With Apologies to Bobby Jones

My Mount Rushmore of Golf

Here's a not very controversial opinion on the "Mount Rushmore of Golf": Vardon. Hogan. Nicklaus. Woods.

With apologies to Bobby Jones. And a few others.

Of course, only they know how they got there. And it's probably not something they could ever explain to the uninitiated.

Being one of those clueless, it's nevertheless fun to opine, and the "Mount Rushmore" and "GOAT" talk is great for that.

So, I suppose the following is an attempt to explain why they are up there.

Short answer: Because they are lions.

Original Sin

In his great book, ‘Golf’s Holy War: The Battle for the Soul of a Game in an Age of Science’, author Brett Cyrgalis asks the reader to perform a simple test:


2. Raise one of your hands directly above your head, palm down, facing the top of your head. Wiggle your fingers.

3. Consider that in a few seconds you will be asked to tilt your head back until you see your hand. Imagine with some intensity what this will look like and where your hand will be.

4. Now, tilt your head back and look up at your hand.

You might find that your expectation was quite wrong. This misperception has a name - “proprioception” - and it directly highlights the fact that the senses have blind spots.

And if the senses have blind spots, then it would stand to reason that the senses, imperfect, cannot be trusted to inform us in certain matters.

Including in the matter of the golf swing.

At one point during the golf swing, the clubhead is over the golfer’s head and out of sight. If the golfer believes they sense where the clubhead is at that moment, they are tragically mistaken (see above). This is the essence of bad golf, trying to force the clubhead and the ball together. Based on where they think the clubhead is, bad golfers then try “throwing” or “casting” it at the ball.

If you feel the need to even think about where the club is during the swing, you are doomed. You have put the senses in charge. The worst thing for the golf swing.

“Keep your eye on the ball” is the oft-repeated advice on the tee box. Bad advice. If you look at the ball intensely, you give control to the eyes. The eyes which can be distracted by anything, like a dog by a squirrel.

If you perceive a breath of unexpected wind during your takeaway and do something in the swing to account for it, the proceeding shot is in great peril.

Consider the fact that golf shots are made in silence, removing the sense of hearing from the equation.

Proprioception is an indicator of something deeper. Its existence is an acknowledgement that the senses - in religious terms, the “flesh” - are imperfect.

How does this apply to the golf swing? “Man does not live by bread alone.” The mind’s pursuit must take precedence over the needy and imperfect flesh.

So . . . should we be training the flesh?

Or, should we be training the mind?

Swing from your mind.

The common perception is that you must remove all but two or three “swing thoughts” to play well. It’s surely true for some people; the thoughts that float through their mind are far more distracting than what distracts their senses.

But, in my experience, it’s not a “truth” and we shouldn’t accept it as one.

To robotically repeat a thought pattern like “head still . . . low and slow . . . finish high” is training the flesh. It’s not a bad thing; it may prevent “you the machine” from doing anything disastrous. But it also smothers any opportunity to experience the true thrill of the game.

Where do you get the true thrill? Hand the shot over to your mind, to your spirit, and get excited about it.

Try this. The next time you play, as much as possible, approach every shot this way. Avoid looking at the shot you’re facing for more than a few moments. Don’t stare at the upcoming approach as you walk towards it on the fairway. Stay present. Once you get to the ball, look at the target, the land, and the lie for a second or two and then turn away. You will have an instant feeling about the shot. Anything from fear and confusion to “lemme at it”.

If it’s “lemme at it”, there’s your swing thought. It’s the best one; you don’t need another. Go after it quickly with great confidence.

If it’s fear and confusion – “it doesn’t fit my eye”, “I see only trouble”, “I’m between clubs”, “I made 6 here last week” . . . – then, before you look again, you need to change your mindset from “worried” to “excited”. It’s not your eyes that will get you there.

The longer you stare at the shot, the more you lose the ability to hit it. The eyes pull in data indiscriminately, so there is inherently irrelevant data. Once you start incorporating irrelevant data into the golf swing, your plan is highly flawed. Irrelevant data? Looking too intensely at the nuances of the land. Finding all the little places where you can get into trouble.

You perceived all the trouble in those first moments when you looked at the shot. But the more you looked, the more trouble you saw and the more adjustments you made to your plan.

So, how do you change your mindset from “worried” to “excited”?

Remove the eyes.

If you play a lot of golf, there were likely times in the twilight when you and your friends had the course to yourselves and could cram a bunch of golf into the fading light. This meant quick decisions, little thinking and no consequences. The result? Probably some amazing shots that you could never repeat in a normal round. You walked up to a 10-footer and brushed it in without stopping to get set.

There was no time or interest for “head still . . . low and slow . . . finish high”. You were not studying all the places where you could get into trouble. You didn’t care. You were swinging with resolve. Making snap decisions. No second-guessing. Those quick decisions were probably remarkably effective. Why? It was that pure initial glimpse.


What’s the alternative to “keep your eye on the ball”? As much as possible, keep your eyes out of the golf swing. All golfers know about the concept of “visualizing” the shot. Few golfers ever understand what it means.

Visualization is the process of seeing the shot in your mind before you hit it. If you can “see” it, you can
mimic it.

Visualization is also the process of elevating the mind over the flesh.

You could stand out in a fairway for an hour looking at a green 200 yards away and visualize hundreds of potential shots. Here’s the thing: The very first moment you first took in the shot with all your senses was when you were in the best position to hit the shot. Every subsequent recalibration is less and less reliable.

The eyes present to the mind. That’s the important moment for the golfer to capture. The fear and confusion are honest and real, so if that’s the instantaneous response, there’s no point in constantly staring and trying to re-convince yourself. What you first saw is imprinted; and it’s most accurate.

The job of the eyes is over now. Now, it’s time to work on your mind. How do you go from “yikes” to “lemme at it”?

It’s the same question on most matters in life. How does one go from lamb to lion? If you look at the Mount Rushmore golfer list, from Vardon to Tiger, you will see the common trait of golfers
turning into aggressive lions under tremendous pressure. Doing something in their mind that made them relish the challenge.

We all watched Tiger. Tiger was pure lion. He would take that first glimpse, and, if it was a difficult situation, the lion would immediately turn into Seve. He then went on to hit, under pressure and when it mattered, the greatest portfolio of amazingly creative golf shots the world has ever seen.

When Tiger walked up to a shot and liked what he saw in that first glimpse, the lion, quickly and decisively, attacked the pin with alarming accuracy, no matter where it tried to hide.

Tiger changed everything. We can’t know Nicklaus like we got to know Tiger; timing, technology, globalization and all that. But we know that Jack became undisputed king in the era of the desperate shotmakers, when prize money was modest and the tour pro’s life was scrappy. Nicklaus, pure lion, battled the golf course itself. Starting by taking the left side of his adversary out of play completely, he then went on to enforce his will on every advantage, always looking for control.

Tiger transcended golf. Like Ruth transcended baseball. Like Ali.

Nicklaus bullied golf. Better than all those around him.

Just like Hogan. Just like Vardon.

In my humble opinion, the "Mount Rushmore of Golf".

With apologies to Bobby Jones.