Next to my chair is a small bookcase that holds my go-to golf books; the ones by Bobby Jones showing the most wear. Today, for example, I read a blog from a fellow in England who is trying to get to a single digit handicap. He outlines all the hard work he has been doing on the range, the instruction he's been receiving, etc. Sadly, despite all the work, he actually saw his handicap go up last season. That's the sad thing about this game. It doesn't reward all effort equally.
Thinking of what Bobby Jones might say about this fellow's situation--and mine for that matter--I reached for the book Bobby Jones on Golf. I randomly opened it right to the first page of chapter eleven. The subject was Golf as Recreation. And I think the answer to my English friend's dilemma is found right there. Notice how Bobby begins:
"The golfer with a fairly good swing who never seems able to score well is a familiar figure on any course. In many respects, he is in the same boat with the tournament player who burns up the course in practice rounds, but does nothing in the actual competition. Obviously, there is a great deal more to playing golf than swinging the club.
There is scarcely one golfer of the so-called average class who could not benefit from an effort to school himself in applying good sense, judgememt, and a little intelligent thinking to his game; and this without reference to the mechanics of the swing. Merely by adopting measures that will help him get a consistently high rate of performance from what ability he has, a surprising improvement can be made.
The trouble with all of us, who grumble over the game and thus spoil an otherwise pleasant afternoon with congenial friends, is that we do not understand the game, nor ourselves. In this we could take a number of lessons from the dub. For no matter how good we may be, if we should fancy that we have mastered golf to the extent that we can go out day after day and play as we please, then we are greater fools than ought to be left at large."
Not very comforting words for those of us who hang on the the hope that some magic move or swing change can make us better players. The fact is that a swing can't be rebuilt in a day, a week, or even a season. And swing changes are really undertaken at our peril. We don't know whether they will make us better or worse.
The key, as Bobby pointed out, is "applying good sense, judgement, and a little intelligent thinking" to our play. That's what will make almost all of us better without hitting another practice shot. But thinking is hard work. That's why so few of us are inclined to do it. I, for one, am guilty of making the same mental mistakes over and over again. I am still unable, or unwilling, to play this game one shot at a time. That's because thinking is hard. The best players are smart players. They understand the game, and they understand themselves.