The Local Knowlege

My Usual Game

How to play golf with a broken neck

My column in the August issue of Golf Digest is about my friend Thomas Tami, an ear-nose-and-throat doctor in Cincinnati, who broke his neck when he was in college, forty years ago, and took up golf a decade later even though he can't turn his head without turning his torso. 

"When I take the club back," he told me, "I completely lose the ball, and I never pick it up on the way down." He's a player, though. His best score for 18 holes is 76 at his home course, Hyde Park Golf & Country Club, which was designed mostly by Donald Ross. Here's a video of Tami hitting a shot at Hyde Park two years ago:


Try that yourself sometime (on the range) if you think it looks easy. 

... Read
My Usual Game

Florida man dumps irons for hybrids and rekindles interest in life

Scott Armatti is a 46-year-old special-education teacher at a high school in central Florida; he also coaches the boys' and girls' tennis teams, and is the football team's offensive coordinator.

He took up golf two years ago, and, like all golfers, he finds the game alternately intoxicating and exasperating. During an especially annoying session at the range, he realized that the only club he was hitting decently was his 5-hybrid (part of a Cleveland Mashie game-improvement set). "When I returned home," he told me recently, "I ran a Google search for 'play golf with only hybrids.'" That search turned up a Golf Digest article of mine from 2012, called My Hybrid Advantage, in which I explained why I'd gotten rid of my irons. On eBay, he found a 34-degree X9 Extreme MOI hybrid -- the equivalent of an 8-iron -- and ordered it:

He told me, "I unwrapped the cellophane at the range, placed the club next to the ball, and immediately had the best swing thought you can ever have: That is juicy -- I'm going to crush that little white sucker." He liked the club so much that he ordered three more from the same series. "Currently, my bag contains my four X9 hybrids, an old Orlimar 3-wood, a driver, a 56-degree sand wedge, and a putter," he said. "I've been playing for a couple of weeks with just these eight clubs. Yesterday, I played a local course with my son, who was home from college for the weekend, and shot 91 from the middle tees. I wasn't hitting the driver particularly well, and I missed three gimme putts, but I hit most greens from inside 130 yards (and just missed from 130-160), and I really enjoyed playing golf the entire day."

Armatti grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. "My best friend, Gary, and his entire family were big golfers," he told me. "Gary always tried to get me to play, but I never wanted to ask my parents for clubs, because I was saving my 'big ask' for ski equipment. Gary and I were like brothers for most of our lives. He lives in Ft. Meyers now, about three hours away, and two years ago we got to play golf together for the first time."

Last summer, during a vacation in Michigan, Armatti also got to play with his cousin Cory, on the home course of Northern Michigan State University. "Cory had to rent clubs that day," Armatti said, "and he didn't know until we got to the first green that he had been given a junior putter."

Let's all try that next.

... Read
My Usual Game

How to make a golfer choke

When Dustin Johnson screwed up on the final green at Chambers Bay, avid golfers all over the world wept for him. After all, how many of us, at some point, haven't three-putted from 12 feet to lose the U.S. Open? My friends and I were especially sympathetic, because we have just about perfected choking. In several of our regular games, we play an add-on feature on the eighteenth hole called All Balls Count -- and that does it. 

Our eighteenth (which is also our ninth, played from slightly different tees) is theoretically a pushover: a very short par 4, just 250 yards or so, slightly uphill:

But it can be diabolical, because there are trees on both sides, and the green is a redan, and there are lob-devouring bunkers both in front and behind, and out-of-bounds is in play from the tee and the fairway and even the bunkers, and when the hole is cut in the front left corner getting close from almost anywhere can be virtually impossible. 

Note the expression of agony on Howard's face:

Shots like that become even harder when guys are sitting on the picnic benches above the green, watching:

And they become harder still when Hacker (real name) announces on the first tee that, even though we're playing just one best ball that day, on the eighteenth hole all four scores in every foursome will have to be counted. That can be enough to make even a very good player slice his tee shot into the pine trees on the right, then pound his second shot straight down into the pine straw, then have no choice but to take an unplayable lie (still in the pine straw), then skull his fourth shot into the bunker over the green, and so on.

Meanwhile, all three of his teammates -- who are feeling even more pressure not to screw up, since they now know that their team score on the hole is virtually guaranteed to be at least four or five over par -- are finding their own ways to implode. 

Try it.

Thumbnail image for P1160280.JPG
... Read
My Usual Game

Which nine was that?

ESPN's scorecard graphic for the Open Championship is labeled "front nine" and "back nine," but the Old Course doesn't have a front and back. You play nine holes "out," making a little loop at the bend of the shepherd's crook, then nine holes "in." "Outward nine" and "inward nine" -- the preferred local terms -- would be more accurate.

But not for every course, even on the Open Rota. People often say that out-and-in is a defining characteristic of links golf, but it isn't. Troon (for example) does play nine out and nine in, more or less, but the holes at Carnoustie (for example) wander around:


And there many variants.

"Front" and "back" actually don't make sense on many golf courses. It's rare to find a club at which the first nine holes you play are laid out in front of something, and the second nine holes are laid out in back of the same thing. Sometimes the nines are right and left; sometimes the holes are all over the place; sometimes -- as on nine-hole courses, where you play the same holes twice -- the nines are essentially on top of each other (upper and lower?).

Bobby Jones wanted TV announcers to refer to the nines at Augusta National as the "first nine" and the "second nine," partly because "front" and "back" weren't accurate, and partly because he felt that "back side" -- a popular variant -- was indecently anatomical. One nice thing about "first nine" and "second nine" is that they work for any golf course, including your course, my course, and the Old Course. Golfers will never change, naturally -- but if it came to a vote I'd go with Jones.

... Read
My Usual Game

Storage problem solved: what to do with golf gloves

My club's clubhouse isn't much of a clubhouse. The men's locker room has a few lockers, but they're tiny and their only real function is to let guests know that what they otherwise might think was just an old storeroom is actually the men's locker room. Back in the era before Internet pornography, there were four old guys at my club who played together all the time and kept a falling-apart copy of Playboy in one of the lockers, and nowadays the Sunday Morning Group keeps hard liquor locked up in two of them, but that's about it. Like pretty much everybody else, I store my golf stuff in the trunk of my car (plus the backseat, the floor in front of the backseat, and the floor in front of the front passenger seat). 

To keep my golf gloves organized and easily within reach (both regular and rain), I use their Velcro closures to stick them to the carpet-like lining on the inside of the trunk lid -- like this:

The reason I don't keep golf stuff in the front passenger seat, too, is that that's where the dog's car seat goes:


... Read
My Usual Game

Lyme Disease Central: Report from the field

David W. and Peter A.'s wife, Denise, have Lyme disease, and Reese has ehrlichiosis, which my wife and I both had several years ago and which can be thought of as Lyme disease delivered by sledge hammer. (You can get Lyme and ehrlichiosis from the same tick bite, as I did -- a nasty combination.) The standard treatment for both diseases is the antibiotic doxycycline; all three are taking it. 

When you're being treated for Lyme, you have to be extra careful about the sun, because doxycycline can make your skin extremely vulnerable to burning. Gene P.'s daughter once went skiing while she was taking it, and even though she wore tinted goggles the sun made the whites of her eyes turn brown. They stayed that way for a few days, too. Reese played golf while he was in treatment -- what else was he supposed to do? -- but he was careful to wear lots of sunscreen, and he covered up everything he could bear to cover up:

Appropriately, I guess, we declared last Sunday Lip Balm Day, because the people who make Golfersskin, the official sunscreen of the Sunday Morning Group, had sent us a bunch of tubes to try:

I got careless about sunscreen during one of my bouts with Lyme, because it was mid-October and I wasn't thinking about the sun, and midway through a round of golf I suddenly felt as though my lips had burned off. Never again. Here's Stanley, who is also a veteran of both Lyme and ehrlichiosis, putting some Golfersskin on, even though it looks like he's just pulling on his lip:

We had to tee off at 6:30 on Lip Balm Day -- an hour early -- because our club had created a new event, called Family Day, to encourage more people to become interested in golf, and had scheduled it for 10:00. That was annoying. Still, there were just 16 of us and more than 70 of them, and getting home earlier than usual turned out to be a good thing because if you fall asleep before noon you're not taking a nap -- you're just going back to bed. Here are the people who showed up for Family Day:

It's never too early to teach golf etiquette. The thing we emphasized to the kids is that, if they serve themselves from the Sunday Morning Group's kegerator, in the storeroom next to the men's locker room, they need to leave two dollars in the beer-money box. You would not believe how many people "forget" to do that.

... Read
My Usual Game

Stop watching TV long enough to take this golf survey

Debbie Crews is the sports-psychology consultant for the women’s golf team at Arizona State University and the chair of the World Scientific Conference of Golf. Her laboratory, in Tempe, Arizona, is carpeted with artificial turf and has two golf holes cut in the floor. She has long white-blond hair and the lean build of a runner. She co-founded the women’s golf team at the University of Wisconsin when she was an undergraduate there, in the early 1970s, and later she earned a Masters in exercise physiology and a PhD in psychophysiology. She has conducted several studies of the yips, including two funded by the Mayo Clinic. I described some of her work in an article about the yips that I wrote for The New Yorker last year. Here's Crews in her office:

Crews is part of a group that is trying to "better understand how golfers think about their game." Answering the questions in the survey they've created takes about 15 minutes. "Ultimately," she says, "it may help golfers at all levels improve their scores." You can get to the survey by clicking here. (If you don't see a link, paste this in your browser: 

Crews's research study has been approved by the Institutional Review Board of Arizona State University, so you can be almost certain that answering the questions won't give you the yips.

... Read
My Usual Game

Golfer discovers his wife is a fairy princess

A friend once told me he woke up every morning hoping his wife would turn to him and say, "Darling, I've watched you carefully all these years, and I am now convinced that you really do love me for myself, and I am happy to tell you that I have a $250 million trust fund that I've never mentioned before." Well, she never did (and they're now divorced). But not everyone is as unlucky in marriage as my friend. 

Dan Miller, a reader -- that's him in the photo above, taken on the Ailsa Course, at Turnberry -- wrote recently to say that his wife's employer (which sells software to hotels) had transferred her abroad for at least three years, and that they had just completed their company-financed move to . . . Scotland. He writes:

A nine-week trial run last fall sealed the deal. As I asked my wife when we returned to Los Angeles, last Thanksgiving, "How can we be home and yet homesick?" Between yard sales, Craigslist, and eBay, we sold off or gave away much of what we owned States-side, and began bidding online at auctions in Scotland to furnish our new home, in the market town of Kelso.

Kelso is in southeastern Scotland, right on the border with England. It's less than 50 miles from North Berwick Golf Club, which is one of my all-time favorites. Here's Kelso:

Miller continues:

Will we land on our feet in the home of golf? So far so good. Establish local bank account? Check. Buy used right-drive car? Check. Join local golf club (specifically Goswick, a James Braid links course just across the border with England)? Check. A few bumps in the road? Yep. But absolutely no regrets. Six weeks into our adventure, Scotland still feels like home.

Miller himself had no trouble switching continents, because he's a writer. And, although writers are notoriously lazy, wife-mooching bums, he is at least pretending to pull his weight during this adventure, because he has written and self-published a novel called Machrihanish, which happens to be the name of another of my (and his) favorite golf courses. Here's a photo he took at Machrihanish, looking back toward the clubhouse:

And here's the jacket of his book:

Why don't you buy a few copies and take them on your next golf trip to Scotland? Maybe some of his good luck will rub off.

... Read
My Usual Game

Rain is the avid golfer's best friend

Not because it makes grass grow, but because it makes non-avid golfers decide to spend the day cleaning out their basement. Two weeks ago, the Friday-afternoon meeting of the Sunday Morning Group had to begin an hour late because the 16 participants in the Ladies' Nine-Hole Member-Guest Tournament, held that morning, took three hours and fifteen minutes to play nine holes on an otherwise empty course. One group was still finishing when we got to the second hole:

Then, because the course had been closed to non-participants all morning, we ran into traffic after we made the turn. Sunday was way better, because rain fell hard all night on Saturday and was still falling hard in the morning, and the forecast for the rest of the day was worse. Sixteen guys showed up anyway, and, because of the weather, we didn't have to share the course with anyone:

One difficulty with rainy-day golf is that rainsuits are not designed for weather that isn't cold and windy as well as wet, even if they supposedly "breathe." Tim and my brother, John, who played with us, have short-sleeved rain jackets, which work pretty well:

Rain pants are a problem, though, even if you don't wear regular pants under them. One solution is to leave your rain pants in the car and wear a swimsuit (as Tony did) or nylon "hiking shorts" (as I did). Both probably violate our club's dress code, but anyone who might have complained was at home, hiding indoors. I just ordered a pair of 100 percent synthetic Tony Hawk Plaid Performance Shorts, on sale at Kohl's for $22 -- which will be my warm-season rain pants from now on. Shorts are much more "breathable" than Gore-Tex, because the leg openings act as vents, or chimneys, and who cares if they get wet?
Shoes are a problem, too, even if they're supposedly waterproof, because if you're wearing shorts water runs down your legs and into your socks. One solution: FootJoy golf sandals, like Barney's (photo below). I just ordered a pair, also on sale, from

Semi-miraculously, there was a break in the rain around the time we finished (as it happens, after three hours and fifteen minutes), meaning that we could eat lunch where we usually do, rather than on the porch.

Then more rain, just in time for a nap. Another perfect day.

... Read
My Usual Game

Reader's Trip Report: The U.S. Open by periscope

I met Steve Davis, a reader in California, at Tiger Woods' World Challenge in 2012. He was easy to spot because he was carrying a homemade periscope, which he was using to see over the heads of people standing in front of him. Note the beer holder:

Periscopes used to be common at golf tournaments, including the U.S. Open. These two are from 1988:

Many spectators at the 1993 Ryder Cup, which I attended (at the Belfry, in England), watched the tournament through periscopes that looked like the boxes that bottles of Johnny Walker scotch come in. (Johnny Walker sponsored the tournament.) The Belfry is a terrible course for spectators, because there are few good vantage points. The periscopes made things better for the people who had them and worse for the people who didn’t. (I saw one guy carrying a paint can, which he stood on until he got too drunk to keep his balance.) Davis's periscope is a big improvement over those old ones, because the mirrors are separated by dowels rather than solid panels: if you're standing behind him, you can see through it. He has taken versions of his invention to many tournaments, including this year's U.S. Open:

Davis works for a copier company, and has "wallpapered" his periscope with color copies of golf mementos. His report from Chambers Bay:

I probably don't have to tell you how great the U.S. Open was this year. The average person walking the course couldn't see a lot, though. The fairways were so brown that it was hard to pick up the ball off the tee box. If you were lucky enough to be standing close to a green, you were set -- but don't move and think you're going to find another spot like that one. My periscope saved my ass, because I could go pretty much anywhere and still see. Here I am on the ninth hole, a par 3:

Davis continues:

I let a lot of other people use it on Saturday and Sunday, and they were amazed at how well they could see from where they were standing -- including one girl who was happy because she could watch Jason Day putting on No. 10. The periscope I took to Chambers Bay was an improvement over the one you saw at Sherwood Country Club. I changed the mirror angle, to give it a better field of vision, and I removed the belt strap, because I found that it was just as easy to carry without it, by putting my arm through the poles. I kept the beverage holder, though.

... Read
Subscribe to Golf Digest
Subscribe today