Lesson One will be repeated, consistently, throughout the blog, coming back to it every few weeks, as a reminder of what is most important in playing the game of golf.
The more I practice, the luckier I get.
— Ben Hogan
Golf has one constant – the need for consistency.
If π is the constant of circles, e is the constant of compound interest (NB: look it up), g is the constant acceleration of gravity, c is the speed of light, the constant of the universe, then consistency is the constant of golf.
In the first two parts, I will explain in terms of two of golf’s most consistent players – the most consistent players ever to have played golf – Hogan and Nicklaus.
Hogan is often cited as the best striker of the ball ever to play. The picture of Hogan hitting his 1 iron to the 18th green at Merion in the 1950 US Open is one of golf’s most iconic images. As Hogan tells it, he hit that shot thousands of times before on the practice range.
Hogan had trouble putting. Quite amazing really. A teaching pro a generation younger than Hogan (now 80) told me that “if Hogan couldn’t eliminate putting from the game, no one could.” Meaning that Hogan would have liked to have, because he would have won a lot more tournaments.
While I will explain in later posts why consistency is so essential in golf, let me relay a story about Hogan. A friend and touring pro was in Fort Worth and wanted to see Hogan. Of course, he went to the golf course, where he knew Hogan would be practicing. He got to the range, and Hogan was hitting balls to his caddy. The friend and fellow pro said to Hogan, “how’s it going?” Hogan said, “not very good, I keep hitting my 4 iron 174 and 176 yards.”
Hogan’s friend thought Hogan had said 174 to 176 yards. He said to Hogan, “Ben what’s wrong with that? 174 to 176 yards is plenty accurate.” Hogan said, “No, I mean I’ll hit one ball 174 yards, and the next one 176 yards.” He meant exactly. Hogan’s friend, jaw nearly agape, said he stood there in disbelief not knowing what to say.
Some say that the most important thing that touring pros bring to their game is the ability to judge distances accurately. I hit my 7 iron 162 yards, and 167 yards off the tee; and so on. Past a certain minimum ability to hit the ball long, this is much more true at the amateur level. On courses under about 6700 yards in length, and certainly under 6300 yards in length, knowing what distance one hits which club is the difference between fighting for a par versus a bogey, and having a good birdie putt with little chance of more than par.
Most know Hogan won 4 US Opens in 5 attempts from 1948 to 1953 (on the fifth attempt he finished third); that he held the US Open record until 1980; the Masters record until 1965 (only surpassed 3 times since – total); that he won three majors (the only one he could play) in 1953. Few people know that he did not finish out of the top ten in the US Open from 1940 to 1960. A twenty year period. Not once. From 1940 to 1956 he never finished out of the top 8 in the Masters. In the eight US Opens he played from 1948 to 1956, he won four times, finished second two times, third once, and sixth once. From 1940 to 1956, he never finished out of the top six. Never. Not once. It is hard to say that anyone was more determined. Even Nicklaus finds it difficult to compare favorably to this record of consistency. The details of Hogan’s dominance are often lost in shorthands today. Like Nicklaus to follow, he was a complete golfer.
Consistency, consistency, consistency.