Friday, 28 April 2017

The King and Moe

The King, Arnold Palmer, believed that all that was required to become proficient at the game of golf was two things. The first was a sound grip.

The second requirement was a "one piece" takeaway for the first foot of the backswing. Arnie felt that it was almost impossible to screw things up if those two factors existed. The one-piece takeaway was also a key for Jack Nicklaus and Sam Snead, among many others.

For those who don't know what a one-piece takeaway is, it involves pushing the club straight back from the ball with the left hand, for a right-handed player. The right hand is simply along for the ride and the wrists don't begin to break and lift the club until the club has travelled at least a foot and the left side begins to move and stretch.

Arnie, unlike Jack or the Slammer, also recommended a relatively short, or compact, swing. He felt that there was no need to swing back any farther than is comfortable, the full shoulder turn being something you must either do naturally, or not worry about. He proved this in a test using a five iron, where he made a full swing, and then an abbreviated swing, the difference in distance being only about ten yards. The reward from the abbreviated swing was greater accuracy.

When you keep Arnie's teaching in mind and consider the famous ballstriker, Moe Norman's swing, you see that Moe incorporated Arnie's swing rules and was one of the straighest and most accurate hitters the game has ever seen. Moe realized early on that he was not a long hitter. His game had to be built around accuracy.

Everyone wants to hit the ball long. It's a great feeling. But most of us are either long hitters, or we're not. Long hitting is really something you either have the ability to do, or you don't. It's the result of rhythm, timing, strength, flexibility, and, most important, the ability to hit the ball in the sweet spot with a square clubface. All these things we can improve with practice and exercise. But most of us don't have the physical tools of a Dustin Johnson. So we need to focus on square hitting and accuracy, like Moe.

There are lots of people who have analyzed Moe's swing. They note the wide stance. They note the extended arms when he addressed the ball. They talk about his grip, and his tremendous lateral move through the ball. You can get lessons on how to swing it like Moe. And, perhaps these "Natural Golf" systems help struggling golfers. 

Moe was a ballstriking genius. And, getting back to what Arnie had to say about the two prerequisites for good golf, consider what Moe did. For grip, he said he watched carpenters. He watched tennis players. And he realized that, for hiim at least. the club was best held more naturally, in the palms, not the fingers. That's why he used over-sized grips and a ten finger grip. With that grip, he struck the ball like a carpenter striking a nail. That clubface wasn't turning or twisting through impact. It was driving straight down the target line for, what Moe suggested was, twenty two inches.

When Moe addressed the ball, he had his club about a foot behind it. Remember what Arnie said about taking the club back twelve inches in one piece without breaking the wrists? Moe took care of that with his address position. He explained that he was already into his turn at address. By setting up this way he eliminated taking the club back outside the line, and he eliminated picking the club up too quickly, a problem that plagues many amateurs.

So someone learning the game might want to consider trying a ten finger grip, with thicker grips so that the club is held more in the palms. The one benefit of this is that it feels more natural to do this. And they might want to consider addressing the ball like Moe did, with the club a foot or so behind the ball. It would eliminate accidentally moving the ball at address, if nothing else. And it would ensure that magic one-piece takeaway that Arnie wanted to see.

Moe Norman was definitely a genius. And we can learn a great deal from understanding how and why he did things in his swing. And I think the most important thing is to understand how he struck the ball. After all, the swing is just a means to an end; the end being striking the ball correctly. There are no style points. So, how did Moe want to strike the ball?

Moe wanted his clubface square to the target and moving along the target line for as long as possible before and especially after impact. He wanted to be able to brush the ball off the grass. If he took a divot at all, he wanted it to be a perfect bacon strip, not a hole you could use to bury a small mammal.
Moe wanted to feel as though he could actually strike another ball twenty two inches in front of his ball. He practised that kind of extension through the ball and was convinced that this was what made him the straighest hitter we've ever seen.

Arguably the greatest ballstriker we've ever seen was Byron Nelson. He was a completely different body type than Moe, and his swing bore little resemblance to Moe's. But, guess what? He struck the ball the same way Moe did. He kept his clubface square and moving down the target line for a foot. He also employed a strong lateral move through the ball to accomplish this. 

At the end of the day, there are as many ways to swing the club as there are golfers. But the only way to hit a straight shot is for the clubface to strike the ball squarely facing the target and moving straight down the target line. And whatever means you use to accomplish that is up to you. In the end, it isn't about the swing. It's all about the strike.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over

I've had Levi's number so far this season. Now that's nothing to brag about, because I had several trips south this winter while Levi shovelled snow. But we had an interesting match yesterday that I thought was worth writing about.

We played match play and Levi asked for five strokes. I was quite happy to oblige, since our match the day before, having given him four, ended on the twelfth hole. It was a rout. And, let's face it, no one enjoys a match that isn't close. Unfortunately, I again started out winning the first three holes and thought, "Here we go again."

Fortunately, Levi rallied and I ended up just one up after ten. But on number ten two things happened that turned things around. First, my back went from just hurting, to spasming. And secondly, I showed Levi what I was doing to play while half crippled. I was taking the club back to only about waist high, like Moe Norman. Then I was finishing my swing in the follow-through at between knee and waist high. Essentially, I was hitting straight down the target line until both arms were fully extended through the ball and then just stopping. 

The fact that I had just birdied nine, hitting it to less than a foot from 170 yards, seemed to pique Levi's interest. So, he tried fully extending down the target line until his arms were fully extended and just allowing momentum to take him to the finish instead of consciously turning his shoulders through impact and coming over the top and across the ball as he had been doing. The change was dramatic. He started driving it much straighter. He was hitting better irons into the greens. If it wasn't for some les-than-stellar chipping and putting on his part, I'd have been up Schitz Creek. 

At the thirteenth, Levi almost holed out for an ace and went one up. We were having a match, and the knot had definitely gone out of Levi's face. He was smelling blood. Unfortunately for Levi, however, he skulled a chip on fifteen to lose the hole and get us back to all square. Then he drove it behind some trees on the left of seventeen after I had first driven it right and had tree troubles of my own.

Levi tried to hit it through the trees directly at the green and failed, leaving himself a fifty yard pitch to the green. Trees are not, contrary to some people's opinion, ninety percent air. I, on the other hand, had been faced with a shot of just over 200 yards which required about a thirty yard cut to narrowly miss a thick cedar tree of my own. I was at the base of another tree and made a swing something like young Sergio did when he was chasing down Tiger at that Major way back when. I even walked through the swing like he did; but I didn't close my eyes and I certainly wasn't doing any running or jumping to follow the shot like El Nino. 

I couldn't see the shot finish, but knew I'd cut it enough to get around the tree and have it heading towards the green. As it turned out, I ended up about ten yards short and right of the green. I'd managed to over-cut it, which impressed me because the ball had been above my feet in what was a hook lie. Levi, who was across the fairway when I hit the shot, seemed to be not nearly as thrilled as I was. But I guess he had other things on his mind--like getting his shot through the trees and finally managing to beat my sorry ass.

In any event, I managed to get it up and down for a par and Levi didn't; giving me a one up lead with one to play. Levi was not a happy camper. We both left our approaches short of the green on the par three eighteenth and Levi chipped his to about six feet. I managed to pitch mine to about three feet and Levi conceded the match.

Now there are two morals to this rather long and drawn-out story in my mind. Well, perhaps there are three things worth considering. Firstly, there is nothing more fun that hitting a good recovery shot at the right time; especially in match play. Secondly, good chipping and pitching drives your opponent crazy in match play. And finally, as Sam Snead said, "You should never concede the putt that beats you."

Levi just waved at his six footer on eighteen, after conceding the match. Had he holed that six footer, I might have easily missed my three footer. The result might have just as easily been a halved match. You should never give up in this game. As a wise man once said,"It ain't over 'til it's over."

How Bobby Jones Learned the Game

Bobby Jones played golf in a different era, with different equipment, on courses far less manicured. But he played the same game, with the same goal; namely to get the ball from the teeing ground into the hole in the fewest strokes possible. And he was a genius at doing just that. 

I was reading his book, Golf is my Game, again today and was once again struck by what he had to say at the beginning of the second chapter, entitled Striking the Ball. In this modern age, with all the technology available to students and teachers, I fear we are often in danger of getting lost in trying to improve launch angles and spin rates, and actually lose sight of what the game is really all about; namely making a score. With this technology, including improved equipment and course agronomy, you would think the average player would be getting better. But he apparently isn't. So, what's missing?

Consider what the Master wrote:

    "When I was playing competitive golf, I had, with some golf writers at least, a reputation for being a regular player. When I scored sixty-six in the third round of the Southern Open at East Lake in 1927, Kerr Petrie wrote for the New York Herald Tribune:
     'They wound up the Mechanical Man of Golf yesterday and sent him clicking around the East Lake course.'

     I remember the round quite well, and it was as nearly perfect as any I ever played; the only real mistake being a tee shot pulled into some woods on the fourteenth hole. That 'Mechanical Man' stuff, though, did make me laugh. How I wished it could have been made to fit!
     I have always said that I won golf tournaments because I tried harder than anyone else and was willing to take more punishment than the others. More immodestly, I will say now that I think a large factor in my winning was a greater resourcefulness in coping with unusual situations and in recovering from or retrieving mistakes.
     Jim Barnes said to me once, when as a youngster I was in the midst of my lean years as a golfer: 'Bob, you can't always be playing well when it counts. You'll never win golf tournaments until you learn to score when you're playing badly.'
     I think this is what I learned to do best of all. The most acute, and yet the most satisfying recollections I have are of the tournaments won by triumphs over my own mistakes and by crucial strokes played with imagination and precision when anything ordinary would not have sufficed. And I was able to do this because I learned so well what a golf ball could be made to do and how it had to be struck to make it perform as I wanted it to.
     Of course, I learned these things by playing. I kept hammering at that pesky ball until I found a way to make it behave. When I hit it one way and it didn't go right, I'd try hitting it another way. I didn't try different swings. I probably didn't know there were such things, or even a swing at all for that matter.
     I watched other players, too, and when one of them made a shot that I especially admired, I would begin to try to produce the same result. But I didn't observe how they took the club back or measure the 'body-turn' they used. I watched the clubhead strike the ball and saw how the ball responded. Then I tried to make my ball do the same thing."

And there you have it. Arguably the greatest player the game has ever seen learned golf by playing it. He didn't learn the game on a driving range, or in a booth where a machine gave him measurements of  launch angle, and spin rate, and swing speed. He played, and observed, and learned how a golf ball reacted when struck different ways from different lies. Kind of a novel idea, don't you think? Learn golf by playing it. Who would've thunk it?

Friday, 21 April 2017

Carl the Chipper

It was opening day today at our course today and it rained all night which made it cartpath only for those of us needing to ride. The course was soaked and the greens were covered in a thick dew and adorned with worms when we set out, making putting a bit difficult. But the course is in great shape.

I played with Carl the Grumbler and Levi; and Carl declined to play for the usual two bucks, saying this was his first round of the year and he'd probably shoot 85. Levi was willing to play for the big money wanting only four shots. So, it was game on.

Every round you either learn something new; or relearn something you'd forgotten. And playing with Carl I once again learned the merits of chipping the ball along the ground wherever possible. Bobby Jones believed spinning shots and pitches were best only to be used when there was an obstacle you needed to pitch over to get to the flag. He wasn't a believer in using spin, or getting unnecessarily fancy.

Carl is the same way. He is absolutely deadly around the greens, running the ball up to the pin using a variety of clubs; and today was no exception. He hit, I don't know how many, chips stone dead today. Unfortunately, however, his long game was off starting out, and he was pushing his putts, so he went out in 46; which is about as high as I've ever seen him shoot. 

On the back, Carl made seven pars to go along with a double and a bogey for 39. That's right; he shot 85 on the nose. Perhaps he should have said he intended to shoot 72 instead. I went out in 39 and came home in 38. Nothing to write home about, but I did try chipping the ball with a variety of different clubs around the greens instead of using my wedge and trying to get fancy. And it worked pretty damned well. I just missed a few short putts.

So, I learned two things today. First, don't pitch the ball, or try to spin it with a wedge around the greens, unless you have to. Leave the fancy shots to Phil. If you have to pick a flavour for your shots around the greens, as Harvey Penick wrote, "Make it vanilla." Secondly, it won't be long before I'll have to worry about Carl taking my money. And, I guess I learned a third thing. I shouldn't give up my day job.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Bobby Jones and Byron Nelson Had to Learn the Same Lesson

Two of the greatest players we've ever seen both had the same problem and managed to fix it. They were Bobby Jones and Byron Nelson. What was the problem?

They both realized, by reviewing their rounds, that they had the tendency to let up, or lose concentration, on easy-looking shots. Byron had this realization prior to his incredible season of 1945, when he won eleven tournaments in a row, and 18 in total. He improved his scoring average by one and a half shots per round, finishing the season with an unheard of scoring average of 68.33. In 1945 Byron was on a mission. He wanted to set some records to be remembered by and he wanted to earn enough to buy his Texas ranch so he could retire from the grind of the tour. He accomplished both those goals with a huge exclamation point, setting a record that will surely never be touched. And he did this by finding a way to play every shot, including the easy-looking ones, for all it was worth.

Bobby Jones went seven years before he finally managed to win a Major. Of course, he started playing in Majors at age 14, so it isn't as bad as it sounds. But it was only when he learned to play one shot at a time that he started winning. In the next seven years he won over 60 percent of the Majors he entered. 

Both players were extraordinary players, the like of which we may never see again. But both, despite their prodigious talent, had to learn the same lesson every golfer determined to play his best must learn. You must play one shot at a time and give every shot, no matter how simple, your best effort. And, if you think that's easy to do, just try it sometime. 

Bobby Jones believed that the fun in golf was playing your hardest, be it for a two dollar Nassau, or a Major championship. By throwing yourself whole-heartedly into the game, he was certain that you get the most benefit from it. Playing that way gives you a reprieve, at least for four hours, from any troubles or worries you might have; because concentrating on your golf gives you no time to think about work. It's all-consuming. The other benefit is an important psychological one. Whether you play well or poorly, at least at the end of the round you have the satisfaction of knowing you did the best you could with what you had to work with that day. And that is all anyone can be expected to do.

And playing hard doesn't mean you can't enjoy the walk and the company. It just means you have to mean business when it's your turn to play. I don't know about you, but I doubt I've ever managed to play like that; giving every shot my full attention and effort. But hope springs eternal. All you can do is try.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

I'm Going to Use My Swing

Most amateurs wish they could play with their practice swing. We tend to think that our practice swing is superior to the disjointed lurch that often appears when we are faced with actually hitting the ball. Bobby Jones said that our practice swing may not, in fact, be as good as we might think it is--but at least it tends to be smoother and more rhythmic--and more natural.

If you are a compulsive tinkerer, like me, you might wonder just what is "your swing." If so, I have discovered that my natural swing is the swing I make when I close my eyes and swing. When you close your eyes and swing, you can really feel your swing, and you find your natural rhythm. Your natural swing is also, according to Bobby Jones, the swing you would use when just swinging at a piece of clover, or a broken tee on the ground. You just swing at it without being worried about the result. 

My first round in Canada this year was at Timber Ridge, near Brighton. I started the day trying to swing it like Jack; and I was actually hitting some pretty good shots. In fact, I went out in 39, which was pretty fair considering the fact that I had three-putted at least three holes, including the first hole where I had a reasonable look at birdie and then promptly three-whacked it. Funny how we like to see three-putting as some sort of aberration. The old, "I would have played better if I hadn't putted badly" excuse; as though somehow bad putting doesn't, or shouldn't, count when assessing your ability. 

Anyway, I was playing with Steve and we joined up with John and Bruce. Bruce played from the tips. The rest of us decided--quite sensibly in my opinion--to play from the whites. Bruce turned out to be a pretty good player, who could really move it out there. He very quickly established the fact that he could easily play from the tips. After a few holes, he also informed me that I had no business playing from the whites "with that swing." 

After nine holes swinging using my best imitation of Jack, I failed to clear the hazard with my drive on number ten and hacked my way to a double bogey six. It's funny how a bad hole can make your back ache more. So, I decided there and then to revert to using "my swing." I informed Steve, who responded, "Already? It's not the seventeenth yet." Steve can't understand why I seem to start every round using some new swing I've cooked up while laying in my bed the night before. He doesn't have tinkeritis, so he doesn't know how this particular mental illness can affect you.

On number twelve I also decided to play from the tips with Bruce. And, using "my swing" I hit the prettiest 22 degree Cleveland wood you ever saw. Okay, it might not have been the prettiest shot you've ever seen, but it was pretty damned good. 

I finished the round from the back tees and acquitted myself quite nicely, thank you very much. Once again, I learned my lesson about trying to hit it like Jack, or Freddie, or Henrik, instead of just stepping up and hitting the damned ball with my own swing. It's a lesson I can seem to never really learn. But I went out the following day and, guess what? I tried to hit my first tee shot like Henrik! It turned into a snap hook and I quickly reverted to my swing and stayed with it for the rest of the round. And I even managed to go another round yesterday without trying anything new. I'd like to say I played perfectly, but as a certain psychologist once wrote, "Golf is not a game of perfect."

Our course finally opens on Friday and I'll be playing with Carl the Grumbler. And, come hell or high water, I'm going to use my swing. If I do; and I play hard and well; I just might take Carl's money.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Bobby Jones on Confidence

Bobby Jones wrote about confidence. In his mind there two sorts of confidence; one of which that is indespensible and helps you play better; and the other that is dangerous, and just might make things worse if you have too much of it. In view of Sergio's recent victory at Augusta and Spieth's rather disastrous finish after speaking very confidently to the media prior to, and during, the Masters championship, it might be a good idea to consider what the Master himself had to say. Bobby wrote, in his book Bobby Jones on Golf:

    "Every golfer has a favourite club--a battered old spoon or a mashie with a crooked shaft--that he would not exchange for double its weight in gold. He has confidence in this club and in his ability to use it; and in actuality, he does play it better than any other. It isn't all imagination--he doesn't merely think he can play it better--he can really do so because he has confidence in it and swings it easily, freely, and rhythmically.
     The better player has this same feeling of confidence, but instead of trusting one of his clubs, he trusts them all, except perhaps one. He has confidence in his swing. He is content to trust himself to take his time and hit the ball. Such an attitude is indespensible to first-class golf...
     There is one kind of confidence that everyone must have in abundance; when he stands up to the ball ready to make a decisive stroke, he must know he can make it. He must not be afraid to swing, afraid to pivot, afraid to hit; there must be a good swing with plenty of confidence to let it loose.
     The other kind of confidence is a different thing, and a dangerous one. In a way, it has something to do with the player's opinion of his ability to play the shots, but it works in an entirely different way. Of this kind of confidence, we must have only enough to make us feel as we step upon the tee with John Doe: 'Well, John, you're pretty good, but I think if I play hard and well, I can just about beat you.' It must be enough to overcome actual fear or to rout an inferiority complex, but it must not be sufficient to produce a careless, overconfident attitude."

So, we must have enough confidence in our ability to hit a shot that we are able to swing the club freely and without, as Bobby called it, "the gravel of uncertainty." If we don't think we can hit a shot, we are probably correct. And we must have enough confidence in our ability to beat Joe Blow, if we try hard and play well. But we must never let ourselves become overconfident.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Bobby Jones on Gaining Efficiency

At the start of a new season for us Northerners, I thought I would review what Bobby Jones had to say in his book, Bobby Jones on Golf, under the subject of "Gaining Efficiency." Bobby wrote:

    "Often, when we are trying to take strokes off our score, we attach too much importance to new theories of the swing, and overlook the fact that we are not getting everything we should out of the mechanical ability already possessed... Every golfer is of limited ability--some more so, others less. We can't always help this, but I believe that I can make a few common sense suggestions, having nothing to do with technique, that will help to take strokes off any man's game.
     The first real big lesson I learned, and it was medal competition that taught me, was that every stroke in the round was of equal importance, and that each one was worthy of and demanded the same intensity of concentration. Before I had had much experience, I used invariably to allow myself to become careless when confronted by a simple-looking shot. A wide fairway or a big green was always the hardest for me to hit. But no golf shot is easy unless it is played with a precise and definite purpose, and with perfect and complete concentration upon results. The easiest way to assure minute attention on every shot is to cultivate an attitude of mind that will be satisfied by nothing less than perfection. If it looks easy to play onto the green, then try to get close to the hole; if it looks easy to get within a ten-foot radius, try to lay it dead. Always strive to go as far toward the ultimate end of holing out as it is reasonably possible to go."

It's worth repeating the fact that Bobby Jones said he was not playing his best golf when he managed to win the Grand Slam. He felt the reason he succeeded was that he tried harder than everyone else and he refused to give up. Obviously, giving every shot the same intensity of concentration involves great effort. If it was easy, we'd all do it. And yet all of us experience lapses in concentration and fail to give every shot the attention it deserves. We will likely always have lapses in concentration, but trying to hit the best shot we possibly can, in line with the circumstances and our ability, is the way to have fewer lapses. Essentially, we need to be resolved to try harder.
Bobby continued by writing:

    "The surest way to collect 7's and 8's and to pile up a disgraceful score is to become angry and rattled. It won't cost much in the way of strokes, when you slice a drive or pull an iron, if you throw your club away or curse your luck, because you still have time to get over it before the next shot. But if you look up in the bunker and leave your ball sitting where it was, you had best think twice before you hit it again."

Bobby Jones had a temper. As a young man he cursed and threw clubs with the best of them when he missed a shot. He learned to curb those outward displays of temper, but he still got mad as hell when he failed to perform. In fact, he admitted that he still liked to toss the odd club in later life when playing friendly rounds with his father and his cronies. But he learned, as we must, not to hit another shot until you've got over the angst of missing the preceding one. 

Finally, Bobby wrote about what he considered to be the most important thing a golfer must do if he hopes to play his best. He wrote:

    "No virtue in this world is so often rewarded as perseverance. Again, as Harry Vardon said, 'Keep on hitting the ball.' Don't give up just because you are bunkered in 3 and your opponent is on the green in 2. You might hole out and he might take three putts. It doesn't happen often, but you can never tell..."

Trying your hardest and refusing to give up--those were Bobby's keys to success. And, if we want to shave strokes off our score, that recipe will almost certainly work for us as well. Bobby concluded by talking about confidence:

    "To those who play it and study it, the game of golf presents puzzling problems in many phases. One of the queerest angles on the mental side is seen when we begin to consider confidence--what is its effect, how much of it ought we to have; and in what should we have confidence--in our ability to beat a given opponent or in our ability to play the shots? Many of us have found that we can't play well without confidence of one kind, and that we will be beaten if we have too much of another variety."

I'll share Bobby's views on confidence in my next article.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Starting a New Season

For many of us living in northern climes, the golf season is just starting. That being the case, I thought it would be a good idea to review some of the information from Bobby Jones that just might help me get off to a good start this year. 

Many golfers set goals for themselves at the start of a new season. And sports psychologists certainly recommend doing so. But the first thing we need to decide, according to Bobby Jones, is what sort of golfer we are. I'll let him explain from his book Bobby Jones on Golf. The Master wrote:

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

I think this is excellent advice. I think it's safe to say that there isn't a golfer around who doesn't want to play better. But we have to be realistic. Generally speaking, serious and lasting improvement in this game doesn't come without time and effort. If we don't have much time, and/or we aren't prepared to do some hard work, we should be content with our usual game. 

But, regardless of our ambitions, we do want to enjoy our time on the links. So again, Bobby supplies some rules we should follow in order to get maximum enjoyment from our game. He wrote:

    "When we come to the all-important matter of getting real enjoyment out of playing the game, I think we will find that all must employ the same set of rules. To find enjoyment, we must produce a round fairly close to our usual standard. To do this with a fair degree of consistency, no matter to which class (of golfer) we belong, we must avoid experiment, refuse to try anything new, and play the game instead of practicing it.
     The best piece of advice I could give any man starting out for a round of golf would be 'take your time,' not in studying the ground, and lining up the shot, but in swinging the club. Strive for smoothness, strive for rhythm; but unless you are something of an expert, save 'monkeying' with your hip turn, your wrist action, and the like, until you can get on a practice tee where you can miss a shot without having to play the next one out of a bunker."

I think this is excellent advice that I will endeavour to follow as I start a new season, and as I start every round. If I could only resist "monkeying" with my swing, and remember to take my time swinging the club every time I tee it up, I know that alone would have me playing better golf.

In my next article I'll provide some more excellent advice from Bobby Jones on how to improve without making any swing changes, or practising more.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Swing It Like Jack

Watching the Golfchannel special, Jack, I am reminded of just how great a player Nicklaus was. And it wasn't as though he came along at a time when there were no other great players.

Jack played against Arnie, Gary Player, Billy Casper, Johnny Miller, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson... all legends of the game. And, he generally beat them all. In his prime he inspired just as much fear in his opponents as Tiger did. The field knew that if Jack was on his game, just like Tiger, they were playing for second place.

I've loved watching that magnificent, powerful golf swing again. It was the swing I tried to copy as a youngster. But more than the swing was Jack's mind. He simply played the game better than anyone of his generation. His focus and intensity was second to none.

To compare Jack to Bobby Jones, or Tiger, might be a temptation. But the reality is that all you can do is beat the guys you are playing against at the time. And the benchmark is Majors. Jack's record in the Majors is rivalled only by Bobby Jones and Tiger. Bobby retired early, and Tiger made swing changes and had career-shortening injuries that might have prevented him from possibly even surpassing Jack's record. But, for now, the Golden Bear stands alone at the top of the pack, if it's Majors you're counting.

Nice to see the Golfchannel recognizing this fact. To the golfers who grew up watching Tiger; I hope you are watching, or will watch, Jack. Tiger was the best of his generation. But don't for one minute think that Jack would have folded like a cheap suit against him. 

As for me, I'm back trying to swing it like Jack. 

Monday, 10 April 2017

For Sergio Acceptance Led to Inner Calmness

Sergio spoke about having that inner calmness in the final round of his great Masters win. For him, it was a new feeling in the heat of battle for one of golf's greatest prizes. He also spoke of having a sense of acceptance. He had accepted the fact that he might never win a Major. And he knew that he would be able to live with that eventuality. That being the case, much of the pressure was now off him.

Sergio has long been one of the greatest ballstrikers in the game. But he had been forced to learn the hard way that great ballstriking was simply not enough. In golf, at the highest level, everyone can hit great golf shots. The winners not only hit it great, but also miss it in the right places--especially at Augusta National. And the winners are able to remain calm, focussed, and unfazed by what is happening around them. 

Bobby Jones said that playing in a Major championship often left him with that incredibly uncomfortable feeling of running from something, but not knowing from whom or from where. To remain calm in the heat of battle is not easy to do. If it was, we'd have a lot more Major champions.

Now that Sergio has experienced that inner calm, the question will be whether he can channel it, or call upon it again. If he can, he'll be a different player going forward. I know in my best competitive rounds I've had that inner calmness. Unfortunately, I've never been able to call it up at will. It's either there or it isn't. I think, however, that that calmness is linked to acceptance. If you can accept winning or losing, you can just play your game and see what happens. 

I couldn't be happier for Sergio. 

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Sergio Sergio Sergio

Finally, Sergio has his green jacket. It was a wonderful battle between he and Justin Rose; two good friends and great ballstrikers. The two separated themselves from the field and had to go one extra hole before Sergio finally made the winning birdie putt on eighteen. 

It was a fitting win, falling on Seve's birthday. It was once more the kind of win that makes you believe in the golfing gods, or fate, or whatever you care to call it. It was simply Sergio's day. In his post-round interviews he spoke of the calmness he felt on the final day. He also spoke about acceptance; his ability to now accept the bad bounces along with the good, when in the past he might have cursed his bad luck.

Clearly, in the aftermath of his great victory,  it is quite clear that Sergio is much loved by golf fans on both sides of the pond--fans who recognize golfing brilliance and appreciate the sort of heartaches this game can give you. And also fans that respect a guy who never gives up. There will be mucho celebration after this win.

As a postscript, it didn't go unnoticed to me that some rules fanatics once again tried to insert themselves into this great championship by suggesting that Sergio's ball moved after his drop in the pine straw on thirteen. To them, I can only say, "Up yours!"


What sort of attitude should you have regarding your golf game and your fellow competitors? Once again, I think Bobby Jones nailed it. Paraphrasing the Master, he said that he recognized that his opponents were good players. His attitude was: "I know you're a good player, but if I play my hardest I just might beat you."

We saw Jordan Spieth come into the Masters with an interesting attitude. He was absolutely brimming with confidence. He, with his usual candor, had told the media that he thought the other players actually feared him at Augusta. At least that's what I read somewhere, as a certain President would say. Well, I guess a good number of the other players didn't get the memo, and Jordan fizzled on Sunday with, what was it, a 75? It's great to be confident in your abilities, but you never want to let your mouth make a fool of your face.

I had an interesting experience on my last day at Wachesaw East in Murrells Inlet, SC. I arrived to sign in along with a group of optometrists who had arranged a fun tournament. I was resplendent in purple, white, and black. There was a guy at the cash who definitely had the air of a golfer. He was asking the guy behind the counter about the possiblity of getting out early, and was told that he couldn't unless he joined the tournament.

A few friendly comments were made by the optometrists about this option, and this fellow turned and looked at us and, rather arrogantly, said, "I sure fancy my chances." He obviously felt that none of us were likely to give him much of a game. 

I didn't say anything, but hoped, since I was a single, that we would be paired together so we could find out whether he could beat me. I've been mistaken for many things in my day, but being an optometrist has, at least until this moment, never been one of those things. No disrespect intended to optometrists, but I would be much more likely to be taken for a thug than an optometrist. I'm, as my father would say, a big, ugly brute.

In any event, as luck would have it, I ended up being paired with this cocky fellow and his buddy. The wind was gusting to about thirty miles per hour, and I took this to be somewhat to my advantage because I hit it low and pretty straight. I also knew the course and where to miss it which would be especially important in the high wind.

It became quickly evident that my cocky friend could play--his long-hitting buddy not so much. The cocky fellow hit his first tee shot in the woods on the first hole and was fortunate to make bogey. I made an easy par.  However, as the round progressed my opponent settled down and I had a stretch of three three putts. By the turn, I figured he had me two down. 

But, as we made the turn I stopped three-putting, and kept hitting fairways. My opponent kept hitting it in the trees and I ended up on top by a couple of shots. My wife was walking with us and I had told her about what this fellow had said. That being the case, she took a real interest in whether I could beat him. She said afterwards that he had taken a few liberties as to where he took his drops in the trees, and he wasn't playing the ball down. But, regardless of whether I beat him by one, two, or ten, hopefully the point was made to him that you shouldn't be too confident about the outcome when you tee it up. There is always someone who, on any given day, will beat you. Even if you think he's an optometrist wearing purple.

Bobby Jones was the best player of his day. But he always gave his opponents their due. In this game, no one is unbeatable. That's what makes the game so interesting. Old age and treachery may not beat youth and skill every time. But it does sometimes.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

It's Setting Up to be a Shootout at Augusta Tomorrow

Well, before the tournament started, I chose Spieth over DJ. Unfortunately, unforeseen circumstances made that happen due to DJ's injury off the course. Later, I said I had a feeling about Rickie getting his first Major this week. After day three at Augusta, things are shaping up to make me look like I might actually know what I'm talking about with Spieth and Fowler very much in the hunt. Not that picking either of them was going out on a limb.

However, that back nine 31 by Justin Rose to share the lead with Sergio was certainly impressive. Rose knows how to win a Major and certainly knows what it's like to be in the hunt at Augusta, so you really have to like his chances if the putter continues to cooperate. He's a great ballstriker with a sometimes balky putter.

And speaking of great ballstrikers with balky putters, how about Sergio? I know Sergio has been his own worst enemy over the years with his negative attitude, but it would be a helluva story if he could finish it off on Seve's birthday. Perhaps the stars are aligning for him. And I, for one, would be thrilled to see Sergio get a green jacket.

I still like Spieth and Fowler for the win, but we just might be seeing the Europeans start to make some noise at Augusta again as they did when Seve, Faldo, Woosnam, Olazabal, Langer, and others were there or thereabout seemingly every Spring at the Masters for years.

Whoever wins, it will almost certainly be a shootout tomorrow. The weather promises to be ideal. The course will be firm and fast as it should be, and the tournament will almost certainly be won or lost on the last nine holes on Sunday. Who could ask for more?

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Good Luck to Them

In this game you need some luck. The game isn't played on a perfect surface. A bounce off a tree can go deeper into the woods, or back into the fairway--hell it could go in the hole. Bad shots can end up being good, while perfect shots can end up in a divot, or in the drink. 

Consider Tom Watson's approach shot into the final green on the way to trying to do the unthinkable, win an Open Championship at almost sixty years of age. It was a perfect strike. But it ended up over the green and the rest was history. Consider Tiger's famous Nike golf ball teetering on the edge of the hole at Augusta before it finally dropped and led to another green jacket. That ball could have just as easily decided to stay in the light. What about that ball of Freddie Couples that hung impossibly on that bank sloping sharply into Rae's Creek. That's golf, and all you can do is keep the faith and keep on hitting it, hoping you'll have as much goid luck as bad over the years.

The Masters begins today and, once again, we will likely see a point at which the eventual champion gets the lucky bounce that pushes him over the top. He will sense it, and perhaps we will sense it. But guys that battle in Major championships tend to become a bit fatalistic. They know that luck, or the golfing gods, must smile on them if they are to win.

And, talk about luck, imagine DJ, at the top of the golf world, falling down a flight of stairs and hurting his back. You really have to wonder. In any case, some lucky character will have the green jacket put on him on Sunday. That golfer might feel awfully proud, because you obviously don't win a green jacket by luck alone. But he'll surely feel awfully blessed as well.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

The Law Can be an Ass

There was a time when golfers policed themselves. Only when a disagreement arose between competitors would the tournament committee become involved to rule on the matter. Today the situation has become almost laughable--if it wasn't so sad.

We now see professional golfers feeling compelled to call a rules official over the most routine matters, like taking relief from a cartpath. This because they live in fear of some moron phoning in suggesting the drop was incorrectly taken. Again, it would be funny if it wasn't so damned sad. The professional tours have created this situation by allowing outside agencies, in the form of anal retentive, armchair rules aficionados, insert themselves into the competition by feeling free to add their two cents worth. This absolutely must stop.

It seems the somewhat nebulous rule book is up for some big changes and revisions. That is good. We are coming to understand, often in a painful way, that the rules are not only often misunderstood, they are often arbitrary and do not take into account the reason they exist in the first place; namely the fairness of the competition. For someone to lose a Major championship because they replaced the ball on the putting green an eighth of an inch to the left insults almost all of us because it isn't fair. Again, fairness being the reason for the rules in the first place. On the other hand, replacing the ball an eighth of an inch to the left intentionally to avoid a spike mark is a different story. Circumstances do matter. 

In the case of Lexi Thompson, the law was an ass. And I am not encouraged by the fact that the rules official involved still feels she had no alternative but to assess the penalty. I spent thirty years in the penitentiary service. I had to enforce the rules, and even had to hold court and hand down sentences to the inmates. When you are a judge, you must, if you are going to be respected and effective, take into account the circumstances surrounding the offence. And, believe me, officers who were great rules enforcers, but had no discretion, were a real pain in the neck. 

The rules have to be changed in some cases. In other cases, those charged with enforcing the rules need to understand that there is such a thing as discretion. Whether an infraction is penalized should be based upon whether the offender by committing the offence gained an unfair advantage or not, and whether the act was intentional and egregious. 

The rules need to be changed. We have to have rules that make sense and are there not to arbitrarily punish a competitor, but to ensure fairness. If a person unintentionally moves his ball, he should be able to simply replace it. Championships should not be won and lost on the basis of a ball accidentally being moved a fraction of an inch. For rules to be respected they must be understandable and make sense.

Unfortunately, golfers seem to feel it necessary to hold one another, and especially themselves, to what is sometimes an impossibly high standard. And rules officials feel that they have no discretion. The rules need to be made simple. The prime reason for them being that no player be permitted to take unfair advantage. Instead, we see the rules actually being used in some cases to give a player an unfair advantage; as in the case of a fricken boulder that needed six people to move it being deemed to be a loose impediment. In cases like that, the law is truly an ass.

Monday, 3 April 2017

It's Going to Take Real Grit to Win the Masters This Year

So, it looks like weather is going to be a factor at Augusta this year. The conditions are going to make it extremely tough. 

That being the case, it means the eventual winner will be the guy who best deals with adversity. It also means that a good portion of the field will be beaten in the locker room. The eventual winner will have to be someone with an attitude like that of Bobby Jones.

After managing to win the Grand Slam, Bobby confessed that he was not in top form during any of the four Majors he won that year. He said he believed he achieved the Slam only because he tried harder and was willing to take more punishment than anyone else. For reasons unknown even to him, he simply refused to give up.

The champion at the Masters this year will need to take a page out of Bobby's book. He will have to be willing to endure the punishment that the extreme conditions will give him. He will have to play one shot at a time, understanding that everyone will have troubles of their own out there. And he will have to simply keep on fighting until the end; refusing the temptation to give in or give up.

I still like Spieth's chances. But I have a feeling that Rickie Fowler just might be finally ready to win a big one. He's proven to be a pretty good mudder. The fact is, it could be anyone who wins this year. But whoever does win will have to show some real grit.

Easy Does It

My old father would often say, "Swing easy and accept the extra distance." And yet, swinging easy is often hard to do. It is counter-intuitive. We often have trouble not, as my buddy Carl says, "Adding force to the equation." Many of us have to learn, often over and over again, that swinging hard is often a very bad idea. Golf is a game best played within yourself.

All of my best rounds have occurred when I've had the distinct feeling of just patty-caking the ball. When I have that feeling of swinging easily and smoothly, often good things happen for me. And yet, often I find myself swinging, as Lee Trevino once said, "Like a caveman killing his lunch." In fact, I remember once being told by a fellow player, who was playing with me for the first time, that I swung the club harder than anyone he had ever seen. As I recall, I played rather badly that day as well.

Sam Snead was convinced that he actually hit the ball farther with an 80 percent swing. And Bobby Jones suggested that we start every round swinging easy-- just hard enough to move the left side out of the way for a right-hander. Julius Boros even wrote a book entitled Swing Easy and Hit Hard. Swinging easily is an excellent key for most of us. 

Of course, for every rule regarding the golf swing, there is the exception. Jack Nicklaus tended to swing hard, and so did Arnie. But we are definitely not Jack or Arnie. So, if you have the tendency to want to try to tear the cover off the ball, consider trying to use your lay-up swing for the first few holes the next time you play and just see if, by not adding force to the equation, you don't start hitting it better. You just might discover the truth of the old Colonel's advice. "Swing easy and accept the extra distance."

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Another Rules Fiasco

When is it going to stop? Once again, some armchair rules aficionado was able to contact the LPGA well after the fact and have the leader, Lexi Thompson, assessed a four shot penalty because she didn't mark her ball quite correctly. It was a putt of about a foot.

Why do tour officials feel obligated to entertain these e-mails or phone calls from TV viewers who really need to get a fricken life? I try to imagine the mentality of someone who would want to insert themselves into a tournament in this way. Golf is a game of honour, and a game of rules, but there is are violations and there are violations. In this case the punishment far out-weighed the crime.

In this case this fiasco was the direct result of this incessant marking and aligning of golf balls by tour players on the putting green. There was no need for Lexi to mark and realign the ball for a one-foot putt. And people, especially young golfers, are watching these elaborate routines and doing the same thing, adding to the problem of slow play.

It's interesting to note that Tiger weighed in on this incident, essentially saying that people in their homes should not be wearing referee stripes. Some times golf can be a very stupid game. And this is one of those occasions. Lexi has responded like a true champion as play continues, reeling off two birdies and regaining the lead. But, regardless of the final result, this ridiculous situation has seriously tarnished the tournament--not just for Lexi, but for everyone.