Friday, December 31, 2004

Paddy's Sports View 31st December 2004

From "The Emirates Evening Post"

The margin between success and failure is often a very narrow one in sport. The edge that is caught at third slip is only a fraction of a millimetre off the bat different from the cut which speeds its way to the boundary. The free kick that flies into the corner of the net is almost identically struck to the one that bounces harmlessly off the wall. And in golf, at any level, it an accumulation of tiny differences of skill or luck which divide the good round from the ordinary. For a professional an opening round of 67 in a tournament will put him at or close to the top of the leaderboard whereas a round of 76 will have him struggling to make the cut. And yet there is only a one stroke every two hole difference between the good and the bad (and only a stroke a hole difference between the good and the really ugly!).

It is the tiny margins of error that make the difference in golf and that is why so much of the coaching and the self-help literature focuses on tips that claim to be able to improve your game by (say) five strokes a round. Now those readers who have had the misfortune to be with me on a golf course will know that a book entitled “Paddy’s ten tips for a better golf game” is unlikely to be a best seller. Not deterred I will pass on to you the one thing that I am convinced can make the difference to any golfer. It derives from the famous Gary Player remark "the harder I practice, the luckier I get". But adds that it isn’t the fact that you practice that makes the difference but how you practice.

We have all been there. It’s the monthly medal and you want to play to your best. The clubs are clean; the brand new golf balls (the ones with that magic combination of distance and grip on the greens) are in the bag. You get to the club early, find a place on the range and take the driver out of the bag. Confidently you strike a dozen or so shots with power and precision into the distance. Yes it’s going to be your day! On the first you congratulate yourself with your smart decision to have a work out on the range as you see your splendid drive twenty or thirty yards ahead of your playing partners and right in the middle of the fairway. Then you play your approach to the green and it catches that awkward little mound and rolls into a bunker. From the bunker your shot skims across the green into longish grass and the chip from the grass is still some way from the hole. Two putts later and you have an opening 6 on your card – two over par after one. Your playing partners, the ones with the wimpy drives, have two pars and a bogey between them – it’s you to drive last at the Second.

Now the reason that this tragic but familiar little story is told is in that other sporting cliché – “drive for show - putt for dough”(not just putting, of course, but concentrating on all aspects of the game fifty yards in from the green can make the difference). How often do we hear a golf commentator say “Els (or Woods or Singh) has a wonderful short game? You all know these great players well – but have you heard of David Mobley? David who? Well he is the world’s long drive champion – he hits the ball further than anyone else and makes a decent living from demonstrating his skill. But he’s not on the tour – nor anywhere near it!

So next time you go to the range leave the driver and the rest of the clubs in the bag and arm yourself with a nine iron and a wedge. Look at the distance board which says 80 yards, not the one that says 250 and try and groove in the lob and the pitch not the drive. And then glance sideways smugly at the poor sop in the next position on the range as he powers his practice drives into the far distance and who, you know, is destined for disaster when he gets to the course whereas it’s definitely going to be your day at last!

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