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Just Play Golf

Just Play Golf - August 25, 2015

A dreaded three-putt bogey on the first hole after a perfect drive started my round of golf.  Eight minutes into a perfect South Dakota night on the golf course I decided I was going to change my frame of mind about my round.  I decided I was going to forget the thousands of magazine tips we have all read from pros we’ve never met.  Instead of reaching for my brand-new, over-priced range finder I was going to instead try to envision shots like I had for years. 

One hole later I instinctively reached for my nifty little distance-measuring machine, but I fought the urge to use it and instead tried to feel the shot.  The ball landed and stopped six feet from the hole for an easy birdie.  Instead of trying to guide the perfect shot the perfect distance with the perfect club I hit the ball at the hole.  It was simple.  Swing the club so that the ball gets near the hole instead of guiding the shot to the precise yardage.

My evening of much-better-than-average golf reminded me that golf is more art than science, no matter how “perfect” Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, and others swings have become.  Golf is a game of vision and creativity.  The best players have impeccable touch and feel in addition to calculated swings.  Some of the greatest shots of all time were those that you imagine hitting golf balls in the back yard as a kid.  Bubba Watson’s 45-yard hook shot that won the 2012 Masters was made possible because of an expansive creativity.  Bill Haas likely never practiced for his incredible recovery shot from the water on the second playoff hole of the 2011 Tour Championship.  These amazing golf professionals are at the highest level because of their ability to meld creativity with precision.   This weekend, SMU's Bryson DeChambeau won the U.S. Amateur tournament.  Just a few weeks ago, DeChambeau was crowned the NCAA individual champion.  In addition to his Ben Hogan-esque hat, DeChambeau’s irons are all the same 37.5” long.  He’s unconventional and the greatest collegiate golfer.

(Photo credit: GOLF.com)

Range finders, hundreds of thousands of practice balls on a driving range, and nit-picky mechanics have a place in golf, but let us never forget the art of this wonderful game.  Let kids shape shots around trees before giving them a precision GPS device.  Perhaps trying to hit a ball through a tire swing would yield better results than a frustrating hour on the driving range.  A pulsating imagination separates good golfers from great golfers and that component of the game runs the risk of becoming extinct.

I dare you to try playing like you’ve never picked up a golf magazine or heard of a range finder the next time you play.  Leave the GPS in the car, forget the unending tips that haunt your backswing, and instead try to be a kid in the backyard emulating your favorite golfer.

We need to balance the scale that has tilted to focusing on the means more than the ends.  Kids growing up only thinking about plane angle and exact yardages may not be able to see the microscopic gap Phil fired his flawless wedge through.  Golf is, and should always be, a fun game filled with creativity, imagination, and vision.

-- Thomas Elness, PJ Boatwright Intern (thomas@sdga.org)