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Golf Temperament: Part 2


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This unusually long entry is the 2nd part of Boomer's discussion on Golf Temperament. I had planned to split it into 3 or 4 parts, but my entries have been 1 month apart, and I thought you would enjoy finishing this section as soon as possible (and hopefully before Xmas!).

I want to get to the putting discussion soon... also hopefully before Xmas.

Now these two stories are nearly everyone's. But to get as mad as the proverbial meat-axe because we miss a shot is the sign of a young golfer.

The experienced golfer does not get mad when he misses a shot because he knows that if he does so the chances are that he will miss the next one too.

And I doubt if it is any more difficult to build up control of your temperament in golf than it is to build up control of your swing once you appreciate the need.

But I think we must go back again from this point to the question of why you play golf.

Because the state of mind and the temperamental strains of (a) SL tired business man playing purely for relaxation and (b) a Pro fighting for a championship on the last green are so immensely different that their problems are different - or at least arise in very different intensities.

Many big business men and men in public life have told me how great a relaxation they found golf to be.

Nothing takes your mind so completely off the daily worries as does a round of golf.

Each of us, whatever his rating as a golfer may be, has to pay attention to the job in hand; so much attention that for a couple of hours we are in a new world and the problems and tensions of our normal world are forgotten.

During the building up of the Treaty of Versailles, Woodrow Wilson, Lloyd George, Sir Elmsley Carr, and Sir George Riddell used often to come out to the club between sessions.

I still have a book which Mr. Wilson left in my shop one day, on the same day in fact that I had a chat with Admiral Beatty and Mr. Boyden, an American lawyer who was in Paris on the same job.

I remember seeing Mr. Winston Churchill play once at Barton-on-Sea and I have been told that during his hardest days at Berlin, just before the present war, Sir Nevile Henderson never missed an opportunity of getting in a round-or even a few holes-between those fateful conversations.

Sir George Riddell was the best golfer of those I have mentioned, but men of this eminence rarely make first-class players; they play simply for exercise and relaxation, not always for even pleasure.

Again there are plenty of people, too many in fact, who play purely as a pastime. I say too many because to my mind these are the most devastating of all golf bores. A keen man is always interesting because of his keenness, but to hear a recapitulation of a round which was only played to pass the time - and is only being recapitulated to pass some more time-is the depths beyond which golf boredom cannot sink.

At the other extreme of keenness, you find the American Pros.

They will play all day, fill in between rounds with practice, and take you out before breakfast or after dinner to see if you can't give them a few hints!

I remember a championship week at Muirfield. We had all played our two qualifying rounds and had an hour's practice and were not sorry to get back to the club house and relax. But in came Lawson Little. "Come on, boys," he said, "come outside and see me hit a few shots."

So out we went and sat on a bank to watch him hit literally hundreds of drives - asking questions all the time.

That at ten o'clock at night!

It keeps light late in Scotland in June.

I wonder if you remember Tom Webster's cartoon of Leo Diegel going out for a little putting practice- with a whole armful of putters to try out.

I saw Leo actually do that. It was another championship occasion, and he lost the title on the greens. He had lost his touch and tried to get it back by changing his putter, but the trouble was that he was nervous and jumpy.

One has to be very calm and quiet to putt well.

Temperament is pre-eminently important in putting because good putting is so largely a matter of confidence.

You can only stroke the ball when you are quietly confident; otherwise you jerk it.

You can always drive or play big shots reasonably well, because that is done more with the grosser muscles, but the finer touch required for putting is a much more delicate matter and so is much more liable to be put out of gear and jerked by nervous tension.

Bad putters habitually stab the ball: that is why they'are bad putters. Good putters jerk the club when they are nervous, which is basically quite a different fault.

My teaching is built up around the principle of playing by feel: that is, through our muscular reflexes and controls. This leaves it to our muscles to swing the club and sets us free to give a little attention to our mental state - to inhibit the urge to hurry, and to go quietly and methodically about the job.

We know that when we are in a quiet state we can play the shot as well as we know how; therefore if we can make ourselves quiet and relaxed, we will allow our muscular control system to work.

To illustrate this point let me tell you a little story from my own experience.

In 1927 I was runner-up in the Belgian Open at Knocke and won the Dutch Open at The Hague, both in the same week.

They were then 36-hole tournaments, and in each I did a 69 in the second round. Now here I should tell you what you may already know, that I was never a first-class golf tournament player for two reasons: I was not physically strong enough, and temperamentally I was too highly strung.

The story is about the last hole I played at The Hague, to complete my 69 and beat Henry Cotton by one stroke.

After an indifferent drive from the last tee, the home green seemd to get smaller and smaller-it was triangular in shape with the hole tucked well down in the apex, a clump of trees to the right and a bunker on the left. Henry was playing behind me, and I had a pal standing on the 17th green who signaled to me before I played my second that Henry had got his 4 and we were level over the 35 holes.

I deliberately pushed out all the surge of thoughts and emotions that came rushing into my mind and said to myself, "Now you old fool, keep quiet and play this shot as if you were showing a pupil at St. Cloud how it should be played." Well, I got myself quieted down and then played my shot-straight onto the flag but about ten yards short.

Knowing that I was a good putter, I said to myself, "Well, I shall tie anyway." But I did not a bit relish the idea of having to go out and play another 18 holes. But there it was - or rather there I was, on the green but ten yards from the hole. So I went through the same back-chat with myself, to get quieted down. Then I putted, a firm, clean stroking-and when I did look up, it was just in time to see the ball drop into the hole, to win me the title by a single stroke.

Tournaments are mental agony to most Pros, and having had my fill I have never played in another since that day. We all know the horrid feeling that creeps over us as we walk to the first tee-and the sigh of relief when the ball does get away. Then we calm down and are better until the bad luck chips in (as it is apt to do in golf!). Then we begin to get annoyed, and that is the worst possible state for a golfer.

What can be done about it? Well, I will tell you a simple little story about a very young pupil of mine, and you can read into it whatever you can read into it.

One day I was out on the course amusing, rather than teaching, a little girl of seven.

On one occasion she showed a little impatience and I said to her very seriously, "Don't you get angry! Only badly brought-up little girls get angry, and you are a nicely brought-up little girl." I always remember the way she looked at me - sideways, like a little robin.

After that she would say to me sometimes, "Am I getting angry?" And I would say, "Well, your ears do look a little white; let me feel your pulse/' or I would put my ear to her back to hear if her heart was beating too fast. She took it all so seriously and was intensely pleased when one day I said, "Now that's better; not so angry as last time you did that!" And then one day I told her she was quite cured (which she was) and she was in ecstasies!

All very childish if you like. But those lessons in golf psychology stood her in good stead. She grew up to be a champion and her manners on the course were always a pleasure to see and a pattern to be followed.

If you wish to hide your character, do not play golf. It will be revealed on the course.

I was telling this one day to a very irascible chap, and he said, "Well, what would you do about it, if you were me?" I replied quietly, "Ride a bicycle."

Of course, it is not only golfers who are afflicted this way. I was telling these stories one day to my little girl, who though only eleven is an ardent pianist, and she told me the following tale of Schubert.

One day Schubert was composing at the piano, and he became annoyed with the little finger of his left hand-because it would not articulate properly and so hindered the flow of his thoughts. He became furious with it and wrenched it back with such violence (as if to show the refractory finger how far it should articulate) that he dislocated it. And ever afterwards, so the story goes, he was a finger short when he wished to play.

When we come to bedrock, what do we mean when we say that a man has a "good golfing temperament"? We mean that he has sufficient control of himself to produce his best shots whatever the circumstances may be. The man who has this starts with a greater advantage than the man with the ideal golfing physique or the man with the fine natural style.

Can you acquire the golf temperament? You certainly can, as I had to do to a considerable degree.

And you have got one very great help which I lacked in my novitiate-the idea of learning golf by feel. For one of the main advantages of this method is just that it can make your game storm-proof, can make you capable of producing your best shots when you need them, irrespective of your state of mind and the condition of the game.

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