From a teacher’s perspective, golf on TV is a double-edged sword. It seems to have both positive and negative influences on the people I teach.
One of the most destructive influences for the average golfer is watching the touring professionals around the greens. This is the part of the game that really separates good players from great players. The athletes we are watching are in the upper 0.01 percent of golfers worldwide. Their touch, feel and imagination around the greens is really quite extraordinary. A prime example of this might be their scoring statistics; the best golfers in the world miss an average of 5-6 greens a round, yet they consistently shoot under par. How do they shoot 68 or 69 while missing 5 or 6 greens every round? Well, for one thing, they’re getting up and down. It also doesn’t hurt your score when you’re hitting it to kick-in distance 3-4 times a round. But I teach golfers who are not the best in the world, so my whole day is spent trying to teach logic and percentages.
The modern game has changed so much in so many ways. With the onset of the 60-degree wedge and the modern golf ball, the tools of today are superior. Regardless of how adept a player is with the modern equipment, however, I suggest that the average golfer will still make a lower score a higher percentage of the time if they opt for more straight-faced, bump-and-run style shots. Maybe the best players in the world can pull off high-spinning, low-flighted, check-on-the-second-bounce kind of deals, but for the average golfer this is still a recipe for disaster. And don’t forget that the pros are hitting band new golf balls… from perfectly manicured fairways… with a spotless wedge… while employing nearly flawless technique.
I might suggest this rule of thumb for most who are reading this — get the golf ball on the ground as quickly as possible around the greens. When you have ample green to work with and there is no obstacle between your golf ball and the hole, a chip shot will be safer than a lofted one. I cannot tell you how many students I bring to the green and when I ask what club they would use for a 30-yard shot across an open green, they say, “Well, lob or sand.” From there, we get into a discussion on the law of averages. Just last week I told one very well-heeled student (and friend) of mine, “I’m glad you don’t invest the way you chip.”
Try this simple practice routine and see if your chipping game improves. When you look at a long, flat shot to a big green, instead of looking at the hole, pick a spot 3-4 paces on the green and try a 7, 8 or 9-iron to chip the ball no further than the spot you’ve selected. In practice, put a ball or a head cover at the 3-4 pace spot and chip to IT, not the hole.
Personal Beef: Another reason many golfers struggle with long chips is they don’t get to practice them enough. Most golf courses have a large putting green and a much smaller chipping green or “short-game area.” In fact, the large green often has a “no-chipping” sign on it. So you get to practice only short chips with rarely a chance to run out long ones.
Now let’s say you’re chipping stroke comes up short with a 9-iron. Instead of hitting the ball harder or with a bigger stoke, grab an 8 iron. The 8-iron comes up short? Grab a 7-iron, and so on. Make the smallest, easiest stroke you can to get the golf ball on the green and running EARLY. When many of you try this, you’ll hit your shots too far. The reason is you’re accustomed to taking big swings with lofted clubs.
In addition to the simplicity of the stroke, the other reason I prefer this method is the visual perspective one gets when looking down the line. It’s not unlike bowling over the arrows. The flagstick bowling pins are 60 feet away, but the arrows are much closer. Looking at and getting a feel for a hole some 60 feet away is difficult compared to looking at a spot few feet in front of you and only a few paces on the green.
Personal Story: My eyes just ain’t what they were, and this visual trick has helped my chipping tremendously. Once I was quite adept around the greens; it was the best part of my game, but in my later years it left me. I first blamed it on not playing as often and my failing eyesight. Then it hit me; I used to play a lot of bump-and-run chips. And without even realizing it, I fell victim to TV golf and the 60-degree wedge era. I was playing many more shots in the air, trying to hit, check and trickle them instead of playing the higher-percentage shot. I’m back to my old method now and the odds are more often in my favor.
I can’t be more emphatic about the benefits of chipping with my students. It WORKS. To boot, at 60 feet away, if I drop kick a 60-degree wedge or lay sod over it I still have 50 feet to the hole. I can skinny an 8-iron up much closer, even on a miss. Needless to say, this is a straight-forward chipping situation. Playing over hills or hazards is a whole different ball game. But we have the trusty lob wedge handy for those times, don’t we? We just don’t need it all the time. Play the odds for a change; your score will reflect your more conservative approach.
As the country song says: “Never hit 17 when you play against the dealer; the odds don’t ride with you.”
Slow play is all about the numbers
If you gather round, children, I’ll let you in on a secret: slow play is all about the numbers. Which numbers? The competitive ones. If you compete at golf, no matter the level, you care about the numbers you post for a hole, a round, or an entire tournament. Those numbers cause you to care about the prize at the end of the competition, be it a handshake, $$$$, a trophy, or some other bauble. Multiply the amount that you care, times the number of golfers in your group, your flight, the tournament, and the slowness of golf increases by that exponent.
That’s it. You don’t have to read any farther to understand the premise of this opinion piece. If you continue, though, I promise to share a nice anecdotal story about a round of golf I played recently—a round of golf on a packed golf course, that took a twosome exactly three hours and 10 minutes to complete, holing all putts.
I teach and coach at a Buffalo-area high school. One of my former golfers, in town for a few August days, asked if we could play the Grover Cleveland Golf Course while he was about. Grover is a special place for me: I grew up sneaking on during the 1970s. It hosted the 1912 U.S. Open when it was the Country Club of Buffalo. I returned to play it with Tom Coyne this spring, becoming a member of #CitizensOfACCA in the process.
Since my former golfer’s name is Alex, we’ll call him Alex, to avoid confusion. Alex and I teed off at 1:30 on a busy, sunny Wednesday afternoon in August. Ahead of us were a few foursomes; behind us, a few more. There may have been money games in either place, or Directors’ Cup matches, but to us, it was no matter. We teed it high and let it fly. I caught up on Alex’ four years in college, and his plans for the upcoming year. I shared with him the comings and goings of life at school, which teachers had left since his graduation, and how many classrooms had new occupants. It was barroom stuff, picnic-table conversation, water-cooler gossip. Nothing of dense matter nor substance, but pertinent and enjoyable, all the same.
To the golf. Neither one of us looked at the other for permission to hit. Whoever was away, at any given moment, mattered not a bit. He hit and I hit, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes within an instant of the other. We reached the putting surface and we putted. Same pattern, same patter. Since my high school golfers will need to choose flagstick in or out this year, we putted with it in. Only once did it impact our roll: a pounded putt’s pace was slowed by the metal shaft. Score one for Bryson and the flagstick-in premise!
Grover tips out around 5,600 yards. After the U.S. Open and the US Public Links were contested there, a healthy portion of land was given away to the Veteran’s Administration, and sorely-needed hospital was constructed at the confluence of Bailey, Lebrun, and Winspear Avenues. It’s an interesting track, as it now and forever is the only course to have hosted both the Open and the Publinx; since the latter no longer exists, this fact won’t change. It remains the only course to have played a par-6 hole in U.S. Open competition. 480 of those 620 yards still remain, the eighth hole along Bailey Avenue. It’s not a long course, it doesn’t have unmanageable water hazards (unless it rains a lot, and the blocked aquifer backs up) and the bunkering is not, in the least, intimidating.
Here’s the rub: Alex and I both shot 75 or better. We’re not certain what we shot, because we weren’t concerned with score. We were out for a day of reminiscence, camaraderie, and recreation. We golfed our balls, as they say in some environs, for the sheer delight of golfing our balls. Alex is tall, and hits this beautiful, high draw that scrapes the belly of the clouds. I hit what my golfing buddies call a power push. It gets out there a surprising distance, but in no way mimics Alex’ trace. We have the entire course covered, from left to right and back again.
On the 14th tee, I checked my phone and it was 3:40. I commented, “Holy smokes, we are at two hours for 13 holes.” We neither quickened nor slowed our pace. We tapped in on 18, right around 4:40, and shook hands. I know what he’s been up to. He understands why I still have a day job, and 18 holes of golf were played—because we both cared and didn’t care.
There you have it, children. Off with you, now. To the golf course. Play like you don’t care.
Golfers: Go easy on yourselves!
Heres a fact for you: nearly half of all golfers will never break 100, according to the National Golf Foundation. Less than that will ever break 90, and only five percent will ever break 80. Golf is not an easy game, so you shouldn’t beat yourself up about it. Period.
I’m not here to go all Zen golf on you; I can only speak from personal experience, but the moment you accept that, regardless of your ability to score, you can have a lot of fun, the more you will truly enjoy the game of golf.
When I first learned to play, like many, I was not very good. Everyone I played with was way better than me, and although I don’t remember a lot of those early rounds, I can remember moments of feeling embarrassed for my play. It wasn’t because of the people I was playing with, they were all very helpful and patient, but for some reason, I knew that I was not helping the group. It is those memories that allow me to make sure no matter who I play with now, I make them feel welcome on the course and help them any chance I can.
We all started somewhere, and regardless of how many rounds we have played or how low our handicaps have gotten, we need to be accepting that anyone that takes the time to try and play golf should be afforded the opportunity to learn and enjoy the game.
Even with my current level of play, the insecurities of being a newbie creep in from time to time, I never want to feel like I am the reason my group is being slow—although I must admit that with my normal pace of play that’s not usually an issue. I played a round very earlier in the year during a trip to Florida where I was paired with what I would call very regular golfers, players who generally break 100, but struggle with aspects of their game. Even then, just like when I was 10 years old, I was having a hard time out of a bunker one the second hole and after blading one into the pond on my second attempt (give me a break, it was my first round in four months), I just walked to the green, tended the flag, and told them I’d take my ESC (equitable stroke control) number for the hole. Thas describes my golf game, and I’m OK with that.
Too many golfers get caught up in how the pros play—from the tips, bombing drivers, expecting to make six birdies a round. Players on the PGA Tour are like the aliens from Space Jam (I just seriously dated myself) the Monstars. They have every skill imaginable, and get to do this for a living—you better believe they are going to be good at it. There is NO reason as a 10-15 handicap you should be slamming clubs and stomping your feet for missing a green from 150 yards. It’s just part of the game. Heck, even Rory McIlroy misses greens from time to time. Do you ever hit it like Rory?
Expectations are part of the human ego, and if we don’t manage them properly, we will always feel like we are inadequate. In reality, we should approach every challenge (even something as simple as golf) with the idea that today I have the opportunity to be great, but there is also the equal chance I will fail. We learn from failure, we improve after failure, and it’s not something we should be scared of.
No matter your score, make it fun, enjoy the day, embrace the challenge. Your expectations can make or break what to take from every round of golf you play, and if you think for a second this is the worst golf ever played—trust me it’s not. It’s just one round of many bad rounds played every day, and the next round is your next challenge. Honestly, you’re not as bad as you think you are.
Go easy on yourself. Golf is a lot more enjoyable that way.
TG2: LPGA Tour caddie Chris McCalmont
LPGA Tour caddie Chris McCalmont joins us to talk about his 12-year career as a caddie. How volatile the job market is, the money they make, and what he loves about caddying. Chris also makes some interesting comments on slow play and what can, and cannot, be done about it.
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