For Love of Country, For Love of the Game

Golf is my favorite game. When people ask me what I’d do if I won the lottery, I reply, “Play golf.”

No, that’s not to say I’m particularly good at it. I’m not particularly bad, but not great either. I get around the course in a way that many would not be embarrassed by. But, that’s not the point, either. The point is I like to play. I’m just as envious of retirees in North Carolina as I am of tour pros. They get to play when they want to.

…when they want to…

A short time ago, Rory McIlroy said he didn’t get into golf to grow the game. Predictably there was some backlash. And, rightfully so. But, for now, I’m going to do something controversial. I’m going to give him a brief pass. He, like the rest of us, can play when he wants to. That’s his right. Well, that’s his privilege, anyways.

If you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll see that I have a high opinion of golf. Not only as a pastime, but as a philosophy. I think there are great lessons to learn on the course — how to treat others; how to deal with victory and defeat; what silence means. And every golfer learns through their life. I think Rory will learn that in life, as in golf, you play the course you are presented. (Coincidentally, Rory deserves a breakfast ball here.)

As a friend pointed out to me, “What if Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer had taken Rory’s position?”

Jack and Arnie came up at a time when golf was running pretty ragged. The purses were small. Crowds were made up of the same people that had been there for 40 years. Then they showed up, not to grow but, to play the game. And something happened. People became engaged. The game started to change. They could have continued as they were. They didn’t, thank God, and they evolved. Suddenly, they were talking to TV cameras, signing autographs, piloting planes, getting their pictures taken with models; bring the game to the masses.

They had to. Not only was it their right, it was their privilege to do so.

Only one woman has withdrawn from the Olympic golf games. Citing concerns over the Zika virus, who could blame her? But, it’s only one.

The ladies of the LPGA are taking full advantage of the privilege to play in the Olympic Games. The climb to the LPGA Tour is steep. College, mini-tours, part-time jobs, carpooling across the country, funding pitches to would-be sponsors, couch crashing, and push-carts. Then, once you’re in the Show, you make one-seventh of a man’s salary (if you’re in the top-2 on the money list). Most LPGA players will tell you that the game must grow in order for the LPGA tour to thrive.

So, the privilege to play in the Olympics, one of the many ways to grown the game, is a no-brainer. Hell yes, sign me up!

The question is not, “Why not, Rory?”

The question is, why don’t all the men of the PGA Tour see that growing the game they love to play is a privilege?

 

What I Learned Watching the Pros

I traveled to Williamsburg a few weeks ago for the LPGA’s Kingsmill Championship. Now, if you’ve ever gone to a golf tournament, even to an avid golf enthusiast like me, they can be pretty boring if you don’t have a plan. You can follow your favorite golfer through her round if you’ve got your running shoes on and you’re in excellent shape. You can hang out at one hole and watching dozens of golfers hit into the green or off the tee. Of you can do what I do. I like watching the pros practice. I learn from their routine and I hope to pick up some pointers just by observing.

This tournament I was lucky to watch Lexi Thompson, Suzann Pettersen, and Joanna Klatten on the range. They each go about practice and warm up in a different way but there’s much to be learned from them all. Here’s what I learned.

From Lexi: swing for the fences or give it all you’ve got. She and other LPGA players have swings built for speed. Low and slow on the takeaway. Long arc. High hands. On top of the ball. And then let it all go. She clobbers the ball. On her toes — there’s not a part of her that’s not swinging into the back of the ball. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Take a look at Laura Davies circa 1995. She’s on her toes at impact, too. Do what you can to get as much speed out of your swing as you can.

From Suzann Pettersen: I watched her hit little half swing sand wedges at a target around 75 yards away. If there was a laundry basket out there, she’d be in it 80% of the shots. But, she was not concerned about that. She was making the same swing over and over again. Maybe 20 times. Then she increased speed to around 80 yards. Another 5 shots. 85 yards. 90. She then started worrying about where the ball went. She has a literal definition of “warming up.”

From Joanna Klatten: Hit the ball straight. This is a lady that is second in driving distance on tour. But she also hits about 9 fairways a round. That doesn’t sound like a lot from a tour pro but when you watch how straight and far she hits the ball, it’s impressive. I watched her hit about 20 drives and each one was on a frozen rope straight as an arrow. While she hits the hell out of the ball, she makes every effort to put the ball in play. And her swing shows it. Again, it’s not the textbook Adam Scott, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, boring swing of the PGA tour. But it gets the job done. And when you hit the ball straight, you don’t have to hit fairways. You just can hit them.

Of course, there are many terrific female golfers out there that you can learn from. My favorite teaching coach, Anya Alvarez, offers some terrific insight and tips through social media. Check out the LPGA’s twitter list of players. It’s worth subscribing to.