"Often, when we are trying to take strokes off our score, we attach too much importance to new theories of the swing, and overlook the fact that we are not getting everything we should out of the mechanical ability already possessed... Every golfer is of limited ability--some more so, others less. We can't always help this, but I believe that I can make a few common sense suggestions, having nothing to do with technique, that will help to take strokes off any man's game.
The first real big lesson I learned, and it was medal competition that taught me, was that every stroke in the round was of equal importance, and that each one was worthy of and demanded the same intensity of concentration. Before I had had much experience, I used invariably to allow myself to become careless when confronted by a simple-looking shot. A wide fairway or a big green was always the hardest for me to hit. But no golf shot is easy unless it is played with a precise and definite purpose, and with perfect and complete concentration upon results. The easiest way to assure minute attention on every shot is to cultivate an attitude of mind that will be satisfied by nothing less than perfection. If it looks easy to play onto the green, then try to get close to the hole; if it looks easy to get within a ten-foot radius, try to lay it dead. Always strive to go as far toward the ultimate end of holing out as it is reasonably possible to go."
It's worth repeating the fact that Bobby Jones said he was not playing his best golf when he managed to win the Grand Slam. He felt the reason he succeeded was that he tried harder than everyone else and he refused to give up. Obviously, giving every shot the same intensity of concentration involves great effort. If it was easy, we'd all do it. And yet all of us experience lapses in concentration and fail to give every shot the attention it deserves. We will likely always have lapses in concentration, but trying to hit the best shot we possibly can, in line with the circumstances and our ability, is the way to have fewer lapses. Essentially, we need to be resolved to try harder.
Bobby continued by writing:
"The surest way to collect 7's and 8's and to pile up a disgraceful score is to become angry and rattled. It won't cost much in the way of strokes, when you slice a drive or pull an iron, if you throw your club away or curse your luck, because you still have time to get over it before the next shot. But if you look up in the bunker and leave your ball sitting where it was, you had best think twice before you hit it again."
Bobby Jones had a temper. As a young man he cursed and threw clubs with the best of them when he missed a shot. He learned to curb those outward displays of temper, but he still got mad as hell when he failed to perform. In fact, he admitted that he still liked to toss the odd club in later life when playing friendly rounds with his father and his cronies. But he learned, as we must, not to hit another shot until you've got over the angst of missing the preceding one.
Finally, Bobby wrote about what he considered to be the most important thing a golfer must do if he hopes to play his best. He wrote:
"No virtue in this world is so often rewarded as perseverance. Again, as Harry Vardon said, 'Keep on hitting the ball.' Don't give up just because you are bunkered in 3 and your opponent is on the green in 2. You might hole out and he might take three putts. It doesn't happen often, but you can never tell..."
Trying your hardest and refusing to give up--those were Bobby's keys to success. And, if we want to shave strokes off our score, that recipe will almost certainly work for us as well. Bobby concluded by talking about confidence:
"To those who play it and study it, the game of golf presents puzzling problems in many phases. One of the queerest angles on the mental side is seen when we begin to consider confidence--what is its effect, how much of it ought we to have; and in what should we have confidence--in our ability to beat a given opponent or in our ability to play the shots? Many of us have found that we can't play well without confidence of one kind, and that we will be beaten if we have too much of another variety."
I'll share Bobby's views on confidence in my next article.