Category Archives: commentary

How Not to Drive Yourself Nuts on the Golf Course

From my forthcoming book, Bob’s Living Golf Book:

1. Hit an easy shot with a simple outcome. Don’t make any shot a big deal. Just get an idea, and hit the ball with no worries.

2. After you hit this one, don’t think about it, good or bad, and don’t think about the next one until you’ve arrived at the ball. Spend the meantime schmoozing with your buddies.

When you get to your ball,
Go to step 1.

3. Add up your score when the round is over. While you’re playing, it’s not important.

The Two-Week Health Rule

This week I’m going to take a break from talking to you about golf. I’m going to talk instead about something that could save your life.

Rule: If one day something is wrong with you and it doesn’t clear up by itself in two weeks, go to a doctor to begin a process of diagnosis.

Two years ago, in November 2014, I followed that rule, as I have done for many years. While diagnosing my complaint, an imaging study revealed a tumor.

By the sheerest bit of luck, not only in timing, but also in the location of the tumor, I was diagnosed with cancer at a very early stage. So far the treatments have been successful and my prognosis is good.

The doctors said the original complaint was nothing to worry about and it cleared itself up in six weeks. Had I waited it out, I would not have known about the cancer until it had become quite advanced.

I have talked to several cancer patients whose disease was also found by the merest accident.

There are many reasons why people don’t go to see a doctor. They are afraid of what might be found. They know what it might be and are afraid of the treatment. They don’t have time to be sick right now. I don’t go to doctors and I’m OK so far. And so on.

I can’t argue with these reasons because they are sincerely felt. All I can say is, go see the doctor anyway.

I’m not trying to be alarmist. The next time you feel something is off, it’s probably not anything big. But then it might be. You never know.

So you have two weeks. Then you go see the doctor. O.K.?

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 tour event for the past few years and I had a very good idea 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 made me feel pretty good. One day I went to the Wellshire course 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 was my last concentrated time on the course.

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.

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.

In 2012, I had two spine surgeries which cut deeply into my playing time. Last year I started treatments for cancer, which continue to this day. One tumor is in my lumbar spine, so golf is out of the question for a while. I chip and putt, and swing few times, just enough to remember how to do it, but I haven’t played much golf since 2011.

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.

I started taking my grandson out to play 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.

I’m working gently on some new things that will make my swing productive, yet much easier on my back. I can’t wait until 2017 to get back on the course and try them out. Of course, I’ll let you know how it all goes.

That’s my life in golf so far.

The Value of Golf Courses

From time to time, you read about, or someone you know might say, that a golf course is a waste of the space it lies on.

The picture below is of the RedTail Golf Course in Beaverton, Oregon (back nine), which is next to Washington Square, a large shopping mall.

Which one do you think is the best use of the land it lies on?


The USGA Does Us a Favor

The USGA “saved” golf several years ago by banning anchored putting strokes. Personally, I don’t care if you anchor your putter. You can anchor your driver, if you want to.

But now the USGA is saying, beginning in 2016 you cannot post rounds for your handicap if you played alone. No witnesses, not post.

This decision is making people quite upset.

Golf Canada said they will not adhere to the new policy.

Golf publications are up in arms about this. Ryan Herrington, in the November 30, 2015 GolfWorld, said the decision “makes this solitary journey feel a little more like a good walk spoiled.”

Actually, it does the opposite. It liberates us from golf having to be a competition every time we go out, always having to play our very best because every shot has implications.

Handicaps were designed to level out competitions. But just because you might compete at sometime in the future doesn’t mean that every stroke you play has to be hit with that uncertain future in mind.

This new policy gets us one step closer to a recreational game in which we go out to the course, bat the ball around, and have fun in a beautiful, relaxing environment, and nothing more.

And you can do that now if you play alone. (Of course, you don’t have to post any of your rounds if you dump your handicap, but that’s another blog post.)

The point is, many golfers enjoy playing alone, and then there are times you just want to run out, grab a quick nine, enjoy yourself, and then get back to your life.

When you’re out there and you want to hit a do-over, go ahead! If you want to bend the rules or (horrors!) ignore one, go ahead, because you won’t be posting your score.

So go enjoy yourself. You won’t have to worry about the USGA’s handicap gods spoiling your good walk anymore.

Whether they know it or not, the USGA just made recreational golf a better game. I doubt that’s what they intended, though, so let’s just keep this our little secret.

The State of My Game

The posts I write are meant to help you play better. Whatever I put up here is something I tried myself and find that it works. I’m not going to tell you something I heard somewhere that sounds like it makes sense. I test it first. But it’s all about you.

Today, though is different. Today is all about me, though maybe even then you might find something in it that helps you as well.

Because of some back surgeries I underwent several years ago, I had to change the way I swing the golf club. I swing it much easier now. I haven’t measured my clubhead speed, though I know it’s slower because I have lost about twenty yards off the tee and one club from the fairway.

Distance, though, is only one part of playing golf. I have become much more accurate, because I have to be accurate. I have designed a swing, therefore, that hits the ball very straight, time after time. That’s certainly not a bad thing.

Through impact, my club hits the ground at the same spot, at the same depth, with a square clubface, consistently. The way I accomplish this is to lose all thought of hitting the ball powerfully, and instead, think of swinging the club gracefully.

To strike the ball accurately, so many things have to be lined up just right, and when this has to be done at speed it’s all more difficult. I swing as fast as I can while still keeping everything in order. If I tried to swing faster, I would only disrupt the impact alignments and start hitting the ball anywhere but where I wanted it to go. In addition, I doubt I would hit the ball that much farther to make the effort worthwhile.

I find my longest shots happen when I take care of swinging the club and let the club take care of the hitting. After all, the hit is built into your clubs. That’s why you paid so much for them. You just swing it and let the manufacturer take care of the rest.

The recreational golfer, who doesn’t have world-class talent, doesn’t have access to world-class coaching, nor hours a day to spend practicing, needs to play golf differently than the players who do. We need a swing that keeps the ball in play, first and last.

In my personal experience, and in what I see in the people I play with, the pursuit of distance, trying to hit each ball as far as possible rather than as straight as possible, is the number one reason why so many golfers play worse than they are capable of. I know it’s fun to really tag one, but if your overall game is designed around doing that, you’re costing yourself handfuls of strokes for the occasional satisfaction.

On the other hand, if you can build a swing that accomplishes the three things I mentioned earlier, you will hit the ball straighter, and you won’t lose distance, because you will be making a more solid impact. I lost distance because of a physical condition, but that’s not you.

Recreational golf is wrapped up in hitting the ball straight. Spend some time at the driving range just watching people and ask yourself, about every one of them, if their problem is that they don’t hit the ball far enough, or that they don’t hit it straight enough.

If you can change your conception of golf from hard and far to graceful and straight, and they act on it, you will be on the way to becoming the best player you can be. Well, as long as you can putt, too.

Tiger Woods, Human Being

Everybody has to tell you what they think about Tiger Woods’s current troubles. I don’t feel that I have to tell you, but I will anyway, because this is something I know a great deal about.

Tiger had back surgery last year. We all know this. I had back surgery, two of them, three years ago. So I know something about what’s going on with him right now.

Tiger tried to come back last year much too soon, and it showed. What he doesn’t know, or won’t admit, is that it is still too soon. Backs take a long time to heal.

It was two years before I felt I could swing a golf club without it affecting my back. That was after one year of looking for a swing that put the minimum strain on my back that a golf swing can.

Tiger is trying to be the same golfer he was, which he isn’t and never will be again, and he’s trying to do it while he’s still healing.

In a nutshell, he thinks he is different from everyone else. He’s not. He’s human just like the rest of us, but he’s too proud to admit it.

Let’s get specific. After he withdrew from the Farmers Insurance Open three weeks ago, he said his glutes weren’t activating. The gluteus muscles receive their innervation from nerves originating at the L5-S2 region of the spine. If they truly were not activating, he has serious nerve damage and should not be swinging a golf club.

If activating your glutes is some new swing theory, I’d like to hear more about it.

What’s really happening is he is trying to sound intellectual and has no idea what he’s talking about.

Woods won the U.S. Open once on one good leg, but he can’t finish 18 holes with a bad back like he has. No one can. He doesn’t want to own up to the fact that he is no longer Superman, but just a man.

As for the chipping thing, that’s anybody’s guess, but it’s not related to a swing change. That is a crock of horse manure.

I wish Tiger well, but nothing will get better until he stops lying to himself. His life has changed and it’s not going back to what it ever was. Ever.

Tiger Woods, Media Critic

Well, just when golf is getting non-existent at the recreational level (see: weather) and boring at the professional level, Tiger comes to our rescue, as we always hope he will.

This time, it’s his prickly (putting it mildly) response to Dan Jenkins’s mock interview with Woods that is on the newsstands in the December edition of Golf Digest.

Jenkins is a serious golf writer whose side job is as a devastating satirist of the sports world. All Jenkins did is (a) ask Woods a few questions, questions we would like to ask Tiger ourselves, and since Tiger wasn’t there to answer the questions, (b) made up Tiger’s answers.

These answers are not, of course, what Tiger would have said had he actually been asked the questions, but they are the real answers to the questions.

Which upsets Tiger greatly. Mark Steinberg, too, but more on him later.

I think it’s a really funny interview, and any other subject would too. But not Tiger. The Woods image, or what is left of it, is sacrosanct and is not to be trifled with without his permission.

But Jenkins went ahead anyway, the little imp.

Now assuming you paused at the top of this post to read the interview (go ahead, the link’s right there, I can wait), please tell me what is off? What doesn’t hit home?

About the only thing we don’t know is for real is the comment about what a lousy tipper Woods is. But if that’s it, what is all the fuss?

Like Woods writing a 600-word invective (OK, I just assumed Tiger wrote it). In a moment of great irony, Woods said “the concocted article was below the belt.”

Below the belt, yeah, but it wasn’t Jenkins’s article that was below the belt. It was you and Rachel Uchitel, Jaimee Grubbs, Jamie Jungers, Mindy Lawton, oh, you get the point.

Like Steinberg, his agent, releasing a letter complaining about the abysmal journalistic standards GD sunk to by printing the “interview” and demanding a formal apology.

Good grief. Woods and Steinberg still think when they say “Jump,” people are still saying “How high?” All that was over in November 2009.

You know the irony of all this, that Woods and Steinberg are just too self-righteous and opaque to get? That if they had ignored it, there would have been no controversy and in two weeks the interview would have been lost to history.

But just like Jennifer Lawrence, who made a stink about the nudes of her being published online so everyone would know they could be found and went to stare at them for an hour, while the other three women who also had nudes posted of them by the same hacker and said nothing and I’ll bet you don’t even know what their names are, W&S elevated Jenkins’s work to the front pages. They did his PR work for him!

Talk about a pair of boobs.

Tiger Woods. I just love this guy. He so doesn’t get it. He’s grist for every writer’s mill.

Is Augusta National Obsolete?

Augusta National is a Depression-era course built when 250 yards was a respectable professional distance off the tee. Steel shafts were just being introduced and golf ball technology was still rudimentary. For decades, Augusta was a test that matched the capabilities of the day’s best golfers.


Cracks started appearing when Jack Nicklaus arrived. He played 420-yard holes with a driver and a pitching wedge, not a driver and a 6-iron.

When Tiger Woods came along thirty years later, the course had to be “Tiger-proofed,” because his length overpowered the cozy design. Now, everyone hits the ball as far as he did fifteen years ago.

The latest insult was Bubba Watson, whose length two weeks ago mocked August’s most difficult holes. In ten years, there will be fistfuls of players who hit the ball just as long. What then?

The Augusta membership is proud of its course, unique in the world and one of the world’s most challenging. Yet, the membership is trapped by it, too. The Masters has always been played there; it was meant to be played there. The Masters and August National are one and the same. There is no other place where the Masters can be held.

The USGA is rotating its championship to newer courses able to keep up with today’s golfers, Merion East notwithstanding. That course was tricked up beyond belief in order to stand up.

The R&A is doing its best to keep its legendary courses in the Open rotation, but cracks are showing up in that strategy, too. The Old Course at St. Andrews is nearing the same fate as Augusta — too short, and running out of room to add length for the sake for length, not for the sake of strategy.

The table has been turned on these ancient courses. Instead of challenging golfers, they are now being challenged by the golfers. Professional golfers will soon be dominating them no matter what is done.

It could easily be the case that in fifteen years Augusta National will have no more slack to give. Its only defenses would be the pin locations on its forbidding greens. The tournament could be won the by the golfer who has the fewest three-putt greens over the four days of competition. A sad fate.

At this point in the essay, I am supposed to present my proposal for a way out of this jam. How to salvage a seemingly lost situation. In this case, that might not be possible. The hard fact is that Augusta National was designed to play at about 6,800 – 7,000 yards. It has been stretched beyond that about as far as it will go. When its current 7,400 yards is no longer enough, the course might have to be retired.

That happens to everyone and everything. We have our heyday, we have our glory. The time comes when we are overtaken, and we must take a seat on the sideline. The question is, will the Augusta membership be able to retire their course with dignity when the time comes, which it surely will?

Play Nine Holes

There is a movement afoot to get golfers to play nine holes instead of eighteen. That’s a really good idea.

One of the problems with golf is that eighteen holes is almost a full-day affair unless you tee off at 7 in the morning. Say you tee off at 10. By the time you get home, it will be about 4 in the afternoon, and there’s the whole day. If you had played only nine holes, you would be back home two hours earlier, or more.

Nine holes is enough golf to hit all the shots, get your golf fix in for the day or week. Since you haven’t been on your feet for four hours, you’ll feel much more refreshed when you finish.

Those of us with back problems can play and not subject our back to too much stress. Those of you without back problems can avoid them by not swinging a golf club when you’re a bit tired. Doing that puts more strain on your back than your swing already gives it.

This might be just one of my values, but I prefer to stop doing something when I still have the feeling I would like to do more, than stop because I’ve had enough. That for me is the difference between nine holes and eighteen.

As far as your handicap goes, you can still turn in your scores. The first nine sits in the background and gets combined to make a composite eighteen when you turn in the second nine some days later. The course rating is the sum of the two nine-hole course ratings. The slope rating is the average of the two slope ratings, .5 rounded up.

The movement I referred to above is part of a way to get new golfers introduced to the game. Eighteen holes is a lot for golf for a newbie. Nine holes is much more enjoyable and a smaller chunk to bite off at the start.

I think it’s the same for experienced golfers, too. I haven’t played eighteen holes all year and I don’t miss it a bit.