Monday, 27 February 2017

Henry Cotton on the Golf Swing

Henry Cotton was one of Britain's great players. The book, The Methods of Golf's Masters, has some excellent information about Cotton's view on the golf swing and how he came to have it. I think it is terrific information for those players still searching for their swing.

The book reads:

    "Cotton is golf's ultimate 'hands' man, an unrepentant iconoclast who relentlessly insists: (a) that the ever-growing accent on body action is at best wrongheaded and at worst physically injurious and (b) that there is no way mechanically to program and fundamentalize the golf swing, at least insofar as the average mortal is concerned."

No one was more fanatical or worked harder to develop their game than Cotton, with the possible exception of Ben Hogan. He began playing at eight years of age and was not a natural talent. He hit countless thousands of balls, experimenting with more methods than even Gary Player. Methods of Golf's Masters goes on to say:

    "The stories told in British clubs of the youthful Cotton having to be carried off practice putting greens because of muscular seizures resulting from bending over the ball so long are not apocryphal. Since early middle age he has had to do calisthenics to counter bone and muscle distortions resulting from endless hitting of golf balls.
     The theories he now so emphatically promulgates about hitting a ball would therefore seem to be drawn from an extremely valid source--a vast and wide-ranging amount of personal trial and error resulting in one of the most effective swings in history.
     In proclaiming that the key to sound and long-lasting golf lies in the condition and actions of the hands, Cotton does not deny that other methods work--simply that the hands method, once mastered is the easiest, most effective, and longest lasting. The only really adamant stance he takes is against the concept that the golf swing can be mechanically standardized--a position borne of his own failure to do just that after one of the greatest single efforts in history to accomplish such a goal. He had clearly recognized this personal failure as long ago as 1938, when he wrote in an American magazine:

    'I have always admired the attitude of American golfers in general towards the game of golf, and have always gained much encouragement from their enthusiasm, although I must say that I never quite understood the idea of those seeking to standardize golf instruction throughout the world. It was perhaps in theory a worthwhile idea, but one destined to fail.
     At one time I felt it would be possible to perfect a standard system, but now, whilst I am prepared to concede there are certain fundamentals in the golf swing, I believe the whole art of teaching golf lies in helping the pupil to translate the fundamental principles via his own physique. I have wasted... much time trying to copy assiduously different leading players. This was especially true when I began to study the game. But it was not until I decided I could not play their way that I made much improvement.
     Golf is an individual game and will ever be so, whilst human beings vary in physique. The thoroughness with which American golfers have analysed golf in an attempt to find 'the secret' has further convinced me there is no secret. To watch a first-class field drive off must surely convince everyone that a golf ball can be hit in many ways.'
      Later he also conceded that his original highly mechanistic approach to developing a putting stroke was one of the chief reasons he was so poor a performer on the greens, compared with his prowess at at reaching them."

So what did Cotton believe was key to swinging a golf club? In my next article I'll cover that.

It Was the Power of the Putter for Rickie Fowler

I have to admit, I was awfully pleased to see Rickie Fowler close the deal at the Honda yesterday. He's a great kid with a terrific attitude. Jack Nicklaus, whose wife, Barbara, has "adopted" Rickie and acts as his Florida mom, couldn't help but rave on air about what a fine kid Rickie is. And did I mention that he went to the Olympics and had a great time?

It wasn't even close in the end; not because Rickie didn't make it interesting with a couple of balls in the water. It wasn't close in the end because none of the also-rans could mount a charge in the difficult conditions, with swirling winds, sometimes upwards of twenty miles per hour. Only Jonny Vegas was able to go low early with a terrific 64. But he was too far back to challenge, eventually finishing tied for fourth.

And ultimately, as it often is, it was the "power of the putter" that kept any wolves at bay for Rickie. When things were starting to look bad, and his ballstriking was shaky, Rickie drained a couple of long birdie putts and was able to come home with plenty of shots to spare. You can get away with some iffy ballstriking if you can putt. That putter covers a multitude of sins. Three of these and one of those still makes four, as the great Walter Hagen said. 

It's worth noting that Rickie never missed a putt inside seven feet for four rounds. That, my friends, is rolling your rock. Well done, Rickie.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Rickie Has a Big Day Tomorrow at the Honda

Rickie Fowler looks to be a man on a mission at the Honda Classic. As those around the lead starting the third round struggled, Rickie seemed to be totally in control, posting a fairly stress-free 65. 

What a great swing this kid has. We learned today that, pound for pound, he is the second longest driver in the game, bettered only by his buddy, Justin Thomas, who weighs five pounds less. Rickie also seems to have perfected the fade, a shot that, as I recall, caused him some trouble in his playoff loss to Matsuyama last year in Phoenix. And he used that fade to great advantage today. 

Rickie Fowler is definitely not just a pretty face. When he's on his game he's proven he can run with anybody in the game. He has perhaps under-achieved, with only three PGA tour victories to date. But he definitely has the right stuff, as his victory at the Players Championship demonstrated beyond any doubt.

I think tomorrow is a big day for Rickie. He needs another win and he needs to know he can finish one off after some of the disappointments he's suffered in the past year; not the least of which being his loss to Matsuyama. I hope he pulls it off. But the Bear Trap stands in his way. As Jack says, the tournament will likely be won or lost there.

Bobby Locke Learned Three Important Things From Bobby Jones

I discovered a new, old book, entitled The Methods of Golf's Masters, by Dick Aultman and Ken Bowden. I have maintained that the people we should be learning from are the best players in history; many of whom are, or were, the best teachers. Operating on Lee Trevino's theory about teachers; when he said he would never take a lesson from anyone who couldn't beat him; I think it makes sense to listen to those golfers who have been able to put theory into practice. 

Much of the information talks about the swings of the Masters. But, as Tom Weiskopf wrote about the book, it goes beyond simply swing mechanics. Weiskopf wrote: "Really gave me a great insight into the games and personalities of the stars I've never had the chance to know personally. Every average golfer will learn a lot from the expert analysis of these great players' swings, but what fascinated me was their mental attitudes. It's amazing, for example, how many of them place such emphasis on relaxation."

Bobby Jones advised golfers to fight physical tension wherever it may be found, believing that muscular tension was the enemy of the golf swing. It's interesting to note that the wonderful South African player, Bobby Locke patterned his game after Bobby Jones. Locke is quoted as having said the following on that subject:

    "When I was thirteen, my dear old dad gave me Bobby Jones' book on golf, and he said to me, 'Son, here is the finest golfer in the world, and I want you to learn how to play from his book. A lot of people are going to try to help you, but let it go in one ear and out the other. You just model your game on Bobby Jones and you will be a fine player.' So that's what I did when I started, and what I have done all my life."

It worked out pretty well for Bobby Locke; modelling his swing and his game on that of Bobby Jones. And, besides swinging the club easily, what did Locke learn? He learned to play the game with what the book describes as a "benign imperturbablity." 

From Jones, he learned three important things that had nothing to do with the golf swing. As the book says:

    "Very early in life he (Bobby Locke) had learned three things: one, that physical relaxation or at least lack of muscular tension is essential to playing good golf shots; two, that the game can be played only one shot at a time; and three, that there will always be an element of luck in golf."

Knowing these things helped Locke avoid, as much as possible, muscular and mental tension. He swung within himself. He played one shot at a time, avoiding getting caught up in worries about things beyond his control. And he recognized that a certain a mount of luck was involved in winning or losing, so he didn't beat himself up.

We might not be tempted to try to swing the club like Bobby Jones, or Bobby Locke. But we would all do well to copy their mental approach.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The Vardon Grip

Harry Vardon was the Tiger Woods of his day. He entered the professional golf scene after his brother, Tom, had won a professional event. Harry figured, since he knew he could beat his brother, he should follow suit and go out on tour--such as it was in those days.

Vardon was almost unbeatable at the height of his powers, but had two bouts of tuberculosis that saw him unable to play for extended periods. In later life he also developed a "flinch" on his short putts; likely what we now call the yips. He remained a wonderful ballstriker all his days.

Vardon is most famous now adays for having given us his over-lapping grip. It remains the standard for most good players to this day. One thing that Vardon said about his grip that I think is vital for all golfers is that the knuckles of his left hand should face the target line and the knuckles of his right hand should face exactly the other way. In other words, the palms of his hands faced eachother and the back of his left hand and the palm of his right hand faced the target line.

When wanting to figure out how to best grip the club, Harvey Penick suggested we grip a ruler, or a yardstick, as though we were going to use it to strike a ball. Most if us would naturally grip the yardstick with our palms flat against the flat surface of the ruler. If we then were to prepare to hit a ball, our right palm would face the target line, and the knuckles of our left hand would as well.

If you have an uncomfortable grip, try the yardstick idea. Then place your hands on the club the same way. If you don't have better results gripping the club this way; whether you overlap or interlock your fingers, or just use all ten; I'll eat my hat.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Bobby Jones on Winning Tournaments

Bursting on the stage at fourteen years of age in the US Amateur, where he nearly beat the defending champion, Bobby Jones endured seven lean years where he just couldn't seem to break through and win a major championship. In his book Down the Fairway Bobby talked about the change in attitude that helped him break through and win five of his next ten majors.

He wrote:
    "There has been a change in my tournament attitude; of that I am sure. It was not an improvement in shot-making. Leaving off the minor refinements, I had as good an assortment of shots in the seven lean years as I have today. I think I never played particularly badly in any one of those tournaments, before I broke through to win. I know that in the amateur competitions I never was beaten by a man who was not playing first-rank golf. And as I began to read more and more, and hear more and more, the dictum that I was a great golfer, but I could not win a major championship, the sorry option seemed forced upon me that either I was jinxed--a wretched sort of plea--or that I didn't have the tournament stuff... I pondered that miserable option more than I would care to have people know.
     Yet I won that championship, after tying with Bobby Cruickshank; and I think that perhaps it was in that tournament my attitude began changing. I saw Jock Hutchison leading after the first round and the second, collapsing midway of the third round. I saw Bobby Cruickshank, going to the fourteenth tee of the final round in a dazzling burst of golf--he went through seven holes, beginning with No.6, in 23 strokes--break down even as I had broken down in my own finishing round, and tie me by shooting a wonderful birdie 3 at the seventy-second hole. And I managed to beat him in a play-off.
     So I suppose I began to understand that the other fellows all had their troubles, too; that I didn't have to go out and shoot four perfect rounds to win a major open championship, or even one perfect round, if I could just keep four decent rounds sticking together. I suppose I began instinctively to understand that the tournament strain bears down on everybody; not only on me. I suppose I began to understand that one lost stroke did not necessarily have to be redeemed at once; perhaps it was not ruinous; perhaps the other fellows were losing a stroke, too."

At Flossmoor Bobby had tied Chick Evans for low medal score in the qualifying round. Since they both were knocked out in match play, they played off in stroke play to determine the medalist. It was in this round that Bobby's attitude changed. He wrote:

    "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 or 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. 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...
     Maybe that is the answer--patience. Whatever I may possess of it now must have been cultivated, as I assuredly did not have it at first, and the number of years required to hammer it in to me is a sorry commentary on my native intelligence."

So, when you hear the third round leader telling the news reporters that he is going to try to be patient and play one shot at a time in the hopes of finishing the tournament off; know that what he's saying is not simply an over-used cliche, it's what he must do to win.

Bobby Jones on the Stresses of Tournament Golf

Bobby Jones concluded his book Down the Fairway with a chapter on tournament golf. He wrote about the fact that, in his opinion, it was possible to be a great golfer, and not a great tournament golfer. He also spoke about the changes he made in his diet during a tournament. 

Bobby wrote about the stresses of championship golf. He wrote:

    "It must be a sort of subjective nerve-tension, this difference in tournament golf. Years ago I discovered the best preparation for a big tournament, for me, was as much rest as I could acquire, in the twenty-four hours before the opening gun. In my younger days I liked to play a lot of golf, right up to the day the competition began. Often I'd play 36 holes the day before it started. Now I try always to schedule the little preliminary practice season, of three or four days, so that the kast day I can rest. In bed, often with a book... If I can avoid it, I never touch a golf club the day before a big competition opens, and I prefer to play only 18 holes a day the two days preceding.
     The fair success of this plan induces the opinion, then, that the strain of championship golf is mostly mental; and certainly the mere physical strain would not burn one up as has been my experience in so many tournaments. Could anyone make me believe that six days of just golf, 36 holes a day, would have stripped eighteen pounds off me, as the six days at Oakmont, in 1919, did? At Worcester, in the open championship and play-off of 1925, I lost twelve pounds in three days, and I wasn't much overweight when I went there. Perhaps these physical symptoms help to explain the furious toll exacted from the spirit, under the stress of tournament competition. I know that tournament golf takes a lot out of me; the photographs, before and after, sometimes rather shocking in contrast.
     Now, my career to this writing, which includes the year 1926, is divided with so extraordinary a balance as regards tournament golf and championships that it would seem there must be a good opportunity to offer something in the way of a solution of the difference between a good golfer and a good tournament golfer. In the seven lean years between 1916 and1922, inclusive, I played in eleven national championships, and did not win one. In the four years including 1923 and 1926, I played in ten national championships, winning five and finishing second three times.
     Something, then, seems to have happened, to fatten the run of what one fanciful writer termed my seven lean years. And here it seems I have worked up to a climax, without the climax--excepting a negative sort."

It is important to remember that Down the Fairway was written before Bobby Jones won the Grand Slam. But he had turned the corner in terms of his tournament play. A great golfer from the time he was a boy, Bobby had endured those seven lean years where he couldn't seem to win a major championship, despite being such a golfing prodigy. He discovered something important that put an end to those lean years. In the next article, we'll cover that.

The important thing for good players reading this; or any players reading this who have struggled in tournament play; is that tournament struggles don't point to any moral deficiency or lack of courage on your part. There is something all good tournament players must learn. And in the next article Bobby Jones talks about what that is.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Bobby Jones on Diet During Tournament Play

In his book Down the Fairway, Bobby Jones devoted his final chapter to tournament play. In my first article covering that chapter, I quoted Bobby concerning the fact that not all good golfers are necessarily good tournament players, as well as the fact that he welcomed the nerves prior to a big event, believing that he actually played better when nervous.

Bobby generally felt too nervous to be able to handle the basic pre-tournament breakfast. Here's what he had to say about diet:

    "Digressing a moment, I might explain here that I play better fasting. That is one of the changes since I grew up. As a boy I loved to eat; I still love to eat, but not on the days of tournament play, until after the second round. I used to eat plenty of breakfast of my accustomed kind; oatmeal, bacon and eggs, all too frequently cakes or waffles; and coffee. And at luncheon between rounds, hungry from the exercise, I would not think of denying myself something substantial, topped off by pie a la mode. Pie and ice cream--with an afternoon round to play!
     Not any more. For breakfast, when I can eat, a strip of bacon and a small chop and a cup of black coffee. For luncheon, between rounds, a slice of dry toast and a cup of tea.
     There is another difference between just golf and tournament golf. Playing an exhibition match, I eat--and drink--whatever I please between rounds, and seem to play none the worse for it. In fact, I could tell you the story of a match Max Marston and I played against two professionals, where our host took us to his home for luncheon between rounds--we were all square at the end of the morning round and having a hard battle--and administered to my unsophisticated palate five or six pleasant-tasting cocktails, whose bland disguise concealed a mighty kick. When I reached the club for the afternoon round, I had to get very carefully out of the motor car, and while teeing my ball I was concerned with my balance. This state of affairs, of course, should have been ruinous. But such are the vagaries of golf, when the tournament strain is not on, that instead if disgracing myself hopelessly in the matinee round, I led off with a three at each of the first three holes, finished with a 66, and our side won the match 6-5.
    Not in tournament golf. I have a good, big dinner in the evening in my room, prefaced by two good, stiff highballs, the first taken in a tub of hit water; the finest relaxing combination I know; and then a few cigarettes and a bit of conversation; and bed at 9 o'clock. And usually I sleep well, despite the curious strain that is always present, in championship competition.
     Some of the best informal rounds I have played followed closely on the heels of dietetic eccenticities that would cause a the coach of a football team to faint in his tracks. But, according to our little maxim, there is golf--and tournament golf. And in the latter I try to take no more chances than I have to. There are chances enough, at the best."

So, we can see that there are certain changes to our diet that may need to be made to deal with the ever-present tension involved in tournament play. Food for thought--no pun intended.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Bobby Jones on Tournament Golf

Bobby Jones was the one who first wrote that "there are two kinds of golf--golf and tournament golf; and they are not the same." In his concluding chapter of the book Down the Fairway, he goes into some detail about tournament golf, providing valuable information to anyone who occasionally, or even regularly, enters golfing competitions. 

Bobby wrote:

    "I think a man may be a truly great golfer and not be a great tournament golfer; and I do not think that the customary implication, that a great golfer who fails to shine at formal competition lacks courage, is justified. Matters of physique and mere physical stamina have a profound effect, as do also personal inclination and taste. Then there is that curious and little understood factor of temperament, which is so convenient an explanation either of the successful tournamenteer or the unsuccessful one.
     In any event, I maintain that golf and tournament golf are two different things; and it may be that I can speak with a little show of authority from acutely personal experience, since for a number of years I was regarded as a great golfer , and most certainly as not a great tournament golfer. I had a remarkably good opportunity to study the difference, which was increasingly heavy upon me in those years while I was competing in eleven major championships, never winning one. A great golfer--but he can't win championships. That was what they said; kindly, but with a sort of conviction."

I think this is important information for those who know they can play decent golf, but struggle in competition. Perhaps there is hope; a way to improve your competitive play. It is not that you lack courage, or confidence, necessarily. In fact, Bobby Jones always felt that courage was not an attribute necessary to the champion golfer. Great golf isn't about courage. He goes on to write:

    "Now, I did not lack confidence, in my early championship tournaments. I was very young and brainless; I didn't know enough to fear the competition or to worry about it. And even then tournament golf was different. Especially the big tournaments. There was something about it; something that seemed to key me up, not unpleasurably. I began to notice that I seemed to play better when nervous. This is true today. The most unpropitious symptom I can experience before an important round, of match or medal play, is absence of nervousness. It is a rare thing for me to be able to manage even the restricted tournament breakfast, the morning on which the big show starts."

So, if tournament golf makes you nervous, that's a good thing. Nervousness is good. We need to embrace it and see it as something other than fear, or lack of courage. All top golfers are nervous before an important round. In my next article I'll go into some detail about how the Master prepared for tournaments. I think you'll find it interesting.


I'm not one too much given to envy. But I have to say that, at this time of year, stuck in the snow, I'm envious as hell.

Last week, watching them play on the iconic links at Pebble Beach, and this week at Riviera, I'm envious. I've never particularly wanted to be rich; I can live without the toys. I don't have to have a six-car garage filled with fancy cars. I don't even need the latest and greatest golf equipment. But I could sure as hell benefit from being able to play Pebble and Riviera.

So many fantastic courses in this world, and here I sit in the snow. No wonder I drink.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

The Fascination of the Swing

Golfers are now, and likely always will be, fascinated by the golf swing. They love to analyze great players' swings and to dissect and study the intricate mechanics of the swing in general. They do this even though it is quite well known, or should be well known, that every player has his own swing; and that to break down the swing is very often not very helpful to their game. So why do they do it? They do it because they love to do it. It's fascinating to them.

I have started reading a new, old book called The Methods of Golf's Masters, by Dick Aultman and Ken Bowden. It's pretty interesting. What struck me first was the great golf writer Herbert Warren Wind's introduction. Right away Mr. Wind gives an excellent explanation of the appeal of examining the golf swing. He wrote:

    "I am not a cardplayer, and so it astonishes me that devotees of bridge, regardless of how many years they have pored over the game, never lose their passion for it. At the same time I can understand their perpetual keenness because as one of the many thousands of men and women who have been happily enslaved by golf since childhood I have always been astonished by the way one never tires of discovering more and more about the golf swing--dissecting it, restudying its various phases, practicing its movements, discussing the latest theories about its basic facets, examining the methods and manners of the game's champions, and so on and on, ad infinitum. It is one of the comforts of this life, in which one involuntarily loses his zest for so many things, that thinking about and learning about the golf swing are one of the rare enthusiasms that never pall, never get boring. Age cannot wither it nor custom stale its infinite variety--or something like that."

So, whether it's really a good idea or not, we will keep studying the golf swing. It may not be good for our game, but it is part of the game's fascination for most of us. Just remember, thinking about the swing is very interesting, and possibly very instructive for some. But the moment we start thinking about our swing as we are swinging, and forget about hitting the ball being the only purpose of the swing, we are headed for disaster. We will all likely, at one time or another, dissect our golf swing, but just understand, as Bobby Jones wrote, that we could be doing so at our peril. It's fun; but it can be dangerous.

Still Bullish on Spieth

I have been cheesed off with Jordan Spieth since he decided at the last minute to skip the Olympics. I was really bullish on him prior to that, saying that, for my money, he was the best golfer on the planet and was going to become one of golf's great players. I still feel that way.

His win last week puts him already in some very elite company when it comes to the age at which he managed to secure nine PGA tour wins; namely Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus. And the age at which you win Majors is probably the best predictor of future greatness. So, it's a fairly easy call to say this kid will likely some day be mentioned in the same breath with Hogan, Nelson, Trevino; and, yes, Tiger and Jack. He's that good.

People will say: "This kid is no Tiger Woods." But credit where credit is due; this kid is the real deal. I expect him to be right there challenging for another green jacket, as he does seemingly every week. I don't think there is anyone in the game right now who competes harder or manages to score better with the game they have to work with. 

I'm still bullish on this boy from Texas. They produce some tremendous players in Texas. Is there something in the water?

Tiger's Travails

I've been having back spasms for the past couple of days. Nothing new for me. But I do have a bit of an appreciation for what Tiger is experiencing. However, I still think the reason for Tiger's return to the sidelines is as much because he is painfully aware that he can't compete, as the fact that he has back spasms. Remember, this is a guy who won a US Open on one leg.

I have more than one buddy who can testify to the fact that I've often played with back spasms, yelping my way around the course. The thing is the spasms, for me at least, tend to hit when you start moving. So I don't yelp while people are hitting the ball. I'm standing still.

I read recently that Freddie has told, or would like to tell, Tiger that you can't play golf with a bad back. And, playing golf at the elite level with a bad back is obviously a problem. But many players have done and are doing so. I read about Sam Snead playing and winning a tournament-- in Argentina, I think it was--while suffering from severe back problems. He said he accomplished this by relying on his short game. In fact, I wrote an article about it.

I think Tiger has to reassess things. Does he really believe he can still compete? If so, he's going to have to accept that he won't be able to do it by trying to drive it out there with Jason Day, Bubba, and DJ. Those days are gone. Tiger possesed the most fearsome and devastating short game I think we've ever seen--especially his putting. The problem is, he doesn't have it right now. If he doesn't find it again, he's got a better chance of getting hit with a piece of SkyLab than catching Jack.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Bobby Jones on Playing the Woods

While reading Bobby Jones' chapter on playing the woods, I was struck by two things in particular. Firstly, Bobby played the ball well forward in his stance--off the arch of his left foot. The second was that he generally attempted to strike the ball squarely in the back, rather than attempting to hit down on it. This, he felt, gave his wood shots the sort of penetrating flight, and run out after landing, that he looked for in shots that were essentially for distance.

Bobby once again also stressed the importance of a full body turn in his swing; as well as finishing the swing, or letting go. He wrote: "My main fault as a youngster, and the one I have to guard against now most carefully, was stopping the left side before impact; failing to let go, I should call it. Whatever was the reason for that failure in the old days, before I knew what caution was, it would seem that an excess of care is responsible now, as I usually commit this particular crime at a most inopportune juncture, as when confronted with a narrow fairway. When I let go and hit hard the ball usually goes pretty straight."

After taking some pains to describe his swing, it was interesting to note how Bobby concluded his chapter. He wrote:

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

Interesting advice for those of us who like to think mechanical thoughts during our swing. Once we start swinging, our only thought should be of hitting the ball. My wife, of course, would say,"What else would you think about?" 

Monday, 13 February 2017

How Bobby Jones Played his Irons

In his book, Down the Fairway, Bobby Jones devoted one of the final chapters to the subject of iron play. He loved playing the irons; especially the long irons. Here's what he had to say about how he played them:

"In a general way this is my method with the irons. I try to hit the shot straight; that is without fade or drift to the right or draw to the left, except when a cross wind indicates the desirability of what is known as 'holding up' the ball. Even in that case the result is a line shot."

It's interesting to note that Bobby did not consider the straight shot to be a virtual impossibility, like Hogan and Nicklaus. He also did not believe in trying to be overly fancy, trying to fade or draw his iron shots into the pin. He believed the average golfer should be even more inclined to hit the plain, old, straight shot.

He went on to write:

    "My stance for the irons is approximately square; that is, with my feet equidistant from the line of play--not from the ball, which is opposite my left foot. My left arm is straight, not theoretically but actually, from the moment the turning motion away from the ball is well started until some time after impact. I try always to turn well away from the ball in the back-swing. In this motion I am conscious that the left side is pushing the right side away from the ball. At the risk of becoming tiresome let me repeat that this free body-turn seems to me the most important factor in my swing.
     With no wind to consider, I try to play a straight and simple shot, using a club a little more than adequate to get the distance, rather than taking a full crack with a club just strong enough. I rarely knock the ball down with an iron or play what used to be called the push shot; very popular with many players formerly."

This is great advice for amateurs to follow. Try to play the simple shot with a club that will easily get there, rather than trying to hit a club that is just strong enough. Most amateurs press with their irons, trying to max out a seven iron when an easy swing with a six would work much better. Hitting fancy fades and draws, and knock-down shots, are best left to the experts. In fact, Bobby pointed out that, with championships at stake, you see even the best players playing the easy shots. Bobby goes on to write:

    "With the wind off the right or against, I like to take a club appreciably stronger than the range warrants. It is a curious fact that a slower hit causes the ball to bore better into a head-wind, perhaps by reason of carrying less backspin. And when the wind is off the right, the tendency being to impart a bit of cut to a shot with a stronger club, the ball is held up, in a manner of speaking, into the wind and proceeds in a straight line.
     With the wind off the left, I like a weaker club than the shot indicates and a harder smash in the stroke. I play the ball a bit farther from me and hit it hard, with a slightly freer turn of the body. My right shoulder, too, comes in a little higher, inducing a slight draw; that is, a faint curve to the left, which holds the ball up into the wind. It should be remembered, however, that unless the wind is very strong it has little effect , right or left, on a properly struck iron shot; and these refinements are not often essential. Of course, the wind will increase or curtail the range of a shot, and that is taken care of by the selection of clubs. As stated, I like a stronger club with a slower stroke against the wind, with a lower trajectory and relatively more wind-jamming power. You are shooting against a fine cushion, so you don't need to worry about stopping the ball.
     With a following wind I like a weaker club, swung harder. This adds elevation to the stroke, which is needed, as a following wind seems to take spin off the ball or at any rate minimize its controlling effect on landing.
     I am aware that these minor variations are likely to appear as an affectation, and I trust the reader to believe that my game never was built up and developed with any such things in mind. I suppose they came along subjectively, instinctively; and I know that most of them are performed with perfect unconsciousness in playing a round, just as an outfielder in baseball cuts loose for the plate with no thought of position of his feet or the juncture at which his wrist snaps, or anything beyond sending the ball on a proper hop to the catcher. It is impossible to describe most of these little refinements of the golfing stroke. You just do them, when your subjective experience tells you to, mostly without objective thought. It is a fascinating sort of thing to try to analyze, and I hope earnestly that my analytical efforts will not result disastrously for some confiding reader."

Once again, Bobby Jones offers his analysis on how he plays the game with a certain amount of fear and trembling, realizing that golf is an individual game; and that guaging iron shots correctly comes from subjective experience on what works for you. We have to have a bit of the outfielder in us, seeing where we want to land the ball, and then letting it go without too much thought about how we do it. Still, I think there is some great information for all of us in this information from one of golf's greatest players.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Bobby Jones on the Irons in Down the Fairway

Bobby Jones spoke in the conclusion to his book Down the Fairway about his love of playing the irons. Not that he always played them well, but that seemingly every time he won a big tournament he could look back on one particular long iron shot that effectively sealed the deal for him. 

In concluding the chapter, Bobby wrote:

    "Yes--I love the irons, even if sloppy play on the second hole at Skokie was costly in the national open of 1922, and looseness at Worcester ruined me in1925. I've studied the irons a lot, and listened to many a lecture. The last one I listened to was the shortest, and it seems to have done the trick--for the time being, at any rate.
     Genius or no genius--remembering the delicate compliment of Mr. Harold Hilton--I got away fairly well in Britain with an iron play that was never really satisfactory except at Sunningdale, which was a matter so exceptional that now I feel I must have been hypnotized. At Sunningdale, with its profusion of iron shots, I had the feel of the clubs to the extent that it made it seem utterly out of the question to be off line.
     But I wasn't satisfied with the somewhat compromised style in which I was hitting the irons, and when I got home to Atlanta after the big journey of 1926 I went out and had a little talk with Stewart Maiden, who to me will always be the first Doctor of Golf. I suppose I did a little confessing.
     Stewart said: 'Let's see you hit a few.'
     I hit a few. Stewart seemed to be watching my right side. He is a man of few words.
     'Square yourself around a bit,' said he.
     I had been playing a long time with a slightly open stance, my right foot and shoulder nearer the line of the shot than the left side.
     'Move that right foot and shoulder back a bit,' said Stewart.
     I did so, taking what is called a square stance.
     'What do I do now?' I asked Stewart.
     'Knock the hell out of it!' said he, concisely.
     I did. The ball went like a ruled line.
     That is Stewart Maiden's method of teaching or coaching. In this imperfect and complicated world I have encountered nothing else as simple and direct. Stewart saw that my swing was bringing the club on the ball from outside the line of play. He didn't bother with explanations or theories--he never does. He settled on one single thing by way of adjustment. It worked. That is a prime feature of his adjustments."

How fortunate Bobby was to have a teacher like Maiden. He was a man of few words who did not believe in confusing his students with long-winded explanations or theories. He simply put them in a position to hit the ball and then told them to go ahead and knock the hell out of it. We could use a few more teachers like him these days.

Bobby goes into more detail about how he plays the irons which I will cover in my next article.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Bobby Jones' Conclusion About Putting

In his book Down the Fairway, Bobby Jones was quite clear about the fact that he did not consider himself to be a great putter. This could simply be his modesty at play, because you don't win thirteen Majors by the time you are 27 without knowing a thing or two about rolling your rock. 

But Bobby did, during those seven lean years from fourteen to twenty one when he couldn't quite win a Major, suffer some agonies on the greens. And he managed to find the solution that worked best for him. He did not necessarily recommend his method to us, since he well understood that putting is the most individual part of the game. The only rule is that you get the ball in the hole.

Consider what Bobby wrote as a conclusion to his ideas about putting in Down the Fairway. He wrote:

    "Now, I haven't said much about grip or stance because I've changed mine a good many times and may change them again, and anyway, I do not think the secret of putting, if there is a secret, is in the mechanics, granted that the swing can be made smoothly and to a fair degree automatically. I do say that for me there must be some flexibility, and hence movement, of the knees and body, and of the arms, in putts of some length. I keep my hands opposed; that is, with the palms opposite and the wrists thus working exactly against each other, which is not done in bigger shots, where my left hand is more on top of the shaft and my right hand also a bit farther over.
     But as I see it, the thing that hurt my putting most when it was bad--and it was very bad, at times--was thinking too much about how I was making the stroke, and not enough about getting the ball into the hole. I have always been a fair approach putter, and I am not so bad at holing-out now, though not in the class with a number I could name. But I have concluded that, having acquired a fairly smooth and accurate stroke, the thing for me to do is to forget it as far as possible and concentrate on getting the ball into the cup.
     Which seems to have been the original object, in golf."

To that, I can only say,"Amen." If I could only put that to practice in my game. Some days are better than others. But the more I focus on holing the putt; and the less I think about how I'm stroking the ball; the more often the ball goes in. That Bobby Jones was a heckuva player, and he wasn't exactly a slouch when it comes to writing. If you get the chance, read his books. They are still the best books you can find on how to play this game.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Bobby Jones on Putting: The Dying Ball

As a kid, Bobby Jones saw putting as being no mystery. He would simply walk up to the ball and knock it in the hole; or at least try to do so. As he learned that three and four footers could be missed, he began to struggle on the greens, imitating the putting styles of great putters and thinking about mechanics rather than just thinking about knocking the ball in the hole.

In his book Down the Fairway, Bobby went on to explain the one thing he learned to once again become a good putter. Bobby wrote:

    "So I worked around and imitated some other fine putters, with indifferent results, and finally, after years of suffering and tournament wrecks--I took 40 putts in one round of the national open at Columbia--I finally arrived at the conclusion which obtains as these lines are written: that the best system for me is to stroke the ball with as smooth a swing as I can manage, and try always to guage an approach putt, or any putt except the short holing-out efforts, to reach the hole with a dying ball.
     Stewart Maiden had more than once urged this plan. 'When the ball dies at the hole,' said Stewart, 'there are four doors; the ball can go in the front, the back, or at either side, wherever it touches the rim. But a ball that comes up to the hole with speed on it must hit the front door fairly in the middle; there are no side doors, and no Sunday entrance, for the putt that arrives with speed.'
     This is especially true of keen greens. On a slow green you may take more liberties with hard hitting. But on the fast greens on which most championships are played--well, there's always that specter of the three-putt green. I had three of them, that last round at St Anne's, in the British open championship of 1926. You don't forget those things, I can tell you.
     Now, here's the way I look at it. Too frequently, it seems to me, the famous old maxim of 'Never up, never in,' is made the excuse for banging the ball hard at the hole; and the player, seeing it run past three or four or half a dozen feet, consoles himself with the idea that at least he gave it a chance. And yet it isn't so much of a chance. Of course we never know but that the ball which is on line and stops short would have holed out. But we do know that the ball that ran past the hole did not hole out. That's another way of looking at it. And a putt that is struck too hard has only one way into the cup--through the middle of the front door, and then the backstop must be functioning.
     Also, there is the matter of the second putt, not one precisely to be despised.
     There is nothing--I speak from experience--in a round of either match or medal competition that bears down with quite the pressure of having continually to hole out putts of three and four feet; the kind left by overly enthusiastic approaches. For my part, I have holed more long putts when trying to reach the hole with a dying ball than by 'gobbling' or hitting hard. And if the dying ball touches the rim, it usually drops. And if it doesn't touch the rim--well, you can usually cover the hole and the ball with a hat, which makes your next putt simple and keeps down strain."

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Bobby Jones on Putting in Down the Fairway

In Down the Fairway, Bobby Jones talks about putting. He had his struggles on the greens and discovered some things that are beneficial for every golfer to understand. He wrote:

    "At the start, putting was not a 'game within a game' to me. It was nothing more than going up to the ball and knocking it into the cup, or making a free attempt to do so... From a fairly good kid putter, I became a wretched adolescent putter, having discovered how many things could happen to the ball in the course of three or four feet. That was always my hardest distance. It is today. There was a time when I honestly would rather confront a ten-foot putt that had to be holed than one of three feet. I felt I could at least hit the longer one.
     I was a bad putter, or at best an indifferent one, up to Skokie, where the national open championship was played and my putting held up a rather shabby game so that I finished in a tie for second place, a stroke behind Gene Sarazen. I was changing my putting style continually in those days, some times two or three times in the same round, so I can't tell you what was the matter; indeed, I think now it was not any one style or several styles at fault. I think I was thinking too much about how I looked--I was always trying to copy some good putter--and how I took the club back, and which hand I struck with, and a number of things other than the one thing to concentrate on--putting the ball in the hole."

Sound familiar? This could be Bobby Jones describing my putting woes. In my next article I will talk about how Bobby Jones solved his putting problems.

Bobby Jones and Down the Fairway

In his book Down the Fairway, co-authored with his travelling companion, O.B. Keeler, Bobby Jones described his life in golf up to the age of twenty five. It's a remarkable book, written by two remarkable men, which provides wonderful insight into Bobby's successes and failures on the golf course which culminated in him becoming the greatest amateur champion the game has ever seen.

At the conclusion of the book Bobby elected to provide us with his insights into how to play the game. I think the way he introduced this information is worth considering for those who might choose to teach, or offer advice on how to play the game. He wrote:

    "I will essay a few modest chaptes in conclusion on my struggles with golf, and the playing of golf, with the emphatic understanding that there is nothing didactic about them. I am not attempting to give any sort of instruction, or tell anybody how to play golf. Indeed, I am not at all sure I can make an acceptable job of telling how I play golf, myself. There are times when I feel I know less about what I am doing than anybody else in the world. But I have struggled with the game, and maybe I have learned a little as to how I play it. I have thought about golfing methods a lot; more than was good for me, I fancy. Stewart Maiden, the foundation of my game and my first and only model, says so, and I am willing to take Stewart's pronouncements concerning golf at face value. Perhaps some reflections on the method of playing certain shots will not be uninteresting; as I said, I've thought about these things a lot. But please understand I'm not commending these methods to anyone. I'm just trying honestly to describe the way I play certain shots. If anybody elects to try out these methods, it will be at his own peril."

Am I the only one impressed by the way Bobby prefaces his instruction? Is it not a breath of fresh air compared to the over-confident and often outrageous assertions made by lesser men who promise to provide the secrets to the game? Bobby Jones struggled with the game. He readily admitted to those struggles. And he never tried to push his method or theories on anyone, realizing all too well that golf is an individual game where one size does not fit all; and where making changes or experimenting with one's game is undertaken at one's own peril.

On that note, I intend to share some of the information Bobby provided in future articles.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The Left Hand

Bobby Jones wrote that the golf swing was actually a back-handed stroke with the left hand for a right-handed player. He also said that if a player had a sound golf swing you would see the back of his left hand pointing directly at you at impact if you were standing in front of him as he struck the ball.

Being aware of the back of your left hand is very important. Lee Trevino said that the back of your left hand mirrors the clubface. So, if the back of your left hand is moving stright down the target line through impact, so is your clubface. At impact, Ben Hogan felt that the back of his left hand was actually bowed slightly towards the target. Byron Nelson focussed on his left hand moving through impact towards the target through impact as well.

It isn't a hard concept to grasp for golfers. The problem is that most right-handed players are naturally more inclined to want to hit with their stronger right hand. And that's not a problem as long as that left hand and arm keeps moving through impact and isn't over-powered by the right hand. 

Golf is a two-handed game. But the swing should be a two-handed backhand. If your ballstriking isn't where you want it to be, try focussing on the back of your left hand at impact. It should be facing the target line. Just rear back and backhand that ball. Try it; you'll like it.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Talk to Yourself

I suppose, given the fact that teaching has focussed almost entirely on the golf swing, it's no big surprise that most of us tend to lose sight of the main goal in golf. Golf isn't about making perfect golf swings. And yet most of us continue to think mostly about our swing.

Golf is actually about hitting the ball from the teeing ground into the hole in as few shots as possible. And there is no requirement, as Bobby Jones wrote, to look pretty while doing so. And what did Bobby Jones say we should focus on after deciding the shot we want to hit? Hitting the ball. Simple enough, one would think. But it actually isn't.

The other day I was playing a round at Dunes West near Charleston. The putts were dropping and so despite missing a few shots I was still one under at the turn. On the tenth tee I stood over my tee shot and, suddenly, as I took the club back I thought about making a fuller shoulder turn. The ensuing weak slice left me way back and nearly in the trees. Only making another long putt allowed me to save par. It can happen that fast. Right in the middle of your swing thoughts have a way of intruding.

Most golfers have swing thoughts--things they think about and make certain of doing either before or during the playing of the shot. Bobby Jones tried to have no more than one at any given time. Jack Nicklaus played well with as many as five. But any swing thoughts are best considered before the shot, not during it. When you take the club back your sole focus should be on striking the ball in the required manner to produce the shot you're looking for.

If swing thoughts are intruding during your swing, I have found that talking to yourself helps. As you are swinging you might say to yourself, "Hit the ball."  Saying it to match the cadence of your swing helps; as does trying to say the last word as you strike the ball. Talking to yourself as you swing isn't a sign of insanity and will really help keep other distracting thoughts from intruding as you swing. Try it. You might like it.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Matsuyama is Great to See in More Ways Than One

Hideki Matsuyama has quickly become a force to be reckoned with in the golf world. With five worldwide wins in his last nine starts, there is no doubt that he is the best player in the game right now. Okay, he's no Tiger Woods, or Jack Nicklaus. But he's awfully good, and who knows what we'll be saying about him in twenty years.

He's also refreshing to see, because in this age of players relying on swing coaches, putting coaches, short game gurus, strength coaches, nutitionists, sports psychologists and whoever else to help them play their best golf, Matsuyama has done this pretty much on his own. He's developed an unusual swing that works. He's spent countless hours learning to be a good putter. And he's done it his way.

It's nice to see that in this era when top players seem to feel they need an entourage of experts to help them play this game at the very top level, there are guys like Matsuyama and Bubba Watson, to name but two, who can win without anyone, other than their caddie, to assist them in playing the game.

That being said, there is no doubt that Matsuyama has made a study of the game. And there is little doubt that he has learned from watching other great players. No man is an island, and no one gets through this life without some help along the way. But Matsuyama just shows us that golf is learned best, as Bobby Jones said, by playing--by hitting that ball until we can make it behave. That takes talent, aptitude, hard work and desire. And there ain't no teacher or psycologist that can give you those things.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

There's Golf and There's Competitive Golf

As Bobby Jones pointed out, there's golf and then there's competitive golf. And they are a very different sort of animal. 

For those of us who play recreational golf and don't play for championships, or our livelihoods, golf can be fun, humbling, difficult, annoying, or enthralling. But we'll never know the feeling of playing golf with a Major championship on the line. 

We can pretend as much as we want that we need a par, or to make a six footer, to win the Masters or the Open. But unless we've actually been there, we'll never comprehend why the guys look so drained at the end of eighteen championship holes of golf. Bobby Jones used to lose as much as fifteen pounds in a week of championship play--even when he didn't really have fifteen pounds to spare. He would be mentally and physically exhausted.

This is what Tiger is now experiencing. After a forced hiatus from competition, Tiger is realizing that all the gym work, and all the practising just doesn't have him ready and able to compete with the guys who haven't been on the sidelines for fifteen months. 

Okay, Tiger isn't the same cat. He's suffered some injuries. But he still looks awfully good physically. And he can still move it out there long enough to compete. He's still apparently striping it on the range. The question would seem to be not whether Tiger's back can hold up for a week of championship golf, but rather whether he has enough of that fire in his belly, that same self-belief, and that same ability to somehow keep struggling to grind out a score that he had during his great run of fourteen Majors. 

Majors, as Curtis Strange once said, referring to the US Open, are won on guts and pars. Tiger was once a guy who could seemingly save par from anywhere. Not so these days. Let's hope Tiger can keep playing and somehow find a way to get himself in contention again. Only when he's in the hunt will he find out whether he still has what it takes. But first, he needs to make a cut.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

The Long Chip

Harvey Penick advised that, when you didn't have time to hit the range before a round, you make sure to hit a few chips and pitches. Doing that will quickly get you the feel of striking the ball properly and, as Harvey pointed out, the full shot is really just a long chip.

Harvey also felt that the best way to learn the game was from the green back to the tee. If you learn to hit solid putts, then chips, pitches and half shots, learning to hit the long shots will be much easier. And, even if it isn't easy at first, at least you have learned the short shots, which are the scoring shots. Banging away on the range is of much less value than time spent honing your short game, because most amateurs waste more strokes from 100 yards and in than anywhere else. Show me someone who can chip and putt and I'll show you a guy who can score--provided they can get the ball in play from the tee.

I have found that viewing the full shots--even with the driver--as nothing more than long chip shots has begun to really help my game. If you are struggling with your ball striking, try working on your short game and try to hit half or three-quarter shots until you are consistently striking the ball solidly. It's great to hit the long ball, but a solid, accurate strike is what we all want. Two hundred and twenty yards in the fairway beats two hundred and eighty yards in the woods pretty much every time.

When you watch the top pros, it is amazing how far they hit the ball with such little apparent effort. That's because they've all learned to hit the ball with the sweet spot of the club. And that is best learned before you start swinging for the fences. Greg Norman said, "If you can't hit the driver, (or any other club for that matter) don't." Hit the shots you know you can hit.