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president mckinley

When President Obama first took office, I wrote a Post, “When Travis Played the President,” about a golf match at the Chevy Chase Club course in Maryland between Walter J. Travis and President Taft. (See http://golfpoet.com/2009/02/09/when-travis-played-the-president/)

In his first term, President Obama has played his share of golf. During the re-election campaign he has been criticized for this practice. Here, for example, is a recent headline from CBSNews.com, “President Obama plays 100th round of golf, draws fire from critics.” But golfing Presidents are nothing new.  Nor is the criticism.

The exploits of golfing Presidents have been ably documented by ESPN Senior Writer Don Van Natta in his book  “First Off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers, and Cheaters from Taft to Bush.” But what about Presidents who may have tried golf before Taft? As Van Natta points out, in 1897 during his summer vacation President McKinley was persuaded  by his Vice President Garrett Hobart to play a few rounds. But McKinley  had no success.  Van Natta goes on with the story, writing,

“Two years later . . . McKinley surprised his aides when he announced that he would like to take up golf again.  . . . But his senior advisers were very concerned, telling McKinley that golf was “undignified for a President . . .”

In today’s world, if a reporter caught wind of such a story, s/he might have had some fun with it in a few paragraphs. But in McKinley’s time when poetry was popular, here is what I found in the July 7, 1899 issue of Golf Illustrated, an English weekly publication:

“President McKinley is only deterred from taking to Golf by fears that by so doing he might compromise the dignity of the Presidential Office. The Evening News’ poet soliloquises as follows:

‘What degradation may there be,
What loss of manly dignity,
In boldly driving off the tee?
Or is it that, perhaps, you know
Your limbs, I mean the ones below
In heather stocking clad, would show
But thinly,
McKinley?’”

Maybe President Obama is lucky that there seems to be no interest in poetry among his Republican detractors.

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Two Golf Poems About Opposites

In a previous Post (http://golfpoet.com/2010/10/04/golf-opposites/)  I included two word-play poems based on the idea of “opposites.” The famous American poet and former poet laureate Richard Wilbur is the originator of this idea. Here are two more that I recently wrote:

THE OPPOSITE OF CUP

What is the opposite of cup?
Glass an answer that pops up.
But if the cup is on a green
Though underground and so unseen
It could be paired with holes of sand
Where errant balls are want to land.
Then cup’s opposite’s a clunker
Known to golfers as a bunker
.

THE OPPOSITES IN PUTTING

Fast or slow could be the query
When on a green, mad or cheery.
But then there’s also straight or not
And uphill or down to thicken the plot.
The wind as well, still or breezy
All makes putting hard not easy.

Envoy

The opposites of driving may hold less terror
But still there’s plenty of room for error.

These poems as well as all the others I’ve written in the last few years will be include in an eBook that I will soon complete and publish called If only I could play that hole again – And Other Golf Poems.

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Golf History (and More) from an Old Golf Poem about Walter J. Travis

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I am always on the lookout for old golf poetry books that I can afford. Recently I bid on a book published in England in 1905 called The Golf Craze ─ Sketches and Rhymes  by “Cleeke Shotte, Esq.” It was offered by the PBA Galleries in San Francisco. And I won it. The book was actually written by John Hogben, a member of the Duddingston Golf Club in Edinburgh and its captain in 1921.

Included among the rhymes was one titled “To Mr. W. J. Travis ─ Amateur Golf Champion, 1904.” For our purposes, you need to know that Walter J. Travis was born in Australia in January 1862. He came to New York City at age 23. He began playing golf in October 1896, three months short of his 35th birthday. He soon began playing competitively. Now comes the most remarkable part: In 1900, 1901, and 1903 he won the U.S. Amateur Championship; and, in 1904 he became the first American (he was by now a naturalized citizen) to win the British Amateur Championship. He went on to do many other impressive golf-related things before he died in 1927. You can read more about Travis at http://bit.ly/Q0VKvX.

The poem, though a tribute to Travis, raises a question about the “strange putter” that he used. There is also a reference to staying “the mighty war.”

To W. J. Travis
Amateur Golf Champion, 1904

The cry is still “They come!” for we may say
The lust of conquest reigns in U.S.A.
Another Cup goes Westward; ‘tis a shock
We owe, sir, to that aluminium block

That taught your golf-ball all roads lead to Rome,
And sent it straight, and far, and surely home.
There is no name whereby to call the utter
Amazement that we owe to your strange putter.

It was not thought that in our chosen game
A foreign player could make good his claim
Against the prowess of the Britisher,
Without whom neither golf nor golfer were.

Forgive me, for you know the game is ours;
We sowed the seed; the world has reaped the flowers.
Yet, after all, no grudge we owe you, for
The mimic helps to stay the mighty war.

No Frenchman are you, German, or what not
But of our generous cousin-blood begot─
Nay, I forget, for closer still the ties,
Were you not cradled under Austral skies?

The “strange putter” was the so called Schenectady Putter invented by a General Electric engineer in 1902. Travis made the putter famous when he used it in the 1902 U. S. Amateur Championship. The aluminum Schenectady Putter was mallet-headed and center shafted. Travis used it again to win the 1903 U. S. Amateur and, of course, the British Amateur in 1904. In 1910 the R & A, the ruling body for golf in Great Britain, banned the Schenectady Putter and others of similar design. The U.S.G.A. did not follow suit. But still, in light of the current controversy regarding “anchored” putters, it is interesting to note that there is a precedent for a ruling body to ban a class of putters being played.

The reference to a possible future “mighty war” foreshadows the first world war. Ironically, the one reference to the poet John Hogben that I was able to find describes him in June of 1921 presiding over the unveiling of a memorial tablet to commemorate members of his golf club who had died fighting the great war. (See http://bit.ly/NSFski)

If you have a comment, I would be pleased if you would share it below.

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Golfing Truths

A golfing truth:

Golf is changing always changing
When you’re talking balls and clubs;
But if you’re talking golfing talent
Dubs today are still just dubs.

To validate this “golfing truth” one need only consult the golf poetry of close to 100 years ago. For example, Grantland Rice, the best American sports writer of the time and also the best sports poet, wrote the following lines which are found in his book Songs of the Stalwart (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1917), and to which we can still relate.

THE LAND OF PAR

There are days when my drives wing far,
When my iron shots clear the rut;
But then when I get on the green in two
I putt and I putt and I putt.

There are days when my chip shots roll
Like a Vardon’s to the pin,
But I’ve missed my drive and I’ve taken six
At last when the putt drops in.

There are days when my putts run true
And straight to the waiting hole;
But these are the days when my mashie shots
Have shattered my aching soul.

Oh, gods of the golfer’s realm,
Over the bunkered heather,
When is the day to come when I
Hook three fine shots together?

But fortunately,

From time to time we make those shots
Instead of just imploding;
Then brief delight is our lot  
And we make like Vesuvius exploding.

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Na Yeon Choi – U.S. Women’s Open Champion

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Less than two weeks ago, Na Yeon Choi won the U.S. Women’s Open by four shots over Amy Yang. Choi began the day with a six shot lead. And at the turn, she still led Yang by five. Then it got interesting.

 The newspapers and magazines have told the story of the last nine holes in straight forward prose. I thought it would be fun to re-cast this minor epic in a more traditional form.

Na Yeon Choi – U.S. Women’s Open Champion

She was cruising along with a five shot lead
And just nine more to play
But the ever present golf gods
Had not yet had their say!

As she turned for home with a  big Open lead
Fans saw her name on the cup
Especially now with it down to a match
And she was the on five up.

But the golf gods knew the score as well
And on ten they went into action
Soon enough Na Yeon Choi
Was losing more than just traction.

Her drive went out and couldn’t be found
She was back on the tee for her third
When her putt finally sank she was up only two
But surprisingly undeterred.

A resolute Choi bounced right back
With a birdy on eleven
The golf gods were clearly hard at work
In the depths, then close to heaven.

The down and up would continue
From the next tee into high weeds
But a brilliant wedge put her ball on the green
And she holed with a perfect read.

On thirteen the gods gave one final scare
Her ball hit two rocks, au revoir
But dry it remained miraculously
Choi then made an up and down par.

In the end the golf gods seemed to remember
A dream from way way back
When Na Yeon first said “I just want to be there”
While watching Se Ri Pak.

Accepting the cheers as she walked up the last,
Her win beyond a doubt
Standing where her hero had stood
She finally putted out.

“I’m here right now and I made it” she said
After winning ─ though I would wager
The thought that was foremost in her mind —
Like Se Ri, I’ve won this Major.

Leon S White
July 12, 2012

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Golf Poem to Commemorate George Wright – A Baseball Hall-of-Famer

The Baseball All-Star game will be played this week. I can’t think of a better time to recall a baseball player who had a profound early impact on golf in America. No, it’s not A. G. Spalding although he would qualify. Rather, the player I’m thinking of is George Wright. “Who?”, you say. Here is an excerpt from my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages, that will give you the answer.

“… on December 10, 1890, with almost no one watching, George Wright, later a baseball Hall-of-Famer, and three friends played the first round of golf ever in Boston. Wright, baseball player turned golfer, created the first great moment for New England golf. Earlier, in 1871, with his baseball career over, Wright, along with Henry Ditson, formed the sporting goods company, Wright and Ditson. Their company was bought out by A. G. Spalding & Co. in the early 1890’s. Up to the buyout, Wright and Ditson had imported all of its golf merchandise from Scotland. Later, Spalding & Co. began producing its own clubs under both the Spalding and the Wright and Ditson names. George Wright’s accomplishments moved me to write a poem commemorating him:

George Wright (1847–1937)

He never had an equal as a fielder
He ran the bases better than the rest
As a hitter he was feared and fearless
In his time George Wright was unsurpassed.

In ’69 he played for Cincinnati
Standing out at bat and on the field
He revolutionized the play at shortstop
And hit .633 which was unreal.

From Cincinnati he moved on to Boston
The Stockings first, the Red Caps later on
He led the mighty Sox to four straight pennants
Then with the Caps another two he won.

His ball field feats were cheered by all who saw him
He was an early hero of the game
Still it took the voters until thirty-seven
To elect him to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Wright the player is today all but forgotten
But with regard to fame another claim
Retired from the ball field but still active
He brought to town the great old Scottish game.

A permit from the Boston Parks Commission
Let Wright lay out some holes at Franklin Park
Then on a cold fall day in eighteen ninety
He took along three pals to play ’til dark.

So add the name George Wright to your sports heroes
A pioneer in not one sport but two
The father of the golf game in New England
A double Hall-of-Famer through and through.”

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A Golf Poem by Herbert Warren Wind!

Herbert Warren Wind, golf writer

After the U.S. Open Championship ends as it did so dramatically last Sunday, you might look forward to what the pundits on the Golf Channel or in the newspapers, golf magazines and blogs have to say.  Years ago, if you followed golf faithfully, you waited patiently for Herbert Warren Wind’s New Yorker article. And you were never disappointed. Wind, who graduated from Yale University, and earned a Master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Cambridge, began writing for the New Yorker in 1941. He covered the major golf tournaments for the magazine from 1960 to 1990 when he retired, a period when television coverage was for the most part still limited.

Wind often wrote in the first person and his reports always described the scenes he witnessed most vividly. For example, writing about the 1956 Open at the Olympic Club, at a point soon after television coverage had ended by proclaiming Hogan champion,

            “In the clubhouse—how sharp the picture remains!—Hogan sat slumped before his locker, patiently answering the questions of the press but sidestepping all congratulations with the reminder that his victory was not yet official, since some players were still out on the course.”

Later in the same paragraph,

“The news that filtered in was not hard and exact, but [Jack] Fleck was reported to have parred the thirteenth and bogeyed the fourteenth. Now, to tie he would have to birdie two of the last four holes. It was at about that time that I decided to get out on the course again.”

Catching up with Fleck on the par-3 fifteenth hole, Wind continued,

“As I was trying to find elbowroom in the crowd, a galvanic shout went up. Fleck, a frenzied man informed me, had holed from 9 feet for a 2. Now all he had to do was birdie one of the last three holes—not that this would be easy.”

With Wind’s retirement golf writing took a hit from which it may never recover.

As far as I knew, Wind confined himself to prose, so I was surprised to learn (from Bill Scheft, a Wind nephew) that Wind’s first contribution to the New Yorker was a poem. With Scheft’s help I found the poem on the last page of Herbert Warren Wind’s Golf Book. I offer it more as an historical artifact than great poetry. Wind’s prose will more than suffice.

Upbringing

The elevator man’s son counts:
1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,14 and so on.
And sometimes mezzanine.

The porter’s son counts by fives:
5,10,15, and carry one, 15,20,25, and carry two. Or
By tens should speed require.

The agent’s son counts by fractions:
1-1/10, 2-1/10, 3-1/10, and so on.
He does it in his bean.

The golfer’s son counts:
1,2,3,fore,5,6,7. And balks
At counting any higher.

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Golf Poetry – Who Wrote it; Who Reads It (Part 2)

In 1886 David Jackson, the Captain of the Thistle Golf Club in Scotland, published a 32 page tract of poems and songs at the “repeated request of many members of my own and other Clubs.” Earlier in 1833, George Fullerton Carnegie privately published a long poem called “The Golfiad” which he dedicated the “Members of all Golfing Clubs, and to those of St. Andrews and North Berwick in particular.” They were his readers.

In the first 30 years or so of the 20th century, the audience for golf poetry expanded. The poetry appeared in golf magazines in both the United Kingdom and the United States and in a few newspapers as well.  A number of (real) books of golf poetry were also published But after about 1930, golf poetry lost its place as a part of the literature of golf and all but disappeared. As Grantland Rice saw it, “…good poets suddenly disappeared and readers for some reason lost the old poetic zest.” It may also be that movies, radio and other sources of entertainment began to attract audiences away from poetry in general.

Today poets struggles to attract an audience and golf poetry has few serious adherents. But we can, with the help of the internet, libraries and the digital reprinting of out-of-print books, rediscover the golf poetry of the past, which is what I have attempted to do with this Blog and my book Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages. And happily a number of readers have responded.

With the help of WordPress.com, my Blog host, I can tell you that golf poetry today enjoys a wider audience than ever before. Poetry on this Blog has been read (and hopefully enjoyed) by readers in more than 70 countries. Leading the list are the countries most associated with golf’s history, the United States (54% of the page views), the United Kingdom (21%), Canada (6%) and Australia (3.3%). But all of the continents have contributed viewers and the Blog has even had four page views from Iceland and two from Belarus! Page views in total for the three plus years of this Blog have passed 67,000.

Reading and even more so, reciting golf poetry is a new experience for most of today’s golfers. So, if it’s new for you, why not begin by reciting the last four lines from one of David Jackson’s poems, “Gouff Dings A’” loosely translated as “Golf Surpasses All,”

Then, let us swell the mighty throng of Princes, Lords, and Kings
Who have enjoyed the game of Golf above all other things
And wish success to every one, let him be great or sma’,
Who loves the jolly game o’ Gouff–for Gouff dings a’. 

 And sometimes poetry dings prose.

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The Mental Game in Prose and Poetry

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I’ve been reading Dr. Bob Rotella’s new book, The Unstoppable Golfer, (written with Bob Cullen)His basic thesis is that to play your best golf you need to develop repeatable sensible pre-shot routines, establish targets for all your shots and then go as “unconscious” as you can while hitting the shot or putting. While this approach is important for all shots, Rotella believes it is especially important for the short game. Rotella assumes that the reader can play, but is being stopped from improvement by a weak mental game that shows up more frequently from 100 yards in. By following Rotella’s mental prescriptions readers will become “unstoppable”  on the golf course. The book is easy to read and his mental game approach is well accepted among professionals. If you are looking for help with your short game and know the basics of chipping, pitching and putting, this book will help.

In the book Rotella rightly points out that sports psychology is a relatively new profession. However, he may not have come across what is likely the first reference to the mental game which appeared in a poem written by an Edinburgh medical student in 1687! The 12 line poem appears in Thomas Kincaid’s diary and is the first poem entirely about golf.

Gripe fast stand with your left leg first not farr
Incline your back and shoulders but beware
You raise them not when back the club you bring
Make all the motion with your bodies swinge
And shoulders, holding still the muscles bent                   (5)
Play slowly first till you the way have learnt
At such lenth hold the club as fitts your strength
The lighter head requires the longer lenth
That circle wherein moves your club and hands
At forty five degrees from Th[e] horizon stands             (10)
What at on[e] stroak to effectuat you dispaire
Seek only ’gainst the nixt it to prepare.

The mental game reference is in lines 11 and 12. These last two lines suggest that if you hit a bad shot, put it out of your mind when preparing to hit the next. Still good advice.

In my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages I include a poem that I wrote which sums up the challenge of following the prescriptions in Dr. Rotella’s tome.

The Futility of Thinking

With golf and sleeping
The more that you think
The odds of succeeding
Are likely to shrink.

Be it sheep in a line
Or the ball at address
Your thoughts only lead to
An increase in stress.

But,

To swing without thinking
Requires that you
Fill your mind up with blanks
It’s darn hard to do!

But in spite of the challenge, Dr. Rotella’s book may help. Check it out on Amazon. Oh, and you can check out mine as well. Thanks.

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Verses for Bubba, The Master’s Champion

A lot has been written about the new Master’s champion, Bubba Watson, since he put on his first green jacket. But unlike, a hundred years ago, it’s all prose and no poetry. So I’ve turned back the clock with a few verses to celebrate his well deserved and colorful victory.

Bubba’s Way 

Bubba doesn’t mind confessin’
He’s got this far without a lesson
But what’s the lesson in the tale
To the top, more than one trail.

Bubba’s Swing

Bubba’s swing is nice an’ breezy
Makes his monster shots look easy
But with that driver you’re tempted to think
They’ve got to go longer because it’s pink.

Bubba’s Shot 

About BW let’s be candid
Fortunate that he’s left handed
If he had hit a slice instead
“Our usual shot,” all we’d have said.

Bubba’s Game

Hit it and find it, that’s his game
To walk that far you’d have to train
And with his flat stick he might sink
Every putt…were it too pink!

Leon S White (golfpoet)

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