Sam told the story of a trip to play in Brazil's national championship. Sam had been offered five thousand dollars plus expenses to play. However, if he won, the deal was that the first place money of two thousand dollars would not go to Sam, but be included in the guaranteed five grand. Sam, despite his bad back, shot an opening round 71, which was criticized at dinner that night by the businessman who had put up the appearance money.
Sam told the businessman that if he wanted to see him really play, he should let him have a shot at the prize money. The businessman agreed, thinking Sam was probably too far back to catch the leaders, including Roberto Di Vicenzo. Sam then went on a tear and won the tournament going away setting the course record and winning by eleven strokes. He was a money player.
What Sam relied on to win was not long hitting, but his short game. He put his drives in play and then used bump and run approaches to handle the rock-hard greens that wouldn't receive a standard approach shot. He also pitched and chipped like a demon. He wrote the following:
"Year in and year out, a strong short-iron game--or lack of it--has decided how well I've scored as much as any other factor. The longer anyone plays golf, the more this is true. If you have a physical disability, or you're past the age where your hips turn freely, or have grown a paunch, you'll always have trouble hitting the long woods well. And when a man passes the age of forty, the odds are that his putting nerve will slip. But there's still that big shot-saving area left around the green. The heart of scoring is from 150 yards out from the pin, and the place where most matches are decided is even closer in--from 40 to 50 yards of the hole. It's also the most neglected area in the game.
That should never be, because age, sex, size, or strength doesn't count for much when it comes to the short approaches. I know a sixty-year-old woman who can chip and pitch and run up with almost a pro's ability."
Reading this, as a guy with a chronic back problem and a paunch, I'm convinced that the only way I'm going to play well is to hone a good short game. There are no drivers, or swing changes, or exercises that are going to make me able to hit it long any more. Those days are gone. But I can still get better from 150 yards and in; and especially around the green.
If I can forget about my long game and build up an even better repetoire around the greens, who knows, I might actually get better, rather than just older. The short game is, according to Sam, the most neglected area in the game. That may be so for most amateurs; but it certainly isn't the case for the guys who are making their living at this game.