Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Golf is hard and so is Pool

Golf and the Yips

One of my favorite quotes about golf is from Winston Churchill. Sir Winston allegedly described golf as “a game where you attempt to send a small ball into a small hole using implements wholly unsuited to the purpose.” I can’t think of a better
...and tomorrow
I shall be sober
description, frankly.

There have been times when I felt as though I could do anything I wanted with a golf club and the ball would react as I envisioned. I recall playing a round of golf with a non-playing girl friend riding along with me in the cart. I had badly hooked my tee shot on a par 4 and the ball had come to rest in the middle of a parallel fairway about 170 yards from the green with a large stand of trees between the two of them. She asked me what I was going to do to remedy the situation. As I took my stance, I said, “I’m going to hit a high fade over the trees and it’s going to land right on the green.” I’m pretty sure her response was something like, “Yeah, right.”

I took a swing and the ball took off, rose up over the trees, turned right and fluttered onto the green about 10 feet away from the hole, exactly as I’d seen it in my mind’s eye. I walked back to the cart to put my club back in the bag, feeling pretty studly, as the young lady asked me, “Wouldn’t it be easier to just hit it down the middle of the fairway, first, instead of having to go over the trees?”

That’s golf in a nutshell; momentary flashes of brilliance surrounded by longer periods of abject stupidity.

My putting suffered from the yips for a number of years. For those of you unfamiliar with them, the yips are a psychological problem that infects a part of your golf game, usually putting although Charles Barkley 
He actually poses
like this during the swing
suffers from it in his full swing. (There are videos on YouTube but I don’t recommend watching them if you play golf. The yips transfer through the eyes. You have been warned!)

For about seven or eight years, attempting to putt in the 20 – 30 foot range was very uncomfortable. I’d pull the putter back and then twitch as I was about to hit the ball. As you might imagine, the ball didn’t do what I was hoping it would, most of the time. The result is that one begins to feel it coming on and can only just watch and hope for the best as if having an out of body experience with a golf club in ones hand.

It was so bad that I almost gave up the game. Somehow I managed to push the yips out of my putting so that, nowadays, I’m regarded as a very good putter. I don’t recall how I accomplished this; probably better off forgotten anyway.

Unfortunately, the yips now inhabit my chipping and short game. Typically, the ball will either travel about three or four feet because I’ve hit the ground behind it
(golfers call this the chili-dip or the Hormels after that famous brand of chili) or it will run quickly across the green, missing the hole by a wide margin and into a much worse location because I’ve bladed the ball and it didn’t get off the ground at all.

When my best friend plays with me, he will turn his head when I’m about to play a short shot around the green. And encourage others to look away. I can’t blame him but it must be very hard to do. Like not looking at a traffic accident as you drive slowly past it; don’t you just have to look?
Operators are standing by!

The good news is that this past weekend, I played 9 holes with my best friend and found a method for swinging that doesn’t hurt my arthritic wrists! There may be hope that I can continue playing this great game. And hitting the ugliest chip shots with a smile on my face.

Or maybe I’ll have the time to devote to fixing it.

Pool and the Yips

I play pool, I think, for many of the same reasons that I play golf. It’s difficult. It’s mentally challenging, probably more than it is physically challenging. And since the player is the one that is solely responsible for success or failure, I don’t have anyone else to blame for a poor shot. All of that appeals to me. Along with the fact that you can drink while playing, I suppose.

I usually get an hour or two on Sunday afternoon to practice my pool game. I spend the time doing some drills for speed control, quality of stroke, and to cement my pre-shot routine. I also spend time doing something called a Q-skills drill which is a semi-scientific way to track progress over time.

My practice sessions over the past month or so have been really good and I feel as if I’ve reached a new level in my game. That makes last night’s occurrence all the more disturbing.

Monday night is league night for me. I play in an 8 Ball league at one of the few remaining pool rooms in the area, Diamond Billiards. It’s a BCA league (for all of you that care about such things) and is very competitive. My team is made up of 5 people, and we’re all pretty fair players. Halfway through the current session, we’re in first place.

In my first match last night, I broke dry and my opponent scratched on his opening shot giving me ball in hand anywhere on the table. I set up for an easy shot in the side pocket with just a touch of angle on it so as to play position for the next shot, slightly down table. I went through my pre-shot routine, got down on the shot, went through my mental checklist and shot. The object ball hit the point of the side pocket, ricocheted over to the other point of the pocket, rattled back and forth and did not fall. I had managed to miss my opening shot with ball in hand!
Just a bit outside!

I was so stunned, I don’t remember walking back to my seat. My teammates were all staring at me, wondering what happened. I was trying to determine what I’d done to miss that easy of a shat (truly, the easiest possible shot). The only thing I could come up with was that I’d been trying to cheat the pocket and had over-done it, causing the ball to catch the edge of the rail by mistake. Meanwhile, my opponent was running the table and played a safety with 2 balls left. I got back to the table with almost nothing to shoot at, managing to make a couple of shots before missing a very difficult safety of my own and my opponent ran out.

In league play, when you do something dumb like this, your teammates are there to pick you up, and cover your errors.  Or, they abuse you relentlessly for the next 30 minutes or so, just to help you remember that stupid stuff isn’t tolerated. Whatever. I’m guilty of it, too.

I managed to get my groove back a little bit in the second game although the other team kept getting these silly rolls when they would miss and leave us with really bad position from which to shoot. I lost that one, too.

In the third game, I broke dry and my opponent was running out when he rattled a ball and left me a shot. I ran the rack out, making some very difficult shots and playing some pinpoint position. I felt like I was back!

In the last game, my opponent ran down to the 8 ball before snookering himself. When he fouled trying to hit the 8, he gave me ball in hand. I didn’t even think about what had happened in the first game as I plotted my path to run out the rack. (Having very short memory is essential to confident shooting.)

I set up my first shot, made it and got perfect position for the next one. I ran every shot just as I had drawn it up in my mind and it was a difficult layout with a tight cluster of 4 balls at one end of the table that required a break out shot to enable the run out.

With only the 7 ball and the 8 left on the table, I was set up for a very simple touch shot in the corner where the cue ball would strike the 7, make it in the corner pocket and then roll forward about a foot for position on the 8 in the other corner. The shot required a gentle stroke with just enough speed to accomplish everything.

I got down on the shot, went through my mental checklist and shot. The object ball, I could immediately see, was slightly offline and hit the point of the pocket. It rattled back and forth, and stayed up on the table.

The cue ball rolled forward into perfect position…..for my opponent to shoot the 8 ball into the opposite pocket to win the game.

Yep, did it again.

Some rather colorful language came out of my mouth, quietly, as I slowly walked back to my seat amongst my teammates. They congratulated me for the great run, even if I did choke on the most important shot of the game. (These words were said with a smile, at least.) I truly have no idea how I missed that ball. Probably a tiny eye movement at the last second.

Now these two shots, that I went brain dead on, aren’t really the yips as the yips are typically a constantly repeated, psychologically driven phenomenon. And I didn’t see them coming, as you can when you really have the yips. But damn. They hurt just as badly.

I guess it’s back to the practice table again this weekend.  Good thing, too, since it’s Labor Day!


  1. Man, I know about the eight ball. It is one of the great shames of my life that I suffer frum chokeitis. Golf, too. How many three foot putts do you have to miss (after a series of effortless approaches) before you give it up once and for all?

    It is also why I will end my days remembering the night I got only eleven strikes in a row in league play. I still got a round of applause but no perfect game to remember.

    The only home run I remember was when I was in my Senior year in high school. I had somehow managed to blow off gym class for three years so in order to graduate I had to do one semester of gym. The only time slot that fit my schedule (I was already out at the local college doing drama) was the nine a.m. freshmen. So I spent an hour each morning playing dodge ball and basketball and baseball with a bunch of fourteen year old kids. I was like Godzilla to them. But man! I smacked one into deep center one early Spring morning and the teacher let me blow off the rest of the semester. (He later became a drinking buddy but that's a whole other story).

    I don't know the answer, bro. Constant practice and muscle memory, breathing, the right balance of testosterone and alcohol, and that thing we always say "ya gotta hold yer mouth right..." It is the elusive magic that keeps us coming back.

    Good post.


  2. Any one who competes for a reasonable period of time will have stories like you and me, TJ! I also know you probably had one of those times when it all came together, too. (Eleven in a row is nothing to sneeze at, though! I only ever got to 9 before choking it off!)

    If pushed, I can remember playing team handball in gym class (truly weird game that is a combo of basketball, soccer, and hockey in that it includes body checking!) and took a pass in mid-stride from a teammate right at the shoot line. Went airborne and prepared to shoot at the goalie who committed to his left. I swung the ball across my body and fired it into the other side of the goal, backhanded. Coach said it was the greatest athletic move he'd ever seen.

    The older I get, the better I used to be! Be well, my friend! And thanks for stopping by.

    B in V

    1. Well...OK. I didn't include this in my comment because I wouldn't believe it but the night I bowled those eleven strikes in a row, we had been playing pool and drinking beers waiting for the league to start and I was shooting the eight ball on the spot, ball in hand behind the line. Empty table. I called the eight three rails into the side, using the diamonds, straight english. It went in. A couple hours later I came one roll short of a 300 game.

      Right now I can't remember the details of that eight ball shot. It was in Mosconi's book, which was always with me, when I was ten, in my cue case. I think it was a straight pool shot.

      But it was that home run I remember best.

      My point is, what Magick ruled my blood that frozen Indiana night when I made a most excellent pool shot and rolled a close to perfect game all in one night? I take no credit for this triumph; I honestly feel that some minor gods were guiding my hand (and spirit) that night, yips be damned.

      I am eternally beleagured by my belief in the supernatural; if there is a God, then why wouldn't he mess with ya once in awhile? I would.

      Whatever. This was all covered in Caddyshack. Time to blow the dust off my DVD player and review the verities of Chase, Murray, and Dangerfield.

      Have a kick-ass Holiday, Brian!


  3. Good post Brian. I have never had the yips (probably just jinxed myself with the Labor Day tournament coming up) but watched my Dad go through them and all the "cures" for them. I laugh now but you are right....hard to watch. Missing that pool shot for you is I'm sure like a shank for me. Where the hell did that come from??????

  4. Now you've gone and done it, Jim! I only shanked a ball once, when I was a 3 handicap. It was like a bucket of ice water hitting me! Good grief, I've just hit a lateral! Fortunately, it went away.

    I remember seeing Johnny Miller do it one time during the Bing Crosby tournament on TV, too. We all get 'em.

  5. Hey Brian, Just got back from our annual guys golf safari and no shanks!!! A few missed three footers but that's OK....comes with the fun. There was a pool table at the bar next to the place we stayed and what a bunch of knuckleheads we were on that. I play better pool as the adult beverages flow until a point is reached and then it becomes pre-schooler pool. Oh well, some dollars were exchanged, nobody got hurt or pissed off and fun was had which, in my opinion that is why the games of golf and pool should be for.
    Cheers, Jim

  6. I hear that a lot, Jim. Nothing like a little "arm oil" to improve one's stroke on the pool table. But only a little! Optimum beer level is required.

    I always found that some of my best golf (particularly putting) came from a hangover. No choice but to take it back real slow....

    Glad you had a great golf trip! I really miss those; haven't been on one in about 18 years. Not sure I could play more than 2 days in a row.