Lesson 5 – Mr. Fixit and Dr. Nofault

Mr. Fixit and Dr. Nofault
[A warning note: I have already given you and will continue to give you a number of ideas for you to try to improve your present enjoyment and scoring.  Not every idea will work for you.  Not every idea should be tried.  If any part of your game is working well, don’t mess with that part.  If you try something and it doesn’t work for you, abandon it.  And finally, while on the course, remember that you cannot keep more than one idea in your head at once.  Either keep your head clear and trust your muscle memory or limit yourself to thinking of just one thing, such as, slow back, or one piece swing.  Colonel Bogey’s goal is to help you enjoy every round of golf you play for the rest of your life whether or not you shave 5-20 strokes off your average score.
I would like to introduce two of the regulars at most golf courses.  Maybe you’ve already met them.  They tend to show up at a lot of courses around the country.  Their names are Mr. Fixit and Dr. Nofault, or Dr. No for short.
I met Mr. Fixit several years ago, during the period when I was experimenting with and writing down the principles of the Colonel Bogey way.  I was loosening up at the practice range.  As I usually do, I started with a 7 or 8-iron, hitting easy shots toward the 100-yard marker.  Satisfied that I was making good contact, I lengthened my backswing and hit a few full shots.  (For me, a full shot is not very full).  I worked my way up to the 3-iron, 5-wood, 3-wood and finally the driver.
I was hitting the ball nicely – no 300 yarders and not many over 200 yards, but straight.  I was aiming down an imaginary fairway about 20 yards wide.  I must have landed 10 shots in a row on the ‘fairway’ when Mr. Fixit, who had been watching, approached me.
Why don’t you bring the club up here?”  he said, demonstrating with the club almost parallel to the ground at the top of the backswing.
Because then I’d lose control of it, and with my controlled swing I know I can keep the ball in play,” I replied.
“But you’re not doing it the right way,” he persisted.
I conceded that my swing was not likely to appear in the pages of Golf Digest, but I said I was happy to be shooting regularly in the 80’s and frequently in the low 80’s hitting it my way.
He was not easily discouraged.  Rather than be rude, I let him talk.  He went on to show me something that was wrong with my grip, my knee flex, my weight distribution, my shoulder turn and my follow-through.  When he was finished with me at last, I smiled a polite, if somewhat insincere “thank you” and went back to practicing – my way.  Later, as I left, I saw Mr. Fixit overhauling another golfer’s swing a few tees down.
I don’t think, Mr. Fixit was just a silly busybody.  He really was trying to help me and he did have a full, flowing swing.  He might have been a teaching pro himself who simply couldn’t help trying to make over what struck him as a well, unorthodox swing.  The problem is, he is like many of the teaching pros I have taken lessons from over the years.  He would try to correct Lee Trevino or Jim Thorpe if he saw them practicing because they don’t have picture swings either.
What golf students as well as the teachers (particularly those of the old school) tend to forget is that results are more important than form.  If golfers had to demonstrate a picture swing like Sam Snead’s to qualify for the pro tour, a lot of last year’s top 100 money winners would be selling used cars.  On the other hand, thousands of golfers who could never make the cut in pro tournaments would qualify because their swing looks just right.
Having a handsome swing is fine if it produces moderately long and consistently straight shots from the tee and fairway.  But a homely swing is just as good if you can hit a ball off the tee consistently 160-to-180 yards, within or close to the fairway 80% to 90% of the time.  With that kind of swing, you can enjoy every round of golf you play and probably score in the low 90’s without any trouble, the high 80’s with a little work (mostly mental) and, once you get the hang of it, you can break 85 at least once every five rounds.  I know – I did it for many years, although I’m having a little trouble doing it lately.  So have a lot of other people who have tried the Colonel’s approach.
Golf analysts say that  Lee Trevino’s success over many years was not because of a picture-perfect swing, but because he has probably the most repeatable swing on any tour.  At a golfing clinic, I heard Trevino say it is far more important to develop a consistent swing and to play to it than to keep trying for a textbook perfect swing.
Once, an acquaintance who had had remarkable success with the Colonel Bogey way, dropping from the high 90’s to the 80’s complained that the “magic” had deserted him and, try as he might, he was finding it hard once again to break 90.  Because he had had several rounds in the low 80’s and was starting to dream of breaking 80, I suspected he was trying too hard for pars instead of bogeys, and that the tension was causing his shots to go haywire.  I suggested we play a round together.
On the practice tee I watched him hit half a dozen shots.  Each was well hit, but with enough of a fade that if the ball started on a line down the middle of the fairway or to the right, it would wind up in the rough or possibly worse, in trees.  As we walked to the first tee, I told him if he relaxed, was patient and hit the ball as he had, he should score right around 90.  Almost as an afterthought, I said, “Of course, with your tendency to fade, your target off the tee should be the left side of each fairway.  If the ball goes straight, it can’t hurt you, but with your natural fade, the ball will at least stay in the fairway.”
Now, that’s a good point,” he said.  “I normally just aim down the middle and try to eliminate the fade.”  Here was an intelligent young man who teaches sports to youngsters, yet he had overlooked the obvious.  With his drives fading into the fairway instead of the rough, his second shots were a lot easier to hit and his scores once again fell into the 80’s.
The song says, “If you can’t be near the one you love, love the one you’re near.”  The same applies to your golf swing.  I suppose if I had the time and was willing to completely overhaul my swing, to stay away from the course for several months while this was happening, and then to practice several times  a week between rounds, I just might be able to score in the 70’s.  But after many years of barely breaking 100, I’m quite content scoring between 86 and 92 most of the time.  I am not willing to pay the price that it would cost to completely redo my swing.  I know there are tens of thousands of weekend golfers who would pay almost any price to have my game.
Although the Colonel Bogey way is mostly aimed at developing mental not mechanical skills, if your shotmaking is erratic and your scorecard is weighted down with 7’s, 8’s and 9’s because of poor golf shots not poor thinking, it might be worthwhile to re-read and put into practice the straight-arm, shortened backswing advice presented in lesson #3.  Or, you might seriously consider a few lessons provided you are willing to be patient enough to not expect a miracle cure.
One telltale as to whether you are swinging the golf club or it is swinging you is the left heel.  Once, many years ago while watching tour players on the practice tee before a U.S. Open round, I paid particular attention to the left heel of each pro.  No matter how different the various styles of swinging, the one constant was that the left heel came off the ground only a fraction of an inch or not at all.
Gary Player’s left heel stayed firmly on the ground for every shot, even drives that were virtually out of sight.  Tom Weiskopf’s left heel lifted no more than a half-inch with the driver.  Even Arnold Palmer, in his prime then, whose swing looked ferocious raised his left heel no more than three-quarters of an inch, even on monster drives. Yet, on any given Saturday or Sunday, I have watched duffer after duffer imitate a ballet dancer by lifting the heel so high off the ground that they were practically on their left toe.  When that happens there is virtually no chance of returning the left heel to the starting point at impact.  This usually means the golfer” whole body moves, to the left.  The results are painful to watch: topping, pushing, pulling, hooking, slicing, smothering, skying, and most dreaded of all, shanking.
The lifted left heel is merely a symptom of a swing ailment. Usually it means that the person is swinging past parallel on the backswing.  With a controlled swing, there is no need to pirouette at the top of the backswing.  That is why I recommend trying something less than a roundhouse swing.  Experiment on the practice range by planting your left heel firmly on the ground and, keeping it there (it will turn in a little).  Then try hitting with what feels to you  like a half-swing or three-quarter swing.  Come through just as crisply as you would on a full swing.  See if you don’t get almost as much distance with twice as much accuracy.  Try it.  If your wood shots and long irons continue to plague you, try choking up on the club an inch or inch-and-a-half.  See if that doesn’t give you better control and boost your confidence.  If you have trouble keeping your heel on the ground, practice on the driving range by putting something under your left toe, a small flat stone or a book.  Or as a senior woman golfer I met taught me, try swinging in your bare feet.  You can really get a feel of the ground that way.
These and any other tips you might want to incorporate in your swing ought to be practiced and perfected on the practice tee, not on the course during an actual round of golf.  You need enough practice to create a “muscle memory” so that you do not have to think about anything or just one thing when on the course.  Learning to trust our muscle memory requires a different kind of patience.  You need to tune out well meaning, but counterproductive voices like Mr. Fixit’s as well as the chorus of advisers giving instructions inside your head.
If during a round you feel obliged to correct your mistakes, concentrate on only one thing at a time, and do it by noticing how a certain aspect of the swing is working rather than trying to change it.  For instance you might focus your attention on your left arm, simply being aware of how straight or bent it is as you swing without trying to correct anything.  Like a school child who quits his bad behavior when the teacher looks his way, the fault, if there is one, will disappear under the glare of your mind’s eye.  Try it.
As was mentioned at the beginning of this program, I am directing a number of suggestions in your direction so that you can determine which will help you the most.  The practice tee is the place to fiddle with your stance, grip, swing, etc.  Once you are on the course you should concentrate on your game plan for each hole.  Don’t try thinking about swing mechanics while you are swinging.  Get your stance over the ball.  Get comfortable and let your muscle memory take over.  If you do think of anything, I’d recommend that you concentrate on the slow backswing.  If your take away feels like it is in slow motion for the first six inches, chances are that your timing will be right.
But I digress.  I said you were going to meet Dr. Nofault.  I met him one day when I was playing a match in a club tournament while the other twosome, which included Dr. Nofault, was also playing a match.  Midway through the match Dr. No’s opponent confided, “We have played each other at least 10 times over the years in various tournaments and he has never beaten me.  His problem is he never hits a bad shot.”
By that point in the match, I knew exactly what he meant.  I’m sure you know the type, too.  There is probably one in your foursome (is it you?).  For every shot that is not just right, there is an external reason:  “The wind just came up. . . .”  “Somebody moved (talked, sneezed, you name it) in the middle of my backswing. . . .”  The list goes on.
That day Dr. No missed four putts that rimmed the cup.  Now, most of us tend to think that any putt that touches the cup should go in; but realistically we know that many such putts had little chance of dropping.  Usually, putts that rim the cup and squirt away were hit too hard.  You can tell putts that were hit well enough to go in because they do go in. But to Dr. No, each miss was a personal affront.  Fate, the gods, a spike mark, — you name it – conspired against him.  Each missed putt left him in such a frazzled state of mind he might as well have conceded the next hole without bothering to tee off.
And it wasn’t just missed putts that doomed Dr. No.  The man who never hits a bad shot could, and did, take foolish risks.  After all, he would not be held accountable, at least not in his own mind.  Having fallen two holes behind in the match, Dr. No could not afford to throw away any holes, yet he steadfastly refused to play for a tie on any hole, no matter how slim his chance of winning.
Consider the 13th hole, a fairly long, downhill, dogleg-left par-4, with the green hidden from the tee.  On the left, out of bounds’ on the right, trees; straight ahead, beyond the fairway, heavy rough, more trees and then a creek.  The fairway slopes left, so a perfect  drive to the right side of the fairway will roll to the left, setting up a shot to the bunkered green set between the creek, woods and rocks.  It is a tough hole, even for the pros who used to play it in the U.S. Open qualifier for this area.
Dr. No hit his drive hard, but in the left rough, short of the bend in the fairway, with tall trees blocking the path to the green.  His opponent’s  drive, which was somewhat short, landed on the right side of the fairway with a long shot to the green.  Dr. No had an easy safety shot.  He could punch a 6 or 7-iron past the corner of the dogleg and leave a 20-to-50 yard pitch to the green, setting up a sure bogey and, with luck, a good chance at a par.
Did he play it safe?  No way.  The man who never hits a bad shot reacted as if his opponent had a sure par and, therefore, he had to go for a chance at a birdie.  To get high enough to go over the tall trees, he had to hit an 8 or 9-iron, but neither would give him the distance needed to reach the green even if he did carry the trees.
With a mighty swing, he whacked an 8-iron.  None of us saw the ball come down.  We heard it ricochet off two or three trees and fall with a dull thud.  We were lucky to find the ball 35 yards from the green.  True, the ball was in a marshy area, between some rocks, but at least Dr. No had a shot.
He moaned and groaned about his bad luck.  The wind came up and held his ball back, he said.  One lousy branch spoiled a perfect shot, he said.  The fates conspired against him, he said.  In a state of self-inflicted anguish, he hacked away at the ball, barely getting it out of the muck about halfway to the green.  Still grumbling about his bad luck, he chipped on poorly and two-putted for a double-bogey – and he lost the hole to a bogey to go three down with five holes to go.
Dr. No had no reason to gamble on the shot over the trees.  A safety shot in front of the green would have left him an easy pitch shot for a sure bogey and a chance at par.  A bogey would have tied the hole and kept him in the match.  As it turned out, his double-bogey lost to a bogey, virtually eliminating Dr. No from the match, mentally if not quite mathematically.
We all fall victim to our own false expectations.  The very same weekend duffer who might say, “Well, I can’t ever expect to break 100 unless I play more often,” can be observed reacting to every missed shot with disbelief.  In his or her calm, logical moments, Weekend Willy or Wendy knows and accepts their limitations, but on the course they assume they should be able to hit every green from within 180 yards, chip to within “gimmie” range every time they are on the fringe of the green and sink every putt under six feet.
Positive thinking is a healthy thing, but not when it leads to overblown expectations and a corresponding deflation in ego when things don’t go exactly as envisioned.  If the Weekend duffer in us blows up after missing the green on a long approach shot, chipping 15 feet past the hole or yipping on a two-foot putt, then the positive approach we pretended to be taking was really only our old negative thought in disguise.  We get angry not just at missing a shot, but because we lied to ourselves and were exposed.
Golf is hard enough without adding the pressure of trying to live up to our own false expectations.  No, I am not advising that you think negatively.  Better to clear your mind of judgmental thought all together.  On an approach shot, picture a shot within your capability floating high and straight toward the green.  On a chip shot, imagine the ball landing on the green and rolling toward the pin.  On a short putt concentrate on the line between the ball and the front edge of the cup, then stroke the ball along that line.
If the shot fails, it does not mean you are a failure.  Learn from every missed shot.  Notice the path the ball took.  How did the actual shot compare with your preshot mental image?  Did you clear your mind before taking your backswing or were there a half dozen voices in your head instructing and correcting you right up to the moment the club hit the ball?
Like any duffer, who hardly ever breaks 100, we have all hit approach shots that wound up in the shadow of the flagstick, occasionally chipped to within a tap-in of the hole and made our share of putts, long and short.  So we know good golf shots are within our capability.  The problem comes when we expect every shot to be perfect.  That’s too much to expect.
What’s the alternative?  On every shot, from tee to green, draw a mental picture of  a shot well within your capability, clear your mind (if the noise inside your head won’t quiet down, try singing a tune in your mind), swing to duplicate the mental picture you have drawn and, most importantly, take what you get.  If the shot does not go exactly as you pictured it, the next shot offers another opportunity to draw a mental picture, clear your mind of extraneous advice, swing to get the results you pictured and take what you get.
The Colonel Bogey way is not a magical cure like penicillin for a sick golf game.  It is more like a nutritious diet that, if followed regularly, will keep your game healthy.  Fortunately for all of us the game of golf will never become easy because if it did it would soon become boring and we would soon lose interest.  In fact, just when you think you’ve got the game mastered, disaster strikes.
The kind of disaster I’m talking about happened to Mitch, a stranger I played golf with a few years ago.  He got two routine pars, and I am convinced that two pars here and two pars there will keep Mitch shooting 100-plus for a long time.
How could a good thing like two pars be bad?  Well, if you were to ask Mitch how he played that day, he probably would reply honestly that he played “terribly.”  He shot 103.  Then he would tell you about how he played the 18th hole the previous round:  “It’s a long par-4, so I started my drive over the water and brought it back into the middle of the fairway, 240 yards, maybe 250, right down the middle . . .”
Mitch has a decent swing and the distance of a single number handicap.  He hits the ball a long way with a big hook that gets him a lot of roll – that is, he does when he doesn’t dub a 50-yarder off the tee or duck hook the ball into trees or out of bounds.  On the 16th hole, he hooked one around the dogleg for an easy wedge shot to the green.  We tied the 16th and one other hole with pars.  On the other 16 holes, I beat him by 20 strokes and finished with an 83.  He commented that I was “quite a golfer,” but I doubt that watching my Colonel Bogey style of play had any effect on him.  All he seemed to think of on each tee was to aim way out to the right to allow for his big hook and then swing as hard as he could.
I know that unasked for advice on a golf course is not appreciated, so, as I have mentioned before, I usually don’t’ say what’s on my mind when I watch a golfer like Mitch beat himself.  So I watched silently on one hole as he swung mightily and hit two balls into a lake.  Finally, he hit safely over the water, only to put his next shot (his sixth) into more water fronting the green 200 yards away.  He pitched his eighth shot onto the green and two-putted for a round-wrecking 10.
I wanted to ask, “Why try to bite off so much water on your tee shot?  Why not play it safe on the drive, hit a 4-iron or 5-iron short of the water in front of the green and pitch on for a routine bogey and a chance at par?”
Occasionally, I do speak up.  Once, playing for the first time with a golfer named Ed, after watching him for eight holes (we were sharing a cart) I said it was a shame that a player with a pretty fair swing and power to spare was beating himself hole after hole.  I persuaded him to let me make his club selection and give him his target for the next few holes.  He agreed and proceeded to score five straight bogeys.
Nothing extraordinary, you say?  Maybe not, but it was enough of an improvement to arouse the curiosity of his two regular playing partners who made up the other half of our foursome.
What are you up to, Ed?  One asked.
Yeah, what’s that guy telling you?” the other chimed in.
Ed was a good student.  When I met him that day, he told me he rarely broke 100.  A little over a year later, he told me he was shooting consistently in the 87-to-93 range.  He really was proud (and so was I) one day when he beat me in gross score.
What was the secret?  He simply began playing the Colonel’s way, patiently and persistently giving himself only easy shots and thus building confidence.  Instead of automatically reaching for the driver on every tee, he picked the club he was most comfortable with for the situation, from a 5-iron to a 3-wood.  He played a safe second shot, too, striving for clean contact with the ball, but not pressing for power.  He stayed out of trouble most of the time and was in position to reach the green in three even on the longest par-4 holes.  With such smart play the number of pars increased and the number of double bogeys or worse decreased.  Soon instead of struggling just to break 100 he was easily breaking 90 most of the time.
You can do it, too, if you play like steady Eddy, not like wild man Mitch.  Strive for consistency.  Be patient.  See if you can get around the course with nothing worse than a double-bogey (triple-bogey if you now shoot about 110 regularly).  Some call it playing safe.  By being patient and playing smart you’ll rid your scorecard of those demoralizing 7’s, 8’s and 9’s.
A smart game begins with a well thought out game plan.  It’s a simple enough principle, but it took me a long time to get it through my thick skull.  The golf course I played for years before it was closed had a first hole that was a duffer’s nightmare because there was a small pond right in front of the first tee.  With water facing you, first-hole jitters can become absolute panic.  Because the carry over the water wasn’t really long and because you could easily reach the green in two if you carried the water straight it seemed almost compulsory to try to go over the water no matter how little confidence you had on your first tee shot of the day.
After a number of rounds and who knows how many golf balls whacked into the pond, it finally dawned on me that I did not have to go over the water on the first hole.  An accidental near shank revealed that a ball could be hit from the right corner of the tee to the right edge of the fairway or rough short of the fairway without flying over the water.
I still had to hit the ball from 150 to 180 yards, depending on tee placement, to reach the fairway but if I missed I was in the rough, not in the water.  I could then hit a 5, 6 or 7-iron to within 100 yards of the green, pitch on and two-putt for a bogey.  Even a double-bogey would be an improvement over most of my previous scores on the hole.
Since I knew the course as well as anyone, or so I thought, I began looking at each hole, as if for the first time.  Allowing two putts on each green, I calculated the sure route to each hole that would put a routine bogey within easy reach.  That meant hitting to the green from no more than 100 yards away.  If a sand trap blocked one avenue to the green, my plan called for me to approach from an angle that avoided the trap.
I designed my hole-by-hole plan so I would not put unnecessary pressure on any shot.  For example, on a 380-yard dogleg par-4, I used to try to drive the ball the 190-to-210 yards it took to get past the corner and be in position for a shot to the green.  More often than not I would stray into the woods on the left or the deep rough on the right or, worse, dub the ball by trying too hard.  I found that by hitting 160 or 170 yards down the right side of the fairway, I could hit a 5, 6 or 7-iron safely past the corner, leaving myself less than 100 yards to the green.  Playing smart, I almost never got higher than a bogey 5 on the hole.
Following my game plan, I began to exert some control over a course that had owned me for many years.  You can do the same on your course.  By planning and playing low-pressure shots you will gain confidence.  A menacing 440-yard par-4 becomes a lot less frightening when you break it down to two 170-yard hits and a 100 yard approach to the green.
Oddly enough, when you swing smoothly to make contact for a 170-yard tee shot, frequently the shot will go further than you thought possible.  One of golf’s contradictions is that trying less produces more.
On the approach shots from 50-to-110 yards, play for the center of the green.  Trying to hit close to a pin that is just 20 feet beyond a sand trap is a foolish gamble, with the odds stacked against you.  Get the ball on the green.
Don’t worry if occasionally you play it safe only to three-putt for a double-bogey.  I guarantee you that if you are patient and persistent, if you play it smart hole after hole, the three-putt greens will be offset by one-putt greens and you will be well on your way to breaking 100 or 90, or whatever your current goal is.
You are probably closer than you realize to achieving your goal.  To find out, you may want to calculate your “ringer score,” that is, the total of your best scores on each hole in your last six to 10 rounds.  Calculate your ringer score and see if you’re not surprised at your own potential.
My first introduction to playing the Colonel Bogey way, although I didn’t know it at the time, was playing with a man who was in his 80’s and shot his age by keeping the ball in play and playing smart.  At the time I was too young and too new to  the game to learn from this man but many years later when I watched the two young women amateurs I realized that I had passed up a golden opportunity.
Even after I thought I had mastered the method (but hadn’t learned enough about humility) I found I had a lot to learn.  One lesson knocked me right out of our club championship tournament.
My game was sharp that summer and I was confident I would make it to the championship match (not in the championship flight, of course) until, in the third round, I came up against Jerry.  Watching him hit a wobbly drive no further than 160 yards off the first tee, I figured I was in for an easy time.  I began to wonder who my opponent might be for the next match.
Jerry’s tee shots were consistently bad.  I don’t think he hit more than one or two fairways the whole front nine, while I only missed one.  Yet, after nine holes, instead of having the match sewed up, I was only one hole up.  I played those nine holes masterfully from tee to green, but my putting was pitiful.  I three-putted four holes on the front nine.
On several holes, Jerry sliced his ball into the rough 30 yards behind my drive.  Invariably, however, he would hit a safe and sure shot back on the fairway and usually reach the green in position for a sure bogey and a possible par.  Although on this day I reached several par-4 greens in two, I would be 40 feet or more from the pin, which contributed to my three-putting.  Besides, Jerry’s repeated recoveries had a psychological effect on me, adding to the pressure.
On several holes I was in a position to win if I could just get done in two putts, yet, hole after hole, Jerry would walk away with a tie.  Even so, after 11 holes I was two up and breathing a little easier.  Then, on the 12th hole, Jerry sliced his drive into the rough again.  We’ll never know just what it hit, but it shot high into the air and bounded into the fairway a good 40 yards beyond where it should have stopped.  That freak shot seemed to inspire Jerry.  He won the hole.  His shotmaking improved considerably and, as we teed off on the 17th hole, I was two down with two to play.
I recovered to win the 17th hole with a pressure four-footer for a par, the kind of putt  I had been missing all day up to that point.  I played the 18th hole, a 570-yard par-5, as well as I knew how from tee to green, reaching the green in three.  Unfortunately, the pin was in the back of the giant two-tiered green and I was putting from 100 feet away.  Meanwhile, Jerry hit from the right rough to the left rough.  His third shot was short of the green.  His chip was weak, leaving him almost as far from the hole as I was.
All I had to do to even the match and force a playoff was to get down in two.  Once again, however, my putter failed me.  I three-putted and Jerry two-putted.  He won the match, one up.
Only later did I realize how much Jerry’s play had psyched me.  I was used to playing with golfers who have better looking swings than mine and who hit a 7-iron when I am hitting a hard 5.  I guess I wasn’t prepared for another scrambler, whose recovery shots almost always were in play.  Hole after hole, I thought I had Jerry on the ropes, only to watch him bob and weave and elude my best shots.  After a while, it got to me.
Reviewing my round, I realized I had hit an awful lot of good shots.  Yet, I lost.  So, I asked myself what happened?  Then it hit me.  I was beaten at my own game.


Colonel Bogey