Monday, 30 May 2016

Spieth Will Be the Best of the Big Three

After Rory's win at the Irish Open and Jordan Spieth's win at Colonial, we are suddenly back to being able to talk about the big three in the golf world.  

One interesting thing about young Mr Spieth, who is still my pick as the guy who will make the biggest mark in the game when his career is finished, is how often he's in the hunt.  They were comparing top five finishes by Spieth against those of Jason Day and Rory, and found that Spieth already has 26 of them and leads both of them despite the fact that he's really only getting started.  In fairness to Rory, who splits his time between the European and PGA tour, these stats are only dealing with PGA tour events.  Nevertheless, Spieth has proven to be in the top five more often than his rivals.

Day and McIlroy have more firepower.  They are capable of hitting shots Jordan simply can't.  Rory, when he's in the mood and has his putter working, is capable of absolute brilliance.  He might be the most naturally talented of the three.  However, he also makes silly mistakes, often failing to give every shot his full attention.  Day has become a golfing machine, with seemingly no weaknesses in his game.  When he's on song, he's clearly the best of the bunch.  He's the complete package of power, finesse, and mental strength.

But Jordan Spieth is the ultimate competitor.  He just seems to find a way to get the ball in the hole.  He also finds a way to get it done without great power, or consummate ball striking.  He just possesses that rare ability to know where to miss it and to make more than his fair share of putts when he needs them.  His swing, though perhaps not as technically perfect as his two main rivals, will stand the test of time.  My bet is that Day and Rory, like Tiger before them, will eventually wear themselves out and succumb to injury.  

Barring some unforeseen occurrence, I am betting that one day Jordan Spieth will be mentioned in the same breath as Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan.  He seems destined to become one of the best Texans to ever play the game--and goodness knows there were a lot of them.  I think there must be something in the water in Texas.  

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Spiros the Sandbagger

I played a match with Spiros and Steve today.  Bill Stacey, son of Carl the Grumbler joined us.  Somehow I got stuck playing their best ball and giving them fourteen shots.

On the eighth hole, with them five up, I started doing some grumbling myself.  I was freely tossing around the word "sandbaggers," in reference to my opponents.  Bill then offered this worldly observation.  He said, "No matter who you are, or where you're from, nobody likes a sandbagger."

The boys beat me like a drum. I even tried a press on the last hole and Spiros the hammer made par and beat me again when I missed the four-footer to saw him off.  Nobody--and I mean nobody--likes a sandbagger.

The boys said they'll drop it to 10 strokes next time.  How nice of them.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Swing to Your Target

The cornerstone of Harvey Penick's teaching was "Take Dead Aim."  That, and "One Shot at a Time," are the most important things a golfer can learn.  

Sure, there are fundamentals that can help you hit the ball more consistently.  But for every fundamental, I can name a top golfer who didn't follow it.  There are many ways to swing a golf club, but unless that swing is directed at the target, it's not going to produce good results.  

I was reading George Knudson's book, The Natural Golf Swing.  What I think was most important in the teaching Knudsen provides is that you don't swing at the golf ball; you swing to the target.  As Knudsen, who was one of the best swingers of a golf club we've ever seen, pointed out, golf is a target game.  Like any target game, the focus of every shot has to be where, not how, you hit it.  

Anyone who has played golf for any length of time has hit a great shot.  They've chipped it in, or holed one from the fairway, or hit a wonderful recovery shot after finding themselves in jail.  Chances are, when they hit those shots, they were locked in on their target when they hit it.  I've got a bank of memories like that--like the six iron I hit over a towering tree to four feet ion the final hole in a scramble while playing with my father and his cronies.  We made birdie and won by a stroke.

As I remember those shots, I realize was really into the shot.  I took several looks at the target and really locked on it.  I actually "stared it down."  Raymond Floyd was famous for his stare.  When he was in the zone he stared his target down. His stare was intimidating to his opponents.  But he wasn't trying to be intimidating to them.  He was staring down his target.  He was determined to hit it where he was looking.  He wrote that his wife said she had occasionally seen him win without the stare, but she'd never seen him lose when he had it.

I don't know why I can't always lock on to the target--why sometimes I just hit it in the right general direction of the target instead of dead at it.  But we all go to sleep on shots; not giving them the attention they deserve.  Bobby Jones said he often found himself doing this during times of prosperity, when he was playing really well, or when he was driving into a wide fairway, or to a big green.  He had to always be on guard against letting up on the shots that looked easy.  He dealt with this by trying to hit the perfect shot--instead of hitting it in the fairway, hitting it dead center of the fairway.  Or instead of hitting it on the green, hitting it in the hole.

It's easy to lose your focus in golf.  People tend to think about all kinds of things as they are hitting their shot.  But where should your focus be, and what should you be thinking about as you swing the club?  The target, because golf is a target game.  As George Knudsen taught, "Swing to your target."

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Good Putting Can Cover a Multitude of Sins

Once again, Jordan Spieth, despite fighting his swing and driving it all over the map, demonstrated the power of the putter in the third round of Lord Byron's tournament.  The putter can cover a multitude of sins as we saw Jordan have 11 one-putt greens.  

However, Koepka also made some terrific putts down the stretch to save pars and takes a two shot lead into the final round.  It's still anyone's tournament tomorrow.  But one has to think that Jordan will have to find a way to hit some fairways if he hopes to win.  The missed putt for par on 18 for Spieth proves that you can only ride a hot putter so long.  Eventually wild driving will catch you out.  

Meanwhile, Sergio lurks at three back.  His putting was nothing to write home about today.  But tomorrow could be another story.  It's nice to see Bud Cauley in the hunt as well, swinging great.  Tomorrow should provide plenty of excitement as Koepka looks to win for the second time, Sergio hopes to win another title at Mr. Nelson's event, Bud Cauley looks to secure his playing rights after coming back from shoulder surgery, and Jordan Spieth looks to quickly put the Masters behind him and work at catching Jason Day.

Spieth looks much more in control of his emotions.  Unfortunately, he is anything but in control of his driver.  The putter is a powerful weapon.  But it isn't going to save you every time.  Let's hope Jordan can find something before he tees it up tomorrow.  

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

A Go-To Club

I played with Ken today.  He informed me that he had recently played with nothing stronger than his six iron.  Ken had hurt his ribs and decided to use no more than a six iron to prevent any further injury while he recovers.  He played nine holes a few days earlier and shot, what for him was a respectable 46.  

It was decided that I would also use no more than a six iron and we set out to play a match with me giving him a stroke a hole (Ken has only recently started playing).   It was a lovely day, and after being permitted to play through a foursome on number four, we played in three hours.  

No balls were lost.  No time was spent in the woods or the deep fescue looking for errant tee shots.  It was very enjoyable.  In the end, Ken made a par three on the last hole to square the match.  Ken had a couple of disaster holes, struggled with his chipping, and still shot 101, which, for him, is pretty much the same score he has been making using all his clubs.  I shot 81 with nothing worse than bogey.  Neither of us played our best golf, but the round reinforced the fact that it is the short game that largely determines how well you score, and that there is a great deal of merit in putting the ball in play off the tee.

There were several unreachable par fours, but otherwise par was still a definite possibility if we chipped and putted well.  This round reinforced the truth of what Harvey Penick said.  The woods are full of long drivers, and a good putter is a match for anyone.  If you are struggling with your game, and are losing strokes off the tee, why not try using your six iron until you are hitting every fairway with it.

Once you can do that, try using your four iron or a hybrid off the tee until you can play a round without hitting that club in the woods.  You will learn that golf is easier, and much more enjoyable, from the short grass.  You will also find out just how much work your short game requires.  Harvey Penick wouldn't let his son in law use a wood for his first six months of playing the game.  He became a very strong player as a result.  

The fact is that most high handicappers lose the majority of their strokes off the tee and around the green.  Come to think of it, that's generally the case for all amateurs.  Ken now feels like his six iron is his "go-to" club; a club he can pull and feel confident about hitting a reasonably good shot.  It's great to have a go-to club.

Why Is It?

Why is it that the more tired and sore you get, the harder you swing?  I had one of those days yesterday.  

I woke up and went to work in the garden.  My wife and I are thinking of making a pitch for a reality show called "the crippled gardeners."  I don't know what possessed me, but I decided to make my backyard a bird sanctuary.  As a result, I dug two ponds and about a dozen garden beds.  I also planted trees and bushes.

The reward is a wonderful array of birds-- cardinals, blue jays, orioles, grosbeaks, finches, hummingbirds--not to mention squirrels, chipmunks, some rabbits under the hedge, bull frogs, and fish.  Though I stuck to perrennials, the plants multiply like crazy, tempting me to dig more gardens to accommodate them, and I spend half my life pulling grass and weeds.  I love it, but my back protests mightily.

After three hours in the garden, I had a brief rest, took some morphine and set off to play with Spiros.  I told my wife that I'd have cancelled if I wasn't booked as a twosome with Spiros.  It turned out that young Justin joined us, so I could have turned around and gone home.  I was stiff and sore, and the wind was up.  But I couldn't resist giving it a whirl.

As usual we played a match--me against their best ball.  It's fun to have a match.  It keeps you interested and, hopefully, motivated to play your best.  I try never to play without having a match, even though we don't bother putting any money on it.  It's strictly bragging rights.

Off the first tee I took a wicked swipe at the ball, almost falling on my arse in the process.  The result was a perfect draw to the hundred yard marker.  From there I took another lurch at it with a wedge, pulled the ball almost into the pond, left my chip eight feet short and missed the putt for par.  I was one down to Spiros' par.

The day continued with me making some of the most horrible swings off the tee.  In fact, they had no right to be called swings at all.  But somehow, I was scoring.  After nine, despite missing a three footer for par on nine, I was one over and two up.  Justin was playing about as well as I'd ever seen him play, but missed three short putts and was three over.

I three-putted for bogey on ten and then hit a terrible push almost into the trees on the right on eleven. My first thought was to just chip the ball to the 100 yard marker, but I decided instead to try to hit a fifty yard slice around the trees with a six iron.  I push sliced it into a tree and was lucky to have the ball drop down, stymied, but in a spot where I could get a club on it.  I was mad as hell at myself for trying such a dumb shot.

Not to be discouraged from any further stupidity, I stood over the shot and saw about a six inch gap through the trees to the flag.  As I set up to hit it, Spiros said to Justin, "I've got to take a look at this."  He wandered over to see what I was attempting to do.  I told him I was going to punch a seven iron through the gap in the branches.  But Spiros declared the shot to be impossible, since, as far as he was concerned, there was no gap.

To make what is becoming a long story short, I hit it through the gap to about 15 yards short of the green and got it up and down for bogey.  I birdied the next hole for a half with Justin and continued hacking and slashing my way home.  The interesting thing was, as bad as I was hitting it, I had a grim determination not to make a total mess of the round.  On the last hole, after hitting a crummy shot into the greenside bunker, I hit a nice shot to about four feet and made the putt for  a 77.  It was probably the best--or worst--77 I've ever shot; depending upon how you look at it.  

I was happy that I hadn't stopped grinding.  I even managed to beat the boys, two up.  Justin shot 41 on the back for 80.  His game is really coming along.  But I still don't understand why it is that the more tired and sore you get, the harder you swing.  Can anyone explain it?

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Arnold Palmer on the Mental Approach

The saying, " it's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game" really applies to golf.  Golf is one game where you have surprisingly little control over the outcome.  Sometimes you can seemingly do all the right things and nothing goes right.  Some days you just can't piddle a drop.  But how you respond to the bad times is very significant in your success as a golfer.

Consider what Arnold Palmer had to say in his book My Game and Yours:

    "When I walk up to the first tee on the first day of any tournament, the only thought in my head is to play every shot as well as I can, from beginning to end.  I keep in mind one of my father's sayings: 'If you don't birdie the first hole, you can't birdie them all.'
    I'm playing for that birdie on the first hole, and on the second and the third.  The thing is that I don't always get it: golf is that kind of game.  You are bound to have holes where nothing goes right, no matter how hard you try... You are bound to have days where nothing goes right on any of the eighteen holes.(I've shot as high as 86 in tournament play and Jack Nicklaus skied to an 83 in the 1981 British Open.)
    The trick when this happens is to stay serene.  The whole secret of mastering the game of golf--and this applies to the beginner as well as the pro--is to cultivate a mental approach to the game that will enable you to shrug off the bad shots, shrug off the bad days, keep patient and know in your heart that sooner or later you will be back on top...
    That's the great thing about golf.  If you can just keep your confidence, if you don't let the game get you down, sooner or later everything falls into place, and you have one of those rounds that you can remember with joy all the rest of your life...
    The mental approach that golf requires is a peculiar and complicated mixture of abiding confidence and patient resignation, of intense concentration and total relaxation.  It is not easy to explain--it is almost something that has to exist deep down in your unconscious mind..." 

I recognize this sort of serenity and abiding confidence in some of the better players in our area.  I've seen them play horribly and just shrug it off.  One of the top players at our club played with me in a qualifier and shot something like 91.  It was brutal.  I couldn't believe what I was witnessing.  But he never lost his cool.  

He has won several club championships and played competitively for years.  I'd be willing to bet he hadn't shot 91 in forty years or more.  He told me that he had been struggling for weeks, unable to break 80.  And yet he had just kept playing and kept his composure.  A couple of weeks later his buddies told me he had shot 68.  He missed shooting his age by a couple of months.  He was back on top of his game.  

Patience is indeed a virtue.  And perhaps nowhere is it more virtuous than in the game of golf.  The other virtue a good player must possess is the determination to just keep hitting it--to keep trying his hardest--no matter what happens.  The interesting thing is, a bad round doesn't really feel so bad if you know you tried your hardest.  I'm convinced--and, more importantly, Arnie is convinced--that if you stay patient and do your best on every shot, you will succeed at this game.

You may never win a Major.  But you will have many enjoyable and memorable rounds.  And that's what the game is all about.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Loft is Our Friend

For those of us who are not swinging the driver 105 miles an hour or more, loft is definitely our friend.  Most of us are victims of LOFT--and I'm not talking about Lack of Freaking Talent.  We don't use enough of it.

Most high handicappers would fare much better hitting three wood off the tee instead of driver.  If they feel they must hit a driver, they should have at least 12 degrees of loft and should either grip down on it, or shorten the shaft to 43 inches.  That's if their score is what matters to them.  I have several friends who actually hit their three or five woods farther than their driver, but can't bring themselves to leave the driver in the trunk of the car.

Lofted woods, or hybrids, are essential to success for us old-timers, or weaker players.  I actually carry nothing more than a six iron these days.  I have a 28 degree wood that replaces my five iron.  I was playing with Billy Gallagher on the fourth hole one day at Picton from the blue tees.  It was a shot of about 160 yards and I used the 28 degree fairway wood.  

Billy asked me what I had hit, and I suggested he try it.  He stepped up and made a hole in one with it on the first swing.  Loft is where it's at.

Arnold Palmer on the Golf Swing

In reading Arnold Palmer's book, Golf My Way and Yours, he believes that two factors, besides a sound grip and a still head, can virtually guarantee good results.

The first thing is a one-piece takeaway, where the club is taken straight away, without any wrist break for the first twelve inches.  Sam Snead, Bobby Jones, and Jack Nicklaus believed the same thing.  A one-piece takeaway, controlled be the left hand and arm ensures that everything moves together, and your whole body gets in on the action.  Resisting any impulse to lift the club up, or pull it to the inside with the right hand, common errors made by high handicappers, is vital.

The next thing is resisting the urge to over-swing.  Trying to turn back too far, or take the club back higher than is comfortable, is, according to Arnie, a killer.  He suggests that we have compact swings that allow us to maintain control of the club.  He provided the example of hitting three balls with a five iron.  On the first he took a full swing, turning as far as possible.  On the next, he swung back to about ten o'clock, if you picture the left arm as the small hand on a clock face.  On the third swing, he swung back to nine o'clock.  The difference between the three swings was only about fifteen yards.  

In Arnie's mind, the ten o'clock swing was much more controlled and produced the best results.  He may not have hit the ball quite as far as he did with the long swing, but that is why we carry fourteen clubs.  If you are struggling with your ball-striking, perhaps it's worth following Arnie's advice.  Take one more club if necessary, and shorten that swing.  At the end of the day, the scorecard doesn't care whether you hit it stiff with a seven iron or an eight.

The truth is, however, that many high handicappers will discover they are hitting the ball just as far, or farther, with the compact swing.  

Day Da Man

I must admit I was hoping for the emergence of a big three, or four, to make golf exciting again.  Instead, we seem to be seeing the emergence of a genuine superstar, who, if on his game, is pretty much unbeatable.  One didn't even have to watch today, knowing that there was a better chance of getting hit with a piece of Sky Lab than seeing Jason Day lose the Players Championship.

Day is simply the best right now.  He has it all--power, putting, iron game, short game... And he's now brimming with confidence.  I knew it was over late yesterday when Day chipped in to save par--was it on sixteen?-- and celebrated.  At that moment he knew, and I knew, it was in the bag.  I think the rest of the field knew it as well.

Though I really like him, Jordan Spieth looked worse than ordinary on his first appearance since the Masters.  He just seems to be all over the place mentally.  At his best, he's showed he can run away and hide, but he lacks the arsenal that Day has.  Spieth's strength has always been his putting, his scrambling, and his mental game.  It all seemed conspicuous by its absence at the Players.

As for Rory, he just doesn't have it together mentally at all.  He's up and down like a toilet seat.  What was it, five three putts on Saturday?  Rory wastes shots like a drunken sailor.  He is a phenomenal talent, but he'd better learn to grind it out if he wants to run with Day.

I really like Ricky Fowler.  He's shown that he can beat the best. But he's simply not in Day's league when Day is firing on all cylinders.  No one is.  I think the final part of the package was Day learning to hit the half shots, instesd of going at everything full tilt.  I just can't see any weakness in his game.  it's downright scary.  He's like Tiger Woods, but hitting fairways. If he stays healthy and motivated, I can see me not watching a lot of Sunday rounds--like back in the day, when Tiger had the lead Saturday night.

I hope Jordan, Rory, and Ricky can get it together.  But right now, Day is definitely the man.  

Forget the Swing

Golf is all about the strike.  The most beautiful swing means nothing if the strike it produces is off.  That's one reason why Harvey Penick advised us to always aim at something when we took a practice swing.  Somehow, though most golfers understand the importance of the strike, we tend to get focussed on our swing.  We start to think about our backswing--are we turning our shoulders enough, are we on plane, did we shift our weight properly?  We even sometimes think about our follow through--even though, by then, the damage has been done and the ball is long gone.  

It's the strike that counts.  We wouldn't probably suggest anyone swing a club like Arnold Palmer, or Lee Trevino, or even Jack Nicklaus for that matter.  But we'd all give our right arm to have been able to strike the ball like they did.  

I've written lately about Henry Cotton's tire drill.  It's ingenious.  It can really cure what ails many of us.  When you whack that tire, you get the feel of a solid strike.  Whack it with your left hand, if you're a right-handed player, and you immediately find out whether you are effectively using both hands in delivering the strike.  Initially, some people can hardly break an egg swinging with their left hand only; let alone hit it.  But after a few tries, they learn just how hard they can hit with the back of their left hand.

The tire drill helps people get a good grip as well.  You soon find the best way to hold the club when you whack a tire using one hand, then the other, then both.  You find that the best grip has the palms facing each other and basically mirroring the clubface.  You can't effectively whack the tire using one hand if your hand is twisted way over or under.  As a right-handed player you deliver the strike with the back of the left hand and the palm of the right hand.  It's only natural, as a few whacks at the tire will tell you.

The tire drill also helps with your backswing.  You soon realize, when whacking the tire is all you care about, that you don't need to lift the arms high, or make any loops in the backswing.  You just take it back until you feel able to deliver a good whack and fire away.  You may start looking a bit less graceful, but you'll be breaking eggs.  You might start looking more like a caveman killing his lunch, but, if you do, you might start hitting it more like Lee Trevino.

Get yourself a tire.  There's nothing quite as therapeutic as whacking something with a stick.  But use an old, steel-shafted club--preferably a heavy one.  You'll be building some serious golf muscle as well.  If it works for you, don't thank me.  Thank Henry Cotton and whoever it was that left the tire in the club parking lot--but that's another story.

Saturday, 14 May 2016


Arnold Palmer has a passion for golf.  Sadly, he is obviously not very well and was unable this year to even hit the ceremonial tee shot at the Masters; the place where he gave golf fans so many thrills.  

Arnie doesn't just love playing golf.  He loves everything about the game.  He loves beautiful golf courses, some he has designed.  He loves Latrobe Country Club where he learned the game under the eye of his father, the pro.  Arnie loved to tinker with his equipment as well.  Though not necessarily known for it, Arnie has also given us some wonderful advice on playing the game.  

I've been reading his instructional book, My Game and Yours.  It contains some great advice for golfers of every level.  Arnie begins the book with the statement, "GOLF is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated."  The title of his first chapter is "GOLF IS EASIER THAN YOU THINK."  That's so true.  At times this game can seem so simple--almost easy.  At other times it is a puzzle you simply cannot seem to solve.  That is a big part of its fascination.  As Arnie writes, "A child can play it well and a grown man can never master it."  That's golf.

My buddy Steve is struggling with the game right now.  Right now the game, for Steve, is endlessly complicated.  And the harder he tries, the worse it seems to get.  Thinking about how to help him, I remembered that Arnie has some excellent advice for those who find themselves so paralyzed by analysis that they can barely hit the damned ball.  Consider the following from Arnie's book:

   "No other golf book, I believe, has ever started with the statement that golf is a simple game--or even that it is 'deceltively simple,' the phrase that I have used.  But here, I think, is where those of us who have been writing about golf or teaching it have made a great mistake.  We have been lured into too many complexities.  We have forgotten that the game began with the very elemental discovery, by a Scottish shepherd who never had a lesson in his life, that he could knock a pebble an astounding distance with a good swift lick of his shepherd's crook--and that essentially the idea of the game even today is to pick up a stick and hit a ball with it, as straight and as hard as you can."

Now whether the game started with Scottish shepherds of Dutch sailors doesn't matter.  The well-made point is that golf involves hitting a ball with a stick.  Watching some folks--particularly those who have taken a couple of lessons before they head out to play--it becomes patently obvious that giving the ball a good healthy whack is one of the last things on their minds.  Instead they are all caught up in mechanical thoughts, uncomfortable grips and stances.  As Sam Snead once said, if they held a knife and fork like they held a golf club, they'd starve to death.  The game has been made too complicated, and Arnie blames the teachers.

As Arnie gies on to write: "The temptation to talk and write like an oracle has been almost irresistible, and those who have succumbed to it (including me) were only being human.  However, we have done golf a great disservice.  We have made the game sound so difficult and so contrary to the body's natural instincts that surely we have scared away thousands of people who otherwise might have tried the game and enjoyed it.  We have infected thousands of other people with inferiority complexes which have inhibited them from ever playing their best--and which, worst of all, have made them look upon a round of golf as an ordeal instead of a delight."

This is a pretty strong indictment of golf teaching in general.  But sadly, there is a great deal of truth in what Arnie says.  I have seen more uncomfortable, up tight, and downright miserable golfers who have had a lesson or two and now don't know whether to crap or wind their watch as they stand over the ball.  It's very sad.  If only they could just step up and give the ball a healthy whack, and not worry about following some prescribed routine.  They might not play much better--but they sure as hell couldn't play any worse.  And at least they'd be playing the game as it was intended to be played.

So, Steve, if you happen to read this, please forgive me for any tips I might have given you that were golfswing-related.  God save us all from well-meant golf tips.  Next time out, how about you just pretend you're a kid again and go out there and hit it and chase it.  After all, it's not like we're playing for our supper.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Fifth Major?

Many folks would argue that the Players Championship is the fifth Major.  It certainly has the purse.  The field is also about as strong as it gets, I suppose.  But it didn't look like a Major on Thursday, with Jason Day shooting 63 and a gang of others shooting 65 or 66.  

Granted, in the morning the weather was balmy, with no wind to speak of.  But they seem to have got it wrong if they want to call this a Major and then cut the rough and soften the greens.  Majors are supposed to be hard tests of golf, not shootouts.  Hopefully things will firm up and we'll see another exciting Sunday finish that doesn't have the winner finishing at 27 under.

By the way, where can I get a pair of shoes like Ricky was wearing?  Love them.  As for Rory; he's the second guy to rock the jogging pants.  Not much of a deal.  Justin Rose hitting all eighteen greens, on the other hand, was a big deal.  If he keeps that smooth putting stroke going, he may have another fine feather in his cap come Sunday evening.  I've always been a fan of JR.  Imagine missing all those cuts when he set out on tour and having the self-belief to just keep on keeping on.  That's intestinal fortitude, my friends.

And, Big Ernie's back to rolling his rock.  How can you not root for the big man?  It may not look like a fifth Major right now, but come Sunday we'll be hoping for some big-time drama.  It will be hard to top Ricky's performance last year; but here's hoping.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Be Ready

In Golf My Way, Jack Nicklaus stressed the importance of setting up properly to hit a shot.  To Jack it was imperative, when hitting any shot that meant anything, that he feel exactly right before he pulled the trigger.  In his early days this led to him being accused of being a slow player.  

Jack was definitely a deliberate player who took great pains to ensure he was in a position, mentally and physically, to make the shot.  But he argued that he walked to the ball and was able to analyze the situation and select the shot he desired to play quickly.  It was only in his set-up that he became so deliberate.  He was simply incapable of playing an anyway-shot--the shots we mere mortals are so prone to hitting; where we know we aren't set up correctly, or we aren't really ready to hit the shot, but we hit it anyway.  If Jack didn't feel set, he wouldn't pull the trigger.

Jack wrote: "I feel that hitting specific shots--playing the ball to a certain place in a certain way--is 50 percent mental picture, 40 percent setup, and 10 percent swing.  That's why setting up takes me so long, why I have to be so deliberate.  In competition I am not simply trying to hit a good shot, but rather the perfect shot for the particular situation... unless I can set up exactly right in relation to the shot I have pictured, I know I have no chance of executing it as planned.  There I must get perfectly set--it's almost a compulsion--before I can pull the trigger.  My mind simply will not let me start the swing until I'm "right," no matter how long it takes... The point I'm stressing is the vital importance of setup on every shot you hit.  This includes picturing the shot, aiming and aligning the clubface and your body relative to your target, and placing the ball relative to your intended swing arc, assuming your over-all address posture, and mentally and physically conditioning yourself just before pulling the trigger."

Jack said he was strongly against slow play.  His advice differs from some who consider certain "rituals" as being important to the pre-shot routine.  He simply advises us to be "ready" before we take the club back.  This means we might take more time over some shots than we might over others.  The pre-shot routine isn't a ritual to follow, in the sense that we always make certain we take so many practice swings, look at the target so many times, tug on our shirt sleeve, or open and close the flap on our glove.  We simply want to make certain we are prepared, mentally and physically, to hit the shot.  Every golfer has the right to do that.

More to come from the greatest Major champion the game has ever seen in future articles.  

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

The Big Man

The Big Man died seven years ago today.  Gerry was my best friend and favourite golfing buddy.  He wasn't a scratch player by any means, but he loved the game and was absolutely the best company on the golf course.  That's what makes a great golfing companion--not whether they can play well or not, but rather how pleased you are to be in their company for four hours on the course.  Gerry was the best.

At six feet five inches tall and over three hundred pounds, Gerry had some difficulty with slicing the ball.  But he also perfected the "automatic reload," where, as he hit one of his wicked slices, his right hand came off the club, dipped into his pocket, and produced another ball which he would drop on the ground and prepare to hit as his previous shot was still in the air.  He was not attached to his golf balls and he was unrelenting in his good humour, whether he made an 8 or a 3. 

My favourite golfing memory was of Gerry making the winning putt for our team in a scramble that had to be decided in a playoff.  The Big Man leapt in the air like Philly Mick when he won his first Masters.  He said to me afterwards that that was the most excited he'd ever been.  Obviously, that might have been his biggest thrill in golf, but, believe me, the way Gerry lived his life was anything but dull.  He crammed a whole lot of living into his fifty four years.  And he was dearly loved by many.

We miss you, Gerry.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Understanding Why You Slice, Hook, Push or Pull Isn't Rocket Science

There is only one absolute in golf that I can think of after fifty years of playing the game.  There are some good fundamentals regarding the swing that, if followed, will tend to make the game easier to play--like a still head, a firm left arm, a sound grip, and a one-piece takeaway--but there have been good, and even great, players who have swings that don't follow all the rules.

The one absolute is that a club face that is aimed at the target and is moving down the target line will produce a straight shot.  Even that is not absolutely true, I suppose, when you factor in the effect of wind, or mud on the ball.  But that's about as absolute as it gets in this game.  The key for every golfer is to find the best way for you to swing the club to produce a square strike with the club moving down the target line.  And that is only if you are attempting to play a sraight shot, which Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus considered to be more good luck than good management.  Neither Hogan or Nicklaus ever tried to hit a full shot straight.  But that's another story.

The truth is, however, that the only thing that determines the flight and direction of the ball--other than wind and/or mud on the ball--is the path and angle of the club face at impact.  You can make the prettiest swing ever and still miss the shot if, at the moment of truth, your club face isn't moving in the right direction and facing the right way.  That's why Bobby Jones wrote a chapter on striking the ball that he said was the most important knowledge any golfer can learn.  Learning the iron-clad, scientific truth about how a ball will respond when struck different ways is the key to understanding the game.

I was reading Jack Nicklaus' book, Golf My Way, and near the beginning, Jack provides the same information.  Like Bobby Jones, Jack learned these things through endless hours of playing and practising the game as a kid.  The fact is, however, understanding these things as early as possible when learning the game, or finally understanding these things after you have struggled with your game, can really turn you into a better player overnight.  Bobby Jones strongly believed this.

So, without further ado, if you don't already know why you are slicing the ball, or pulling it, or hitting snap hooks, Jack Nicklaus provides the real answer.  By understanding this information, you just might see more shots going where you want them to.  And, even if they don't, at least you'll know why the ball reacted as it did.  Jack wrote:

    "What causes this sidespin?  The simple answer is any kind of glancing or crosscutting blow.  And what causes a glancing or crosscutting blow?  No, it isn't the fact that you didn't turn enough going back or failed to start the downswing with your legs.  What's more, it isn't necessarily what you've come to believe from reading other golf books: that an inside-out swing always causes a hook, or that an outside-in swing always produces a slice.  At root is the fact that, at impact, your clubface was not looking in the same direction as your clubhead was travelling.

    To make this clearer yet, let's specifically relate the interaction of clubface alignment and swing path to the curve balls and foul balls you actually hit on the course:

WHEN YOU SLICE.  Your clubface is looking right of the direction in which your clubhead is moving.  Thus you cut across the ball from out to in, imparting left-to-right sidespin to the ball.

WHEN YOU FADE.  The same cross-cutting action as above, only the angle between your clubface and swing path is smaller.

WHEN YOU HOOK.  Your clubface is looking left of the direction in which your clubhead is moving.  Thus you cut across the ball from in to out, imparting right-to-left sidespin to the ball.

WHEN YOU DRAW. Same crosscutting action as when you hook, only the angle between your clubface and swing path is smaller.

WHEN YOU PULL STRAIGHT LEFT.  Your clubface is looking in the same direction as the clubhead is travelling.  The trouble is you're swinging from out to in.  (Consequently, a golfer who hits straight left should not think of himself as a hooker, but recognize that he actually has a slicer's fault--an out-to-in swing path.)

WHEN YOU PUSH STRAIGHT RIGHT.  Your clubface is looking in the same direction as your clubhead is travelling.  The problem is you are swinging from in to out across your target line. (Thus, although the ball ends up to the right, like a slicer's, you are actually swinging on a hooker's path.)

WHEN YOU PULL-HOOK ( the ball starts left and curves more left).  Your clubhead is travelling from out to in, across the target line, with the clubhead looking left of the swing path.

WHEN YOU PUSH-SLICE ( the ball starts right and curves more right).  The clubhead is travelling from in to out, across the target line, with the clubface looking right of the swing path.

Elementary?  To a good player, probably.  To a high handicapper, I'm not so sure.  Either way, the basic point may be worth restating: It helps to know where--and how-- you want to go before you start going there."

Bobby Jones made the same point, going on to say that every golfer needed to understand the relationship between swingpath and clubface angle, and the resulting shot shapes that can result.  He then said that by focussing on the strike required, a golfer could come to understand what was causing the different shots, and how to set himself and swing the club to correct the situation, or to intentionally produce a draw, or a fade, or a hook.  

It is science.  But it isn't rocket science.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

We Need to Learn Sound Judgement Not to Swing the Club Like Rory McIlroy

I generally write about the old-school teachers and players.  This is certainly not because modern teachers or players don't know their trade, but rather because I think some of the wisdom and insight into playing the game can be overlooked in this age of technology, where we tend to get caught up in measuring launch angles and spin rates and playing the power game.

There is no doubt that modern teaching and technology are helping the best players to take full advantage of the new equipment to hit shots never dreamed of fifty years ago.  I'm sure the modern clubs and the modern golf ball are helping the better club players as well.  But it seems to me that the so-called "average golfer" continues to be just as average as he was fifty years ago.

Most golfers will rarely, if ever, have the luxury of jumping on Trackman under the direction of a good professional.  The closest they might ever get is when they are buying new clubs and hitting balls into a screen with a monitor that provides them with a lot of numbers they probably don't understand, or particularly care about, other than the distance they are getting.  Most golfers have neither the time, the money, nor the inclination to hire personal trainers to help them build stronger cores and glutes that fire on demand.  They just want to break100, or 90, or 80.  And they want to play the best they possibly can with what they have to work with.

Technological advancements will never change the fact that, at the end of the day, the golfer still faces the same challenge of finding the best and quickest way for him to get the ball in the hole.  That requires an intimate understanding of his own game; what he is capable of, and what works best for him.  It requires intelligence, planning, analysis, and self control.  In short, the real way to improvement for most of us lies, not in some swing change, or a new driver, but rather in a better understanding of how to best play the game with the skills we currently possess.

Most of us would show immediate improvement if we could have on-course, playing lessons, or an experienced caddie to assist us in managing our way around the course.  It is in intelligent play that we get the most from our games; not in getting another twenty yards off the tee.

Bobby Jones summed things up quite nicely, I think, when he said that it was easier to learn to use good judgement than to swing the club like Harry Vardon.  Many of us don't get the most from the games we already have because we don't use our noggins.  We tend to make the same mistakes over and over again.  The Golfchannel teacher who says,"If you keep doing what you're doing, you'll get the same results," is absolutely correct.  However, this applies more to the mental side of the game than it does to the golf swing.  Many of us need to change the way we think on the golf course--not the way we swing.

Golf is Ninety Percent Mental

I went out in 31 yesterday at my home course in Picton.  I was hitting it pretty well, but the difference was definitely the putter.  I had 11 putts for nine holes.  

I was playing with Steve, Spiros and Ken playing against their best ball and was something like eight up after nine.  Other than Spiros, who kept saying, "That's another birdie,"  the boys were trying not to talk about what was going on.

Sure enough, at the turn they asked me what my score was and I had to admit that I was aware of being five under.  There is nothing quite like being aware of a really good round to mess with your mind.  It was definitely starting to get in my kitchen, since I couldn't remember the last time I had putted as well, or been that far under after nine.  Two or three under and I would have been able to shrug it off as just a good start, but at five under it was hard not to think about my personal best at Picton which is 65.  You can try as hard as you like not to let this kind of success affect you, but it does.  

I determined that, since the putter was hot, I was just going to try to keep making birdies.  I wasn't going to let myself start putting both hands on the wheel.  After making a solid par on ten, which is the hardest hole on the course, I hit a good drive on eleven only to push my six iron into a bunker, leaving myself short-sided.  It was the worst place I could have missed it.  Instead of playing safe and settling for a lengthy putt for par, I tried to get cute, barely got the ball out of the bunker, then hit a rather feeble chip and missed the four footer for bogey.  That's how fast it can happen.

From then on the hole seemed to get smaller and my approach went from being a quest for more birdies to a struggle with Old Man Par.  I was determined that I wouldn't give him any more strokes back.  I am happy to say I managed to play the next seven holes in even par and posted a 69.  That was my first sub 70 round of the season. 

What I once again learned was that, for me at least, it is the putter that makes the difference in this game.  Yesterday I had 24 putts.  That is probably at least six better than my usual tally, though I don't usually keep track.  My approach on the greens was essentially the same as always, except that I felt, at least for the first nine, really comfortable over the ball and was definitely focussed on making the putt, rather than being concerned about missing it.  I consistently picked a spot on the front of the hole and tried to roll the ball over it, not even thinking about the break.  That's what seems to work best for me.

Once you become reasonably proficient, as Ken says, "This game is ninety percent mental.  The other ten percent is between your ears."  

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Why Harvey Penick Decided to Become a Teacher

In his Little Red Book, Harvey Penick explained why he decided to teach golf instead of heading out on tour.  He wrote:

   I thought I was a pretty fair player and had nagging aspirations to join the tour until a Houston Open in the middle 1930's.
   I was practising putting and one of the fellows said, "Harvey, have you seen this kid Snead hit the ball? He's about to tee off now."
   I walked over to the tee and saw the new kid from West Virginia hit his drive.  I not only saw it, I heard it.  
    It sounded like a rifle and flew like a bullet. 
    I knew right that moment that my future was not as a tour player."

So, I guess we have the Slammer to thank for giving us one of golf's great teachers.  Sam used to come up to our neck of the woods to fish and still holds the course record at Napanee Golf Club.  According to Johnny Miller, no one has ever hit a golf ball any better than Samuel Jackson Snead.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Henry Cotton and the Tire Drill

Bobby Jones likened the golf swing to a back-handed strike with his left hand.  He always felt, as a right-handed person, that he needed to be certain of moving his left side and restraining his right hand until it was needed.  Sam Snead felt the same way, talking of taking the club straight back with his left hand and beginning the downswing by pulling with the last two fingers of his left hand.

If two of golf's greatest swingers were so convinced of the importance of the top hand in the golf swing--and many others besides--it seems to me that we should give it some attention.  By coincidence, I read about Henry Cotton and his tire drill--where he had his students whacking a car tire, first with their left hand, then their right, and then both hands.  The drill was key, in his mind, to strengthening golf muscles, learning to use the hands correctly, and learning to make a square strike.

The other day I took my tire to the range and had Steve whacking it prior to hitting balls.  What was remarkable was that Steve at first could not make any decent kind of strike using only his left hand.  In fact he actually missed the tire on one attempt.  Before long, however, he was striking the tire solidly and square with his top hand.

Golf is a two-handed game.  However, for right-handed players, we generally need to give the left hand some attention and some training.  We don't generally have to worry about our right hand getting involved--other than worrying about it getting involved too soon.  The Henry Cotton tire drill is a good way to train that left hand if you suspect yours might not be working as well as it should.

May 2: Birthday of Bing Crosby

Bing Crosby was a great crooner, but he truly loved the game of golf and was one of the game's great benefactors.  His Pro-Am remains a fixture on the PGA tour.

He played to a two handicap and won many championships at his home course of Lakeside, in LA.  He even played in the 1952 British Amateur held at St Andrews, beginning the tournament with two threes. So he was no slouch as a player.  

Bing died on October 14, 1977 in Spain.  He was on a golf course--which is a good place to go if there is ever such a thing.