Just How Long Is This Hole?
Golf course architects have a few tricks that they like to employ to make a golf hole seem much more ominous. One such trick is to build up the green complex so that the top of the green seems almost suspended in air. Usually, the green is surrounded by broad, sloping hills that keep trees and vegetation a considerable distance away from the putting surface. The result is the illusion that the green is farther away from the golfer than it actually is because the eye lacks a reference, near the green, from which to ascertain distance. Combine this with a narrow shoot at the tee box, a bunker placed around 400 yards from the tee (to draw the eye), and some gentle mounding to define the contours of the hole and a hole measuring around 425 yards (while not short, certainly not a monster by today’s standards) seems like it is 800 yards long. A particular master at visual deception was the course architect genius, Donald Ross. While most of his courses were not designed to be very long compared to modern courses, he could make a 325 yard hole seem three times as large. When you recall that his courses existed before the advent of yardage books and GPS systems it gives an even greater appreciation for his mastery. If the mark of a classic is the way it stands the test of time, then Ross’ Pinehurst #2 pretty much says it all.
The bottom line is that Ross, and others like him, provide us with the opportunity to create an obstacle in our mind that is bigger than it is in reality.
“This is the essence of strategic architecture:
to encourage initiative,
reward a well played stroke,
and yet to insist that there must be planning and
honest self-appraisal behind the daring”
Robert Trent Jones, Sr.
Overcoming obstacles represents the very essence of the golf. Each shot carries with it a new challenge; a new set of variables to content with such as wind, slope of the landing area, width of the fairway, the size and shape of the green and the pin position, among others. Of course, while the physical demands of executing the shots necessary to overcome these obstacles is challenging, what can be even more formidable is the mental strain they cause. This is compounded by pressure from competition, stress and anxiety over execution.
“Wind and rain are great challenges.
They separate the real golfers.
Let the seas pound against the shore,
let the rain pour”
In an effort to illustrate the steps necessary to overcome the obstacles we may face in life, this chapter uses character traits of some of the game’s greatest champions from which to draw inspiration. Here are the steps to execute:
Have the vision of Nicklaus: Overcoming obstacles requires vision. Vision allows us to see the possibilities that exist on the horizon, beyond the fog of adversity that surrounds us.
No player in the history of the game had better vision than Jack Nicklaus. Nicklaus had the career vision to prepare his game for the major championships, ignoring the critics who claimed he did not play in enough weekly Tour events. While Nicklaus has a very impressive record in non-majors, he understood that great players are judged by their performance in majors. Nicklaus’ vision led to a plan to be prepared for the Masters, U.S. Open, The Open Championship and the PGA Championship before all others.
“Laddie, a blind hole
is blind only once
to a man with a memory”
Have the perspective of Jones: Bobby Jones pursuit of the Grand Slam in 1930 was wrought with tribulation. The fact that Jones accomplished this amazing feat is staggering, especially given the fact that he was an amateur golfer, and contrary to the popular misconception, he was not independently wealthy, so he had to contend with the everyday struggles of life, just like the rest of us. In addition, the pressures of expectation were enormous not only because he was a golf prodigy, but also because with each victory the excitement and anticipation grew (especially in America, which was struggling with the Depression and desperately needed a hero). Jones also faced fiercely tough competition from golfers eager for the fame of having stopped his march into the history books. Add to the challenge the fact that he was not at the top of his game through some of this stretch (understandably so) and the monumental statue of his accomplishment starts to come into focus.
Jones persevered and triumphed because he maintained a Zen-like stoicism that allowed him to stay focused on his core strengths regardless of the tempest that whirled around him.
“One might as well attempt to describe the smoothness of the wind
as to paint a clear picture of his (Bobby Jones) complete swing”
Have the experience of Hogan: Ben Hogan worked for every ounce of success he enjoyed. The legend of Hogan that is most remembered is the dominating golfer he became after the Second World War until the mid-1950’s. Few today recall that during his early years on Tour, Hogan was broke, more than once, and he was nearly forced to give up the pursuit of his dream to be a touring professional. So desperate was Hogan as a young professional that one time he reportedly stripped an orange tree, which was adjacent to the course, of all of its fruit so that he and his wife could live on the oranges for the following two weeks.
Hogan knew that steel is hardened through fire and he admitted that without experiencing the hard times he never would have known the great times.
“He (Ben Hogan) was the most dedicated practitioner of all time.
His tenacity had no equal”
Have the humor of Trevino: Lee Trevino used humor to deflect stress and anxiety.
Humor allows us to laugh at our mistakes. Humor flushes out blinding rage and negative thinking. Without the benefit of humor, our anger only compounds our problems.
Of course Trevino had great confidence in his ability. Humor does not diminish conviction or minimize that fact that a mistake has been made. Humor simply allows us to adjust faster and not dwell on what is in the past.
“Trevino has more lines
then the L & N Railroad”
Have the help of Penick: When the legendary golf instructor Harvey Penick died in 1995 at the age of 90 he left behind a legacy that goes beyond that of just a great teacher of the game. Penick, who’s students included Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite, taught the game in such a way that revealed as much about life as golf. What’s more, Penick did it in a manner that both showed great respect for his students and left an indelible mark, by masterly using an economy of words. He did this by ingeniously leading his pupils down the path of their own discoveries rather than forcing them to learn by submission.
Harvey Penick individually provided the help that his students needed. Help is all around us as well. However, we have to be willing to take advantage of it. We need to put aside our fear of rejection and embarrassment and ask for the help we need.
“A golf course is to me holy ground.
I feel God in the trees,
and the grass and flowers,
and in the rabbits and the birds and the squirrels;
in the sky and the water.
I feel that I am home”
From A Game for a Lifetime
Have the work ethic of Vijay Singh: Being the first to arrive and the last to leave is more than just a cliché for Vijay Singh.
Singh’s humble origins and ascent to the top of the world of golf is a testament to the rewards that await those that approach any task with an unrelenting tenacity. No one works harder, or longer, on their game then Vijay Singh and the results speak for themselves.
“Golf is a job to me.
I love to play, but I’m
very serious about what I do”
Have the commitment of Snead: Sam Snead was unrelenting in his pursuit of golfing excellence. The fact that Snead was one of the most naturally gifted athletes to ever play the game sometimes obscures the fact of how precisely committed he was to his craft.
Snead not only owns the record for the most all-time PGA Tour victories with 82, but Snead’s burning passion for the game was also demonstrated by his longevity at its highest ranks. He played competitively on Tour well past his 50th birthday (the Champions Tour did not begin until 1980 when Snead was already 68 years old). In fact, Snead holds the record as the oldest player to make a cut on the PGA Tour. He was 67 years old when he made the cut at the 1979 Manufacturers Hanover Westchester Classic. That same year, Snead became the first player to shoot his age on tour when he posted a 67 in the second round of the 1979 Quad Cities Open.
“Sam Snead is one of a handful
of golfers who inspire
the club players with the conviction
that golf is easy”
Have the confidence of Palmer: There has never been a golfer whose game has rivaled Arnold Palmer for the shear excitement he generated on the golf course. Palmer was a power-golfer who could bring a golf course to its knees through his skill and by having the confidence to take chances that others did not possess the intestinal fortitude to even attempt.
There is not doubt that confidence is built through success, but it can also be built through having the courage to try the very thing that all around you would advise against.
“Put him (Arnold Palmer) three strokes behind anybody,
and he believes he’s the favorite”
Have the discipline of Woods: Tiger Woods possesses the physical discipline of Gary Player through his exercise and strict nutritional plan. He possesses the consistency of Byron Nelson, having eclipsed Nelson’s record of consecutive cuts-made. Woods run at consecutive cuts-made would extend to 142 events (ironically, the cuts-made streak ended at the 2005 Byron Nelson Classic). He possesses the vision of Nicklaus and the confidence of Palmer.
Tiger Woods, through hard work, a plan and courage (he twice retooled his major winning swing) has reached the highest levels of the game. His commitment and discipline serve as an example to all of us of the possibilities of what can be achieved when you are not willing to let anything stand in the way of you and your dreams.
“I’ve got to continue down the path
and continue working hard.
I want to get to a better level,
a higher level and be more consistent
day in and day out.
It’s as simple as that”
Modern golf course architecture has changed dramatically over the last three decades both in length and design. However, there is no hazard, no obstacle, than can be incorporated into a golf course’s design that the combination of the skills listed above cannot overcome.