Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The Second Most Important Five Inches

Golf is a mental game. The victory, in golf, does not always go to the strongest, bravest, even most talented player. In golf, being able to manage your game and use sound judgement is at least as, if not more, important than being able to hit great shots. That's why Bobby Jones spoke of golf being played on the five inch course between your ears, and it is why, according to Moe Norman, Jones and Jack Nicklaus had the advantage over the rest of the field when they played. According to Moe Norman, Bobby Jones and Jack Nicklaus had an extra club in their bag that set them apart and gave them the edge. It was the five inches between their ears; their incredible golfing intellect.

That is the most important five inches in golf. Sound judgement is as important and easier to acquire, for someone seeking to improve, than learning to swing a club like Rory McIlroy. The next most important five inches in golf is the two and a half inches before, and the two and a half inches past, the golf ball. If you can have your clubface square to the target line during that five inches, a good shot must result. It is a scientific certainty, barring a strong wind, or mud on the ball, that a ball struck with a square clubface travelling down the target line will fly straight.

That being the case, it is a wonder to me that so little emphasis seems to be placed on this five inches by many modern teachers of the game. The ability to consistently square the clubface and move it down the target line is the key to good ball striking. A great swing, with a full shoulder turn, good extension, straight left arm, flexed right knee, etc.; means nothing if the clubface is not square to the target when the ball is struck. If the clubface is misaligned, a great swing will produce a solid shot straight into the trees, or out of bounds.

Tom Watson, in an interview on the subject of Byron Nelson, said that Nelson kept his clubface square to the target line for twelve inches. He further stated that Ben Hogan had his face squared for six inches and Sam Snead had his square for five inches, directly before, during and after impact. Moe Norman, who is often regarded as the greatest ball striker ever, claimed he kept his clubface square for twenty two inches past the ball. Whether that was actually proven by the camera, I don't know, but the important thing is that this was what Moe felt he was doing, and why he believed he was the greatest striker of the ball; because he had found a way to keep his club square to the target line well before and well after the ball was struck. The end result for him were laser-straight golf shots, one after the other.

My intention, from now on, is to make this my focus, that five or so inches before and after impact. A practice drill used by Moe Norman, was to place quarters or tees in front of, and directly behind the ball, along the target line, or intended line of flight, and to work on keeping the clubface square to the target through that zone. I plan to start with that all-important five inches, and work towards twenty two. The longer the clubface is square, the more consistent my shots will be. I may sacrifice some distance, but the woods are full of long drivers.

The easiest way to ensure a square clubface through the hitting zone according to Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Moe Norman and even Ben Hogan is to focus on the back of the left hand pulling the club through impact down the target line. I intend to keep working on this. It has worked very well for me and I highly recommend that you try it. Remember, this tip doesn't come from me, a tip from me and half a dollar wouldn't buy you a coffee. This information comes from the greatest ball strikers in history. Focus on that five inches. Those are really the only five inches that count in golf; other than the five inches between your ears.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Top Hand Golf

I call my blog, or blogsite, Top Hand Golf. It is called that because, in my study of the teaching of Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Moe Norman, Bob Toski; the list goes on; I discovered they all emphasize the importance of the top hand in the golf swing. There are lots of gimmicks and guarantees on offer from a variety of instructors and manufacturers out there. But the Top Hand method is one thing that I am willing to wager is pretty much guaranteed to work for everyone. Don't believe me, believe Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Moe Norman...

Don't believe it? Hell, I'm offering a money back guarantee. If playing Top Hand Golf doesn't cure your slice, trim five strokes off your game, make you a better player, even a better lover, just write me back for a full refund. Of course, since Top Hand Golf requires no money up front, or later for that matter; no equipment to buy, no videos to watch, nothing to strap on, nothing to hold under your arm or between your legs, there really is nothing to lose. You can try it and no one will even notice, unless of course you start striking the ball better.

The golf swing, according to many, if not all, of the great right-handed players was controlled by the left hand and arm.  As usual, it turns out that the opposite of what we would naturally expect ends up being the rule in this case. Just like you must swing easy to hit hard, swing to the left to make the ball curve to the right, hit down on it to make it go up and so on; as a right handed player, you should control the club and the swing primarily with the left hand and arm. 

This may seem odd, because for must people swinging right-handed this means they are controlling the swing with their weaker hand and arm. But, while it may seem odd, it is definitely the case that the left hand and arm should control the swing for a right-handed player. In fact, the over-use of the right hand, or the improper, or early, application of the right hand for a right-handed golfer is the biggest cause of many of the things that plague the average player; the slice, the pull hook, flipping the club, losing lag in the swing, etc. The dreaded over-the-top move is caused by the right hand and the right side attempting to apply the power too soon in the swing. As Bobby Jones taught, the golf swing is essentially a back-handed strike of the ball with the left hand for a right-handed golfer. The feeling for Snead, Jones, Moe Norman and other great ball strikers was one of pulling the club through the ball with the left hand, not hitting at it with the right. 

I find it interesting, and not a little ironic, that my only lesson, as an eleven year old, living in England, involved the pro having me hit balls with my just my left hand. At the time, I thought it was crazy. I was very much right-handed and felt I must be losing all my power by eliminating the right hand. The young pro never bothered to explain at the time why he was having me do this exercise. The end result was, I went merrily on my way and forgot about this lesson for the better part of forty years.

suggest the next time you watch the pros playing, focus on their left hand and arm if they are right-handed players. As they swing the club and strike the ball, notice how firm the back of the the left hand and wrist is through impact and how for most of them the left arm pulls, or sweeps through the ball down the target line to the finish. I read somewhere that Byron Nelson, in 1945, when he won eighteen times, including eleven in a row, had only one swing thought. That swing thought was the back of his left hand going through the ball towards his target. 

It may just not be a coincidence that two of the greatest ball strikers ever were left-handed and played golf right-handed. I'm talking about Ben Hogan and Moe Norman. Phil Mickelson has done quite nicely as a right-handed person playing left-handed. In the case of these players their dominant hand and arm was, or is controlling the swing; something worth thinking about for someone just taking up the game. Don't just automatically assume, if you are right-handed, that you should swing right-handed clubs. In fact, if you bat left in baseball, or play hockey left-handed, perhaps you should do the same when it comes to golf.  My first club as a youngster was left-handed, but my father switched me to right-handed clubs. Whether that hurt or helped, or made a difference at all, I'll never know. But it's certainly worth thinking about if you are just taking up the game.

The Top Hand method is also important in terms of the grip, not just the swing. Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Bob Toski, Ben Hogan, and many others, when talking about the grip, all emphasize the importance of controlling the club with the last, or smallest, three fingers of the left hand for a right-handed player. Those three fingers of the top hand are sufficient to maintain control of the club, without the need to squeeze the life out of the grip with the other fingers and hand.

So, I am going to recommend, if you are not already doing so, you become a Top Hand golfer. Let that top hand and arm pull the club through impact. Keep that bottom hand from getting involved too soon and messing things up. Try it, I think you'll like it. Don't forget, I'm offering a money back guarantee, and nothing to buy. Just grip the club securely in the three smaller fingers of the top hand, push the club back with the top hand and pull it through. It's so simple, it's like falling off a log. And what's more, it works with every club, from the putter to the driver. 

Sound too good to be true? Perhaps it does, but it couldn't hurt to give it a try. At least you won't look silly out there with a basketball between your legs, or wearing some contraption. You can even be a secret Top Hand golfer if you want to be. You don't have to tell a soul that you are trying it out,  because only you will be able to feel what you are doing. And, after all, feel is what this game is all about.

By way of a postscript, there is an exceptional young man, named Tommy Morrissey, who plays golf with one arm. He plays right-handed clubs and uses only his left hand and arm. As a three year old, he hits the ball a hundred yards with one hand. He is living proof of the superiority of the top hand method. I suspect he will become a very good player if he decides to keep playing the game.

Friday, 19 December 2014

The Wisdom of Bobby Jones: Management

There is a fairly new trend in golf towards appreciating and benefitting from sport psychology, with a number of good books having been written on the subject. Once again, however, Bobby Jones was very much ahead of the curve when he presented his master's thesis on golf psychology in his book Golf is my Game. 

Bobby devotes a chapter to what he terms, "Management." The common term used today is course management, but an examination of Bobby's words will show that management doesn't necessarily just begin and end on the golf course. After learning how a ball must be struck to produce the different and desired ball flights, which Bobby covered in Chapter two, I think Bobby would agree that this chapter on management is the most important for the average player to read and understand if he is to improve.

Bobby writes: "Having played the game for over forty years, always with the utmost thought and attention, I think I can tell a golfer a few things about the management of his ability which will enable him to get better results without the painful necessity of hours of practice improving his technique."

"The businessman golfer," Bobby continues, "takes lessons and reads books; imitates good players; he buys new clubs; he does everything he can to improve his swing, his shot-making ability. But he overlooks one important feature: he doesn't ask himself often enough if he is scoring as well as he ought with his present ability." Management starts with some honest self-appraisal.

"In every club," Bobby points out, "there is always at least one man who has the reputation of making a poor game go a long way, the man who seems always to beat a player a bit better than himself. He doesn't do it by any divine inspiration, nor yet by any trick of fate. He simply uses his head, analyzing each situation as it confronts him, always keeping in view his own limitations and power. That is what we call judgement, and it is a lot easier to use good judgement than it is to learn to swing a club like Harry Vardon."

"The challenge of golf is well known." Bobby writes, "But I feel that the average player sees the wide superiority of the expert and concludes that this is perfection. Is it not better for him to realize that there is no such thing as perfection and that no one has ever produced, or will ever produce, except because of the intervention of some chance, a shot in which no improvement could be made?" I wonder if Bob Rotella had Bobby's remarks in mind when he named his book, Golf is not a Game of Perfect.

"Golf, in my view," writes Bobby, "is the most rewarding of all games because it possesses a very definite value as a moulder or developer of character. The golfer very soon is made to realize that his most immediate, and perhaps most potent, adversary is himself. Even when confronting a human opponent, the most crucial factor is not the performance of the opposition, but the effect of this performance upon the player himself." We can either be our best friend, or our own worst enemy on the golf course. It is entirely up to us.

Bobby continues: "The play of the game at times exerts enormous pressure urging frantic efforts exceeding reasonable limits; at other times it offers a beguiling invitation to complacency and over-confidence, which can be equally deadly. The only effective defence in either case is a rigid discipline of self which will at one time shut out panic and at another maintain appropriate vigilance. The main idea in golf, as in life, I suppose, is to learn to accept what cannot be altered, and to keep on doing one's own reasoned and resolute best whether the prospect be bleak or rosy."

We need to just keep on plugging away, during the good times and the bad, as Bobby writes: "I have always found help in remembering that few things turn out as bad as promised, or as good; and that neither championships, nor even matches for that matter, are won by giving up when you are down or by becoming too happy during periods of prosperity." We need to not be discouraged by the bad times, or seduced by the good times.

Speaking of his early years as a golfer, Bobby writes: " I think I must have been completely intolerant of anything less than absolute perfection in the playing of any shot. I often heard Grantland Rice tell of seeing me break a club after hitting a pitch that stopped two feet from the hole, simply because I had not played the shot as intended. I don't remember this incident, but I know I habitually played every shot for its ultimate possibilities, regardless of risk. This lack of discretion must have been fairly obvious; for Bill Fownes, the resourceful Pittsburgh amateur, once said to me, "Bob, you've got to learn that the best shot possible is not always the best shot to play." In golf, as in life, the old saying holds true; discretion really is often the better part of valour.

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

Bobby came to adjust his ambitions as a result of an objective analysis of his own play. At the time, he was shooting consistent scores of anywhere from sixty six to seventy around his home course at East Lake, and would have expected, upon looking back on those rounds that he would have hit lots of shots that were, as he put it, "completely satisfactory." However, Bobby was amazed to discover, as he now writes: "in some rounds, fairly good from a scoring standpoint, I could find only one or two shots that had not been misfit to some degree... I finally arrived at a sort of measure of expectancy that in a season's play I could perform at my best rate for not over half-a-dozen rounds, and that in any one of these best rounds I would not strike more than six shots, other than putts, exactly as intended."

As a result of this honest self-appraisal, Bobby wrote: "If one should have confidence in such an appraisal, which I had, the following conclusions were inescapable: 

1. I must be prepared for the making of mistakes.
2. I must try always to select the shot to be played and the manner of playing it so as to provide the widest possible margin for error.
3. I must expect to have to do some scrambling and not be discouraged if the amount happens to be more than normal."

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

So from now on, before I hit my first shot, Lord, forget about a swing like Rory McIlroy; give me a mind like Bobby Jones. Then I'll be in business. 

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Drive for Show...

If ever we were treated to a lesson on why putting is the most important part of the game, whether we like it or not, it was at the Australian PGA last week. We got to watch Adam Scott duel with Greg Chalmers in repeated playoff holes before bowing out with a three putt.

It serves as a reminder for those of us who think we need to hit the ball farther, rather than develop a good short game. Repeatedly, Scott ripped drives down the middle of the fairway, leaving himself only a wedge to the green, while Chalmers hit it at least forty yards shorter and repeatedly missed the fairway, only to chip and putt his way to victory. 

If you can be good at only one thing in this game, make it putting. Ben Hogan, when asked what the three most important clubs in the bag were, named the driver, the wedge and the putter. He named the driver first because he rightly felt that a good drive set up every hole and put you in position to make birdie. However, unless you chip it in, or knock it in on the fly from the fairway, the only club that will make you a birdie is the putter. Just ask Adam Scott.

It may not be fair, but that's just the way it is. A guy who can chip and putt can always put a score on the board, even when the driver is balky. If you have to be good at one thing, make it putting. It may not be sexy, but it's where the money is. 

And yet where do we see the money spent. Where is the emphasis by the club makers. They keep designing drivers and irons designed to hit it farther. I guess Greg Chalmers is living proof that you don't have to be the longest, or even the straightest, not when you can putt.

Golf is Like Sex

I think it was Jimmy DeMaret who observed that: "Golf is like sex. You don't have to be good at it to enjoy it." And, I suppose truer words were never spoken.

If the saying is true, a good number of golfers, and if I'm pointing a finger here, three are pointing right back at me, are missing out on so much pleasure and enjoyment because they are so busy working on their game instead of playing their game. If you must work on your game, because there is certainly nothing wrong with trying to get better, try to do so on the range, or while you're playing by yourself. Because if you are working at golf, you're not playing golf. And if you're not playing golf, you're missing all the fun.

Perhaps that is one reason I like the teaching of Bobby Jones so much. His teaching was not aimed at turning the average golfer into a scratch player. It was aimed at helping the average player get the most, and by most, I mean the most enjoyment, out of his game.

We need to listen to Jones' advice and, unless we have the time and inclination to devote a great deal of practice and study to the game, we should be content to do the best we can with what we have to work with, rather than ruining our walk on the links worrying about our golf swing, or our score for that matter. We need to play as hard as we can, savour the good shots, accept the bad ones, and add the strokes up at the end of the round. 

If we play more and work less, we just might find we play better and, even if we don't, we'll still have a lot more happy memories. 


The man, or woman, who invented the handicap system did us a big favour. That system has made it possible for everyone to enjoy this game and some friendly competition, regardless of their skill level. Golf is unique in this regard. Hell, if I have a legitimate handicap, I can have a game with anyone, even Rory McIlroy, and still have a chance to win. That is, provided I get to play from a different tee box, and he gives me enough strokes.

Now, the idea of me beating Rory sounds silly, and it may be, but that's what the system is there for. It's designed so that you can have a competitive, fun match with anyone. I have noticed over the years that some better players tend to stick to playing with other players of their skill level, rather than branching out and playing with those less skilled. I think this hurts them as much as it does the duffers they tend to avoid.

Some of the best people to play and associate with may not be scratch players, but they're great company. Bobby Jones, the greatest player of his generation, if not all time, was more than content to play with his father and his cronies. And he played hard and enjoyed himself. I imagine he probably had to give them a stroke a hole or better and played his ball against their best ball. But, both Bobby, and his father and friends no doubt had a great time. And, if the strokes were applied correctly, Bobby probably had to dip in to his pocket and pay up on a regular basis.

Golf, or any sport for that matter, is no fun if the outcome is a foregone conclusion. It's the competition that really makes it fun. I noticed that some of the better players at my old club avoided playing the handicapped competitions, complaining about the sandbaggers and all the strokes they had to give. As for me, I wouldn't have missed them for the world. Many of the matches I played, some where I had to give as many as twenty four strokes to my opponent, were really fun and exciting. Many of them came down to the last few holes to decide the winner. That's what it's all about. 

True, every club has its sandbagger or sandbaggers, guys who almost inevitably win the handicapped prizes. A guy with an inflated handicap is not only cheating the rest of us, he's cheating himself, because he's missing the fun of having to really compete. In some cases, however, these guys aren't sandbaggers at all, they are just damned good competitors who play their best when there's something on the line. If they are, we shouldn't resent seeing them win, we should celebrate the fact that they are able to compete well and play their best when it counts. That's what handicaps are for; to let a weaker player give a better player a run for his money and make it exciting and fun for both of them, if they have the right attitude.

So, Rory, I'm going to work real hard, and if the strokes are right and you let me pick the tee, I'm ready to try to take your dollar Nassau. How about it?

Monday, 15 December 2014

Golfing IQ

It was once written that a wise person learns more from one reprimand than a fool learns from a thousand beatings. If golf really is played on that five inch course between our ears, the question is are we the wise person or the fool.

Bobby Jones said that he really learned the most from the tournaments he lost, not the ones he won. He spent seven years learning how to be a champion, and endured several beatings along the way. What he essentially learned, and I am paraphrasing here, is that you are never going to be a consistent winner, or even a consistent player, until you learn to adjust your aim. Rather than relying on a series of brilliant shots, or sallies, you have to learn to play within yourself and play the smart shot. 

Raymond Floyd called it "playing comfortable." In his book The Elements of Scoring Raymond said that if somehow the field, in terms of golfing or shotmaking skill, could be levelled, and he had to play with our shotmaking skills or vice versa, he would beat the rest of us amateurs every day because he knows how to play the game. He knows how to play within himself, to play the percentages and to use his mind to turn three shots into two. 

If there is a golfing IQ, and there is, the great players are not just more skilled than the rest of us, they are a damn sight smarter. They have a much higher golfing IQ. Perhaps IQ is not the right term, because I don't know whether it's possible to change your IQ, but even the dullest of us can learn to score better if we just learn from the beatings this game regularly inflicts upon us.

Bobby Jones talked about watching very good players try to play shots they should have known were impossible. How often do we do just that. I don't know how many potentially good rounds I've ruined by attempting to play a shot that was so low percentage, I'd probably had a better chance of getting hit by a piece of sky lab than pulling it off. Are the majority of us just doomed to repeat the same mistakes or can we actually raise our golfing IQ.

It all begins with an honest appraisal of our abilities. We have to know our limitations and be willing to accept and play within them. We have to accept that sometimes there is such a thing as a good bogey, or double bogey for that matter. Every time we save a shot by playing smart, we need to congratulate ourselves, and every time we take an eight when we could have easily made six had we not tried an impossible shot, let us give ourselves a good kick in the backside.

In reality, most of us have neither the time, nor the inclination to put in the work required to significantly improve our shotmaking ability. But, we can learn to do the best we can with what we've got to work with. Perhaps it isn't very macho or sexy to just chip it out of the trees when there's a three foot round gap forty yards in front of you. Perhaps it isn't cool to take a three wood or even a seven iron to hit your tee shot on a dangerous hole. But if golf is about shooting the lowest score possible, sometimes being a bit modest, or conservative, beats trying to be cool or macho.

We're always going to hit lousy shots, and sometimes we'll do it at the most inopportune moment. That's just part of the game. But we don't have to hit stupid shots, shots that have so little chance of being successful that we end up kicking ourselves, or we certainly should end up kicking ourselves, as we watch the attempt fizzle. We really do need to kick ourselves when we hit dumb shots. Bad shots are okay, but not dumb ones. We shouldn't beat ourselves, which is exactly what we are doing when we hit dumb, low percentage shots; shots we really knew deep down had little or no chance of succeeding.

I know that next time out I'm going to try to play within myself and not try to be a hero. In golf it is much better to be a live dog than a dead lion. Golf isn't about being a hero, it's about having the wisdom and the courage to just keep hitting the ball until it makes that lovely sound as it rattles around in the cup. I'm going to try to raise my golfing IQ.

I can just hear my old father now, saying, "Oh yeah, I'll believe it when I see it." 

Sunday, 14 December 2014


I wrote a blog, at least I think you call it a blog, entitled Push and Pull. I suggested people plagued by unhelpful mental chatter during their swing could try repeating a mantra as they swing. It's quite helpful in terms of keeping those demons at bay; those pesky thoughts that often begin with the word "don't."

My buddy, Brian, claimed the only three word mantra he could think of was "adios motherf$&&er." I first learned this particular "mantra" from the Colonel. He had flared one out of bounds off number six tee at Picton and calmly stated, "That's an AMF."

When I asked for some clarification, he said, "You know, AMF: adios motherf$&@er."

Well Brian, you could try "adios motherf$&@er," 
but perhaps just "AMF" would do the trick. It's less of a mouthful and less likely to offend anyone's sensibilities if you happen to say it out loud. When I think about it, AMF could work quite nicely. I can use it in memory of the Colonel. 

Saturday, 13 December 2014

The Wisdom of Bobby Jones: Gripping the Club

In his book Golf is my Game, Bobby Jones devotes a short chapter to the subject of gripping the club. Bobby begins the chapter by eschewing the emphasis on mechanics, or as he describes it, "rigid adherence to prescribed routine," in the teaching and learning of the golf swing. Bobby writes: "Even if a person may not have begun to play golf at an early age, I believe that he may gain much by emphasizing naturalness in his learning processes. I think he has the right to convince himself that an effective golf swing can be made without rigid adherence to a prescribed routine and that there is room for differences in physical structure and capabilities. No matter how nearly equal in performance the top-rank players may be, yet they are recognizable by their swings as by their faces."

Imagine the freedom of not feeling obligated to follow a prescribed routine or set of contrived contortions in order to hit the golf ball. Imagine the freedom and peace of mind that might be experienced for the average golfer if he could stand up to the ball and just be himself when striking it, rather than being preoccupied with trying to swing like someone else, or as he has been told he should. Once again, as in the previous chapter, Bobby emphasizes the importance of knowing what to do with the clubhead; how to strike the ball, rather than worrying about the mechanics of the swing. He writes: "What the average golfer needs more than fine spun theories is something that will give him a clearer conception of what he should try to do with the clubhead... When we speak of sound method or good form, we mean nothing more than that the possessor of either has simplified his swing to the point where errors are less likely to creep in and he is able consistently to bring his club against the ball in the correct hitting position."

"We think, talk, and write so much about the details of the stroke," Bobby continues, "that we sometimes lose sight of the thing that is all-important --hitting the ball. It is conceivable that a person could perform all sorts of contortions and yet bring the club into correct relation to the ball at impact, in which case a good shot must result. The only purpose of discussing style and form at all is to make it easier for the player to maintain this correct relation. In a crude way, he may do it only occasionally. In a finished, sound, stylish way, he will be able to do it consistently and with assurance."

Bobby then explains why the grip is important: "Let's say that what we know now is merely what a golf club looks like and what effect it will have on the ball when the two come together in certain ways. Since the end of the club is mounted at one end of the shaft, and it must be actuated by a human being operating at the other end, the connection between the human being and the grip end of the club must be important."

In discussing the grip, Bobby says: "Many things, of course, can be said about the placing of the hands on the club. But just now I am thinking only about the over-all conception of swinging, and to that end I am only concerned that the club be held so that the action of the hands and wrists may be free, so that the club may be retained in the hands against the centrifugal force generated by the swinging of it, and so that the head of the club may be placed in comfort behind the ball."

As I read Bobby's following advice, I find myself thinking of just how many golfers I have seen, and how many more golfers there are out there, struggling to place their hands on the club as they have been instructed to do rather than in a way that feels natural and comfortable to them. Bobby states: "The precise placement of the club in the hands cannot be prescribed. The obvious requirement that the two hands work together should be a sufficient guide on this point. The grip end of the club should lie to some extent diagonally across the palms, but it must be controlled and felt mainly in the fingers."

Bobby describes feeling as though he is throwing the clubhead at the ball with much the same motion as he would use in cracking a whip. "By this simile, " Bobby writes: "I mean to convey the idea of a supple, lightning quick action of the hands. Stiff or wooden wrists shorten the backswing and otherwise destroy the feel of the clubhead. Without the supple connection of relaxed and active wrist joints and a delicate, sensitive grip, the golf club, which has been so carefully weighted and balanced, might as well be a broom-handle with nothing on the end. The clubhead cannot be swung unless it can be felt on the end of the shaft."

Rather than gripping the club as though it were a "venomous snake," thereby tightening the muscles and tendons in the wrists and forearms and losing all flexibility, Bobby talks about the need for a relaxed grip. Bobby writes: "The only way I know of achieving a relaxed grip which will at the same time retain adequate control of the club is to actuate the club and hold it mainly by the three smaller fingers of the left (top) hand. If the control is at this point, the club can be restrained against considerable force, and yet the wrist joints may retain complete flexibility."

"The great fault in the average golfer's conception of his stroke," Bobby notes, "is that he considers the shaft of the club a means of transmitting actual physical force to the ball, whereas it is in reality merely the means of imparting velocity to the clubhead. We would all do better if we could only realize that the length of a drive depends not upon the brute force applied, but upon the speed of the clubhead. It is a matter of well-timed acceleration rather than of physical effort of the kind that bends crow-bars and lifts heavy weights."

"My prescription is, therefore," Bobby concludes regarding the grip, "only that the club should be held mainly by the three smaller fingers of the left (top) hand, and that the shaft should be laid across the middle joint of the index finger of this hand. The remainder of the gripping should be done as lightly as possible, exerting pressure upon the shaft only as this becomes necessary in order to move or restrain the club."

Getting back to the importance of the hands in the golf swing, Bobby ends this chapter by writing:  "Let it be known right here that many acceptable golf shots and drives of good length can be produced by players who have nothing more than active hands and a good sense of timing. These players will never achieve the consistency nor the extremes in length attainable by the expert with good form, but they will, nevertheless, be able to get a lot of fun out of playing golf."

In summing up then, Bobby tells us that the average golfer has the right to convince himself that he is capable of making an effective swing without having to rigidly adhere to a prescribed routine. Rather than "finespun theories" about the golf swing the golfer needs a clear conception of what he is trying to do with the clubhead, and it is the striking of the ball that is important, not the mechanics of the golf swing. When speaking of the grip, Bobby again writes that it cannot be prescribed other than to state that the hands should work together and the club should be held in such a way that the wrists and forearms retain their flexibility. This is accomplished best by a relaxed grip in which the club is held primarily in the last three, or three smallest fingers of the top hand; the other hand and fingers exerting only as much pressure as is required to move or restrain the club.

Finally, and in my mind vitally important to remember is the fact, as Bobby says, that the shaft of the club is used to impart velocity to the clubhead, not to apply force to the ball; distance not being the result of brute force applied, but rather the speed of the clubhead. Furthermore, players with nothing more than active hands and a good sense of timing can produce acceptable shots and drives of reasonable length, which is particularly good news for us older, less flexible, and possibly handicapped players who might find it impossible to adopt the mechanics or follow the prescribed routine set forth in the modern golf swing. If we learn to swing the clubhead and retain the suppleness and flexibility in our hands, wrists and forearms, we can play decent golf.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Sometimes You Just Know

It's hard to believe that it's almost six years since Gerry passed. He visited Kathryn and I in Myrtle Beach the winter before he died and we had a great time; played golf every day, ate lots of good grub, including a few curries. We drank a few beers and enjoyed more than a few good smokes.

When we were in Myrtle we tended to smoke like we were "goin' to the chair." I don't know; there's just something about being on a golf holiday with your buddy that makes you want to spark one up. Gerry didn't smoke all the time. He essentially smoked 'em when he could get 'em. He was one of those guys who drove you crazy because he could just stop smoking any time he wanted. He wasn't addicted. He didn't have the smoker's gene like me. He just smoked when he figured it was called for; when it just seemed like the right thing to do. He tended to smoke OP's (Other People's), rarely if ever buying a pack. Maybe, in hindsight, that's how he stopped from getting hooked. He only smoked in company. Maybe that's a good rule: never smoke alone.

He may have preferred to smoke OP's, but Gerry was certainly no cheapskate. He was probably the most generous guy I ever met. We always fought over who would get to pay the bill any time we were out; and Gerry, being six foot five and over three hundred pounds, was not one to lose too many arguments. He would acquiesce and grudgingly allow me to pay my share, but he was always the first one to reach for the cheque. 

Speaking of paying the cheque; the night before he left, Gerry announced that he was taking Kathryn and I out for dinner. I told him it was okay and that we could just stay home. I told him Kathryn would make us something. Gerry looked at Kathryn and said,"Okay, Kathryn let's go." We had a great feed at The Outback that night.

We had made several trips to Myrtle Beach over the years, either going to stay and golf with my father, who was a snowbird and stayed for the winter in Myrtle, or going with other friends for a quick mid winter road trip. I had no way of knowing that this trip was the last time we would golf in Myrtle Beach together, but somehow I guess I did. 

We played our last round; as I write this I'm damned if I can remember where, but I think it was at Meadowlands. Gerry was leaving for the long haul back to snow country from the course. We said good bye and he, as usual, grinned and said, "Who loves Ya?"

I told the Big Man I loved him too and watched him drive away. I got in the car and, rather than turn the key, I found myself hanging on to the wheel and crying. I didn't know why I was crying, but I wasn't just crying, I was weeping. It made no sense. Sure, I was sad to see Gerry go, but we had had a great time and we had plans to retire and make lots more trips south in the future. But here I was, sitting in the car weeping.

I didn't know it at the time, but I was weeping for good reason. That was the last time I would ever play with the Big Man in Myrtle. I say that I didn't know it, but I guess maybe somehow I did. Life is sure strange. Somehow, sometimes you just know stuff and you don't even know you know it. 

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Moe Norman

My Shot: Moe Norman Magazines:

I may be a bit biased, given that Moe Norman was a Canadian.  But I don't think so.  He was a unique character who is well known in Canadian golf circles, but not necessarily as well known as he deserved to be.  Suspected, but I don't believe ever formally diagnosed as being autistic, Moe was certainly a savant, a golfing genius. He was considered by many, including Lee Trevino, to be one of the greatest ball strikers of all time.  He could definitely play a little as well, establishing numerous course records, and shooting 59 three times, the last time in his sixties.

His strange behaviour prevented him from being able to adapt to playing on the PGA tour.  His failure to show appropriate decorum; dressing rather outrageously, playing quickly, and becoming openly annoyed at the slow play of other pros, resulted in him eventually being driven off the tour and home to Canada where he became a legendary character.

There is a story that Moe, prior to being run off the tour, actually putted through a playing partners legs as he was picking his ball out of the hole.  This was apparently one of the last straws, resulting in him receiving a chewing out that made him pack up and return to Canada where his eccentricities were accepted.

I have a friend who was lucky enough to be paired with Moe in a tournament in Belleville, Ontario. It was a shotgun start and my friend and two others were waiting to start the round on a par three on the Bay of Quinte course.  Moe was conspicuous by his absence until a cart suddenly appeared going as fast as the governor would permit, with Moe being chauffeured to the tee.

Moe jumped out of the cart and called over to his playing companions, asking what the yardage was. They gave him the number and watched, somewhat dumbfounded, as he grabbed a club, rushed to the tee box, dropped a ball on the ground, and proceeded without further ado to knock it straight in the hole.

Moe announced that this was his eighteenth hole in one. I'm pretty sure eighteen was the number my friend mentioned, but it could definitely have been more. Knowing Moe's legendary iron game, eighteen sounds a little low. 

I found this Golf Digest article which includes numerous statements by Moe.  I believe, if you haven't heard of Moe, you will find some interesting ideas and insights.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Wisdom of Bobby Jones: Golf is my Game on Learning

All of us have or had our own reasons for deciding to take up the game of golf, and then, once having done so, deciding to stay with it. In his introduction to Golf is my Game, Bobby Jones offers some insight into the teaching and learning of the game that I think are worth carefully considering.

Bobby first addresses the notion that golf is a difficult game. He writes: "It is a popularly accepted notion that golf is a difficult game to teach and a difficult game to learn. It doesn't have to be either. It is all a question of the level of skill to which the learner aspires, or upon which the teacher intends to insist. Considered objectively, it is quite obviously a very simple matter to propel a ball with a stick across some specially prepared ground and into a hole which is of sufficient size to accommodate it by a good margin. Simple, that is, provided there is no limit upon the time or the number of strokes required. The matter is further simplified by reason of the fact that many earnest people have spent a lot of time, thought, and money upon the development of clubs and balls ideally suited to the process, and of greens keeping methods which assure that the field of play will be more than reasonably well conditioned."

This was written in 1959, so, if it was true then, how much more is it so today with all the modern developments in club design, course maintenance, et cetera. Bobby concludes: "I must insist, therefore, that one who sets out with the object of learning to play golf well enough to get both pleasure and benefit from the pursuit of the game has a very good, if not one hundred per cent, chance of success, provided he sets for himself exactly this goal, and no other." Bobby pretty much guarantees that all of us can learn to play "well enough to get both pleasure and benefit" from the game as long as that is all we are after.

Bobby further explains: "it seems to me that there are two quite reasonable ways in which a person may take his golf. If he has the time and the inclination to do so, he may set out to give the game a proper amount of serious study and practice with a view towards elevating himself considerably beyond the average-golfer class; or if he has only a very limited amount of free time, as many have, he may be content to knock around with his regular foursome, who play about as he does, in search of a little fun. But it will not do to mix the two, especially to hang the ambitions of the first man upon the labours of the latter." 

This is the crux of the matter. In golf, as in life, we will get out of it what we put in to it. So, we have to be careful about our expectations. As Bobby says, we can reasonably expect to learn to enjoy and benefit from the game, but we cannot expect to play like Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy unless we are willing to work just as hard as they have. In fact, if you are reading this, you have no right to expect to play like Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy, even if you are prepared to work as hard as they have. There is only one Tiger Woods and one Rory McIlroy.

Bobby explains that he is not intending, in writing Golf is my Game, to "produce a guide for a real study of the game...What I have attempted in this book, although less ambitious, I believe will appeal to the vast majority of people who play golf. I have suggested ways of making a mental approach to the game, of thinking through the playing of shots and of managing one's resources so as more often to enable the player to approximate the highest level of performance to which he has a right to aspire." Bobby does not promise miracles. He offers no money-back guarantees. Because again, in golf, as in life, there really are no guarantees other than the fact that it is up to you just how much you will get out of the game of golf and life.

In terms of deciding to try to become a better than average player, Bobby addresses the virtue of taking lessons and working on developing a sound golf swing. He writes: "Long ago I described form in golf as a measure of efficiency. I can think of no better way to say it today. When one has good form, he is able to make the maximum employment of his physical resources in producing a powerful, accurate contact between clubhead and ball. Good form also affects the regularity with which the player may be able to repeat the process. To become a really fine golfer, a person must have a knowledge of the basic requirements of the proper golf swing and work hard to drill his muscles in the performance of this exacting ritual, but he still does not need to do this in order to play enjoyable, often very good, golf."

While not necessarily encouraging anyone to take lessons, Bobby had the following advice: "Never should I knowingly discourage any man from trying to learn to swing a golf club correctly, for I think that the game is well worth whatever effort one may make towards this end. But if one is not willing to take lessons and practise, he will do better to make up his mind to worry along with what he has, rather than mess up all his rounds with misguided tinkering. It is my very definite conviction that any player will consistently perform closer to his usual standards if he will refuse to tinker and experiment during a round and will play the game, instead of practising it."

As one who has been guilty of having ruined many rounds by tinkering with my swing, this is great advice that can be difficult to follow. If you are not necessarily convinced at this point, hopefully continuing to read Golf is my Game will convince you that you can learn to enjoy and benefit from playing golf, even if you haven't the time or perhaps the inclination to undertake a serious study of the game and the swing. For most of us golf is about having fun. We will be guaranteed to do so if we manage our expectations and put into practice some of the things Bobby suggests.

The Wisdom of Bobby Jones: Golf is my Game

I have been writing, perhaps some critics might say, ad nauseum, about Bobby Jones; his brilliance as a player and as a teacher. While doing so, I have found myself reading for the umpteenth time his concise and eloquent words. This was a man perfectly suited to being the greatest player and teacher the game has ever known. He was the best because of his mind.

Just consider for a moment: if golf is about understanding mechanics, Bobby was perfectly suited to talk about mechanics because he studied mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech. If golf is art; Bobby had a degree in English literature from Harvard. If golf is about logic and reasoning; Bobby was a lawyer. Bobby possessed the perfect, well-rounded mind to understand the game of golf in all its complexity.

In his book, Golf is my Game, Bobby is looking back on his golfing life. He has found himself crippled by a disease that afflicted him at the age of forty six. His playing days are long over, but his mind is as sharp as ever and he has spent his time thinking about the game he so loved. He has also had the opportunity to closely observe the brightest and very best players who have followed him in the game, all of whom made their way to his Masters tournament every April. 

He had already written an instructional book entitled Bobby Jones on Golf, and had made numerous instructional films. But in Golf is my Game, we are reaping the benefit of Bobby having taken the time to reflect on everything he had said and done related to golf and the wheat has been separated from the chaff; not that there was really any chaff, but what we are left with are the essentials. In Golf is my Game, Bobby takes eighty six pages to essentially tell us everything we absolutely need to know about the game to improve and gain enjoyment.

Of course, in golf, as in life, we should never stop learning. And I am certain Bobby would have been far too humble to suggest that, in those eighty six pages, he was providing us with the finest treatise on golf likely ever to be written. I am sure he would never have suggested he was giving us the "last word" on golf, because he understood better than anyone how difficult it is to teach golf and how inexhaustible the subject of playing golf is. Nevertheless, for my money, these eighty six pages contain the very best teaching there is to be found on playing golf. 

In previous blogs I have tried to capture an entire chapter from the book Golf is my Game. I suspect this was a mistake, because there is so much valuable information in each chapter that warrants close examination and time to ponder. In this case, when talking about Bobby's wonderful introduction, I propose to break it down into bite-sized pieces for any readers and myself to savour.

In his typically modest and humble fashion, when explaining his reason for writing Golf is my Game, Bobby wrote: "I have written this book because I thought I could help golfers of all classes to play better and get more enjoyment from their play. I have never tried to teach golf, having always been on the receiving end of any such exchange, but I have spent many years trying to learn something about the game. At times I had thought that I had learned pretty well, but I always found more to learn."

"Teaching anything," Bobby goes on to write, "requires a great deal more than knowledge of the subject. It is one thing to possess knowledge or the ability to perform-- quite another to be able to impart that knowledge or skill. I am sure that I do not even know all the qualities needed by a teacher, although I have read several treatises on the subject. It is enough for me to know that I have no right to pretend to be one."

"On the other hand," Bobby continues,"in golf at least, I can claim to be a fairly successful learner, and I more than half suspect that any golfer may rightfully attribute more of whatever skill he may possess to his own ability to learn than to the ability of someone else to teach. At any rate, I have written my book as a learner, rather than a teacher. I am not ambitious to teach teachers to teach, but if I can help learners to learn, I shall consider my reward sufficient."

What a great man and a great mind. I hope in sharing his words, I will do justice to the man and give you some of the pleasure it has given me to read them. If you can secure a copy of the book, I highly recommend you do so. More wisdom from Bobby Jones to follow.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Golf has Charms..

William Congreve wrote: "Music has charms to soothe the savage breast." When I worked in the penitentiary, I found out that golf does as well.

The segregation unit of the prison, often referred to as the hole, the digger, or the damper, could be a relatively unhappy place. Virtually everyone there, the inmates I mean, were going through some problems. They were there either as punishment for bad behaviour, or while they were under investigation, or because they had requested to be there for their own protection. Whatever the reason, few were actually happy to be there.

For a time, I was the classification officer for the segregation unit and it was my job to help determine who should remain segregated, who should be transferred and who should be released back into the general population. My office was located right in the unit in what had formerly been a small library that interestingly enough came with its own bathroom. Actually, all the staff had to pass through my office to use the attached bathroom.

It perhaps wasn't an ideal set up and, in fact, I believe I was the first one to decide to have my permanent office in the hole, rather than in another building. It worked for me and kept me close to the action, I guess. At any rate, being a golfing addict, I had smuggled a seven iron and a few practice balls into the unit; they were the soft sponge rubber practice balls.

Periodically, I would step out of my office into the range and begin hitting balls. The range was long and narrow, with all the cells down one side. The cell doors were solid steel, not bars, with a small glass window in the door. The doors slid, rather than swung open and there was a small gap at the bottom. Because the doors slid open, there was also a narrow gap between the door and the wall that would allow an inmate to look down the range if he squeezed up against the wall just so.

I would start hitting balls which would ricochet off the ceiling and walls, often finding their way into the cells. Inevitably, those balls would come rolling back out into the range in my direction, rolled back to me by the inmates, many of whom watched me practice. Never once did an inmate keep a ball, and never once did an inmate complain about me playing golf on the job. I think they actually enjoyed it.

So, I guess it just goes to show you, it isn't just music that soothes a savage breast. Golf does too.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Bobby Jones: Hero Enough for Me

Finding myself with time on my hands, unable to play because of the weather, and resorting to writing about golf instead of playing, my thoughts turn to Bobby Jones; not only Bobby Jones the golfer, but also Bobby Jones the person. Bobby Jones probably did as much to put golf on the map and in the minds of Americans, and the rest of the world for that matter, as anyone before or since he burst on the scene as a fourteen year old prodigy.

To just imagine; this was a man who was by far the greatest player of his generation, winning thirteen major championships by the time he was twenty eight years old. But if that wasn't enough, while forging that incredible golfing record, Bobby Jones remained an amateur and played less golf than almost all of his contemporaries. While beating all the best players in the game, he managed to somehow find time to earn a degree in mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech, a degree in literature at Harvard and attend law school at Emory before dropping out to go practise half way through his second year because he was able to pass the state bar exams. 

His golfing accomplishments won him the admiration of the entire world. He was given two ticker tape parades in New York City and awarded the Freedom of the City of St Andrews, the only American to have received this honour and privilege before him being Benjamin Franklin. I don't know if any American has received the honour since, but if you ever get the opportunity to read about and/or see film of the ceremony, do so. It is incredibly moving to see just how much loved he was was by the Scots, who were the founders, and remain the caretakers and overseers, of the game.

After winning the Grand Slam and essentially having no more mountains to climb, Bobby retired from competitive golf at twenty eight years of age and at the peak of his golfing powers. He had the wisdom and the ability to essentially quit while he was ahead, while at the pinnacle of the game. 

After retiring from competitive golf, Bobby not only practised law with his father, but also found himself making instructional films in Hollywood, hob-knobbing with the greatest Hollywood stars. He was befriended by many of the richest and most powerful men of his generation and imagined, then helped design and build perhaps the second most famous golf course in the world after the old course at St Andrews, the Augusta National. He then organized and started the Masters, which is now arguably the most famous, and probably the most watched, golf tournament in the world. He also managed to find the time to write some of the most insightful, timeless golf instruction to be found.

Bobby Jones had it all, it seems. He was handsome, charming, and obviously incredibly intelligent. Because of his golfing genius, the world was his oyster. Yet he was probably the least likely person to achieve golfing immortality. He started on his path to greatness as a very sickly child whose parents moved from Atlanta to East Lake in large part to provide Bobby with a healthy environment in which to spend his summers. It was this move that placed Bobby in proximity to East Lake Golf Club and the game he grew to love and then conquered like no one before or since.

Bursting onto the national golf scene as a fourteen year old prodigy, Bobby was known, at least initially, for his displays of temper on the golf course, and despite his prodigious talent had to endure seven lean years before he really broke through and began winning major tournaments. However, once he learned to win the big ones, he won them with abandon, winning sixty two percent of the time in his last eight competitive seasons. A statistic and record that will surely never be duplicated.

And to think, after this incredible rise to fame, and fortune, Bobby Jones was stricken with a crippling disease at forty six that left him unable to play golf and eventually unable to walk. Rather than indulge in self pity after being laid low by this disease, Bobby continued to stay around and ponder the game he loved and gave us the gift of his golfing knowledge by continuing to write about the game.

Having heros in this day and age is probably deemed a bit naive. After all, we have the paparazzi working full time to try to expose any chinks in the armour of our modern day heros. But Bobby Jones is a hero of mine. He is a hero in part because, in spite of his golfing greatness, he seemed to still manage to be so humble and genuine, and above all an absolute gentleman. He was no saint. He never claimed to be. He smoked, he liked a drink, and he probably cussed a bit as well. I don't know if he had skeletons in his closet. Quite frankly, I don't want to know. All I know is that as a golfer, a teacher and a gentleman he seems to have no peer. That's good enough for me.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Tiger Woods: Paralysis by Analysis

Is it just me, or has Tiger Woods just left the building. Whoever showed up for the first two days at Isleworth looks like Tiger Woods, but surely it's just a brilliant disguise. This imposter chips like a twenty handicapper and can't make a putt to save his life. It just can't be the real Tiger Woods.

I have listened to the talking heads and assorted experts on the golf swing from the Golfchannel droning on ad nauseum about the swing changes he's trying to make and how he hasn't played for so long and how it's a long walk from the practice tee to the first tee and all the other excuses for his abysmal play. But let's be real. Tiger has played this course hundreds of times. He was a plus ten on this course and now he's dead last in the field?!

It has nothing to do with his back injury. If his back wasn't suitably healed, he wouldn't be playing, and besides, injuries didn't used to stop Tiger. I seem to remember him winning a US Open on one leg. It's got nothing to do with rust. He's been hitting balls in preparation for this event, and Steve Stricker was injured and hasn't played in just as long as Tiger. He isn't flubbing chips like a duffer out there.

There are two reasons why we are looking at someone who just looks like TW out there. One: he's suffering from paralysis by analysis. He is so caught up in the mechanics of his golf swing he isn't playing golf. Two: he's lost his confidence with the three most important clubs in the bag, the driver, the putter, and now, it seems, the wedge.

Actually there are other reasons for Tiger's decline, but the first two are the important ones. He just isn't the guy he was in 2000, and injuries have little or nothing to do with it. There are lots of guys with bad backs, knees, wrists, necks, etc., who are finding a way to put a score on the board. Tiger just needs to forget about his swing and start playing golf again. He needs to follow Bobby Jones' advice and learn by playing. He needs to stop working at it or on it and start getting into playing the game again.

I've suffered from paralysis by analysis myself. It's no fun. The only way around it is to get off the range and go play. Stop working at it. It's a game. Play it. Compete. Seriously, Tiger, do you really need a teacher? Did Picasso? Did Rembrandt? You were an artist with a golf ball. You were the best. Go play. Go paint beautiful pictures on the course. Have some fun.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Don't Worry Jack: Tiger is Still Working on his Swing

Tiger's back for another run at Jack Nicklaus' record of eighteen major championships. While I may not be a fan of Tiger as a person, you have to be in awe of what he brought to the game in 1997. He clearly arrived on tour with a game with which no one else was familiar. He did things with the golf ball that left you speechless.

Fortunately for the rest of the tour players, somewhere along the line Tiger stopped playing golf and began playing "golf swing." Instead of being totally focussed on where he wanted to hit it, Tiger got bogged down in how he wanted to hit it. He stopped playing golf the way only he was capable.

When he ended his relationship with Sean Foley, I thought perhaps he was finally through with the mechanical approach and was ready to just start playing golf. But, good news Jack Nicklaus and your legion of fans and well wishers, Tiger has hired a new teacher. He's still working on his swing. That being the case, Jack, your record is safe.

The Wisdom of Bobby Jones: Striking the Ball

In golf, as in life, there really are no guarantees.  Every time you read a golf advertisement guaranteeing you anything, run Forrest!  Of course, there are some things in golf that are guaranteed if you play the game long enough.  For instance, no matter how good you are, you're going to hit some bad shots at the worst possible time, and get some bad bounces.  Conversely, no matter how poor a player you are, you're going to hit the odd really good shot when you least expect it that keeps you coming back, and you're going to get some good bounces--maybe even a hole in one off a bunker rake.  That's life, and that's golf.   

Bobby Jones, however, claimed that the specific knowledge he was imparting in his book Golf is my Game regarding striking the ball could literally transform your game overnight.   Bobby was not given to hyperbole, or making promises he couldn't keep.  He definitely believed that learning how a ball needed to be struck was the most important thing we all need to learn in this endlessly complicated, and deceptively simple, game.  He didn't offer a money back guarantee, but then, he wasn't that kind of guy. 

Concerning this information, Bobby wrote: 

"This will be the most important chapter of the book. It will describe the most useful learning you will ever acquire as a golfer.  You may gain knowledge from the mere reading of this chapter that will help you in the playing of every golf shot you make for the rest of your life.  This knowledge can make you a better golfer overnight."

This information contained no advice, or information involving swing mechanics.  Therefore, it is completely safe for general consumption.  It can do no harm; only good.  

Golfers are always looking for "the Secret." Many thought Ben Hogan possessed it, and that this secret was some sort of mechanical move that guaranteed a good shot every time. There is, however, no one mechanical secret, no "magic move" that, once learned, will make every shot come off as we planned it. That is just a dream. But if there is a true secret to golf, it is the information Bobby Jones presents in this chapter. It is not, of course, really a secret at all. It is just something either not generally understood or, if understood, largely ignored by the majority of players and teachers alike as they often search for the mythical perfect swing, instead of the perfect strike.

In 1927, after Jones had shot a near perfect round of sixty six in the Southern Open at East Lake, a reporter referred to him as the Mechanical Man of Golf. Jones found this amusing and wrote: "How I wished it could have been made to fit!" 

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

Jim Barnes had offered Bobby some sage advice when he was in his seven lean years as a golfer. He told Bobby he would never win tournaments until he learned how to score when he was playing badly. Concerning this advice, Bobby wrote: 

"I think this is what I learned to do best of all. The most acute, and yet the most satisfying recollections I have are of tournaments won by triumphs over my own mistakes and by crucial strokes played with imagination and precision when anything ordinary would not have sufficed. And I think I was able to do this because I had learned so well what a golf ball could be made to do and how it had to be struck to make it perform as I wanted it to... Of course, I learned these things by playing. I kept on hammering at that pesky ball until I found a way to make it behave... I didn't try different swings. I probably didn't know there were such things, or even a swing at all for that matter.

A kid growing up without a teacher but with a golf club in his hands may be under a handicap, but he has some advantages too. No one is trying to teach him to play. If someone should try to explain the golf swing to him, he would be completely baffled. Even more bewildered would he be by even the most elementary discussion of why a golf ball acts as it does. But he has plenty of time to learn these things for himself."

Bobby pointed out that it is easy to identify someone who began playing the game as a youngster by their "appearance of naturalness." He believed they look this way because they first thought of the game in terms of striking the ball. So, Bobby went on to explain, "they set about doing this (striking the ball) with no more self consciousness than we would associate with chopping wood, throwing stones, or beating rugs." Bobby was confident that "the adult golfer should approach the game the same way... In a few minutes study of the material in this chapter, he can learn as much about the possible means of controlling a golf ball as a boy can learn in years of play."

When commenting on how "uncomfortable, strained, unsure, sometimes even unhappy" the average golfer looks, Bobby thought "a great measure of his discomfiture is derived from his conscious efforts to follow prescribed routine, to look and move like someone else, or as he has been told." Bobby thought the average golfer, or indeed the golfer just learning the game would "present a more natural appearance if he should put his mind upon striking the ball, rather than upon swinging the club." When one considers the extent to which other teachers stress to their pupils the importance of the mechanics of the golf swing, rather than how to strike the ball, this is very different, even ground-breaking advice. Or, it would be ground-breaking if it hadn't already been written in 1959.

I think the following statement by Jones is vitally important to remember: 

"No one can play golf until he knows the many ways in which a golf ball can be expected to respond when it is struck in different ways. If you think that all this should be obvious, please believe me when I assure you that I have seen many really good players attempt shots they should have known were impossible."

The following, admittedly very amateurish, photos capture the various drawings presented by Bobby to explain the sort of contact that produces a straight shot, a slice, a hook, etc.:

The first photo shows figure 1, the diagram depicting the ball being struck by the club moving precisely along the intended line of flight with the club face square to the target. In the absence of wind, Jones stated: "the only possible result is a straight shot directly on target. This is the ideal for most golfing situations." 

Bobby went on to dispel a common misconception. He wrote:

"If you have ever been told that the clubhead should strike the ball while travelling from inside the line of flight to the outside, forget it. This advice may have been of temporary helpfulness on occasion when the player, in attempting to follow it, has corrected a natural tendency to hit across the ball from the outside. But the player who actually succeeds in hitting from inside-to-out more often finds himself plagued by a ducking hook."

The second photo shows figure 2, which depicts the slicing contact. In this case the club is moving from outside the line of flight to the inside with the clubface square to the target line, the result being a fade or a slice depending upon how outside the line to in the clubhead travels.

The third photo shows figure 3, which shows the hooking contact. In this case the ball strikes the inside half of the back of the ball causing a hook or a draw depending upon the degree to which the club is coming from the inside.

The fourth photo shows figure 4, which shows the cause of a pushed or pulled shot. In a pushed shot the club is coming from inside the target line and the clubface is square to the club path. For a pull to occur, the club must be travelling from outside the target line towards the inside, again with the face square to the direction of the strike.

Jones writes: "These are the basic conceptions which should be in the golfer's mind every time he looks at a ball in preparation for playing a shot. He must have decided where he wants the ball to go. He should have a picture in his mind of the flight he hopes to produce, and then he must swing his club with the definite and determined intention of having the clubhead meet the ball in just such a way. This should be the object of his intense concentration."

Jones went on to talk about the importance of spin as shown in pictures five and six. From picture number five we see the only way to strike a ball without producing backspin, or at least with minimal backspin. That is to essentially strike slightly up on the ball. This is what instructors would have us do nowadays with the driver, producing an optimal launch angle with low spin for maximum distance. Picture six shows the descending blow necessary to produce backspin. Bobby stresses here one important thing to remember when considering using backspin to stop a shot quickly. He reminds us that since "the spin is produced by the gripping effect between the club and the ball, the contact must be clean. Should the ball be lying in lush grass or clover so that these lubricating agents must interpose themselves between the two surfaces, it may not be possible to produce backspin. The player must be ever aware of this limitation, so that he may not rely upon backspin to stop a ball played from a heavy lie in rough or fairway."

Dealing with issue of spin and it's importance, Bobby writes: "At the risk of being dogmatic and tedious, I am going to say right here that a person can no more play golf without a thorough knowledge of these spin-producing and spin-denying contacts than he could play billiards without an appreciation of the capabilities and limitations of follow and draw and a general idea of how a spinning ball will come off the cushions, or play tennis without knowing how his chops and twists were going to act."

Jones goes on to speak of the effect of spin on the flight of the golf ball. It is more general knowledge in terms of why the golf ball reacts and flies the way it does. But once more, in summing up, Jones reiterates: "Knowing the possibilities of the various flight characteristics that we may be able to produce will enable us to visualize the kind of contact we should concentrate upon. The knowledge that the ball will fly as we hit it, and only as we hit it, should at least suggest to us that the most important thing in playing golf is hitting the ball."

At this point, Bobby proposes that the reader "obtain a golf ball and any sort of lofted iron club and begin straight away to fix these concepts in his mind. In his own living-room he can place the face of the club behind the ball, and without swinging, visualize the spinning effects which must result from various kinds of contacts. He may also give himself some very worthwhile lessons in arranging his feet and body position in such a way that he may know he is able to strike the ball along the line upon which he intends to project it."

The following excerpt from Striking the Ball is, in my mind and, more importantly, in the mind of Bobby Jones, the reason why this knowledge is so important to every golfer regardless of his ability:

"It is in this very way that a player should approach every shot he hits on the golf course, or even on the practice tee. Let him always decide first upon the result he wants to produce; second, upon the precise manner in which he desires to strike the ball; and then let him place himself before the ball in such a position that he knows he will be able to deliver the blow in this manner.

This is the obvious, direct, and uncomplicated way of going about playing a golf shot. It will always be many times more effective than any attempt to follow a prescription for placing the feet and adjusting the rest of the body posture. It will result in an easy fluidity because it is natural.

One may very easily and with great advantage carry this thing one step further. Indeed, for the best in performance, the player must keep in the forefront of his mind throughout the entire stroke this very clear picture of the precise manner in which he intends to strike the ball."

Bobby went on to describe his mental attitude when playing a tournament round: "Years ago I described the mental attitude I tried to attain in a tournament round as a concentration upon producing a desired result so intense as to preclude any possibility of concern with the manner of swinging. I liked to think of erecting a wall or other vertical plane containing the ball and my left eye, and then focus my entire concentration upon producing the desired result in front of the wall. I wanted to leave my swing to take care of itself. I was confident that the movement behind the ball would adjust itself to the proper striking."

Bobby continued by writing: "I was very certain that whenever I could achieve this detachment, my swing would slow down to its proper rhythm and its effectiveness would be restored. As so often happened, a game which had caused me concern in practice would be pulled together by the strain of competition, whereby anxiety was proved to be a more powerful force than the will."

"I cannot see," Bobby concludes, "how one may avoid the conclusion that any player must swing and play better when he makes every move of his stroke with the aim of getting himself into position to strike in a clearly defined way, and delivering the blow in this way."

As sort of a postscript, Bobby finishes this chapter by addressing a shot that the average golfer "needs most," namely the wood shot from the fairway. Pictures 7 and 8 show the right and wrong way to strike the ball. This shot must be played as a backspin shot. Rather than trying to get under the ball and lift it in the air, the ball should be struck with a slightly descending blow which will impart the necessary backspin to get the ball in the air.

To summarize, Bobby Jones imparts the knowledge in this chapter that, if really studied, absorbed, and then applied, can literally improve our golf game overnight. Understanding how a ball must be struck to achieve the result we are looking for and then making the strike the object of our intense concentration on every shot will change our game. Knowing that a ball must react in a consistent way if struck a certain way should give us confidence, and focussing on the strike will hopefully free us from too much concern about swing mechanics, when we should be concentrating on the shot.

I suggest that most of us would stand to gain from Bobby's timeless advice.  If we would grab a club and a ball and, without swinging, focus on the different ways a ball must be struck to achieve a straight shot, a fade or slice, a hook or draw and a spinning shot; and if we were to take notice of how we would naturally approach and stand before the ball to achieve that strike, and then take this approach to the course, I suspect our game would improve. We might just become a ball-striker instead of a mechanical club-swinger.  I don't guarantee it, because a guarantee from me and a dollar wouldn't get you a coffee these days.  But Bobby Jones pretty much guarantees it, and, coming from him, that's worth something.