The Picture Non-Golfers Have Of Golfers

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The picture most non-golfers have of golf is odd.

They believe that golf is a Victorian game of etiquette, politeness, civility and manners;
“After you.”
“No after you. Please. You go if you’re ready.”
“Well only if you’re sure.”
“Oh I insist.”
“Charmed I’m sure.”

They believe that golfers are the most polite people in the world. They are incredibly patient and especially helpful to newcomers. Golfers will  spend an entire round standing behind a new 28 (with a star) handicapper watching closely to determine which side of the fairway to begin the search. We’ll do this without a thought of resentment.

They believe that golf is an unusual game where winning isn’t everything. It’s a game where ,they have read, someone gave up the prize of a new car in order to retain their amateur status. They believe all golfers would do this. It’s a game where players call fouls on themselves. It’s the only game where you form a queue, wait your turn and smile.

This is not entirely true 100% of the time.

Some golfers are human. Some cheat – yes you heard it here first. Some golfers lie, complain, moan, grumble, curse and fight. They have their own agendas and will look to get away with things if they can.

I feel guilty now. I feel like the child in school who told you there was no father Christmas and your parents were, basically, lying to you. I’m sorry.

Golf is a game. Like all games it’s a test of character and there will be times when you will be tested. I know that but please.. some sort of reality check. If golf is played by such a wonderful divine bunch of angels why are there so many rules?

I do love the game but can’t really buy in to this sacramental vision of it though, as you may have gathered. People who play golf are frequently humans and as such are a bit like us – they have that fatal flaw – they are human. Golf has far fewer problems than many other sports – this is true. The amount of cheating and bad behaviour that goes on in golf is infinitely less than most other sports.

I have played with people who cheat – and heard about golfers who cheat. So, why are there less cheats at golf than at football?

I don’t believe it’s because it’s generally played by people with more money.
I don’t feel it’s because it is still an elitist sport in many places.
I think it makes a difference that it is a game that can be by people of all ages and abilities.
I also think that the way people are introduced to the game helps a great deal;
The game of football tends to be picked up as a child as you grow up playing against peers. The values are the values of your group – in most cases groups define their own rules, their own standards. As a child playing football it was acceptable, even expected, to shout and argue for throw ins, free kicks etc.. It’s what you do. In our version of football tough tackling was the norm and sending off’s were non existent.
In golf people tend to be taught one at a time. They are indoctrinated into the game through the mores and values of the group. Generally a group of established golfers who were inevitably introduced individually by a group of similar individuals. The values are handed down and generally these standards involve no cheating. Added to this the stigma of being caught cheating can be incredibly devastating. But hey let’s not be silly about it, Jack;

“In no other sport does the nature of the contest allow the players to be so free of jealousy and enmity, so willing to help and support each other and be so sincere in their acceptance of each other’s success.” – Golf and Life – Jack Nicklaus

 

 

Golf Philosophy : Lesson 1. Looking Good or Getting the Job Done ?

lookingnotgood

Lesson 1. Looking Good or Getting the Job Done ?

There’s a concept I’ve recently come across in the training room that helps to explain a fair amount of my inability to break 80 with any regularity (I’m currently playing off 18). I learnt this pearl of wisdom attending on a training course run by a psychologist. He was talking to us (a group of trainers, consultants, personnel folk) about management, and more specifically the relationship managers have with staff, customers, etc… In his words (and Freud’s) “It’s all about relationships”. He discussed how the quality of the relationship you have with a client is a measure of the effectiveness with which you do business with them. Which is interesting enough. The particularly relevant aspect to this for me (and my consistency in golf – remember the golf) was the question he asked us about our relationship with our clients;

“What are you committed to? Are you committed to looking good or are you committed to getting the job done?” For me this translates as “Why do I choose a pitching wedge from 3 feet off the green rather than use a putter?” I know a putter will get me closer on 8 out of 10 occasions yet somehow it doesn’t feel right. I feel that I should use a wedge. There’s a pressure on me, a macho, male thing about having to copy the professionals. I can see it in the faces of all my playing partners – they all feel the same. They’d rather lose a hole going for that ‘tiny gap between the trees and fading it around the corner’ shot than adopt the sensible ‘just chip it back on the fairway’ route. Now I know (I’ve come to terms with this at least) that I’m never going to win the Open. I also know that I get a great deal of pleasure by shooting a low score and lowering my handicap. Yet I still can’t quite get that putter out. It’s the same on some tees. I’ll automatically reach for a driver when all the logic in my head is screaming “3 iron! 3 iron!”.

So having attending the training course next time I’m on the edge of a par 5 in 2 I’m going to reach for a putter, lag it up and tap in for a birdie……. well, maybe as long as none of my regular playing partners are watching.

Golf, Luck, Karma, Dancing and Thinking

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You make your way through the heather and mistletoe onto the 18th tee. It’s an enchanting, but daunting par three. You ease your way through the rowan bushes, hazel and willow trees to get a panoramic view of the whole arcane course from this elevated promontory. You smell the rosemary and cinnamon as the sun starts to fade on what has been a perfect autumn afternoon. Below you the horseshoe lake in front of the green glimmers as the setting sun’s rays play across the surface. The crickets chirp languidly as you shield your eyes to gaze down onto the crisp emerald putting surface and see a circle of your golfing fraternity performing the ‘lining up of the putt’ ceremony.

They alternate, criss-crossing the viridescent dance floor in a succession of ritualistic choreographed patterns handed down from generation to generation. It’s like watching some ancient gavotte or floral dance as they take their turns with their putters, bow to the flag and move slowly, gracefully around the green stepping nimbly over invisible lines. Slowly they reach the climax of the ceremony and you faintly hear a set of orchestrated incantations and hexes; “eyes over the ball”, “eyes over the ball”, “accelerate the clubhead”, “accelerate the clubhead”, “never up, never in”, “never up, never in”.

As the gentle breeze carries the last cry of the congregation into the light of the waiting clubhouse you make a mistake; you start to think.

You’ve had a decent round and you know you really should be enjoying this. Your swing’s been excellent for the seventeen holes so far. You’ve putting solidly all afternoon up to this point. So, why is it then that all you can think about is the passage in ‘The Right Stuff’ where Alan Shephard is waiting for lift off on the Apollo moon mission. He’s not thinking about the excitement, or even the danger of 7.5 million tons of thrust being generated beneath him. All he’s thinking as he lies waiting for lift off is “Please, Dear God, don’t let me mess this up. Please, Dear God, don’t let me mess this up.” (I paraphrase).

You take a deep breath and repeat this mantra to Jesus, Mary, Buddha, Parsvanatha, Tyche, Hectate, Dagda, Ganesh, Confucious, Allah and your Guardian Angel. There are two scenarios playing in your mind. In the first scenario you hit your 6 iron a mile in the air and it drops like a stone eight feet past the flag, bounces once and spins back to crawls slowly down the green inching toward the flag. It seems to be going in but suddenly stops. “Bad luck” you hear. In the second scenario you clear the pond by an inch. It bounces forward onto the green then spins back slowly, slowly into the enticing, alluring, watery hell. “Oh bad luck” you still hear.

But it’s not really bad luck, is it? Many would argue that it’s karma. This would teach that similar actions will lead to similar results; Buddhists would say, “Good actions lead to happy states”; Wiccans would tell you, “The harm you do returns to you threefold”; The Beatles would sing, “The love you make is equal to the love you take”; Confusians would pronounce, “What you do not want done to you, do not do to others.”; and many Christians would chip in (excuse the pun) with “What goes around, comes around”.

One of the few people who would disagree with this assessment would be Richard Dawkins. Richard Dawkins is not a big fan of luck, or God for that matter. He’s the ultimate “You make your own luck in this world“type of guy. Richard, should he be on the eighteenth tee with you would encourage you to spend less time praying to Fudo, Fortuna, Bastet and Saint Andrew, and more time considering the club/ball interaction where the energy of the club is transferred to the ball by the mass of the clubhead + the velocity (speed + direction) of the swing and the ball’s flight through the air in terms of the angle of the shot (taking into account the air pressure as it leaves the club (not forgetting, hopefully, the resultant change in pressure (and temperature)) and travels over land, water and land again before gently dropping on the putting surface).

Now you hear the voices of the modern day’s gurus, “Stay in the zone”, “Visualise”, “Take one shot at a time”, “Stay in the moment”, “Be of the game not in the game”. Oh no this is getting confusing. Stop. Relax. Breathe. Be positive. Calm. Seek Nirvana.

You breathe. You place the ball on the tee peg and step back. You pick up some grass and throw it into the air, yet have no idea where it comes down. You’re operating on automatic now. You take a few perfect practice swings touch the lucky rabbit’s foot in your pocket and step forward to take the shot.

The next thing you know it’s on the green, three feet from the hole. You have no idea how it got there. Your mind has been a total blank. Tiger Woods could have stepped up to you, taken your club, hit the ball and walked away and you would not have known. In fact you wouldn’t really care. All you can see now is your ball on the green.

After your partners have hit you walk nonchalantly down the path trying to pretend that you do this sort of thing every day. As you step onto the green and repair your pitch mark you notice that the putt’s a little downhill, and instead of three feet it’s grown to six feet. You make a mistake. You start to think.

Real Rules for Real Golfers

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There is very little written down about how golfers should really conduct themselves on a golf course, which seems strange. There are books, dvds, computer games on all other aspects of golf – swinging the club, chipping from 76 yards, putting from 12.7 yards on a North West facing slope, playing out of bunkers containing a particular sand mix,etc.

There are even a number of books on that most bizarre of topics; golf etiquette – with hundreds of things to do or not to do –

don’t fire a gun on your opponents backswing,

shake hands even though it’s killing you inside,

say ‘good shot’ when your opponent’s duffed a chip and bounced backward from a rake to within 2 feet.

Yet nothing apart from the most inane “keep up with the group in front”, on how you actually conduct yourself on the golf course to avoid slow play……… until now…..

Real rules for real golfers …

Rule 1 – Turn up on time, ie turn up 25 minutes early. You need this time to…

a) put your ball on the first tee … to indicate you’re next in the queue

b) get ALL your stuff out of the car… trolley, bag, clubs, tees, pencil….

c) put bag on trolley

d) mess about with trolley battery

e) get tees from bottom of bag (remind yourself to put tees in better place after round today)

f) get least crinkled, driest ‘monkey’s paw’ glove from bottom of bag (remind yourself ………..)

g) saunter confidentially to first tee

h) go back to the car to get your pitchmark repairer

i) walk back to first tee more briskly

j) go back to the car when your mobile phone rings embarrassing you

k) creep back to first tee

l) verbally abuse group in front of you with traditional taunts about not being shy about calling you through when they’ve lost 2 holes

m) prepare and practice – take 3 practice swings and put club back in bag

n) put down mental markers with your playing partners – “I haven’t touched a club for 3 weeks”, “my back’s been playing up”, “My handicap’s down to 19 but I’m nowhere near that”

o) go back to car for golf shoes

p) sprint back from car running verbal abuse gauntlet of jibes from other golfers as your playing partners tee off

q) slice first drive into trees

As the round starts;

It’s slightly misleading of me to say that it will take 2 hours for a round as this is for 1 person. For a group of 4 I guess it will take 8 hours – Well sometimes it feels like that. There is a major, major internal mindshift golfers need to take here – Playing golf involves parallel process, not a serial process. You play golf at the same time as your playing partners – not after your partners.

OK, OK I know what you’re saying but basically I’m correct. As your partners are playing their shots – you should be preparing – pause long enough, of course, to watch where they hit it and praise / heckle /commiserate accordingly but it really should take nearer to 2 hours to play than 8 – shouldn’t it?

You play golf on your own – in a way – what your partners do shouldn’t often affect you – so you need to focus on your own game and conduct and be a little selfish.

Tips for being a little selfish

a) look for your own ball at the same time as others look for theirs. Don’t react like a bunch of 5 year olds playing football and swarm around each ball in turn.

b) prepare your shot even if you are about the same distance from the hole. Of course the furthest-away person hits first but you should then be ready to hit – especially if you are wider than your partners – it should be practically instantaneous

c) line up putts at the same time as your partners – unless you’re a professional and earn your living doing this – if you are putting to win the Ryder Cup then perhaps I’ll allow a little more latitude. If there’s a silence on the green and people are looking at you and you say “On me?” you deserve to have your ball stood on the next time your opponent passes it in the rough.

Positioning on the golf course, or course management as it’s often called, is vital to the game of golf. By this I don’t mean that nonsense of getting the ball on the correct side of the fairway or leaving an uphill putt – unless you’re off scratch I believe hitting a fairway or leaving yourself a putt are as much as you could dream of.

Tips on positioning /green play and generalities

a) put your bag in a sensible position. It should be placed on the edge of the green in the direction nearest the point where you leave the green to advance to the next tee. No-one preparing their approach shot wants to see the situation on the green ahead where a golfer puts the flag in then does a funny run and apologetic wave as he (and it will be a he) moves to the front of the green then has to pull his trolley around the green to catch up with his sensible playing partners.

b) if you’re lucky enough to be the first in your group to hole your putt first grab the flag and be quiet. Do not offer advise on the speed, slope, wetness, firmness of the green as others try to concentrate.

c) mark your card on the next tee – do not EVER, EVER, EVER stand on the green looking down the fairway pointing at various invisible marks mouthing 1… 2… 3… 4 … etc.. then take your card out of a back pocket, extract a pencil from your bag, shout to your partner “How many for you?” and carefully mark the card. In this circumstance for the group behind it should be allowed, no not allowed, it should be mandatory to hit to your green and anyone hitting you should not have to count that shot.

d) stop talking and prepare to take your your shot.

e) stop talking and prepare to take your shot.

Winter Golf – Mental As Anything

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“90 % of the game is all mental – the other half is physical” – Yogi Beera

Yogi attempting to explain his philosophy to a group of non-cerebral golfers

You’re on the green at the uphill par 5 514 yard 3rd at West Mon Golf Club (the highest golf club in Great Britain). It’s blowing a gale and there’s that curious West Mon weather which is a mix of wind, rain, hail and snow. It’s like an angry, but dexterous, polar bear throwing hard rice pudding at you. It stings. You’ve hit the best driver, 3 wood, 3 wood, 3 wood and you’ve just 3 putted from 8 feet. You look at your frozen golf partners and silently ask “Why do we do it?”. They silently shrug back at you and you move to the next tee.

The mental side of Winter Golf is pretty much the same as Summer golf except that it’s magnified. It’s tough.The main problem, for me at least, seems to be an accelerated lack of confidence, and a short term memory. There’s also a concept called private logic;
The first day of Winter golf feels like you’ve never seen a golf club in your life before. Where a week ago( at least in your head) you’d hit an 8 iron to the centre of the green today you’re taking a 6 iron and still leaving it short. The logical part of your brain is saying – “hit a 5 next time. It’s obviously wetter – no run on the ball, colder air, bad lie, uphill ” yet the illogical (private logic) part of your brain would remember the 1 occasion you actually hit the green with an 8 iron and conveniently forget the dozens of times it fell short. It would argue that a 5 iron would be ridiculous and that your playing partners were all hitting 7s or 8s (irrespective of the fact that they were better golfers and still leaving their shots short).

Your mind is composed on 2 parts; logic and private logic. The logic part is well… logical. The private logic element taps in to all your private fears, insecurities, doubts.

For instance, setting aside the shot selection angle for a minute and turning to the condition of the course. Winter golf conditions vary considerably. Some days it’s frosty, the next day it’s raining – the same drive can go 290 yards with a good bounce and a following wind one day – then sink into the soft mud at 200 yards on another day. You know this and your logical part of your bran knows this. However your private logic part of your head still goes through the stages of change; immobilisation, denial, anger, bargaining, depression ………

As I said at the beginning everything is magnified. An 80 yard pitch to the green that would be fairly routine (to think about, not execute) in Summer is a potential nightmare in Winter. In Summer you’d select a club, aim for a spot on the green, swing the club, miss the spot, miss the green and trudge after the ball. In Winter you think about the ground (hard, soft, normal), the green (temporary, cut up, slow) the club you choose (pitch it all the way, bounce it in). In the end you’re so busy worrying about everything you’ll concentrate so hard on getting a wedge 2 inches onto the green 3 yards up from the pin that you forget how to swing the club and end up taking an air shot.

Similarly putting – by the time you’ve worked out how much break to allow, what the wind will do, what would be the best position if you don’t make it, whether the mud is lying toward you or against you, you forget to hit it and leave it 6 feet short (which for a 5 feet putt takes some doing).

Now I’m not saying this doesn’t happen in Summer it’s just exaggerated.

The realisation I’ve finally arrived at is that Winter is not a enchanted time. Winter pixies do not sprinkle their magic Winter pixie dust over Bargoed Golf Club and reverse the principles of Nature – downhill is still downhill. The laws of physics still apply to golf balls in December. Greens that are on a slope in August are still sloping in January. The 14th is still 172 yards long.

Roll on Summer ………..

The Joys of Winter Golf

Llanbobl G.C. Winter Cup winner
Pingu putting out on par 4 with Ping putter

I finally get golf.

I understand all the mysteries of the game.

I even remember the day I achieved this state. It was the final competition of Summer 2013. I had been in a particularly relaxed frame of mind- I’d played some decent shots, some pretty poor shots- but it all seemed to fit. The ball went more or less where I wanted it to – If I hit a bad shot I ended up in a bad place. When I hit a good shot I ended up in a good place. I had reached the golfing equivalent of achieving karuna. Now if only life was as simple as this….

The following week Winter Golf began…

I’m not sure ‘Winter golf’ is the right term. It’s not really golf is it? Or ‘it’s golf Jim but not as we know it’. Perhaps we should call it something else – ‘flog’ perhaps..

The following week Winter Flog began…

In the course of 7 days the golf course had changed from a pristine, emerald, slightly undulating, tightly mown, interesting, tree-lined, water-featured, offering a different challenge on every hole, sandy bunkered and undulating (oops already said that), slick, challenging, but fair greens into a scene resembling the trenches from World War I. There were temporary greens, temporary tees, temporary everything. There were 487 new rules all designed to stop you hitting the ball, and a totally new attitude to go with it. A week ago there was a riotous rabble of jolly chaps and smiley ladies laughing and having such a hoot of a time. Now this was real male, manly, macho time. The testosterone was so intense you could sense that the neural areas of the brain the metabolites were influencing changing patterns of behaviour due to increased neural connectivity and neurochemical characterization.

Winter Macho Flog had begun…

It doesn’t help that this the golf club is at the top end of the Rhymney valley, feels slightly further north than the North Frigid Zone, is 29,030 feet above sea level and colder than a mother-in-law’s love (oops sorry).

There was a time when I was a big, big fan of 365 days a year golf. I even played in the ultimate macho competition – The Winter League – ‘Cock of the North’ as it was called, which summed it up on so many levels. One of the many, many rules of the league was that you had to play on a Sunday morning – whatever the weather – or forfeit the match ( and feel the shame and derision of not playing). The only way out of this was if you and your partner and your opponents mutually agreed to call it off and call it a draw. The winners of the Cock of the North and the club poker champions were invariably the same pair;

Scene – 8:28 on a Sunday morning in the clubhouse looking out at a blizzard;

“I really fancy it today.”

“Me too. I had an early night and whacked down a load of vitamins so look out today.”

“Me too. I love it when it’s nice and fresh.”

“Bracing”

“I find I play better with a touch of frost bite in my fingers – helps my putting.”

pause…..

“Let’s call it a draw and I’ll get the first round”

“Agreed”

“Agreed”

“Brandy for me.”

……………………………. happy days

But non-league Winter golf is supposed to be fun. When you’re teeing off from a rectangle the size of a small face flannel it’s not too much fun. When you’re slipping around in the mud like Bambi on ice it’s not the best feeling. It has prompted one of the best retorts I’d heard on a course though. After getting harangued for putting his opening drive out of bounds a colleague was heard to remark that it was because he had a bad lie on the tee.

However, you eventually succeed in getting your drive away and march resolutely after it praying it’s in the rough or 151 yards from the green. Because (and I’m not sure how universal this is) in our club if you’re 150 yards or less away from the flag you must play off Winter mats. These abominations ( and yes I know all the arguments about why we use them) are the most annoying piece of gold equipment since tassels on the front of golf shoes, and just as useful. They are roughly 2 feet long, 1 foot wide, six inches thick and curled up at the edges like a 3 day old cheese and lettuce sandwich. To be honest it’s easier to play out of a bunker.

You reach the ‘green’. Green it ain’t. The dictionary describes green as;

  1. The hue of that portion of the visible spectrum lying between yellow and blue, evoked in the human observer by radiant energy with wavelengths of approximately 490 to 570 nanometers; any of a group of colours that may vary in lightness and saturation and whose hue is that of the emerald or somewhat less yellow than that of growing grass; one of the additive or light primaries; one of the psychological primary hues.” ,

i.e. a colour

or b “ The culmination of a golf hole, where the flagstick and cup are located and where a golfer will “putt out” to end the hole. The area of closely cropped grass surrounding each hole.

i.e. a green

Well green the colour it definitely is not – more a greyish, reddish, blacky-brown and ‘an area of closely cropped grass” – I don’t think so either. It’s like trying to putt on a field that has been ploughed by an angry farmer with a team of heavy, drunk shire horses.

However this is only part of the problem – the physical. Mentally….. next time………..

You’re on the green at the uphill par 5 514 yard 3rd at West Mon Golf Club (the highest golf club in Great Britain). It’s blowing a gale and there’s that curious West Mon weather which is a mix of wind, rain, hail and snow. It’s like an angry, but dexterous, polar bear throwing hard rice pudding at you. It stings. You’ve hit the best driver, 3 wood, 3 wood, 3 wood and you’ve just 3 putted from 8 feet. You look at your frozen golf partners and silently ask “Why do we do it?”. They silently shrug back at you and you move to the next tee.

The mental side of Winter Golf is pretty much the same as Summer golf except that it’s magnified. It’s tough.The main problem, for me at least, seems to be an accelerated lack of confidence, and a short term memory. There’s also a concept called private logic;
The first day of Winter golf feels like you’ve never seen a golf club in your life before. Where a week ago( at least in your head) you’d hit an 8 iron to the centre of the green today you’re taking a 6 iron and still leaving it short. The logical part of your brain is saying – “hit a 5 next time. It’s obviously wetter – no run on the ball, colder air, bad lie, uphill ” yet the illogical (private logic) part of your brain would remember the 1 occasion you actually hit the green with an 8 iron and conveniently forget the dozens of times it fell short. It would argue that a 5 iron would be ridiculous and that your playing partners were all hitting 7s or 8s (irrespective of the fact that they were better golfers and still leaving their shots short).

Your mind is composed on 2 parts; logic and private logic. The logic part is well… logical. The private logic element taps in to all your private fears, insecurities, doubts.

For instance, setting aside the shot selection angle for a minute and turning to the condition of the course. Winter golf conditions vary considerably. Some days it’s frosty, the next day it’s raining – the same drive can go 290 yards with a good bounce and a following wind one day – then sink into the soft mud at 200 yards on another day. You know this and your logical part of your bran knows this. However your private logic part of your head still goes through the stages of change; immobilisation, denial, anger, bargaining, depression ………

As I said at the beginning everything is magnified. An 80 yard pitch to the green that would be fairly routine (to think about, not execute) in Summer is a potential nightmare in Winter. In Summer you’d select a club, aim for a spot on the green, swing the club, miss the spot, miss the green and trudge after the ball. In Winter you think about the ground (hard, soft, normal), the green (temporary, cut up, slow) the club you choose (pitch it all the way, bounce it in). In the end you’re so busy worrying about everything you’ll concentrate so hard on getting a wedge 2 inches onto the green 3 yards up from the pin that you forget how to swing the club and end up taking an air shot.

Similarly putting – by the time you’ve worked out how much break to allow, what the wind will do, what would be the best position if you don’t make it, whether the mud is lying toward you or against you, you forget to hit it and leave it 6 feet short (which for a 5 feet putt takes some doing).

Now I’m not saying this doesn’t happen in Summer it’s just exaggerated.

The realisation I’ve finally arrived at is that Winter is not a enchanted time. Winter pixies do not sprinkle their magic Winter pixie dust over Bargoed Golf Club and reverse the principles of Nature – downhill is still downhill. The laws of physics still apply to golf balls in December. Greens that are on a slope in August are still sloping in January. The 14th is still 172 yards long.

Roll on Summer ………..

 

In Defence of the High Handicapper

Relaxing in the bar after a tough, but profitable, first round

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 the end of winter bash we use to reward ourselves for those dark, dingy, tough, early Saturday morning rounds. Keith 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 valleys feeling of crampdness. Perhaps it’s to do with the shape of the valleys. Whatever the reason there is limited space and tees and greens are pushed back to the edges of the courses. With this comes the feeling of not being able to swing properly. The Rolls has space, lots of space, too much space. It’s nerve racking. It’s almost agoraphobic to a Welsh valley’s 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.)

An aside:
Advice given to high handicapper – “Learning to play golf is a steep learning curve”.
Not really. The concept of a learning curve to me implies a steady climb getting better each month until you reach some sort of peak. This, as any high handicapper will tell you, is absolute nonsense. Learning to play golf well is more like a cross section of Lance Armstrong’s route in the tour de France. There are a selection of highs (consistent shots, rounds without air shots, occasional pars) followed by horrendous lows (hacking along a fairway as if you’re tacking into the wind, 4 putting, playing 5 off the tee). It’s far from a smooth curve.

So, on the tee, 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?”
“El bandito.”
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.
“Cut him.”
“I played with the handicap sec once and hit a shot like that and by the ninth I was cut 3 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. You may have to give them ½ a shot a hole, but for that privilege you get grief if you hit a tee shot straight, abuse for hitting an approach shot on the green and practical decapitation for holing any putt over 6 feet. The air shots, miscues and slices are conveniently ignored. Low handicappers seem to be less bothered.
Still, I have a fantastic morning – get cut too shots for scoring 37 points in the morning, play like a polar bear wearing boxing gloves that are too big for him in the afternoon and everyone goes away happy… roll on next year.

Golfers, Goats and Rituals

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Sitting Tenant on Path to 14th Tee, West Mon

On the tee at the par 3 18th at Dewstow Golf Club I reached for a 7 iron. This was the first time I’d played the course but on meticulous investigation of the yardage (card), the wind (finger in air) and slope (downhill) I thought a 7 iron was perfect. I noticed my playing partner (a life long member at this club and a hitter of similar distance to me) reaching for an 8.

I put my 7 iron away and hit the 8. I was 10 yards short. My playing partner hit an 8 and was also 10 years short.

“I’m always short on this hole” he muttered as we walked after our balls.

Golfers are creatures of habit. We obey sets of regular, repeated behaviour often for no other reason than we’ve always done it – I leave a drop of tea in my cup even though I haven’t used tea leaves for 20 years, I read the newspaper from the back to the front even though the sports pages have long since moved to a special section of their own. I put 3 long tees and 3 short tees in my pocket at the start of each round. I always hit driver on the 8th – I think it’s the law.

“A golfer has more rituals than a catholic priest.” I’ve heard.

Consider this; the parable of the quiz show, the car and the 2 goats.

On a tv quiz show there are 3 prizes – 2 goats and a car. There are 3 doors in the studio and behind each door is either a goat or a car. The contestant chooses one of the doors. However this door does not get opened immediately. Instead the host of the show, who knows where all the prizes are, will give the contestant more information and allows them to change your mind, if they want to. The extra information you get is your host opens one of the doors not chosen to reveal a goat.

The intriguing question now is “Should the contestant stick with their original choice of door or change their mind?”

The initial thought may be that this seems ridiculous – surely your first choice should stay as you’ve a 1 in 3 chance of winning…. surely it can’t make any difference?

However it does and you should. You should change your mind and you’ll have a better chance of winning. Let me explain;

There are 3 doors – A B and C. Assume the car is behind Door A .
This means there are 3 possibilities;

1.You choose Door A. The host reveals the goat at Door B. If you now change your mind and choose Door C you only win a goat.

2.You choose Door B. The host reveals the goat at Door C. If you now change your mind and choose Door A you win the car.

3.You choose Door C. The host reveals the goat at Door B. If you now change your mind and choose Door A you win the car.

If you keep Door A you will only win a car 1/3 of the time.

The situation has changed. A few minutes ago at the beginning of the exercise you had a 1 in 3 chance of selecting the door with the car behind it. Now with the additional information there is a 2 in 3 chance.

OK – it’s a little contrived but the principle is the same – if you get more information don’t ignore it – reassess. Often I see players wandering off to chip with a wedge and find a bad lie. Instead of walking back to their back for a sand wedge they’ll try a ridiculous shot with the wedge then moan for the rest of the round. Or players will see their playing partners leave their putts short and will then hit their own putt short,and moan about it for the rest of the round. If things change – reassess and change with them.

 

Don’t Be Like Dai

David (not Dai) Kolb
David (not Dai) Kolb’s learning Cycle

Henry Cotton, talking about British Open Champion, Harry Vardon;
“He would not play any course twice in the same day. Why not? Because he was so accurate, that in his second round, his shots finished in the divot holes he had made in the morning, and that took the fun out of the game.”

Unless you’re Harry Vardon I guess you may need to get better;

“You can’t teach me anything about golf I’ve been playing it for 30 years.”
“Really?”
“That’s right. I’ve got 30 years experience.”

I suspect that Dai may be incorrect. I suspect that his 16 handicap is not the result of 30 years of experience but 1 year’s’ experience repeated 30 times coupled with the mathematical certainty that on a handful of occasions in those 30 years many of this better shots and his luck coincided in a beautiful day that resulted in a dramatic cut in his handicap – too harsh?

I think not. I think David Kolb (author of ‘Socrates In The Labyrinth: Hypertext, Argument, Philosophy’ exploring the nature of argument in linear and hypertextual space) would agree as well.
His (David’s not Dai’s) model of how we learn recognises that we have to do more than have an experience to learn anything;

New player on course to partner, “What do you hit from here?”
Experienced club member, “I generally hit a 4 iron.”
New player, “Well I hit the same distance as you so I’ll hit a 4.”
He hits a 4 iron short into the bunker.
New player “I thought you said you hit a 4 iron?”
Experienced club member, “I do and I always end up in the same bunker as you’re in.”

David Kolb believes you have to reflect after having had the experience – or the 90 little experiences that make up Dai’s game of golf. Reflecting is the key. For professionals it’s the job of the player, the coach, psychologist, nutritionist and manager to analyse everything about the game. For the likes of us it’s the 5 seconds thinking after we’ve hit a shot, the 2 minutes waiting on the tee, the 10 minutes in the car on the drive home and the 5 minutes before we go to sleep at night. My gut reaction is that we don’t have a particularly structured approach to this aspect of our game. The analysis may well be along the lines of “Sliced it again”, or “Couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo today”. I suspect Ian Poulter’s coaches would be more specific.

Reflecting and then drawing a conclusion from this is not as stifled, serious and difficult as it appears. To some extent we all do this, even Dai. On the first green if we hit it 20 feet past we’ll generally hit the putt coming back 5 feet short. At least we’re learning. The next hole is better and by the 18th we’ve just about got the pace of the greens ( A learning point here may be to have 36 putts of the putting green before we go out).

Apart from the putting though there’s little reflecting we do, and even less analysis and even lesser (not a real word I know) trying something different. We tend to adjust to our faults or rationalise them rather than try to change them;

Having gone through a phase of slicing the ball on every tee shot I starting aiming further and further left until I was practically aiming at my playing partners.

Dai always ends up in the bunker on the 10th ; “At least I get plenty of practice playing out of bunkers” – never any thought of changing.

To improve your game you need to learn. This means you need to reflect, conclude and DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT. If you know you can’t reach the green with a 3 iron – hit a 3 wood. I know you’ll occasionally mess up and have a disaster but at least you’re trying something new and learning. It will be uncomfortable; “If you’re not churning, you’re not learning” is pretty much a truism. Constantly hitting a 3 iron short isn’t developing your game. Don’t end up like Dai.

Perhaps more importantly after a round take a little time to think about it. How did you play? What worked? What didn’t? Where did you lose the shots? Approach play?Putting? Driving? Work on this. I don’t mean spend 5 hours every evening on the putting green each evening, but just think about it. There was an experiment carried out by Dr. Blaslotto at the University of Chicago. He split people into three groups and tested each group on how many free throws they could make. The first group practised free throws every day for an hour. The second group just visualized themselves making free throws. The third group did nothing. After 30 days, he tested them again; the first group improved by 24%, the second group improved by 23% without touching a basketball and the third group did not improve at all.

So, theoretically you could improve your golf by just thinking about it. I believe that’s true to some extent. Very often we can’t see what’s happening when we’re involved in it – we can’t see the wood for the trees to use a cliché. If you can work out what’s going wrong you can, at least, know where to start fixing it. As Einstein defined, “If you keep doing what you’ve always been doing again and again and expect a different result – that’s insanity.”

Try something different.

Change is Uncomfortable

Change is Uncomfortable

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 including the always memorable – “If you’re not churning, you’re not learning”, “you’ve got to get worse to get better” – “you can give a man a fish and feed him for a day,but if you give him a golf club he will learn to feed himself forever”, or something like that

A useful model 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 remind you 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, to the lesson. 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 – well finish fairly straight as I tend to aim thirty yards left of the fairway and it would (fade / cut) back onto the fairway (occassionally) not very long but straightish. Now I’m being told to discard all those comfortable feelings and start again. It really did feel uncomfortable and 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 3 wood and stood next to a 12 year old girl 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 action 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 (well almost).