Friday, 30 June 2017

Bitch Slap It

I worked in the federal prison system for more than half my life. It wasn't my dream career, but it payed the bills and has left me with a decent pension that should see me through quite nicely. I met a lot of real characters over the years. I got to know mobsters, hit men, sexual sadists and murderers. Some of them, I got to know quite well.

One guy I got to know quite well was a hit man. He wasn't exactly a noble character. But he had his own code and seemed true to it. He even went to authorities in later life and confessed to a murder just to get it off his chest. He was a guy who, if you caught him, pled guilty. He even pled guilty, as it turns out, when you didn't catch him. He was also hard as nails. 

One day, he admitted to me that he had "bitch slapped" another convict who really had it coming. This con had been picking on another inmate, and was spreading false rumours about him. The hit man decided that enough was enough, and whacked him with the back of his left hand, knocking him pretty much senseless. The "slapee" apparently had it coming and was not interested in saying who had tuned him up. He felt duly chastened and wanted to try to forget the whole thing. The hit man was upset only by the fact that he had broken his watch when he whacked the guy.

In the pen, and I suppose anywhere, getting bitch-slapped is quite a disturbing experience. Not only does it apparently hurt like hell, but it hurts your pride. Essentially, the guy slapping you is also telling you that you're not worth punching. A bitch slap will suffice.

I tell this story because you can pack quite a wallop with a back-handed slap. In fact, that's how Bobby Jones described the golf swing--a "back-handed strike with the left hand." I just posted a video today where Jordan Spieth essentially explained that this was how he struck the ball as well.

Last night I played in our Thursday Night league and, with a very abbreviated swing because of my back, was moving it out there pretty well in the estimation of one of my fellow players. He asked me how I was able to do this being as crippled as I obviously was, and given how short my swing was. I told him that I was just bitch-slapping that ball with my left hand.

I'm not sure he understood as well as he might have had he seen the con who'd been bitch-slapped. But, anyway, that's what I was doing. I was bitch-slapping that damned ball.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Even When You Lose

I played a match with Steve and Spiros today. 

The first thing I noticed that was different was that Steve was putting cross-handed, or left-hand-low. I've never seen him putt that way before; and he started by sinking a fifteen footer on one to save his par and halve the hole. On two, Steve sunk a bomb of at least forty feet for birdie to give the boys a one up lead. 

On three, our number one handicap hole, Steve hit his second shot into some heavy cabbage about forty yards short and right of the green. He promptly hit a pitch that almost went in the hole, and halved the hole with par. Steve-O, it seemed, had turned into a damned short game wizard literally overnight.

However, after pulling his tee shot long, left and out of bounds, Steve made a triple bogey six on the par three fourth. In the past, this sudden lapse on Steve's part would be something designed to send him crashing back to his version reality; namely that the run of good play was certain to end. But today was indeed a different day. He continued to chip, pitch, and putt the eyeballs out of it and went out in three over. The match was all square at the turn.

I made a nice par on ten, which is really our toughest hole, to go one up. But I quickly gave it back making a triple bogey of my own on eleven with some real messy play, including a really dumb second shot into the trees on the right. On twelve, Steve chipped in for another birdie. I was lying three and had yet to even make the green when Steve holed his chip, so the hole was lost. But, not to be outdone, I stood up and chipped mine in as well to save par.

On thirteen, I managed to hit it in the pond off the tee--that's about the fourth time this year I've done that--and made another bogey. But fortunately, the boys also bogeyed, so the hole was halved. Steve and I halved fourteen with pars, and then, when I failed to get up and down on fifteen, Steve won the hole with another solid up and down for par. The boys were two up with three to play.

On sixteen, Steve hit his second shot into the right rough and then pulled off a miraculous five iron bump and run using a five iron from about 120 yards, under some tree branches, through some rough, and up onto the green. He narrowly missed his birdie putt, which would won the match, and we halved with par fives. The boys were now dormie with two to play.

I won seventeen with a par, and then hit a terrific tee shot on the par three eighteenth. We couldn't see it finish because of it being a back pin that was hidden by the swale in the middle of the green. But we knew it was going to be close. Not to be deterred, Steve stood up and hit a beautiful shot with his 27 degree hybrid right at the pin. When we got to the green, I was about eight feet left of the pin, and Steve was about four feet right of it. We were both pin high, but I had a downhiller and Steve was nicely under the hole.

I made my birdie putt, leaving Steve his four-footer for a half on the hole and the win. Sure enough, he stood up to that putt with his new grip and rolled it straight in for another birdie and the match. You just had to smile. Birdies on eighteen are definitely not a dime a dozen in Picton.

It turned out that Steve came home in 38, for a round of 77. I, on the other hand, had come home in 39, after going out in 38, for 77 as well. It was the best round I've seen Steve play. Despite that disappointing triple bogey on four, after his terrific start to the round, Steve just hung in there and used his new-and-improved short game to make a pretty damned good score. 

Now, as someone who has appointed himself as Steve's coach, I'd love to take some credit for Steve's improved play. But the fact is he figured it out himself. It was his idea to go left-hand-low with the putter. And his improved play around the greens with his wedges is down to him going out in the evening and practising. Furthermore, I didn't offer Steve one piece of advice during that round. Why would I? It's not legal during a match for one thing. And, for another, I was too busy trying to beat his ass.

As for Spiros, it was a thoroughly forgettable round. It was pretty much a struggle all day. He did, however, manage to saw me off on at least one or two holes to contribute to the winning cause. Match play is fun when it's close--even when you lose. 

Monday, 26 June 2017

The Magic Words

Short game. Those are the magic words. Anyone who has been around the game long enough will tell you what Bobby Jones wrote, namely that the secret to playing good golf is the ability to turn three shots into two. And you do that with your short game, Mister.

Average players worry about how far they hit it. Good players are concerned with their play on and around the greens. They know that the ability to chip and putt can cover a multitude of sins. Take today for example: I played the first three holes, missing every green. I was also in a bunker on the par three second hole. My score after those three holes was one under par. And I didn't make a putt over four feet. Now that is rather unusual for me. But it isn't so unusual for really good players. They regularly use their wedges and their putter to find a way to score; even when they can't find fairways or hit greens.

Why were we talking about Jordan Spieth this Sunday? It wasn't because of how far he was hitting it--though he hit it far enough, thank you. It was because of his unbelievable short game. Short game. I think it was Harvey Penick that said: "Those are the magic words." Harvey also said, for those of you who are considering dropping six hundred bucks for a new driver, "the woods are full of long drivers."

Short game. It's got a nice ring to it, doesn't it? And the beauty of the short game is it only requires practice. It doesn't require strength, or great agility. Even us older budgies can develop a good short game. And we can do it with some rusty old wedges and a putter we bought out of a barrel.

Jordan Spieth Headed for Golfing Greatness

Jordan Spieth is back in the news after his dramatic win at the Travellers Championship. That holed bunker shot has surely been viewed, and viewed again, ad infinitum on the net; and he's once again golf's wunderkind. It's all good.

I have been really bullish on Spieth from day one, when I first saw him play on the tour in Texas as a sixteen year old. I have touted him as the best player in the game, and essentially the "can't miss kid," for years now. I must admit that I soured on him a bit after he backed out of the Rio games. But I suppose it was more his loss than mine. Let's face it, the kid's seemingly destined to be one of golf's all-time greats. And, if an Olympic gold isn't that important to him, I guess that's his business not mine.

He's the total package. With ten wins now by the age of 23, including two Majors, he is comparable only to Tiger. No one else has managed it, including even the Golden Bear and my golfing hero, Bobby Jones. So, I guess there's not much more to be said. If he remains healthy, keeps the fire in his belly, and doesn't fiddle too much with his swing, Jordan Spieth will surely not only be in the Hall of Fame,  he'll be mentioned in the same breath as the greatest of the great ones. It's pretty much a given.

The obvious next step for Jordan is an Open championship and a PGA championship to complete the career Slam. He's obviously capable of doing it. And, if he can, he joins a very short list of golfing greats. You can bet he's now all-systems-go for the Open at Royal Birkdale next month. And I suppose I wouldn't bet against him. 

One of the things I really like about Spieth--and, of course, there is much to like--is his swing. He has a natural swing. It's not a swing made in the image of anyone else. And it's not a violent swing that relies on too much torque. It's a swing that should keep him from experiencing the back problems and other injuries that have plagued guys like Tiger, Rory, Jason Day, and even DJ--though DJ seems to get injured off the course more than on it. Spieth's swing seems, to me at least, to be built to last.

I think Jordan will be able to achieve longevity in the game that I don't see happening for Day and McIlroy. In fact, I don't think Day or McIlroy really have the desire to spend thirty years or more between the ropes. And ultimately, according to Jack Nicklaus, desire is probably the biggest factor there is in achieving greatness in this game. The real key in the future will be how much Spieth continues to want it.

There are lots of terrific players out there; and there are more coming along every day. To achieve greatness in the game, especially now adays with the ever-increasing number of talented players, desire will be key. It's painfully obvious that Spieth has it in spades. His performance this week serves only to remind us of that. Let's hope he keeps it.

Fifty Yards and In

It's been said that, for many of us, the older we get, the better we used to be. At least that's the way we think. 

As golfers, we all get older and eventually get to the stage where we can't move it out there as far as we once did. You wake up one morning and a shot that was once a routine pitching wedge is more like a solid eight iron. It can play with your pumpkin. It can also affect your pocket book if you keep getting conned into buying the latest and greatest driver, or those "hot" new irons; trying, usually in vain, to gain a few yards back.

The fact is, however, that sometimes our memories with respect how good, or how long, we used to be are a bit faulty. But, even if the memories are true, and we really did used to be real pistols on the golf course, there's no saying we can't keep playing reasonably good golf, and perhaps even get better than we once were.

I used to be a long hitter. I know that's the oldest story in the book, but I do have a few long drive trophies collecting dust somewhere. But, I've discovered that the positive side of getting shorter off the tee is that I'm now wearing out golf balls instead of losing them. As Harvey Penick said, "The woods are full of long drivers." The "drive for show, putt for dough" saying has stuck because it really is true. Length is an asset. But length won't win you any money if you can't chip and putt. And, as older folk, we generally have more time to work on our chipping and putting than we ever had.

Most pros will tell you that where most average golfers really begin to throw away shots is when they get near the green. It's true. Good golfers find a way to, more often than not, turn three shots into two around the greens. They pitch and chip it close enough from around the greens to regularly save their pars. 

When you observe many average golfers, most of them can usually get the ball within fifty yards of the green in regulation--two shots on the par fours. Sure, there are the wild drivers who waste strokes off the tee and have to check themselves for ticks after every round; but most average golfers can do a reasonable job of staying on the golf course. Some aren't long enough to reach the longer par fours. But I think the fifty yard idea applies for most struggling players. If they could only develop a good game from fifty yards and in, they could most likely break 80. 

I like to play with just a six iron and a putter sometimes. When you try this, if you are an average player, you may be surprised by the results. Ken and I played a round not that long ago where we agreed we would use nothing stronger than a six iron. I didn't play particularly well, but still shot 81--I actually shot 73 one time playing our "inside nine" twice with just a six iron and a putter. 

Ken saw no real difference in his score when just using the six iron off the tee. What this tells me--because I think Ken's experience is quite typical--is that the short game is the biggest factor for the average player in determining how well they score. An advanced player gains benefits from being able to hit it long enough, and well enough, to hit fairways and greens in regulation, and the odd par five in two. But, with the six iron experiment, you generally see that it's really the short game ability that holds back the average player. Losing distance from the tee had little or no affect on Ken's score. He was still frittering away most of his shots around the greens.

Most average players want to hit the ball farther. Way more golfing instruction is geared towards helping average players gain distance than to helping them score. Too bad most golfers don't feel quite as embarrassed about their play around the greens as they do about their perceived lack of distance off the tee. I would really recommend that most players try the six iron challenge. It can be an eye opener.

Fifty yards from the green and in is where the poor players really throw away shots. If you can improve in that area, you'd be surprised at what you might be able to shoot. And it won't cost you a dime.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Quinte Cup Matches

Have you ever had that thought, "I've got it"? Where, after struggling with your game, you find something that clicks and you feel like you finally have at least some idea about what you're doing on the golf course? I suddenly have that feeling again. Of course, I may very well go out the next time and not know whether to crap or wind my watch. That's how this game is. But, at least for now, I seem to have some idea about what I'm doing. I only hope it lasts.

I played in the Quinte Cup today and, despite being half-crippled, used my new-found confidence to win all three of my matches. You know what they say: "Beware of the injured golfer." 

The format this year was to play three 18-hole matches simultaneously. It may sound a bit odd. But it tends to work out okay once you get used to it. Two of my matches were won, actually a bit too easily, at 8 and 6 against Hugh from Napanee GC; and 7 and 6 against Bob from Trenton town GC. Both fellows were great company and played the matches in a congenial spirit. But, sadly, no one really enjoys those sort of matches--even the winner. The beauty of match play is that it is an experience that you share with another player. If your opponent is congenial and respectful, and the match is hard-fought, it really can be very special. In fact, it can even be unforgettable.

My third match was against an old adversary, Mike Bunn, from Roundel Glen, formerly the Canadian Forces Base golf course in Trenton. I say "adversary," but there was and is really nothing at all adversarial between us except that we both definitely want to beat eachother. And that is how a match should be: both players trying their very best to win in a friendly atmosphere.

I was really happy to learn that I was playing Mike today, because I have good memories of past encounters with him in the Quinte Cup. I have fond memories of them; and yet, I can't really remember that well how they all went--I know he beat me once at Trenton town, and I know I got him once or twice--but I do remember they were all hard-fought, fun affairs. Mike is a great character, with a wry sense of humour, and we really enjoy taking the mickey out of eachother.

I started out by making a thirty-footer for birdie on one to take the lead. And I was never down in any of my matches after that. But in my match with Mike I was never up more than two. Teeing off on the tough seventeenth, I was one up after losing the fifteenth. When I managed to get it up and down for par and Mike failed to do the same, the match was over. Still, it was a close match, and could have gone either way--just the way I like them.

When I look back on it, there were several turning points in the match, but perhaps the key one was when I was one up on the par five fourteenth and then managed to hit my tee shot straight into a strategically placed tree that stands pretty much right in the middle of the freaking fairway about fifty yards from the tee. My ball ended up behind the forward tees; and you know what that means--dick out. However, after two decent shots from there, I was pin high but left of the green in three. Mike, meanwhile, had hit two good shots and was left with a pitch of about fifty yards to the uphill green. He was, however, sitting in some spongy grass, and when he struck the shot he somehow managed to do a TC Chen and double-whack it. He was shaken, rather than stirred, and eventually had a putt for eight when he conceded my short putt for six. He had been in a good spot to square the match and instead allowed me to limp to the next tee two up. That's sometimes the way it goes in this crazy game; and especially in match play.

Incidentally, Mike really enjoyed the last laugh, because his team ended up winning and taking the cup from us--last year's winners--and home to Roundel Glen. I was really exhausted driving home after the excellent meal provided by our hosts in Napanee; and was almost immediately asleep in my chair. It's amazing how match play takes it out of you. There really is nothing quite like it.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Bobby Jones on Attitude and Putting

Bobby Jones was obviously a heckuva putter. He did, however, recognize that where golfers had most improved years after he had retired was on the greens. Now, whether this was because of the fact that they were simply putting on better greens, or that they were more skilled in the art of putting is probably a subject for debate. Certainly, Bobby never saw greens the like of which tour players putt on weekly. But he was in awe of top players' ability to manage themselves on the greens nevertheless.

Bobby was more of the view that putting was an art, rather than a science. Even on the billiard table-like greens the pros are now putting, luck continues to play a role. And so does attitude. Consider what Bobby had to say about the latter in his book, Bobby Jones on Golf:

    "When you see a man obviously trying to guide the short putt, or hitting quickly with a short, stabbing stroke, even though he may hole a few, it will not be long before he meets trouble. A short putt, even as a long one, must be struck with a smooth, unhurried, and confident stroke. The best way to accomplish this is to decide upon a line to the hole and to determine to hit the ball on that line and let it go hang if it wants to. I have never had any better advice in golf, from tee to green, than was contained in a telegram sent me by Stewart Maiden in 1919. It read: 'Hit 'em hard. They'll land somewhere.' You must not apply this advice literally to putting, but its application is obvious. Hit the putt as well as you can, and do not allow worry over the outcome to spoil the stroke... 
     We would all profit greatly if we could cultivate this attitude toward putts of all lengths; it ought to be easy, too, for we all know, or should know by this time, that worry does very little good. If we must be wrong, we may as well make our mistakes gracefully by choosing the wrong line as by allowing a nervous, overcareful stroke to pull the ball off direction."

Bobby goes on to speak about something else that should cause any worrier, or perfectionist, on the putting green to think twice:

    "Let me say here that I do not believe any man can be so accurate in striking a golf ball, or so uncannily precise in his judgement of speed, borrow, roll, and all other things that go to make a perfect putt, that he can propel a ball over ten yards of uneven turf with such unerring certainty that it will find a spot the size of the hole. There are so many factors to be taken into account that the skill required is simply beyond me.
     I wonder how many putts that are holed follow exactly the path laid out for them in the player's mind. I should say that as many of those that go down deviate from that path as follow it. It appears to me that the good putter is simply the man who can keep coming close--who gets more times within a one-foot radius--and that such a man holes more putts because of the greater number that come close, a greater number more likely will go in."

I doubt anyone has worried, or fretted, about their putting any more than I have over the years. I have always felt that I should be making more putts. But perhaps the answer lies, not in a new Scotty Cameron, or a new grip, or stroke; perhaps the answer lies in a better and more realistic attitude. In putting, like just about everything else, attitude means a lot.

There's Nothing as Queer as Folk

The folks you meet. We were playing the other day in Picton and things were slow. I don't mean four and a quarter hours slow. I'm talking five hours and change slow. Anyway, there were a bunch of green fee players in front of us.

We first ran into a husband and wife who were obviously not really golfers. Not only were they hitting the ball everywhere, except perhaps backwards, but they had a motorized golfcart and were leaving it on the cartpath and wandering all over the place before remembering to reclaim it. When we caught them finally at the sixth tee I drove up and explained to the gentleman that he needn't keep his cart on the path, explaining how the ninety degree rule worked. I suggested that this might save them a lot of walking, and a lot of aggravation. I hate playing when it's cartpath only.

Anyway, the husband and wife happily received this advice and even suggested we play through; which I thought was pretty damned decent of them considering that they were really not that far behind the group in front. So, off we went, only to encounter another twosome--again a husband and wife--at the eighth tee. The husband was quick to let us know that he was an avid golfer, who "plays at least 150 rounds a year," and that he definitely would never be returning to our "Mickey Mouse" course. Though playing, in quite erratic fashion I might add, from our white tees, he said our course was too short--the inference being that it was too easy for him.

His wife, on the other hand, was quite a good player, and seemed very nice to boot. All I could think was, "you poor woman." We elected not to discuss the relative merits of our course any further. Though Peter said, as they walked away, that he certainly hoped they wouldn't be back. 

We met this pair again at the fourteenth tee and I couldn't resist enquiring a bit further as to why he felt our course was so "Mickey Mouse." I indicated that I had observed him spending most of the day in the rough, and that he didn't exactly seem to be "tearing it up." He advised us that he played out of a club in Phoenix that has a set of tees at 7400 yards. And he generally plays at 6800. Our white tees are about 6000 yards; but the course is tight, with fescue, and thick, healthy rough. It's not really a walk in the park. In fact, I've seen good players come here, look at the card, and figure they'd have an easy time of it, only to find they couldn't break 80. 

I told our new friend that he might try playing from the blues, where we were playing. I advised him that we were not in Phoenix now, and he would find that the 6300 yards from our blues would be every bit the test, lengthwise, that his home course was at 6800. He declined to do so and walked on, after missing another tee shot.

Oh well, you can't please everyone. And we later found out that our friends from Phoenix had originally been paired with the first couple we had encountered. They had decided to split up, making the slow play situation even worse. As my old Irish grandmother would say, "There's nothing as queer as folk."

Friday, 23 June 2017

Bobby Jones, Fate, and the Grand Slam

Did you know that fate almost intervened to stop Bobby Jones from winning the Grand Slam? Bobby Jones had two close brushes with death between July and September of his Grand Slam year. It might have looked as though the golfing gods had other ideas.

At East Lake, Bobby got caught in a thunder storm. A lightning bolt crashed into the tenth fairway as Bobby was on the twelfth hole, some forty yards away. Bobby felt a tingle in his golf spikes and he and his companions, along with their caddies, decided it was time to leave. As they were leaving the green, another lightning bolt hit a tree at the back of the thirteenth tee. Bobby wrote in his book Golf is my Game: "It struck exactly where we should have been, had we been a minute or so earlier." 

As they were now rushing for the clubhouse, Bobby described what happened next:

    "As we hurried across the driveway in front of the club on our way to the locker-room entrance, we were dazed by a monstrous explosion, as a heavy bolt hit a big double chimney immediately above our heads. I did not feel a thing, except somehow my umbrella had suddenly collapsed and draped around my head. When I got into the clubhouse, someone discovered that the back of my shirt had been ripped down to my waist and I had received on my shoulder a scratch some six inches in length and just deep enough to break the skin.
     After the storm we found the spot where we had been hit littered with masses of brick and mortar, any one of which could have killed a man had it struck him on the head. Fragments of the chimney had been blasted as far as the eighteenth green, which, upon pacing off the distance, I found to be more than three hundred feet away."

Bobby's second close brush with death came a few weeks later. Bobby was walking from his lawyer's office to a luncheon engagement. He was proceeding along the sidewalk on Carnegie Way when he later wrote:

    "I must have been thinking about something far removed from the scene, because I was aware of nothing until, having reached a point about midway between the corner and the club entrance, I heard a voice behind me call, 'Look out, Mister.' Startled, I turned quickly and saw an automobile actually mounting the kerb headed directly towards me. I made a broad jump that would have done credit to Jesse Owens, and the automobile crashed into the wall of the clubhouse, having passed exactly over the spot from which I had jumped. There was no doubt that I would have been crushed between the automobile and the building had not the lone pedestrian warned me.
     There was no one in the car. Apparently, it had been carelessly parked near the top of the hill some one and a half blocks away."

By now, Bobby was feeling a bit concerned as he had one more mountain to climb, in the form of the U.S. Amateur championship, to win the Grand Slam. He wrote:

    "By this time I was beginning to see that there might be many things other than missed putts to interfere with the completion of the Grand Slam. I began to wonder what other things might happen and how I might protect myself against them. I could think of only two against which any sort of safeguard might be erected.
     I had heard of one prominent golfer, I believe it was Craig Wood, who had been forced to withdraw from a golf tournament because he had impulsively snatched out of the air a bare razor blade he had dropped in the act of shaving. I resolved to still my normal reflexes during the morning session in the bathroom, so that if I dropped a razor blade, I should be prepared to let the blamed thing fall.
    I thought, too, of seeing a photograph of myself leaping across the Swilcan Burn on the first hole at St Andrews during the play of the British Open Championship of 1927. At this point, I thought, I can deny myself the privilege of inviting a sprained ankle by any such childish carelessness. This was not going to be just one more Amateur Championship. At this point I had made no decision that it would be the last one in which I would compete. Nevertheless, I knew that there would never be another which would present the same opportunity, and it could not be postponed if I happened to be unable to compete on the dates upon which it had been scheduled."

We now know that Bobby arrived at Merion in one piece and won the last leg of his Grand Slam. How did he feel, upon winning it? He wrote:

    "When Gene Homans stroked that last putt on Saturday afternoon on the eleventh green and, before the ball had stopped rolling, came with a big smile to shake my hand, all at once I felt the wonderful feeling of release from tension and relaxation that I had wanted so badly for so long a time. I wasn't quite certain what had happened or what I had done. I only knew that I had completed a period of most strenuous effort, and at that at this point, nothing more remained to be done, and that on this particular project, at least, there could never at any time in the future be anything else to do. I am certain that many others have enjoyed this feeling--that the project, no matter what its importance, has been finished, and ahead, at least for a time, lies nothing but rest and cessation of worry."

So, fate did not prevent Bobby from completing the Grand Slam. And, in Bobby's eloquent words, we are helped to understand just how he felt about it. What an amazing story. And this one is true.

Bobby Jones Really Got It

I know, I keep going on and on about Bobby Jones. But, let's face it, he was an exceptional golfer and human being. 

While winning thirteen Major championships, including the Grand Slam, he found time to also earn a degree in Mechanical Engineering, a degree in English Literature from Harvard, and passed the Georgia State Bar to become a lawyer like his father. He was clearly not your average duffer. 

His golfing prowess opened many doors for him. He was the toast of the golfing world, and much loved. But, through it all, he seemed to remain humbled by his success. Consider just two examples I was thinking about.

The guy who won the Grand Slam wrote that the most exciting match he ever played was against Chick Evans. In that match it all came down to the last hole where Bobby's putt lipped out and he lost. Consider that for a minute. This is a guy who won who-knows-how-many matches, and the one he remembers as being the most exciting was one that he lost. Bobby said that he really never learned anything from a match he won. He really got it. He understood that golf and life are about the journey, and that winning isn't everything.

Bobby Jones rubbed shoulders with the very cream of society. And yet, he wrote about the fact that the greatest compliment he ever received was from a local St Andrews caddie whose name he had forgotten. It came in the final round Bobby played at the Old Course when virtually the entire town turned out to watch him play what was supposed to be a casual round. No doubt Bobby had received gushing compliments from great and powerful people over the years. But the one he cherished most was the simple expression of admiration from a young caddie.

Bobby Jones really "got it." Just imagine how proud his parents--and the black cook, her brother, and her Beau who helped raise him, and were his first friends--must have been. He did pretty well for a sickly child with knobby knees, who didn't eat solid food until he was five years old. You can't make this stuff up.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Golf Can Make You a Better Person

Arguably the greatest golfer who ever lived, Bobby Jones, said that golf could be a moulder and developer of character. The game of golf very clearly made him a better person. It reinforced the need to be honest and display integrity. It taught him how to handle success and failure. And it taught him the importance of never giving up.

Those lessons, learned on the golf course, were transferable to his life. When struck with a crippling disease from which there was no hope of a cure, Bobby met with his family and told them of his diagnosis. He then told them that they should not speak of it again because, as he had learned on the links, "we must play the ball as it lies." 

It is a travesty when anyone is struck with an incurable, crippling disease. But somehow it seems even more so when the victim was the greatest golfer of his era, and so loved internationally. But Bobby Jones suffered with dignity. He simply refused to complain or allow his misfortune to sour his outlook on life.

Golf can, if we allow it to, make us better people. That is not, of course, to say that we don't have poor sports, cheaters, quitters, and complainers on our golf courses. But those people are not truly golfers. Real golfers embrace honesty and integrity, and the virtue of never giving up and playing the ball as it lies. 

And those are lessons that many other sports, where winning is so important, sometimes fail to teach us. In golf, regardless of what Tiger was taught to believe as a youngster, second place does not suck. In fact, it's a shame that Tiger was taught to think that way. In golf, it really isn't whether you win or lose that counts. In golf it really is all about how you play the game. That's why there are many stories of great, and not-so-great, players who chose to call penalties on themselves, even when to do so might have cost them fame or fortune. Golf is that kind of game. And Bobby Jones is the finest example we have ever had of a true golfer.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

It Feels Good to Grind

Bobby Jones had great respect for his golfing opponents. He understood that, without great opponents, golf would not be as enthralling a game as it is, and you would never find out just how good you can be. Good opponents bring out your best as well.

I played a match with Paul today for our club's "A" flight match play championship. With all due respect to Paul, I had considered myself a better player until last year. Paul has really upped his game. And setting out today I knew that only my very best would suffice if I was going to have a chance to beat him.

Paul won the first hole with a solid par, after a terrific second shot to about ten feet. I had duffed my second shot and, after a pretty good third to about eight feet, missed my par putt. I then won the next three holes to go two up. But Paul fought back and we were all square after nine.

Paul then made a terrific par on ten, our toughest hole, to go one up. We halved eleven when I three-putted from twenty feet after Paul had hit his second shot in the fescue, but was able to hack the ball out and make bogey. Paul then won twelve with a birdie, and easily won thirteen with a par after I yanked my tee shot into the fescue and eventually made a double. Suddenly, after feeling pretty good, I was three down.

It was then that I became really determined to try to make a match out of it. I won fifteen and sixteen and Paul was one up playing seventeen. I hit a perfect drive, while Paul hooked his behind a tree, and I thought, "Game on." However, I pulled my eight iron approach, leaving myself short-sided, about fifteen feet from the pin. 

I wasn't happy, but I figured that I had a fair chance of getting it up and down and I figured that Paul was in jail, having to hit a great shot just to hit the green. Paul, meanwhile, must have been feeling the heat, because the momentum had clearly swung in my direction. He took a fair bit of time sizing up his options and finally decided to go for it, having to get the ball up very quickly to clear the tree, and then stop it on the green. Paul hit a tremendous shot to about twenty feet, easily two-putted for par and won the match when I failed to get it up and down.

I wasn't happy to have lost the match, but I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed it. Paul forced me to really dig deep and grind just in order to stay in the match and keep things respectable. His second shot on seventeen was nothing short of incredible. I really thought he was in jail, but he dug deep and pulled it off. 

I had to run after seventeen because I was late for dinner with my daughter in Kingston, so I didn't have a chance to discuss the match with Paul; though we did briefly discuss his great shot on seventeen. I just hope he enjoyed the match as much as I did. There is nothing like match play; especially if you have a congenial opponent who forces you to really dig deep and play your best. And I had that today in Paul. He was the better man today, and forced me to grind like crazy coming in. It feels really good to have to dig deep and grind it out. That's when you learn what you're capable of.

Thanks for the memories, Paul. It was a terrific match.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Whipped Cream on Horse Droppings

On the day Phil and Bones broke up, Carl the Grinder and I went to Camden Braes, near Kingston, for their Senior Invitational. Carl has played this event for twenty three years and couldn't remember whether he'd won it four or five times. I have only played it once, several years ago, when I finished third; one shot out of a playoff. I had also been a part of a winning Scramble team there on a couple of occasions, so both of us had good memories of the course. 

I think Carl and I teed it up with very different attitudes. I was hoping to do well, but my ailing back and my recent poor play suggested to me that I might better just enjoy the day and hope I could make some putts. If you are making putts and keeping it in play, good things can happen. Carl, on the other hand, has had flashes of the old Carl the past week or two, including a recent round of 72 at Picton to better his age; so he was liking his chances, if not the in the "A" flight, at least in the Super Seniors.

We were paired with Jim, an old warrior on the local amateur golf scene and one-time two handicapper. He has memberships at the Collonade and the Garrison courses. At 86, Jim was just glad to be there.  He was still gradually recovering from a quadruple by-pass, that turned out to be a nine-hour surgery during which he died several times on the table and suffered a stroke for good measure. He had been told that he would not be able to play golf or travel anymore. But, what the hell do doctors know? Jim, as I also came to learn, had played many times in senior events with my father in days gone by. 

We were also paired with Bob, who was the Men's club president at Camden Braes. He decided to play with us after Radar cancelled out with a bad back. Bob turned out to be a real fun guy to play with.

We started on six, which is a 471 yard par five which should be a good birdie opportunity. All of us hit tee shots that ended up on the right side, with three of us in the rough, and Jim just barely in the fairway. Jim was playing from the red/white tees at 5900 yards. We were playing from the whites at 6200 and change. Our tee shots left us with what appeared to be relatively straight forward shots over a pond and straight at the three-tiered green. And that's when it happened.

Bob hit first and, taking the Tiger route straight at the green, plonked his ball in the pond, a yard or two short of the far bank. Carl went next and did the same damned thing. At this point, with me playing next, you would think clearer heads would prevail. But, not to be outdone, I stood up to my shot and hit it in the pond as well. Jim, by now rather discombobulated by our fates, almost whiffed his shot and didn't even make the twenty or so yards to the water.

We were in shock. For Carl, Bob, and I, the carry over the pond had been probably no more that 180 yards; the pond ending well short of the green. I don't think any of us considered it to be in play. But there you go. I'm sure I was the one who felt the dumbest because I had already seen that the pond was indeed in play and had the easy option of playing safe and just hitting an eight iron to the fairway left where I'd be left with a relatively straight forward wedge to the green. However, I have rarely been accused of being smart. I wanted to start with a birdie. And I only had a second shot of about 190 yards to the green. Sure it was over water and some fir trees, but I thought a golfer of my ilk should have been able to manage it. I decided to ignore Sam Snead's advice concerning playing from the rough; namely, grab the eight iron for best results. 

I took a drop and hit my fourth shot over the pond again and onto the green, eventually two-putting for a bogey. The other three made double bogey on arguably the easiest hole on the course. Feeling as though I had dodged a bullet by only making bogey on six, I promptly stood up on the next tee and swung about as hard as I could on a hole that actually set up better by just knocking a five wood out there 200 yards or so. The ball cut instead of drew and disappeared into knee-high grass. After re-teeing, I made a double and was three over after too holes--two of the easier holes I might add.

I could go on and talk at length about the troubles we all had; the three shots shanked by Carl, and all the lip-outs. But, suffice it to say, we all struggled mightily all day. And yet, despite our struggles we all seemed to manage to have a pretty damned good time. 

Finally, we faced the 444 yard par four fifth. All hope was gone that any if us were going to challenge, but somehow we came to life. I girded my loins and hit a terrific--at least terrific for me--drive. My second uphill shot of about 180 yards kicked left of the green, leaving me pin high--you could call me Johnny Pin-High, but that one's taken--and then, for some reason I became determined to pitch that ball in for birdie. I really focussed with all my might, hit the pitch, yelled at it to "get up", and watched it take the break and hang on the front edge of the hole before dropping in. There was much rejoicing because that was the only birdie any of us had made all day. Not only that, but there was a skins game and the boys were pretty certain that birdie would win me some cash. As for the other boys, they all sunk sizeable putts for par. On one of the toughest holes, we had managed three pars and a birdie, and were willing to bet it was the best result of any of the groups by far.

That birdie on the last hole won me a skin, and a few dollars with it. I also took the last prize at the table for "A" flight. I was sixth low gross. Not the result I was looking for, but better than a kick in the teeth. That birdie on the last hole, and those excellent pars by Carl, Bob and Jim were, as a friend of Bob's would surely say, "Whipped cream on horse shit." It wasn't much, but it took some of the sting out of a tough day on the links. 

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Brooks Koepka Flew Under the Radar

Well, at the start of the week I don't think many were putting their money on Brooks Koepka to be the U.S. Open champion at Erin Hills. He really flew under the radar all week. 

Sure, we knew this guy could play. He is another of these athlete golfers who has the power, like DJ, to over-power a golf course. And we knew Erin Hills was going to favour the big hitters at over 7800 yards. But Koepka was able to go about his business at Erin Hills without much attention. He was just another of those young power players who we knew was talented, but had yet to prove himself on the big stage.

Koepka honed his game after he turned pro on the European tour. And I suspect his experience on that tour, playing on so many different courses, in so many different conditions, made him a better player than he might have been had he stayed in the U.S to try to earn his way onto the PGA tour in the normal way. His experience on the European tour also taught him that he was capable of winning against seasoned pros. He did it five times. It had to have helped him at Erin Hills as well, a links style course where you had to be able to handle the wind. After today, you might just see more American kids try to qualify for the European tour. 

The fact that he is a good friend of DJ undoubtedly also helped Koepka believe that he could win a Major. He had had a front row seat, watching DJ win his Open last year. And DJ had apparently texted him last night and told him he had what it takes to win. You don't win Majors without self-belief. 

Koepka's Ryder Cup experience also taught him that he was capable of handling the real heat on the grandest of stages. Let's face it, he was simply poised and ready to be a Major champion. He knew it. And, looking at it in hindsight, we should have known it as well.

Brooks Koepka was able to fly under the radar as he won the trophy most cherished by most American golfers. One thing for certain is that he won't be flying under the radar any longer. 

Johnny Miller Rains on Justin T's Parade

Perhaps it comes with the territory; I don't know. But it seems that a few great players possess an extremely healthy ego. We saw history made on Saturday at the U.S. Open when Justin Thomas shot an incredible 63. At nine under par, it was the lowest anyone has ever gone in a U.S. Open. 

It was a phenomenal round. Unfortunately, another great player in the form of Johnny Miller, who had himself fired perhaps the most incredible final round ever played--a 63 at Oakmont--couldn't resist saying that his round was better. 

Johnny's round of 63 at Oakmont was better. Although it was eight under Oakmont's par of 71, that 63 was shot in the cauldron of the final round to win the most prized Major for an American. It was also shot at a tougher course. And context is everything. Just like last year's 63 by Henrik Stenson to win the Open in that incredible duel with Phil was in reality a better round than the one Thomas shot. This is because the final round trying to win a Major adds an element of pressure that can only be imagined by all but a few who have actually been there. I suppose you could compare it to shooting the record score in your club championship on the first day to have the lead, to shooting it on the last day for the win. There's a big difference that no real golfer would dispute.

The sad thing is that Johnny Miller couldn't resist saying the truth, even if it effectively stole, or at least tried to steal, a bit of Justin Thomas' thunder. If it was just because he was being honest, I guess Johnny deserves a pass. But, unfortunately for Johnny, his honesty when it comes to telling us how good he was is sometimes a bit hard to listen to. Most of us prefer a bit more humility from our champions. We like our champions to be modest enough to just let us talk about how good they were.

Anyway, kudos to Justin Thomas. He's in the record books for a nine under par round at a U.S. Open. It's never been done before. I hope he enjoyed it. And I hope he always looks back on it as one of his best rounds. But you can bet Thomas has bigger fish to fry. He won't think that round means anything more than a footnote in U.S. Open history if he doesn't close the deal and get his first Major at Erin Hills. 

That's why Johnny didn't need to state the obvious. We all know that Johnny's round was better. But JT's round was pretty damned good and it wouldn't have hurt to just let him enjoy it without any controversy. Sometimes it's best to be just a little less honest; especially when it comes to blowing your own horn.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

The Shootout at Erin Hills

It's shaping up to be a real shootout for the U.S. Open tomorrow at Erin Hills. I figure, given the way the course has allowed the boys to play, there are thirteen guys in with a real chance tomorrow. That's the group who are presently minus eight or better. 

Brian Harman is in unknown territory with the lead going into the final day of an Open. Whether he can play his game and not be caught up in the madness of it all remains to be seen. A one shot lead going into the final round with that many guys in the hunt means that he will, in all likelihood, be teeing off tied for the lead the way the first hole has yielded burdies. Hell, he could even find himself trailing. And I think that will actually help him. He knows that he will have to go out there and shoot a low round to win. He won't be trying to protect anything.

Justin Thomas, after his record-setting Saturday, has to try to do the thing that seems so hard to do, even for great players; follow a great round with another great round. But he is clearly ready for the next step in his career. If he doesn't get his Major tomorrow, you have to believe that it's only a matter of time.

Rickie Fowler is poised and ready at two back. I think his having lost the lead might actually help him have the right attitude on Sunday. He's going to be chasing hard and, if the putter cooperates, he could very well get the proverbial monkey off his back. He'll finally be a Major champion. And he'll be as popular a champion as anyone could imagine. 

There are simply too many guys who could get it done to even guess at the outcome tomorrow. And isn't that really the way we want it? I want to be glued to the tube, agonizing over the putts right along with them. It beats the hell out of watching someone run away with it.

I like a lot of these guys in the hunt, so I'm not going to be rooting for any one man. But I liked Rickie starting the week, and I like him still. It's got a nice ring to it: Rickie Fowler, U.S. Open champion. 

So Far, So Good

So far, so good. The U.S. Open at Erin Hills is off to a great start. Yeah, it may not be so great for the fans of Rory, Jason Day, or DJ; but it's shaping up to be a doozy nonetheless.

I have to confess that I had started an article prior to the start of the tournament picking Rickie Fowler as the winner. I was a bit upset when he then went out and took the lead, because it might have made me appear to be smarter than I am. Then again, when I told Steve this, he reminded me that first round leaders rarely win a Major. And, he's right. Rickie has a helluva lot of work to do yet.

But, what a fantastic leaderboard we have. And it's anybody's tournament to win. Fourteen guys within a shot of the lead, Justin Thomas on a tear, a few terrific-looking Asians in the hunt, Sergio still in the game, King Louis with a chance... I mean, what more can you ask for?

Yes, they might be going pretty low for a U.S. Open. And, generally, they suggest that the USGA likes oar to be a good score. But I don't see anyone complaining so far. The winner will still have proven, come Sunday night, or Monday, that he had the right stuff and was able to grind his arse off.

Now, all I ask is that any of you clowns sitting at home with a copy of the Rules of Golf, please stay the hell off the phone, or your e-mail. We don't want to hear it!

Oh, and did I mention I was going to pick Rickie for the win? I still like him. But there's a bunch of guys in the hunt that I'm pulling for. 

Out-Grinded Again

Well, I played Carl the Grinder yesterday, using my "broke-back" swing. It was quite a match. 

I was hitting it reasonable well, except for off the tee. And Carl was pounding it! He was hitting it at least forty yards by me on every driving hole. On three, he hit it to about 110 yards--and it was in the short grass. Meanwhile I had 190 yards for my second. 

As a guy who used to be the longest hitter, this alternate reality, where 73 year old guys are hitting it forty yards past your good drives, is something I need to accept. And I thought I accepted it with relatively good humour during this match. 

I just relied on my short game to try to hang in there. And it was working so well that I had got it to two up. Carl got it back to all square. I got it to two up again. And Carl finally got his first lead after thirteen. 

I squared the match again and we came in to the par three eighteenth with it all on the line. I promptly hit another fat six iron that left me half-way up the hill short and left of the green--I'm about ready to fire that damned six iron! Carl hit a clanky eight iron and was short right of the green. It was one of those matches where it seemed that both of us were equally determined to lose it.

I had one of those shots on eighteen that would have had the announcers saying in hushed tones, "He's in trouble here, Johnny."

The ball was barely visible in the rough, and sitting well below my feet. I used my 58 degree wedge and hit an almost-perfect pitch that landed on my spot and nearly went in before finishing about eight feet below the hole. It was so close to going in that it prompted a loud response from the diners on the clubhouse balcony who saw it slip past the hole.

Totally undeterred, Carl hit a beautiful chip that actually lipped out. I gave him his putt for the three. I know Sam Snead said you should never concede the putt that beats you, but this one was stone dead. I addressed my putt, announcing to the diners, who had by now become quite interested, that this one was a must-make. I hit a good putt that was right on line, but just a hair too weak. It curled by the front lip, and Carl the Grinder had just out-grinded my sorry ass again. 

And that, my friends, is something I've also had to get used to. If you want to beat Carl, make sure you don't come to eighteen needing to win the hole, because Carl plays for two bucks like it's the Open. There just ain't no give-up in this guy. 

Oh, and did I mention that Carl shot 72 the other day to beat his age again? Well, he did. Not only that, Carl mentioned today that he feels a round in the sixties coming soon. I told him that, the way he's driving the ball, I wouldn't be surprised at all.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Broke Backs and Lofted Metals

Well, I have now put my broke-back swing into play. It is a swing loosely based on the one Moe Norman used. It isn't a swing, actually. It's really more a strike. After all, the ball couldn't care less about your swing. It only reacts to the way you strike it.

Using the broke-back swing/strike, I broke eighty for the first time in about three weeks yesterday. And, given that my putting was average at best, that perhaps bodes well. It wasn't good enough, however, to allow me to beat Spiro, Steve, and Ken. We played a match with me against their best ball. I had agreed, reluctantly I might add, to also give them three shots because I'd beaten them the last time out. Those three shots turned out to be the difference, as they easily beat me three and two. 

Today I went out and hit balls, working on grooving that "broke-back" action. I only hit shots using my nine iron and wedges, but I was really pleased with the results. My divots were nice "bacon strips," the way Moe liked them to be--no great slabs of turf removed, leaving holes you could bury a small mammal in. And I was able to drive my cart down the range and easily collect the evidence in the form of golf balls without having to walk very far. So, so far, so good.

After my range session we went out for the Thursday Night Men's league where I play on a team with Levi, Johnny Carson, and George Hobson. It's a scramble format where you play a nine-hole match against a different team every week. It's my first year playing in the league and I'm really enjoying the chance to meet and play with new guys in a fun format.

We started on number three, where I hit a rather crappy drive that at least found the fairway. However, using Levi's drive, I damned near holed my next shot from 155 yards using my 28 degree, eleven wood. I've removed all my longer irons from the bag because I refuse to use clubs I don't trust; and I don't trust any iron longer than a six at this point. I follow Greg Norman's rule of thumb when it comes to what's in your bag.

Greg said, "If you can't hit your driver; don't."

I think there's a great deal of merit in that advice. If I can't feel reasonably confident that I will hit a decent shot with a club eighty to ninety percent of the time, that club will find itself on the shelf. I'd love to be able to have a bag full of shiny long irons, so anyone looking in my bag might be impressed and think I'm a player. But my long iron game sucks, and people are usually more impressed when you hit good shots, even if it's with an eleven wood.

I followed that eleven wood on three with a pulled six iron on the par three fourth hole. Interestingly, Doc, who was playing on the opposing team, had a 36 degree hybrid that he used on this hole. And when we got talking about going to hybrids instead of irons, Johnny told me he has just acquired a new 31 degree PING hybrid. So, maybe it's time for me to go shopping for some more lofted hybrids. I must admit that that shiny six iron of mine is on notice that it's days could be numbered.

I also put a 13.5 degree wood in the bag today. It's an older, Snake Eyes model that I'd had made for my father and, when he stopped using it, had put a steel Rifle driver shaft in it. It's been collecting dust until my decision to go the the Broke-back swing. I hit it instead of a driver on five, six, and seven today, and everyone of them were quite good. So, it looks like I might just start using that as my go-to driving club. It's worked awfully well for Henrik Stenson, so I can say I'm copying Henrik, instead of admitting that I need more loft from the tee. Loft has definitely become my friend.

We ended up getting rained out on seven, so that's where my story ends for today. As for tomorrow, it's eighteen holes with Carl the Grinder in the AM. And, if I'm not totally crippled, it's eighteen with Steve and Spiro at 3:10. I can hardly wait.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Broke-Back Golf?

Since I began offering my, admittedly unsolicited, views on the game in this form, my blog has been called Top Hand Golf. That is because I had when I started, and still have, become convinced of the vital importance of the top hand in hitting consistently good golf shots.

I am not, however, a top-hand zealot. I know about as well as anyone that there are many ways to swing a golf club effectively. Besides, if focussing on the top hand was an absolute prerequisite, what would I say to a right-handed golfer who had no left hand? And I know there are those sort of golfers out there because I played with one for several years at the Pine Ridge course.

The key to the golf swing, if you must focus on the golf swing at all, is finding the swing that works best. I was reading again today about Sam Snead, who had perhaps the best swing we've ever seen. He said that he recognized how simple and pleasing to the eye his swing was. But he also felt certain that he would have discarded his method in a flash if he found another way that produced better results. He said he would stand on one leg and spit nickels as he swung if he found that it worked better.

In the golf swing, results are everything. There is no requirement, as Bobby Jones wrote, "to look pretty," or stylish, when swinging the club. Results, in the form of a good strike, are all that really matters in golf. So maybe I should change the name of the blog.

One idea is "Broke-Back Golf," because my back is broke and I intend to try to gear more of the information towards finding effective ways to still play when your back is broke. My friend suggests that this name might even attract a new audience. So, I'm definitely thinking about it.

Any other suggestions for a name?

The Message

In reality, making a hole in one is as much a matter of luck as it is of good management. I've made several of them, but interestingly enough, I've only made one with a witness. And because of that, only that one really counts--or so I've been told. 

Making an albatross, or a double eagle, is much more rare. In fact, I think I'm the only one in my circle of fellow golfers who has managed to do it. Again, it's really nothing to brag about because it involves more luck in the end than it does skill. 

Given the current state of my back; along with the fact that it is not a state that is likely to improve, I suspect that I'll never make another albatross. I managed to get it on number six the other day in two blows, but my days of routinely hitting par fives in two are done. No doubt about that. 

I made my albatross on the par-five sixteenth at Picton. What made it even more unusual is that it happened the first time I'd teed it up after my father's death. When he died, I was naturally gutted. It's hard for a boy to lose his father at the best of times. Given the way he died, it was probably worse. But I'm not sure it necessarily was. After all, there is never a good time, or way, to lose your dad.

The shot that produced the albatross was struck from the left rough from about 210 yards. It was made tougher by the fact that it demanded a draw around a tree; and in those days I much preferred to fade the ball. I recall taking much more time than usual to try to picture the shot, imagining how I would have to strike it. And why I elected to try this shot, and concentrate as much as I did, is a bit of a mystery, because most of the day I had been just sort of going through the motions. I was really thinking more about my father, who had shared so many rounds with me in Picton, than I was my golf.

Anyway, as soon as I struck the shot, I said to Steve, who was standing right beside me, "It's perfect."

We stood and watched the ball draw around the tree, land on the front of the green, take one hop, and slowly trickle into the hole located at the back of the green. There was quite a bit of whooping and hollering from my playing partners. As for me, I was crying. It was a very significant moment for me. 

It wasn't significant because I'd made a double eagle. It was significant because I took it as a message from my father. You see, I hadn't golfed for a couple of months after his death. I just couldn't seem to face going out to golf at the place where we had shared so many good times. But Steve finally convinced me to just "give it a try."

That shot came with a message from my father. That message was, "Keep playing, Son."

Monday, 12 June 2017

Top Hand Golf for Golfers with Buggered Backs

After a three-week visit to St Andrews in Scotland, I had a dream. That dream was to pack up and move to the Home of Golf and live out my days playing those links courses. It was a dream shared by my wife. I now feel relatively confident that this will never be more than just a dream.

The reason it will have to remain just a dream is that I'm so crippled with my back at this point that I'm likely never going to be able to walk the Old Course. And the Old Course is for walkers.

I saw my family doctor today. Half-crippled, moaning and yelping as the back spasms struck me, the nurse was good enough to put me in to one of the examination rooms instead of having me embarrass myself in the waiting room. I thought that was awfully charitable of her.

Not only that, but I saw the good doctor well before my scheduled appointment time. I can only think this unforeseen blessing might have been a reward for my having at some point done some other suffering soul a good turn. On the other hand, it could just have been that the nurse had no desire to listen to my yelps; especially since they were sometimes followed by expletives. 

I was starting to sound more like a guy suffering from Tourette's syndrome than a patient with sciatica, multiple damaged discs, spinal stenosis, bone spurs, etc. My long-suffering wife accompanied me to see the doctor in order to make certain I conveyed to him all of my medical concerns or complaints. This is because the Doc and I tend to spend more time talking about golf than we do my health. I mean, who wouldn't rather discuss golf? And, all too often, I have arrived back home after an appointment only to have to confess to Kathryn that I had neglected to actually discuss the very issue that had prompted the doctor's appointment in the first place.

I am fortunate to have a terrific family doctor. He's definitely not filled with his own self importance. It's more like visiting a buddy than a doctor. And one of the things that really won me over in his case was when, early on in our relationship, he confessed that he'd really wanted to be an astronaut, not a fricking doctor. Here was a man I could truly relate to. 

My father suffered for thirty years with chronic back issues and pain. He was also an avid golfer. In his 85th year, suffering from debilitating and chronic pain for which even large doses of morphine provided no relief, my father resorted to doing what he had more than once told me he would do when he felt the time was right. He took the pistol he had personally taken from a German army officer during World War II in France and shot himself. 

As he was my best friend, as well as my father, his loss was pretty devastating. But I understood then, and understand even more now, that he did what he had to do. Not only was he in almost constant pain, the old Colonel knew that things were not going to get any better. Death was surely a more merciful option in his eyes than continued suffering without hope. 

He couldn't golf anymore. And this guy who read an average of three to five books a week, now couldn't either focus or stay awake to read anymore because of all the morphine he was having to take. And, as I look back, the last straw was probably about a month before his death when I took him to the hospital to see about another hip replacement. They told him they couldn't do it because they'd discovered a heart murmur. I could see all the hope go out of my old father's eyes.

I have been told that I am one hundred times more likely to commit suicide because my father did. And my doctor, who really wanted to be an astronaut, makes no bones about the fact that he would really prefer to prevent this from happening. He also knows that the day I can no longer play golf will be the day my risk for a similar fate to my father's will increase exponentially. So I know, and the good doctor knows, that something's probably got to give in my case.

I am headed for another MRI, and we'll likely try a few things if we think they might help. But I'm not counting on things improving very much. This back and neck business likely has a strong genetic component. But I have a new dream. My hope is that I can use my experience to try to find a better way to hit the ball for people with a seriously buggered back. That is going to be my new dream while we see whether they can either find something to help me physically, or I eventually have to just pack it in. 

I've been thinking about this swing for cripples thing for some time now. I have some ideas. And I intend to try them out first with me as the guinea pig. I think that's not a totally unreasonable dream. After all, I'm obviously never going to win the Open at St Andrews. In fact, I may never even be able to play the Old Course again--unless they decide to permit carts. But, with this new dream, I'm at least still in the game. And that's where I certainly hope to stay for a little while yet.

So, don't be surprised if the name of my blog becomes Top Hand Golf for Golfers with Buggered Backs. How does that sound?

Hope Springs Eternal for the USGA

Hope springs eternal that this week will produce a worthy U.S. Open champion. It may seem a bit strange to hope for this, but based on the past few USGA national championships we have to just hope. This is because somehow the USGA has managed to make the last few championships as much or more about the USGA, and/or the sometimes almost incomprehensible rules of golf, than the competitors.

Hopefully, the USGA has learned something and enters this week determined to just let the players play and let them make the headlines for a change. The USGA has taken another chance, hosting this year's championship at Erin Hills, rather than another more iconic and tried and true course. Come Sunday, we will know if they've made the right choice.

I love the idea of the U.S. Open being held on another public course. Hopefully this reflects a continued commitment on the part of the USGA to try to show that golf in America is not just for the rich folk. But, I don't kid myself into thinking that golf in America is anywhere near blue collar. It's still very much the preserve of the well-to-do folks. Let's face it, not many of us can afford to pay the big bucks required to play most of the public courses that find their way onto the USGA's rotas. And more the pity that we can't.

As for me, I will watch, wait, and hope that the USGA stays out of the news and just lets the boys play. If they do, surely we will have a worthy champion crowned come Sunday, or will it be Monday? We shall see.


I have a very supportive wife. Yesterday, I was getting ready to play in the annual scramble in Belleville, called "The Greek Tournament." 

Kathryn had the van all cleaned out and organized so the boys and I could ride together to Black Bear, where the tournament was held this year. She had moved my clubs from the caddie to the van. She had laid out my clothes for me, so I would "match." She chose my purple gear. So, I was eventually adorned from head to toe in purple, black, and white. I was absolutely resplendent! This is important because, as my old father used to say, "If you can't be good, you can at least be colourful."

Kathryn even decided to sort out my golf balls for me. She often walks the course with me and ball hawks, eventually filling my bag with previously-enjoyed balls to the point that I can hardly lift the damned thing. So, Kathryn took out all but the Pro V's. I play Pro V's; not because they are necessarily better--though I think they are--but mainly because they're the cadillac of golf balls. If you want to pretend to be a golfer, you can't announce at the first tee that you'll be playing a Top Flite. It simply isn't done.

Kathryn even decided to clean my previously-enjoyed Pro Vs for me. I mean, that's just how awesome she is. She treats me like a king. After she'd cleaned them, she asked me whether I wanted her to get out the Sharpie and write my initials on them. 

She said, "Shall I put 'BFM' on them?"

I replied, "BFM?"

She said "Like in Pulp Fiction."

I laughed and said, "Not 'BFM.' It's 'BMF.'" I loved Pulp Fiction. In fact, I even had a convict make wallets for my sons one Xmas with "Bad Mother Fucker" tooled into the leather.

Anyway, I later told the guys about Kathryn wanting to put "BFM" on my Titleists. George said she should have put "TFS" on them. "You know," Georgie said. "Too Fucking Short!"

He has a point.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Do You Need to Change Your Perspective?

Bobby Jones talked about how he initially learned to swing the club like Stewart Maiden when he was a kid. He imitated Maiden, as kids are wont to do, because Maiden was the best player at his club. For a kid, it was only natural to imitate; and it was only natural to imitate the best example he had.

As a kid, I first imitated my father's swing. He was a pretty good player, so I was lucky in that respect. Then, as I started watching Jack, I think I naturally imitated his swing. He was, after all, the best player around. As a kid, it was only natural. Kid's are great imitators. But when we imitated swings, we didn't imitate parts of a swing. We imitated the whole motion. We didn't break the swing down into parts. 

As we get older, our ability to mimic, or imitate, sometimes diminishes. Or at least it's been suggested that it does. That's why some people believe it is easier to learn golf, or any other sport for that matter, as a kid. And that is probably true. On the other hand, learning golf might be easier when started young simply because, as a youngster, you are less inhibited and have more time to learn the game than the person who picks the game up as an adult; simple as that.

What I have noticed is that most of the best players had good models. They learned the game from playing with, and watching, good players. And that is a luxury not everyone has. So, if we didn't grow up playing with good players, and having good golfing role models, are were essentially out of luck? I don't think so, even if we might be at something of a disadvantage. A slightly different perspective might be all that is required to help those of us who are trying to figure things out.

Here's something really interesting--to me at least--that Bobby Jones wrote about learning to hit shots. Bobby Jones said that when he saw other players hitting shots that he admired, he learned to hit those shots by watching how the player struck the ball. He didn't focus on their backswing, or their follow through. He watched how the club struck the ball and tried to imitate that strike. I think there's something really important about this. Now, I admit that what I think isn't really important. Who am I when I'm at home? But what is important is that this was what Bobby Jones thought. 

Golfers are prone to getting all caught up in swing mechanics. We seem to have a tough time appreciating that the ball couldn't give two hoots about our swing. It only cares about how it is struck. So, maybe the next time we get to play with a better player, or to watch better players, we might want to change our perspective. Why not try to focus on how they strike the ball, instead of how they swing the club. Don't worry about their backswing, or what their body might be doing. Just look at the ball and try to see how the club is moving through the strike zone. It may change your game by changing your perspective. And, if it doesn't, it probably won't do you any harm.

Remember, as Bobby Jones taught, golf is about striking the ball with the clubhead. You don't hit the ball with your backswing, Laddie.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Harvey Penick

Harvey Penick is one of my favourite teachers. He was a good player--probably good enough to have played on the tour. But, early on in his career, he saw Sam Snead hit a golf ball. He, probably wisely, thought, "I'll never beat that guy," and chose to pass up on trying to earn a living on the tour and turned to teaching. That turned out to be a decision that was good for him, and good for countless numbers of golfers.

Harvey was a humble man who loved golf and loved people--the perfect combination for a great teacher. He still got goosebumps as an old man by helping a woman get the ball airborne and be able to play with her husband. He cared as much about the duffer as he did about the many pros who sought his advice. He cared more about his students than he did about himself. He truly wanted to help golfers. It was about them, not him.

I suppose you could write a book about all the terrific things Harvey taught, and the way he taught them. He would be a great model for anyone aspiring to be a great teacher. But, to me, three things that he taught stand out.

First, was the importance of a good grip. Harvey said he could happily talk for hours about the grip. He also taught that a good swing was useless if accompanied by a faulty grip. He told his players on his college team not to worry about the player with a good swing and a bad grip. But he suggested that they had plenty to worry about when playing against a guy, or gal, with a poor grip and a bad swing. Those players had learned, by playing and practice, how to make it work.

The second thing that Harvey taught that would help so many struggling players was how to set up to the ball naturally. So many players struggle with alignment. Harvey advised us to set up to the ball like we were shaking hands with someone on the other side of the ball. How brilliant is that? When you shake hands with someone, do you face to their right or left? Are you all cock-eyed? No. You are square to them. Your chest faces right at them. What a great way to explain square alignment. I've used that analogy to help myself and others.

The third teaching of Harvey's that is absolute 24 carat gold is his teaching to "clip the tee." He would have players put a tee in the ground and practice swinging the club so that it just clipped the top of the tee. He couldn't explain why it worked so well, but clipping the tee made golfers square the clubface at impact. If every struggling golfer practised only that, they would soon find themselves hitting good golf shots.

I was struggling with my drives lately. It was really frustrating, and I concluded that it was down to my bad back that I couldn't seem to hit the ball high enough, or far enough, with the driver. The last two times out I focussed only on clipping the ball off the tee with my driver and, I'm back, baby! Suddenly my trajectory was better and I was driving it at least thirty yards farther--just by remembering Harvey's advice to "clip the tee."

There are lots of other great ideas from Harvey Penick. But I'm absolutely certain that every struggling player would improve and gain so much more pleasure in playing if he would just learn a good grip, shake hands with someone on the other side of the ball, and clip the tee. 

Thank you, Mr. Penick. You were definitely one of the best there ever was.