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Archive for March, 2011

John Hawkins, the bad boy golf writer and commentator, said the other day that he didn’t want to live in the past,  commenting on Johnny Miller’s remarks that there were more players who could close the deal on Sunday back in the day, namely his day.  Hawkins didn’t want to  look back at golf history (“I’m tired of living in the past,” he barked), but golf is all about history. Present day players perform with the past shadowing them, and those who ignore the past strip their game of perspective and inspiration. One of the greatest icons of golf history is still with us: The King, Arnold Palmer. When I was a kid there was a phenomenon known as Arnie’s Army: The King’s Army. Fans couldn’t get enough of this guy who hit it a mile, not caring particularly where it went. He’d then dig it out of whatever dirt he landed and pull off shots only Hollywood could dream of. Arnie twisted his head, tugged at his pants, and flexed his artillery arms like Rocky Marciano going for the kill. In 1960, seven shots behind Mike Souchak at Cherry Hills starting the final round of the U.S. Open, Arnie, with his Army close behind, drove the green on the 346 yard first hole (more…)

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Watching the Accenture Match Play tournament a few weeks ago, I was struck with one of the essential elements of golf: Competition. Whether you’re playing in a friendly weekend foursome or The Masters, golfers want to beat other golfers. Even if you’re playing alone, you want to beat the course or the diabolical architect who designed it or your best score. I’m not talking final score either, although in a club, junior, or USGA tournament that’s important; I’m talking about individual drives, approach shots, chips, bunker shots, and putts. We want to outdo each other. I won’t show it, but down under the skin, I’m annoyed when my 73 year old golf buddy, Steve,outdrives me, and when he birdies a hole to my bogey, I’ll congratulate him, but I’m not at all happy for him. I know this is quite un-Buddhist of me as Buddhists eschew competition and envy, but it must be part of my genetic makeup. My Dad was a pretty decent amateur boxer, and my brother Hank played ball just behind Wilt Chamberlain at Overbrook High in Philly.

In fact, I don’t even like it when someone out-meditates me. I want to be the best student, lasting the longest (made it to 17 hours once on a retreat), and being the most equanimous. I come across as being a mellow fellow but down deep, I want to prevail in competitive situations. In meditation, it’s not cool to admit this, although I’ve observed this competitive tendency in other practitioners, particularly in touting their meditative cred. But in golf, it’s prevalent in most players I’ve observed, men and women.

To embrace this element of competitiveness adds an edge to the game that for amateurs gives a taste of what the pros experience. Competition is the reason most of us can’t take our progress at the range to the course. It translates into pressure which translates into tension which translates into a topped seven iron that came out of nowhere. But competition and the pressure that follows are also what makes us want to improve.

The best antidote for pressure that arises out of competition is to (more…)

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One of my favorite courses, Adobe Creek in Petaluma, recently went  belly up bankrupt, and I understand that’s a trend throughout the country. It was a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design that was thoughtfully laid out, and drained rain like a bathtub. This consummately playable course is now lying fallow. Sad to see. Golf courses are forms of art, as buildings and gardens are forms of art. You can tell when care went into the design of a golf course. The course itself is a living thing, shaped by the designer’s eye ,hand, and spirit. You have to have a feel for the land, a feeling for its essence. The land can’t be bullied, or grossly bulldozed. The land prescribes the course. The course is within the land as a sculpture is already inside the block of marble in the hands of a master.

A golf course is a combination of form and function, choreographed into art with a purpose. And that purpose is threefold: (more…)

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Back in the day before The Day, we didn’t have GPS devices or rangefinders to estimate the distance of our next shot. At best we had some yardage markers, but at the muni I learned the game on in Philly, even those were few and, literally, far between. We had to use experience, mostly, and our memories to pick the right club for the approach, or to choose driver or three wood if Cobbs Creek was within reach. A lot of times we were wrong, but much of the time we got it right with our blades and persimmon heads and steel shafts and wrapped leather grips and a ball that soon had more smiles than a beauty queen. It was a badge of honor to look at an approach shot and land it pin high. All in the foursome knew what it took to accomplish that feat. As a caddie in my teens at a private club, I had to know something about distances when I handed my man a club and went on to fore-caddie (we made four bucks a bag back then, and carried double).

Today, it’s a different story–a much different story. We’ve got GPS devices that give distances to the front, middle, and back of the green, water hazards, bunkers, and what it takes to reach and carry them; rangefinders that give exact yardage (more…)

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