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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 a really 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. 

Friday, 4 August 2017

Thin to Win

There's a saying, "Thin to win." I hit several thin iron approaches in our league night that looked and felt like they would be awful, but turned out nestling up reasonably close to the pin.

On four, I thinned another eight iron that landed short, skipped once and then skidded to a halt about fifteen feet left of the pin. It was not a goid strike, and I laughed and said, "Thin to win." 

George then said he'd never heard the saying. He looked at Chris, who was playing on the other team and asked, "Have you ever heard that one?"

Chris shook his head. Now, George likes to kid around, so I reckon he could have just been being facetious. But Chris looked serious as a judge when denying that he had heard the expression, thin to win. Either way, there's a lot of truth in the saying. Many thin shots turn out to be okay. Fat shots inevitably leave you deflated as they pull up woefully short of the target.

So, if you're going to miss your shots, try to miss them on the thin side. At the risk of sounding sexist or chauvanistic, I must confess that I like to see a woman with some meat on her bones. I'm not a fan of people starving themselves trying to be thin. But, when it comes to golf, thin is in. Fat is definitely not where it's at. 

Steve's ballstriking has really improved, as has mine, by trying to "clip the tee" when striking the ball. I had previously been inclined to take divots you could use to bury small mammals in. But trying to clip the imaginary tee under the ball, or as Harry Vardon said, "knocking the legs out from under it," produces a nice trajectory and very few of those nasty fat shots, if an occasional thin one.

Thin to win, folks. Thin to win. 

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Bobby Jones on the Grip

I wrote yesterday about how important Henry Cotton felt the hands were to playing good golf. Bobby Jones also felt this way. I was just reading Golf is my Game, where Bobby talks about the grip and provides some interesting insight. He wrote:

    "I like to think of a golf club as a mass attached to my hands by a weightless but rigid connector, and I like to feel that I am throwing the clubhead at the ball with much the same motion I should use in cracking a whip. By this simile I mean to convey the idea of a supple, lightning-quick action of the hands.
     Stiff or wooden wrists shorten the backswing and otherwise destroy the feel of the clubhead. Without the supple connection of relaxed and active wrist joints and a delicate, sensitive grip, the golf club, which has been so carefully weighted and balanced, might just as well be a broom handle with nothing on the end. The clubhead cannot be swung unless it can be felt on the end of the shaft.
     I have seen numbers of players who take hold of the club as though it was a venomous snake and they were in imminent peril of being bitten. A tight grip necessarily tenses all the muscles and tendons of the wrists and forearm so that any degree of flexibility is impossible.
     The only way I know of achieving a relaxed grip which will at the same time retain adequate control of the club is to actuate the club and hold it mainly by the three smaller fingers of the left hand. If the control is at this point, the club can be restrained against considerable force, and yet the wrist joints retain complete flexibility.
     The great fault in the average golfer's conception of his stroke is that he considers the shaft of the club as a means of transmitting actual physical force to the ball, whereas it is in reality merely the means of imparting velocity to the clubhead. We would all do better if we could only realize that the length of the drive depends not upon brute force applied, but upon the speed of the clubhead. It is a matter of well-timed acceleration rather than physical effort of the kind that bends crow-bars and lifts heavy weights.
     My prescription is, therefore, only that the club be held mainly in the three smaller fingers of the left hand, and that the shaft should be laid across the middle joint of the index finger of this hand. The remainder of the gripping should be done as lightly as possible, exerting pressure upon the shaft only as this becomes necessary in order to move or restrain the club.
     Let it be known right here that many acceptable golf shots and drives of good length can be produced by players who have nothing more than active hands and a good sense of timing. These players will never achieve the consistency nor the extremes in length attainable by the expert with good form, but they will, nevertheless, be able to get a lot of fun out playing golf."

There are some really valuable ideas presented here by Bobby Jones. The idea of gripping the club in such a way as to be able to feel the clubhead is something so many of us miss as we put a deathgrip on the club. This, followed by the importance of understanding that the shaft of the club is the means by which we provide speed to the clubhead, rather than the means to transmit force to the ball, can't help but improve our ballstriking. How many times haven't I been guilty as charged of trying to use the shaft of the club to apply force to the ball. It's really the caveman approach to golf. Swinging the club as Lee Trevino once said, "like a caveman killing his lunch."

I remember playing with Bob on the seventeenth hole and asking him whether he could feel the clubhead when he was swinging. His answer was an emphatic "Nope." Watch a good player hold the club. Notice how relaxed his hands are, and how loose and supple his hands and wrists are. A grip like that allows them to swing that clubhead and really crack the whip. We have well-designed and weighted golf clubs. But weighting and design mean very little if we don't make use of the clubhead; if we continue to swing the shaft at the ball instead of the clubhead.

I know, as I search for ways to overcome the difficulties imposed by my back issues, that I am going to be more conscious of my hands. With nothing more than good use of my hands, I think I might just be able to still play a respectable enough game to enjoy it. And that's all most of us want to do. We want to play a reasonably good game for us, commensurate with our experience and our abilities. Most of us aren't playing for our supper. And that is probably a very good thing.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Good Hands

In his youth, Henry Cotton was a fanatical practiser. He laboured over his golf swing and his shortgame probably as much as any golfer ever has. There are stories of him, as a young man, having to be carried off the practice tee or green because he was so cramped up from hitting shots. And, after all this toiling to find the perfect golf swing, he finally came to believe that the real answer to playing good golf lies in your hands; the only thing that links you to the golf club.

Bobby Jones also believed that anyone with a decent set of hands can play good golf. They may not hit the ball prodigious distances with nothing more than a good set of hands, but they can hit it far enough to play well.

Modern teaching tends to ignore the importance of the hands in favour of swings generally based on the use of larger muscles. Many teachers have adopted the notion that, to gain consistency, it's much better to rely on a large-muscle swing than to rely on the "twitchy" muscles of the hands. It's a fine theory, but does this reliance on a swing governed by the big muscles produce the best golf for the average player? 

I have been a bit of a student of the golf swing myself. Nothing like Henry Cotton perhaps, but I have tried a variety of different swings. And what I've found is the truthfulness of the fact that the game ultimately boils down to feel and touch. And, like it or not, that feel is in our hands. Our hands ultimately control how and where the head of the club is applied to the golf ball. 

So, what's the best way to develop a good set of hands? Bob Toski believed it was by hitting short shots first. Learn to hit all sorts of solid chips, pitches, and putts, and solid full shots will likely follow. Harvey Penick said that the full swing was really just a long chip shot. I know that I've been playing much better, despite my back problems, when thinking of my full shots as simply longer chips or pitches. It helps my control; and it helps me not to over-swing. 

Most teachers want to teach a golf swing to their students. To a degree that is understandable, I suppose. Because how do you teach a golfer feel and touch? Short answer is, "You don't." Feel and touch comes only from hitting golf shots. And it's best to start to develop that feel and touch from the green back to the tee. The best players have all spent lots of time, usually beginning as kids, around the greens learning to get the ball in the hole--which is the name of the game. And the best players have always had the best hands. They are able to use their hands to manufacture shots of all sorts to deal with all sorts of situations.

So, take it from Henry Cotton, who literally wore himself out trying to develop the perfect swing. Get yourself a tire, or an impact bag, and whack it to develop strong hands and vital golf muscles. Learn to use your hands to control the clubhead and provide some zip to the hit. Your hands are your friend if you learn to use them properly. And remember, a good teacher can show you a good grip. But only you can develop the feel of a solid, crisp strike, and that feel is through your hands.

Radar and I were marvelling at Carl the Grinder the other day. At 74, he still hits it a mile, and he's deadly around the greens. When he swings, he sometimes looks more like a guy falling off a ladder than a golfer. But, as we both concluded, he's got a great pair of hands. It's all in the hands, not the shoulder turn, or a straight left arm, or a braced right knee, or...

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The First Foot

Arnie believed that, with a good grip, if you were able to take the club straight back for the first foot in one piece, in other words, without breaking your wrists, you were pretty much assured of a decent shot. I'm sure this will sound like a huge over-simplification of the golf swing, but simple is good.

Perhaps the greatest shotmaker of all time, Byron Nelson, swung the club in such a way that his club was square to the target and moving down the target line for twelve inches after impact. Playing this way, Nelson hit it so consistently that he could play entire rounds scarcely missing a shot. 

So, there you have it. The first foot going back, and the first foot going through impact are key to hitting good golf shots. The easiest way to have control over those two feet is by using your top hand. If, as a right-handed player, you push the club straight back to begin the swing using your left hand; and if you pull the club through impact straight down the target line through impact with your left hand; you won't believe how straight you can hit it. 

The straightest hitter of them all, Moe Norman, said he pulled the club down the line with his left hand and felt he kept his clubface square to the target for 22 inches after impact. Whether he actually managed to do this or not is really immaterial. The fact is he felt that he was doing this. Moe also took care of the first foot of the backswing by setting his club about a foot behind the ball for full shots. By doing this he felt he couldn't take the club outside, and he couldn't snatch it to the inside going back.

If you aren't hitting the ball square, or straight, try looking to the first two feet--the first foot going back, and the first foot going through. Arnie, Moe, and Lord Byron played that way. And they knew a little something about ballstriking.


Saturday, 29 July 2017

I'm Not So Clever After All

I wrote an article the other day about the virtue of playing conservatively and missing it in the right places. I was feeling pretty good about myself after having done just that to secure the win in our Men's League.

Well, not many people should be teachers in this life. And clearly, I'm not one of them. Yesterday, I played a match with Radar as a partner against Peter Cole and Paul Gentile. Radar and I ham and egged it pretty well, ending up three up with four to play. I played well early until my back started giving me grief, and I rode Radar the rest of the way. 

We lost fifteen to a nice birdie by Peter. And it was then that things really started to unravel for us. On sixteen Paul pushed his drive to the right into the fescue and had to take an unplayable. Peter hit his second into the fescue on the left and never found the ball. Radar and I were, or should have been, quids in. It was then that I failed miserably in terms of practising what I'd just been preaching about playing conservatively. 

I had hit a fairly good drive and had just seen Peter hit his second shot in the weeds on the left. Given that Paul had also taken an unplayable, a par on sixteen would have likely been good enough to leave us dormie, if not give us the win. I was sitting on a bit of an upslope. The wind was coming fairly strong off the bay which would push my ball left. Off an upslope, the usual miss is left as well. So, having seen where Peter ended up, playing from about ten yards behind me, you would have thought that common sense would prevail.

I could have taken a six iron and knocked it safely down to within 120 yards of the green. But I took my usual club, a 22 degree fairway wood, that would have got me inside 100 yards. It would have got me inside 100 yards had I not pull hooked it off the uphill lie. The ball would have followed Peter's ball into the thick cabbage had it not hit a tree.

I was now lying two about 150 yards from the pin in jail behind a couple of trees. Paul had hit his fourth shot just short of the green and was likely to make a six. All I had to do was pitch the ball out and knock my fourth on the green and we were almost certainly going to be dormie. Instead, after consulting with Radar, I decided to try the perfect shot; a low hook through a small gap in the trees. I hit the ball almost perfectly, but it hit the tree and almost hit me as it bounced back. 

I now had another option. I could now just chip it out and then knock my fifth shot on the green and have a putt for bogey. But, in for a penny, in for a pound, I tried another miracle shot. The ball didn't hook out of the rough and I hit across the fairway and behind another tree. And so it went. When Radar hit his fourth shot over the green and then duffed his pitch, Paul was able to win the hole with a bogey six.

If I had just pitched out with my third shot I'd have almost certainly made six for a half. But, as the saying goes, if my aunt had had nuts she'd have been my uncle. That's what often happens when you try to be too clever by half and attempt to play the miracle shot. You often end up looking like a mug. The biys won eighteen to halve the match. Radar and I had managed to blow a three up lead with four to play. And, the way we played coming in, we were lucky there wasn't five holes to play, because we'd have likely lost the next hole as well.

Hitting dumb shots really makes you feel stupid. It saps your energy, because you realize that it all could have been avoided had you simply exercised some common sense, taken your medicine, and got the ball back in play. Unfortunately, in my game, common sense isn't always that common. So, this story comes as a sort of confession, after my having talked about how smart I was the day before. I guess I'm not so clever after all.

What Club Do You Usually Use?

We have an interesting fifth hole in Picton. It's about 345 yards long, straight up a hill that has been named "heart attack hill" for it's steepness. There is a mound, covered in fescue, directly in front of the men's tees that has been known to catch many a mishit tee shot. I've thinned the odd one into it myself.

Radar told me yesterday about an incident that occurred there between Scott, our Pro Shop manager, who was about a two handicapper at the time, and Mike Pero, who won either the Canadian, or Ontario Amateur championship--I forget which one right now--had played the Canadian Tour, and had a few starts on the PGA tour. Scott was playing with Mike and somehow managed to hit his tee shot into the dreaded mound in front of the tee on number five. There was a certain amount of embarrassed silence between them, as you can imagine. You want to play well when you're playing with someone like Mike Pero.

But Scott is not one to be too embarrassed. He found his ball buried in the thick fescue on the bank, looked over at Mike and calmly asked, "What club do you usually hit from here, Mike?"

That Scott is a real piece of work.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Missing It in the Right Places

Jordan Spieth said--I believe it was at the start of the Masters this year--that his plan was to make committed swings to the right targets. He didn't manage to win the Masters, but his approach was the right one. Successful golfers make committed swings to the proper targets. And picking the right target is something the best players are the best at.

Bobby Jones said that he never did any amount of winning until he learned to play more conservatively. He was once told by an older, wiser player that "the best shot possible was not always the best shot to play." And Bobby took that advice to heart. 

In his book on The Elements of Scoring, Raymond Floyd wrote about the way a good player approaches every shot. He said that they first identify the places they absolutely don't want to hit the ball. They want to know, on every shot, on every hole, where not to miss it. Once they've identified the danger areas, good players then pick a shot that provides them with the widest possible margin for error.  Good players know how to play the odds.

It may not be very exciting, or sexy, but if it's your score you're interested in, you would be wise to play conservatively most of the time--to make committed swings to conservative targets. Tonight, in the Men's League was a perfect example. We were playing Randy Coates' team and had come back from two down to be all square playing our last hole, which was number one. We were playing a scramble format with four-man teams, where everyone tees off and you select the best of the four tee shots and everyone plays from there, and so on. 

Both of our teams hit a good drive. Randy's team had about 95 yards left to a back left pin. The perfect shot from their angle had them coming in over the pond on the front left of the green and landing it short of the pin with spin. There wasn't much green to work with and long was no good because the green slopes steeply from back to front. All four guys went for the pin and not one of them hit the green. They were forced to choose a third shot from the back of the green in fairly thick rough.

We had 75 yards. Johnny Carson hit first and went right at the pin. He hit a goid shot, but it went long and into the rough over the green. George also went at the pin and again went over the green to the back fringe. I decided to play a conservative shot to the middle of the green and my ball settled about twenty feet from the pin. Levi then went for the pin and again bounced into the rough at the back of the green.

Randy's team chipped four shots from the back of the green down the slope to the pin. The closest chip finished about eight feet from the hole. I got to see Johnny and George putt our twenty-footer and stepped up and managed to hole my putt for the win. Now, it was a good putt to make. But the putt was set up by a conservative shot to the middle of the green when everyone else had tried to get close to a "red light" pin. 

I had a good yardage, and I might have got my approach within ten or fifteen feet of the pin or better perhaps fifty percent of the time. But I knew that long was no good and there was very little green short of the pin. So, I played it safe. And, as it turned out, a good putt took care of the rest.

If you want to score, you need to make committed swings to the right targets; just like Jordan Spieth. And, the right target is not always going to be the pin. You should only shoot at "green light" pins where the penalty for missing is not going to be too great. When you start "missing it" in the right places, you will start to see your scores improve. 

Monday, 24 July 2017

The Obvious Way to Play

Bobby Jones believed that there was an obvious and uncomplicated way to play golf. Unlike many teachers of the game who espouse finespun theories about how to swing a golf club, Bobby felt that the uncomplicated way to play was to focus on the strike instead of the swing.

The best swing in the world is of little use if it doesn't produce a proper strike. I know I've quoted this information from Bobby Jones before, but I think it bears repeating in view of the fact that there are so many golfers out there who could save themselves a great deal of work, and no small amount of heartache, if they could only convince themselves of its truthfulness. Bobby, in his book Golf is my Game, wrote:

    "Golf is played by striking the ball with the head of the club. The objective if 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.
     No one can play golf until he knows the ways in which a golf ball can be expected to respond when it is struck in different ways. If you think 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, a golf ball only reacts to the way it is struck. The golf ball cares nothing about your backswing or your follow-through. In his book, Bobby provided diagrams to illustrate how the ball must be struck to produce a straight shot, a hook, a slice, a push, and a pull. 

Too many golfers are fooled in to thinking that it's their swing that produces the hooks or slices that ruin their scores. But it isn't their swing. It's the strike that causes the slice or the hook. I think, and, more importantly, Bobby Jones thought, that golfers would immediately improve if they learned to think a whole lot less about their swing, and a whole lot more about the strike. 

If you don't know what causes a straight shot, a hook, a slice, a push, or a pull, I suggest you read Bobby Jones' book, Golf is my Game. If you don't have the book, I have covered that information in my featured article, entitled The Wisdom of Bobby Jones: Striking the Ball.



Sunday, 23 July 2017

Spieth Doesn't Know the Meaning of the Word

I know I am prone to constantly referring back to Bobby Jones whenever I talk golf. I'm not sure whether others find it annoying or not. Certainly, my buddy Steve didn't find reading Bobby's books as illuminating, or as easy to read, as I did. 

But writing style aside, Bobby Jones, as much as any other player in history, understood what was most important in playing golf, and just how much the game of golf mirrors life. Bobby's most important lesson came from Harry Vardon, who said, "No matter what happens, keep on hitting the ball." This, Bobby learned to do as well as any player who ever lived. He used that approach to golf to do what was, and continues to be, almost the unthinkable in winning the Grand Slam.

It's perhaps easy to get carried away in the wake of a performance like we saw from Jordan Spieth on this Open Sunday. It was a performance for the ages. And what did Spieth do best on this magic Sunday? He didn't drive it well. He didn't strike his irons as well as he can. He didn't even putt very well, at least for the first dozen holes. But what he did as well as anyone ever has is keep on hitting the ball in the face of great adversity. 

If you want to succeed at this game you can't be a quitter. And golf is the sort of game that often tempts you to just quit. It can be the most infuriating game in the world. You can be at the top of your game one minute, and suddenly have absolutely no idea what you are doing, and vice versa. Golf is like that proverbial box of chocolates. You just never know what you're going to get from one day to the next, from one hole to the next, even from one shot to the next. 

Golf cannot be subjected to control. You cannot make the putts drop by sheer force of will--although the great champions sometimes make it look that way. You have to accept the vagaries of the game. Look at Spieth's opening tee shot today. He striped it. He hit it as he wanted to, and on the line he wanted to. It should have bounded off the bank into the fairway. Instead it hung in the deep fescue. 

Spieth was clearly upset with his bad luck. A good shot had been punished. He was visibly distressed. But he did all that any golfer can do in the face of good luck or bad; he kept on hitting the ball. Today that patience and persistance was rewarded. And in that victory, I think, is a message for all of us. Good things can happen if we just refuse to give up. And believe me, sometimes even really good players give up, or let up. But if we have learned anything at all, in watching Jordan Spieth in action, we have surely learned that there is no quit in him. He doesn't know the meaning of the word.

Jordan Spieth: Desire and Determination Personified

Once again, Jordan Spieth helped remove any doubt, if in fact there were still any doubters, that he is a very special player, the likes of which we have rarely seen. I could brag that I picked him to win this week at Royal Birkdale, but it's really nothing to brag about. This young man is going to be a favourite to win at every Major he enters for years to come.

The inevitable comparisons will be made to Jack and Tiger. And the fact that we are legitimately comparing Spieth's record to date with those two giants of the game just tells you how special a player he is. He is rewriting the record books in an age where most of us probably thought we had seen the best players we were ever going to see. For me, it was Jack. For many others it was Tiger. But Spieth has accomplished things even they hadn't managed to accomplish at the same age. That's just how good Spieth is.

To think, especially after last year's phenomenal Open championship, that Johnny Miller, a guy who knows a little something about historic final rounds in Majors, would state that this was the greatest finish to a Major championship he's ever seen. Some may not necessarily agree with Johnny. He does have his detractors. But you have to admit that we have probably never been taken on the quite the ride we were taken on today by Spieth. After losing his lead, and looking like anything but a champion, Spieth stood up on the next tee and almost holed a six iron from 201 yards. 

I won't bother recounting his incredible finish. Others will do that. All I think you need to try to imagine is how it must have felt to relinquish the lead at that stage in the championship; how psychologically deflating that would have been for any normal person. Few final round leaders in Majors are able to lose their lead and then come charging back to reclaim it. I'm not a good enough historian to tell you when, or how often, it has happened before. But I am certain it is a rare achievement.

I am constantly reminded of Bobby Jones and his assessment of how he was able to win the Grand Slam. He didn't have his best stuff in any if those four victories, but he said that he was able to win because he was willing to take more punishment and tried harder than everyone else. Royal Birkdale was not there for the taking, and she administered some severe punishment to Spieth in the early going. But Spieth simply refused to give up. It was his determination to just keep on hitting it when just about anyone else would have given up that is the reason he is the champion golfer of the year, and why he is already headed for the Hall of Fame at 23 years of age.

We can now, as we always do, look forward to the PGA championship. And I certainly won't be betting against Jordan Spieth to win that one as well. The level of competition in professional golf has never been so high. But there just aren't very many players out there who have the desire and the determination of Jordan Spieth. In fact, I don't think there are any. And that desire and determination, as much as his skill, is what sets Jordan Spieth apart from the rest of the field.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Nae Wind Nae Rain

It was a very unusual day at Royal Birkdale. The conditions were balmy. The course was green and relatively soft, and birdies abounded. It was an easy day for many of the players. But, as any Scot worth his salt would say, "It was nae golf!"

That's one of the things I really appreciate about Open championships; they let the conditions dictate the score. There is no effort by the R&A to shave the greens, or trick things up by silly pin placements, to protect par. If the sun shines, and the wind lays down, Old Man Par takes a beating. And, once in a while, it's not such a bad thing.

I also like the fact that the boys continue to play the same iconic courses in the Open. This seems to be something the US Open is moving away from. And I don't think it's a particularly good thing. I like a bit of tradition when it comes to golf. 

We shall see what the golfing gods have in store for the players tomorrow. It's looking like it could be another two man race like it was last year, with Spieth being chased by Kuchar. There are a few others that could find themselves in the mix should those two stumble a bit; particularly if it's another soft day from a weather perspective. But it rather looks like I should have put some money where my mouth was at the start of the week, because it looks like my man Spieth just might be the champion golfer of the year come tomorrow evening. 

Let's hope for some wind and some rain tomorrow. Because, nae wind, nae rain, nae golf!

Shooting Your Age

Generally speaking, to shoot your age in golf is an accomplishment that few amateurs get to experience. For one, you had better be a pretty good player. And you had better live to be a decent age, and stay reasonably healthy, to even have the chance to do it. Today, Carl the Grinder did it again. 

Carl and I ended up playing with Toller and Stan today. They were visiting our course and I invited them to join us in order to make up a foursome. As a result, they became, willingly or otherwise, witnesses to  Carl the Grinder at his best; playing for two dollars like it was the Open championship. 

Carl and I pretty much always have a match. I think playing a match helps you enjoy the game more, even if it may not always necessarily make you play better. The great putter of Bobby Jones' era, Walter Travis, once said that you should always play for something, "even if it's only a ten-cent cigar." And I think he was right. If you aren't playing for something, you're really just practising. 

After a near-perfect opening drive, I yanked my wedge shot into the pond on the left side of the green and promptly made a six. My back had been telling me to stay home; and when I did that to give Carl the first hole, I thought I probably should have listened. On the par three second hole, Carl hit it to about four feet and made birdie. I hit my tee shot in the bunker, blasted the ball out of the bunker and across the green, and then chipped in for a three. It was a wasted chip-in, given that I'd lost the hole anyway, but it helped lift my spirits a bit.

On three, after a reasonably good drive, I hit my second shot long and right of the green and eventually found myself three down after three when Carl made an easy par. By now I was really wishing I'd listened to my back and bloody well stayed home. It seemed inevitable that I was going to get thoroughly trounced by Carl, who was obviously in good form.  Sometime, early in the proceedings, I had told Toller and Stan about the fact that Carl had already shot his age or better four times this year. I don't mind bragging him up a bit, because I think it's pretty damned impressive. I mean, I'm not exactly holding my breath waiting for me to start shooting my age. 

Anyway, we played on and I managed to eventually fight my way back in the match and even go one up after I chipped in for birdie on sixteen. On seventeen, I hit a solid drive only to have Carl knock it twenty odd yards by me right in the middle of the fairway. It's really rather annoying to have a 74 year old consistently knock it by you. But, as a wise man once said, "it is what it is." 

After this terrific drive, Carl mentioned that he needed another birdie if he was going to shoot his age again today. I hadn't really been paying attention to what he was shooting. I knew he had gone out in 36, but he had made a double bogey on ten and a bogey on eleven, so I had sort of counted him out as far as shooting his age was concerned. But he had kept it together, making a nice birdie on twelve, just missing a birdie on thirteen, and then, after bogeying fourteen when his tee shot kicked left of the green leaving him short-sided in thick rough, just missing another birdie on fifteen and making an easy par on sixteen. Sure enough, Carl was three over par standing in the middle of the fairway at the hundred yard marker on seventeen. He needed one more birdie and a par to shoot 74. 

Now I've noticed that it is generally not a good idea to be thinking about your score; especially thinking about shooting your lowest score ever, or about shooting your age. More often than not, bad things happen when you get ahead of yourself and start thinking about what you might shoot. But, sure enough, Carl hit it pin high and about twelve feet left of the pin on seventeen and then drained the putt to get it back to two over and to square the match heading to eighteen. 

On eighteen, Carl hit a perfect tee shot to the centre of the green, leaving himself about a fifteen footer to actually shoot one better than his age. I, meanwhile, missed the green on the right and was again sitting in the thick rough that encircles most of our greens.  I knew I really needed to chip it in for a chance to win. Unfortunately, I tugged my chip and left myself about a five footer for par.

Carl, with a chance to finish birdie, birdie, and actually better his age, then hit a rather wishy-washy putt to about a foot and a half short of the hole. I let him mark it and think about it for a minute or two while I set about holing my five footer for par. I picked my ball out of the hole and then tossed Carl his marker, conceding his putt for the half. I was grateful to have managed to square the match, particularly since I didn't have the two bucks in my pocket to pay him had I lost. I find it rather stressful to play for money when I don't have any cash on me. I think Lee Trevino spoke about that; saying that real pressure was having to make a putt when it's for ten bucks and you only have two bucks on you. 

So, Carl shot his age again today. Okay, it wasn't an official result, since it was match play and I'd given Carl a couple of short putts during the round. But it was close enough.

I can only hope to live long enough to someday shoot my age. I'm 60, and my best score is 65. So, I don't see it happening for me any time soon. Carl, on the other hand, is starting to make a regular habit of it. In fact, he recently shot 70 at Timber Ridge, near Brighton, Ontario. As for Toller and Stan; I don't know what they shot, but they were good fun to play with. I just hope they enjoyed their day as much as Carl and I did.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Who Knows?

The biggest week in golf is underway. The men haven't teed it up yet, but the excitement is palpable at the Open. It's strange how just a year ago we thought we had a Big Three, or maybe four, in men's golf, with Spieth, McIlroy and Day looking like they were ready to separate themselves from the rest of the field. Then we had DJ, until he literally took his tumble at the Masters, looking about as bullet-proof as they come. Then Matsuyama looked like he was going to be the first Japanese player to get to number one. 

But the golf scene has seemingly changed. Suddenly, we have a Spanish resurgence, with a Masters champion named Sergio, another Spaniard as the Irish Open champion in Jon Rahm, and another Spaniard as the Scottish Open champion in Cabrera Bello. You surely wouldn't put it past any of those guys to win again this week. 

The golf scene has definitely changed. It's about as wide open an Open as we've seen in years. McIlroy has been missing cuts and dealing with injury. Day seems to be day to day, and DJ has been quiet. But Spieth looks really good and should definitely challenge this week. He really needs to win another Major and take another step towards the career slam. Fowler is in pretty good form, despite a disappointing weekend at the Scottish Open. But you have to wonder whether we might be entering a time when there is such parity in the game that we will no longer have strong favourites to win the big ones. 

There are simply too many guys, especially Europeans, that now believe they can win these big events. They've seen Danny Willett win at Augusta, followed by Sergio, and they know that it can happen for them. So, while I like Spieth if I had to pick a winner, I wouldn't be surprised to see another first-time Major winner this week. In fact, I have a sneaking feeling that we could see a Brit win this year. Perhaps Justin Rose can find some magic again at Royal Birkdale. Or maybe it's time for Andy Sullivan to break through. Or perhaps Ian Poulter will decide to play like he's done in the Ryder Cup and wins one for all of the guys who came out of a pro shop with big dreams. Who knows? Well, I guess no one does, other than perhaps the golfing gods. After all, no one wins the Open without a bit of luck.

However, after watching the replay of the 1976 Open at Birkdale, with Seve and Johnny Miller, wouldn't it be something to see Rahm and Spieth battle it out? All I know is I can hardly wait for the competition to begin.

 

Monday, 17 July 2017

Sam Snead on Hitting the Long Irons

It's funny how quickly golfers tend to blame their swing for any issues with their ball-striking. I played today with Gary, who asked me on the first tee if I would try and watch him swing when he was playing his longer irons. He complained that he was having an awful time with them.

I watched him hit a couple and couldn't see that his swing was any different when hitting the five iron than any other club. So, I suggested that he consider Sam Snead's advice regarding the long irons. Sam, of course, was famous for talking about holding the club like you were holding a baby bird. And, I suppose, if you had hands like Sam Snead you could get away with holding the club lightly. But most of us don't have hands like Sam Snead. Jackie Burke once mused that the baby bird Sam was referring to was probably a baby eagle.

With respect to the long irons, Sam said it was important to have a firm grip on the club when playing the long irons because of the  tendency for the clubface to twist at impact. So, I suggested to Gary that he simply take a firmer than normal grip with those irons and focus on making a solid strike, hitting the ball in the sweet spot. Gary tried this and, while he wasn't hitting long irons like the Slammer, he was hitting them solidly and on target, something he said was a significant improvement.

At the end of the round Gary thanked me for my help. I told him not to thank me; instead I suggested that he "thank the Slammer."

Saturday, 15 July 2017

You Never Know If You Don't Give Up

You just never know in this game if you don't give up. That was perhaps, according to Bobby Jones, Harry Vardon's greatest strength. He just kept on hitting the ball; no matter what. Bobby Jones eventually learned to do the same. Patience and persistence are vital in golf, and in life. You just never know, if you don't give up.

I had another good match with Steve and Spiro yesterday. Playing their best ball, I got off to a good start and got to two up fairly early in the proceedings. But the boys ham-and-egged it, and fought their way back.

By seventeen the boys were dormie, after I somehow managed to take a seven on the par five sixteenth. I say, "somehow," because I was nicely positioned in the fairway, a hundred yards from the green in two, when I managed to pull my wedge left of the green and into some tree roots. From there, I stick-handled my way to a seven. It was the old, "one shot begets another," story.

Needless to say, the boys were feeling pretty good on seventeen. They pretty much figured they had the match in the bag after Steve stood up and hit a perfect drive, probably his best of the day. But I matched him, and there we were "side by each," as the Quebec folk would say, about 140 yards from the pin. I hit an eight iron and pushed it shirt and right of the green. Steve hit a nine iron that looked to be perfect, but kicked right when it landed and just trickled off the edge of the green into the thick collar. Spiro was short and left of the green in two after hitting a good shot over the trees from about 200 yards. 

At this point, I was figuring on having to hole my pitch from the right rough in order to stay alive. I figured a par wasn't going to cut it. I focussed with all my might and hit what looked to be a perfect pitch. The ball landed on my spot, but bounced slightly to the right and ended up about a foot from the hole for a gimmee four. Spiro and Steve then both failed to get their balls up and down for the win. I went to eighteen still alive, but down one.

On eighteen, I've generally been using my old 28 degree Taylormade wood or a six iron, depending on the pin and the wind. Although the wind was hurting a bit and across from left to right, I chose the six iron, knowing I'd need to hit a solid draw to hold it against the wind and get to the left middle pin. I somehow managed to hit the exact shot I'd envisioned--which obviously doesn't happen all that often--and ended up about five feet short and left of the pin. 

Perhaps a bit shaken by my tee shot, Spiro pushed his tee shot out of bounds on the right, and Steve missed the green short and left, leaving himself a tough pitch if he hoped to make par. He chunked it, missed the next pitch long, and I was able to calmly roll in my putt for a birdie and another halved match--or as Spiro would say, "No blood."

It was another fun match that came down to the eighteenth hole. Those are the best matches; the ones that come down to the end and force you to really grind. Steve and Spiro played pretty well. And, other than making two sevens on par fives today, I figured I played pretty well also. Clearly, however, Steve and Spiro are either getting better, or I'm getting worse; because there was a time, not all that long ago, when I had to give them strokes as well as play their best ball. They certainly didn't need any strokes today.

And what did I learn today? I learned, once again, that I'm not very good from 100 yards. I learned that I really hate making sevens on par fives. And I learned, once again, that it pays never to give up. After the double on sixteen to go two down with two to play, and then the disappointing pushed eight iron on seventeen, I could have easily given up. But I scrambled a par and then made a nice birdie on eighteen to halve the match. Sometimes it pays to hang in there, even when things look awfully bleak. You just never know in this game. It ain't over 'til it's over--at least it ain't over if you don't give up.




Friday, 14 July 2017

Bobby Jones on Recovery Shots

I'm up at almost three in the morning because of my damned back. So, as I am wont to do, I decided to open a Bobby Jones book and see what I could learn. I opened the book to a short article by Bobby regarding recovery shots.

Bobby wrote that the secret to playing good golf was the ability to turn three shots into two. Sooner or later we are going to miss a shot; and it is often sooner rather than later. When we do miss one, how good a player we are is really determined by our ability to recover--to essentially minimize the damage. 

Consider what Bobby had to say about recovery shots in his book, Bobby Jones on Golf:

    "I think it is safe to say that the man who scores between 95 and 100 usually loses about ten strokes per round because of failure to recover as well as he ought to, even in proportion to his limited ability. Tension, uncertainty, and fear take from him a heavier toll than they have any right to exact.
     The tightening-up process as the player enters a bunker or long grass shortens his backswing considerably; usually, too, he feels the need of exerting some extra force in order to get the ball out. Thus he produces a short, hurried, ill-timed stroke that fails because of its inaccuracy. Brilliant recoveries to the edge of the hole are not for this man, but, under the conditions met in nine cases out of ten, there is no reason why a moderately successful recovery should not be within the reach of anyone. Most failures from bunkers, or rough, result from topping, and this is so because tension has upset the stroke.
     I have said before that too much ambition is a bad thing to have in a bunker; the same holds true when playing from long grass. It is always difficult to resist the temptation to attempt to make up immediately for any mistake. When there is a long shot to be made, the average lerson will invariably try his luck with a club that he knows is unsafe. The one idea in playing from rough is to be certain of getting the ball up quickly enough to escape the grass. If this will not reach the green, it will be better to be a few yards short than to be still in the rough.
     That a ball played from long grass will roll an abnormal distance, unless the turf be sodden, is a fact not often enough accounted for. Playing on fast ground, I have seen distances made with a five-iron or four-iron out of rough that would have required a two- iron or one-iron if played in a normal way from the fairway--and the shot could be played with assurance that it would clear the grass."

So, we have two valuable bits of advice from Bobby Jones. First, when faced with a bunker shot, or a shot from long rough, we must resist the temptation to try to do something heroic, or overly ambitious, to try to immediately make up for the shot that landed us in trouble. We want to make sure we get ourselves out of the rough, or the bunker, as the first order of business. And we don't want to let tension ruin the shot. We want to take our time, finish our backswing, and not hurry, or force, our downswing. Most trouble shots are missed by allowing tension to ruin our swing and, therefore, ruin our strike.

We need to try not to, as my father used to say, let one bad shot beget another. Just get the ball back in play and see if we can't recover instead by making a long putt, or a good chip. Sometimes, the best recovery shots are the shots played after the recovery shot. 




The One to Win

As my favourite week in golf approaches, it's nice to watch the boys at the Scottish Open as a preview of what we might expect next week at the Open. And what do we see? Paddy's back in form. Now Padraig Harrington knows a thing or two about winning Opens, even if he's been in golfing purgatory for some time.

And speaking of golfing purgatory, we also see Ian Poulter playing some good golf again. There's another possible story for next week. Imagine if Poulter could find some magic and break through to snag golf's biggest prize. I know he has his detractors, but I think Poults is a guy who has, if anything, over-achieved in this game. He's big on guts, as his Ryder Cup performances have shown. And he has believed in himself, probably when the odds were stacked against him and he was the only one believing. I admire the guy.

The Open has been a tournament where wiley veterans can definitely get it done. Look at Darren Clarke, or Zach Johnson, or Paddy for that matter. The Open is made for guys who can use their experience and their skills gained from playing all over the world under all kinds of conditions to outlast some of the young guns who may be more powerful, and might even have more talent, but aren't as experienced and patient.

I'd love to see Padraig back in the thick of it next week. And I'd be rooting like hell for Poulter if he was in the hunt as well. But somehow I'm thinking it might be Rickie Fowler's time. I know I keep thinking that and turn out to be wrong, but Rickie embraces links golf. He's also playing well this week. With a wee bit of luck, he just might finally get his Major next week. And what a Major to get--the Champion Golfer of the Year. Yessir, the Open is the one to win if you're having only one. Hell, it's the one to win if you're having a dozen!



Thursday, 13 July 2017

Favourite Kind of Golf

Rickie Fowler tweeted about how pleased he was to be back in Scotland to play the Scottish Open. He said links golf was his favourite kind of golf. As a golf fan, I'm excited about the next two weeks when I get to watch great players play links golf.

If you haven't had the opportunity to play links golf, you've really missed something. There is golf, and then there's golf on a true links course. Everything about playing on a true links course is, to me, and it seems Rickie Fowler, Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus..., the essence of what golf is all about. You must be creative. Especially when the wind blows--and the wind blows just about all the time--you can chuck out the yardage book. There is no stock seven iron to be played from 150 yards. It could be a wedge, and it could be a three wood, depending on the wind. 

Now this is not to say that great players haven't grown up playing parkland courses. Ben Hogan, who grew up playing hard, fast, and windy Texas courses, went to Carnoustie on his one Open trip and proved that he was the champion golfer of the year. Sam Snead did the same thing at St Andrews. Arnie started a new wave of American champions going over to the UK to test themselves on the classic links courses and prove that they were the best.

You can be a great golfer without ever setting foot on a links course. But playing golf on a links course will establish just how great you are. Great players love the challenge. They love the fact that the elements; the wind and the rain, dictate just how the course will play; sometimes almost easy; other times brutally hard. It isn't the greenskeeper who decides. There are no windmills and clown faces, forced carries and island greens. Just golf as it was meant to be played. You, your clubs, and your wits against the links, the wind, and the rain.

If you haven't played a links course, try to do so. The first shot you hit from that sandy turf should tell you that this is how the game was meant to be played. Yes, there are great courses all over the world. And, ultimately, any golf is better than no golf. But the true links courses are the ones that will put hair on your chest. They are the courses that force you to really play golf: to think, to be creative, to improvise. 

If I have my way, my final rounds will be on links courses. And, I hope I will be walking.


Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The Six Foot Putt

Raymond Floyd, who was no slouch, said that the six foot putt was the most important shot in golf. I wonder how many amateurs would say that. Probably none. 

But there is good reason to accept Mr. Floyd's statement. Dave Pelz, who became a shortgame guru, studied putts and found out, to the surprise of just about everyone, that pros made only fifty percent of their putts from six feet. Jack Nicklaus correctly guessed that this was the case, but most pros didn't. So, imagine if you could make 75 or 80 percent of your six footers. That's what the leaders every week on the various tours are doing.

A wise person once said that the end of a matter is more important than its beginning. And no where is this more true than in the game of golf. What good does it do to hit great iron shots to six or seven feet from the hole, only to miss the damned putt? You have to finish it off.

If you can become efficient on the short putts, from six feet and in, you can really start to score. If not, forget about it. Why was Tiger so dominant? There were probably many reasons, but one thing for certain was he was as good as anyone I've ever seen from six feet and in. When he was in his heyday, six footers were pretty much gimmees for him. And, as a result, he just kept making pars where other guys were making bogeys. In his last few years, Tiger has been missing short putts. And, as a result, he looks distinctly human, instead of bullet-proof.

So, maybe those of us who are trying to get better might want to spend less time trying to hit the ball farther, and a bit more time working on putts from six feet and in. It might not be as exciting, but, if it's your score you are concerned about, it would be worth it.

Most amateurs are lousy putters from six feet. And when they talk about their scores they often moan about the short putts that they missed. Short putts count as much as a three hundred yard drive. It may not seem fair, but that's golf. Raymond Floyd said the most important shot in golf was the six foot putt. He knew what he was talking about. And you can bet he was pretty good from that distance. He had to be.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Bobby Jones on the Rules of Golf

I think Bobby Jones is the ultimate reference when it comes to golf. Today, we almost experienced another rules fiasco with Jon Rahm at the Irish Open. In light of this, I think we all would do well to consider what Bobby Jones, the Master, had to say on the subject of the rules:

    "The rules of golf, considered in their entirety, provide material for almost a lifetime of study. The diversity of situations arising in the course of play makes necessary many very nice decisions with respect to the application of the rules. It is not possible to expect that a merely cursory reading of a rule-book can provide this kind of knowledge."

This statement, which was accurate at the time, is even more true today. The Rules of Golf, along with the Decisions on the Rules of Golf, are pretty much beyond the ken of the average golfer. But Bobby goes on to offer the other side of things. He continued by writing:

    "On the other hand, there are two basic conceptions upon which the game of golf has been developed which most effectively point the way to the proper solution of any question that may arise.
     The first, with respect to the rules, is that the player must start and finish each hole with the same ball, playing each stroke as it lies, or accept the penalty for failure to do so. The second, with respect to etiquette, is that the player must in no way interfere with the play of his opponent or anyone else in the game. This right of the player to play his own game unmolested by other players is fundamental to golf. So it is quite enough in the beginning, I think, if the player should understand that he is to play every shot with the ball as it lies, or accept a penalty, and he must so conduct himself as to interfere with his opponent or partner in no way, shape, or form."

How wonderfully simple an explanation of the true intent of the rules of golf. We should play the ball as it lies and in no way interfere with our opponent in the playing of his game. Of course, in the modern age, we sometimes see players seemingly doing whatever they can to avoid playing a ball as it lies, at least if the lie isn't perfect, and the rules have been modified to actually aid in this endeavour. We would now have to make some big changes to the rules to get anywhere near Bobby's ideal. 

To the rules purists of today, I would point out that we now routinely see pros playing "preferred lies" any time there's a possibility of a mud ball. It's really legalized cheating. And yet do we see the rules purists complaining? No, they are too busy scrutinizing people marking their golf balls; straining the gnat out of the soup and swallowing the proverbial camel.

What happened to the days when you just had Walter Hagen's attitude? "I hit it here, and from here I have to play it." Imagine if the modern pros had to play from cart tracks like the oldtimers did.

Next, Bobby Jones writes about the proper sort of attitude we should have regarding the rules:

    "Let me emphasize right here that no one should learn the rules of golf with the idea that they will be useful in calling penalties upon other players. Throughout the many years of my golfing experience I never once found it necessary to call a rule against an adversary or a playing partner in a stroke-play competition. The reason for being well up on the rules is to avoid yourself making a mistake that might prove embarrassing. A player must be vigilant to see that he does not unwittingly violate some of the rules of the game. It must be admitted that golf is a very easy game in which to cheat if one should be so minded. Yet the occurrence of this sort of thing is so rare as to be almost non-existant in competition. Players whose skill is great enough to encourage them to play in important tournaments have learned such a respect for the traditions of the game that the thought of any sort of unfair play never crosses their minds."

I wrote earlier about the "Rules Nazis," the ones who get all lathered up about something like the Jon Rahm "incident," which was much ado about nothing. If only these folks would really consider what Bobby wrote. The rules don't exist to use against someone. The rules exist to help us play the game properly. You can bet that Jon Rahm never for a moment tried to pull a fast one when he placed his ball after marking it in the Irish Open. I'm certain it never even occurred to him. 

So, I, for one, celebrate the common sense approach taken by Jon Rahm's playing partner and the rules official. When it comes to the enforcement of the rules these days, common sense isn't all that common.







Rules Nazis

Once again, we see the rules aficionados trying to create much ado about nothing at the Irish Open in the Jon Rahm case. There is something about many "rules people." They seem to view the world differently. Some of them would have, I fear, made great Nazis. That's what some of them really are; "Rules Nazis."

They lose sight of the forest because of all the damned trees. They pick the bug out of the soup, and then swallow the snake. The rules are supposed to exist to create fairness in the competition. The way things have developed, we have come to the point where we see a big uproar from the Rules Nazis over replacing a ball on the green, even when the fellow competitor and a rules official made a reasonable finding about it; but then we see relative silence, or perhaps a slightly embarrassed "oh well," from the same Rules Nazis when the rules are used to let a guy get away with a terrible shot. 

That's why the rules need changing. They are overly complicated, for one thing. And they don't always "protect the field" as they were supposedly designed to do. Brandel Chamblee, who loves a bit of controversy, tweeted after the Rahm incident about "protecting the field." From what, in the Rahm case, did the field need protecting? What unfair advantage did he gain, if in fact he misplaced his ball by a millimetre or two on a gimmee putt? Obviously, his fellow competitor and the rules official didn't think it amounted to a hill of beans. But the Rules Nazis, masquerading as purists, are never to be satisfied.

The Rules Nazis would prefer to harp on about a possible minor rules infraction, than acknowledge the dominant victory by Jon Rahm. Apparently, that is just how they're wired. It's more fun to make it all about the rules.

Bobby Jones wrote an interesting piece on the rules that I think bears thinking about. I'll share that in my next article.

Patience

It is often said that patience is a virtue. And nowhere is that saying more true than in the game of golf. Perhaps it was a golfer who coined the phrase. I don't know. But it was patience that Bobby Jones had to learn before he became perhaps the greatest champion we've ever seen. To Bobby Jones, patience was not just a virtue, it was the greatest virtue.

Consider what Bobby wrote in his book Down the Fairway:

    "In this play-off with Chick, at medal competition, I was two strokes down. But I had a different attitude. Some way, I wasn't in that frantic hurry, about getting those strokes back. It was as if something deep in my consciousness kept counseling patience. Patience! Somewhere lately I heard ir read that the greatest asset of Harry Vardon was his perfect realization of the cold fact that no matter what happened, there was only one thing for him to do--keep on hitting the ball. I hadn't heard or read that, at Flossmoor; and I cannot say that such a plan was in my mind. Indeed, I had no plan. Instinctively or otherwise, I managed to keep on hitting the ball, and not trying to wrench back those strokes immediately. And presently--presently they came back to me, in a sort of normal and ordinary manner, and some more with them.
     So maybe that is the answer--the stolid and negative and altogether unromantic attribute of patience. It is nothing new or original to say that golf is played one stroke at a time. But it took me many years to realize it. And it is easy to forget, now. And it won't do to forget, in tournament golf."

Patience isn't just a virtue. Patience, plain old unromantic patience, is the virtue most to be admired in great players.



Friday, 7 July 2017

Right-Side or Left-Side, Bottom or Top Hand: You Choose

Jack Nicklaus considered himself a "left-sided" player. He was conscious of his left arm essentially controlling the swing. I named my blogsite "Top Hand Golf" based upon the Golden Bear's, and other great players', like Bobby Jones, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead, appreciation of the importance of the left side and arm controlling the swing. 

The fact is that most right-handed amateurs don't use their left side properly and suffer as a result. A left side that doesn't lead in the swing, according to Bobby Jones, often "gum's up the works" and allows the right side to overpower the left with, as Jack also wrote in his book Golf my Way, "dire results."

Consider also what Jack wrote about being left-sided:

    "I'm a 'left-sided' golfer, but I never hesitate to think in right-sided terms if my keft-sided thoughts aren't working. 
     For example, if I can't get the correct hip turn going back by thinking 'turn the left hip,' I'll think 'pull the right hip out of the way.' The same sort of thing often applies with the shoulders on the forward swing. My preferred thought is 'move the left shoulder up and the left hip around.' But if that doesn't seem to be working, I'll try 'move the right shoulder down and the right hip around.'
     So long as the desired effect is achieved, I don't think it matters which 'side' you think about. In fact, it's probably good to switch patterns occasionally, for the sake of striking a balance. Thinking one side or the other all the time can easily lead to exaggeration of a particular move."

So Jack was a left-sided golfer who sometimes played right-sided. He wasn't stuck on just seeing the swing in one way. So, when he thought about things from a right-sided perspective, how did he see the right arm working? In Golf My Way, Jack wrote:

    "In most good swings the right arm is slightly bent and the right elbow pointing down, not out, at impact. Otherwise, there's a danger that the right side will grab control of the swing, invariably with dire results.
     Past impact, however, the right arm does straighten and extend toward the target. To me, the movement feels very similar to that used in bowling or in pitching a softball. It's a 'sweeping through' motion from which I get the feeling I could reach out and retrieve the flying ball with my right hand."

I particularly like this analogy from Jack, having been a softball pitcher. I have often played, quite successfully, thinking of pitching the ball underhanded at the target with my right hand. So much for "top hand golf." The reality is that you can't always hang your hat on one way of thinking about the swing. And, while I figure we would all be better off if we could just think about the strike and not the swing, we do have swing thoughts. It's the cost of doing business it seems.