Wednesday, 30 November 2016

How to Begin Your Round

I often find myself wondering why I can't seem to play my best more often. I have had some pretty good rounds over the years, and a few rounds stand out for me because they seemed so easy. Today, I read again about the fact that Bobby Jones had a similar experience, but obviously on a grander scale.

In his book Bobby Jones on Golf, Bobby talked about playing his best and offered some sage advice. He wrote:

    "Of all the times that I have struggled around the golf course, there are a few easy rounds that stand out in my memory. These are the ones I should like to play over again, and it would not take long, for there are not that many. One at Sunningdale, England, one at East Lake in Atlanta, two at Augusta, Georgia (both in one day), one at Interlachen in Minneapolis, and that's about it. Other scores were as good, but no other rounds were as satisfying.
     Strangely, perhaps, one thing stands out about all those rounds; I had precisely the same feel on each occasion; I was conscious of swinging the club easily and yet without interruption; my left side was moving through without hindrance, yet I was making no special effort to get it out of the way; in fact, I had to make no special effort to do anything.
     Sunningdale came first. I did not recognize the symptoms, because I had never had them before. Then, the next year, we had an open tournament at East Lake. In warming up before the second round, I suddenly realized that I had the same feel I had at Sunningdale--and it worked again. It is not unnatural that I tried to get it every time I went out on the course, but only a few times did it come."

I've had some magical rounds--at least for me--that were just like that. Everything seemed easy and effortless. Like Bobby, I've tried to find that feeling most every time I play. But it can't seem to be summoned at my command, any more than it could be for Bobby Jones.

So, what's the solution to this apparent mystery? If we can't always play that kind of "golf in the kingdom" golf, where everything just seems to flow, how should we approach every round? Bobby provides the answer:

    "I think it is helpful to begin a round, or better still, to begin warming up for a round, swinging the club as easily as possible, gradually working up speed until you play yourself into a tempo that feels about right. After you have found the right rhythm for the driver, try to carry the same beat down through the other clubs. In other words, vary the selection of clubs for the fairway shots so that they can be swung as nearly as possible in the same rhythm. If you are able to swing the driver easily and get a good solid contact and good direction, it is more likely that on that particular day you will have better luck with your irons if you will take the stronger club and swing it easily also. If you find that in driving it is necessary to swing hard in order to move the left side out of the way, the chances are that the irons will be better if the more lofted clubs are chosen and swung nearly with full force.
     No matter how 'average' one's game may be, there are always vast possibilities in this matter of finding the proper beat for a given day. It is really a sort of tuning-up process everyone can go through with profit. And always the start should be made on the low side, swinging easily at first, gradually increasing the speed until the thing begins to click. And remember, it is not length that is wanted so much as accuracy and consistency."

I've often been puzzled by the fact that in there somewhere for me is this effortless golf swing that I seem to only be able to find occasionally. I guess, after reading this from Bobby, I shouldn't be puzzled, or surprised, it's just golf.

Bobby Jones on Getting Better

Bobby Jones never fails me. His books are so jam-packed with golfing wisdom and common sense. I have a man-cave where I can sit in my recliner with a television, and surrounded by books. There's a pool table as well because the same sort of mental exercise used in golf is used in shooting pool. My pool game is pretty decent, but interestingly I spend little or no time thinking about pool. I think about golf pretty much all the time.

Next to my chair is a small bookcase that holds my go-to golf books; the ones by Bobby Jones showing the most wear. Today, for example, I read a blog from a fellow in England who is trying to get to a single digit handicap. He outlines all the hard work he has been doing on the range, the instruction he's been receiving, etc. Sadly, despite all the work, he actually saw his handicap go up last season. That's the sad thing about this game. It doesn't reward all effort equally.

Thinking of what Bobby Jones might say about this fellow's situation--and mine for that matter--I reached for the book Bobby Jones on Golf. I randomly opened it right to the first page of chapter eleven.  The subject was Golf as Recreation. And I think the answer to my English friend's dilemma is found right there. Notice how Bobby begins:

    "The golfer with a fairly good swing who never seems able to score well is a familiar figure on any course. In many respects, he is in the same boat with the tournament player who burns up the course in practice rounds, but does nothing in the actual competition. Obviously, there is a great deal more to playing golf than swinging the club.
     There is scarcely one golfer of the so-called average class who could not benefit from an effort to school himself in applying good sense, judgememt, and a little intelligent thinking to his game; and this without reference to the mechanics of the swing. Merely by adopting measures that will help him get a consistently high rate of performance from what ability he has, a surprising improvement can be made.
     The trouble with all of us, who grumble over the game and thus spoil an otherwise pleasant afternoon with congenial friends, is that we do not understand the game, nor ourselves. In this we could take a number of lessons from the dub. For no matter how good we may be, if we should fancy that we have mastered golf to the extent that we can go out day after day and play as we please, then we are greater fools than ought to be left at large."

Not very comforting words for those of us who hang on the the hope that some magic move or swing change can make us better players. The fact is that a swing can't be rebuilt in a day, a week, or even a season. And swing changes are really undertaken at our peril. We don't know whether they will make us better or worse. 

The key, as Bobby pointed out, is "applying good sense, judgement, and a little intelligent thinking" to our play. That's what will make almost all of us better without hitting another practice shot. But thinking is hard work. That's why so few of us are inclined to do it. I, for one, am guilty of making the same mental mistakes over and over again. I am still unable, or unwilling, to play this game one shot at a time. That's because thinking is hard. The best players are smart players. They understand the game, and they understand themselves.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Let the Right Hand and Arm "Go Along For the Ride"

In his book Play Better Golf, Jack Nicklaus offers some excellent advice for those just learning the game, and those who find themselves struggling with their ballstriking. While golf is a two-handed game, all the old teachers considered the golf swing to be controlled by the left side for a right-handed player. Bobby Jones considered the golf swing a back-handed strike with the left hand for a right-handed player.

The fact is that the early or improper application of the right hand and side probably ruins more golf shots than anything else. Consider what the greatest Major champion of them all had to say on the subject:

    "Golf is a two-handed game. But until a golfer's muscles are fully trained there's a great danger his stronger hand and arm will overpower his weaker side. The way to overcome this is to establish a sensation of 'softness' in the trailing hand and arm at address. Then consciously try to keep them passive throughout the swing. Let them just 'go along for the ride' most of the time and they'll automatically do their job in the hitting area in response to centrifugal force."

So, don't believe me, believe Jack Nicklaus and try to relax that right hand and arm during the swing. It may just help you lose that slice, or that pull hook, that keeps rearing its ugly head.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Icing on the Cake

Tiger finally tees it up again this week. We will all be interested in seeing how he plays. There are those who will be rooting for him and those hoping to see him fall flat on his face. Tiger has always had his detractors as well as his fans.

I suppose I've always been one of the detractors. When I watched him win his last US Amateur and leave poor Steve Scott standing there on the final green waiting to shake his hand while he celebrated and hugged his entourage, my first thought was that this kid has no class. I must admit that he has not done much since to make me change that opinion. But Tiger has been a great player, if not the greatest we've ever seen. And you really must walk a mile in a guys shoes to properly understand him.

I have come to realize that Tiger was and is simply a product of his upbringing and training; just like the rest of us. He had been raised by his father to win. The niceties of the game--respect for your opponent, the fans, possibly even the game, came second to winning. The boulder incident in the desert was the icing on the cake for me. I just couldn't imagine Jack, or Bobby Jones, having the audacity to call on a rules official and ten or twelve fans to move a boulder out of his way, deeming it to be a "loose impediment." It just wouldn't have occurred to them.

Nevertheless, I've softened in my old age because I'm beginning to appreciate just how much we all are a product of our genetics and our upbringing. Most of us, including Tiger, are just trying to do the best we can with what we have to work with. In Tiger's case he had, and still has, a great deal to work with. But even Tiger has had to learn the facts of life. In golf you simply can't win every time you tee it up. In fact, you can't even win most of the time you tee it up. As Jack said, "Golf is the only game where you can win twenty percent of the time and be the best player in the world."

In golf you lose more often than you win. In golf second place does not suck. I think Tiger has had to learn that lesson. When he lost the PGA championship to YE Yang in 2008, after starting the final round with the lead, I don't think Tiger, or anyone else for that matter, doubted that he would win. After all, he'd done it 14 times in a row. He was bullet-proof.  That he hasn't won a Major since certainly suggests that it had a big impact on him. Sure there were other things in his personal life; and there were the health issues; but I really believe that loss was a big factor in Tiger's play in the Majors since. He now knew he wasn't bullet-proof; and perhaps even more importantly, so did everyone else.

I hope Tiger can come out this week and play well. If he wins, all the more power to him. But, as Bobby Jones pointed out, there is golf and there is championship golf and they bear very little resemblance to one another. Tiger can hit it great on the range, and shoot in the low sixties in practice rounds. The real test will be how he handles the pressure of the Majors. It's been over eight years since he's won one. And eight years is a long old time. 

When Tiger actually wins a big one, we can then say he's back. And while getting five Majors to beat Jack's record seems unlikely, if not downright impossible, perhaps it would be only fitting that a player as great as Tiger has been have an '86 moment like Jack did. 

Whatever happens, I'm sure that any victories he might earn from now until the end of his career will surely feel that much sweeter for Tiger--like the icing on the cake.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

The Great Danes and Li Hao-Tong

The World Cup of Golf, played at the wonderful Kingston Heath Club in Melbourne, was quite a show. It was highlighted by a superlative performance by the Danes, Thorbjorn Oleson and Soren Kjeldsen, who, with their best ball round of 60 on Friday, seized control of the tournament and refused to let go despite the best efforts of the French, the Americans, and the pair from China that included the twenty-one year old budding superstar, Li Hao-Tong.

After going out in even par on the final round to make things interesting and give some hope to the chasing pack, the Danes settled down and produced six birdies on the final nine to win handily. They were simply too good. The diminutive Kjeldsen, who has played his best golf since turning 40, was rock solid and allowed his equally small-in-stature--but big in power and explosiveness--partner, "Thunder Bear" Oleson, let it all hang out. It was a perfect partnership and the two, as Kjeldsen said in the post-tournament interview, have cemented a great golfing friendship this week. And that, as Kjeldsen also aptly pointed out, is really what this sort of team golf is all about.

The Danes proved to be the class of the field, but one player who I think has now announced his arrival on the world's golfing stage is the young Chinese player, Li Hao-Tong. This young man seems to have it all. He's got length. He hits all the shots. He is a terrific, bold putter. And he has lots of personality and clearly just loves to compete. Expect to see him become a world-class player; perhaps even the first Chinese golfer to win a Major. He is that good.

As for Kingston Heath; it won rave reviews from the players. Kjeldsen said it was the kind of course he could happily play every day. The weather conspired to make it not as hard, fiery and fast as it can be. The greens never stopped receiving well-hit shots. And birdies were there to be had. The course identified the best players, allowed them to showcase their shotmaking abilities, and once again proved that great courses are all about risk and reward and strategy. Length isn't everything.

A great win for the Danes. And watch out for Oleson and Li in the coming season. I expect to see them making plenty more noise.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Don't Hurry, Don't Worry

Walter Hagen famously said, "You're only here for a short visit. Don't hurry, don't worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way." It was great advice for living and for playing golf. Worrying and hurrying are two things that can ruin your swing and your game.

With respect to the golf swing, Bobby Jones said that no one ever swung the club too slowly. And he identified two points where most golf swings go wrong--the takeaway and the first move from the top. If the takeaway and the change of direction from the top can be accomplished in a leisurely fashion, good things can happen.

How many times, especially when it's a difficult shot, haven't I taken the club back nice and slowly, only to lurch at the ball from the top and ruin the shot. Hurrying the strike is a killer. There is, after all, no need to hurry. The ball isn't going anywhere. 

But Bobby Jones also said that many golfers think they are concentrating when, in fact, they are only worrying. And worry causes physical as well as mental tension. Tense muscles don't help the golf swing. They might be good for bending iron bars, but they don't make the club head move faster.

Someone said, "you don't play golf to relax; you relax to play golf." There's a distinct difference. We want to be engaged in our golf game. We don't want to relax, we need to try to play as well as we possibly can every time we tee it up. It is in the throwing yourself wholeheartedly into the playing of the game that we derive the most benefit from it. But, again as Bobby Jones said, we must fight tension whetever it may be found when we are swinging the golf club. A relaxed body can really whip that club through the impact zone.

So, I think the Haig's motto is a great one for us golfers. Don't hurry, don't worry. Pick your shot, take the club back slowly and leisurely, and make that change of direction nice and smooth. And while you're walking or riding the course, stop and smell the flowers. Enjoy the birds, the trees, the deer, even the gators, you come across in your travels on the links. We are, after all, only here for a short visit.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Kingston Heath the Winner

I haven't watched much golf of late, but tuned in to the World Cup being played this week at Kingston Heath down under. What a wonderful golf course by Alistair McKenzie; fantastic, natural-looking bunkering, firm faurways, firm, fast greens, and still a great test of golf for the world's best players. Remember the good old days when golf courses were built to walk and not to sell real estate? 

Playing alternate shot the first day we saw the American team of Rickie Fowler and PGA champion Jimmy Walker, despite some iffy ball-striking, put on a short-game clinic to be one back of the Spanish team at two under along with the French, the up-and-coming team from China.

In his post round interview Jimmy Walker summed up the beauty of great designs like Kingston Heath when he said, "That's what's fun about this place; you've got options. It's however you want to play." Great courses give you options. They force you to think and strategize. And they demand a great short game if you are going to score. 

There are some terrific players assembled in Melbourne. And it's likely going to be a battle to the end. But the real winner has already been established; and that is Kingston Heath. I hope some day to be lucky enough to get down under and play some of those wonderful sandbelt courses around Melbourne. Until then, I've always got Pinehurst within driving distance.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Develop Your Own Style

There's more than one way to skin a cat--I don't know where that expression comes from, never having tried to skin a cat myself, and not being acquainted with anyone who actually has skinned a cat. But in golf there is definitely more than one way to get the job done. 

Golf leaves plenty of room for everyone to develop their own particular method, or style. Consider what Bobby Jones wrote in his book Bobby Jones on Golf under the subject, Developing a Style:

    "More than fine-spun theories, the average golfer needs something to give him a clearer conception of what he should try to do with the club head. The golf swing is a set or series of movements that must be clearly correlated. The smallest change in any one will make a difference in one or more of the others, and although for consistent, high-class performance there can be only a small deviation in any particular, it is still a fact, and always will be so, that there are more ways than one of swinging a club effectively.
     I do not intend to argue against the development of a good sound method, but I do believe that this method should be put together with due regard for the requirements and swing preferences of the individual. I also think that before a player should begin to worry about the finer points of form, he should play enough to know what his preferences are...
     We talk, think, and write so much about the details of the stroke that we sometimes lose sight of the one thing that is all-important--hitting the ball. It is conceivable that a person could perform all sorts of contortions and yet bring the club into correct relation to the ball at impact, in which case a good shot must result. The only reason for discussing method and form at all is to find a way to make it easier for the player to achieve the correct relationship. In a crude way, he might do it only occasionally; in a finished, sound, controlled way, he will be able to do it consistently and with assurance."

Bobby then went on to discuss the difference between his method and that of Harry Vardon. He concluded this way:

     "This is the sense every golfer must develop. The beginner ought to keep always before him the determination to put the club against the ball in the correct position. It is not easy when form is lacking, but it is the surest way to cause form to be more easily acquired. The expert player corrects subconsciously, some instantaneous telegraphic system tells him, just as he begins to hit, that something is wrong; and at the last instant a muscle that may not always function perfectly will do so in a sufficient number of cases for it to be well worth its keep."

So for the beginner, and the golfer who finds himself struggling with the game, Bobby Jones offers some great advice. Develop your own style of putting the club head on the ball. Keep the strike always at the forefront and you will find, through trial and error, the way that works best for you. 

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Links Golf

I played Jerry Pate's Kiva Dunes today in a wind high enough to result in a small craft warning. It's a grand course. And it is a links course. But still, compared to the British links courses, I find it pales. Too much evidence of the hand of man in the design, and forced carries and bunkering that would make it an extremely difficult and unpleasant test for a high handicapper. I'm of the view that a great course must not just be a great test of golf, it must also be enjoyable to play for all level of golfers. 

There is golf, and there is British links golf. British links golf will always be the best kind of golf to play and, for my money, the Open will always be the best one to win. Now, I realize that my opinion doesn't amount to much, so I thought I'd share what Walter Hagen had to say on the subject. in his book, The Walter Hagen Story, the Haig had this to say:

    "For the second time the British links had defeated me. Here in America we have developed the finest of man-made courses in the world, but the real test of a golfer is a seaside links in the British Isles. Situated close beside the ocean, beset with rolling sand dunes and winds that whip off the channel and the seas, conditions change with the tide. The hazards are far greater than meet the eye. At Deal I had played shots where the wind picked the ball up and almost slapped it back in my face. At St Andrews I learned that distance was secondary to placing the ball accurately. I learned, also, that in order to be at the top of the golf profession, I must be able to play any course in the world in par."

The Haig learned to play links golf well enough to win four British Opens. 

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Kathryn found me the autobiography The Walter Hagen Story yesterday at a Goodwill. Naturally I couldn't wait to see what the Haig had to say about life and dug into it last night. 

Walter Hagen was definitely a colourful character. He was a crowd favourite who admittedly played to the crowd, making easy shots appear difficult and difficult shots appear easy. He very quickly established himself as a force to be reckoned with when he won the US Open on his second try. He never looked back.

Hagen was soon able to charge $200 an hour for lessons. This was a time when two hundred bucks was two hundred bucks! As with most other things, the Haig approached giving lessons somewhat differently from most teachers. He would let his pupil hit a few shots, then he would grab the club and say, "This is how you do it." The student would then, whether he or she liked it or not, be treated to an hour of watching the Haig hit shots. Sounds like a pretty good way to teach. We would all likely gain more just watching a top player hit shots than having him try to tell us how to hit them. A picture is, after all, worth a thousand words.

Thursday, 17 November 2016


Bobby Jones' father, Mr Robert Tyre Jones Sr., and I seem to have been afflicted with the same golfing disease. We were, and in my case still are, afflicted with tinkeritis. We tinker with our swing when we are supposed to be playing golf. My old father had the same disease. I think it's quite common in golfing circles.

Bobby wrote about his father in his book Golf is my Game. I think it's worth sharing as it may--but probably won't--help other similarly afflicted. Tinkeritis is a serious disease that, if left untreated, can simply ruin your game. Bobby wrote:

    "One of the greatest gifts golf gave me was the enjoyment of many years of playing association with my father. We started to play the game about the same time, and from the time I was thirteen or fourteen we had the same golfing companions. On one occasion he and I met in the finals of the club championship. In later years we played together two or three times a week.
     For many years the offices of our law firm were arranged so that there was an inside connecting door between Dad's office and mine. I used to stop by for him in the mornings so that we arrived at the office together.
     Almost invariably immediately after we reached the office, Dad would appear through this inside door, carefully close the door from my office to the hall, select a club from several I had in the corner, and confront me across the top of my desk, 'Here's something I discovered the other day. See what you think of it,' he would say.
     Whereupon he would demonstrate, and I would comment--as briefly as possible, I admit--in order that we both might get some work done.
     But Dad was a dedicated golfer. He always seemed to think he was on the verge of discovering the secret of the game. It cost him untold agony, but he loved it. The secret he had shown me in the morning never worked in the afternoon, but he always discovered a new one on the seventeenth hole and went home happy and with something to show me the next morning.
     There might have been other things wrong with these secrets, but the fact is that they were never given a chance. The golf course in the midst of a round is no place to experiment or try anything new. The only place for that is the practice tee, and Dad never went to the practice tee before a round.
     We hear a lot these days about the repetitive or repeating golf swing. It seems to be a new term in the golfing jargon. Obviously, like the semi-automatic shotgun, it is a fine idea. If a golfer could only set himself in the same position each time and, by pulling a mental trigger, release the identical swing, he would be a happy fellow. Even though the swing might be bad, at least he would know where to look for the ball.
     The struggle for good form in golf has purpose, because a sound, simplified swing can perform with greater regularity. But one of the eternal beauties of the game is that it will never be susceptible to such rigid control. The feel of the club is altered from day to day by changes in the weather, and the player's senses respond differently because of the myriad of influences within his own make-up. It is important to test out this feel every day, either before the round or as early as possible in the play...
     If I should be limited to one piece of advice to offer to a golfer before the start of a round, it would be, 'Take your time'. And it would mean to take your time and to avoid hurry in everything; to walk to the first tee and from shot to shot at a leisurely pace; to pause before each stroke long enough to make a considered appraisal before deciding on the shot to play; and, above all, to take a little more time if things should begin to go wrong."

Tinkeritis is particularly prevalent among players like myself who don't tend to go to the practice tee. I figure I've only got so many more swings left in me; and besides, if I haven't figured it out by now, chances are I won't find it by hitting a bucket of balls. Like Bobby's father, I tend not to give things a chance. If I hit a couple of stinkers I immediately try another swing. I do this knowing full well that it's the strike that is the only thing that counts in the end.

I played today with the same swing all day. I hit some stinkers and a couple of beauties, but in the end your score invariably comes down to how well you chip and putt. Today my putting stunk and so did my score. But then part of the problem may have been my switching back and forth between looking at the hole and looking at the ball. I think I'll stick with looking at the hole if I can because it helps with distance control and stops me watching the putter head go back, which is a cardinal sin.

As Bobby advises, we need to restrict our tinkering to the range. Once we're on the course the only thing we need to think about is finding our rhythm and getting the ball in the hole in as few swings as possible. In golf it's all about how many, not how.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Two Hours and Fifteen Minutes

I played at Glen Lakes with Gary yesterday. He's from Ohio, but spends his winters in Foley, Alabama. We both enjoyed the golf course but struggled on the greens most of the day. Whether it was grain on those Bermuda greens that was confusing us Northerners, or just lack of concentration, we couldn't seem to buy a putt.

This was Gary's first time playing Glen Lakes. He had an amusing story about playing at a new course with one of his buddies. At the the first tee, trying to break the ice, his buddy asked the stern-faced starter what the course record was.

The starter growled, "Two hours and fifteen minutes. So, move your asses."

Gary, CJ and I played in about three hours today in spite of a couple teeing off in front of us on the back nine as we made the turn. Our golf may not have been anything to write home about, but that starter would have been impressed.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Glen Lakes

I played Glen Lakes Golf Club in Foley, Alabama the last two days. I'd never played the course, and yesterday, since I was playing alone, I thought I'd have a go from the back tees. 

Glen Lakes has three nines, and I started on the Dunes, which is 3554 yards from the tips.  My second nine was the Vista which was a mere 3358 yards, for a total of 6912 yards. It didn't seem so long when compared to the courses the big boys are playing, but I soon discovered I had bitten off a bit more than I could chew. I was hitting fairway woods into more par fours than I care to remember for my second shots and I think the shortest club I used from the par three tees was a 25 degree wood. 

Glen Lakes has front tees, coloured purple, that measure 4255 yards, and my darling wife, who rode around with me, was kind enough to point out that I was at least managing to get my tee shots past the purple tees. It didn't really make me feel any better.

I hung in there after taking a double bogey on the first hole, went out in a sizzling--or should I say, fizzling--42 and came home in 39 for 81. I had hit every fairway but two, but had managed to hit only four greens in regulation, so that 81 didn't feel so bad. I'd only three-putted once. I had also bogeyed both par fives on the back despite being only a yard or two from the green in three, and I'd failed to get it up and down all three times I'd found a greenside bunker. So, other than that, I figured I had scrambled like a madman to manage an 81.

At the end of the day I told my wife that my days of playing from the tips were over. I just can't hit it far enough anymore. But then, today I played from the whites and stick-handled all over the greens and shot 80. Therefore, maybe it isn't distance that's my problem, it might just be LOFT. Lack of freaking talent!

Glen Lakes is a very good course. They've moved a lot of earth to provide lots of mounding and uneven lies. There is plenty of room off the tees, but there is also good bunkering and enough water to make things interesting. The greens are good, too, which generally means I have a hard time putting them. Give me poor greens any time. At least that way I have an excuse. 

I really do like the course and intend to play it again--maybe even tomorrow. Who knows; I might try playing from the golds. If I keep moving up I might finally manage to break 80. But then again, the greens are really good.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

The Most Important Thing a Golfer Can Learn

What is the most important thing a golfer must learn? Some people might say, "A good grip." Others might say, "A sound swing." Or, perhaps you might argue that good judgement, or effective course management is the most important thing to learn. To get to the highest level in the game, you might believe that patience is most important. 

All those things are important to learn. But Bobby Jones, in his book, Golf is my Game, tells us what is most important. In his chapter entitled Striking the Ball, Bobby wrote:

    "This will be the most important chapter of this book. It will describe the most useful learning you will ever acquire as a golfer. You may gain knowledge from the mere reading of this chapter that will help you in the playing of every golf shot you make for the rest of your life. This knowledge can make you a better golfer overnight.
     If you are a beginner, this chapter will start you off on the road to a correct understanding of the nature of golf. If you are an average golfer, it will give you the means of deciding upon the club to use and the shot to play on the basis of reasoned judgement, rather than guesswork. If you are a better than average golfer, it will broaden your perception of the possibilities in the game so that you may become a player of imagination and resourcefulness. If you are weary of being told to concentrate without having knowledge of what you should concentrate on, this is it."

Bobby Jones was not just blowing smoke when he wrote this chapter. He was certainly not someone who engaged in hyperbole. He was not one of those guys who prefaced his teaching with absurd promises like How to hit it solid every time. Bobby was a golfing prodigy, who played the game at the very highest level at a very young agr. By the age of twenty eight he had won thirteen Major championships, including all four in the same year. He was arguably the greatest player of all time. 

But Bobby was not just a great player. He was an ardent student of the game. He studied other great players. He analyzed his own game and learned what it took to become the very best. He did all of this as a part-time golfer who earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Georgia Tech, a degree in literature from Harvard, and a license to practise law. He was a golfing genius who possessed the intelligence to really put it all together as far as the game of golf was concerned. 

Consider what he concluded in providing, what he considered, the most important knowledge a golfer could acquire:

    "Golf is played by striking the ball with the head of the club. The objective of the player is not to swing the club in a specified manner, nor to execute a series of complicated movement in a prescribed sequence, nor to look pretty doing it, but primarily and essentially to strike the ball with the head of the club so that the ball will perform according to his wishes.
     No one can play golf until he knows the many ways in which a golf ball can be expected to respond when it is struck in different ways. If you think that all this should be obvious, please believe me when I assure you that I have seen many really good players attempt shots they should have known were impossible."

This is the most important knowledge any golfer can acquire. If you haven't done so, I would highly recommend you read the second chapter of Bobby's book, Golf is my Game. If you don't have a copy of the book, I have covered it in some detail in my featured article entitled The Wisdom of Bobby Jones: Striking the Ball. It could lierally make you a better player overnight. 

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Trouble Shots

If there's one thing all golfers can be certain of, it's that sooner or later--and often sooner than later--they will find themselves in trouble. It's part of the game. And, as with most other subjects, Bobby Jones provided some real valuable insight into how we should manage trouble shots. In his book Down the Fairway, Bobby wrote:

    "As a general proposition I fancy it might be laid down that the main object of a trouble shot in golf is to get out of trouble. This conclusion is not so obvious as at first it may appear, especially in the case of the average golfer, or worse. In that case, the object, or it might be better called the perilous ambition, is not only to get out of trouble but also to achieve a shot the equivalant of that which might have been made had the element of trouble not been injected.
     He wants to get there, anyhow.
     Now this ambition is in a way laudable, and at times it is grimly necessary to execute a shot which will minimize the punishment for getting in trouble. But it should always be borne in mind that, if a brilliant recovery be needed, it is far more feasible to make this brilliant effort after getting the ball back into a thoroughly playable position.
     Now, I can speak with considerable feeling, if not with authority, on this point. The greatest improvement in my game in the last five years has been a growing disposition for calculating a difficult situation, and an increasing distaste for the taking of reckless chances. In the old days, furious with myself for the missed shot that had incurred the trouble, I was quite ready without further consideration to go up to the ball and put my back into a shot designed without delay to take up the slack. Now, I figure the chances a bit--sometimes."

Bobby then went on to describe some situations he had encountered and how he had dealt with them.  He concluded by saying: "So, I can't help the opinion that it is judgement more than mechanical execution that counts when you're in trouble."

Golf is the ultimate head game. What is most important for all of us, regardless of our level of skill, is our ability to use good judgement. As Bobby Jones aptly pointed out, it is easier to learn to use good judgement than it is to learn to swing a club like Harry Vardon. So, we should be encouraged. If we take the time to analyze the situation and hit the smart shot, we just might find that we will have fewer big numbers on our card. And, making fewer big numbers is the key to scoring. 

Thursday, 10 November 2016

The Secret

If anyone ever figured out the secret to golf, it had to be Bobby Jones. He played in his first US amateur championship at fourteen. After seven years of barely missing in many of the open championships he entered, he went on a tear and won thirteen of them in the next seven years, including all four in his final year. With no more mountains to climb in golf, Bobby retired from competition and turned his attention to sharing his knowledge of the game. 

The real secret of golf, according to Bobby Jones, was learning how to turn three shots into two. In fact, more precisely it is the ability to figure out how to save strokes and how not to waste them by impulsive or reckless play. At the time he wrote his book Down the Fairway, Bobby was only 25 and four years into his seven good years. At that point he had figured out that the secret was to play consistently good golf, rather than trying to rely on flashes of sensational golf. He learned to try to play along with Old Man Par, rather than worrying about his opponents' play. Bobby wrote:

    "I've wasted some time wondering if I might qualify for the position of champion runner-up. I've been runner-up in seven open championships; three American nationals; one Canadian; two southern; and one Florida West Coast championship. All at medal play. That one little stroke a round certainly does make a difference in the records. The saving of one stroke per round would have won all these but the Canadian, when Douglas Edgar was a matter of sixteen strokes ahead of everybody. And there's always at least one stroke in every round you can figure (afterward) that you really ought to have saved. But I suppose it's all in the book, and if you had saved that stroke, you'd have dropped another.
     There are always a number of strokes in a round you might have dropped, too. But you don't think so much about them.
     Queer game, golf."

Later, when summing up the reason for his Grand Slam victory, Bobby actually admitted that he was not playing his best golf. What he did confess, however, is that he believed the reason he was able to accomplish this unbelievable feat was that he simply refused to give up. He believed that he simply tried harder and was willing to take more punishment than his opponents. That was about as vain as Bobby, ever the humble, or self-effacing, type, could be. 

So the secret to golf in a nutshell, again according to Bobby, was not some secret swing move. It was figuring out how to score even when you are not playing your best; because, at the end of the day, the score is all that matters. No points are awarded for style.

On the other hand, when writing about his "biggest year" of 1926--this was written before he won the Grand Slam--Bobby did write about a very important swing key when he wrote:

    "Golf is a very queer game. I started the year with one glorious licking and closed it with another. And it was the biggest golf year I'll ever have (he hadn't started thinking about the possibility of winning them all in one season at this point)...I fancied I was in for a good season, and then this drubbing (at the hands of Walter Hagen, who beat him 12 and 11 in a 72 hole match) came along and showed up glaringly the defect in my iron play which had started troubling me at Skokie, in the open championship of 1922. I set to work on that department, and I think it was Jimmy Donaldson, who was with Armour at Sarasota, who gave me the correct line--too much right hand in the stroke. I worked on the irons every time I had a chance up to the British invasion. And the irons served me fairly well the rest of the year... Whenever I could get the feel that I was pulling the club down and through the stroke with the left arm--indeed, as if I were hitting the shot with the left hand--it seemed impossible to get much off line. Curious thing. The older school of professionals always insisted the golf stroke was a left-hand stroke, you know."

That's why I keep preaching about top-hand golf. If there is one swing key that was embraced by virtually all the top players before Bobby Jones, and recommended by Bobby, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, and Jack Nicklaus, among countless others; it was the importance of the swing being controlled by the left hand for right-handed players. If that left hand and arm is pulling the club down and through the stroke along the target line, chances are the ball will not be far off line. It may be an old teaching, but it's an important one. It might just be the most important move you can learn. 

Don't believe me; believe Bobby Jones; and Sam Snead; and Byron Nelson; and...

Sunday, 6 November 2016

It Beats Thinking About Your Backswing

Though never having considered himself a teacher, Bobby Jones was willing to admit that he had shown himself to be a very capable learner. He quite rightly pointed out that it wasn't so much the teacher's ability to teach that was important; it was actually the student's ability to learn that made the difference.

Golf is very much a solo sport where, again as Bobby Jones pointed out, you soon learn that your most potent adversary is yourself--not your opponent, or the golf course, but rather yourself. To play the game well you must develop an understanding of the golf swing in general and your golf swing in particular. There is only one absolute when it comes to golf. That absolute is that a ball struck squarely in the back, with the clubface square to the target and moving straight down the target line, will fly straight, unless affected by wind or mud on the ball. You can be certain of this result. 

The thing a golfer must learn is how to strike a ball in this way. It is really all about the strike. Consider what Bobby Jones wrote in his book Golf is my Game when discussing the backswing:

    "The swinging of the club back from the ball is undertaken for the sole purpose of getting the player to a proper position for striking. So the one influence most likely to assure a satisfactory progression of the swing is the clearly visualized contact between club and ball still at the forefront of the player's mind. Just as the backswing should not begin until this picture is adequately established, so the movement should continue until there results an awareness that the player has become capable of striking in the intended manner.
     I stress this point, and intend to continue to do so, because I know that the unrelenting effort to play golf in this way can do more for a player than anything else he can possibly do. When every move of the swing is dominated by the determination to strike the ball in a definite fashion, the complicated sequence of movements must acquire purpose and unity attainable in no other way."

This is the secret to the game. One must learn and understand how a ball must be struck in order to make it behave, and then one must swing the club in such a way as to assure that strike. Bobby played that way, confident that, if he focussed intently on the strike, his swing would take care of itself.

Sounds simple, doesn't it? To hit a straight shot all you have to do is hit the back of the ball solidly with your clubface square to the target and moving down the target line. 

I remember the day Steve finished a round and was absolutely disgusted. He had been hitting the ball all over the place and asked me to watch him hit some shots on the range. He wanted me to try to tell him what was wrong with his swing. 

I stopped him before he could hit a ball and bent down to the golf ball. Using his clubface I moved it a foot or so, from a few inches behind the ball stright down the target line. I then said, "Make the club strike the ball like that."

I stepped back and watched him hit the straightest, most beautiful, seven iron I'd ever seen him hit. He looked at me and just shook his head. When he focussed on how he wanted the clubface to behave, he was quite capable of doing it. Golf is all about concentration and focus.

So, what should you focus and concentrate on? Well, I'm not a teacher either, but Bobby Jones said it must be the strike. And I don't think you can argue with that logic. It only makes sense that you visualize and concentrate on striking the ball as it must be struck. It beats the hell out of thinking about your backswing.