Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word for Pettersen

My wife and I watched the Suzann Pettersen interview this evening.  We both had a hard time concluding, based upon what she had to say, or the way in which she said it, that she was, in fact, contrite and truly remorseful for her unsportsmanlike behaviour.

I think Laura Davies comments, along with the angry response from Annika Sorenstam at the time of the incident, says it all.  Those two icons of the women's game,who both hail from Europe, were disgusted with what happened, and that alone should tell you everything you need to know about it.

While the talking heads might still want to have Alison Lee share the blame for the incident because she picked up the ball, the fact remains the no one, with a proper regard for the integrity and etiquette of the game, would have acted as Pettersen did.

If the interview was an attempt by Pettersen to put this behind her, in my opinion, she failed miserably.  She did pay lip service to the fact that golf is not a "win at all cost" game.  But does she truly understand it.  Golf's greatest champions--Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Annika Sorenstam, Nancy Lopez--would have never, for an instant, considered trying to win a match that way.  They would have had too much respect for the game and for their fellow competitor.

If Suzann is sorry about anything, I suspect it is only that this whole thing back-fired on her and her team.  It's a shame that she could not have been a bit more contrite and showed a bit more humility in the interview.  It certainly didn't strike me as an effort to publicly reaffirm what she had previously written. 

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Trouble Shots

I don't know about everyone else, but I really enjoy getting myself in a predicament on the golf course. When I'm stuck behind, or under, a tree, or my ball is in a divot, or plugged in a bunker, I kind of get excited.  

That may sound a bit strange, but those unusual situations are the ones that really make the game interesting.  Those situations force you to think.  They test your skill, and your mettle.  No one wants too many of those trouble shots, but golf would surely be a lot less interesting without them.  

Many of my most memorable shots are ones where I was, for all intents and purposes, well and truly in jail.  Making the great escape by being able to use imagination and a bit of skill made me feel, at least at the time, like a real golfer.

I was thinking today about a Quinte Cup match a few years ago at our club.  I was all square heading to the last hole.  It's a par three with the lake, and OB stakes on the right.  On the left is a hillock in front and a bunker alongside the green.  Behind the green is a hill where, in events like this, the crowd can sit and watch, along with those gathered on the clubhouse deck.  

I pulled my tee shot long and left, halfway up the hill and under a tree.  It appeared that I was dead, and my opponent was surely feeling pretty confident, having hit the green with his tee shot.  The murmurs in the crowd left me no doubt that they thought my goose was cooked as well.  After some consideration, I realized my only option was to play a six iron away from the pin, through the bunker, and hopefully onto the green leaving myself, at best, a lengthy putt.  Sure enough, the ball scooted through the bunker and ended up about thirty feet from the hole, leaving me a downill left to right breaking putt.  

I made the putt and remained all square.  I enjoyed the applause from the crowd, but I was much more satisfied with the fact that I had used my imagination, and a great deal of determination, to secure the half when no one would have given me a chance.  Those are the shots, and putts, I think you need to remember.  Not because it took great skill to do it.  It just took some imagination, determination, and perhaps, a bit of luck.

Spiros played a match with me one time and actually hit an almost-fully submerged ball out of the edge of the pond on number ten to save a par.  That was years ago now, but we still laugh about it.  It was an alternate shot match and his partner thought he was crazy, wading into the water to play that shot.  But, it's amazing what can be accomplished in this game if you really put your mind to it and don't give up.

And who is the best in the game right now at getting it up and down from anywhere?  I think you'd have to give the nod to Jordan Spieth.  He wins because he's not only talented, he tries the hardest. There's a lot to be said for not giving up in this game.  Bobby Jones not only felt he won because he tried harder than everyone else, he also said the best advice he ever received was from Harry Vardon.  Vardon said, "No matter what happens, just keep hitting it."  

I love those trouble shots.  Don't you?

The Power Game

I just read another article on the supposedly huge advantage the long hitter enjoys in the game of golf.  Somehow, many golfers never seem to figure out the fact that, as Harvey Penick said, "The woods are full of long drivers."

This past week we saw Henrik Stenson lead the Tour Championship for two days giving up thirty yards off the tee to use his magic three wood which kept him in the fairway.  It turned into a two horse race between Stenson and Spieth, an average length player who ground out the win, despite some shaky ball striking, with his short game and a hot putter.  

Power is obviously an advantage in this game.  But only if that power comes with control and a good short game.  If power, or distance, was the most important part of the game, Bubba and DJ would be winning all the Majors.  This year, we saw Jordan Spieth and Zach Johnson, both average length hitters, win the first three Majors.  Only Jason Day prevailed in a Major using power and finesse to beat Spieth at the PGA.  Without a hot putter, Day would have never beaten Spieth.

Jordan Spieth is great for the game.  He is helping to prove the old adage, you drive for show and putt for dough.  An average length driver, Spieth was in the hunt at every Major, won twenty two million dollars and five tournaments...  I think it's time to realize that golf is about managing your game and getting the ball in the hole in the fewest possible strokes.  For most amateurs, that would probably mean, not getting longer off the tee, but developing a solid short game.  

Monday, 28 September 2015

Jordan Spieth: The Power of the Putter

Once again, Jordan Spieth has risen to the the top of the golfing world riding his putter.  The last two days gave us another lesson about the fact that putting trumps all.  Pitted against the best ball striker in the game, Spieth, who was not at his best ball striking, broke Stenson's heart by making putt after putt.

It could be argued that Stenson should have reverted to using his driver a bit more often in those soggy conditions.  He was playing to his strength by finding fairways and relying on his superb long iron game, and it paid off the first two days.  But, in the end, it was the putter that prevailed.  When Spieth made that forty five footer after Stenson had hit it stone dead--was it on eleven?--Stenson had to smile and give Spieth a fist bump.  He surely knew it was over.  You just can't compete with that sort of brilliance on the greens.

When we think of the great players, in the end it always comes down to their ability to make putts.  Jack Nicklaus seemed to be able to will the ball in the hole.  When Tiger was so dominant, he was unbelievable on the greens.  He seemed to never miss a six footer.  Now, he misses lots of them.

Raymond Floyd said the most important shot in golf is the six foot putt.  I should know, because I keep missing them.  With Spieth it's the fifteen to twenty foot range where he keeps breaking hearts and nerve out there.  When he missed those two cuts, he was missing putts.  But, he's back in business now.

We have the pleasure of watching four young guns at the top of the game right now in Spieth, Day, McIlroy, and Fowler.  They are all different.  Day presents as the most complete package with his power, ball striking, and short game.  McIlroy has some issues with his short irons and his putting, but will likely figure it out.  Fowler has a swing that will surely last forever, and he's got a great pair of hands.  When the putts are dropping, he can run with anyone.  But Spieth?  He's got the mind, and he's got that putter.  

When push comes to shove, it always comes down to the five and a half inches between your ears and the flat stick.  It's a joy to hit great golf shots, but it's the guy who can make the putts that wins the cash.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

What Should You Concentrate On?

Concentration, or the ability to concentrate, is vital in playing good golf.  We know this to be true.  But the question is, what do we concentrate on?  Bobby Jones devoted a chapter of his book, Bobby Jones on Golf, to the subject.  What he wrote concerning concentration is, I think, quite enlightening.

Bobby was once asked whether there was any one thing that he thought about that enabled him to keep hitting the ball well.  He wrote:

"I replied that when I was hitting the ball well, there was always one or two things I made certain of doing, and the doing of them would assure success for awhile.  But they were not always the same things.  One conception was good for only a limited time, and when the charm wore off, I would begin looking for something else...This is something the theorists and analysts overlook when they are not themselves reasonably capable players.  It is of great value to have a clear understanding of the successive movements making up a correct golf swing; this much is needed in order to enable one to recognize and correct faults as they appear.  But no human is able to think through and at the same time execute the entire sequence of correct movements.  The player himself must seek for a conception, or fix upon one or two movements concentration upon will enable him to hit the ball.  Then when this wears out, because perhaps he begins to exaggerate or overemphasize it to the detriment of something else, the search must begin anew for another idea that will work.  In this process, there inevitably are alterations in the swing, not in fundamentals of course, nor of radical proportions, but more than can be accounted for in any series of diagrams."

So, Bobby Jones helps dispel the notion that all good players can simply stand up to the ball, take aim and fire, without the need to think about their swing.  All swings can, and sometimes do go awry.  There is no one conception that, once discovered, works all the time.  Faults creep in from time to time and we have to search for them and find a way to correct them.  There are times when the swing is in the proper groove and the game can become almost easy.  But those happy times are invariably followed by a period of searching.

Bobby continues by saying:

"If the expert player, possessing a swing that is sound in fundamentals, has to be continually jockeying about to find the means of making it produce fine golf shots, what of the average golfer who has never developed such a swing?  Still groping for some sort of method that will give him a measure of reliability, it is only natural that he should try almost anything; and he must."

So, while it would be great to play the game with no swing thoughts; with a mind uncluttered by mechanical thoughts; the reality is that we will always have to do some tinkering in order to get better, or to maintain what we have.  That is the nature of the game, and part of its fascination.  

But when talking about what to tinker with, and what to leave alone, Bobby advised against any tinkering with the grip.  He wrote that once you have learned a proper grip, you should resist any urge to change it in an effort to correct a temporary hooking or slicing problem.  He concluded: "If the grip is wrong, change it by all means, but let the change be a permanent one."

All golfers, it seems, are in the same boat. Bobby wrote:

"To say that any round of golf offers a magnificent gamble in the way of form is to add nothing new.  We all realize that we can never know in advance how the shots will go on a particular afternoon.  To go even farther, we can have no assurance, after hitting seventeen fine tee shots, that the eighteenth will not be disgraceful.  These are the uncertainties the golfer accepts as parts of the game, and indeed loves it all the more because of them... To play any golf shot correctly requires an unwavering concentration.  The most perfect swing in the world needs direction, and plenty of it, and when its possessor begins to do a little mental daisy picking, something always goes wrong.  A perfect attunement of every faculty is a thing even the finest players attain only very rarely, but by constantly keeping a vigilant watch over themselves they are able to shut out major vices over a comparatively long period of time.  Their concentration is not occasional, but extends to every single shot, no matter how simple it may appear."

There's a wide gulf separating the champions from the average golfer, both in skill, and in the ability to concentrate.  But, as Bobby concludes his chapter, he points out that in one way, at least, we are in the same boat.  He wrote:

"But proper concentration during a round of golf is intended to accomplish something different from the perfect execution of each stroke.  Powers of concentration alone cannot make up for any vast deficiency of skill and bring a mediocre player up to the level of one who possesses more real ability.  But while on their respective form and ability to make shots and keep on making them, a wide gulf separates the champion from the average golfer, still, in one respect, their problems are the same when they start upon a round of golf.  What each wants is a good round for him, and this leaves a comparison of their expectations entirely out of the issue."

If we want to play our best, whether we are champions, duffers, or somewhere in between, we must concentrate on every shot.  The problem is, what do we concentrate on?  Unfortunately, as Bobby points out, the answer is not always the same.  That's why golf will never become boring.  It is, indeed, a "magnificent gamble."  We just never know how each shot will go.  All we can do is keep on hitting it, no matter what happens, and try to concentrate on every shot.  One shot at a time. That's all we can do.  

Saturday, 26 September 2015

The Kid is Back

Jordan Spieth is back.  I thought his round of 66 on Friday was one of his best rounds of the year.  How he managed to shoot that score, on that track, the way he struck the ball, is hard to fathom.  But once again, we withessed an animated and determined Jordan Spieth on Saturday at East Lake.  Undaunted by the conditions, and some imperfect ball-striking, Spieth ground out another great round to chase down and secure the lead from Henrik Stenson.

After missing two cuts on the bounce and having issues with his putting that might have left some of us with some doubts, Spieth has now recovered the magic touch with the flat stick and his short game in general.  He looks like he's going to be tough to beat on this brute of a track, made even more brutal by the soggy conditions. 

It's surely going to be all about keeping your focus, scrambling, and holing putts tomorrow.  Sounds like exactly what we've seen from young Mr Spieth all week; and most of this year for that matter.  I'm not a betting man; but if I was, I'd be putting a few quid on the kid.  It would be a great exclamation point to put on a wonderful season by Spieth, somewhat over-shadowed by Jason Day's late-season brilliance.  

If Jordan pulls it off--and there's a good chance he will--there won't be any question about who will be voted the player of the year.  This kid is something very special.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Favourite Swings

I love watching the top players swing the club.  Often there are discussions about who has the best swing in the game.  When deciding on the best swing, I suppose there are two main criteria I look at: efficiency and durability.  If it is efficient, it won't require hours on the range keeping it in the proper groove.  If it's durable, it will last, and the player will enjoy a long career with a minimum of swing-related injuries.

On the various tours today, my favourite swingers are Henrik Stenson, Miguel Angel Jiminez, Angel Cabrera, and Colin Montgomerie.  I've stuck with the men, although there are many women who've possessed wonderful swings.  However, these guys have swings that have, and will surely continue to stand the test of time.  They can all move the ball both ways, and they don't seem to be in need of a swing teacher to hold their hands.

While Stenson is strong like bull, and might encounter some difficulty down the road generating the same kind of thump he delivers to the ball, he is surely the best ball striker in the game right now in his late thirties. I believe the stats bear this out.  His performance yesterday at the Tour Championship was pretty impressive.

As for Monty, Cabrera, and Jiminez; they have such natural swings.  They have developed swings that are perfect for them, and they've stuck with it, resisting the temptation to make changes.  Watching Jiminez continue to compete with both the flat and round bellies alike, it makes you wonder whether he'll ever quit.  Monty is enjoying a resurgence on the Champions Tour, and, as for Angel, who knows how long he'll be a threat if the putts are dropping.

There are so many technically great swings out there, but I love the natural-looking ones.  Of course I haven't mentioned Jack, or Lee Trevino, or Freddie, or Davis Love; and then there was a guy named Sam Snead, and Julius Boros...

Of course, the one thing great swingers need to be great champions is the ability to make the putts.  If you can't chip and putt, the best swing in the world won't win you the big ones.  Still, I love to watch great swingers.  Don't you?

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Getting Out of Your Head

There have been a number of books written on playing golf out of your mind; having a Zen-like approach to playing the game.  Golf is such a head game.  I think that may be why Bobby Jones said that golf was the one game that became more difficult the longer you played it.  

As a kid, you tend to play golf, focussed initially on figuring out a way to hit the ball in the right general direction and trying to get it in the hole; hopefully in fewer strokes than your playing companions.  You may have been given some rudimentary instruction, such as how to grip the club, and how to align your body and/or clubface to the target, and you swing away.  Hopefully, you have a decent mental image of what a good swing looks like, either from watching good players at your club, or the pros on the television, and you try to imitate that swing.

The ball gives you feedback, and you learn by trial and error, and by feel, as you go about "hammering that pesky ball" trying to make it behave.  That is the experience of many golfers, especially those who started the game young as I did.  But eventually, if you show some aptitude, and begin to really get hooked on the game, you start to think about things other than just trying to hit the ball where you're looking.  You read articles and books, and watch videos on the golf swing.  If you're not careful, you become caught up in the "science" of the swing, rather than the "art" of the game.

I have the sort of mind that can't resist, even though I know it's wrong, thinking technically about the golf swing.  I often go to the course actually wondering what swing I'll use that day.  I have a number of swings I'm inclined to use depending on how I feel and how the ball is reacting, or how it reacted the last time I played.  Sometimes I'll use several swings in the course of playing a round.  And, all the while, as I'm thinking about my swing, I'm forgetting about the target.  Not completely forgetting about the target perhaps; but if I'm thinking about my take away, or my shoulder turn, I'm certainly not totally focussed on where I want the ball to go.

My best rounds usually come after much exasperation.  Tired of being consumed with swinging the club correctly and getting less than perfect results, I just hit the damned ball.  I essentially stop giving a hoot.  Suddenly, I can play again; at least until I start thinking again.  I just wish golf were really that simple.  I wish I could always have an attitude like Moe Norman, where it was all so easy.  As Moe would say: "You just hit this dumb thing--the ball--with that dumb thing--the club--over there--the target."  If only it were that simple.  And yet, it really is that simple if you can just stay out of your head. 

There is no one prescribed way to swing a golf club.  Until we are all the same, our swings will all, by necessity, be different.  So, why do I waste so much time trying to swing like someone else, or like I believe I should? I just wish there was a way to stay out of my head; to go back to being like a kid, just hitting it and chasing it.  Oh, to be able to have no thought about how; only where, and how many.

Golf really does get harder the longer you play it.  It's a simple game that is endlessly complicated if we can't stay out of our head.  

Monday, 21 September 2015

It Isn't About You

Golf teaches us great lessons.  It teaches us about ourselves; and it teaches us about life.  Once again, we just may have been taught another lesson at the Solheim Cup.  Hopefully, Suzann Pettersen has learned something.  If she has, she may just become a better person, and a better golfer.  In this game we are always having to learn.

I must admit that, although I'm not a fan of the nationalistic displays at the Solheim or Ryder Cup events, I can't help but watch because of the golf.  I think golf usually has a way of rising above the nationalism, and the win-at-all-cost mentality that is so prevalent in the world and, sadly, often at these events.  

I just read Suzann Pettersen's apology for her poor sportsmanship.  Whether she is really contrite, we'll only know if her behaviour improves on the golf course.  She has always been ultra competitive, wearing a game face that often leads one to believe she is having the worst time of her life as she competes.  She is not the only one to approach the game this way; but it is not an attractive way to play this great game--storming off the green to the next tee as your fellow competitor is left to putt out; or not, as in this latest misadventure.  This is not the first time we've seen this type of behaviour from Suzann, and it is not very pleasant to watch.

In her apology, Suzann talks about being "in the heat of the battle."  This is perhaps only a figure of speech, but I don't think so.  Her approach to golf has always been like doing battle; with herself, her fellow competitors, and the golf course.  But golf is not supposed to be about going into battle.  You do not face an opponent.  You have a fellow competitor.  It is about competing, not doing battle.  Your fellow competitor, according to the rules and etiquette of the game in no way acts as an opponent, trying to hinder or oppose you as you play your game.  That is not golf.

Contrast this sort of behaviour from Pettersen with the behaviour of Jack Nicklaus, who became famous for, among other things, his concession to Tony Jacklin at the Ryder Cup.  Golf's greatest Major champion was famous for being gracious, even in defeat.

In golf, it isn't about you.  It isn't about your team.  It's the game that matters.  Golf may be one of the last bastions of good sportsmanship in this win-at-all-cost world.  As we see in this great game, our greatest champions are, or were, great sportsmen and women; gracious in victory and defeat.  I certainly hope Suzann understands that she did herself, her team, and the game a disservice when she  acted as she did.  Call it karma, or the golfing gods, her behaviour served only to inspire the Americans to play better.  

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: in golf, and in life, nice guys do not finish last and it isn't just about you.  It's the game that counts.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Does It Get Any Better Than This?

After two days watching Jason Day play at the BMW Championship, I'm not alone in running out of superlatives to describe his play.  Have we ever seen golf played at a higher level?  Jordan Spieth, who is eleven under par after 36 holes still finds himself seven shots behind Day.  He must wonder what can be done to compete with this guy who hits it so far, and so straight, and then keeps rolling in those putts.  He's playing like a man possessed.

But as impressive as the golf has been from all of these young stars, even more impressive is their behaviour on the golf course.  The three young men chatted away, openly acknowledged and congratulated eachother when they hit good shots, and obviously thoroughly enjoyed playing together.  It was wonderful to see.

We are seeing golf being played like it has never been played before, and in the spirit it was always intended to be played.  It's a joy to watch.  For all the naysayers who have claimed that golf is in trouble, particularly without Tiger Woods in the hunt, I suggest you think again.  This has been one of the best years I've ever seen in golf; from Spieth's great record-tying win at Augusta, to Fowler's incredible birdie run to win at the Players, to Jason Day's record-breaking PGA victory, golf has seemingly gone to a whole new level.

And, perhaps best of all, contrary to the old saying, in golf at least, nice guys do not finish last.  Does it get any better than this?

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The Smiling Assassin

I played in a Golf Association of Ontario event at Briar Fox Golf Club this weekend.  I was playing number one for our club and was lucky enough to face Doug Green from Briar Fox, along with players from two other local clubs, Gananoque and Glen Lawrence.  I say I was lucky to play Doug, because he is a real gentleman with the sweetest swing.  I love playing with him because he has such wonderful rhythm and tempo.

When I arrived for the matches, our team captain greeted me by saying, "Bad luck.  You're playing Doug Green today."

I had to thank him for his vote of confidence.

Doug had played at our course for several years, and we had played together quite often.  While I had beaten him in stroke play events, I don't recall ever beating him at match play.  So perhaps our captain knew of our history.  I haven't been playing very well of late and was hardly brimming with confidence at the prospect of playing Doug on his home course.  But I was looking forward to a fun day.  In fact, I'd actually been hoping to get to play with Doug.  I miss playing with him.

True to form, I started poorly and found myself four down to Doug after nine. Doug had played his usual steady golf and had thrown in a couple of birdies for good measure.  He had a couple of shaky holes at the turn, but quickly recovered and beat me four and three.  I won my match with Rod from Glen Lawrence, and birdied the last hole to tie Bruce, from Gananoque, in a real see-saw battle that we both enjoyed.

As it turned out, my loss to Doug was the deciding match, as Picton and Briar Fox were tied and awaiting the result of our match.  So, I was the mug, and Dougie Green the hero.  As we sat afterwards, one of the Briar Fox guys was laughing as I told him about how much I'd enjoyed being drubbed by Doug.  I said, "He's such a great guy, I can't get upset about losing to him."

He said, "Yeah, he's a great guy.  We call him the smiling assassin."

That's what he is; the smiling assassin.  I couldn't have been beaten by a nicer guy.  Well done, Dougie.  I hope to play you again real soon.  

Saturday, 12 September 2015

One Bad Shot Begets Another

My father had a saying that one bad shot begets another.  We see it all the time.

Carl and I were playing at the Bay of Quinte golf course yesterday and it happened to Carl.  Off the first tee, a relatively short par five that also ranks as their number one handicap hole, Carl hit a weak push into the right rough.  He then duffed his lay up shot, just missing a bunker and leaving him a shot of 195 yards over water to the green.  It was obvious that Carl was becoming discombobulated.  He pulled a hybrid club and stood over his third shot.

I knew what was happening, because we've all been there.  You hit a poor shot--then another--and things get racing.  You speed up and you make poor decisions.  Carl's lie wasn't very good and he was definitely not swinging in the groove yet.  But he decided that he wanted to hit his third shot from a dodgy lie 195 yards over water in an effort to erase the bad shots in one fell swoop.  Naturally, the old Colonel's saying proved true.  The ball found the water and Carl walked off the first green with an 8.

The same thing happened to him on number 9.  He hit a terrific tee shot, about forty yards past us.  He asked Radar for the yardage to the hundred yard marker.  It was 152 yards.  I was sharing a cart with Radar, and as Carl prepared to hit the shot, I mentioned to Radar that the pond on this par five comes in to play right by the hundred yard mark if you happen to pull it at all.  I had been a member at Bay of Quinte and had made the mistake of laying up into that pond three times before I learned my lesson.

Sure enough, Carl hit a solid seven iron, slightly pulled, that just found the edge of the pond.  Carl was mad as hell.  He found the ball sitting on the edge of the water and, after trying several stances--and damned near falling in--he elected to try to play the shot left-handed.  Radar and I watched in utter amazement as Carl chunked the ball in the water.  Carl then took a drop and hit a wedge to about four feet.  However, instead of trying to save par, he was now putting for a bogey, which he missed.  He was five over for two par fives on the front and never recovered.  Carl has won a tournament at the Bay of Quinte.  He can really play.  But, one bad shot sometimes begets another.  

At the Evian today we saw the same thing from Morgan Pressel.  Leaving her birdie putt just short on seventeen, Morgan, who was tied for the lead, was obviously quite perturbed.  Whether she was still angry when she hooked her tee shot on 18 into the rough, I don't know.  But, it appeared that one shot--the putt left short--had begotten the hooked tee shot.  Then, likely still vexed, Morgan attempted to hit a shot from a soaking wet lie in the rough over water, or just left of the water, in front of the green. She drowned the ball and made double.  It can happen that fast.

It happens to us all.  We hit one or two bad shots.  The wheels start spinning.  We try to undo the damage by trying a high-risk recovery shot, and sure enough, one bad shot begets another.  It does happen to us all.  But generally, the one who wins the championship will not have succumbed to the mistake of following one bad shot with another.  

Morgan has to feel like she's snake-bitten.  She has been playing great golf, but can't seem to break through and get another win.  She has another day to fight her way back to the top, and I wish her well.  But she's got a big mountain to climb.  When you hit bad shots, you can accept it.  That's just golf.  But when you hit a silly shot, you tend to really beat yourself up.  Hopefully, she will let it go and come out firing tomorrow.

Friday, 11 September 2015

The Elements of Scoring: How to Score When You're not Playing Your Best

Bobby Jones once wrote that it was easier to learn to use sound judgement than to swing a club like Harry Vardon.  Sound judgement can be learned by everyone, regardless of their physical capabilities.  Most of us, however, if we've played for a number of years, have probably reached pretty much our level of incompetence as far as ball striking is concerned.  

That may sound rather defeatist, but, unless we are willing and able to get good instruction and devote ourselves to hours of practice, we are probably not going to see huge improvement in our ability to hit the golf ball.  But most of us can improve in our ability to play the game.

Raymond Floyd wrote an excellent book called The Elements of Scoring.  It is really a must read for anyone interested in learning how to play golf and shoot lower scores even when you're not playing your best.  It contains no information on swing mechanics.  It is a book designed to help you learn to play your best golf with what ball striking ability you already possess.

Raymond says in his book that, were it possible to give you the same ball striking ability as him, or vice versa, he is confident that he would beat you every time because he knows how to play the game.  This, I firmly believe, because there is so much more involved in making a good score than simply being able to hit good golf shots.  It all comes down to managing what game you have.

Raymond talks about the importance of "playing comfortable."  By playing comfortable, he means not trying for too much; sticking to hitting the shots you know you can hit.  Even if you can't hit it like a professional, you can learn to think like one, and Raymond talks about the mental process of every good player.  

The simple fact is that many duffers attempt shots that a seasoned pro wouldn't dream of trying.  We quite often beat ourselves.  The best way to shoot lower scores is to stop making big numbers.  That may sound obvious, but often, in our attempt to shoot low numbers, we make big ones.  If you can play more intelligently and eliminate the "dreaded others," those double and triple bogeys that really ruin a round, you can maximize your scoring potential.  Low scoring really has more to do with eliminating double and triple bogeys than making eagles and birdies. 

Steve sent me an e-mail last night.  We had been talking about playing comfortable.  I had suggested he start mentally giving himself fourteen shots a round; that he start playing not to make worse than bogey, rather than trying to make birdies.  He felt this was somehow too conservative an approach because he is capable of making birdies and pars.  He hits it at least 230 yards with the driver, and is capable of reaching all the par fours on our course in two. But his handicap is currently 14.  I suggested that this inflated handicap was more the result of him trying for too much, and making big numbers in the process, than a problem with his golf swing.

In his e-mail yesterday, Steve said he shot 80, with a front nine of 38.  The important thing, he noted, was that he made nothing worse than bogey.  I haven't had a chance to go over the round with him, but I suspect he played a little more conservatively.  His scores, which are generally in the mid eighties, inevitably include two or three double bogeys or worse.  By eliminating those bad holes--or at least more of those bad holes--I am confident that he would soon find himself regularly breaking 80.  But you only eliminate those "dreaded others" by playing smart.

I had found that giving myself three shots a side really helped me.  Instead of trying to shoot 72, when I mentally tried to shoot no worse than 78, I found myself shooting 72 more often.  I was playing comfortably and accepting a bogey as sometimes being a good score.  Playing comfortably doesn't mean we try less, it means we make committed swings to conservative targets.  We don't try to hit shots that are high risk.  We don't fire at every pin.  We learn to play the percentages.  As the saying goes, better a live dog than a dead lion.  Discretion really is the better part of valour in golf.

Steve talked recently about being at the Canadian Open and watching the pros hit shot after shot to the safe side of a pin tucked near the water.  He appreciated the fact that virtually none of the pros tried for that "sucker pin."  There was a lesson in that for him.  Most of those pros had the ability to hit it close to that pin, but the penalty for failure exceeded the potential reward for success.  They were content to have a twenty to thirty foot putt for birdie, rather than risking a bogey or worse trying to hit it close.

I suspect most of us can learn to play more intelligently. If you get the opportunity, I highly recommend you get a copy of Raymond Floyd's book.  It's one of the best books on golf you'll ever read.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Rickie Fowler Shows his Class Unlike the Fans

Once again Rickie Fowler proved that he has both style and substance at the Deutsche Bank Championship on Monday.  We were treated to some terrific golf by two wonderful players yesterday.  We saw Fowler, despite pull-hooking his opening tee shot, scramble his way to an opening par and hang in there, managing to beat Henrik Stenson, the best ball striker in the game.  

The two played superb golf, the real difference being only a tee ball by Stenson that stalled in the wind and found the hazard on sixteen.  Stenson looked unshakeable until his mistake at sixteen, striping that magic three wood time and again.  But Rickie was even better, holing some big putts and keeping his nerve despite a balky driver that had driven him to the practice range after Sunday's round.  It was another big win for flashy kid who is proving to be a big-time player.

The downside to all of this was the abundance of moronic fans in the gallery who were clearly pro-Rickie.  At one point a fan was heard to clearly shout, "Stenson's a loser."  This sort of fan behaviour is the kind of thing that tends to give the real American golf fans a bad name.  It is also the sort of behaviour that tarnishes a fine event.  

Johnny Miller at one point said, "It sounds like Brookline," referring to the Ryder Cup.  But this wasn't the Ryder Cup.  It was two fine players at the top of their game separating themselves from the field and playing head to head for the championship.  It had nothing to do with The USA against Sweden.  It wasn't about nationality; it was Rickie Fowler against Henrik Stenson.  Neither player were representing their country.  

Until we start ejecting fans who feel compelled to scream inanities after every tee shot, we will continue to have a great game sullied by shouts of "Get in the hole," or "Mash potato."  We will have fine players disrespected because they don't happen to be Americans.  I find the failure of the announcers to speak out against this kind of behaviour, and the apparent inaction by tournament officials, pretty disappointing.  

Once again, however, we were reminded that, despite the morons in the gallery, Rickie Fowler is a perfect gentleman.  He was seen congratulating Stenson on his good play despite being in the heat of battle.  The boorish fans notwithstanding, golf is in really good hands with the likes of Rickie Fowler.  Another great win by a wonderful young player.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Stewart Maiden

I was thinking this evening about just how much time I've wasted, and how many lousy shots I've hit and rounds I've played because I've been thinking about my golf swing instead of hitting golf shots.  Paralysis by analysis can happen to anyone.  It happens when we get caught up in thinking about how we want to hit it, instead of where.  It's when, instead of picking a target and taking dead aim at it, we stand up to a shot thinking about keeping our left arm straight, or keeping our head down, or whatever other tip, or idea, we've latched on to.  Paralysis by analysis; it's been the ruin of many a man's game.  

It got me thinking about what Bobby Jones had to say about his teacher, Stewart Maiden.  In his book Golf is my Game, Bobby, when speaking about learning the game, wrote:

"I do recall that as I became a little more aware of the general object of the game, I began also to be aware that some people played better than others, and I began to swing my clubs as nearly as possible as the club professional, Stewart Maiden, swung his.  I was fortunate, I suppose, that Stewart was a good model.  His method was simple.  It seemed that he merely stepped up to the ball and hit it, which to the end of my playing days was also a characteristic of my play.

Although Stewart Maiden has quite properly been known as my first instructor and the man from whom I learned the game, it is true that I never had a formal lesson from him while I was in active competitive play.  In fact, it was not until he had returned to Atlanta, only two years before he died, that I ever went on to a practice tee with him.

Although neither Maiden nor I ever saw much point in spending laborious hours on a practice tee, there were many times when I required a few words from him to put my game back in the right groove.  I suppose we didn't wear out the practice tee because it was never necessary, and Stewart never liked to waste his own time.  There was, however, one lesson that was memorable, and at the same time typical.

I had been having a most trying time with my long irons, and some sort of tournament was in the offing.  I had tried to work the thing out for myself, but could not do so.  There didn't seem to be any pattern to work on.  I would hook a few and then hit one a mile out to the right.  Indesperation at last, I told Stewart of my troubles while he was at his bench planing down a hickory shaft.

At first he said nothing, which I had long before learned was for him a normal response.  After a while, though, he took the club out of the vice, squeezed the grip end as no one else could ever do, so that barely a perceptible tremor agitated the whole club, appeared not wholly displeased, and set it aside for further attention later on.

'Let's go,' he said.  With no more conversation my caddy with my clubs and I followed Stewart down the first fairway to a spot some two hundred yards from the green.  'Hit a few,' he said.  I hit two.  As I stepped up to the next, he said 'Wait.'  With the grip end of a club he was holding in his hands, he rapped quite sharply on my left arm just below the shoulder.  I moved back.  Again he rapped, 'Move back,' he said.  I moved back some more, then looked up to see where I was aiming.  'Stewart,' I said, 'I'll knock this ball straight into that left-hand bunker.'  'Never mind,' he said; 'back some more.  Now, that's good.'  'What do I do now?' I asked, trying to be bitterly sarcastic. 'Knock the hell out of it,' said Stewart.  I did.  The ball almost landed in the hole.  I hit another and another straight at the flag.  I looked up for Stewart, but he was on his way back to his shop to finish that club.

All this may seem a pointless discussion, but it does have a purpose.  By this means I am trying to show how I think instruction in golf can be most useful.  A good instructor can be helpful at all stages of a player's development, but it is most important that the doses of instruction should be simple, direct, and practical.  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 did not try to fill my head with theories.  He merely put me in position to hit the ball and then told me to go on and hit it.

Stewart Maiden was a successful instructor because his eye went always to the point of basic disturbance.  He seemed always to be able to pick out the one point in a swing at which the making of a small change would work an improvement in the performance of the whole.  I'm sure he never once thought of trying to remake a swing or to create one from scratch precisely along copybook lines.  Throughout all the years I knew Stewart he never once allowed himself to be drawn into a discussion of  the golf swing.  To him, the game of golf consisted entirely of knocking the ball towards the hole, or into it, and that in the simplest manner possible."

Bobby Jones learned a great deal from Stewart Maiden.  He even developed his swing by watching and to some degree copying Maiden's swing.  But, perhaps more importantly, he copied Maiden's practicality when it came to the game.  He believed that golf was about knocking a ball from the teeing ground into the hole in the fewest strokes possible.  Golf was not about trying to swing a golf club in a prescribed manner.  It was all about the strike.  I sense from his writing that he dearly loved and respected Stewart Maiden.  That old Scot was one hell of a teacher.

Carl the Grinder

It seems to me that every round of golf offers you the opportunity to learn something.  In many cases what you learn is something you already knew, but perhaps had forgotten, or neglected.  It seems, in golf, we need to learn, or be reminded of, the same things over and over again.  Or, perhaps it's just me, but I don't think so. I also see many of my playing partners making the same mistakes every time we play.  We're a bunch of slow learners.

I played today with Radar, Billy, and Carl.  I have called him "Carl the Grumbler," but I've been told that perhaps Carl needs a new nickname since he's taken to breaking his age these days.  Radar and I played Carl and Billy in a match in which you get a point for low man on a hole and a point for low team total.  

I went out today feeling pretty good after having found something in my last few holes yesterday.  I realized that I had been getting quick from the top, or in my change of direction.  When I slowed it down and took it a little easier from the top I was hitting it really well.  

After a par on the first hole, I birdied the second, and then managed to push-fade a tee shot on number three with a strong left to right wind.  The ensuing lost ball, and three putts, ended in a triple bogey.  I then took too much club on the par 3 fourth and struck a perfect shot over the pin and over the green, making a bogey.  In two holes, I'd gone from one under to three over.  

On the fifth tee, I push-faded another drive with a right to left wind and, after being forced to gouge the ball out of the fescue, made another bogey.  On number 6, our signature par 5, I made an eagle, and followed that with three pars to go out in two over.  

On the back nine I made two birdies, a double bogey and three bogeys, including a three putt on the last hole after a perfect tee shot to about twenty feet.  I actually scuffed the green with my putter, getting the first putt about half way to the hole.  I was watching the putter head go back again.  So, to sum it all up, I shot 77 with a triple, a double, five bogeys, three birdies, and an eagle.  If you read my scorecard, it could have been mistaken for a series of phone numbers instead of golf scores.  I was up and down like a proverbial toilet seat.

Meanwhile, Carl played his usual game; hitting some good shots, some pretty lousy shots, and lots of perfectly acceptable shots. He missed several very makeable putts, but also got it up and down on several occasions when you might have bet against him.  He managed to shoot 75.  

Radar and I won the match, but Carl had the bragging rights for the low round.  What did I learn?  The same lessons I keep having to learn.  Don't watch the putter head go back.  Don't miss it long on number four. Don't miss it right on three, or five.  

I also learned, once again, that Carl won't hesitate to beat you if you give him an opening.  Despite all his missed putts--to hear him, he never makes anything--Carl never made worse than bogey and shot 75.  Not bad for a 72 year old who, if you saw him swing, you would swear he couldn't break ninety.  Carl readily admits that his swing is unothodox.  He knows that he flips and scoops at his chips, and he aims left and pushes his putts back on line.  But he gets the ball in the hole. 

As Carl will tell you, that's what he's always been good at; getting the ball in the hole.  Looking pretty doing so has never been an issue to him. There's a big lesson in that.  Perhaps, if I concentrated more on getting the ball in the hole, rather than how I am swinging the club, I might actually play better. 

As Radar and I watched Carl today, we commented several times on how hard he was grinding it out on every shot.  He wants to get the ball in the hole on every putt.  He wants to beat you.  He never gives up. Carl grumbles when he misses putts he thinks he should have made--which, for Carl, is every putt--but he really isn't Carl the Grumbler, he's actually Carl the Grinder.  He plays better than you think he should be able to play because he tries hard.  Bobby Jones said he thought he won so many championships because he was willing to take more punishment, and he tried harder, than everyone else.  That's the biggest lesson I learned again today.  If you want to play your best, you've got to be a grinder.  I learned again today that you've got to give every shot your best effort. 

The real benefit of being a grinder is that, even if you don't play better, you have the satisfaction of knowing you played the best you could with what you had to work with on the day.  Bobby Jones believed that this was the way to play.  He didn't believe you should go out and just relax and have fun.  He felt the way to really enjoy the game was to really throw yourself into the game and try to hit every shot as well as you possibly can.  Grinding may seem like hard work, but totally immersing yourself in the game, and giving it your all, is the way to derive the most benefit from the game.  I suppose it's like living every day as though it might be your last is the way to really live.  Every shot you make where you didn't try your best is a shot wasted; just like every day taken for granted is a day wasted.

I think, next time out, I'm going to try to really grind it out.  It may seem a bit like work, but if I can do it, I won't have any regrets.  Besides, I'm getting kind of tired of having that old guy, Carl the Grinder, beat my sorry ass.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Golf Can Be a Four-Letter Word

Some days golf is just a four-letter word.  You walk a fine line in this game.  You can be rolling along, not a care in the world, and suddenly it's gone.

I went on a trip to Mont Tremblant, Quebec for a few days with a couple of buddies.  We played some of the prettiest, and scariest, mountain courses I've ever played.  I also played some of the lousiest golf I've ever played.  Thank goodness I wasn't silly enough to let my play ruin a great experience.  Mont Tremblant is absolutely beautiful, as are many of its courses.

On the first hole on the Manitou course, a highly ranked short course which features replicas of some of the world's great holes, I cold-shanked a five iron off the tee, and made a double.  Not only did I shank a ball on one, I continued hacking and slashing my way to being nine over par after four holes.  I mean, I'm no Jordan Spieth, but nine over after four holes?  I was in a bad way.

Steve and Brian, though somewhat bewildered by my play, were obviously happy to find themselves four up after four.  I was playing their best ball, and they clearly found it quite amusing that anyone who hit it like I was doing would have had the nerve to play against two other players' best ball.  They certainly had a point.

Because it is a short course, we played from the tips.  That being the case, Manitou might have been short, but it was not exactly easy.  In any event, I actually recovered enough, going two over the rest of the way, to actually win the match.  That is why I love match play; a double, or a triple, just means one lost hole. Brian, however, couldn't help smiling on the last hole as he sunk about an eight footer to beat me by a stroke.  

Those first four holes it was as though I'd never played the game before.  I stood over the ball and hadn't the foggiest notion about what I was doing.  My mind was a complete blank.  Actually, it wasn't completely blank; my head was actually spinning, and I feared even taking the club back.  It was very unnerving.  Steve could only commiserate with me and tell me that now I knew just how he's been feeling lately.

The rest of the week was much the same.  I hit it every which way.  I tried everything I knew to try and struggled pretty much in vain.  Whatever I may have had once was gone.  The only plus to the week, besides the magnificent scenery and good company, was that I actually found something and went two under par for my last five holes at Le Diable on our final round. At least I could finish the trip on a positive note.

It seems with golf--for most of us at least--you never quite own your game, you merely rent it.  Look at Jordan Spieth; who is at the top of the game and suddenly misses two cuts in a row, losing to Jason Day over the two days at the Deutsche Bank by twelve shots.  Who would have believed it?  I'd like to tell Jordan I know how he feels, but I guess I really don't.  I could at least play like a bum with only Steve and Brian to witness it.  Jordan had to struggle with the whole world looking on.

There will now be all the questions asked about Jordan Spieth.  Some people will say he's finished; or that he's just a flash in the pan.  I suspect, however, that he will soon recover and come charging back.  And, even if he never does, he's accomplished more in two years--hell he's accomplished more in one year--than most golfers, including professional golfers, will ever accomplish.  

As for me, I was never really that good anyway.  But, those last five holes at Le Diable have me thinking I just might have found something.  After all, I'm like most every golfer; I'll cling to any ray of hope.  I can't wait to tee it up tomorrow on my home course.  I'm not going to remember all the terrible golf I played for those five days in that heavenly place.  I'm going to remember those last five holes, where I was two under.  I really think I might just have found something.  

As for Jordan Spieth; he's perhaps got some things to think about, and some regrouping to do.  But, he's the current Masters champion.  He's the US Open champ as well.  I don't think he needs to hang his head.  He's a champion.

Friday, 4 September 2015

A New Day is Dawning

A new day seems to be dawning in golf--no pun intended.  We now seem to have three players who are looking to separate themselves from the pack and possibly become greats of the game.  If they can stay healthy, and maintain their spectacular play, we just may be entering a new and exciting era where we have another "Big Three."  

Jason Day with his phenomenal play of late is suddenly the man of the moment.  It seems we've already forgotten Spieth's incredible season in favour of Day.  We are rightly impressed with Jason Day, who once again sits atop the leaderboard at the Deutsche Bank.  His win in Canada, followed by the PGA championship and then the win last week, where Spieth missed the cut, certainly makes Day the hot commodity right now. 

But things are moving quickly in the golf world.  The Official World Golf Rankings, as strange or difficult as they might be to understand, now just might have Day as the new number one player if he continues to have a good run to the FedEx cup and Spieth and McIlroy don't produce something special themselves.  Right now the rankings are so tight that it's all about what have you done for me today, not what have you done this year, or the past two years.  I'm sure Jordan is shaking his head, to think that all that hard work, and fantastic play, earned him the number one spot for but a moment, and that he is going to be hard-pressed to wrestle it back.

You have to be impressed with Jason Day.  Even Jordan Spieth had to admit that Day is now the best player in the game.  He now presents as the complete package, with power, finesse, and putting.  Spieth, on the other hand, is an enigma; lacking the ability to overpower a golf course, he isn't spectacular in any area of the game other than his uncanny ability to get the ball in the hole, which is the whole point of the game.  Rory has it all, but I find myself wondering whether he still has the desire the other two have, and his putter seems to run hot and cold.

These are definitely interesting times.  Having a Big Three might be very good for golf.  We like rivalries.  When talking about these three young guns, I think it will all come down to their ability to avoid injury and maintain the desire and work ethic it will require to stay ahead of the pack.  Both Day and McIlroy have swings that I find myself wondering about.  They are young man's swings.  Whether they can stay fit and healthy enough to keep swinging like that remains to be seen.  I'm reminded of Harvey Penick's view of modern swings; swings that he didn't think were built to last.  As for Spieth, he has a swing that will likely stand the test of time; provided he doesn't mess with it trying to get a few extra yards.

When Day and McIlroy are on their game, Spieth is at a distinct disadvantage.  He is missing that extra gear that both McIlroy and Day possess.  He can't hit 362 yard drives and follow them up with 191 yard nine irons to the par fives like Day did to pretty much seal the deal at the PGA.  He has to rely on continuing to hole more than his fair share of those fifteen to twenty footers to compete.  

Whether these three continue to be the top guns, and eventually find themselves revered anything like Jack, Arnie, and Gary, remains to be seen.  What is undeniable is that we really are witnessing some great golf.  

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Bobby Jones on Timing

Golf is a game of timing.  Some people would argue that it is also a game of rhythm, or tempo, but you see accomplished players who swing so differently, that it might well be argued that timing--the timing of the strike--is the most important component to the golf swing.  Bobby Jones in his book Bobby Jones on Golf, as always, provides great insight into the subject.  He wrote:

"It is unfortunate that the most important feature of the golf stroke is so difficult to explain or to understand.  We all talk about good timing, and faulty timing, and the importance of timing, and yet no one has been able to fix upon a means of saying what timing is.  The duffer is told that he spoils his shot because his stroke is not properly timed, but no one can tell him how he can time it properly.

One common error causing bad timing can be pointed out with sufficient exactness to give the enterprising average golfer something to work on.  I mean the error of beginning to hit too early in the downward stroke.  I have said that it is a common error.  It is an error common to all golfers, a chronic lapse in the case of the expert, but an unfailing habit in the case of the dub.  I believe that it will be found that of the players that turn in scores of ninety and over, ninety-nine out of every hundred hit too soon on ninety-nine out of every hundred strokes. Many who play even better golf and have really acceptable form fail to play better than they do for this very reason.

Hitting too soon is a fault of timing in itself.  It causes the player to reach the ball with a large part of the power of the stroke already spent.  Instead of being able to apply it all behind the ball, he has expended a vast amount upon the air where it could do no good.  Apparently, everyone fears he will not be able to strike out in time when, as a matter of fact, there has not been one single player come under my observation who has been habitually guilty of late hitting.  Sometimes he will fail to close the face of the club by the time the club reaches the ball, but this is always due to something entirely apart from tardy delivery.

The primary cause of early hitting is to be found in the right hand and wrist.  If the left hand has a firm grip upon the club, so long as it remains in control there can be no premature hitting.  The left side is striking backhanded, and it will prefer to pull from the left shoulder, with the left elbow straight, rather than to deliver a blow involving an uncocking of the wrists.

But the right hand throughout the stroke is in the more powerful position.  Its part in the stroke is on what in what in tennis would be called the forehand.  It is moving forward in the direction easiest for it to follow.  Because the player is intent upon effort, and upon hitting hard, the right hand tends to get into the fight long before it has any right to enter.  The right hand must be restrained if it is not to hit before its time arrives."

Once again, when it comes to timing, Bobby Jones clearly reveals the importance of striking the ball, and controlling the swing with the left--or top--hand.  This is why I call my blog Top Hand Golf.  That right hand, while extremely useful when it comes into play at the right time, can, and for most golfers almost always does, ruin more shots than probably anything else.  Bobby in the next chapter, entitled Delaying the Hit, talks in further detail about timing the strike.  This I will share in my next installment.

I know I am always going to Bobby Jones for the answer.  I might be accused of being like a broken record in this respect.  But, until someone comes along who both played and understood the game on par with him, I will have to stick with the best.