Saturday, 31 December 2016

Julius Boros on Meeting the Ball

Julius Boros had a wonderful, easy, powerful golf swing. He wrote a very popular book in its day called Swing Easy, Hit Hard. While the book goes into quite some detail about the golf swing, I found the second chapter, like the second chapter in Bobby Jones' book Golf is my Game, Boros talks about the important part of the golf swing, namely impact. He wrote:

    "The action of the ball is the culmination of everything you have done up to the point of impact. It either goes where you meant it to or it doesn't and in either case you should know why. Controlling the action of the ball is the ultimate aim of the golfer. Don't forget, as obvious as this may sound, that the object of golf is to get the ball into the hole in as few shots as possible. This can only be done when you've learned to control the ball. There is a period of time when, if the ball is correctly hit, it momentarily adheres to the face of the club. You'll never actually see this because you'll be swinging too fast when it happens, but I'm sure most of you have seen pictures of it. The instant of impact determines everything. To use a cliche, it's the moment of truth. You should predetermine the exact flight of the ball as to direction, distance, spin and loft. A straight shot is produced by bringing the club into the ball square to the line and swinging straight forward on the line. This is your objective and it isn't as hard as it sounds."

It really is all about impact. Bobby Jones said the simple, uncomplicated way to play the game was to focus on the strike. If we set ourselves up to the ball so we are comfortable and feel capable of striking the back of the ball with the clubface square to the target and moving straight down the target line, and then we swing the club with the sole intention of doing just that, we will soon find ourselves hitting straight golf shots. As Mr. Boros said, it isn't as hard as it sounds.

What we all need is the knowledge of how the golf ball will react when struck in different ways. Then, rather than worrying about our swing, we need to just concentrate on making that strike. It really doesn't matter how we swing the club, as long as the strike is right. There are no points given in this game for style.

Friday, 30 December 2016

Golfers and Cialis

When watching the Golfchannel, especially the commercials, I've reached the conclusion that golfers must be the most gullible bunch of guys, suffering from erectile dysfunction, that you can find.

If we aren't buying golf clubs, gyzmos, and videos "guaranteed" to make us hit it thirty yards longer or take 10 strokes off our games, we are apparently buying Cialis by the case, despite the fact that it doesn't come with any guarantee--just a warning about four-hour erections.

There is only one thing that is almost certain to make any of us better players, and that is practising your short game. Most of us don't really need new clubs, videos, or lessons. We need to find a practice green--hopefully with a bunker or two--and chip, pitch and putt from various lies and distances. It all comes down to the short game in the end.

As for the Cialis--I haven't tried it. But, if it guaranteed me twenty more yards off the tee, I just might.

Eddie Lowery the Bunker Wizard

When Francis Ouimette won the US Open, beating Vardon and Ray, he had a wee lad as a caddie named Eddie Lowery. Lowery ended up being a wealthy car dealer in California and a golf fanatic who played to an eight handicap. Eddie was good friends with the top players in the game, regularly arranging matches and money games for them. 

According to Byron Nelson, Eddie was also a wizard out of the bunker. In fact, Nelson wrote about Eddie having a money game with Henry Cotton, seeing who could get closest to the pin out of a bunker, and beat him soundly. Byron said Eddie was the best bunker player he'd ever seen.

In his book, How I Played the Game, Byron spoke about Ken Venturi and Eddie Lowery. He wrote:

    "One of the reasons Kenny's short game is so good is his bunker play, and he and I both learned that from Eddie Lowery. We were at Palm Springs, where I was working with Kenny one time, and back of Eddie's house was a green and a sand bunker which he and three neighbours had paid to have built there. Guess they played a little golf, too. Anyway, one evening after dinner Eddie, who was about an 8-handicapper, challenged us. 'I'll play your best ball out of the bunker, twenty-five cents a shot." We did this three evenings in a row and lost a lot of quarters, but from then on we both became excellent bunker players, thanks to Eddie."

Just imagine, an 8-handicap ex-caddie and car dealer taught Byron Nelson and Ken Venturi how to become better bunker players. That's why you should never be too proud to take a tip, or to learn from someone who does something better than you do. He needn't be a qualified teaching professional. On the other hand, you should probably adopt the approach Lee Trevino took when he said he would never take a lesson from someone who couldn't beat him. Makes sense to me.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

How to Prepare for Every Round

I wrote an article in November about how to begin your round. It focussed on Bobby Jones' advice about finding your rhythm for the day. I thought, since I've noticed it was apparently of some interest, I would share Bobby Jones' advice about how to prepare for your round mentally. After all, much of your success in this game is determined by how well you use that five and a half inches of grey matter between your ears.

As usual, I can't think of a better source for the mental approach than Bobby Jones. Bobby was a perfectionist, and often became furious at anything short of perfection in his shotmaking. He also "played every shot for its ultimate possibilities." Eventually, however, he learned the virtue of the advice he had once been given by Bill Fownes, who told him, "Bob, you've got to learn that the best shot possible is not always the best shot to play."  Bobby wrote:

    "It took some doing, I'll admit, but it is a fact that I never did any real amount of winning until I learned to adjust my ambitions to more reasonable prospects shot by shot, and to strive for a rate of performance that was consistently good and reliable, rather than placing my hopes upon the accomplishment of a series of brilliant sallies."

Bobby analyzed his play and came to realize that he was scoring well but often could only find one or two shots in most rounds that had not been mishit to some degree. He wrote:

    "I finally arrived at a sort of measure of expectancy that in a season's play I could perform at my best rate for not over half-a-dozen rounds, and that in any one of these best rounds I would not strike more than six shots, other than putts, exactly as intended.
     If one should have confidence in such an appraisal, which I had, the following conclusions were inescapable:
    1. I must be prepared for the making of mistakes.
    2. I must try always to select the shot to be played and the manner of playing it so as to provide the widest possible margin for error.
    3. I must expect to have to do some scrambling and not be discouraged if the amount happens to be more than normal.
     The main point of all this for the play-for-fun golfer is to emphasize the importance even for him of adjusting his attitude towards the game before he goes out on the course. Let him first divest himself of any thought that it may be unsportsmanlike or unworthy to prepare himself for the play as best he can. There is no point in going out to play unless one has the desire to play well, and golf was not meant to be played impetuously; nor is one likely to exercise the needed restraint and self-discipline unless one has prepared oneself in advance."

Considering this was the way the greatest player of his generation learned to approach every round, how much more so shouldn't we prepare ourselves in advance for the making of mistakes and the inevitability that we will have to be scrambling out there. Also we should be just as, or more, prepared to play the kind of shots that give us the widest margin of error. This is the way to prepare mentally for every round. Hope for the best, but expect that no round of golf will be without some trouble. 

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Why So Many Golfers Look and Feel Uncomfortable

Bobby Jones wrote for the benefit of the so-called average golfer as well as the expert. He sympathized with the struggles of the average player. He recognized that the teaching on the golf swing has done very little to help the average golfer improve. And he recognized the reason why.

Bobby, in the second chapter of the book Golf is my Game, wrote:

    "Those players we see today who have the appearance of naturalness and ease in their play are immediately identified as having begun to play as youngsters. I think they have this appearance because they first thought of the game in terms of striking the ball. So they set about doing this with no more self-consciousness than we would associate with chopping wood, throwing stones, or beating rugs.
     I am confident that the adult golfer can and should approach the game the same way. He may not have the time available to the youngster, but he has the advantages of adult understanding... The unskilled golfer looks uncomfortable, strained, unsure, sometimes even unhappy, but he hardly ever presents a ludicrous aspect. I think that a great deal of his discomfiture is derived from his conscious efforts to follow prescribed routine, to look and move like someone else, or as he has been told. I think he would present a more natural appearance if he should put his mind upon striking the ball, rather than swinging the club."

I think Bobby really hits upon the biggest problem with most golf teaching. It focusses on the swing, rather than how we need to strike the ball. He goes on to write:

    "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 movements in a prescribed sequence, 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 all this should be obvious, please believe me when I assure you that I have seen many real good players attempt shots they should have known were impossible."

Bobby Jones has nailed the real issue for many players who are struggling. They are caught up in thinking about swinging the club when they should be focussing on striking the ball. He goes on to explain in some detail in this chapter about how the ball must be struck to produce a variety of shots. I have included this information in my article entitled The Wisdom of Bobby Jones: Striking the Ball.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Nothing New Under the Sun

Golfers and teachers of golf are often seduced into searching for the perfect golf swing--one that would suit everyone and have them playing good golf. This, despite the fact that all the great players tend to have a swing uniquely their own. Moe Norman's swing, because of Moe's uncanny ability to have hit the ball dead straight, has been dissected and analyzed and taught as the answer to the average golfer's prayers. Unfortunately, I've yet to meet and play with anyone who uses the Moe Norman/Natural Golf method--although I've tried it.

Moe didn't worry about distance. His swing was developed in the search for accuracy and control. Bobby Jones wrote of a British Walker Cup player, Major Charles O. Hezlet, who employed a style very similar to Moe's. He addressed the ball with his feet wide apart and used a short, pivotless swing to produce remarkably accurate shots. He was a relatively short hitter, but his accuracy off the tee more than made up for any distance lost by his wide stance and short swing.

Moe saw the game in height, or trajectory, and straight lines. He developed a swing that perfectly fit that bill. But then there's Bubba Watson at the opposite end of the spectrum who sees the game in curving lines and plays the power game. His swing is perfectly designed to achieve that.

Perhaps that's really the key to developing your own swing. Moe said he never worried about distance because he simply "couldn't do it." So he played and swung to his strengths. So, instead of worrying about the so-called "perfect swing," perhaps we should accept that there really is no such thing. There's a perfect swing for Moe, and a perfect swing for Bubba. And there's one for every individual, depending upon their size, shape, athleticism and way of playing the game. 

As Bobby Jones pointed out, it is obvious that there is more than one correct way to swing a golf club. The key is to find the one suited to us. A qualified instructor can help us in our search. But in the end our swing should be uniquely ours; like our signature. It should reflect how we see and play the game, as it should reflect our personality. For instance, an "A-type" personality who goes for broke on the golf course and plays aggressively might have difficulty trying to use a syruppy swing like Freddie or big Ernie. 

As for Moe being the first guy to grip the club as he did and stand with his legs wide apart and his arms extended; Major Hezlet set up the same way, as did J.H. Taylor--pictured below. There really is nothing new under the sun when it comes to golf swings. 

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Golf is Happiness

I spent some time today watching Moe Norman videos. Moe was known as the world's greatest ballstriker. Though he was not accepted on the the PGA tour because of his quirkiness, Moe was a Canadian golfing legend. He had 17 holes in one. He set 41 course records. He shot 59 three times, the last time at age 62. He won over 50 professional tournaments in Canada in fields that included the likes of Arnold Palmer, Doug Sanders, and Ken Venturi.

Moe lived to play golf and, though he became quite famous in later years, had the sadness of being driven off the PGA tour. He wasn't ultimately able to do what he wanted--to play against golf's greatest players on golf's greatest courses. But, for Moe, golf was truly happiness. Here's what he said about the game:

    "Golf is truly happiness. It's intoxication without the hangover. It's stimulation without the pills. Its price is high, yet its rewards are richer. Some say it's a boy's pasttime, yet it builds men. It cleanses the mind and rejuvenates the body. It's these things and many more for those who know it and love it. Golf is truly happiness."

Moe Norman is gone but not forgotten. He will always be a golf legend.

Moe Norman's Way

While he was reputed to be one of if not the greatest ballstrikers of all time, Moe Norman was admittedly an odd character. He looked like a 24 handicapper until he struck the ball. When he did, even Major champions stopped to watch. The strike made a different sound and the ball flew dead straight.

While people have studied and tried to teach Moe's rather unique swing, Moe never suggested that anyone try to copy his action. He felt that what golfers in general lacked most was knowledge. He firmly believed, like Bobby Jones, that the game of golf was played in that five and a half inches between your ears and the three feet before and after impact.

"Golf," Moe said, "is hitting an inanimate object to a defined area with the least amount of effort and an alert attitude of indifference." That alert attitude of indifference was vital in Moe's opinion. Interestingly, Sam Snead said pretty much the same thing. You have to learn, as a golfer, to pick a target and hit the ball to it without allowing concern about the result to enter in to it. Moe said that all he saw was the good things--never the bad--playing in height and reaching for the sky when he hit through the ball. He said we should reach for the sky, because there are "no hazards up there."

In terms of effort, Moe felt that we needed to realize that the ball was small. There was no need to hit at it. He always resisted the hit impulse. The key, in Moe's mind, was acceleration through the ball, not at the ball. His swing was so effortless that during the making of one video, Moe hit balls virtually non stop for five hours at the age of 65.

Unlike most players, Moe held the club in his palms not his fingers. He held the club like a tennis player or a batter in baseball. He believed this sort of grip was actually more sensitive, and definitely more reliable, than the Vardon or interlocking grips. The results, at least in Moe's case, were rather hard to argue with.

When striking the ball, Moe wanted to swing in such a way that the blade of his club was still square to the target line 22 inches after the ball. One way he practised this was to place two tees well in front of the ball and ensure that he clipped them with a square clubface after hitting the ball. This produced laser-like, straight shots. Moe believed in playing on a straight line through the course. And, of course, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

Moe, when describing his swing, said he was pulling hard with his left hand, his right hand only along for the ride. Jack Nicklaus said the same thing, as did Bobby Jones. He never wanted the hit impulse, which is generally the result of an over-active right hand. Moe said, "I want the swing impulse. I swing to the finish."

In terms of his wide stance and extended arms, there was method in Moe's madness, as there was in his addressing the ball with the club well behind the ball. But it's important to remember that Moe did not recommend that people try to copy him. He believed that everyone had to find their own way, a way that suited their size, shape, level of flexibility, strength, etc. The important thing for Moe when he was swinging was, despite his apparently awkward set up, that he never felt "tied up," he felt "free as a bird."

Moe understood how the ball needed to be struck to produce consistently straight, accurate shots. It all had to do with controlling the clubface. If the clubface went through the ball square to the target, and straight down the target line, the only possible result was a straight shot. And Moe found a way to accomplish this perhaps better than anyone else. 

In Moe's opinion there were only two golfers in the history of the game who had fifteen clubs in their bag. They were Bobby Jones and Jack Nicklaus.  That fifteenth club? Their mind. I have to agree with Moe about Bobby Jones and Jack. They might have swung the club differently, but they were the greatest thinkers and had the strongest powers of concentration, absolutely required to win the big championships, we've probably ever seen. 

So, from what I've gathered listening to Moe, he wanted us to gain knowledge and change the way we think; not necessarily the way we swing. Moe said he gave himself a chance. He didn't beat himself up; and he wasn't afraid to succeed. He thought like a winner and that's what he became. But he never suggested that golf was easy. No one worked harder than he did to find a way that for him made the golf ball behave.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Marvin and the Nail

Golf, among other things, enables us to meet and make great friends. I often travel and book to play various courses as a single. The end result is that I am often hooked up with other players, some of whom have become long time friends.

I met Marvin at a little boutique hotel in Hilton Head. Marvin, his brother in law, and I went out for a game and we have been great friends ever since. Marvin took up the game later in life and was shooting in the nineties and higher, playing once a week with some of his buddies from the Navy in Jacksonville. He hits the ball a long way, but not always in the right general direction. 

Marvin called me today and told me that his last three rounds have been in the eighties, including an 83. He said he had finally understood what I had been talking about with the hammer the nail idea and the back of the left hand going through impact square to the target line. While it hadn't registered for him with my attempts to describe the idea, after watching a Golfchannel segment that demonstrated how the ball must be struck, he got it.

After understanding that he needed to focus on the strike by hammering the imaginary nail and keeping the back of his left hand going down the target line through impact, he improved his ballstriking to the point that he was suddenly scoring in the eighties. Marvin emphasized that he was picturing this strike with every shot, including his putts. 

It all comes down to where your focus is when hitting a golf ball. Often, golfers are focussed on anything but hitting the ball. They are thinking about their backswing, or their shoulder turn, or their weight shift--not on striking the ball correctly. This was what Bobby Jones taught. We need to stand up to the ball in a position that feels comfortable and relaxed, and from which we feel ready and able to strike the ball as we wish. Then we just do it.

It sounds remarkably simple, but I've seen this "hammer the nail" image work over and over again; including for myself when I get thinking about my swing and lose focus. Bobby Jones said that he focussed intently on the strike while competing and left his swing to take care of itself. Sounds simple, doesn't it? That's because it actually is. Golf is a simple game that we've managed to make very complicated with all these swing thoughts and theories. In the end, the ball really only responds to how it is struck. Your backswing doesn't impress it at all. Neither does your follow-through for that matter.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Clip It

Harvey Penick taught his students to "clip the tee." They warmed up practising clipping the top of a tee. Then he would have them place the ball on the tee and clip the tee again. What a great teaching method. Harvey said he didn't exactly know why it worked so well, but it made his students square the club face.

For most of us, when we're hitting that little white ball, we think we have to, as my buddy Carl likes to say, "add force to the equation." Rather than trusting the club to do the work, at the last instant we feel the need to give it some extra help. It rarely helps.

We all wish we could hit the ball with our practice swing, The way to do it is to realize that the weight of the club head and the speed with which it is already travelling is more than enough to send that ball screaming on its way. Bob Toski talked about picturing that golf ball as being as light as a ping pong ball. No need to worry about making it fly. That's what the club is perfectly designed to do if we can just let it.

I know that my swing is much smoother and free when I just clip the tee, or as Harry Vardon said, "chop the legs out from under it."  If you're having trouble hitting at the ball, or trying to force it, why not try clipping the tee--chopping the legs out from under that tiny wee ball. It will help, Don't believe me, believe Harvey Penick and Harry Vardon.

Monday, 19 December 2016

What Makes a Good Golfer?

I played with Cal yesterday at Watchesaw Plantation East in Murrels Inlet, SC. It was a lovely day, with the sun shining, a nice breeze, and about 72 degrees.

At the turn Cal hit a poor tee shot that left him in a position where he needed to hit a hooking shot around some trees and over water about two hundred yards if he was to get close to the green. He examined his situation and then wisely hit his next shot safely to the 150 yard marker. 

As luck would have it, after completing this shot, Cal asked me what I thought made a good golfer. I quickly responded that what he just did is what makes a good golfer. He could have tried a heroic recovery shot likely beyond his capability and, in the process, made a big number. But he played the smart shot and got out of trouble, giving himself a chance to save par, or at least have a good chance at bogey.

Bobby Jones wrote about one of the old-time greats of the game, J.H. Taylor, part of the great British trio that included Harry Vardon and James Braid. Bobby wrote in his book Bobby Jones on Golf:

    "J.H. Taylor made the statement that all the great golfers he had known had possessed a quality he chose to call 'courageous timidity.' That happy phrase expresses exactly the qualities a golfer, expert or not, must have in order to get the most from whatever mechanical ability he may have. He must have the courage to keep trying in the face of ill luck or disappointment, and timidity to appreciate and appraise the dangers of each stroke, and to curb a desire to take chances beyond reasonable hope of success. There can be no doubt that such a combination in itself embraces and makes possible all the other qualities--determination, concentration, nerve--we acclaim as parts of the ideal golfing temperament for the championship contender as well as the average golfer."

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Don't Be a Slave to the Card and Pencil

I've been struggling on the course lately. I am struggling physically, with back and neck issues; and I've been struggling when trying to score. Instead of hoping to give Old Man Par a run for his money, I'm now finding myself just hoping to break 80. 

I've lost so much distance off the tee that I'm wearing out my longer irons and woods. My short irons are gathering dust except for the occasions when I miss a green. I played a round the other day and realized that I had not used less than a six iron for a second shot to a par four, or from the tee on any par threes. I did not hit an eight, nine iron or pitching wedge for eighteen holes. 

Obviously, scoring becomes much more difficult under these circumstances and it can be hard not to get discouraged. However, the reality is that things are not likely going to improve for me physically. Therefore, I'm either going to have to adjust my expectations, and change my attitude, or take up bridge.

As usual, when looking for advice, I read something from Bobby Jones that I think applies to my situation and to all golfers in general. In his book Bobby Jones on Golf, Bobby wrote:

    "The continual striving to improve our score, although entirely natural, nevertheless does distract to some extent from our ability to enjoy golf. When we become slaves to the card and the pencil, we become inclined to regard as total losses those rounds in which our score mounts beyond our reasonable expectancy. When we take pleasure in the game only according to the scorecard, a bad start is likely to put entirely away the possibility of an enjoyable afternoon.
     The real way to enjoy playing golf is to take pleasure not in the score, but in the execution of the strokes. A brassie shot to the green can be just as interesting when played after a recovery from trouble as when it follows a perfect drive. By cultivating this attitude, one finally comes to welcome unusual situations, in which there is a possibility of pulling off something a little out of the ordinary. And again, such an attitude in itself brings better results because it maintains interest and keeps one trying to the end."

A good attitude won't have me hitting 290 yard drives again. A good attitude won't have me necessarily breaking par again. But a good attitude towards the playing of the game and the executing of difficult shots will have me enjoying the game again instead of returning home aching, tired, and discouraged. I have to keep in mind that the next shot just might be one of the best I've ever hit. At least it could be if I don't give up.

Why just yesterday I was playing alone and hitting to a 145 yard par three. It was a back pin to a green that drops off sharply. The shot called for a fade and the distance actually called for my five iron. I hit a perfect fading five iron that just missed going in and stopped four feet from the pin. I heard clapping and realized that a fellow walking his dog had seen the shot and appreciated it. I told him I thought it was going in and that I already had two holes in one while playing alone and didn't particularly want another unwitnessed one. 

So, I could either feel good about a perfect-for-me, 145-yard five iron, or I could be discouraged and lament that it once would have been a nine iron. I was actually encouraged. And I made the damned putt!

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

If It Ain't Broke

I went out and played yesterday at Watchesaw Plantation East near Myrtle Beach. I really like the course. At 6300 yards from the white tees, it's no picnic. Sixty-three hundred yards in Myrtle Beach plays every inch of that 6300.

We had a good rain overnight so it was cartpath only--definitely not my favourite way to play the game. The starter put me out on my own, ahead of the two or three groups that had assembled, some of whom who were unsure whether they wanted to play or not given how wet it was. I never saw a soul, other than one fellow who had got caught in a downpour on number four and had driven back in, only to find the sun shining. He headed back to four and I teed off. 

It was a bit of a practice round as I was testing out a new old driver--a Titleist 983E with a stiff Speeder shaft.  i also was using an old faithful sand wedge; a forged Mizuno that I had purchased new about eight years ago and stopped using in favour of a couple of Callaway forged wedges and then some Cleveland wedges. Because I was just fooling around, I hit two balls on most of the holes.

The driver worked reasonably well, but certainly didn't have me hitting it very far. But then, lately, no driver seems to help me hit it very far. That's just the way it is now. If I want to score, it has to be because of my short game. 

The good news was that I holed three wedges, the longest from about forty-five yards from a bare, muddy lie to an elevated green. The others were from at least thirty yards. My chipping from around the green was also pretty decent. I think, after this experience, I'm going back to using just the 56 degree Mizuno around the greens. It has given me more hole-outs than any other wedge I've ever used. Why I ever put it in the garage I'll never know. It may be a bit worn, but it's as trusty as it is rusty.

The bad news is I missed more than three putts from inside four feet. I guess I should have brought my old, faithful Bullseye. It has produced my best putting over the years. It should never leave my bag. After all, it isn't the putter, it's the guy putting that really counts. But if you have a putter that has produced some good results, why leave it? If it ain't broke, don't mess with it.

Bobby Jones on Delaying the Hit

In his chapter on timing the swing, in his book Bobby Jones on Golf, Bobby Jones identified the right hand as the chief culprit in ruining the timing of the golf swing. Most golfers are too quick to engage the right hand and side, and neglect utilizing their left side properly. Bobby goes on to further explain the importance of the left side and hand in the right-handed golf swing in the next chapter entitled Delaying the Hit. He wrote:

    "Whenever you see a player (who is apparently going along easily) blow wide open under the strain of competition, the chances are that the most immediate cause of the detonation is an unruly right hand, a hand that has gotten out of control because of the anxiety and nervousness of the player.
     I think I can say truthfully that I am always on guard against misapplication of right-hand power, but that even then it gets me. For a right-handed person it is, of course, perfectly natural to want to do everything with that hand, and it becomes necessary not to call it in when it is needed, but to keep it out when it is not. The consciousness of exclusion rather than of use. To my mind, the right hand is absolutely useless, except as a steadying factor, throughout the entire backswing, and nearly half of the downstroke, or hitting stroke. Its first real use comes when it assumes command for the actual delivery of the blow.
     If we allow the right hand to take hold at the very beginning of the downstroke, we are hitting too soon. The swing has not a chance to get started in the right groove, and the power is apt to be spent too soon; the wrists will have been uncocked before stored-up energy can be expended upon the ball.
     Of course, so long as we swing a golf club with two hands, in order to swing it properly, both hands must be used correctly. But with most players the effort must be to subdue the right at certain important stages, rather than to direct it to positive activity. It has been said that the correct swing is a wholly artificial, unnatural procedure. In the sense that a naturally right-handed person must force the left side and discourage the right, this is certainly true.
     This alone is sufficient reason for stressing the left side most strongly; since it must be used, and yet it is unnatural to use it, it requires more conscious direction than the right. A right-handed person, swinging a right-handed golf club, will not need to think about hitting with his right hand; he will need only to make certain that he does not begin to use it too soon, or incorrectly. On the other hand, if he does not think about moving his left side, it will surely get in the way, and gum things up."

I had one golf lesson around 1969 in England. That lesson involved me hitting balls using only my left hand. At the time, I thought it was about the most useless thing I could imagine practising; being very much right-hand dominant. Little did I know. Consider what Bobby Jones now wrote about the swing:

    "My conception of the correct swing is built around the one thought of making the left side move, both in taking the club back and in swinging it through. This is the main idea. The use of the right hand, though important, is yet a subheading. It has to be thought of only in order to keep it from overpowering the left, and asserting itself in a disastrous way."

So, I now routinely practise swinging the club with my left hand. It may seem an unnatural thing for a right-handed person to do; but just try to swing the club with the left hand and, if you find it difficult to do, you will get an inkling as to whether you might be letting your right side mess things up in your golf swing. Most of the people I've convinced to try it are quick to realize that they need to train that left side. As for the right hand and side, it doesn't usually need to be trained. It only needs to be restrained.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Bobby Jones on Timing

All fine golfers have good timing. But for the novice player, or the average golfer looking to improve, how do you develop good timing? As usual, Bobby Jones had something to say about timing. In his book Bobby Jones on Golf, Bobby wrote:

    "The dub is told 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 an expert, but an unfailing habit in the case of the dub. I think it will be found that of the players who 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 that 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 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 action of the right hand and wrist. If the left hand has a firm grip on 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 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."

So, there you have it. That top hand is the key to good timing in the golf swing. If it remains in control, with the right hand restrained until it is needed, you will not be losing power by an early release. It may sound strange, but for a right-handed golfer the right hand can really mess things up. Just another way in which golf is often a game of opposites. Bobby goes into more detail about the need to restrain the right hand in the next chapter, entitled Delaying the Hit.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Bobby Jones on Hitting From the Inside

Bobby Jones wrote in his book, Bobby Jones on Golf, about a certain Mr. Alexander Revell who took lessons from Johnny McDermott and was told to swing the club through the ball out towards the right edge of the fairway. The result, for him, was straight drives. 

Bobby then spoke about the idea of an iside to out swing, which many view to be the way to do business. He wrote:

    "J. Douglas Edgar was the first man I remember to have enunciated the doctrine of the inside-out swing, although apparently McDermott had used the idea before. Edgar even devised a 'gateway' through which he made his pupils swing. I am not certain that his lessons with it were always successful, for I know numbers of his pupils in Atlanta who religiously followed him, and nearly all of them were chronic hookers.
     I have always thought that the ideal stroke propelled the club through the ball directly on the line of flight. I cannot conceive that a straight shot could be hit in any other way. Necessarily, the club cannot follow this imaginary line for any great distance, but it is only important that it do so during the time it is in contact with the ball, while the club head is travelling less than an inch.
     Methods differ in detail among individuals, but the mechanical requirements of a perfect drive do not vary. As Mr. Revell obtained goid results by attempting to swing out toward the right edge of the fairway, so I, at Minikahda in 1927, managed to drive well employing exactly opposite tactics. All during the National Amateur Championship of that year, I was resisting a tendency to hook, evidently caused by hitting the ball too briskly from the inside. My straight shots resulted when I attempted to swing my hands toward the left edge of the fairway.
     In any event, the straight shot is accomplished by the straight hit. But the individual plays by 'feel.' In applying the principle of correction by exaggeration, by trying to swing in one direction, he merely avoids swinging in another. in other words, by trying to hit from the inside, the player really dies no more than avoid hitting from the outside."

So, if your tendency is to hit slices, you might benefit from trying to hit from the inside, towards the right edge of the fairway for a right-handed golfer. By doing this you will stop hitting from the outside, which causes the slice. On the other hand, should you actually succeed in hitting from the inside, the result can only be a hook, a push, or, best case scenario, a draw. The straight shot reults from the club head striking the ball squarely with the club moving straight down the target line. It's science.

That Bobby Jones was one really smart character.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Ditch That Driver

I thought I would just randomly open the book Bobby Jones on Golf to see whether I might find some more of the great man's golfing wisdom to share. As seems to always be the case, Bobby did not disappoint.

I opened the book on page 135, the first page of a chapter covering the subject of fairway woods. I think the first paragraph is really worth reading. Bobby wrote:

    "Without overstepping the bounds of proper conservatism, it is possible to say that a good part of the average golfer's difficulty comes from the understandable desire and effort to do more than he can, and nowhere is this more noticeable than in his use of the wood clubs through the green. Time after time, he may be seen diving into formidable rough with a spoon (three wood) in his hand, or hauling out a powerful brassie (two wood, about 13 degrees of loft) to dig a ball out of a cuppy lie--shots the golfer of greater skill and experience would not think of trying. The determination to get length at any cost, to use the strongest club possible, more often than not leads him to exceed his limit. Certainly, the average of his results would be greatly improved if he would make a practice of always using a club with which he could be sure of getting the ball up."

Bobby really captures the sad truth about why so many average players continue to hand in scores in the 90's and above. Their effort to try to do more than they are reasonably capable of leads to big numbers. The first rule when you are in trouble--in deep rough, or with a bad lie--is to get out of trouble; to take a club and choose a shot you know you can hit; not a shot you just hope you can hit. That's the odd thing about many amateurs. We are often woefully bad at sizing up a situation and choosing the right club for the job. We regularly boldly go and try a shot that a pro would never think of trying. Then we wonder at all the double bogeys or worse on our card.

If the nineties shooter learned to play for bogeys, instead of trying to make pars and birdies, he would soon find himself playing in the 80's. Bogeys aren't too bad. It's the dreaded others that kill you; and they are often the result of trying to bite off more than you can chew. It may not be as exciting, but if it's your score you're concerned about, the conservative play--trying for a little less--is almost always the best play.

Speaking of the woods, Bobby also wrote: 

"To be perfectly frank, except for the exceptional case of the man who hits his long shots moderately well and with a fair amount of power but fritters away strokes around the greens, the player who is above the 85 to 90 class has little need for the driver or the brassie of the four-club set. In almost every instance, players of this class have trouble getting the ball up, even from the tee, and they would be wise to drive with the two wood, play their long fairway shots from good lies with the three-wood, and reserve the four-wood (or hybrid) for shots of somewhat shorter range or from tight, unfavorable lies"

And yet the club manufacturers want you to purchase the latest and greatest driver with a 45 inch shaft--whether you can hit it or not. I have a few golfing buddies who continue to reach for the driver when they actually hit their three wood, and in one case his five wood, straighter and farther. It makes no sense, but when you've shelled out two or three hundred bucks for a fancy driver, you want to use it.

I would highly recommend--and, more importantly, Bobby Jones would recommend--that unless you're that guy that can really hit the driver but you throw away your shots closer to the green, that you try for a round or two to resist hitting your driver, choosing the three wood instead. Better yet, leave your driver at home for a couple of rounds. If you don't end up scoring better, I'll eat my shorts.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Length Matters; But Not in Your Backswing

I'm one of those guys who can't seem to stop thinking about my swing. It's easy to tell yourself to focus on the strike, but it's much easier said than done if, like me, you've been spending time reading golf books, or watching videos. Teachers spend most of their time talking about the swing; so no wonder we often find ourselves swing-obsessed.

Henry Cotton's tire drill has helped me. It builds muscle in your hands and forearms. It provides excellent feedback as you strike the tire; first using only your left hand, then just your right hand, and finally using both hands. And, let's face it, it's just plain fun to whack a tire with a golf stick. It's a nice stress reliever.

One of the things I'm always thinking about is my backswing. Yes, I know you don't hit the ball with your backswing, but it's amazing how much we tend to think about and rehearse the backswing. I see the pros doing it all the time. It's not just me.

When you're whacking that tire you soon realize that you can generate some real zip without the need for a long backswing. I tend to worry about the length of my backswing. Because of my back--and my expanded front for that matter--I just have trouble getting the club back as far as I think I should. That old tire helps me understand that the length of your backswing is not really important, provided you are able to get the club in a position where you feel able and ready to strike the ball. Length matters, but not in your backswing.

There are lots of examples of modern-day pros with relatively short backswings, but the guy who really caught my interest this past week was JB Holmes. I mean, this guy absolutely kills it. And he does so with quite a short backswing. He reminds me of Jack the way he powers through the ball using his legs and hitting that power fade. What a great action he has.

So, length matters. But not the length of your backswing. Get yourself a tire to whack and you'll soon be convinced. Henry Cotton certainly knew what he was talking about. 

Be as Natural as Moe

Sam Snead said that if people held a knife and fork like they held a golf club they'd starve. There's a message in that--and it isn't just that many golfers have lousy grips. 

I think the message really is that we need to hold the club with purpose. By that I mean that our grip, our set up, our swing should all be done with the intent of striking the golf ball as it must be struck to produce the shot we want. Some might argue that we all do that, but we don't. 

In this respect Moe Norman, the great Canadian ballstriker, is a good case in point. He came to understand how he wanted to strike the ball, then he built a grip, set up, and swing that enabled him to produce that strike. He was totally unconcerned with appearances. He rejected convention. And he struck the ball about as purely and consistently as it has ever been struck.

If all of us could be as natural as Moe Norman, just imagine the relief. If we could all understand how the ball needed to be struck and then just set about striking it, with no thought of form, or mechanics; imagine the freedom. But, as Bobby Jones said, golf is a game that isn't taught as it is learned. We learn best by playing; by just hitting that pesky ball until we can make it behave. But golf is generally taught as a series of positions, or calisthenic exercises.

It's amazing how our minds and bodies are able to learn to hit a golf ball if we stop thinking about positions and how we are swinging and just focus on striking the ball. You would think you wouldn't have to be told how to hit a golf ball. You don't get told how to hit a baseball, or a ping pong ball. You just do it. And the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Golf was so much easier before I started studying the golf swing. 

Walter Hagen and the Cap

Walter Hagen was meticulous about his clothing. He wrote: "I always chose my clothes with extreme care... selecting the finest in fabrics and with strict attention to harmonizing colors. After my first appearance at Brookline and Chicago in the wild-striped silk shirt, red rubber-soled shoes, whit rolled-cuff pants and an eye-socking plaid cap, I never again went in for loud colors. I liked shades of browns, grays, blues or black and white combinations. Since that plaid cap of 1913, I've never worn or owned a hat."

Now adays the Haig would lose a great deal of sponsor money if he didn't wear a sponsor-logoed hat of some description. In his book The Walter Hagen Story, Hagen did speak of one particular incident where he did put on a cap--at least for one shot in particular. Hagen writes:

    "I did, however, borrow a cap temporarily during the last round of the PGA at Dallas in1927. I was playing against Tommy Armour, and had him 4 down going to the thirteenth hole. All during the tournament I'd been closely followed by my caddie on one side and a most enthusiastic young boy about twelve years old on the other side. As I squinted at my ball before taking my second shot, I remarked to my caddie, 'This is one time I wish I had a cap.'
     Immediately my young golf fan stepped forward and very politely offered his cap--a baseball type, peanut-size cap with his school insigne on the bill. It was just about big enough to shade my right eye and I wore it cocked precariously when I made my shot on the green. The gallery got a laugh when it almost dropped off onto my ball, but I got the shot away. I then walked over, thanked the youngster and assured him I'd never have made the green without his cap. I won the match from Armour 5 and 4.
     A dozen years later, in 1939, at Pomonok Country Club at Flushing, Long Island, I was playing in the lower half of the PGA Championship against Tony Manero. When I had holed my ball on the home green, a very charming lady stepped over and introduced herself as Byron Nelson's mother. She reminded me of the small boy who had followed me so diligently around the course at Dallas in 1927 and whise cap I had borrowed.
    'That youngster was my son, Byron,' she told me."

The Haig wrote that he hoped he had given Byron some of the inspiration that led to his becoming one of "our top ranking golfers." I reckon he probably did. 

Monday, 5 December 2016

2017 Wish List

Prior to the Olympics I was really bullish on Jordan Spieth. Unfortunately, When he, McIlroy, DJ, and Day decided not to go to Rio, I was turned off the lot of them. I could not respect their decision not to go. It was not, in my opinion, a decision made for the good of the game. 

As a result, I have started rooting for some terrific players who did go. First of all, I'm rooting for Rickie Fowler, who has both style and substance, and a natural move I'd be happy to imitate. I hope 2017 finally brings him a Major. 

I also continue to follow Henrik Stenson. The big Swede might just have played the greatest final round ever played in a Major at St Andrews. I think he has the best swing in golf, and I hope the next year brings him another Major; just to prove that St Andrews was no fluke, in case anyone actually thought it was, and to prove that the older boys can still get it done.

I'd also love to see Patrick Reed break through and get his Major. I've always liked the way he plays the game. And the Ryder Cup proved that he has the right stuff. He may come across as a bit cocky, but he's got the game to back it up.

Finally, I hope Matsuyama wins a Major to be the first Japanese player to win one. This kid is sensational. I love guys who play their own game, and swing their own swing, not relying on teachers to hold their hand. 

I know I said, "Finally," but I have one last wish. I hope the Internationals win the President's Cup. They put on a great show last time, and although it was nice to see Bill Haas deliver the winning point for his dad, we really need the Internationals to get it done for the good of the competition. If the Internationals can't get a win, the President's Cup will become a ho hum event like the Ryder Cup was until they let the Europeans bolster the British players and make it an exciting contest.

So, here it is: Rickie Fowler wins the Open. Matsuyama wins the Masters. Henrik wins the US Open. And Reed wins the PGA Championship. Oh yeah, I also hope Tiger plays well and stays healthy. Those are my hopes for 2017. What are yours?

It's the Fiddler

Well, Tiger Woods managed to play 72 holes against a really strong field. While his first tournament was in a limited field, with no cut, it was against a bunch of thoroughbreds. If he was going to embarrass himself, he picked the right field to do it in. He was, after all, playing against eleven of the top twenty players in the world.

While he looked like the Tiger of old with some of his iron shots, he drove it poorly, putted okay, but was not bullet-proof from six feet like he was when he was the best, and he made too many mental mistakes. I'm sure he gave his fans a few things to feel optimistic about. I'm not, however, convinced that he will be happy with his play. He finished poorly every day but one--his second round 65. Not only did he make bogeys, he made several doubles. He must be disappointed; especially with that final round--the highest round of the tournament.

After two days, I thought, here we go. Tiger really is back. Now, it's obvious that he has a long way to go. We saw some good stuff from him--hell, he led the field in birdies--but there is nothing in what we saw that would have Jack worrying about his Major record quite yet. 

They say the three most important clubs are the driver, the wedge, and the putter--not necessarily in that order. Tiger's driving, especially as he tried to finish the rounds off, let him down. His wedge game was okay, but nothing to write home about, and his putting was not remotely like it was when he was knocking off Majors at a high rate of speed.

Gene Sarazen said that the first thing to go is your putting. He may be right. When the putts start lipping out, and the four footers start looking easy to miss, the game changes. It affects your confidence in a big way. There was a time when a six footer was pretty much a sure thing for Tiger. That's simply no longer the case. 

Raymond Floyd said the six foot putt was the most important shot in golf. I think he's right. And, for now at least, Tiger is a long way from being where he once was when standing over a six footer. Can he get the magic back? He's got the right putter. But, as they say, "It ain't the fiddle. It's the fiddler."

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Patrick Reed in Pink

I noticed that Patrick Reed, who usually sports the Tiger red and black on Sundays is resplendant in a pink shirt. Patrick is clearly rendering due respect to Tiger. That's the thing with Tiger. Whether you love him or not, you have to give him his due. What he has already accomplished in the game sets him up there in the pantheon of golf's greatest players.

Whether Tiger deserves the title of the greatest ever often depends on who you grew up idolizing. For me it was Jack. For those who saw Bobby Jones, or Harry Vardon, or Sam Snead play, they might put forth the argument that those guys could have taken on the big cat and won. The argument is really pointless because they all came from different generations. All any golfer can do is beat the guys he's playing against, and Tiger has done that in spades.

We talk about his fourteen Majors, but what about World Golf Championships? Tiger has totally dominated when playing against the strongest fields in golf. Compared to his contemporaries, Tiger's record makes that of even the best if his rivals pale in comparison. It's simply no contest.

I have enjoyed Tiger's return. I've enjoyed seeing him play well. And I've enjoyed watching him smile and interact so well with the other players and the media. Whether he wins another five Majors, as he believes he can, or whether he never wins another tournament, you just have to give the man his due. He may not be the GOAT, depending on your point of view, but he is definitely the greatest of his generation. And, in the end that's all you can do.

Patrick Reed understands that red and black belongs to Tiger. It will be interesting to see whether, with Tiger back in the fray, he will become the man in pink and black on Sundays. I prefer pink anyway. Real men wear pink.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

To Pause or Not to Pause

Watching Hideki Matsuyama put on a show in the Bahamas at Tiger's Hero World Challenge, we see a swing unlike any on the tour that I can think of. That distinct pause at the top of the backswing is not something we see very often. Obviously, the pause works for Matsuyama. How about for the rest of us?

Sam Snead liked to see a pause at the top. I believe Bobby Jones liked it as well. On the other hand, Jack Nicklaus was dead against the idea. It's obviously a personal choice. What is important, as Bobby Jones taught, is getting in the position on the backswing where we feel capable, and ready, to strike the ball. 

The problem for many of us, especially when under pressure, is that we are in a hurry to hit the shot. We don't complete our backswing, and we often lurch at the ball. I think that pause at the top might be a good thing to try, but only if you can start the downswing smoothly with everything working together. 

Then again, what the hell do I know? The Slammer and Bobby Jones like the idea. So there must be some merit in it. Jack doesn't think it's a good idea for most of us. Obviously, given Matsuyama's great play, it works for some. However, the real issue is making certain you get yourself in a position on the backswing where you feel capable of striking the ball as you wish. That, as Bobby Jones said, is the only purpose of the backswing.

I wonder how many Japanese are trying to imitate Matsuyama's swing. It may just become a very popular move if Matsuyama keeps doing what he's doing between the ropes.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Tiger Goes Bogey Free

Thank heaven you can record Golfchannel programming. Is it just me, or does Golfchannel force us to watch more commercials than actual program content? You see two or three shots, then "let's break to commercials." It's painful.

Today I feared we might be seeing perhaps the worst case scenario when it comes to Tiger's return. He found himself playing alone--the last man in the field after Justin Rose decided his back was too bad to continue. Tiger must have been extremely disappointed. He must also have been concerned that he could find himself playing alone for the remainder of the tournament if he didn't continue making birdies and eliminate the bogeys. But then, that's how I would be thinking. I'm not Tiger Woods.

Well, seven birdies and no bogeys has pretty much eliminated the possibility that Tiger will find himself at the back of the pack. The biggest moment for me was when he holed that long putt to save par on sixteen. By his reaction, I think it was a huge moment for Tiger as well. He well knows the importance of saving pars.

Tiger may not win this week, but he hasn't embarrassed himself. When you watch guys like Bubba, DJ, and JB Holmes overpower the golf course, you still have wonder whether Tiger has the physical equipment left to run with those guys. But at least we know he can still make a score. And, in the end, it's only the score that counts.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Tiger and the Driver

El Tigre made his first competitive start in the Bahamas today at the Hero World Challenge--in case anyone hasn't heard. There was some good stuff and some not-so-good stuff. The good news is he didn't finish last in the eighteen man field. The bad news is he was second to last after double bogies on two of his last three holes. It was a tale of two nines.

All in all, Tiger looked pretty decent. Going out in 33 he had us wondering. Coming home in 40, it seems that he's still got a way to go. The problem club continues to be the driver. It cost him again today. Whether it's the driver, as one announcer suggested, or whether it's the guy driving that's the problem, only time will tell. 

Tiger looks lean. He looks pretty loose. I like that his swing seems to be more upright and less violent. His irons were pretty darn good. It's just that driver. It really has been his nemesis. Greg Norman, one of the game's greatest drivers had some advice that I think might be applicable to Tiger's situation when he said:"If you can't hit the driver, don't."

I have always maintained that had Tiger used a hot three wood, like Henrik Stenson, instead of hitting a driver, he would have been pretty much unbeatable. So, while the start wasn't too bad, I would have two suggestions, not that I'm anyone someone like Tiger would, or should, listen to. I'd suggest he listen to the Shark's advice, and that he get the specs on that three wood Henrik is using.

Anyway, it is nice to see a smiling Tiger Woods back playing. I hope he keeps smiling and enjoys his time competing from now on. Let's face it; it isn't like he has anything left to prove; other than maybe to himself.