Thursday, 28 April 2016

Sam Snead's Left Hand

Not that long ago the talking heads were raving about how these modern players hit it.  It's definitely incredible to see the way some of these top players can overpower a golf course with the incredible distance they are able to achieve.  This may be attributable to a better ball, better equipment, better training, and better swing mechanics, or it may be because there are bigger, stronger athletes playing the game.

However, in the midst of all this gushing over the new kids, Johnny Miller spoke up and said he's still never seen anyone hit it better than Sam Snead.  I daresay there are many oldtimers in a position to know who would agree with Johnny.  I bet Jack Nicklaus would be one of them.  Jack marvelled at Sam's swing and said his rhythm always improved when he played with Sam, or watched his swing. 

Harvey Penick watched Sam hit a tee shot at the Houston Open and decided right then and there that he was not going to try his luck on the tour.  He figured he could never beat a guy who could hit it like the Slammer.  I've heard it said that Sam was probably the finest athlete ever to play the game.

Snead had to have had one of the best swings of all time.  It was powerful, graceful, fluid, and rhythmic.  His swing also stood the test of time, Sam actually winning a PGA tour event in his late fifties.  Sam felt his swing was worthy of imitation because of its simplicity.  I have been reading Sam's books and watching some videos and discovered that Sam was very much a "top hand golfer."  He felt that his swing was controlled by his left hand.

That is not to say that Sam played the game one-handed.  He poured on the power with the right hand.  But, like Bobby Jones, he was careful to ensure that the left hand was in control of his swing, never to be over-powered by his right hand.  He realized, like Bobby Jones, that a right hand that gets into play too soon can wreak havoc in a golf swing.

At the end of the day, what made the Slammer's swing so worthy of imitation was not it's mechanical perfection, or it's adherence to fundamentals,--it's said he aimed so far right he sometimes looked like he was aiming at his caddie--but rather his ability to apply the club to the ball in a way that produced great golf shots--shots that, as Harvey Penick wrote, sounded like a rifle shot coming off the face of the driver.  

How did he feel he did it?  Golf is, after all, all about feel.  He said he took the club straight back, low and slow, with his left hand.  On the downswing he began by pulling with the last two fingers of his left hand.  His weight shift was the natural consequence of using his top hand, everything flowing together, with nothing forced, or restrained.  It felt "oily" to him.  And he never tried to hit it hard, believing he achieved his best results swinging at 80 percent power. 

Sam might have been a top hand--or left-sided--player, but when he hit the ball, he got everything into the shot.  That's the thing with thinking about swing mechanics; a tip, or a swing thought, will work only until you begin to overdo it at the expense of something else.  As Bobby Jones said, "A spoonful of cough medicine might help you.  But the whole bottle will kill you."  

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Miss 'Em Quick

Bobby Jones played fast.  When describing his pre-shot routine he talked about deciding on his shot, approaching the ball from behind, setting his club behind the ball aimed at his target, moving into his stance, taking one waggle and letting it go.  He was constantly in motion.  If you blinked, you'd probably miss his shot.

In fact, Bobby noted that if he found himself taking more than one waggle, he could expect trouble.  He was of the "miss 'em quick" school.  He told once of having taken lots of time to survey a particularly tricky shot, the tension building in the gallery, before he hit a real stinker.  He admitted to the crowd that he could have certainly missed the shot much quicker.

He was the same with putting.  He generally felt his first look at a putt was his best look and that taking extra time to look at it from every angle was not particularly helpful or enlightening.  He did admit that he learned to take a little more time to catch his breath in later years before he hit the putt. But he always felt his first look was his best read.

Bobby felt there was nothing more onerous than slow play.  I'm certain he would have to turn the television off rather than watch the deliberations and the fiddling around that we are subjected to these days when we watch the pros play.  In this respect they set a terrible example for the average player who is often tempted to imitate their pre-shot routines.  

The other day we got stuck behind a foursome playing their usual match.  They usually got to the green in relatively acceptable speed.  But once on the green the show began--balls marked, putts surveyed from every angle, two-footers marked, cleaned and aim-lined instead of being tapped in.  It was absolutely painful to endure.  And not one of those guys broke ninety.  

If we want to eliminate slow play, we need to stop imitating the pros, forget we ever heard about pre-shot routines, and just hit the bloody thing.  We all need to be like Bobby Jones.  We need to miss 'em quick.  I don't think I've ever heard of anyone being criticized for playing too fast.  Have you?

It Ain't How Far It's How Many

My son tells me he is finally giving up rugby to finally turn his attention to golf.  His knee that now requires surgery and his wonky shoulder have contributed to that decision; not to mention the fact that he is getting older and tends to take a longer time to recover from the bumps and bruises that are a big part of the game.  I am glad that he has made the decision--making it about the same time in his life that I did, when I  gave up hockey for a slightly more gentlemanly pursuit.  

From now on, hopefully it will be golf in the summer and squash in the winter for my boy.  Those are pursuits much less hazardous to your health and fitting for a young army officer, even if the rugby pitch will likely always call out to him.

He's strong like bull.  He can hit a pitching wedge 170 yards, generally over the back of whatever green he's aiming at.  He drives it long and crooked as well.  But he's a pretty decent chipper and putter, which suggests to me that he could actually become a fair player.  The key will be whether he can forget his driver and develop his touch.

We spoke the other night and came up with a plan.  Matt will begin the season using only a seven iron, a wedge, and a putter.  He will work on getting the ball in play off the tee and honing his skills around the green.  My wife learned to play this way and very quickly learned to get it around the course--although she'd still sooner walk the course with a camera and a ball retriever photographing the wild life and hawking previously enjoyed Titleists.

I really hope Matt can learn to love the game.  So far, his experiences on the links have pretty much left him cold.  Golf is no fun when you're spending all day looking for your tee shot in the woods somewhere in the next county.  It also isn't all that fun for your playing companions unless they play the same sort of game.  One soon tires of searching for someone else's ball.  He's also not very fond of having his old man beat him all the time, since he's a competitive character.

As Bob Toski and Harvey Penick taught, golf is best learned from the green back to the tee.  Someone who can chip and putt--and get the ball in play off the tee--can play with anyone.  Besides, according to Harvey, the golf swing is really nothing more than a long chip shot.  It's all about controlling distance and direction that counts and that comes from the strike.

The challenge for Matt will be resisting the urge to hit the driver.  It won't be difficult, however, if he just leaves it at home.  It also won't be hard to forget the driver if he learns what all good players must eventually learn; it ain't how far, it's how many.  If he starts seeing his scores dropping, he won't miss that driver at all.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

The "Anyway Shot"

There are some days when the game is almost easy.  Not very often, but sometimes.  I played Roundel Glen the other day with Spiros.  I had his number the last time out, so we agreed that I'd give him five a side.  

It was one of those days for me--and it was one of those days for Spiros.  I won the first four holes and said to Spiros, "You're digging a big hole for yourself, buddy."

He agreed and said, "Two more and you can bury me."

Sure enough, I won the next two as well and we were looking to find a priest.  I then hit my first poor shot of the day.  It was a little forty yard pitch.  I stood over it and I couldn't picture a shot.  I didn't know whether to take it in low with a little spin, or pitch it high and soft.  Even though I wasn't really ready, I hit it anyway--a dreaded "anyway shot."  I thinned it across the green into a hole and promptly made a double.  Spiros was back to five down and felt energized.

Unfortunately for Spiros, I recovered, won three of the next four and he was finished 8 and 7.  It was just one of those days where the ball just seemed to go where I was looking.  All day, I hit only three bad shots.  Every one of them was an "anyway shot,"  where I wasn't feeling confident with the shot or the club.  Three bad shots for me is pretty good, but it was enough for me to lose three shots to Old Man Par.  That's the thing about Old Man Par-- he doesn't play until he's ready.  He never hits "anyway shots."  He just hits fairways and greens.  And he generally manages to beat me.  He's solid as a rock.

So, I'm doing well so far this year not tinkering with my swing.  My next goal is to eliminate those anyway shots. If I can, I might just start looking like a golfer.  As for Spiros--he's getting six a side today.  Hopefully it will come down to the last few holes to decide who has bragging rights.  Matches are no fun when they are over too soon.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

A Club and a Tire

My buddy, Jeff, broke his right leg playing hockey this winter.  He zigged when he should have zagged and went full tilt into the boards feet first.  Twenty some pins and four metal plates later, he's just now starting to rehab it.  His biggest concern, of course, is how soon he can be back golfing, and how the injury will affect his game.  It got me to thinking.

What are the most important muscles for golf?  I suppose today's experts would say the core muscles and the legs--though I can't say for certain, not being an expert in such things.  I would argue, with support from some of the best golfers to ever play the game, that the most important muscles are in the hands, wrists, and forearms--especially the hands.  

There are golfers who have lost the use of their legs, but can still play decent golf out of a chair using their hands and arms.  I had a friend who played decent golf despite having lost one leg up to the knee and several toes on his remaining foot.  I had another friend when I played at Pine Ridge who played a respectable game despite having only one hand.  One famous old English teacher, Ernest Jones, lost a leg during the war and developed his teaching system called "swing the clubhead" based upon what he learned in terms of using his hands and arms to still play good golf despite his handicap.  

The fact is you don't have to be rooted to the ground to effectively strike a golf ball.  Look at some of these trick shot artists if you have any doubts.  Bobby Jones felt, quite rightly, that anyone with a good set of hands can play respectable golf.  He may not hit it as far as the young and physically fit players, but he can play golf well enough to thoroughly enjoy the game if he learns to use his hands properly.

In fact, one of the attributes that we often give to great players is that they possess a great set of hands.  Often this refers to their touch, but it also involves their ability to deliver a real wallop to the ball using their hands. Arnold Palmer had enormously powerful hands and forearms, and he used them to great effect.  Sam Snead did as well.  Jackie Burke, when talking about Snead's advice to grip the club like a baby bird, apparently suggested that, in Snead's case, the baby bird was definitely an eagle.  Snead may have gripped the club softly for him, but you can bet that when he delivered the strike that club head wasn't about to twist in those powerful hands for anything.

Now we will likely never be endowed with the kind of strength in our hands and forearms that Palmer or Snead possessed, but we can certainly get stronger.  One of England's finest players and teachers, Henry Cotton, discovered the value of a simple car tire to not only build strong hands, wrists, and forearms, but also to learn to deliver a solid, square strike.  He had his students out there striking a tire with the left hand only, the right hand only, and both hands; getting the feel of how both hands work to deliver the club head to the ball and make a solid strike.  They also discovered the importance of the top hand (the left hand for right-handed golfers) in delivering the club square to the ball.

The results he saw were almost instantaneous with many students who, caught up in swing mechanics, had forgotten that golf, in the final analysis, was about striking the ball with the head of the club; not making a pretty swing.  I have my tire in the back garden and, now that the weather's good, intend to regularly go out and whack the daylights out of it.  It might just accomplish two things--strengthen my golf muscles and eliminate any stress I might be feeling.  Actually, it might accomplish three things.  It might also annoy my neighbours, who will have to listen to their crazy neighbour whacking a car tire.  I better make certain I don't decide to do it at midnight.

As for Jeff; he's going to start beating a tire as well.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Trillium Wood

I played with Spiros at Trillium Wood, near Belleville, Ontario, today.  We were paired up with Randy and Mark on this sunny, cool and breezy day.  The course was designed by Steve Ward, who designed our new nine at Picton as well as Timber Ridge, near Brighton. 

Trillium is a real gem of a course with a variety of interesting holes, both short and long.  Steve has a real knack of making a course interesting and challenging while making it playable for all level of golfers.  He is particularly adept at making short holes that look easy on the card, but present a real challenge to any player.  

Randy and Mark were great to play with, and Randy pitched and chipped like a demon all day using his trusty pitching wedge.  Time and again he laid the ball virtually stone dead from a variety of distances and lies.  Good chipping certainly covers a multitude of sins in this game.  It was there first time out this year and they both acquitted themselves very well.

As for Spiros and I; we played a match with Spiros getting four a side.  Spiros played a decent front nine, including a nice birdie at two, but found himself two down.  On the back he had a couple of disasters and lost four and three.  I hit the ball nicely but putted poorly, including a three- putt par on the ninth--nothing worse than a three-putt par.  I also three-putted for bogey on the last hole for 75.  Not bad for an old, fat guy.  

The big positive for me is that I've now played three rounds without tinkering with my swing.  I think this has to be a personal best.  If I can manage to keep swinging "my swing,"  and make a few putts, Old Man Par will soon have to watch out.  Spiros birdied his last hole as well and can't wait to get back out there.

If you haven't played Trillium Wood, make sure you keep it in mind when you're in this neck of the woods.  You won't be disappointed.  Friendly staff and Rickard's red on tap.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Roundel Glen

Spiros might have been wearing his game face yesterday at Roundel Glen, but it wasn't enough to prevent me from beating the boys three and two.  Despite the second loss in a row, Spiros indicates that they will not be asking for strokes.

It was a fun day on a very good course that was unfortunately also very wet, forcing us to walk for the second day in a row.  If we keep this up, we'll soon be fit as fiddles.

This early in the year the usually-quick greens were pretty slow and still quite bumpy from being aerated at the end of last season.  But Roundel Glen, formerly the Canadian Forces Base Trenton course, is a great old design with lots of mature trees, sharp doglegs, and some beastly long par fours--at least for old fat guys like us.  It's definitely worth a visit if you're in the area.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Swing Your Swing

There was a good commercial that ran on the Golfchannel that included Arnold Palmer advising golfers to swing their swing.  It's great advice.  But does everyone have their own swing?  Having studied the golf swing, perhaps more than was good for me, and having tried several different methods, I finally realized, almost by accident, that we all have our own swing.  But how do we find it?

I found that our swing is the swing we use when we are just clipping the flower off of a daisy, or a dandelion.  It isn't our practice swing, although our practice swing is often more rhythmic and fluid than our swing when we're confronted with the golf ball.  Because often in our practice swing we're focussing on something mechanical; like making a goid shoulder turn, or taking the club back a certain way.  But when we just swing at a dandelion, or a piece of grass, we are just swinging our swing, with no thought of how we're doing it.  Our focus is where it should be, on the object we're hitting.

That's why Harvey Penick advised golfers never to take a practice swing unless they are aiming at something--a leaf, a tuft of grass, or a bit of clover.  He also taught golfers to "clip the tee."  He would put a tee in the ground and have them keep swinging until they could consistently clip the top of the tee with the club.  Then he'd have them make the same swing clipping the ball off the top of the tee.  He didn't know why it worked, but it did.  By clipping the tee, golfers squared the clubface and hit good shots.  Harry Vardon taught golfers to clip the legs out from under the ball, which is the same idea.  

I have, from my idolizing of Jack Nicklaus, the mental image of my perfect swing as being upright like his was.  When I just clip the tee, my swing is flatter and generally produces a draw if the ball doesn't go straight.  When I try to make my swing upright, like Jack's, I hit the ball higher, and I fade it easier, but I am also prone to pulls and the occasional pull hook.  So "my swing" may not be the swing I would ideally like to have, nor does it produce the ball flight I would prefer to have, but it's pretty consistent and produces very few really bad shots and it's easy for me to do.  That's why I wish I used it more often.

Another way that helps me swing my swing and find my ideal tempo and rhythm is by taking practice swings with my eyes closed.  I have found this really helpful when I get to tinkering, or I start swinging too fast or too hard.  Today, I actually played seventeen holes using my swing.  It was such a comfortable way to play.  It just made me wonder why I keep forgetting to do it.

I played my first round of the new season with the boys, Steve and Spiros, today.  The weather was a perfect, sunny 17 degrees Celcius, which is somewhere around 67 degrees Fahrenheit.  We played Salt Creek Links near Warkworth, Ontario, because, as usual, our home club is bent on being the last course in the area to open--but that's another story.

As is generally the case, we played a match--me against their best ball.  Today I offered them no strokes and informed them that I had every intention of administering a sound thrashing to them.  This sort of talk usually ensures that Spiros gets his game face on, and today was no exception.

As usual, I teed it up on the first hole thinking about how I intended to hit it, instead of where I intended to hit it.  The result was a hook into the left tree line followed by a missed sand wedge shot that left me still in the trees.  A chip out of the trees short of the green, followed by a poor chip and a missed five footer, left me with a double bogie and one down right out of the gate.

I announced on the next tee that I intended for the rest of the day to just swing "my swing."  The boys thought this was a great idea, since, as they have often observed, I generally wait until much later in the round to finally start doing it. 

I failed to get it up and down for par on two when a perfect tee shot went over the back of the 210 yard par three.  But Steve three putted after hitting the green and I managed to dodge a bullet.  My resolve to just keep swinging my swing continued and, after back to back birdies, I had clawed one back, Spiros also birdieing the fourth hole.  We battled on with me eventually taking a one up lead into the back nine after the boys failed to par the ninth.

I finally arrived at sixteen two up and facing a four footer for birdie to seal the deal after the boys both missed their birdie putts.  As I have so often done, I missed.  Starting to feel some pressure, after a perfect tee shot, I promptly thinned a sand wedge over the green and into Salt Creek on seventeen and suddenly I was one up going down eighteen and seemingly in full choke mode.  However, after leaving my lengthy approach putt six feet short on eighteen, I stood up and banged it in for the match, Steve only just missing chipping in for birdie.  It wasn't a thrashing I gave them, but it was a good start.

I always learn something every time I play.  Often it's something I already knew and had just neglected or forgotten.  Today it was once again the importance of swinging your swing--not thinking about mechanics when you play.  I managed it today for seventeen holes and it felt awfully good.  The game is a great deal more fun when you are thinking about where you want to hit it, instead of how you want to hit it.

Tomorrow, since our course still isn't open--I think I mentioned that already--we're off to play Roundel Glen, formerly CFB Trenton golf course.  It's an iteresting and pretty demanding course, with lots of mature trees and doglegs.  It can be had, but it demands that you be able to work it off the tee to really score well.  I just hope I can step up on the first tee, pick my target, and just swing my swing.  Whether I can or not largely depends upon whether I come up with any bright ideas between now and then.  Hopefully I won't.

From now on, I want to just play golf using "my swing."  My wife, of course, would say, "Why, who else's swing would you use?"  She'd be surprised.

Friday, 15 April 2016

The Ultimate Headgame

Golf, as Carl the Grinder is so fond of saying, is the "ultimate headgame."  One day you've seemingly got it; the next day it's gone.  There are many guys who have simply disappeared in this game after being one of the top flight players--too many to even list.  Guys who were regularly in the money, or even winning big events, suddenly can't break par.  

Mike Weir is one of them.  He was in the news after withdrawing after the first round of the Heritage Classic after shooting 78.  His withdrawal angered Dawie Van der Walt who was an alternate who had been hoping to play in the event.  He angrily suggested that Mike just "hang them up" with his hashtag on Twitter.  Mike Weir is a Masters champion who now resides in the golfing wilderness.  Van der Walt doesn't have a green jacket, but I guess he's big enough to think he can kick a man when he's down.  All I can say is, he'd better watch out for the golfing gods.

Sometimes it starts with an injury.  Sometimes it involves personal problems off the course.  Often it results from deciding to make changes to try to get better--changes that actually make you worse.  In the end, however, the problem is almost always found in that five inches between your ears.  

While many high handicappers might think top golf is about being able to hit 300 yard drives, 170 yard eight irons, and spinning wedge shots, the good players will tell you it's a headgame.  There are lots of guys who hit it as well or better than Jordan Spieth, or Danny Willett.  But there aren't many guys who manage their way around a golf course like they do.

Sam Adams posted a question to golfers in his blog.  He asked them whether they would want to hit fewer bad shots, more good shots, or shoot lower scores.  The answers he received were evenly split between the three.  I can tell you one thing for certain:  the top players would all answer that they want to shoot lower scores.  Golf is a game--perhaps the only game--where the winner has the lowest score.  

And, at the end of the day, the guy who has the lowest score is generally the guy who has played the smartest game.  You can hit it better.  You can hit fewer stinkers.  But if you keep making the same mental mistakes, you're likely not to get much better.  Golf is the ultimate headgame.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Grey Matter

Bobby Jones talked about our tendency to think our great players possess some sort of superhuman powers that allows them to will the ball in the hole and produce their best stuff when they need it most.  He indicated that nothing could be further from the truth.  If it were the case, guys like Rory McIlroy and Jason Day would be winning every week.

The reality is that great players find their absolute best form just about as often as we do.  They may play their very best two or three times a year if they're lucky.  The rest of the time they prove their greatness by being able to find a way to win without their best stuff.  That takes strategy and intelligence as well as grit and skill.  

Last week at the Masters Jordan Spieth, who was obviously struggling mightily with his ball striking, still managed somehow to find a way to lead the tournament for some 65 holes before it all came unglued.  This was amazing to see, but it was probably really no surprise that he was able to hang on like he did.  He is obviously one of the most intelligent players in the game today.  He has golfing wisdom well beyond his years.  That he eventually fell away is probably no big surprise either.  The fact is,  you just can't fake it around Augusta National.  

The consistent winners, at any level you care to choose, are the ones who know how to manage their way around the course and make the absolute best score they can with whatever game they have on that particular day.  That's really the challenge of the game.  Golf truly rewards intelligent play.  And I can't think of any player who possessed greater golfing intelligence than Jack Nicklaus.  Jack was beaten, but he rarely, if ever, beat himself.  Jack's golfing idol, Bobby Jones, was also one who, if you read his writing, clearly spent more time analysing and thinking about his game than he did working on it.

Why is it that most of us don't improve at the game?  I think it's often because we focus more on improving our mechanics and our ability to hit the ball than we do on figuring out where we are making our mental or strategic mistakes.  Harvey Penick told the story of Tommy Armour winning a big bet by guiding one of the worst players at his club around the course in a number no one believed he was capable of shooting.  Sam Snead tells a similar story about taking a woman around the course in under 100, only to watch her implode the next time out when she didn't have him to tell her where to hit it.

If we're really going to get consistently better, I think we have to get consistently smarter on the course--unless of course we are one of those players who is already getting the most out of what game he possesses.  We need to use less muscle and more grey matter if we hope to improve at this game.  The problem is, as my old father was so fond of saying, "Thinking is hard work.  That's why so few people do it."

I know this year, as I prepare to start a new season, my ball striking is not likely to get any better.  I think I've pretty much reached my level of incompetence when it comes to ball striking.  But maybe I might just manage to use a little more grey matter.  If I do, I just might not have to dip into my pocket quite as often when I'm playing Carl the Grinder.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Golf is a Game

I think Bobby Jones touched upon something so obvious it is often overlooked when it comes to golf.  Consider what he had to say in the first chapter of his book Golf is my Game:

   "Since I have not been able to play for more than ten years, I have had that much more time to think.  Much of my thinking has been of golf and how best to teach or to learn the game.  It seems obvious to me that writing about the golf swing has become too technical and complicated, and even the most earnest teaching professional presents the game to his pupil as a far more difficult thing than it really is.  It is equally obvious to me that what the game needs most if it is to continue to grow in popularity is a simplification of teaching routines which will present a less formidable aspect to the beginner, and offer the average player a rosier prospect of improvement.

   The trouble could be, and I think it is, that golf is not taught as it is learned.  It is taught more as a science or as a prescribed set of calisthenic exercises, whereas it is learned as a game."

Bobby goes on to talk about the experience of most of the top players of his day, as well as his own.  They learned the game in the caddie yard, or as sons of members of a golf course, who as boys were given a couple of clubs and learned to make them work playing for nickels with their mates.  Hes wrote: "They learned to play golf, just as others have learned to play baseball, by playing and playing and playing because they liked the game.  In most cases it has only been after gaining considerable proficiency that thoughts of method have been of much concern."

I think Bobby hits on a very important idea here.  We need to remember that golf is, first and foremost, a game.  And it is best learned that way.  It is best learned as a game in which the goal is to get that little white ball in that little hole in as few strokes as possible.  There are no points for style.  

In this respect, I like Bob Toski's idea; that golf be taught from the putting green back to the tee.  Harvey Penick also shared that view.  Learn to get the ball in the hole.  Ben Crenshaw learned that way.  Learn to hit solid putts first; then solid chips; then short wedge shots.  Work your way back to the driver.  Golfers who learn the game this way will inevitably have the advantage over those who go first to a driving range to be taught mechanics, or to pound drivers.

If you are having trouble with the game, go to the putting green with a putter and a wedge.  That's where you'll start to find the answers.  Golf is a game.  It really is.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Is Rory On the Right Track?

I have always been a Rory McIlroy fan.  When he burst onto the golf scene as a baby-faced, mop-haired golfing prodigy, it wasn't hard to forecast that he would be a great champion.  He made the game look easy.  In terms of talent, he has it in spades.  Perhaps no one in the game can run with him when he's driving it well and holing putts.  He's that talented.

But lately there is more attention seemingly being paid to his workouts in the gym than his golf swing.  Nike commercials have focussed more on his efforts to become a finely tuned athlete than a golfer.  He has become a powerfully built young man.  Even commentators were quick to point out that his pullover looked like a Superman shirt, displaying his rippling muscles.  Unfortunately, there has been nothing super about his performance in the Majors since his win at the PGA in 2014.

The other day Brandel Chamblee, who has received some criticism for questioning Rory's rather extreme workout routine, pointed out that his swing speed has actually decreased since he's built this new body.  We've seen it before.  I have worried that Rory seems to headed down the same road as Tiger Woods, who built a new muscular body and actually became a worse golfer.  

There are many who want to argue that golf is now dominated by bigger, stronger athletes.  Nike certainly seems to want to drive that agenda, perhaps hoping to make golf have a greater appeal to a wider audience.  The fact is that Bobby Jones was right when he observed that golf is a cerebral game, played on the five inch course between your ears.  Bobby also said that power in the golf swing comes from speed and not the kind of muscles used to bend iron bars.  Guys like Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, Danny Willett, and many more prove it to be true.  So do guys like Bernhard Langer and Tom Watson who have remained competitive for so long.

I'm a Rory fan.  But I think, after another lacklustre performance at the Masters, and a relatively lacklustre start to the season, Rory needs to get his eye back on the ball.  He needs to spend less time building muscle and more time working on his mental game.  He needs to focus on making fewer bogeys, instead of increasing the amount of weight he can deadlift, or squat.

Rory may still be one of the most talented ball strikers in the game, but he's certainly losing ground to better "players."  I want to see him back in winning form.  But I fear he's taken his eye off the ball.  I fear he may actually be hurting himself with the enormous amount of work he's putting in to the game.  

My fear is that once Rory has changed his body as dramatically as he has, he may not be able to go back.  Don't you think Tiger doesn't often wish he could go back to swinging it like he did as a lanky kid?  I fear Rory may some day feel the same.  Even if Rory can manage to return to his previous form with his new and improved body, the question the becomes how long can he keep himself at that sort of peak physical form? And, was it even necessary in the first place?   

Bubba Watson hits it miles without bulging biceps.  Rickie Fowler moves it out there despite being a slightly built guy.  And besides, haven't we learned yet that top golf is more about driving it straight, managing your game, and holing putts than being a bomber?  Rory is prone to the careless bogey.  He seems to sometimes lack the concentration and intensity he obviously takes to the gym when he's on the golf course.

I just hope Rory starts fine-tuning his golfing mind as much as he's tuned his body.  Golf is ultimately a mind game.  Ultimately, of course, the decision is Rory's to make.  How hard he works in and out of the gym is up to him.  I just know that Bobby Jones would recommend a much different approach.  He advised players not to waste time on the range unless they had something specific to work on.  He advised golfers to give their minds and their bodies a rest.  And he advised golfers not to get too physically fine-tuned prior to competing as this tended to put the nerves on edge.  Bobby Jones may not have had the advantages of the scientific knowledge available today.  But in terms of golfing knowledge, he remains unmatched.

Only time will tell who's right--Bobby Jones, or those "experts" who have advised Rory to go in this current direction.  But I know who I'd be listening to.

How Will We Remember This Masters?

Jordan Spieth is not the first player to lose the Masters when it might have looked to be in the bag.  He is also not the first person to dunk a couple of balls in Rays Creek at twelve.  That's the downside of being the leader in perhaps golf's most-watched Major.  Sometimes you will lose that lead.  And sometimes it will be lost dramatically.

Seve dunked one twenty years ago to allow Jack Nicklaus give those of us fortunate enough to be watching one of the greatest thrills we've ever had, seeing him win his sixth green jacket.  We had to watch Greg Norman lose a big lead to allow another Englishman, Nick Faldo, win another green jacket.  Sometimes, in golf, you have to wonder whether fate, or the golfing gods, are in control.

Was it coincidence that Danny Willett's caddie had the same caddie number as Jack's son in 1986?  Was it coincidence that Danny Willett's son was born early, his due date being Masters Sunday?  Isn't the first child often late in coming?  If we look hard enough we might find other interesting "coincidences."  Many golfers understand the fact that luck, good and bad, plays a huge part in this game.

You cannot control the outcome in this game.  A perfect putt can hit a spike mark, an imperfection, or a grain of sand you might not even see, and miss.  A putt on the wrong line might hit the same imperfection and go in.  At twelve at Augusta the wind might puff up, or swirl just as you hit it, and a good shot becomes a disaster.  That's golf.  

All anyone can do is the best they can and accept that it's never over until it's over and, despite your best efforts, you can't control the outcome in this game.  Danny Willett is a fine player who admits he feels empathy for Jordan Spieth.  It was his day.  He played a marvelous final round and, as Jack Nicklaus pointed out, didn't blink coming in, even when he became aware that he was the leader.  That, as golf's greatest Major champion said, is "the mark of a champion."

We will long remember this Masters for the drama it provided.  As is so often the case the tournament began on the back nine on Sunday.  Despite Jordan Spieth's incredible determination in holding onto the lead all week while obviously struggling with his ball striking, it all once again came down to those last nine holes.  

Unfortunately for Danny Willett, and perhaps also for Jordan Spieth, it will be remembered as the Masters Jordan lost rather than the Masters Danny Willett won.  That Jordan so quickly recovered from the debacle at twelve and played great golf coming home, makes me certain he will recover and learn from this loss.  But he will have the scars.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Win or Lose Spieth is the Best Player in the Game

Every Masters Sunday I can't wait for the leaders to tee off.  This week is no exception.  I have been watching golf channel and see Jordan Spieth was on the grounds early, having flown in his teacher to have a look.  I don't really know whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.

There are so many story lines this year, with Langer having a chance to be come the oldest Major winner ever, Rory having an outside chance to get the career Slam, Smylie Kaufman having the chance to be only the third man to win on his first attempt at the Masters, and Spieth having the chance to break who knows how many more records.  

The story really still belongs to Jordan Spieth.  What he is doing is beyond remarkable.  What he has done in his first three Masters is unprecedented.  Win or lose today, Jordan Spieth has surely removed all doubt, if indeed there still was any, that he is a great player; one of the greatest we have ever seen.

How he has carried the weight of the lead like he has is almost unimaginable.  It speaks to the determination and resolve of this remarkable young man.  That he has done it while struggling with his ball striking makes it all the more incredible.  

Jordan Spieth is still in uncharted territory.  He has gone where no twenty two year old has gone before.  Win or lose, he may be currently ranked number two in the world, but, in my mind, he's simply the best.

Saturday, 9 April 2016


I found it interesting to listen to my least favourite Golfchannel analyst, Aron Oberholser talking about how "unfathomable" it was for Jordan Spieth to finish the third round as he did, making a bogey and then a double.  I find it unfathomable how Oberholser retains a job, not only because of his lack of insight into the game, but also the fact that he moonlights as a snake oil salesman with his magic wedge.  Oberholser is the same guy who last year declared that Spieth could never dominate the game because he wasn't long enough.

What is really unfathomable is that Jordan Spieth, clearly without his best stuff, continues to refuse to relinquish the lead in the Masters.  No one is more unhappy with his performance this week on seventeen and eighteen than Jordan.  But he continues to be the man to beat despite some poor driving. And he continues to lead because he's smart, determined, and he continues to putt pretty much better than anyone when the chips are down.

What is not unfathomable is that someone like Bernhard Langer might have a chance to win his third Masters.  The tough conditions have played right into the hands of a guy like Langer.  He's smart, experienced, and has all the shots.  He may not bomb it, but no one hits more fairways and greens, or misses it in the right spots more often than Langer.  He simply never beats himself.  Unfortunately, tomorrow promises to be a much more benign day in terms of weather.  That gives an edge to once again to those guys who can bomb it and make eagles and birdies.  But I certainly wouldn't count Langer out.  Experience means alot around Augusta National and he's the most experienced guy with a definite chance to win.

The next most experienced guy with a good chance to win tomorrow continues to be the leader, Jordan Spieth.  What he has already accomplished at the Masters in his first three years is historic.  If and when he wins tomorrow, you can reserve a place for him in the Hall of Fame at, what is it, twenty two?

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Big Ernie and the Heebie Jeebies

You just have to feel for Ernie Els.  Imagine having a three-footer for par on the first hole of a Major you dearly want to win and you take seven putts!  It's crazy.  It's scary.  But, unless you've been there; where you're almost unable to even take the putter back; where you just know you're not going to make that three-footer; you just can't appreciate how much the heebie jeebies, or the yips, can make the game almost unbearable.

You have to respect the big man for finishing the round, for doing an honest, forthright interview afterwards, and for hanging around signing autographs for the fans.  Ernie is one of the really good guys, and one of the greats of the game.  

Ernie was very honest in saying that, at this point, he just doesn't know what he's going to do. I know I really hope he finds a way to overcome the affliction; and I suspect he has a helluva lot of us pulling for him.  He's a real gentleman.

Could It Be Deja Vu All Over Again?

Could it be Deja Vu all over again?  Once again--for the fifth consecutive round-- Jordan Spieth leads the Masters.  Suddenly all the naysayers and the "he's no Tiger Woods" types must be feeling a tad uncomfortable.  

Clearly the Masters isn't over.  The first round leader rarely wins a Major.  But young Mr. Spieth seems uncommonly comfortable with the lead--kind of like another great player who need not be mentioned.  But I just hope the naysayers will begin to appreciate just what this young man has done in the last five Majors and just how good he is.  He is a great player.  He is 29 under par at Augusta in his first nine rounds.  Tiger was 21 under par for his first nine rounds.  

I think what impressed me most from Spieth was the fact that he was the only man in the field to not make a bogey.  I thought his smooth up and down for par on the first hole after a shaky start set the tone for the day.  His par save on sixteen was huge.  Going bogey-free in those conditions is definitely more impressive than birdieing a third of the holes he played.  He's the only one who managed to do it.

I recently wrote a recent article suggesting it might just be time for another European win at Augusta, and there are a bunch of Euros at the top of the leaderboard after the first round.  But tomorrow may tell the tale.  If Spieth shoots another round in the sixties, and keeps putting like he did today, it just may be all over but the crying.   It may be Deja Vu all over again.

And, just in case you think I'm stuck on Spieth, how about Sergio?  Nice to see him in the hunt.

Will We See a European Winner at Augusta?

Apparently, it's been seventeen years since a European has won the Masters.  That surprised me.  But I heard it on the Golfchannel so it must be true.  I have a feeling we could see a European winner this year.  Justin Rose might be the first one who comes to mind after his second place finish last year--or is it Rory who has been working like a demon in preparation for Augusta?

Given the weather promises to make things extra tough this year, I think you could see Graeme McDowell contend.  If there was ever a mudder, he's the guy.  He's tough as nails.  Another European who just might surprise everyone is Cabrera-Bello.  His record in the Majors certainly doesn't inspire confidence, but he was seven under in his last round last week in Texas to have a top five finish and he's currently number two in the Race to Dubai.  He's been knocking on the door all year and he could just surprise everyone by being the first guy since Fuzzy to win in his first try at Augusta.  Granted, he's a dark horse, but he's coming into Augusta full of confidence and now realizing that he is a world class player.

And then there's Sergio.  Could he finally get a Major?  I know his putting can be suspect, and he's even said he's not good enough to win a Major.  But he's been in great form this year and with the wind blowing his ball striking makes him one of the guys who can handle the conditions from tee to green.  It's whether he can make the six footer when he has to that is the question.

Another ball striker who might finally break through is Stenson.  Henrik is probably the best ball striker in the game right now.  The ball always seems to come out of the center of his bat.  Again, the issue is going to be putting with the big Swede.

The reality is there are alot of guys coming into Augusta in great form.  The difficult conditions will, however, make it likely that the winner will be the guy who just refuses to give up.  I'm not necessarily betting on a European winner this year.  But I'm certainly not betting against it.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

"I Ain't Here to Kiss No Babies"

I played yesterday with Paul Sands, from Georgia.  We had a fun day on Watchesaw Plantation East in Murrells Inlet--even if most of the greens were virtually unputtable.  They have essentially lost more than half their greens, and we agrred that we'd have been mad as hell if we'd have paid full price to play it.

On one par five Paul had a carry of about 185 yards from a dodgy lie to carry a hazard.  I asked him whether he shouldn't consider laying up.  He looked at me and said, "I ain't here to kiss no babies!" 

You gotta love it.  Sure enough, he hit it in the hazard.  But he got his money's worth.  I've got to remember that one.  "I ain't here to kiss no babies."  Words to live by.

TPC Myrtle Beach

I played the TPC Myrtle Beach and was paired up with Kevin and his son, Brayton from Indiana.  It was a picture-perfect day on a picture-perfect course.  On the other hand, our golf might not have been best described in those terms.

I could tell that Kevin was a gamer, and finally said to him on sixteen that it was a shame we hadn't played a match.  He immediately brightened and we played the last three holes; me against them.  On sixteen, a par three, they both hit the green and I pushed my tee shot left.  I hit a pretty good pitch to about ten feet, while Brayton left his approach putt about five feet short and Kevin then charged his about six feet past the hole.  

I stood over the putt and announced that if I made my putt their putts would start looking alot longer.  Sure enough I rolled mine in and the boys missed both their putts--one up for the good guy.  On the next hole I charged a twenty foot birdie putt right into the back of the hole.  It hopped in the air and rolled about four feet by.  After Kevin made a nice seven-footer for par, I had the four-footer for the half.  However, as is often the story, I choked like a dog.

Eighteen is a tough par four and it was playing dead into the wind.  The boys both hit their tee shots right, leaving themselves in the rough, with over two hundred yards to get home.  I hit one right down the middle and was feeling pretty good about my chances.  Kevin missed his second shot badly, leaving himself about ninety yards short of the green.  Brayton hit a nice shot, but pulled it left of the green.  I then hit a 17 degree wood just short of the green into some lush rough.  

Kevin thinned his third over the green, but Brayton played a really good pitch to about five feet.  I then played an open-faced flop to about four feet.  After Brayton missed his putt, I stood over another four- footer with the chance to show those Indiana boys that they shouldn't mess with old, pot-bellied Canadians.  Sure enough, I lipped it out and we halved the match.

We decided that it was only right that we arrange to meet again to determine who's who on the links.  Unfortunately, the boys were flying out the next morning, so we will have to leave it until some future date.  We had alot of fun on a terrific golf course.  It was much more fun once we decided to make a match of it.

As Walter Travis said, "Always play for something.  Even if it's only a cigar."  A match gets the juices flowing.  Thanks for a great day, boys.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Another Major for Lydia

At the ANA Inspiration in Rancho Mirage we once again witnessed Lydia Ko relentlessly pursue and ultimately win her second Major with a perfect wedge shot to the par five eighteenth for a tap-in birdie.  She is, of course, the youngest ever to win two Majors.  One wonders whether, if she doesn't lose her desire, there are any records she won't break.

On the other hand we were once again forced to witness Arya Jutanugarn, who held the lead much of the day, fall prey to nerves down the stretch and fall away.  Golf can be a cruel game, and we can only hope that Arya can take something positive away from another very public failure.  She is obviously a wonderful talent and, if she can keep putting herself in the hunt, hopefully she can get it done.  The first one is always the hardest.

At eighteen years of age, with 12 wins in 72 starts, including back to back Majors, one has to think Lydia Ko is the greatest young player, male or female, we've ever seen.  This young lady is so composed, so unflappable, you have to think she has ice water running through her veins.  It's incredible to watch.  

If we are inclined to accuse Arya of choking, we might first ask ourselves how many times we needed three pars, or even three bogeys, to shoot our lowest round ever, or to win our flight in the club championship, and actually managed to do it.  In fact, today I had a four footer for birdie on the last hole to break par for the first time this year.  I lipped out the putt.  Golf is a hard game.

The Founders Club at Pawley's Island

I played the Founders Club at Pawley's Island near Myrtle Beach today.  I was fortunate enough to be joined up with three guys from Detroit, Larry, Rick, and Clay.

The weather was perfect, the course was in great shape, and we had a great time.  The Founders Club is an interesting and challenging layout with fairways lined with waste areas that are used as cart paths--an excellent idea. Many of the greens are elevated and well bunkered, some fronted by water.  It definitely isn't a course for the faint of heart.

The guys grew up playing golf at the Rackham Golf Club, designed by Donald Ross.  They were taught the game by Ben Davis, who was apparently the first black club professional and, in Larry's words, "One of the greatest gentlemen I have had the pleasure to know."  Once they'd received the nod from Mr. Davis, the boys were allowed to venture onto the course to play nine holes for the princely sum of fifty cents.  Those nine holes often became many more as the boys often were sent off the back nine and were able to stop at seventeen and slip back over to the eleventh tee and play eleven to seventeen again and again until they were chased off the course.

Larry's father, Fred Schroeder, was a caddy at Oakland Hills during the Depression and actually caddied once for Walter Hagen. His mother also worked at Oakland Hills, though the two actually met at a Roller-skating rink.  Fred taught his son to love the game.  In fact, all the boys played with their dads and, like me, have so many great memories of time on the links with their fathers.  They also played together on their high school golf team.

After a very enjoyable round, we headed back to my place and enjoyed a few beers and some snacks.  We hope to arrange a game at some future date at Rackham.  That would be a real treat.  Golf is such a great game.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Jordan Needs a Big Sunday

Tomorrow is going to be a big day for Jordan Spieth.  With the Masters looming large, Jordan needs a big day tomorrow to give him some confidence leading into Augusta.  He sits five back and needs to straighten out his iron play.  If he can, and the putts start dropping, he just might head down Magnolia Lane ready to add another Major to his resume.

After a brilliant start to the season in Hawaii, Jordan has simply not been the player he was last year.  However, we know there are horses for courses and Jordan has very quickly established that Augusta National is his kind of course.  

Last year I picked Jordan to win the Masters.  It wasn't a particularly difficult pick given his performance there the year before and his great play leading into the tournament.  This year it's a much different story.  But there are tournaments and there are Major tournaments.  The Majors are a different animal altogether.  And Mr. Spieth has proven that he can handle the pressure of a Major.

I hope Jordan has a big day tomorrow.  If not, I think the smart money has to be on Bubba, Adam Scott, Charl Schwartzel, and Jason Day.  They are the guys with the hot hand and, other than Day, the knowledge that they can win a green jacket.

You have to think tomorrow is a big day for Phil as well.  At six back, if he makes a run, you have to think he'll be believing he can get the job done again at the Masters.  What a story that would be.

Palatka Golf Club

Palatka Golf Club probably doesn't rank very far up there in terms of Donald Ross courses.  However, it's a place I love to play.  

It's biggest claim to fame--other than being designed by Donald Ross--is that Babe Ruth apparently walked its fairways.  What I love about the place is its unpretentiousness.  It's a muni.  Nothing fancy; just good golf at a good price.  

From the blues it plays a little over 5800 yards with a par of 70.  I know it sounds like a piece of cake; but don't let the yardage fool you.  Those dastardly upturned-saucer greens and Ross touches make it a challenging walk in the park.  And it is an easy walk, designed in 1925 when golf was pretty much strictly a walking game.  No route marches between tees; no houses lining the fairways; just golf as it was meant to be played--which incidentally is the title of a book about Donald Ross courses.

I played pretty darn well for me and shot 75.  I'd have to have my chipping and putting razor sharp to do much better on this little gem.  I'm actually thinking of renting a place in Palatka next winter so I can haunt the place.  It sits on Moseley Avenue, which is my paternal grandmother's family name.  It must be fate.

If you are down in the Jacksonville/St Augustine area and like old school golf, give Palatka a try.

Friday, 1 April 2016


Golf is a game of honour.  It is probably the only sport when a player will call a penalty on himself.  Bobby Jones lost a Major championship by a stroke after calling a penalty on himself for his ball moving.  No one else was in a position to see the infraction, and some thought this was something very honourable that Bobby had done.

Bobby's response was something to the the effect, "You might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank."  To him there was no question of what he must do.  Many others have done the same sort of thing.  It really wasn't that unusual in championship golf.  Top level players, for the most part are scrupulously honest when it comes to following the rules of golf--I say "for the most part" because nothing is for certain other than death; you may even be able to evade taxes.

That is not, however, always the case.  We have a really good player in our area who has won numerous club championships and tournaments, and competed in our national amateur championship.  He has also become known as a cheater.  I had the occasion to play a match against him a few years ago and had a couple of players advise me to watch him "like a hawk."  I did, even following him to his ball when he hit one into the trees.  I managed to beat him that day.  But just imagine being one of the best players in your area and all the other players can say is, "Watch him."  His reputation as a fine player has been ruined by more than one instance when he was caught cheating.  What a shame.

I have a good friend who lives in Florida and plays with a regular group of guys.  When I spoke to him he told me how he had played in a scramble and his partners had cheated.  As it turned out, they actually won the tournament and my friend was horrified to have to be called up to accept the trophy with his buddies, knowing they had cheated.  He said he felt that everyone in the room were looking at them knowing they hadn't won fairly.  He is now determined to never play in another tournament with these guys.

My advice to him was to find new people to play with.  I played with him and one of his buddies a while ago and they had a match going.  My friend was so preoccupied with making sure his buddy didn't pull a fast one that he couldn't keep his mind on his own game.  It was ridiculous to watch.  But there you have it.  The fact is that the average golfer doesn't even know the rules; let alone follow them.  Harvey Penick maintained that the average golfer would never break 100 on his course if they played by the rules.  Yet he often heard stories about 85's being shot by guys who were in the woods half the day.  It's just the way it is.

Even in the pro ranks there have been accusations of cheating made against top players.  Vijay Singh has always had rumours follow him based on an incident long before he made the PGA tour.  Apparently, Ken Venturi claimed that Arnie stole a Masters from him by not following the rules.  It happens, but very rarely at that level.  I am not, of course, accusing the King, or Vijay, of anything.  I'm simply repeating what I've heard for what it's worth.

I would love to see the rules simplified, so that someone learning the game, or even those of us who have played the game for years, can easily figure out what the right thing is to do.  Bobby Jones felt the rules could be summed up by saying you never touch your ball between the teeing ground and the green without incurring a penalty, and you do nothing to interfere with your opponent's ability to play his game unhindered.  Obviously, that may be an over-simplification, but surely the rules need not be so esoteric that only the studious players can grasp them.

In the meantime, at the recreational level, the rules will be ignored or broken regularly.  Those who do it knowingly must answer to their conscience, or lack thereof, and, in the event they are playing for something significant, hopefully the golfing gods.  Those who do it unwittingly need not worry until someone sets them straight.  As for me, I'd rather not follow my opponent into the woods to make sure he doesn't cheat.  Winning just isn't that important.