Well, so much for my September resolution of getting the blog done and dusted early, well before the wee, small hours. I put it down not just to being a lazy, prevaricating git but to being a bit depressed after virtual choir. Singing with other people is meant to be one of the best, most uplifting, endorphin-enhancing activities, good for us on every level….and so it is, usually; even for me, a novice striving to overcome nearly 60 years of standing at the back and miming.
The more uncharitable of my family and friends – the ones with half an ear – suggest that I should still be standing at the back and miming after several years of failing to hit a note with a group of amazingly tolerant, forgiving people, most of whom hit the right notes with impressive regularity. Dai, who could sing, roared in agony whenever I ventured a warble in the shower and we ended up in kinks laughing the one time he tried to get me started and I couldn’t even manage doh. The sopranos are safe from me but I now apologise unreservedly to the men and women lower down the scale, the poor souls within earshot. And to the sainted Helen, our leader, who managed not to wince at my efforts in the days when we could all get together in the same space.
We’re all on mute when we sing together via Zoom – even the best sound cacophonous otherwise, so there are still some technological frontiers to cross. At the end of yesterday’s session, when we were singing Morecambe and Wise’s ‘Bring Me Sunshine’ (composed by Arthur Kent, lyrics by Sylvia Dee), I made one of my dafter decisions: I picked up the phone and switched on the voice recorder, just to check how far I was from my first recording contract. Then, pushing the outer edges of daftness, I replayed the recording….
If I had any sense – which, patently, I don’t – I’d have ended the blog there and gone to bed to nurse my shattered aspirations and get a decent night’s sleep. But then I’d have had to face the fact that there’d been no mention of golf at all…
And there was plenty of memorable golf early in the week, albeit at a more lowly level than the ANA Inspiration, the second women’s major of this disrupted season, which got under way yesterday in the searing heat of the Californian desert at Mission Hills Golf Club. A travelling band (of golfers) from Llangollen Golf Club (plus one interloper from WHGC) endured much wetter conditions at Pleasington on Monday, although we set off well fed after being treated to our lunch by the club president, a gesture of hospitality that was above and beyond the call of duty. Many thanks, Michael. Mo’s back was playing up, so she didn’t play, which, given the near relentless rain, was a wise decision.Pleasington, near Blackburn, goes beyond undulating and would take a lot of playing in the dry with a bit of run on the ball but we made it round – my highlight was avoiding what would have been a very expensive hole-in-one by 12 inches – then headed off for a night in Blackpool, at the Imperial Hotel, my first non-family stayaway in months. The famous Illuminations had been switched on a few days before but it was still raining, so I nipped outside for a quick glance then scuttled back inside, masked up. Lucky we weren’t booked in for next Monday when, from the sound of it, parties of more than six will be illegal. On Tuesday, we played St Annes Old Links, not quite in the shadow of the Tower but not so far from it. Plenty of linksy humps and hollows, no hills to speak of and no rain but no pushover, with bunkers, bunkers everywhere. If you want to score at St Annes, you HAVE to avoid the sand. I played the wrong club short of the bunkers guarding the 2nd green and the ball ran unerringly into the middle pot. Three attempted extrications later I conceded defeat, picked up and our designated raker set to work, fearing a very long day. In fact, after an initial flurry, she had a long, sand-free period before making up for it at the short 16th, one of the many greens surrounded by bunkers, where all but one of us hit the beach.
It was late when we finished, so we headed off for fish and chips at the justly renowned Whelans and then had a pavement presentation that verged on the bizarre but was the perfect end to a memorable trip. Thanks to everyone for the laughs and the photos.The same day, at Kedleston Park in Derby, Scotland’s Heather MacRae successfully defended her WPGA Championship title, posting a 36-hole total of 145, three under par, one shot ahead of Keely Chiericato, champion in 2018 and two ahead of former British and US Women’s Open champion Alison Nicholas MBE. A few days after last year’s championship MacRae underwent surgery for cervical cancer and, what with recuperation and lockdown, could be described as seriously undergolfed. Heaven help the rest when she’s in full competitive flow…..
A few weeks ago I began to conduct a bit of a random straw poll amongst my friends and fellow club members. I asked one question: “If you could have information about one facet of the game that would help you improve, what would you choose?”
I was surprised, but hugely heartened, by the answer. Overwhelmingly, players wanted to know more about the mental skills side of the game and how to make the most of the technical skills they already possessed. Humans are strange beings, though, and although a handful had attended a group mental skills session no one had sought out an individual lesson to furnish them with the information they sought!
Over the years I was fortunate enough to work with a couple of specialists in this mental skills arena and when I was playing my best I was certainly very sharp in my thinking on the golf course. Two decades of playing only four or five times a year, however, inevitably led to a steep decline in my mental acuity. After all, if you have a skill and don’t use it, you lose it. When I joined Delamere Forest Golf Club three or four years ago with the intention of playing more again, I fell into the trap of golfers the world over – I pretty much spent my time thinking of my physical skills. The penny dropped eventually that I was focusing far too much on HOW I WAS SWINGING the golf club and not on PLAYING GOLF. I had certainly misplaced my good habits of thinking on the course so it was time to reacquaint myself with them.
Firstly I had to remind myself that I have different areas of my brain at my disposal – the thinking/analytical side and the intuitive side. On the golf course you need the former to assess the lie, the yardage, the conditions, the club selection and your strategy. This is also the side of your brain you mostly need when grooving a new feel or action on the range. I have rediscovered that it is not in the least bit helpful to have this part of the brain taking over or being at the forefront as you hit your shots on the course. That is the time to turn the responsibility over to your intuitive side and pull the trigger.
Many’s the time I have had the pleasure of interviewing the top players immediately after they have won a championship or shot a record low round. When asked what they were thinking during this exemplary sporting performance, the answer is invariably the same: “Er, nothing really.” In other words, once they formulated in their minds the shot they wanted to play they then played intuitively. This is very much within YOUR compass despite any reservations you may have. After all, you do not give yourself a whole host of technical instructions as you walk, drive a car or brush your teeth. You “know” how to do it and will accomplish the task better free from the interference of a stream of instructions.
Let me make it quite clear here that thinking correctly on the course won’t suddenly turn you into the best player on the planet. It won’t suddenly magic up technical skills you do not possess. What it will do is help you create a platform for producing the best golf of which you are capable. That doesn’t mean you will always manage it – but you are increasing the percentages in your favour.So, once you’ve made your decisions re the shot what then ARE you supposed to have in your mind as you swing the club?
I like to imagine I have a private movie screen in my head and on it, in glorious technicolour, I see the shot I want to play. The colours are vibrant, I can frequently smell the newly-cut grass and I can hear the birds tweeting. I flood my mind with a picture of the way I want to see the shot fly to my target and I keep that there throughout the swing, all the while feeling a lovely rhythm in my body. This works for me. As my mind is busy with this picture there is no room for negativity. Remember, also, your body will do its very best to reproduce the picture in your mind. This is why set-up and aim are so important. If you mistakenly keep lining up left of target, your swing will change to shove the ball to the right because you instinctively know that’s where the target is. This is why as you walk in behind the ball it’s an important part of the process to concentrate on your aim and set-up and after that turn your brain over to pictures, feelings and sensations. Then pull the trigger. Isn’t that more than enough to think about each time?
So, you see, it’s not a case of emptying your mind. It’s more cultivating the right sort of thinking that will be helpful to you and clear away the interference of endless instructions to self. This is not even scratching the surface of the topic but it is worth working to acquire better habits of thinking.
Here’s one final little exercise to help you and one that is fun to do on the course. I call it “Keep Away From The Anyways”. An “anyway” is any shot you hit when you shouldn’t have. For example, say you’re caught between a 6-iron and a 7-iron and you elect to go with the 7, but then as you are over the ball you feel the wind freshen into you. You think to yourself you might now need a 6 – but you carry on and hit the 7 anyway. Mostly it won’t turn out well.
Another “anyway” is when you miss a green and carry your wedge and putter over only to discover you’d really like to play an 8-iron run up…..but you’re too lazy to go and get the right club, so you hit it anyway. We’ve all done it. You may feel uncomfortable in your stance but you’re conscious of the group behind you waiting……….so you hit it anyway. You get the picture.
This is all interfering with correct thinking skills. So, next time you go out just notice and mark on your card any time you commit an “anyway”. Increasing awareness will help you catch yourself before committing an “anyway” and you’ll become stronger, more focused and attain better results.
Have fun with it!
It would be lovely to be able to say that, week in, week out, this blog is a well researched, considered piece but, as many of you will have suspected, that’s not the case. I sit down at the trusty laptop – thought it’s been behaving badly this week, making the photos perplexingly smaller than they should be, although I might have sorted that, fingers crossed – and start tapping away, waiting to see what emerges.
There’s been a lot going on in golf in the last week, so where to start? I had to laugh when Jon Rahm picked up his ball and stood there like a statue, stunned, as he and his caddy, gobsmacked, realised what he’d done. The referee arrived and penalised Rahm one shot and from then on the Spaniard was like a man possessed, concentrating so fiercely that he ended up in a play-off with Dustin Johnson, the world No 1, who had to hole a putt of more than 30 feet to tie. Rahm then holed from something like 66 feet to win the BMW Championship at Olympia Fields on the first extra hole.I admit I laughed but only because I remembered that I’d seen Ian Woosnam do the self-same thing – pick up his ball without marking it – in the World Cup in Rome. I think he was desperate to go to the loo and there was one behind the green, so his mind wasn’t on his golf at all. It was manna from heaven for those of us covering the event because the World Cup rarely lived up to its title and was often so dull that it made ditchwater sparkle. There’s nothing like a mega brain fade to brighten up the day.
Even the threat of torture couldn’t have made a wimp like me come up with the winners of that World Cup (in 1991); if you’d threatened my loved ones, I’d have had to yell, “Scatter, head for the hills, run like hell.” The wildest of guesses wouldn’t have come up with Sweden in the shape of Anders Forsbrand and Per-Ulrik Johansson. And guess who won the individual title? Yep. Ian Woosnam of Wales. He’d been the leading individual before, in 1987, when he and David Llewellyn won at Kapalua in Hawaii, beating Scotland (Sandy Lyle and Sam Torrance) in a play-off.
The golf at that World Cup passed me by – most of the rounds took a minimum of five hours (or, if they didn’t, they felt as though they did). What I do remember is the joy of staying in Rome, well worth an hour’s coach journey to the course. Some of the agency journalists, with multiple deadlines, decided to move to digs nearer the course but that meant being billeted in the middle of nowhere, more or less and those of us with less taxing deadlines opted for a longer journey to work. And, purely by chance, I discovered the perfect way to cover the World Cup.
If memory (what that?) serves, I was doing the Scottish Daily Record (as it was probably called in those far-off times) and the Scots, who were playing indifferently, were my priority. One day Dai and I explored the catacombs with Kaye Kessler and his wife Ro, guided by a knowledgeable, witty and entertaining priest from Hong Kong. It was a magical morning and Kaye, being an American journo of some influence and considerable charm, had organised a courtesy car to take us to the golf course; luxury. Even more magically, we arrived just in time to see the Scots putt out on the 18th, perfect timing.
I’m not sure if that’s the year that Sam T tried to avoid talking to me by nipping out the back door of the scorer’s hut – a counterproductive move if ever there was one because it just meant I had to pursue him to get a quote (which I later discovered the office were inclined to improve/embellish if they didn’t like the original). He’d have saved himself a lot of hassle if he’d just waited and got rid of me in a couple of minutes. A few years later, more clued up, less mobile, I’d probably have shrugged and made him sound positively eloquent. Anyway, looking more closely at the results, I see that Wales finished one shot behind Sweden, with the Scots (Colin Montgomerie was Sam’s partner) in third place, three shots behind the Welsh.
The United States, who used to dominate the competition, finished in 12th place, alongside Italy and, stung, sent out their big guns in 1992, in the shape of Fred Couples and Davis Love III, a duo who proceeded to win four consecutive World Cups.
These days Woosie is a newly appointed ambassador for the newly minted Legends Tour, the latest incarnation of what was once the European Senior Tour and then became the Staysure Tour. Ryan Howsam, who founded the Staysure insurance firm, has taken a majority equity share in the tour and will oversee the commercial strategy, working with Mark Aspland, the head of the tour. They’ll be targeting wealthy amateurs who want to play with their golfing heroes on a regular basis and Howsam said, “I believe the untapped commercial potential that the Legends Tour has to offer is unlimited.
“Together we will build this into a brand for professionals, including Ryder Cup players and European Tour winners, as well as amateurs, spectators, promoters and sponsors alike. Golf is unique in that it has high profile and lucrative competitions for players in the over 50s age group. This is our expertise. Competitions will be talked about, loved and watched and we will be rewarding and supporting our members with prize money and endorsements each season.”
The tour’s first ambassadors also include Mark James, Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley, Colin Montgomerie, Tom Lehman, Michael Campbell and Paul Lawrie, a distinguished line-up who can still play a bit and have a fund of stories. Sartorial elegance is still a work in progress.Lastly but by no means least, congratulations to Erica and Rory McIlroy on the birth of their first child, a daughter called Poppy, who arrived on August 31st.