No Room for Pictures on the Scorecard ...

Whenever I played in a competitive event during my 5 year apprenticeship under Paul, he would always ask me 'how I played'. After one event when I shot 78, he asked me how I played and my reply was "great".

"What did you score?" he continued. "78" was my reply.

"78? How did you shoot 78 if you played great?"

"I hit the ball solid hit almost every green and fairway and never hit anything out of play". I said.

"And you still shot 78? ... then you didn't play great, you hit the ball great ... playing great is being able to score well no matter how you hit it" ...

Which brings me to another event I played in several years later at the Vermont Open. I brought a caddy with me for the three day tournament and upon late afternoon arrival, asked him to meet me on the putting green. There was no practice range at the host course and closest range was a country mile away. So we spent the entire evening on/around the putting green under the lights for about 4 hours ... My caddy grew weary of all the time spent on the short game and wondered aloud what I was doing all of my greenside practice for ...

"You'll find out tomorrow" I said with a follow up guarantee.

The next day out of 9 greens missed I got it up and down 7 times and holed out the other 2 on my way to making the cut.

"Now you know why" was my promised reply. There is no room for pictures on the scorecard.

Lesson: *For two weeks spend 90% of your practice on short game alone to cut 5 shots off score
​​

*Source : Harvey Penick Little Red Book ; pages 47-8 ; Copyright 1992 

Rick practicing short game skills

Which Shot Would You Rather Play ...

With such special emphasis on short game, shortly thereafter Paul and I went out to play again. We came to the tenth hole and I was playing a shot from just off the fringe to a hole location about 50 feet away. I took out my trusty sand wedge and chunked a shot about 20 feet short. Paul asked me to try another, which I skulled over the green and then another which I pulled 15 feet offline.

After asking me if I always use my sand wedge in that situation, he pulled out his five iron, gripped way down on the club, placed his feet close together and proceeded to 'chip' and run the first chip to 1 foot, hit the flagstick on the second attempt and then knocked his third attempt in the hole. As the last ball disappeared below the flagstick Paul turned to me and said,

"Which shot would you rather play?"

Lesson: The sooner you are able to get the ball on the green rolling like a putt the more accurate you'll be

Not a Round over 73 ...

This short game ability to hole out greenside shots in competition was borne out of a 9-month period immediately following my PGA Apprenticeship under Paul Harney when I did nothing but practice my short game every day - not 90% as Harvey Penick suggested - 100% of my practice time was spent on the green/greenside when I was not playing or competing.

I had just relocated to Southern California and was ready to put the Harney/Penick short game practice formula to the test. I was living in San Juan Capistrano and practicing at San Juan Hills GC on a small practice green surrounded by greenside fringe, deep rough and a bunker. I would spend 4-6 hours a day on/around the practice green then go out and play an 18- hole round of golf.

During that 9-month stretch when I committed 100% of my practice time to my short game, I began to experience dramatic results. I developed such an acute sense of touch, feel and tactile sensitivity that I was able to hole out one 1 of every 8 greenside shots in practice. Indeed, my short game became so razor sharp that it took tremendous pressure off my long game and enabled me to make par much more often when I missed a green in regulation and 1 out of 8 chances would hole out for birdie!

Because I was now seeing the ball go in the hole 1 out of every 8 times during my daily greenside practice time, I fully expected to hole out from off the green at least 10% of the time on the course. In fact, I was trying to hole out most of my greenside shots including chips from the fringe, wedges out of the rough and even greenside bunker shots! I was no longer trying to just chip, pitch or blast a bunker shot within a 3 foot circle of the hole - I was trying to get the ball into the 4 and 1/4 inch circle of the hole! And could routinely do it at least 10% of the time, just like Paul had suggested for me to find out how - some 5 years prior to me developing this newfound skill.

The Best part? During that 9-month period when I spent 100% of my practice time on my short game alone every day, I didn't shoot a round over 73 at my home course or in competition.

Lesson: Narrow your greenside practice focus on hole to enhance results out on the course

​​
Rick practicing greenside shots

Practice Like You Play ...

This short game ability to hole out greenside shots in competition was borne out of a 9-month period immediately following my PGA Apprenticeship under Paul Harney when I did nothing but practice my short game every day - not 90% as Harvey Penick suggested - 100% of my practice time was spent on the green/greenside when I was not playing or competing.

I had just relocated to Southern California and was ready to put the Harney/Penick short game practice formula to the test. I was living in San Juan Capistrano and practicing at San Juan Hills GC on a small practice green surrounded by greenside fringe, deep rough and a bunker. I would spend 4-6 hours a day on/around the practice green then go out and play an 18- hole round of golf.

During that 9-month stretch when I committed 100% of my practice time to my short game, I began to experience dramatic results. I developed such an acute sense of touch, feel and tactile sensitivity that I was able to hole out one 1 of every 8 greenside shots in practice. Indeed, my short game became so razor sharp that it took tremendous pressure off my long game and enabled me to make par much more often when I missed a green in regulation and 1 out of 8 chances would hole out for birdie!

Because I was now seeing the ball go in the hole 1 out of every 8 times during my daily greenside practice time, I fully expected to hole out from off the green at least 10% of the time on the course. In fact, I was trying to hole out most of my greenside shots including chips from the fringe, wedges out of the rough and even greenside bunker shots! I was no longer trying to just chip, pitch or blast a bunker shot within a 3 foot circle of the hole - I was trying to get the ball into the 4 and 1/4 inch circle of the hole! And could routinely do it at least 10% of the time, just like Paul had suggested for me to find out how - some 5 years prior to me developing this newfound skill.

The Best part? During that 9-month period when I spent 100% of my practice time on my short game alone every day, I didn't shoot a round over 73 at my home course or in competition.

Lesson: Narrow your greenside practice focus on hole to enhance results out on the course

​​
Rick practicing wedge game out of greenside rough

Show Us How to Do That ...

No better example of my intention to hole out greenside shots was ever more evident than in the NEPGA Pro-Pro I competed in several years later at Mt. Pleasant CC., in West Boylston. In this Best Ball of 2 Pro- Pro Event, I was partnered with a real good club professional player ['Joe'] who I knew through both junior golf and in college.

I had a lot of confidence in his abilities as we got off to a rip roaring start going 3 under par for the first 4 holes. My partner 'Joe' had birdied the second hole and I had birdied two of the first 4 holes and saved par on the other by holing out 3 times in 4 holes from off the green! My partner and the other Pro-Pro two-some couldn't believe what they were seeing and after the third hole out, I could see them huddled over on the side of the green whispering to each other.

In a New York second they all approached me and said almost in unison " We want you to show us how to do that!" In almost 50 years of tournament golf I have never had any player stop me in competition and ask such a question - but at the time I was still practicing my short game enough to have retained my skills, so I gave them an honest answer ...

"I have worked on my short game so hard for so long," I began, "that through holing out greenside shots in practice, I visualize and see the ball go in on the course before I hit it - so I am trying to hole out, not just get it close. Anyone can do that if you work hard enough at it.

Somehow, I don't think that was the answer they were looking for.

Lesson: Balance the champagne glass to hole out soft landing greenside lob shots

​​
Rick demonstrates greenside hole out 'lobbing' techinque

You Don't Need Me Now ...

Although I did not sustain this greenside practice regimen for the reminder of my professional playing career, there is a certain amount of that short game skill still retained right up to the present time. Despite not playing or competing as much as time went on, those short game skills would remain on display when called upon and continue to teach the lessons that Paul Harney so fervently believed in.

As a longtime PGA teaching professional, I've had the occasion to work with several PGA Apprentices in search of passing their PGA Players Ability Test [15-over course rating for 36-holes]. A PGA Membership requirement, many accomplished players are unable to pass this 'PAT' on repeated attempts, despite having enough talent/skill from tee to green. What is often lacking is the short game skill to 'save'  their score through greenside 'scrambling' - i.e., getting the ball up and down.

Such was the case with a young, brash upstart amateur  ['Josh']  who thought he had what it takes to become a PGA Member, but who had failed the 'PAT' several times. I was teaching at a local golf range and learning center in the greater Boston area at the time, when the facility owner asked me to take 'Josh' under my wing and help him pass his 'PAT'.

Josh was a bit on the cocky side, so I thought I might take a page out of the 'Paul Harney School of Hard Knocks'  timeless lessons book and channel  'Josh'  a lifetime lesson. I took him over to the practice green and introduced him to a game of 18-hole 'up and down'. Each of the 18- holes would be a Par 2 and the winner of each previous hole could pick out the greenside shot attempt to get up and down. I gave 'Josh' the honor of picking the first greenside up/down shot.

With each hole being a Par 2, I was able to 'Par' 12 out of 18- holes and 'bogey' the rest to end up +6 or 6 over par. 'Josh' didn't fare so well and was able to 'Par' only 3 out of 18 holes [bogeying the rest] and was a whopping +15 or 15 over par. My parting shot to him was that he couldn't even beat a 'washed up old, rusty pro' who didn't practice or play that much anymore . And despite my short game score being almost 10 strokes lower than his, even I would struggle to break 80 on a championship course with the short game I had just displayed...

Well that must have got 'Joshs' competitive juices flowing and I knew he had taken the 'dusting' to heart because every day for the next few months, whenever he wasn't working at the range he was spending time on/around the practice green working on his greenside short game skills.  About 6- months later, much to my surprise as and I was walking by him practicing his short game he shouts out with supreme confidence,

"Hey pro - I wanna play you again in that game of up/down - how about a rematch?"

I was hoping that through the time Josh was spending on his short game since our up/down match, he had acquired the skills and confidence necessary to challenge me again - so at that point when he did, I knew my job was done.

"You don't need me now."  I shot back with a wry smile. "Time to go out and play - take the "PAT" again ..."

And he did take the PAT for a 4th time ... and passed with flying colors.

Lesson: Work long on short game to cut shots off your score!

​​
Rick working long and hard on greenside short game

Milk Bottle Full of Pennies ...

Paul's greenside teachings reminded me of an experience I had in my last competitive amateur event in the Men's Amateur Seagulls Tournament at Hyannisport Golf Club in 1974. My partner was five- time Cape Cod Amateur Champion Ollie Hallet who was a scratch player himself. Together, we had no problem being the medalist qualifying team and waltzing through the match play format until we were ousted in the finals by two 'senior' golfers who made miles worth of putts and must have holed out from off the green at least a half dozen times in the 18- hole final round.

So there we were drowning our final loss sorrows at Hyannisports' 19th hole, when Ollie Hallet, a raconteur at heart, starts telling me the story about how good his father Ollie Sr., was at solving the riddle of the hard, fast greens at Hyannisport Golf Club.

"Did you know my father Ollie Hallet Sr., was the longtime Head Professional of 30 years here at Hyannisport?", he gushed. "And he had the best greenside short game of anyone you've ever seen, because every winter of his 30 year tenure when the course would be closed due to snowcover, my father would do something you would never believe! Every day at his home he would empty out a milk bottle full of pennies onto his linoleum kitchen floor, take a sand wedge and pinch the pennies off the floor with the leading edge of the club and hit a target magnet stuck on the refrigerator door almost every time!!!"

Wow. Now that's leading edge control.

Lesson: Use penny pinching drill for crisper iron shots off ground

​​
Pinching pennies for crisper chips illustration
Rick demonstrates crsip contact chipping by pinching penny

Why Didn't He Just Tell Me That in the First Place ...

If there was one shot in golf that continued to be an enigma to me it was the greenside water shot. I had no clue what to do, how to play it, or where I should be trying to swing the leading edge of the clubface to splash the ball out of the water on to the green. So one day, I asked Paul how to play the shot.

In typical self-discovery fashion, Paul pointed to a barrel full of range balls in the storage area, reminded me that there was a greenside water hazard on the 8th hole, and suggested that I take the barrel of balls, put on my rain gear and go down to the 8th hole hazard and find out for myself how to play a greenside water shot.

Four hours and an empty barrel of balls later, I trudged back into the pro shop with the waterlogged news -

"Well," Paul started as he stared over at me soaking wet , "What did you find out?"
"Well, umm, if the ball is completely submerged under water, you haven't got a chance" I shot out
"But if any of the ball is showing, just play it like a greenside bunker shot and it will splash right out"
"That's right", Paul verified as if proud of my self discovery.

And as I walked away I thought to myself "Why didn't he just tell me that in the first place?".​

Lesson: To play an explosion shot out of water, some of the ball must be visible above the water.