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Sunday, 23 July 2017

Spieth Doesn't Know the Meaning of the Word

I know I am prone to constantly referring back to Bobby Jones whenever I talk golf. I'm not sure whether others find it annoying or not. Certainly, my buddy Steve didn't find reading Bobby's books as illuminating, or as easy to read, as I did. 

But writing style aside, Bobby Jones, as much as any other player in history, understood what was most important in playing golf, and just how much the game of golf mirrors life. Bobby's most important lesson came from Harry Vardon, who said, "No matter what happens, keep on hitting the ball." This, Bobby learned to do as well as any player who ever lived. He used that approach to golf to do what was, and continues to be, almost the unthinkable in winning the Grand Slam.

It's perhaps easy to get carried away in the wake of a performance like we saw from Jordan Spieth on this Open Sunday. It was a performance for the ages. And what did Spieth do best on this magic Sunday? He didn't drive it well. He didn't strike his irons as well as he can. He didn't even putt very well, at least for the first dozen holes. But what he did as well as anyone ever has is keep on hitting the ball in the face of great adversity. 

If you want to succeed at this game you can't be a quitter. And golf is the sort of game that often tempts you to just quit. It can be the most infuriating game in the world. You can be at the top of your game one minute, and suddenly have absolutely no idea what you are doing, and vice versa. Golf is like that proverbial box of chocolates. You just never know what you're going to get from one day to the next, from one hole to the next, even from one shot to the next. 

Golf cannot be subjected to control. You cannot make the putts drop by sheer force of will--although the great champions sometimes make it look that way. You have to accept the vagaries of the game. Look at Spieth's opening tee shot today. He striped it. He hit it as he wanted to, and on the line he wanted to. It should have bounded off the bank into the fairway. Instead it hung in the deep fescue. 

Spieth was clearly upset with his bad luck. A good shot had been punished. He was visibly distressed. But he did all that any golfer can do in the face of good luck or bad; he kept on hitting the ball. Today that patience and persistance was rewarded. And in that victory, I think, is a message for all of us. Good things can happen if we just refuse to give up. And believe me, sometimes even really good players give up, or let up. But if we have learned anything at all, in watching Jordan Spieth in action, we have surely learned that there is no quit in him. He doesn't know the meaning of the word.

Jordan Spieth: Desire and Determination Personified

Once again, Jordan Spieth helped remove any doubt, if in fact there were still any doubters, that he is a very special player, the likes of which we have rarely seen. I could brag that I picked him to win this week at Royal Birkdale, but it's really nothing to brag about. This young man is going to be a favourite to win at every Major he enters for years to come.

The inevitable comparisons will be made to Jack and Tiger. And the fact that we are legitimately comparing Spieth's record to date with those two giants of the game just tells you how special a player he is. He is rewriting the record books in an age where most of us probably thought we had seen the best players we were ever going to see. For me, it was Jack. For many others it was Tiger. But Spieth has accomplished things even they hadn't managed to accomplish at the same age. That's just how good Spieth is.

To think, especially after last year's phenomenal Open championship, that Johnny Miller, a guy who knows a little something about historic final rounds in Majors, would state that this was the greatest finish to a Major championship he's ever seen. Some may not necessarily agree with Johnny. He does have his detractors. But you have to admit that we have probably never been taken on the quite the ride we were taken on today by Spieth. After losing his lead, and looking like anything but a champion, Spieth stood up on the next tee and almost holed a six iron from 201 yards. 

I won't bother recounting his incredible finish. Others will do that. All I think you need to try to imagine is how it must have felt to relinquish the lead at that stage in the championship; how psychologically deflating that would have been for any normal person. Few final round leaders in Majors are able to lose their lead and then come charging back to reclaim it. I'm not a good enough historian to tell you when, or how often, it has happened before. But I am certain it is a rare achievement.

I am constantly reminded of Bobby Jones and his assessment of how he was able to win the Grand Slam. He didn't have his best stuff in any if those four victories, but he said that he was able to win because he was willing to take more punishment and tried harder than everyone else. Royal Birkdale was not there for the taking, and she administered some severe punishment to Spieth in the early going. But Spieth simply refused to give up. It was his determination to just keep on hitting it when just about anyone else would have given up that is the reason he is the champion golfer of the year, and why he is already headed for the Hall of Fame at 23 years of age.

We can now, as we always do, look forward to the PGA championship. And I certainly won't be betting against Jordan Spieth to win that one as well. The level of competition in professional golf has never been so high. But there just aren't very many players out there who have the desire and the determination of Jordan Spieth. In fact, I don't think there are any. And that desire and determination, as much as his skill, is what sets Jordan Spieth apart from the rest of the field.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Nae Wind Nae Rain

It was a very unusual day at Royal Birkdale. The conditions were balmy. The course was green and relatively soft, and birdies abounded. It was an easy day for many of the players. But, as any Scot worth his salt would say, "It was nae golf!"

That's one of the things I really appreciate about Open championships; they let the conditions dictate the score. There is no effort by the R&A to shave the greens, or trick things up by silly pin placements, to protect par. If the sun shines, and the wind lays down, Old Man Par takes a beating. And, once in a while, it's not such a bad thing.

I also like the fact that the boys continue to play the same iconic courses in the Open. This seems to be something the US Open is moving away from. And I don't think it's a particularly good thing. I like a bit of tradition when it comes to golf. 

We shall see what the golfing gods have in store for the players tomorrow. It's looking like it could be another two man race like it was last year, with Spieth being chased by Kuchar. There are a few others that could find themselves in the mix should those two stumble a bit; particularly if it's another soft day from a weather perspective. But it rather looks like I should have put some money where my mouth was at the start of the week, because it looks like my man Spieth just might be the champion golfer of the year come tomorrow evening. 

Let's hope for some wind and some rain tomorrow. Because, nae wind, nae rain, nae golf!

Shooting Your Age

Generally speaking, to shoot your age in golf is an accomplishment that few amateurs get to experience. For one, you had better be a pretty good player. And you had better live to be a decent age, and stay reasonably healthy, to even have the chance to do it. Today, Carl the Grinder did it again. 

Carl and I ended up playing with Toller and Stan today. They were visiting our course and I invited them to join us in order to make up a foursome. As a result, they became, willingly or otherwise, witnesses to  Carl the Grinder at his best; playing for two dollars like it was the Open championship. 

Carl and I pretty much always have a match. I think playing a match helps you enjoy the game more, even if it may not always necessarily make you play better. The great putter of Bobby Jones' era, Walter Travis, once said that you should always play for something, "even if it's only a ten-cent cigar." And I think he was right. If you aren't playing for something, you're really just practising. 

After a near-perfect opening drive, I yanked my wedge shot into the pond on the left side of the green and promptly made a six. My back had been telling me to stay home; and when I did that to give Carl the first hole, I thought I probably should have listened. On the par three second hole, Carl hit it to about four feet and made birdie. I hit my tee shot in the bunker, blasted the ball out of the bunker and across the green, and then chipped in for a three. It was a wasted chip-in, given that I'd lost the hole anyway, but it helped lift my spirits a bit.

On three, after a reasonably good drive, I hit my second shot long and right of the green and eventually found myself three down after three when Carl made an easy par. By now I was really wishing I'd listened to my back and bloody well stayed home. It seemed inevitable that I was going to get thoroughly trounced by Carl, who was obviously in good form.  Sometime, early in the proceedings, I had told Toller and Stan about the fact that Carl had already shot his age or better four times this year. I don't mind bragging him up a bit, because I think it's pretty damned impressive. I mean, I'm not exactly holding my breath waiting for me to start shooting my age. 

Anyway, we played on and I managed to eventually fight my way back in the match and even go one up after I chipped in for birdie on sixteen. On seventeen, I hit a solid drive only to have Carl knock it twenty odd yards by me right in the middle of the fairway. It's really rather annoying to have a 74 year old consistently knock it by you. But, as a wise man once said, "it is what it is." 

After this terrific drive, Carl mentioned that he needed another birdie if he was going to shoot his age again today. I hadn't really been paying attention to what he was shooting. I knew he had gone out in 36, but he had made a double bogey on ten and a bogey on eleven, so I had sort of counted him out as far as shooting his age was concerned. But he had kept it together, making a nice birdie on twelve, just missing a birdie on thirteen, and then, after bogeying fourteen when his tee shot kicked left of the green leaving him short-sided in thick rough, just missing another birdie on fifteen and making an easy par on sixteen. Sure enough, Carl was three over par standing in the middle of the fairway at the hundred yard marker on seventeen. He needed one more birdie and a par to shoot 74. 

Now I've noticed that it is generally not a good idea to be thinking about your score; especially thinking about shooting your lowest score ever, or about shooting your age. More often than not, bad things happen when you get ahead of yourself and start thinking about what you might shoot. But, sure enough, Carl hit it pin high and about twelve feet left of the pin on seventeen and then drained the putt to get it back to two over and to square the match heading to eighteen. 

On eighteen, Carl hit a perfect tee shot to the centre of the green, leaving himself about a fifteen footer to actually shoot one better than his age. I, meanwhile, missed the green on the right and was again sitting in the thick rough that encircles most of our greens.  I knew I really needed to chip it in for a chance to win. Unfortunately, I tugged my chip and left myself about a five footer for par.

Carl, with a chance to finish birdie, birdie, and actually better his age, then hit a rather wishy-washy putt to about a foot and a half short of the hole. I let him mark it and think about it for a minute or two while I set about holing my five footer for par. I picked my ball out of the hole and then tossed Carl his marker, conceding his putt for the half. I was grateful to have managed to square the match, particularly since I didn't have the two bucks in my pocket to pay him had I lost. I find it rather stressful to play for money when I don't have any cash on me. I think Lee Trevino spoke about that; saying that real pressure was having to make a putt when it's for ten bucks and you only have two bucks on you. 

So, Carl shot his age again today. Okay, it wasn't an official result, since it was match play and I'd given Carl a couple of short putts during the round. But it was close enough.

I can only hope to live long enough to someday shoot my age. I'm 60, and my best score is 65. So, I don't see it happening for me any time soon. Carl, on the other hand, is starting to make a regular habit of it. In fact, he recently shot 70 at Timber Ridge, near Brighton, Ontario. As for Toller and Stan; I don't know what they shot, but they were good fun to play with. I just hope they enjoyed their day as much as Carl and I did.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Who Knows?

The biggest week in golf is underway. The men haven't teed it up yet, but the excitement is palpable at the Open. It's strange how just a year ago we thought we had a Big Three, or maybe four, in men's golf, with Spieth, McIlroy and Day looking like they were ready to separate themselves from the rest of the field. Then we had DJ, until he literally took his tumble at the Masters, looking about as bullet-proof as they come. Then Matsuyama looked like he was going to be the first Japanese player to get to number one. 

But the golf scene has seemingly changed. Suddenly, we have a Spanish resurgence, with a Masters champion named Sergio, another Spaniard as the Irish Open champion in Jon Rahm, and another Spaniard as the Scottish Open champion in Cabrera Bello. You surely wouldn't put it past any of those guys to win again this week. 

The golf scene has definitely changed. It's about as wide open an Open as we've seen in years. McIlroy has been missing cuts and dealing with injury. Day seems to be day to day, and DJ has been quiet. But Spieth looks really good and should definitely challenge this week. He really needs to win another Major and take another step towards the career slam. Fowler is in pretty good form, despite a disappointing weekend at the Scottish Open. But you have to wonder whether we might be entering a time when there is such parity in the game that we will no longer have strong favourites to win the big ones. 

There are simply too many guys, especially Europeans, that now believe they can win these big events. They've seen Danny Willett win at Augusta, followed by Sergio, and they know that it can happen for them. So, while I like Spieth if I had to pick a winner, I wouldn't be surprised to see another first-time Major winner this week. In fact, I have a sneaking feeling that we could see a Brit win this year. Perhaps Justin Rose can find some magic again at Royal Birkdale. Or maybe it's time for Andy Sullivan to break through. Or perhaps Ian Poulter will decide to play like he's done in the Ryder Cup and wins one for all of the guys who came out of a pro shop with big dreams. Who knows? Well, I guess no one does, other than perhaps the golfing gods. After all, no one wins the Open without a bit of luck.

However, after watching the replay of the 1976 Open at Birkdale, with Seve and Johnny Miller, wouldn't it be something to see Rahm and Spieth battle it out? All I know is I can hardly wait for the competition to begin.

 

Monday, 17 July 2017

Sam Snead on Hitting the Long Irons

It's funny how quickly golfers tend to blame their swing for any issues with their ball-striking. I played today with Gary, who asked me on the first tee if I would try and watch him swing when he was playing his longer irons. He complained that he was having an awful time with them.

I watched him hit a couple and couldn't see that his swing was any different when hitting the five iron than any other club. So, I suggested that he consider Sam Snead's advice regarding the long irons. Sam, of course, was famous for talking about holding the club like you were holding a baby bird. And, I suppose, if you had hands like Sam Snead you could get away with holding the club lightly. But most of us don't have hands like Sam Snead. Jackie Burke once mused that the baby bird Sam was referring to was probably a baby eagle.

With respect to the long irons, Sam said it was important to have a firm grip on the club when playing the long irons because of the  tendency for the clubface to twist at impact. So, I suggested to Gary that he simply take a firmer than normal grip with those irons and focus on making a solid strike, hitting the ball in the sweet spot. Gary tried this and, while he wasn't hitting long irons like the Slammer, he was hitting them solidly and on target, something he said was a significant improvement.

At the end of the round Gary thanked me for my help. I told him not to thank me; instead I suggested that he "thank the Slammer."

Saturday, 15 July 2017

You Never Know If You Don't Give Up

You just never know in this game if you don't give up. That was perhaps, according to Bobby Jones, Harry Vardon's greatest strength. He just kept on hitting the ball; no matter what. Bobby Jones eventually learned to do the same. Patience and persistence are vital in golf, and in life. You just never know, if you don't give up.

I had another good match with Steve and Spiro yesterday. Playing their best ball, I got off to a good start and got to two up fairly early in the proceedings. But the boys ham-and-egged it, and fought their way back.

By seventeen the boys were dormie, after I somehow managed to take a seven on the par five sixteenth. I say, "somehow," because I was nicely positioned in the fairway, a hundred yards from the green in two, when I managed to pull my wedge left of the green and into some tree roots. From there, I stick-handled my way to a seven. It was the old, "one shot begets another," story.

Needless to say, the boys were feeling pretty good on seventeen. They pretty much figured they had the match in the bag after Steve stood up and hit a perfect drive, probably his best of the day. But I matched him, and there we were "side by each," as the Quebec folk would say, about 140 yards from the pin. I hit an eight iron and pushed it shirt and right of the green. Steve hit a nine iron that looked to be perfect, but kicked right when it landed and just trickled off the edge of the green into the thick collar. Spiro was short and left of the green in two after hitting a good shot over the trees from about 200 yards. 

At this point, I was figuring on having to hole my pitch from the right rough in order to stay alive. I figured a par wasn't going to cut it. I focussed with all my might and hit what looked to be a perfect pitch. The ball landed on my spot, but bounced slightly to the right and ended up about a foot from the hole for a gimmee four. Spiro and Steve then both failed to get their balls up and down for the win. I went to eighteen still alive, but down one.

On eighteen, I've generally been using my old 28 degree Taylormade wood or a six iron, depending on the pin and the wind. Although the wind was hurting a bit and across from left to right, I chose the six iron, knowing I'd need to hit a solid draw to hold it against the wind and get to the left middle pin. I somehow managed to hit the exact shot I'd envisioned--which obviously doesn't happen all that often--and ended up about five feet short and left of the pin. 

Perhaps a bit shaken by my tee shot, Spiro pushed his tee shot out of bounds on the right, and Steve missed the green short and left, leaving himself a tough pitch if he hoped to make par. He chunked it, missed the next pitch long, and I was able to calmly roll in my putt for a birdie and another halved match--or as Spiro would say, "No blood."

It was another fun match that came down to the eighteenth hole. Those are the best matches; the ones that come down to the end and force you to really grind. Steve and Spiro played pretty well. And, other than making two sevens on par fives today, I figured I played pretty well also. Clearly, however, Steve and Spiro are either getting better, or I'm getting worse; because there was a time, not all that long ago, when I had to give them strokes as well as play their best ball. They certainly didn't need any strokes today.

And what did I learn today? I learned, once again, that I'm not very good from 100 yards. I learned that I really hate making sevens on par fives. And I learned, once again, that it pays never to give up. After the double on sixteen to go two down with two to play, and then the disappointing pushed eight iron on seventeen, I could have easily given up. But I scrambled a par and then made a nice birdie on eighteen to halve the match. Sometimes it pays to hang in there, even when things look awfully bleak. You just never know in this game. It ain't over 'til it's over--at least it ain't over if you don't give up.




Friday, 14 July 2017

Bobby Jones on Recovery Shots

I'm up at almost three in the morning because of my damned back. So, as I am wont to do, I decided to open a Bobby Jones book and see what I could learn. I opened the book to a short article by Bobby regarding recovery shots.

Bobby wrote that the secret to playing good golf was the ability to turn three shots into two. Sooner or later we are going to miss a shot; and it is often sooner rather than later. When we do miss one, how good a player we are is really determined by our ability to recover--to essentially minimize the damage. 

Consider what Bobby had to say about recovery shots in his book, Bobby Jones on Golf:

    "I think it is safe to say that the man who scores between 95 and 100 usually loses about ten strokes per round because of failure to recover as well as he ought to, even in proportion to his limited ability. Tension, uncertainty, and fear take from him a heavier toll than they have any right to exact.
     The tightening-up process as the player enters a bunker or long grass shortens his backswing considerably; usually, too, he feels the need of exerting some extra force in order to get the ball out. Thus he produces a short, hurried, ill-timed stroke that fails because of its inaccuracy. Brilliant recoveries to the edge of the hole are not for this man, but, under the conditions met in nine cases out of ten, there is no reason why a moderately successful recovery should not be within the reach of anyone. Most failures from bunkers, or rough, result from topping, and this is so because tension has upset the stroke.
     I have said before that too much ambition is a bad thing to have in a bunker; the same holds true when playing from long grass. It is always difficult to resist the temptation to attempt to make up immediately for any mistake. When there is a long shot to be made, the average lerson will invariably try his luck with a club that he knows is unsafe. The one idea in playing from rough is to be certain of getting the ball up quickly enough to escape the grass. If this will not reach the green, it will be better to be a few yards short than to be still in the rough.
     That a ball played from long grass will roll an abnormal distance, unless the turf be sodden, is a fact not often enough accounted for. Playing on fast ground, I have seen distances made with a five-iron or four-iron out of rough that would have required a two- iron or one-iron if played in a normal way from the fairway--and the shot could be played with assurance that it would clear the grass."

So, we have two valuable bits of advice from Bobby Jones. First, when faced with a bunker shot, or a shot from long rough, we must resist the temptation to try to do something heroic, or overly ambitious, to try to immediately make up for the shot that landed us in trouble. We want to make sure we get ourselves out of the rough, or the bunker, as the first order of business. And we don't want to let tension ruin the shot. We want to take our time, finish our backswing, and not hurry, or force, our downswing. Most trouble shots are missed by allowing tension to ruin our swing and, therefore, ruin our strike.

We need to try not to, as my father used to say, let one bad shot beget another. Just get the ball back in play and see if we can't recover instead by making a long putt, or a good chip. Sometimes, the best recovery shots are the shots played after the recovery shot. 




The One to Win

As my favourite week in golf approaches, it's nice to watch the boys at the Scottish Open as a preview of what we might expect next week at the Open. And what do we see? Paddy's back in form. Now Padraig Harrington knows a thing or two about winning Opens, even if he's been in golfing purgatory for some time.

And speaking of golfing purgatory, we also see Ian Poulter playing some good golf again. There's another possible story for next week. Imagine if Poulter could find some magic and break through to snag golf's biggest prize. I know he has his detractors, but I think Poults is a guy who has, if anything, over-achieved in this game. He's big on guts, as his Ryder Cup performances have shown. And he has believed in himself, probably when the odds were stacked against him and he was the only one believing. I admire the guy.

The Open has been a tournament where wiley veterans can definitely get it done. Look at Darren Clarke, or Zach Johnson, or Paddy for that matter. The Open is made for guys who can use their experience and their skills gained from playing all over the world under all kinds of conditions to outlast some of the young guns who may be more powerful, and might even have more talent, but aren't as experienced and patient.

I'd love to see Padraig back in the thick of it next week. And I'd be rooting like hell for Poulter if he was in the hunt as well. But somehow I'm thinking it might be Rickie Fowler's time. I know I keep thinking that and turn out to be wrong, but Rickie embraces links golf. He's also playing well this week. With a wee bit of luck, he just might finally get his Major next week. And what a Major to get--the Champion Golfer of the Year. Yessir, the Open is the one to win if you're having only one. Hell, it's the one to win if you're having a dozen!



Thursday, 13 July 2017

Favourite Kind of Golf

Rickie Fowler tweeted about how pleased he was to be back in Scotland to play the Scottish Open. He said links golf was his favourite kind of golf. As a golf fan, I'm excited about the next two weeks when I get to watch great players play links golf.

If you haven't had the opportunity to play links golf, you've really missed something. There is golf, and then there's golf on a true links course. Everything about playing on a true links course is, to me, and it seems Rickie Fowler, Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus..., the essence of what golf is all about. You must be creative. Especially when the wind blows--and the wind blows just about all the time--you can chuck out the yardage book. There is no stock seven iron to be played from 150 yards. It could be a wedge, and it could be a three wood, depending on the wind. 

Now this is not to say that great players haven't grown up playing parkland courses. Ben Hogan, who grew up playing hard, fast, and windy Texas courses, went to Carnoustie on his one Open trip and proved that he was the champion golfer of the year. Sam Snead did the same thing at St Andrews. Arnie started a new wave of American champions going over to the UK to test themselves on the classic links courses and prove that they were the best.

You can be a great golfer without ever setting foot on a links course. But playing golf on a links course will establish just how great you are. Great players love the challenge. They love the fact that the elements; the wind and the rain, dictate just how the course will play; sometimes almost easy; other times brutally hard. It isn't the greenskeeper who decides. There are no windmills and clown faces, forced carries and island greens. Just golf as it was meant to be played. You, your clubs, and your wits against the links, the wind, and the rain.

If you haven't played a links course, try to do so. The first shot you hit from that sandy turf should tell you that this is how the game was meant to be played. Yes, there are great courses all over the world. And, ultimately, any golf is better than no golf. But the true links courses are the ones that will put hair on your chest. They are the courses that force you to really play golf: to think, to be creative, to improvise. 

If I have my way, my final rounds will be on links courses. And, I hope I will be walking.


Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The Six Foot Putt

Raymond Floyd, who was no slouch, said that the six foot putt was the most important shot in golf. I wonder how many amateurs would say that. Probably none. 

But there is good reason to accept Mr. Floyd's statement. Dave Pelz, who became a shortgame guru, studied putts and found out, to the surprise of just about everyone, that pros made only fifty percent of their putts from six feet. Jack Nicklaus correctly guessed that this was the case, but most pros didn't. So, imagine if you could make 75 or 80 percent of your six footers. That's what the leaders every week on the various tours are doing.

A wise person once said that the end of a matter is more important than its beginning. And no where is this more true than in the game of golf. What good does it do to hit great iron shots to six or seven feet from the hole, only to miss the damned putt? You have to finish it off.

If you can become efficient on the short putts, from six feet and in, you can really start to score. If not, forget about it. Why was Tiger so dominant? There were probably many reasons, but one thing for certain was he was as good as anyone I've ever seen from six feet and in. When he was in his heyday, six footers were pretty much gimmees for him. And, as a result, he just kept making pars where other guys were making bogeys. In his last few years, Tiger has been missing short putts. And, as a result, he looks distinctly human, instead of bullet-proof.

So, maybe those of us who are trying to get better might want to spend less time trying to hit the ball farther, and a bit more time working on putts from six feet and in. It might not be as exciting, but, if it's your score you are concerned about, it would be worth it.

Most amateurs are lousy putters from six feet. And when they talk about their scores they often moan about the short putts that they missed. Short putts count as much as a three hundred yard drive. It may not seem fair, but that's golf. Raymond Floyd said the most important shot in golf was the six foot putt. He knew what he was talking about. And you can bet he was pretty good from that distance. He had to be.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Bobby Jones on the Rules of Golf

I think Bobby Jones is the ultimate reference when it comes to golf. Today, we almost experienced another rules fiasco with Jon Rahm at the Irish Open. In light of this, I think we all would do well to consider what Bobby Jones, the Master, had to say on the subject of the rules:

    "The rules of golf, considered in their entirety, provide material for almost a lifetime of study. The diversity of situations arising in the course of play makes necessary many very nice decisions with respect to the application of the rules. It is not possible to expect that a merely cursory reading of a rule-book can provide this kind of knowledge."

This statement, which was accurate at the time, is even more true today. The Rules of Golf, along with the Decisions on the Rules of Golf, are pretty much beyond the ken of the average golfer. But Bobby goes on to offer the other side of things. He continued by writing:

    "On the other hand, there are two basic conceptions upon which the game of golf has been developed which most effectively point the way to the proper solution of any question that may arise.
     The first, with respect to the rules, is that the player must start and finish each hole with the same ball, playing each stroke as it lies, or accept the penalty for failure to do so. The second, with respect to etiquette, is that the player must in no way interfere with the play of his opponent or anyone else in the game. This right of the player to play his own game unmolested by other players is fundamental to golf. So it is quite enough in the beginning, I think, if the player should understand that he is to play every shot with the ball as it lies, or accept a penalty, and he must so conduct himself as to interfere with his opponent or partner in no way, shape, or form."

How wonderfully simple an explanation of the true intent of the rules of golf. We should play the ball as it lies and in no way interfere with our opponent in the playing of his game. Of course, in the modern age, we sometimes see players seemingly doing whatever they can to avoid playing a ball as it lies, at least if the lie isn't perfect, and the rules have been modified to actually aid in this endeavour. We would now have to make some big changes to the rules to get anywhere near Bobby's ideal. 

To the rules purists of today, I would point out that we now routinely see pros playing "preferred lies" any time there's a possibility of a mud ball. It's really legalized cheating. And yet do we see the rules purists complaining? No, they are too busy scrutinizing people marking their golf balls; straining the gnat out of the soup and swallowing the proverbial camel.

What happened to the days when you just had Walter Hagen's attitude? "I hit it here, and from here I have to play it." Imagine if the modern pros had to play from cart tracks like the oldtimers did.

Next, Bobby Jones writes about the proper sort of attitude we should have regarding the rules:

    "Let me emphasize right here that no one should learn the rules of golf with the idea that they will be useful in calling penalties upon other players. Throughout the many years of my golfing experience I never once found it necessary to call a rule against an adversary or a playing partner in a stroke-play competition. The reason for being well up on the rules is to avoid yourself making a mistake that might prove embarrassing. A player must be vigilant to see that he does not unwittingly violate some of the rules of the game. It must be admitted that golf is a very easy game in which to cheat if one should be so minded. Yet the occurrence of this sort of thing is so rare as to be almost non-existant in competition. Players whose skill is great enough to encourage them to play in important tournaments have learned such a respect for the traditions of the game that the thought of any sort of unfair play never crosses their minds."

I wrote earlier about the "Rules Nazis," the ones who get all lathered up about something like the Jon Rahm "incident," which was much ado about nothing. If only these folks would really consider what Bobby wrote. The rules don't exist to use against someone. The rules exist to help us play the game properly. You can bet that Jon Rahm never for a moment tried to pull a fast one when he placed his ball after marking it in the Irish Open. I'm certain it never even occurred to him. 

So, I, for one, celebrate the common sense approach taken by Jon Rahm's playing partner and the rules official. When it comes to the enforcement of the rules these days, common sense isn't all that common.







Rules Nazis

Once again, we see the rules aficionados trying to create much ado about nothing at the Irish Open in the Jon Rahm case. There is something about many "rules people." They seem to view the world differently. Some of them would have, I fear, made great Nazis. That's what some of them really are; "Rules Nazis."

They lose sight of the forest because of all the damned trees. They pick the bug out of the soup, and then swallow the snake. The rules are supposed to exist to create fairness in the competition. The way things have developed, we have come to the point where we see a big uproar from the Rules Nazis over replacing a ball on the green, even when the fellow competitor and a rules official made a reasonable finding about it; but then we see relative silence, or perhaps a slightly embarrassed "oh well," from the same Rules Nazis when the rules are used to let a guy get away with a terrible shot. 

That's why the rules need changing. They are overly complicated, for one thing. And they don't always "protect the field" as they were supposedly designed to do. Brandel Chamblee, who loves a bit of controversy, tweeted after the Rahm incident about "protecting the field." From what, in the Rahm case, did the field need protecting? What unfair advantage did he gain, if in fact he misplaced his ball by a millimetre or two on a gimmee putt? Obviously, his fellow competitor and the rules official didn't think it amounted to a hill of beans. But the Rules Nazis, masquerading as purists, are never to be satisfied.

The Rules Nazis would prefer to harp on about a possible minor rules infraction, than acknowledge the dominant victory by Jon Rahm. Apparently, that is just how they're wired. It's more fun to make it all about the rules.

Bobby Jones wrote an interesting piece on the rules that I think bears thinking about. I'll share that in my next article.

Patience

It is often said that patience is a virtue. And nowhere is that saying more true than in the game of golf. Perhaps it was a golfer who coined the phrase. I don't know. But it was patience that Bobby Jones had to learn before he became perhaps the greatest champion we've ever seen. To Bobby Jones, patience was not just a virtue, it was the greatest virtue.

Consider what Bobby wrote in his book Down the Fairway:

    "In this play-off with Chick, at medal competition, I was two strokes down. But I had a different attitude. Some way, I wasn't in that frantic hurry, about getting those strokes back. It was as if something deep in my consciousness kept counseling patience. Patience! Somewhere lately I heard ir read that the greatest asset of Harry Vardon was his perfect realization of the cold fact that no matter what happened, there was only one thing for him to do--keep on hitting the ball. I hadn't heard or read that, at Flossmoor; and I cannot say that such a plan was in my mind. Indeed, I had no plan. Instinctively or otherwise, I managed to keep on hitting the ball, and not trying to wrench back those strokes immediately. And presently--presently they came back to me, in a sort of normal and ordinary manner, and some more with them.
     So maybe that is the answer--the stolid and negative and altogether unromantic attribute of patience. It is nothing new or original to say that golf is played one stroke at a time. But it took me many years to realize it. And it is easy to forget, now. And it won't do to forget, in tournament golf."

Patience isn't just a virtue. Patience, plain old unromantic patience, is the virtue most to be admired in great players.



Friday, 7 July 2017

Right-Side or Left-Side, Bottom or Top Hand: You Choose

Jack Nicklaus considered himself a "left-sided" player. He was conscious of his left arm essentially controlling the swing. I named my blogsite "Top Hand Golf" based upon the Golden Bear's, and other great players', like Bobby Jones, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead, appreciation of the importance of the left side and arm controlling the swing. 

The fact is that most right-handed amateurs don't use their left side properly and suffer as a result. A left side that doesn't lead in the swing, according to Bobby Jones, often "gum's up the works" and allows the right side to overpower the left with, as Jack also wrote in his book Golf my Way, "dire results."

Consider also what Jack wrote about being left-sided:

    "I'm a 'left-sided' golfer, but I never hesitate to think in right-sided terms if my keft-sided thoughts aren't working. 
     For example, if I can't get the correct hip turn going back by thinking 'turn the left hip,' I'll think 'pull the right hip out of the way.' The same sort of thing often applies with the shoulders on the forward swing. My preferred thought is 'move the left shoulder up and the left hip around.' But if that doesn't seem to be working, I'll try 'move the right shoulder down and the right hip around.'
     So long as the desired effect is achieved, I don't think it matters which 'side' you think about. In fact, it's probably good to switch patterns occasionally, for the sake of striking a balance. Thinking one side or the other all the time can easily lead to exaggeration of a particular move."

So Jack was a left-sided golfer who sometimes played right-sided. He wasn't stuck on just seeing the swing in one way. So, when he thought about things from a right-sided perspective, how did he see the right arm working? In Golf My Way, Jack wrote:

    "In most good swings the right arm is slightly bent and the right elbow pointing down, not out, at impact. Otherwise, there's a danger that the right side will grab control of the swing, invariably with dire results.
     Past impact, however, the right arm does straighten and extend toward the target. To me, the movement feels very similar to that used in bowling or in pitching a softball. It's a 'sweeping through' motion from which I get the feeling I could reach out and retrieve the flying ball with my right hand."

I particularly like this analogy from Jack, having been a softball pitcher. I have often played, quite successfully, thinking of pitching the ball underhanded at the target with my right hand. So much for "top hand golf." The reality is that you can't always hang your hat on one way of thinking about the swing. And, while I figure we would all be better off if we could just think about the strike and not the swing, we do have swing thoughts. It's the cost of doing business it seems.





Golf's Greatest Economist

Levi and I played our playoff two ball match with Peter and Paul, and once again, it was a tight match neither of us going more than one up in the match until fifteen. It was then that Peter hit a slick bump and run up a bank from under a tree on the left side of the green to about eight feet. Paul drained the putt and they went one up.

On the next hole I hit a stinker with my recalcitrant 54 degree Callaway wedge from about 80 yards. It finished fifteen yards short of the green. I was thoroughly disgusted, because I was in a perfect position to possibly get it close and win the hole. But, when you can't hit a green with a wedge you might want to consider playing horseshoes instead. That 54 degree wedge has cost me money in the past and will now be relegated to the trunk of my car where I will hopefully have enough sense to leave it. I don't know whether it's the 12 degrees of bounce, or if it's just in my head, but that wedge needs to be gone from my arsenal. If you don't trust a club, it's best not to hit it.

Peter and Paul won that hole, went up dormie with two to play, and finished us off on the next hole when Paul hit a brilliant second shot from about 150 yards to about four feet from the pin. As is almost always the case, however, it really boiled down to the short game to decide the match despite Paul's tremendous iron play on the back nine. That up and down on fifteen was brilliant. On sixteen, it was followed by another brilliant chip by Peter that was nearly holed and ultimately was good enough for them to win the hole.

Bobby Jones called the wedge "the greatest economist in golf." And, especially in the hands of Peter, it really was in this match. It's more often than not a wedge that turns three shots into two. Over the long haul, give me the guy who can chip and putt over the ballstriker any day. 



Thursday, 6 July 2017

Looking at the Hole

Should you putt looking at the hole? The young star, Jordan Spieth, has drawn some attention to himself by his putting. Not only is he often uncannily good from fifteen to twenty five feet; but he often looks at the hole instead of the ball when putting the short ones. Then again, sometimes he doesn't.

As someone who putts virtually everything looking at the hole--I've been doing this for a couple of years now--I'd like to give my view, for what it's worth about whether this might help your game. When you play snooker, a good player doesn't look at the cue ball when he strokes it, he looks at the ball he is attempting to hit with the cue ball. When we roll a ball towards an object, we look at the object, not the ball. Looking at the hole while putting is, in my opinion, much the same thing. It's a natural thing to do.

The possible downside of looking at the hole while you are putting is that you might, and probably will, have the odd mishit. And great putters from Bobby Jones to Dave Stockton will tell you how important a good strike is to putting. In fact, like in the rest of the game, the strike is the most important thing. That's possibly why you don't see Spieth looking at the hole on the longer putts. On longer putts, speed control is vital and you can't have good speed control without a consistent strike. As for me, I always look at the hole, except for in situations where striking the putt is particularly difficult; such as the ball being close to the collar of the green.

The other issue to consider when putting is choosing a line on which to start your putt. If you are hitting a putt that breaks ten inches, and you stroke the putt looking at the hole, will you not start it on the wrong line? Actually, the answer is a definite "No," for me at least. When I used to putt in the traditional way, looking at the ball and picking a target outside the hole--like two balls outside left--I would more often than not hit a putt that reached the hole two balls outside left of the hole. Picking a line just doesn't seem to work for me. I suspect there must be others out there who've experienced the same thing.

While I'm putting looking at the hole I am definitely not always hitting the ball directly at the hole. I am obviously sub-consciously adjusting for the break in the green. It's perhaps a bit like voodoo putting--just kidding--but I honestly often hit putts with no earthly idea of how much break I'm playing. I'm just looking at where I want to roll the ball to, not the line I want to roll it on. As far as I'm concerned, the ball can take whatever line it likes. And, believe me, my putting has improved significantly since I started putting this way; especially my short-putting.

Putting looking at the hole, in my view, could really help golfers with the yips. If you are swinging the putter looking at the hole, it's much harder to flinch, or yip, at impact which seems to be one of the things that yippers do. In fact, when you're stroking the putt looking at the hole, the ball is actually just being swept along by the stroke, something Bobby Jones favoured in a putting method.  You don't even think about the strike. For the yippers, flinchers, and stabbers, looking at the hole could make a world of difference.

Yesterday, my partner had about a four foot breaking putt to give us a half in a two ball match on eighteen. It was a devilish little putt. Levi stood up, looked at the hole and, still looking at the hole, banged the putt right in the middle of the cup. Levi generally putts looking at the ball. But, for that nervy one, he looked at the hole and let it go. 

There are so many ways to putt. And, ultimately the best way for you to putt is the way you putt best. But there may just be some method to Jordan Spieth's madness when it comes to putting--especially those short ones--looking at the hole. If you haven't tried it, and you struggle over those four to six footers, why not hit a few this way on the practice green. I know it's been a terrific help to me.

One of my biggest putting faults was the tendency to watch the putter head go back. My eyes moved and the putts kept missing. Looking at the hole is a definite cure for this problem. So, I guess the answer as to whether you should putt looking at the hole depends upon how well you are already putting. It obviously isn't the best way for everyone to putt, or all the best players would be doing it. But it may be a big help for you if you are a nervy putter, a yipper, a flincher, or a stabber of putts. For me, at least, putting looking at the hole feels like the most natural thing in the world. I even catch myself doing it on chips sometimes.



Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Two Ball Match

Levi and I had a terrific alternate shot, or two ball, match with Peter and Paul today. Playing the alternate shot format is interesting because you play with the added pressure of not wanting to let your partner down. 

After halving the first hole with pars, Levi hit a beauty to about eight feet on two and I made the putt to put us one up. We had to give Peter and Paul a stroke on three and they won the hole to square things up. They then went one up with a par on four.

Before we knew it, though, we were three down, Peter and Paul going out in even par 36 to our 38. We halved the tough tenth with bogeys. I hit a stinker for a second shot, hitting about two inches behind the ball and leaving Levi with a tough pitch of about forty yards. Peter missed his approach shot, but actually skipped it across the pond. 

On eleven we won the hole when Paul yanked their second shot into the fescue and lost the ball. We then won the thirteenth and fifteenth to square the match. On seventeen, I made an eight footer for par to keep things all square after Peter had holed another ten-footer like it was nothing. Peter has one of the best short games I've ever seen for an amateur. From a hundred yards and in he is absolutely deadly.

As has been the case so often this year, we came down to the par three eighteenth all square. Levi had us on the green about thirty five feet away. Peter's tee shot had run through the green, but sat nicely on the apron about firty five feet away. Paul putted it to about five feet, and I then putted it to about four feet. Both of us neglected to give it enough to climb the slope to the pin.

Naturally, Peter banged the five-footer home, leaving Levi with a knee-knocker for the half. Levi stood over the putt and, looking at the hole, stroked it firmly in the center of the cup. No blood. After eighteen holes we were where we started, all square. After some discussion we decided we'd play another eighteen tomorrow to determine the winner, rather than going sudden death. So, come 1230 hours tomorrow, we'll be back at it, hammers and tongs.

If you haven't tried the two ball, or alternate shot, format, you really should. But you need to establish one rule with your partner. And that is, no saying, "Sorry." You play your hardest and let the chips fall where they may.



Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Never Concede the Putt That Beats You

John David Lipson is 73 years old now. He first won the club championship at Picton when he was 18 years old. Those were the days when the club championship was match play and the final was a 36 hole affair. John David went on to win five of them in quick succession. He was a terrific player.

He now suffers from the yips and sports a 20 handicap. It's strange how it's generally the really good players who seem to get the yips. I've tried to get John David to try putting looking at the hole, but he's having none of it. He's afraid he'll miss the ball if he does. So, we'll see if he can find another way to deal with his atrocious putting. His ball striking is still good.

John David and I had a match against Ken and Robert yesterday. John David and Robert also played an individual match against eachother. Both matches came down to the last hole. Ken and Robert beat us thanks to a great up-and-down for par by Ken.

In Robert's match with John David they were all square going into the last hole. John David had fought his way back from three down. John David had a putt of about two and a half feet to halve the eighteenth. He yipped it and Robert won.

When we were having drinks afterwards, Robert announced that his match with John David was his very first experience at match play. He asked us whether he had comported himself properly, expressing some concern about not giving John David that last putt on eighteen.

John David was quick to respond that Robert had been a fine opponent and was perfectly correct in making John David putt that two-footer. I added that Sam Snead had once said that you should never concede the putt that beats you. Granted, John David's putt was for a half, but I felt certain Sam's advice would certainly apply there as well. I also suggested to Robert that he had been lucky to play his first match against a gentleman like John David. He'll likely never play a finer, more gentlemanly, opponent. 

Congratulations to Ken and Robert on their fine play. As for John David, I still wish he'd try putting looking at the hole. It might help. And, even if it doesn't, it couldn't hurt. It's a shame to see such a fine player suffering on the greens like that.

The Eighteenth

In golf, just like in life, it ain't over 'til it's over. You can be having a great round, but you have to finish it off. And we've got a terrific little par three to finish the round at Picton that has provided for some great--and not-so-great--finishes over the years.

At 155 yards from the whites and about 175 from the blues, eighteen at Picton is certainly not that imposing from the standpoint of length. It's a great finishing hole to have because it has a steep bank at the back of the green that serves as a natural vantage point for fans, as does the clubhouse deck which overlooks the green and the travails below.

With out of bounds and the lake close on the right, and nothing but misery on the left, eighteen is one of those holes. It gives up holes in one and birdies often enough; but it also forces some very ugly sixes and sevens to occur with regularity. While you can hit the green with a good shot, there aren't any real good places to miss it. It's that kind of a hole.

Perhaps my fondest memory of eighteen was in one of my first Quinte Cups. I was tied in my match and, fearing the out of bounds because of a healthy wind blowing towards the lake, I yanked my tee shot left of the cartpath and halfway up the hill under a tree. You could hear the crowd murmering as I surveyed my next shot from under the tree. You could sense that everyone thought I was dead. I wasn't exactly brimming with confidence myself.

I decided that my only real option was chipping a six iron through the bunker and onto the green, playing away from the back pin. The play worked and the ball skipped up the face of the bunker and onto the green about thirty feet from the pin. I then made the putt and won my match. It was no big deal, in the grand scheme of things, but that par had called for imagination and determination; something often sadly lacking in my usual game. So, I remember it fondly.

This year, eighteen has been the scene of some great play by other players to beat me. Steve made a birdie on top of my birdie a week or so ago to beat me. Randy Coates chipped in for a birdie to beat me in a match a couple of days later. And Ken Murray made a great up and down for a par, net birdie, to close out John David Lipson and I in a match with he and Robert yesterday. Ken used his hybrid to chip it from a very dodgy lie in the thick collar behind the green. John David and I both failed to get ours up and down from a similar spot using our wedges. 

Ken will likely remember that up and down fondly as well. Eighteen is a terrific hole. It giveth, and it taketh away. But it tends to provide some drama, one way or the other. I love it. The patrons of our restaurant seem to like it too.



Sunday, 2 July 2017

She's Back, Baby!

As a Canadian, I was obviously pulling for our exciting new player from Smiths Falls, Brooke Henderson at tne KPMG Women's PGA. But how about that performance by Danielle Kang? I mean, how good was that? That back nine performance was something to behold. 

She might have seriously under-achieved as a pro after her back-to-back U.S. Amateur wins. But she's back, baby. Facing a determined challenge from Henderson, Kang just did eactly what Wayne Gretzky told her to do. She just went out and won it. Is there a Gretzky factor here? Maybe; maybe not. But it can't hurt to have the greatest player ever in his sport give you permission to go out there and be the best in yours.

I can't help but think that this is just the beginning for this young lady. We ain't lookin' at no one-hit-wonder here. 



KPMG Women's PGA

It's not exactly a star-studded field at Tiger's Quicken Loans. In fact, there isn't even a Tiger on site. But the KPMG Women's PGA is setting up to be a fascinating day. At a course that has already given up some low numbers, including a 63, we have some potentially compelling stories.

Can my little Canadian gal, Brooke Henderson, repeat this year? At three back, she's poised and ready to give it a whirl, and I like her chances. She's showing every indication of fast becoming a big star on the LPGA tour. As a Canadian, I'm obviously biased in my support of Brooke. But, I mean, even if you're not a Canadian, what's not to like about this young lady?

How about Michelle Wie? She's playing well and sits five back to start the day. It would be nice to think she could mount a Sunday charge. But, as seems to generally be the case with Wie, the putter has been suspect at best. I also noticed that she seems to be having some neck and shoulder stiffness warming up--not a particularly good sign. 

Then we have another ball-hitting Jessie, in the form of Lexi Thompson, lurking a handful of shots back of the two leaders. It's an emotional time for her, with her mother's illness, and I wouldn't be surprised if the golfing gods were to decide to make something great happen for her after her disappointment earlier this season with the USGA four-shot penalty fiasco. 

Then you have Inbee Park also in the hunt. She knows a thing or three about winning PGA championships. And Inbee is one who can really fill-it-up on the greens.

The potential story lines abound. We have Chella Choi and Danielle Kang at the top. For both of them, pulling off a win would be life-changing. That's what will add to its difficulty. The first one, they tell me, is generally the hardest. 

I just hope we have some real excitement today; that the women play well, and the referees lose their whistles--if you get my drift.


Saturday, 1 July 2017

Loosen Up That Girdle!

Michelle Wie seems like a nice gal. But nobody did her any favours coming up. She was a prodigious talent, with the physical skills to possibly dominate the women's game. But she wasn't allowed to develop those physical skills, and learn the much more important mental skills, required to be a consistent winner. She never learned to win.

She was done no favours by being allowed to try to beat the men before she'd learned to beat the women. She was done no favours by Nike, who gave her all that cash before she'd really done anything in the game. It worked for Tiger, but he was different. He'd been a proven and consistent winner at every level before turning pro. He was ready.

I see she has been playing pretty well lately. But she isn't seemingly ever going to be a dominant player. That train has likely already left the station. I was happy to see her win a Major. I'm happy any time she manages to win. But, for Michelle, winning is hard. Yesterday, at the KPMG event, she said in a post-round interview that she had played well but didn't make any putts. Funny that: you hear the same thing every day in countless clubhouses over a pint of beer.

You hear players talking about how they coulda, shoulda, or woulda played well if only they'd made more putts. This, as though putting was not as important a reflection upon your ability as a golfer as hitting great drives, or towering four irons. But the fact is that putting is, like it or not, one of the biggest parts of the game. If you can't putt, you're not really a good golfer. If you can't putt, according to Bobby Jones, you had better learn. 

I watched Michelle hitting balls earlier today. She looks so stiff, so rigid, and so tight. There's no flow to her swing. I remarked on Twitter that she looked like a cat in a hot tin roof. She's so obviously trying to force the ball to obey, rather than letting it go. I wish she could just relax a little and trust her swing and the club to do a bit more of the work. She's an obvious talent, if she'd only get out if her own way a bit.

To watch her on the greens is often painful. Michelle looks so uncomfortable. She looks so mechanical. She always looks to me like she's not trying to make putts; she's trying not to miss them. You can't putt well with that approach. You can't play golf trying not to do anything.

I bet you Bobby Jones would offer Michelle some excellent advice. On the putting green, he'd tell her to pick her line and speed, then just make a committed stroke; and let the damned ball go hang if it wants to. In the long game, I'm sure he'd tell her to relax. Tight muscles just don't perform well in golf. 

It's obvious that Michelle Wie is no quitter. She's a hard worker. And she probably still loves the game; because Nike saw to it that she could retire any time she wanted to. I think she's also a nice person. The other players seem to genuinely like her.

If I could advise her--and I know full well there's no reason she should listen to the likes of me--I'd tell her to relax and have fun. She's won her Major. She's probably never going to be the best player out there. But she's pretty darned good. And she's not going to win more often by trying harder. That's pretty obvious. I think she might actually win more often by trying a bit less. 

She needs to get the advice Stewart Maiden once sent Bobby Jones in a telegram: "Hit 'em hard. They'll land somewhere." That applies on the putting green as much as on the tee. As the Babe might have told her, she should just "loosen up that girdle and give it a rip"!