Age before Beauty

By:  Tim Graves, PGA

Reprint from a few years ago….  was reminded of this story when answering a few questions in our last school.

For many of those who have attended our schools, you know how much I like to tell stories. First, hopefully they are a little entertaining and for most, we’ll remember stories and maybe the point we are trying to teach…

This past week I played in our annual Pro / Pro (partner) South Central Section PGA Tournament. The tournament is a partnership tournament where you can choose any partner (PGA) from your section (Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kansas).  The format is a 36 hole event – 18 holes best ball and 18 holes modified alternate shot. Low total for 36 holes wins.

As you can image, there are many teams of 20 somethings playing together… and most of the PGA members who are over 20 will pick a “young gun” to help them in the format.  I know better…

The partner I choose is George Glen – he is a 68-year-old retired professional from Tulsa. (He was the head professional at a Tulsa municipal course for 30+ years and has worked in the business for close to 50 years… now running the Tulsa Golf Association).

Some of you may have read past e-tips about me and George – but I wanted to give the most recent story – as it is a good lesson for many…..

The first round (best ball) went okay… The section sets up the tournament for everyone. 50 years of age and younger play the back tees, 50 to 65 years play 20 yards up and 65 and over play another 20 yards up. The reason is they expect all to hit their drives in about the same position (and typically plays pretty true..).

We shot a 64 – leaders shot a 62 (there were about 50 teams in the field, believe we were in 3rd place after first round).

The second round is a modified alternate shot. Both partners hit off the tee, and then they choose the best shot and alternate from that point on. Give an example – Hole number 1 – 430 yard par 4 (390 yards for George) George and I both hit drives in the middle of the fairway about 150 yards from the green. Chose George’s drive – I hit the 2nd shot on the green, George hit the first putt, I hit the 2nd…

The interesting thing about the 2nd round was who we got paired with. It was a pair from Tulsa (Patriot Golf Course) who were each 25 years old. George made the comment – their combined age wasn’t even close to his age… Was the youngest group vs. oldest group.  They had shot a 63 the first round, we had shot a 64.  One of the partners was Martin Martinez – an assistant pro who is actually going back to pay on the European Tour in 2 months – and he hit’s it a mile……. a consider myself to have decent distance – he out drives me by 30 to 40 yards most of the time – well over 300 every time.

First nine of the 2nd round was pretty “usual” – one under for both teams – nothing spectacular – but not bad for alternate shot.

Then things started to turn on hole # 9.

# 9 is a par 5 that we play as a par 4 in the tournament. 480 uphill (downwind a little).

We all teed off.

I hit my drive to 200 yards from the Green, George hit his to 210 yards from green – Martin hit is a drive to 110 yards from the green – yes he out drove me by close to 100 yards. (To be honest, even amazed me….. was a joke how long he hit it….)

We chose George’s drive as I would be able to hit a long iron into the green vs. a 3 wood for him. I hit a 4 iron about 25 feet right of the hole (not a bad shot from 210..).

Martin’s partner hit a sand wedge…. yes, a sand wedge to about 10 feet above the hole – good shot.

We got to the green – George pulled out his long putter – lined up the putt – and dead center….. birdie. Martin’s partner (Tyler) got over is putt – missed to the right – we were one up on them (didn’t really know about the rest of the field).

Hole # 10 – very tight par 4 – tree-lined dogleg left. I hit my drive in the rough left side of fairway. George hit his dead center 140 yards out. Martin and Tyler hit their drives in left rough (next to me).

I hit the 2nd shot 10 feet below the hole – Martin punched to the front of the green. George lined up the putt – again, dead center. Martin and Tyler – par.

Hole # 11 – long par 5 – 570 yards. George and I hit our drives down the middle – about 300 from the green. Martin hit drives 220 yards from the green…… HUGE.  I had planned on George hitting the 2nd, I’d hit the third and let George putt again…. he was hot. But, then again, I was playing with the “expert” and wasn’t going to get in the way of experience. George looked at me and said, hit the 2nd shot to 100 yards to the pin, not 99, not 101 (he was kidding of course) – he said to hit 100…  So I got the 2nd shot, calculated I’d need a 210 shot to get to 100 yards from the pin (pin 10 yards back of center) – hit a 4 iron.

Tyler hit their 2nd shot from 220 – hit a hybrid just short of the green – was a good shot.

We went to our 3rd shot, was 102 from the pin (not bad). George looked at me and said “I’ve got this”. He pulled out his wedge and hit it 2 feet (a tap-in birdie).

Martin chipped to 5 feet, Tyler missed the putt.

In 3 holes, we were out driven by close to 100 yards, couldn’t get home on a par 5, and played one of the toughest holes on the course – and had gone 3 up over the “young guns”.  No question, experience was winning.

The next 2 holes we both parred, then number 14.

A short tight par 4. George played a driver off the tee (about 220 yards lay up to a creek) – I hit the 2nd shot to about 40 feet, missed clubbed short. Was hoping George would hit the putt close so I wouldn’t have more than a couple of feet left on the 2nd putt….. yeah right. George made the 40 footers dead center. By now the young guys were pretty much done….. they made par from 15 feet and you could see in their eyes – George was wearing them out with his putter and playing as steady as any great player.

Long story made short – we ended up making birdies on number 15 (short par 3 – George hit 7 iron to 5 feet, I made putt) and hole number 18 – average par 5 – George chipped to one foot on our 3rd shot.

We ended up winning the tournament with a 2 round total of 12 under.  It is the 3rd time we’ve won the event in a row….  and as I can tell you first hand – EXPERIENCE RULES!!

So, what can you take from this story…

First – Quit getting tied up in all the talk about how long everyone hits it. It is MUCH more important you know your distances (like how far you hit your wedges) and to be VERY accurate with your wedges / low irons than hitting it a long distance. Knowing your distances with your wedges is the key to good scoring. When George got the shot from 100 yards, he wasn’t trying to get close – he was trying to make it…. he has that much confidence in his yardages with his wedges. Figure out a way to practice your yardages. Maybe hitting shag balls in a field, maybe playing extra shots into greens (when practicing), etc.. KNOW YOUR YARDAGES – especially with the “scoring clubs”.

Second – as the old saying goes and is ALWAYS true. “Drive for Show, Putt for Dough”. If you want to score good, you must putt well. As I have always said, “I have never seen a good player with a bad short game (putter) or a bad player with a good short game (putter).” Give your putter some extra time. I have NEVER seen a driver save a round, but I have seen MANY putters save many rounds. Next time you are on the range and are thinking you need to spend the last few minutes of your practice time working more on your driver – GO TO THE PRACTICE GREEN – give your putter some more time.

Third – don’t be intimidated when you play with those that out drive you. There will always be those that are longer than you (and shorter than you).  I consider myself pretty long (actually have held over a 300 yard average on the Nationwide Tour) and have played with many who have bombed it past me. If you are going to be intimidated, it should be by a player’s ball striking (accuracy) and short game. The player who is the most consistent/accurate and the best short game wins a majority of the time.  Accuracy and short game is the key to GREAT golf. When / if you are playing in a tournament or against friends, you will be the best player when you can honestly say and have the best short game in the field.

Finally – probably the biggest lesson here… never, never, never let anyone tell you that age is an issue with this game.  Should George have been playing the back tees – no… but giving him the “slight” advantage to even out our drives – there was no question George was one of the best, if not the best, players in the field.

As I have told many of my fellow PGA pros in our section (who have wondered how we’ve won this event 3 years running..) I will take Age / Experience over “Beauty” every time!!

Remember – Always Practice with a Purpose.

Also, Remember – A little improvement every time you practice adds up to a lot of improvement over time.