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Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Try Harder

Bobby Jones identified these two things that he felt made him able to win championships. In his wonderful book, Golf is my GameBobby wrote: 

    "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." 

Sometimes great golfers can make the game look easy. They can appear relaxed and maybe even casual as they go about their business. But the great players all try the hardest. They refuse to give up, or to take shots for granted. They realize that one shot played carelessly can cost them a tournament. 

Now, if I'm being honest, I don't think I've ever played eighteen holes of golf where I gave every shot my full attention. I've come close, but if you've ever tried it, it's hard work to concentrate that hard and maintain your intensity on every shot for 18 holes of golf. And where you tend to have the let-downs are when you have what appears to be a relatively simple shot. It's easy to focus and try hard on the tough shots. So, trying hard is a key element in becoming a good golfer. Golf, as Bobby Jones once pointed out, is not a game to be played impetuously. You've got to try on every shot; whether it's for birdie or double bogey.

And golf does punish you. The other day I played with Steve, Levi, and Justin. Justin and I were teamed up and I started with three doubles in a row. In fact, I played the first nine holes without making a single par, shooting 49. I cannot remember the last time I shot 49 for nine holes. Needless to say, Justin wasn't overly thrilled to have me as a partner. Not only that, but I had only brought one pain pill which I had taken at the start of the front nine. These days, with my back issues, I tend to require a hydromorphone every six holes to get around without being in agony. 

So, after nine holes I felt well and truly punished. If ever a man felt like quitting it was me. But, as I drove to the eleventh tee after finally making a par on ten, I told Levi that, while I really wanted to just quit, I was going to keep trying. I was bound and determined to just keep on hitting it, no matter what happened, which was Harry Vardon's advice to Bobby Jones--the best advice Bobby felt he'd ever received. Suffice it to say, not giving up worked, and I came home in 37. And, Justin and I actually came back and won the match.

Golf is a lot like life. You never know what can happen if you just keep trying and refuse to give up. So trying hard and being willing to endure the punishment--the trials and tribulations this game can put you through--is the first key to winning golf. In my next article, I'll write about what Bobby Jones felt was the second key to great golf.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Thirty for Thirty

Rickie Fowler shares the lead after two days in Scottsdale this week at the Phoenix Open. Two rounds of 66 have him in a position to perhaps win one that got away after he had that emotional loss in a playoff to Matsuyama; one that he really wanted to win for his grandpa who was in attendance.

These guys are good. That's what they say about PGA tour players; and it's true. But where they are really good is on the greens. Bobby Jones, when assessing the next generation of top players, felt that it was on the greens that they were really better than players of his generation. Part of this had to do with better agronomy that allowed them to putt on better surfaces, but part of it was simply better putting.

Consider Rickie this week. After two days he is thirty for thirty putting from 10 feet and in. Thirty for thirty: I mean that is simply crazy good. When Dave Peltz did a study of tour pros he found that they made fifty percent of their putts from six feet. Rickie is one hundred percent from ten feet. That's not putting; that's magic.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

It Isn't All About You

Recently, at the Farmers Insurance Open, we were witness to JB Holmes taking over four minutes to play his second shot into the eighteenth green in the final round. He was standing in the fairway knowing full well that he needed a three to have a chance to win. After seeming to wait forever, evidently hoping the wind might ease up some, JB changed clubs and layed up into the rough.

While this was taking place, two other players in an even better position to win the tournament were forced to wait. Alex Noren ended up changing clubs and hitting his three wood over the green. It didn't cost him the tournament right then and there, but it sure as hell didn't help him.

And, despite the number of people criticizing JB for what they deemed to be a terrible display of  poor sportsmanship, Holmes still claims he wouldn't change a thing. He claims he was trying to win the tournament and had every right to take the time he did. That he ultimately layed up tends to belie his claim about trying to win. But he's got his story and he's apparently sticking to it.

Slow play is nothing new. There have always been golfers who seemed to take interminable amounts of time to play even the most rudimentary shots. But, if anything, the problem of slow play has become even worse.  I think, as is generally the case, that Bobby Jones had the right idea when he devoted an entire chapter of his book, Bobby Jones on Golf, to Slow Play. He wrote:

    "There can be no odium attached to slow play when the motives of grandstanding and of upsetting an opponent are eliminated--and these can be entirely eliminated from this discussion; but I regard it as a mistake, considering both the player's efficiency and the welfare of the game in general. Golf depends for its growth upon public interest, and competitions are designed to stimulate public interest. Nothing can be less entertaining to the spectator than a round of golf drawn out by minute examinations of every shot."

Looking back on that final round involving JB Holmes--and particularly his second shot on 18 during that six hour round--if we give him the benefit of the doubt that he was not grandstanding, or trying to upset his opponents--his slow play in general, and specifically his four minute delay in hitting that shot on 18, did very little to endear him to the fans or his opponents, or to "grow the game," which seems to be the desire of the PGA tour.

Bobby goes on to write:

    "After all, the deliberation necessary depends entirely upon the man who is playing the game; it is his business to play the shot, and he should never be required to play until he is ready. Some situations one finds on a golf course require some amount of study before the player can determine the best way to overcome the difficulty; but these are unusual. The vast majority of shots from the fairway are but repetitions of countless hundreds played before. At least, to one familiar with the course, as all tournament contestants are, the decision should be a matter of seconds."

Getting back to Holmes, he was not faced with a particularly unusual shot. Yes, it was an important shot; but it didn't require any special deliberation. He needed to make three. The wind was blowing. He therefore had to decide whether the best way to make three was to challenge the water and go for the green, or to lay up and try to hole a wedge shot. It wasn't a tough decision. But what he was really doing--something I believe he later admitted--was not deliberating; he was really just standing around hoping the wind would ease off. It didn't and he layed up.

So, unless players are now entitled to stand around hoping the wind will change, JB Holmes delayed the game. By doing so he upset the fans, surely upset his playing partners, and discredited himself. That he said he would do the same thing again, testifies to the fact that he doesn't "get it," as it relates to slow play. And it would seem to behoove the other players, the press, the tour, and the fans to help him see the light. 

Ultimately, JB, it isn't all about you. You owe it to your playing partners, the fans, and the tour, to get on with it. And the same applies to anyone else if they are prone to taking more time than necessary to play their shots. Golf is an individual game; but it isn't all about you.