“Golf was invented a billion years ago! Don’t you remember it?” is an old Scottish saying that rings so very true. If you think about it, when has man not tried to hit something hard and straight? Golf is the most natural of sports, which has evolved from using a stick and a stone to today’s ultra-light clubheads and aerodynamic golf balls.
While the Dutch played a game (kolf) that had many similarities to golf, its target was above ground instead of a hole. In other words, the Scots are the original source for the worldwide plague known as the “‘yips.” As nine-time Major winner Ben Hogan said, “Hitting a golf ball and putting have nothing in common. They’re two different games. You work all your life to perfect a repeating swing that will get you to the greens and then you have to try to do something that is totally unrelated. There shouldn’t be any cups, just flagsticks. And the man who hit the most fairways and greens and got closer to the pins would be the tournament winner.”
Of course, many of us believe it is the Scottish refinement (the hole) that has made golf the world’s greatest and often most frustrating game. There is no denying that a made 3-foot putt counts as one stroke just like a right-down-the-middle 275-yard drive. As Scottish professional Willie Park Jr. (1864 – 1925) said, “A man who can putt is a match for anyone.” Park, by the way, had 12 Top-10 finishes in The (British) Open Championship, including two victories in 1887 and 1889.
Given the fact that the Scots perfected the game, it only seems right to seek out the advice and beliefs of the game’s pioneers, the men who knew how to get the ball into the hole. Despite the many innovations and refinements of both the courses and the equipment over the years, their thoughts, observations and ideas remain relevant today. Let us listen to their Wise Words.
“Bunkers are not a place for pleasure. They’re for punishment and repentance.” -- Old Tom Morris (1821-1908) won The (British) Open Championship four times (1861, 1862, 1864, 1867). He last played in The Open in 1896 at age 75.
“A golfer should always look ahead a shot and if he did, he would be spared many of the difficulties in which he constantly finds himself.” – Scottish professional golfer James Braid (1870 - 1950). He won The (British) Open Championship five times (1901, 05, 06, 08 10) and was a renowned golf architect. He designed over 200 courses, in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. His courses include Gleneagles Kings, Perranporth, St. Enodoc, Blairgowrie, Boat of Garten, Brora, Royal Musselburgh and East Lothian. He also did remodeling work at Carnoustie, Nairn, Royal Troon and Royal Pothcawl.
“To think of nothing but golf while engaged in playing golf is the secret to success." – Scottish-born Willie Anderson (1879 – 1910) was the first golfer to win four U.S. Opens (1901, ’03, ’04 & ’05) and he remains the only man to win three consecutive Opens. Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus are the only other golfers to equal his Open total of four. In addition, he won four Western Open four times, which was considered by many to be a “Major” at the time. Epilepsy is listed as his cause of death at 31.
“In playing a short hole, take a club that you are sure you can get to the pin with, instead of making a great effort with a club with which you must overtax your strength.” – Scottish professional golfer, instructor and course designer George Duncan (1883 – 1964). He had 22 victories as a professional, including the 1920 (British) Open Championship.
“If I am hitting the ball with a blank mind and a driver, I am conscious of thinking how far I want it to go. If I am swinging a mashie (equivalent to a 5 iron), I think how far I want the ball to go and what I want it to do when it gets there – roll a bit or stop short. But as to the stroke, I don’t think about it, section by section, and I don’t think anybody else does, or can … Swing right, and keep your blank mind as much as you can on the shot.” – Carnoustie-born Stewart “Kiltie” Maiden (1886 – 1948), who eventually became the head golf professional at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. One of his students was Bobby Jones, who said, "The best luck that I ever had in golf was when Stewart Maiden came from Carnoustie to be pro at the East Lake Club. Stewart had the finest and soundest style I have ever seen. Naturally I did not know this at the time, but I grew up swinging like him. I imitated his style, like a monkey I suppose".
(Photo caption: Maiden and Jones)
“If I were to advise a beginner, especially a man who was taking up golf rather late in life, the one thing that I would try to impress upon him would be relaxation. Don’t be too stiff in your swing, a long loose and easy swing will get you far better results and is less wear and tear on the brain and body.” – Sottish-born professional Macdonald Smith (1892 – 1949). Smith won 24 PGA Tour events. He is considered to be one of the best golfers in history not to have won a Major having finished 2nd in the 1930 U.S. Open and 2nd and T2 in the British Open in 1930 and 1932.
Here’s a tip of the hat to Scotland and to the Scots who taught us how to play the game.