Sunday, 25 September 2016

George Knudsen

While the perfect, repeating golf swing seems to be more of a myth than a reality, two Canadians came very close. One was Moe Norman whose ball-striking feats are legendary.  The other was George Knudsen, a contemporary of Moe.   

Jack Nicklaus called Knudsen "the man with the million dollar swing."  And, while Moe was considered by many to be the greatest ball-striker ever, his quirky personality, which may or may not have been the result of autism, made his excursion onto the PGA tour a very brief one.  Knudsen, on the other hand fared better on tour, though never winning a Major championship.

How good was Knudsen's swing?  He once shot 67 at Glen Abbey where numerous Canadian Opens have been played.  That might not sound all that remarkable.  But he shot the 67 playing with his eyes closed.  So George Knudsen should always be in the conversation when it comes to the greatest ball-strikers of all time.  He also wrote the book, The Natural Golf Swing, which is an interesting read and teaches the "repeating swing."

One thing worth remembering is that Moe Norman and George Knudsen never won a Major.  There is a message in that.  The message is that golf is about more than just great ball-striking.  The game, at the highest level is played on that five and a half inches between your ears.

Friday, 23 September 2016

George Knudsen's Natural Golf Swing

George Knudsen was a wonderful ballstriker.  Jack Nicklaus called him, "the man with the million dollar swing."  That was when a million dollars was something--before golfers made a million dollars or more for winning one golf tournament.

Knudsen was a contemporary of another great Canadian golfer, Moe Norman.  The pair used to play together with money changing hands every time one of them hit the pin.  Lots of money changed hands on that basis, it being a toss up as to who hit the ball closest using totally different swings.  

How good was Knudsen, and how sound was his swing?  He once shot 67 at Glen Abbey where the Canadian Open has often been contested.  While that may sound good, it sounds rather more impressive when you know that he did it with his eyes closed on every shot.

In his book, The Natural Golf Swing, George Knudsen tells how he swung the club.  He was convinced that if you swung the club naturally, without any manipulation of the club with the hands, you could strike the ball on target consistently.  His performance at Glen Abbey pretty much proved it.

Knudsen believed golf was not a game of hand-eye coordination because you were hitting a stationary target in the golf ball.  Therefore, it is possible to have a swing that doesn't rely on hand-eye control.  Instead the natural golf swing relies on a proper set up and balance.  Knudsen wrote:
    "It's amazing how quickly you can learn if you're in balance, and how much of a one-piece motion the swing really is.  It's further proof that golf is not a hand-eye game.  The ball just sits there.  If you set up in a correct starting position and connect it to the finishing position, while using laws of motion effectively, you'll contact the ball along the way.
     This insight freed me.  It really woke me up.  I was amazed that I could make such a free swing without watching the ball.  Here was a major clue: if we set up properly and simply make a motion to a target, then we didn't have to think about the ball.  We would repeat the motion every time.  The ball would simply get in the way."

Not all that long ago, I wrote about the fact that, when things start going awry, I can find my swing again when I swing with my eyes closed.  When you swing "blind" you must swing within yourself and in balance.  Knudsen went on to write:

    "Golfers have accepted so much.  And they tend to accept that golf can't be natural.  But you shouldn't mess with Mother Nature.  Letting nature work frees us to enjoy golf.  The game can be good for us if we allow things to happen.  It's an entirely different experience from trying to make them happen.  Once we understand the mechanics of the natural swing motion, we can use the natural laws to our advantage.  Then we won't tie ourselves in knots every time we contemplate a golf shot."

So, for George Knudsen at least, there was a "natural"  repeating golf swing.  Whether that swing would transform everyone's game is debatable.  But for anyone wishing to find their "natural swing,"  perhaps they might try closing their eyes and letting the ball "get in the way."

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Swinging With Your Feet

Have you tried swinging with your feet?  In his book, The Natural Golf Swing, the sweet-swinging Canadian, George Knudsen talked about controlling his swing with his feet. It may sound a bit strange, but I have tried swinging with my feet and it actually works.  If you set up correctly with a good grip, you can actually perform a full swing and hit good shots without any manipulation of the hands.  You just shift your weight using your feet and everything flows from there.

Bobby Jones referred to an Englishman who taught the same thing.  Sam Snead, in his book The Education of a Golfer also wrote about the stir he caused and how he incurred the wrath of Gene Sarazen by playing a round at Augusta National in his bare feet.  He shot 68.  This was a huge success with the press, but was highly unpopular with the golf shoe people and some Masters champions like Sarazen who thought the exhibition was not in keeping with the behaviour of a " real master."

It stirred up quite a debate, and Sam wrote:

    "While this debate went on, the barefoot experiment caused me to think more and more about the part the feet play in the full golf swing.  The hands are important because they're the only part of the body attached to the club.  But the feet are still more important, being your only connection with the ground.  Swinging within myself was one of the more difficult acts I had to discipline myself to do.  Like most other golfers, I often fought a losing battle with the urge to overpower my tee and fairway shots, and most of my over-swinging started in my upper body, in the arms, shoulders, and back muscles.  When that happened, I was no longer a 'wheel,' with my head the solid hub around which the arms operated as spokes.  My feet were unable to stay firmly planted, my sense of balance was lost, and I fell out of my swinging groove.  Wildness had to result...
     Experimenting again with shoes off, I found that I naturally cut down until I was using just the right medium of swing, or about 85 or 90 per cent of full power, without thinking twice about it.  The reason was that a man won't overswing if he doesn't have spikes gripping the turf for him.  Barefoot, your nerves are exposed to the ground.  You're able to 'feel' balance, to judge how big a turn and windup is possible without disturbing the leverage of your body.  You get that shade of restraint that counts...
     Watching the best players, I decided that footwork is the basis of hand action--rather than the other way around--and that the pivot called the shot all the way; it was the key to everything I did on the tee. Experts talked about swinging the clubhead, but they put the cart before the horse.  Although a good pivot includes hip, leg, and shoulder movement, it must start and finish with the feet.  When the pros I played against lost their driving touch, in 98 per cent of the cases the fault traced to the one place they didn't consider--their feet.  Even a veteran pro takes them for granted after a while."

So, if you're having trouble over-swinging, or with your rhythm and balance, maybe try kicking off the shoes and making some swings.  I know it was surprising to me to see how my swing changed when I swung using my feet.  I had more of a hip and shoulder turn, the club came fully to the top without any lifting of the arms, or straining, and the club whooshes to the finish under what-seems-to-be its own steam.  Apparently it's actually centrifugal force, but I'm no scientist.  When you use your feet properly, and just let everything flow, you don't interfere with "the force."

If you've looked everywhere and can't seem to find the problem, why not look to your feet.  The answer might just be in your shoes.

Five-Fifty and Henry Picard

One of the great things about golf is the willingness of golfers to help other golfers; even golfers they are competing against.  Sam Snead tells the story of being helped by Henry Picard in a way he could never repay.  It cost Sam five dollars and fifty cents.

I've been reading Sam's book, The Education of a Golfer.  So far, it's been pretty enlightening stuff about Sam's early life and his arrival on tour.  Sam was certainly a prodigious driver of the ball, able to drive over 600 yard greens in two, driving 350 yard par four greens, and out-driving pretty well everyone he came across.  He also fought a hook in his early days which was more the result of improper equipment than any problem with his technique.

Sam Snead, when he set out on tour, was five feet ten and a half inches tall and one hundred and sixty five pounds.  He was not a particularly imposing physical specimen, other than his powerful hands, wrists, and forearms, and his fantastic flexibility, rhythm and balance.  When he first arrived on the golf scene he was long, but he could hit some terrible hooks.  And, as Lee Trevino liked to say, " a hook won't listen."  Sam described his situation as follows:

    "In the first place, although I was advertised as 'The Slammer,' driving wasn't the strongest part of my golf game by a long stretch.  The pitching wedge was the club I used best.  Next came my putting, then my long irons, and after that my ability to play from traps.  Driving was the thing I did fifth best... And at times I spray-hooked balls all over the field.
     Delivering the long ball is important, but if you can't place it safe from trouble on the fairway and in the best spot to open the green for your second shot, you can't call yourself a pro or even a good amateur."

Sam's driving had got so bad by the winter of 1936 that "Boo-Boo" Bulla, who had made a deal with Sam to share their winnings to try to keep themselves from starving, decided to call off the deal.  Then something happened that likely changed golf history.  It came in the form of Henry Picard.  Sam wrote:

    "Just before the firing opened at the Griffith Park course in L.A., Henry Picard walked up and asked, 'How are you hitting, Sam?  I hear you are bending them half way to Santa Monica.'
    'I'm so wild I've decided to quit the tour and go on home.'
     Picard watched me whip out some drives and thought my feet might be the problem.  He claimed I was spinning around while in the hitting zone onto my right toe, instead of moving more laterally into the ball on the inside of my right foot.  Toning down foot action didn't help.
     'Let's look at your driver,' said Henry.
     'I'll admit it doesn't feel right,' I said, 'but it worked for me in Virginia and in Florida and I don't like to change it.'
     'This stick is too whippy for you,' said Henry.  'Do you remember the photographer who tried to catch your swing at Hershey last fall?'
     Thinking back, I remembered that Lambert Martin, one of the top cameramen of the New York World-News, had set up cameras aimed at catching all points of my swing.  Martin 'stopped' the action until we came to the point where my descending clubhead was 2 feet from the ball, and then all he got was a blur--even with the camera set at 1/1,250th of a second.  Martin said it was the first time he'd been unable to stop a whole hitting sequence.  Later they timed my clubhead speed at almost 150 mph.
    'Your hands are too fast for such a light and swingy club,' declared Henry.  'I've got an Izett driver that might be the answer for you.'
     The Izett felt like a dream the minute I took ahold of it.  The first poke took my breath away.  The ball travelled an easy 300 yards down the middle.  I waved the caddie back further and further, and even when letting out the full shaft, my driving improved about 35 per cent."

Sam asked Picard what he wanted for the driver and Henry told him to just give it a try and they would make a deal if he liked it.  Sam, of course, went on a tear with this new driver and would have given Picard "any price" for the club.  Henry charged Sam what he paid for it--five dollars and fifty cents.  Sam wrote:

    "That act of generosity by the Hershey Hurricane could never be repaid, be cause that No. 1 wood was the single greatest discovery I ever made in golf and put me on the road to happy times."

Sam used that driver for three quarters of the 110 victories he had accumulated by 1961, doing whatever he could to hold the club together.  Sam wrote: "The exact Wilson Company duplicate of the original which I use today gives results, but in the 1959 Greensboro Open, when I was sniping the ball deep right because of getting my hands too flat, or laid over, at the top of the backswing and then rushing the downswing, I brought the Picard out of retirement.  And I played seventy holes without missing a fairway."

Just imagine.  Were it not for that driver, who knows where Sam's career might have gone.  Five dollars and fifty cents, and the generosity of Henry Picard, turned Sam's game around.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Ryder Cup

We will likely be treated to some exciting golf again at this year's Ryder Cup.  Unfortunately, we are also likely to see some real partisan nonsense, disguised as patriotism.  Somehow, since the "War on the shore" at Kiawah Island, the Ryder Cup has become much more than just a "friendly" exhibition between great golfers on both sides of the pond.

Gone are the days, it seems, of true gentlemen like Jack Nicklaus, who famously conceded the putt on the last green to Tony Jacklin, telling him he wasn't going to give him the chance to miss it.  Jack was willing to settle for a half, knowing the Cup was won.  That sort of attitude may still exist among some of the players, but, particularly on the American side, there seems to exist this need to win at all cost.

If the US fail to win it becomes a time for recriminations and second-guessing, rather than a simple admission that they were out-played.  I just hope this year that there isn't a war.  It would be nice to see the players actually enjoy themselves and play some excellent golf, regardless of the outcome.  

In the attached video I noted two things.  First Calc referred to it being "disgusting" to see the Europeans celebrating their first victory on US soil.  It may have been just an unfortunate choice of words for Mark, but the fact remains that the Americans have a thing or two to learn about losing gracefully.  On the other hand, Seve Ballasteros was not the picture of grace during his Ryder Cups either, so the Americans didn't have the corner on the market when it comes to poor sportsmanship.

The other interesting bit was Calc telling about David Feherty saying to him at Kiawah, "It isn't supposed to be like this, is it?"  Feherty was, of course, absolutely right.  One can only hope that this year is closely contested in the true spirit of the game.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Whack the Tire

Jack Nicklaus claimed in his book, Golf My Way, that he had never read an instructional article.  If so, he was definitely smarter than your average bear.  

Golf is simply tough enough without worrying about what your right knee, or hip, is doing during your swing.  Sam Snead felt that his swing was worthy of imitation because of its simplicity.  He also had great rhythm and tempo, but Sam's swing was about as natural as it was graceful and powerful.  His swing keys--and he did have them--were pretty simple as well.  Take the club back low and slow with the left hand and arm, begin the downswing with a pull of the left hand, and wallop the hell out of the back of the ball; that was his swing in a nutshell.

As far as what his hips, shoulders, knees, and feet were doing, Sam felt they just naturally moved with the left arm.  I just read the book, The Square-to-Square Golf Swing.  I'm told it was a classic, but somehow I had managed not to read it until now.  It recommends a swing dominated by the left side, particularly the left hand and arm.  The reason is, for right-handed players, the left side is generally under-employed.  Furthermore, the early application of the right hand ruins more golf shots than anything else.  Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Jack Nicklaus and Moe Norman favoured a left-side dominated swing.  So do the majority of top players today.  That's because it works.

What's the best way to learn to use your left side?  Hit balls or, better yet, hit an impact bag or an old tire using your left arm.  You will feel the benefit of pulling the club with your left side, instead of pushing it with your right.  Bobby Jones said the golf swing was a back-handed shot with your left hand.  Try whacking a tire, then balls, with your left hand and you'll soon see why.  I love that old tire drill.  It's great therapy whacking that tire with your left hand, then your right, then both hands.  It also builds muscle.

And perhaps the best part is it tends to simplify your swing.  Somehow, when all you are focussed on is whacking that tire, or the ball for that matter, your swing tends to become more simple.  You tend to take the club back far enough to know you are in a position to make the strike and then you let it go.  The last time I broke seventy it was right after using the tire.  I swung all day like I was just whacking the tire.  I really need to use it more often; even if the neighbours think I'm nuts.

Nobody Likes a Quitter

My wife has finally come to terms with the fact that I probably won't quit smoking any time soon.  I've got the smoker's gene, passed down from my father.  I love a good smoke; and as for quitting, nobody likes a quitter.  I'm joking of course, but as far as golf is concerned, the saying is true. 

I've been reading Sam Snead's book, The Education of a Golfer, in which he talks about learning the importance of not quitting; not mentally mailing it in when things go awry--or when things are going really well for that matter.  Because no matter how good you are, there are plenty of times when you are so disgusted, so discouraged, you'd just like to pack it in.  Sam wrote:

    "Think back to the number of times you've followed a sequence of poor shots with good ones; the number of times this has happened should surprise you.  Now work to increase this pattern in your game.  Eliminate 'quits,' develop a 'staying' attitude, and your score will drop.
     Be aware that missed tee shots are less critical than they seem; midirons, short irons, and the putter are your scoring weapons nearly 60 percent of the time.  Usually the percentage favors your chance to save a 'lost' hole.
     Imagine that par on a hole is one more stroke than the card shows; in this frame of mind, when you've landed your opening shot or shots in trouble, you'll be better able to stay in there and bail yourself out.
     Don't fool yourself that you can form the 'what-the-hell' attitude on some holes and play even average golf; the habit will wreck your game from stem to stern.  Fight back against disaster, and the self-respect it brings is worth plenty in saved strokes thereafter.
     Far more matches and tournaments are won by dogged recoveries from trouble than by blowups when a golfer is in the lead... And don't 'quit' because you're far ahead: play your hardest when you're sitting prettiest--and stay that way." 

The interesting thing about Sam's book is the fact that the biggest and most valuable lessons he learned as a young player were mental, not mechanical.  Like any great player, Sam was blessed with loads of natural ability.  We can only dream of swinging it as smoothly and powerfully as the Slammer.  But the lesson of being dogged and determined when we play is something we all can learn.  We want to be that guy who never gives up.  After all, nobody likes a quitter; even the quitter himself.  

Never quit, because your next shot, if you really focus, might be one of the best you've ever hit.  You never know--unless of course you quit.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Sam Snead's Most Valuable Lesson

In his book, The Education of a Golfer, Sam Snead describes his early life and his first round against world class players at the Greenbrier where he was paired in a match with Johnny Goodman against Lawson Little and Billy Burke.  He described how, as an unknown "peckerwood," he was able to control his nerves.

Sam shot 68, Burke 70, Little 71, and Goodman 73.  Only three holes were won that day, with Sam winning two and Goodman the other.  They had won the match 3and 2.  So how did this backwoods kid deal with the pressure of his first big match?  Sam wrote:

    "Bending over, (to hit his first tee shot) I had to take both hands to tee up my ball.  The ball looked all blurred as I stood over it.  My nerves were hopping right out of my skin.
     And then I stepped away and did something I'd been practicing.  I just let my mind take a rest by not thinking of anything in particular.  If I thought of anything, it wasn't the crowd or the match, but sort of a mixture of all the good drives I'd ever made.  Some people call it concentration, but to me it's more the trick of not thinking at all, of letting the world go by.  It's sort of like pleasant daydreaming about a wonderful place you've been or something happy you've done, but with no details dragged in. In that frame of mind, the ball isn't anything fearful; it's just a thing you're going to hit well."

Sam went on to further explain this at the conclusion of the first chapter under the heading, THE MOST VALUABLE LESSON I LEARNED.  He wrote:

    "Earlier in this chapter, I told of 'going into a sort of pleasant daydream' when I had the tee jitters against Burke, Little and Goodman.  There is a real payoff idea behind this.
     The practice swing of most ordinary players almost always carries most of the main ingredients.  The fundamentals are there.  But when they are in a match, the difference is terrific.  The feet are no longer easily set.  There is a cramped body turn.  Hands and wrists are rigid.  When this happened to me, I began thinking in terms of performance, not results.  By this I mean I had no thought beyond the ball--of traps, ponds, rough, or out of bounds.  All I did was go back to my good practice swing, on which I could count, and then to think with my swing--not ahead of the swing.  This takes will power, but it isn't so hard to let your mind relax and say to yourself, 'Here goes my practice swing--and I don't care where the ball lights or lands.  If I can't play like a good golfer in actual play, at least I can go back to my practice swing and let nature take its course.'
     Call on your will power to 'let the rest of the world go by,' and dust that thing with the form you have when nobody is watching--and watch your score go down.  Climb inside your old, regular personality, not the one that wants to take you over when the pressure is on."

Most of us wish we could hit the ball with our practice swing, that relaxed swing we take when we are just clipping the top of a daisie.  Sam Snead tells us not to wish we could use our practice swing when the pressure is on; he tells us to use our will power and just do it.  He thought that this was the most valuable lesson he ever learned.  

Wouldn't it be nice to just stand up to the ball and be yourself--just stand up there and hit it without giving a hoot where it lands.  We can if we use a little will power.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

No Respect for Bubba

Bubba Watson is a unique character.  He has two green jackets, is currently ranked seventh in the world rankings, and, it seems, can't get no respect.  He clearly has some personal issues.  He often looks uncomfortable and irritated when he's playing.  But playing his own brand of Bubba golf, he is almost certainly headed for the Hall of Fame.

Bubba is not popular with many of his peers and some fans.  His tempermental behaviour has not endeared him to many.  But the fact is that at his best he's in a league of his own, able to conjure up and hit shots even Phil the Thrill couldn't imagine trying.  He's a bona fide star.  And he has yet to be selected to play on the Ryder Cup team.

Bubba may not have done much recently, but it seems to me he has had an okay year with a win and three top tens.  Yet somehow Bubba has been overlooked by Davis Love in favour of Rickie Fowler, JB Holmes and Matt Kuchar as Captain's picks. Okay, I can see Rickie getting the nod.  JB maybe deserves another shot as well given his recent solid play and the fact that he is the only one of the picks with a winning Ryder Cup record.  But Matt Kuchar over Bubba?  You must be joking.

The issue for Davis Love is apparently "team chemistry."  He wants all the boys to get along and have fun.  That's all well and good.  And no doubt Kuchar is a fun guy.  He's reputed to be the best table tennis player of the bunch.  But no way he's as good a golfer as Bubba Watson.  

If Love doesn't pick Bubba, after picking Matt Kuchar, it will be a sure sign that what matters on the US team is personality, not prowess on the golf course.  If he doesn't get a spot on the team, I think Bubba has a perfect right to feel slighted.  Yes, he perhaps should have made it on points, but as a Captain don't you still want the best players?  

Monday, 12 September 2016

Drive for Show?

It was apparently the great South African player, Bobby Locke, who first said, "You drive for show and putt for dough."  He was perhaps the best putter we've ever known, and certainly the best putter of his era.  

The putter is definitely the great equalizer.  It can cover a multitude of sins.  But the driver is pretty important as well.  I really found that out yesterday playing in an inter-club event against some younger guys who hit it forty and fifty yards by me all day.  I was really up against it, hitting rescue clubs into greens they were reaching with a wedge or nine iron.  

I lost one match four and three, the other one down, and halved the other.  But it was a real eye opener for someone who has routinely argued that length isn't that big a deal.  On one par three, 167 yards over a hazard, I used a 28 degree eleven wood, knowing I'd better hit it solid.  My opponents hit wedge and nine irons.  They found the green.  I found a bunker.  

It was hard to accept, but it looks like I'm no longer really able to play with the flat-bellies.  Two forty off the back tees doesn't very easily get it done against guys hitting it 280 plus.  If you chip and putt like a fiend, and they don't, you might have half a chance, but over time they are going to beat you with their wedge verses your five iron.  

So you don't just drive for show.  Power is a big advantage for the player who can control it.  And I'm afraid that, with my back and neck, even Hank Haney won't be able to have me hitting it thirty yards farther.  I'm going to be a short-knocker from now on and, more often than not, those flat-bellies are going to wear me out.

It's hell getting old.  But, as far as I know, it beats the alternative.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

To Swing or to Strike: That is the Question

Bobby Jones really understood the game.  His books are brimming with his deep insight into what is really important when it comes to playing your best.  

Most teachers, or golfers in general, seem to find it impossible not to talk about the golf swing.  Bobby was less inclined to get into the mechanics of the swing, since he had been taught by Stewart Maiden to think about hitting the ball, not swinging the club.  I think the swing verses the strike issue is nicely dealt with by Bobby in his book, Golf is my Game.  He wrote:

    "The swinging of the club back from the ball is undertaken for the sole purpose of getting the player to a proper position for striking.  So the one influence most likely to assure the satisfactory progression of the swing is the visualized contact between club and ball still at the forefront of the player's mind.  Just as the backswing should not begin until this picture is adequately established, so the movement should continue until there results an awareness that the player has become capable of striking in the intended manner.
     I stress this point, and intend to continue to do so, because I know that the unrelenting effort to play golf in this way can do more for a player than anything else he can possibly do.  When every move of the swing is dominated by the determination to strike the ball in a definite fashion, the complicated sequence of movements must acquire purpose and unity attainable in no other way."

So, the question for those of us trying to play this game is, are we thinking about the strike or the swing?  It is obvious what is most important when you really think about it.  All the different swings we see among the top players in the game tell us that there is more than one prescribed way to swing the club.  But the ball only responds to the manner in which it is struck.  What matters is only the angle of the clubface, the direction it is travelling, and how fast it is travelling.  That's all the ball cares about.

It's infinitely better to be a good ball-striker than it is to be a good swinger.  If we can visualize how we want to strike the ball, it's amazing how we are all capable of figuring out a way to do it.  We will never all do it the same way because we are all different.  So, I don't know about you, but I intend to try to focus on the strike with all my might.  I'll try to trust myself, after all these years of hitting balls, to manage to figure out the best way to do it on that day.  I know the current culture in golf is to think swing thoughts.  But I'm going to try to forget all that and just try to hit the ball as I know it must be hit to go straight, fade, or draw.  

If you don't know how the ball must be struck to produce the different shots, Bobby Jones dealt with that subject.  I have covered that material in the featured post on my site, entitled The Wisdom of Bobby Jones: Striking the Ball.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Why I Hate Golf

I had an interesting e-mail from my golfing buddy, Steve.  It came under the heading, Why I Hate Golf.  Steve is struggling with a hook and a pull hook.  He has also been occasionally a victim of my tutelage.  Here's what he wrote:

"It's the inconsistent advice from admired and trusted golf aficionados who are always giving  you their interpretation of the golf bible. You read their writings and/or listen to every pearl of wisdom that they so graciously impart. In one article they say one bad shot begets another then you read another of their articles where they have had many terrific shots after hitting a most terrible shot. They talk about how the left hand is THE hand in golf then you read where they wrote, yup I did what Jack always did, used the right hand and arm. It's obviously a game that can only be enjoyed by a Scot or a Greek ( includes the Russians and Ukrainians ) I hate it!!!!  ��"

Of course Steve has a point.  There are more conflicting statements, ideas, and theories out there about the golf swing than you can shake a stick at.  Golf can be as confusing, or as simple, as you care to make it.  But the real crux of the matter is that we all struggle with the game at one time or another; and sometimes we struggle more often than not.  Golf is a difficult game.

I sent Steve the following reply:

"Exactly!  It's a case of do as I say, not as I do.  Not every swing thought works all the time.  Eventually you get to exaggerating one thing at the expense of another and have to find another thought or feeling that helps.  Ultimately it all comes down to the strike.  The more you can focus on making the strike, the more your swing looks after itself.  The more you read all the books from all the great players the more you realize that this game is about "finding what works, losing it, then finding it again."  That's the nature of the beast unless you are hitting thousands of balls like Hogan or Moe.  It's a hard old game.

Sorry you are struggling again."

I guess we all have to either give the game up, deciding to hate it because we just can't ever master it, or just accept the good with the bad--even when the bad shots are more plentiful than the good ones.  Golf is difficult and it isn't always fair, but it's the same for everyone.  Even the great Jack Nicklaus had days where he couldn't hit his hat.  

As for Steve's comments about Scots, Greeks, Ukranians and Russians; that was a reference to some of the company he keeps on the course.  Some of the characters who love the game despite it's ups and downs.  Steve will likely send me an e-mail in the next couple of days saying, "I've got it!"  Then the cycle will begin again.  The only consistent thing about golf is its inconsistency.  It rarely gets to be boring.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Remember the Good Ones

I think it's a good idea to keep vivid memories of your good shots.  We all hit them.  If we really think about those good shots, remembering the situation, how we felt before hitting it, what we were thinking, how much time we took, etc., often a picture emerges.  

But even if it doesn't we should all really savour the good shots we hit.  It's easy to get discouraged by our bad shots, especially since there are often more stinkers than there are really good shots for most of us.  My dear, departed friend, Gerry was a great example of a guy who just tried to break 100, but absolutely loved his golf.  He had a very short memory when it came to his bad shots.  In fact, they were gone often before they had landed in the bushes, the water, or someone's backyard.  Gerry had perfected the "automatic reload," where as the ball sailed off into another County, his right hand would come off the club, reach into his pocket for another ball, and drop it at his feet.  Gerry would be preparing to hit another one as the first errant shot was landing.  He didn't mess about.

But after the game was over, the only thing Gerry would remember and want to talk about was the great shot he hit on number twelve, or the chip he holed on eight.  Even in his round of 100 blows or more, there was always a few good ones for his memory bank.  He was a good man to copy in that respect.

Too often I've been that guy who, after a round, moans about the putts missed, or the shot in the water on thirteen, instead of remembering the good shot, or shots, I managed to hit.  The fact is, I'm not good enough to moan about bad shots.  Everyone hits bad shots.  That's part of the game.  And sometimes the bad shots actually set us up to hit really good shots.  Some of my favourite shots were ones made from behind a tree, or under the lip of a bunker.  Recovering from bad shots is an exciting and exhilarating part of the game.  

What have I learned from remembering some of the really terrific shots I've hit?  In almost every case I had to think about the shot.  It was generally a shot that required me to manoeuvre the ball around, under, or over a tree, or maybe land it softly, or run it in.  It was a shot that required imagination.  In most cases I took a little more time, really visualized what I wanted to do and mentally rehearsed how I would have to swing and strike the ball to do it.  Essentially, what I learned that most of my really good shots came when I was really invested in the shot.  I was concentrating like mad, totally caught up in the shot I wanted to play.  

That most of my great shots were trouble shots also teaches me that bad shots are just presenting us with the opportunity to make a great recovery shot.  And when you do recover, that's when you really feel great.  There is nothing like saving a par, or a bogey, from jail.  

I think it's a good idea to remember your good shots.  Even if it often requires a poor shot to give you the opportunity to hit a great one.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Finding What Works

Jack Nicklaus said that the only thing constant about golf is its inconstancy.  You go out one day and play great.  The next day, you can't hit your hat.  Same guy, same equipment, same game plan, and nothing goes right.  It's a mystery.

I went out yesterday, after a couple of recent even par rounds, thinking, "I've got it."  My first tee shot, which should have been a draw, sliced out of bounds.  I found myself six over after six before I finally got it together again by focussing on driving a nail into the back of the ball straight down the target line.  I also focussed on my right hand and arm using the bowling, or underhanded pitching motion that Jack Nicklaus used.  Suddenly I was back in business.

But that's golf.  As Ken Venturi said, "Golf is finding what works, losing it, and finding it again."  The swing thoughts we all use work for awhile, then the charm wears off and we need to find something else.  This often happens as we begin to exaggerate the swing thought or peg, over-doing one thing at the expense of another.  

It's great to say that all you really want to do is focus on striking the ball, as Bobby Jones and Jack Nicklaus advised.  But even they used swing keys, or pegs, to keep their swings in the groove.  Jack Nicklaus said that, when playing his best, he had as many as five swing thoughts--things he made certain of doing in his swing.  So, go figure.

Pure golf is when you are able to just see the shot and hit it.  When you are able to get into that zone where things are pretty much automatic.  But that only happens occasionally.  The rest of the time you must do whatever you can to make do with what you have that day.  That mythical perfect, repeating swing just doesn't exist.  At least not when you are on the course.  You can stripe it on the range, but then you find yourself in a divot, or with the ball well above or below your feet and you must make adjustments.  Golf isn't played on an even playing field.

So, it's great to work on your game.  Practice can certainly help--especially short game practice.  But, at the end of the day, every round is a new adventure.  You just never know whether you will have it, or feel like you've never played the game before.  Ultimately, the best golfers know how to use their heads to minimize the damage and find a way to make the best score they possibly can with what they've brought to the table that day.  That's all any of us can do.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

The Uncomplicated Way to Play

Thinking about your golf swing instead of focussing on how you want to strike the ball is a problem for many players, regardless of their skill level.  Many players, myself included, are inclined to play golf swing, instead of golf. Golf is simply that kind of game.  We don't have to react to a moving ball, like in tennis.  We have all the time we need to hit the ball. In fact, part of the problem may be that we have too much time to think.  And, too often, that time is wasted on thoughts that aren't particularly helpful.

Bobby Jones wrote about how we should approach every shot we play in his book, Golf is my Game.  He said:

    "It is in this way that a player should approach every shot he hits on the golf course, or even on the practice tee.  Let him always decide first upon the result he wants to produce; second, upon the precise manner in which he desires to strike the ball; and then let him place himself before the ball in such a position that he knows he will be able to deliver the blow in this manner.
     This is the obvious, direct, and uncomplicated way of going about the playing of a golf shot.  It will always be many times more effective than any attempt to follow a prescription for placing the feet and adjusting the rest of the body posture.  It will result in an easy fluidity because it is natural.
     One may very easily and with great advantage carry this thing one step further.  Indeed, for the best in performance, the player must keep in the forefront of his mind throughout the entire stroke this very clear picture of the precise manner in which he intends to strike the ball.
     Years ago I described the mental attitude I tried to attain in a tournament round as a concentration upon producing a desired result so intense as to preclude any possibility of concern with the manner of swinging."

As Bobby wrote, this approach is the most obvious, simple, and uncomplicated way to approach a golf shot.  Strange that so few people seem able to do it.  It can be almost painful to watch some people prepare to hit a shot; the fiddling and fussing, trying to stand as they've been told they should, freezing over the ball, mentally going through a checklist of all the things they want to do with their swing; the manner in which they must strike the ball an afterthought, if a thought at all.  

The more we can get away from thinking about the mechanics of the golf swing and learn to think only of producing the proper strike, the better we will play.  With focus and concentration on the strike, we are liberated from prescribed routine.  We are able to be ourselves.  Golf is an individual sport.  And every golfer needs to find his own individual method of striking the ball.  There are lots of tips out there than can prove helpful.  But in the end the golf ball only cares about how it is struck.  How you looked, whether your tempo was fast or slow, or your left arm remained straight, or your right knee stayed flexed, has no affect on the ball.  There are no points for style in this old game. It's all about the strike.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Bobby Jones

I'm probably accused of being a broken record.  Bobby Jones said this; Bobby Jones said that.  But, for my money, Bobby Jones said it best, and he often said it first.  

There was no greater champion than Bob Jones.  During a seven year stretch before winning the Grand Slam and retiring from competition, he won more than sixty percent of the Major championships he entered.  At the same time he was going to school, earning degrees in mechanical engineering and literature, and passing the State Bar after one year of law school.  He was essentially a part time golfer who could whip his game into shape and go out and beat the best in the world.

His tremendous intelligence made it possible for him to comprehend the essence of a game that continues to baffle most of us.  His wonderful command of the English language allowed us to savour his ideas, observations, and experiences without the intervention of a co-author.  What you read is pure Bobby Jones.

The fact that he competed and won on the world's biggest stages, but continued to play regular weekly rounds with his father and his cronies, meant that Bobby had the opportunity to observe and come to understand not only what it takes to be a champion, but also the weekly toils of the average golfer.

So many of his insights continue to be used by teachers today.  I don't know how many times I've had people tell me about something they picked up on Golfchannel or Youtube that they thought was new and been able to say, "Bobby Jones wrote about that."

The other thing that uniquely qualified Bobby Jones to be a great teacher was the fact that he started the Masters tournament and year after year was able to observe what the new kids were doing.  And stricken by a crippling disease, Bobby could no longer play.  But, rather than sink into a depression, he simply spent more time thinking about the game and how he could help other golfers.  His writing is his greatest gift to the game.

If I could offer any serious golfer a piece of advice, it would be to find and read the books of Bobby Jones.  They provide a wonderful glimpse into the mind of a champion along with some fascinating golf history.  And, chances are, it won't be long before I'm writing about Bobby Jones again.  I can't help it.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Sam Snead on the Top Hand

I've written before about how the golf swing can be controlled by the top hand.  That's the top hand on the grip--the left hand for right-handed players.  Golf is the game of opposites.  If you want the ball to go high, you hit down on it.  If you want the ball to curve right, you swing to the left.  If you want to hit the ball farther, you swing easier.  If you want to properly control your swing as a right-handed player, you must use your weaker left hand and arm.  That's just the way it is.

The greatest swinger of all time had to have been Sam Snead.  He hit it like a bullet.  Harvey Penick saw him hitting balls and decided that his future lay in teaching the game.  He figured he could never compete with a guy who hit it like Sam did.  And Sam's swing stood the test of time better than anyone.

True, Sam was a gifted athlete, with great physical attributes and strength.  But he believed that his swing could serve as a model for other golfers because of its simplicity.  How did he feel his swing was controlled?  After a forward press, Sam felt he pushed the club straight back from the ball for two feet, low and slow, using his left hand, arm and shoulder.  He felt that the first two feet of the swing was the most important determining factor in terms of hitting a good shot.  In his book, The Lessons I've Learned, he described the start of the swing as follows:

    "Once you're ready to go, I always teach a person to use what I call a forward press.  It's just a little movement that tells your body that the swing is underway.  In my case, I kick my right kneeslightly to the left, and at the same time I slide my hands ever so slightly to the left.  Then, without pausing, I push the clubhead away from the ball.  I feel that I'm pushing away with my left hand in control.  My right hand is just along for the ride.  My only effort is to keep the club moving straight away from the ball, low and slow, for the first two crucial feet.
     I want to again stress that it is important for every part of my body to work in unison, especially at the start of the swing.
     As the club moves back, my weight begins to shift to my right foot, so that by the time the clubhead has passed my right foot, most of my weight has already shifted.
     Since my left arm is moving the club straight back from the ball, both my hips and my shoulders are turning very naturally, I don't have to try to turn them.  Everything is moving in unison.
     People often talk about a quick wrist cock, but I don't like to see it, since it usually leads a person to  jerk the club back inside the target line too quickly, and the rhythm of the swing is destroyed before you even give it a chance."

It's worth noting that Arnold Palmer also believed that taking the club straight back from the ball for the first twelve inches with no wrist break, or cock, would virtually guarantee a good swing.  Jack Nicklaus also believed in taking it back with his left hand, arm and shoulder, low and slow.

Sam didn't just start the swing with his left hand in control.  He also believed that the downswing was started by pulling the club down with the last two fingers of his left hand.  This move prevented him from making an over-the-top, or casting, move that would ruin the swing.  To Sam the swing was a push and a pull with the left hand.  Push it back and pull it down.  He also wanted to feel that he was extending down the target line, essentially chasing the ball with the back of his left hand.

If you're a right-handed player, the key to the swing is your left hand.  Go figure.  Bobby Jones called the golf swing a back-handed strike with the left hand.  It may sound strange, but it's the truth.  Just watch the swings of any of the top pros and watch the back of their left hand.  Chances are it is going straight down the target line at impact.  

Chip Shots

In his Little Red Book, Harvey had some good advice on warming up in a hurry.  He wrote: "If you arrive at the course with just a few minutes to warm up before a round, use that time to hit chip shots.  The chip shot, being a short version of the full swing, tells your muscles and your golfing brain to get ready to play."

Bob Toski believed that the way to learn the game was from the green back to the tee.  He felt that you should learn to hit solid putts, then solid chips and pitches, then short wedge shots, gradually working your way back to the driver.  Learning this way teaches you to learn how to make a solid strike and helps you develop feel before you try to use the big dog.  

The chip shot is indeed a short version of the full swing.  I have found that hitting my approach shots thinking of them as long chip shots has really helped my rhythm and my striking.  I have also found that this kind of thinking helps in shaping shots.  To hit a draw, I think of the strike like a running chip shot.  To hit a fade, I think of a pitch shot.  

The bottom line is, if you can learn to chip, you can become a good player.  The chip shot is just a shorter version of the golf swing or vice versa.  You can build your golf game around a solid chipping game.  Learn to chip, then remember that the full swing is just a long chip shot.  No need to muscle the ball.  Just chip it.