Thursday, 28 December 2017

Bobby Jones on Putting Naturally

It's funny; as a kid I was a pretty good putter. In fact, I remember going to a summer hockey camp one year--it was 1967, Canada's Centennial year--where we were staying on a golf course. When not on the ice, which was my first love, we were playing golf, or putting for money on the putting green outside our rooms. As I recall, I came home with more spending money than I started with thanks to my putting.

Somewhere along the line, however, two things happened that hurt my putting. First, I started becoming mechanical about my stroke and trying to imitate the putting styles of the top players. Then, I learned how damned easy it was to miss a three-footer. Since then, I've had some stretches of really good putting; but I've never been as confident on the greens as I was as an eleven year old who wasn't worried about missing.

In some respects my experience was not dissimilar to that of Bobby Jones. He wrote about it in his book, Bobby Jones on Golf. Bobby wrote:

    "Up until 1921, my putting was about as bad as one could imagine; I had experimented with it for years, but most of my experiments had taken the form of attempted imitations of some of the good putters I had seen, notable among whom were Walter Travis and Walter Hagen. I had studied the styles of these men, particularly that of Hagen, and would always try to assume the same posture at address, and attempt to swing the putter in the same way. The result of these efforts--and it was a result that should have been expected--was a tension throughout my whole body that would not otherwise have been present, so that however accurately I might reproduce the stroke that had been successful for the man I was imitating, the effect if it was destroyed because I could never relax. After all these experiences, I determined to putt naturally."

Bobby believed that, in putting, just like every other part of the game, it was important to "stand before the ball in a position that is so comfortable that it is easy to remain relaxed." He felt that taking great pains to set yourself just so when addressing the ball led to tension. And, as far as Bobby was concerned, tension was a killer. He wrote:

    "The putting stroke is the simplest of all because it is the shortest; once a person has developed a fairly good sense of what it is all about, and once he has developed a rhythmic stroke that can be counted upon to strike the ball truly, the only thing he should worry about is knocking the ball into the hole."

Bobby wrote that his putting posture changed from day to day, sometimes setting up square, and other times preferring to stand slightly open or closed. And while he always stood with his feet fairly close together--just like he did on his full shots--and used the same grip, he sometime moved his hands up or down the grip. He noted that some putters have developed a putting ritual that they adhere closely to. But he warned:

    "Anyone who hopes to reduce putting--or any other department of the game of golf for that matter--to an exact science, is in for a serious disappointment, and will only suffer from the attempt. It is wholly a matter of touch, the ability to gauge a slope accurately, and most important of all, the ability to concentrate on the problem at hand, that of getting the ball in the hole and nothing more. I think more potentially good putters have been ruined by attempting to duplicate another method than by any other single factor; by the time they can place themselves in a position they think resembles the attitude of the other man, they find themselves so cramped and strained that a smooth, rhythmic stroke is impossible."

Bobby Jones was ever the pragmatist. He knew that putting, like the rest of the game, was all about striking the ball so that it would comply with your wishes--in this case by rolling into the hole. All the pains taken to stand, or swing, in any specified way were often only helpful in terms of adding tension and possibly taking your mind off the problem at hand; namely striking the ball just so. I love his teaching.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

The Most Useful Learning You Will Ever Acquire

In my opinion--which admittedly may not be worth all that much--the most important chapter ever written about how to effectively strike a golf ball was written by Bobby Jones. It was the second chapter of his book Golf is my Game, and described, according to Bobby, "the most useful learning you will ever acquire as a golfer."

Bobby was not only a phenomenal player. He was also extremely intelligent and a keen observer. He observed other great players, and he observed average players who often struggled with the game. And Bobby believed he could actually help the average player. In fact, he believed that the information he was providing on how to strike the ball could literally "make you a better golfer overnight."

Bobby Jones felt for golfers who looked so uncomfortable trying to play the game and he thought he knew the reason for their discomfort. He wrote:

    "The unskilled golfer often looks uncomfortable, strained, unsure, sometimes even unhappy, but he hardly ever presents a ludicrous aspect. And I think that a great measure of his discomfiture is derived from his conscious efforts to follow prescribed routine, to look and move like someone else, or as he has been told. I think he would present a more natural appearance if he should put his mind upon striking the ball, rather than upon swinging the club."

Consider that for a moment. Instead of thinking about swinging the club, Bobby Jones believed the average player would be much better served thinking about striking the ball. In fact, that's how Bobby himself played the game. He went on to write what I think is one of the least understood, and most profound statements about golf that I've ever read; something everyone would do well to remember:

    "Golf is played by striking the ball with the head of the club. The objective of the player is not to swing the club in a specified manner, nor to execute a series of complicated movements in a prescribed sequence, nor to look pretty while he is doing it, but primarily and essentially to strike the ball with the head of the club so that the ball will perform according to his wishes."

Bobby went on to describe the ways a golf ball would respond when struck in different ways; how to hit the ball straight, how to fade and draw it. He believed that every golfer required this knowledge in order to play good golf. In fact, he wrote:

    "No one can play golf until he knows the many ways in which a golf ball can be expected to respond when it is struck in different ways. If you think all of this should be obvious, please believe me when I assure you I have seen many good players attempt shots they should have known were impossible."

Bobby Jones gave us a great gift in his books on golf. And this information in chapter two of Golf is my Game was the best of the best. This information can transform your game. I have covered it in depth in my featured article called The Wisdom of Bobby Jones: Striking the Ball. If you haven't got a copy of Bobby's book, I invite you to check it out.

To give you a recent example of the truth of what Bobby said, I recently played with a young man in Jacksonville. He was struggling with his driver, hitting big pushes, pulls, and slices. He had power to burn, but he was all over the place. Finally, I showed him how the driver face needed to strike the ball, square to his target and moving straight down the target line. I asked him to try to feel like the club was chasing the ball down the line for sixteen inches after impact, which is what Moe Norman said he did. I didn't expect him to keep the clubface square to the target and moving straight down the line for sixteen inches; I just wanted him to feel like he was doing it. When Sam Snead wanted to hit a big one, he said he also thought about having the clubhead chasing the ball down the line.

The young man tried it and hit a drive that was a frozen rope, right down the middle of the fairway. We measured it at 310 yards. He hit several more just like it coming in. He didn't alter his swing, change his grip, which was an old-fashioned grip that featured a weak left hand and a strong right hand, or change his setup. All he did was focus on the club striking the ball in the only way that produces a straight shot. The results were immediate. 

I've seen similar results over and over again with myself and others. When you forget your swing and focus on the proper strike instead, good things happen. And yet, it's so tempting to go back to thinking about the swing. Golfers tend to be obsessed with the swing. Strange game, golf.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

It Ain't How...

Golf is a peculiar game. And golfers can be a funny bunch. It's kind of like life. As the old folks used to say, "There's nothing as queer as folk."

Golf is a game where you hit a ball from a teeing ground towards, and ultimately into, a hole. The one who does it in the fewest strokes wins. It's a simple enough concept. And yet, golfers seem to have a tendency to become awfully confused about it.

I read recently somewhere that most golfers seek out lessons to try to learn how to swing the club better, hit the ball more consistently; and hit the ball farther. It was suggested that most golfers taking lessons identified scoring lower as less of a priority than hitting the ball better.

It makes you wonder. Golfers, if they are being honest when identifying their goals to their teachers, are obviously not really understanding the game. Golf is a game where the only thing that matters is the score. And yet, when going for a lesson, most students are apparently not asking their teachers to help them score better. And, by all accounts, many teachers are not making better scorers out of their students.

One successful teacher on an internet site that I regularly visit admitted that the average improvement in scoring by his students, based on a review he conducted, was about one tenth of a stroke per round. He said his students continue to come to him because they like him as a friend and enjoy the lessons. Improvement--or should I say lack of improvement--in their scoring doesn't seem to deter them from parting with their money.

Golf is a game, like pretty much every other game, where the only thing that really matters is the score. That's why we have sayings like, "No pictures on the scorecard"; or "It ain't how, it's how many"; or "Drive for show and putt for dough." Most golfers know those sayings, and will even repeat them. And yet, when they go for lessons, they are more interested, it seems, in learning how to make a prettier swing, or in learning how to hit the ball farther. 

Golfers, it would seem, are a strange bunch. But then, as my old Irish grandmother would have said, "there's nothing as queer as folk."

Sunday, 24 December 2017

No More Mental Holidays for Byron

Well, it's that time of the year again; time to reflect on another year gone by. Of course, golfers will spend some time reflecting on what they did or didn't manage to accomplish in their golf season and might look forward to what they might like to accomplish in the coming year. A little honest reflection is good for you. 

Byron Nelson did this prior to his breakout season of 1945. He had been keeping notes on his rounds in 1944 and came to the conclusion that there was nothing he needed to change in his golf swing. He realized that what he needed to change was his mental approach. 

Byron realized that in almost every round he played there were relatively easy shots, especially on and around the greens, that he played, not necessarily wrecklessly, but without giving the shot his full attention. And because of this he was missing a makeable putt, or failing to get the ball up and down due to nothing more than lack of attention and focus. 

Byron came to appreciate the truth of what Bobby Jones had written about; that the hardest shots to focus on were invariably the easiest looking ones. It's not hard to give a difficult shot your full attention. But those easy-looking chips and putts can get away from you when you take them for granted. And it really hurts your psyche when you waste shots. You can forgive yourself for missing a shot. We all miss them. But when you miss a shot because you were careless, it stings.

Lord Byron entered the 1945 season knowing that he wanted to make enough money to retire to a ranch and leave the grind of the tour. He wanted to try to establish a few records if he could during that process. And what he knew, most of all, was that he wasn't going to do it unless he played every shot for all it was worth. He couldn't afford to take any more mental holidays out on the course. And Byron vowed to do exactly that--to grind over every shot for an entire season.

Byron Nelson was already a great player. He was routinely beating guys like Hogan and Snead. And his ballstriking was almost monotonous in its efficiency. But when he added the determination to grind out every shot, he nit only played great golf; he played golf the likes if which had never been seen before. He won eleven tournaments in a row, and eighteen in a single season. His scoring average of 68.33 stood as the lowest scoring average ever until a certain Tiger Woods came along more than sixty years later.

All the great players were great because of their ability to focus and concentrate. There are lots of guys who can hit great golf shots and go low from time to time. But the great ones know the importance of playing golf one shot at a time. And they are able to actually do it.

I have played this game for over fifty years. I've played some half decent golf, and shot as low as sixty five. But I don't think I've ever come even close to playing an entire round of golf where I gave every shot my all--playing one shot at a time. Oh well, there's always next year.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Putting Can Drive You Crazy

Putting is a part of the game of golf that can literally drive you crazy. For years, despite being told by others that I was a pretty decent putter, I could never quite believe it myself. I was always haunted by those three footers that got away--those putts I figured I should have made that I didn't.

I really did believe that I was a lousy short putter. And a funny thing about belief is, it often proves to be true. Add that bit of negativity and doubt to your stroke when trying to hole a three footer and you'll miss a bunch of them.

Bobby Jones addressed this issue in his book Bobby Jones on Golf. When speaking about the sort of attitude you wanted to cultivate on the greens, he wrote:

    "It is worthy of observation that nearly everyone finds it easier to stroke properly putts of twelve to fifteen feet than those from less or greater distances. There is a very good reason why this should be true. The player fears he will miss a shorter putt, and fears he may fail to lay a longer one dead, but when he is putting in the middle distances, he merely hopes he may hole out, without feeling that he must guide the ball into the hole--and he knows that he will not likely take three putts.
     We would all profit greatly if we could cultivate this attitude toward putts of all lengths; it ought to be easy, too, for we all know, or should know by this time, that worry does very little good. If we must be wrong, we may as well make our mistakes gracefully by choosing the wrong line as by allowing a nervous, overcareful stroke to pull the ball off direction."

I think this is the one thing I've actually improved upon with age. By taking this advice, and looking at every putt the same way, be it three feet or thirty, I now make more putts; and suffer less when I miss them. You are not supposed to make every putt. Even great putters miss the odd short one. There are so many things that can go wrong, even over three feet of imperfect turf. So, why not just stand up there, put your best stroke on it, and if it decides to miss just "let it go hang," as Bobby wrote. 

Putting can drive you crazy. But it doesn't have to.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Tiger Woods Greatest " By Far"?

If you were to listen to the talking heads gush over Tiger Woods this past week, you might reasonably conclude that no one who played this game before Tiger, and no one who has teed it up since, could hold a candle to Tiger in terms of golfing greatness or ability. Brandel Chamblee, who is a golf historian of sorts, went so far as to assert that Tiger was "by far" the greatest player ever to play the game.

Let me just say, Tiger Woods was one of the greatest players we've ever seen. It's undeniable. His record speaks for itself. But why all this hyperbole surrounding him? Was he really that much better than anyone we've ever seen?

Bobby Jones won 13 Majors in seven years, while essentially playing part time. He retired at 28 after winning all four in one year. He would have undoubtedly won more had he not decided he needed to retire and start earning a living.

Byron Nelson won 54 times on the PGA tour, including eleven in a row, and 18 in all in 1945. He retired the next year at the top of the game. And, before you argue that no one was playing in 1945, you might want to know that both Hogan and Snead were released early from wartime service that year. Hogan played 18 events and Snead played 26. And Byron's scoring average was 68.33. That average wasn't beaten until Tiger came along fifty odd years later. 

In terms of dramatic comebacks, Tiger has come back from well-documented injuries and personal issues. Ben Hogan came back and won Major championships after getting hit by a damned bus. They thought he'd never walk again.

Jack Nicklaus still has the most Majors. Snead still has the most victories. Byron owns the most victories in a row and the most in a season. Spieth is now the youngest to win the Masters and has equalled Tiger's scoring record at Augusta. I believe he's also the youngest to get to 10 wins on the PGA tour. These players are not chopped liver. Tiger was not better "by far" than them.

Tiger beat everyone in sight when he was in his prime. He was a phenomenal player. But the same can be said for Jones, Nelson, and Nicklaus. Tiger was so good, it initially looked like it would be inevitable that he would break every record worth breaking. He hasn't. And, barring a stunning return to competition, he won't. It won't change the fact that he was great.

This is definitely not a "hate on Tiger" exercise. Tiger was great. He was fantastic. No doubt about it. But all you sycophants, who can't stop gushing every time he hits a fairway, need to remember that there have been other truly great players, and there are some pretty damned special ones playing right now who aren't named Tiger Woods. They deserve some respect for what they have accomplished in this great game as well.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Stewart Maiden: Bobby Jones' Teacher?

Stewart Maiden is regarded as Bobby Jones' teacher. But it's interesting to note how Bobby described their relationship in his book, Down the Fairway. Bobby wrote:

    "Stewart Maiden universally is termed my teacher, and the general idea is that Stewart started teaching me as soon as I was able to fall out of a cradle. This is quite wrong. Stewart never gave me a lesson in golf, though he has spent many hours, most of them profane, coaching me when I was in a slump with one club or another. I picked up my game watching him play, unconsciously as a monkey, and as imitatively. I grew up swinging as precisely like Stewart that when I was 15 years old and a chunky kid about Stewart's size and shape--I was playing in long pants in those days, as Stewart always has played--an old friend of Stewart's mistook me for him on the Roebuck Country Club course at Birmingham. I was playing in the southern amateur championship, or rather, I was playing a practice round before that tournament, and this man, who had not seen Stewart since he left Carnoustie, was standing by Dad as I was driving off the tenth tee in the distance.
     'When did Stewart Maiden get here?' he inquired.
     Dad told him Stewart was not there at all.
     'You can't fool me,' was the rejoinder. 'I saw Stewart drive just now from the tenth tee. Think I don't know that old Carnoustie swing?'
     'Nevertheless,' Dad told him, 'that happens to be my son Rob under that swing.'
     Stewart taught Alexa Stirling at the beginning of her golf career, and she too had 'the old Carnoustie swing.' Indeed, Alexa plays a good deal more like Stewart now than I do. I have changed some points in my swing, due to increasing differences--I am heavier than Stewart and wider across the shoulders and thicker in the chest. Perhaps in the head, too, as some of my alterations seem not to have worked out advantageously. In one regard, certainly, I went back two years ago to the old original Carnoustie style and got my drive just when it seemed an attack of smothering would drive me crazy."

I get a couple of things from reading this from Bobby. First, having a fine player as a model to imitate as a kid is very important. Secondly, Maiden was not only his swing model, but his coach when something in his game was "off." But Maiden never actually gave Bobby a "lesson." So Stewart may not have been Bobby's teacher per se. But he was his model and his coach. And, after all, what's in a name anyway?

You are fortunate if you start young and have a good swing to imitate. And you might also be sorry if, later on, you decide to alter that swing. My first swing model was my father, who was a pretty decent player. I then tried to swing it more closely like Jack, which wasn't a big change from my father's swing. I could really hit it from an early age. And I might have been a pretty good player had I been somewhere where I had good competition--and maybe been a bit more intelligent--and had golf not really just been more of a sideline for me when I wasn't playing baseball, and soccer, and rugby, and especially hockey. I really loved playing hockey.

In later life I made some swing changes to conform, in my mind at least, more to the modern tour swing--if there really is such a thing. My swing became flatter and more rotational. And I actually lost distance and ultimately buggered my back. I sure wish I could go back to swinging it more like Jack. If my back allows, I'm going to try to do just that next season.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Spieth Down Under

I watched Jordan Spieth's first round "down under" at the Australian Open. He got the worst of the weather, as the wind decided to blow and the greens firmed up. The morning wave had had their way with the course and Jordan was looking up at a leader at eight under par when he teed off.

Given the luck of the draw, Jordan, like the rest of the afternoon wave, had to tell themselves that they were in a marathon and not a sprint. There was no way the course was going to yield anything close to eight under. It was a survival test to be sure. And, despite bogeys on the first two holes, Jordan was able to do just that. He was able to grind his way to one under par. And, the way he was playing, I was left, as is so often the case with Spieth, wondering how the hell he managed to break par. 

The short answer is that he rolled in yet another twenty five footer for birdie on the last hole to get into red numbers. But it was the ugliest one under par round you were ever likely to see. He drove it crooked. He found bunkers, missed greens and makeable putts. But he still found a way to stay in the hunt. In fact, of the afternoon wave, there were few who scored better. His playing partner, Cameron Smith, who lost to Spieth in a playoff at the Aussie Open last year, did him one better with a birdie of his own on eighteen to go two under. But Smith had certainly not hit it as badly as Spieth.

This is the magic of Jordan Spieth. He knows has to play golf as well or better than anyone in the game right now. He manages, by hook or by crook, to make the best score he can possibly make every time he goes out there. It wouldn't surprise me in the least to see him make a score in the benign conditions tomorrow morning and be near the top of the leaderboard. 

There are no pictures on the scorecard. Spieth proves that to be the case as much as anyone ever has. He somehow knows how to win ugly. And it's a beautiful thing.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Fateful DP World Tour Championship

At Brookline prior to that famous comeback by the American Ryder Cup team Ben Crenshaw announced that he was a "great believer in fate." Many who heard that comment probably thought he was nuts. But fate intervened that day. 

Crenshaw was a student of golf history and surely knew that Bobby Jones was also a believer in fate and wrote that most other top golfers were as well. Call it fate, call it luck, call it whatever you like, but you need some good breaks to win in this game. Luck is very much a part of the game of golf and you have to accept that sometimes the golfing gods will smile on you; and sometimes they won't.

This week at the DP World Tour Championship it looked, after nine holes into the final round, that Justin Rose was going to cruise to a win. He seemed to have things on auto-pilot. But the golfing gods, it seems, had other ideas. Justin lost the magic and Jon Rahm stepped up and got the job done to send a message to the world, in case they didn't already know, that he is going to be a big star in this game.

Perhaps it wasn't necessarily fate that Rose should lose the plot and Rahm win. But it was definitely providential that it should happen this way. The European Tour had announced, prior to this week's tournament, that Jon Rahm was the rookie of the year.  There were some who were critical of this announcement, despite the fact that Rahm had cinched the award based upon the amount of cash he had made in his limited appearances in European Tour events. Money was apparently the measure to be used when determining the winner, and no other rookie, regardless of how they did this week, was in a position to catch Rahm. He'd won it fair and square. But this didn't stop some people--who can remain nameless; they know who they are--from bellyaching about Rahm being announced as the Rookie of the Year. 

So, for Rahm to go out and win the Tour Championship was, at the very least, poetic justice. If it wasn't fate, it was certainly a big "up yours" to his critics. And perhaps it was fate. I'm also a big believer in fate; and I suspect young Mr. Rahm just might be fated to be Spain's next great champion.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

You Can Never Go Back

What does the future hold for Rory McIlroy? He's been a pro now for ten years. Hard to believe it's been that long. And, by just about any standards, it's been a great career so far. 

In fact, the young Northern Irishman has done enough already to have earned more than enough money to see him through; and he's won enough big events to be assured of being in the Hall of Fame. I guess the question now is whether he's still hungry enough for more Majors and whether he's going to be healthy and motivated enough to keep competing. 

It's not been a good year for him. He has not played as well as he's able and he's had nagging injuries. He's broken up with his caddie and now he's working on a new swing. And when I watch him, I can't help but see shades of Tiger. I have always felt he has tried to copy Tiger's recipe for success--or failure, depending upon how you look at it. 

I have offered up my two cents worth in the past about his workout regime. So, no need to visit that again other than to suggest that it hasn't helped him stay healthy, nor has it increased his swing speed. Now he is apparently looking to make changes--hopefully small ones--to that beautiful, free motion of his. And I have to wonder, as someone who messed with his own swing and came to regret it, whether he will one day wish that he could just go back to his old one. Because going back is not as easy as you might think. That old saying that you can never go back seems to relate to the golf swing as well as life.

Hopefully Rory comes out guns blazing in 2018. But I fear he may be going down the path his hero, Tiger, trod. We may just have seen the best of Rory McIlroy. After ten years in the pro game, he's starting to look like he's on the downhill slide. In the meantime, Tiger is apparently bombing it. Who knows. Golf is a funny game. But you can never go back, even if you wish you could.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Take Your Pre-Shot Routine

Bobby Jones said that golf was actually a simple game that involved hitting a ball with a stick. Man, have we managed to change that. Sometimes golf is now a five-hour ordeal that involves waiting, and watching, while average golfers try, in vain, to imitate the golfers they see on TV. The simple game has become awfully damned complicated.

Moe Norman, the famous Canadian golfer, didn't have time for all the nonsense we see today. In his old age he preferred to just hit balls because playing took so damned long. Missing it quick is something that seems to be no longer part of the golfing vocabulary.

There is a great story of Moe's time on the PGA tour when, frustrated by the snail's pace of play, he putted a ball between another player's legs and into the hole as the player was retrieving his ball. Sadly, they ran Moe off the tour. He just wasn't "serious" enough.

Now, Bobby Jones believed that every player deserved to be given ample time to play his shot unmolested. And that's fair enough. But he also believed that to be an acceptable playing partner you needed to learn to keep the ball in play and to be ready to play your shot when it was your turn. Today, too many players are forcing their playing partners to endure a lot of nonsense and fooling around when playing their shots.

I would love to kick the person who first decided to teach the ore-shot routine right in the "how's your mothers." Now, thanks to the apparent virtue of a consistent pre-shot routine, we get to watch a guy who can't break ninety put on his glove before every shot; then close the flap, then undo it and close it up again as per Ernie Els. We may also get to watch him tug on his shirt like Tiger, aim the clubface like Justin Rose, and even do the "do I, or don't I," three-step into the ball like the kid, Bradley, from Vermont whose aunt was a great player. And then, after all the pre-shot routine shenanigans, we get to search for his ball in the woods. 

We really have to get back to playing golf as it was meant to be played; where we hit the ball, chase it, and keep hitting it until it's in the hole. We can do it if we stop encouraging players to imitate the pros; and if we start making the pros hurry the hell up. I know I'm venting, but I remember those days as a kid when I could play 45 holes in a day. Now, the juniors, who have all learned to have a good pre-shot routine, are some of the slowest players on the course. 

We keep hearing about people in the golf industry wanting to grow the game. We keep hearing about how it takes too long. Well, we could start by teaching people not to imitate the pros. We could teach them to just hit the damned ball and chase it until they're breaking 80, or 75. We could suggest that, should they choose to wear one, they might want to keep their damned glove on; or at least have it on when it's their turn to play. That might be a good start. 

Golf, according to Bobby Jones, isn't really that hard--at least when you first start playing it. It is just another game where you hit a ball with a stick. Take your pre-shot routines and shove'em. Sorry, I know I'm venting.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Bobby Jones on Learners and Teachers

In his introduction to his book Golf is my Game, Bobby Jones, in my opinion, provided about the best preface to learning the game of golf that can be found anywhere. Now I realize I am biased in my appraisal because I happen to believe that Bobby Jones was the greatest golfer of all time. I don't intend to argue that point, because it's futile anyway, and Bobby himself would not be impressed if I were to in any way tear down another great player in an effort to build him up. Suffice it to say, his record speaks quite adequately for itself.

What I think impresses me the most about Bobby Jones was that he accomplished so much in the game, so early, while essentially golfing part time. While winning thirteen Major championships by the time he was twenty eight, Bobby also earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Georgia Tech, a degree in literature from Harvard, and, after one year of law school, passed the Georgia State Bar to earn the right to practise law. No small feat on its own, but to do all this while taking time away from his studies to run around beating the best golfers in the world is truly remarkable, to say the least.

But back to Bobby's introduction. As might be expected, Bobby began by giving us the purpose of the book. He wrote: "I have written this book because I thought I could help golfers of all classes to play better and to get more enjoyment from their play." That was the purpose of the book, plain and simple; to help golfers of every level play better and have more fun. 

Bobby never claimed to be a golf teacher. And, therefore, dealt with that immediately. He wrote:

    "I have never tried to teach golf, having always been on the receiving end of any such exchange, but I have spent many years trying to learn something about the game. At times I have thought that I had learned pretty well, but I always found more to learn."

Bobby, like Ben Hogan, understood that we never stop learning in this game. Or at least we never should stop learning. So, Bobby preferred to consider himself a successful student of the game rather than a teacher. With respect to teaching, Bobby went on to write:

    "Teaching anything requires a great deal more than knowledge of the subject. It is one thing to possess knowledge or the ability to perform--quite another to be able to impart that knowledge or skill. I am sure that I do not even know all the qualities needed by a teacher, although I have read several treatises on the subject. It is enough for me to know that I have no right to pretend to be one.
     On the other hand, in golf at least, I can claim to have been a fairly successful learner, and I more than half suspect that any golfer may rightfully attribute more if whatever skill he may possess to his own ability to learn than to the ability of someone else to teach. At any rate, I have written my book as a learner, rather than as a teacher. I am not ambitious to teach teachers to teach, but if I can help learners to learn, I shall consider my reward sufficient."

I think this sends a very good message to those who might desire to become teachers, or who already consider themselves to be teachers. They should never forget that a successful student can attribute as much of his success to his ability to learn as you can to your ability to teach. I think that's a good, and realistic way to approach the business of trying to teach others in this game.

Bobby now goes on to discuss how difficult it is to learn the game. Once again, I think it's a good message for students and teachers alike. He wrote:

    "It is a popularly accepted notion that golf is a difficult game to teach and a difficult game to learn. It doesn't have to be either. It is all a question of the level of skill to which the learner aspires, or upon which the teacher intends to insist. Considered objectively, it is quite obviously a very simple matter to propel a ball with a stick across some specially prepared ground and into a hole which is of sufficient size to accommodate it by a good margin. Simple, that is, provided there is no limit set upon the time or the number of strokes required. The matter is further simplified by reason of the fact that many earnest people have spent a lot of time, thought, and money upon the development of clubs and balls ideally suited to the process, and of greenskeeping methods which assure that the field of play will be more than reasonably well conditioned.
     I must insist, therefore, that one who sets out with the object of learning to play golf well enough to get both pleasure and benefit from the pursuit of the game has a very good, if not one hundred per cent, chance of success, provided he sets for himself exactly this goal, and no other.
     It seems to me that there are two quite reasonable ways in which a person may take his golf. If he has the time and the inclination to do so, he may set out to give the game a proper amount of serious study and practice with a view towards elevating himself considerably beyond the average-golfer class; or if he has only a very limited amount of free time, as many have, he may be content to knock around with his regular foursome, who play about as he does, in search of a little fun. But it will not do to mix the two, especially to hang the ambitions of the first man upon the labours of the latter."

Golf is definitely a game that can and should be enjoyed by everyone. But students and teachers must decide just what the goal is. Is the goal to become a better than average player; or is it just to be able to have some fun knocking it around with your buddies? And, if the goal is to become a good player, is the student prepared to put in the time and effort required? It's a fair and necessary question that must be answered if the ultimate goal of enjoying the game is to be reached.

I remember Harvey Penick talking about teaching a woman to get the ball in the air so she could go out on the course with her husband. When she got that ball airborne she was so delighted, and Harvey had goosebumps. I had a similar experience helping some girls from work before a work tournament. It was pure joy to see them hitting the ball in the air for the first time. They weren't going to break a hundred, but they were happy as clams, and so was I.

Sadly, I see all too often, teachers promising results to students that they can't possibly deliver. We see it constantly in books, magazines,  and on the internet. Buy this training aid, or this golf club, or read this article, or take this course, and you'll be hitting it like Henrik Stenson. Not only is it false advertising, it hurts the student by setting him up to fail because of unreasonable expectations. Why does the golf industry persist in this kind of snake oil salesmanship?

We can all enjoy this game if we are realistic about what it is we hope to achieve. And, if we are realistic, we can have lots of fun for a lifetime. Chances are we'll never hit it anything remotely like Henrik. But we can still have a passion for playing this wonderful game.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Bobby Jones on Match and Medal Play

Bobby Jones figured he was better at medal, or stroke, play than he was at match play. But he learned, over time, to be a master at both forms of competition. There is definitely a difference between the two, and I tend to find that Bobby's experience was similar to my own. Medal play was, and still is, harder on my nerves.

Consider what Bobby Jones wrote on the subject in his book, Golf is my Game:

    "I was very acutely aware that my mental attitude and nervous attunement towards the two forms of competition were quite different. I was nervous before a match, but it was more an eager sort of nervousness or impatience to go out and see who could hit harder and make the most birdies. Before a medal round my nerves would be even more tightly wound, but the eagerness gave way to apprehension and caution. I always had that hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach, and my concern was to get the agony over, rather than to have the conflict started. I never had any sensation of fear before a match, but more of it than anything else before a medal round."

Funny, as I read this, I realize that I have generally been the same way. In match play, my nervousness is more like it was playing other sports. It is more anxiousness about just wanting to get out there and see if I can beat the other guy. But in medal play, I am always more nervous. I know that hollow, sick feeling in the stomach that Bobby wrote about.

But the interesting thing for Bobby was that he became better at match play by learning to view it differently. He wrote:

    "I suppose I never became as good at match play as at medal, but I did make progress in the former department by the ultimate achievement of the realization that, after all, a round of golf in either form was still a complete structure to be built up hole by hole, that restraint and patience paid off in either form, and that consistent pressure would subdue an opponent just as effectively as an opening salvo of birdies.
     It was not precisely playing the card or against 'Old Man Par' hole by hole. It amounted more nearly to setting out in complete detachment from surrounding circumstances to produce a fine round of golf. An opponent might do some damage at one stage or another, but he was not likely to surpass the entire production."

For me there are some terrific things to learn from Bobby's words. First, even the great players are anxious and nervous, even fearful, before a round of golf. So, I guess it's not a sign of weakness if it happens to me. Secondly, in any form of golf, we have to be patient, and we have to be detached from the surrounding crcumstances, such as how our opponent might be playing, or a bad break we might have suffered, or how we might be hitting the ball on the first few holes. We have to learn to view every round of golf as "a complete structure to be built up hole by hole." I love that analogy. We need to set out every time we play to try to build a fine round of golf. And that round is played one shot and one hole at a time. 

Rome wasn't built in a day. And a round if golf is not completed until the last putt drops, or us conceded. A hot start can end badly, and a poor start can end well. My best round of 65 started with a shaky par on the first and a clumsy bogey on the second hole. You just have to be patient, and sometimes good things can and will happen.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Bobby Jones on How to Take Strokes Off Your Game

Bobby Jones did discuss the golf swing. In part, I guess, because the golf swing seems to be a consuming interest for most players and teachers alike. But he wasn't at all convinced that anything he said about the golf swing was going to be particularly helpful to the average golfer. 

But Bobby Jones did believe there was one area where he could definitely help; and that was with respect to the short game. Consider what he had to say in his book, Golf is my Game:

    "When I try to tell a person something about how to swing a golf club, I am never quite certain that I am really helping him a great deal. But when I am on this particular subject (the short game) I know I can give sound advice which anyone can apply, to take strokes off his score and add to his enjoyment of golf.
     The main idea in the short play is to give yourself the benefit of all percentages. Never try to be unnecessarily fancy. Wherever possible, select a club which will permit the shot to be played in a straightforward manner and which will make all use possible of the most carefully prepared part of the golf course--the putting surface itself.
     As must inevitably follow from the above, do not for one moment entertain the notion of playing all short approaches with one club. A chipper or run-up club has no place in today's limited set.
     The rule to follow is this. Aim to pitch the ball in the air by only a safe margin on to the nearest edge of the putting surface, and strike it in a manner which will insure that it will take a full, normal roll--that is, without abnormal spin.
     If your ball lies a foot or two off the putting surface on what would be called the 'apron' of the green, use a number three iron and loft it just over the bit of apron on to the putting surface. The shot becomes only a long putt. From a few feet farther back you would use a five iron, and so on, but the shot would be the same. In any case, you are playing for the best possible average of results and not trying for anything spectacular. If you can consistently leave your chips within a radius of four to six feet from the hole, you won't suffer too much in the average golf game.
     All this may sound pretty simple and obvious, but even in select company I have seen departures from it which proved costly... One other rule should be definitely made for the average golfer. Let him never take his sand wedge (or 60 degree wedge) from his bag except when his ball is in sand, or in such heavy grass that a prayerful escape is the ultimate hope. The pros do wonders pitching with the wedge, but the extreme loft and extra weight cause it to be a treacherous club in the hands of an inexpert player. It is so easy with it to leave a ball sitting or to top it into Tiger country beyond the green."

Bobby Jones believed in the virtue of simplicity and practicality when it came to golf. Perhaps that's why he is my favourite teacher, who declined to consider himself a teacher. He never forgot that golf was ultimately about shooting the lowest score. Being fancy, or looking pretty, was never something he cared much about. This advice about short game alone could save many average golfers four to five shots a round; especially if they are average golfers who like to use their 60 degree wedge around the green.

I am probably not in what Bobby would call the average class of golfer, but even in my game I have found that not just automatically reaching for my 58 degree wedge around the greens--which was something I did for years--has helped my short game. I holed out the other day from the apron to a hole about forty feet away using an 8 iron. I left a couple of other chips stone dead using the same club. A few years ago, I wouldn't have even considered that sort of shot. I preferred the fancy shots.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Playing With the Lead

We saw DJ lose a big lead this week. No doubt it was painful for him. But going into the final round with a big lead is no picnic. It sometimes can make you feel like you've got everything to lose and nothing to gain. It's a head trip. Or, for most of us, it certainly can be.

DJ's loss was no reflection upon his abilities as a golfer. Let's face it, he's a great player who will no doubt win again, and win often. He's a tremendous talent. This week it just got away on him. It happens to the best of them.

Consider Bobby Jones. In his first Major victory, he went into the last round at Inwood, Long Island with a three shot lead over Bobby Cruikshank. In his book, Down the Fairway, he wrote about it:

    "It was then that I learned what a devilish thing it is to be setting the pace. At the luncheon intermission I figured that another 73 would win for me, or even a 74, and probably a 75. And I made the fatal mistake of playing for a certain figure that was not Old Man Par. What I should have done, of course, was to set my sights on par and shoot for that as best I could and shut out of my mind Bobby Cruikshank and Jock Hutchinson and the rest of them. I admit I was thinking about Bobby Cruikshank, who was starting behind me. I heard that he was the only one with a real chance to catch me.
     I started badly and was out in 39, two strokes over par. But I had never been over 35 coming in, and I wasn't much worried. When I holed a six-yard putt for a burdie 3 on the tenth, and after a oar on the next three holes got a birdie 4 on the long fourteenth, I felt I was safe. I had a bit of luch getting a par 3 on the tricky fifteenth, and then, on three holes of 4-4-4 on which I had not used more than twelve strokes in any previous round, I finished feebly with 5-5-6, chucking away four strokes to par, and coming as near as possible to chucking away my chance for the championship.
     The strain of setting the pace simply got me, I suppose. You have to figure on that, as any other hazard... I must have looked pretty bad when I walked off the green because when O.B. came up to shake hands with me I could see him blink before he said:
     'Bob, I think you're champion. Cruikshank will never catch you.'
     Then I said what was in my heart and had been there longer than I like to admit:
     'Well, I didn't finish like a champion. I finished like a yellow dog.'"

As it turned out, Cruikshank did catch Bobby and they had to play off for the championship. He had surrendered his three shot lead after all with that terrible finish. But Bobby went out and beat Cruikshank in the playoff to win his first Major, capping the win off with a decisive two iron to the final hole.

Bobby Jones understood the strain of leading a golf tournament. He considered it to be a hazard. That's why it is so common to see the leader on the final day fail to win. It should be nice to have the lead starting the final round. But it's a burden. As I said earlier, you can feel like you have everything to lose, rather than to win. It happens. And I'm certain DJ will be back. Sure, he's got some more scar tissue. But that won't stop him.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Who is the Greatest of All Time?

People have always been unable to resist the urge to compare their golfing heroes with the heroes of old. Today it is common to hear Tiger Woods referrred to as the G.O.A.T. The greatest golfer of all time. And one can certainly make the case that he was.

I started playing in the Nicklaus era and was often inclined to argue in his favour considering his incredible record, especially in the Majors. My father took up the game when Ben Hogan was in his prime. He told me about watching Hogan negotiate his way around Augusta National in the Masters tournament and how amazing his shots were  A good friend of mine thinks Arnie was the best he's ever seen.

One day, we may see Jordan Spieth, or Justin Thomas throwing their hat in the ring as one of the greatest of all time. But, if that happens, it won't be Jordan, or Justin, arguing their case. Their fans will be doing it.

Another golfer who deserves to be part of the discussion when it comes to the greatest of all time is my golfing hero, Bobby Jones. Bobby wrote about this tendency for fans to view the players of their era as the greatest in his book, Golf is my Game. He wrote:

    "The one question put to me most often is: Were the golfers of my day as good as those of the present time?
     There can be no question more impossible to answer. Yet if golfers insist upon speculation on this topic, there is no reason why they should not have the privilege. And since it seems to command so much interest, perhaps I may join in the discussion. 
     In 1927, when I won the British Open at St. Andrews, one of the old-time professionals, described as 'the grand old man of Scottish golf', was quoted in the newspaper as follows:
         'I knew and played with Tom Morris, and he was every bit as good as Jones. Young Tom had to        
     play with a gutty ball, and you could not make a mistake and get away with it. St. Andrews then 
     had whins up to your head and the fairways were half the width that they are now. This rubber-   
     cored ball we have now only requires a tap and it runs a mile.'

     So you see, the controversy is not new. Young Tom had died some thirty years before I was born. Yet there is, of course, much substance in the above quotation; that is, if one must pursue the controversy..."

When Bobby wrote this, Ben Hogan was the guy hailed as the new great champion of his day. And comparisons were being made between Jones and Hogan. Hogan said to Jones, when there was some controversy about this in the media and Bobby had assured him that he had not tried to project himself into this controversy, "I have always felt and said that a man who can be a champion in one era could be a champion in any other era because he has what it takes to reach the top."

About that comment from Ben Hogan, Bobby went on to write:

    "That was good enough for me, so we left it there. I think we must agree that all a man can do is beat the people who are around at the same time he is. He cannot win from those who came before any more than he can from those who may come afterwards. It is grossly unfair to anyone who takes pride in the record he is able to compile that he must see it compared to those of other players who have been competing against entirely different people under wholly different conditions."

That sounds pretty good to me. But just don't forget Byron Nelson if you want to talk about the greatest players of all time. I bet eleven wins in a row and eighteen in a season won't ever be accomplished again. But then, someone will argue, "that was in 1945." And so it goes.

Friday, 27 October 2017

A Hurtin' Wind

Steve's game was really good up until about a week ago. Now, according to Ken, it's turned into a country and western song.

The song goes:

   "Honey, you've got me playin' into a hurtin' wind; and all my shots are pullin'."

Suddenly, Steve just can't piddle a drop. Nothing is working. From the driver to the putter, he just can't seem to figure anything out. He's tried to go back to basics; checking his grip, his ball position, his alignment... Nothing seems to help. 

Golf can be that way. It's a game of peaks and valleys. And right now, Steve is really suffering. Yesterday, he was looking to me for an answer. And that might be akin to the blind leading the blind. So, I offered him the only really sound advice I could think of. It came from Harry Vardon, and it was the best advice Bobby Jones ever heard. What was it? Vardon said: "No matter what happens, keep on hitting it." Sometimes, that's all you can do. 

Golf is a game played one shot at a time, like the drunks. If you don't give up; and you just keep on hitting it; things will eventually come out in the wash. But, right now, Steve's a hurtin' unit.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Bobby Jones on the Sole Purpose of the Golf Swing

For Bobby Jones, it really was all about the strike. Consider what he wrote in his book Golf is my Game on the subject of striking the ball: 

    "Golf is played by striking the ball with the head of the club. The objective of the player is not to swing the club in a specified manner, nor to execute a series of complicated movements in a prescribed sequence, nor to look pretty while he is doing it, but primarily and essentially to strike the ball with head of the club so that the ball will perform according to his wishes."

What a great quote. If golfers, including myself, could only keep this simple truth in mind we would save ourselves so much grief. Golf is about striking the ball, not swinging the club. Bobby went on to write:

    "No one can play golf until he knows the many ways in which a golf ball can be expected to respond when it is struck in different ways. If you think that all this should be obvious, please believe me when I assure you that I have seen many really good players attempt shots they should have known were impossible."

The simple fact is that many, if not most, golfers don't understand the basics in terms of striking the golf ball. I have encountered many golfers who have played the game for years, and even taken lessons, who did not even know how to aim the clubface, let alone what the clubface needed to be doing through impact to produce a straight shot, a fade, or a draw. They might have learned how to grip the club, and the basics about setting up to the ball and swinging the club. But they didn't know the rules about striking the ball. That includes some really good players. That's why Bobby could talk about having seen good players attempt impossible shots. Though good players, who by trial and error had learned how to hit a golf ball and make it behave, they didn't understand the "science" of the strike. 

Though he never actually heard his teacher, Stewart Maiden, ever actually talk about the golf swing, Bobby Jones did agree to engage in discussions about the swing and attempt to describe as best he could what he considered to be his manner of swinging the club. In his book Golf is my Game, Bobby devoted a chapter to the downswing. But even then, he reminded us of what was really important when describing the golf swing. To begin the chapter, he wrote:

    "The swinging of the golf 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 clearly 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."

Consider, if you will, what Bobby Jones is saying here. The sole purpose of the golf swing is to strike the golf ball. That might seem obvious if you aren't a golfer. But, let's face it, when you listen to golf instruction, or ask golfers what they are thinking about before, during, and even after they swing the golf club, the strike is often the last thing you hear about.

Golfers are taught to concentrate on things like keeping their left arm straight, making a good shoulder turn, or shifting their weight to the right foot on the backswing and back to the left foot on the downswing. They are taught to maintain their spine angle, or keep the flex in their knees, or keep their left heel on the ground, or to lift their left heel on the backswing. And while all of these things and more might be correct, and possibly helpful, the most helpful thing is the one thing so obvious, and yet all too often overlooked. And what is that? To strike the damned ball--and to strike it in the proper way in order to produce the ball flight you are looking for.

If you don't know how a golf ball must be struck in order to produce the various shots, I highly recommend that you get a copy of Bobby's book Golf is my Game, and review the second chapter. Bobby said that the information in that chapter "will describe the most useful learning you will ever acquire as a golfer."  He believed that reading that chapter could transform your game and give you knowledge "that will help you in the playing of every golf shot you make for the rest of your life."  Bobby said: "This knowledge can make you a better golfer overnight."

If you haven't got a copy if Golf is my Game, I have covered that information in great detail in my featured post on my blogsite, entitled "The Wisdom of Bobby Jones: Striking the Ball." I invite you to check it out.

Spiros Goes Old School

Spiros and I had a fun day yesterday. He took up golf later in life in his late forties. He was a soccer player and only turned to golf when his legs told him his soccer playing days were over. He has his own swing, which is a pronounced over-the-top move where he aims at least forty five degrees right of his target, makes a big turn, and hits it. When he sets up, he looks like he has his back to the target. It's really quite disconcerting to see, especially if you happen to be standing a little to the front and right of him. You're quite sure he's trying to hit it right at you. But he hits it surprisingly well, considering.  

Spiros had never played with the old equipment that I cut my teeth on. He had never hit forged blades, or woods that were actually made out of wood. So I decided to give him a set of Wilson Staff irons and woods that I had in my collection. They probably date from around the early seventies. The irons, I picked up at a thrift shop, but the woods were ones that both my father and I had used. They were top of the line clubs in their day.

Spiro looked at those irons and thought he'd never be able to hit them. But yesterday he gave them a try after hitting a couple of shots with them the day before. He loved them. He was hitting solid, straight shots with a two iron that looked like a damned butter knife. He was chipping and pitching like a demon with the old pitching wedge. And when he hit one out of the sweet spot, he'd let out a moan, and his face would light up. He said they felt like butter when he hit them well. And he hit a lot of them really well.

Those thin, small-headed blades were giving him such great feedback. If he hit it on the sweet spot, he knew right away because he felt nothing. If he got it out on the toe, or clanked one near the heel, he knew it right away as well. He started showing me the mark on the clubface where he had struck the ball and admitted that he was swinging more easily in order to make sure he hit it on the sweet spot, something he had not really worried about doing with his clubs. It was obvious that he was getting feedback he'd never had using his "game improvement" irons.

Now Spiros has no intention of playing the old blades full time. At least he doesn't right now. But it was obvious that he had really enjoyed the challenge of hitting them and he loved the feel of hitting one out of the center of the clubface. He has also hopefully realized from this exercise just how important it is to find the sweet spot. Hopefully, when and if he goes back to his old, newer clubs, he will take as much care to make sure he hits it out of the center of the bat. There's nothing that feels better than that--especially if you're hitting forged blades.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

A Little Less Ambition

Bobby Jones had to have been an old soul. He seems to me, when reading his books, to have been wise beyond his years. He wrote Down the Fairway at the ripe old age of twenty five. Now it is true that by then he had already been competing at the highest level for eleven years and had plenty of battle scars, but his wisdom and insight is amazing for such a young man; speaking as an old fart who still seems to be learning about this game.

One of the things I love to do, when I'm not playing golf, is to grab one of Bobby's books and just flip it open to any page and see what pearl of wisdom I can find. I'm rarely disappointed. In this case, I turned to Bobby's opening comments in Down the Fairway, in his chapter entitled "Miscellaneous Shots--and Trouble." If I wanted to, I couldn't imagine a better way to sum up the problems and issues facing the average golfer when he finds himself in trouble on the golf course. Consider what Bobby wrote:

    "As a general proposition I fancy it might be laid down that the main object of a trouble shot in golf is to get out of trouble. This conclusion is not so obvious as at first it may appear, especially in the case of the average golfer, or worse. In that case, the object, or it might be better called the perilous ambition, is not only to get out of trouble but also to achieve a shot the equivalent of that which might have been made had the element of trouble not been injected.
     He wants to get there, anyhow.
     Now this ambition is in a way laudable, and at times it is grimly necessary to execute a shot which will minimize the punishment for getting in trouble. But it should always be borne in mind that, if a brilliant recovery be needed, it is far more feasible to make this brilliant effort after getting the ball back into a thoroughly playable position.
     Now, I can speak with considerable feeling, if not with authority, on this point. The greatest improvement in my game in the last five years has been a growing disposition for calculating a difficult situation, and an increasing distaste for the taking of reckless chances. In the old days, furious with myself for the missed shot that had incurred the trouble, I was quite ready without further consideration to go up to the ball and put my back into a shot designed without delay to take up the slack. Now, I figure the chances a bit--sometimes."

Is it just me, or is this not, in a nutshell, one of the biggest problems faced by average golfers, or worse? They simply don't use their heads; and they lack sufficient self-control and patience when faced with trouble. They too often, as my old father liked to say, let one bad shot beget another.

Yesterday Levi, Justin and I were enjoying a really good round--for us. On number eight, I was either even par, or one under, and Justin was about the same. Levi was struggling a bit to keep up, but he was only a few shots back. Levi, as has been happening too often on eight this year for him, pulled his tee shot through the tree guarding the left off the tee, and narrowly missed going in the pond.

Finding himself safe, but in pretty thick rough, Levi hauled out a hybrid and took an almighty swipe at the ball. He almost missed it altogether and duffed it straight left into the hazard. He was disgusted. He had narrowly escaped going in the pond off the tee; but then, by being overly ambitious, ended up there anyway. We talked about it afterwards and he admitted that, from that thick lie, he wasn't getting anywhere near the green anyway. He agreed that he should have just taken his medecine and hit a "Sammy." 

I had read a book by Sam Snead where he recommended the eight iron as the ideal club to use to extricate yourself from the rough. And we've tried it this year with great success. That's why we call it a "Sammy." The eight iron seems to give you enough loft to get out of thick rough and still gives you some good distance. An eight iron, in this case, would have easily got Levi within 120 yards of the green on this par five, had he elected to use it. Instead, he made double or worse.

Levi's is just the first example that came to mind to highlight what Bobby Jones was talking about. I've got many similar stories where I was the one trying for too much when I found myself jn trouble. We see this same scenario played out every time we play; and too often in our own game. A little less ambition, when getting out of trouble, is probably one of the best recommendations that could ever be made to help the average player. And it's something that was key in helping Bobby Jones get to the next level and finally begin winning the big ones. 

Monday, 23 October 2017

Bobby Jones and Humility

When Bobby Jones and O.B. Keeler co-authored the wonderful book, Down the Fairway, Bobby had no idea that he was to go on to even grander things in the game of golf and do the unthinkable, winning the Grand Slam. But, even by then, Bobby had become a believer in fate; the notion that, somehow, the results of golf tournaments at least were in the cards before the first ball was even struck.

Bobby wrote about what he called "The Biggest Year," as I mentioned, not realizing that he was fated to have an even bigger one before it was time for him to step back from competing in national championships. The year was 1926. Bobby wrote:

    "Golf is a very queer game. I started the year 1926 with one glorious licking and closed it with another. And it was the biggest golf year I'll ever have (or so Bobby thought at the time). Walter Hagen gave me the first drubbing, and of all the workmanlike washings-up I have experienced, this was far and away the most complete. He was national professional champion; I was national amateur champion; we liked to play against each other; and a match was arranged for the late winter season in Florida; a 72-hole affair, the first half at the Whitfield Estates Country Club at Sarasota, where I was spending the winter, and the second half a week later at Walter's course at Pasadena. Walter was simply too good for me... Walter played the most invincible match golf in those two days I have ever seen, let alone confronted. And I may add that I can get along very comfortably if I never confront any more like it."

Bobby Jones, as anyone who knows me--or has spent any time perusing my scribblings-- can attest, is my golfing hero. To me, he was the ultimate golfer in terms of playing, understanding, and communicating to others how to play the game and get the most out if it. And I think the way Bobby chose to begin the chapter about what was, at least up until then, his greatest season speaks volumes about the man and his understanding of the game. It wasn't all about him. 

Sometimes you hear it suggested that great champions must be selfish, or self-absorbed, to a certain degree in order to become great champions. Bobby Jones proves that, at least in his case, this couldn't be further from the truth. Consider again how he began the chapter about his biggest year. He began it by reminding us that he had been well and truly beaten by Walter Hagen, crediting Hagen with having played the "most invincible match golf" he had ever seen. Instead of starting the chapter by talking about his own terrific play, Bobby admitted that he was given the drumming of a lifetime by Walter Hagen. That is humility. 

I was intending to delve further into this notion of fate and golf, as presented by Bobby Jones, but it's late and I think it's worth just considering how humble Bobby Jones was. Humility is a wonderful thing.


Thursday, 19 October 2017

Down and Through

All you have to do is watch a professional golf tournament to know that there are many effective ways to swing a golf club. I keep saying it because it's true. You may see it more when watching the Champions Tour players, but even on the main tour when you watch Sergio, Jon Rahm, DJ, and Spieth--to name but four--swing the club, it is painfully obvious that there are more than just one way to get the job done properly. 

Bobby Jones asserted that most players of his day probably never even considered their swing, or if indeed there was a "golf swing" at all, until after they had become very good at the game. They thought of the game of golf as hitting a golf ball, not swinging a golf club. And, quite frankly, I think most of us would be much better off if we looked at the game the same way. After all, the golf ball couldn't give a hoot about what your swing looked like. The ball only cares about how it's struck.

That being said, there is one thing about the golf swing that was once considered very important but seems to be often over-looked in modern teaching. My favourite teacher, though he never called himself a teacher, Bobby Jones, wrote about it in his book Down the Fairway. He wrote:

    "Whenever I could get the feel that I was pulling the club down and through the stroke with the left arm--indeed, as if I were hitting the shot with the left hand--it seemed impossible to get much off line. Curious thing. The older school of professionals always insisted the golf stroke was a left-hand strike, you know."

The only lesson I ever had, as a boy in England, amounted to the pro having me hit shots with just my left hand. He never bothered to explain why this was important, and I quickly forgot it. Later, when I got tendonitis in my right elbow and could barely hold the club with my right hand, I was forced to play this way, essentially hitting shots using my left hand and arm. I played some of my best golf that way. It's a lesson I keep having to remind myself of.

The old teachers knew that, for right-handed golfers, the golf swing was a left-handed strike. It may not be the the secret to the golf swing. But it is one of the secrets to the golf swing. If you haven't tried it, why not try hitting shots with just your left hand. And try to feel you are pulling the club "down and through" with your left hand and arm. It worked for Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Moe Norman, Jack Nicklaus...

Friday, 13 October 2017

Don't Get Mad

Steve is still working, so he met me today after work to play the back nine before dark. It's that time of year when the days are getting shorter and the leaves are starting to fall; rather depressing if you are a golfer and not planning on heading south for the winter.

I had played the front nine by myself, playing three balls on most holes, and doing some experimenting. All I had seemed to gain from my experimenting was a very sore back. But, after taking some morphine on seven, I was finally starting to loosen up a bit on ten. 

Ten is our hardest hole, playing 415 yards to a green fronted by a pond. Unless you hit a solid tee shot, ten becomes a lay-up hole where you try to wedge it up and down for your par. And today, after a short drive, I had to do just that, laying up to 100 yards and wedging it to six feet, I made what Steve and I call a "Peter Cole par." Peter is a short-knocker who still manages to make par after par using his short game. I made a nice par on eleven, which is another tough par four when it's into the wind. Then I made birdie on the short, par four twelfth. Things were going pretty well.

But I was still doing some experimenting with ball position, thinking that I had allowed the ball to start inching too far back in my stance. I'd moved it up and was really hitting it well. But, as Harvey Penick said, you should take one or two aspirins, not the whole damned bottle. After two solid shots, I had a perfect wedge yardage to a back pin on thirteen. But, as I stood over the shot, I thought, "I've done well moving the ball up in my stance, why not move it up a bit more?" The result was a skulled shot over the back of the green and a bogey. 

On fourteen I was still fiddling with my ball position and drop-kicked my tee shot about 80 yards. Instead of getting mad, I said to Steve, "Let's see if I can't make a three from here." That's become my way of dealing with stupid shots. Instead of getting angry, I just try to see if I can minimize the damage. 

So, I proceeded to follow that lousy tee shot with a fat wedge shot that nestled into a lousy lie thirty yards short of the green. The ball was sitting in a muddy hole on the edge of the rough. Rather than get annoyed, I tried, despite the lie, to hole the next shot. Instead, I knocked it 35 feet past the damned hole. Double bogey was now looming large. But I still just said, to myself this time, "let's try and hole this putt and get out of Dodge." 

I stood over that putt, tried to focus with all my might on the front of the cup, and damned if I didn't roll it right in. Steve, meanwhile, had hit his tee shot short and left of the green, fluffed his pitch to about ten feet, and missed his putt for par after he saw my 35 footer go in. We had both made bogey. That's golf. I left the green feeling like I'd got away with something, and Steve was left to wonder how on earth we'd halved the hole. 

But this attitude I've managed to develop has really helped. Instead of getting mad when I hit a stupid shot, I just try to see if I can manage to get away with it by hitting a good shot, or at least not hitting another stupid shot. It doesn't always work out, but it makes me better company. It also saves me having to climb trees to fetch clubs I've thrown. And it sometimes infuriates my opponent when I get a half or a win on a hole I probably should have lost. That's my new approach to golf. Don't get mad, get even. Besides, I'm really not really good enough to get mad.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

What Should You Think About?

It seems to me that golfers, of which I claim to be one, can think of a great many things during the second and a half or so that it takes to swing the club and hit a golf shot. I was reading Bobby Jones' book, Down the Fairway, and came across an interesting point Bobby makes about the golf swing and what we should be thinking about as we hit a golf shot. 

Bobby had been analysing for us what he thought were the important components of his golf swing. He wrote:

    "It seems fearfully complicated, this trying to take a swing to pieces and see what makes it tick. I'd hate to try to learn to play golf synthetically. These attempts at analysis are quite puzzling enough. But it has been deeply interesting to me, in my feeble efforts at analysis, to encounter so many times, and in so many ways, the factor of body-turn in all shots.
     One bit of earnest admonition. Stewart Maiden maintains that he cannot think of any of these details, or of any other details, during the execution of a shot--that is if the shot is to come off. He adds that he does not believe anybody else can think of these or other details and perform a successful shot. I find this to be the case with my own play. I have to do all my thinking as I prepare to play. Once the swing is under way, the only thing I can think of is hitting the ball. To attempt to think of anything else is the most certain method of courting absolute ruin."

Now Jack Nicklaus wrote that he could have as many as five swing thoughts and still play well. But we are not Jack Nicklaus. For most of us, if we must think about our swing, we should think about it before, not during, the actual playing of a golf shot. That's Bobby's advice. And I know it's good advice for me. If I start thinking about my left arm, or my right knee, or my turn, during a shot, I can count on having trouble.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

The Root of All Evil

People like to talk about money being the root of all evil. The actual quote is slightly different. The actual Biblical quote indicates that it is not money that is the root of all evil; it is the love of money that is the root of so much of the evil we see in the world. 

Golf has changed dramatically in the past thirty or so years. The equipment has changed. The courses have changed. And much of it has been the direct result of the love of money. Equipment manufacturers want to sell equipment. That's why the equipment has to keep changing.

Golf course builders don't just want golf courses; they want to sell real estate. The result is virtually unwalkable designs that warrant the use of motorized golf carts to get the golfers around the course and increase the profitability for the owners at the same time. Follow the money if you want to understand why golf is so different from what it was in 1970, and why it may be in trouble. 

Gary Player bemoaned the fact that modern players, with modern equipment, have so beat up on the Old Course that it is becoming obsolete as a major venue. I don't necessarily agree with him. But, if it's true, it's all down to that love of money that seems to govern the game these days. 

A philosopher once said we should not ask why things were so much better in the old days. He felt that it was not an intelligent question. But I, for one, miss the days of persimmon woods and balata balls. I miss walking the golf course. I don't like motorized carts, and yet I'm so crippled I actually have to use one. I couldn't walk eighteen holes right now, and may never be able to again. I miss the old days. For me, they were better. But very little remains the same. Things change. But not the love of money; that's the thing that is still the root cause of so much of the trouble we see today.

Want to know why things are the way they are in golf today? Look no farther than the money--the love of money. That's your problem. And how do you fix it? That's the 64 million dollar question. As for the Old Course; that jewel of St Andrews and the golf world; that grand old lady will be just fine. She might get beaten up when the wind lays down. But just add some wind and rain and she'll hold her own.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Short Game Can Cover a Multitude of Sins

Short game. As Harvey Penick said, those are the magic words. A good short game can cover a multitude of sins. The biggest difference between pros and amateurs is their short game. And yet, when you think about it, it shouldn't be. It doesn't take great physical ability to chip, pitch, and putt.

The other day I shot 71 and I think I hit four greens in regulation. Today, I shot even par on the first nine, hitting two greens. The back nine was another story today as I pretty much mailed it in. But the fact is I'm only going to get worse as a ballstriker as my back deteriorates. But I can still post a respectable score if I manage to chip and putt well. 

Most amateurs--except the guys who are really wild off the tee--can manage to get within fifty yards of pretty much every green in regulation--and usually closer. It's from there that they really start throwing away strokes. So why, I wonder, is almost all golf advertising focussed on the long game. Equipment companies push new drivers that will hit it farther, and irons that will give you more distance. Where's all the ads for wedges and putters? Okay, there are some. But equipment manufacturers and golf teachers focus most on distance and the long game.

Now, I guess it's another chicken or the egg scenario. Do manufacturers and teachers tend to focus on the long game because they think it's most helpful to golfers; or do they focus on it because it's what the average golfer wants to hear? All I know is, most shots are taken within 100 yards of the green. And, if it's score you are interested in, that is where you should be most focussed. And yet, where do we see most players practising? On the range with long irons and drivers in their hands. 

Harvey Penick believed that the average player could take five strokes off his game if he practised his short game for just a week. He was probably right. But most of us won't do it. We'd rather work on getting another twenty yards off the tee. That's just the way golfers are.