The link between golf and temperament is more important than most people would think. In this series of articles, Percy Boomer tells stories illustrating that link.
The secret of success in golf lies in temperament and that is true whatever grade of golf you may aspire to play. Tournaments are not always, not even usually, won by the greatest stylists.
They go to the men with the best balanced outlook on the game. And how frequently we have seen the fellow with a rank, bad swing take the half-crown off a man who looked far better on the tee.
Do not mistake me. It is an excellent thing to be a stylist, if your style is supported and molded by a good golfing temperament.
Harry Vardon before the Great War and Bobby Jones in the years that followed it were perfect stylists, but they were also perfectly balanced in the psychophysical sense and won more tournaments than any other golfers.
On the other hand, Taylor and Braid, who were never deemed stylists at all, almost equaled these two in collecting championships because they were temperamentally in the championship class. But you will not find any golfer who is temperamentally weak or unreliable habitually winning big events, however brilliant a stylist he may be.
I suppose we might say that a man's style at golf is evolved from the reactions on one another of his temperament and his physical make-up.
We may all learn to write from the same copy-book but we will grow up to sign our checks differently, and, though I have been teaching golf for thirty-five years now, I have yet to find two people who play alike. No matter how much you tried to teach two people to play alike, the results would be surprisingly different.
We do not all play golf for the same reason, of course, and that may affect the way we play it. Some of us play it for a living. Many play it on doctor's order and more still for exercise! There are more individual reasons too, and I have come across some odd ones in my time.
A lady came to me once with her child, a girl of about fourteen. She said, "I am not going to make my daughter an intellectual; I want you to make her a golf champion." "I'll do my best," said I. "But why do you want her to be a golf champion?" "Oh," she said, look at ... and . . . and . . . ," and rattled off the names of champions who had made fine marriages! That was the idea, and I may tell you that in due course it proved successful.
Sometimes, of course, we forget why we took up golf, and the game or some aspect of it runs away with us. That is the way fanatics are born.
I remember one old fellow who sent his valet round to get me out of bed at one o'clock in the morning because he had something to tell me that could not wait. When I got to the old chap's place, there he was in the garden, swinging away like mad by the light of a lantern hung on a tree.
There was a table with glasses on it and a bottle of whiskey, and, while I recompensed myself for being turned out, he explained to me that he had just discovered the secret of golf! He had his two elbows tied across his chest with a double strand of Sandow elastic which kept them, and especially kept the right one, from lifting at the top of the swing.
Well, I had just about forgiven him that one when he again sent for me in the middle of the night. I toddled down because he was amusing and really not a bad old chap. Well, there he was in the garden again, swinging away in his pajamas. This time he had a piece of elastic pinned to his coat between his shoulder blades; he pulled it over his right shoulder and held it between his teeth. He said it prevented him looking up, which I believed, and that it was the secret of good golf, which I did not.
Of course, the tricks did not work because he could not tie himself up with elastic out on the course, and, having got used to swinging with it, he naturally went to bits when he took it off. He would have done much better if he had used his imagination instead of elastic. But that happened to be how he got his fun out of golf!
So as you see, golf is not the same thing to all men; and according to the way we look at the game, so will our ambitions be formed and the temperament in which we approach it be developed.
If a fellow is content to be able to knock the ball one hundred and fifty yards down the fairway, there is no point in explaining the flail to him he would not be interested. Comparatively few people are interested in playing the game as well as they could play it. In particular, most youngsters think of nothing but hitting their tee shots "miles" and do not seem to mind missing 80 per cent of their other shots, though as we all know, it is the "other shots" which enable you to go round in a reasonable score. If you can chip and putt decently, you can always get yourself a decent score.
I know lots of men who can go round St. Cloud in under 80 and never hit a clean golf shot the whole time.
Now these matters of what one wants to do in golf and how one wants to do it are directly related to temperament, but let me get right back to the heart of the subject by telling you a story which is about temperament and nothing but!
It started when a lady came to me for lessons. She did well, so well that one day she said, "Do you know, my game has improved so much that my husband is going to take a course of lessons with you. I'm so sorry." "Why be sorry?" said I. I'm delighted." She looked at me with a slight smile. "You don't know my hubby," she said. "He is the most violent-tempered man in the world."
Well, in due course he turned up. He looked wild and he was wild in the sense that he let his emotions run loose! Being prepared, I naturally took up a meek and mild attitude, which egged him on to more and more furious bursts of temper every time he missed the ball, which incidentally was every time he swung at it! And every time he missed he would fling his driver on the ground and yell to me, "What did I do wrong that time?"
I suggested a few things which I knew would not work, and he got wilder still. Then, suddenly after a particularly furious burst of rage, I said to him quietly, "Let me see your driver." He handed it to me ungraciously. "Old friend?" I asked examining it. "Got it at Oban," he growled. I looked him in the eye, shut my lips, took the club in both hands, and broke it in two across my knee and threw the pieces in a corner of the shed.
He went gray and gray-white and speechless. While he was contemplating the wreckage, I bent down and put another ball on the tee. Then I straightened up and said, "Take your brassie." He went to his bag like a lamb and went on with the lesson much more quietly which was lucky for him because if he had kept on fuming I would have broken every club in his bag. He is a different man and a very different golfer today.
At a later lesson I told him the true story of a golfer who on his first appearance at St. Andrews became so enraged with his putter that he threw it out of bounds at the Elysian fields and tore up his card. Yet the next time he played there he won the Open! But he did not win the Open until he had curbed his temper.