In 1954 the legendary Henry Longhurst wrote a short article called ‘The Perversity of Putting’ which described his life as a frustrated putter. In essence, he told the universal golfing story of when he was putting well the rest of his game went to pot and when he putted badly the rest of his game went extremely well. A situation I guess many of us are not only familiar with on a daily basis, but come to accept as part of golf.
But why should this be? Is putting so weird and unearthly that success in it influences another aspect of your game? Have you only a finite amount of luck and if you spend it on one aspect of your game, inevitably the other areas of your game will suffer? Well – yes and yes. There is a long list of trite, but basically true, sayings that comment on some of the psychology and mysticism of “the game within a game” –
“Half of golf is fun; the other half is putting.”
“Hitting a golf ball and putting have nothing in common. They’re two different games.”
“A “gimme” can best be defined as an agreement between two golfers, neither of whom can putt very well.”
“The prime requisite for putting? An abounding confidence in one’s ability.”
“The ball doesn’t care how positive you are thinking when you hit it with a putter moving and aimed in the wrong direction.”
Putting truly is as weird and unearthly as all those sayings would have us believe. It is so, so different from any other aspect of golf. Other golf shots have to be accurate enough. They need be good enough. Getting the drive ‘on the fairway’ corresponds to ‘hit the ball accurately to within about 30 feet’. Getting your approach shot ‘on the green’ translates to ‘hitting a target the size of a medium sized swimming pool’.
Putting is not like that. Well, not real putting. i.e. putting from a distance where you can see if there’s anything in the hole whilst standing over your ball. I regard long and medium putts as ‘golf shots’ just like drives, approach shots or pitches. Like bunker shots long putts aren’t really expected to go in the hole and if they do then it’s great, a bit of a fluke, and should be shown on the highlight reel on tv.
Putts you are expected to make are what would be called real putting. It is the one part of the game that needs to be totally accurate. If a plane leaves Los Angeles bound for Cardiff but is just two degrees off course it lands in Anglesey. If your aim is two degrees out on a real putt – you miss – which is possibly even more serious than being in Anglesey, and far more embarrassing. If your aim is a few degrees out on a drive – so what – you’re still on the fairway, or even further out of bounds – it’s practically irrelevant.
So, rule number one for real putting is ‘hit the ball exactly where you are aiming it’. This is very, very difficult. It involves better eye-hand coordination than an open-heart surgeon, the nerve of a nerveless trained assassin, the temperament of the Dalai Lama and the touch of a brilliantly dexterous, concert pianist.
Even then you’re not even halfway there. This isn’t the hard part. To get the ball into the hole involves ‘hitting the ball exactly where you are aiming it’ plus knowing exactly where you should be aiming in the first place. It assumes you have calculated the direction and the speed of the putt. This is based on many, many, many variables – the length of the grass, the wind (strength and direction), the direction the grass grows in, the slope of the green, the moisture level, the air temperature and pressure, the characteristics of your golf ball, the precise gravitational pull of the tides, the earth and the moon. If you’re one percent short on your flight from Los Angeles to Cardiff and you end up in Cork, Ireland. Which is nice, some would argue – nicer. If you’re one percent short with a putt you miss. Which is a total binary fail. You don’t get half marks in golf.
As demonstrated – real putting is tricky. It’s an awful lot trickier than flying that aeroplane to Wales I would imagine. It’s so difficult I feel it verges on the impossible. Like the bumblebee that pseudoscientifically can’t fly, so pseudologically it is impossible for anyone to hole a putt. But the bumblebee does fly, and people, apparently, do hole putts. So, I hear you ask – “How do you account for that?”
“Luck” is my one-word answer. Luck is the defining characteristic of the successful bumblebee and the brilliant putter. It is a known fact that bumblebees are incredibly lucky animals. A Welsh piece of folklore says that it is very lucky if bumblebees set up home in or near your house. They bless it with prosperity – that is true. It is well known that finding a bumblebee on a ship is good luck. There were no bumblebees recorded on the Titanic – point proven. So, it’s no surprise bumblebees can fly. They are incredibly lucky insects.
In a similar vein I think that the best way to improve you putting is to focus more on being luckier. Gary Player once remarked that the more he practiced the luckier he got. For me, I reckon the luckier you are the less you need to practice. That should be motivation for every golfer out there.
Henry Longhurst said, “They say ‘practice makes perfect’. Of course, it doesn’t. For the vast majority of golfers, it merely consolidates imperfection.”
I believe golfers can influence their luck. You know it too. It’s one of the great secrets all humans know, but we have to pretend it can’t luck doesn’t exist and therefore cannot be influenced. Yet all our behaviours demonstrate the opposite. We wish opponents a grudging ‘good luck’. Why would we even say that if we didn’t believe it existed? Or ‘bad luck’ if they miss a putt. Let’s look at even more scientific evidence with five arguments to prove it;
Argument 1: 3.5 billion people, or more, can’t be wrong, can they?
Half the population of the world believe in the ancient Chinese philosophy of Feng Shui which promotes good luck. A number of large Western Organisations are willing to invest a great deal of money respecting their beliefs;
The Disney Corporation shifted the angle of the front gate of Hong Kong’s Disneyland by twelve degrees to align the park for maximum prosperity.
The entrance to the original MGM Grand casino in Las Vegas was inside the mouth of Leo the lion, MGM’s mascot. However, many
Chinese gamblers avoided the casino or entered the casino through the back entrance to avoid the bad luck they believed they would have entering the mouth of the lion. in 1998 the entrance was changed.
Argument 2: Animals can’t be wrong, can they?
Animals shouldn’t believe in luck, should they? In an experiment carried out by B.F. Skinner he proved that animals, in this case pigeons, like golfers, are superstitious at heart and will carry out a set of rituals, or superstitions in order to give themselves the best chance of success. Skinner set up an experiment which meant the pigeon had to peck the correct button from a number of options, to get some food. The pigeons quickly established this and learnt which button to peck. Skinner then changed the system and rewarded the pigeons randomly whichever button they pressed. The pigeons responded by behaving in an unusual way – They developed their own mannerisms; twisting their necks, flapping their wings, pecking close to the buttons in a consistent manner in a bid to reproduce the luck they had previously had achieved by gaining food.
Argument 3: Psychologists can’t be wrong, can they?
An experiment was carried out with people who described themselves as “lucky” and another set who didn’t describe themselves as lucky. A test was given to these two groups of people. Both groups were given newspapers with hidden messages. They were asked to complete a task and during that task they could come across clues and hidden messages giving them instructions on how to win $100. People from the “lucky” group did far better than the other group. The psychologists conducting this experiment concluded that feeling lucky can help you.
It gives you positive vibes and a more optimistic viewpoint. Feeling lucky makes you more likely to see the good side and influence your behaviour.
Argument 4: Psychologists can’t be wrong, can they (part 2)? People can control their luck. Or, more accurately, people behave as if they can control their luck. Ellen Langer, psychologist, describes this as the ‘illusion of control.’ This illusion of control was illustrated in an experiment she carried out based on a lottery. The lottery is an acknowledged game of pure chance with each ticket having as much chance of winning as any other, obviously. One group of people were given lottery tickets with images of famous sportspeople on them. Another group were able to select which lottery ticket sportsperson they choose. Each ticket cost $1. When scientists attempted to buy tickets from these groups, based on the excuse that there were no more lottery tickets left, they found that the people who had been given random tickets negotiated the sale of their tickets for on average, $1.96. Whilst the people in the group who had selected their own tickets sold them for an average of $8.67. Therefore, the second group, who had chosen their own tickets, behaved as though they had more control of their luck than the first group who’s chances of winning was predetermined.
Argument 5: Sports stars can’t be wrong, can they?
Paul Azinger, golfer, always marks the position of his golf ball on the green with a US penny that features Abraham Lincoln. Not only that but he lines the penny up to ensure Lincoln is looking at the hole. Wade Boggs, baseball star, liked to eat chicken before a game at 5.17pm precisely. He then went and hit exactly 150 balls in batting practice. Serena Williams blamed her failure to win the 2007 French Open on herself: “I didn’t tie my laces right and I didn’t bounce the ball five times and I didn’t bring my shower sandals to the court with me.” Ernie Els believes each golf ball only has one birdie in it and will change it after he’s extracted that birdie. Christina Kim refuses to step on the line where the fairway meets the green as she is convinced it will bring her bad luck.
The ‘Illusion of control’ is a great way of summarising the attempt to control your fate. On the one, rational, level it seems absurd. How can changing your golf ball for an identical one possibly affect your chances of winning? However, one of the most important aspects of putting, or any competitive activity really, is feeling comfortable about it and getting yourself in the best frame of mind. If this means wearing red on the last day of a competition like Tiger Woods, or pink like Paula Creamer, so what. You’ve got to do what feels right for you. Therefore, it follows that you can influence your putting ability by dressing in pink.
‘Putting is a Form of Self Torture’ is a Universal Truth and a book available on Amazon.
Arnold Palmer golfing in Wales (well, the best example I could find)
I have 2 characteristics I am addicted to keen to combine. These are the reading of biographies and stories of the great golfers and Welsh golf courses. For some strange reason I find it fascinating to discover reports, photos of great players visiting our tiny country.
There have been may instances, of course, of golfing Legends to Wales – Tiger Woods at Royal Porthcawl for the Walker Cup in 1995. Walter Hagen playing at exhibition match on the same course in 1933.
Having read about Arnold Palmer’s upcoming book – ‘A Life Well Played’ – I decided to focus my research on a true golfing hero and find if Mr Palmer had ever played in Wales. I looked and looked. Unfortunately, I could find no record of this but I will keep looking. He must have done mustn’t he?
The closest I could find was a visit by Arnold to Celtic Manor in May 2009 where he was the guest at the KPMG sixth annual Golf Business Forum.
It was interested to note that the address made by AP was quite prophetic for the time –
As a seven-time Ryder Cup veteran and former captain, Mr Palmer commented on the Ryder Cup coming to Wales in 2010. He said: “The Celtic Manor Resort will be a wonderful venue for the Ryder Cup. Conditions will make it very interesting for the players and the spectators. The American team better start thinking about the conditions they are likely to face in Wales as they will have to work very hard to win.”
He also prophesied – “I am very much in favour of golf becoming an Olympic sport. I don’t think we can comprehend what it would mean to the game. From any angle, what it will bring to business, and the wider public interest it will create, it is almost mind-boggling what the impact would be.” Which has, of course, come true recently.
I would doubt that this little trip to Wales will make his book but I am hoping that there may be an opportunity one day to see the great man and his remarkable swing, or even more remarkable to encounter his fiercely competitive, but sporting, character. Now, if someone out there can find some evidence that he has played here at some time in the past. That would be interesting and would go on my list alongside Tiger Woods and Walter Hagen.
Who knows there may even be a story in Arnold’s new book ……….
- Those nice people at Macmillan are offering a free sleeve of custom Callaway golf balls to anyone who pre-orders a copy of Mr. Palmer’s book online (the link to this offer is here: http://us.macmillan.com/static/smp/arnold-palmer/).
The 1904 Olympics at St Louis hosted a bizarre golf tournament that was, unsurprisingly, the last time it was held until this year.
It was very, very strange state of affairs. There was a team competition and an individual competition – both only open to men.
For the team competition 6 teams of 10 entered. Unfortunately, only 2 turned up. A makeshift team of 10 was put together at the last minute and there was a contest of 3 teams. Team USA was first. Team USA was second and Team USA was also third.
The individual event however involved international competition for the USA in the form of Canada. The Canadians had 3 representatives. The USA had 74. Soon the Canadians had only one – George Lyon. George took on the USA and a legend was born. George won. The USA did well in the other medal places however and took the silver and 2 bronzes. There was no women’s competition
There was a women’s competition at the previous Olympics. However, it was such a similar disaster you would be inclined to believe it was organised by the same people – it wasn’t. It was held in France alongside the men’s event. The men’s event was a 36-hole competition – the women were allowed 9 whole holes. The winner was Margaret Abbott with a score of 47. Her mother came seventh, with a score of 65. Margaret never knew she had won a gold medal throughout the rest of her lfe.
Most of the competitors for the women’s and the men’s competitions simply never realised they were competing at the Olympic games. They somehow believed it was just another tournament. These particular Olympic Games were spread out over 6 months and with limited internet access they had no idea that (in someone’s head at least) all the competitions were joined up.
Ignoring the lessons of the past 2 competitions, in 1908 the London Olympic Games committee decided that they would hold a golf tournament. However, the organising committee (English) and the Royal and Ancient (Scottish) first ignored each other, then argued with each other to such a degree that they received practically no entries.
No one told George however who sailed from Canada to England to defend his title.
He was offered a symbolic golf medal but George – man that he was, ‘sport is a gentlemanly affair, and I will only accept an award having won it through proper competition.
My new book of golf essays – ‘Putting is a Game of Self-Torture’ is available now on Amazon.
Interview with Author of ‘Putting is a Form of Self-Torture’ (“laugh? I thought I would never start”)
Tell me about your new book ‘Putting is a Form of Self-Torture’ available via your website (www.byronkalies.com) or the following Amazon link – ( https://www.amazon.co.uk/Putting-Form-Self-Torture-Collection-Articles/dp/1533538247) ?
I’m glad, and not a little surprised that you asked. The book is a collection of my best golf writing over the past 6 years. It’s a slim volume (that is a joke). It’s a 16 volume set (still joking). It’s a book with around 60 short articles looking at Welsh golf courses, stories from a mythical Welsh golf club, instruction and a great number of ‘diverse’ articles based on my experiences playing golf in Wales.
What has been the local reaction to your new book by members at your club – Bargoed Golf Club?
It has been underwhelming, to be honest. Isn’t there a saying about a prophet not being appreciated in his own land? Well, a golf writer is not appreciated in Bargoed Golf Club, that’s for sure. The Captain reviewed it – free copy – and commented “Not bad. I liked the bit about Bradley Dredge, but it does go about golf a lot doesn’t it?”
I had to admit that the golf book did go on a bit about golf. Last Saturday when I didn’t have any money on me (penniless writer) to pay my £1 for the Ball School – (we all put £1 in and the winner takes all). I offered to give the winner (Pensioner Dave) a signed copy of my book (RRP £8) instead. He passed with a “give me the £1 next week if you like.”
Sorry to hear that. What about in the larger cultural world?
It’s been a pretty similar story really. The top golfing magazine ‘Golf Today International Bunkered World’ and the ‘Caerphilly Herald’ both started serialising the book. After 2 weeks both had received so much abuse and threats from their readers to boycott the magazines that they stopped printing it. I was allowed to see some of the criticism from the readers –
“You’re no Dan Jenkins.” Someone claimed. This was the only comment I took to be positive as I regard Mr Jenkins as a right wing, stuck in the Victorian age, racist nob.
“Laugh? I thought I would never start.”
“About as funny as the ‘R & A Complete Rules of Golf’
“I had to read this book because my uncle told me to. It was the worst thing I ever read. A worthless good for nothing piece of junk! Actually it is good for something. I took this book with me to rifle practice and I shot at this instead of the target. I got busted but hey it was worth it. Mail me if you want a picture of my shooting.“
“Attempting to read this book is worse than watching the grass grow. At least the grass will become something you enjoy. The title of the story intrigued me to read it. Don’t get me wrong, if well-written, this book could be very interesting. But even after just ten pages, the only thought going through my mind was “When will this guy shut up and stop talking about golf???”
“I hate it. So boring. I fell asleep at the first page.”
“Not so hot; phony intellectuals are told this is a great work so they make up all sorts of lies about layering and craftsmanship, when it’s really just a so-so book about golf.”
“Once I put it down, I just couldn’t pick it up again.”
David Lloyd George with guests (including original cast members of Pobol Y Cwm and the Likely Lads) at the initial Captain’s drive in ceremony – note club had affiliation with Llanfrechfa fishing club and president on right is carrying the ceremonial rod
Brawdafad is a tough course, in a tough part of the world. The land was bought in early 1921 (year of the acquittal of Harold Greenwood, birth of Dick Francis, 6-5 win for Wales rugby team in Paris) and a few short weeks later was opened. A report from the local newspaper makes fascinating reading;
“At the opening ceremony Captain Mr. P. Dave asked Dr Gwyn T. Bara, Chairman of the club to declare the course open. Dr Bara, their enthusiastic and highly efficient chairman was presented with a wonderful weapon, a golf driver, with which to drive a mighty ball from the first tee (laughter and applause). He thanked the lady and gentlemen of the committee for honouring him by asking him to open the course. He referred to the early beginnings of the club and its uphill struggles and said that were it not for the generosity of a local businessman, Mr. D. S. Snips (snr.) of Aber Annwyd the club would never have reached its present state (enthusiastic applause).
Dr Gwyn T. Bara explained that the situation reminded him of a remark Mr Ramsay Macdonald, the ex-premier made that ‘Golf is to me what his Sabine farm was to the poet Horace – a solace and an inspiration.’ (embarrassed silence). Dr Bara duly took the first hit on the course and hooked it through the clubhouse window.” The first club captain David Lloyd George then took over proceedings and in his own words “It’s time to get the party started”.
–Brawdaf and Annwyd Valley Express Monday June 27th 1921
The club was bombed during the Second World War by a rather wayward squadron of German bomber. It was reported after the war that with all the bomb damage the course had never looked better.
It is a mountain course. It is rough and rugged and sheep-lined. It must be pretty much how many early Scottish courses looked. However, not many early Scottish courses were built alongside council estates. There is a scarcity of land at Brawdafad and every inch of the ground is used. It feels like someone has placed a full size snooker table in a small lounge. Each tee seems to be against a fence and at times it seems that you’ve barely enough room to take a full backswing.
The rough is very rough. Pensioner Dave once sliced a drive into the rough off the sixth tee and against all our advice went chasing after it. He disappeared from view for a good few minutes. Feeling slightly anxious we called out to him;
“Pensioner Dave have you found your ball?” we called.
“Not yet,” came the reply, “But I have found a golf bag and a set of clubs.”
Extract from Collection of golf articles – ‘Putting is a Form of Self-Torture’ now available – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Putting-Form-Self-Torture-Collection-Articles/dp/1533538247/
“Yes my handicap is 24. My certificate? This is my certificate.”
I’m standing on the first tee at the Rolls of Monmouth. I’m preparing to hit the first shot of the annual equivalent of the ‘jolly boys’ outing’.
This is our end of the year ‘winter bash’. We use this as the motivation for those dark, dingy, tough, early Saturday morning rounds. Pensioner Dave saves our £2.50 a week for this reward. The Rolls of Monmouth is the hidden secret that everyone in South Wales knows about. It’s the end of year treat, the equivalent of Christmas, birthday and anniversary all rolled into one. The Rolls in fantastic. Most courses in South Wales, with the exception of Celtic Manor, are claustrophobic. There is the valley feeling of crampedness. Perhaps it’s to do with the shape of the valleys. Whatever the reason there is limited space as tees and greens are pushed back to the edges and corners of the course. It feels like having a full sized snooker table in your one bed flat. There’s the feeling of not being able to swing properly, as if your hands will be out of bounds on your backswing.
The Rolls of Monmouth has space. The Rolls of Monmouth has lots and lots of space. The Rolls of Monmouth has far too much space. Even the name has too much space. It’s nerve racking. It’s almost agoraphobic to a Welsh valleys golfer like me – but in a nice way. I remember the same feeling as a small child going to Porthcawl for a week’s holiday (the caravan park, not the golf course) and was amazed at the size of the beaches and the fresh air.)
I digress. On the tee at the spacious Rolls of Monmouth I prepare to tee off. As a high handicap it’s all abuse –
“Look at this swing.”
“21! He’s off 21? God his practice swing looks like it’s off scratch.”
“He’s wearing a hat. Shouldn’t it be a sombrero?”
My bottom is twitching like a trout’s mouth as I try to smile, without looking too confident, or too put off. Unfortunately, I then hit a great drive straight up the middle.
“I played with the handicap sec once and hit a shot like that off the first and by the ninth I was cut three shots. Bandit.”
I sheepishly make my way back to my bag and begin my round amidst mumblings and grumblings.
High handicappers get far too much grief. It’s like Learner drivers – regular drivers forget they had to learn once. The worst offenders are the middle handicappers. As a high handicapper you may have to give them half a shot a hole, but for that privilege you get grief if you hit a tee shot straight. You get abuse for hitting an approach shot on the green and practical decapitation for holing any putt over six feet. The air shots, miscues and slices are conveniently ignored. Low handicappers seem to be less bothered and more understanding. I wonder why? Generally, they’ve played longer and seen everything – seen 28 handicappers score eagles and seen scratch handicapper miss nine inch putts.
Still, I have a fantastic morning – get cut two shots for scoring thirty-seven points in the morning, In the afternoon I play like a polar bear wearing boxing gloves that are too big for him.
We convene to the bar as it starts to get dark and talk, and tease and exaggerate and everyone goes away happy… roll on next year.
Slow Play is not a recent phenomenon. In an essay from 1934 on ‘The People in Front’ –you know who you are – Bernard Darwin describes them …….
“They waggle for hours; they stroll rather than walk; they dive into their monstrous bags for the right club, and then it is the wrong number, but they are not sorry that we have been troubled. Their putting is a kind of funereal ping-pong. We could forgive them all this tricks, from which we are conspicuously free, if it were not for the absurd punctilio with which they observe the rules. They will insist on waiting for the people in front when it must be palpable even to their intellects that the best shot they ever hit in their lives would be fifty yards short.”
The final word on slow play.. a sign that will…encourage people to play quicker…
To change anything, or to learn anything (which is essentially change anyway) is uncomfortable. There are a number of well-worn phrases that people trot out to remind you of this – “Growth demands a temporary surrender of security”, “If you’re not churning, you’re not learning.” I know this. It doesn’t make is much easier.
A useful tool I came across with this one is the Comfort Zone model. On the inside is the Comfort Zone. The doughnut next ring is the Discomfort Zone and the Learning Zone is around the outside. It does reinforce that it’s uncomfortable to learn anything new. It means that to get to the Learning Zone you have to get through the Discomfort Zone. There are no short cuts or tunnels. However, it does give you hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
So, I took my trip into the ‘Discomfort Zone’. I booked for some lessons. It was uncomfortable. I turned up alongside the fearless youngsters and brand new starters and felt very out of place. I’d been trapped in that comfort zone for too long. My grip was comfortable. My stance was comfortable yet they were so wrong. I knew if I held the club this way I could more or less guarantee it would be straight – not very long but straight. Now I’m being told to discard all those comfortable feelings and start again. It really did feel uncomfortable and very, very tempting to go back to the old way.
I learnt that there are no short cuts or secret passages across the discomfort zone. We all know that. We know that all the teaching aids, special balls, magic golf clubs don’t work – or at least they don’t work on their own. We’ve all seen (or bought) that expensive set of aluminium, alloy, enhanced, cavity-backed, nickel platted, NASA designed golf set and stood next to a twelve years old with basically a long metal stick and seen them hit their tee shot thirty yards further than us.
What did help me though was some wise words I had picked up from a colleague a long time ago about this stress and anxiety. “Anxiety isn’t pain” he assured me,” It’s the anticipation of pain.”
True enough. The most anxious and stressful times for me has been the waiting for something to start – the dentists, the job interview, waiting by the first tee. Once the event kicks off the stress diminishes a great deal.
“The trick”, he continued, “is to live in the here and now” (he was a bit of an old hippie), but very true. If you concentrate on what you’re doing before a stressful event – eating, preparing, practising, and try to concentrate fully on that you’ll save yourself a fair amount of stress.
So I’m taking the lessons. I’m staying in the ‘here and now’ and things are starting to improve. Not as quickly as I’d like, of course and I do feel that I’m living most of my life in the discomfort zone but… in a perverse way I’m starting to enjoy it.