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.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Golf is Just a Game

lI must admit that it's pretty hard to focus on golf with all the madness going on in this sad old world. What with devastating hurricanes, the largest mass shooting in history in Vegas, North Korea and the Donald posturing and talking nuclear war, terrorist attacks in Britain and Europe, etc.; golf just doesn't seem as important as jt was. It's just a game; a brief distraction from the craziness.

You really have to wonder whether we aren't all headed to hell in a hand basket. But then, this has always been a crazy, mixed-up world. As my old grandmother would have said, "There's nothing as queer as folk." People can be pretty damned crazy. And yet, in the midst of the madness, the goodness and selflessness of some people shines through. When the going gets tough, the tough really do get going.

So, I may not be focussing on golf as much as usual. And that's probably okay. Golf will always be there to take us away from our worries for a few hours. It's the greatest game there is for your mental health. As Harvey Penick said, it's cured more crazy folk than psychiatrists. 

What I don't get is why the Donald golfs so much and yet remains such a thoroughly despicable man. But, I hear he cheats at golf, just like everything else. That would explain it. You can learn a lot about a person by golfing with them.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Mr Seventeen

I've been having some good matches lately with Steve and Chris. Playing their best ball, we've come down to the seventeenth with it being anyone's match to win.

But Chris has figured out the seventeenth, while I've had my struggles. The last three times out, Chris has won the seventeenth with a birdie and two pars. Once, it was birdie to win two and one. The second was par to win and go one up. And this afternoon it was a par to square the match. 

Steve and Chris have had my number winning two of the last three and halving the other one. And every time it's been Chris on that damned seventeenth hole. We're going to start calling him Mr. Seventeen.

It's really nice to see the progress the guys have made in their games. Not that long ago I was giving them strokes. Now it's straight up, and they're winning. The other day both of them shot 39 on the back nine. Chris has been as low as 83 and Steve has been as low as 77. 

I did manage to beat Old Man Par the other day with a 71, so I may not be done quite yet. It's just that damned seventeenth hole and Chris; Mr. Seventeen.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Is There a Natural Golf Swing?

I was watching the British Masters and one of the commentators talked about Shane Lowry having a very natural-looking golf swing. There was then some commentary about the golf swing not really being a natural thing. Interestingly, that view seems to be common among many golf professionals. Is there a natural way to swing a golf club?

Ben Hogan certainly didn't think so. In fact, he said something to the effect that we should reject every natural instinct and do just the opposite to swing the club properly. But is that really true? Bobby Jones would have certainly disagreed. In fact, he wrote about players with natural-looking swings. He said their appearance of naturalness often came from them having learned the game as youngsters where they went about hitting a golf ball with no more concern than they would have beating a rug, or chopping wood. They may not have had a competent instructor, but they had time, and liked the game, and kept whacking the ball until they learned how to make it behave. Many of these players never even considered their swing, or if there indeed was a swing at all, until they had reached a high level of competence.

How things have changed. Many promising golfers are, very early in the proceedings, taught the mechanics of a sound swing. As a result we see a lot of successful tour players with cookie-cutter swings. They are sound swings. But they often lack the natural appearance of players like Shane Lowry as they take pains to set up and swing the club according to Hoyle, or Hogan.

So, according to Bobby Jones, there is a natural golf swing. It isn't the same for everyone. It's the swing we develop when our focus is on striking the ball, rather than swinging the club. It might not be the prettiest swing. But it might just be the best swing for you.

Friday, 29 September 2017

What Have We Learned?

So, what have we learned during Presidents Cup week so far? Davis Love offered his view on the NFL players taking a knee. And all the American players elected to follow suit by not feeling the need to show solidarity with those professional athletes protesting about social justice, or lack thereof, in the US of A. Not a big deal. The fight isn't theirs. They aren't facing the same challenges that black athletes are protesting about.

Davis would probably never even consider the possibility that his boy would be gunned down during a "routine" traffic stop. Neither would any of the other players on the team. That sort of thing doesn't happen in their neighbourhoods. And no one, as far as I know, really expected them to make a statement about this controversy started by a President who might have been better served had he been focussing on Puerto Rico instead. It isn't their problem. It isn't their fight either, unless they feel the need to speak out. "No worries," as the Aussies would say. Still, I wish DL had been a bit more diplomatic about the whole thing. It really wasn't his place criticize, in my opinion. But then, who am I--just another fat, happy, white guy.

We also learned that Tiger may or may not tee it up again. But we know he is now accepting the possibility that he might, indeed, be done. We also learned that he may have a new girlfriend who isn't, for once, a blonde bomber. If he's happy, I'm happy for him. He's had a tough few years.

We have also learned that the American team, barring any miracles, is going to win yet another Presidents Cup. They are dominating. They are dominant. American golf is in very good shape, post-Tiger. What this does not do is bode well for the future of the Presidents Cup. If the Americans keep winning, many people will just stop watching. What makes golf great is the competition. No excitement in a blowout. 

So far, I haven't even tuned in. I think it was DL that put me off. He's got a right to his opinion, and the freedom to express it, just like those NFL protesters. And I have the right to disagree with him--which I do. Heartily.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Is It Just for the Money?

It all came out in the wash. The player who played the best all season, Justin Thomas, won the FedEx Cup and the big money; and a new star, in Xander Schauffele has emerged with his Tour Championship victory.

This was really the ideal scenario in my mind. I have to admit that I was always a bit disappointed when someone got hot and came from back in the pack to win the FedEx Cup. In my opinion it really should go to the guy who played the best all year. The problem for the tour is to find a way to make that happen and still have the excitement we want. 

To me, the FedEx Cup should have been won by either Spieth, Thomas, DJ, or Matsuyama. Those were the guys who had the most wins. They were the dominant players. And, fortunately, this happened. Perhaps we need to consider not linking the Tour Championship with the FedEx Cup. 

How about the top five on the money list, or the FedEx point list, have a playoff for the big money in an event like the tournament of champions where the year's Major winners play for some extra cash? Now that might be exciting and fair, as a way to determine the year's best player. I think these playoff events give too much of an edge to a guy who gets hot over a several week period at the end of the season. These playoff events, and particularly the Tour Championship, end up out-weighing Majors in their importance in determining who wins the FedEx Cup. I don't think that's a fair way to identify the year's best player; which I thought was the goal of the FedEx Cup in the first place.

No disrespect to Bill Haas, or Billy Horschell, or some of the other surprise winners we've seen; but surely even they would admit that they weren't the best player of the year. Then again, maybe I've got it all wrong, and the FedEx Cup is not really about identifying that person. Maybe it's just meant to be a wild, end of the season money grab. If so, it will always be important only for that--for the money.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Slightly Confused

Well, it appears the usual suspects are not going to factor in the Tour Championship. It's setting up to be a battle between a couple of guys who are certainly due for a win, in Paul Casey and Kevin Kisner. There's seemingly only one of the top guys in with a chance to win in Justin Thomas at five back.

As far as figuring out who, then, will win the FedEx Cup and the small matter of ten mil, it's still a bit of a mystery to me. I know that Casey, should he win the championship, is likely to collect the Cup and the cash as well. I'm not sure about Kisner. Where Thomas or Spieth need to finish in order to win it, I don't know. Certainly, it looks like JT is the most likely to find a way to secure the big bucks even if he fails to win the championship, but I remain slightly confused; kind of the story of my life.

I guess the good thing about the way things are shaping up is that we very much don't know who'll be the next FedEx cup champion, any more than we know who's going to win the Tour Championship. After several early years, where it was almost a foregone conclusion, this is definitely the way it should be, opening the door for some real drama this afternoon.

In the end, I'd be delighted to see either Casey or Kisner win. They've certainly been knocking on the door, and they are as deserving as anyone. I just wonder at the poor play of Spieth. He's looked absolutely terrible in spots; spraying it all over and missing makeable putts. He's definitely not been the Jordan Spieth I've come to know and admire. I suppose a 62 or 63 today might put him back in the picture. But, if someone else prevails, it's been one helluva season for those two boyhood friends, Spieth and Thomas.

One thing for certain, I'll be tuning in to see what happens, even if I'm too confused to think about placing a bet.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

What Are You Working On?

One great player--I think it was Henry Cotton--said that all you had to do was watch any top group of golfers tee off to understand that there is no "correct" golf swing. All the top players have individualized swings. Their swings are as unique to them as their signature. 

I was watching the top contenders in the FedEx playoff this past week and it really struck home. You had Leishman's upright swing. Then there was Rickie Fowler's flatter, but not as flat as it used to be, swing. And then you had Jason Day's swing. All very different; and all very effective. So which of those swings would you teach? The answer is probably none of them; or maybe all of them. 

Now there are some players out there with "cookie-cutter" swings that show that the player was likely well-coached in his or her formative years. And those swings are sound, and generally pleasing to the eye. But since the top players all seem to have easily identifiable swings, unique to them, it begs the question why so much time and energy is spent by teachers trying to teach people how to swing a golf club. 

There is, according to Bobby Jones, virtue in a sound swing from a mechanical standpoint. A player with a mechanically sound swing will play more consistently. But Bobby Jones understood that it was the strike that really mattered. The only thing the golf ball reacts to is the speed, angle and path of the clubface at impact. The golf ball is no respecter of swings. It doesn't care if your swing is short or long. It doesn't favour a slow, smooth swing over a quick one. It doesn't prefer a flat swing over an upright one. It only cares about how it is struck.

So why do we all worry so much about our swing? There are no points given for looking good in golf. All that matters is that we learn to strike the ball in such a way as to make it bend to our wishes. Now, we can start the game as kids and learn by trial and error how to strike the ball correctly; or we can learn how to properly strike a golf ball to produce the various shots by watching better players or teachers. Bobby Jones said that he learned different shots by watching other players strike the ball. He said he didn't watch their swing. He zoomed in on the strike.

Try watching the way the good players strike the ball next time, instead of watching their swing. It's really quite instructive. Bobby Jones said he never once heard his teacher, Stewart Maiden, discuss the golf swing. He said Maiden just helped a student develop a good grip, helped them get in a good position to hit the ball; and then he just told them to go ahead and hit it. 

Stewart Maiden was all business. He believed that golf was not about swinging a club. He believed it was about striking a ball from the tee towards the hole. When Bobby was worrying about his backswing, Maiden told him, "You donnae hit the ball wi' yer backswing, laddie." 

I'm amazed at how often I see people on the range, or even on the golf course, fussing over their takeaway, or their backswing. Bobby Jones aptly pointed out that the whole purpose of the backswing was to get us in a position where we feel most capable of striking the ball in the intended manner. It always boiled down to the strike for Bobby.

So, if you are tired of "working" on your swing and not seeing the improvement you are hoping for, why not try learning to strike the ball more effectively. The single most important lesson Bobby Jones ever gave was on that subject. He believed that the material he provided in that chapter could literally transform your game overnight. I've covered it in my featured article, entitled "The Wisdom of Bobby Jones: Striking the Ball."

Monday, 18 September 2017

It Could Be Worse

It's hell getting old. But, then again, it probably beats the alternative. Yesterday, I really felt my age. I played in an inter-club match play event at Trillium Wood. It wasn't a Senior event, so once again I had to test the theory that old age and treachery could sometimes beat youth and skill. 

I was in the final group. It was not a particularly comforting spot to be in given the current state of my back and my game. And it was even less comforting when our team captain greeted me before the matches, saying, "Here comes our sacrificial lamb." I'm not really sure about this guy's approach to captaincy, but it wasn't anything I wasn't already thinking, so maybe he was just trying to lessen the tension. Who knows. 

Two of my opponents were twenty-somethings that were around scratch. The other one was Joe, a well-known player closer to my age from Smugglers Glen, who I had played once before and been soundly beaten. I didn't know the young guys, but I knew Joe could really play. I figured I had about as much chance of winning a match as getting hit with a piece of SkyLab. But, if someone had to be the sacrificial lamb, I figured it might as well be me. I've long ago learned how to lose. And I've learned that it isn't fatal. In fact, it's not so bad if you figure you gave it your best shot.

I hit a few balls on the range and was hitting it pretty solid, so I teed off feeling about as positive as I could feel under the circumstances. I also felt a bit better when I heard that Joe was late and planned to catch up with the rest of us out on the course, forfeiting the holes he missed. That turned out to be only the first hole, but I figured a one up lead on Joe was better than nothing.

The young lads could really bomb it. On holes where they actually needed to use driver, they were easily fifty yards by me. I hung in there as best I could for the first nine holes, actually making the turn up in two of my three matches. I was feeling pretty good, even though I'd had to go to the morphine to deal with the pain. I even thought at that point that I might actually manage to stay alive for enough holes that I wouldn't be totally humiliated upon my return to the clubhouse. In fact, I dared think that, if I could just keep doing what I was doing, I might even win a match or two.

These days my back is so bad that I'm really only good for about twelve holes--and that's if I don't make a bad swing. My last inter-club outing a week ago, I played the first twelve holes in two under par and had two of the three guys I was playing six down. I'd made four birdies and they had struggled. Things were looking pretty good with me being dormie with two of the guys and two up on the other guy. But then I started to fade, making bogeys on four of my next five holes. I won the two matches easily with a par on fourteen, but the guy who was two down came roaring back and beat me.

Sure enough, the same thing happened yesterday. After twelve holes, I started to really fade. I started hitting short, hooky drives and pushing and hooking approaches, struggling to get through the ball and finish my swing. I managed to win my match against Joe, five and three. But this was only because Joe had back issues of his own, and played probably about as poorly as he could possibly play. He was finished after fifteen holes and headed back to the clubhouse for some liquid "painkiller." I lasted just one more hole before the two flat-bellies finished me off as well. Youth was definitely served on the day. Us old guys got pretty soundly beaten by the young guns.

It's becoming increasingly clear that my days of competing successfully are coming to an end. The prognosis for my back is not good, so I'm definitely not going to get better, and I'll likely only get worse. But it really is still fun to compete. I thoroughly enjoyed my day, as I did last week. The company was good. The matches were friendly, and somewhat competitive. And I'm still on the right side of the grass; bloodied, as they say, but not yet bowed.

It could be worse. It can always be worse.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

The Best Way to Putt

A buddy of mine and I were playing the other day and on one green--I think it was fifteen--he had about a twenty footer. I was in for my four and he needed the putt to win the hole. 

He rapped it about six feet past the hole, smiled, and said, "I wanted to make sure I got it to the hole." He then missed the comebacker.

There is an often-used expression about putting: "Never up, never in." And, on the face of it, it makes a great deal of sense. Yogi Berra observed that about ninety nine percent of putts left short don't go in. And those guys who run the ball past the hole can perhaps take some consolation in telling themselves they at least gave it a chance. But did they?

Bobby Jones wrote about putting, and he was not a big fan of "never up, never in." As far as he was concerned, a putt that misses long is still a miss. And he was convinced that the best way to putt was to die the ball in the hole from the high side. He was convinced that a ball dying at the hole had a better chance of going in because it would fall in no matter what part of the hole it hit. A putt hit with speed, on the other hand, had to be much closer to the center of the hole to go in. The hole, in his mind, was bigger for a ball moving slowly. That approach served him well, as it did Jack Nicklaus.

Thanks to Dave Peltz, who subjected putting to some real scientific study, we know "scientifically" that the optimum holing speed would have a putt that didn't go in finish seventeen inches past the hole. One of the problems for a dying putt approaching the hole, Peltz found, was the so-called "Donut Affect." Peltz found that on most greens, especially later in the day, the immediate area around the cup is raised and tends to reject a slow-moving ball. This Affect--or is it "Effect"--is caused in part by golfers taking care not to step right beside the hole. As a result, the area around the hole, perhaps a foot or so out, becomes depressed by foot prints that are invisible to the eye, but can affect a slow-rolling ball.

Peltz is probably correct about the optimum holing speed. I mean, you're not apparently supposed to argue with science. And, I suppose it would be great to be able to consistently produce that optimum speed. But Bobby Jones argued that, not only was the hole bigger for a dying putt, it was also very comforting if you missed to be able to walk up and tap the next one in. Putting aggressively might be great for guys with good nerves--guys who don't secretly cringe at the thought of a three-footer coming back. But, for "experienced" players like me, three-footers can really wear you out. 

In Bobby Jones' view of the world, a miss was a miss, whether short or long. There is no real consolation in saying that the putt you needed for the win at least finished past the hole. It still missed. So, if the hole really is bigger for a dying putt, I'm going to keep trying to die them in. If the odd one finishes short, I can live with being called "Nancy," or having my intestinal fortitude impuned. If you want them to finish seventeen inches past if they miss, all I can say is, to each their own. The best way to putt is ultimately the way you putt best.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Shot Misers

While pretty much everyone wants to improve, the only game we can play with is the one we bring to the course that day. Golf involves much more than learning to swing the club in a prescribed manner. Golf is, and, until they change the rules, will always be about getting the ball in the hole in the fewest possible number of strokes.

While hitting the ball farther, or straighter, can help, the test for every golfer is to find a way to save strokes; to find the best way to get from the tee to the green and into the hole in the fewest number of strokes. Looking pretty, or stylish, is nice but not necessary in this game. An ugly four still beats a stylish five.

Two of golf's greatest champions, Bobby Jones and Byron Nelson, wrote about the importance learning to treat every shot equally, from a ten inch putt to a trouble shot from the trees. They both learned that golf was about saving and not wasting strokes. Prior to his winningest year of 1945 Byron Nelson reviewed his play and realized that he was having let ups where he was losing shots because he was playing some simple-looking shots or putts carelessly. 

Bobby Jones felt that the way to avoid being careless, or letting up, was to play every shot for it's ultimate possibility. Instead of trying to get a chip close, he would try to hole it. That kind of effort on every shot really paid off.

Good players are misers when it comes to strokes. They hate to take one more shot than necessary. And they realize that golf is often more about dealing effectively with trouble than it is hitting perfect shots. It's often more about managing to save your par than making a birdie.

The more we can learn to give every shot, and especially the simple looking shots, our full, undivided attention, the better players we will be. Grinding for the best score we can possibly shoot is a bit like work. It can leave you really tired after eighteen holes. But it's worth the effort. There is nothing like being able to say you scored about as well as you could have possibly scored with the game you had that day. It's a much better feeling than realizing you shot 79 or 89 instead of 75 or 85 because you wasted a few shots by playing carelessly or impetuously. 

The best players play this game one shot at a time, just like the drunks. They are misers when it comes to strokes. They hate to waste them.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Lexi and Lydia

I watched the ladies play in Indianapolis. It shaped up to be an exciting final day with Lydia Ko going head to head with Lexi. Instead, it just fizzled. It was not exactly a nail-biter. 

Lexi is becoming a complete player. Her power game is now complimented by an excellent wedge game and finally some decent putting. She seems to be on track to threaten for the number one spot. That would certainly make our American friends happy. And, why not? Lexi is a terrific player with a great attitude to go along with her impressive game.

Lydia Ko looked like she might be finally making a comeback. But she looked mediocre at best on a day when she needed to make birdies if she was going to keep pace with Lexi. Lydia has been making changes. She's changed caddies. She's changed equipment. She's made swing changes to try to get longer, which can be the kiss of death. Just ask Matteo Manassero, another "can't miss kid" who thought he needed to get longer. 

 Lydia seems to have gone from a teenaged phenom who could seemingly do no wrong, to a slow, mechanical player. It was almost painful to watch. Even the commentators couldn't resist commenting on the snail's pace of her play. 

To a degree, the match up between Lexi and Lydia reminded me of the recent match up of Spieth and DJ, but without the drama. Lexi, like DJ, pretty much just did her thing, using power and precision. Lydia, like Spieth, could have certainly managed to lose much faster. Watching both of them play is becoming painful, with all the consulting with their caddies and the time it takes them to pull the trigger. What ever happened to that precocious kid who went about her business like it was a walk in the park? 

Bobby Jones said that golf is the only game that gets more difficult the longer you play it. It seems that Lydia is experiencing that reality now. She's making changes. I just wonder whether she ever wishes she could just go back to when things weren't quite so complicated. Everyone wants to get better in this game. But what about when you're already the best? The problem with making swing changes trying to get better, or longer, is that there is no guarantee that you won't get worse instead. It happens. 

Friday, 8 September 2017

Finding What Works

I keep writing about the golf swing. And there are many fine theories about how best to swing the club.  But, ultimately, the best way for all of us to swing the club is the way we swing it best. It's a search we all have to make. And the interesting thing is that the swing that worked like a charm yesterday sometimes doesn't work worth a hill of beans today.

For those of us who have neither the time, the energy, nor possibly the inclination to hit hundreds, if not thousands, of practice balls, we are going to struggle with grooving any sort of swing. In the end, we need to focus instead on getting a solid, consistent strike. The strike is really all that matters in the end anyway. That golf ball couldn't care less about how our swing looks. It only reacts to how it is struck.

I have been playing along happily for sometime now focussing on hitting the ball with my left hand. Today, it didn't work worth a damn. Perhaps I was exaggerating the left arm swing at the expense of my right side. I spent the last few holes focussing on swinging the clubhead and getting some punch with my right hand. My shots improved significantly. Who knows what will happen next time out.

Golf, as a wise person once said, is about finding what works, losing it, and then finding it again. That's just how this crazy game is. 

The Only Lesson

The only actual formal lesson I ever had was as a kid in England back around 1970. The young pro had me hit balls with just my left hand. That was it. At the time, I thought he was nuts. I only wish I'd understood just what a valuable lesson he was giving me at the time. But for many years I just chalked it up to time wasted.

Looking back on it, this young pro was probably a follower of Henry Cotton for whom training the left hand to strike the ball was a key teaching. I am still amazed at how much easier it is for a right-handed golfer to play with a swing controlled by the left arm. It's a shame so few people teach it nowadays. 

Below is a video of John Daly hitting a variety of shortgame shots with his left hand. He's definitely a top hand golfer.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Tommy Fleetwood

I've been watching the boys on the European tour playing today in Switzerland at the Omega European Masters. Beautiful scenery, nice weather, and an interesting golf course; does it get any better than that? So far, I've had the sound off and am just watching these guys hit shots.

Now, I've spent a few years now writing about the old school belief that the golf swing, for a right-handed player, is controlled by the left hand and arm. It's not, it seems, a popular teaching in many circles today which seem to stress a swing controlled by the large muscles, rather than the hands and arms. 

But watching one really fine swinger in particular, Tommy Fleetwood, you can't help but see the importance and the commanding role taken by the left hand and arm in his golf swing. Watching Fleetwood prior to hitting shots, you can see how he is focussing on that left arm. The more you watch the vast majority of good players of today, the more obvious it becomes that the left hand and arm may not be a big factor in some modern teaching, but they still rule in the best swings, just like they did for Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus...

The ideal golf swing, according to Bobby Jones, is a backhanded strike with the left hand. You might even describe it as a two-handed backhand which is now commonplace in tennis. Some modern teachers prefer to teach a swing controlled by the big muscles, rather than the hands and arms. But the reality is that the best players are still using their left hand and arm to control the swing. The left hand and arm leads, and the big muscles just follow right along. That was Sam Snead's view of the world. And no one ever swung the club any better than the Slammer. If you don't believe me, ask Johnny Miller.

If you get a chance, check out Tommy Fleetwood's swing. Check out Ross Fisher, or Richard Sterne, as well. Actually, just try focussing on the left hand and arms of all the pros. They're mostly top hand golfers. It may be old school, but it's always been the most effective way to swing the golf club. It's not the only way. But it's the most effective way.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Win Ugly

Winning ugly is something the great players are able to do. They are able scratch out a win, as Tiger would say, with their "C game." The high handicap golfer often goes to pot and, in the process, ruins what might have been a reasonable round. He hasn't yet learned the secret to the game, which is to figure out a way to turn three shots into two, or seven shots into six.

While teaching articles and videos focus primarily on how to swing the club, which is not exactly meat and potatoes in terms of what this game is really all about. The secret to really improving in this game is to learn how to score with the swing you have on any given day. Turning three shots into two often involves the short game; finding ways to get the ball up and down when you've missed a green. But many strokes can be saved from the tee to the green by picking the right tee shot, or laying up in the right places, or getting out of trouble when you find yourself in it.

Good golfers know that golf is about saving strokes. Making a ten-footer for a bogey is just as important as making the putt for birdie; sometimes more important from a psychological standpoint. When Bobby Jones talked about the right attitude for playing good golf he told us to expect to make mistakes, and to be prepared to have to do some scrambling. And he advised against becoming discouraged if the amount of scrambling required is more than usual. 

Walter Hagen gave himself seven bad shots a round. He expected to hit six or seven bad shots a round. That expectation kept him from becoming discouraged when he encountered problems. How many more bad shots should the average player give himself if the Haig gave himself seven? 

So, forget about reading or watching all that junk about never slicing again, or hitting it solid every time. That just ain't reality. No one hits it solid every time, or never slices. Be like Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen. Understand that bad shots are going to happen. Judge your golf game on how well you are able to handle trouble, not on how far you are able to hit it. Congratulate yourself when you manage to make a putt for bogey, when it could have been much worse. Learn how to win ugly; how to score when you're not playing your best.

A great book on this subject was written by Raymond Floyd. It's entitled The Elements of Scoring: How to Scire When You're Not Playing Your Best. I highly recommend you give it a read.

Monday, 4 September 2017

It's Fate

Most professional golfers are fatalistic. They learn that golf, as much as it is a game of skill, always involves an element of luck. Golfers learn that it has to be their "day," if they're going to win at the highest level.

Now, Gary Player coined the phrase"the harder I practise, the luckier I get." But I'm willing to bet that even Gary would readily admit that, when he won, he got some lucky breaks. Golf is not a game of perfect. The lies aren't perfect. The bounces can't be perfectly judged. A near perfect shot can hit the flagstick and go in; or it can hit the flagstick and ricochet into the pond. So, golfers tend to be fatalistic. If it's their time, they'll win. If not, no matter how hard they try, the golfing gods will smile on someone else.

We saw it again today with Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. It was JT's day. He drove a ball through a bunker and onto a green and then holed a putt for eagle. That drive, for the same money, could have ended up much worse. On seventeen, Jordan hit a putt for birdie that all day had broken right. He hit the ball exactly where he wanted and the little devil didn't break. Had he made that putt, it might have been a different story. And that's golf. 

The important thing for Spieth and Thomas, and DJ for that matter, is that they keep managing to put themselves in position to have a chance to win on Sunday. That is why they are the best players in the game right now. They just keep hanging around leaderboards on Sundays or Mondays with a chance to win, if they get the bounces. But the outcome is often in the lap of the golfing gods.

Jack Nicklaus said that golf was the only game where you could win twenty percent of the time and be the best player in the world. In other words, even the best player in the world loses eighty percent of the time. Okay, Tiger's winning percentage might have been higher; and Bobby Jones, over a seven year period, won over sixty percent of the Majors he entered. They were both, far and away, the best players of their generation. But even they had to learn to accept that they weren't going to win every week. They needed some luck in most cases. 

Recall that famous shot at the Masters where Tiger's ball hung on the lip before deciding to go in. The same thing happened this year at the PGA with Justin Thomas. For the same money, that ball could have decided not to drop. Golf is a game of skill. But you still need some luck.

Spieth has now had back to back losses when he could have just as easily won. It just wasn't his day. But is there anyone in the game right now who gives themselves more opportunities to be lucky? I think not. And that's why he is destined to be one of golf's great players. It's fate.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

The Slammer's Swing

If you ask any expert to give you a short list of the greatest players and swingers of the golf club of all time, Sam Snead will be on that list. Not only does Sam remain the winningest PGA tour player of all time, but he will always be reknowned for his smooth, powerful, graceful swing. He was the original Slammer.  But his action was smooth as silk.

Sam, if you read his books, felt that his swing was a good model to use. He felt that his swing was simple and without idiosyncrasies. Many have studied Sam's action and offered their opinions on what it was that Sam did that was so special and produced such spectacular shots for so many years. But I prefer to go to the source to try to learn what he was doing, and why.

There were three things that Sam said he did that he felt were essential. He took the club straight back, slowly and smoothly, using his left hand. He had a slight pause at the top, and he started his downswing by pulling down with the last two fingers of his left hand. His swing was controlled by his left side with a comfortably extended left arm. 

This left hand/arm control did two important things for him. First, it prevented him coming over the top, which is a curse for many amateurs and is really the result of the right hand and side getting into the action too early in the swing. Second, the pulling down with the left hand helped increase and maintain the lag in his swing.

Sam's swing, in his own words, was controlled by his left hand and arm. It was, like Bobby Jones before him, essentially a backhanded strike with his left hand. Sam believed in everything flowing together. When once asked whether he started the downswing by shifting his lower body, as Ben Hogan did, Sam replied that he simply pulled down with the last two fingers of his left hand and everything flowed together from there. That pulling down with the left hand and arm is what gave Sam that pronounced squat that we see in one of the pictures below.

The vast majority of amateurs, who struggle with slicing the ball, are under-utilizing their left side. They might take the club back using the left side, but once they get to the top, the natural instinct to try to hit the ball with their stronger right side takes over; they come over the top and hit slices and pulls. 

If you're one of those players who struggles with slicing and pulling the ball, why not try to feel what Sam felt when he swung the club. Grip the club firmly with the last two or three fingers of your left hand, push the club straight back with your left hand, try to get a bit of a pause at the top to ensure that you've completed your backswing, and then pull down with your left hand to start the downswing.

That pulling down move is very important. Gary Player was big on that move, likening it to pulling down on a bell rope. That first pull down brings the right elbow back to your side and puts you in the best position to deliver a solid strike with both hands.

If you want to see an excellent modern example of this, watch Matsuyama with his definite pause at the top of his swing and the way he pulls down and through with his left arm. Evidence of this pulling of the left arm is often seen in Matsuyama's case by the number of times his right hand actually comes off the club on his follow through. Like Sam, and so many of the great players, Matsuyama is a top hand golfer. 

Controlling your swing with your left hand and arm is not the only way to swing effectively, but according to the Slammer it was the simplest and most effective way. So, if you're searching for a swing, try imitating the Slammer. You may not ever develop as powerful and graceful a swing as a great athlete like Sam possessed, but you can learn just how effective a swing can be when you make proper use of your left hand and arm, and just, as Jack Nicklaus said, let your right hand go along for the ride.

Hitting With Your Left Hand

There was a video out recently showing John Daly hitting shots with just his left hand. He was hitting a variety of shots, including bunker shots, this way. This was a good indication that he is a left-sided player; a top hand golfer. Among the great players he has plenty of company.

Among the other great players who were left-sided, or top handed, were Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Moe Norman; and, yes, Ben Hogan. For Bobby Jones, the golf swing was a back-handed strike with the left hand. Moe Norman emphasized the fact that he was pulling the club down the line with is left hand. 

Sam Snead described his swing as him pushing the club back with his left hand and pulling it down and through with his left hand. Byron Nelson discovered that he could stop hooking and hit the ball with great accuracy by focussing on the back of his left hand driving through the ball towards the target. 

For right-handed golfers, learning to use your left hand in the golf swing is very important. Golf is truly a game of opposites. You swing left to hit it right. You swing to the right to hit it left. You hit down on it to make it go up. The right-handed golf swing amounts to a back-handed strike with the left hand. No wonder it seems complicated at first.

A couple of current examples of left-sided players are Matsuyama and Spieth. Matsuyama is often seen warming up hitting balls with his left hand. Spieth really drives the back of his left hand down the line; so much so that he gets his famous chicken wing.

So, if you're not happy with your ball striking, perhaps you might want to consider trying to hit some practice shots with just your left hand. If you can do it, that's good. If you can't--and many players who try it at first have great difficulty doing it--you just might have something useful to work on. 

A good exercise to build up your left side is to hit an old tire, or an impact bag, swinging the club with just your left hand. Henry Cotton was big on that drill. In fact, I'm going to do that right now.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Comfortable is Good

I remember Harvey Penick writing about one of the best players he ever saw--I believe he was subsequently killed in a plane crash so he never became famous--who simply walked up to the ball and hit it. Apparently this young man often had his faithful dog with him on the course when he played, and Harvey was impressed with that well-behaved canine caddie.

I used to love to take my old dog out on the course with me until some anonymous member complained and I was asked not to bring her. To me, dogs and golf courses go together. But the real point of this was this young player's approach to hitting the golf ball. He approached striking the ball as though it was the most natural thing in the world. He just walked up to the ball and hit it--just like a kid hitting a stone with a stick. 

One thing Bobby Jones wasn't very fond of was watching the younger players fiddle and fuss around getting ready to hit a golf shot. He said it was hard on the nerves to watch. And I certainly have to agree with him. Now a top professional, playing for his living, has the right, within reasonable limits, to take as much time as he or she needs to hit a shot. No one, Bobby Jones said, should be expected to play a shot until they are ready. But for amateurs, I can't help wondering whether all the pre-shot routine stuff, and the pains often undertaken to get ready to play, pay off in terms of results.

I'm certain that Bobby Jones would have been equally impressed with Harvey Penick's young player--I think his name was Kirby Atwell, but I'm too lazy to look it up right now--and his natural approach to hitting the golf ball. I recently wrote about the simple and obvious way to play the game according to Bobby Jones. And this sort of goes hand in hand with what I'm talking about. Bobby felt that you should understand how the ball needed to be struck to produce the shot you desired, and then you should proceed to set yourself in such a way that you felt capable of delivering that strike; and then you should just do it; like that kid hitting a rock, or a tin can, with a stick.

Yesterday I played with Paul. Paul was having a few problems, he thought, with "lifting his head." I mentioned to him that he may not actually be lifting his head. He seemed to me to be crouched over the ball so much that he simply had to lift up to make room for his arms to swing through. I noticed that he would stand comfortably to the ball, and then, just prior to hitting it, he would bend his knees and sort of lean his upper body over the ball. He then looked decidedly uncomfortable and unorthodox; kind of like, as a buddy of mine would say, a dog trying to hump a football.

Someone had obviously told Paul how important it was to bend your knees. And he had managed to really take that lesson to heart. I suggested that he try just standing up to the ball and bending only as much as he needed to to address the ball. This, I suggested, would help him take advanyage of his height and help him stop "lifting his head." 

Paul tried it and hit a nice solid wedge that ended up sailing over the green. He looked quite surprised by how far he hit it. I suggested that he might just find he would be hitting the ball farther if he started standing tall. He tried to remember to do this for the remainder of the day, but obviously found it very difficult not to bend those knees just before he took the club back. Habits are hard to break. But Paul liked the idea of just standing comfortably to the ball and suggested that he would keep trying to do it.

I've been playing better lately doing the same thing. Instead of trying to position myself precisely to the ball, I just step up and hit the damned thing. It's been working really well so far. And, guess what, the ball is going farther. Standing to the ball comfortably always accomplishes at least one thing. It reduces physical tension. Comfortable is good.

Monday, 28 August 2017

DJ is Definitely Number One

Well, shut my mouth. I put my money on Jordan Spieth to win at the Northern Trust. I went with his past record with the lead and the power of his putter. All I can say now is that it was a good thing I didn't bet the house on it.

In golf, just like most everything else, there are no sure things. It ain't over until it's over. But we got to see first hand the advantage that power can give you in this game. That drive over the lake by DJ in the playoff gave him a huge advantage over Spieth. There is a distinct advantage to coming in with a lob wedge instead of a seven iron; particularly if you've honed your wedge game the way DJ has.

But perhaps the most impressive thing for me was DJ laying up from the rough on eighteen in regulation play, and then making a huge putt for par. That showed maturity and intelligence, as well as guts. DJ read the lie and made his decision without delay. It turned out to be the right decision. But had he failed to make par, or had Spieth made birdie, it would have opened him up to be criticized for not "going for it." Whether he thought of that or not is probably irrelevant. The fact is it actually took guts in that case to lay up. Sometimes, it's easier to just go for it than it is to take your medicine and lay up.

Speaking of taking your medicine, Steve said the other day, after I had commended him for laying up, that it was better to take your medicine than to risk an operation later. An ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure in this old game. So, we learned a lot about DJ yesterday. Not only is he a beast off the tee, he's got that five and a half inches between his ears working just fine. He is definitely number one.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

No Pictures

We don't know what will happen this afternoon at the Northern Trust, but the smart money has to be on Jordan Spieth taking home the trophy give him four PGA tour wins this year. Spieth is not the number one player on the official world golf rankings, but he's arguably the best player in the game right now. And what is weird is that we're sometimes left to wonder how the hell he manages to do it.

Today Spieth goes up against DJ in the final round with a three shot lead. Now DJ is a pretty intimidating opponent. But, given that Spieth has only once lost when entering the final round with the lead; that loss being his disaster at Augusta where the twelfth hole did him in on the final day, you really have to like his chances. There are other big names in the hunt a few more shots back, but barring some real heroics from someone back in the pack, it promises to be the Spieth verses DJ show today. The only danger could be that DJ and Spieth get caught up in a match play mindset and lose sight of the threat posed by the rest of the field.

Earlier this season DJ was so dialled in that you wondered if he could be stopped. Unfortunately for DJ, a slippery staircase put him out of commission at Augusta where he most wanted his dominance to continue. DJ looks to be most of the way back, but the momentum is definitely with Spieth. His heroics at tne Open must have him about as confident as you can be. Like Tiger before him, Jordan has learned that he can win even without his best stuff. And that ability is what, in my mind, makes him a great player. Any of the top players can win when they're on their games and the putts are dropping. But Spieth can win ugly. 

Everyone raves about Spieth's putting, and Spieth's putting can be a huge weapon. But, with Spieth, the total seems to somehow be greater than the sum of his parts. He's not at the top of any statistical category other than the two that count most--scoring average and wins. Okay, he's actually not at the top of any statistical category. His good friend Justin Thomas has one more win this season, if we count the dopey wrap-around season, and he leads the putting stats with Spieth in second. But Spieth will catch him in wins today if past record means anything and the crick don't rise. Rickie Fowler actually has the lowest scoring average right now, but Spieth is once again second in that category. 

I've said it before, and I'll say it again; Jordan Spieth is the best golfer in the game right now. Since arriving on tour he is the winningest player with 11 wins on the PGA tour. He wins because he can do so many things really well, and he is the ultimate competitor. He plays every shot to the hilt; perhaps not like Arnie did--Arnie was more aggressive--but to the hilt nonetheless. He simply tries harder than the rest. He may not always look pretty, but he's the kind of guy that just knows how to score. And, until they change the rules, score is what it's all about. There are not now, and likely never will be, pictures on the scorecard. 

Saturday, 26 August 2017

The Cream Has Risen

I must admit that I don't tend to get all that jazzed up about tbe FedEx playoffs. I still focus on the Majors, and when they're done, it's pretty much all over but for the crying. But this week I'm going to be excited to see arguably the two best players in the game going at it head to head tomorrow at the Northern Trust to determine who will likely be number one in the race.

Spieth, with a three shot lead after his spectacular 64 today, has to be the favojrite; especially when you consider that he's five for five with a two shot lead going into the final round. However, DJ's closing birdie to get within three could loom large tomorrow, especially if Jordan's putter cools off a bit. 

Tomorrow we will have the battle of the bomber verses the man who wields the flatstick like a sword when he's in the mood. Therefore, if you believe in the old saying, "drive for show and putt for dough," you have to like Spieth's chances, particularly in view of his Tigeresque winning record with the lead. 

It isn't over yet. But, regardless of what happens tomorrow, the cream has definitely risen to the top. It should make for some compelling viewing.

Monday, 21 August 2017

The Match

Match play is a wonderful format for playing golf. Sometimes it is also a terrific format for viewing the game. The benefits of match play in terms of playing the game are, or should be, obvious. Without the need to hole everything out, or to finish every hole, match play is played faster. And faster is good in this era of five hour rounds.

Match play also permits you to interact with another player in a much different way than you would were you playing stroke play. In match play you are playing your opponent, not the golf course. Score is relevant only insomuch as it is low enough to halve or win the hole. And matches end up being a shared experience between you and your opponent. If played in the right spirit, matches leave you with a real appreciation for your opponent. You realize that your opponent actually can assist you in playing your best. You push each other to achieve. 

At the Solheim Cup we witnessed a wonderful match between Lexi Thompson and Anna Nordqvist. It was a thrill ride that included initially some lousy golf from Thompson, some absolutely inspired golf, also from Thompson, and a near-perfect eight iron to the last hole from Nordqvist to halve the match after it had seemingly slipped away from her. The match was also played in the true congenial atmosphere that was considered to be mandatory by the great Bobby Jones. It was probably quite fitting that there was no winner in this match. Actually, there were three winners: Anna, Lexi, and everyone who witnessed the match. Both players will remember that match for the rest of their lives. And it will have been something they shared. You can be quite certain that if they weren't already, they are now good friends.

Most of my golf now is match play. I love it; especially when it comes down to the last hole or two to decide the winner. And match play isn't just about winning. The most memorable match Bobby Jones ever played was one that he lost--I believe it was to Chick Evans. No tears or sour grapes from Bobby. It's all about the shared experience with your opponent. If you haven't tried it, why not lose your pencil the next time you play and have a match. I'm willing to bet you'll become a believer.

Friday, 18 August 2017

The Long Ball

To comb the net related to golf instruction very quickly reminds us that the major focus or preoccupation of most golfers, and therefore teachers, is on how to swing the golf club. Furthermore, a central theme seems to be ways in which golfers can learn to hit the ball farther. Golfers seem to be in continued awe of "the long ball."

I recently wrote an article dealing with the amount of coverage Rory was receiving because of his long driving. In that article I pointed out that it was the end of the matter that was so much more important if it was low scores you were looking for. Rory may have been driving the ball incredibly well, but he didn't win any championships. If you want to win championships, you had better be able to chip and putt.

Steve has started playing some really decent golf. After struggling for the past couple of years, he is now regularly scoring in the high seventies, instead of the low nineties. There is a big change in his game. And he looks like a different player on the course. He is more relaxed and a lot happier. Having worried for the past couple of years that I may have helped Steve go from being a low eighties shooter to a low nineties man, something has clicked for Steve-O.

One of the changes Steve has made is the switch to using his three wood or his four iron off the tee on the par fours and fives. Playing with his TourEdge Exotics three wood--a club I found in South Carolina and passed along to him--Steve hits the ball pretty much as far as he hit his driver, but much more often in the short grass. He is so pleased with the results from this approach that he no longer even carries his driver. He has become thoroughly convinced of the benefits of hitting the ball a few yards shorter in some cases, but keeping it in play.

Steve has also made huge improvements in his short game. He pitches and chips the ball much better. And it is here that he is saving so many more pars when he misses greens, as all of us do. Steve is visibly more relaxed on the golf course. He looks so much more confident when playing. And it all boils down to two things: getting the ball in play off the tee, and scrambling. 

If golf is about shooting the lowest score you possibly can, then perhaps we can learn something from Steve. We all need to use whatever means necessary to get the ball in play off the tee, rather than simply trying to just hit it as far down the fairway as possible. And we need to develop our short games. It may not be as sexy, or exciting, an approach to playing the game as swinging from your heels and going for the long ball. But, so long as golf is about shooting the lowest score rather than hitting it the farthest, perhaps there are a lot of players out there who might do well to leave their drivers in the trunk of the car like Steve. Just a thought.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Something in the Water?

It's strange. A lot happened in golf this past weekend. And this is, after all, my golf blog. 

JT won the PGA championship, his first Major, at Quail Hollow. I played in the same group for two days in our club championship with a thirteen year old boy who ended up beating us all. And yet, none of that seems to be worth writing about in view if what transpired in Charlottesville, Virginia this weekend. This has been a very strange year or two watching what has been going on in the States. 

In the case of the election of Trump, and the circus that has followed for over two hundred days now, I would have said the truth is indeed much stranger than fiction. But now, I just don't know what to say. As the Brits would say, I'm gobsmacked. 

I guess all you can do, at a time like this, is remember that there are more good folks than bad in the US of A. And, ultimately, the kinder, quieter, and gentler folks will prevail. The racists and bigots will crawl back under their rocks. Trump and his band of merry men will be gone, hopefully before they've managed to do too much harm, and the restoration will begin. Either that, or Trump will actually blow us all the hell up. I just don't know anymore.

My thoughts go out to my friends south of the border. Most Americans are good people. But, you really have to wonder sometimes whether there isn't something in the damned water down there.

Friday, 11 August 2017

The End of a Matter

Rory McIlroy has been driving the ball about as long and straight as we've ever seen anyone drive it. It's been something to behold. When the subject has been discussed it has sparked some debate about equipment, and especially the golf ball. And rightly so, in my opinion. It just isn't right. I just can't relate to these guys playing 7800 yard courses. They're playing a game with which I am simply not familiar.

But, then again, there is a saying that goes something like: "The end of a matter is more important than its beginning." And this is particularly true in golf. It is a truism that has upset many a golfer. Every golfer wants to hit the driver long and straight. Most golfers wish they could hit it longer and straighter. The equipment manufacturers have made a lot of shekels because of this preoccupation by so many golfers. But a three hundred and fifty yard drive in the middle of the fairway doesn't amount to a hill of beans if you then chunk your wedge shot into the pond. In golf, it's the final score--the end of the matter--that's important.

Ben Hogan quite rightly said that the three most important clubs in the bag were the driver, the wedge, and the putter. He believed the driver was the most important club because it set you up to attack every hole. Now, far be it for me to claim to know more than the great Ben Hogan, but in this case I have to disagree. And I've got plenty of company. 

How many winners of the long driving contests do we see on the tour? Rory put on a driving display, the likes of which we've probably never seen, last week. Who won? The driver is an important club. No doubt about it. But, until they change the rules of golf and give you points for the length or accuracy of your drives, you had better be able to putt. 

The end of a matter is more important than its beginning. Not that long ago, I made birdie on number eight after duffing my tee shot just past the ladies' tee. I also remember missing a two-footer for eagle on a par five after a three hundred plus drive and a near-perfect second shot. Believe me, I wasn't the least bit consoled by the length of that drive. A good wedge shot, or a good putt, can cover a multitude of sins. A good drive is just a good start. Golf, until they change the rules, is still about "how many," not "how far."

Thursday, 10 August 2017

You Can't Always Get What You Want

What it was obvious the talking heads at the Golfchannel were hoping to see--and so was I, if the truth be told--was a shootout between Rory and Jordan Spieth at the PGA championship at Quail Hollow this week. But, in golf as in life, you can't always get what you want. Both stars failed to shine on Thursday. But they haven't totally fizzled out either. A good round tomorrow could easily put them both right back in the hunt.

Meanwhile, Rickie Fowler, despite a miserable seven on his card, ended up two under par and sitting comfortably at two back of the leaders, Oleson and Kisner. Rickie looked awfully good playing with Rory and Rahmbo today. He wasn't at all fazed by Rory's drives; or Rahm's for that matter. He just went about his business, looking cool as a cucumber on a course, albeit somewhat changed, where he has had some success, winning head to head against Rory.

We may not see what we want; with a final round shootout between the two young guns who both lack only one Major to get their career Slam. Not that Rory and Spieth won't come roaring back tomorrow. They very well could do just that. But, even if they don't, we just might see Rickie Fowler finally get his first Major. He certainly looks ready and able.

In the end, we may not see Rory, Rickie, or Jordan lift the trophy this week. You can't always get what you want. But, one thing for certain, whoever does win this week will have to have the nerve and the touch of a safecracker on those Quail Hollow greens. Man, are they scary.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

The Chicken or the Egg

While I often talk about the strike being more important than the swing, there is no doubt that a sound swing, just like a good grip and a good set up, enhances your chances of making a good strike. That's why it's kind of a chicken or the egg thing when it comes to what is more important and what comes first--a good swing or a good strike.

I say this because I seem to be an expert at not practising what I preach. I suggest, based on Bobby Jones' advice, that people focus on the strike, and then find myself fiddling with my swing. In that respect, I'm really a golfing hypocrite. I say one thing and find myself regularly doing another. I wish I had never discovered just how many ways there are to swing the club--all of which can work quite well, or not work at all. 

The problem, of course, with fiddling with your swing is that you are essentially distracting yourself from the business at hand, which is to knock the ball towards the hole. The other problem with fiddling with your swing is the fact that things can always get worse instead of better as a result. For every top player who has made swing changes and actually got better, we can probably name one or more that have actually got worse by making changes. And the question is always whether or not the golfer making those changes might have improved his play anyway had he not made the swing change.

Tiger is perhaps the best example. He took the golf world by storm. He was the best at every level he played. When he went from Butch to Hank Haney, Brandel Chamblee argued recently that he actually got better. But, was there not a period of time during that swing change where he was actually worse until he got better? If I am not mistaken, when Tiger switched to Haney he didn't win a Major for at least a year and a half at a time when he was the overwhelming favourite to win every time he teed it up. 

Then, of course, Tiger made other changes under other coaches and now finds himself pretty much out of the picture. Tiger's woes on the golf course obviously have had to do with things other than just swing changes. Injuries have been a factor. Personal issues have been another, as has an obvious loss of confidence ever since he was chased down at the PGA championship by a little known Korean player, losing a lead in a Major for the first time in his career. That he's never won a Major since Yang beat him is no coincidence. Tiger found out that he wasn't invincible with a lead after all.

I think the record shows that while Tiger was making changes to his swing, even if he did eventually become a better ballstriker, at least under Haney, there was a period of time where he stopped winning while he was incorporating those changes. And I think that was because his focus during those intervals was on swinging the club instead of getting the ball in the hole and winning golf tournaments.

The obvious question that begs to be asked, but can never be answered, is what Tiger might have accomplished in the game had he not made any swing changes. I think Tiger would, could, and probably should, have smashed virtually every record in the game had he just stuck with the swing he had when he arrived on tour under Butch--had he just danced with the one he brung. That's the thing about making swing changes; we never know whether we will get better or worse. And, if we get better, we will also never be absolutely certain it was because of the swing change and not just the fact that we learned to play better.

Ultimately, golf is all about getting the ball in the hole the quickest. There are no pictures on the scorecard, and the best players don't always have the best, or prettiest, swings. Therefore, I really believe the more our focus remains upon doing just that--getting the ball in the hole--the better off we will be. I, for one, very much regret having gone down this road, experimenting with my golf swing. I wish I had just danced with the gal I had brung. Others, of course, may feel differently.

I believe that it's all about the strike. But it's the old, which came first argument--the chicken or the egg--the swing or the strike. All I know is I just wish I could practise what I preach and go out every day focussing on striking the ball in such a way as to make it behave; and putting all my mental and physical energy into just trying to get the damned ball from the teeing ground into the hole in the fewest strokes possible. That is, after all, what golf is really all about.

Running Like a...

I play with one character, name withheld to protect the guilty, who is a writer. Given my love of writing, as well as golf, we often have fun with ideas and expressions as we play.

We like to try to put just the right spin on what's happening on the golf course. I had annoyed Spiro, much to the amusement of ny writer friend, by once exclaiming that Spiros' worm-burner was "running like a Greek with a handbag." Spiro was offended by the insinuation that any self-respecting Greek would steal a handbag.

Not to be outdone, my writer friend hit a low runner the other day and exclaimed, "That's running like a lone midget at a fetish conference." Now that may not exactly be politically-correct. But you have to give him an "A" for originality.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Sam Snead

Early in his career, Sam Snead, the most prolific winner the PGA tour has ever seen was known as a choker. Like Bobby Jones, it took Sam some time to win a Major. In his book The Education of a Golfer, Sam wrote:

    "After five years as a circuit pro, I'd won close to thirty Opens, from San Diego to Miami, but not one national title. The papers called me a choke artist, a cheese champ, a 'mystery,' and a 'hex-haunted hillbilly.' One syndicated writer claimed I was the Shoeless Joe Jackson of the links--Jackson never quite able to edge Ty Cobb for the batting title.
     A hell of a comparison that was, even though it's true that I broke into golf in bare feet and in the back country, where our plumbing was a two-holer outdoors. Jackson had just Cobb and three or four others to worry about. When I was a young pro, I had Ed Dudley, Craig Wood, Vic Ghezzi, Horton Smith, Johnny Revolta, Jimmy Thomson, Lighthorse Harry Cooper, Dick Metz, Wild Bill Mehlhorn, Paul Runyan, Lawson Little, Ky Laffoon, Henry Picard, Denny Shute, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Wiffy Cox, Ray and Lloyd Mangrum, Tony Manero, Jimmy Demaret, Jug McSpaden, and Guldhahl, among others, to crack up against--maybe the greatest field ever assembled."

Sam, of course, did break through and win his share of Majors, although he was skunked in the US Open. But when we think about competition, was it any less in Sam's day than in the time of Tiger, or today? Sam Snead teed it up against some hard men--men unlikely to flinch when battling for a title. His opponents were hungry. And, as Trevino said, "A hungry dog hunts best." 

So, when you talk about great players, never forget the Slammer, who went up against perhaps the greatest fields ever assembled and became the winningest of the bunch. 

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Lydia Ko

I've been loving watching all the links golf we've been treated to this past month or so. Watching the ladies play Kingsbarns, a course I really love, has been a treat. I really enjoy watching the ladies play. I think, for the average golfer, they can probably teach us more than watching the flat-bellies on the PGA tour who play a game with which most of us will never be familiar.

Watching the ladies we see players play courses about the same length as most of us play and hitting about the same clubs we might use under similar circumstances. They show us what can be done with good rhythm and a good shortgame. They are amazing to watch.

I couldn't help but notice that the seemingly "can't miss kid," Lydia Ko has been struggling of late. She has seemingly gone from being an unflappable golfing savant to someone who now seems to have to "work" at the game. I don't claim to know the reason for this loss of form in Lydia's case. But she seems to be an example of what Bobby Jones said about golf. He said that golf was the only game that becomes more difficult the longer you play it. Why that is, I don't know. But it's often true.

I know that Lydia has made changes. She's made swing changes. She's changed equipment. She's changed caddies... And, unfortunately, in golf when you make changes in order to hopefully get better, you sometimes get worse; at least in the short term. There are always going to be those who suggest ways to improve. And, in golf, you experience inevitable peaks and valleys in your game. But I think any changes are made at your peril in this game. And, at least in Lydia's case, I'd have been saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

In Lydia Ko we had a golfing prodigy. She was simply crazy good at a young age. She was a genius at making a score. She wasn't a power player. She just played the game better than everyone else. Let's hope she finds a way to get back to being at or near the top of the pack and that the time being spent in golfing purgatory doesn't mess up her head. Because, ultimately, as in the case of most great champions, what separated Lydia from the pack was the five or so inches between her ears. Golf is a mind game.