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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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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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New Book: Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages

 

 

Written with the help of golfing poets such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, George Fullerton Carnegie, Grantland Rice and Billy Collins. Laid out as a golf course with Holes (chapters) such as “St. Andrews,” Agonies and Frustrations,” “Advice,” “Politics and War,” “Links with the Devil,” and “The Women’s Game.” The text and poems provide humorous tales, historical dramas and personal accounts that will touch the hearts and minds of golfers universally. Much of the material comes from inaccessible books and magazines published in the U.S., England and Scotland before 1930. The Foreword is by Robert Trent Jones, Jr.

More than five years in the making. Written to offer today’s golfers poetic snapshots of the game as described by keen-eyed golfers of the past along with a good number of historical vignettes.  Golf Course of Rhymes is available at Amazon,  Barnes and Noble and also Amazon.UK. I hope you will take a look.

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Remembering Tom Watson at the 2009 Open

Just after last year’s British Open I wrote a poem to commemorate Tom Watson’s memorable performance. Since then I have revised the poem slightly. You might also enjoy the poem I wrote about Doug Sanders at the 1970 Open.

Watson At Turnberry – The 2009 Open

From the tee at eighteen
He looked down towards the home hole
Like a pitcher with a one run lead looks
Toward home plate needing one more out.

As he drove his ball
We knew what the magic number was.
When the camera showed a safe white speck
We exhaled in unison and counted one.

Now it was an eight iron to the green
Or was it a nine?
A question to be answered twice,
The first time by Watson alone.

He was thinking nine but hit the eight
And as we watched with growing anxiety
The ball bounced hard and rolled too far.
We held our breath and counted two.

Again a choice: to chip or putt.
“One of the best chippers of all time,”
The words of an old pro in the booth.
But the third stroke would be a putt.

From off the green the ball raced up
Then by the hole a good eight feet.
He said he had seen grain.
Down to one, we saw trouble.

Once more a putt to win the Open,
But this was not a kid with a dream
This was a Champion Golfer five times over.
Yet now we feared the worst.

While he took two short practice strokes
We lost interest in counting
And as the ball rolled weakly off his putter
We lost all hope as well.

“I made a lousy putt,” Watson’s words;
“Then it was one bad shot after another.”
A self-stated epitaph marked the close:
“The Old Fogy Almost Did It.”

And so the golf writers lost their story
To an illustrious sage from an earlier time.
It wouldn’t be about Watson winning or losing –
But how he had played the Game.

And did he ever!

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Six Tweets to Better Putting

J. H. Taylor putting

There seems to be general agreement that the first printed book of golf instruction was The Golfer’s Manual, By a Keen Hand, written by H. B. Farnie and published in 1857. Since then instruction has grown to be one of the major products of the golf industry. These days it is still packaged in books, but also in magazines, newspapers, advertisements, blogs, videos, YouTube clips and tips. In addition, instruction is sold to individuals and groups by thousands of teaching pros.

But in today’s busy world, there is a need for the “short and sweet” in golf instruction. With that in mind I offer a 12 line verse that packages the essence of what you need to know to become a better putter. And if you are put off by poetry, just think of this guide as six putting tweets.

Six Tweets to Better Putting

Line up and trust when putting
Head still a must when putting

A rhythmic swing
Is just the thing when putting

Get rid of fear
At least be near when putting

All are agreed
The first rule is speed when putting

Consistency
The foremost key when putting

The best advice
Don’t think twice when putting.

Leon S. White, March 2010

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The Serenity of the Golf Course

thrasher_curve_billed

This week’s poem by Bert Leston Taylor was written about 90 years ago. Its title “Far from the M.C.” references a line in Thomas Gray’s poem “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.” Gray’s poem was parodied in two earlier posts.

Taylor, a revered Chicago Tribune columnist, often had one eye on Chicago politics and the other on golf. He was a good friend of “Chick” Evans. The contrast Taylor sketches in the poem between the tranquility of the golf course and rowdiness of politics refers of course to an earlier time. The golf course still offers the possibility of “ecstasy.” Maybe today’s politicians need to play more golf.

FAR FROM THE M.C.

The Thrasher, on a leafless bough
High in a maple tree,
Pours forth, as only he knows how,
A song of ecstasy.

The sunbeams thro’ the branches sift
Upon the putting green,
Aloft the fleecy cloudlets drift,
The morning is serene.

In town strong men are in the heat
Of party politics;
The air is filled with “Lie” and “Cheat,”
And other verbal tricks.

The thrasher sings for song’s own sake;
I share his ecstasy.
I have a longish putt to make,
And hole it for a three.

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WATSON AT TURNBERRY – THE 2009 OPEN

Photo Credit AP

Photo Credit AP

I’m giving myself a two stoke penalty for breaking my rule of posting only on Mondays. But Tom Watson’s performance at Turnberry deserves at least one poetic response.  So I offer the following:

WATSON AT TURNBERRY – THE 2009 OPEN

From the tee at eighteen
He looked down towards the home hole
Like a pitcher with a one run lead
Looks toward home plate needing one more out.

As he drove his ball
We knew what the magic number was
When the camera showed a safe white speck
We exhaled in unison and subtracted one.

Now it was an eight iron to the green
Or was it a nine?
A question to be answered twice
The first time by Watson alone.

He was thinking nine but hit the eight
And as we watched with growing anxiety
The ball bounced hard and rolled too far
We held our breath and subtracted one.

Again a choice: to chip or putt
“One of the best chippers of all time”
The words of an old pro in the booth
But the third stroke would be a putt.

From off the green the ball raced up
Then by the hole a good eight feet
He said he had seen grain
Down to one, we saw trouble.

Once more a putt to win the Open
But this was not a kid with a dream
This was a Champion Golfer five times over
Yet now we feared the worst.

While he took two short practice strokes
We lost interest in counting
And as the ball rolled weakly off his putter
We lost all hope as well.

“I made a lousy putt,” Watson’s words
“Then it was one bad shot after another”
A self-stated epitaph marked the close:
“The Old Fogy Almost Did It.”

And so the golf writers lost their story
To an illustrious sage from an earlier time
It wouldn’t be about Watson winning or losing
But how he had played the Game.

And did he ever!

Leon S White
July 22, 2009

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Golf and the Need for Self-deception

Bernard Darwin

Bernard Darwin

Herbert Warren Wind, himself an outstanding golf writer, described Bernard Darwin as “the greatest writer on golf the world has ever known.” Darwin (1876 – 1961), was a grandson of Charles Darwin. He was trained in law at Cambridge where he also played golf.  He disliked the practice of law but loved golf. So despite having no formal training, he began what would become an illustrious career writing about golf. He covered the sport for The Times of London from 1907 to 1953 and for Country Life from 1907 to 1961, the first writer ever to cover golf on a daily basis, instead of an occasional feature.

Darwin wrote more than 20 books on golf. In one, simply called Golf, he wrote,

“Is there any other game in which the player is so constantly wondering what is the matter with him and so regularly finding a cure which he believes will heal him for ever, only to suffer a dreadful relapse next day? I can hardly think there is since so few other games give the same opportunity for solitary practice, and it is the solitude above everything else that promotes this pleasant  form of self-deception.”

Robert Risk, a Scottish writer and poet, published a book of 36 poems in 1919 called Songs of the Links that included a poem “The Golfer’s Discontent” that expands on Darwin’s observation. The last stanza is acutely perceptive.

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 [luckily stroked] 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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Advice on Putting in Prose and Poetry

Fig-40-PUTTING-OFF-THE-LEFT-LEG-MR-l-AIDI-AY-ADDRESSI

In last week’s Post I included a poem, “Dedicated to the Duffer” from a book, The Winning Shot, by Jerome Travers and Grantland Rice published in 1915. But what is “the winning shot?”  According to Travers, who won the U.S. Amateur Championship four times and the U.S. Open once,

“Undoubtedly “the winning shot” in golf is the putt. There can be no question about it.”

Travers later on in the chapter continues,

“We all know that there is less of the physical and more of the psychological in putting than in any other part of golf. To be putting well the golfer must have absolute control of his nerves…”

Travers ends the chapter with “a few condensed suggestions” to improve your putting:

  1. Stand well over the ball and keep your head still.
  2. Keep your eye on that ball and don’t move your body.
  3. Cut out the jab or the stab, learn the pendulum swing, and get a follow through with the club.
  4. Cultivate, in practice as well as play, the knack of being a trifle beyond the hole if you miss. Make a steady practice of giving the ball a chance.
  5. Cultivate the habit of concentration.
  6. Cultivate the habit of confidence and determination, for mental faults can be improved as well as physical ones.
  7. And then practise putting wherever and whenever you get the chance.

Remember these words were written almost 100 years ago. They hold up well when reading the modern gurus Pelz, Utley, Rotella and Valiante.

And yet, as the following poem suggests, when you compare all the words of wisdom regarding putting, the result is more often confusion than improvement.  [Read more...]

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Where Have All My Good Drives Gone?

where-have-all1

From the Minute Books of the Bruntsfield Links Golf Club:

“Bruntsfield Links, 28th Sep. 1839

During the evening the Secretary sang the following impromptu:—

Come, all you Golfers stout and strong,
Who putt so sure and drive so long,
And I will sing you a good song,
About old Captain Aitken.”

I will spare you the remaining verses.

The Scottish and English Golf Clubs have always included songs in their rituals. For example a song called “The Golfer’s Garland” included in Robert Clark’s book, Golf: A Royal and Ancient Game, was said to be “composed for the Blackheath Golf Club, and often sung with great spirit …” Clark includes other songs in his book.

These golfing songs were often poems that where written to be sung using the melodies of familiar tunes. With that in mind, I penned the following song to be sung to the tune “Where have all the flowers gone?,” in hopes of continuing the tradition at some existing golf club. Those of you who remember the tune are encouraged to sing along. [Read more...]

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