Sunday, 29 January 2017

I Wish Jack Would Ring Tiger

There's a new commercial out where Tiger's peers--if we can call them that--talk about his incredible 79 PGA tour wins. Even Phil, with 42 wins, was willing to take part and pay homage to the great Tiger Woods. 

But, in view of Tiger's rather dismal return to competition, this commercial might just end up being the postscript to his incredible career. I watched a piece where Greg Norman talked about Tiger's return and believes that, while Tiger will probably win again "somewhere in the world," he will likely not challenge Jack's Major record. The clock is ticking, according to the Shark, and Tiger's opponents are less intimidated and seventeen months improved from the last time Tiger competed. In fact, many of the top competitors were still in school when Tiger last won a Major.

There's no doubt that Tiger intimidated the hell out of his opponents. Most of them, if Tiger was in the field, were pretty much beaten before they teed it up. They knew--and what's more imortant is that Tiger knew--he was that much better. Then along came a little-known Korean who ran Tiger down in a PGA championship and the man who could not be beaten with a lead in a Major became the man who for eleven years couldn't be beaten with a lead in a Major.

Tiger has never been the same since that defeat. He hasn't won a Major since. Now, you can blame it on injuries. You can blame it on swing changes that haven't helped. You can blame it on the fact that the guy who seemingly never missed a six footer now misses plenty of them. Or you can blame it on all of these things. But the fact remains that Tiger is not the same cat he was when he won his last Major on one leg. The other players know it, and Tiger knows it.

We can hope for a great resurgence from Tiger, but I think the best we can really hope for is one magical win like Jack had in 1986. The golfing gods seem to be willing to let the great ones have one last moment of glory. And if that's the best we can hope for, it will still have been one helluva run.

The nice thing is that we seem to be seeing a kinder, gentler version of Tiger Woods. He smiles more. He's seemingly more comfortable with the media and the other players. I must confess that I like the new Tiger better. Now, if he'd only start playing fades off the tee, like Nick Faldo suggests, maybe he can win a few more. Jack wrote about why he preferred the fade, even though he sometimes played the draw. I wish he'd give Tiger a ring.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Legend Oaks Golf Club

I played Legend Oaks Golf Club near Charleston, South Carolina. I really enjoyed playing this course that features wonderful live oaks, cyprus swamps, birds and even some gators despite the cool weather.

Kathryn walked the course with me, armed with her trusty camera.

Pine Forest Golf Club

I played Pine Forest Golf Course near in Summerville, South Carolina with my buddy, Marvin. It's a good layout with fairways lined with pines, plenty of water and tricky greens in which they must have buried a lot of elephants. 

Unfortunately, it was cart-path-only due to some recent heavy rains, but we managed to thoroughly enjoy ourselves anyway. We were joined by Mike, a retired Navy diver who lives in the area. Marvin took advantage of his stroke a hole and won three and two. His game has really improved since the last time we played and we might just have to renegotiate the strokes if he keeps it up. 

That's one of the things I really appreciate about golf. You can have a close match with anyone provided the strokes are right. Marvin didn't think it was much of a victory, considering he received 18 strokes. But I had to remind him that, up until now, I had been regularly beating him despite the strokes. I also reminded him that no match is fun unless it is closely contended. Giving him those strokes forces me to play my best if I hope to win.

Kathryn walked with us and took some photographs.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Keep Calm and Keep Hitting It

One of the things you tend to notice with good players is their calm attitude on the golf course. While they may get angry at a poorly played shot, that anger quickly disappears as they plan the next one. They are able to manage to play just about every shot as an entity unto itself, rather than allowing a bad shot, or even a run of bad holes, throw them off their game.

In part, that ability of good players to keep their composure and remain calm is due to their confidence in their abilities. But I think it's more than that. I think good players understand that a round of golf rarely goes according to plan. You will have some good breaks and some bad breaks; you will hit some good shots and some poor shots. But good players know that, if they just stick with it, rarely will a round end in a disaster, and often a round started badly can end well. And it is the finishing of the round is all that counts.

Bobby Jones pointed out that the best advice he ever received was from Harry Vardon, who said, "No matter what happens, keep hitting the ball." That needs to be our mindset when we set out to play every round. We need to be determined to keep plugging away through the good times and the bad until we hole the final putt.  If we really throw ourselves into the game; and manage to play one shot at a time--giving every shot our full attention--we will finish our round tired from the effort, but content in knowing we gave it our best shot. And that, after all, is all any of us can do. In fact, accepting that all we can do is the best we can with what we have to work with on any given day, should help us weather the ups and downs inherent in playing golf. 

Some of my best rounds have started with a bogey. You just never know what can happen if you can remain calm and be firmly resolved to keep on trying--to keep on hitting the ball--no matter what happens out there.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Missing It in the Right Places

I had played Dunes West for the first time several days ago with Hank, managing to end up with four sevens on my card. Playing a course for the first time can sometimes be a bit tricky and a bit embarrassing. That's what separates the really good players from the guys who might play pretty well on their home course, but often find themselves unable to score on a strange course.

I am pleased to say that I played Dunes West three more times; breaking eighty every time and breaking par with a 71 on my last outing. Playing different courses is great for your game because it forces you to think your way around a layout that often calls for different shots into different greens. What we sometimes fail to give the top pros credit for is their ability to quickly size up a new course and shoot a good score. It isn't easy to do. Skill alone won't necessarily cut it on a new course. You have to very quickly learn where to "miss it" on every hole, or you can find yourself making some big numbers.

Golf is a game of misses. The guy who manages his misses, and misses it in the best spots, is the guy who will likely do the best. And this involves good planning, as well as execution. In the end, the guy who knows his own game, and is able to adapt his play to a variety of golf holes, is the guy who can do well taking his game on the road. It doesn't just come down to mechanical skill. In the end it always comes down to course management. And only experience, or a good caddie, will teach you how to manage your misses. 

That's why I think Bobby Jones was right on the money when he recommended that serious golfers seize every opportunity they can to play different courses under different conditions. That's the only way to really grow as a player--even if it sometimes means making a few sevens.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Dunes West Golf and River Club

I played Dunes West in Mount Pleasant, SC, near Charleston. I joined up with Hank, a snowbird from New Jersey, who now winters in Mount Pleasant. It was a beautiful day for January and Hank and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Dunes West is a traditional low country design by Arthur Hills, with fairly generous fairways lined with pines, lots of water, sand and undulating greens. It's all right there in front of you and, provided you use your head, is probably a course that can give up a good score. 

In my case, I lost my mind on four holes, making sevens-- two of them, thankfully, on par fives. You certainly can't recover from four sevens, especially when you can only manage two birdies. The secret to low scores, at least for old fellas like me, is as much the ability to avoid big numbers as it is the ability to make birdies. As you get shorter off the tee, and now can't reach par fives in two and have fairway woods into some of the long par fours, you have to learn to manage your misses. Today I did a very poor job of that.

Hank, on the other hand, managed his game very well. He let me know where he was intending to try to play his shots, often leaving the second shot short of the greens and relying on his wedge and putter to get the job done, rather than trying for something heroic. He really played within himself and was rewarded with his fair share of pars. He was also very consistent off the tee, missing only two fairways. 

I'm sure Hank was quite happy with his game and we might just hook up for another run at Dunes West. It's gettable--we just know it is. 

The staff at Dunes West are very friendly and welcoming. I'm quite happy to have purchased a five-play package there. If, by the end of five rounds, I'm still making sevens, I'll have to blame it on what's going on between my ears. Because it's certainly a fair and enjoyable test of golf. You've simply got to miss it in the right places--like any other golf course.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Bobby Jones on Common Sense and Short Shots

In golf, as in life, common sense isn't always that common. This is especially the case when it comes to the short game.  For the average golfer within 75 yards of the green is where they really start to waste shots. And from pitching distance and in is where they can, with a little common sense, start to shave some strokes from their handicap.

Consider what Bobby Jones had to say on the subject in his book Bobby Jones on Golf:

    "Once I was playing with a man who was scoring in the high nineties; yet, to give a sample of his play, on each of two holes, five hundred yards in length, his second shot stopped within forty yards of the green. When anyone who has played golf for any time at all scores above ninety, the reason can be found in his work around the greens. Of course, older men, who cannot get the needed distance, and the wild fellows, who knock the ball entirely off the course from every tee, are exceptions. Most of the others who play regularly manage somehow to get the ball within short pitching distance of the green in two shots. It is only then that they really begin to throw away strokes.
     An important part of short play is judgement; selecting the right club and the right shot. Many unnecessary losses are incurred because the player attempts shots that are too exacting--pitching too close to bunkers, and trying to chip cleanly from sand. Not content with a fair average result, too often he will try something that he has not one chance in one hundred of bringing off.
     The short shots ought logically to be the easiest to play; in fact they are, if the player can only keep relaxed. The mechanics are simpler, and the effort considerably less; but the closer one gets to the green, or to the hole, the more difficult it becomes to keep on swinging the club. Those who have no trouble lashing out at a full drive with a fine free swing tighten up in every muscle when confronting a pitch of twenty yards.
     In playing a pitch, chip, or shot from a bunker near the green, there is one significant difference to be noted between the method of the expert player and that of the duffer; in one case, the swing is amply long, smooth, and unhurried; in the other, it is short and jerky, because the club has not been swung back far enough.
     It is a mistake to attempt a steep pitch with backspin when there is ample room for a normal shot. The more spectacular shot may be more exhilerating when it comes off, but the average result will not be so good. Every added requirement of timing, control, and precision will tell in the long run against consistently good performance.
     It is demonstrably more difficult to control a shot with a club of extreme loft than with one of moderate pitch. Therefore, the clubs of extreme loft should be left in the bag until the need for them becomes well defined. Nevertheless, whenever it becomes necessary to pitch over a bunker or other hazard, the lofted club must come into play. It is always safer to play a normal shot with a club of adequate loft than to get fancy with a club with a straighter face. But the player who always pitches up to the hole might as well have a hazard in front of him all the time; he does not know how to take advantage of his better position.
     There were two circumstances that would induce me to haul a nine-iron (this was written before the advent of 60 degree wedges) out of the bag for use from a lie in the fairway. One was the necessity for pitching over a bunker or other obstruction, when I could not stop the shot with any other club played in a normal manner; the other was a heavy lie from which I knew the ball would take a lot of roll, no matter what I did to it.
     Of course, the lie is always a circumstance of importance when one is deciding how much roll to expect. The proper order of procedure is to visualize the shot, determine where the pitch should drop and how much roll it should have; then to select the club and attempt the shot that should produce this result. Always favour a strightforward shot, and go to a more lofted club only when the necessity for stopping the ball makes this necessary."

Those sixty and sixty-four degree wedges have really enabled expert players to become deadly from 75 yards and in. In the hands of the average player they often result in some dramatic misses. So, as Bobby advises, around the green always take the least lofted club possible and give yourself the best possible margin for error. Once again, the short game is not about how; it's how many. And the easiest shot is the best shot to play if it's the score you're concerned about.

Bobby Jones on Short Putts

Everyone misses short putts, though it seemed for about ten years that Tiger Woods never did. In fact, Matsuyama three-putted the first hole of the final round, then three-putted again on seventeen to end up losing to Justin Thomas at the SBS Tournament of Champions. No doubt he looked back with chagrin on those two relatively short putts he missed. But for those two putts, he might have won for the fifth time in his last six outings.

Bobby Jones, in his book Bobby Jones on Golf, had this to say about short putts:

    "To miss a putt of a yard length seems the most useless thing in the world. The texture of most of our greens upon which competitions are played is such that no valid excuse is offered the player. In almost every case, one may have assurance that, if struck properly, the ball will find the bottom of the cup.
     The short putt presents a problem, because if we allow for the roll of the green, the stroke must be so delicate and the blow so gentle. To strike a crisp, firm, and at the same time gentle blow requires the very ultimate degree of what we call touch, and firm hitting is the essence of good putting.
     On a keen green, putts of a yard can be terrifying, especially in medal or stroke competition. The player always has the choice of striking firmly for the back of the cup if he does not like the delicate curling attempt--but then he must think of the putt he might have coming back if he should miss the first.
     The mental attitude in which we approach a short putt has a lot to do with our success. When we walk up to a putt of ten or fifteen feet, we are usually intent upon holing it; we know we shan't feel badly if we miss, so our entire attention is devoted to the problem of getting the ball into the hole. But it is quite different when the putt is only a yard long. Then we know that we ought to hole it easily, and yet we cannot fail to recognize the possibility of a miss. Instead of being determined to put the ball into the hole, we become consumed with the fear of failing to do so. Our determination, if we may call it such, is negative. We are trying not to miss the putt rather than to hole it.
     A good many short putts are missed because of rank carelessness; the thing looks so simple that it is hard to view it seriously. Yet it will be observed that comparatively few very short putts are missed in the course of a friendly informal round. This would argue that tension and anxiety cause more misses than lack of care, and we might be convinced of this were it not for the diabolical perversity every golfer knows to be inherent in a golf ball. A casual tap with the back of the putter is enough to hole any short putt when no one cares whether it goes in or not, but once large issues are placed upon the result, two hands and a world of pains are required to steer the ball into the hole.
     There is nothing so demoralizing as missing a short putt. Many times I have seen a man's entire game, from tee to green, destroyed in the course of a few holes as a result of one little putt. One missed, the next one looks doubly hard; that cast away, too, then the approach putts begin to stop all distances from the cup, applying pressure with ever greater force; soon putting becomes impossible, and the player begins to force his long game, trying to place his second shots so close to the hole that he will have to do little putting. A rapid progression through these stages before long can result in utter rout.
     I do not need to recount the matches in important championships that have been turned by the missing of a tiny putt. Every man who has played golf knows how quickly the tide may turn on such a thing; for the miss not only destroys the player's confidence, it also inspires his opponent.
     Long ago I learned that no putt is short enough to take for granted. I have long since recognized the folly of one-handed, backhanded, and all other kinds of disgusted efforts. When it mattered at all whether or not the next stroke went in, no matter how short the putt might have been, it received from me as close attention as I was able to give...
     I shall never forget my feeling as I prepared to hole my last putt at Scioto, in Columbus, Ohio, to win the United States Open in 1926. The thing could not have been over three inches in length. Yet, as I stepped up to tap it in, the wildest thought struck me. 'What if I should stub my putter into the turf and fail to move the ball?' I very carefully addressed the putt with my putter blade off the turf and half-topped it into the hole. Sounds a bit psycho, doesn't it? But golfers can get that way."

Everyone hates missing short putts. But we miss them all the same. 

Monday, 9 January 2017

Great Start to the Year at Kapalua

Justin Thomas is a name we might want to get very familiar with. You just had to be impressed with the way he battled through the trouble at the SBS Tournament of Champions and, after losing all but one of his five shot lead over Matsuyama, hit a magnificent approach to about three feet on seventeen to give himself a comfortable three shot lead heading into eighteen after Matsuyama three-putted.

As for Matsuyama; this guy would be a lock for the best player in the game right now. With four wins and two second place finishes in his last six outings, Matsuyama is looking like he's on the fast track to be the next number one player in the game. That is if you are willing to overlook the fact that the only man to beat him in this incredible run was Justin Thomas--twice.  

Jordan Spieth once again showed that he can be a birdie machine and, but for some uncharacteristic high numbers, might have been right there as well. That he was able to come from back in the pack on Sunday to end up tied for third suggests that he's in great form and just might have another fine year.

It's been a great start to the new year in golf. We can look forward to seeing Tiger back and scheduled to play four events in five weeks. We can look forward to seeing whether Matsuyama and Thomas can keep up their tremendous play. And we can safely say that the game is in a very good place.  I can't wait for April and Augusta to see who will be our first Major champion of the year.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

It's Looking Like a Shoot Out at Kapalua

What a difference a day makes. For Jimmy Walker, who seems to thrive in Hawaii and looked to be in command on day one at Kapalua, the hole suddenly seemed to get a fraction smaller and putts lipped out instead of in. It's difficult to play with the lead and it's hard to follow one really low round with another one.

Justin Thomas looked a little shaky coming in but managed to roll in his birdie putt on eighteen to share the lead with Ryan Moore who birdied four of his last five holes. Thomas and Moore were playing together and, in the post-round interview, Thomas admitted that he hadn't noticed Moore's fast finish, but was quick to congratulate him. Thomas could certainly be forgiven for not noticing because he had troubles of his own to focus on coming home, making bogey on the par five fifteenth and seeming to swing the club a little quicker and harder from the top after that. 

Patrick Reed fired a 65 to find himself tied for third with Jimmy Walker and looks like he could just win another one at Kapalua. Meanwhile, Jordan Spieth, who was charging hard and had put himself right into the thick of it, suddenly made a triple bogey and undid a lot of his good work. He has become more prone to those "dreaded others," his forte having always been the ability to score. Thankfully for him, none of the first round leaders ran away and hid, so he isn't necessarily out of it.

It's an interesting leaderboard, topped by several guys who look poised and ready for big years. Jimmy Walker, having won a Major, now knows just how good he is. Justin Thomas looks primed to become a factor in the big ones after last year's wins. And Ryan Moore, after being selected to play in the Ryder Cup, may just be ready to challenge for a Major. As for Partrick Reed, his Ryder Cup heroics have proven to anyone who had doubts that he is as good as he always said he was. Interesting, however, that he has yet to have a top ten in a Major. Me thinks it won't be long now.

Then there's Dufner and golf's hottest player, Matsuyama, sitting comfortably at two and three shots back respectively. You wouldn't want to count them out. The Duff has his putter working, and Matsuyama, but for a rather silly double bogey where he tried for too much after hitting a tee shot into some knee-high native grass, could have been right there with the leaders.

I think we will see the leader come from that top group. But it's definitely looking like a shoot out this weekend. I think I'll still keep my money on Walker and Thomas, but I'm glad I didn't bet the house.

Friday, 6 January 2017

If You Work at It, It's Golf

Bob Hope coined the phrase, "if you work at it, it's golf." Rather than playing golf, many golfers who are serious about the game and want to improve spend their time working on their game, or their swing, rather than playing the game. Bobby Jones pointed out to these sort of players that they should really ask themselves whether they are getting the most from the game they already possess. In many cases the honest answer would be a definite, "no."

The thing that sets the good players apart from the crowd is not just their mechanical skills. While attaining a level of mechanical competence is important, Bobby Jones pointed out that the ability to use good judgement on the course is even more important than the ability to hit good golf shots. This was the reason why some players with less mechanical skill often beat players who are better mechanically than they are. It is also the reason why some players might score well on their home course, but, when faced with an unfamiliar course, often their scores, that might be in the low seventies or better, balloon to the low eighties or worse. To this kind of player, he wrote:

    "This does not mean necessarily that the strange course requires a type of play of which the man is incapable; no, without a doubt, in time, and in not a very long time, he could play the new course as well as his own. But he has not the faculty which the first-class player possesses of quickly sizing up the requirements of the shot and of choosing the club and the method of playing it. That is what I mean by resourcefulness and judgement. Skill alone may be enough to play a course so well known that decisions are made automatically, but to conquer an unfamiliar layout, considerable work must be done by what lies between the ears.
     Fortunarely, sound judgement in golf can be acquired in much easier fashion than can mechanical skill; experience over various courses and under varied conditions will teach a lot to any man; if he can play the shots, the rest can be learned by proper thought and application."

As for the average player, Bobby continued by writing:

    "The average golfer may ask what this has to do with him. Apparently little, but the point is that by training himself to visualize and plan each shot before he makes it, and by giving careful thought to his method of attack, he can improve his game more certainly than by spending hours on a practice tee. Some men, for one reason or another, can never learn to swing a golf club correctly; but everyone can improve in the matter of selecting the shot to be played.
     The importance of good judgement is made no less because the average player has fewer shots at his command than the skillful professional. The problem is nevertheless the same--how best for the particular individual to play the particular shot. Good judgement must take into account the personal equation as well as the slope and condition of the ground and the location of bunkers and other hazards."

So, before you head to the range to beat more balls, perhaps it's worth asking yourself that question. Are you getting the most from the skill you already possess, or is your poor judgement what is really hurting your game? As Bobby Jones said, "It's easier to learn to use sound judgement than to swing a club like Harry Vardon."

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Horses For Courses?

Last year's winners, or should I say the majority of last year's winners, have once again assembled at stunning Kapalua.  It's definitely a bucket list course for me.  In fact living on that island and having the ability to play that wonderful Coore and Crenshaw design, and then go snorkling or whale watching, would be about as close to paradise as I can imagine.

If you're looking for evidence for horses for courses, Jimmy Walker's eight-under round certainly fits the bill. His continued assault on par at Kapalua has to have him the favourite after one round. On the other hand, another Kapalua thoroughbred, Jordan Spieth, struggled with his short game to manage only a one-under 72, leaving him with lots to do if he hopes to win another one. Once again it was Spieth's wedge game that let him down, despite his having worked on it in the off season. Except for one wayward drive into the junk, he struck the ball very well with his long clubs, and his swing looks as good as I've seen it in a long time. His rhythm seems better. So, should he get the wedges dialled in and the putter working, Jordan might just be able to work his way back into the mix.

But Walker is really on his game, worhing the ball both ways with ease, driving it well with his 42 inch driver, and rolling his rock to boot. If I had to put my money on a winner at this stage, I'd have to give the nod to the lanky Texan. However, you have to continue to be impressed with a member of the American brat pack, Justin Thomas, who sits two back, tied for second. I suspect that this will be a big year for this skinny kid who hits the ball miles and can make birdies in bunches. I'd put a few shekels on him as well.

They say, "to the victor the spoils," and that's certainly the case for last year's victors. Win or lose, it doesn't get much better than a week or two at Kapalua to start the new year. I know it's a sin, but I'm envious as hell.

"Bring Your A-Game Every Time"

I read another advertisement that offered a free, 3-step blueprint that will shave four to five strokes off your game and allow you, within 8 weeks, to bring "your A-game to the course every time." Sign me up! Imagine shaving five strokes off your game and playing your best every time you tee it up. Well, if you believe that, I've got some prime swampland for you.

Man, these snake oil salesmen cheese me off. Bobby Jones said that anyone who was dumb enough to believe he could go out every day and play golf as he pleases is a greater fool than ought to be left at large. Golf just isn't that sort of game. And, if it was, it would not be nearly as enthralling. Let's face it; golf is like a box of chocolates. You never can be certain how things will go every time you tee it up. It is not subject to being mastered the way snooker or chess can be. There will always be the element of luck involved, even if you are able to find a consistent swing.

What separates the champion from the also-rans is what is between their ears; the ability to size up every situation and pick the right shot; the ability to concentrate and try your hardest on every shot, not just the difficult ones; and the determination never to quit.

Walter Hagen was a great player and very much played to the gallery. He was said to act as though the hard shots were easy and the easy shots were difficult. In some respects, he had the right idea when doing so, because by not over-thinking the tough shots he probably avoided becoming too tense, and by working hard on the simple-looking shots, he probably ensured that he did not experience a let-down by being too casual about the shot. 

Concentrating, and giving every shot your full attention, is required to play your best golf. However, it's easier said than done. There are very few golfers who are able to do it. As for the notion that you can have your A-game every day; you need to, as my wife likes to say, "nip that in the butt."

Two Shots in a Bunker

Bobby Jones said that, for the inexpert player, the first rule of bunker play is to get the ball out. That means you should generally blast the ball out rather than trying for something more delicate or precise.

No one likes taking two to get out of a bunker. Two shots in a bunker actually has a name. It's called an "Eva Braun." At least that's what one of my buddies calls it. 

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Four Final Thoughts by John Jacobs: Part Four

In his final thought for golfers in his book Play Better Golf With John Jacobs, Mr. Jacobs provides some advice that every successful golfer needs to follow. He wrote:

    "Finally, I would ask you to do what sounds quite a simple thing but is, in fact, very difficult: to try your utmost on every shot. Golf can be the most frustrating and infuriating, as well as the most satisfying and elating, of games; but if it has one cliche that cannot be denied it is that the game is never over until the last putt has been holed.
     So, don't give up--ever. Think about what you are trying to do, which is make a good impact, which, to put it as simply as I can, is correct aim and stance followed by two turns, one to get your body out if the way while you aim the club, and one to get it out of the way while you swing the club through the ball. Think out the shots before you play them, then think of one key factor to help you to swing as you have planned.
     There's never been a greater game for triers."

This makes me think about what Bobby Jones had to say about winning the Grand Slam. He won all the Majors that year playing less than his best. He said he believed he won them because he tried harder, was willing to take more punishment than his opponents; and simply refused to give up. Golf is indeed a game for those who are "triers." 

Monday, 2 January 2017

Four Final Thoughts by John Jacobs: Part 3

Having reminded us that we hit the ball with the clubhead and not our body, John Jacobs advised us to know and accept our limitations when it comes to distance. The third of his final four thoughts has to do with our attitude. He wrote:

    "My third point concerns your attitude on the golf course. In this book we have dealt only with half the game--the striking or shot-making side of golf. In many respects it is the lesser half because, even if you have the ability to hit the most perfect shots in the world, you won't win matches and tournaments unless you play them strategically and tactically. So, whatever your limitations or advantages as a shot-maker, never forget to apply yourself assiduously to the arts of scoring. Bear in mind that many, many victories have been won, in first-class and club golf, by inferior strikers who could get the ball from A to B, over superb stylists and stroke-makers, who couldn't answer the strategical or tempermental problems set by the course and the competitive situation. Remember that golf is a game of how many, not how; that people may be interested in what you scored, but rarely in how."

Mr. Jacobs makes a very good point here. While we need to learn to strike the ball effectively, it is only half the game, or less. Your ability to strategize and maintain a good attitude on the golf course is perhaps even more important to your success. The difference between the champion and the also-ran is more often than not how well they played, not how well they swung the club or struck the ball. Golf is a mind game.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Four Final Thoughts by John Jacobs: Part Two

Virtually every golfer wishes he could hit the ball further. Golfers are captivated by distance. However, consider what the respected teacher, John Jacobs, had to say about the subject in his final thoughts. He wrote:

    "The second thought I would like to leave you with concerns your own physical limitations. It is not easy to assess realistically and then candidly accept one's inadequacies, but doing so is a particularly essential operation for the golfer, because the game he plays is not one of power, but power under control. Nine out of ten pupils who come to me want to hit the ball farther. Very often I can help them, by showing them how to hit it accurately and solidly with an easy swing, instead of approximately and glancingly with a difficult or furious one. But what I cannot do--nor any other teacher--is increase their natural clubhead speed. Everyone has a definite point, depending on natural muscularity, co-ordination and playing experience, where he can equare speed (or power) with control. He should find it then play within it if the score is more important than the exercise. This is a lesson that every successful golfer learned early and stuck to. You will never meet a top tournament pro who swings as hard as he could physically, other than in exceptional circumstances for an occasional recovery shot."

So I suppose the answer is to accept your limitations and groove an action that allows you to hit the ball solidly. Forget searching for extra distance. A man, after all, needs to know his limitations.

Four Final Thoughts by John Jacobs: Part One

I must admit that I don't spend much time reading golf instruction books or videos--at least not anymore. But when I do, I soon realize that something tends to be missing from much of the information. Most golf instruction seems to focus on swinging the club rather than striking the ball.

Somehow most golf teachers seem to have evolved from being golf instructors into swing instructors. Whether this is because instructors find much more to expound upon when discussing the golf swing than they would if just focussing on the strike, or because students tend to be more interested in working on their swing than the strike; who knows? But it's definitely been a problem in golf instruction.

I've written about Bobby Jones' insistence that the most simple way to learn to play the game was to focus on the strike. I've written about Jack Nicklaus' contention that the strike, or impact, was all that really counts. Yesterday I wrote about Julius Boros' view that where the rubber really hits the road--the moment of truth--is how the club meets the ball. 

John Jacobs, a highly respected teacher of the game, when summing up in his book Play Better Golf With John Jacobs gave us Four Final Thoughts that every golfer needs to keep in mind. He wrote:

    "The more I teach, play and watch golf, the more convinced I become that the decisive factor in good shotmaking is preparation: shot assessment, club selection, grip, aim, stance, posture. If you can mstervthese departments, you have every chance of playing golf to the best of your full capabilities, whatever thise may be. These are the spade-work areas; the foundations upon which your game must be built if you have the ambition and the opportunity to reach your full potential as a golfer. Of that I am totally convinced, and am sure I would be supported in this view by the majority of the world's top players."

No one would likely agree more than Jack Nicklaus, the game's greatest Major champion. No one took more pains to ensure that he was ready to hit a golf shot. He maintained that he was so meticulous about setting up and preparing to hit a shot that he simply couldn't take the club back until he was ready. Jack believed that most shots were made or missed before the club was swung. Preparation was that important to him.

When talking about his teacher, Stewart Maiden, Bobby Jones recalled that he had no recollection of him ever talking about the golf swing. On the occasions when Bobby sought his help, Bobby said that Stewart would put him in the right position to hit the ball and then would tell him to just go ahead and hit it. Golf, being a target game, requires that you aim correctly. It also requires that you have a clearly defined target. But notice that all the things mentioned by Jacobs have nothing to do with swinging the club.

But John Jacobs goes on to remind us about four things we all tend to overlook or forget. I think they are really worth considering as we embark on a new year of, hopefully better, golf. He wrote:

    "First of all, I would like to ask you always to remember with what you hit a golf ball. It is not your shoulder pivot, your straight left arm, your bent right arm, your knees, your hips, nor even your hands. It is the head of the golf club. In the last analysis, what golf is all about is applying the head of the club to the ball as fast and flush as possible.
     Now, this might sound rather elementary, but I feel it is increasingly overlooked these days, especially by beginners. We live in an age of applied science, to which golf has become subject oerhaps more than any other sport. It is such a difficult game to play very well, and so many millions of oeople now want to do so, that 'method' has become almost a religion. Even though I teach individuals, rather than 'a method', I wouldn't argue with that. It is fun, if you are keen on something, to immerse yourself in the theory of it; and, so long as you are discerning and selective, it is possible to pick up something of value. But do not ever let theoretical 'method' blind you to the basic objective of the game, which is to propel the ball forward with the club, not with a part or the whole of your anatomy. In short, whatever simple or complicated manoeuvres the search for better shots leads you into, don't ever forget to include among them swinging the clubhead into the ball."

I'll feature the second of Mr. Jacobs' final thoughts in my next article.