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Tuesday, 25 April 2017

How Bobby Jones Learned the Game

Bobby Jones played golf in a different era, with different equipment, on courses far less manicured. But he played the same game, with the same goal; namely to get the ball from the teeing ground into the hole in the fewest strokes possible. And he was a genius at doing just that. 

I was reading his book, Golf is my Game, again today and was once again struck by what he had to say at the beginning of the second chapter, entitled Striking the Ball. In this modern age, with all the technology available to students and teachers, I fear we are often in danger of getting lost in trying to improve launch angles and spin rates, and actually lose sight of what the game is really all about; namely making a score. With this technology, including improved equipment and course agronomy, you would think the average player would be getting better. But he apparently isn't. So, what's missing?

Consider what the Master wrote:

    "When I was playing competitive golf, I had, with some golf writers at least, a reputation for being a regular player. When I scored sixty-six in the third round of the Southern Open at East Lake in 1927, Kerr Petrie wrote for the New York Herald Tribune:
     
     'They wound up the Mechanical Man of Golf yesterday and sent him clicking around the East Lake course.'

     I remember the round quite well, and it was as nearly perfect as any I ever played; the only real mistake being a tee shot pulled into some woods on the fourteenth hole. That 'Mechanical Man' stuff, though, did make me laugh. How I wished it could have been made to fit!
     I have always said that I won golf tournaments because I tried harder than anyone else and was willing to take more punishment than the others. More immodestly, I will say now that I think a large factor in my winning was a greater resourcefulness in coping with unusual situations and in recovering from or retrieving mistakes.
     Jim Barnes said to me once, when as a youngster I was in the midst of my lean years as a golfer: 'Bob, you can't always be playing well when it counts. You'll never win golf tournaments until you learn to score when you're playing badly.'
     I think this is what I learned to do best of all. The most acute, and yet the most satisfying recollections I have are of the tournaments won by triumphs over my own mistakes and by crucial strokes played with imagination and precision when anything ordinary would not have sufficed. And I was able to do this because I learned so well what a golf ball could be made to do and how it had to be struck to make it perform as I wanted it to.
     Of course, I learned these things by playing. I kept hammering at that pesky ball until I found a way to make it behave. When I hit it one way and it didn't go right, I'd try hitting it another way. I didn't try different swings. I probably didn't know there were such things, or even a swing at all for that matter.
     I watched other players, too, and when one of them made a shot that I especially admired, I would begin to try to produce the same result. But I didn't observe how they took the club back or measure the 'body-turn' they used. I watched the clubhead strike the ball and saw how the ball responded. Then I tried to make my ball do the same thing."

And there you have it. Arguably the greatest player the game has ever seen learned golf by playing it. He didn't learn the game on a driving range, or in a booth where a machine gave him measurements of  launch angle, and spin rate, and swing speed. He played, and observed, and learned how a golf ball reacted when struck different ways from different lies. Kind of a novel idea, don't you think? Learn golf by playing it. Who would've thunk it?