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Saturday, 14 May 2016

Simple

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.