The game, as with all elements of life's great beauty, is forever on the move, evolving, shaping, moulding and producing. Its changes bear the close resemblance of the process of life we all share equally, change! I mean, doesn't everything have to move with the times, make a distinct change for the future, broaden its voice and appeal for the greater good of its goal? Maybe so, but lets not forget the reason we play this great game, the reason you and I are blessed with such appealing senses of intrigue and excitement. Thats right, the ultimate goal we all share as passionate golfers is the successful navigation of a small white ball into the safety of a small round hole.
So what's changed?
Exactly, what has changed, apart from the huge amount of cash, advertising, TV ratings, endorsements, corporate entertainment and manufacturers price battles, nothing has changed. Yes thats right, we still do and always will, play the game of golf with one single goal in mind, to successfully control our golf ball around 18 holes of a golf course in as few amount of strokes as possible.
Thats the game.
Ball in hole!
If we take a trip back to the 1930's and 40's, we find ourselves apart of something much more appealing than the modern cash farm we are currently faced with today. Back in the day, when the game was still seen as a game, the element of skill was all in the hands of the most creatively expressive individual. It came down to the guy who had the most nerve, the player who had the most open mindset to enable his reflex actions to fully unfold into the ball flight demanded of the most challenging golf shots. The greatest players of our past, namely; Byron Nelson, Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus to name just a small few, each had the inner trust, the unshakable belief to execute golf shots of the highest order during the most intense, tournament pressure situations. They all had reflex actions they could depend on, a golf swing made of unique body movements, individual levels of rhythm and swing speed. They each had sole possession of their own golf swing, they knew exactly how it was going to perform in different conditions, course types and tournament situations without ever doubting the way, shape or form of its function. Mr Nelson never cared a hoot as to how his major winning swing looked, he had one goal, to win as many golf tournaments as he could. To achieve his goal he realized the great importance of ball control and accomplishing such would ultimately define him as the player we all respect and the achievements we all admire so much to this day.
The great players of the past were, without question, the most creative generation of golfers this great game has ever been blessed with. Ok, so we could argue, there are many elements of the game that have been developed and modified tremendously over the past 60 years. The golf courses have undoubtably been lengthened considerably, but only to accommodate such extreme developments in club and ball technology. Players of today are much stronger, more physically in tune and able to compete and practice for much longer periods without showing signs of either mental or physical fatigue. They have the best of everything, the best coaches, trainers, nutritionists, psychologists and management teams, the mass involvement surrounding the modern player is quite frankly astounding.
Break it all down and see what you find, split it all into groups and employ an expert to lead and direct each element. So I ask, 'how deep did Byron, Walter, Ben and Bobby dive in their own efforts to master their unique ability to perform so skillfully at this game?' How did they adopt such awareness of their own natural ability and remain in such control of it for so long throughout such successful careers?
Without the help of a world class teacher, physical training regime or intense psychological self assessment, they all achieved their success and place in the games history through honest hard work and complete dedication. They had little knowledge of the golf swings many technical possibilities, caring for one thing, ball control. Ball control on every stroke, one after the other, the golf ball, when struck by a legend of the past was a pure and simple artistic stroke of skill. It was a combination of all things human, from physical condition, strength, speed and mental preparation, to the inner most powerful elements of touch, feel and sense of direction and distance. The very essence of such raw skill is what made the players of our past such great champions. The result of tireless dedication, each one spent his own personal turmoil of experimentation before striking upon the golden ticket. Mr Byron Nelson in particular, along with every other player of his generation, had to completely retrain his reflex actions to accommodate the introduction of the new Steel shafts of the early 1930's. Such diligent intelligence has rarely been seen or demanded since, with so many of the worlds leading players now pampered by every man and his cheque book its hard to see such a trend ever disappearing. Gone have the days when a Tournament Player heads off to the range to dig in the dirt as Hogan so profoundly expressed it, in search of his own answers regarding his golf swing. Modern players have clearly become addicts to the many damaging dealers or scientists that so regularilly frequent the tournament stage week in week out. Keen to push their own spin on playing the game and achieving their goals, the modern golf instructor, (more commonly known as the swing guru), the psychologist, nutritionist and many other hangers on have created a mass dependency on their services. The result of which has left many a talented player looking to seriously contend, now believing they must follow suit and do as the next guy does. Follow the modern trend to the great beyond, where everyone does the same thing and achieves the same goals. Facing a future with little chance of ever learning anything about their own natural reflex actions and highly acute sense of instinctive judgement. The modern day Tour Player never comes to fully own their own golf swing, never really coming to grips with the vital elements that shape and create the talent they aquired so naturally as a kid.
When following the stars of the PGA and European Tours, I find it enormously unsettling to see such a 'Sterile Laboratory' of clearly talented individuals. By this, I can see little inspiration and need for modern players to actually create great golf shots, execute highly skilled reactions to the target or develop new shots and varying ball flights. Only a select few appear to have the strength and expressive freedom in character to set about destroying this view. Taking the games emphasis back to what makes every pure strike so addictively satisfying is what lay at the heart of my own teaching. To be a SHOT MAKER is to be a Tournament Standard Player, one worthy of his or her place competing at the highest level, in search of the games most celebrated honors.
The modern game is lacking the shot makers from which it was originally born and fully embraced from the 30's through to 60's, the creative mould that gave us such boundless shot making potential is now caught between two punishing words; POSITION and POWER! In search of an easier means of achieving success on a golf course, the leading club manufacturers have expressed their own creative freedom on the grandest of scales. Left to design, develop, enhance and destroy, these money hungry monsters have all but changed the purpose of the game. Advances in technology has increased average hitting lengths from the Tee, increased the chances of a pure strike for your average player and attempted to limit the rate of spin on golf balls all in an effort to provide golfers with more control, distance and overall enjoyment of the game.
All this viewer can say is, has the stroke average of the leading players improved over the past 60 years?
The lowest recorded stroke average in 1939 was a highly impressive Byron Nelson with 68.70.
Tiger Woods has just completed his 2009 season with a stroke average of 68.84.
So as you can see, with the largest of technological advancements and excessive instructional segmentation we have actually seen the Stroke Average of the worlds very best golfers get worse! The clear cut result of such progressive off course developments has undoubtably produced nothing more than a closing of the gap between the good and really good Tournament Players. The many advancements of all areas within the game has all been born out of one sole purpose, to make us all better golfers. On the grandest of scales, looking at the big picture, yes golfers everywhere have truely benefited, but the facts remain to be seen at the very top of the game.
Why haven't the very best progressed?
Did Byron push the boundaries of play to its absolute limit?
I don't believe for a second we have seen the very best a man can get. Yes its fair to say Tiger will be remembered as the greatest player we have ever witnessed, with his record setting year in 2000, his all time low Stroke Average of 68.17 will surely take some beating. But, I have little doubt that day will come, although, if current trends remain and modern ideals in the world of play and coaching remain so sterile and utterly lifeless in its contempt, then Im afraid the day we see a 67 point something could be at least another 60 years down a long and winding fairway.