Practice makes perfect, they say, but nobody’s perfect. So actually, practice is purely the pursuit of the unattainable. A vanity project doomed to failure.
I think about that every time I rush to the course, too late to do anything other than greet my playing partners on the 1st tee, and then smear my ball into some hitherto unexplored part of the golf course.
I have a theory, developed over many years of watching and playing sport, and it is this: talent is the magic ingredient, without which nothing happens. You will, however, never hear a successful sportsperson say, ‘Well, I’m quite good at what I do, so I went out there and did it.’ Too self-serving, delusional even. They would rather say, ‘Well, I’ve been working really hard in practice and this was the culmination of that.’
How many times have you sprayed the ball all over the course and been told to go and practise. ‘The secret’s in the dirt,’ said Hogan. ‘The more I practise, the luckier I get,’ said Player. But these are driven men, achievers. What about the rest of us? The ones with no talent to hone.
If you’re looking for honesty, rather go to Hobday who said of the first time he ever played golf, ‘It came easily to me.’ There is the real wisdom. Hobday was a rugby player before he was a golfer, someone who believed deep down that golf wasn’t really a job for a grown man. It was, apparently, too easy.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that practice is pointless, merely that without some form of affinity with whatever game you are playing, it can be counterproductive. I was living in Johannesburg when the World of Golf opened its doors in the 1990s. It was, and is, a world-class facility. I went there a few times to hit balls and discovered that it did nothing for me. I concluded that without people to talk to while walking to your next shot, golf isn’t much of a game. Hit the ball, watch it land, hit another, rinse and repeat.
This aversion to hard work on the range tells you all you need to know about my golf. There must be people out there who love it, but it doesn’t work for me. I once arrived two hours early for a media game at Silver Lakes. Perfect, I thought, there’s no one around, I can warm up properly. I spent half an hour hitting bunker shots, 15 minutes chipping and putting and half an hour hitting balls on the range. Then I went out and played like a clown.
Like many around the world, my club has a putting green next to the clubhouse. On the rare occasions that I have 10 minutes in hand, I like to go there and pretend to practise. What I am really doing is reminding myself what a terrible putter I am. In between, I am catching up with the local gossip, bemoaning the performances of various sporting teams and scanning the skies for the possibility of rain.
The fact of the matter is that there is a clearly defined line to be drawn between golfers and people who play golf. Golfers have a smattering of natural talent that responds to repetition. People who play golf, people like me, do not. For us the game is about company, the great outdoors and a pitiful belief in the idea that next time, somehow, we will play just a little bit better.
– This column first appeared in the May 2022 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine. Subscribe here!