My Life in Golf So Far

My father had a canvas golf bag in the basement of our house with a few hickory-shafted clubs in it. I was 8. They fascinated me. I understood that you used them to hit a ball, but I didn’t know where you might do this, or what would happen if you did hit a ball.

A few years after that, I don’t remember which came first, lessons or TV. There was a par-3 course less than two miles from where we lived, that had a driving range and a pro. My father signed me up for a group lesson. I was a weird kid. I was there to learn, and when the pro told me to do something, that’s what I did. My reward was, it worked. I could hit the ball somewhat straight and in the air.

In those days there were shows on TV named All-Star Golf and Celebrity Golf. All-Star Golf featured two touring pros playing a match, the winner getting to play another challenger the next week. Celebrity Golf was Sam Snead playing a round with a Hollywood celebrity. I watched those shows all the time.

But all that set the hook, and I was a golfer.

I lived on the other side of the school from everyone else. There was no one to play with during summer vacation, so I hit golf-sized plastic balls in my front yard all day. There was an unused patch of ground between the front lawn and the driveway that I could chew up as much as I wanted to. The ball flew just about the length of our property.

Our telephone line came in from a pole across the street to the house at about 10-12 feet in the air, and close to where my practice station was. My favorite game was to take my wedge and see how close I could get to the wire and still hit a ball over it. All on my own, I developed this very wristy pitch that gets the ball high in a big hurry, and sits when it lands. I use that shot today, and guys I play with don’t really understand what they just saw.

I was the only kid in my grade school who played golf, so I played with my father. He could get the ball around the course, but he was out there mostly to see that I got a chance to play. He’s gone now, but I still thank him for doing that.

When I got to high school, I found out there really were other kids who played golf and some of them were pretty darn good. One of them named Ernie played at an exclusive private club in town — if they want you to be a member, they’ll call. He was the gold standard until my junior year, when a kid named Mike Spang transferred into my high school.

Now I had been going to a PGA Tour event for the past few years and I had a very good idea of what a professional golf shot looked like. During tryouts for the high school golf team (which I never made) I watched Mike hit and found myself looking at something very familiar. Mike tied for the NCAA Division II individual title in 1969. A few years later he made it through Q School in the class that included Tom Watson, Bruce Fleischer, Lanny Wadkins, Steve Melnyk, John Mahaffey, Forrest Fezler, and Gary Groh. About ten or so years ago, that class had a reunion, but Mike could not be located.

One year during team qualifying, I got serious about playing as well as I could and broke 100 for the first time — 98. I still have the scorecard.

I spent about a month in Denver in summer the next year after that, staying with my aunt and uncle. I had my golf clubs with me and played the Willis Case golf course about every other day. You can hit the ball a long way in the thin air. I was getting on the green of a 195-yard par 3 with an iron. That would have ben a good drive for me at sea level, and it made me feel pretty good. One day I went to the Wellshire Golf Course, a Donald Ross design, and got hot. Shot an 84. I still have that scorecard, too.

After high school, golf tailed off due to college and military service, though when stationed at NAS Jacksonville in 1971, I played on the very fine base golf course in the evenings. That would be my last concentrated time playing golf for a long time.

Between my sophomore and junior years in college, I went to Europe for the summer with my roommate. We got to Edinburgh for some reason, and while we were there, convinced him to indulge me with a day at St. Andrews, which we got to by hitchhiking, walking and bus.

Things were different then, 1968. I went up to the starter’s shack, paid my green fee, rented a set of clubs and bought a sleeve of Slazenger golf balls. The starter said, “The first tee is over there. As soon as that group has played, you can go on.” The course ate me alive, very fast greens, and I had no idea what I how to play a course like this. But I did know about the Road Hole. I got to the 17th tee and told myself I hadn’t come all this way to chicken out. So I hit a 3-wood over the corner, hit a 3-iron onto the green (Road Hole bunker? What’s that?) and sank the 20-foot putt. My claim to fame, better than a hole-in-one will ever be.

When I got out of college, I went into the service, and after that, graduate school, got work, got married, started a family, and in the next 30 years played maybe ten rounds of golf. No time.

But when the boys grew up and left home, there was time, and I began to play again. I wasn’t very good, as you can imagine, but I had foundation of having played in my formative years, so it didn’t take too long for a good swing to come around. The best advice I can give to anyone who wants to learn how to play golf is to start when you’re ten years old.

Instead of the slice that I had when i was young, I also f a sudden had this beautiful draw, a shot that went up high and tailed down to the left so gently. A work of art. Unfortunately, it could easily become a hard left turn without notice, so I had to figure out how to control it. I lost the beauty, but I lost the banana hook, too.

After I retired in 2004, I played much more often. I took a few lessons, and experimented endlessly with ways to get better. Along the way I wrote my two golf books and started up this blog.

I joined a men’s club at a local daily fee course so I could get a USGA handicap. I wanted to be come a single-digit player. I heard one guy say once that you can’t be a single-digit player if you only played once a week. Since that is all I could manage, I thought to myself, “Oh, yes you can.”

Playing in the high 80s, I did two things: learned how to hit the ball straight, and got really good at approach putting and chipping. That got me to 9.5, playing only once a week.

I started taking my grandson out to play in 2008 when he was 8, and we went out regularly for the years I was able to play. Hopefully the hook has been set in another generation. My sons? They grew up in the Michael Jordan era and all they saw was basketball. They younger one plays now, but the older one realized his temper doesn’t tolerate bad shots, so he doesn’t.

In 2012, I had two spine surgeries which cut deeply into my playing time. In 2015 I started treatments for cancer, which continue to this day. Both of those reverses took care of my playing golf for seven years. But in 2019 I was healthy enough to begin playing again. I could still hit the shots, but I had forgotten how to play the game and bad choices kept my scores up until I got the game figured out again.

Someone who doesn’t play once asked me what is so fascinating about golf. Rather promptly I said that golf is a puzzle to be figured out. There is a defined problem with every shot and the goal is to find a way to face any challenge the course can give you and have a solution for it. I have fun figuring out those things. Then there’s the part about having fun with friends in beautiful surroundings.

That’s my life in golf so far.

What I Learned at the Range – 12

I’ve been spending my time around the practice green lately. Here are a few things I reminded myself of.

1. Slow down your swing. This advice is generally stated in the context of the golf swing, but it applies with equal force to short shots. Poor contact on chip shots is too often caused (in my game) by making the stroke too brisk. Slow it down. Try practicing a few chips with a stroke that takes as long to make as your full swing does.

2. Chipping is pretty complicated. To get good at it, give yourself as many different shots as possible and figure out which club and stroke gives you the best results. (See #5, below.)

At the most basic, you can vary the distance from ball to green and green to hole. Mix and match long and short distances for both. You might be forced to hit over an obstacle. You can chip into a downhill slope or an uphill slope. You can have a cushy lie, a tight lie, or be in the rough. You can chip to a green that is elevated (common) or a green that is lower than the level of your ball.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

3. From outside 10 feet, all that matters is speed. You can read the line well enough to get the ball close, but more important is to get the ball cozying up to the hole speedwise. That’s how those 20-footers fall in.

4. When you address a putt, let the sole of the putter rest very lightly on the top of the grass. That way you can start the club back smoothly. If the putter rests with its weight on the ground, you have to subtly lift up the putter, then swing it back. That is enough to disrupt your stroke.

5. I now use one club for chipping – my 48-degree pitching wedge. Elsewhere on this blog I talk about using one swing with six clubs for calibrated distances. That works well, but using one club makes you learn how to hit shots, improving your overall skill as a golfer.

2016 U. S. Open Preview

Winner: Dustin Johnson by three strokes over Jim Furyk, Shane Lowry, and Scott Piercy

It’s time. The United States Open, the greatest tournament of the year, the one that is hardest to win, will be played this weekend on the hardest golf course in America — Oakmont Golf Course, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

I went to Oakmont six years ago to see the U.S. Women’s Open, won by Paula Creamer. All I can say, is, this course is scary. Just walking around it and comparing it to any of the tracks I play or have been on — this course is different. It has size, it has intensity. Either you hit a good shot or you pay a price, and there isn’t a lot of room for hitting good shots.

Oakmont Golf Course third hole

Third fairway (right) and Church Pews. The rake in the bunker indicates scale.

You can read my brief hole-by-hole course description here.

Oakmont Golf Course

(Click to enlarge)

Two things a player must do to have a chance to win: put the ball in the fairway off tee, and keep the ball below the hole on the putting green. In 2007, Angel Cabrerra won with a score of five over par, so don’t expect any low scores this week.

Oakmont means bunkers. I counted 174 in the aerial photo. That’s quite enough. The Church Pews count as one, by the way. Hopefully, hitting the ball to avoid bunkers would put the ball in the right place for your next shot. In many cases, avoiding the bunkers is enough, and you will worry about your next shot when you get there. From most of the fairway bunkers, a shot onto the green is not possible.

Because of the layout of many greens, there is only a small landing area for approaches that will leave the ball on the green, no matter where the pin is. For example, on #3, there is a narrow spot behind a false front, and in front of a slope that will send the ball off the green down to a collect area behind the green, that has to be hit without leaving the player with a touchy up and down. Playing to the back of the 18th green can find your putt running all the way to the front of the green if you aren’t thinking.

As for the famous Oakmont rough: When I was there in 2010, I bent down and ran my fingers through it. No problem. I wasn’t that thick, either. I asked one of the marshals, a club member, about it. He said, the catch is the blades of grass are thick. You can run your fingers though it easily enough, but a golf club coming through it high speed gets grabbed and brought to a screeching halt. I’m sure the rough will be thicker for the men than it was for the ladies in 2010.

The tan thread-like markings you see on the aerial view of the course are drainage ditches. The play as water hazards. You would rather be in a bunker than one of those. One ditch that will come directly into play runs along the leftist of the ninth fairway as players are hitting into a blind fairway.

We could write a book about the greens. They are very fast, but true. In most cases, keeping the ball below the hole is a must because putts coming from above will be hard to stop close to the cup. Contours on some greens might find a player starting a putt away from the hole so th green can turn to back around. Augusta on steroids.

Who will win? Normally I like to pick Phil Mickelson, a sentimental favorite, but he has no chance here. Jim Furyk, a straight shooter, he missed the title by just a few shots in 2007, but he’s coming off rehab, so count him out.

Among the guys who have the stuff to win a U.S. Open, Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson, and Rickie Fowler are all driving accurately this year. Jordan Spieth has a two-way miss off the tee that would be disastrous at Oakmont if he doesn’t fix it.

Kuchar is pretty high in Strokes Gained/Putting, too. Spieth and Jason Day are right at the top in that category, so if they can contain their tee shots, they should be in it.

[Tuesday] Oops, I forgot to say who’s going to win: Brooks Koepka.

Last year, Chambers Bay had guys playing pinball, and lots of times the course’s quirks separated the players as much as their skill did. At Oakmont, no good shot is penalized, and no bad shot is rewarded. You do it, or you don’t.

That’s how a U.S. Open should be, and that’s why Oakmont is its best venue. Enjoy this one.

U.S. Open official web site.

Pittsburgh weather this week

Keeping Golf Stats

Golf statistics have gotten pretty complicated lately. These four, which you can easily keep as you go around the course, tell me what I want know over time about how well I’m hitting the ball.

1. Number of full shots.
2. Number of short shots.
3. Distance from the hole (in feet) once my ball gets on the green.
4. Number of putts.

If you want more detail, write down every stroke when you get home to find out exactly what went right and what went wrong.

Six Fundamentals Revisited

My multimedia essay on the golf swing, Six Fundamentals of the Recreational Golf Swing, I outlined six principles that lead to a better swing and better ball-striking.

Last week I posted a link to a video by Vivien Saunders where she presents a different way of looking at the swing.

Instead of saying, Do these things with your body and you will swing the club correctly, she turns that around. Swing the club correctly and the body will respond correctly.
The club tells the body how to move, not the body tells the club how to move.

Let’s look at Six Fundamentals from this point of view to see how they are still relevant.

1. The First Fundamental is about rhythm and tempo (my favorite subject). Only if these two points are under control will you be abel to feel how the club is supposed to move, and can you let the club guide your movement.

2. Swing with both hands. Definitely you want to do this. The club transmits its directions to the body through the hands. If you start emphasizing the right hand (left hand, if you play left-handed) you’re telling the club what to do.

3. Take the club straight back to control. You still have to aim your swing, and if you take the club back only as far as the control point, you don’t introduce extraneous movment to the cub that it has to recover from.

4. The right knee moves left (or left knee moving right, for lefties). This is the essence of the pivot, which you will do correctly if you are letting the club be in control. A sign that you are not doing that is if your knee does not move and you hang back.

5. The hands lead the clubhead through impact. This the chicken and the egg part of the swing. You have to do this for the club to move correctly, and if the club moves correctly, you’ll be doing this. This is the moment of truth, your pass-fail exam.

6. Swing straight through toward the target. Why? Because that’s where the club wants to go. Just follow it there.

To sum it up, Fundamentals One to Three are what allow you to let the club guide you, and Fundamentals Four to Six are what happens if you do.

This new way of thinking about these Fundamentals might help you apply them to your swing more effectively.

Finally, here’s a tip. When you watch a good golfer’s swing, do not watch what they do with their body. Watch the golf club.

In this video, I‘m not asking you look like I do when I swing the club, but to move the club like I do when I swing. Big difference.