• GARY LEMKE COLUMN: Practice Makes Perfect

    Gary Lemke
    Gary Lemke

    It’s become golfing legend that Gary Player coined the phrase ‘the harder I practise, the luckier I get,’ writes GARY LEMKE in the latest issue of Compleat Golfer.

    The 85-year-old South African takes up the story. ‘I was practising in a bunker down in Texas and this good old boy with a big hat stopped to watch. The first shot he saw me hit went in the hole. He said, “You got 50 bucks if you knock the next one in.” I holed the next one. Then he says, “You got $100 if you hole the next one.” In it went for three in a row. As he peeled off the bills he said, “Boy, I’ve never seen anyone so lucky in my life.” And I shot back, “Well, the harder I practise, the luckier I get.” That’s where the quote originated.’

    In the buildup to the Masters we were reminded just how much the elite players practise to get to the level that they do.

    As a high-handicapper who doesn’t hit the range often, I often explain away my lack of warm-up on the practice range. ‘I don’t want to use up any of my good shots,’ I say – and generally speaking, even if it’s a hackneyed line, it does help to break the ice with strangers.

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    When, during a practice round, Jon Rahm skipped his 4-iron off the water on the pond guarding the 16th green at Augusta, and watched as the ball ran up the green and arced into the hole, social media went into a froth. Understandably so. How many balls would us mere mortals lose attempting to skip a ball over water?

    But that’s the thing. Rahm is No 2 in the world and of course the ‘ace’ – not quite correct, given he wasn’t standing on the tee box, so it was more a case of holing his approach – was lucky. He might have another 100 attempts at it and not get it right. But, the mere fact that he’s able to skip the ball over water with a 5-iron shows his ability. The more he practises it, the luckier he gets.

    Now, this might sound obvious, but apart from raw talent, the sheer work ethic of professional golfers is what sets them apart from everyone else, and that includes scratch golfers. Shock! horror! As good as a scratch golfer is, they’re light years away from being a top pro.

    One of the favourite feelings an amateur can have is striping the ball down the middle of the fairway, the ball taking photographs of your opponent’s ball as it sails over the hill and far away. Longest drives are popular at golf days and the ‘gorillas’ among us come out to play. The chances are that when they are at the driving range they spend the majority of their time, hitting a bucket of balls with driver in hand.

    Obviously, that leads to another South African great Bobby Locke’s comment: ‘You drive for show but putt for dough’. A reminder too that the professional spends eight hours a day practising, be it in the gym or outdoors on the range and green. It’s their day job. Don’t expect to arrive at a golf day, not having hit too many balls before that, and be in the running for the prizes. Golf doesn’t work like that.

    Which is why I’m so impressed with what Bryson DeChambeau has achieved over the past year. He was hitting ball speeds of 320km/h while practising for the Masters. Which is why he is able to hit those monster drives in real competition. The American puts his body under so much extreme stress in practice so that when it comes to the real thing he knows what it feels like. He practises for it. And yes, when he is able to fly doglegs or drive the greens of 380-yard par fours, it might seem lucky to many, but to him it’s an extension of what he trains for. The harder he practises, the luckier he gets. I’m OK with that.

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