I have also learned from routinely being out-played around the greens by Carl Stacey, who uses a variety of clubs to get the ball up and down, seldom if ever relying on fancy, spinning shots. It seems, had I read and listened to Bobby Jones a lot earlier, I might have saved myself a lot of strokes, and a fair bit of embarrassment when my fancy, one-hop-and-stop wedges bounded over the green into a thicket, or were chunked a couple of feet in front of me.
Bobby Jones was nothing if not pragmatic. He believed in simplicity, trying the fancy shot only when the situation made a straightforward shot impossible. While he was a wonderful shotmaker, capable of producing all sorts of magic, he realized that, in the long run, it was best to, as Harvey Penick later advised, make your shot flavour plain old vanilla.
Under the heading On Play Around the Green, in Golf is my Game, Bobby Jones had the following to say about chipping and pitching:
"The chipping and short-approach game is one place where the intelligent and experienced golfer can give himself all the best of it. Most good golfers are great chippers. They have to be, because they can't afford to go over par every time they miss the green with the proper shot.
A.C.M. Croome, a British golf expert of my day, once said that Walter Hagen was so hard to beat because he realized better than anyone else that 'three of these and one of those still make four.' The inference, of course, was that Hagen holed a lot of putts for pars. This was true, and Hagen was a great putter, but he was also one of the best short-approach players the game has ever seen. He gave himself a lot of putting opportunities.
When I try to tell something about how to swing a golf club, I am never quite certain that I am really helping him a great deal. But when I am on this present subject I know I can give sound advice which anyone can apply, to take strokes off his score and add to his enjoyment of golf.
The main idea in the short play is to give yourself the benefit of all percentages. Never try to be unnecessarily fancy. Whenever possible, select a club which will permit the shot to be played in a straightforward manner and which will make all use possible of the most carefully prepared part of the golf course--the putting surface itself.
As must inevitably follow from the above, do not for one moment entertain the notion of playing all short approaches with one club. A chipper, or run-up club has no place in today's limited set.
The rule to follow is this. Aim to pitch the ball in the air by only a safe margin on to the nearest edge of the putting surface, and strike it in a manner which will insure that it will take a full, normal roll--that is, without abnormal spin.
If your ball lies a foot or two off the putting surface on what would be called the 'apron' of the green, use a number three iron and loft it just over the bit of apron on to the putting surface. The shot becomes only a long putt. From a few feet farther back you would use a five iron, and so on, but the shot would be the same. In any case, you are playing for the best possible average of results and not trying for anything spectacular. If you can consistently leave your chips within a radius of four to six feet from the hole, you won't suffer too much in the average golf game.
All this may sound pretty simple and obvious, but even in select company I have seen departures from it which proved costly. The most upsetting to me, especially if I happen to be sentimentally interested in the fortunes of the player, is the man who plays all chips from just off the green with a seven or eight iron, pitching the ball well on to the green, often half-way to the hole. Even in these days of advanced greenkeeping, putting greens do have soft and hard spots, and landing either can throw the shot off. This risk must be accepted from farther out, but it doesn't exist for the ball that is always rolling.
At the other extreme is the player who habitually uses a putter from anywhere on the apron. Here the turf is usually well-conditioned, but the grass is a bit longer than on the putting surface. There is simply no way of knowing how those few feet of apron will affect the speed of the ball. If the ball hugs closely to the ground, the grass will have a braking effect; but if it bounces once, it may take off. A few feet of run, more or less, may mean the difference between a holeable putt and one that is not quite so.
One other rule should definitely be made for the average golfer. Let him never take his sand wedge from his bag except when his ball is in sand, or in such heavy grass that a prayerful escape is the ultimate hope. The pros do wonders pitching with the wedge, but the extreme loft and extra weight cause it to be a treacherous club in the hands of an inexpert player. It is so easy with it to leave a ball sitting or to top it into tiger country beyond the green."
Since this was written, greens have improved, along with green speeds. Wedges are also well-designed to make them perhaps a bit easier to use. But Bobby's advice remains sound. I've seen Carl's son, Billy, hole more than a few chips from the apron using a three iron, while I've left a spinning 60 degree wedge short. My buddy Steve, who used to generally use either a 56 degree wedge or his putter around the greens, has also been using less loft in his chipping and has experienced very good results.
As for me, I'm tired of dipping in my pocket to pay Carl Stacey. I think if I keep listening to Bobby's advice, and get used to playing less loft and less spin around the greens, it might just help turn the tables and wipe that grin off the old man's face.