Playing From the Wrong Side of the Ball on Purpose


Michelle Wie once told Guy Yocom, in an interview in Golf Digest, that if she ever got bored with golf she’d take it up again, left-handed—one of many reasons to join her fan club. A few years ago, Mike Zimmerman, a reader in Glendale, Wisconsin, decided to try the same thing, mostly because he thought switching sides would pose an interesting challenge, especially for a guy in his late forties. He has now written a book about his experience, called The Wrong Side of the Ball.


The book, which Zimmerman published himself, contains slightly more autobiographical detail than people who don’t know him are likely to be fascinated by, but there’s lots of interesting stuff, too, including the fact that, of the four left-handed players who have won majors—Bob Charles, Mike Weir, Phil Mickelson, and Bubba Watson—only Watson is a natural lefty. There’s also the even more surprising fact that six other natural lefties have won majors, but all while playing right-handed: Johnny Miller, Greg Norman, Curtis Strange, Nick Price, David Graham, and Byron Nelson. I’m going to add my brother, John, to that list, because he’s a natural lefty who, while playing right-handed, served as the captain of his high-school and college golf teams, won the club championship at two different clubs, and won my club’s member-guest (with me):


Teaching pros (and our late father, handicap 36) sometimes used to say that every golfer ought to play from the opposite side, because then the dominant arm could “pull” the club through the ball. I don’t think there’s any actual science to back up that idea, but lack of actual science has never been an impediment to golf-swing theorizing. In the old days, the main reason lefties played righty was the scarcity of left-handed golf equipment. That’s less of an issue now, although it’s still a consideration, especially when it comes to demo clubs. But a challenge is a challenge. Here’s where Zimmerman honed his new swing (his wife is still wondering what happened to their bedspread):


And here’s a video of Zimmerman’s first public demonstration of his transformed technique. He doesn’t actually swing until almost the very end, but the long build-up helps to create dramatic tension:

The Champions Tour is probably safe. Still, Zimmerman gets major credit for trying. Here he is again (on the far left, of course), with the guys he regularly plays with—who lend support to my theory that middle-aged male golfers are all basically the same person:

zimmerman pals

How To Play Golf With a Broken Neck

My column in the August issue of Golf Digest is about my friend Thomas Tami, an ear-nose-and-throat doctor in Cincinnati, who broke his neck when he was in college, forty years ago, and took up golf a decade later even though he can’t turn his head without turning his torso.”When I take the club back,” he told me, “I completely lose the ball, and I never pick it up on the way down.” He’s a player, though. His best score for 18 holes is 76 at his home course, Hyde Park Golf & Country Club, which was designed mostly by Donald Ross. Here’s a video of Tami hitting a shot at Hyde Park two years ago:
Try that yourself sometime (on the range) if you think it looks easy.

Stop Watching TV Long Enough To Take This Golf Survey


Debbie Crews is the sports-psychology consultant for the women’s golf team at Arizona State University and the chair of the World Scientific Conference of Golf. Her laboratory, in Tempe, Arizona, is carpeted with artificial turf and has two golf holes cut in the floor. She has long white-blond hair and the lean build of a runner. She co-founded the women’s golf team at the University of Wisconsin when she was an undergraduate there, in the early 1970s, and later she earned a Masters in exercise physiology and a PhD in psychophysiology. She has conducted several studies of the yips, including two funded by the Mayo Clinic. I described some of her work in an article about the yips that I wrote for The New Yorker last year. That’s Crews in her office in the photo above.
Crews is part of a group that is trying to “better understand how golfers think about their game.” Answering the questions in the survey they’ve created takes about 15 minutes. “Ultimately,” she says, “it may help golfers at all levels improve their scores.” You can get to the survey by clicking here. Crews’s research study has been approved by the Institutional Review Board of Arizona State University, so you can be almost certain that answering the questions won’t give you the yips.

Golf in Morocco: Silver Tongs for the King’s Cigarette

This past week, the European Tour was in Morocco, for the Hassan II Trophy. I attended that tournament in 2000, and I liked Morocco so much that, a few months later, I went back, with my wife and our two children. The Trophy didn’t become an official tour event until 2010, and when I was there it was played on a different course, but the broadcast of this year’s event brought back a lot of happy memories. Here I am having tea at the royal stables, in Bouznika:


The tournament is named for (and was founded by) King Hassan II, who ruled Morocco from 1961 until his death, in 1999—the year before I visited. Hassan was a passionate golfer. He employed a squadron of caddies (one of whom was responsible for gripping the royal cigarette with a pair of silver tongs while the King swung his club), and shot mediocre scores that easily could have been worse (because kings are not obligated to play from bad lies or extricate themselves from bunkers). Hassan viewed golf not merely as a palliative to the tedium of absolute power but also as a potential bridge between his country and the United States—then, as now, the world’s most enticing source of exportable prosperity.


Hassan took up golf during the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower, whose widely chronicled enthusiasm had imbued the game with sort of hokey Free World allure—as did the contemporaneous rise of Arnold Palmer, who was golf’s first television star, and, a little later, the emergence of Jack Nicklaus, who turned pro the year of Hassan’s coronation.

morocco-lgflag (1)

The King was not a natural player, however, and by the mid-1960s he was looking for an American instructor to help him bring his scores out of the triple digits. He settled on Claude Harmon, who had won the Masters in 1948 and was the head pro at Winged Foot. Harmon made numerous visits to Morocco in the late sixties and early seventies, in return for which the King gave him, among other things, jeweled daggers, rugs, swords, a cigar box stuffed with cash and a Lincoln Continental Mark III. Harmon eventually moved his family to Rabat. In the early seventies, his eldest son, Butch—later the teacher of Tiger Woods—served as the head pro at Royal Dar es Salaam Golf Club, where the Trophy was held in 2000.


During the tournament’s formative years, Hassan II had concerns unrelated to golf. In 1971, his forty-second birthday party was crashed by more than a thousand rebellious soldiers; they killed nearly a hundred guests before the King, who had hidden in a bathroom during the worst of the shooting, effected a change of heart in one of the revolt’s commanders by looking him in the eye and reciting the first verse of the Koran. (The rebel knelt and kissed his sovereign’s hand.) The following year, the King’s plane was attacked in the air by four F-5 fighters from his own Air Force. One of the plane’s engines was destroyed, but it managed to land in Rabat—where the rebels continued to strafe it until the King grabbed his plane’s radio and shouted, “Stop firing! The tyrant is dead!” Both incidents were followed by the inevitable bureaucratic shufflings and summary executions. Then the King went back to working on his game.

To be continued.



Golf Among the Zebras: Reader’s Report from Kenya

Jeff Mwangi is a reader in Nairobi, and, starting today, he is the official East Africa correspondent of this blog. He took up golf two years ago, at the age of 40. That’s him in the photo below, at the Great Rift Valley Lodge and Golf Resort, in Naivasha:

He wrote to me recently to ask about golf simulators, for which he believes there is a large potential  market in East Africa: “I am looking for commercial ones to install in a shopping mall, and also in some of the golf clubs, for range training,” he said. I told him I would try to help put him in touch with some manufacturers. Do you hear that, manufacturers? I’ve got a couple of other ideas, too. In the meantime, I asked him to tell me a little about golf in Kenya, and about himself. From his report:

Golf in Kenya used to be reserved for old men (rich geezers), but times have changed. Tiger Woods has been an inspiration to many young Kenyans — who, incidentally, think that golf is an easy game. I thought so, too. I bought a second-hand kit, because kits are quite expensive here. I struggled on the the range, but a little training by the range-handlers gave me the confidence to try nine holes. I took countless strokes in my first game, but I managed to finish. I kept going, and for a while I played three times a week. But that was not sustainable, because it took up business time. Still, I did upgrade my kit, from a pro shop in South Africa.


Now I play golf for leisure, and I am working on reducing my handicap. (Don’t ask me what it is.) I have won several prizes, including one called PIGA MINGI (which is Kiswahili for “hitting too many strokes”). I wish I had started at an early age — and that is what I want for my children, who have started playing, too. The two photos below were taken at Milnerton Golf Course, in Cape Town, South Africa, which has the best views on the planet. The sound of the Atlantic must have made me miss the ball, but I guess I am still learning the swing.


Golf in Kenya can be challenging, and animals have the right of way. But the trends that will shape the future of golf are the same trends that are shaping the future of the planet: urbanization, the spread of digital technology, and resource and sustainability pressures. The middle class in Kenya are now looking at golf as leisure, and I am looking for a reliable supplier of golf simulators who wants to help encourage a golf explosion in Eastern Africa. Golfers here want a place where they will not be required to abide by an archaic, denim-phobic dress code, to speak in whispers in the clubhouse, or to be snubbed by the committee. They want to play fun golf on simulators that work! 


Mwangi took the photo above at Lost City Golf Course, designed by Gary Player, at the Palace of the Lost City, in South Africa. “I drove there for miles,” he told me, “but I was turned away because it was invitation-only. So the only thing I could do was take a photo of the beautiful course from the clubhouse and cool down with a few pints.” Mwangi is still working on his game, and, if he keeps at it, maybe he’ll qualify for Kenya’s team in the East Africa Challenge Golf Tournament, which was held at Rift Valley in 2013 and at Entebbe Golf Club, in Uganda, in 2014. Kenya’s team won both times — its eleventh and twelfth victories since the tournament began, in 1999.


Two Easy Ways to Speed Up Golf


My golf course closed for the season on the Monday before Thanksgiving. The day before that, thirteen guys showed up for the final 2014 home-course meeting of the Sunday Morning Group. I wasn’t there, because I was on my way home from a non-golf reporting assignment in Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California—poor life-management on my part. The following Sunday, though, Hacker (real name), Mike B., Gary, Ray, three of Ray’s friends from other clubs, and I played at Fairchild Wheeler Golf Course, a 36-hole facility owned by the city of Bridgeport, Connecticut:


The Wheel (as it’s known to friends) is the main winter golf hangout for a lot of guys in our region, because it’s so close to the coast that it doesn’t get much snow. It’s where S.M.G. played last year on New Year’s Day:


The Wheel is also the home of an extremely successful chapter of The First Tee, which served more than 600 kids last summer:


One of the volunteer coaches is Richard Hunt, an honorary S.M.G. member. That’s him at the far left in the photo below, which was taken at Twisted Dune during S.M.G.’s fifteenth annual golf trip to Atlantic City, in October:


Each summer for the past ten years, Richard has spent his Saturday afternoons at the Wheel introducing youngsters to golf. This year, his First Tee chapter named a trophy after him: the Coach Rick Award, which goes to the scoring champions in the Ace/Birdie division. (He’s also pretty good at teaching grownups; he’s a marketing consultant in Manhattan, and he oversees the Venture Creation Program at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, where he is a mentor-in-residence.)


A couple of weeks ago, Richard attended the U.S.G.A.’s Pace of Play Symposium, at which two dozen speakers spent two days talking about how to make golf go faster. “I thought the event was quite valuable,” Richard (who took the photo below) told me. “This is exactly the kind of thing they need to do ‘for the good of the game.'”


Richard’s report:

Turns out, there are way more problems than your buddy plumb-bobbing his third putt. A major culprit is tee-time spacing, which is way too short at most public courses, and even in professional events. The L.P.G.A. did a test this year, and was able to reduce playing times an average of fourteen minutes per round just by moving tee times slightly farther apart, from ten minutes to eleven, and asking players to keep up with the group in front of them. Easy stuff. In addition, course setup, design, and facility management policies are all either part of the problem or part of the solution.

When I was in Arizona, I had dinner with my old friend Shelby Futch, the world’s greatest golf teacher, whose company owns several courses in the Scottsdale area. At one of them, Shelby reduced playing times by offering forty dollars in grill-room credit to each day’s first group if they finished in less than four hours, and by asking the groups behind them to keep up. Easy stuff.

I asked Richard whether the kids he teaches play quickly—and, sad to say, he said they don’t:

Trust me—we don’t teach them to play slow. Yet on late summer Saturday afternoons, during our team matches, my young charges struggle to beat darkness every week. I myself blame CBS, NBC, and the Golf Channel. Maybe Fox will only show golfers in action next year, instead of repose.

Easy stuff.


The Single Most Important Truth About Golf


When I took up golf, not quite twenty-five years ago, I was embarrassed to swing a club in public. On the first tee one day, I hit my ball sideways, nearly killing a man on the putting green. I sliced so many balls into the woods that I seldom had trouble finding one of my own when I went into the woods to look for the one I had just put there. I clawed enormous divots from the fairways. I launched putts in improbable directions and wildly miscalculated distances.
The more I played, though, the more I realized that I wasn’t all that much worse than most of the other golfers I saw, and that even the ones who were much better than I was didn’t mind having me around as long as I didn’t hold them up. In fact, they scarcely seemed to notice me at all, so absorbed were they in their own struggles. As my friend Jim explained: “Nobody ever gave a shit about how anybody else played golf.”

The Goff 1743

Scientists, Psychologists, and the Mayo Clinic Take on the Yips

SAM report

I had an article in the May 26 New Yorker about the yips. The term  was coined around the middle of the last century by the Scottish golfer Tommy Armour, a sufferer, who defined it as “a brain spasm that impairs the short game.” (Stephen Potter, in his book Golfmanship, published in 1968, quoted Armour and added, “‘Impairs’ is a euphemism.”) Yipping typically involves an involuntary twitch of a golfer’s hands, wrists, or forearms. The late British golf writer and television commentator Henry Longhurst once said that he didn’t have the yips but was a “carrier.”

Henry Longhurst, cocktail in hand.

Henry Longhurst. In the olden days, some forms of the yips were called “whiskey fingers.”

During the BBC’s broadcast of the final round of the 1970 British Open, at St. Andrews, he agonized vicariously when Doug Sanders left himself a three-foot putt on the final hole to win the tournament. “Oh, Lord,” Longhurst said on the air. “Well, that’s not one that I would like to have.” Sanders hesitated over his ball for what seemed like minutes; noticed something on the ground and bent to remove it (“Oh, Lord,” Longhurst said again); froze once more; and shoved the ball to the right of the hole. “Missed it!” Longhurst said as the ball went past. “Yes, a certainty. That’s the side you’re bound to miss it.” In the video below, skip to 21:23 to hear Longhurst’s full commentary and watch the gruesome outcome:

Among the people I interviewed but didn’t quote is Dick Hyland, who is the head professional at the Country Club at DC Ranch, in North Scottsdale, Arizona, and a longtime yips sufferer. Before I went to see him, he wrote down some of his thoughts about his own experience with the yips on a yellow legal pad, and gave me the sheet (clicking on the image below will enlarge it to a more legible size):


Another person I talked to is Debbie Crews, a sports psychologist and a consultant to the women’s golf team at Arizona State. She has participated in three studies of the yips sponsored by the Mayo Clinic, and she’s about to participate in a fourth. Even for golfers who don’t have the yips, Crews is a good person to know. Here’s one thing I learned from her: most of us would putt better if we had someone tend the flag even on medium-length putts, because our brains are better at judging the distance to targets that protrude above the ground.


Let’s Take a Closer Look at Larry David’s Golf Warm-Up Routine

P1080271 On the day the Secret Service searched my golf bag—at Farm Neck Golf Club, on Martha’s Vineyard—I also watched Larry David warming up on the driving range. The photo above (you will recall) shows the first part of his routine. And here’s the second part: P1080267 Several readers have asked how these warm-up components are connected. With graceful swoops? With tiny hops? With deep knee bends? Showing is easier than describing, and, I’m happy to say, I shot some video. Here’s what it looks like fully assembled:

I also took some more pictures of the Secret Service, because my wife, our daughter, her husband, and I ran into the President’s entourage again, that night in Oak Bluffs, where we had also gone to dinner. I recognized some of the guys from the golf course. The ones on the balcony (across the street from the Sweet Life Cafe, where the adult Obamas were eating) were unzipping their “golf bag.” The guys with the untucked shirts are Secret Service agents.


This morning, Tim-o and his daughters came over from Wood’s Hole. Their ferry was escorted by two Coast Guard boats with machine guns mounted at the bow. Every time a non-Coast Guard boat came within a couple of hundred yards of the ferry, Tim-o said, one of the Coast Guard boats would zoom ahead to shoo it away.

coast guard

A Golfer’s Bucket List: No. 3


Devote a month or two to becoming somewhat more competent at the part of your game you hate the most. All golfers have shots that give them the heebie-jeebies. I know players whose preferred club for sand shots is a rake, and others who are so terrified of chipping that they sometimes putt from the rough. Few of us will ever master a real golf swing, but most of us would enjoy our favorite pastime more if we could reduce the anxiety caused by our weakest weakness. For yippers, the flaw may lie too deep for therapy. For almost everyone else, though, the worst problems can be moderated with professional intervention. In some cases, the answer might even be to invest in modern equipment. I’ve known several old guys who lived to play golf but insisted, out of sheer cussedness, on continuing to use the rusting, groove-less, stiff-shafted blades they loved in their prime. I once saw my club’s oldest member, a wealthy nonagenarian, inspecting an ultra-forgiving senior-shafted driver in the golf shop but deciding, after lengthy equivocation, not to upgrade from the ancient sledgehammer in his bag. I asked him (good-naturedly), “What are you waiting for, Doug—the grave?”

Slade chip front