Putts and Putterers
Is your game terrible ? — These hints from the champions may help
THOUGH MOST clubs are still playing winter rules, the first golf story of the new season is already several weeks old. It has to do with the lady enthusiast who appeared at the club the very first day the
course was available to members. Among other things that delighted her was the presence, among the caddies, of the boy who had lugged her clubs for her the previous year. She smacked her first tee shot straight down the middle and they set after it briskly, the lady feeling that this year everything was going to be different. But half an hour later as they tramped the rough in search of her ball, with her confidence slowly evaporating, she felt the need of encouragement.
“Do you think my game is any worse this year?” she asked the caddy anxiously.
“No, ma’am,” said the boy without looking up.
“Well,” she said hopefully, “do you think it’s any better?”
“No, ma’am,” came the answer in the same flat voice. “But you must think something about it,” the lady persisted. “Come now. Don’t be afraid. Tell me what you really think.”
The boy hesitated, struggling for the right descriptive phrase, and finally said desperately: “Well, ma’am, it’s just funnier.”
But what about your own game this year?
Whether you’re ripe for tournament play, or just a Sunday golfer, or maybe no more than a putterer, you would probably be grateful for any words that would add to your confidence on the course while subtracting from your score.
If you listen to Sandy Somerville, five times winner of the Canadian Amateur title and one of the few outsiders ever to finish first in the American Amateur, you won’t look for such words in any textbook on golf or even from the lips of an instructor.
There are a number of things about this stand-out player which should wann the hearts of average golfers. For one thing he’s a “natural,” a self-taught player who brought
his game along to the point where he is considered one of the best players anywhere outside the commercial circle, and he still does things which in the jargon of the game are said to be unorthodox.
Form Isn’t Everything
IF YOU have ever watched Somerville in tournament play you may have noticed that he grabs his woods the way you would a baseball bat—with all the fingers of both fists gripping the club. An exceptionally long hitter off the tee, he admits that he likes to take that old ball for a ride, and that’s the way he can do it best. But when it comes to an iron shot he switches to an overlapping grip. Look in your textbooks and see what they have to say about mixing grips like that. But Somerville figures that accuracy is what you want with an iron. He can get better accuracy with an overlapping grip, and so, quite reasonably, he employs it without worrying much about whether it’s good or bad form to mix grips.
Let’s go back a bit and retrace the steps of one or two of the champions from the time they first swung a club until they were knocking on the door of fame. There are lessons along this path for us all.
The first club Somerville ever owned was a putter; it was presented to him by his father on a trip to Pinehurst when he was seven years old. Right now you are probably thinking of that old saw about golf titles being won on the greens, but it isn’t as simple as that. Somerville is a good putter but not a remarkable one; the fact that the club was a putter instead of a mashie or a niblick has no special significance.
And, anyway, that stuff about luck on the greens—call it skill if you want to—being responsible for the winning of championships seems to be nothing more than a golf writer’s theory. Ranking players don’t and never i did believe it. If a man is having an extraordinary
I number of one-putt greens in the course of a round,
the chances are that he is hitting all his shots right. It stands to reason that if you’re short or wild off the tee, you’ll have to produce an extraordinary second shot to catch the green. The chances are, too, that even then you’ll be ten feet farther off the pin than the fellow who has been hitting them right; and it’s easier to can a ten-footer than a twenty-footer any day. So a flock of one-putt greens almost always indicates that a player’s game is clicking all the way.
The great Bobby Jones, unlike Somerville, began play with a cleek, a club he used for every shot from tee to green. But, like Somerville, he began play at an early age; he was six where Sandy was seven. An early start is something that all champions seem to have had in common.
An Early Start Necessary
r"PHERE ARE any number of instances of men taking up the game late in life and developing into excellent golfers, but none where they grabbed off any titles. Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., is a conspicuous example of a man who tried and failed. They say he was in his thirties when he first began to play golf. Superbly gifted physically and with a natural bent for competitive games, he came along fast. Soon he declared that his great ambition was to win the British Amateur. He pointed for this tournament, devoting time and money to the purpose with a Hollywood lavishness, and finally did succeed in reducing his handicap sufficiently to qualify. But the end of the story was oddly dissimilar to the typical Hollywood ending. Fie was eliminated in the early rounds, and the news pictures sent out from the Old Country showed “Robin Hood” in deeper trouble than he ever got into in pictures of his own making.
Among the current crop of screen actors, Richard Arlen is supposed to have picked up the baton where Fairbanks dropped it in the golfers’ relay. But to achieve his ambition he’ll have to break through a tradition almost as old as the game itself.
Another point great golfers have in common is that none of them has ever taken enough lessons to make any difference. They are not instructors’ products in any way. They may have taken the one or two lessons necessary to learn such elementary things as how to measure the proper distance to stand from the ball at address, but that is all. Furthermore, most of them will tell you that the only kind of golf instruction that’s worth while is visual; the kind you get from watching a good player’s swing. Study it, they will advise you, until the swing is firmly imprinted on your mind. Don’t bother with the fancy details; just get a good general picture. Then when you pick up your own club, try to reproduce that swing that’s there in your mind’s eye.
When he was about ten years old, Somerville went abroad with his parents, and up in Scotland had the good luck to witness a match between Ted Ray and Harry Vardon, which still remains in his memory. Harry Vardon to this day is his idea of the classic golfer.
Both Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen had similar experiences. As caddies they had an opportunity to see the best in the country at an early age. The swings they developed later came from watching players who had impressed them.
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The potential champion is usually pretty well on his way in his early twenties. Bobby Jones was a sensation in the American Amateur at seventeen, but he didn’t arrive until some years later. Sarazen was twenty-two or thereabouts when he clicked first in the American Open. Most of the others have a similar story. But it isn’t until they make a tournament appearance that they know the real meaning of the expression "golfing temperament.” For tournament golf is vastly different from any other kind of golf, and what distinguishes the tournament star from the tournament dub is often nothing more than temperament.
The Right Temperament
XTEARLY EVERY club has its player who shoots in the low seventies fairly consistently and has been known to break seventy more than once. Playing wáth friends on his home course he looks like a world beater and, watching him, you may wonder why you have never heard of him in tournament play. If you asked him he could probably tell you the whole sad story in a couple of words— golfing temperament. It’s the thing he hasn’t got; what holds a man’s game together in tight spots before great crowds, or makes him show at his best when the going is toughest.
Anyone with a good swing and the right temperament has the makings of a champion. Those golfers who finish a round in the high eighties and early nineties in the big amateur tournaments are not poor golfers; in fact, they are very good golfers or they could never have qualified for play. But they lack the right temperament to become tournament stars.
Sarazen and Jones and Hagen are magnificently endowed with it. Even a player like Somerville likes to tell you about a spot where Jones displayed it in dramatic fashion. It was that day at Pebble Beach in California when Johnny Goodman, then an unknown, scrambled the eggs by eliminating the favorite after a great battle. Going into the seventeenth, Jones was one down. It was an iron shot from the tee to a green almost completely surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. The wind was blowing an on-shore gale as Goodman addressed his ball, with 5.000 spectators at his back. From the tee it looked as if his ball came to rest no more than a foot from the pin. But Jones didn’t hesitate a moment. He knew he faced elimination. He knew the crowd was pulling for an upset. But he smacked his ball with no more than his customary single waggle into the teeth of the gale. The crowd moved up to the green and a great cheer went up; Goodman’s ball was about eight feet from the cup and Jones’s was about four feet closer. Though he lost the match later, it was Jones’s magnificent temperament that prolonged the issue at that point.
One of Sarazen’s sweetest victories was in the Masters’ Tournament at Augusta four years ago. On the final day of the tournament Craig Wood, who was setting the pace, posted a score that made it necessary for Sarazen, his closest competitor, to pick up three strokes on par from the fifteenth to go into a tie. Sarazen was paired with Hagen that day, his arch rival and kidder over the years, and they stood on the tee together when the news of Wood’s score was conveyed to Sarazen.
“That finishes it,” Hagen said. “It’s in the bag now.”
“You never can tell,” Sarazen answered grimly.
It was a long hole, close to 500 yards. Sarazen laid into h:s tee shot and fetched up some 220 yards from the flag.
“You never can tell when they’re going to drop,” he said to Hagen as he pulled a spoon from his bag. “They might drop from almost anywhere.”
His lofty spoon shot carried the brook in front of the green, plopped on the smooth carpet of grass, rolled straight for the cup and disappeared from sight. With one shot Sarazen had obliterated Wood's threestroke lead. He finished the round in par. tying with Wood, whom he defeated in the play-off the following day. Few golfers have ever been so admirably equipped with the right temperament as Sarazen.
If you are nervous or self-conscious getting off a crowded tee, think of how the tournament stars must feel. Tommy Armour says that golf goes in for refined torture because there’s no relief from the nerve pressure; he would be able to understand it if a tournament player were to spend his time between tournaments abusing little children and elderly invalids. Well, that may be a slight over-statement, but it’s a fact that the jitter bug gets them all.
The day Sandy Somerville won the American Amateur back in 1933, he and Johnny Goodman, his opponent in the final, were kept by photographers and reporters almost an hour past the scheduled starting time. It had been a tough and nerve-destroying week, culminating on this particular morning when the two of them had to stand for endless minutes while the crowds gaped and the shutters of the camera men clicked and the reporters asked for statements. Somerville say« he played the first three holes in a trance with absolutely no feeling in his arms or legs.
A human interest story that was printed in newspapers all over the world a few years ago may stand repetition here. It concerns King Edward VIII, then Prince of Wales, and literally hundreds of thousands of golfers must have recognized the experience as they read the story. The then prince was paired with Bobby Jones in a foursome, and afterward was asked if he were nervous playing with the great Jones. His questioner said he seemed pretty cool.
“Cool?” he said. “I was frozen.”
Jitters of a slightly different kind were once experienced by Lady Cromer, wife of the Lord Chamberlain to KingGeorge, on a trip to this country several years ago. While having tea with some friends in Montreal before embarking for home, the talk switched to golf. One lady remarked how much she always disliked getting off the first tee.
“First tees,” Lady Cromer told her,
• are horrible everywhere. I could write a book about them that would be a real horror tale. The most harrowing experience I ever had at a first tee was at Jasper Park only three weeks ago. We waited until everyone had driven off so that we could feel comfortable. Then I teed my ball and prepared to drive. I looked out over the fairway and was suddenly paralyzed with fear. I wanted to scream or run, but was so terrified I couldn’t move. Ambling right at me, not twenty feet away, was a huge black bear. How could I be expected to know that the bears at Jasper are tame?”
New Canadian Stars
SOMERVILLE, of course, is the one Canadian who is always a threat in any kind of competition. Bud Donovan, the twenty-year-old Winnipeg boy, seems to be coming along. Last year, after a slow start, he was the last Canadian to be eliminated in the British Amateur, where he got as far as the fifth round. But it was in the General Brock tournament at Fonthill toward the end of the season that he flashed really phenomenal form. Here he finished second to Tony Mañero in a field which included Walter Hagen, Henry Picard, Jimmy Thomson, Han-y Cooper and other big shots in American tournament golf. At that, he blew a six-inch putt
on the home hole, to miss going into a tie with Mañero.
Already it is being said that Donovan’s swing is unorthodox and his style mixed. Let’s look into this.
Seasoned stars are always just a bit reticent when it comes to passing an opinion or making predictions about an unknown who scores impressively in his first season. Why? Simply because they know the end is not yet. They know he may scale the heights or fall into the trough; that only another year or so will tell.
During that first year the newcomer will be mingling with the established great, some of whom he may have hero-worshipped a few years previous, and he will be hearing a lot of golf chatter. Some of it may have to do with his own swing. He may be told, as Horton Smith was told the first year he emerged as a star, that he has a kink in his swing that should be ironed out before it begins to give him trouble. If he doesn’t take this seriously and so escapes being set back several years in his play, as happened to Horton Smith, there is still another hazard. The golf writers have yet to be reckoned with.
New golf stars come along about as often as a Dominion election. The golf writers have been waiting for just such an event for something like four years, and you can’t blame them for making the most of it when it happens. Everything about the new player, including his possible faults, must be magnified and passed on as news to the golfing public.
If the newcomer can listen to all the chatter he hears about himself without being persuaded into experimenting with his swing, then the chances are he’s a golfer. That’s why it’s a little early yet to make predictions about Bud Donovan or, say, even a girl like Patty Berg; you just can’t tell yet.
The best golf being played in Canada today is in the Vancouver district. The season is longer out there and, what’s more, the competition is keener. With tournaments up and down the Pacific Coast both north and south of the border almost the whole year round, the lads can hardly help but improve. Any one of four or five boys -—right now Ken Black and Stan Leonard look the most likely—may succeed Sandy Somerville as Canadian champion, though Gene Sarazen says there is an unknown player out there who could take any of them.
A couple of years ago Sarazen and Joe Kirkwood made a post-season tour of the continent, including British Columbia in their itinerary. When they arrived back in New York, Sarazen told Jimmy Powers, a metropolitan sports writer, that he had seen the world’s greatest golfer while on the tour. Powers wanted to know who he was and all about him.
“He’s a guy out in Vancouver by the name of Joseph Tek,” Sarazen told him. “By trade he’s a fur trapper, but he hits tee shots 300 yards and picks off bull’s eyes with his irons.”
This sounds like one of those national secrets that should be investigated. We have only one, maybe two, golfers who can hold their own in international competition, and if Tek is a golfer and not a toothbrush, then he should be persuaded to leave his traps long enough to bring Canada some of the glory on the links which she so badly needs.
The quickest and surest way to increase the prestige of our tournaments is to develop some golfers who might grab off some of the other titles. The Canadian Amateur attracted some quality competition from below the line after Sandy Somerville annexed'the American Amateur championship. They all like to get a crack at the champion.