At Pacific Dunes, a true links gem of a course in Bandon on the southern Oregon coast, I saw a caddie instruct his player, a middle age woman of moderate skills, putt the ball onto the green 50 yards from the edge. Off it ran like a rabbit over hill and dale, stopping about 10 feet from the hole, one of the more remarkable shots I’ve ever witnessed. It’s one of the shots you can pull off on a true links course with its minimalist bent grass fairways and greens. I did this repeatedly, from perhaps 20-30 feet off the green, on the Eden Course at St. Andrews, with great success. It takes practice, mostly with the pace of the hit, but as you gain confidence, you can put this arrow in your quiver for future use. As for parkland courses, where I usually play, this shot is worthless, as I approach it with shaky knees. With this shot, attempted with anything from a flop shot to a 7-iron pitch and run, I possess the horrid yips, and am apt to do just about anything from decelerate, decompensate, or deteriorate.
I have not yet thrown in the towel, though. What is seeming to work is a shot similar to a chip from closer in, bringing the club back without much wrist action then releasing the clubhead towards the target, keeping the club face square to the target, and clipping the ball neatly off the turf without much divot. Not much of a backswing is needed as long as you sufficiently accelerate through impact. The key is the aiming point since, without the backspin the pros attain, the amateur must land the ball [click to continue…]
Whenever I think of Ken Venturi, the Hall of Fame golfer who died Friday, I remember that determined, iconic figure shuffling down the last fairway of the 1964 U.S. Open, dehydrated and barely able to stay on his feet, let alone swing a golf club, gritty as an Olympic decathlon champion only needing to cross the finish line of the 1500 meter race to win the gold medal. I was 17 at the time, watching the spectacle on our family’s black and white TV, literally praying Mr. Venturi wouldn’t collapse in front of the world. The temperature in Washington, D.C. that June day was over one hundred degrees, and players had to endure a 36-hole final, the last such year for that requirement. It was a test of skill and conditioning on the highest levels.
His gait wobbly, Venturi removed his Hogan cap as he approached the 18th green, waving to a cheering crowd. What a moment in golf history! Whenever I need inspiration and motivation to persevere with this impossible game, I think of that moment and smile at Ken Venturi’s will and resolve to finish in the face of extreme adversity. After all, a doctor had told him after the first 18, that to continue on could be fatal. “That would be better than the way I’ve been living,” he replied, as we all learned later. Venturi laced up his shoes and returned to the withering heat and potentially lethal consequences.
After his playing days were over this former stutterer faced another challenge–becoming a distinguished and revered golf commentator for some 35 years. But it is the warrior who faced down death and won the Open who I will most remember and admire.
Thank you, Ken Venturi, for all you gave to golf, the game you loved.