Not a Game of Perfection ...

As much as Paul touted automatic repetition, sharpening your short game and there being no room for pictures on the scorecard, he was the first to acknowledge the more human imperfections associated with the game. Hitting every fairway, green and making every putt was not realistic to Paul and not a worthwhile goal to pursue.

Rather, he would philosophize that golf was not a game of perfection, but imperfections and mishits that needed to be navigated around the course as an integral part of the game.

"You mean I shouldn't be spending my time trying to hit every fairway and green?" I said somewhat incredulously one day.
"If you did that," Paul responded. "there would no need for half the clubs in your bag you wouldn't get the chance to use them ; there would be no need for hazards, high rough, trees or boundaries on the course ... and that's not the nature of the game."

Lesson: Golf is not a game of perfection - learn how to use all the clubs in the bag and how to play all the shots around the course from tee to green and into the hole.


Can't Make Birdies From Out Of Bounds ...

Despite all its imperfections, to Paul Harney, the game was still all about scoring. It wasn't a game of perfect swings and frozen rope like straight shots - it was a game which typically and realistically included mishits and misdirected shots which needed to be navigated around the course particularly in tournament play to get the most out of your game.

"As a fan at a PGA Tour Event watching tournament golf," he opened up with one rainy day with me "most spectators would see a Tour Player hit a tee shot seemingly way off line into another fairway and think that was a terrible shot, right? ' he asked me hypothetically.

"or, on a really tight hole with out of bounds a mere few yards off the left side of the fairway, this same tour player would hit what appeared to be a solid tee shot that started down the left center off the fairway, landed on the left edge of the fairway only to take a big bounce to the left and end up just a few inches out of bounds, " he continued. "Most fans would think that was a good shot that got a bad bounce, right?" he asked waiting for my reaction.

"Well, the first shot in play in the other fairway was a good shot, and the last shot ending out of bounds was a terrible shot - the player should have never been aiming there that close to the stakes in the first place" then added for extra emphasis "because you can't make birdies from out of bounds".

Lesson: Develop an on course strategy for where you want to hit and miss the shot to make the best score.

All in The Way You Think ...

In many ways, Paul Harney was light years ahead of his time. In an era when legendary players carried such mantras as 'its in the dirt' or 'practice til your hands bleed', Paul's secrets to the game were much more cerebral ... he liked to blend the powerful benefits of the more physically induced automatic repetition of the golf swing through countless hours of practice, with the more mental training and conditioning of the mind.

At the time, there was no such thing as sports psychologists on tour and a tour players state of mind was self induced and of paramount importance. I distinctly remember on one early evening summer day, Paul sitting on top a wooden fence outside the pro shop trying to help me understand the true nature of the game of golf following a frustrating round.
"Its all in the way you think" he would say, "You're just trying too hard, you have to try not to try"

Try not to try? What the heck did that mean? He then suggested I read Timothy Galweys Classic on * "The Inner Game of Golf" which explores the power of the mind and how to play golf more subconsciously. It contained ground breaking information regarding how to think your way through a round of golf after acquiring the physical golf skills, to mentally stay out of your own way and let things happen on the course. It was the stuff of many sports psychology books to follow and could be applied to any sport including Galweys book on "The Inner Game of Tennis".

It was his first reference to my frame of mind while playing golf and it was to shape the way I thought while playing for years to come.

Lesson: Golf is about being under control and letting go all at the same time! 

*Source : As A Man Thinketh [book title] ; James Allen ;Copyright 1975
*Source : The Inner Game of Golf /Timothy Galwey ; [Preface] Copyright 1979,1981​

Just Need Confidence ...

Do you think you see a 'good' looking woman or a 'bad' looking woman when you look at this image?
Paul would always tell me how talented I was as a player and that my game just needed more confidence. He encouraged me to attempt to qualify for the PGA Tour just on what he perceived was my talent level alone. As a crack junior player who won several statewide and regional tournaments in New England and qualified for two US Junior Amateur Championships, my confidence level competing on a junior amateur level was through the roof, but as a professional was lacking.

His overall philosophy having confidence when you play can be characterized in this famous poem by * Walter D. Wintle entilted

THINKING
If you think you are beaten, you are
If you think you dare not, you don't
If you'd like to win, but think you cannot
It's almost a cinch that you won't
If you think you'll lose, you're lost
For out in the world we find
Success begins with a fellows will
It's all in the state of mind.

If you think your outclassed, you are
You've got to think high to rise
You've got to be sure of yourself before
You can ever win the prize

Lifes' battles don't always go
to the stronger or faster man ...
But sooner or later the man who wins
is the man WHO THINKS HE CAN

Lesson: Good thinking, good golf ... bad thinking, bad golf. ​​

*Source : Walter D. Wintle 20th Century Poet ; Published 1905 Unity College Magazine unaltered poem​

He'll Never Win ...

Diametrically opposed to that train of thought was the plight of a well- known tour player of Pauls' era being featured on a golf telecast as he held a five shot leading going into the back nine of a PGA Tour Event in the middle 70's.

As Paul glanced up at the clubhouse television and saw who was leading, he turned away while scoffing at the leader
and muttering "he won't win".

With a five shot lead and only 9 holes left, I wondered aloud how Paul could make such a bold prediction.
"He's never won before while holding the lead and he'll blow the lead again." Paul said flatly.
"What makes you say that?" I questioned, as he had piqued my curiosity.
"Because he doesn't think he can win a tour event" . he continued. "He'll never win"

Paul's prediction almost came true, for this same PGA Tour Player holds the distinction of having the record for the longest time span between tour victories in PGA Tour history.​

Lesson: Sooner or later, the golfer who wins is the one who thinks he can.

Pulled a Paul Harney ...

Rick and student Rob Raftery using winter to swing into spring...
Paul had such confidence in his game and abilities that he was able to win several tournaments 'out west' while doubling as the Head Golf Professional at Pleasant Valley in Sutton, Ma., for years. Paul would tend to his Head Professional duties and responsibilities at PV during the season, then spend much of the winter off-season playing PGA Tour Events.
            
He was so successful winning several PGA Tour events 'out west'  [including the San Diego Open, LA Open twice back to back], that it prompted Johnny Miller to proclaim on the cover of Golf World  * 'I pulled a Paul Harney' after Miller won the Crosby Pebble Beach Tour Event in 1994 after a long sabbatical from tournament golf.
            
I guess all the practice balls hit into the net in his pro shop kept his swing well oiled, his mind sharp enough and his confidence soaring for Paul Harney did something during the course of his career and tenure at Pleasant Valley that no other Massachusetts based Professional Golfer was able to do - win PGA Tour events coming out of nowhere in the dead of the winter while holding a club pro job as a part time tour player - and consistently win tournaments year after year against the likes of Palmer, Player Hogan  and Nicklaus.
           
That's quite a legacy from hometown boy out of Worcester, Ma.
           
Lesson: Indoor practice during New England off season months can reap benefits on the course!

*Source : Golf World Magazine Cover Quote ; February 1994 Issue

Homage to Hogan ...

Self admittedly, Paul did not idolize any of the tour players - but he did have a tremendous amount of respect for Hogan and the way he thought, the way he practiced and the way he played. So much so that Paul had Hogan's sepia toned life sized burlap canvas of his famous impact position [featured on the cover of 'Hogan's Five Lessons'] right on the wall as you walked into his clubhouse at the Paul Harney Golf Club which would stay there for years.

What Paul admired most about Hogan was his steely concentration - not only on the course, but when he practiced. Some years later I actually came across a photo of Paul sitting on the ground watching Hogan as he practiced - which may be where this story from Paul came from ...

"That Hogan practices harder than anyone I've ever seen," Paul began paying homage to Hogan. "I remember at a tour event one of the tour players came running up to the rest of us while practicing at the range saying Hogan's hitting drivers off the deck to a practice green 260 yards away flying the ball onto the green every time! So we all hustled over to where Hogan was practicing and observed him hitting the rest of his drivers flying them all onto the smallest practice green you've ever seen.

When advised by the media of what an honor it must have been for all the tour players to stop what they were doing and watch him practice, and in asking for his reaction, Hogan only said "What tour players?"

Paul had a lot of respect and admiration for such steely concentration.


Lesson: 'Labore vincere'; latin translation ... Hard work conquers all.

The Best Round I Ever Played ...

From 'it's all in the way you think' category, I had developed the ideal 'in the zone' frame of mind to play golf - unknowingly during a round of golf with Paul Harney late in my apprenticeship.

Paul had a habit of closing shop on Monday and calling around area courses for his other assistant and me, along with Paul, to play a round of golf. The courses were all different and many of them I had never played before.

Paul had chosen the inward " Green Pines" course at New Seabury one day, an 18- hole short course with a par of 66 - also a course I had never played on before. For some reason having been deep into my apprenticeship under Paul, I had it in my head that I was going to try to beat Paul that day man to man in an imaginary match play format, taking place only in my mind without his knowledge.

We [Paul, his first assistant and I] never kept score and would always just play for the fun of it as a day out of the pro shop. So no one knew what was going on inside of my head, or who was beating who because we never kept score. But that day, I was playing match play against Paul in my head and was playing really well.

Deep into the round, I turned to Pauls' other assistant after holing out and asked excitedly "where's the next hole".
"You're kidding, aren't you" he responded incredulously.
"No, I'm serious - never played this course before and don't know where the next tee is" I explained.
"That was the last hole" he laughed, much to my surprise, "You knew that and I bet you know exactly what you shot!"
"No" I said quite honestly "I don't know where I am, what hole I am on or what I'm shooting" thinking only to myself that I was up on Paul in my imaginary match. "I only know I made a bunch of birdies ..."

When we added them up that day, I was 9 under for 18 holes with 7 birdies and an eagle.

It remains the best round of golf I've ever played.


Lesson: The 'next shot' in golf is the most important one regardless of what hole you're on or what you're shooting.

Don't Get 'Rabbit Ears' ...

Back when the PGA Championship was contested as a match play event, players of that and Paul's era used to play head games with each other to affect their psyche and alter each others games to gain any possible advantage. One of the head games that Paul told me about involved some very well known players of his generation who would make comments regarding their opponents swing motion and positioning during their head to head match play rounds while in competition to get them thinking about swing 'mechanics' rather than playing winning golf.

The same held true in any format for Paul believed that if you were thinking and playing swing mechanics on the course on Thursday in a PGA Tour Event, you were slamming your trunk and leaving town on Friday because you missed the cut. No, in Pauls' mind, you had to 'dance with the one who brung ya', because if you hadn't 'brought it with you, you weren't going to find it out there' in competition.

Over the course of my 5- year apprentice under Paul and particularly when I was preparing for PGA Tour qualifying school, I had a tendency to listen to and take to heart what others [anybody & everybody] had to say about my swing e.g., - 'I swung too hard, my backswing was too fast, I went too far back at the top, I snapped my left leg through impact, etc ...' I would internalize a lot of what was being said about my swing and let it negatively affect the way I played the game.

The day before I left for PGA Tour Qualifying school Paul watched me practice and then used an expression I would only grow to understand years later ...
"Now don't get rabbit ears down there" he said as his parting words of wisdom. Everybody's going to tell you that you regrip the club too much and that you slide your left foot during the backswing ... but don't listen to them ... when they say something like that to you, just ask them if you do that when you hit a good one ... that should quiet them down ..."

And with that I was left wondering what in the world 'rabbit ears' referred to - only later to find out that it is a person who 'listens' to EVERYTHING that is said at inappropriate times and places.

As a result of my apprenticeship and to this day, I have only listened to one voice in my head, the voice of Paul Harney.


Lesson: While playing golf, listen to the one and only one most effective voice you know ...

49 out of 50 ...

Rick pictured with nationally ranked junior and US Junior Am quarterfinalist Joon Lee (pictured left)
Years later after returning back from my five year sojourn in Southern California, I brought one of my junior protégés [Joon Lee] home with me for a couple weeks worth of golf instruction. Joon was a nationally ranked junior amateur and US Junior Quarterfinalist, who was interested in learning what it takes to play on the PGA Tour from a Tour Player. I called ahead of time to make sure Paul would be there and perhaps offer some insight to Joon Lees' tour aspirations.

At that time, Paul had been playing on the PGA Senior Tour for years [now called the Champions Tour] and although he never won, was always competitive and frequently finished in the money and in the top ten. But now, like Hogan before him, Paul was struggling with his driver going left off the tee.

When Joon and I arrived, Paul was hitting a shag bag full of drivers down the first fairway. I thought it would be a good idea to have Joon watch the 7-time PGA Tour winner hit drivers off the tee despite hearing of his struggles hooking. Paul was totally engrossed in his practice session as we made our way over to the first tee and continued hitting drivers down the fairway as we arrived.

One after another, Paul would hit those drives with the kind of long, penetrating ball flight only tour players possess right down the middle of the fairway - just like he used to do on the regular tour. As Joon and I sat there and watched, I counted 49 drives in a row that ended up in the fairway ... but then it happened, Paul snap hooked the 50th practice shot drive deep into the woods.

In the blink of an eye, Paul picked up the tee, put the driver back in his bag, and started to walk back into the clubhouse. As he walked by Joon and I, and much to my surprise, Paul said without looking at us 'there is not much you are going to learn from that'.

Despite hitting 49 out of 50 drives in the fairway - it was then I was reminded of something Paul said to me a long time before that last practice session - about practice and confidence ; "You can be 99% sure of yourself in practice, but that 1% doubt will come out on the course in play."

For that was it ... I never saw him play, or heard of Paul Harney competing again.


Lesson: Successful practice patterns remove self doubt and replace any uncertainty with trust and confidence.

His Last Lesson to Me ...

True to form and probably the last time I saw Paul Harney, he continued to drive home his undying truth about how, no matter what sport or how individual the style of the athlete, that labore vincere - or to translate the latin meaning, hard work conquers all.

Paul had been struck reading about a Guiness Book world record holder who had just made the most consecutive free throws ever in a row - a * record 5,221 at the time and broke his own world record 15 times.

"You tell your students", Paul would say, "that the only reason he holds the world record is that he attempts 500 free throws a day
every day ... and you can also tell your students he is over 50 years old!"

Lesson: Golfers can learn how to play better golf through dedication and hard work no matter what their age!

*Source ; Sharpshootersfreethrows.com 11/15/15