Lessons From the Past

These days through big screen HD TVs, social media, videos, podcasts, magazines and books we seem to know every little thing about golf’s superstars from their ball speed to their swing keys and thoughts to their practice habits to their favorite on-course snacks.

We know these guys up close and personal. We know who is cool under pressure, who is struggling with his putting, who is changing drivers and who has taken up hot yoga in order to increase his flexibility.

For someone who is in his 60s, all of this access is amazing. I love knowing what the world’s greatest players are thinking – and why.

Arnold Palmer has been given much of the credit for taking golf mainstream in the 1950s.

As the Pulitzer-Prize winning columnist Jim Murray wrote: “He (Palmer) had the physique of a middleweight boxer, the hands of a bricklayer and you didn't have to watch the shot to see where it went, you could tell by Palmer's face. But he never cried. The grass was never too long, the greens too hard, the weather too bad and, once, when he made a 12 on a hole at the L.A. Open and someone asked him what happened, Palmer replied, ‘I missed a short putt for an 11.’

“In a sense, he made golf in the early TV era. If Palmer didn't play, people didn't watch. If he didn't win, it was a non-tournament.”

Superstars such as Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson and Seve Ballesteros took us through the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s and then Tiger took over in the 90s. And now through the old and new media, we are privy to the tips, ideas, insights and advice of the world’s greatest players – Rory, Brooks, Dustin, Adam, both Justins, Jordan, Gary, Rickie, Bryson, etc. – all of the time.

Unfortunately, that is not the case with so many of the game’s all-time greats. Instead we must rely upon photos, articles and books to give us a glimpse into their personalities, thoughts and ideas. As their playing records attest, these guys were good – and worth getting to know!

“The first thing needed for good putting is mental balance. This means mental and nerve control – coolness, lack of worry, a feeling of ease and decision that isn’t half guessing.  Make some decision on the line and speed of the greens and then play it that way – right or wrong.  You are almost sure to be wrong if you are still guessing as you hit the ball …

“Have you ever noticed how often you hole a five- or six-foot putt with one hand when you are out of a hole?  That means with the strain lifted you are relaxed and you let the head of the putter have its way without checking it or hurrying it. When golfers begin to miss short putts of two, three and four feet it is usually because they are gripping too tightly, the sign of too much tension.  Loosen the grip a little, try to pick out a more comfortable stance and keep the swing smooth. This will often help a lot.” -- Walter Hagen, U.S. (1892-1969) – 11 Majors (winning span 1914-1929): U.S. Open, 2; The (British) Open Championship 4; PGA Championship, 5.

“I have been able to hope for the best, expect the worst, and take what comes along. If there has been one fundamental reason for my success, this is it.” -- Gene Sarazen, U.S. (1902 to 1999) – 7 Majors (winning span 1922-1935): Masters, 1; U.S. Open, 2; The Open Championship, 1; PGA, 3.

“Always use the club that takes the least out of you. Play with a long iron instead of forcing your shot with a short iron. Never say, ‘Oh, I think I can reach it with such and such a club.’ There ought never to be any question of your reaching it, so use the next more powerful club in order that you will have a little in hand. -- Harry Vardon, Jersey (1870 to 1937) – 7 Majors (winning span 1896-1914):  U.S. Open, 1; The Open Championship, 6.

“I strongly believe in a man driving well within himself and not feeling that he has put the very last ounce into his shot, and that in the effort most other consideration have been removed from his mind for the time being. It is usually fatal to try to get the very long ball from strength alone.” -- James Braid, Scotland (1870 to 1950) – 5 Majors (winning span 1901-1910): The Open Championship, 5. Braid was also a highly regarded course architect. His designs include Carnoustie and the King’s and Queen’s courses at Gleneagles.

“Every individual stroke in medal play has to be thought out on its own merits, and the pros and cons of the situation and its possibilities must be weighed in your mind. Under these circumstances I have but one piece of advice to offer: Play a steady game.” -- John Henry Taylor, England (1871 to 1963) – 5 Majors (winning span 1894-1913): The Open Championship, 5. He also designed over 80 courses in the UK and Europe.

“There is no occasion to hurry the backswing, for the confidence is so complete that all thought of haste disappears and, furthermore, the effort isn’t going to be required until the clubhead is finally thrown into the ball.” -- Jim Barnes, England (1886 to 1966) –  4 Majors (winning span 1916-1925): U.S. Open, 1; The Open Championship, 1; PGA, 2.  He won the first PGA Championship in 1916.

Some lessons never get old.

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