I have just come across an article which I wrote last year for publication in a UK Golf Magazine. It is exactly one year since I played my first round of golf in the USA…and yes, it was at Pebble Beach. What an experience. I still can’t believe it.
Driving along the 17 mile drive from Carmel, looking out of the car window, avidly seeking my first peek of this magnificent course, passing some incredible properties, I cannot describe my excitement. We had booked a two night stay in the Lodge, with a 9.30 am tee time on the Monday. The Lodge itself is a luxurious place to stay; It has a small lobby which opens out into a lounge and terrace with unparalleled views of the 18th green and the sea beyond. Everything is quietly understated. We had an ocean view room, with open fire and double doors onto a balcony which looked straight out over the 18th green. Logs were neatly stacked outside the room and the fire all set and ready to go. And with that sea fog, the warm fire was very welcome. It might be 100 – 110 degrees inland, but on the coast it was more like 55-60 degrees.
Unfortunately, the sea fog obscured a lot of the view for much of our stay, but allowed tantalizing glimpses of the rugged coastline and the sparkling ocean. It in no way detracted from the golf, I hasten to say. It’s an integral part of the Pebble Beach experience. My playing partners turned out to be a gentleman from New York, who had brought his 13 year old grandson to play here for three days, and also a gentleman from Illinois. I was once again reminded of the international nature of the game and the immediate connection which you have with total strangers, simply by sharing a passion for this splendid game. I cannot think of an easier way in which to meet such a wide range of people.
My own partner (who had booked this as a treat for me – lucky, lucky me) hasn’t played golf for years and decided to caddy…except that’s not allowed, so he drove the cart instead, and assures me he got an equal kick out of the experience as I did; And we’re off to the driving range at Stanford later (the scene of Tiger’s university time practice), seeing as he’s now caught the golfing bug!
Back to Pebble Beach..the borrowed clubs were, needless to say, Callaway, graphite shafted and not far off new. The range was just up the road, easily accessible with the assistance of the courtesy bus and once there the golf balls were neatly lined up in baskets. It was great to get a few swings in and relax on the range, although the fog made it a bit difficult to see where the ball was going!! Still, if you cannot see the result, it’s easy to assume that all the balls flew well!! (A positive mental approach is always best for your confidence!) And, joking apart, it does help you to hone in your kinesthetic awareness, and learn to feel better where the ball is going. That’s always a plus in golf.
On the tee box, our starter had a few words to say – no mobiles, no mulligans, we were expected to take 4 hours 20 and to keep half a hole behind the group in front. The advice given was that the course is eminently playable…although the greens are all small and so not to go for the pin, just aim for the centre of the green…and to have fun. Sound advice.
I was aware of the amount of adrenalin coursing through my body due to sheer excitement, and wondered once again at the task professional players have in controlling this instinctive response whenever they play. It pays off to have as many mental skills as possible to draw upon, so as to stay calm and relaxed and focused. It also pays to have a plan of how you are going to tackle each and every hole, particularly so when the greens are as tight as these ones. You need to know your yardages and plan your ideal approach to the green and then play your tee shot accordingly.
It’s no good just smashing your driver down the fairway and then seeing what you can do from there…that’s not the way to play any course, let alone Pebble Beach. I can fully appreciate why Tiger spent a lot of time shooting into every green, practicing with every pin position, from every conceivable approach position, so as to produce the phenomenal result he did back in the 2000 US Open – 15 shots under his nearest rival.
Tiger showed us just how playable Pebble Beach is, so long as you use your mind as well as your body – thinking clearly and logically so as to employ the best course management, and then remaining calm and focused so as to execute that plan. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? But that’s the way good golf is played. Unless you use your mind well, all you will ever do is aim to hit the ball forwards and hope for a good result – sometimes you’ll get lucky, sometimes you won’t.
And this isn’t the only difference between a professional and a good club golfer. A professional practices and practices and practices; every available moment is spent practicing. I’m not suggesting that all club golfers should do the same; simply that one cannot expect to play like a pro unless you undertake to practice as diligently and also to learn the mental skills which are equally essential. The mental skills, of course, take far less time to learn and to rehearse, and so this is the quickest, easiest and least time consuming way in which to foster consistency and, ultimately, to lower your handicap.
Those club golfers, who play for their scratch league team, or your area team, or such like, should all be emulating the professional golfer. If you are on a team, you owe it to your contemporaries to do your best. For the rest of us, it only matters to ourselves personally how we choose to approach the game. Whatever approach you want to take is the right one for you…but to play your best golf, learn from the preparation habits of a professional – practice different shots, learn the mental game…and don’t forget to have fun; remember, golf is a game – enjoy it!
I certainly enjoyed Pebble Beach. I, like many other golfers, I’m sure, would play there every day, if only that were possible. Jack Nicklaus once said that if he only had one more round to play, he would choose to play it at Pebble Beach. The fairways are magnificent, the greens aren’t too slow or too fast, the rough is fair, the bunkers are full of white powdered sand (I know – I spent a lot of time in them!), the holes are interesting and challenging, the views are great (even when seen through a haze of fog!), and there’s nothing quite like playing this legendary course.
The US Open is back there again in 2010, and I for one will be getting tickets. I’m already looking forward to walking upon that hallowed ground once more. And, who knows, perhaps I’ll get to play there again sometime?…and hopefully next time I’ll retain my ball on the 18th…which I unfortunately hit rather too enthusiastically out of the bunker, over the green and off into the beautiful blue ocean! I wouldn’t mind but I’d used that same ball all the way until that fateful moment; quite an achievement I felt. A dramatic end to my round, which only serves to fuel my resolve to play there again at the earliest opportunity.
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