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The Eternal Summer Review

Summer of 1960 – The Eternal Summer

Curt Sampson wrote The Eternal Summer which was published in 1992, almost 20 years ago.  I happened to find a signed copy of the book and read it over the course of the last couple of weeks.  It is required reading for those who profess to follow and know golf.  1960 was a year to remember.  It was literally a turning point for American society shifting out of the post World War II Eisenhower era and the societal innocence of the 1950s into a more hip and rebellious period.  It was also the year I was born – an important year indeed…

The Eternal Summer and the Changing of the Guard

Television was a catalyst for this change – it changed how we viewed candidates for president of the United States and how we viewed golf and its heroes.  It was the year Arnold Palmer was born as a golfing superstar, the birth of Arnie’s Army and a seed for sports management that sparked the path for players to treat the PGA Tour as a major business venture.  It was also the year that the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills marked the changing of the old guard in golf through Ben Hogan’s last stand, Arnold Palmer’s triumph, and a glimpse of the promise of the champion to come, Jack Nicklaus.

In The Eternal Summer, Curt Sampson takes us through the year by way of the brief histories of the three gentlemen mentioned above and the year’s major tournaments.  He fills in the blanks with personalities of golf, personalities around golf, the birth of the modern PGA Tour, and the shift of golf as an exclusively rich past-time to a game of the masses.

Irrepressible Dan Jenkins provides the forward where he calls 1960 one of four significant years of the game.  Arguably, there are now five as we have since realized the “Tiger Era,” but of course, that is accounted for I am sure in countless books that I have yet to read.  Come to think of it, we may have six as I believe we are in the “post-Tiger Era” now defined by his instant downfall a couple of years ago.  More of that in my analysis of the implications of Tiger’s fall in a later post.

The Eternal Summer – A Must Read

As I said, it is a must read about what Curt Sampson calls “golf’s golden year.”  The Eternal Summmer is entertaining, informative, and quick.  It will stay on my shelf as a reference for this important historical point for the game we love.  It is a great place to start, a nexus if you will for exploration of the history of the game.  Buy and read The Eternal Summer, you won’t be disappointed.

Golf Coaches and Owning Your Swing

Everyone is covering the “clash of the coaches.”  That is, the Sean Foley and Hank Haney thing.  But it is more than those two really, it’s also Brandel Chamblee and Johnny Miller, and I guess you could say Jack Nicklaus.  Lots of people are commenting on Tiger Woods’ difficulties and decision to retool his game at this point in his career, a third retooling I believe.  It is getting to the he said, they said place and is ridiculous.  Some are coming off as rich arrogant a-holes with more identity pride than common sense. 

But lets move past the “Tiger thing” for a moment and talk a little about swing coaches in general.  As quoted in the 28 March GolfWorld, Nicklaus talked about his teacher, Jack Grout, and his hands off approach during tournament prep and play. Grout believed and Nicklaus followed that a golfer needed to be in charge of his own swing.  He also referred to commentary received from Bobby Jones that “he only reached his potential after being less reliant on teacher Stewart Maiden.”  Also in the 28 March edition of GolfWorld, Jack Burke Jr.  commented in an unrelated story that  “I don’t think you can do anything well if you don’t teach it….A lot of the kids on the tour nowadays hire instructors, so they aren’t really thinking for themselves about their technique and how to improve.  They don’t trust themselves, and when things start going badly, they have nowhere to turn.  In the middle of a round, they can’t call their coach to come over and give them a tip…if the young fellas on tour now had some teaching experience, they could stand for themselves and be richer for it.  Ben Hogan didn’t have an instructor.  Neither did Byron Nelson or any of us from our generation.”  There is some old school wisdom for you.

I don’t know about instructing per se, but owning your own swing is something a pro had to do in those days, now many seem to delegate the responsibility to someone else.  Now back to Tiger – the question is however, how much is Tiger Woods “in charge of his own golf swing?”  How much influence do the swing gurus have on his changes when he changes?  Everyone knows that its helpful to have the right set of eyes on you and reinforcing commentary when tinkering with a swing.  (Although, Ben Hogan would tell you the flight of the ball says all you need to know.)  But, this is Tiger Woods and I believe he is in complete charge.  He is human and requires support and the expert set of eyes, but don’t be mistaken in thinking that he is a “product” of Harmon, Haney, or now Foley.   The problem I see here is not the coach, but the stuff between Tiger’s ears.  He seems to be on an ever present quest for perfection.  I am not sure that is not a Don Quixote endeavor, but it is in a way brave of him to  make the changes.  I’d like to see him chill out a little and have fun with his swing and his game.  I think he – and we – would be better for it.

Tiger’s Return

Is there anyone out there who really thought that Tiger would not play in this year’s Masters? Tiger’s stated overarching goal is to beat Jack Nicklaus’ 18 majors total. He currently has 14 and absent physical disability would never jeopardize any opportunity to add to that total. He’s won the tournament 4 times and has been in the top ten 6 times. He is actually favored to win this time. He was always going to play in it.
The real questions were if and when he would play competitively prior to the Masters. Now we know that he will not. He is preparing for his re-entry into the competitive world privately. But, even we weekend golfers know that golf is a game played mostly between the ears. How do you prepare for that most important element without competition? Playing at Augusta lends itself to his return – the control the Masters tournament provides and the limits on the media. Perhaps he will also seek the support of his renewed commitment to Buddhism to maintain a centering not only off the course, but on as well. Certainly, we know now that he had some distractions over these past few years and he seemed to be able to overcome those demons as they likely played on his conscience unbeknownst to the rest of us. Perhaps his ‘outing’ has, in some ways, released a burden. My guess is that all of these elements are at play and, in the end, Tiger is still Tiger. On the course in this Masters we will see a humbled man, but also a man using his incredible talent for focus under pressure to ultimately humble the rest of the field.