I once asked Dale Hayes if there was a trick shot he had never mastered.
This is what he described. Sit on the ground with your legs stretched out, feet together. Place a tee between your shoes and put a golf ball on it. Now take a club and hit the ball as far as you can.
I can think of a few golfing buddies who would be unable to tee up the ball, never mind hit it, but Dale assured me he once saw a trick-shot artist in the US hit it 200m straight down the fairway. At the time Dale was assembling the repertoire that he still performs and
he asked the man how he learned the trick. ‘Practice,’ he said. ‘Practice and a lot of shoe leather.’
Famously, of course, Ben Hogan said, ‘The secret’s in the dirt,’ by which he meant practise, practise, practise. The fact of the matter is we are all looking for a shortcut and there just isn’t one.
In the realm of professional sport we are accustomed to watching people make difficult things seem simple. The game of snooker, for instance, is impossibly hard and yet professional players make century-plus breaks on a regular basis. The man in the street, who could reasonably be expected to hole a three-foot putt 50% of the time, would struggle to pot the first red.
Before he was a screenwriter/director/comedian, WC Fields was the world’s greatest juggler. He toured with his act for 20 years and finally gave up when the debut of a trick he had been practising for a year failed to elicit the gasps of astonishment he had been expecting. Not one member of the audience knew what he had gone through to master the trick and he accomplished it so perfectly they thought it must be easy.
And herein lies the point that Hayes and Hogan and Fields want us to understand. If it was easy, everyone would do it.
In the world of amateur golf, the burning need to get the ball in the hole is absent. We may think it’s important at the time, but after a cold beer in the clubhouse we recognise that it’s just a game.
A great friend of mine, who died recently, was a good enough player to represent his province for a quarter of a century. He understood, however, that golf was not a matter of life and death, his world view being informed by a sense of humour so dry you could have made a martini with it.
In the final singles match of the interprovincials one year, he noted that a crowd had gathered at the 1st tee. My friend wasn’t a trick-shot artist, but he could deliberately whiff a ball so that it rolled off the tee. He asked if his opponent would mind if he had some fun at the crowd’s expense.
You could hear a pin drop as the deciding match was called to order. My friend’s opponent smashed one down the fairway to polite applause.
My friend stepped up and whiffed it, removed the tee, hit the driver off the deck (another one of his accomplishments) and marched somberly after the ball, laughing so hard on the inside that
he almost pulled a muscle.