The Quiet Calm

the sensation, pleasure and even the sound of a

well struck shot are well documented…..at the instant of contact you immediately know

when it’s right, feels right and sounds right….. when you find the sweet spot,

the sensation travels up the shaft into your hands and is then parceled out to all the

pleasure centers available to us as humans…..”aaah laddie,” the old Scot said,

“that’ll bring ya back for more !”

 

what’s not discussed or written about as much….is the quiet

calm that comes over you when you find yourself, often unexplainably, about/

prepared to play a shot where you feel certain success is just a moment

away…part of the immense happiness I feel when this happens occurs because that annoying voice in my head, my therapist calls it the

“harpie voice “, decides “i think lex is okay on this shot, i think i can clock out.”

the annoying voice (you know the one that is supposedly looking after your

best interest by instructing you what to do and what not to do in deadly serious tone) decides

this particular shot will not require “his” attention…..that he can sit

this one out and so this voice recedes, and so…this adds immeasurably to the quiet and the calm.

i’ve often wondered if this quiet calm can be called up or induced, and i pay very close attention, and i’m fascinated when it occurs.

 

the tenth hole at the duke university course, a place that i’ve played more rounds than any other golf course in the last forty years,

for whatever reason, the drive looks just right to me from the tee.

it is a challenging shot that gets my attention and requires

precision….there’s plenty of room to the left to start the ball, but a

bunker at 265 at the left edge of the fairway….the right side is

totally tree lined with tall pines…..the tee is slightly elevated so

you can see everything perfectly……i usually hit a solid, quality

drive off of #10….today was no exception, and as i stood over the

ball, i sensed there was plenty of time and absolutely no worries about

where my ball would end up…..my swing felt free and “oily” without any need to control things or exert any

effort….it flew farther than any drive I hit all day with what felt to

be the most effortless swing of the day….the anticipation to feel and

watch my drive on # 10 was joyful in itself….and even if the ball had

flown off line and been struck off center there would have been some

goodness in the shot. the kind of goodness that is not present when i

play a shot where i am worried, afraid and try to control things by overthinking them….a shot

where my athleticism is blocked by too much thought….where i am stuck

up in my head thinking how to swing…..

 

“give up control to gain control, there’s no need to force things. just let yourself be.” – george knudsen

 

as “the boss” claude harmon so aptly said,

“mr. jones i am not certain what you are thinking about standing up there

over the ball……but it couldn’t be good!”

 

back to the feeling of the quiet calm….it’s not the same feeling you have

laying on the couch or in a hot bath….there’s more presence and focus,

and whereas you feel calm there is energy pursing through your body, an

exhilaration…..the confidence that something positive is about to

happen to you. maybe the closest feeling to this quiet calm is being eighteen

about to take a beautiful girl into your arms…..where confidence

and focus and happiness are all born out of a carefree, abandon of

sorts. where you are not thinking but rather letting go and being

present…anticipation and thrill that a hard slider

into the middle of # 10 can’t match….but they are in the same “family”

somehow to me.

 

” ye’ll come away from the links with a new hold on life, that is

certain if ye play the game with all your heart, ”  shivas irons

 

 

Bruce Lietzke

I lost another friend to cancer recently. Bruce Lietzke was someone I spent loads of time with when I caddied on the PGA tour in the early 1970’s. I first met Bruce through college golf when I was playing at Wake Forest and he played on the powerhouse golf team at the University of Houston. His team included the now famous golf instructor Jim McLean, and the PGA Player of the Year in 1981, Bill Rogers. Bill and Bruce were best friends, and I caddied for Bill in the early ’70’s. Bill and Bruce spent lots of time with each other, playing every practice round possible together. Needless to say, I knew them well during those years, and I became very familiar with the way Bruce played and thought about the game.

Even though Bruce would never represent himself this way, I believe he was a modern day golfing shaman who played the game with a level of acceptance and detachment I’ve never witnessed in any other professional golfer. A few stories to illustrate my point:

One day, we were playing a practice round at Westchester County Club. There was a par 5, I think it is number twelve. Bruce played one of his mammoth cuts off the tee, a perfect drive that was really long onto a plateau, where he not only had a shot at the green and two, but was able to do so with a long iron. The pin was in the back right, and if you missed to the right of the green you were dead. Bruce aimed to the left of the green, and hit his 3 iron so that it landed on the green, kicked right, and ended up inside of ten feet for a putted eagle. The next hole was a short par 4 and Bill said, “Leaky, how do you play this hole? Where do you aim?” He answered and then played a shot exactly the way he described. After 2 or 3 more perfect holes from tee to green, I asked him, “Leaky, what swing thought are you using today?” (Me, ever the golfer looking for clues on how to better play. Being a tour caddy was a fertile ground to ask the best players in the world for insight into the game.) To my question Bruce replied, “Lex, I’ve been making the same swing for over thirty years. I don’t need any swing thoughts. I don’t take lessons or tinker with my swing and I haven’t had a lesson since 1974, which was really just my brother watching me hit a few balls. Most of the players out here on tour are constantly attempting to make a better swing. I just want to make my swing, and I know how to do it without thinking. In fact, when I’m really playing well, I feel like I’m outside of myself observing my swing.” This kind of acceptance and detachment is not only unique, but it delivers great insight into how a man can play at the very highest level while still hitting less practice balls on the range in a month than most of the players hit in a week.

Bruce was the envy of most players. He had a life outside of the tour, and took more time off than almost anyone (and when he did go home to be with his family, he never practiced or played). His caddy once placed a plentiful green banana given to him at a tour stop under his driver head cover to find it black and rotten when he returned 6 weeks later – proving he hadn’t played a single hole while home on break. Matt Faye recently wrote an article paying homage to this southeast legend and noted that, “Family and friends say Lietzke’s 30-year professional career was always just a job, evidenced by his annual breaks from competition in the summer. Whether he was riding four-wheelers, vacationing with his family, fishing or tending to his muscle car collection, Lietzke had his priorities straight, said his nephew and Beaumont Country Club golf professional Rob Lietzke. ‘Golf was probably about the 10th most important thing in his life…he was one of those guys where it was never about what he was doing. It was about everyone else.’ Rob said.” Bruce once had an off day at one of the Florida tournaments – I think he shot 74. Jim McLean asked him, “Bruce are you gonna go practice?” To which Bruce replied, “No way, why would I go practice when I’m hitting badly?”

Bill Rogers told me that when they played together in college, he and Jim Mclean told Bruce he’d never make it at the next level playing that big slice. They said, “Your divots go dead left, Bruce. How can you play like this?” I guess he showed them how wrong they were.

Bruce once told me, “I play one shot. It starts to the left and curves to the right. And so, if the pin is on the right hand side of the green, I aim at the middle of the green and let it cut towards the flag. If the pin is in the middle of the green, I aim at the left edge and let it fade towards the pin. If the pin is on the left side of the green, I’ll either be putting from the right part of the green or, if I’m really playing well, I’ll aim left of the bunker and try to get it close.”

My fondest time with Bruce was after I had left caddying on the tour and landed a job as a golf professional working for Claude Harmon at Winged Foot Golf Club in Westchester County, NY. Bruce was playing in the tournament in White Plains and came to WFGC to have lunch and play nine holes with me. We played the back 9 after a sandwich, and he would ask me on the tee, as I was familiar with the course, “Where do I drive to have the best approach into the green?” He would then unleash one of his long towering fades into the exact place I told him to go, and I will never forget how far his ball went. The seventeenth hole at Winged Foot is a long par 4 dogleg to the right (Bruce’s favorite shaped hole). It was a hole that if I hit a good drive, I would have two hundred yards left on my second shot. Bruce’s drive, which started in the left rough and finished right center, left him an 8 iron into the green.

Bruce’s swing shape was in to over, swinging the club very inside on his backswing. The downswing plane was outside of his backswing. He swung way to the left with amazing body rotation. I can still see his high finished and the usual smile on his face as he observed the masterpiece he just struck.

As a student of the game, here’s what is interesting to me: someone once told me (it was probably Jim McLean) that in the days of building the railroads of America, it was widely understood that the most powerful and accurate way to swing a sledgehammer was with this same shape of swing—in and over. I think one of the reasons that this shaped swing is best is because swinging inside on the way back makes you less likely to sway and promotes good body rotation. On the way down, there’s almost no chance of the club getting stuck behind you, so you can create speed as there is no need for adjustment as you near impact.

In my opinion, we can all learn so much from Bruce’s acceptance of his own swing. So many of us never develop our own swing because we’re always trying to change. I’m not suggesting you try to swing like Bruce Lietzke, but that you just make your swing. Lastly, it’s very typical for young players to swing with Bruce’s swing shape from in to over- it’s a natural motion for most beginners. Unfortunately, almost all of them receive golf instruction to change.

And a beauty to you, Leaky.

 

 

Pimenton

If you know the story behind a food or drink you’re about to consume, I believe it tastes better…more enjoyable and interesting. It’s almost as if you can taste the story, and that enhances your sensory experience. Here’s an example:

For me, this is the incredibly delicious, smoked Spanish paprika, pimenton. I’d list it as my current favorite in the spice category. Herbs, like rosemary, sage, thyme and parsley are leaves of plants. Spices on the other hand, are the bark, berries and seeds of plants. In the case of one particular plant, Coriandrum Sativum, cilantro comes from the leaves of the plant and coriander comes from the seeds.The story of pimenton is awesome. Columbus, on one of his voyages to America, encountered a plethora of chiles being grown there. He took them back to Spain and gave some of the seeds to Catholic monarchs at the Jeronimo monastery in the Extremadura region of Spain. This monastery grew the chiles and distributed seeds to other monasteries in Spain. The spice then made its way all over Europe. Jeronimo monastery not only grew the chiles, but the monks developed an extensive process for drying the chiles, smoking them over regional oak wood, and stone grinding them into the powder. They called this ground powder pimenton, and it became a cornerstone of Spanish cuisine… being used in soups, sauces, stews, sausages, there’s even a famous octopus dish that uses the spice.

During one of my trips to Spain while working for WFM, I enjoyed a chicken and rice dish, where pimenton was the predominant spice. Many of my private label products came from Spain, and there I learned that in different categories of food, such as dried beans, Spanish quality represents the very top quality in Europe; whereas France and Italy get most of the press about their impeccable ingredients. I think Spain is overlooked and receives short shrift of the attention. Pimenton even has a D.O., which stands for denomination of origin – a designation primarily used with wine. A denomination of origin requires products/ wines to adhere to certain standards of products in order to use the name. I love that the traditional the fact that pimenton has a D.O., which requires this spice to be created in the traditional, time-honored method. This relates to the drying process, type of wood utilized, grinding equipment, etc. Pimenton cannot even be refined with a modern, metal industrial grinder because it creates too much heat, and robs the spices of its complex flavor.

When I left Spain, I tried to find a chicken pimenton dish online, and I couldn’t find one anywhere at the time. Many cultures combine chicken and rice into a dish. When you cook chicken and rice together, the fats from the chicken drip down onto the rice, making it uber delicious. So, when I couldn’t find a recipe online, I decided to make a chicken, rice and pimenton dish on my own, which for me is always more fun than following a recipe. This weekend, I’m going to cook this dish, which is bone in chicken thighs, cooked on top of rice and vegetables with pimenton stirred into the rice. This spice is also used as a rub overnight on the chicken thighs.

Things to Know:

  1. The heat level of chiles today is measured on the Scoville scale.
  2. In the early days of pimenton, they realized that different levels of chiles had different levels of spiciness.
  3. There are 3 different heat levels of pimento: dulce(sweet), agridulce (medium), picante (hot).
  4. Pimenton is available in some food stores, but widely available online. The best smoked paprika comes from de la Vera, which is right down the road from the monastery where it all originated.
  5. The tins of pimenton are beautiful! It is nice to have all three heats on hand, but if you’re going to buy just one, I’d buy the agridulce.

 

 

Golf Swing as a Dance

I believe that the golf swing is very similar to dancing….

“The golfer who can sense his swing as dance, will focus on his body and a swing instead of seeing the ball and a hit” – George Knudsen from The Natural Golf Swing.

In the same way that everyone has their own swing on the golf course, everyone also -for better or worse- has their own moves on the dance floor. A couple of stories to illustrate my point:

I have always loved to dance, and being a showoff, have often taken up more than my fair share of the dance floor with wild and bodacious dancing. In college, when Ann and I were in rare form, the other dancers would often form a circle around us and watch. I was once asked by a particularly awkward and inept dancer if I could teach him to dance like me. His issues included thinking too much, trying way too hard, and not really even wanting to be on the floor in the first place. His dancing consisted of the basic ‘white man nod’– arms bent at 90 degree angles and held up like a goal post, nodding and jerking his whole body forward. But I basically told him, you can’t tell someone how to dance, you have to feel the music and dance in your own way. Start dancing, and watch the people on the dance floor that seem to have a freedom of movement and a rhythm with music, and you’ll learn.

Just like you have to dance with your own body, one could argue that swinging a golf club is just the same. There’s a story about my golfing mentor and master professional Claude Harmon, for whom I worked at the Winged Foot Golf Club in Westchester County, NY, that illustrates this point. A man came into the golf shop and asked Mr. Harmon (aka, ‘The Boss’), “Can I have a golf lesson? I’d like to learn to swing like Sam Snead!”

To which The Boss said, “meet me on the putting green in 20 minutes.” The man then said, “Oh, I’m a fine putter I just want to hit some”. The Boss, always taking control of such situations said, “If you want a lesson meet me in 20.” The man decided to show up on the putting green, and Mr. Harmon told him to come to the hole he was standing at, stand flat-footed, and without bending his knees, to pick the ball out of the hole. Of course he couldn’t come close to performing this task, to which The Boss said, “Sam Snead can do this in his sleep, so of course I cant teach you how to swing like Sam. What I can do is teach you how to swing like a better version of yourself.”

The best way to learn to swing a golf club is to watch golfers who have balanced swings full of freedom. Just a few days ago, I was marveling at the effortless, powerful and relaxed swing of Rory McIlroy. I’ve included a link here of his swing (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ieu9zi43iW4).

Unlike Rory, many golfers often don’t select a specific target at all. They’re impatient, and want to move on to the hitting. This is most often seen on the practice range where you’ll see golfers raking one ball after the next, and aimlessly hitting them with rapid fire.

“Target awareness takes your minds eye off the ball and puts it where it belongs: out there in space.” – George Knudsen

Claude Harmon used to tell his associates the challenge in the golf swing is to coordinate and sequence all the parts of the body involved. He used to say, the way to remember it, “think of your breakfast, ‘HASH’ – in the backswing, the order of the movement is hands, arms, shoulders, and hips. Golfers often move their hips first in a premature jump back to the right foot. If you don’t get the sequence right on the backswing, you won’t get the sequence right on the downswing, which is the part where you actually connect with the ball.”

The other thing that both dancing and swinging a club have in common, would be balance, freedom, and lack of tension or anxiety. Here’s one of my favorite videos of the legendary dancer, Fred Astaire, hitting some golf balls. Notice the rhythm and lack of tension as he dances himself through a number of balls on the driving range: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=10&v=34viwApgPyE).

I once watched Billy Harmon, Claude Harmon’s youngest son, give a golf lesson, and he was attempting to get his student to get the sequence right, and he told the student, “the swing is a dance between the faster hands and arms, and the slower hips and body. You can either have Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, or Michael Jackson and Tina Turner, but you can’t have Michael Jackson and Ginger Rogers, or Fred Astaire and Tina Turner- it just won’t work!”

And a beauty to the wisdom of the Harmon family…

 

 

 

The Waggle

In the last essay, I made the point that the golf swing is a lot like dancing. In that essay, the sequencing of the backswing was explained as H.A.S.H., which was the Claude Harmon idea. It starts for hands, arms, shoulders and hips. It is my opinion, that the waggle is a lost fundamental of the golf swing. All of the stand out players in the ‘30’s ‘40’s and ‘50’s employed a unique (all their own) waggle to connect the static beginning of a shot…when the club begins swinging away from the ball. It’s a long video but watching for a few minutes will give you the idea of what a good waggle looks like. In the ‘60’s, ‘70’s and 80’s, many of golf’s stars also used a waggle. In the ‘90’s and today, many of the PGA tour players don’t have much of a waggle at all. Here’s a Claude Harmon story from my days WFGC, and a little about what I think the waggle accomplishes,

 

When I worked at Winged Foot Golf Club in Westchester County in New York for Claude Harmon in the ‘70’s, everyday was a great day because I got to spend so much time with The Boss… I had breakfast and sometimes lunch and teed up the balls in every lesson he gave, but my favorite day was Saturday. It began with breakfast in the grillroom. The boss always had a big round table in the corner that held 10 or 12 people, and over breakfast he would tell many of his classic stories so those in the know, including me, didn’t miss a Saturday breakfast. The boss was the best storyteller I have seen in my life, they were funny and full of gestures and even sound effects. Depending on who was at the table, after lunch The Boss would get his golf cart and take me, as he called it, to go “check on the boys.” On one particular Saturday we drove up to the second tee of the east course and stopped some 20 yards away from the tee, so the players on the tee couldn’t see us. The boss looked at me and said, “Look at ole Bob squeezing the grip to death with his veins popping out on his neck, frozen still like a sphinx…I can guarantee his tee shot won’t be a beauty.” When Bob topped the ball off to the right in the bushes, The Boss drove his cart to approach the tee and said “Bob what’re you doing standing up there for 10-15 seconds over the ball frozen like a sphinx?” To which Bob shrugged his shoulders. The Boss then said, “I’ve got some of those long yellow legal pads in my office and tomorrow is my day off. If I took one of those pads home with me and spent my day writing down what you could be thinking about standing up there over the ball all that time, at the end of my day I am sure I could fill up a page or two. But if we reviewed the list next Saturday over breakfast, I can assure you one thing, there wouldn’t be a single good thought that would help your golf.”

 

The Boss was fond of Jackie Gleason and would often slide into Jackie’s dialect when he was telling a story. He would begin or end with Jackie’s classic phrase “who, who, who, whooooo!” And he said to Bob in a perfect Jackie Gleason accent, “Bob, you’re fond of music. Did you ever see the leader of the band or the conductor of the orchestra when the musicians were about to play, stand before them frozen with his arms stiff, beads of sweat forming on his forehead, all of sudden saying ‘GO’? No, here’s what he does… he goes one and a two and one, two, three tapping his foot and moving his arms. In a relaxed way, his arms approach the band and they know its time to start. In golf this is the equivalent of the waggle. The waggle is essential for removing tension to begin the swing in a rhythmic way without tension.” The hall of fame golfer Tom Watson says “don’t freeze: in addition to waggling the club, you should waggle with your feet. I see too many amateurs start the backswing from a static position.” So, the waggle is an important part of your swing. Having your own practice waggle before you start is important to avoid tension and establish a good rhythm for your swing. It really doesn’t matter how you do it (except for it shouldn’t last too long), just establish yours and use it!

 

Before I say anything else, watch the majesty and poetry and brilliance of Ben Hogan taking his waggle. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1PB7UywF_yw). Ben Hogan says “as a golfer looks at his objective and figures out the kind of shot he’s going to play, his instinct takes over: he waggles the club back and forth. During the waggle, as he previews his shot and attempts to telegraph his mental picture from his brain to his muscles.”

 

Things to Know About the Waggle:

  1. The Waggle gives you a feel for the weight of the club in your hands and the connection therein
  2. During the waggle, you establish the grip pressure that you’ll be using for the shot you’re about to play.
  3. You should waggle looking at your target and the greater you can connect with the target, the better off you’ll be.
  4. The waggle is a little dry run of how the backswing is going to go, the rhythm, the speed and the path. Many instructors say the waggle allows you to feel the synchronization of the backswing. I prefer the word “harmonize” for obvious reasons: Firstly I’m a music guy, and secondly because it uses the last name of the man who taught me most of what I’ve said.
  5. Lastly, here’s a 33 second clip on one of the most distinctive waggles in the game today. I include this because Dufner uses his waggle to great advantage. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0YgvbrlCaw)

 

And a beauty to the waggle,

Lex