Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Pierre the Lumberjack

The saying is that a good reputation is worth much more than gold. It's true. I say this, not from atop a high horse, because the verdict is still out for me in terms of how I will be remembered. I have made my share of dumb mistakes in life. 

I just watched the video of Tiger Woods being arrested. Although I've never been a fan of Tiger Woods, the person, that video made me sad. It made me wonder just how it will end for Tiger; arguably the greatest golfer we've ever seen.

Perhaps we should be grateful that Tiger didn't kill himself, or someone else; out on the road in such a state. Actually, do we know that Tiger didn't kill anyone else? The damage to his vehicle certainly raises some serious questions and concerns. But we'll assume that there are no bodies lying in any ditches near Jupiter, Florida, that we don't know about.

Tiger's greatness as a golfer has never been in doubt. His greatness as a human being is still very much up for debate. He has made some big mistakes. And, sainthood is an unlikely eventuality for Tiger at this point in time. But you almost have to pity the man. He was born to play golf. His future as a world-class golfer is doubtful at best. So, what does he do now? Does he sink into depression, drug addiction, and self pity? Or can he find life after competitive golf? 

As I ask those questions, I wonder where his friends and family are. Where was his agent? Who let him get behind the wheel in that state? Ultimately, the decision was his. But his judgement was obviously impaired by prescription drugs, if not alcohol as well. Hell, he didn't know whether he was punched or bored when the cops found him. It was a pitiful sight.

Judgement has always been Tiger's problem--at least off the golf course. This golfing genius, when left to his own devices off the course, certainly hasn't been very astute in matters of how to live successfully. In fact, he's been incredibly dumb. I was reminded of an old and rather vulgar joke about Pierre the lumberjack that might just apply.

"Twenty years I cut down trees," Pierre the lumberjack complained, "And no one ever called me a lumberjack. Suck one c--k, and now I'm Pierre the c--ksucker!" 

I hope you'll forgive the vulgarity for the sake of the wisdom found in the joke. It will be awfully sad if Tiger ends up being remembered as Tiger the impaired driver. It's ultimately up to him how he will be remembered. He may not win another Major, but he's still in a position to be able to do so much good in this life. He is, after all, still on the right side of the grass.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Gary Player: The Smallest of Golf's Big Three

My father told me never to blow my own trumpet. It was far better to let others tell you how good they might think you are. This is clearly a piece of advice that was never given to Gary Player.

Gary Player was a great player. He wasn't the greatest, but he was awfully good and has the absolute right to consider himself one of the greats of the game. Unfortunately, Mr. Player never seems to pass up the opportunity to tell all and sundry how great he was and how tremendous he still is for an old guy. How much this blowing of his own trumpet has affected his status is anyone's guess. But his constant bragging must have soured more than a few golf fans. It's hard to listen to.

In Gary's latest attempt to remind us of how good he was, Gary couldn't resist trying to steal Bernhard Langer's thunder by talking about how three US Senior Opens that he won, but were not at the time counted as Majors, meant that he was essentially just as good as Langer. Sad, when you think about it. Here is a guy with what seems to be a giant inferiority complex. I can find no other reasonable explanation for it.

At last year's Masters, a friend of mine attended a South African barbeque at Gary's place. He has just taken up the game and had no real opinion of Gary Player. However, when I asked him about the evening, and what he thought of Player, he responded by saying, "The guy's an arsehole."

When I asked him why he felt this way, he told me that Gary not only spent the evening lecturing everyone on diet and fitness, along with his usual childish displays of calisthenics; he also made several derogatory remarks about Jack and Arnie--remarks that, quite frankly, don't bear repeating. These remarks only serve to prove that Gary was the smallest member of golf's Big Three in more ways than one.

It's sad when a man Gary's age still finds it necessary to tell everyone how good he is/was. He really needs to get over himself. And what's more, I don't trust a man who doesn't drink! Just kidding.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Swinging the Club Head Not the Club

All you have to do is watch the top players in the game tee off at an event to appreciate the fact that there is more than one way to swing a golf club effectively. This is even more evident when you watch the Senior Tour players in action.

As someone who has experimented with just about every swing imaginable, I am finally at the place Henry Cotton ended up. It all comes down to the hands and swinging the clubhead, not the club. If you don't think there's a difference between swinging the club and swinging the clubhead, it's worth remembering what Bobby Jones said about most players viewing the shaft of the club as the means of applying force to the hit. Bobby's view was that we needed to understand that it was the clubhead we wanted to have moving fast. We needed to feel and swing the clubhead.

The problem I notice in my own game, and in that of others I play with, is that we are often in too much of a hurry to deliver the blow. We are too fast going back, and in a mad rush coming down. Often we fail to complete our backswing in our apparent rush to just get it over with. If we take our time, and get to the point in our backswing where we can feel the clubhead, we then have the opportunity to really sling it into the ball.

Modern teaching tends to focus much less on our hands, essentially having our body swing the club. And this obviously works well for those who are fit and healthy enough to use this method. It may also lead to more consistency in our striking if we have mastered the movements and are set up properly.

The problem for older golfers and those of us with physical problems, is the body may not work like it did when we were young and fit. That's why I think it's a good idea to understand that the hands can be used with great affect. Look at the trick shot artists; hitting balls from their knees, or on one leg. They are the best examples of swinging the clubhead. If you can feel the weight of that clubhead and let it swing, it's quite amazing how much zip you can get on the ball.

But if you want to swing the clubhead, you've first got to feel it. That means a light grip and the patience on the backswing to wait until you can feel that clubhead ready to use. We want to think of the clubhead, as Bobby Jones said, being attached to "an imponderable medium," like a string, and sling it into the ball. When we do that we are taking advantage of the design of the club and not just swinging a stick.

With my back problems, I am now having to learn to better use my hands and the clubhead. I simply can't generate the speed with my body any more. The question now will be, can I be patient enough to wait until I feel that clubhead ready to go, and not resort to thinking of the shaft as the means to impart the hit. And the thing that I feel is helping in this regard is the tire drill. It's amazing just how much zip you can get with so little effort when you strike the tire with the clubhead instead of the shaft.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Time to Try to be More Like Moe

Moe Norman was a golfing savant. While never formally diagnosed as such, I think most of those who knew him would agree that he was likely autistic. Unfortunately for Moe, and the rest of us, Moe's time on the PGA tour was shortlived as a result. His quirkiness led to him being essentially warned off the tour. The PGA tour just wasn't ready for the likes of Moe Norman.

Apparently, one of the final straws was when Moe actually putted between a fellow competitor's feet as he was picking his ball out of the hole. It was felt that Moe just wasn't taking the whole PGA tour pro thing seriously enough. It is kind of funny when you understand Moe. To him golf was simple. He summed the game up by saying you hit this dumb thing--the ball--with this dumb thing--the club--over there--the target. All the pre-shot routine stuff was lost on him. He just stepped up to the ball, looked at the target, and let it go. This is something that was then, and is probably even more so now, sadly missing with most other pros. The pace of play has become a nightmare.

Everyone who saw Moe hit balls knew they were observing pure genius. There have been others who struck the ball as well as Moe--Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Lee Trevino, and Sam Snead instantly come to mind. But only Moe seemed to be able to hit the ball dead straight, without a hint of a draw or fade. And Moe was able to do this with a set up and a swing unlike any other in professional golf. 

Moe's swing, at a first glance, looked like a thirty-handicapper's. He stood with his feet stretched wide apart and had very little knee bend. He reached for the ball and held his extra-thick grips in the palms of his hands. His swing was short, with very little, if any, body rotation. He had a strong lateral shift on the downswing. It was definitely not the sort of swing likely to be admired or copied. But the strike was incredible. He hit it dead straight almost every time. And, after all, what's the shortest distance to the hole? You got it--a straight line.

Now, there have been, and still are, people teaching what is purported to be Moe's method. To listen to them, you would think his method was just as complicated as any other swing method being taught out there. They seem to have managed to take something that, for Moe at least, was very simple and make it very complicated. I think it is much better to listen to Moe's own words to understand what he was doing and why he was doing it.

The reason I am writing this is because my back problems have me presently unable to hit the ball much more than two hundred yards using a conventional swing. That Moe never experienced back trouble, and his swing was essentially a lateral move, with very little body rotation, makes me wonder whether it isn't time for me to try to use something resembling Moe's method again. I've used it before and played pretty well that way. And when I say "Moe's method," and not "Moe's swing," it is because Moe never suggested that anyone copy his swing, or his set up. He wanted people to understand the perfect strike and how to achieve it. 

Moe developed a method that kept the clubface square to the target longer than anyone through the impact zone. He claimed his clubface remained square to the target twenty two inches after impact. Byron Nelson developed a method that kept his face square to the target for twelve inches after impact. Lee Trevino is another great ballstriker who kept his club moving down the target line a long time, for years favouring what he described as a push fade. As he got older, and experienced back problems, he has turned to a push draw. All three of these great ballstrikers, and more, believed that the longer the clubface remained square to the target, immediately before and after impact, the higher the probability that a good shot would result.

Just using common sense, the longer the clubface remains square to the target both before and after impact, the better the chance of a square strike almost regardless of ball position. A square strike, if the clubface is moving straight down the target line, means a straight shot. And a square strike increases the smash factor, which helps improve distance for those like me who are losing it in a big way.

For those of us with bad backs that are making the golf swing difficult, if not downright impossible, Moe's method might just be worth investigationg. Moe hit millions of golf balls. At the age of 63, Moe hit balls essentially non-stop for six hours in the production of a video for the PGA of America. He never experienced back trouble. Hitting a golf ball to Moe was as simple as hammering nails for a carpenter.

So, the question is, can I find a way to be able to hit balls like Moe with a buggered back? I think Moe provides the answer and I intend to try making some relatively simple changes to see if it can possibly work for me even half as well as it worked for Moe. And those changes do not require me to necessarily use an extra wide stance, or extend my arms to reach for the ball, or even alter my grip to be more like Moe. It requires me to figure out a way to strike the ball like Moe did.  I will keep you posted on how it works out. 

Bobby Jones on Ball Position

All golfers are in the same boat, it seems, when it comes to playing this crazy game. One day we "have it" and the shots fly true and the putts drop. On those rare days the game can seem almost easy. And the next day we can't hit the broad side of a barn door.

When we are playing poorly, the search begins. The better players--or at least the most intelligent players--know enough not to immediately start messing with their swings when the wheels come off. This is because a swing that generally produces reasonable results isn't likely to be the culprit. Often what is wrong is something simple. And this is why good players look to the basics when things go awry. They check their alignment and ball position first.

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

    "One reason golf is such an exasperating game is that a thing learned is so easily forgotten, and we find ourselves struggling year after year with faults we had discovered and corrected time and again. But no correction seems to have a permanent effect, and as soon our minds become busy with another part of the swing, the old defection pops up again to annoy us.
     This is especially true with respect to placing the ball in the position of address. Apparently of little importance, this is one of the most vital considerations in hitting a golf ball, not that one position is correct for every player, but because for each player there is one position which, with the peculiarities of his method, enables him to hit the ball most easily and most effectively.
     In my particular case, this position happens to be at a point about opposite the middle of my left foot, and this is true when using any club for almost any kind of shot. Of course, the exigencies of a peculiar situation may alter this position to some extent, but normally it remains the same. With the ball in this forward position, all of the power of the stroke can be applied behind the ball; there is no additional tension and loss of power because of a position which requires the player to hold back in order to meet the ball squarely.
     It is not difficult to see that if the swing is adjusted to strike the ball in a certain position, even a slight variation in the position of the ball, the swinging remaining the same, will cause an error in hitting. No golfer needs to be told what ruinous results may follow from even a small mistake. Taking the ball an inch too soon or an inch too late may throw it many yards off line at the end if its flight.
     Placing the ball at address should always receive minute attention. Too many times we step up confidently and carelessly to play a shot, and fall readily into a position that feels comfortable and is, we think, the accustomed attitude. Without giving the thing a thought, we hit the shot and are at a loss to explain the pull or slice that results. A tiny error is enough, and it is very easy to overlook."

Bobby goes on to relate a story about how a friend of his helped him at the US Open at Winged Foot in 1929. He was hitting everything to the right and, try as he might, he couldn't figure out what was wrong. His friend, T.N. Bradshaw observed that Bobby seemed to be playing the ball farther back in his stance than usual. Bobby moved it forward in his stance and had no more trouble. He concluded by writing:

    "A slight change of position is hard for the player himself to detect, especially if he plays for any appreciable time that way. But to move the ball interferes not at all with the swing. To try a different position endangers no e of the elements of touch, timing, or rhythm. And very often it will be found to be the exact adjustment required. It is impossible to contend that the same relative positions of ball and feet are proper for every player. But if anyone is off his game, it will do no harm to experiment-- to shift the ball nearer the left foot to correct a slice, and nearer the right foot to correct a hook. If it works, it is the simplest specific that can be given."

It is worth noting that most amateurs tend to play the ball too far back in their stance. To get the most power and accuracy from the shot, you must be behind the ball so you can drive it forward. So, if you're having trouble, perhaps you should check your ball position. As Bobby said, it can't do any harm.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Windmills and Clown Faces

Some would like to argue that the Players Championship should be considered the fifth Major. And, while it is a tournament that has a certain cache and huge money up for grabs, I tend to think it doesn't quite fit the bill. 

The reason isn't the field it assembles. Most of the top players are usually there. Although I don't know if the field is any stronger than any of the WGC events. The reason I don't think it ranks up there as a Major is because of the golf course. 

It may be entertaining to watch because if the unpredictability of the finishing holes, highlighted by that ridiculous par three seventeenth--an island green that often can't be hit with a wedge or a nine iron. I mean the only thing missing is the windmill and the clown's face.

This year we saw a leaderboard bereft of any of the top names. And, while I was thrilled to see the young South Korean win, it wasn't like watching a Major. In most Major championships you see the cream rise to the top. The winner isn't always one of the top players, but the top players are always in the hunt. Not this week, however. And why is this? It's the golf course. 

Some people love seventeen. They like the suspense and even the carnage. But to me it simply isn't great golf. Every golf hole worth its salt, according to Bobby Jones, should provide options to the player. It should offer a safer route fo the man willing to settle for a par or bogey, and a challenging route that offers an advantage to the player who takes on the challenge. The stadium course is golf on a knife's edge. I guess it's an exciting track to play. But it doesn't always allow the cream to rise.

Now Augusta National; that's a Major championship course. That's a course that separates the men from the boys. No windmills or clown faces on that track. Bobby Jones wasn't in to windmills.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

It's Dandelion Season

The dandelions are sprouting their yellow flowers all over our lawn. Some homeowners try to eliminate them. But, for me, they provide perfect golf practice.

The last couple of days I've been out clipping of the dandelion flowers with an old Scottish five iron that I also use as a cane. I have been using only my left hand to do this exercise and it is already building added muscle in my weaker left hand and forearm. The trick is to keep clipping those flowers without adjusting your grip. Henry Cotton says that this drill will prove difficult at first for even first-rate golfers. This is because most right-handed golfers are right hand dominant and under-utilize their left side in the golf swing.

Give this exercise a try. If you don't have dandelions, or clover, try just putting golf tees in the ground and clip the top of them. That was a Harvey Penick drill which he said helped his students learn to square the clubface at impact. He didn't know why it worked, just that it did.

Of course you can do this using both hands, or even just the right hand. But, after some practice, you will discover that you actually get more speed and consistency of strike using your left hand than when using your right. Try it. I think you'll like it.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Tired of Not Knowing What to Concentrate On?

What I think I like most of all about Bobby Jones' writing was his ability to get to the crux of the matter. He didn't promote any type of swing, other than his advice that it should be smooth, rhythmic and unhurried; especially when it came to the start of the downswing. In fact, Bobby realized that what was important was not the swing, but the strike.

In Golf is my Game, Bobby devoted a chapter to "Striking the Ball." He felt that it was the most important chapter of his book for the beginner, the average player, and the expert. He wrote:

    "This will be the most important chapter of this book. It will describe the most useful learning you will ever acquire as a golfer. You may gain knowledge from the mere reading of this chapter that will help you in the playing of every golf shot you make for the rest of your life. This knowledge can make you a better golfer overnight.
     If you are a beginner, this chapter will start you off on the road to a correct understanding of the nature of golf. If you are an average golfer, it will give you the means of deciding upon the club to use and the shot to play on the basis of reasoned judgement, rather than guesswork. If you are a better than average golfer, it will broaden your perception of the possibilities in the game so that you may become a player of imagination and resourcefulness. If you are weary of being told to concentrate without having knowledge of what you should concentrate on, this is it."

That's a rather big promise from a man who didn't engage in hyperbole. That's just how confident Bobby Jones was about the fact that golf is all about striking the ball. Consider what he wrote next:

    "Golf is played by striking the ball with the head of the club. The objective of the player is not to swing the club in a specified manner, nor to execute a series of complicated movements in a prescribed sequence, nor to look pretty while he is doing it, but primarily and essentially to strike the ball with the head of the club so that the ball will perform according to his wishes.
     No one can play golf until he knows the many ways in which a ball can be expected to respond when it is struck in different ways. If you think this all should be obvious, please believe me when I assure you that I have seen many really good players attempt shots they should have known were impossible."

So, if you are presently confused, frazzled, and tired of not knowing what to concentrate on. Take it from Bobby Jones; it's the strike, not the swing. Bobby goes on to describe the various ways a ball might be struck and the resultant ball flight that strike will produce. If you can get a copy of his book, I encourage you to do so. If not, check out my article entitled, "The Wisdom of Bobby Jones: Striking the Ball." It contains Bobby's information, pretty much verbatim. 

This year, I hope to get back to just trying to be a ballstriker and forget my damned swing. It isn't easy, because generations of teachers have taught us to think swing, not strike. And, according to Bobby Jones, they've missed the proverbial boat.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Are You Swing Oriented?

Jim Barnes once told a young Bobby Jones: "Bob, you can't always be playing well when it counts. You'll never win golf tournaments until you learn to score well when you're playing badly."

With respect to this admonition, Bobby wrote in his book Golf is my Game:

    "I think this is what I learned best of all. The most acute, and yet the most satisfying recollections I have are of 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 think 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."

Notice Bobby said he "learned how it (the golf ball) had to be struck." He didn't say he learned how to swing the club in such a way as to make the ball perform as he wanted it to. There is a big difference in Bobby Jones' approach and the way golf is generally taught. Bobby focussed on the strike. Most teachers focus on the swing.

And while modern teachers may know a great deal about the golf swing, it appears that many of them have not done a very good job of conveying the message to their students about the strike. The golf ball only reacts to how it is hit. It is not impressed by the swing. And while this is, or should be, obvious, it is generally overlooked by players and teachers alike who remain "swing oriented."

I know this to be true as a result of the number of times I've asked a golfer to show me how the clubhead should strike the ball to produce a straight shot. Most of them have no idea. Or if they do, the question seems to surprise them so much they have no response. Clearly, they are not thinking about the strike when they play.

I was on the range in South Carolina this winter and there was this fellow from New York who was really struggling. He couldn't seem to stop slicing the ball. I heard him asking a young lady, who plays college golf and was hitting balls nearby, if he should be strengthening his grip. She seemed to think it might be helpful, but was clearly more concerned with working on her game than giving golf tips--and rightly so.

When he set up beside me to hit balls, we exchanged the usual pleasantries. Then he informed me about his slicing problem, asking for my opinion about his grip and whether he should strengthen it. Unable to resist, I suggested he leave his grip alone and then took his club and showed him how the clubface should be moving through impact to produce a straight shot--namely straight down the target line with the clubface pointing, or square, to the target. I suggested he just strike the ball that way.

He tried to replicate that strike and was suddenly hitting mostly straight shots, even hitting some draws instead of slices. He was thrilled. He was also amazed that without mentioning his grip, or his swing, I had managed to get him hitting the ball so well. 

Of course, it wasn't magic. It was just Bobby Jones' teaching in action. This fellow was apparently a good baseball player, so he was obviously athletic enough to hit a golf ball. He just needed to know how he wanted to hit the ball, instead of thinking about how to swing the bat. When we learn how the ball must be struck, and then just focus on striking it, really good things start happening. We may not be able to swing like Freddie Couples, but we can all figure out how to strike a golf ball properly, provided we are shown the proper strike.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Prepare for Trouble

Golf, whether played for championships or a two-dollar Nassau, can exert some real pressure. How we react to that pressure in large part determines how well we can play. Our thinking on the golf course is almost as important as our ability to hit quality golf shots.

In one of my recent articles on Bobby Jones, I quoted Bobby's three rules for mentally preparing yourself for playing the game and dealing with pressure. I think they are well worth considering in some detail. It's important to remember that these rules were made by the best player of his generation. This was a young man who dominated the Major championships, winning thirteen of them by the age of twenty-eight. The reason I mention this is because there are some who say that positive thinking is important in golf. You will see that Bobby Jones was not a power-of-positive-thinking proponent. He was a realist.

Consider Bobby's first rule: "I must be prepared for the making of mistakes." Not a very positive thought, but the reality is that golf is a game where one's ability to recover from mistakes often determines the winner. Golf is a game of mistakes, or misses. No one hits the ball perfectly every time. We are inevitably going to make mistakes. So, we might better be prepared for them.

We can't afford to have a letdown, or a meltdown, every time we hit a ball in the water or out of bounds. We have to be mentally prepared for these things. It isn't being negative to prepare oneself for trouble. It's being realistic. 

Bobby's second rule was in the same vein: "I must try always to select the shot to be played and the manner of playing it so as to provide the widest possible margin for error." Remember, this was from the best player in the world at the time. This was from a guy who could hit magnificent golf shots. But when it counted, even he wanted to play golf in such a way as to give himself room for error. He didn't try to bust every drive three hundred yards. He didn't fire at every pin. He played conservatively. And he learned to do this after years of trying to play every shot, as he admitted, "for its ultimate potential." He eventually learned that "the best shot possible was not always the best shot to play."

I share this excellent advice, knowing that many will nod and say, "Yeah, yeah." But will go out tomorrow and, with much less ability than Bobby Jones, still fire away at tucked pins and try to blast a drive on every par four and five. And then, they will curse their luck for making sevens and eights. An ounce of discretion can save a ton of grief in golf. Remember that Bobby said golf was not a game meant to be played impetuously. 

Bobby's final rule for playing the game was: "I must expect to have to do some scrambling and not be discouraged if the amount of it happens to be more than normal." Bobby won the Grand Slam admittedly not playing his best golf. He said he believed he won because he tried harder, was willing to take more punishment, and simply refused to give up. He fought and scrambled his way to victories that at times seemed lost. And he appreciated those hard fought victories all the more because they were won by using imagination and creativity to get the job done when nothing else would have sufficed.

So, the bottom line from Bobby Jones' perspective is that we have to prepare ourselves mentally for trouble. We must never be surprised or discouraged when we encounter troubles on the course because that is the very nature of the game. If we can't keep our cool and play our way out of trouble, we won't win many matches. We will win only on those rare occasions when we are on our game and the putts are dropping. And those days are generally few and far between for all of us. Remember, even Bobby Jones felt he would be at his best no more than half a dozen times a season. The rest of the time he had to be prepared to work hard and scramble his way to a good score.

If that was Bobby Jones' experience, how much more shouldn't it apply to mere mortals like us? It's fine to plan for success in this game so long as we accept that it won't come without some trials and tribulations.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Bobby Jones on Playing the Game Part Three

Before he went on his incredible Major championship winning streak, Bobby Jones had to learn to adjust his ambitions and exercise restraint in his play. He came to understand that he needed to adopt the attitude, as J.H. Taylor described it, of "courageous timidity"; having the courage to handle adversity, with enough timidity, or caution, to "be aware of a limit to his powers."

For seven years Bobby had not won a Major. This was as much a source of mystery to him as to the fans who witnessed his incredible talent. It was only when he made the necessary attitude changes that he finally became the dominant player in the game. What helped him make this attitude change, from playing every shot for it's ultimate potential to relying on good, consistent play? Bobby wrote:

    "I learned to adjust my ambitions to more reasonable prospects shot by shot, and to strive for a rate of performance that was consistently good and reliable, rather than placing my hopes upon the accomplishment of a series of brilliant sallies.
     My resolution along these lines was immensely fortified by a bit of objective analyzing of my own play, which came up with a rather surprising result. I began by reviewing in my mind each round of golf as I played it to determine how many strokes in the round, exclusive of putts, had resulted precisely accirding to the conception I had in my mind as I played them. Since my scores around my home course at East Lake were rarely ever as high as the par of seventy-two and had a normal range of sixty-six to seventy, I expected that a fair number of shots in each round would have been completely satisfactory. I was amazed to find that in some rounds, fairly good from a scoring standpoint, I could find only one or two shots which had not been mishit to some degree. Many, of course, finished on the green or near the hole, but most had been hit a little too high or too low on the club; some had faded or drawn when the action had not been intended; some drives of good length had barely missed the sweet spot.
     I finally arrived at a measure of expectancy that in a season's play I could perform at my best rate for not over half-a-dozen rounds, and that in any one of these best rounds I would not strike more than six shots, other than putts, exactly as intended.
     If one should have confidence in such an appraisal, which I had, the following conclusions were inescapable:
     1. I must be prepared for the making of mistakes.
     2. I must try always to select the shot to be played and the manner of playing it so as to provide the widest possible margin for error.
     3. I must expect to have to do some scrambling and not be discouraged if the amount of it happens to be more than normal."

I can hardly think of a better way of describing the proper mental approach to the playing of the game. But some might think this advice doesn't necessarly apply to the recreational player. After all, they aren't playing for Major championships, or big money. Bobby concludes by dealing with just that point. He wrote:

    "The main point of all this for the play-for-fun golfer is to emphasize the importance even for him of adjusting his attitude towards the game before he goes out on the course. Let him first divest himself of any thought that it may be unsportsmanlike or unworthy to prepare himself for play as best he can. There is no point in going out to play a game unless one has the desire to play well, and golf was not made to be played impetuously; nor is one likely to exercise the needed restraint and self-discipline unless one has prepared oneself in advance. You don't need to go into any ostentatious seclusion, but only quietly and within yourself, to get your mind on the game before you step up to the first tee."

All golfers want to play well. Of course, how well they should aspire to play should be reasonable relative to their skill level. But the game was meant to be taken somewhat seriously; not, as Bobby wrote, to be played "impetuously." You should have an idea of what you hope to accomplish, and of how you hope to accomplish it. A little mental preparation can go a long way. And those three rules from Bobby about how to prepare yourself mentally for the playing of a round of golf are golden.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Bobby Jones on Playing the Game Part Two

Bobby Jones famously said that golf was played on a five and a half inch course--the distance between your ears. He also said that it was easier to learn good judgement than it was to learn to swing a club like Harry Vardon. And yet, it seems that many golfers continue to spend most of their time working on their swing instead of focussing on improving their mental game.

Bobby Jones was a child prodigy. He played in a US Amateur at age fourteen and was a golfing sensation. But despite his prodigious talent, Bobby had to learn to manage his game before he began winning Major Championships. Prodigious talent wasn't enough to beat the best golfers in the world. 

Consider what Bobby wrote in his book, Golf is my Game:

    "In my early years I think I must have been completely intolerant of anything less than absolute perfection in the playing of any shot... I habitually played every shot for its ultimate possibilities, regardless of risk. This lack of discretion must have been fairly obvious; for Bill Fownes, the resourceful Pittsburgh amateur, once said to me, 'Bob, you've got to learn that the best shot possible is not always the best shot to play.'"

A player who goes for broke, hits at every pin, and tries to reach every par five in two blows, regardless of the risks, might win occasionally when he's on his game and the stars align for him. But sooner or later, the odds will catch up with him. He won't be a consistent winner. Consider what Bobby says is the ideal golfing temperament:

    "J.H. Taylor, of the famous 'triumvirate' of Vardon, Taylor, and Braid, once described the ideal attitude of the golfer as one of 'courageous timidity', with the courage to bear adversity coupled with enough caution to cause him to be aware of a limit to his powers.
     It took some doing, I'll admit, but it is a fact that I never did any real amount of winning until I learned to adjust my ambitions to more reasonable prospects shot by shot, and to strive for a rate of performance that was consistently good and reliable, rather than placing my hopes upon the accomplishment of a series of brilliant sallies."

So, there it is. Despite his prodigious talent, Bobby Jones had to learn to become courageously timid before he did any real amount of winning. He had to learn to use some caution on the golf course, not relying on winning by accomplishing a series of "brilliant sallies." 

If he was so good, why was it necessary for young Bobby to exercise such restraint on the golf course? I'll cover that in my next article.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Bobby Jones on Playing the Game Part One

I know I keep referring to Bobby Jones. The reason is that he was, in my mind at least, not only the greatest player the game has ever seen, but also had the finest understanding of the game, and the ability to perfectly express his ideas and insights.

Bobby was acutely aware of the fact that golfers and teachers were much too wrapped up in the mechanics of the golf swing when it was the strike that really counted. He encouraged us to learn the game by playing it. And Bobby gave as fine an explanation of how to play the game as I have ever read in his book Golf is my Game. He wrote:

    "Golf, in my view, is the most rewarding of all games because it possesses a very definite value as a moulder and developer of character. The golfer very soon is made to realize that his most immediate, and perhaps his most potent, adversary is himself. Even when confronting a human opponent, the most crucial factor is not the performance of the opposition, but the effect of this performance upon the player himself.
     The play of the game at times exerts enormous pressure urging frantic efforts exceeding reasonable limits; at other times it offers a beguiling invitation to complacency and over-confidence, which can be equally deadly. The only effective defense in either case is a rigid discipline of self which will at one time shut out panic and at another maintain proper vigilance. The main idea in golf, as in life, I suppose, is to learn to accept what cannot be altered, and to keep on doing one's own reasoned and resolute best whether the prospect be bleak or rosy.
     I have often found help in remembering that few things turn out to be as bad as promised, or as good; and that neither championships, nor even matches for that matter, are won by giving up when you are down or by becoming too happy during periods of prosperity."

If there was ever a finer description of the game and how we must mentally approach the playing of it, I'd certainly like to read it. Bobby goes on in greater detail about the mindset we must have to play our best golf. I will cover that in my next article.

One Shot at a Time Like the Drunks

I played today with Carl the Chipper. We started in a bit of a Scotch mist and played most of the round in a steady drizzle. I was giving Carl five strokes; which pretty much establishes the fact that I'm a pigeon. 

Carl and I made pars on the first hole where we both missed the green. I was in the bunker and just missed holing it. Carl chipped it to about a foot from the back fringe. On number two I hit the green and proceeded to four putt for a double. Carl chipped his up to about three feet and made par.

On two, after a weak tee shot, Carl said, "I'm working on a few things." I suggested that he just work on getting the ball in the hole; which is how he's always played. And Carl agreed.

Carl proceeded to go out in one over. I was two over, which I thought was pretty good after a four-putt and only hitting one green. Were it not for my chipping and putting, I could have shot just about anything. I have finally started chipping like Bobby Jones; using less loft wherever I can and just running the ball to the hole. I also got up and down from both bunkers I found myself in, which is a big improvement.

On the back nine, Carl carried on administering a beating to me, getting to five up. I continued to miss greens, but managing to hang in there. Carl admitted later that after the front nine he started thinking about shooting his age instead of just getting the ball in the hole. 

On twelve he hit it out of bounds and made a double. On thirteen he hit his tee shot in the water and made bogey. On fourteen he made another bogey and I was back to two down. Suddenly we had a match going. But on fifteen I hit my approach in a bunker and Carl hit his to ten feet. When I failed to get it up and down, Carl was dormie with three to play.

On sixteen, Carl and I made pars and it was game over. I finished with two pars and Carl finished with bogey, double bogey, to shoot 80. I shot 78, hitting only two greens and four-putting one of the ones I actually hit. I was really quite pleased that I had managed to keep it together despite the lousy ballstriking. The short game can truly cover a multitude of sins.

As for Carl; he learned that he needs to just play to get the ball in the hole. That's the way he's always played; not worrying about how he looked, or how he made the score. He also learned, once again, what a bad idea it is to think about shooting your age. This game needs to be played one shot at a time--just like the drunks.