Editor's Letter: How Hard Can Golf Be?
Photo by Christian Iooss
Random trends in golf we like:
• Allowing fivesomes as long as they keep up with the group ahead.
• Not waiting till January to begin using the new USGA rules that won't officially go into effect until 2019. Especially dropping from O.B. as if it were a hazard.
• Encouraging music to be played during a round (and ignoring the USGA rule that bans it).
• Pushing or pulling a cart instead of riding—Augusta University's Broc Everett used a pushcart in winning the Men's NCAA Championship.
• Adding a mammoth putting green (like Thistle Dhu at Pinehurst) or a short course (like The Sandbox at Sand Valley).
I can't help pausing this summer to remember that 40 years ago every golfer fell in love with Nancy Lopez. She was Tiger before Tiger. She had the smile of a young Doris Day. And she came from Roswell, N.M., otherwise known for UFO sightings. Her father, Domingo, was the owner of an auto-body repair shop. "He fixed fenders in the morning and taught Nancy how to play in the afternoon," said Herb Graffis. "How hard can golf be?"
It was my first year as an editor at Golf Digest, and I arrived in time to watch her third win in a row, at Wykagyl in New Rochelle, N.Y. One of her drives "skulled a local dentist," Dave Anderson of The New York Times told me. "As he lay dazed, she held his hand and weeped." The next morning, she called him and even mentioned the dentist in her acceptance speech, blowing him a kiss. As Dave later wrote: "All that is as natural for her as hitting a golf ball."
Nancy won twice more consecutively, including the LPGA Championship near Cincinnati. Another one of our contributing editors, Tom Callahan, kidnapped Nancy at the airport, posing as her driver. When she realized who he was, she insisted he pull over so he could take notes.
"I'll remember what you say," Callahan assured her.
"No," she said, "Let's stop for an iced tea so you get it right."
At the end of the tournament, Nancy and Domingo hung out with the volunteers Sunday night and ordered takeout Mexican food for 100. It wasn't even a photo-op for social media. She won nine times in her first full year. (You can read about Nancy's instructional thoughts in this issue)
Back in 2015, I was playing in a charity event at the Madison Club near Palm Springs in which I was the answer to the question: Who doesn't fit in this fivesome? There was the club's founder, Mike Meldman; the mega-movie producer Jerry Weintraub; actor Andy Garcia; basketball Hall of Famer Jerry West and me.
On the practice tee before we played, Phil Mickelson was challenging Bubba Watson to a long-drive shootout, and they looked like a couple of palookas trying to bomb it out of the park. Our group was partnered with a rookie named Justin Thomas. "I should be over there," he said nodding at Phil and Bubba. "I can hit it past both those guys."
He was 21 years old, 5-foot-10, 135 pounds without his umbrella, and the three Jerrys in our group had never heard of him before.
Along came Spring Break (#SB2K16). Justin was shirtless and famous by association with Jordan, Rickie and Smylie. Then eight PGA Tour victories, including a major (2017 PGA) and a No. 1 world ranking at age 25. This issue gives him his second Golf Digest cover.
"I've spent time with Justin on four instruction articles, and each time he impresses me more than the last," says Senior Editor Ron Kaspriske. "He's really mature when it comes to understanding the golf swing and explaining his approach to the game."
The biggest takeaways from this month's session (see "Justin Thomas cover feature, "Prep For Golf Like A Pro") • JT spends 30 to 40 percent of his practice time on wedges—hitting them full, half, high, low, etc.
• "Keeping spin off the ball defines or makes the greatest wedge players," he says.
• "Throughout my warm-up, I'm trying to hit a variety of shots. Each one is different. That's what you do on the course."
• When struggling, he'll hit an entire bag of balls starting halfway into the backswing with his left arm parallel to the ground. That drill, he says, keeps you from getting across the line at the top. "When I get across the line, I'll loop the club down too much from the inside," he says, preventing his desired shot shape with the driver—a fade.
Allow me to add one more golf trend we like: engaging young pros like Justin and Nancy.