Anchored Putting in Old Scotland

Tired of listening to today’s debate about anchoring, I had Sherman set the wayback machine to the mid 1400’s, just before James II banned “golfe.” If anyone could shed light on the true spirit of the game and the anchored putting issue, I hoped that person might be found in the gorse and heather of old Scotland. Soon a figure came out of the fog, and I ran to meet him. (In the interest of decency and comprehension, I’m editing his comments to modern English. Insert your profanities of choice at the “***”.)
“Sir! A moment of your time, please?”
“Eh, laddie? I’m late to my match, but if you’ll walk *** fast and talk *** faster, maybe.”
“Many thanks, Mr.?” I paused and looked quizzically at him.
“Seamus is the name. You’re wasting daylight.”
“We’ve been having this argument about anchored putting, and…”
“Anchored? How can you hit the *** ball if you’re club is nailed to the ground?!”
“Anchored to you, not the ground, sir.”
“You mean I’d tie the *** club to my *** hand? What the *** for?”
“No. You brace it on your stomach or chest. So you don’t twitch as much.”
“Oh, like old Shaughnessey, you mean. We let him lean against *** sheep if he’s feeling a bit woozy. Still twitches like a (totally unprintable), though.”
“OK. And you think that’s consistent with the spirit of the game?”
“You mean scotch? Scotch is the *** spirit of my *** game, and I can’t see what leaning on sheep has to do with it.”
About this time I heard a faint chorus of Loch Lomond and Seamus pulled a smartphone out of his bag. “Speak of the *** devil,” he muttered as he looked at the screen. “Aye, Shaughnessey? The sheep are on 3, you say? Why, you *** hunk of ***! We mowed 3 last week! Get those *** sheep over to 6, where they belong! They’ll *** be there when we play through, you know!” He put the phone away and shook his head. “Just can’t get good *** help these days.”
“You have a smartphone?”
“If you’re here in 1449 wearing those *** saddle shoes, I can have one of these. Say, do you happen to have one of those *** hotshot balls you guys go on and on about? I could use one of them.”
“I’ll give you one if you’ll just answer me this one question. Do you think it’s OK to brace a putter against your body? Is it a golf stroke if you hold it that way?”
“Does it help?”
“Some folks say it helps them. There’s no evidence it’s better overall, though.”
“So why do it?”
“It’s been going on for quite a long time now. Some people like to do it that way, and some people can putt that way when they can’t putt any other way.”
“Like Shaughnessey’s *** sheep.”
“I guess.”
“Shaughnessey couldn’t play without his *** sheep, and we kinda like to play with him. We get to take his *** money.”
“So you think it’s OK?”
“I told you we let him use the sheep.”
“I mean anchoring.”
“You say I get the *** ball if I answer? Now there’s something that makes the game easier. You ever try to hit one of these *** wooden things?”
He gave me a battered boxwood sphere that looked it had toured the links more than a few times. “You can have the ball if you’ll answer my question,” I assured him.
“Why do you guys have to *** argue about *** everything? Must be a *** pile of money involved? And *** barristers, I bet.”
“Could be.”
“It’s a *** game. Let ‘em play. And I’m *** late.”
Seamus stuck out his hand and waited as I dropped a new ball into his eager palm. He gave me an exaggerated wink. “Now we’ll see who buys the *** spirit of the game at the end of our match, won’t we?” As he wandered off into the gathering fog, I could swear I heard him mutter, “That *** square *** grooves guy a few years ago gave me two *** balls, you know.”

(Apologies and many thanks to Jay Ward Productions and The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show for hours of entertainment and for Mr. Peabody, Sherman, and the wayback machine.)

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A Quick Round in Delhi

If the powers that be really want to speed up play, they should talk with the marshals at the fictional Golden Greens Golf Course. According to The Case of the Missing Servant, by Tarquin Hall, the club is on the eastern outskirts of Delhi.

The Case of the Missing Servant doesn’t center on golf. It’s a mystery, includes a lot of detail about Indian culture, and contains an entertaining array of characters. If you like books similar to Agatha Christie’s Poirot series, you’ll probably like The Case of the Missing Servant. The lead character, Vish Puri, even likes to show off and wrap things up in front of a crowd, a la Poirot.

But back to speed of play. Near the end of book, one of the characters heads out to the course for an after-work round. He’s a golf nut, not a golf pro. His round is described as beginning at 8:30. It includes an eagle on 5 and a birdie on 8. He shoots 7 under par. He has a post-round Diet Coke and leaves the course “shortly after ten o’clock.” Total time for a 7 under par round and drinks: Just over 90 minutes.

As you might expect, this description of golf was a bit disconcerting to me. Maybe the reason I’ve never shot 7 under is that I don’t play in less than 90 minutes. The number of holes played isn’t specified in the book so I suppose you could argue it was a quick 9, but if that’s the case I’d like a little more detail about going 7 under in 9. Doing it in 18 is amazing enough for an after-work round by a tech company employee. I’m also curious as to why one eagle and one birdie were singled out. I’d think those other 4 strokes under par were at least as noteworthy.

The book got good reviews. To be fair, it isn’t a golf book and the round of golf played no significant part in the plot. I thought the book was a fine representative of its species, with the added benefits of a little humor and insight into today’s India. But I can’t help wondering about how that round was presented.

On the other hand, if there’s someone out there who knows how to shoot 7 under in 90 minutes, there’s a grateful world and a lot of fame and fortune waiting for them.

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How many golfers can swing one club?

Schreiner 16th green

For the last several years I’ve played almost all of my golf at my home course. I enjoy playing different courses, but that isn’t how things have worked out recently. But last week I got a call from a guy I knew with a great offer of a round at a nice course and I jumped at the chance. I’d never played the course or played with the guys that would be there, and a change sounded like fun.

I had vowed not to look like an idiot, so I started out carefully. I hit a decent opening drive on the par 5 first hole, laid up carefully into no-man’s land, misjudged my half wedge, and made bogey. The second hole was a sharp dogleg from an elevated tee. Uncertain if I would hit through the dogleg, I held back a little and hit a little push slice. After a cautious second shot to just short of the green I pitched short (worried about running it off the back of a fast green), putted short (ditto), and made double. On the par 3 third I listened to a variety of opinions about what to hit, tried to hit my 6 hybrid too hard, pulled it, and bogeyed.

About this time I decided to just hit the ball like I knew what I was doing even if I didn’t know what was over the next rise. I enjoyed myself a lot more and ended up with a 7 over 79 after going 4 over in the first 3 holes. I hit it into a few stupid spots, but I just kept trying to play each shot aggressively and with commitment.

When I get in trouble on the course or don’t have a good time, it’s usually because I can’t settle into the shot and the game. I don’t decide on the shot and play it with confidence. I don’t clear my mind and just concentrate on hitting the ball. Instead I question my decisions, let my mind wander, and only half of me plays golf. The other half of me watches me try to play golf.

I have to learn this lesson over and over, but I think I’m beginning to get a handle on my multiple personality disorder and just hit the ball. That other half can watch all he wants as long as he keeps his opinions to himself, at least until after the round. I get tired of him asking, “Are you sure?” at the top of my backswing.

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In The Mood For Golf?

I’m always surprised by how much my mood affects my golf game. I’ve been in one of my extended funks for the last few months as I dealt with a flurry of life’s normal irritations, and I’ve been playing mediocre (or worse) golf.  Last Friday I shot 90 or 91 in our weekly skins game. I’m not sure which score it was because I quit paying attention.

Yesterday I gave myself one of those “Come on, Charlie, it’s not that bad,” talks as I drove to the course. When I got there I found the Cotton Baron in the parking lot, back from a trip to Vegas that lasted a lot longer than planned and involved a marriage. He entertained me with his tale of woe, so I was distracted from my own irrational thoughts. The Baron, The Cowboys, and Ronfucius and I arranged our usual wolf game, and we were off. I birdied the first hole, got through the front nine in a one-under 35, and ended up with a 76, my best round in quite a while.

It could have been better if not for two missed short putts and a bladed sand shot on 18 that nearly took the Baron’s head off as it flew over the back of the green, hit the edge of the cart path, and then rocketed back across and off the front of the green, but I’ll take a 76 any day.

I often wonder how one person can have a 15 stroke difference from day to day, but I guess I shouldn’t be. The pros can play like crap one week and run away from the field the next. Tiger can miss the cut one week and then win. Phil can limp around Torrey Pines and then lip out a putt for 59 in Phoenix. It’s the nature of the game.

I’m just glad how I react to life’s minor irritations only affects a meaningless skins or wolf game, and not my livelihood and reputation. If my life depended on my game, I bet my score might affect my mood at least as much as my mood affects my score. That could make for volatile life on and off the course.

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A Little Fun Ain’t All Bad

“Not one of us ever grows up to be what he intended to be. Not one of us fulfills his own expectations, Travis. We are all our own children, in that sense. At some point, somewhere, we have to stop making demands.” (From The Green Ripper, one of the Travis McGee mysteries by John D. MacDonald.)


Ronfucius and I had just finished playing our usual mediocre rounds yesterday and were bemoaning how our games had deteriorated. Neither of us has played much recently, partly because of weather and partly because of other demands on our time, and we’re just not popping out those nice rounds with regularity.  On the other hand, the weather has warmed up nicely and we had a good time needling and laughing our way around the course.

I’ve always been at risk for making life harder than it has to be by trying to live up to self-imposed standards. I can get caught up in how well I’m playing golf or if I’m keeping some project of my own on schedule when no one else cares and it really doesn’t make any difference. In short, I tend to forget the standards are self-imposed, and if I don’t like them, I can change them. I can stop making demands.

Back when I was getting paid for my time, I suppose that made a little sense. No one was telling me what to do from moment to moment, and if I didn’t set a personal schedule and personal goals I was at risk for not accomplishing anything. Eventually that would be noticed and I’d suffer in terms of raises or promotions.

Those self-imposed standards had the risk of sucking the joy out my job, but at least they led to financial rewards and career advancement. Applying those standards to my golf game or my piddly-squat projects risks sucking the joy without any payback. I suspect that means I’d be better off letting some things slide a bit.

I bet no one would notice. Having a good time needling and laughing my way around the golf course and daily life may not be such a bad standard to impose on myself, anyway. I suspect that Meyer, the voice of wisdom in the quote at the top of this post, would agree.

It’s a nice afternoon and the roof of the carport I’ve built still has a few courses of shingles to go. But the roof doesn’t leak and there’s no rain in the forecast anyway, so I think I’ll see how they’re doing at Torrey Pines.


“The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, or, perchance, a palace or a temple on the earth, and, at length, the middle-aged man concludes to build a woodshed with them.” (Henry David Thoreau)

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To Golf Or Not To Golf

We’ve all been there. It’s a cold, windy day and you’ve got plenty of things to do that don’t involve freezing to death and trying to calculate wind speed and direction. On the other hand, you’ve got a standing game with a group of guys you love playing with. You know you’ll play poorly if you go, your eyes will water in the wind, and when you hit the ball your hands will feel like you slapped a tree.

It’s stupid to voluntarily subject yourself to misery. But you go, and the whole group is there. Everybody agrees this is crazy, but the game goes on. The golf is forgettable; it’s one of those days you say you’re “working on my handicap”. Everyone threatens to quit several times during the round, but no one takes it seriously. After all, where would they rather be?

Lately the weather has been nasty and I’ve been seeing where I’d rather be. As I write this in the midmorning, it’s 34 degrees, mostly sunny, and windy. The clouds are starting to roll in and it might hit 45 before the day is done. I’ve played in worse, but these days I haven’t been playing as much golf in this kind of weather. I miss the jokes, needling, and, dare I admit it, emotional support of my golf buddies, and I hope they’ll understand why I’m not as reliably there as I used to be. So far, they seem to. In fact, they’re staying warm more often themselves.

I’m rediscovering some things I used to do, and learning some new things. I’m getting more reading done. I’m keeping up a little better with the chores and some things I like to do that often nag at me. Maybe my wife is happier with me when I get those things done, but I probably irritate her by being in the way as often as I help out, so I’m guessing that’s a wash. The feral cats don’t seem to care.

I think I’m trying to see where golf fits in my life. It’s a luxury I didn’t have when I was working – golf had to fit where the time was. Now I could play every day if I wanted to. I even did that for a little while. I missed the rest of my life when I played that much, but I miss golf and the guys if I don’t play enough.

I’m not a natural at golf and my game goes downhill rapidly if my play drops below a certain frequency. If I don’t play often enough I have to adjust my expectations. That was no problem when I always sucked, but now that I’ve played well for a while it’s harder.

It’s a balancing act, and I guess we all reach our own equilibrium. I know some guys who play every day and love it, and I know some others who play once a month and that’s enough. I’m somewhere in between, and closer to every day than once a month. I’ll let you and my golf buddies know when I figure it out.

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Old Tom Marbles

One of the Golf Now commercials featuring the Old Tom Morris character has Old Tom bragging about how many golf course choices he had. He proudly says he had 4 courses to choose from and they were “All within a horse ride of my wee something something.” It sounds like he says “stone dungeon”, but that’s obviously not right.

Does anyone have any idea what he says the wee thing is that is within a horse ride of 4 courses? I suppose it’s Old Tom’s house, but what is he saying?

I like the Old Tom character despite the marbles in his mouth, but I wish they’d tone it down just a bit. Having him pay his bar tab with a chicken and using a sheep as a caddie verges on jumping the shark.

Old Tom may have lived in the 1800’s, but the last time I checked they had money and human caddies back then. I doubt Tom’s 50 pounds a year salary at St. Andrews was 50 pounds of chicken, and Tom himself was a caddie and a caddie master at various times in his life.

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Meet Meeester Streeeak

When I was an undergrad in 1967, my academic advisor gave me one of the worst pieces of advice I ever received. “Take Russian,” he said. “You’ll need it to read important scientific literature.” I never needed to read anything in Russian during my academic career, and it’s probably good given how poorly I learned the language. The Russian classes were at 8 AM, and I had a bad habit of playing pool until dawn. The little Russian I did know helped me understand some words in A Clockwork Orange, though.

Class attendance at most classes at Rice in those days was optional. Do well on the exams and other work, and whether you were in class or not was unimportant. However, my Russian instructor was very nice guy who was interested in our performance, dearly wanted us to learn Russian, and thought it was crucial that we came to class and participate (in Russian, of course), so he was concerned if someone was frequently absent. On one of my rare days of attendance I answered a discussion question in Spanish in my semi-comatose pool-all-night induced state. That got quite a response.

Anyway, I had a friend in the class who took pride in his ability to skip classes and still ace the exams. He did this very well, and the 8 AM meeting time combined with his habits pretty much ruled out his attendance. My Russian instructor was a native of Russia and spoke English with a heavy accent. The instructor noticed my friend’s absence, and would ask the class “Has eeenybody seeen Meeester (name withheld to protect the guilty, but it started with “S” and ended with “k”, and was full of long vowel sounds in the middle.)

Enter Silver Streak, the cat you see in the picture. He’s one of the many ferals that live on our property and enjoy our hospitality. As you can see, he’s all black, but in his youth he had a silver whisker that earned him the name. This was shortened to Streak for convenience, but to me he’s always “Meeester Streeeak.” I doubt that a nostalgic cat name was the benefit my academic advisor intended when he told me to take Russian, but you never know how education might enrich your life. Life is full of surprises.

(Photo by Loretta Prokop)

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Hybrids Anonymous

In a commercial for Adams hybrids, Kenny Perry says, “I just can’t hit a 3 iron like I used to.” I’ve never come close to playing like Kenny Perry and he’s ten or so years younger than me, so I guess there’s no shame in admitting that my love affair with my 3 iron is over, too.

There was a time that I loved hitting long irons and my 3 iron was my go-to club. I used it for long approach shots. I used it in place of a fairway wood, not just because I could hit my 3 iron so well but also because I couldn’t hit a 3 wood at all. For a few years I used my 3 iron as my driver. I used it for punch shots out of the trees and for low runners under the wind. I probably hit it more often than any clubs in the bag except for my pitching wedge and my putter.

But something happened, along with the appearance of gray hair and a little pooch around the waist. My 3 iron wasn’t such a good friend anymore, and then my 4 iron started to insult me. Even my 5 iron thought the occasional worm burner and shank were pretty hilarious. My best friends had deserted me.

A few months ago I finally took the plunge and decided if it was good enough for Kenny, it was good enough for me. I found a used set of Adams hybrid irons at a decent price and fell in love with them. The set even has a hybrid 6 iron, and I’ve been amazed at how much more confident I feel over those hybrids and how much better I’m hitting it. It doesn’t always show in my score, but every now and then I pop out a round I can be proud of.

I held out as long as I could, but I’ve finally admitted it. “My name is Charlie and I’m getting older and I hit hybrids.” I’ve watched the bags of the guys I play with, and most of them admitted it a few years ago. I think they were more mature than me in more ways than one.

If you doubt I can’t hit my 3 iron like I used to, have a look at the header image of this blog. My 3-iron is the broken club in the picture.

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Back To Work

After a long time of wandering in the wilderness, I’m getting back to regular posting. My internet problems have been solved (knock on wood) by the belated arrival of a decent wireless signal at my property, and I’m far enough along on several other projects to the point that I have a little time to breathe. I’ve revised my “About” page to reflect my return.

We don’t live all that far out in the sticks, but our property is just far enough out that the city tends to overlook us. The only TV we have is satellite, there is no fiber optic cable out here, etc. On the other hand, we’re close enough to the city that the rural providers figure the city is taking care of us. If you go just a few miles farther out of town, you’ll have DSL, cable, etc., and until recently you had a better wireless signal. Go a few miles closer to the city, and you get all the big city options.

It’s always been my fate to be on the dividing line. Not a jock, but more athletic than my nerdy friends. (It came in handy when I shot pool with the football team crowd, because my jock friends would protect me when I irritated someone by winning at 9 ball, but that’s another story.) I know just enough about a lot of things to be brave enough to try them and screw them up. Now the 4GLTE signal runs right down the middle of our property. You can get it on one side, but not the other. Luckily, the house is on the side that gets it.

I hope no one turns the wrong screw on the cell tower.

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