Thursday, 31 March 2016

St John's Golf and Country Club

I played St John's Golf and Country Club near St Augustine. I had my long-suffering wife with me, armed with her camera and a new ball retriever we bought on the way to the course at a thrift store for two bucks to assist in her ball-hawking efforts.  We were paired up with Paul and Dave who had just flown in to Jacksonville from Boston.  

We had booked a 2:01 tee time, but were bumped to 2:19 to accommodate a foursome of members--two men and two women--who were seemingly content to keep us waiting over every shot for the entire day.  Despite being encouraged to speed up by the marshall, they took their sweet time, obviously unconcerned that they were holding up some green-fee players.

The course was an interesting and reasonably challenging layout at 6801 yards from the blues where we three seasoned and slightly crippled veterans teed it up.  The course was firm and fast, and the greens were excellent.  The staff were quite friendly and welcoming, even if some of the members weren't, and I wouldn't hesitate to play the course again when I'm back in the area.

Both Dave and Paul acquitted themselves pretty well despite it being Paul's first outing after having had a hip replacement and Dave suffering from rotor cuff pain.  With me taking morphine and Dave swallowing Motrin, we remained undaunted and, as bravely as we could, took as many strokes as required to complete the round.  Dave putted really well and hit some excellent iron shots, but wasn't particularly thrilled with his driving.  Paul was adjusting to a new set of Hogan irons and was tinkering a bit in an effort to find his swing after his hip surgery, so there were a few wayward shots, but plenty of good ones, including some laser-like drives.

The best thing about my play was that I somehow managed to resist any temptation to tinker all day.  I stuck to the left-hand-low putting stroke and had another pretty good day on the greens.  Old Man Par was never really threatened, but I managed to keep it a couple of strokes under 80 on a course I'd never seen before, so I figured I did okay for an old crippled guy after a winter layoff.  If I can give up the tinkering, there just might be some hope for me.

As for Kathryn; she used her new ball retriever to find me lots of previously-enjoyed ammo, including close to a dozen Pro V's.  She also got some pretty nice pictures.  

The boys have come down to Jacksonville to play with a group of friends who meet annually for a friendly tournament that will be played over several days on different area courses, finishing on the Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass.  I'm sure they'll have a blast.  They didn't seem the least bit perturbed to be paired up with my wife and I and, despite our five hour round, I think it's safe to say we had a great time of it.  They were really good company and made it a memorable day on the links.

Eighteen holes at St John's Country Club--a good deal at thirty-one dollars--to play it with Dave and Paul--priceless!

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Sam Snead and the "Force-Type Swing"

While all I have seen are videos of Sam Snead--and him hitting the opening tee shot at the Masters into his nineties--I think I am safe in saying he was the best swinger of the club we've ever seen.  Johnny Miller played with Sam and recently stated that he has still never seen anyone, including McIlroy, Day, and Woods, hit it any better than Sam did.  Say what you like about Johnny, but he knows golf and the golf swing.

I just read an article by Sam Adams in which he talks about the danger, especially to the back, of the "modern" swing.  Sam Snead called this " modern swing" a "force-type swing."  He did not recommend it for handicap players and called it a young man's swing.  In essence, the modern swing includes a big shoulder turn, a restricted hip turn, a shorter backswing, and a great deal of body rotation and torque.  It is a powerful move.  But it is definitely a young man's swing.  Most of those who employ it, Harvey Penick asserted, won't be playing on the Champions Tour unless they learn to make some adjustments.

Look at some of the classic swingers, like Tom Watson, Vijay Singh, Colin Montgomery, Freddie Couples, Phil Mickelson and Ernie.  Those guys have stayed competitive, kept their length, and have had success well into their forties and fifties.  Their swings are all long, loose, and rhythmic.  Sam referred to keeping his swing "oily."  These guys swing the club.  They hit the ball with the clubhead.  They don't try to apply force to the ball with the shaft of the club.

Sam Snead said he swung the club straight back with his left hand, gripping the club firmly in the last two fingers of his left hand to avoid over-swinging, or losing control at the top of the backswing.  His left arm, shoulder, hip, knee, and foot just naturally followed along.  He began the downswing with his left hand and arm pulling the club through impact and down the target line.  Once again, the rest of the body followed right along naturally.  In his swing there was no effort to restrict anything.  It was a loose, oily, rhythmic action that placed minimal stress on his body.  He was the ultimate swinger of the club.  His action was as simple and free of idiosyncrasies as it was fluid and rhythmic.  I think I'm going to watch as much video of the Slammer as I can.  

No one has managed to figure out a way to swing the club any better than Sam.  Just ask Johnny.  If you haven't checked out Sam Snead's swing, I suggest you look on YouTube.  If you prefer, you might want to check out Tom Watson if you want a more modern example.  While his rhythm is quicker, Tom's swing has to be as good as we've ever seen.  Hell, he was almost sixty when he lost the Open in a playoff.  There's a swing to emulate and try to copy.  No idiosyncrasies there either.

In fact, I don't think Tom Watson gets as much credit as he should.  Not many guys went toe to toe with Jack in his prime and won.  Tom is one of the all-time greats.  He was helped to refine his game by none other than Byron Nelson.  Now, you want to talk about great players, Lord Byron...

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Oberholser's Magic Wedge

I've been watching the commercials and suddenly realized, after giving up on my 54 degree wedge the other day, I've been using the wrong equipment.  Mr. Oberholser tells me I should be playing the XE1 wedge.  Apparently it's foolproof.  

No matter what the lie, all I have to do is square it up and swing and the ball will pop right up there next to the hole.  Why, then, have I not seen one tour player using one?  Why do they want to make things difficult for themselves when there's a foolproof answer?

I really wonder how these guys like Oberholser, shilling for the latest magic club or ball to come along, look themselves in the mirror.  Oberholser tells us, "without so much as a single lesson or practice session," we can use this wedge to "eradicate" fat chips and pitches, even with our less-than-perfect swing.  We'll get it out of the bunker every time. We can now clip the ball cleanly off tight lies and stop it next to the pin.  We'll be filled with confidence no matter what the lie or greenside condition. We'll even wipe the grins off our buddies' faces as they see us execute a Phil Mickelson flop shot.

And, we'll be able to do these things "immediately, the very first time" we pick up this amazing wedge.  Oberholser even has the nerve to talk about us "cursing" the $150 wedge and "all those famous pros who endorse it."  This guy has got brass ones.  I mean, seriously, some guys will say anything if the price is right.

Nevertheless, the way my 54 degree wedge has been working, maybe I should order this magic wedge.  I'm sure it must come with a money-back guarantee.

Cream Rising

Cream rises to the top.  We see it at all the top courses and biggest events.  We are definitely seeing it at Arnie's event this week, with Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, and Adam Scott in the hunt after two days.

Occasionally one relatively low-ranked fellow catches fire and wins one of these events.  But, generally-speaking, we see the best players vying for the most prestigious titles.  That is, of course, as it should be.  But the big events and the Majors identify the champions; and the champions have more than just the ability to hit great golf shots.  They have "it," whatever it is that makes them able to manage themselves and win the big ones.

It's going to be an interesting and exciting weekend at Arnie's event.  And it appears Jason Day is back with a vengeance.  

Thursday, 17 March 2016

English Turn in New Orleans

I played English Turn in New Orleans today.  It's a terrific course.  But, after taking four shots to get on the first green, a reasonably straight forward par four, I one-putted for bogey, and thought, "here we go, it's going to be one of those days."

After then making two solid pars, I figured I was settling down.  On number four, I drove it about 275 yards into an unrepaired divot, leaving me about sixty yards over water to a front pin.  I hit it to about 10 feet and, believe it or not, rolled it in for birdie.  I took pictures of the ball in the old divot and the approach required, and finally the ball on the green.  I must admit, when I took the picture of the ball in the divot, I was anticipating a possible disaster story after, what was for me, a perfect drive.  

On the next hole, a longish par four, after that terrific birdie, I proceeded to hit a weak push off the tee, leaving myself about 200 yards to a back pin off a tough lie in the rough with the ball well above my feet.  I played what I thought to be the smart shot, short and left of the green in a bunker.  I then made the mistake of using my 54 degree wedge, a club that has given me nothing but grief, and promptly thinned it over the green into the bushes.  After dropping in the bunker I had to play out of a fried-egg lie to about 30 feet short of the pin.  Three putts later, I had a triple.  That's golf.  One minute you look like a golfer, the next, you're a bum.

It was pretty much all downhill from there.  I finished tired, aching, and rather discouraged.  However, I can't wait to tee it up next.  My wife tells me they have another tee time at English Turn tomorrow through GolfNow at 0810 for forty bucks.  In that case I'm sure my back will feel better, and I have banished the 54 degree wedge, never to be used again. I have also decided to put the Hogan blades back in the bag.  And did I mention that I putted left hand low for the second day in a row and putted really well--if I forget the three-putt on five.  

Good courses like English Turn really let you know the state of your game.  You can't fake it on championship courses.  Mine is definitely not so good, but it was, after all, only the second round I've played in four months.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it.  I now have a used Callaway forged 54 degree wedge for sale.  Dirt cheap.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Ben Hogan on Golf

I was just reading the conclusion of Ben Hogan's book, Five Lessons The Modern Fundamentals of Golf.  For many, it has become like the Bible for golf.  I think, all the interesting mechanical information and advice aside, the most compelling thing was what Mr. Hogan had to say about the game.  He wrote:

   "I have always thought of golf as the best of all games--the most interesting, the most demanding, the most rewarding.  I cannot begin to express the gratification I have always felt in being part of a game with sucha wonderful flavor and spirit, a game which has produced such superb champions and attractive personalities as Harry Vardon, Francis Ouimet, Bob Jones, Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Tommy Armour, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Jimmy Demaret--to name only a few of the great players.  I have found the game to be, in all factualness, a universal language wherever I travelled at home or abroad.  I have really enjoyed every minute I have spent in golf--above all the many wonderful friends I have made.  I have loved playing the game and practicing it.  Whether my schedule for the following day called for a tournament round or merely a trip to the practice tee, the prospect that there was going to be golf in it made me feel privileged and extremely happy, and I couldn't wait for the sun to come up the next morning so that I could get out on the course again."

Can I get an "Amen?"

Charl Schwarzel Looks Good for Augusta

With two wins on the European Tour, and now an impressive win on the Copperhead course at Innisbrook, Charl Schwarzel looks to be another favourite heading into Augusta this year.  It seems, particularly at the Masters, that nothing succeeds like success with the number of multiple winners there over the years.  Charl joins Bubba and Adam Scott as two other Masters champions who seem to be in top form right now.

Form is something that comes and goes in this game, so one never really knows whether these three can carry that form into Augusta, or will someone else peak at the just the right time?  Louis Oosthuizen, with a recent win, just might get the job done after his near win there a few years ago.  What is clear is that there is a definite knack to playing Augusta National.  As Arnie has said, it's all about angles--angles and leaving yourself below the hole.

It was a rather poor final round again by Jordan Spieth at Valspar.  He really looked uncomfortable out there and quickly started heading in the wrong direction, missing a very makeable birdie putt on the first hole that seemed to set the tone for the day.  No, as a few critics like to say, he's not Tiger Woods; but I'm still not ready to count him out of the running in the Majors this year.  Champions, like Spieth, seem to find a way to get in the hunt at the big ones, and with a win and a second place finish in the last two years, he definitely understands what is required to get the job done when he drives down Magnolia Lane.  Very few twenty two year olds have been multiple Major champions.  This kid is the real thing, and I thought it was nice to see Rory come to Jordan's defence on social media the other day.  

Once again, it is becoming clear that a few older guys are proving that they aren't necessarily ready to sit back and let the young guns have it all their way.  This week, it's Arnie's place.  It will certainly be interesting to see who prevails at Bay Hill.  In the meantime, my doctor is preparing for his first trip to the Masters where he will have the chance, among other things, to dine with Gary Player.  He's a lucky dog.  He asked me if I wanted him to bring me something back from Augusta.  I told him just to bring me his memories.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Doing Too Much?

Jordan Spieth has managed to defy the critics and has fouught his way back into contention at the Valspar championship on the tough Copperhead course.  The frustration of his lousy first round led him to respond to critics on social media.  Never a good idea.  Any time you get into a smelling contest with a skunk, you're going to end up losing.

His two rounds of stellar play since on a tough track have him in the same position as last year when he managed to rally and win in a playoff.  Whether he can make history repeat itself is anyone's guess.  But, clearly, he's still got some golf left in him.

I spoke to my old mother about his first round travails and she said,"He's doing too much."  The problem with being the best is that every asshole and his uncle is willing to throw money at you to get a piece of you.  Your life changes in ways I certainly couldn't even imagine.  With that change comes a balancing act.  Perhaps that is why you see so many players get to number one in the world and then promptly fall away.  Luke Donald and Martin Kaymer come to mind.  The buzz around being number one is definitely not for everyone.  Look at Jason Day.  He has become conspicuous by his absence from leaderboards since finally ascending to number one for a week or two.

Whether Spieth has been "doing too much," as Granny suggests, or whether it is just the vagaries of golf--who knows.  But one thing for certain, this kid isn't done by a damn sight.  He's the real deal.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Bobby Jones on the Golf Swing Now and Then

In Golf is my Game, Bobby Jones dealt with the question of whether the golf swing had changed from his day to the present, which was 1959.  I find his take on it to be very interesting.  He wrote:

  "With all these changes in equipment and golf-course upkeep, it is not unnatural that the question should often occur, "What changes have come about in method?  Is there a modern method, a modern golf swing which is essentially different from that of twenty-five or thirty years ago?"  Actually, I think not, and I believe that so long as manis constructed as he is--which seems to be a fairly reasonable prospect for the predictable future--the order of the movements necessary to the complete, sound golf swing are not likely to change.  In two respects only am I able to find any difference, and these are not of the nature which can be called fundamental.
   The first difference I note is in the length of the backswing, and perhaps in the speed of it as well.  In my day and before, the virtues of a long, leisurely swing had come to be fairly well accepted.  Writers and players alike extolled the value of rhythm.
   I still think the long, leisurely swing is best for the average player.  I think he should always try to make certain that he gets the club back far enough and that his change of direction at the top of the swing should take place in a leisurely manner, because nothing can so upset his timing and execution as hurry at either of these points.
   If there is a new method in golf, it seems to involve a more careful, even meticulous 'sighting' of the shot.  While we still have many graceful, comfortable-looking players, there are a number who have the appearance of being excrutiatingly stiff.  In some cases the traditional waggle of the club designed to promote smoothness of movement has been replaced by a waggle of the player's behind as he strives to place himself in precise alignment for the delivery of the blow.
   Some of these players are very effective.  Once they have settled into a saisfactory position, the quick, convulsive stroke seems to send the ball very straight indeed towards the objective.  But the method involves a complete disregard of the amount of time consumed, and so is most trying upon the nerves and patience of any who may be watching.  I must admit that I do not find the performance of these players pleasing to the eye, even though the figures they produce may leave little to be desired.
   It is not my intention to imply by what I have written that there has been no improvement among golfers themselves in the past thirty years.  Indeed, I should regard this as very sad if this were the case.  Men have learned to run faster and to jump higher and farther.  It would be strange if they had not also learned to play better golf.  Every generation learns from those that have gone before, and so progress is made."

So, there you have it from the old Master.  The golf swing has not fundamentally changed over the years, and will not likely change so long as humans are constructed as they are.  There have been some alterations in method.  Some of which Bobby found hard on his nerves and patience, and not very pleasing to the eye.  But, as he points out, golfers have improved over time.  And he would be sad had they not.  

Still, I love to watch the smooth swingers who step up to the ball and get on with it without all the fiddling and fussing.  I think, from what we've read, Bobby would certainly second that opinion.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Bobby Jones on "Ease and Comfort"

In his book, Bobby Jones on Golf, Bobby tells an entertaining story about playing golf with his father.  It provided an apt illustration about a struggle that so many of us have.  He wrote:

  "One day my father and I were playing together, he was driving last from the back of a very long tee.  With a swing that could only be described as labored, he bashed the head of the driver into the turf so that the ball popped almost straight up, and dropped just in front of the teeing ground.  As we started forward, he called to me, 'Come back here a minute.'  Then, with as graceful a swing as I could imagine, he clipped a dandelion from the grass.  Glaring at me, he said in a strangely challenging tone, 'Now what's wrong with that swing?'  'Nothing,' I said, 'why don't you use it sometime?'
  There is no golfer in the world who has not at some time thought how fine it would be if he could swing at the ball as freely and as smoothly as he swings at a clover top or a piece of paper lying on the grass.  Some, indeed, do not even then have to others the graceful and effective appearance they conceive themselves to have, but there is no denying, except in the case of experts, that the practice swing is, almost always, far better than the swing made with the intent of striking the ball.  The player himself senses and admits the difference, often recognizes the reason, yet fails to understand that there is a sensible way to overcome it.
  Most persons accept it as one of those things that must be suffered.  The necessity for the existence of this difference is lamented, accepted, and we pass on.  The entire business is attributed to a mental condition, a sense of responsibility, anxiety, fear, or whatnot, setting up a tension that cannot be overcome.
  This much is true, but it so happens that it is only part of the story.  The difference in the state of mind of the player when taking a practice swing and when playing an actual stroke is easily understood and its affect appreciated; but what is neither understood nor appreciated is that the elimination or omission of some of the frills of the actual stroke that are not present in the practice swing may work a complete change.  The expert is not afraid of the ball, because he has learned to have confidence in his ability to hit it.
  Watch a moderately good average golfer take a practice swing prepatory to making a shot.  He swings the club easily, rhythmically to and fro, there is proper balance throughout and a commendable relaxation.  The stance is always conservative and comfortable--one into which he has stepped without fuss or bother.  Now watch him as he steps up to the ball.  He first sets his feet wide apart--at least further than they were before.  This, he thinks, is to assure good balance and a firm footing.
  Then he gpbegins to waggle, and the more he waggles the more he bends over the ball and the more tense he becomes.  Instead of sensing the correct position, or of falling naturally into a comfortable one, he attempts to set himself before the ball with perfect accuracy, attempting to see that everything is placed just so.
  I have no quarrel with anyone for taking pains with a shot nor for making certain he is ready to play before he starts the swing.  But most golfers lose sight of the fact that in the first position it is ease and comfort that are to be sought, and that a strained or unnatural posture was never recommended by anyone...
  It is very rare that tension is observed in a practice swing, and this is so because the player, not feeling the necessity of being entirely correct, comes closer to assuming a natural posture.  Let him take this naturalness into the actual shot; let him simplify his preliminary motions as much as possible; and let him start the ball on its way without hurry, yet without setting himself on point before it like a fine bird dog on a covey of quail.  In this way, he can go a long way, on the physical side, toward overcoming the understandable mental disturbances that must arise when he is confronted with the responsibility of hitting the ball.  Mental tension--that is, keenness--never does any harm when it is accompanied by physical relaxation."

So, there you have it.  Perhaps our practice swing really is better than our "real" swing.  But it isn't really the swing, it's the ease and comfort with which we approach our practice swing that makes the difference.  Perhaps, if we allowed ourselves not to worry about being so careful, and so precise, when standing over the ball, we might just see some improvement.  And, even if we don't, at least we'll be comfortable and at ease.  Comfortable is good.  

That Bobby Jones was something special.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Rory and Gary

I've been a fan of Rory McIlroy.  He's been a fantastic player.  My people on my mother's side hail from his neck of the woods, so I have even more reason to root for the Irish kid.  But, like Brandel Chamblee, I worry about this workout craze he seems to have adopted.

Gary Player was quick to come to Rory's defense when Brandel made his comments.  After all, working out really helped Gary become a great champion, and stay in the game when many of his contemporaries were long gone.  But Gary never pumped himself up to the level Rory has. Even in his prime, Gary was skinny as a rake.

There are only so many hours in the day.  And, while Rory is pumping iron, someone else is honing their short game.  I guess it's all a matter of priorities and balance.  What I do, however, know is that no amount of iron-pumping can give someone the talent and the touch that Rory has.  He has a gift for the game.  I just hope we see fewer clips of him in the gym, and more clips of him lifting trophies.

The Fab Four?

I think it's perhaps time to admit that the Fab Four's performance has been somewhat underwhelming of late.  Rickie Fowler has played the best, but he seems to be struggling a bit since his playoff loss to Matsuyama.

Jason Day has not played much, and when he has, it's been hardly the kind of golf he played at the end of last season.  Jordan Spieth looks very much out of sync.  And Rory, after his second Sunday collapse in a row, looks to be discombobulated, but definitely buffed.

Golf is a fickle game.  You have it one day, and the following day you can't piddle a drop.  But the great players seem to find a way to make a score, even if they haven't got their best stuff.  Jordan Spieth was probably the best example we've seen of this since Tiger Woods--until recently.

I don't necessarily see any need for the Fab Four to panic.  It's still a few weeks until Augusta, and they just might be able to peak at the right time.  But right now the best picks for this year's green jacket seem to be Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, and maybe even Phil.  They know how to get it done around Augusta National, and they are in the best form.

I was one who was celebrating the emergence of these four exciting players.  I thought it was great for the game.  But it appears it isn't going to be quite as easy for them to dominate the game as it looked like it was going to be.  There are some thirty and forty somethings who apparently aren't quite done yet.

One thing for certain, the Masters is going to be as interesting as ever this year.


Sunday, 6 March 2016

Keep Up and Shut Up

Call me old fashioned, but isn't all this consultation between Phil and his caddy, Bones, getting to be just a bit much?  Remember the good old days when all a caddy needed to do was keep up, and shut up?

I certainly don't mind hearing the odd bit of input from the caddy, and a little back and forth between the caddy and the player.  It helps you gain some insight into the player's mindset.  But Phil and Bones take it to a whole different level.  I don't really like seeing a caddy standing over a putt making practice strokes.  Is it just me?

The Slammer

Watching these guys hit the ball at Doral, I find myself in awe of what they can do.  Some of the shots they are able to pull off--not just majestic drives--are mind boggling.  That bunker shot Adam Scott hit yesterday--I think it was on seventeen-- was out of this world.  They certainly seem to be playing a game with which I'm not familiar.

But it was interesting to note that Johnny Miller, who has seen all the greats play since the sixties, when asked to remark about the way these guys were striking it, said he had played a few rounds with Samuel Jackson Snead and has never seen anyone hit it any better than the Slammer did.

These modern players are fantastic, but according to Johnny, the Slammer was as good a ball striker as any of them.  I, for one, am inclined to believe him.

Ha Na Jang Shines in Singapore

How about that Ha Na Jang?  She breezed her way to a second win this year at the HSBC Champions in Singapore, making an eagle on the last hole to add the exclamation mark to a wonderful week of golf.

This young lady seems destined to be a big star in the women's game; and what's not to love about this smiling, bubbly young lady?  She's an absolute delight for the fans.  She's obviously delightful to play with as well, smiling, encouraging, and acknowledging her playing partners' good play. 

These Korean and Asian gals are really dominating the game.  Most of them seem to have the perfect attitude for the game, never seeming to lose their cool.  Of course our little Canadian gal, Brooke Henderson, had another pretty good finish and looks to be on her way to becoming the best player we've ever produced in the ladies' game.  And there was a rather dominating performance by a certain young American phenom, Lexi Thompson, last week, so I guess it isn't going to be all about the Asians as the women's game continues to grow.

What is abundantly clear is that the game can be fun and friendly, while played at a very high level.  You needn't put on a game face, and scowl your way around the links like certain players who's names don't have to be mentioned.  

I also love watching these women play because they constantly remind me that force doesn't have to be added to the equation when swinging the club.  They are a fine example to anyone who thinks you might need to add a little extra just prior to impact.  If these little gals can crank it out there 270 yards, with such little effort, maybe an old fart like me can do better by just swinging club.

These girls are good.

Left Hand Low is the Way to Go

I wrote an article a few weeks ago called "Careful Jordan," which included a picture of Rory standing watching Jordan Spieth putt.  The gist was that, if Rory started putting anything like Jordan, the boys were in big trouble.  If Rory gets the putter going, he's going to be back to lapping fields and winning Majors.  He's that talented.

Sure enough, this week at Doral, Rory has gone left hand low with the putter, and after a mediocre first round on the greens, is starting to roll his rock again.  Rory was quick to say that the reason he had resisted going left hand low was that he didn't want us to think he was copying Jordan.  Rory had putted left hand low in his first year on the European Tour.  So he wasn't copying Jordan, he was going back to it.  Sounds good to me.

The fact is this left hand low putting method seems to really work.  We see more and more players on all the tours using it.  Apparently Arnie and Jack have both said that, if they were just starting out again, they'd both putt left hand low.  That's good enough for me.  I'm going to make the change, even though it's tough to teach an old dog new tricks.

As for Rory, if he keeps putting like this, he's going to be back to being the top dog.  We'll see how it holds up under Sunday pressure today at the Blue Monster.  So far, so good.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

It's All on the Greens

One of the best known quotes in golf is attributed to Bobby Locke, who apparently first coined the phrase "you drive for show, and putt for dough."  In the end, it always comes down to the putter.  Many say Bobby Locke was an absolute putting genuis--perhaps the best ever.  I can't really comment on that, never having seen him play.  But he certainly understood the importance of making putts, as does every great player.

The two best putters I've ever seen have to be Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.  Both of them had the ability to bear down and make putts when they most needed to.  It's no coincidence that both are also the guys who've won the most Majors.  I must say, Tiger had to have been the best putter I've ever seen from six feet and in when he was at the top of his game.  He was absolutely bullet-proof from six feet in his prime.

Raymond Floyd believed the most important shot in golf was the six foot putt, and I think he's absolutely right about that.  Dave Pelz conducted studies and found that the pros, on average, made fifty percent of their putts from six feet.  That might have been true; but we can also be certain the contenders every Sunday are making more than fifty percent of their six footers that week.  When he surveyed the pros, he found that Jack Nicklaus was one of the very few who accurately guessed what the average was.  Most pros thought they holed a higher percentage of them.  Most amateurs also greatly over-estimate their ability to hole shorter putts; or at least think they should make more six footers than they do.  This often negatively affects their attitude.  I know I have been that way.

Perhaps it would be good for all of us to remember what Walter Hagen, another great putter, said about missing short ones.  He said: "There is no tragedy in missing a putt, no matter how short.  All have erred in this respect."  The fact is we're all going to miss some short ones, and sometimes it won't even be our fault.  It just happens.  It's part of the game.  And, while that is true, Tiger surely missed fewer short ones than anyone I've ever seen; at least prior to 2008 he did.

Gene Sarazen said: "In golf, the first thing that leaves you is your putting."  But there are lots of old timers who can still putt lights out. I just wish I was one of them.  There is nothing better than making putts; and the truth of the matter is you can practise hitting balls and become a great ball striker, but if you can't putt, you're going to be losing to guys you think you should beat.

As Tony Lema said: "You don't necessarily have to be a good golfer to be a good putter, but you have to be a good putter to be a good golfer."  So, I guess I just need to work on my attitude towards putting.  I need to be more accepting of the fact that I'm going to miss my share of short ones, and not get as discouraged as I have been inclined to do on those days when I miss more than my fair share.  I need also to relish the opportunity to try to make putts, rather than seeing putts as an opportunity to miss.  I'm planning on practising my short putting much harder this year, and asking my playing partners not be as generous with the gimmees.  I need to learn to enjoy the challenge of trying to make a three footer, instead of secretly hoping someone will say, "it's good."  They're never good when the money is on the line. 

They say Ben Hogan was a terrific putter who became resentful in later years of the importance of putting.  He apparently ended up playing games where putting was eliminated in favour of who got their approaches closest to the pin.  He was quoted as saying: "There is no similarity between golf and putting; they are two different games-- one played in the air, and the other on the ground."  Oh, but were that only the case.  The fact is--whether we like it or not--putting is a huge part of the game of golf.

Tom Weiskopf pretty much summed it up when he said: "Make what you want of it, but it's all on the greens--and half of that's in your head."  Ain't that just the truth.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

What Was Phil Up To?

Phil was recently quoted as saying the top young guns weren't anywhere near as good as Tiger in his heyday.  Not really a newsflash, but it received attention.  What was Phil up to?

It's no secret that there has never been any love lost between Tiger and Phil.  Phil probably feels comfortable in giving Tiger this compliment because Tiger is not presently a threat to him as far as winning Majors is concerned.  But Phil's compliment to Tiger was also a back-handed slight against the great play of Spieth, McIlroy, Day, and Fowler.  Trying to minimize what these kids have recently done by comparing them negatively to Tiger amounts to nothing more than gamesmanship on Phil's part.  

You needn't put these kids down to build Tiger up.  Everyone, including these kids, know how great Tiger was.  Phil wants to win more Majors-- especially a US Open.  If he can get into the heads of these kids--his chief rivals--all the better, I suppose.  But not, in my opinion, a very classy move.

Down the Fairway

If you haven't read Down the Fairway, by Bobby Jones and O.B. Keeler, you have really missed a treat.  I've started reading it again and am amazed at the insight provided by Bobby Jones, who wrote this at the age of 25.  

Here's an interesting sample to perhaps whet your appetite:

  "A fourth round of 72 would have won me the first open championship in which I played, and doubtless would have ruined me utterly.  Of all the luck I've had, and I've had a lot, the best luck is that I didn't win at Merion as a kid of 14 in my first amateur championship, or at Inverness, in my first open... But that tremendous finish at Inverness hypnotized me.  Think of it--five players having a chance to win, right up to the seventy-second green!  I concluded right there that the open championship was the thing.... I confess it still is my idea of a tournament.... I watched Leo Diegel play the last three holes, and I remember wondering why his face was so gray and sort of fallen in... I found out, for myself, later."

There virtually isn't a word, or a page, not worth reading in this wonderful book.  If you get a chance, I urge you to grab a copy.  This is what championship golf is all about, right from the pen of perhaps the greatest of them all.

I Never Rooted for Him Either

Arnold Palmer once said, "I never rooted against an opponent, but I never rooted for him either."  This says something about the great ones.  They want to win.  In his book, Golf My Way, in summing things up, Jack pointed to desire as being the most important thing a golfer needs to possess.

I just read another article about Tiger.  In it, Billy Horschel is reported to have suggested he wanted to see Tiger come back and "kick our asses."  Does Billy really feel that way?  Would any champion golfer ever actually hope another golfer would beat him?  Hardly.

All this talk about Tiger coming back is to be expected.  We are all interested in seeing whether Tiger can get back to playing the sort of golf he is capable of playing.  The real champions might be rooting for Tiger to get healthy, and return to golf.  The young guns might welcome the chance to test themselves against the legend.  But they certainly won't be rooting for him to win.  Not when they're in the field.

You can be certain Tiger never rooted for anyone to beat him.  Jack certainly never did either.  He may wish Tiger well, but even Jack, as gracious as he is, won't be rooting for Tiger to beat his Major record.  Champions just aren't wired that way.

How well liked Tiger is by his fellow tour players is debatable.  What they do appreciate is that thanks to Tiger they are playing for bigger purses and have more shiny cars in their garages.  They want to see him back.  But few if any of them want to see him come out and dominate like he did.  If they are rooting for Tiger to win, they're in the wrong business.

48 of the Top 50 at the Blue Monster

Well, politics aside, the show will go on at the WGC Cadillac Championship this week.  For the first time this year, all the big guns will assemble in Miami at Doral, and we will see who's who, and who's ready to head to Augusta.

After a super start to the year for Spieth and Fowler, Jordan seems to have temporarily lost the magic on the greens, and Rickie fell flat on the weekend after a great start at the Honda Classic.  We've seen very little of Jason Day; and what we have seen has not been suggestive of a big year for him.  

As for Rory, forget about it. Yes, he has looked buffed and muscular, but his work in the gym, other than added distance off the tee, hasn't translated into much touch around the greens. His missed cut this past week and his refusal to speak to the Press afterwards suggests he's not feeling very serene about things.  This has not been the start to the season he had likely envisioned for himself.

This week should provide a pretty good indication of whether we are going to be treated to another great year from the Fab Four, or whether we might have got a bit carried away with their success last year.  I think we will see good stuff from Spieth and Fowler.  Day is a bit of an unknown quantity given his limited schedule so far.  As for Rory, I hope for the best but fear the worst.  I have long been saying the same thing Brandel Chamblee said recently.  He needs to cool his jets in the gym and get back to working on his golf.  His putting is terrible.

Nice to see Bubba, Adam Scott, and Louis Oosthuizen in such great form.  One would not be far wrong to put a few bucks on them making another run at a green jacket this year.  We know what Bubba can do when his head's in the right place and his putter is cooperating, especially at Augusta National.  Adam Scott is swinging it about as well as anyone could conceivably swing it, and his putting stroke with the short wand looks smooth as silk.  Louis looked completely in charge in Perth this past week, hitting fairways and greens, and swinging so beautifully and within himself.  

With 48 of the top 50 in the field this week, anyone could win it.  As for me, I must admit that I wouldn't mind seeing Rickie Fowler make a birdie run down the stretch at the Blue Monster, like he did at the Players last year.  With a recent playoff loss, and a disappointing weekend at the Honda, perhaps he's due to finish the job this week.  I'm becoming a big Fowler fan.  I like everything about this kid.

Let's just hope this week's coverage plays up the Blue Monster and the great field, and doesn't focus too much on it's owner.  That's about as political as I want to get about it.