Lost Balls

lost-ballsThis is familiar psychological territory for golfers of all abilities, coping with the potential harrowing effect to their scorecard if the next swing goes wayward and the result is an unrequited search resulting in a lost ball.  As John Updike says in the foreword of this clever book, “this lost ball represents two strokes, and two extra strokes could mean the hole and even, if could be, the match, the entire outing, the day itself.”

In a very creative photographic collection Charles Lindsay has brought life to this unique aspect of our game in a book called “Lost Balls-Great Holes, Tough Shots, and Bad Lies”.

It is worth it for the Updike forward alone where he eloquently frames the issues that lost balls play in our game and why it strikes such a familiar chord for us.  “The whereabouts of the ball are in a sense the key to every ball game, but the whereabouts are most picturesque in golf.  Tangles of raspberry….sandy beds of shallow little watercress-choked creeks….snake infested moonscapes of pre-Cambrian basalt…all these nasty patches of environment can play host to a misplayed golf ball.  We have all been there.”

Through his camera lens Charles Lindsay captures the wild, the innocent, and the five-minute shuffle that accompanies all of these often futile searches.  He includes images of domestic animals, wild animals, and a few upright animals against dramatic topography from Ireland to Idaho and everywhere in between.

As a bonus, Lindsay peppers it with some wonderful quotes you can repeat in your Saturday group.

Mark Twain’s politically correct:  “It’s good sportsmanship not to pick up lost golf balls while they are still rolling.”

Ullyses S. Grant: “It does look like a very good exercise.  But what is the little white ball for?”

Alan Shepard from the moon surface: “Got more dirt than ball.  Here we go again…..”

This is the ultimate coffee table book for your home or office.  Every golfing friend who picks this up will give you that twisted, knowing smile as they leaf through an assembly of engaging photos that depict disturbingly familiar circumstances from notable golf venues around the world.

Lost Balls: Great Holes, Tough Shots, and Bad Lies

Charles Lindsay (2005)

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Out Of The Rough

Out of the RoughAs you can read in this book review by Jaime Diaz of the recent biography of the caddie days of Steve Williams the book has been generally panned by the reviewing pundits as a sensationalist hanging out of Tiger Woods dirty laundry.

But Diaz does not agree with this assessment and he feels that when the reader looks beyond the few charged quotes being used by the publishers to market the book Williams actually gives a fairly balanced account of his experiences with the players he has worked for, the most famous of whom was Tiger Woods.  Diaz says of Williams,  “For all his gruffness, he’s intelligent, insightful, frank, and on his subject, extremely knowing. On balance, he’s given us an important golf book”.

Jaime Diaz is the most insightful golf writer of his generation and having read the book I see where he is coming from.  The book is a detailed compilation of Steve Williams’s interpretation of incidents and relationships with Tiger and others that we may not have previously understood for lack of transparency.  But I think Diaz overstates how important the book is as a contribution to our golf knowledge.

This is your basic “lift and tell” book which sounds like a transcript of Williams talking into a dictaphone at his kitchen table. The writing is very mundane it takes an effort to keep reading and honestly Williams is not that interesting of a subject to write about.  Williams is a smart guy, successful sportsman, and very capable caddie, no doubt he influenced the careers of a number of great players in a positive way, including Eldrick.  But like many others  before and after him, Williams was also a lacky for Tiger and Steinberg doing their bidding to protect the brand.

What I got more than anything from this read is how sterile a character Tiger is.  He was a trained automaton by his father and pretty much guided awkwardly through all his personal foibles by his agent and his handlers.  Tiger’s attitude toward the other pros, the fans, and the people whose efforts benefited his career lacks any humility or personal sensibility.

Tiger has never been, and still remains, not his own man.  For all the money and fame he just lacks the simplest interactive social skills to treat people with honesty and integrity.  I blame this on his upbringing which clearly emphasized it is always about winning and nothing else.

If there is any contribution from this book for me it is Williams accounting of Tiger behaviors while they were together that confirm Tiger’s lack of personality.  To anyone who has watched the Tiger drama unfold over the last twenty plus years this was always pretty obvious.  So I do not share with Diaz that this book is a significant add to the public knowledge and, IMHO, it may not even be a wise use of four to six hours of your reading time.

Steve Williams (2015)

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Unconscious Putting

Unconcscious PuttingAfter listening to Feherty’s interview with Dave Stockton this week I was intrigued by how little one of the greatest putters of our era had to say about putting. Well what I actually mean is how little he had to say about the mechanics or techniques of putting. So I decided to fill in the blanks by reading his 2011 signature offering on the subject called “Unconscious Putting”.

In an act of full disclosure, even though I am a self-confessed obsessive golfer I read very little instructional material on the subject. My extensive golf library has maybe 8 books that involve golf instruction and none of them were published after 1975.

I gave up my subscription to Golf Digest about 20 years ago because the magazine was all resort ads or those one page instructional caricatures with doozies like “for proper posture on a bunker shot imagine you are standing on the sidewalk and someone is dropping a sack of potatoes to you from the first floor fire escape of a Brooklyn tenement building…….”.

My standard response to someone who asks me for swing advice on the course or the range is, “it is an act of lunacy to accept swing advice from anyone you are not paying to give it to you” .

Which is probably why I found Stockton’s book so intriguing. There are only a handful of putting drills mentioned in the book. In 90 pages of text there are almost no professed must-do putting mechanics that are emphasized. He provides no metrics for swing length, swing path, or cadence of a stroke. The closest he gets to putting minutiae is waffling on whether it is acceptable to leave a putt 16 or 18 inches past the hole. If you are the type who is only satisfied when every box on the New York Times Crossword Puzzle is filled in this book is probably not for you.

His core assertion is ”Unconscious Putting involves learning how to accurately see the optimum line that a putt should take to the hole and giving yourself a consistent pre-putt routine that lets you preserve that visualization and roll the ball on your intended line”.
This should be the focus of all your practice time and pre-round preparation.

That is pretty much it though he does provide eight chapters to emphasize and support this thesis. He suggests that about 50% of your practice time should be on building a sound repeatable pre-shot process for ascertaining the proper line for a putt. The rest of it should be spent building a confident stroke that can roll your ball on the intended line. There is plenty in the book on learning to read greens properly, refining your pre-shot routine to make it efficient and serve the Unconscious Putting axiom, and managing your emotions so that your putting can be productive and fun.

As to putting mechanics he has no preferences or biases. It is only a 36 to 48 inch swing from end to end so how much mechanics can be involved in it. He feels that If you can deliver the club face to square of the intended line and two inches past it you can pretty much do it with any grip, swing path, swing length, cadence, or putter, for that matter, that works for you. Trusting your inner putting zen is very important to Unconscious Putting.

He is not in favor of spending hours on the putting green hitting the same length putt over and over. He says, “you should never practice with more than two balls at a time and you need to change up the length and break of the putts after every sequence of two putts”. Stockton says that of all of the instruction he has ever gotten on putting “90% of it has been on the mental side-maintaining my routine, staying positive, believing I would make every putt, and not blaming myself when the ball didn’t go into the hole”.

On this last point he gives the example of Nicklaus who he says believes he never missed a putt when the tournament was on the line. Truth is he missed his share but to his credit he never carried the misses with him after the fact. His miss amnesia ability was instrumental to his putting success in major events. I heard a teaching pro recently say to his student during a putting lesson, pick your line, put a good stroke on it on the intended line, and if it doesn’t go in blame the green superintendent.

This is a book well worth reading even if you do not buy fully his emphasis on feel over putting mechanics and result analysis. Stockton has helped some of the greatest players in the game, Mickelson, Sorenstam, Tiger, and Rory, rediscover their putting Id through the philosophy fleshed out in this book. It has to help your golf game to read what Stockton has to say about unlocking “your signature stroke” and then step back and give it some air on the putting green.

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Dave Stockton (2011)
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Unplayable Lies

Unplayable LiesThe fans of the finest golf writer of the last half century, Dan Jenkins, will be pleased to know they can add a new publication, “Unplayable Lies (The Only Golf Book You’ll Ever Need)” to the Dano section of their golf library. This is a compilation of 41 essays on our sport-about half of them new writings and the rest adaptions of articles previously published in Golf Digest.

Typically such “collections” are scrap books of dated writings with a nostalgic value to the regular readers. But Jenkins is anything but typical. He adds a ream of new fodder for diehards to consume covering topical subjects like “Is Your Country Club Old or New Money”, “Titanic and I”, “Junior Golf”, and “Talking Heads” with his typical combination of wit and insight. It will have you chortling in your man cave reading chair.

In the forward his daughter Sally Jenkins, a talented and accomplished writer and author herself, captures his gift succinctly. “I reread the old work and look at the new, and what I see is a constant stripping away of pretense, and of the profligate excesses of feeling that surrounds golf….to find the truth underneath”.

A few nuggets:

Old Money vs New Money

Old Money will always have money. Three members of New Money are in the process of asking the Federal Reserve for a free drop from an unplayable lie.

The Comeback

Ian Baker-Finch was a surprise winner of the 1991 British Open at Royal Birkdale, then disappeared. When he attempted a comeback at Troon in ’97 he appeared to be a bit wild off the tee. His round consisted of 92 strokes, 4 dead, 55 injured, and 67 missing.

The New World Tour (includes)

The Socialist Paradise Invitational in Buenos Aires. The field must be limited to fifty pros who have never won a tournament of any kind and hate the capitalist societies into which they were born. All fifty will be declared winners and given equal prize money and identical trophies.

The Immigration (a team event). A team would consist of a name pro, an illegal alien, a border guard, and a member of the U.S. Senate. First prize for the winning team would be Yuma, Arizona. Second prize, Nogales.

His description of the PGA Merchandise show is priceless. It includes Putter Man’s booth. The proprietor, who could have passed as a Texas Ranger, has retrofitted classic putters into fire arms. “When the flash mobs come over the fence and onto the fairway to get your goods, you can take out the first wave by yourself”. The Bullseye is “loaded with nine-millimeter Gold Sabre 147 grain jacket hollow points. You can get thirteen hundred feet a second at the muzzle”.

Jenkin’s parody of the network vanilla Talking Heads describing the golf action will bring tears, of laughter, to your eyes. It is Jim Nance and his politically correct Pollyannaisms leaping off the page at you.

Let us not forget that Dan Jenkins has covered more majors than the average fan’s age in dog years so this collection is lush with wonderful anecdotes and enlightening personal statistical compilations of the accomplishments of guys from Bobby Jones to Ben Hogan to Tommy Bolt To Jack and Tiger and about 50 others in between.

To the delight of his readers, Dan Jenkins, at the tender age of 85, is still pumping out the finest combination of golf satire and fact, often in the same sentence. This one is a must read for cynical golf addicts everywhere.

Unplayable Lies

Dan Jenkins (2015)

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Golf Rules Illustrated

Golf Rules IllustratedThe USGA publications tend to be dry, button-down, corporate presentations that are about as much fun to read as the obituary columns in your local paper.  But they stepped out of their blue blazer mode in the publication of Golf Rules Illustrated 2012-2015-The Official Illustrated Guide To the Rules of Golf.

Every one who plays the game is confronted with rules conundrums whether it is from their Saturday group, an outing they are playing, or the live action they are watching during the Sunday tournament broadcast.  The first person they are likely to ask is the head pro at their place and the second person is probably a single digit guy they barely know walking through the locker room.  More often than not they come away more confused about the rules then when they posed the question.

Sure there are on-line sources like Barry Rhodes Rules School who is probably the reigning authority outside of the USGA/R & A tandem when it comes to answering rules questions.  You could check resources like our Keepers Rules Education Initiative which explains frequently asked rules incidents with on course scenarios to clarify the nuances of rules in your day-to-day game.

But for coherent answers to all golf rule questions you need only have a copy of the Golf Rules Illustrated book at your disposal to get meat of the matter in a hurry.  The book is organized with color-coded index for each chapter that covers one the 34 rules in the game.  For each rule and it includes an explanation of the rule and it’s related sub-cases with a combination of easy to understand text, simple illustrations, relevant photos, and real incidents and frequently asked questions.

A simple visual explains what you are prohibited from doing in a bunker

Ball In Bunker Prohibited ActionThe table of contents makes it easy to find what you are looking for and once there you will find yourself perusing the related sub-cases as well as real incidents from the tour that will bring the rules to life for you.  The FAQs help to fill in the gaps so you reconcile the obvious questions that come to mind as you start to understand the rule at hand.

Let’s say you need to know if the pile of rabbit poop your ball landed in can be removed without penalty as Loose Impediments (Rule 23).

This illustration defines Loose Impediments vs Movable Obstructions

Loose ImpedimentsYou recall that crazy situation when Tiger got to move a boulder in Arizona, a loose impediment in his way that took an army of people to remove.  Check the incident section of Rule 23 for an account of that crazy affair and the logic that supported the ruling.

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It then occurs to you, can you remove sand on the putting even though your ball lies off the putting surface….check the Frequently Asked Questions at the end of the chapter.

Maybe you were playing with your buddies the other day and one of them hit a ball off a steep upslope that came straight up and deflected off this body.  Any penalty for that?

Happened to Jeff Maggert at the 2003 Masters and cost him a one-stroke penalty

Ball Hitting A PlayerBut this leads you to wonder about other incidents where a ball is stopped or deflected by hitting your opponents bag or another ball in motion.

Ball In Motion DeflectedDropping the ball whether for free relief or in implementing a penalty can lead to all kinds of variations of events.  In the chapter on Rule 20-Lifting, Dropping and Placing-it clearly explains a litany of scenarios including cases when you must re-drop.

RedroppingUnder the FAQ they address whether a player is required to mark the position of a ball he is going to drop before lifting it.

Remember Van de Velde’s choosing this option from the water hazard at the Open

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This book is an invaluable reference for getting the rules right because it cuts through all the legal language to present an intelligible understanding of the rules and related issues as well as providing simple visuals to reinforce the logic of how the rules must be implemented.

For about 15 bucks you can get this from any number of the on-line book purveyors. Golf Rules Illustrated should have a front row spot on your golf library shelf.  The pages will become dog-eared in no time.

(Illustrations and photos from Golf Rules Illustrated 2012-2015)

February, 2015

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The Golden Age of Golf Course Design

The Golden Age of Golf Design LogoAt the turn of the century golf course design in the United States was in a nascent and mundane state. Building a new course was pretty much about staking holes in straight lines on flat terrain with a few hurdle hazards to make it challenging. Thankfully with the immigration of golf “professionals” from Scotland and England in the early 1900’s the strategic thoughts and concepts of course design from the links courses of the British Isles started to infiltrate the thinking as new courses were built to meet a fast growing interest in golf in the states.

In his book “The Golden Age of Golf Design” journalist and author Geoff Shackelford catalogs the accomplishments of a new age of golf course architects that marked the most prolific and creative period of course design in the past century. Men like Charles Blair Macdonald, Seth Raynor, George Crump,  George Thomas, Donald Ross, Hugh Wilson, William Flynn, A. W. Tillinghast, and Alister MacKenzie completely changed course construction introducing new and bolder routings, hazards, and green complexes to usher in a new strategic approach to course design.

These guys and their associates were downright prolific-the number of courses in the U.S. expanded from around 700 in 1916 to over 5900 by 1930. They went on to produce some of the most memorable courses as well.  As Shackelford points out a Golfweek list of the Top 100 American Courses opened before 1960 indicates that 84 of the top 100 were constructed between 1910 and 1937.

The Golden Age of Golf Design is a beautiful leather bound biographical encyclopedia of information on about 40 of the most influential characters of this period. To make this intelligible Shackelford groups the architects into five-plus “schools of design” of his own making-The National School, The Philadelphia School, The Ross School, The MacKenzie School, The Monterey School, and Other Schools. Each school is made up of a number of architects who studied each other’s works and helped leverage new course production in different regions of the country. What defies his distinctions is that many of these designers cross pollinated schools by expanding their contributions across the country and even around the globe. But there is little doubt that the era spawned mentorship and collaboration which hastened the proliferation of new and better designs
over a very short period of time.

Shackelford provides well researched detail of the interactions of these designers to explain the evolution and dissemination of the new strategic concepts. He has a credential page on each architect which includes their interests, published writings, career influences, golfing ability, methodology, design characteristics, best original designs,
and a personal quote. He support this with a trove of original black and white photos of the holes from some of our classic golf courses to give context to their conceptual elements.

A wonderful accent to the book are the watercolor drawings of Mike Miller on the cover and at the beginning of each chapter of iconic holes from Merion, Los Angeles Country Club, Royal Country Down, Pine Valley, and Pebble Beach among others. The vivid renderings give the reader a surreal feeling for the character and design of these classic courses.

Geoff’s book provides a synthesized understanding of the contributions of these designers and their influences on each other in setting a new standard for quality course design in the Golden Age. For an armchair course architect the book is a go-to reference manual that codifies the genealogy of the influential architects from the most significant age of American golf course design.

The Golden Age of Golf Course Design
Geoff Shackelford (1999)

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The Magnificent Masters

Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Tom Weiskopf, and the 1975 Cliffhanger at Augusta

Magnificent Masters LogoThere are seminal moments in tournament golf, specific instances where the tournament, the venue, the protagonists come together in a perfect storm to showcase an historically significant event that changes forever our perception of a major tournament. Before 1975 The Masters was a major, it had it’s share of great winners and dramatic endings but it was mostly a vivid beginning of the golf season for American golf viewers, set in a resplendent arboretum in Georgia.

In 1975 three of the best players in the game, Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, and Tom Weiskopf did what rarely happens. They came to Augusta with their A-games, lived up to all the hype, and put on a competitive show for the ages. Gil Capps, a longtime golf industry veteran for NBC Sports and The Golf Channel, brings an attention to detail of the 1975 Masters that allows us to relive the round-to-round drama like we are watching it unfold right before our eyes and properly places it as one of the seismic moments in Masters golf history.

There have been a number of wonderful historical accounts of golf tournaments, matches, and prominent characters released in the last 10 years. If you have read and enjoyed Kevin Cook’s “Tommy’s Honor” or Mark Frost’s “The Greatest Game Ever Played”, “The Grand Slam”, or “The Match” you know what I am talking about. You will find this account of the lives of these three champions and their elevation of The Masters to new heights equally intriguing.

The author has an intimate knowledge of Augusta National and the Masters and his detailed research provides the reader with an inside view of the history and development of the event over the last 80 years. For example, he talks about the stark white sand so prominent in our television images that create the bold faces of the MacKenzie bunkers. Clifford Roberts sourced the material from feldspar mining operations in North Carolina. It is actually crushed rock not sand and, as a result, when it is dry will disperse as balls hit avoiding embarrassing buried lies. There are countless other tidbits about the stewardship of Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts helping this annual outing of a bunch of golf buddies evolve into a major championship.

The book is presented in a Kiefer Sutherland time-lapse format chronicling the practice rounds and the four tournament days as unique segments of the whole. This makes the reading a “real time” experience and the interplay of the subplots make the eventual outcome more vivid.

The Thursday round begins with “the most anticipated first-round tee time in Masters history” as he describes Lee Elder’s breaking of the color line at this most famous of southern golf venues. It includes an entertaining vignette about Bob Murphy and Lee Trevino two guys who never played up to their potential at Augusta. Capp says “The two players had four things going against them: their lack of length, their left-to-right ball directions, their low ball flight, and their attitude”.

The pattern of the book is established as he wanders off for a biographical chapter on Nicklaus, the first of three he intersperses between accounts of the four days of play. The reader gets a good sense of the importance of the golf character and motivation of Bobby Jones as a competitive impetus to Nicklaus. Jones cared only about the majors and therefore Nicklaus saw winning majors as the ultimate benchmark of golf achievement.

Biographical sketches of backgrounds of Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf provided the strongest additions to my historical golf knowledge from reading this book. Miller was the roman candle of the era, bursting on the scene with a victory in his first pro event in 1969 at the age of 22, proceeding to win almost every tournament played in the arid climates over the next decade. His 63 in the final round at Oakmont to win the 1973 U.S. Open was one of the most jaw dropping accomplishments in history. Miller was driven to be the best in the game and never was afraid of Nicklaus. In fact in Miller’s 25 wins on the PGA Tour Nicklaus was second in 5 of them. From 1969 to 1983 Miller was always in the conversation at the majors until, as Capp says, “Miller had fallen out of love with the process that had driven him to the top of his sport”.

Weiskopf was another story, he had to bear the yoke of following in Nicklaus’s foot prints, growing up in Ohio and playing at Ohio State just behind him. Weiskoff was a perfectionist with no patience for mediocrity, a slam dunk to be the next great in the game. His game had “both arrogance and elegance to it….It was the tempo and rhythm that others swooned over…..a grace and smoothness rare for a tall man who always finished in perfect balance.”

Weiskopf won 16 times on the PGA Tour including one major at the 1973 Open Championship at Royal Troon and finished second or third in majors 8 times from 1969 to 1978. But for all of that accomplishment he was considered an underachiever.

His Achilles Heel was his perfectionist attitude and the expectation of greatness heaped upon him in comparison to Nicklaus. In a big event he could be in the thick of contention or seemingly out of touch. As Capp says, “If Weiskopf was playing well and in contention, there was complete resolve. If he was playing poorly, he could totally disengage”. The roller coaster ride of Weiskopf’s professional career took a severe personal toll and he dropped off the golf radar screen after his last win in 1982 at the Western Open.

I leave the description of the golf to your reading of the book, the drama Capp conveys is just captivating. Suffice it to say that Miller shot 65-66 on the weekend, Weiskopf 66 and 70 and had a putt for a playoff on the final green. The rest is history….magnificent history.

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Gil Capps (2014)

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Every Shot Counts

Every Shot Counts CoverIf you have watched any golf TV broadcast in the last year in a conscious state then you know the PGA Tour has wrapped it’s arms around a new statistic for putting performance called Strokes Gained Putting. It has become the overnight standard for determining who is putting the best in any given Tour event.

The genius behind this concept is Mark Broadie professor and research maven at Columbia University and a single digit handicapper to boot. His background is in statistical analysis of financial performance dealing with unintelligible things like pricing of derivative securities, risk management, and qualitative decision-making under uncertainty. Sounds to me like a man who can get to the bottom of your putting woes.

Mark Broadie’s recent book “Every Shot Counts” is the professor’s exhaustive explanation of the Shots Gained statistical approach to performance in all aspects of the game of golf. With the help of the PGA Tour’s commitment since 2004 to collect exacting data on every shot and putt at PGA Tour events through their Shotlink system, Broadie has found the ocean of data to develop his theories and articulate how to explain much of what we see week-to-week on the tour.

He starts from an obvious premise that the benchmark statistics that have been used for years to measure golf performance, Fairways Hit, Greens In Regulation, Scrambling, Putts Per Round, and Putts Per Green In Regulation are too shallow to give any meaningful direction to the players on how to improve their performance vis-à-vis their peers.

From the stats he gleaned that PGA pros average 29 putts a round with an average score of 71. Tournament winners average 67.4 strokes per round so the differential between winning and the average is 3.7 strokes per round. Pertinent question is what part of their game contributes to the 3.7 strokes per round advantage of the winner over the field, their shots gained on the field.

To that end he says, “The final score on a hole typically results from the accumulation of fractional gains and losses on each stroke.” “The quality of a golf shot is measured by progress to the goal of getting the ball in the hole in the fewest possible strokes”. “Strokes gained [was developed] to measure a player’s shot outcome against a peer performance benchmark for the same shot.” “Strokes gained measures [a player’s] progress to the hole in terms of the average number of strokes to hole out.”

A similar conundrum has existed in baseball for a century. Broadie says, “In baseball batting average was long the main stat used to measure proficiency at the plate……the sabermetrics revolution in baseball stats….. show that another stat, the on-base plus slugging percentage is a better predictor of a batter’s contribution to runs scored.”

With the help of the Shotlink data available to him Broadie sketched out how strokes gained putting could prove a more accurate measure of putting performance for the professionals. The average strokes gained putting for all golfers in a PGA event gives the ponderous among us a simple and reliable measure of the players relative putting proficiency that week. If Luke Donald is 15 feet from the hole and makes the putt and the average number of putts a pro takes from 15 feet is 1.78 then Luke has .78 strokes gained putting for that effort. If Vijay is five feet from the hole, where the average pro takes 1.23 strokes to hole out, and two-putts then he has a -.23 strokes gained putting on this hole. The sum of the strokes gained putting for the 18 holes based on their first putt is the player’s strokes gained putting for the round.

Below is a Broadie chart that shows the top 50 putters on the PGA Tour from 2004 to 2012 using Strokes Gained Putting (SGP) as the measure of relative performance. Not surprising Luke and Tiger are in the top five but so are Aaron Baddeley and Greg Chalmers. Some surprise in the names not in the top 20.

Top 50 SGP
Broadie has moved on to trying to convince the Tour on using a similar statistical method on evaluating tee shots, approach shots (over 100 yards), and short game shots. It measures how much a person gains on a shot he has played by measuring the decrease he has accomplished during this shot in the average number of strokes to hole out minus one to account for the shot played. Simply stated a shot that is better than Tour average will have positive strokes gained and a shot worse than average has negative strokes gained.

Using this method the strokes gained can be used to compare driving, approach shots, short game shots, and putting because the proficiency of all the shots are measured by a common unit of strokes gained.

After applying this to the Shotlink data Broadie concludes that for the top 40 golfers from 2004 to 2012, putting only contributes 15% to their scoring advantage over the field while driving contributes 28% to their scoring advantage.

He asserts that an extra 20 yards of driving distance, without regard to accuracy, is worth about .75 strokes gained per round. This extra distance gives them a shorter approach shot, with a lower average shots left to hole out, and that translates into strokes gained. So it is more important to drive it long on the Tour than hit fairways in terms of gaining strokes on the competition.

When it comes to hitting approach shots it is all about proximity to the flag to improve one’s strokes gained. This has been Tiger’s secret in dominating the game the last decade and a half. The closer Tiger’s shot from 175 yards out gets to the flag versus the average Tour player the more strokes gained he has on the field.

Top 50 SGAThis chart shows Strokes Gained Approach (SGA) and you can see that Tiger’s SGA of 1.28 is .73 better than the average top 40 player. When Broadie breaks it down further you can see that on meat and potato approach shots from 100 to 150 yards and 150 to 200 yards Tiger is hitting it considerably closer to the hole than his peers and that is where he gains his shots on the field.

The only problem with all of this is that it relies on the inundated accurate data collection of every shot a pro plays in a tournament round. No such data collection vehicle exists for the average player to use or even for researchers to use to compile strokes gained benchmarks for the common golfer. This is a huge case of having the cart before the horse when it comes to helping you and me.

This review just scratches the surface of what Broadie reveals in this readable and informative treatise on this Shots Gained Method for analyzing golf stats. He dispels many of the myths and certitudes we have held dear for years about golf performance. You can pitch “Drive for show and putt for dough” right over the embankment along with a bunch of others.

Broadie devotes an entire chapter to the relative difficulty of uphill versus downhill putts, importance of break on putts, and what distances actually separate good putters from average putters. He even includes practice drills that can help you understand the strengths and weaknesses of your game around the greens and work on the things that will make a difference in gaining strokes on your buds.

He presents the book in a very readable format with lots of substantiating charts and graphs to help you comprehend what he has concluded. Like all good college text books he has reiterative summaries at the end of each chapter that make prepping for the exams much easier.

This is not a fast read but it is a worthwhile intellectual indulgence for the inebriated golf fan. The shelf in your golf library is yearning for this one.

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Every Shot Counts

Mark Broadie (2014)

April, 2014
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Sand and Golf: How Terrain Shapes The Game

Sand and GolfPlaying on the links at Royal Dornoch or Pacific Dunes or The Old Course you cannot help but understand that there is is a different type of golf you are asked to play.   Links golf is played closer to the ground, emphasizing finesse and position,  thoughtful approach and recovery.   This style of golf in unique both in strategy and shot implementation.  The lure of links golf is infectious to those who have experienced it and explains why so many of us will travel to obscure destinations to experience it again and again.  The subtle question that almost never occurs to us when we are playing links golf is how much does the sandy soil itself account for the character of these courses and the style of play they dictate.

To George Waters, a course architect with plenty of credential from working on sandy soil terrain, this seemed a subject worth addressing in a book.  He has worked on the construction or renovation of some of the best sandy soil courses in the world including Barnbougle Dunes in Australia, Sebonack in Long Island, The Renaissance Club in Scotland, and Pinehurst #2 in North Carolina.   He spent considerable time working at Royal Dornoch as well as studying courses in the Sand Belt of Australia, Bandon Dunes in Oregon, the Sand Hills of Nebraska, and links courses throughout the British Isles.

His photographs and the accompanying text convey how the sandy soil and the topography that has evolved with it provide an opportunity for architects to create these sand based links, wonderful compilations of features provided by the great greenskeeper in the sky and some thoughtful contributions of their own.   With a unique set of elements   “designers let terrain shape the game rather than the other way around…. the key is to give players room to adjust their strategy to the conditions and their style of play.   This puts a premium on analysis and problem solving, making golf more a thinking game.”

Water’s asserts that sandy soil gives these architects the optimal conditions for creative design.  The rapidly draining turf allows them to maintain firm and fast conditions almost all the time.  The natural depressions in fairways and greens can be employed in the design since they will not collect water creating troublesome soggy areas.  Hearty long stemmed fescue and bent grasses thrive in this soil and can be kept closely cropped to allow for consistent firm and fast conditions.

Nature’s evolutionary effect on the sand based topography creates an array of natural hazards the designer only needs to compose rather than create.  Fierce and penal blow out bunkers are only a scratch of the surface away which allows more arbitrary location of the fairway bunkers.  Existing grassy mounds and protrusions can be employed in the lines of play to force strategic choices that need to be carefully considered but depending on the day’s wind direction and intensity.  Native grasses and low growth plantings can be used to shore up these natural hazards further erosion and give these hazards an aged, seamless character “blurring the edges between golf and nature”.

These same native grasses create rough that is imposing but playable, “the perfect balance between penalty and recovery”.  With the exception of the prickly dense gorse bushes that impose their presence on some sandy soil courses, recovery shots from the rough require a calculated assessment to determine just how much recovery is plausible on the next shot.   Approach and recovery play a pivotal role on this type of course.  “On well designed sandy courses, the interplay between firm conditions and clever architecture places approach and recovery shots among the highlights of any round.”

Playing these courses we come to quickly understand that the irregular natural terrain and the ever present wind dictate a more grounded style of play.  Mildly articulated washboard roll outs or heaving tempests of hummocks and hollows can lead to existential shot results. A strategy of play to minimize their effect must be respected.  But these same topographical irregularities are an ally in controlling the pace of a ground approach to firm, contoured, and wind swept greens that may not abide an airborne approach.

He talks at length about the green complexes on sandy soil courses being in sync with the topography.  “Fairways relate to approaches, and approaches to greens, with continuity that is nearly impossible to achieve on other types of terrain.”   Table top greens, greens with shoulder pads, punch bowl greens, greens with sweeping contours, and greens that just seem to be a natural extension of the fairway all are possible on this sandy soil base.  With the challenge these complexes present green speeds do not have to be pushed to the maximum to challenge even the best players-this makes the course more playable and fun for players of all ability.

Waters concludes, “It is much easier to design and maintain a golf course in harmony with a sandy environment.  On a forested site, comprised of heavy soils and replete with ponds and bogs, a golf course is more an installation in the landscape than a natural part of it.”  The character of sandy soil courses “illustrate the advantages of valuing fun and playability above difficulty and perfect conditions, as well as the benefits that come with accepting some natural imperfection.”

If books like “Scotland-Where Golf Is Great”, “Emerald Gems-Links of Ireland”,  “Links Golf” by Paul Daley and “Grounds For Golf” already adorn your personal golf library, “Sand and Golf” will find a comfortable spot right beside them.

Sand and Golf: How Terrain Shapes The Game

George Waters (2013)

January, 2014

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True Links

True LInksTwo former editors of golf magazines of substance have put together ‘True Links’ an illustrated guide to the 246 Links golf courses in the world.  Much in the vein of Larry Lambrecht’s ‘Emerald Gems’ and James Finegan’s ‘Scotland-Where Golf Is Great’ this is a thoughtful presentation of photos and supporting research on the links courses that define the game of golf.

George Peper, a former editor of Golf Magazine, and Malcolm Campbell, a former editor of Golf Monthly, bring their expertise to the task of defining and documenting the active links courses around the world.  Augmented by the vivid photography of Iain Lowe and other supporting photographers this book brings to life the grandeur of links courses from the British Isles and around the world and puts their individual stories in the context of the evolution of golf over the centuries.

Their premise is that links courses remain the soul of a game that has spawned over 30,000 golf playing grounds around the world.  In the prologue they say, “Links golf is the game distilled to its core virtues.  To walk beside the sea with a brisk breeze on your cheek and firm,sandy turf beneath your feet is to experience golf not only as it was hundreds of years ago but arguably as it should be today-a simple, beguiling game in need of no embellishment.”

If you asked the greatest players who ever played the game where they would prefer to play every day links courses like The Old Course at St. Andrews, Royal Country Down, Muirfield, and Ballybunion would come to their lips.  The style of golf these courses demand bring out the deep seated talents of all players so the satisfaction of playing them well is very special.

Tom Watson, arguably one of the most successful players in Open Championships contested on links courses, slowly came to accept and embrace the demands of links golf.  He describes what he discovered, “Don’t fight it…enjoy it.  Solve the puzzle……Calculating the wind, allowing for the firm terrain, trusting your judgment and feel…that is the joy of playing a links.  You need almost a sixth sense, an ability to adjust to all the conditions and somehow get your ball to travel the proper distance-whether through the air or along the ground.  That is the essence of links golf.  But the links giveth and the links taketh away.  It can be cruel and beautiful in the same round, occasionally on the same hole, and once in a while on the same shot.  When you figure out all the equations properly and the shot comes off as intended, nothing is more satisfying.”  I have a feeling Phil has come to share this sentiment recently.

True Links begins by defining what distinguishes under 250 of the courses in the world as Links courses.  The British Golf Museum in St. Andrews defines linksland as “a stretch of land near the coast…characterized by undulating terrain, often associated with dunes, infertile sandy soil, and indigeneous grasses as marram, sea lyme, and the fescues and bents which, when properly managed, produce the fine textured tight turf for which links are famed.”  Add to this the quirky and sudden changes of wind and rain that seaside venues present and you have a chess game on grass against the elements and the higher order who choreographs them.

The result of this requirement of turf, terrain, and weather is that many of the most familiar and storied seaside courses are left off of the list of Links courses.  Pebble Beach, Cypress Point, Royal Melbourne, Whistling Straits, Shinnecock Hills, and The Ocean Course at Kiawah are spectacular and challenging venues we equate with links golf but they lack either the firm sandy turf, the associated dunes, or the close proximity to the sea that strictly defines a links course and the brand of low to the ground golf associated with them.

The authors pay homage to the great architects that drew links courses out of the unique terrain nature presented in the British Isles.  From Old Tom Morris to Harry Colt, James Braid, C.B. MacDonald, Alistar MacKenzie, Donald Ross, and A.W. Tillinghast they show the linkage of thought and design the great architects made studying the challenges of links courses and how they incorporated them into what would become the classic courses of the Golden Age of Course Architecture.   This respect for links design feature continues to be seen in the contemporary work of Pete Dye, Tom Doak, Ben Crenshaw, Bill Coore and others in places like Whistling Straits, Bandon Dunes, Sand Hills, and Cabot Links.

The Crucible is a chapter dedicated to the grand daddy of them all, The Old Course at St. Andrews.  Tracing it back to days of shepherds hitting rocks with their herding staffs, through Royal edicts against playing, to Rabbit Wars for the land’s usage, we get a sense of how the game evolved.  Rules, equipment, course construction and maintenance were forged over centuries throughout Scotland.  The standard of the number of holes, the routing, the cup, the ball, and all the rest came from trial and error and the guiding will of a series of individuals who sought to regiment and standardize the game they were playing.

What follows is a chapter called The Icons which gives vibrant imagery and context to the 25 links courses that have defined the game.  Quirky courses-Lahinch and Ballybunion, original classics-Prestwick, North Berwick, and Rye, the full array of Royals-Aberdeen, Birkdale, St. Georges and Portrush , and the mysticals- Royal Dornoch and Royal County Down come to life as the authors explain the developmental history and unique characters of these pioneering links.

The Classics are the next level spawned by the Icons-they are the broader inventory we have come to know as links courses.  Many are familiar, Machrihanish, Lundin Links, Waterville, Country Sligo, and St. Andrews Jubilee.  Others less so The Island, Enniscronne, Gullane, Aberdovey, and Ballyliffen.   From there they go to The Exotics covering the links courses outside the British Isles in The Neatherlands, Germany, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa.

The journey ends with The Moderns, links courses that have come on line in the last forty years and reinvigorated the interest of golfers in the true tradition of the game.  New entries in Ireland-Tralee, Doonbeg, and The European Club, Scotland-Kingsbarns, Castle Stuart, and Trump International, and North America-Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, Old MacDonald, and Cabot Links are testimony that the influence of links golf design on the pleasure and enjoyment of golf continues.

Peper and Campbell argue that the future of golf remains in the hands of this movement.  The demands of environmental responsibility and financial viability in developing new courses once again directs the architect’s attention to the minimalist approach to designing and maintaining a links course.  Jim Arthur, an agronomist and promoter of natural links in Scotland put this way.  “Lack of money has always been a great limiting influence on the making of mistakes.  The poorest clubs have the best courses…in greenskeeping one should ask a farmer what to do and then go and do exactly the opposite.”   The coast of Oregon and Nova Scotia, the sand hills of Nebraska, and down under in Tasmania Australia credence has been paid to this notion with fine result.

For an understanding of the place of links courses in the historical time line of golf, simple reminiscence of the places one has played, or in developing a bucket list of what is yet to come, True Links is a book that should have a place on your library shelf.  This is a book you will reach for on a regular basis.

True Links

George Peper and Malcolm Campbell (2010)

October, 2013

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