On Friday, during last week’s AC Championship at the Doral Resort and Spa, television announcer Nick Faldo started with a joke about not knowing who was who among the golfers on the course, because so many of them had decided to wear orange shirts.
A quick photomontage of the day’s competitors showed Tiger Woods, Charles Howell III, Henrik Stenson, Chris DiMarco, Zach Johnson, and Karl Petterson, all wearing shirts of similar color. It does not do it justice to describe it as “orange,” however. Last year, I remarked to my wife that it had obviously become the new fashion color in golf.
I would call the color “tangerine.” Nike — which Woods endorses — calls it “bright Mandarin.” Callaway — Charles Howell III — goes conventional, with “juice orange.” Ashworth uses “sunrise orange.” Plain old Ping — plain old Chris DiMarco — calls it plain old “orange.”
Anyway, it’s funny, and it was funny so see so many golfers, all of them dressed head to toe by their sponsors — something new in the past couple of years, and a generally salutary trend — all wearing much the same thing on the same day, and generally not acting like actresses at the Oscars who accidentally bought the same dress.
WHY DON’T ORDINARY GOLFERS IMPROVE? They don’t, by the way. Year after year, the United States Golf Association collects statistics to prove that golfers, by and large, shoot about 100, and that’s where they stay. Trainer Roger Fredericks says it’s because golfers lose their flexibility, or don’t have enough flex to begin with. In his infomercial for his stretching program, he makes a compelling, and very funny, case, gently satirizing the kinds of swings and body types one sees on the golf course, and, indeed, in everyday life.
Other purveyors of golf instruction devices say it’s because golfers don’t swing on the proper path or don’t muster enough swing speed or don’t make a complete turn, or any number of other reasons. I have just finished re-reading, for the umpteenth time, Ben Hogan’s classic Five Lessons in the Modern Fundamental of Golf, from the 1950s. Very little in golf teaching did Hogan fail to anticipate. Hogan says that anyone who learns the basics properly can break 80. That may be something like Bach saying to a student, “Why can’t you do it? You have five fingers the same as I do.”
But Hogan may be right, too. If he is, the reason why golfers don’t improve is simple: They don’t practice. When they do “practice,” they go to a driving range and beat balls until their muscles go numb, but they simply practice the same old mistakes they’ve always made.
Practice, as I have learned from having played a number of musical instruments at a professional level, means doing something systematic every day, according to a proper technique.
So if you buy, say, a weighted golf club in order to strengthen your swing muscles and help groove a better swing technique, and then do not use it in a systematic way, you will not improve. That club has to be regarded just like a dumbbell. And if you wanted to use a dumbbell to build your biceps, you would have to do, say, three sets of a dozen curls at a weight that challenged your strength, every day.
Instead, like every other kind of exercise equipment, golf instruction aids probably get bought. And then lie around a basement or a garage, unused.
Most golfers don’t improve for the same reason most people don’t improve at anything. They will not commit to systematic, proper practice. It gets at the very essence of human nature. We will spend amazing amounts of energy to stay just as we are. People willing to spend energy to change can accomplish prodigious things.
BACK IN THE EARLY NINETIES, CBS golf broadcaster Ben Wright got himself in a lot of trouble. He gave an intemperate interview to a local newspaper reporter, Valerie Helmbreck, in which he said that women’s golf suffered in popularity because there were too many lesbians in it. He said women couldn’t swing properly because “their boobs get in the way.” That and other things of alarming insensitivity and cloddishness.
Initially, CBS rallied behind their man, conveying insulting impressions of Helmbreck, who was all things Ben Wright was not: female, an outsider, a small-timer. But Michael Bamberger dug into the issue and broke the stonewall. Helmbreck’s reporting was true. Wright really had said all those things. And CBS fired him.
Wright, with his rich Oxbridgean baritone, marvelous stock of golf lore, and florid announcing style, has been bouncing around small-potatoes broadcasting ever since, cast down from the heights. But there is more to the story than just that.
Wright, on the air, and Helmbreck, very circumspectly, have confirmed that, some time after the original incident, Wright got in touch with the local reporter and apologized to her. And she accepted his apology.
From here, I go on inference and a kind of radar. CBS’s announce crew used to be a very hard-drinking bunch. Pat Summerall retired just ahead of the boot, as it were. Wright, after his fall from glory, got sober. And, in the language of recovery programs, he “made amends” to people he had harmed.
Including Valerie Helmbreck.