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Golf Poetry at its Best

for Golfer's Discontent post

 

Robert K. Risk and Grantland Rice are two of my favorite golf poets. This Blog (and my book) contain poems by both. I think I remember reading that Rice wrote more than 6000 poems throughout his lifetime. He wrote on may subjects besides golf. His most famous lines come from a 1908 poem called “Alumnus Football” (http://bit.ly/1l7QLGe):

“For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name,
He writes – not that you won or lost – but how you played the Game.”

 

Risk, on the other hand, seems to have limited his poetry to golf. He was a Scottish writer, poet and drama critic. As far as I know he published a single collection of golf poems in 1919 under the title, “Songs of the Links.” The book contains 36 poems and this may be all that Risk ever published. Nevertheless, almost all are worth reading. I am particularly fond of the one that I want to share with you in this post. It describes beautifully. with humor and clarity, how golfers always seem to long for some level of play that they cannot achieve. And then ends by pointing out the disappointment that would result from playing too well.

THE GOLFER’S DISCONTENT

By Robert K. Risk

The evils of the Golfer’s state
Are shadows, not substantial things –
That envious bunkers lie in wait
For all our cleanest, longest swings;
The pitch that should have won the round
Is caught and killed in heavy ground.

And even if at last we do
That 80, coveted so long,
A melancholy strain breaks through
The cadence of our even-song –
A  7  (which was “an easy 4″)
Has “spoilt our 77 score.”

And thus, with self-deception bland,
We mourn the fours that should have been,
Forgetting, on the other hand,
The luck that helped us through the green;
Calmly accepting as our due
The four-hole which we fluked in two.

The drive that barely cleared the sand,
The brassy-shot which skimmed the wall,
The useful “kick,” the lucky “land” –
We never mention these at all;
The only luck that we admit
Is when misfortune comes of it.

And therefore, in a future state,
When we shall all putt out in two,
When drives are all hole-high and straight,
And every yarn we tell is true,
Golf will be wearisome and flat,
When there is naught to grumble at.

 

 

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A Golfer’s Lament: “If only I could …”

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“If only I could play that hole again” is the title of an e-book of my golf poetry. It is a refrain that has either been uttered out loud or at least thought about by almost every golfer after playing a golf hole badly. It is certainly a worthy subject for a poem.

 If only I could play that hole again

If only I could play that hole again
I know that I could shoot a better score
That drive I hit was rather short and right
A second chance would let me make a four.

Instead my second shot is from the trees
It traveled only fifty yards at best
And left me feeling sick and ill at ease

I’m sure if asked my teacher would agree
With all the skill I have but have not shown
I should be lining up a putt for three.

Instead I have a tricky wood to play
A side-hill up-hill lie around a bend
A perfect shot would show that I’m okay.

My swing is perfect but the ball went wide
It disappeared from sight and was not found
Nothing I can do will turn the tide.

Instead of two I’m on the green in six
My second putt lips out my score is nine
Bad luck it is that put me in this fix.

I’d really like to play that hole again
To show off all my talent and my skill
My partners think my attitude is great
But check my chance to make a par as nil.

The e-book that includes this poem and many others is available on Amazon. The link is http://amzn.to/WyVnIz. I hope you will give it a look.

 

 

 

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The Playing Partner From Hell

From the USGA Digital Library

 

In 1923, The American Golfer, the golf magazine of its day, asked its readers to submit entries to answer the question “What Puts Me off My Game Most?” The April 7th issue included the responses of the three prize winners. The winner of the second prize wrote, in part,

“…I can play with the hare type and with the human tortoise…Sun nor wind nor clouds affect me, I enjoy them all. Nor does a bad hole depress me, for there are many such in my life and I should worry.

But delivery me, oh, delivery me from the fiend who coaches my each and every shot! He usually has about a twenty-four handicap. He has made every hole on the course in par, but never by any chance has he gotten two of them in the same round.

As I step up to drive it starts. My stance is wrong. I should waggle more; my backswing is too short. If I take my midiron for one hundred and twenty-five yards, I am patiently told that I should pitch up with a mashie….”

The second prize winner goes on a while longer, but you get the point.

The first prize winner complains about a similar critic that he calls “NEVER-WILLIE.” In his entry he includes these quotes:

“You never will get rid of that slice with your left toe turned out.”
“You never will hit them clean until you learn to keep your head down.”
“You never will be able to use a mashie as long as you keep dropping that right shoulder.”

At least it’s nice to know that the guy you played with last week that wouldn’t stop talking has a long history.

To immortalize this playing partner from hell, I wrote the following:

He Talks a Good Game

He talks a good game
You know the guy
He judges each swing
With a critical eye.
 

He talks a good game
Awash with advice
He’s off to the races
When he sees you slice.
 

He talks a good game
He studies the pros
He is eager to tell you
All that he knows.
 

He talks a good game
Can he turn a phrase
He talks a good game
But it’s not how he plays.
 

He talks and he talks
With eyeballs that glisten
But even the duffers
No longer listen.
 

Leon S White, PhD

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The Fair-Weather Golfer

winter-06-019

Living in a four-seasons climate such as New England, I have always thought that knowing you can only play golf from say April to November is an incentive the play when you have the chance. On the contrary, I imagine that in places where the weather is always “playable” golfers might more easily postpone a round knowing that there’s always tomorrow.

 I wrote the following verses to raise this question. I would welcome any comments you might have.

The Fair-Weather Golfer

Play golf in New England
And you have to prepare
To get to the course
When the weather is fair.

But  play in a place
Where the weather’s not rotten
It’s easy to be sidetracked
And your golf game forgotten.

So is -

The fair-weather golfer
More likely to play
Where there’s snow half the year
Or sun every day?

Leon S White

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Golf Opposites: The Opposite of Lying

A ball belonging to Parker's Jennifer Polglaze nestles in the ...

A little more than three years ago I began writing poems about opposites in golf. I published two in October 2010 (http://golfpoet.com/2010/10/04/golf-opposites/)  and two more in September 2012 (http://golfpoet.com/2012/09/25/two-golf-poems-about-opposites/). Here is a more recent effort. In total I have now written 17 poems on this theme. If I can get to 30 may I’ll put them together in another eBook.

THE OPPOSITE OF LYING

Lying and golfing go together
Both on fairways and in the heather
A ball that’s OB from the tee
Needs a second drive and you’re lying three.

 If in a match and without luck
Your ball might be lying in the muck
But when your opponent’s not nearby
The temptation exists to improve your lie.

 A ball in a divot, a ground depression
Might also temp a rules transgression
But a little voice inside you cries
The rule says play it as it lies.

 Not only balls but clubs lie too
And sometimes golfers, but of course not you
Then to find an opposite without wallowing
Bear with me and consider the following:

A ball that’s caught up in a tree
Would not be lying two or three
And barring a gust that made it  fall
A treed ball wouldn’t be lying at all.

So lying’s opposite, though one among many
Is treed – which seems as good as any.

Leon S White, PhD

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The Ball

Woodley Flier

Raymond Carver (1938-1988) was a famous American short story writer and also a poet. Among his poems was one called “The Car.” It begins,

The car with a cracked windshield.
The car that threw a rod.
The car without brakes.
The car with a faulty U-joint.

And continues in a similar fashion for 44 additional lines!

Using Mr. Carver’s poem as a model, I wrote a more modest 20 line poem called “The Ball.”

 THE BALL

The ball with a smile.
The ball with dimples.
The ball with two colors.
The ball with a liquid center.
The ball with mud on it.

The hard wooden round ball.
Old Tom’s featherie ball.
The  Woodley Flyer ball.
The balata ball.
The three piece ball.

The ball that missed the tree.
The ball that hit the spectator.
The ball that hung on the edge.
The ball that sits on the tee.
The ball that lands in a trap.

The ball lofted in the air.
The ball lost in the gorse.
The ball left on the range.
The ball belted with a driver.
The ball signed by Tiger.

 

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“The Golfer’s Waggle” for Jason Dufner, PGA Champion and Champion Waggler

Jason Dufner

Jason Dufner, who last week won his first major, the PGA Championship, has become well known to the golfing public in the last two years for his approach to waggling his club before hitting the ball. Waggling may be as old as the game of golf itself. And an unknown poet almost one hundred years ago provided us with the most detailed analysis of this pre-shot phenomenon. The poem appeared in The American Golfer in September 1915. (The few Scottish expressions are starred and translated.)

The Golfer’s Waggle

Every golfer has a waggle—
A waggle o’ his ain—*                                           of his own
A wiggle-waggle, long and short,
Wi’ flourishes or plain.

The long and quick, the short and quick,
Long, short, and quick and slow;
The variety is infinite
That golfin’ waggles show.

The sprightly waggle of success,
Dull waggle of defeat;
The weary waggle-wasting time,
The waggle of conceit.

The waggle of the swanky pro,
Of “Far and Sure” design;
The feeble waggle of old age,
That preludes “off the line.”

The caddie’s waggle-dry asides,
That golfers whiles maun* suffer;                                   must
And worst o’ waggles on the links,
The waggle of the duffer.

The waggle shows the waggler,
Be the waggle slow or quick;
There is mair* into the waggle,                                      more
Than the waggle o’ the stick.

The poem can be found in my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages. (Available on Amazon.com.)

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French Golfers, Poetry and the British Open Championship

In 1999 Jean Van de Velde, a French golfer, came to the 18th hole on the final day of the Open Championship with a three shot lead and (as most of you probably know) scored a triple bogey ending up tied with two other golfers. In the ensuing playoff, he and Justin Leonard lost to the Scotsman Paul Lawrie.

French golfers at the Open had seen better days. One hundred and two years earlier Arnaud Massy won the event beating the three British greats of that time, Harry Vardon, J.H.Taylor and James Braid among others. In the 1922 Open Championship, Jean Gassiat, a contemporary of Massy’s, came in seventh. A second contemporary, Baptiste Bomboudiac, was the subject of a golf poem written by Robert K Risk and first published in the English magazine Punch in April 1908.

A story in the Daily Paper, sometime in early 1908, included the following quote regarding the Open Championship to be played later that year at the Prestwick Golf Club:

“France will be well to the front at the Golf Championship. Massy is already at the top of the tree, and there are great possibilities in Gassiat and Baptiste Bomboudiac.”

Risk, maybe the best golf poet of his time, responded to this quote with the following poem.

A TIP FOR PRESTWICK

Some prate of Braid and Taylor,
And eke of Harry V.
(Admittedly a nailer
At driving from the tee):
But of all the golfing heroes
Whom common punters back,
There’s none to me so dear as
Baptiste Bomboudiac.

A Gassiat or Massy
May do distinguished things
With iron and with brassy—
But his the name that rings
Daylong through all my fancies,
Nightlong my sleep I lack,
Through sizing up your chances,
Baptiste Bomboudiac.

To drive and pitch and hole out,
With skill satanical,
Wears an opponent’s soul out,
And sends him to the wall;
The “influence” called “moral”
Will ward off such attack,
Awarding thee the laurel
Baptiste Bomboudiac.

We need not be affrighted
To meet a White or Jones,
Whose Christian names are cited
In quite familiar tones;
But diffidence comes o’er us,
When driven to attack
Polysyllab-sonorous
Baptiste Bomboudiac.

For the record, James Braid won the 1908 Open and Arnaud Massy was tenth. Neither Gassiat or Bomboudiac are listed among those with four round scores.

One more thing. If anyone knows more about Baptiste Bomboudiac please leave a comment. A Google search only produced two references. He deserves better.

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Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Putt

Golf_Improve_Swing_Joke (1)

If you want to improve your putting, you might consider studying the form of a great putter such as Brad Faxon. When writing poetry I often look for inspiration to the great poets such as Wallace Stevens. Steven was a major American modernist poet who was born in 1879 and lived through the first half of the 20th century. He was renowned for his philosophic poetry that examined the relationship between an individual’s thoughts and feelings and the surrounding environment. One of his most famous poems was titled “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” (You will find it here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174503.)  Using this poem as a starting point for its format and introspection, I have tried to explore the mysteries of putting with my poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Putt.” (If you want to see how I made use of Steven’s poem to write mine, you might try toggling between the two.)

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Putt
(With apologies to Wallace Stevens)

I
Among the hills and valleys of the green
The only objects moving
Were the eyes of the golfer
Surveying his putt.

II
He was of more than one mind
Like the just finished foursome
Now in the clubhouse bar.

III
Standing behind the ball looking
For the line, he then crouched
For a second look
Reading from his putting book.

IV
A golfer and his putter
Are one
But a golfer and his putter and his putt
Are one
Only if the ball goes in.

V
I do not know which to prefer
The beauty of a perfectly struck putt
Or the beauty of a green at sunset
The ball dropping
Or just after.

VI
The golfer moved around
Behind the pin,
The shadow of a blackbird
Crossing his own shadow
As he took up a new position
From which to trace a path
Ball to hole.

VII
Fellow golfer
Why do you imagine a birdie?
Don’t you see the
Difficulties of the putt?
Par is always a good score.

VIII
I know of noble efforts
And of rhythmic swings
But I know too
Not to include all that I know
In preparing for my next putt.

IX
When the ball stopped on the green
It only crossed over the edge
Of the larger circle.

X
At the sight of an unputtable ball
Mired in tall grass beyond a green
The errant golfer
Would like to cry out sharply
And often does.

XI
He rides from green to green
In a golf cart
Often fearful that
What putting skills he has
Will disappear along the path
Between holes.

XII
The putt is rolling off line
His head must have moved.

XIII
Look at a putt thirteen ways,
And you can still miss it.
Or with a quick look
It might go in.

This poem appears in my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages.

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Golf Adjustments for More Distance

The TaylorMade R1 Driver

My father once wrote the following verse:

Laugh when you can
Cry when you must
Do as you plan
Plan to adjust.

(Philip S  White)

When he wrote these four lines I believe he thought of them as words to live by. Today they might also be the watch words of those who would have short hitters “Tee it Forward.” The verse would also appeal to TaylorMade and other makers of adjustable drivers.

Adjustable drivers were in the news this week when we learned that Ricky Fowler, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood all increased the lofts on their drivers to take advantage of high altitudes at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Tournament. More generally, adjustable drivers seem to be the answer to a club-fitters dream: one club, but in the extreme, multiple settings for loft, lie, face angle and the distribution of weights. In the case of TaylorMade’s new R1 driver, 168 combinations are possible.

Of course the idea behind “one club fits all” is more distance and accuracy.  According to TaylorMade,

“. . .  data from the company’s MATT club fitting systems across the country showed that 80 percent of golfers were playing the wrong loft in their drivers, and that 35 percent of them were 2 degrees or more away from their optimal loft.”

TaylorMade’s answer: the R1 driver along with a fitter. And to be fair, Callaway, Titleist, Nike, Ping, Cobra and others have their answers as well.

But there’s another option. I would bet that if TaylorMade had collected a different set of data, they would have found that 80 percent of golfers  were hitting their drivers from the wrong tee. That may be an exaggeration, but the truth is that many golfers among TaylorMade’s 80 percent are being penalized twice with regard to distance off the tee. And even golfers playing the optimal loft may be playing from the wrong tees.

So if your driver fits you but your drives just aren’t long enough, here is a verse for you,

I’m not buying an adjustable driver
No change in loft or lie for me;
But I’ll still get a lot more yardage
By moving up to a forward tee!

On the other hand, if you “plan to adjust,” then we need a modification,

I’m going to buy an adjustable driver
And have it fit just right for me;
Then I’ll extend the yardage gain
By moving up to a forward tee!

And if you’re Michael Phelps, the newest Golf Channel star, your verse might read,

I ‘ve already got my adjustable driver
And the Blues are the only tees for me
But I still want a lot more distance
So I signed up for Project Haney.

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