Practising. - With the majority of players very little, if any, time is given to earnest, painstaking practice; they want to play the round of the course and nothing but the round, pleading that they haven't the time to waste over solitary practice. Now it takes a very long time, under such circumstances, for any man to acquire any degree of proficiency in the game. It would be infinitely better and more enduringly satisfactory if he were to steel his heart against the pleasure of playing around with one of his own calibre, and once in a while betake himself to some unfrequented part of the links, and with half a dozen old balls put in an hour or so of good, hard work. The duplication, again and again, of full strokes with each club would give him an opportunity, unobtainable quite so well in any other way, of ascertaining exactly his 97 limitations, and furnish a chance of correcting existent errors. In actual playing there are only eighteen tee shots in the round, mostly full drives, with relatively less strokes with each other club used - excepting the putter. After a poor stroke of any kind, he has no opportunity of trying another for some time, and even that may possibly be just as badly executed, in another way. One may be topped, another skyed, a third sliced, and so on.
The very best players will occasionally go off with some particular club. The remedy is to go out alone, or, better still, with an instructor, and master the stroke. Unfortunately the player cannot see himself, and can only determine from actual results what the contributory causes are. Progress, therefore, must necessarily be slow unless he is under the eyes of some one competent to point out the actual root of the fault. If he is really anxious for improvement, however, he will not mind all the trouble which such practice entails, and will acquire a fund of knowledge that cannot but be ultimately useful. He will find out from such experience, by varying his methods of playing, how mistakes are made and how to correct them. Until he has worked out his own salvation in some such way he will hardly make any growing or permanent improvement in his game.
Take the drive, for instance. Your pet weakness is slicing. First look at yourself, as it were, and see just what you are doing which does not correspond with what you should do. Try this, that, and the other thing, until you see signs of improvement, and when you find you are on the right track keep working on those lines. The experimenting you have gone through will at least have been of some value in teaching you what to avoid.
So many things are responsible for slicing, either singly or collectively, that it may take even a first-class coach some little time to put his finger on the actual seat of the trouble, and the chances are that it will take you much longer, unassisted. Don't be discouraged, however. "Genius,' Carlyle, I think, says, "is simply the capacity of taking infinite pains."
It may not be amiss to here recapitulate a few of the principal causes of slicing:
Hitting off the heel.
Pulling the arms in.
Improper position of the hands in gripping.
Standing too far back of the ball.
Each of these faults has already been treated fully in a previous chapter. Now it is not a bad idea in seeking a cure for any faulty methods into which the player may unconsciously have drifted to deliberately try the effect of the foregoing and carefully observe the results, making such changes as may be necessary in order to arrive at accuracy. It may possibly happen that only one screw is loose, in which case a beneficial change will soon manifest itself. When you succeed in getting away several satisfactory balls consecutively, take particular note of everything entering into the stroke. In this way, and this way only, can steadiness or consistency be the more quickly attained - the doing of the same thing in the same way every time. Never mind if your grip or stance or swing may be outside the pale of orthodoxy, so considered - if you can secure distance and reasonable accuracy by any particular style affected, that is the style you should cultivate, provided it is easy and natural.
Pulling or hooking is so comparatively rare, and the reasons therefor having already been given, it is unnecessary to here dwell at any length on this fault.
Topping is far more common, and usually proceeds from over-eagerness to see where the ball is going, the eye being diverted from the ball before it is actually hit. The same is largely true also of sclaffing. The remedy is to steel your mind against any thought of looking up until three or four seconds after the ball has been struck. This is one of the very hardest things to do in the whole game. This looking up too soon does not make nearly so much difference in the long game as in approaching or putting - there it is absolutely fatal. Another cause of topping or sclaffing is by standing too close to or too far away from the ball. Until you fall into the way of intuitively gauging the proper distance at once, it is well to make sure you are right by measuring the distance with the right arm only gripping the club, extended in an easy, natural manner, shuffling the feet until you feel perfectly comfortable; then grip with the left hand and don't change your position.
After a man has acquired the art of hitting clean and straight, then he may proceed to satisfy himself as to how far and how sure he can go with each club. A thorough knowledge of the maximum value of the individual clubs is essential and can only be obtained by practice. If you are burdened with a fear of being short, by all means take a more powerful club; it is much easier to bring the shot off successfully with an easy swing with the stronger club than to force matters with a weaker one. Make up your mind to be always up to or even slightly beyond the hole. Never under - club a shot.
It is advisable not to devote too much time to practising with any single club. With the driver endeavor to play straight into the wind, and take your time between each stroke until you have sent off half a dozen balls. Playing against the wind is the best kind of practice, as any errors of slicing, pulling, or skying, are more clearly made manifest. Don't drive more than five or six balls consecutively, otherwise the muscles will soon become tired.