Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Teach Golf as it is Learned

So many golfers, myself included, spend an inordinate amount of their time focussing on their swing. This search for mechanical excellence never seems to end for many of us when it is quite possible that many of us would be better off learning to play with what we have. 

In his book, Golf is my Game, Bobby Jones wrote about the state of the game in his day. About teaching, he wrote:

    "It seems obvious to me that writing about the golf swing has become too technical and complicated, and even the most earnest teaching professional presents the game to his pupil as a far more difficult thing than it really is. It is equally obvious that what the game needs most if it is to grow in popularity is a simplification of teaching routines which will present a less formidable aspect to the beginner, and offer the average player a rosier prospect of improvement.
    The trouble could be, and I think it is, that golf is not taught as it is learned. It is taught more as a science or as a prescribed set of calisthenic exercises, whereas it is learned as a game."

Today, we still see the vast majority of teachers focussing on helping golfers improve their golf swing, as though this was the way for them to improve as players. To some extent, I suppose, they are giving golfers what they think they want or need; namely a path to a sound, conventional golf swing. And Bobby said he would never discourage anyone from pursuing that goal with a qualified teacher.

There is, however, often a problem with this approach--this swing focussed approach to learning golf. Bobby Jones wrote: 

    "It is folly for either teacher or pupil to expect that any swing can be perfected in an afternoon, a week, or even a season. It is significant that Stewart (Stewart Maiden, Bobby's teacher) did not try to fill my head with theories. He merely put me in a position to hit the ball and then told me to go on and hit it."

Bobby Jones believed that you learned to play golf by playing it. Sounds obvious, but if we examine what is happening today, we might wonder. Bobby wrote:

    "I have always said that I won more golf tournaments because I tried harder than anyone else and was willing to take more punishment than the others. More immodestly, I will say now that I think a large factor in my winning was a greater resourcefulness in coping with unusual situations and in recovering from or retrieving mistakes."

Bobby credited his success to his ability to play the game, not on a perfect, repeating golf swing--something he believed was impossible to obtain. And I think teachers who really want to see their students improve would do well to emphasize the playing of the game over the swinging of the club. At every level we see golfers with unorthodox swings beating golfers with textbook swings. Why? Because they play the game better.

While I am not a teacher, I have seen players I've attempted to help make improvements in their game by working, not on their swings, but on course management, learning to play bunker shots, and choosing the right clubs and shots when they find themselves in trouble, or when they are around the green. Golf is a game. It is best learned, as Bobby Jones said, by playing it.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

No Grousing Rule

Do you grouse? I know I do. I hit shots, and even before they've stopped rolling, I'm moaning that I pushed it, or hit it fat, or didn't hit it. And sometimes those shots that I've "groused" about turn out just fine. It's a bad habit that is no doubt annoying to anyone forced to listen to my complaining.

Today I played at English Turn in New Orleans with David. I asked him to join me as we were both singles. On one hole, I hit a ten-foot birdie putt and immediately moaned that I hadn't hit it. Sure enough, the putt just made it to the hole and dropped in. 

David said: "You owe me two bucks for grousing."

He explained that this is a rule with the guys he plays with back in Detroit. You owe each guy in your group a dollar if you grouse and the shot turns out okay. If it turns out really good, it's two bucks. I think it's a heckuva good rule. And it would soon teach me to keep my grousing to myself.

We had a great day on the course. After starting the day with a chip in for birdie on the first hole, David capped it off by making a great birdie on the 476 yard par four 18th--bookend birdies. His second shot on 18 from 208 yards into a pretty stiff breeze ended up about five feet from the pin. The guy can really play. As for me, I did manage to play the back nine in even par for a 77. But I played from the whites. David played from the tips.

I'm planning on instituting the grousing rule next year when I tee it up with my buddies back home. Hopefully it will motivate me to keep my moaning to myself.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Hyde Park Golf Club

I must admit that I'm a Donald Ross fan. I love his golf courses whether they beat me up or not. This trip to Florida I've made my usual stops at the Ross munis in Palatka and New Smyrna. I wanted to play the Bacon Park course in Savannah as well, but they had a tournament scheduled for the day we headed to St Augustine from Murrells Inlet, just south of Myrtle Beach, so I had to just drive right by.

Of course, a lot of Ross courses are private. So, unless I'm prepared to drive to them and try to ingratiate myself with a member and get an invite to play, I'm pretty much out of luck. Them's the hazards of not being a man of means. But I discovered another Ross muni in Jacksonville, called Hyde Park, and Marvin and I played it the other day with two of his buddies, Elder and Mike.

The day was about as perfect as it could be. Around seventy two degrees, with just enough breeze to keep me from sweating too much and to make the southern boys think about putting on a jacket. Mike and Elder played the senior tees, but I decided to play with Marvin from the whites at sixty one hundred and change. Sixty one hundred doesn't sound like much, but it's plenty for an old cripple like me when it's a Ross design. 

Since I only drive it about two hundred yards these days, I was approaching most greens from around 150, which generally means I'm using my, usually trusty, five hybrid. But on this day my hybrid was not cooperating. A hook into the trees on the first hole led to a disgraceful seven, thanks to a fatted pitch and three whacking it on the green.

To make a long story short, I shot 43 on the front and, after a string of bogeys, 42 on the back. It wasn't pretty, but I did cap it off with a nice 4 hybrid shot to about five feet on the last hole that I managed to covert for my only birdie. As for Marvin and the lads, they got a little more band for their buck. Marvin was 97, Mike was 102, and Elder was around 107. But we had a helluva good time. It was my first time playing with Elder and he was a lot of fun. 

I can't wait to play Hyde Park again. It's got some terrific holes and it's my kind of place. I'm really a muni kind of guy. For now, though, it's off to the Gulf Shores, AL; and a week in New Orleans.

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Coming Home in the Dark at St John's Golf and Country Club

My buddy, Marvin, and I played St John's Golf and Country Club between Jacksonville and St Augustine yesterday. We've played the course before and have thoroughly enjoyed it. The staff are friendly and accommodating. The course is well-designed and very "playable", with enough room off the tee, enough water, bunkers, and trees to make you think, greens mostly open on the front to allow you to run it up, and fast greens that can initially be a shock to your system depending upon where you normally play. (I four-putted the first hole.)

We had a 2:20 tee time, so beating the darkness was always going to be a challenge at this time of the year. The starter was good enough to get us off a little early by pairing us up with Randy and another Marvin, two brothers from Jacksonville. And it was quickly apparent that these two brothers, though grizzled veterans like us, could really play. They were not just pretty faces.

Suffice it to say, we had a grand time, making a few birdies and a few "others." But, as we feared, we ended up finishing in almost complete darkness. The strange thing was we played really well in the gloom. On the last hole we drove into total darkness, found our balls and the three of us--my man, Marvin had quit because he was freezing--hit our second shots to a green we couldn't see. Marvin suggested I aim at the left edge of a back bunker and gave me the yardage. My buddy, Marvin, used his phone to illuminate my ball and I flushed one into the dark. Randy said he flushed his as well. Marvin had made no comment on his, so we had no idea whether it was a good one or a stinker.

Upon arriving at the last green, we found all three of us on the dancefloor. Marvin was about twelve feet from the hole, slightly long and right of the pin. Randy was about four feet left of the pin, and I was three feet past the pin, directly behind the hole. I could have holed it for the same money. Just goes to show you that playing in the daylight might be slightly over-rated. Still, St John's is best enjoyed in the light of day.

We exchanged numbers and will hopefully get to play again sometime this winter. Those brothers were not only pretty damned good players, they were good company.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

The Golfer's Mind

Golf is a game of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter. There is an ideal attitude for a golfer. Bobby Jones wrote about this. He wrote that a golfer must be prepared for the making of mistakes. Not only that, but a golfer must not be discouraged on the days when he makes more of them than usual.

When you are hitting it solid--and the putts are dropping--golf can seem almost easy. But, inevitably in this game, the wheels will start to come off. It happens to the best players. What defines the best golfers is how they react when this happens. The best golfers refuse to become discouraged; and they refuse to give up.

I've played a couple of rounds with my friend, Charlie, and his wife, Kathy, from Toronto. We are down in South Carolina, escaping the crappy weather in Canada. Riding with Charlie, we've discussed this attitude that is so important for golfers--this acceptance of bad shots and the refusal to give up. Charlie admits that he does not possess what he calls "the golfers mind." He is more apt to become frazzled after a poor shot, and, in that state of mind, often allows one bad shot to beget another.

Yesterday, playing the River Club, I went out in 39, which was okay given that I putted poorly. But, at the turn--which in our case was the first hole--the wheels suddenly came off. I couldn't find the center of the clubface and I couldn't chip and putt worth a damn. After four holes, I had dropped six shots to par. Charlie was having his own struggles as well.

I said to Charlie, after finally making a par on five, that we should try to play the rest of the holes in even par. Charlie just smiled, not convinced that such a thing was likely, or even possible. I made pars at six and seven--only by virtue of some scrambling. On eight, a nice par three over water, I failed to get it up and down for par from the front edge and needed birdie on the last to reach my goal of finishing the last five in even par.

Rather than become discouraged after missing an easy up and down, I announced that I was going to finish with a birdie. I hit a good drive, but thinned my approach into the front bunker. Now, I had to hole quite a lengthy bunker shot to make good on my promise. I focussed as hard as I could and struck the sand perfectly. I watched in amazement as the ball rolled right into the middle of the hole, not even touching the flagstick.

As crippled as I've become, my game is not likely to do anything but get worse. I can't change that. But at least I can keep working on developing that "golfer's mind" that is so important. It's amazing what you can overcome if you don't give in to discouragement, and refuse to quit.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

The People You Meet

One of the great things about golf is the people you meet. The game is all-consuming when you are playing it; so, for four hours or so, you can forget your troubles and just worry about making the damned ball behave. You are generally playing in pleasant surroundings, with birds and various critters sharing the park-like setting with you. But it's the people you meet in your golf travels that really makes it special.

This week I arrived in Murrells Inlet, SC and, as a single, was lucky enough to be paired up with Richie and his nephew, Henry, at Indian Wells; and with Mike, from Cornwall, Ontario, at Wachesaw Plantation East. 

Richie is 81 and claims he played at a six when he kept a handicap. He drove it by me all day and had all the shots, and confessed that he made a lot of money playing as a six. I know I wouldn't have wanted any of his action. Henry struggled a little with his game, but was also great company on the course.

Mike is a five and, at 62, still bombs it. We played the senior tees and he generally had little more than a flip wedge to the par fours. The first time we played at Wachesaw he shot 73 with a double on the last hole. I shot 43 on the first nine, so my 35 coming in did little to prevent me from being thoroughly whipped.

Today I managed to arrange a skins game with Richie and Mike. Henry had to leave for Virginia. Richie and I played the senior tees at just shy of 6000 yards, while Mike had to play the whites at 6300. After nine holes, we each had one skin. Mike and I won ours with birdies, while Richie won his with a par on the tricky third. Richie went out in 39. Mike and I were one shot better.

Mike announced on ten tee that it was now "game on," and wasted no time in winning another skin with an impressive birdie from the right trees. I birdied 12 and 14 for two skins. Mike made par on 15 for a skin after Richie and I failed to get it up and down from the apron. I won another skin on 16 with a par and headed to 18 with a one skin lead. 

Eighteen at Wachesaw is rated as the second or third toughest finishing hole on the Myrtle Beach grand strand. It's a beast. But as luck would have it the senior tees were about fifty yards ahead of the whites today. Mike hit a perfect drive, right in the middle of the fairway, that, unfortunately for him, had about two yards of roll. He was left with about 160 yards into the wind. Richie and I hit good drives leaving me about 120 yards and Richies about ten yards less. 

Mike hit a solid shot that didn't draw for him, leaving him about 30 feet for birdie. I hit a punched 8 iron to about 20 feet, and Richie hit it onto the back apron after the wind layed down on him. When they both missed, all I needed was a solid two putt for the win. However, there is nothing worse than needing a two putt on the last to win, unless it's needing a one putt from thirty feet, downhill
 and breaking left to right. Anyway, I stood over the putt and announced to the boys that I just needed to hit a solid putt. Sure enough, it went straight in the hole for birdie. 

I never birdie 18. Oh, I birdied it once by chipping one in, but birdies are few and far between on that hole. It was a great day with two really nice guys and two pretty damned good players. Mike shot 75 and hit the pin twice without the ball going in. Richie shot 79, breaking his age again. Something that was obviously no big deal to him, given how solid a player he is.

I managed a 73. I've shot 73 at Wachesaw atleast half a dozen times. But I can never seem to shoot par on this track. We're scheduled to play again tomorrow if the weatherman is wrong about the projected thunder storms. The great thing about golf is the people you meet.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

It's Still All About How Many

At our course, we don't really have a driving range. We have a tee box where you can hit as much as a seven or eight iron to some patchy ground with a couple of markers; but that's pretty much it. We have a small practice green where it's hard to find anything close to a straight putt. But at least you have a view of the lake.

Ours is not really a club for those who love to practise. We all generally head from the car to the first tee wondering what we've brought that day. We might hit a few practice putts, and maybe even a few chips, prior to teeing off. But that's about it. Funny, when we go elsewhere to play, or compete, we often have the opportunity to hit balls first. But I'm not sure it helps an old cripple like me. I'm usually aching before I tee off if I do. So I prefer to just focus on trying to find the best way I can to get the damned ball in the hole.

I just arrived in Murrells Inlet last night. Bright and early this morning, I was on the porch enjoying a coffee and my pipe, and watching two guys get ready to play. My porch overlooks the practice tee and the practice putting green at Wachesaw East. It's a really good course that hosted an LPGA event for a number of years. 

One of the guys headed to the practice tee and hit one shot after another, with barely a pause before raking another ball over and whacking it. He was done in about seven minutes and announced to the other guy, who was on the putting green, that he hadn't hit one decent shot. 

The other guy had started putting four footers; making the lion's share of them. Then he practised hitting lag putts; putting them all out. And finally he hit some chips and pitches before heading to the first tee. It looked to me like he had a really decent short game. And he seemed calm and ready to play.

I don't know about you; but I'd have been willing to put a fairly substantial wager on the guy with the short game. But, who knows, maybe the rapid-fire guy can putt like a demon. In the end, it really is all about who can get it in the hole in the fewest number of strokes.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Old Age and Treachery

Golf is becoming a challenge for me. Actually, I guess I should say it's becoming more of a challenge for me. I began the season as a three handicapper, crippled with a bad back. I'm now an eight. The game is tough.

But the other day I played a match with Levi. I was giving him the gears about how he must be so discouraged, being two down after ten to an old cripple. Levi responded by winning twelve, fifteen, and sixteen, to go one up. Suddenly, I wasn't quite so cocky.

On seventeen, we both missed our drives left. Levi was in jail in the trees. I was in the rough and blocked by the trees on the corner. To hit the green, I needed to play a thirty yard hook with a five hybrid out of thick rough. Somehow, I pulled it off and found my ball on the front edge of the green about twenty feet from the hole. Meanwhile, Levi had to pitch out and missed the green with his third. Two putts for par and I was back to all square.

Levi and I made par threes on 18 and decided to go extra holes. We both hit it over the back into thick rough on 18. We then both chunked our chips. Levi played his third about six feet past the pin, and I stood over my chip and told Levi I was going to make it. Sure enough, I did--not the first time I've managed to do that to Levi.

Golf is becoming increasingly difficult for me with this damned back. Most of the guys I play with, including Levi, drive it forty yards past me. I'm hitting hybrids where they are hitting nine irons and wedges. But I still absolutely love this game. And sometimes old age and treachery can beat youth and skill. Not always, but sometimes it can. Sorry, Levi.

Friday, 7 September 2018

The Secret's in the Strike

This new kid, Bryson DeChambeau is really making some noise lately. Have you checked out his swing? Not what one might call pretty, but definitely effective. One wonders, if he starts winning Majors whether other golfers will start trying to imitate his swing.

Golfers often seem obsessed with the golf swing. I know that I've tried more than a few different swings in my day. I saw a cartoon recently showing a student taking a swing under the watchful eye of a teacher and missing the ball. The instructor said something to the effect, "Great swing, but you missed the ball." The sad truth about golf is, that despite the emphasis by most golfers on the golf swing, the secret is really in the strike. The sweetest swing in the world isn't worth a damn if it doesn't produce a solid strike.

The fact is, you can swing the club in many different ways and, if the strike is right, a good shot will result. Bobby Jones wrote that, when playing golf, he intensely concentrated on the strike. He let his swing just happen. I have experienced myself that when I am able to focus on how I want to strike the ball, instead of how I think I should swing the club, my shotmaking dramatically improves. 

I've seen this with other golfers over the years. In fact, I've seen this to the point that I try not to make any suggestions about the swing, except that it be rhythmic. But I constantly refer to the strike. I don't even watch another golfer's swing. I just focus on their strike. Bobby Jones wrote that he learned different shots by watching other players. But when watching them, he said he took no notice of how they swung the club. He learned to make those shots by observing how they struck the ball.

There are more than a few great players who had what might be termed unorthodox swings; swings that didn't conform to the ideal swing--if there actually is one. No one, for instance, would likely teach a beginner to swing like Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, or Raymond Floyd. And, though some try to teach Moe Norman's swing, Moe himself said he wouldn't recommend anyone copy his swing. And yet, what wouldn't you give to be able to strike the ball as they did?

The secret is in the strike. And golfers are more capable than they think of producing a good strike, if only they would come to understand how the ball needs to be struck to produce the various shots in golf. Bobby Jones said that a golfer could literally change their game overnight by gaining this information about the strike, which is covered in my featured article, entitled The Wisdom of Bobby Jones: Striking the Ball.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018


Routine can sometimes kill you. I worked in the Canadian federal penitentiary service for thirty years. Things run a certain way, and except for the occasional flare up, it is often a mundane, mind-numbing job for a guard. Life expectancy for guards is 59. I guess that statistic itself tells the story.

But many convicts tend to find a certain comfort in the routine. They get to know the rules of the prison and the convict code, and they get to know their place. My first suicide involved a young inmate who had found himself in trouble. He asked to go to segregation, claiming he needed a transfer to the regional psychiatric centre to get his head straight. He never mentioned any suicidal intent, and we suspected what his problem really was was drug debts.

In any event we put him in the hole and I happened to be assigned there for the midnight shift on overtime. I spoke to the inmate during the early part of the shift, but he was soon asleep. I went home to my bed. 

The next afternoon I returned for my regular shift to find that this inmate had hung himself that morning at breakfast time. Whether he had actually wanted to die, or was just trying to secure a fast transfer to the psych centre, we'll never know. But it could be that he was killed because of routine.

When the meal cart arrived at the hole, the routine was for it to go to the far end of the range first. This inmate had spent time before in the hole and anticipated that routine. It seems that when he heard the meal cart arrive, he strung himself up on the bars in his cell at the far end of the range, likely anticipating the cart to arrive momentarily and the staff to cut him down. 

In this case, however, there was a new officer transferred in from Millhaven in charge of the hole. He decided to tell the staff to start feeding from the front end--a departure from the routine. When they finally got to this inmate's cell he was long gone. 

A buddy of mine, who had started in the service at the same time as I did, was working in the hole that morning and told me that as they were wheeling the inmate out a grizzled, old guard muttered: "I wonder if his shoes would fit me." A slice of life in the big house.

What has this got to do with golf? Perhaps nothing, but there is an emphasis on routine in golf as well as the joint. Golfers are encouraged to develop a pre-shot routine--a sort of ritual they perform prior to hitting a golf shot. This came about from teachers observing good players and noticing that they did pretty much the same thing prior to hitting a shot. Some of those things might be mannerisms, like tugging on a shirt sleeve, or taking a certain nummber of wagglles with the club, prior to making a full swing. But good players tend to follow their own routine, whether they are aware of it or not. So many teachers encourage us all to do it.

Now you see average players opening and closing the flap on their golf glove prior to the shot, like Ernie Els does, or tugging on their shirt sleeve like Tiger did when he wore those baggy shirts. We see them doing lots of things like a ritual before they play a shot. And sometimes this routine they perform has nothing to do with actually preparing them to hit a shot. Sometimes these rituals are empty and do nothing to actually insure that they have decided on the shot they want to hit, where they want to hit it, or that they are mentally and physically prepared to hit it. In this case, their routine could be killing them--in a manner of speaking.

Golf is anything but a routine game. Every day is different. So, be careful that you don't get lulled into a routine approch to the game. Treat every shot as a new opportunity. Commit to your shot. Do the best you can. It might just end up being one of the best shots you've ever hit. And, as I write this, I realize that this is something I need to work on as much as the next guy. When you do it, golf can be really fun, not just a good walk spoiled.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Got a Coin?

Moe Norman was a ball-striking genius. Everyone who saw him hit balls were amazed. His set up, with his feet set wide apart, his extended arms, and his palm grip, generally fooled people into thinking they were watching a twenty handicapper. But when he struck the ball they realized they were witnessing something very special.

There are those who have tried to teach what they deem to be Moe's method. And while good results are claimed, no one stands out in the golf world as a disciple of Moe. And, interestingly, Moe never suggested that anyone try to copy his swing. His swing was his own, refined over the years after hitting literally millions of golf balls. 

But Moe demonstrated something for us. It had little to do with his wide stance, or extended arms. But it did have to do with the manner in which he struck the ball. Moe believed his ability to hit laser-like shots, dead straight, time after time, was because he was able to keep his clubface square to the target for so long before and after impact. He practised hitting balls and clipping a coin set as much as sixteen inches past the ball on his target line. Managing to do this eliminated the possibility of him hitting it crooked.

Another great ballstriker, Byron Nelson, had the clubface square to his target line 12 inches past impact. His secret was thinking about the back of his left hand going to his target. Byron admitted that this swing initially cost him some distance, as it did Moe, but both compensated for that by a incorporating a strong lateral drive with their legs. 

Bobby Jones believed that it wasn't necessary for the clubface to continue straight down the line for any appreciable distance after impact. And he was right. But he also admitted that he never struck the ball like Byron Nelson either. Bobby did, however, believe that focussing on the strike, rather than the swing, was the key to good golf. So, if you're confused about swing mechanics, or struggling with consistency and accuracy, why not forget about how you are swinging the club and start focussing on how you want the clubface to strike the ball. It can literally change your game overnight.

If you aren't happy with your ballstriking, maybe try placing a coin on the ground six inches in front of your ball, directly on the target line, and think about clipping it with a square clubface. See what happens. You might just be surprised with the results.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Sometimes You Have to Improvise

A good rule in golf is to save your tinkering for the range. But in my case, given my back issues, trips to the range are pretty much nonexistant, as hitting multiple shots in a short period of time leaves me crippled. Besides, my father seems to have passed on the tinkeritis gene to me, so I will likely always be prone to fiddling with my swing, both on and off the course.

I've struggled with my game this year. But I've discovered the last few years that my natural swing is the one I use to clip daisies, or the one I make with my eyes closed. It generally works quite well when I use it, instead of the four or five other swings I often resort to trying.

Yesterday was the Quinte Cup. It's a yearly matchplay event between four clubs in our area that has been held every year since the twenties. I just barely made the team this year, needing a playoff to do it. But the day before I had played using my natural swing and had shot 78. That's not normally a great score for me, but this year so far anything under 80 is good. 

So I set out to play yesterday determined to play with my natural swing. In the current format, we play all three guys at the same time in an 18 hole match. It's not an ideal format for match play. But, as Big Bob always says, it is what it is. Despite my poor play this year I was sent out in the number three spot which had me a bit nervous. I was also pitted against my old nemesis from Napanee, Rick Gerow. And I certainly didn't want to give him the satisfaction of beating me like a drum.

Well, my natural swing, after nine miserable holes, had me down six, four, and two in my matches. I was seemingly on my way to being skunked. Rick was struggling as well, so he only had me down two. But I was pretty sure Rick figured he had me in the bag, the way I was hacking it around.

Waiting to tee off on ten I decided that I was either going to have to change things, or accept being humiliated by my poor play and just quit. I know I had resolved to stick with "my swing," but today my swing just wasn't good enough. So I tried to find some sort of action that would keep me in play, and to just find a way to make a score. And I did just that. I chose a shortened swing where I just focussed on having the back of my left hand strike the ball straight down the target line. 

At the end of the day I managed to halve two matches and lost the other. This was not the result I'd hoped for. But, under the circumstances, I was happy that I chose to improvise and to keep fighting hard. As for Rick; he hit his tee shot out of bounds on eighteen and let me halve the match. 

Golf is ultimately about getting the ball in the hole. It isn't about making pretty golf swings. I'm sure the swing I used on the front nine looked much better than the abbreviated punch I used on the back nine. But in golf it's only results that matter. I will try to use my natural swing as often as possible. But I learned again yesterday that sometimes you just have to find something--anything--that works. If the game has gone off the rails, what do you have to lose? And again I learned that there is a great deal of virtue in simply refusing to give up. You won't always win. But you'll feel better for having tried as hard as you can.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Golf Rarely Goes as Planned

Golf, like life, seldom goes as planned. All you can really do, in golf as in life, is refuse to give up no matter how miserable it is.

I played in the qualifier for our club team yesterday. I didn't have particularly high expectations, since I've struggled mightily with my game this year. But I never expected to putt as abysmally as I did. I hit the ball as well as I've hit it for years, but couldn't buy a putt. I missed at least six putts inside five feet, including a couple of two footers.

In the end I was tied with Randy for the last spot on the team and we had to play off. Randy had become angry on the fifteenth hole when, after searching in vain for his ball for at least ten minutes, I said we had to move on. I advised him that five minutes was the time allotted by the rules to look for a lost ball and we had well exceeded that. He was furious. But that's the rule.

As we were about to tee off for the playoff Randy angrily stated that there wouldn't have had to be a playoff if he had found his lost ball. I replied: "Yep. And if your aunt had had nuts she'd have been your uncle." I didn't bother mentioning all the short putts I had missed.

The first hole is a short dogleg par four. I hit a perfect three wood, leaving myself sixty yards to a front pin. Randy tried to take the Tiger line over the trees to the front edge of the green, managed to clatter through the trees, and had about a forty yard pitch over the pond.

I hit it to about five feet. Randy hit a pitch just over the pond into the thick grass and his ball somehow bounced through the rough, onto the green to about two feet from the pin. Levi had driven out to watch the playoff, and I had told him I was going to look at the playiff like a new round, forgetting all the lousy putts I'd hit. I assured him I was going to just stand up and knock that putt in, with the expectation that we'd be going to a second playoff hole.

Sure enough, I stood up and knocked it in the hole. Randy was probably vexed that I was making him putt his two footer, but I'd missed a couple, and he was being a prick, so I made him putt it. Sure enough, Randy lipped it out, banged his ball off the green in disgust, and actually threw his putter at his cart. He drove away without shaking my hand.

So, the moral of my story is: don't give up, Randy is a dickhead, and, if your aunt had had nuts, she'd have been your uncle. Golf rarely goes as planned. But, if you keep trying, things sometimes work out. And sometimes they won't, but at least you'll have the consolation of knowing you tried your hardest.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Try Harder

Bobby Jones identified these two things that he felt made him able to win championships. In his wonderful book, Golf is my GameBobby wrote: 

    "I have always said that I won golf tournaments because I tried harder than anyone else and was willing to take more punishment than the others." 

Sometimes great golfers can make the game look easy. They can appear relaxed and maybe even casual as they go about their business. But the great players all try the hardest. They refuse to give up, or to take shots for granted. They realize that one shot played carelessly can cost them a tournament. 

Now, if I'm being honest, I don't think I've ever played eighteen holes of golf where I gave every shot my full attention. I've come close, but if you've ever tried it, it's hard work to concentrate that hard and maintain your intensity on every shot for 18 holes of golf. And where you tend to have the let-downs are when you have what appears to be a relatively simple shot. It's easy to focus and try hard on the tough shots. So, trying hard is a key element in becoming a good golfer. Golf, as Bobby Jones once pointed out, is not a game to be played impetuously. You've got to try on every shot; whether it's for birdie or double bogey.

And golf does punish you. The other day I played with Steve, Levi, and Justin. Justin and I were teamed up and I started with three doubles in a row. In fact, I played the first nine holes without making a single par, shooting 49. I cannot remember the last time I shot 49 for nine holes. Needless to say, Justin wasn't overly thrilled to have me as a partner. Not only that, but I had only brought one pain pill which I had taken at the start of the front nine. These days, with my back issues, I tend to require a hydromorphone every six holes to get around without being in agony. 

So, after nine holes I felt well and truly punished. If ever a man felt like quitting it was me. But, as I drove to the eleventh tee after finally making a par on ten, I told Levi that, while I really wanted to just quit, I was going to keep trying. I was bound and determined to just keep on hitting it, no matter what happened, which was Harry Vardon's advice to Bobby Jones--the best advice Bobby felt he'd ever received. Suffice it to say, not giving up worked, and I came home in 37. And, Justin and I actually came back and won the match.

Golf is a lot like life. You never know what can happen if you just keep trying and refuse to give up. So trying hard and being willing to endure the punishment--the trials and tribulations this game can put you through--is the first key to winning golf. In my next article, I'll write about what Bobby Jones felt was the second key to great golf.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Thirty for Thirty

Rickie Fowler shares the lead after two days in Scottsdale this week at the Phoenix Open. Two rounds of 66 have him in a position to perhaps win one that got away after he had that emotional loss in a playoff to Matsuyama; one that he really wanted to win for his grandpa who was in attendance.

These guys are good. That's what they say about PGA tour players; and it's true. But where they are really good is on the greens. Bobby Jones, when assessing the next generation of top players, felt that it was on the greens that they were really better than players of his generation. Part of this had to do with better agronomy that allowed them to putt on better surfaces, but part of it was simply better putting.

Consider Rickie this week. After two days he is thirty for thirty putting from 10 feet and in. Thirty for thirty: I mean that is simply crazy good. When Dave Peltz did a study of tour pros he found that they made fifty percent of their putts from six feet. Rickie is one hundred percent from ten feet. That's not putting; that's magic.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

It Isn't All About You

Recently, at the Farmers Insurance Open, we were witness to JB Holmes taking over four minutes to play his second shot into the eighteenth green in the final round. He was standing in the fairway knowing full well that he needed a three to have a chance to win. After seeming to wait forever, evidently hoping the wind might ease up some, JB changed clubs and layed up into the rough.

While this was taking place, two other players in an even better position to win the tournament were forced to wait. Alex Noren ended up changing clubs and hitting his three wood over the green. It didn't cost him the tournament right then and there, but it sure as hell didn't help him.

And, despite the number of people criticizing JB for what they deemed to be a terrible display of  poor sportsmanship, Holmes still claims he wouldn't change a thing. He claims he was trying to win the tournament and had every right to take the time he did. That he ultimately layed up tends to belie his claim about trying to win. But he's got his story and he's apparently sticking to it.

Slow play is nothing new. There have always been golfers who seemed to take interminable amounts of time to play even the most rudimentary shots. But, if anything, the problem of slow play has become even worse.  I think, as is generally the case, that Bobby Jones had the right idea when he devoted an entire chapter of his book, Bobby Jones on Golf, to Slow Play. He wrote:

    "There can be no odium attached to slow play when the motives of grandstanding and of upsetting an opponent are eliminated--and these can be entirely eliminated from this discussion; but I regard it as a mistake, considering both the player's efficiency and the welfare of the game in general. Golf depends for its growth upon public interest, and competitions are designed to stimulate public interest. Nothing can be less entertaining to the spectator than a round of golf drawn out by minute examinations of every shot."

Looking back on that final round involving JB Holmes--and particularly his second shot on 18 during that six hour round--if we give him the benefit of the doubt that he was not grandstanding, or trying to upset his opponents--his slow play in general, and specifically his four minute delay in hitting that shot on 18, did very little to endear him to the fans or his opponents, or to "grow the game," which seems to be the desire of the PGA tour.

Bobby goes on to write:

    "After all, the deliberation necessary depends entirely upon the man who is playing the game; it is his business to play the shot, and he should never be required to play until he is ready. Some situations one finds on a golf course require some amount of study before the player can determine the best way to overcome the difficulty; but these are unusual. The vast majority of shots from the fairway are but repetitions of countless hundreds played before. At least, to one familiar with the course, as all tournament contestants are, the decision should be a matter of seconds."

Getting back to Holmes, he was not faced with a particularly unusual shot. Yes, it was an important shot; but it didn't require any special deliberation. He needed to make three. The wind was blowing. He therefore had to decide whether the best way to make three was to challenge the water and go for the green, or to lay up and try to hole a wedge shot. It wasn't a tough decision. But what he was really doing--something I believe he later admitted--was not deliberating; he was really just standing around hoping the wind would ease off. It didn't and he layed up.

So, unless players are now entitled to stand around hoping the wind will change, JB Holmes delayed the game. By doing so he upset the fans, surely upset his playing partners, and discredited himself. That he said he would do the same thing again, testifies to the fact that he doesn't "get it," as it relates to slow play. And it would seem to behoove the other players, the press, the tour, and the fans to help him see the light. 

Ultimately, JB, it isn't all about you. You owe it to your playing partners, the fans, and the tour, to get on with it. And the same applies to anyone else if they are prone to taking more time than necessary to play their shots. Golf is an individual game; but it isn't all about you.