Pete's GUIDE

Peter Masters is a former editor of Golf Illustrated and deputy editor of Golf World.
He is also a panellist for the Top 100 Courses in the British Isles.

The nonchalance of perfection

by Pete Masters

on Thu August 23, 2018

May I talk to you a moment about transition? I know the PGA like to promote the acronym G.A.S.P as its default starting point (that’s grip, aim, stance and posture), but for me it’s all about transition. That’s the real secret to success when trying to move a golf ball forward in the desired direction at pace.

All the great golfers get into very similar delivery positions which is why they all hit powerful, penetrative shots - even Jim Furyk, who was once described by David Feherty as having a swing that looked like an octopus falling out of a tree.
It’s amazing how technical the golf swing can be. People say sweet swingers make it look simple, but that’s a cop out isn’t it? No golf swing is ‘simple’. All that means is they get the combination of moves ideally sequenced without looking like they think too much about it. You might say that they display a ‘nonchalance of perfection!’ And are all the more annoying for it. David Adams is one.
Me? Well, I haven’t been allowed to remain nonchalant, mainly because I’ve had to listen to the theories of so many golf swing experts over the years that the part of my brain marked ‘Golf Swing’ contains a blackboard that looks like it was in Einstein’s private study.
Magazine instruction delves into the deepest recesses of the subject in such a way that isn’t good for your mental health. Nonchalant? I’m about as nonchalant as Colin Hammond when someone’s drunk the last of the red wine.
Anyway, back to transition. This is the bit where the backswing becomes the downswing. It’s the bit where all the potential mistakes stored up in a disappointing move away from the ball are translated into hook, slice, top and duff on the way back down again.
My point, though, is that even if you iron out most of the ‘errors’ on the way up and reach the top with a degree of polished elegance, it can all go wrong if the transition is a mess.
It’s called a transition because there is no defined moment when the backswing ends and the downswing starts. One starts at a point when the other is still finishing, which in terms of mapping out the correct technique in your head, is dashed inconvenient.
But we can be a tad more specific here. Generally speaking, the bit that’s left behind in the process is the upper half, while the lower half (the legs), bored with waiting, are already triggering the strike of the golf ball.
David Leadbetter points out that the first thing to move towards the target is the left knee. Even as your arms are climbing to their fully set position at the top of the backswing, that dastardly left knee has pulled the trigger to the whole downswing process. This is why teachers like to talk about top halves and bottom halves. The legs initiate the downswing, creating a moment of mass resistance, which then forces the top half to come back down and deliver the club with the arms.
I’d now like to introduce the word plane. There are basically two planes in the golf swing, the one going up and the one coming down. You want these to be matched quite closely and in good players, you often see a flattening of the plane on the downswing. When the plane is steeper coming back into the ball, then there is a danger that you’ve ‘gone over the top’, which, just like in 1918, is not a good thing.
I’ve been going over the top for just over 40 years and in all that time it’s been a source of constant irritation. It delivers me quite a safe fade which, as most experts will tell you, is easier to work with than a draw. But it’s not as pretty!
I said to Roger Williams, our club pro, last summer (after booking an hour long lesson) that I never start the ball to the right of the target.
He delivered a lesson that I felt was ground breaking in terms of my own personal understanding of what was going on… or rather what wasn’t happening that should be.
He completely and fundamentally changed my address position.
But this is what’s so peculiar about the golf swing. Quite often a problem starts even before you’ve even made your first move!
All right, there’s so much more to say, but maybe for another time. You’ve done well to get this far!
I’ll leave you with this wonderful clip off the internet which captures the real secret of golf in a way that no one else I know can.
click here

What your bag says about you

by Pete Masters

on Tue February 13, 2018

It’s not a sight I’ve seen too often, a hip flask, colour-coded to match the bag, clanking about as though the wearer was lugging a crate of beers. But it was meant to be there! It was designed to be there! I mean, how many of the leading manufacturers would have thought, as they contemplated accessories for their next bag creation, that a hip flask would make it onto the final blueprint? Unless we’re talking Brian Barnes who once marked his ball with a beer can.

And then, glinting in the sun, the 3 wood caught my eye. Homeless amid the head-covered elite, the sole plate bore the unmistakeable curves of an old Callaway Warbird. Except I was mistaken, because written, in that olde English font preferred by the American manufacturing giants, was the word Trident.
Clearly a rip-off club, brazenly exposed for all to see. I quizzed the owner, a good single-figure handicapper, who had been impressing me with drilled drives and drawn iron shots as we plotted a route across the links of Royal St George’s.
“I know it’s a fake,” he smiled, “but it’s a fake that I can hit straight every time. It may not be that long, but on the odd days that the driver is misbehaving, then this is my go to club.” Like a stunt double then, I thought. Does all the dangerous jobs at half the cost.
This conversation got me wondering about the question of what your golf clubs say about you?
I have a number of attractive blades in my loft at home and occasionally I’ll dust them down and give them a go – seduced by their seductive curves, bevelled edges and laughably tiny sweet spot.
I’ve reached a stage in life where perimeter weighting, and lots of it, is essential to my well being on the golf course. Those ‘better player irons’ have a label with 'talented grandson' written on it.
Can irons be likened to women? I’m suited now to quite a chunky little number, but still hanker after slimline beauty. Although, I do admire a golfer who can wield a ‘Trident’ with no sign of remorse, while I, a much lesser player, still feel the need to cuddle up to designer labels.
My mind goes back to school days when I’d walk onto a tennis court with a Donnay Borg Pro under one arm and a Dunlop Max 200-G under the other because I’d been bewitched by the icy cool charisma of Bjorn Borg and the flamboyant finesse of John McEnroe.
But I remember being able to play ok with both those. Golf is a much harder game and totally devoid of sympathy for the player who shuns it for other things and then arrives back on the doorstep hoping for a warm welcome.
I think many male golfers go through ‘the change’, that moment when resorting to a trolley becomes acceptable. Our very own Steve Rosier has just gone through the change and now boasts the sort of ‘ocean liner’ of a power trolley that I reckon you could probably book a holiday on.
Not for me. I’ve reached 55 and still don’t consider myself to be in the category of rolling up for a roll up. I find wheels more trouble than they’re worth. I like to walk in straight lines, not around the edge of greens. Plus I can’t decide whether it’s better to push or pull.
So what does my golf bag say about me? Well, it’s incredibly light and has little legs on it that keep it off the wet ground – unless Pippa spots a squirrel.
I don’t take a driver because this course is ‘Oh, so strategic!’ and my favourite club has become my putter.
I popped an old blade into the bag when I first started playing on the Chart. It was once owned by Barry Lane who is now a senior golfer, but who played in a Ryder Cup and once earned a million pounds in the first World Matchplay final in the States. This putter has a leather grip which somehow feels ‘right’ on a course of such heritage. Also, it does, on certain serendipitous occasions, make the ball drop into the hole.

The Secret of Golf

by Pete Masters

on Wed September 20, 2017

I’ve played over 500 courses, written countless more golfing articles, covered each of the four Major championships several times over and spoken to dozens of the game’s most distinguished characters, but it wasn’t until I played at Limpsfield Chart that I realised what golf, in it’s purest form, is all about. That simple delight gleaned from moving a ball over a piece of land from A to B through hitting it with a stick.

When I was a boy at Woking, I was wrapped up in the complications of grip, stance and posture. I took lessons, had a fiercely strong grip and a dream that one day I’d clear the heather and reach the freedom of a fairway. Golf was already a seemingly insurmountable challenge tinged with frustration.

As a teenager those same questions of technique remained, but were fuelled by a desire to compete and get my handicap down. Winning club trophies, beating ‘the best player’, carving out a reputation as an amateur of note were all reasons I found myself pitching up at the club to play.

Sure, I was aware back then that this game, which can be played for a lifetime, was quite a bit more than ‘just a sport’. I knew that a glorious summer’s evening spent on a classic links with the warm breeze in my hair and the smell of the seaside in my nostrils was as therapeutic as it was beguiling.

But it wasn’t until I approached golf as a writer that I was introduced to the concept that a secret existed that could fill the souls of its protagonists much like the Holy Spirit fills the hearts of religious men. Suddenly, I could imagine Old Tom Morris learning the game as a wee bairn among the tweed-coated and whisky-breathed men of St Andrews. I was entranced by the words of that most famous of course architects, Dr Alister Mackenzie, when he wrote in 1920 that

“…famous holes and greens, are fascinating to the golfer by reason of their shape, their situation, and the character of their modelling. When these elements obey the fundamental laws of balance, of harmony, and fine proportion, they give rise to what we call beauty. This excellence of design is more felt than fully realised by the player, but nevertheless it is constantly exercising a subconscious influence upon him, and in course of time he grows to admire such a course as all works of beauty are eventually felt and admired.”

Limpsfield Chart is just nine holes. It’s a course I might have scoffed at in my youth, but it’s one that I’ve come to love. I don’t carry a driver because there is barely a need for one. The holes are not long and you never play there and feel that you’re up against a heavyweight who could knock you out with a listless jab.

Limpsfield Chart doesn’t want to knock you out, but it does enjoy trying to confuse you with questions. It fires them at you with the sort of joyful enthusiasm that my dog shows every time I release her from the lead so that she can arc, with the speed of a far flung boomerang, across a the fairway and back to my bag.

Thinking in bed one night about the opening hole, I was entranced by a dichotomy that exists there. Is this a good hole or a bad one? It’s a dogleg par 4 that can be played with a 6 iron then a wedge. In years gone by I’d have considered this decidedly underwhelming. You want an opening hole that demands at least a good 3 wood followed by a good 7 iron to a green protected by cavernous bunkers.

Wait! This is where I’ve been getting it wrong. What’s the problem with a 6 iron? Golf, being a game of infinite psychological guile, finds a way to make this opening stroke hazardous enough. Hold the club off through impact and I can strike down the line of the trees on the left and see my gentle fade land in the ideal spot just short of a road that crosses the fairway. But a pull hits the trees, a poor strike lands short in heather and too much cut turns the wedge into a tricky 7 iron approach to a small target. If you’re lucky enough to have mastered a controlled draw then the fairway over the road is accessible, but for most players such an aggressive line is an unnecessary gamble.

With so much to consider before the game has even started, your strategic senses are on full alert which is why this gentle 9-holer is such great fun. To my mind, seven of the nine are strategic wonders in the sense that they require a plentiful degree of cunning to make opportunities to score more realistic. Only the second and the fourth are straightforward par 4s, even though the second calls for a tee shot over an old slate mine.

I’m not sure that reading about strategy makes for sparkling prose unless of course you’ve played the course. Better then to dance across the surface with a few expertly considered observations. The short 3rd has a subtle plateau in the green that can sabotage your path to par and only the foolish go long on the 4th because the chip back down a vicious slope is devilish indeed.

The fifth is the hardest hole. A par 3 of more than 200 yards through a funnel of trees to a green that slopes right to left. Miss on top side and par becomes a distant wish.

The sixth, for my money, ranks as the most strategic on the course, for the simple reason that there are so many ways in which it can be played. The most basic is the driver from the tee straight onto the green, an option only open to the thunderous hitter. There’s the element of The Belfry’s 10th about it when you consider the accuracy that is needed to pull it off.

The Sixth Hole

The entrance to the green is a bottleneck between trees of juggernaut proportions, so depending on the flag position, perfect placement on the fairway is paramount.

It’s almost impossible to turn the three shotter that is the seventh into an eagle opportunity. After a precise drive, a looping draw of great length would be required to reach this par 5 in two.

A trio of trees, known as the three bears, sit in the centre of the eighth fairway and must be avoided, while the green is the best on the course with huge awkward swales. And one might be forgiven for resorting to a sat nav to locate the hidden putting surface on the ninth, tucked away over shrub and gorse to an enclosed glade on the left.

It’s when you think deeply about these holes, and as your relationship with them becomes intimate through countless journeys from tee to green, that you start to realise how the astute golfer must consider so much more than is immediately obvious. Modern design tends to map out a single route which, for some, can only be accessed through sizeable hitting from both tee and fairway. This requirement for length, in my opinion, should only be asked of a golfer on an infrequent basis. For golf to be fun, it needs to pose a challenge that tests guile, strategy, accuracy, control, touch, technique and length in relatively equal measures. Limpsfield does that.

Admittedly, there are areas of the game that are not tested quite as much, but almost all those, with the exception of the 120-yard bunker shot, are related to power. For the elite golfer, who drives it well over 270 yards and can strike a searing long iron with three yards of draw, Limpsfield may not be enough. But the only golfers I’ve seen capable of such skill have been ones who are paid for their perfection. For the enthusiastic amateur, the heathland tapestry that is Limpsfield Chart is cut from the most colourful of cloth.