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Opinion: Courses must be proactive to speed up play

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USGA President Glen Nager recently announced that, “Golf needs to act,” concerning the problem of slow play. Slow play is an issue as old as time itself, and the answer to the problem, as it always has been, is as obvious as it ever was.

The pace of play on golf courses across the world has to be dictated and policed by the golf course staff. For the same reason we have highway patrolmen and police officers handing out speeding tickets and traffic violations, we need the people that manage golf courses to pro-actively manage golfers.

There has to be someone in control. There has to be bosses. People need to be managed. Without authority there is anarchy, and anarchy on a golf course leads to people being discourteous and selfish and to time standing still.

On one golf course where I play they used to have a grumpy older fellow named Gene. Gene ran the pro shop, acted as a starter and marshaled the course with swift justice. He was a little guy who chain smoked, and had no time or patience for people slowing down the pace. Gene knew that just like the selfish and rude people who drive poorly and unsafely on our streets and highways, there are golfers who act selfishly and rude on our courses if they are not stopped. He understood very well that golf courses are really just small little societies, and that we as golfers are “all in this together.”

If your group was slow and people were backing up behind you, he told you to pick up the pace. He pointed ahead of you and said that two holes were open, and he pointed behind you and showed you the three groups stacked up behind you. He knew no favorites and he accepted no excuses. They were glorious times. Gene recently lost a hard fought battle with lung cancer, may he rest in peace, and that golf course has never been the same since he left. I think about him often when slow players bog down a golf course.

The group I was playing in recently caught up to a young man playing by himself. On the tee box he hit multiple tee shots in all directions, oblivious to the fact that we were watching him on a tee box behind him on the same hole. He proceeded to criss-cross back and forth across the fairway, hitting the balls that were findable. Once he made it to the green he proceeded to “putt” while lying flat on his chest and using the end of his putter grip like a pool cue. The young lady riding along in the cart with him finally noticed us and pointed back to us waiting and watching him. He jumped up, made sure to show us an exasperated look to let us know that we were bothering him, and went back and putted normally several times from other positions. He and his “caddy” then walked the 50-yard walk back to the rough where they left the cart and drove off. He piddled around on the tee box long enough that by the time our group caught him, we once again had to watch him take several practice swings between half a dozen “tee shots” that went everywhere. Then he turned around and gave us the stink eye. It was just delightful.

That fellow obviously represented an extreme to the argument that golf courses need to be policed. Maybe he is part of the 10 percent jerk factor. He might be the same guy who weaves in and out of traffic on the highway as he drives at an excessive speed while eating his breakfast burrito and texting. You might be inclined to flip this fellow the bird as you throw your beer at him and rev your engine to get away, but the best option is for a highway patrolman to handle the situation. An authority figure needs to take control.

The other end of that spectrum is a well-known county judge who also plays at the same club as the pool-putting dufus. He’s a super nice guy, and a man who seems really young to have been re-elected multiple times. But at the golf course he is known as “black death.” No one ever makes it more than nine holes with him. He aligns and adjusts, re-thinks, re-aligns and adjusts. And that is him just putting on his glove. He takes countless practice swings, countless looks down the fairway or at the green and spends forever tinkering the alignment of his club face at address. And of course, he walks slow.

A woman wearing a trenchcoat, who was as short as she was wide, and her playing companion who each trickled the ball down the fairway 10 times before they got to the green, actually had to play through him. My group had been behind the man and the woman, only to see the worst possible scenario waiting for us on the next tee. The judge and his partner saw us standing there, and saw the other two groups backed up on the par three we just left. They decided the best way to handle that was to dig in their heels and ruin the day for everyone. No one else was going through. We could have played six holes in the time the man and woman could play just one hole, and this judge and his partner were three holes behind them “immediately.”

A slow group has no more right to play at a pace that backs up the course than a fast group should expect to fly through a course on a busy day. This isn’t a statement about good golfers versus bad golfers. The bottom line is that golf needs to be fun for slow groups as well as fast groups, and without everyone going out of their way to accommodate for each other, the two speeds need to either be policed or separated.

The people that run golf courses need to get together and declare themselves an ardent supporter and enforcer of a faster pace of play, or as a course that welcomes anyone who wishes to play slowly. It’s time to separate the masses.

To the gentleman who commented on my last slow play story that by gosh he likes to smoke cigars, sip cognac, and take his time on the few occasions where he can get out to the course and he doesn’t want to be asked to finish in four hours, he should have golf courses or time slots that are dedicated to his preferred pace of play. And to the groups that play ready golf and finish in three hours or less, they should have courses or time slots that cater to them.

Granted, some properties are just too massive to expect golfers to be able to finish in a certain time frame, but you can bet that if groups are holding up the golf course and they are warned that they will be forced to pick up the pace or leave, they will find a way to be more efficient in their movements and decisions.

If a golf course wants to opt out of a formal play pace announcement, they need to designate slow play times and fast play times, or at the very least have a presence on the course. But they cannot just say it, they need to live it.

Another place where I play regularly has two courses. Every morning on one of the courses they block off all tee times from 9 a.m. to 12-noon for ladies’ tee times that are never half used. They are either scared to death of the ladies who are members, like the rest of us are, or they want them to not feel like they belong on the course at other times.

One afternoon my group caught up to a twosome of ladies. The two of them got into an argument, and took turns getting in and out of a fairway bunker and pointing at something in the yard of one of the homes that lined the fairway. They stood there for several minutes before they moved on. Our group hit our tee shots once they cleared the way, and to our surprise our tee shots came to rest in the fairway next to the cart they were driving, which was parked 70-yards from the green in the middle of the fairway. They finished putting and saw us parked there beside them. They made no effort to acknowledge us, even as they were five feet away. They took their time and were still on the tee box for the next hole when we arrived there. One of them motioned to the other that we were there again, the other lady must have said she didn’t care if we lived or died.

We waited on every shot for the next four holes, each time having to watch them walk back to the middle of the fairway to retrieve their cart. Finally, they apparently got into another argument about letting us play through. The first lady gestured to the fact that there were now four groups backed up behind them on two holes. The second lady, clearly irritated, sculled her chip across the green, chunked the next one, and three-putted before she stormed back down the fairway to her cart and drove off the golf course. When we called the shop to ask them to help us out after the second hole of waiting, they made it clear that they wanted no part of the situation.

These examples of golfer-on-golfer crimes happened at private courses. This is not about private golf versus public golf, this is about the game of golf turning into the house from the movie “Project X.” Slow players and fast players just don’t mix.

What some people posted about what a round of golf entails for them any time they play was an astonishing eye opener. There were posts of people driving for an hour to play, warming up an hour, playing for five or six hours, trying to squeeze in a little 19th-hole time, and driving home for another hour. I admire their commitment, but that is not a sustainable model for the future of golf. They didn’t mention if they drove for that hour because the course they wanted to play was $15 less than the five or six within 15-minutes of them, but the five or six hours on the course means that the golf course staff wasn’t doing their jobs. A packed golf course does not have to be a slow golf course.

For golf to be successful in bringing back players who left the game or play less frequently because in far too many places it has become an all day affair, courses need to take every step possible in shortening a round. No idea to improve the situation is off the table.

Every little idea can have compounding positive effects. Courses with native areas and gunch need to post them to be played as lateral hazards rather than normal lost ball rules. Golfers need to be started on tees that are appropriate for their skill levels. To ease frustration golfers need to be encouraged to not only play tees that are appropriate but also courses that match their experience and skill set. People need to not believe that nothing can be done that mind set has to change.

The USGA likes to talk about growing the game. Growing the game can have many different meanings. A nine-hour commitment for a round of golf will not catch on for many people looking for an outdoor activity. The game will also not grow from a youth movement learning to play the game more quickly if they learn by watching their favorite golfers and their mannerisms on television.

It’s time we stop giving guys like Tiger Woods a free pass. One only had to watch the European Tour event in Abu Dhabi a couple of weeks ago to see a stark contrast between Tiger’s mind numbing pre-shot routine and green reading processes with Rory McIlroy’s ready golf style. Rory was practically pulling the trigger before Tiger’s shots landed on the green or his putts stopped rolling. Tiger doesn’t seem interested in getting any of that work done before it’s his turn either. It almost looked like he knew he was driving McIlroy crazy with his pace. When people see Tiger’s 10 practice swings and his process of walking slow circles around every putt they tend to think all that time is necessary for them too.

Golf means different things to people. It’s time we stop treating golfers like we all approach it the same way. If there is always going to be fast and slow people, we need to separate them. And the slow people need to be helped to see how easily they could play faster. It’s time for the sellers and providers of golf to re-affirm their professionalism and take control of their courses. They need to use cattle prods to move people along when necessary, shorten courses, adjust the rules, spread out tee times…they need to commit to anything and everything that helps.

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Kevin was voted "Most Likely To Live to Be 100" by his high school graduating class. It was all down hill from there.

25 Comments

25 Comments

  1. Troy Vayanos

    Feb 13, 2013 at 3:32 am

    Nice post Kevin,

    At my home course the golf starter every Saturday drives around and checks on the pace of play. It helps only to a point but it can’t stop someone from having a bad hole and slowing down the rest of the field behind them.

  2. Adam

    Feb 12, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    Etiquette certainly needs to be taught to all beginners and refreshed to all players. Every course should have a short note in their carts and/or on the first tee. Just a friendly reminder of what holds the game together. Something like

    Please remember to:
    1- Rake the bunkers
    2- Fix your ball marks
    3- Be aware of your pace of play and position.
    4- Have fun!

    Obviously the last one is dependent on the pace of play, number of ball marks you bounce over and foot prints you land in…

  3. Jeremy

    Feb 8, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    Great article. Slow play is one of my biggest frustrations with golf. In Colorado you can expect a 5+ hour round on any given weekend in the spring and summer. I think that golfers need to stop thinking they are playing for the FedEx cup. Is it really necessary to take 3 or 4 practice swings only to hit a poor shot??? Golfers should focus on the shot at hand rather than their swing during the round. Also, READY GOLF people. I don’t think the entire foursome needs to watch every single shot of every single player. It is comedic sometimes watching a foursome in 2 carts driving to each players ball. Even funnier (not really) is when after all the effort to play in turn and the golf duffs the ball 20 yards. In addition, get over losing a ball. Do you really need to search for more than five minutes for a lost ball? Get over it and take your drop. My preference is to play in 3.5 hours or less.

  4. brooks williams

    Feb 8, 2013 at 1:20 am

    Would never happen but spread tee times. instead of teeing off a shot after the group, maybe wait a hole

    • Joey5Picks

      Jul 11, 2013 at 3:58 pm

      ENFORCED 10-minute tee times should be the norm. Results in better flow, fewer backups, less/no waiting.

  5. Max

    Feb 7, 2013 at 5:09 pm

    Where I live we’ve pretty much been forced to accept the slow play on the county courses and if you want to play close to course time you go farther out of the city. Less skilled and older golfers tend to take over the county courses and you end up having to play slow if for no other reason than ability and age. Unless you’re out there before 7 AM expect a 5.5 hour round. Some of the other counties around us are more proficient and will tell any group to speed up. I’ve been on courses where the ranger doesn’t even know who to tell to speed up, and probably because we’re the young group and she didn’t expect to get lip from us she told us…we kindly explained to her that we’re the 3rd group in line and our pace of play has nothing to do with the slow down on the course. Watched her drive away and just clear past the group that was slowing everyone else down…a group of older gentlemen that she just didn’t want to get in an argument with.

    But that’s life on the public courses, you want to play fast…play during the week.

  6. Kevin

    Feb 7, 2013 at 11:07 am

    I don’t see anything wrong with easier, more basic courses advertising themselves as a beginner friendly place in conjunction with more difficult courses advertising as a place where pace of play will be closely monitored. More really difficult courses, Riviera CC for one, ask people to prove a certain handicap to be able to play. There are different levels of softball leagues based on competitiveness, why not encourage golf courses to pro-actively guide players to the right courses for their skill levels? I am can say that I am not comfortable trying to take my kids out to play because I don’t want to get in people’s way.

  7. Chris Wehring

    Feb 7, 2013 at 9:56 am

    I don’t really have a problem with marshals enforcing a pace of play, but I do not want to spend my money on a green fee and a cart to have a marshal tell me that I need to skip a hole or two. I get a round done in around 4 hours. So, it’s not like I play that slowly. I think, if possible, slower groups just need to let others play through. Also, the quicker players tend to be rude also. So, I think that it needs to change from all ends. It is a gentleman’s sport after all.

  8. Tim

    Feb 7, 2013 at 9:10 am

    interesting article, particularly like your mention of tiger woods, as he was complaining about the group in front of him at Torrey Pines and rightly so, but I thought it was one of the worst cases of hypocrisy I have ever seen as he is often very slow, and you can be sure if he was coming down that stretch with only a one shot lead he would have been a lot slower, and no one would have dared say anything in case they upset him.

  9. old school harry

    Feb 7, 2013 at 8:53 am

    “Pace of play” is a misnomer. If It’s 4h 10m at your local track and you play in 4h 15m, you didn’t play at an ok or acceptable pace. You played at a pace that exceeded the absolute longest time allowable. Quit talking about stupid shit on the tee, put the pedal on the floor and hit to the middle of the green. Not one of you out there is good enough to fire at pins. Including myself. Al put it best “Lets go, while we’re young!”.

  10. George

    Feb 7, 2013 at 8:18 am

    Great article. By the above noted comments there are many side to the story. I am a part time marshall at a southern Ontario course. When on duty I go out of my way to drive the course backwards and when given the opportunity I meet all the players on the course. Our shifts are 6 hours so we have opportunity to usher the groups on and usher them off. If I have a group with a lost ball and it starts to take too long I politely ask them to drop and speed up and quite often will throw them one of my “found balls”. As a believer in the buddy marshall system who engages the groups I have only had one run in with a group and two of the clowns were inebriated. We strive to maintain 15 minutes hole to clock a 4 and a 1/2 hour round. It works quite well.
    Mind you the huge fund raising tournaments are another story – our marshalls might not as well be out there other than to make sure nobody gets hurt and stupidity doesn’t cause damage tour course.

  11. Buck

    Feb 7, 2013 at 8:07 am

    I have only been playing golf for a few years now, and I have played rounds of a full eighteen in as few as three hours and as many as six hours. I have to say, I agree that a slow pace is annoying and we should all take each other into consideration when playing, wheather it be level of experiance, group size or if someone in the group is having a bad round. We are all out there to enjoy the sport, but practice is for the driving range and if you lose a ball, so be it, if it bothers you that much, buy cheaper balls. Marshalls are there to do their job, they should push people to keep pace and be able to tell you why you are being held up. There are enough things in the game to get frustrated about, one of them shouldn’t be wheather you are getting done before dinner when you started before lunch.

  12. Todd

    Feb 7, 2013 at 12:11 am

    People need to play the correct tee boxes. Courses should make players play from certain tee boxes according to their handicap. Courses must invest in gps on the carts that update groups of their pace of play. It also, helps with hole lay-out and distances which all will speed up play. Players should not be told to skip holes during the round, but switch tee boxes if necessary. I have played at courses were the carts can be monitored by the gps and messages can be sent to the carts about pace of play and where to drive and park the cart. Next, adjust the order of groups being sent out if the tee times are right next to each other. Don’t send a group of tourists out in front of a group of regulars if they have back to back tee times. Other adjustments for 3 sums / 2 sums / ladies / Dads with young kids and ect… should be made by starters. Finally, play ready golf!!!!!!!

  13. chuck stone

    Feb 6, 2013 at 10:30 pm

    the city owned course i play along with putting in 1.3 million in a new watering system to speed up play where they had brush between some holes that was left to nature they have mowed it down so balls hit there can now be found… also some trees along side of a fairway have had the lower branches trimmed up to where you can now hit a ball when under the tree… another place to help speed up play is where there is creeks across the fairway that curved back and forth they have eliminated the erosion by tapering the sides of the creek which allows you to find the ball and sometimes allow you to hit a ball thats on the bank where before it would be a deep dropoff. they have been putting some smart thinking into how to speed up play especially when some folks will not give up on a ball.

  14. Frank

    Feb 6, 2013 at 8:10 pm

    This is an interesting discussion. As a newcomer to the sport of golf my experience with slow play comes from a different perspective… As a newbie your obviously not accomplished. You are not confident in determinng yardage distances & proper club selection and accuracy is but a dream. With all these hurdles already in place being scolded & insulted by faster accomplished players does nothing to endear the newbie to the game. When I play I can see who’s learning and trying their best. Pushing a newcomer to the game who has invested in green fees & equipment is hardly welcoming. Golf is already struggling to remain relevant. “Abusing” persons who are new or just trying the sport only drives them away (forever) and reinforces the exclusive nature of the sport.

  15. Jive

    Feb 6, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    The best policy I have seen was at a course where they have dime store clocks every three holes, you know the old school white face with black numbers, 12 inch diameter, minute and second hands, can run for 3 years off of AA battery. What they did was factor in a 4 hour round, and did the math to figure out how long it should take you to play the first 3 holes: eg. 40 minutes. So they set that clock backwards 40 minutes. So when you get to the fourth tee, the clock will say your tee time (because everyone remembers their tee time, but not how long it should take them to play the first 3 holes). And each clock along the way has been set the same way, so on the 7th tee the clock was set 1 hour and 20 minutes backwards. So if the clock shows a time after your tee time you are too slow. The policy reminds you every three holes so you know early on when you get off track. The clocks are easy to see and has a sign underneath reminding you that it should say your tee time.

    • ABgolfer2

      Feb 6, 2013 at 5:15 pm

      @ Jive – our best local muni does that on a few holes. I might adopt Brian’s idea though – play like a turtle and let the marshal be your forecaddie who finds your drives, rakes the bunkers, then fetches your favourite snacks from the clubhouse. That sounds pretty sweet! And all for the same price as the people who are keeping pace? Even sweeter.

      • Brian

        Feb 7, 2013 at 10:43 am

        It’s not that they’re playing like a turtle, it’s a lack of talent. No shot clock or heckling from rangers will get somebody that takes 8+ strokes a hole back on pace. If they need help, then help them, otherwise you’re not growing the game and your not maximizing the courses potential for income. You’re going to piss off one group of the other. The spotting/yardage suggestions are even more appropriate if your course has 1-2 holes that tend to be the bottleneck. Just park a ranger on those holes doing nothing but spotting drives and giving yardages. It’s worked at my club.

  16. hardcaliber

    Feb 6, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    Sooner or later, casual golf is going to have to move to a 9 hole format to keep up with the new modern lifestyle that is becoming more of the norm. Personally, I would love it if my 5 hour round took 4 hours, however the sad reality is that even 4 hours is a huge time when you are trying to balance work and family. I think that 2 hours is kind of a sweet spot as far as scheduling/time commitment goes, around the same time commitment as watching a movie or playing a few sets of tennis. A recreational activity that takes 2 hours is something that can be done on a regular basis, weekly or even multiple times a week. A recreational activity that takes half a day (4-5 hours) is just not something that most people have the luxury of enjoying on any sort of a regular basis anymore. Obviously, we all have varying schedules and time commitments, so opinions may vary widely. I would personally much rather play 9 holes at a relaxed pace than play 18 holes in a rush and be shepherded around by a crotchety old marshal.

  17. Brian

    Feb 6, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    The USGA can determine an acceptable pace for any given course. If a group is meeting that pace, especially on a busier weekend, and the group behind them is playing with their tails on fire, and there’s no more than a hole or two ahead of them, they should be left alone, IMO. If they’re not meeting that pace, then that should be addressed.

    If courses want to get serious about speed of play then they should teach rangers to go beyond policing and start aiding, especially groups that lack talent/experience (which is most often the cause of delays). Spot their drives, drive them to the next tee or their ball(if they’re walking), carry a GPS and get them a distance quickly, ask them what they want to eat/drink at turn and have it ready for them, whatever it takes to get that group caught back up to the pace, or the group in front of them. Then move on to the next group in line that is falling behind.

    • Mike

      Feb 6, 2013 at 4:15 pm

      I like the suggestions Brian makes and I would add to those with even raking the traps for players especially if they go from one fairway bunker to the next. Most of the marshals where I play spend their day riding around to the various water hazards fishing out balls for themselves. Too many men play tees way above their skill level also and fall behind at the #1 tee.

  18. ABgolfer2

    Feb 6, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    * can’t

  19. ABgolfer2

    Feb 6, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    Some people (not me of course) have never had to play quickly. They’ve never had to keep up with quicker players in the group of get left behind. I don’t see a long term solution for slow play. It used to be possible to avoid the turtles by playing very early, but now I play more at twilight. I played more partial rounds in 2012 due to running out of time than the previous 20 years combined. People say, “if you can devote a 6 hour block to golf then don’t play golf”. Okly dokly – I’ll go find something else to do – some place else to spend my money. My wife was suggesting we get a newer canoe and that’s about the same price as a membership. Decision made!

  20. David Bernstein

    Feb 6, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    A golf course can’t take green fees or membership dues from players and then force them to skip holes or play faster. If all golfers learned etiquette before they learned a swing, there would be no slow play. The PLAYER needs to understand what their position is on the golf course and how to react. Time can only be lost on a full golf course. So, if the first group of the day plays in 5 hours, then every other group is doomed to play in 5 hours or more. It just takes one group to spoil the day.

  21. Nick

    Feb 6, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    For many non-golfers, four hours is too long. For many of us avid golfer, four hour rounds are a dream, a thing which existed in better times. Reading the stories of slow play in this article raised my blood pressure and took me back to some very bad memories of waiting for slow players.

    God surely has a special place for men like Gene. Every course needs an old codger (and I say that with the utmost respect and admiration) like Gene to straighten slow groups out. Without them, Golf will continue to hemmorage players and more and more course will operate in the red till they shut down. Seriously, number one issue golf needs to address is not freaking anchored putting, COR on drivers, the ball – its pace of play.

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Opinion & Analysis

Don’t Leave Your Common Sense in Escrow Outside the Golf Course Parking Lot

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Disclaimer: Much of what follows is going to come off as elitist, harsh and downright mean spirited — a pro looking down from his ivory tower at all the worthless hacks and judging them. It is the opposite. The intent is to show how foolish WE golfers are, chasing around a white ball with a crooked stick and suspending all of the common sense we use in our every day lives.

Much of what follows is not just the bane of average golfers, but also low handicappers, tour players and even a former long-drive champion during his quest for the PGA Tour… and now, the Champions Tour. In other words, if WE take ourselves a bit less seriously and use a bit more common sense, we are going to have more fun and actually hit better golf shots. We will shoot lower scores.

FYI: All of the examples of nutbaggery to come are things I have actually witnessed. They’re not exaggerated for the sake of laughs.

It’s winter time and most of you poor souls are not enjoying the 70-degree temperatures I am in Southern California right now (see, you all hate me already… and it’s going to get worse). That gives us all time to assess our approach to golf. I am not talking course management or better focus; I am talking how WE golfers approach our successes and failures, which for many is more important than the aforementioned issues or the quality of our technique.

Why is it that golf turns normal, intelligent, successful and SANE people into deviant, ignorant failures that exhibit all of the tell-tale signs of insanity? I also forgot profane, whiny, hostile, weak-minded, weak-willed and childish. Not to mention stupid. Why do we seem to leave our common sense and sanity in escrow in a cloud outside the golf course parking lot… only to have it magically return the moment our car leaves the property after imposing extreme mental anguish on ourselves that Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (don’t feel bad if you have to google this) would find extreme?

Smarter people than I have written books on this, but I think they missed a key factor. Clubs, balls, shoes, bags, gloves, tees, the grasses, especially the sand in the bunkers, the Gatorade they sell at the snack bar, hats, visors, over-logoed clothing, golf carts, etc., are all made with human kryptonite. Not enough to kill us, but just enough to make us act like children who didn’t get the latest fad toy for Christmas and react by throwing a hissy fit.

Bob Rotella has said golf is not a game of perfect, and although religious texts say man was made in God’s image, thinking we are perfect is blasphemous. We all play golf like we think there is an equivalent of a bowling 300. We expect to hit every drive 300 yards (the bowling perfect) with a three-yard draw… in the middle of the face… in the dead center of the fairway. All iron shots must be worked from the middle of the green toward the pin and compressed properly with shaft lean, ball-first contact and the perfect dollar-bill sized divot (and not too deep). Shots within 100 yards from any lie should be hit within gimme range, and all putts inside 20 feet must be holed.

We get these ideas from watching the best players in the world late on Sunday, where all of the above seem commonplace. We pay no attention to the fact that we are significantly worse than the guys who shot 76-76 and missed the cut. We still hold ourselves to that ridiculous standard.

  • Group 1: “Monte, you’re exaggerating. No one has those expectations.”
  • Group 2: ”Monte, I’m a type-A personality. I’m very competitive and hard on myself.”

To the first group, the following examples say different. And to the second group, I am one of you. It’s OK for me to want to shoot over 80 percent from the free throw line, but at 50 years old and 40 pounds over weight, what would you say to me if I said, “I’m type-A and competitive and I want to dunk like Lebron James!” Oh yeah, and I want to copy Michael Jordan’s dunking style, Steph Curry’s shooting stroke and Pistol Pete’s passing and dribbling style.” That seems ridiculous, but switch those names to all-time greats in golf and WE have all been guilty of those aspirations.

I don’t know how to answer 18-handicaps who ask me if they should switch to blades so they can work the ball better and in both directions. The blunt a-hole in me wants to tell them, “Dude, just learn to hit the ball on the face somewhere,” but that’s what they read in the golf magazines. You’re supposed to work the ball from the middle of the green toward the pin, like Nicklaus. Well, the ball doesn’t curve as much now as it did in Nicklaus’ prime and most tour players only work the ball one way unless the circumstances don’t allow it. “And you’re not Jack Nicklaus.” Some joke about Jesus and Moses playing golf has that punch line.

Wouldn’t it be easier to get as proficient as possible at one shot when you have limited practice time, versus being less than mediocre on several different shots? This also applies to hitting shots around the greens 27 different ways, but don’t get me started…just buy my short game video. Hyperbole and shameless plug aside, this is a huge mistake average golfers make. They never settle on one way of doing things.

The day the first white TaylorMade adjustable driver was released, I played 9 holes behind a very nice elderly couple. He went to Harvard and she went to Stanford. He gets on the first tee and hits a big push. He walks to the cart, grabs his wrench and closes the club face. She tops her tee shot, gets the wrench and adds some loft. Out of morbid curiosity, I stayed behind them the entire front 9 and watched them adjust their clubs for every mishit shot. It took over 3 hours for a two-some. These are extremely nice, smart and successful people and look what golf did to them. Anyone calling this a rules violation, have a cocktail; you’re talking yourself even more seriously than they were. Old married couple out fooling around, big deal if they broke a rule. No tournament, not playing for money, they’re having fun. They had gimmies, mulligans and winter rules. Good for them.

This is an extreme example of a huge mistake that nearly 100 percent of golfers make; they believe the need for an adjustment after every bad shot… or worse, after every non-perfect shot. How many of you have done this both on the range and on the course?

”(Expletive), pushed that one, need to close the face. (Expletive), hit that one thin, need to hit down more on this one. (Expletive), hooked that one, need to hold off the release.”

I’ll ask people why they do this and the answer is often, “I’m trying to build a repeatable swing.”

Nice. Building repeatable swing by making 40 different swings during a range session or round of golf. That is insane and stupid, but WE have all done it. The lesson learned here is to just try and do better on the next one. You don’t want to make adjustments until you have the same miss several times in a row. As a secondary issue, what are the odds that you do all of the following?

  1.  Diagnose the exact swing fault that caused the bad shot
  2.  Come up with the proper fix
  3.  Implement that fix correctly in the middle of a round of golf with OB, two lakes, eight bunkers and three elephants buried in the green staring you in the face.

Another factor in this same vein, and again, WE have all been guilty of this: “I just had my worst round in three weeks. What I was doing to shoot my career low three times in row isn’t working any more. Where is my Golf Digest? I need a new tip.”

Don’t lie… everyone reading this article has done that. EVERYONE! Improvement in golf is as far from linear as is mathematically possible. I have never heard a golfer chalk a high score up to a “bad day.” It’s always a technique problem, so there is a visceral need to try something different. “It’s not working anymore. I think I need to do the Dustin Johnson left wrist, the Sergio pull-down lag, the Justin Thomas downswing hip turn, the Brooks Koepka restricted-backswing hip turn and the Jordan Spieth and Jamie Sadllowski bent left elbow… with a little Tiger Woods 2000 left-knee snap when I need some extra power.” OK, maybe it’s a small bit of exaggeration that someone would try all of these, but I have heard multiple people regale of putting 2-3 of those moves in after a bad round that didn’t mesh with their downtrending index.

An 8-handicap comes to me for his first lesson. He had shot in the 70’s four of his last five rounds and shot a career best in the last of the five. All of the sudden, those friendly slight mishits that rhyme with the place where we keep our money show up. First a few here and there and then literally every shot. He shows up and shanks 10 wedges in a row and is literally ready to cry. I said, “Go home, take this week off and come back… and what’s your favorite beer?”

He comes back the next week, pulls a club and goes to hit one. I tell him to have a seat. I hand him a beer and we talk football for 15 minutes. Then I pull out my iPad and show him exactly why he is hitting shanks. I tell him one setup issue and one intent change and ask him to go hit one. It was slightly on the heel, but not a shank and very thin. I said to do both changes a bit more. The second one — perfect divot, small draw and on target. I walk over, put my hand up for a high five and say, “Awesome job! Great shot!”

He leaves me hanging and says, ”Yeah, but I hit it in the toe.”

Don’t judge him. Every day I have people with 50-yard slices toned down to 15-20 yards saying the ball is still slicing. These are people who won’t accept a fade, but slam their club when it over draws 15 feet left of the target… and so on. I can’t judge or be angry; I used to be these guys, too. During a one-hour lesson, I often hear people get frustrated with themselves for thin and fat, left and right, heel and toe. Apparently, anything not hunting flags or hit out of a dime-sized area is an epic fail. I also get emails the next day saying the fault and miss is still there.

GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK!

My big miss has always been a big block, often in the heel. Instead, I now often hit a pull in the left fairway bunker out of the toe. I celebrate like I’m Kool & the Gang and it’s 1999… and I get strange looks from everyone. I can manage a 10-15 yard low, slightly drawn pull. I cannot not manage a 40-50 yard in the atmosphere block… that cuts.

So, now that I have described all of US as pathetic, let’s see what we can do.

  1. Be hard on yourself, be competitive and set lofty goals all you want… but you need to accept at least a one-side miss. If you hate hitting thin, weak fades, you need to allow yourself a slightly heavy over draw. Not allowing yourself any miss will make you miss every shot.
  2. Generally, the better the player, the larger the pool of results that are used to judge success. Pros judge themselves over months and years. High-handicappers judge themselves on their previous shot. Do you think pros make a swing change after 10 good shots and one minor miss? We all seem to think that course of action is astute. Bad shot, must have done something wrong… HULK MUST FIX!
  3. Don’t judge your shots on a pass/fail grade. Grade yourself A-F. Are you going to feel better after 10 A’s, 25 B’s, 15 C’s, 4 D’s and 1 F… or 10 passes and 40 fails? If every non-perfect shot is seen as a failure, your subconscious will do something different in order to please you. Again, 40 different swings.
  4. Improving your swing and scores is a lot like losing weight. No one expects to make changes in a diet and exercise routine and lose 20 pounds in one day, yet golfers expect a complete overhaul in a small bucket. Give yourself realistic time frames for improvement. “I’m a 12. By the end of next year, I want to be an 8.”  That’s your goal, not whether or not your last range session was the worst in a month. It’s a bad day; that is allowed. Major champions miss cuts and all of them not named Tiger Woods don’t change their swings. They try and do better next week… and they nearly always do.
  5. DO NOT measure yourself either on the mechanics of your swing or your scoring results according to some arbitrary standard of perfection… and especially not against tour players. Measure yourself against yourself. Think Ty Webb. Is your swing better than it was 6 months ago? Do you hit it better than 6 months ago? Are you scoring better than 6 months ago? If you can say yes to at least two of those questions, your swing looking like Adam Scott is less relevant than the color of golf tee you use.

That is a winning formula, and just like bad habits in your swing, you can’t wake up one morning and tell yourself you’re no longer into self flagellation. It takes effort and practice to improve your approach and get out of your own way… but more importantly, have some fun.

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Opinion & Analysis

15 hot takes from Greg Norman on our 19th Hole podcast

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Our Michael Williams spoke with the Great White Shark himself, Greg Norman, for GolfWRX’s 19th Hole podcast. Not surprisingly, the two-time major champion had no shortage of hot takes.

While you’ll want to check out the full ‘cast, here are 15 takes of varying degrees of hotness, from Norman’s feelings about bifurcation to whether he’d pose for ESPN’s Body Issue.

1) He wants bifurcation immediately, rolling back technology for the pros, rolling it forward for amateurs

“I would instigate a bifurcation of the rules. I would roll back the golf ball regulations to pre-1996. I would roll back the technology that’s in the golf equipment for the professionals. And I would open up the technology and give it to the masses because the pros who developed the maximum club head speed of 118, 120 are the ones who maximize what technology is in that piece of equipment. So the person who’s under 100 miles an hour does not hit the ball an extra 30, 35 yards at all. They may pick up a few yards but they don’t get the full benefit of that technology…I would definitely do that because I think we’ve gotta make the game more fun for the masses. “

2) He has no relationship with Tiger Woods and doesn’t plan to watch him play golf

“And this might sound kind of strange. What I’ll say is … I really, in all honesty, I really don’t care what Tiger does with golf. I think Tiger is, golf probably needs him to some degree but golf doesn’t need him, if you know what I mean, because there’s so many other incredibly talented great young players out there, probably a dozen of them, maybe even more, that are equal, if not way better than Tiger, and they can carry the baton of being the number one player in the world. So, I get a little bit perplexed about and disappointed about how some of these guys get pushed into the background by the attention Tiger gets. I hope he does well. If he doesn’t do well, it doesn’t bother me. If he does do well, it doesn’t bother me.”

3) He plays almost no golf these days

“I really don’t play a lot of golf. I played with my son in the father-son at the end of last year, had a blast with him. Played a little bit of golf preparing for that. But since then I have not touched a golf club.”

4) He doesn’t enjoy going to the range anymore

“To be honest with you I’m sick and tired of being on the driving range hitting thousands and thousands of golf balls. That bores me to death now. My body doesn’t like it to tell you the truth. Since I’ve stopped playing golf I wake up without any aches and pains and I can go to the gym on a regular basis without aches and pains. So my lifestyle is totally different now. My expectations, equally, is totally different.”

5) It took him a long time to get used to recreational golf

“But I’ve been in this mode now for quite a few years now so the first couple of years, yes. My body was not giving me what my brain was expecting. So you do have to make those mental adjustments. Look, there’s no difference than when you hit 40, you’re a good player or not a good player. Things start to perform differently. Your proprioception is different. Your body is different. I don’t care how good you are and how great physical shape you are. Your body after just pure wear and tear, it eventually does tend to break down a little bit. And when you’re under the heat of the battle and under the gun, when you have to execute the most precise shot, your body sometimes doesn’t deliver what you want.”

6) He’s a big Tom Brady fan

“I’m a big fan, big admirer of his. He gets out of it what he puts into it obviously…But he’s also a role model and a stimulator for his teammates. No question, when you go to play Brady and the Patriots, you’d better bring your A game because he’s already got his A game ready to go.”

7) He believes we’ll see 50-plus-year-old winners on Tour

“I said this categorically when Tom Watson nearly won at Turnberry in his 50s, when I nearly won at Royal Birkdale in my 50s….if you keep yourself physically in good shape, flexibility in good shape, as well as your swing playing, and your swing. Yeah, maybe the yips come in maybe they don’t, that depends on the individual, right? But at the end of the day, my simple answer is yes. I do believe that’s going to happen.”

8) The Shark logo has been vital to his post-golf success

“But I realized very early on in life too that every athlete, male or female, no matter what sports you play you’re a finite entity. You have a finite period of time to maximize your best performance for X number of years. And with golf, if you look at it historically, it’s almost like a 15 year cycle. I had my 15 year run. Every other player has really has had a 15 year run, plus or minus a few years.”

“So you know you have that definitive piece of time you got to work with and then what you do after that is understanding what you did in that time period. And then how do you take that and parlay it? I was lucky because I had a very recognizable logo. It wasn’t initials. It wasn’t anything like that. It was just a Great Shark logo. And that developed a lot of traction. So I learned marketing and branding very, very quickly and how advantageous it could be as you look into the future about building your businesses.”

9) He’s tried to turn on-course disappointments into positives

“We all … well I shouldn’t say we all. I should say the top players, the top sports men and women work to win. Right? And when we do win that’s what we expected ourselves to do because we push ourselves to that limit. But you look at all the great golfers of the past and especially Jack Nicklaus, it’s how you react to a loss is more important than how you react to a victory. And so, I learned that very, very early on. And I can’t control other people’s destiny. I can’t control what other people do on the golf course. So I can only do what I do. When I screw up, I use that as a very strong study point in understanding my weakness to make sure that I make a weakness a strength.”

10) Jordan Spieth is best suited to be the top player in the world

“I think that Jordan is probably the most balanced, with best equilibrium in the game. He’s probably, from what I’m seeing, completely in touch with the responsibilities of what the game of golf and the success in the game of golf is.”

11) His golf design is built on two pillars

“Two things: Begin with the end in mind and the least disturbance approach. I think we, the industry of golf course design industry, really did the game of golf a major disservice in the 80s and 90s when everybody was leveraged to the hilt, thought they had unlimited capital, and thought they could just go build these big golf courses with big amounts of money invested in with magnificent giant club houses which weren’t necessary. So, we were actually doing a total disservice to the industry because it was not sustainable.”

12) He’s still not happy about having essentially invented the WGC events and not getting credit

“I’ll always be a little bit salty about that because there’s a saying that I keep telling everybody, “slay the dreamer.” I came up with a pretty interesting concept where the players would be the part owners of their own tour or their own destiny and rewarded the riches if they performed on the highest level. And quite honestly, Michael, actually a friend of mine sent me an article, it was a column written, “Shark and Fox Plan to Take a Bite out of the PGA”. And this is written in 11/17/94 and I literally just got it last night. And I’m reading through this article and I’m going, “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, I was ahead of my time!” I really was ahead of my time.

So, it was very, very kind of like a reflective moment for me. I read it again this morning with a cup of coffee and I did sit back and, I’ll be brutally honest with you and your listeners, and did sit back and I did get a little bit angry because of the way I was portrayed, the way I was positioned.”

13) He was muzzled by the producer at Fox

“I’m not going to dig deep into this, I think there was just a disconnect between the producer and myself. I got on really well with the director and everybody else behind the scenes, some of my thought processes about what I wanted to talk about situations during the day, and it just didn’t pan out. And things that I wanted to say, somebody would be yelling in my ear, “Don’t say it, don’t say it!” So it became a very much a controlled environment where I really didn’t feel that comfortable.”

14) Preparation wasn’t the problem during his U.S. Open broadcast

“I was totally prepared so wherever this misleading information comes saying I wasn’t prepared, I still have copious notes and folders about my preparation with the golf course, with the players, with the set-up, with conditioning. I was totally prepared. So that’s an assumption that’s out there that is not true. So there’s a situation where you can please some of the people some of the time but not all of the people all of the time.

15) He would do ESPN’s Body Issue

“Of course I’d do it. I think I like being fit. I think on my Instagram account I probably slipped a few images out there that created a bit of a stir…And I enjoy having myself feel good. And that’s not an egotistical thing, it’s just none of my, most of my life I’ve been very healthy fit guy and if somebody like ESPN wants to recognize that, yeah of course I would consider doing it.”

Don’t forget to listen to the full podcast here!

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Podcasts

TG2: “If you could only play one brand, what would it be?” (Part 2)

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“If you could only play one brand, what would it be?” Brian Knudson and Andrew Tursky debate their choices in part 2 of this podcast (click here in case you missed Part 1). Also, TG2 welcomes special guest and GolfWRX Forum Member Ed Settle to the show to discuss what clubs he has in the bag.

Listen to our podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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