Readers Letters - June 2011
Seriously, it’s time to rewind
As most readers will be aware, the evolution of the game of golf has been incredible in recent years. Long standing traditions seem to have changed at a rate of pace, along with the physical game itself. And, on reflection, I’m not convinced that all of these changes have been for the good of the game. Many areas within the sport have been improved, of course, one of them being the conditioning of the majority of golf courses for longer periods through the golfing year. We all welcome that.
The advances that have been made in golf equipment is self evident if you care to visit a decent pro shop – technology has run riot, especially with over-size drivers and impossible-tomiss- sweetspots! However, the biggest breakthrough – and the most significant advance – has to be the ball. The whole game now seems to be geared around how far the ball travels from the tee. And yet we all know that the world’s finest golf courses were designed and laid out around the ball being hit a certain distance – therein lies the game’s biggest dilemma. New golf courses are being ever longer and the emphasis is on how far you can launch it from the tee.
It seems that we are forever witnessing older, established, golf courses requiring new tees and modifications to holes (i.e. lengthening) specifically to cater for the distance the ball travels. Holes that were originally designed as a drive and mid-iron are now reduced to nothing more than a drive and a flick. (I was looking online at changes made to Congressional, where this year’s US Open is to be played – the 18th, would you believe, is a 523-yard par four).
To me, a real beneficial advance in the game golf would be to manufacture a golf ball that was limited in the distance it can travel (perhaps in tandem with a rule on the size of the sweet-spot on drivers). not only would this save the blushes of all the great golf courses around the world, and restore some sense of sanity to the length at which they play, but it would surely, once again, give back the advantage to a talented ball striker, and not simply reward players who rely purely on speed and muscle – and inconsistent ball striking – with a bigger margin for error. Golf prides itself on tradition, and yet the way the technology has been allowed to race so far ahead, rendering classic courses obsolete, is quite a disgrace.
How much more fun and exciting
our game would be, not only for the
players, but also for the vast number
of spectators who wish to see true
artistry and shot-making win the day.
It’s the mental discipline that separates winners
Having watched the Masters with baited breath at young Rory McIlroy’s incredible performance over the first three rounds his unravelling on Sunday made me stop and think. Having been a serious sculler and oarsman in my younger days, and a reasonably successful rowing coach, the breakdown in both physical and mental capacity was intriguing.
Now, the similarity between sculling and golf may not appear obvious to a sculler or a golfer, but to someone who has enjoyed success in both, the precision and physical demands are virtually the same and equally as demanding on the mental control. Some minor adjustment will restrict the smooth rowing stroke and, in turn, the speed of the boat, while a slight discomfort – physically or mentally – will upset the oarsman’s ability to co-ordinate his effectiveness.
Exactly the same applies in golf – the greater your proficiency the less effective the problem will be, but the higher the level of performance the more vital those lost fractions of a second per stroke are to the oarsman and those few degrees off target become, or in distance lost to the golfer.
At various stages in my rowing career I worked with some of the best coaches in the country, possibly in the world, and one thing that impressed me most were two often-repeated phrases: the first was ‘to row on your head and not the panic button’, and the other was that ‘you abide by your accidents’.
If you are super fit, then both these statements are very relevant, because accidents occur and if you pause to recriminate or panic you will lose the race; if you are totally focussed and cool, calm and collected as mentally possible you can overcome these problems, assuming that the boat is not damaged. I have played a lot of golf with good young players whose immediate reaction to an off-line driver is to smash their club into the ground and spend the next 10 minutes sulking and playing terrible golf. Naturally, if I am playing against them I am delighted; if I am partnering them I have the problem of talking them back to reality.
There are coaches out there who will tell young people to get angry to bring out their best performance – this supposedly justifies their tantrums, but what it fails to do is make their brains work like a computer, treating every new shot as a totally new project, erasing memories of mistakes recently made. It takes terrific discipline to achieve this, but to perform at the top level in any sport this has to be the top priority.
The fitness to scull at the top, as with the ability to play golf at the top, without the ability to close your mind to an error, accident or missed putt makes the athlete vulnerable. Rory’s first missed putt (at the 1st hole on Sunday) was heart wrenching, because his face said it all. I just hope that his coach and others around him can engender his thoughts to every new shot or putt as being a fresh challenge and not a continuation of a previous error. His ability will always be there, but thinking about previous errors impairs clear thinking and the ability to perform at his very capable best.
As a coach I have worked hard to get my best crews to think like this, with some quite amazing results from near-impossible situations. In rowing the margin may be three seconds, a boat length – a substantial margin. In golf it may only represent one or two dropped shots. The differnece between winning and losing. How many times have you seen a golfer disintegrate after a doublebogey, while another player stages a dramatic recovery after suffering a bad hole? The difference is not physical, but mental. And it’s not luck, either.
Come on Rory – you know what to
Three of the best!
The last issue of Golf International epitomised so many of the reasons why, to me, it is far and away the best golf magazine on the market. Sure, I enjoyed the Alvaro Quiros cover story, but all golf magazines run instruction stories, not least about how to hit it further. No, what I enjoy is the way you present stories that take the reader behind the scenes of the game. In this issue there were three such.
The interview with Barry Hearn was a case in point – very enjoyable and highly entertaining. Ditto the story with Richard Caring. And Richard Gillis’ analysis of the process behind the bidding process for the 2018 Ryder Cup was fascinating. And it’s not only the subject matter that is enjoyable. It’s giving the stories a proper treatment. If someone has a lot of interesting things to say – like Barry Hearn does – then it’s right to give him seven pages in which to say it.
Needless to say, keep up the good
BBC in a tight corner
With reference to the Peter Alliss column in issue 101, where he specifically referred to witnessing the BBC Sports Departments’ ‘slow strangulation, particularly its involvement in golf, and its gradual erosion’. Your esteemed columnist also mentioned the fact that there are a number of ‘dedicated sports channels’ competing against the BBC’s output 24 hours a day, and it was easy to see how the BBC Sports Department had been overtaken.
Commercially, huge amounts of money are having to be bid to pay for the rights to cover various sports events on terrestrial TV and subscription TV, with Sky Sports being the dominant player in this field.
Seeking clarification, I wrote to the BBC Trust, Ofcom, and the Secretary of State for Culture Media & Sport to query the diminishing amount of our prime sports (including golf) currently being shown on terrestrial TV and the BBC, and to ask why the BBC does not offer a dedicated sports channel. In an email reply that I received from the BBC Trust via their complaints department, they [the BBC] state that: ‘At this moment in time we’d be unable, under the terms of our charter, to offer a channel dedicated purely for sport. What also has to be considered is a lack of available channel space to do this, and so the move is unlikely.’
This information, I suspect, will come as a big surprise to the vast majority of Gi readers and millions of other sports lovers! The BBC are effectively trying to compete on an uneven playing field.
Could this be the reason that Mr.
Alliss was alluding to when he included
in his article the references to the
‘slow strangulation and gradual erosion
of the BBC Sports Department’.
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