some kind of golfing purgatory.

His last win was the prestigious BMW PGA championship at Wentworth in 2013.  At that point there seemed, to me at least, to be no stopping this twenty year old.  Then, someone apparently convinced him, or he convinced himself, that if he could only get a bit longer, he could be even better.  

The last time I saw him play, which was quite some time ago, the announcer said Matteo had gained at least twenty yards off the tee.  The bad news was he couldn't seem to find a fairway.  But, at least he was apparently "striping it" on the range.  He's still a young man, and I hope he can find his way back as others have done--Lee Westwood comes to mind.  But it just all seems such a shame.  Golf is a strange old game.

To the Victor the Spoils

I was watching the Singapore Open last night.  Jordan Spieth is playing in the field of primarily Asian Tour players.  The closest player to him is, as far as world rankings is concerned, is An, who is number 26.  One would think therefore, that if Jordan plays his game, he will win the 50th playing of this championship.  But, in golf, anything can happen.

Jordan started with a solid, if unspectacular, four under par score of 67.  Other than a twenty footer for birdie on his first hole, he made nothing on the greens, two putting for birdies on three par fives.  At the end of my viewing he was tied with An for top spot.

I noted that Spieth was paid the princely sum of 1.3 million dollars just to make an appearance in Singapore.  I imagine his appearance fee is pretty close to the total purse that the rest of the field are playing for.  And, quite frankly, I don't know what to think about that.  It reminds me of the time Tiger went to play in New Zealand for a million bucks, more than the total purse, and finished something like seventeenth.  

I guess you can say that this is simply a case of the saying being true: to the victor the spoils.  One thing for certain; life will never be the same for this terrific young man.  Let's just hope all the money that everyone wants to throw at him doesn't change him.  And, let's hope he finishes higher than seventeenth.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Driving an Imaginary Tack

As with every other shot in golf, in putting, it's the strike that counts.  Needless to say, this past week in Abu Dhabi, Rickie Fowler putted very well.  Rory McIlroy, who finished two shots back, did not.

What was interesting were the regular camera views that showed the difference between Fowler striking his putts and Rory striking his.  Rickie's putts were struck right in the centre of the back of the ball, and right in the centre of the sweet spot on the putter face.  Rory, on the other hand, seemed to be catching the ball a bit on the upswing and with the bottom edge of his putter.  Whether this was his intent, we do not know, but the number of makeable putts Rory missed certainly suggested that this manner of striking his putts was not producing optimum results.

As usual, I refer to Bobby Jones on the subject of the importance of the strike when it comes to putting.  In his book, Bobby Jones on Golf, under the subject heading Looking at the Ball, Bobby wrote:

  "Walter Travis, probably the greatest putter the game has ever seen, always said he visualized the putting stroke as an attempt to drive an imaginary tack into the back of the ball.  I tried this conception and long ago found it to be a valuable aid in putting-- to keep in mind the exact line upon which the ball should be started toward the hole.  It is all very well to select a point between the ball and hole over which the ball must pass; but it is impossible to keep such a point in view, and difficult to keep its location in mind while actually making the stroke.  But having selected the spot and allowed the eye to follow the line back to the ball, it is not at all difficult to imagine the line continued through the ball until it emerges at a point on its back side.  This is where the tack should be driven--a splendid way of simplifying the operation so that the player can give his entire attention to the making of the stroke...
  The expert player senses through his hands the location and alignment of the face of the club throughout his entire swing.  Before he starts the club back, he has formed through his eye a mental picture of the way he wants to cause the face of his club to make contact with the ball.  Naturally then, unless something disturbs him, he is going to look at the thing he intends to hit, and at the point where he intends to strike it.  He would be no more likely to look at the front of the ball than he would to look at his thumb if he were hammering a nail.
  For the average golfer, it will probably be helpful, in putting and in playing short approaches, to follow the suggestion of Walter Travis and to pick out a spot on the back of the ball into which to drive the imaginary tack."

Whether Rickie was picturing an imaginary tack or not, it was quite clear that, were there a tack there, in the middle of the back of the ball, directly on the line he intended to start the putt, he would have driven it straight home, time and again--Rory, not so much.

What If?

While this week was another great win by Rickie Fowler, once again Henrik Stenson was in there with a chance.  Stenson is, in my mind at least, the best ball striker in the game.  I love his simple, powerful action.  He gives that ball a wonderful thump, and moves it both ways with ease.  

I think he and Rickie are now the two best players in the game without a Major, and I'd love to see both of them break through and get one.  

Moe Norman would likely have really enjoyed Stenson's swing.  He'd have said that Henrik plays through the course--not around it.  He would have liked the way the club stays in front of him and his arms and the club stay in the fairway on every shot.  Not much can go wrong with a move like that.

It occurred to me again, as I watched Henrik swing, and use that magic three wood off the tee instead of a driver, what if Tiger Woods taken the same approach?  What if Tiger, instead of flattening out his swing and sticking with whaling away at the driver, had elected to play his stinger off the tee, using a three wood or his two iron?  Was it Hoylake where he won the Open only hitting one or two drivers the entire week?  Or did he even hit one driver that week?  I'm getting old, so I forget these things. Anyway, I have many times said that the rest of the players should be awfully thankful that Tiger never stopped trying to go for length off the tee with the driver.  If he had adopted Stenson's approach, as well as Tiger played his mid and long irons--and the way he could putt--one has to wonder how many tournaments he'd have won.  Then again, I guess he's done pretty well doing it his way.

Oh well, we can all talk about the "what ifs."  All I know is, that Stenson is sure nice to watch.  For my money, he's got the best swing in the game.  Man, what if Stenson could putt like Jordan Spieth? There I go with another "what if."

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Pure Unadulterated Class

Pure, unadulterated class--that's all you can say about Rickie Fowler.   Not only does he win in a field that included McIlroy, Spieth and Stenson, but as usual, he won in style.

After his unlucky double bogey on seven, he responded with that incredible bunker shot, holing out for eagle on the very next hole.  It seemed to me he started to play with both hands a little tight on the wheel after that, perhaps feeling the pressure, not only of the moment, but also from Thomas Pieters, who just refused to go away, almost holing his putt for eagle on eighteen to force a playoff.  

It was always in doubt; right down to the final putt.  But his chip in on seventeen, and his three footer for par on eighteen got it done.  As for me, it had me reaching for the Valium.  How these guys keep handling those short putts for par is beyond me.  I wouldn't be able to take the putter back.  Rickie was rock solid on the short ones.  He once again proved that he can handle the heat, which was supplied by Stenson, Pieters, and Rory with his eagle on eighteen to give him a sniff.

What impressed me as much as anything in the end was that, when accepting the trophy, Rickie managed to compliment Pieters on his terrific play, acknowledge Spieth and McIlroy, and also mention Henrik Stenson.  This kid is just class; pure, unadulterated class.  

I may have to get me a pair of those high tops--and maybe even one of those flat-brim caps.  As for the sweats; an old, fat guy like me could never pull that off.

Rickie Fowler: Part of the Fab Four

Rickie Fowler has the chance to make a statement this week.  He has eighteen holes to play at the HSBC championship in Abu Dhabi and holds the lead.  He is in prime position to lay claim to being one of the "Fab Four."

With a win today, Rickie would take over the number four spot in the world golf rankings.  That, one would think, would pretty much do it.  And, high tops and sweats aside, Fowler just belongs with this elite group of young stars.  With three impressive wins last year, including that incredible win at the Players, Rickie has proven, at least as far as I'm concerned, that he is the genuine article.  Not only does he belong in that group which includes Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, and Rory McIlroy; so far this week, he's the best of the bunch.  

As always, I loved watching him finish off that terrific third round at Abu Dhabi, chatting away with Thomas Bjorn, obviously comfortable with what he was doing, as though it was just a friendly Saturday round.  He's not intimidated by anybody.  Whether he wins a Major this year or not, this kid just looks like he belongs in that elite group.  He just belongs--even if he dresses funny.

As for whether he can win today; there's still a lot of golf to be played.  But I wouldn't be betting against him.  He's shown how tough he can be down the stretch.  And, win or not, Rickie Fowler is one of the reasons why golf is in such a great place.  

Friday, 22 January 2016

Careful Jordan

There was an interesting clip of Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy on the putting green just prior to the beginning of the second round in Abu Dhabi.  Rory was watching Jordan putt, and the two were chatting amiably.  It was quite unusual to see right before they were about to tee off, and Rory certainly seemed to be interested in what Jordan was doing.

The announcers weren't sure about whether it was a good practice from a psychological standpoint for two players to be so friendly prior to going out to try to beat one another's brains out.  The fact is, however, these young stars really seem to enjoy one another's company on the course.  It's very refreshing to see the friendly atmosphere that surrounds their rounds together.

On the other hand, regarding his putting, one announcer suggested that Jordan be careful not tell Rory too much about what he's doing with the flatstick, suggesting that, if Rory learns to putt like Jordan, "nobody will have a chance."  It's hard to argue with that assessment.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

By the Book

Once again, John Paramor finds himself in the news for calling a slow play violation on Jordan Spieth.  This is not the first time Mr. Paramor has made news and ruffled feathers by making a " by the book" rules call.  

He upset Paddy Harrington and Tiger Woods in a close fought battle they were fighting at the Firestone Tournament in 2009 by putting Harrington on the clock down the stretch.  Tiger went to Paddy's defence, claiming that, by inserting himself into the action, Paramor negatively affected what was a great contest.

Paramor really caused a stir when penalized Tianlang Guan, the young amateur who was battling to make the cut at the 2013 Masters.  Thankfully, for Guan and Paramor, the kid made the cut anyway, but the controversy prevailed.

The problem is, Paramor is doing his job.  He is following the rules--doing things by the book.  The reality, however, is that players and fans do not want to see a great contest determined by the interference of a rules official; whether that interference is "by the book" or not.

Paramor has a difficult, and sometimes thankless, job to do.  Many people support his willingness to insert himself into the action to make a point about slow play.  The problem, as I see it, is that no one seems to understand, or want to take the necessary steps to really curb the sort of things that are causing slow play.

For instance, we saw Spieth and Fowler, among others, consulting books they had been given showing a meticulous, laser printout of the greens in Abu Dhabi.  If you want to curb slow play, why on earth would you supply, or permit these books to be used during play?  Whatever happened to reading greens?  Green-reading is supposed to be a skill.  Now, for 50 pounds sterling, you can purchase a book to do it for you and slow up play in the process.  It makes no sense to me.  

It seems to me that slow play will always be a problem in golf.  There are always going to be guys who, for one reason or another, are dreadfully slow at pulling the trigger.  Too often, however, it seems to me that the whole group finds themselves annoyed, irritated, and distracted by being "put on the clock" because of the slow play of one member of the threesome.  Or it certainly looks that way.

The reality is that players who are slow--and we all know who they are--need to be censured by their fellow players, the tour officials, and the Press.  It's amazing how these things can cause them to change their ways.  A fine of a few thousand euros means nothing to these guys.  And, as fans, we don't ever want to see a championship won, or lost, because of a petty rules violation, or the interference of a rules official.  We need to use some common sense in the application of the rules.  Unfortunately, however, common sense isn't always that common.

Spieth and McIlroy in Abu Dhabi

I stayed up all night, and watched with interest as Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy played together for the first time this year.  No disrespect to Rickie Fowler, who rounded out the threesome, but they were the guys I was most interested in watching.  I had the sense that Rory would be wanting to make a statement; and he wasted no time in doing so by birdieing the first two holes.  I was really expecting to see some fireworks, but, in my mind at least, the round was a bit of a letdown.

Neither player looked particularly fired up.  It was all a very friendly contest as it always is with these guys.  And that is as it should be.   But Spieth seemed unusually quiet, even after hitting some rather awful shots.  There didn't seem to be as much talk between he and his caddie. There wasn't the same obvious level of frustration over shots that didn't come off.  He just didn't appear to be as engaged as he usually is.

It was like a couple of fighters just feeling eachother out in the first round.  Rory drove the ball majestically most of the day, making both Spieth and Fowler look very average in that department.  In fact, Rory's 66 looked to be about as high a score as he could have shot on the day, and he looked to be in a different league than his two playing partners.  He likely feels that he got very little out of his round, as good as it was, and is somewhat disappointed; if indeed you can ever be disappointed with a 66.

Meanwhile, Spieth looked decidedly mediocre, missing putts, fatting wedge shots, and pitches, driving it in the thick rough; and yet, at the day's end, he birdies the last hole--the hardest hole on the course--while McIlroy lips out, and somehow posts 68.  He thereby keeps McIlroy and the leaders in sight.  No doubt his lunch will taste pretty good with that birdie on the last hole, even if there was the timing violation assessed to him by John Paramor--which is another story.  This seems to be what Spieth is able to do.  He somehow cobbles together a score despite not having his best stuff, and stays in touch.  He just refuses to go away.

Rory was definitely the man today--at least in his threesome.  He hit shots that were simply beyond Spieth's capability.  He will always be able to hit shots that Spieth simply can't hit.  And yet, somehow, it's still game on.  There are only two shots between them, and one can't help thinking that tomorrow will be another day and Spieth will find a way to claw his way back into contention.  As for Rory, if he could only learn to grind out a score like Spieth--with his power--forget about it.  It would be all over but the crying.

Today's round just reinforces what I keep thinking.  This kid Spieth perhaps shouldn't be the best player in the game.  When you watch them hit it--especially with the driver--you tend to think Jordan shouldn't really be in Rory's league.  Sure, Jordan hit some lovely iron shots.  But, let's face it, that was one pretty ugly 68.  I guess young Mr. Spieth is a perfect example of why they say there are no pictures on the scorecard.  In fact, he's a good example of why they say you drive for show and putt for dough, although he usually drives it very efficiently.  And he's a good example of why they say golf is about turning three shots into two.   Let's face it; he's just a good example.  End of story.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Rigorous Training

The current wisdom among top golfers seems to be that a rigorous physical training program is necessary to compete.  Gary Player comes to mind as the best known old-school player who adopted this approach with much success.  Most golfers were not historically viewed as athletes; or at least as highly conditioned athletes.  However, Tiger Woods seems to have made physical training fashionable, if not actually mandatory.

Rory McIlroy has become a workout fiend.  Jason Day, I recently heard on Golfchannel--so it must be true--does two workouts a day in the gym.  Forget beating balls; these guys are pumping iron.  Now, call me old-fashioned, but I'm not exactly certain that this is the way to go.  It certainly doesn't seem to have helped Tiger.  I think he was better as a scrawny kid than when he pumped himself up.  But then, who am I?

Today, experts abound.  They gravitate to the tour like flies to you-know-what.  Golfers today have teams of experts around them to help them be the best they can be--and help them spend their money.  And it's got to be a great gig if you can get it.  But is it necessarily the way to go?  Will these finely-tuned athletes, like Day and McIlroy, be playing when they're fifty?

In the old days, the way to build golf muscle was to play lots of golf and perhaps swing a heavy club.  It seemed to work pretty well.  Now, if you aren't in the gym before breakfast, you are apparently in danger of falling behind.

As always, I like to refer to my authority on golf for the answer to the question of whether rigorous training is the way to go.  That authority is, of course, Bobby Jones.  When dealing with the subject of tournament preparation in his book Bobby Jones on Golf, Bobby had this to say:

  "The most important part of preparing for a tournament is to condition oneself mentally and physically so that it will be possible to get the most out of what game one possesses.  Rigorous physical training is neither necessary nor beneficial.  A physical condition that is too fine usually puts the nerves on edge.  What one needs most is to play golf, to harden the golfing muscles, and to get the feel of the little shots around the green."

Man, would I ever like to send this quote to Rory.  That is not to say Rory isn't going to have a great year.  I actually expect him to play well.  But I sure wish he'd pump less iron, and just get his short game in order.  In the end, it always comes down to the putter.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Try to Hit the Perfect Shot

Just about everyone has either read, or at least heard of, Bob Rotella's book Golf is Not a Game of Perfect.  We all know that perfection in golf is only a dream.  And yet, in Bobby Jones on Golf, Bobby Jones provided some interesting advice on how to improve our scoring.  He essentially advised us to try to be perfect.  He wrote:

  "Every golfer is of limited ability--some more so, others less.  We can't always help this, but I believe I can make a few common sense suggestions having nothing to do with technique, that will help to take strokes off any man's game.
  The first real big lesson I learned, and it was medal competition that taught me, was that every stroke in the round was of equal importance, and that each was worthy of and demanded the same intensity of concentration.  Before I had much experience, I used invariably to allow myself to become careless when confronted by a simple-looking shot.  A wide fairway or a big green was always the hardest for me to hit.  But no golf shot is easy unless it is played with a precise and definite purpose, and with perfect and complete concentration upon results.  The easiest way to assure minute attention on every shot is to cultivate the attitude of mind that will be satisfied by nothing less than perfection.  If it looks easy to get it onto the green, try to get close to the hole; if it looks easy to get within a ten-foot radius, try to lay it dead.  Always strive to go as far toward the ultimate end of holing out as it is reasonably possible to go.
  The surest way to collect 7's and 8's and to pile up a disgraceful score is to become angry and rattled.  It won't cost much in the way of strokes, when you slice a drive or pull an iron, if you throw your club away or curse your luck, because you still have time to get over it before the next shot.  But if you look up in the bunker and leave your ball sitting where it was, you had best think twice before you hit it again... Don't hit the ball until you are ready, until every other consideration has been excluded from your mind."

This advice from Bobby Jones to strive for perfection might be seen as being contrary to the fact that he openly admitted to, in his best rounds, not hitting more than six shots exactly as he planned-- other than putts.  He well knew that scoring in golf was more about recovering from mistakes than hitting perfect shots.  But, in order to play your best, the effort put forward on every shot must be consistent, and the effort must be to hit the absolute best shot we are capable of hitting every time we strike the ball.

And when I think of who does this best right now, I immediately think of Jordan Spieth.  I haven't seen anyone grind out a round as hard as he does since Tiger in his prime.  He leaves it all out there on the course, seeming to live and die by every shot.  It's compelling to watch.

It isn't easy to do.  If it was easy, we'd all do it.  But the more we try to hit perfect shots, even though we may not have a perfect swing, the better our scores will be and the greater the satisfaction we'll derive from playing.  Bobby said there was no shame in taking the game seriously.  We must be realistic about what we are capable of, but we should always at least try to hit the best shot we possibly can every time we swing the club.  I can't say I've ever managed it myself.  But, hope springs eternal, they say.  Whatever the hell that means.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Bobby Jones and the Caddie From St. Andrews

The people of St. Andrews loved Bobby Jones.  They gave him the Freedom of the Town, an honour only previously bestowed on one other American, Benjamin Franklin.  Bobby loved the people back, and he loved the Old Course.

Bobby played his last round on the Old Course in 1936.  It was meant to be just a casual round, but when word got out that Bobby was going to play, people turned up in droves, about two thousand strong, even closing the shops that they might watch their favourite, adopted son play one more time.

Unbeknownst to Bobby, a match had been arranged with local club professional, Willie Auchterlonie, and Gordon Lockhart, a professional from Gleneagles.  Although Bobby had long since retired, and was out of practice, he went out in 32, inspired by the joy of the occasion, back playing in his favourite place.  While he came home in 40 to shoot 72, no one much cared.  It was a magic day.

To show you what a wonderful man Bobby was, when talking about that round, he remembered an incident at the eighth hole.  He described it in his book, Golf is my Game, as follows:

  "On the eighth tee I was paid the most sincere compliment I can ever remember.  It was one of those things one does not talk about.  I have never mentioned it before, and did not mention it at the Freedom Ceremony.  But since this may be my last utterance on the subject of golf, I must put it down here.
  The eighth hole of St. Andrews is a short hole and the pin this day was tucked in behind a small mound to the right of the usual pathway leading to the front of the green.  Having the honour, I played a soft shot with a number four iron, which faded neatly around the mound and finished some eight or nine feet from the hole.  As I stepped back for Willie to play his shot and to slip my club back in my bag, my caddie, a pleasant-looking young man of about twenty years of age, said to me under his breath, 'My, but you're a wonder, sir.'  I could only smile and pat him on the shoulder.  I do not know his name nor where he is, but I hope he will now understand what pleasure he gave me."

Imagine, all the compliments that Bobby Jones received from other great players, great men of affairs, possibly even royalty, yet this compliment from a young caddie is the one he remembers most.  It speaks volumes about the humility of the man--and his greatness.

And imagine this young caddie; fortunate enough to get Bobby's bag on his last round at the Old Course.  We will never know, but can only surmise that he, too, never forgot the day.  We can imagine him telling his friends and family--maybe his grandchildren -- about caddying for Bobby Jones, and the great shot Bobby hit on number eight.  Did he ever come to understand that he, too, had made such an impression on perhaps the greatest player the game had ever seen?  We'll perhaps never know.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Bobby Jones on Smoking

There is nothing like a good smoke--especially on the golf course. I still smoke; having given it up for 25 years, I went back to it after a personal calamity, and have never really wanted to quit since. It's easy to quit if you actually want to.  If, in your heart, you don't truly want to quit, then spark one up, Johnny!  Trying to quit when you really don't want to is a waste of time.  And the cure is probably worse than the illness, with all the suffering you go through torturing yourself.  

Bobby Jones talked about smoking in his book, Down the Fairway.  He wrote:

  "I remember Perry (Adair) had a birthday at Ekwanok and got a pipe for a birthday present and smoked it; the first time he ever had smoked.  Gosh--he was sick!  And when I say sick, I mean sick as our British cousins mean sick, if you get what I mean.  We were rooming at a little cottage, and Mr. Scott and I thought Perry was awfully funny.  We jumped him from one bed to another, trying to make him snap out of it.... I wasn't smoking then.  I smoke a good deal now, and once in a while some golf writer takes a crack at me about it.  When Walter Hagen was giving me that beautiful lacing in Florida, one scribe said he went around the course with 71 strokes and I with 75 cigarettes.  Some people seem to think that's a bad idea.  I don't know.  I didn't smoke 75 cigarettes, of course.  But I do light a good many, in a hard round.  Light them, smoke them a bit, and throw them away.  It's something to do, and seems to release a little of the tension... It's easy to say cigarettes are bad for you.  But what about that stretching and stretching and stretching, inside your head?  It's easy to prove cigarettes are all wrong for you, physically.  But championship golf is played mainly between the ears.  If you don't smoke, I suppose you are better off--maybe.  If you do smoke, I'd say you were better off smoking, in a hard round.  I noticed Ted Ray is never without his pipe; and old Harry Vardon smokes pretty continuously."

My wife has pretty much accepted that I am probably not going to quit, but has made me smoke a pipe if I must smoke.  She can tolerate the smell of pipe tobacco.  I excuse myself by telling her I have the smoking gene.  I got it from my father, who was never happier than when he was having a smoke.  So, I say, hate the sin, not the sinner.  If it was good enough for Bobby Jones, my father, Ted Ray, and Harry Vardon, it's good enough for me.  

When I find myself up against it, playing Carl the Grinder for two bucks, I'll probably be smoking like I'm going to the chair.  That's just how it must be--at least for now.

Bobby Jones on Throwing Clubs

There was a time when I would let myself get mad as hell on the golf course.  Unfortunately, I have a temper.  It isn't easily roused, but once it is, look out.  Time, life, and golf have pretty much beaten me down to where I rarely permit myself to get angry on the golf course, or anywhere else for that matter.  I figure, at the end of the day, I'm not really good enough to get angry on the golf course anyway.

Occasionally, I must confess, I toss the odd club when playing alone, or with my long-suffering wife who inevitably gives me "the look," and says, "If you can't have fun, stop playing."  She just doesn't get it.

Bobby Jones had a temper.  When he went to compete in his first national open championship as a fresh-faced fourteen year old, that temper was on display, and he received some criticism about it.  I was reading Down the Fairway, and I couldn't resist sharing Bobby's writing about his "bad boy" days.  He wrote:

  "It's sort of hard to explain, unless you play golf yourself, and have a temper.  You see, I never lost my temper with an opponent.  I was angry only with myself.  It always seemed, and it seems today, such an utterly useless and idiotic thing to stand up to a perfectly simple shot, one that I know I can make a hundred times running without a miss--and then mess up the blamed thing, the one time I want to make it!  And it's gone forever--an irrevocable crime, that stroke.... I think it was Stevenson that said that bad men and fools eventually got what was coming to them, but fools first.  And when you feel so extremely a fool, and a bad golfer to boot, what the deuce can you do, except throw the club away?....
Well, well--Chick Evans, writing years later, said I had conquered my temper not wisely but too well; that a flare now and then would help me.  I liked that of Chick.  But I could have told him I get just as mad today.  I stopped club-throwing in public, but the lectures didn't stop coincidentally.  A bad name sticks...
  Well, well--I don't throw clubs any more, in public, though once in a while I let one fly, in a little friendly round with Dad and Chick Ridley, and Tess Bradshaw--and get a great deal of relief from it, too, if you want the truth."

He was some character, that Bobby Jones.  If you get a chance, read Down the Fairway.  It's a gem.

Here We Go Again

It may not be news, but it, too, is reality.  Augusta National's Billy Payne apparently believes Tiger will win again, and it could be another Masters.  I only have one comment about that: is that really news?  Actually, I have another comment:  would what Billy Payne believes about Tiger Woods comeback chances and a dollar actually buy you a coffee?

We are enjoying the emergence of a great rivalry in the game, with Jordan Spieth leading a pack of twenty-somethings who play great golf; play golf as it should be played, and have fun doing it.  Last year gave us some of the most spectacular golf witnessed in years.  Jordan Spieth's numbers rival Tiger's at the same age; and his runaway victory last week to begin the year suggests we should expert more of the same.  

Jason Day's performance at last year's PGA championship was phenomenal, as was Rickie Fowler's win at the Players.  Rory McIlroy's win to secure the Race to Dubai last year shows that Rory still has plenty of fire in his belly.  These young guns are just getting started.

In the meantime, we still have non-news stories about Tiger Woods and whether he will win again, or when he will play again.  It seems we can expect a replay of last year in the lead up to the Masters--all the will he, or won't he nonsense.  How about we just wait and see what happens with Tiger and enjoy the terrific golf on display from these young guns.

Tiger was/is a great player.  If he gets healthy, and gets some of his confidence back, how could he not win?  But those are just "ifs" at this point.  As for me, I want to talk about Jordan Spieth, and Jason Day, and Rory McIlroy, and Rickie Fowler, and Brooks Koepka, and....

Bobby Jones On "Carrying Horseshoes"

Bobby Jones' favourite round was at Sunningdale, in England.  I was lucky enough to play it as a twelve year old with my father.

We lived for two years in Camberley, Surrey, where my father, an army officer, was teaching at the British Officer's Staff College.  In those days, I was really more interested in playing football, rugby and cricket; being more into team sports.  I missed playing ice hockey while I was there, but loved living in England anyway.  Camberley is just down the road from Sunningdale and Wentworth golf clubs; and one day my father and I took a drive and found ourselves in the parking lot at Sunningdale.  A member spoke to my father and, the next thing you know, we were invited to play the course.  I had no idea just how lucky I was, as a twelve year old kid, to play a course like that.

I have no real recollection of what kind of numbers I was shooting in those days, but know I spent enough time in the woods, and the heather, to ensure that par was never much in jeopardy.  What I could do, however, was bash the cover off the ball.  In fact, my only recollection of that day at Sunningdale was driving the ball onto a par 4 green that I seem to recall we figured had travelled 329 yards.  It's interesting, however, because as I was reading Bobby Jones in Down the Fairway, he talked about driving the 15th green on the Old Course at Sunningdale, which he said was "a sweet one-shooter of 229 yards over level terrain; which means all the yards were 36 inches."  Looking back, after reading that from Bobby, I really have to suspect, that the 329 yard drive lodged in my faded memory must actually have been a 229--or 239 as the card now reads--yard carry at 15.  It definitely sounds more plausible, given the equipment I was using.  After all, as an adult, I rarely drove it more than three hundred yards, so 329 at age 12 or 13 sounds a bit--actually a good bit--exaggerated--unless it was downhill with a gale blowing behind me;  and even then...

Perhaps I can be forgiven for not remembering the day so well.  It was, after all, almost fifty years ago, and a casual round at that.  But I can still picture that ball landing on the green.  Perhaps it was the first time I'd ever driven a par four green.  What's a hundred yards anyway when you're talking about the old days?  What is it they say; the older you get, the better you used to be?  Either way, this drive to whatever par 4 green it was provided some excitement for my father, who couldn't believe a skinny kid like me could hit the ball as I did.  I actually thought Sunningdale was easier to play than the Camberley Heath club where we usually played; and which seemed to me to have had narrower fairways and impossible heather for rough.  I don't know what I'd think now.

Anyway, after fairly exhausting that particular subject, I must get back to Bobby Jones, which was my sole purpose in writing this.  He felt that the best round he ever played in competition was at Sunningdale in 1926.  In the first qualifying round of the Open, he shot 66, with 33 putts.  That round caused quite a stir and is one he remembered particularly fondly because his card was all threes and fours.  Bobby wrote, in Down the Fairway, "I love a round with only 4's and 3's in it.  The implication of such a round is that you are shooting golf and not carrying horseshoes."

That Bobby Jones was something special.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Bobby Jones on Putting

I happened to open the book, Down the Fairway, authored by Bobby Jones and O.B. Keeler, who followed and documented much of Bobby's phenomenal career.  As I have discovered, every time I just randomly open one of Bobby's books, I tend to find some fascinating information.

On this occasion, I opened the book right on the first page of the chapter on putting, entitled Putting: A Game Within a Game.  It was fascinating to learn that, contrary to what we might think, Bobby Jones actually often struggled with the game in general, and putting in particular.  He did not consider himself to be a great putter.  Nevertheless, he certainly learned to putt well enough to be, by far, the best player of his generation.  And, as always, his advice on putting was directed to everyone; pros and duffers, and everyone in between.  Bobby began the chapter by writing:

  "I will essay a few modest chapters in conclusion on my struggles with golf, and the playing of golf, with the emphatic understanding that there is nothing didactic about them.  I am not attempting to give any sort of instruction, or tell anybody how to play golf.  Indeed, I am not sure I can make an acceptable job of telling how I play golf, myself.  There are times when I feel I know less about what I am doing than anybody else in the world.  But I have struggled with the game, and maybe I have learned a little as to how I play it.  I have thought about golfing methods a lot; more than was good for me, I fancy.  Stewart Maiden, the foundation of my game and my first and only role model, says so, and I am willing to take Stewart's pronouncements concerning golf at face value.  Perhaps some reflections on the method of playing certain shots will not be uninteresting; as I said, I've thought about these things a lot.  But please understand I'm not commending these methods to anyone.  I'm just trying honestly to describe the way I play certain shots.  If anybody elects to try out these methods, it will be at his own peril."

How delightful an introduction by the best player in the world at the time.  No promises about making the reader a better player; no claims to having found the secret to taking five or ten shots off your game; just a warning that trying to play shots as he did--trying to copy his method--is done at the reader's peril.  Bobby understood as well as anyone that thinking about method can sometimes make matters worse for us, instead of better.  Reading this makes me think it would be nice if all teachers showed the same kind of humility when offering up their preferred method for us to try.  Nevertheless, Bobby then began to speak of putting:

  "Putting is a curious sort of game within a game, naturally comes to mind.  There is no need to labor it's importance in golf.  Nearly half the shots played by any expert performer are on the putting surface.  Sometimes more than half.  I recall with a mournful distinctness my last round in the 1926 British open championship when I used, or misused, 39 shots on the putting surface, and employed only 35 other shots.
  At the start, putting was not a 'game within a game,' to me.  It was nothing more than going up to the ball and knocking it into the cup, or making a free attempt to do so."

Bobby then speaks of trying several putters before settling on a "Travis" model with which he shot 66 at East Lake as a fourteen year old while playing a round at East Lake with his mother.  With that putter he later that same year won the Georgia state championship and headed for his first national amateur championship at Merion.

The lightning fast greens at Merion "baffled" young Bobby, who remembered putting the ball off the green and into a creek in a practice round.  Walter J. Travis, who was recognized as the best putter of the day, apparently took an interest in this fourteen year old prodigy, and offered Bobby a putting lesson after he was beaten in the third round by Robert Gardner.  

Bobby was half an hour late for the lesson, having missed the train from Philadelphia, and Mr. Travis, who obviously wasn't inclined to show any latitude to a fourteen year old kid, declined to give him the promised lesson.  He did relent some eight years later, giving Bobby a lesson at Augusta that proved to be very helpful to him.  Bobby wrote:

  "I needed help.  From a fairly good kid putter, I became a wretched adolescent putter, having discovered how many things could happen to the ball in the course of three or four feet.  That was always my hardest distance.  It is today.  There was a time when I honestly would rather confront a ten-foot putt that had to be holed than one of three feet.  I felt I could at least hit the longer one.
  I was a bad putter, or at best an indifferent one, up to Skokie, where the national open championship of 1922 was played and my putting held up a rather shabby game so that I finished in a tie for second place, a stroke behind Gene Sarazen.  I was changing my putting style continually in those days, sometimes two or three times in the same round, so I can't tell you what was the matter; indeed, I think it was not any one style or several styles at fault.  I think I was thinking too much about how I looked--I was always trying to copy some good putter-- and how I took the club back, and with which hand I struck with, and a number of things other than the one thing to concentrate on--putting the ball in the hole."

As I read this, I think: he could be describing me!  Bobby went on to discuss a variety of putting styles and theories, most of which he experimented with at one time or another--once again sounding eerily similar to me.  What then did Bobby finally learn that was, in his game at least, the key to good putting?  He wrote:

  "So I worked around and imitated other fine putters, with indifferent results, and finally, after years of suffering and tournament wrecks--I took 40 putts in one round of the national open of 1921 at Columbia--I finally arrived at the conclusion which obtains as these lines are written: that the best system for me is to stroke the ball with as smooth a swing as I can manage, and try always to gauge an approach putt, or any putt except the short holing-out efforts, to reach the hole with a dying ball.
  Stewart Maiden had more than once urged this plan.  'When the ball dies at the hole,' said Stewart, 'there are four doors; the ball can go in at the front, or the back, or at either side, wherever it touches the rim.  But a ball that comes up to the hole with speed on it must hit the front door fairly in the middle; there are no side doors, and no Sunday entrance, for the putt that arrives with speed.'
  This is especially true of keen greens.  On a slow green you can take more liberties with hard hitting.  But on fast greens, on which most championships are played--well there's always the spectre of the three-putt green.  I had three of them, that last round at St. Anne's, in the British open championship of 1926.  You don't forget those things, I can tell you.
  Now here's the way I look at it.  Too frequently, it seems to me, the famous old maxim of 'Never up, never in,' is made the excuse for banging the ball hard at the hole; and the player, seeing it run past three or four or half a dozen feet, consoles himself with the idea that at least he gave it a chance.  And yet it isn't so much of a chance.  Of course we never know but that the ball which is on line and stops short would have holed out.  But we do know the ball that ran past did not hole out.  That's another way of looking at it.  And a putt that is struck too hard has only one way into the cup--through the middle of the front door, and then the backstop must be functioning.
  Also, there is the matter of the second putt, not one precisely to be despised.  There is nothing--I speak from experience--in a round of either match or medal competition that bears down with quite the pressure of continually having to hole out putts of three and four feet; the kind left by overly enthusiastic approaches.  For my part, I have holed more long putts when trying to reach the ball with a dying ball than by 'gobbling' or hitting hard.  And if the dying ball touches the rim, it usually drops.  And if it doesn't touch the rim--well you can usually cover the hole and the ball with a hat, which makes your next putt simple and keeps down the strain....
  I wouldn't say that range is more important than line all the time, of course.  In a holing-out putt of two, three, four or six feet, the line is almost everything and you don't have to worry much about the pace, if you get the ball as far as the hole and still don't bang it.  But, in the approach putts, I do think range is the thing.  Perhaps if I had attended more to the line and not so much to the range, I'd get down in one putt more frequently.  Also, I probably would take three more often.  So it breaks no worse than even, I suppose."

So, there you have it.  Bobby Jones had to learn that speed was the key to better putting, except on the short putts.  He never really came to enjoy the three and four footers; but by controlling his speed, he left himself a lot fewer of them for his next putt.

And, after considering everything, what did Bobby Jones conclude about putting?  He wrote:
  "But as I see it, the thing that hurt my putting most when it was bad--and it was very bad, at times--was thinking too much about how I was making the stroke, and not enough about getting the ball into the hole.  I have always been a fair approach putter, and I am not so bad at holing-out now, though not in the class with a number I could name.  But I have concluded that, having acquired a fairly smooth and accurate stroke, the thing for me to do is to forget it as far as possible and concentrate on getting the ball into the cup.  Which seems to have been the original object, in golf."

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Bobby Jones Advises the Ryder Cup Team

It's another Ryder Cup year and, once again, the pressure is being dialled up on the Americans.  Unfortunately for the Americans, nothing will seem to satisfy their fans shy of a win.  That's a lot of pressure to deal with.  The Euros, on the other hand, continue to play, it seems, with house money.  

I have no doubt that the Americans are easily good enough to win the Ryder Cup.  On paper, they continue to be the stronger team.  How confident should they be as they prepare to face those Euros again?  Bobby Jones provides some excellent advice on just how the Americans need to approach these matches in order to have the best chance of winning.  In Bobby Jones on Golf, when talking about the best attitude to have towards competing, Bobby wrote:

  "It doesn't help a great deal to have the soundest swing in the world if that swing is not trusted.  There are many men who play golf exceptionally well when the issues are small, but who collapse when anything of importance is at stake.  The fact that they can play well at all shows that fundamentally their swings are good.  But what causes the detonation is fear--lack of confidence in the swing--making them unwilling to trust it with anything that really matters.  In face of such an obstacle, tension takes the place of relaxation and strain upsets rhythm.  The smoothest machine in the world cannot run in a bearing full of the gravel of uncertainty.
  There is one kind of confidence that everyone must have in abundance; when he stands up to the ball ready to make a decisive stroke, he must know that he can make it.  He must not be afraid to swing, afraid to pivot, afraid to hit; there must be a good swing with plenty of confidence to let it loose.
  The other kind of confidence is a different thing, and a dangerous one.  In a way, it has something to do with the player's opinion of his ability to play shots, but works in an entirely different way.  Of this kind of confidence, we must have only enough to make us feel as we step upon the tee with John Doe:  'Well, John, you're pretty good, but I think if I play hard and well, I can just about beat you.'  It must be enough to overcome actual fear or to rout an inferiority complex, but it must not be sufficient to produce a careless, overconfident attitude.
  Every successful golfer has learned to adopt a certain humility toward an opponent or an Open Championship field.  He knows that no matter how well he plays, there may be someone who may play even better.  Therefore, although he may be supremely confident of his ability to drive well, play his irons accurately, and putt well, he still is a fool if he is confident of winning--that is to any greater extent than I have indicated.  Confidence in the club, or the swing, or the shot, aids concentration because it banishes tension and strain; too-great confidence in the result of a match or a tournament makes impossible the concentration and hard work required to win."

So, if Bobby was the US Ryder Cup team captain, what might he say to those talented young men before they play?  Here's what I think he'd say:

  "Those Europeans are pretty good.  But, if you guys play hard and well, you just might beat them.  No matter how well you play, they might just play better.  That's the reality of this game of golf.  Therefore, you aren't supposed to win.  You cannot be expected to win.  But if you try your hardest and play your best, you just might win."

I think it's ridiculous the pressure placed on the American team by their supporters to win.  They already have enough internal pressure.  I think Bobby would just ask them to play hard and not give up.  He'd probably then say: "Win or lose, that's all I can ask of you; and all you should ask of yourself.   Now, go and have fun."

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Bobby Jones' Swing

It's interesting, at least to me, that we tend to study the swings of the great players in order to hopefully improve our own.  It is natural to want to imitate our favourite player's swing.  The problem comes, however, when we don't necessarily appreciate what it is we should be looking at, and what it is we should be trying to imitate.  For instance, a swing like Bubba Watson's, or Rory McIlroy's, should probably come with a warning that says, "Do Not Try This at Home."  These top players tend to be gifted athletes who have developed their own action after hitting thousands of balls.  But that is not to say that the great swings aren't worthy of being studied, if not actually imitated.

I must say, when watching video of Bobby Jones' swing--and admittedly I haven't watched all that much--I don't see a swing likely to be ever imitated, or seen again for that matter. 

This is certainly not because it was a mechanically unsound swing.  Obviously, it must have been a very good swing.  But, as the equipment has changed and players have become bigger and stronger, and instruction has become somewhat more advanced thanks to the assistance of technology, the golf swing has evolved and looks quite different from the swing Bobby used to win an almost unbelievable 62 percent of the Major Championships he entered over an eight year period prior to his retirement at 28.

Bobby's swing, like all good swings, relied on timing and rhythm.  Because it was a long swing, with plenty of moving parts, one might argue that timing and rhythm was very important to his success.  And Jones always favoured a long swing, not only for himself, but especially for amateurs.  Nowadays, there seems to generally be a move towards a shorter swing, with fewer moving parts.  After all, for the majority of us, particularly those of us who might not be physically gifted, there is probably less that can go wrong with a more compact, efficient swing; provided that is that shortening our swing doesn't affect our rhythm.  The fact is, so long as humans are designed as they are, as Bobby Jones aptly pointed out, the essence of a good swing will remain the same.  In golf there really never will be something that is truly "new."  The more things change, the more they remain the same.

I am already saying too much.  In my mind, the less a mug like me says, the better.  I prefer to pass along the wisdom of the great players and teachers.  However, in this article we will see what Bobby had to teach about rhythm and timing in his book Golf is my Game; and see that he actually quoted from a writer who called himself "the Roving Player."  So, occasionally, it appears a lowly roving player can write something worth reading and even repeating.  

About the swing, and rhythm and timing, Bobby wrote: "Since the immediate purpose is to provide a broad, general appreciation of the golf swing as a whole, I think it may be helpful and perhaps add conviction if I quote impressions of other writers, going back to the beginning of the century, and add a very emphatic declaration on my own part that nothing in modern-day golf has operated, or can operate, in any manner to affect the validity of these descriptions.
  Beginning in the middle, I shall quote first a description of my own method, written in 1927 by a writer who signed himself 'A Roving Player'... I present it as a very good description, if not of my own swing, certainly of that for which I strove, and one which I recommend without qualification.

  'St Andrews' people, who have golf in their very blood, are shrewd judges of players, and in Mr. Jones they see one who is a purist as regards style and method.  They are elusive because no other player has been able to copy them.  I have met golfers from all parts of the world, but none, for example, stands with feet so close together or quite so near the ball.  The effectiveness of the method is perhaps due to the fact that it is essentially natural.  Mr. Jones stands to the ball just as if he were engaged in ordinary conversation.  There is no straddling of legs, no tying of the muscles into a knot, no extravagant poses, nothing to suggest he is thinking of or doing anything in particular.  The clubhead is placed at the back of the ball, and the swing commences, so slowly in fact as to suggest that it is indolent.  Of the millions of golfers in the world, I do not suppose there is another who swings the club back so smoothly or so sweetly.  It is the very poetry of motion.
  But there is nothing indolent about the downswing.  The suggestion it gives of power, speed and momentum is majestic, while the quality of the blow itself suggests the force of an explosion.  It is not a blow in the sense that immediately it takes place it is over and done with.  There is the glorious follow-through, with the clubhead finishing around the neck and the hands high up.  These are things that denote the master golfer and in giving expression to them in a way that reveals the touch of genius, Mr. Jones has become the idol of St. Andrews....'"

Bobby goes on to write:  "The other quote I mentioned, written in 1903, was used in an article I myself wrote in July 1932.  In order to reveal my thinking on the subject at the time, I am going to set down here the quote from my own article.  It was as follows: 'I have chanced upon a thing written by Harold Hilton in 1903 which so closely parallels what I myself have written and said so many times that the similarity is startling.  A comparison of this and present-day utterances on the subject shows that the rhythm of the well-timed swing has not been altered much through the change of implements and balls.
  Mr. Hilton wrote of S. Mure Fergusson, one of the long drivers of that era:
  'On the upward swing, Mr. Fergusson always appears to take the club up in a most leisurely and deliberate fashion, and maintains this leisurely method at the beginning of the downswing; in fact, he always appears to be swinging slowly and well within himself, and this probably accounts for the fine, free action of the body when following through; but by the length of ball he drives, it is manifest that the clubhead must be travelling fast when it reaches the ball.'
  Of this passage, the most important part is to be found in the statement that Mr. Fergusson 'maintains this leisurely method at the beginning of the downward swing.'  We hear 'slow back' on every side, but 'slow back' is not enough.  There are numbers of players who are able to restrain their impulses to this extent, but who, once back, literally pounce upon the ball with uncontrolled fury.  It is the leisurely start downward which provides for a gradual increase of speed without disturbing the balance and timing of the swing. 
 The steel shaft has made it possible to produce a golf club that is better balanced, and hence more easily manipulated.  It is, therefore, possible that in the hands of a competent player it can be swung somewhat more rapidly without sacrifice of control.  Nevertheless, the inexpert player or average golfer will still do well to take to heart the descriptions quoted above.  Let him always strive for rhythm and make certain that both backswing and the start downwards are made at a leisurely pace.  And let the player always swing the club back far enough so that there will be plenty of space and time for the clubhead to gain speed between the top of the swing and contact with the ball."

That is what, it seems to me, we see and appreciate in the great swings.  Some swings have a faster tempo than others, but all good swings look leisurely.  There is never any rush.  You don't see good players snatching the club back, or lunging at the ball from the top.  They aren't in any hurry.  After all, the ball isn't going anywhere. It's relatively easy to take the club back slowly, and smoothly.  As Bobby said, many golfers have mastered that part of the swing.  But it's the change of direction, or the move from the top, where most swings, including my own, are likely to seriously go wrong.  

Monday, 11 January 2016

What? No Detractors?

Jordan Spieth claimed another title in grand style yesterday.  It was really never in doubt.  In that respect, it was not as exciting as it might have been had he been seriously challenged.  

Jordan blew away the field by eight shots.  This was a quality field.  The only two top players that were missing were McIlroy and Stenson.  Okay Phil and Tiger weren't there, but they have not really been in the conversation since Spieth has hit his stride.

This kid is just such a breath of fresh air.  People are running out of superlatives to describe, not only his play, but his demeanour on and off the course.  He hasn't set a foot wrong in an age where all eyes are on you and critics abound.  No one is perfect.  But this kid is certainly very special.

There was a picture posted on Facebook with Jordan and his parents; his sister Ellie snuggled under Jordan's one arm holding the trophy, and a lovely young lady under his other arm, presumably Jordan's sweetheart.  I decided to troll through the comments looking for at least one negative remark.  I couldn't find even one in this cynical age.  It almost makes me want to break out in song.  It almost makes me want to sing God Bless America and I'm not even an American!

This kid just can't be this great, can he?  I certainly hope so.  How can you not just love this kid?

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Advice for Jordan Spieth

One of the strange things I've noticed is that when a new kid suddenly becomes the best player in the world, people suddenly come out of the woodwork to offer him advice.  It's really quite odd, when you think about it.

After all, if the kid has made it to number one, why should anyone think he needs more advice?  Obviously, he's already figured things out pretty well.  I see it now with Jordan Spieth.  Among other things, in last night's press conference, they asked him whether he'd sought the advice of Tiger Woods in order to figure out how to stay number one for a long time.  I liked his response.  He indicated that he had not sought out advice from Tiger, Phil, or any of the other players.  He figured that if he just keeps winning, number one will take care of itself.  It's hard to argue with that sort of logic.

Right now, at least, Jordan is sticking with the team that helped get him there.  I think that's just wonderful.  But, as an interested party, who hopes to continue to see great things from him, I can't resist offering some more unsolicited advice.  Actually, it's not advice, as much as a request.  

My advice/requests are as follows:

1.  Please don't listen to unsolicited advice; whether it's well-meaning or not.

2.  No matter how much they offer you, please don't sign with Nike.

3.  You've suggested you are working out in order to get stronger, and hopefully longer.  Please don't become a gym rat, or hurt yourself by over-training.  You're obviously plenty long enough.

4.  Please, just keep doing whatever it is you are doing.  Because, whatever it is, it sure as hell works!

Saturday, 9 January 2016

He's Just Not Supposed to Do This

If there was any concern about whether Jordan Spieth might experience a letdown after his phenomenal year in 2015--and apparently there was--I think he has pretty much provided the answer; or at least given the strong indication that it will be business as usual this year.  

I read an article a week or so ago that quoted Rory McIlroy as saying that history suggests Spieth will not win any Majors this year.  Another article cited the fact that none of the experts queried were picking Spieth to have another big year, once again talking about history supporting their position.

It appears, however, while it's admittedly very early days, that young Mr. Spieth is not bound by history, or what others have done before him.  He seems intent on adding his name, in a big way, to the history books.  He doesn't seem to realize that he's not supposed to keep playing this well.  

He just shouldn't be doing this.  He's an expert's nightmare, because what he does, and how he does it, is rather difficult to explain.  The fact is, despite not having great power, or textbook technique, he just plays better than everyone else.  He gets the ball in the hole in fewer strokes than everyone else; not necessarily looking pretty while doing so.  And that, my friends, is really what golf is all about.

He's apparently just not long enough to dominate in what is supposedly now a power game.  I believe he is currently only the best at one thing--making putts from 20 to 25 feet. I hear he made a whopping 33 percent of them last year.  It's hard to imagine.  It's hard to believe.  But I heard it on Golfchannel, so it must be true.  I don't think Tiger even came close to doing that.  Neither did Jack.  Spieth's admittedly not that great with his wedges, and he admits that he needs to put more work into his chipping.  But when you are holing putts from 20 feet with regularity, I guess you can probably cut yourself a bit of slack as far as your wedge game is concerned.

The really scary thing is this kid is likely to only get better.  He can improve his physical game in a number of areas.  If he stays healthy, and doesn't mess with his swing trying to get longer--which he has said he won't do--this kid looks to be on his way to becoming one of the best we've ever seen.

And, while doing this, he low-fives the fans on the way from greens to the next tee.  He cheerfully signs autographs and mingles with the fans.  He gives lengthy, open, and honest press conferences.  He can be heard congratulating his playing partners on their good shots.  He even provides us with a play-by-play as he talks with his caddy about what he wants to do, or what he failed to do, or what he was thinking.  And he doesn't seem to understand that he's not supposed to be doing this.  He just isn't supposed to be this good, is he?

It is early days.  But, heading into tomorrow's final round with a five shot lead, it certainly appears that, barring a phenomenal round by one of the chasers, or a sudden letdown, Jordan Spieth is headed for another compelling win.  And is there anyone out there who has a problem with that?  Perhaps the guys he's beating like a drum, but surely not the fans.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

No Respect

The tournament directors, and/or organizers apparently have some explaining to do, not featuring Patrick Reed, the defending champion, on any of their marquees.  Whether this slight was intentional or not, with a guy like Reed, this had to serve as some extra motivation this week.

Sure enough, Reed went out and produced the round of the day, making eagle on the last hole to seize a one shot lead from, who else, his playing partner, Jordan Spieth.  Reed is not exactly poster-boy material.  He doesn't sport a winning smile, or have a particularly endearing way about him, but he can flat out play.  The message sent by him today might have been, beware of the cheesed-off golfer.

As for Spieth, what can you say?  He just goes out there and makes a score.  You watch him and, other than making putts, you can't figure out how he can hit the ball the way he does and keep himself at the top of the leaderboard.  He just shouldn't be as good as he is.  In that field of 32, there has to be at least twenty guys who hit it as well, or better, than Jordan Spieth.  And yet, other than Patrick Reed, he outplayed them all.

As his university coach pointed out, in a state that has produced some great champions over the years, Spieth is the only one to have won three straight Texas State High School championships.  He is just that special a player.  And success at a young age is apparently a huge predictor of future success.  He may not be the best in any statistical category, except perhaps putts made from fifteen to twenty feet, but he has "it."  He is the best player--the best competitor--in the game today.  

There has been a lot of talk about Jordan being, statistically-speaking, unlikely to follow his phenomenal 2015 season with another great season.  Unfortunately, what the experts and the armchair prognosticators can't take into account is this kid's desire.  He has no quit in him.  He's like the fighter who won't stay down.  It may not always be pretty to watch, but he's going to, no matter what happens, keep trying to find a way to beat you.  That's something you simply can't teach.

As for Patrick Reed; he just can't get no respect.

Sweet Swingers

I've been watching the South African Open, one of golf's oldest events.  That small country has produced some wonderful players, and some sweet swingers.

Of course, there is Ernie Els, the Big Easy, who, for a big man, looks about as graceful as anyone with a club in his hands.  Then there is Retief Goosen.  The Goose has always been one of my favourites--and that swing is about as sweet, and simple, as any I've ever seen.

Then you have Trevor Immelman, who has been pretty much conspicuous by his absence from leaderboards because of injury, but who has a swing to die for.  I like Richard Sterne's swing as well.  Simple, powerful swings for men of smaller stature.  And speaking of men of smaller stature, who has a sweeter swing than Louis Oosthuizen?  King Louis makes it look awfully easy.

And what about Charl Schwarzel?  Not much to go wrong with that action.  I'll tell you, when I watch these South Africans swing, I wonder whether there's something in the water down there.  And then there's Branden Grace and Jaco Van Zyl who are seemingly ready to move up to the next level.  Oh, and don't forget...

And So It Begins

Finally; the new season really begins.  With the whole wrap-around season thing, I guess it really isn't the start of anything, other than the boys getting back at it after some rest and relaxation over the holidays.  Actually, for me, the new season will really begin at Augusta in April with my favourite tournament--at least my favourite when the Open isn't at St Andrews-- begins and the snow has hopefully melted from my door.

The Masters really signals the start of a new year for us Canadian boys, especially if, like this year for me, we haven't managed to go South for the winter.  But, until then, we will be treated to some great golf.  This week's tournament at Kapalua promises to be a good one, as it generally is, because the course is terrific, and the field is composed of winners; many of whom want nothing more than to start their year off by making a statement with a win.

Garnering most of the attention, leading up to the first tee shot today, have been Spieth, McIlroy, Day, and Fowler.  They are the young guns who move the needle these days.  And they've certainly demonstrated, beyond any doubt, that they are worthy of the attention.  If it's true that golf has never been more competitive, and the fields have never been stronger--and I think it's safe to say that it is--these young men have stepped up and delivered in a big way.

The question now will be: will it continue?  I think the answer is an emphatic yes.  In golf, nothing succeeds like success.  Therefore, as long as they remain hungry--and don't make too many changes, swing, or otherwise--I think it is safe to say that the big 3--or will it be 4?--will get most of the ink, and much of the hardware.

But there are some other guys to watch.  There are some new kids who look like they are more than willing and able to step up if the Fab Three/Four get complacent.  I don't know about all of them, but I don't see complacency as being an issue for my man Spieth.  I also think Rickie is going to be a man on a mission; and if Jason Day is now ready, and has a new set of goals, after achieving his Major win and number one in the world--at least for a week or two--we are in for another cracking good year.

And all this without mentioning Tiger.  Whoops; I just couldn't resist, in deference to all those folk out there who still think golf is boring without the big cat. I have suggested that Tiger will tee it up at Augusta.  After all, why the heck wouldn't he?

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Bobby Jones Learns the Virtue of Playing Against Something not Someone

I know I persist in writing about Bobby Jones, and sharing his writing.  Of course, I never saw the man play.  I've seen some old video reels; but that's it.  And yet Bobby Jones is my golfing hero.  I have always loved Jack Nicklaus, who is the best player I've ever seen.  But, since reading his books, Bobby Jones is, for me, the greatest of them all.  Through his wonderful writing, I have come to feel like I almost know him; and I love him, just like the people of St. Andrews loved him.

Tonight, I was reading Down the Fairway, by Bobby Jones and O.B. Keeler, his friend and confidante who followed, and chronicled, Bobby's phenomenal career.  Bobby wrote of learning the importance of playing "something," rather than "someone"; that something being Old Man Par.  As usual, it gives us a glimpse of the greatness of the man, and the incredible understanding he had of the game.  
He wrote:

"It was in 1913, the year before the old course was changed, when I was 11 years old, that two things happened to me that seem worthy of note, as influencing my association with golf.  Up to that time, as suggested, golf was rather an incidental matter along with tennis and fishing and baseball; it was just another game , and if I could beat somebody at it I felt I had achieved something, just as when I managed to defeat someone at tennis, or when our side won at baseball.  I suppose I never had the least notion that golf offered more than merely personal competition, as a game.  Even when we had a medal round, I was trying to beat Perry or whoever seemed the most dangerous competitor.  I kept my scores in every round of golf as a matter of course; and naturally I liked to get under 90.  But the scoring, of itself, was relatively a detached part of the affair, which, to my way of thinking, was a contest with somebody--not with something.
  It may not be out of place here to say that I never won a major championship until I learned to play golf against something, and not somebody.  And that something was par... It took me many years to learn that, and a deal of heartache."

Bobby first started to understand about playing against something, instead of someone, when he watched the exhibition match between Harry Vardon and long-hitting Ted Ray against Stewart Maiden and Willie Mann.  Vardon and Ray had come over to play the US Open at Brookline, where Francis Ouimet secured his improbable victory that essentially put American golf on the map.  The match was 36 holes at East Lake, followed by 36 more at Brookhaven the next day.

The match at East Lake, in which young Bobby followed every hole, was won by Ray and Vardon 1up, after Ray managed to sink an eight-foot birdie on the last hole to get a half and the win.  Describing the match, Bobby wrote:

  "This was the first big match I had ever watched and I followed every step of the 36 holes.  Ray's tremendous driving impressed me more than Vardon's beautiful, smooth style, though I couldn't get away from the fact that Harry was scoring more consistently.  Par--par--par, and then another par, Harry's card was progressing.  They played 36 holes at East Lake and 36 more at Brookhaven next day, and I remember Vardon's scores: 72-72-73-71; a total of 288, or an exact average of 4's all the way.  I remember thinking at this time, and it would be difficult to find a better illustration, that 4's seemed to be good enough to win almost anything.  Today I would not qualify the estimate.  I'll take 4's anywhere, at any time."

Bobby went on to describe seeing Ray hit the greatest shot he has ever seen during that match, a seemingly impossible shot over a huge tree that found the green.  Bobby wrote:

"The gallery was in paroxysms.  I remember how men pounded each other on the back, and crowed and cackled and shouted and clapped their hands.  As for me, I didn't really believe it.  A sort of wonder persists in my memory to this day.  It was the greatest shot I ever saw.
  Yet, when it was all over, there was old Harry, shooting par all that day and the next.  And I couldn't forget that, either.  Harry seemed to be playing something beside Stewart and Willie; something I couldn't see, which kept him serious and sort of far way from the gallery and his opponents and even from his big partner; he seemed to be playing against something or someone not in the match at all... I couldn't understand it; but it seemed that way."

Later that year, however, Bobby came to understand what he was witnessing in the play of Harry Vardon when he, for the first time, shot 80.  He described the experience as follows:

"And that year, a bit later, I shot an 80 for the first time on the old course at East Lake.  I remember it with a peculiar distinctness.  I was playing with Perry, and for once I wasn't bothering about what Perry was doing or if I was beating him or he was beating me.  I was scoring better than I ever had scored before and I couldn't think about anything else.  And when I got down a four-foot putt on the last green for an even 80, which I had never done before, I made Perry sign my card and then I set off at a trot to find Dad.  I knew he was on the course, and I ran clear across it, to the fourteenth green, and found him there.  I had sense enough to wait until he was through putting; Dad was impatient of interruptions when he was putting.  Then I walked up to him and held out the card... I remember my hand was trembling a good deal... Dad took it and looked at it and then he looked at me.  I don't remember what he said.  But suddenly he put his arms around me and hugged me--hard.  And I do remember that his eyes looked sort of queer.  I think now they must have been wet.  (As I type this, I find tears rolling down my cheeks; appreciating how special a moment this must have been for father and son, and remembering my father with whom I played so many rounds; fathers and sons, and golf.)
  I suppose that is the first round I ever played against the invisible opponent whose tangible form is the card and pencil; the toughest opponent of them all--Old Man Par."