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My Shot: Grant Rogers

The Wizard Of Bandon Dunes

Learn about slow play, gambling precautions, time management, Tibetan bandits, clarinet lessons, and the power of a root-beer float

September 2013

EARLY IN THE ROUND of a playing lesson at Pacific Dunes, my student made a 10. It was freezing, the wind was howling, and I hadn't said much to that point. "What do you have to say about that?" he snapped after taking the ball from the hole. I said, "Remember, the golf holes like to win, too." Look, no modern architect is going to give you a bunch of kick-in birdies. When Bandon Dunes' owner, Mike Keiser, commissioned David McLay Kidd, Tom Doak, Jim Urbina, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw to design these courses, he told them to defend par. So you're going to win a few times, but the holes also are going to get their pound of flesh.

SAME GUY, a few holes later. He faced a shot that only the courses at Bandon can give you: 180 yards through a brutal crosswind, a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean immediately left of the green. Bailing to the right was no bargain, either. He put his hand on his 4-iron, then backed off. He took out his 3-wood, then put it back. He looked at me kind of helplessly. "There's nothing in that bag that's going to help you today," I laughed, and kept walking. He was steamed for a while, but like everyone who comes here, he quickly discovered you can't always pay too much attention to par on the scorecard. Par makes you do things you shouldn't try to do. It messes with your ego and your mind-set. It's one reason people leave here better, more enlightened players.

COURSE MARSHALS should try driving up on a slow group and telling them, "I've been following you, and I see that you're picking up the pace. Great job." I saw a marshal take this positive approach, and it really got people moving. It also made the marshal feel better about his job, which can be a tough one. Who likes to see a marshal coming up on their group?

THE MARSHALS don't hassle players who learn the game from me. I spent a summer with my grandmother in northern Minnesota when I was about 10. I played with some other boys on a nine-hole course with sand greens. The pro at that course was always telling us to "miss it quick," an expression he got from George Duncan, a Scottish pro who won the British Open in 1920. To this day I'm a very fast player and teach beginners to play quickly, to take aim at your target and then swing at the ball. If there's one thing I know to be true, it's that taking extra time doesn't help.

IF YOU BELIEVE THAT A DEITY influences everything, then that would have to include golf. Life is mostly troubles, interspersed with little bits of divine intervention that keep you going. Just when you're ready to quit, you'll hit a spectacular shot better than you seem capable of making. To me, these random events are a signal that the deity, or deities, like golf.

A PLAYER GETTING READY to play in the U.S. Mid-Amateur came off Bandon Trails one day. It was cold and windy. He'd shot around 90. "I'm too good to shoot a score like this," he said, shaking the scorecard in my face. I asked him, "If you were a gunfighter instead of a golfer, how good would you be?" He said, "Pretty good." I said, "Do you know what happens to gunfighters who are pretty good?" He got the message. Unless you're a perfect golfer the likes of which we'll never see, you're never going to be so good that you never shoot high scores.

THREE OF THE BEST STUDENTS I've ever had were blind from birth. They had no time frame for improving, no hard-and-fast goals they had to meet or else. Like every other challenge they'd faced, they just moved straight ahead. Not being able to see their bad shots probably helped curb their frustration. But the pace of their improvement was incredible. A month in, they each were better than any beginners I'd ever had.

AFTER I'D BEEN SKIING AWHILE, I asked my ski instructor what I needed to do to get better. He said, "Ski more vertical feet"—meaning I simply needed to ski more, in the way a pilot accumulates hours in the cockpit. When I asked my wife, Janet, the same question, she said, "Ski steeper." That meant skiing faster, making fewer turns and trying more difficult runs. The translation, for golf: Play more, and challenge yourself. Get out with better players and longer hitters.

TO PLAY MORE GOLF, you need to manage your time better. I'm so disorganized that I signed up for a time-management class—for which I was 45 minutes late for the first lesson. The time-management expert told us to divide our lives into three compartments. The first consists of everything you absolutely have to do. The second you must get around to doing eventually. The third is everything else. The secret, he said, is to devote everything to the first two compartments and then ignore the third.

I WAS AT THE 17TH at Pebble Beach when Tom Watson chipped in to win the 1982 U.S. Open. At the time I was the teaching pro at Pasatiempo, and the next day I phoned the Ram golf company to order a couple of those sand wedges. They told me it was a TW 860 model, custom-made for Watson, and not yet in production. I gave them my Visa number and asked them to send me the first two. Boy, was it ever a great wedge. One day, it went missing from my bag. I was devastated. The other pros—there were seven of us at Pasatiempo, including assistants—launched a forensic investigation. We knew whoever took it had to be a good player, so that eliminated a bunch of people. We checked the tee sheets to see who might have been around my bag. They measured some other factors. Finally, they narrowed it down to one guy. One of the pros dialed the phone number of the chief suspect. He said in his most menacing voice into the phone, "You took the wrong guy's wedge," and hung up. It was taking a gamble, but the next day a man showed up with my sand wedge, begging for forgiveness like a man in debt to the mob. It was wonderful to get my wedge back, and I used it for years, but I finally took it out of play because I was afraid it might disappear again.

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