“Golf Without Fear?” Where’s the fun in that?
February 25, 2011
I love playing the golf course at Shawnee Country Club, but sometimes the golf course doesn’t love me.
One of my most daunting challenges at the Milford layout is the par-4 sixth hole.
There’s a deep, dark, often wet forest on the left, separated from the green by a sizable slope that will bounce errant approach shots even further into the woods.
As a result, I favor the right side on my second shots, but that can also lead to trouble. It’s really not that hard to push the shot too far wide right, putting a gaping bunker between your ball and the green. In addition, the green slopes away toward the woods on the left, so any skulled shot across the bunker and onto the green has a better than even chance of disappearing completely.
Furthermore, the turf just beyond the right side bunker is sometimes a tad thin, if not outright hardpan.
Isn’t golf fun sometimes?
This situation at Shawnee CC combines two of the most feared golf shots players face, for both the professional and amateur ranks. Don’t take my word for it—that’s what short-game guru Dave Pelz says in his newest instructional book, Golf Without Fear: How to Play the Ten Most Feared Shots in Golf with Confidence, (Gotham Books; $40.00 SRP).
Pelz, a well-known former NASA engineer, has gathered extensive data to support his suggested improvements for golfers. He popularized the idea that golfers should make their approach putts roll 17 inches past the hole if they miss, to eliminate the “doughnut hole” effect that can deflect a slower-rolling attempt.
Not “about a foot and a half,” not “more than a foot,” but 17 inches.
That is a good example of the engineering mindset, both at work and at play.
I can’t fault Pelz’s approach to his data, but I think he sometimes he errs on the side of being too precise.
Nonetheless, there’s a lot to like about this book, not least of which is Pelz’s earnest approach to the subject matter. You have the feeling that he really, really wants golfers to have more fun, by learning how to overcome some of the common situations in which they find themselves.
In addition to tight lies (Third) and short flops over bunkers (Eighth) here are the other eight “most feared” golf shots, in ascending order: Lag putting, balls up against walls or tree stumps, hitting through trees, buried lies in the sand, high cut-lob shots, downhill lies, greenside sand, and short putts.
Many Cape Region golfers would agree that at least a few of these challenges are ones for which they could use a little more help, if not skill.
Pelz’ approach to each of these cases is the same. First, he provides an analysis of the problem, and why it can be so troublesome. Then he discusses the fundamental golf motions involved in making the shot work, and why golfers sometimes fail. Pelz then gives his preferred solution to the problem, often accompanied by a few alternatives.
The next part of the Pelz program shows how to develop your skills to match the solution in a relaxed, backyard environment, sometimes but not always using a Pelz company device or two. Finally, Pelz describes how to go from his backyard familiarization and practice routine, out to the practice range, and eventually out onto the course.
The book is peppered with photographs, including what he calls the “Golfer’s-Eye View™” of each of these ten situations. Viewing these photos as intended often involves holding the book at an angle, while turning one’s head in the opposite direction. It sounds goofy, and also looks it a bit, but you can actually see what Pelz is driving at, if you give these photographs a chance.
This book should be useful for golfers returning to the game after the winter break. Pelz’s suggestions are certainly worth checking out, either alone or with the help of your friendly local PGA golf professional.
LPGA veteran pens fond Hogan Memoir
Feb 18, 2011
Among all of the biographies, sports stories and columns written about the famous Ben Hogan, one of his personality traits stood out.
This was not a man who could be easily approached.
The Scots, who thrilled to his 1953 British Open win at St. Andrews, reportedly called the thin, 5-foot-8-inch Texan the “wee ice mon.” It wasn’t because he preferred to drink his whiskey on the rocks.
Hogan’s legendary stoicism on the course allegedly carried through to his relations with other players, the gallery and the media.
As Curt Sampson noted in his fine biography of Hogan, the man had good reason to be taciturn at best and cold at worst. As a boy he’d watched his father commit suicide. That is bound to affect one’s psyche.
In retirement from professional golf, but while still the head of his Hogan Golf equipment company, Hogan was also famous for his daily routine, which included a light lunch at Shady Oaks Country Club in Fort Worth, followed by a little practice session on occasion.
In the mid-1980s, however, Hogan’s never-shifting schedule received a jolt, in the form of a vivacious young Texas Christian University golf team player named Kris Tschetter.
She’d finagled her way onto Shady Oaks as a convenient place to practice, spending hours on the range. Tschetter knew not to bother Hogan, but with the innocence of youth she didn’t realize how she might nonetheless affect the old man when he would see her practicing.
One thing led to another, and the South Dakota collegian’s natural charm eventually won over the aging golf star. The two soon began what became a noteworthy, unusual and mutually rewarding friendship that lasted until Hogan’s eventual demise in 1997.
Tschetter eventually went on to a successful career as a popular player on the LPGA, urged on and occasionally quietly coached by Hogan.
She recently joined with Steve Eubanks to write a fond memoir of her time with the golfing legend, “Mr. Hogan, The Man I Knew”, (Gotham Books, $22.50 SRP).
The young woman dealt with Hogan in ways that must have appealed to him. Tschetter was respectful, but didn’t push him into giving her lessons. From all accounts, she never tried to trade on her relationship with Hogan, most likely another major plus. She loved to practice, as he did. She also apparently loved to tease him, something her more awestruck elders would never do. It turns out that Hogan loved to tease her right back.
Tschetter also didn’t know enough about Hogan’s actual competitive history to be overcome in his presence, certainly at the beginning of their time together. However, she also knew enough to appreciate the special relationship they had.
As one reads through the stories about practice sessions and their other times together, one likely explanation for the relationship begins to make a lot of sense. Hogan had no children of his own. Tschetter came into his life at a time when that fact may have hit him harder than before.
Here was this pretty young golfer, as ready to tease as to be teased, seemingly unfazed by his history, and whom Hogan could see had the talent to make it as a professional, with a little help. The old man gained a substitute granddaughter in the bargain, whom he clearly came to love in his own way.
Tschetter also gives her own explanation for why Hogan acted as distant and unapproachable to others as legend had it. People who become celebrities have to find their own way to be comfortable with themselves and the potentially incessant demands of their admirers. Hogan put up this shield, as she sees it, so as to draw a line between his public persona and his private life.
This is a charming little memoir.
Tschetter knows how lucky she was to have spent so much time with Hogan and does a nice job of conveying that fact to the readers. It is also readily apparent that Hogan enjoyed his own rewards for befriending this young, unassuming golfer.
The King’s Speech and a master of English
February 11. 2011
This year’s Oscar movie award nominations are out, and “The King’s Speech” is a prohibitive favorite to win several major categories, and a few others, besides.
The story describes the challenges faced and eventually overcome by the eventual George VI, whose crippling stammer didn’t mean that much when his brother Edward ascended to the throne. The speech impediment became a critical matter for George and Great Britain when Edward abdicated, and George had to take his place.
The new king is played by Colin Firth, better known in our house as Mr. Darcy, and his remarkable wife, the eventual Queen Mother, is played by the charming Helena Bonham Carter.
And what, you may ask, does this have to do with golf? It’s all a bit roundabout, but here goes.
I love hearing these two actors speak. I could be entranced by a dramatic reading of a telephone directory, if these two performed it. What I would really enjoy, however, would be a chance to hear these two actors, along with Steven Fry, doing an audiobook presentation of P.G. Wodehouse’s “Golf Omnibus” (Gramercy Books; try Amazon.com or Powell’s Books online).
Wodehouse wrote a prodigious number of humor pieces throughout a very long career. He is probably best known for his series of stories involving a hapless fop, Bertie Wooster, and his long-suffering, mentally superior butler, Jeeves.
As with that series, Wodehouse’s thirty or so golf stories in this collection also take place in the times before and immediately after World War I, or at least evoke that time effectively. A working knowledge of old golf terms such as baffie, spoon, and niblick is therefore useful. You will also encounter some now-stilted language, but if you persevere, your funny bone will be rewarded handsomely.
Many of the stories actually revolve around the oldest game, in which the fair damsel wins her man in a golf-related context.
I can easily conjure up a mental image of Firth playing Wooster, with Steven Fry reprising his role as the ever-patient Jeeves. Of course, Bonham Carter would be the damsel involved, at all times.
Until that audiobook is made, we can as least make do with the book itself, which is still available, with a little work. Reading Wodehouse is a delightful exercise in reading a master of the English tongue.
I would not, however, recommend you read this volume of short stories all the way through. As with many collections of short stories, this is a book to dip into now and again, marking off the stories as they are read and enjoyed.
Reading it straight through could produce a surprising change in your speech patterns, or set you off in search of the most recent Masterpiece Theater episode. That said, this is a book that belongs on your golf bookshelf, and deserves to be taken off that shelf and read about every year or so.
When a whiff is a stroke, and when it isn’t
A recent Ruling of the Day from the United States Golf Association raises an interesting issue of intent.
A player begins making his downswing toward his ball, but suddenly changes his mind. He can’t stop the downswing, but he does manage to swing his club above the ball instead of hitting it.
In technical golf terms, this is called a whiff.
According to the formal Decision, this particular whiff would not count as a stroke. However, if he had hit the ball, it would count as a stroke.
The ruling notes, “Any doubt regarding the player’s intent must be resolved against the player.”
What we’re left with is a difficult interpretation issue, when you’re playing someone who whiffs a swing.
After all, a whiff counts as a stroke when you meant to hit the ball. It’s just that, under normal circumstances, your lack of talent made you miss it.
This Ruling creates a loophole for those who would love to say “I meant to miss it” when the unmistakable sound of a whiff carries across the fairways.
Convincing others of that intent is up to them, however.
This column is a keeper
February 4, 2011
Every so often I think about putting together a book-length collection of the best golf columns I’vewritten, since the first one appeared here in December 1998.
And yes, I’m fully aware that some of my best friends might suggest that this book’s length would only be about the same as a short story, or something by Dr. Seuss.
That said, I wonder sometimes how ephemeral some of these pieces are, and how many of them become part of someone’s scrapbook collection of fond memories.
This week’s column has some of that same purpose, but it’s for a far more immediate cause than a noteworthy comment about someone you know.
It’s about betting.
After all, one of golf’s most alluring attributes is that there are dozens of ways to put a little sumpin’ sumpin’ on a round, in a friendly wager kind of way.
In fact, some of the Cape Region’s finest attorneys have been known to bet the occasional dollar or two, to enhance their competitive instincts on the course.
Last summer, for example, well-known Rehoboth Beach lawyer Rob Witsil called me on no less than three occasions, just as he was about to play 18 holes with similarly noteworthy local counsel Jim Fuqua and Bill Schab.
On each occasion, Witsil’s first words on the phone were the same: “Hey! Tell me how to play that three-person game again!”
On each occasion, my reply was the same: “Which one?”
A little more conversation would then take place, at which point I would remind Witsil how to play either Nines, or Monkey in the Middle.
Nines is a fun but potentially expensive way to bet and beat on each other. For each hole, a total of nine points are available. Each member of the threesome plays their own ball, off the best player’s handicap, and compares scores per hole.
A player winning outright earns five points, a player in sole second takes three, and the one bringing up the rear earns a single point. A three way tie earns three points each, and a first with two tied for second is split 5-2-2.
At the end of the round, total up the points.
If one of you is “having a bad day,” the game of Nines can really punish you, as I can attest from painful personal experience.
If you want the competition to be a lot less likely to lighten your wallet considerably, then try Monkey in the Middle instead, with two of your friends.
Each player tees off, and walks to their respective golf balls. The one in the middle of the other two is the Monkey for that hole. They all play off the best player’s handicap again,
If the Monkey’s net score is better than the other two, Monkey earns two points, and the other two each lose a point. If one or both of the other two players has the best score, they each earn a point, and the Monkey loses two points.
If the Monkey and another player (or both) tie for best on the hole, there are no points.
Monkey in the Middle points usually don’t take quite the same potential bite out of the players’ pockets that Nines can. Therefore, it’s more enjoyable for those who are either struggling a bit with their game, or, frankly, cheap.
Which reminds me. I don’t think I ever learned if Fuqua, Schab, or Witsil won those summertime matches.
In any event, this column should be clipped, laminated, and placed carefully in one of the small pockets of your golf bag for the upcoming season. Buy extra copies of the paper, and do the same for your golfing friends.
Your buddies, and the fine folks who own this newspaper, will thank you.