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:  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)

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.


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.


A hundred years ago, golf magazines of those days such as Golf, The American Golfer and Golf Illustrated all included golf instruction articles and tips. They also regularly included golf poems. Today’s golf magazines include golf instruction articles and tips, but no poetry. Reading through the February 2013 issue of Golf Digest I was impressed with the large number of tips. I thought that some might be better remembered if they were presented in the form of a poem. Here’s what I came up with. (I have also noted the tipper.)

Some Tips from the February Issue of Golf Digest Magazine

Magazine tips
from Jan to December
But when you need one
will you remember?

When your driving’s erratic,
and you’re feeling uptight
Will you infer
that you’re timing’s not right?  (From Louis Oosthuizen)

When you need to recover,
Remember what’s true:
“It’s not just the recovery,
but where it leaves you?”      (Tom Watson)

When all putts go left
Will you recall
That you must set your eyes
Inside the ball?

And a tip to remember
Right out of the gate,
Putt aggressively
When the line’s straight.  (The last two from Sean Foley)

With your fairway woods
As you reverse your pivot
Extend your arms,
And take a small divot.  (Todd Anderson)

When the flag is back
And you align
“Bag your wedge”
And run a little 9. (Jim McLean)

Poetry might help you
Remember these tips
And not in this Issue,
Check for worn grips.

And a last tip from me
When you’re playing the game
Fun and enjoyment
Is where you should aim.

Leon S White, PhD

In a number of previous Posts I have suggested that you will have more fun with these poems by reciting them. With that in mind I am starting something new with this Post. If you click below, you can hear me recite this poem! If you have a moment let me know what you think.


The Mental Game in Prose and Poetry

Product Details

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.


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.


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)


Golf Twines from Earlier Times (1898)

I began writing golf twines (two line golf poems for Twitter) in November of 2009. Two line poems are formally called “couplets” and, of course, they have a long history in poetry.

For example, Shakespeare wrote :  “Double, double, toil and trouble;/ Fire burn and caldron bubble” which in read by the three witches in his play, Macbeth.  (This is actually a golf twine now where Shakespeare is referring to Tiger’s scores on the 11th and 12th holes during the second round of the 2011 PGA Championship!)

I was hoping that my golf twines would catch on, and other Twitterers would write them as well. So far no such luck. But then I found William G. Van Tassel Sutphen, a Victorian-era fiction writer, editor of the original “Golf” magazine and author of The Golfer’s Alphabet, originally published in 1898. In The Golfer’s Alphabet, Van Tassel Sutphen wrote 27 golf twines, but he was just a little early for Twitter.

Sutphen, wrote a twine for each letter of the alphabet and added one more for the symbol “&”. His twines were illustrated by A. B. Frost. Frost (1851-1928), was considered one of the great illustrators in the “Golden Age of American Illustration”.

Below is an example:

The caption reads:

.                                                     I is for Iron that we play to perfection,
.                                                     So long as no bunker is in that direction.

And who says golf has changed!

Here are a few others from the book:

C is for Card, that began with a three,
And was torn into bits at the seventeenth tee.

H is for Hole that was easy in four,
And also for Hazard that made it six more.

N is the Niblick, retriever of blunders,
And now and again it accomplishes wonders.


W in a Whisper: “Between you and me,
I have just done the round in a pat 83.”

Sutphen’s book was reprinted in 1967 and is widely available on the net.


A Golf Controversy Regarding the Swing

The question, “How do you swing a golf club?” , has no simple answer today or in the past. Almost 70 years ago, J. A. Hammerton wrote this verse that appeared in The Rubaiyat of a Golfer:

Myself when young would hopefully frequent
Where Pros and Plus Men had great argument
On Grips that overlapped, on Swing and Stance
But came away less hopeful than I went.

As golf became popular in the United Kingdom and then in the U.S. and other countries around the turn of the 20th Century, golf books became the primary source of swing instruction. Books were written by the major golf professionals of the time and by other self-proclaimed experts as well. One of the most prolific writers on golf and golf instruction in the early 1900’s was a New Zealander named Pembroke Adolphus (sometime Arnold) “Percy” Vaile.  Joseph Murdoch’s book, The Library of Golf, lists eight books by P.A. Vaile. ( includes 130 entries for Vaile including a number on Tennis about which he also claimed expertise! See illustration above.)

In one of Vaile’s golf books, The New Golf, published by E.P. Dutton & Co. in 1916, Vaile almost lashes out against the idea that the left hand is dominant in the golf swing:

“The hoariest old tradition that ever fastened on to golf was the power of the left. It was more than a tradition. It was a fetich. Authors and journalists worshiped at its shrine.”

Vaile goes on to attack Vardon, Taylor and Braid (“The Great Triumvirate”) as well as Horace Hutchinson, the great amateur and leading golf writer of the day for their “moldy old idea[s].” Vaile first put forth his ideas in a newspaper article maybe eight years earlier. At that time he was attacked. In his words,

” I was in the thick of it. Anybody who bursts up any useless old tradition, or even gives it a bump, in London, is a fool, a faddist, a theorist, or a revolutionist. If he does not recognize this before he disturbs any of the dust of centuries, and if he is not prepared to accept the position kindly and patiently-and temporarily-he deserves all that is coming to him-and that is much.”

And in those days, attacks were not limited to prose:

(Picked up on the links at
St. Andrews)

Since first by Heaven’s august decree
The Royal Ancient Game was planned,
I always was allowed to be
The Master Hand.

To Me did text-books all allot
The part of propulsative strength.
The raking drive, the brassie shot–
I gave them length.

The Right Hand was –poor thing!–designed
To guide the club, and that was all;
Mine was the power that lay behind
The far-hit ball.

Now come there one upon the scene,
Whose heresy fair turns me pale–
The Arius of the golfing green–
A wretch name Vaile.

He says our Vardons, Braids, and Whites
Don’t golf’s dynamics understand;
Their view of Me’s all wrong; the Right’s
The Master Hand.

If Fate would let me but devise
Some torture for this villain bold,
Who thus would revolutionize
Golf’s credos old–

Oh! then to ball of rubber core
I’d change him for a tidy spell,
And drop him in “The Swilcan” or
“The Burn” or “Hell”;

I’d lose him in the rock-strewn sand
Whence few topped spheres ejected come,
Of Musselburgh’s notorious Pand-

Clearly, todays controversies  – one plane vs. two; stack and tilt; Tee It  Forward – are mild in comparison.


Indoor Golf in Chicago Now and Then

From the current issue of “GolfTime Magazine,” a biannual guide to golf in the Chicago area:

Experience Chicago’s Most Accurate and Realistic Indoor Golf Facility!

Experience a new paradigm in year-round indoor golf facilities at Play 18 in downtown Chicago’s Loop.  Located at 17 N. Wabash, just a few blocks from Millennium Park, Play 18 aims to offer golf enthusiasts full game play and practice facilities with sophisticated golf technologies, amenities, membership packages and more – all 12 months of the year, rain or shine!

We all know that golf has a long history. But the folks at Play 18 may not know that indoor golf was played in Chicago and nearby more than 100 years ago.  According to Robert Pruter, a major golf instructional school, O’Neil & Fovargue Indoor Golf School (185 Wabash Ave), opened in 1910.  (Whether 185 was North or South Wabash, if the Indoor Golf School existed today it would be a very short walk from there to Play 18!)

But a student of golf poetry would have found reference to the Indoor Golf School, not in Mr. Pruter’s article, but in a poem called “Winter Golf” by Bert Leston Taylor (1866-1921), the great Chicago Tribune columnist.


“All the benefits of outdoors winter golf
in the tropics, at the Indoor Golf School” – AD

Within the grimy Loop’s environs,
The rubber pill may be addressed,
A man may swing his golfing irons,
And let his fancy do the rest.

The murmur in the street below,
The elevated’s boom and roar,
Will sound–if fancy have it so–
Like surf upon a tropic shore.

The air within the driving stall
Does not suggest a Stilton cheese,
To one whose mind is on the ball
‘Tis fragrant as a tropic breeze.

We, upon whom the spell is laid,
For tropic things care not a whoop,
Imagination’s artful aid
Will bring the tropics to the Loop.

The sun, the breeze, the fields, the rest–
Of them let railway folders sing.
We know, who are by golf obsessed,
The Pill’s the thing! the Pill’s the thing.

With its continued relevance, Taylor’s poem may deserve a spot on the wall at Play 18.


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.


Two Up on Grantland Rice

Grantland Rice, in his book, the duffer’s handbook of golf, includes a page of  humorous “sayings” under the title, “Short Approaches.” I took two of them, “If at first you don’t succeed, try looking at the ball,” and “He who swings and lifts his head, will say things better left unsaid,” and made four line verses out of them.


If at first you don’t succeed,
Try looking at the ball.
But if that doesn’t work for you
Try bowling or the crawl.


He who swings and lifts his head
Will say things better left unsaid.
He whose putting’s for the birds
Will likely echo the former’s words.

If you would like to try your hand at extending a Twine (a two line poem), try the following:

To be in the hole and not in a rut
With a short one left, don’t rush your putt.

Add a comment with your finishing two lines and thanks.

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