Todd Graves and Tom Watson

My Perspective on Golf and How You can Love the Game (More)

You wouldn’t be reading this article if we didn’t share a love for the game of golf. You might find it interesting that I play, on average, about 10 full rounds per year. This doesn’t mean I don’t love the game. I spend countless hours on the driving range helping others play better. I study the swing and the game every day. I am constantly learning. The most fun I have is when I can assist others to improve. Nothing gives me more joy than watching other golfers find joy with the game.

I don’t watch much golf on television.

I might catch the last round of the Masters or a few rounds of the U.S. Open. Sometimes I’ll watch every round of the Open Championship because it offers more shot variety, Distance is less of a factor on the Open courses. I can also see other European players who rarely come to the United States.

Maybe this is because as a kid, I loved getting up on Saturday morning to watch my heroes tee off at 9 am at the Open. I fell in love with the game watching Tom Watson and Seve Ballesteros masterfully negotiate the wind and rain on the challenging links courses.

The worst thing about the game today is the obsession with distance.

Today, golf has become too obsessed with distance. That has taken some of the excitement out of watching it. This is probably why I don’t watch much TV Golf. The majors are more fun because the courses are more difficult and hitting fairways is a premium. Don’t get me wrong, watching the guys blast the ball 350 is thrilling but I believe it is removing some of the skill of the game. Unless the courses start installing 6-inch rough everywhere, this isn’t going to change.

I hate drivable par 4’s

A driveable par 4 is a par 3. That’s all I have to say about it.

Skill is being slowly removed from the game.

I started playing golf when I was 11. I was too small to play football and basketball. Being introverted, golf suited my personality and my physical stature. I remember when a 450-yard par 4 was a Driver and a long Iron or fairway wood. Today, the longer players are hitting wedges and sand wedges on their approaches. If they miss the fairway, they can still hack a wedge out of the rough to somewhere on the green. The skill of the long iron approach shots from the fairway is gone.

Ben Hogan’s book changed the game for me.

Growing up, Tom Watson was my favorite player – not as much for his golf swing but rather for his demeanor. His charisma and integrity were estimable. I wanted to be like Tom. A few years ago, my business partner was invited to play in a pro-am with him in Kona, Hawaii. I rode in the cart with him for a few holes and we talked golf. After the round we had lunch. He was exactly the hero I imagined as a kid.

It wasn’t until I started studying the golf swing that I became fascinated with perfecting the swing motion. It started with studying the Golf Machine by Homer Kelly. I tried to read it. I still have no idea what it says. My college girlfriend cut the book into pieces for a scrapbook when I graduated. This was the most use I ever got from the book.

When I read Hogan’s “Five Fundamentals” I was introduced to swing plane. About this time, I headed off to Hong Kong to play my first professional golf stint on the Asian Tour. I remember catching my roommate Bob Casper (Billy Casper’s son) swinging a club in the hotel room. He had the bed mattresses propped up at an angle and he was swinging in between them. I became obsessed with understanding the golf swing. I figured “There must be an easier way to hit a ball. There must be some rules to club movement”. Hogan’s book was my introduction to these rules.

The Game used to be more about mastery.

Tom Watson, Seve Ballesteros, and Ben Hogan encompassed character, charisma and golf swing perfection – a perfect combination of heroes. I always felt the passion that these champions held for the game. I never felt that it was about money when I watched these players play – it was about the game itself. Moe had this passion too.

Today, I can’t seem to find a player to admire and it saddens me. Maybe I’ve outgrown the childhood fascination with great golfers but maybe the game just lacks heroes. Maybe it’s just become too commercial.

When I was twelve, if you asked me why I loved Tom Watson, I would have told you “I like the way he plays. The way he walks. The way he smiles at the gallery when he confidently strides down the fairway.” If you ask a kid today why he loves Ricky Fowler, he will tell you he likes his orange cap or his Puma shoes.

I’ve tried to like Jordan Spieth but I can’t get past the Dallas private school rich kid background that, when he leads a tournament, makes fifty practice swings before he hits a shot – completely ignoring his playing companion. For some reason, I just can’t stomach the selfishness in a gentleman’s game.

I’ve even tried to like Rory Mcllroy finding his strength and power admirable until he threw his club in the water at Doral last year. I know, I should give every player a break but I never saw Tom Watson throw a club – not even after, at the age of 59, he missed a shot to win the Open Championship in 2009. He just smiled like a gentleman, like a Champion.

When I say that the game is about mastery I am only partially referring to the golf swing. Yes, the golf swing is surely a beautiful thing to master but in my opinion, mastery is more about personal growth. Personal mastery includes how you treat yourself and others. It encompasses how you deal with adversity and what type of human being you are.

If the game of golf isn’t helping you become a better human, then stop playing.

Strong statement? I mean it. I love teaching the game but when I meet a student so driven by personal ego it disheartens me. What do I mean by ego driven? Look at it this way. Ego golf is a selfish way of playing the game. Ego golf is asking “What am I getting from playing golf”. If you are dissatisfied with golf, you are probably playing Ego golf.

If you start to think of Golf as a relationship you realize that there is a give and take. You must give golf to receive its rewards. Here are my rules for giving and getting the most out of golf and loving the game:

Rule 1: Give golf effort to receive its rewards.

I often hear that golfers want to quit because they are frustrated. I understand the frustration and I have been there myself. You must realize that this isn’t the game’s fault. It’s your responsibility to find a better way and then practice. When I felt like giving up it was because I had lost hope in finding a solution. Moe Norman gave me hope again. Once I had Moe to model and regained hope, I worked my butt off to learn his swing.

Rule 2: Give golf your heart and it will give it back.

I have gone through golf “phases” in my learning. Sometimes I love to hit balls on the range. Other times I like to putt or hit wedges. I also love to go on the course by myself and hit practice shots. What I learned is that golf practice can be a great meditation. You must find out what part of golf makes you passionate and embrace that part.

Rule 3: Speak Golf’s language so you can understand it.

Golf is a language. I have found that golf is more than a game – it is a lifestyle. I’m not necessarily talking about wearing your golf shoes to dinner. Get into it by studying it. Don’t just watch the good players hit shots on the course, watch them warm-up and practice. I remember seeing Arnold Palmer walk to the first tee. When he approached the scoring table he grabbed the scorecard and a pencil. Before he put the pencil in his back pocket, he pulled the tip onto a piece of paper to make sure that he didn’t poke his finger after putting it into his back pocket. It’s the little things that make a golfer a “real” golfer. Learn those things and get into it.

Rule 4: Be Authentic

I modeled Moe Norman’s golf swing because I believe he discovered a golf swing with perfect biomechanics. I made a point to understand his swing and what it meant to me in the same way that and master artist passes his skill to a disciple. Once I understood his swing, I practiced and made it mine. I devised personal ways that I could practice Moe’s Single Plane Swing. The GGA Training aids are examples of my inventions that I devised to help me practice.

Rule 5: Ask yourself “Did I grow and learn”

The quality of your life is the state that you live in. If you play golf with enthusiasm and poise, you will be enthusiastic and poised. It’s your choice. Act like a champion no matter what happens and you will grow and learn. When you grow and learn you become a better human being and that is the point of this entire conversation.


9 comments on “My Perspective on Golf and How You can Love the Game (More)”
  1. shari marini says:

    Very good wisdom
    Sent from my iPad


  2. Terry Jackson says:

    Excellent points and very well written. Really enjoyed it.


  3. Kim John Moore says:

    As always, well said Todd! I couldn’t agree more. Thank you


  4. Peter Bloxham says:

    Great reflections Todd. So well said.


  5. Thanks Todd, that is the way I try to live my late days with golf . Did I grow and learn?

    Ervo Lassila


  6. Tom Chinnery says:

    Excellent Article.. Only thing I would add to it would be: Keep Negative thoughts completely out of your mind.. Think positive all the time.. Thanks Todd.. And ths from an 81 year old who is trying your way! Thanks again..


  7. smilecoach says:

    Great post. This post shows why you are such a great teacher. Thanks!


  8. Wayne Perreault says:

    Todd, all I can say is thank you from the bottom of my heart.


  9. eqibno says:

    Knowledge of and about the game, the swing and the self is baggage that we carry around and that weighs down our game and our self. Knowing how to “play” golf requires the application of potential to the actuation of experience. Once you apply your talent and determination to the techniques required to excel, you can achieve the feeling of greatness that comes with the mastery of the art-form that is golf.


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