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Thoughtful Thursday: Stop, Look, Listen

Golfers up and down the UK are counting down the hours and minutes until they can enjoy the same rights as those of us fortunate enough to live north of Hadrian’s Wall.

March 29th might not go down as one of the most historic dates in golf but it is unquestionably significant. All those practice swings in the garden and putting strokes honed on the hall carpet will at last be put to the test on real, rather than imaginary golf courses.

Booming drives, well struck iron shots and putts holed from all over the place will finally be realised. Well they might not actually be realised but at least golf nuts up and down the country will be a step closer to achieving their dreams.

Before you step on to the first tee and start whaling away with your driver, stop, look and listen.

STOP – In advance of removing the headcover from your driver and swinging off your feet, take a moment to appreciate your surroundings and be grateful for the opportunity to play the game you love for whatever reasons. You have waited this long, a few more seconds won’t do any harm. 
You never know, you might just see something you have never noticed in the past. Is the sky normally so blue at this time of year? Are the trees normally as green? Is the gorse always in bloom before April? Open your eyes and take a full 360 view, chances are you will start to truly appreciate the beauty of nature, which can never be a bad thing. After all, you probably play golf because you love being outdoors. You love it but do you ever actually appreciate it?

LOOK – Observe and recognise all the hard work that the greenkeepers have done in your absence for your enjoyment. You have probably been dreaming of this moment for quite some time, so please do not take it for granted.
Don’t the tees look great without dozens of divots and scuff marks? That fairway looks inviting doesn’t it? Has that bunker down the right always looked like that or has it been reshaped? Aren’t the greens so much better to putt on without numerous pitch marks on your line? 
We all want to putt on perfectly manicured greens, so rather than relying on the greens staff or other golfers to maintain these magnificent surfaces, buy a pitch fork and use it at every opportunity.

LISTEN – Regardless of how many times you have played the course before, have you ever really thought about the questions the golf course, or indeed the designer or architect is asking of you?

Is the architect asking you to hit it long and straight on every par 4 and 5, or is he asking how you can fashion a par by plotting your way round the course and using your handicap wisely? Fairways and greens in regulation are obviously something you should aspire to but if your handicap is 15, be happy rather than disappointed if you only hit 50% of them. 

The best players in the world rarely hit more than 70% of greens in regulation and their fairways hit numbers are even lower.

Is this going to be yet another year where come up short with pretty much every approach shot because you have under clubbed? Don’t base your club selection on that one shot you hit two years ago with a 7 iron that went 170 yards downhill, downwind. 

Think about where the trouble is and make sure you take more than enough club to take that trouble out of the equation. Can you carry that front bunker comfortably with whatever club you have chosen or will it take your absolute Sunday best? Leave your ego in the car park before heading to the first tee. No one really cares that you hit a drive and wedge at the first, especially if your wedge came up 15 yards short of the front edge of the green.

Set yourself the task or challenge of trying to get your approach shots past the flag. Take note of how often you achieve it and if it made a difference to your scoring.

Above all, remember what you have missed about playing golf and how much you enjoy the experience, regardless of how you play. 
It’s probably been a while since you last struck a ball out of the heel, toe or sweet spot, so don’t expect too much. Low expectations often lead to good performance whereas unrealistically high expectations can leave you one bad shot from anger and frustration.

Play well, have fun enjoy every minute of your experience of playing the game you love.

Thoughtful Thursday: The Attitude of Gratitude

For those of us north of the border, we have been able to play golf slightly longer than those south of it, however, everyone in the UK has finally being able to taste the great game for a couple of months now.

Just to get out and hit a golf ball is something the majority of golfers, myself included have taken for granted at times for way too long. The only thing stopping us in the past having been prior commitments, ill health or bad weather.

Why golf was off limits for so long is beyond me. Even if your favourite fourball tried to hit their shots within two metres of each other, in all probability, that simply would not happen!

Anyway, personal opinions aside, we have so much to look forward to this summer. Playing golf again being high on many priority lists.

Will the opportunity to play golf be enough to satisfy the golfers among us or do we all want more? Yes it would be great to shoot lower scores, reduce handicaps and win competitions but just getting out there could and perhaps should be enough.

If I had £5 for every time I have heard or read “I just want to play golf again”, I would be planning my retirement to a Mediterranean island. I do wonder however if being grateful for the ability to play golf again is what we really want and if it is, how long will our gratitude last.

How long will it be before golfers around the world start complaining about course conditions, pace of play and pitch marks not being repaired? 
Rather than moan about it, accept and appreciate that preparing a golf course takes good growing conditions and a lot of hard work. Accept that if everyone played a little bit quicker we would all enjoy our golf a bit more. Make a commitment to pick up the pace a bit on the course and encourage your playing companions to do likewise. Don’t complain about ignored pitch marks, my pet hate, just fix your own and one more.
I find it astonishing that the people who complain most vociferously about bumpy greens probably don’t even own a pitch fork, never mind know how to use one.

Be grateful that you are no longer in total lockdown. Be thankful that at long last you can get out the house to get some exercise in the serene surroundings of a golf course.

I’m not suggesting for a second that you shouldn’t care about how you play or what you score but please do not lose sight of the fact that playing golf is a privilege not to be undervalued.

Looking forward to something has no real meaning or value if you don’t actually appreciate the moment you have been anticipating for so long.
Adopting “an attitude of gratitude” not just on the golf course but in our daily lives can have such a positive impact on the way we see and experience pretty much everything.

Gratitude is essentially the quality of being thankful, a readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
We have all been taught to be kind to others but we are rarely kind to ourselves when it comes to playing golf. When was the last time you patted yourself on the back after a good shot? Long time ago.

When was the last time you called yourself a useless (insert your own insult here) on the golf course? Probably the last time you played!
The concept of gratitude is nothing new but I do know it is known to increase happiness. If increased happiness isn’t enough for you, it can reduce a multitude of toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret.

After much deliberation, Karl Morris and I decided to open our second book “The Lost Art Of Playing Golf”, with an entire chapter on gratitude and the feedback we have received would suggest it was a wise move.

When you next play golf, before you even get out of your car on arrival at the golf club, take a moment to ask yourself “What am I grateful for today?”

Only you will know the answer or answers to that question but what I do know is that such a simple question can have a profound effect on your golf and general well being.

Until next time, play well, have fun and be grateful for the opportunity to play the greatest game of all.

Thoughtful Thursday – Why?

As the golf season gets underway and golf courses are re-opened once again across the UK, is it the freedom and ability to spend time with your friends, colleagues and family in the great outdoors? Is it the opportunity to work on your game and get your handicap down? 

Is it because you can’t wait to try out that new driver or putter you bought online after a glass of wine too many one night during lockdown? Is it the feeling of a well struck shot that you have missed so badly?

Or could it be that you have quite simply missed the game of golf and all the challenges it presents every time you play? 

Take a minute or two to think about this. Why do you play golf? This may sound like a pretty basic and simple question but it is one I suggest you take some time to consider.

There are no right or wrong answers here, it is not a test. It is however extremely important to understand your WHY if you are to truly derive any real and genuine pleasure and enjoyment from your experiences on the golf course.

We all play the game for different reasons. We all have our own personal WHY. 

It may well be that your reason is to simply get out of the house for a few hours, something I think we can all relate to. It might be that you finally want to get rid of that card wrecking slice. This year could be the year you apply all you have learned from watching countless YouTube videos during lockdown. You know the ones I mean, the ones that tell you how to do this that or the next thing perfectly!

Are you going to head to the course with your new grip, improved posture, your new backswing that would make Adam Scott jealous? Your new downswing that incorporates the latest ‘magic move’ and guarantees 300 yard drives? 

No doubt your clubs will be spotlessly clean, your bag filled with shiny new golf balls, new gloves, a rain forest of tees and whatever else you can stuff into the pockets.

You will have rehearsed your new, improved swing so many times in your garden or at the very least in your mind that you feel like a Tour Pro as you head to the first tee, ready to take on the world and shoot a new course record.

OR will you just be grateful for the opportunity to once more be able to play the game you love?

Will you appreciate all the hard work the Greenkeeping staff have put in to make the golf courses look and play as good as it ever has done? Or will you be so immersed in your own game that you won’t even notice that some of the bunkers have been re-shaped, or that a new tee has been built? 

If your course looks better than ever, when you see a green keeper will you thank him or her for all their hard work or will you be too busy beating yourself up because you just hit a drive out of bounds and three putted the last four greens?

Golf courses are generally in pretty nice surroundings, some more spectacular than others admittedly but please remember they are there for your pleasure and enjoyment. Take time to appreciate that.

Appreciate your good shots and accept the bad ones. You are human after all and bad shots are part of the game. Don’t let the bad shots cast a cloud over the good ones. Appreciate the putts you hole and don’t allow the ones you miss to drive you to despair.

Be grateful for the opportunity to you to play the game you love. Enjoy the freedom and companionship you are so fortunate to experience and try not to take it for granted. Enjoy being creative with your shotmaking. Appreciate the golf course and the questions the course designer or architect is asking of you on each and every shot.

Playing golf is something you choose to do for whatever reason or reasons. You will have your own personal WHY, so don’t lose sight of that when things don’t go your way. 

Essentially, enjoy the greatest game of all, regardless of what it throws at you.

“Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated; it satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect. It is at the same time rewarding and maddening – and it is without doubt the greatest game mankind has ever invented.” Arnold Palmer.

Long live The King and long live golf.

Thoughtful Thursday: Golf courses are ready for play, are you?

While we have all been desperate to get back out on to the golf course due to the pandemic or the recent bad whether, please think about the above question.

As it stands, golf courses in Scotland are still open, with two balls being used. However, golfers in England aren’t as fortunate and haven’t had the chance to play since the turn of the New Year.

Most of us have been doing as advised and staying at home. That is not necessarily the case for green keepers, some of whom have been working tirelessly in our absence. I know that is the case at Archerfield Links, (where I am based) with Steve Cram’s team who have been doing some outstanding work.
By and large, green keepers are the unsung heroes of the golf industry and as far as I am concerned, they deserve all the plaudits they receive.
Rarely have I seen any course look better prepared for the lucky members. Not a pitch mark in sight. Long may that continue.
When I was growing up learning to play the game, my late father, who was a stickler for the rules and etiquette, always reminded me to fix my own pitch mark plus one more. Something I still do to this day. Some might say I have pitch mark OCD!! Fixing ball marks on greens is the responsibility of golfers, not green keepers. Pitch mark rant over.
When any golf course looks and plays well, those playing it tend to think “Well so it should, that’s what we pay our subs for.” However, if there happens to be a minor blemish or the slightest imperfection, there are always one or two who can’t wait to complain. I have seen this all over the world for the last 30 plus years.
Have you ever stopped to thank the greens staff? Have you ever written a letter to say thanks for all their hard work? If so, good on you.
If not, maybe it’s time you did. I know for sure that they would definitely appreciate it.
Trust me, the green keeping fairies do not visit your local golf course to sprinkle their magic dust over the tees, fairways and greens when we are all tucked up in bed at night.
Most of the best green keepers I have had the good fortune to spend time with over the years take enormous pride in their work. They work longer hours than they are paid to and rarely complain about it. They are a rare breed indeed.
Next time you play golf, wherever and whenever that may be, take a minute or two to look around and appreciate the hard work that goes into preparing a golf course. We all know how difficult it is to even keep a garden looking half decent, so can you even begin to imagine what it takes to present a golf course in magnificent condition?
Golf course prepared and ready – ✔️
While the golf course may be ready for play, are you?
Have you managed to stay active and keep moving through this crazy and worrying time? Whether you have or not, please be careful when you do get back out playing again. Yes, you want to smash your first tee shot down the fairway but if you haven’t or even if you have been exercising the muscles required to play golf, just be careful you don’t do yourself an injury in the process.
Take a bit of time to warm up. If the range is open hit twenty or thirty shots with different clubs, once you have warmed up your muscles and loosened off any stiffness in your joints. If not, please take time to warm up sufficiently. I am no health professional, so I won’t be prescribing a warm up routine, I’ll leave that to the experts. You might want to check out www.18Strong.com for some advice in that department.
Have you used this time away from golf wisely to learn more about the game and what it means to you? I don’t mean watching hundreds of confusing and conflicting YouTube videos about how to fix your slice or hit it ten yards further. In my experience, jumping from one quick fix to the next is the fastest way to make sure you never get any better at this game. Why? Quite simply because these videos do not know your golf game or you as a golfer. Some online advice is great if it’s specifically designed for you but some of it is, well I’d rather not say as my language may become somewhat colourful.
Prepare yourself mentally as well as physically and be prepared to deal all this wonderful game throws at you. Embrace the chaos that is almost certain to ensue sooner or later.
Ask good, simple questions. What is the shot here? Is it possible this shot could be the best shot I have ever played? What does a good shot look like? What is the golf course designer asking of me here? Ask good questions and you will come up with good answers.
Ask bad questions and I think you know what will happen there…
If you are as well prepared as the golf course you are about to play, you might just play the best golf of your life.
To find out more about asking good questions, visit – www.thelostartofgolf.com where there are a couple of books and digital download videos that may well help your on your journey to enhanced performance and perhaps more importantly, enjoyment.
Until next time.
Take care, stay safe, play safe and appreciate the opportunity.
Gary Nicol

Thoughtful Thursday: What does golf mean to you?

Sitting here in the Home of Golf, watching on as golfers in England are putting their point across to try and open their golf courses again,  I ask myself this question. What does golf mean to me?

The more I think about my own answers, the more I believe it would be a great question for all golfers to ask themselves.
There are no right and wrong answers here, just like the golf swing. We are all unique, we see, feel and experience things differently.
Golf means many different things to me. I have been around the game pretty much all my life. Playing, caddying and coaching have been part of my daily like for over 40 years. If I haven’t been actively doing one of these, I have been reading about, listening to and talking about golf. Sometimes I even watch it on TV.
Golf has allowed me to travel the world. I have seen parts of the world that I wouldn’t ordinarily have seen. I have eaten in fantastic restaurants and stayed in some amazing hotels. For the record, I have also eaten some crap and stayed in some pretty sub standard accommodation but that has all been part of the fun.
I have played some of the best courses on the planet and walked round many more, watching some of the tournament professionals I have worked with plying their trade.
Golf means being outdoors. Golf means or certainly meant travel to me for a long time. It means constantly learning and adapting to this ever changing world. Learning about new technology. Learning about the very latest research on how we learn, not just what we “should” learn.
Golf means being creative. Whether that is creating shots and putts on the course or being creative when thinking of how best to help the golfers I work with to become happier more satisfied players and perhaps more importantly, happier and more satisfied people. Being creative, writing books and blogs. Golf makes me think. It keeps my mind active even if we can’t actually play at the moment.
Having said all that, what golf really means to me is people. I have met hundreds of amazing people all around the world over the last 30 plus years.
Golfers of all standards from absolute beginners to Major Champions. Tournament officials, fellow coaches, physios, mind coaches and caddies from every corner of the globe.
Golf has been good to me. Golf has taken me around the world and allowed me to experience many things but above all, golf to me means fun and laughter with all the people I have met, many of whom I still stay in contact with.
Whatever golf means to you, don’t forget the people you meet along the way that put a smile on your face. We could all do with something good to happen in our lives at the moment and while hitting golf shots might give us some pleasure, in a time of physical distancing, please don’t distance yourself socially.
Pick up the phone, send a text, arrange a Skype call or set up a Zoom session with the people you care about. Share stories about the good times you have enjoyed. Golf has always been in my life but people and the happiness they have brought me, are my life. Ultimately, the sense of community is what golf means to me.
What does golf mean to you?
Gary Nicol

Thoughtful Thursday – A to Z of playing golf – ATTITUDE

In my last blog, I started my A to Z of words and concepts which I believe will be helpful in your quest to make playing golf a more enjoyable and rewarding experience.

To follow on from my first piece on “ATTENTION”, I thought it would be appropriate to say a few words on “ATTITUDE”.

We have all played with and perhaps on the odd occasion, been “that” golfer with a really bad attitude. Not just to the game but to life in general.

“A bad attitude is like a flat tyre. You can’t go anywhere or make any progress until you fix it.”

I’m not going to go down the predictable line of attacking everything you do in life with a PMA, positive mental attitude, although that would be preferable to one that stinks!

While positive thinking sounds like a great idea in theory, the reality is that it can and will let you down. “I”m going to play great today. I’m going to hit every fairway and green and hole every single putt I look at!” Fantastic in theory but when did that last happen? Correct, never!

As a direct result, positive thinking goes out the window and is replaced immediately by it’s polar opposite, negative thinking. There is no grey area, no middle ground where you can be a little bit positive. That is like being a little bit pregnant, it just doesn’t work like that.

Thinking positively is hard to do when you fire your opening tee shot out of bounds and three putt the 1st hole for a nine. Your day is ruined and your attitude for the remaining 17 holes is dreadful.

Our attitude to whatever we choose to do is greatly influenced by the questions we ask ourselves. You are probably blissfully unaware of this but golfers tend to ask really, really bad questions. “

“Why do I always hit it OB / top it / slice it / hook it off this tee?”

“Why do I always three putt this green / duff my pitch shots into rather than over the bunker then thin the resultant bunker shot?”

“Why are the greens so slow / fast / full of pitch marks / bumpy? They’re not like that on TV!”

I could go on but I’m sure you get my drift here. If you start looking for bad things, you will find them. Look around you and try to find fault with the decor or environment you are in. Once you start looking, chances are you will start to find things that really annoy or frustrate you. How’s your positive attitude doing now?

Rather than asking negative questions, which tend to lead to negative answers, or enforcing a false positive attitude on yourself, try asking more positive questions.

Is it possible I could have a great day on the course, at work or with my family today? Yes!

Is it possible I could hit the fairway / green and hole the putt for a birdie? Absolutely! Within reason of course.

Is it possible I could appreciate all the hard work the Greenkeepers and clubhouse staff put in to provide us all with an enjoyable experience on the golf course? Yes!

Is it possible that by asking better questions, you might just play better golf and smile a bit more in the process? Yes!

Is it possible that by asking better questions your attitude towards golf or whatever you choose to do at any given moment in time could be beneficial not only to you but to those around you? Yes!

Give it a try, you never know how much more you might get out of yourself today, tomorrow and in the future.

Until next time.

All the best,
Gary Nicol.

Thoughtful Thursday: ATTENTION!

In a slight departure from my normal Thoughtful Thursday musings, I have decided to challenge myself to creating an A- Z of words I find myself using to help people improve their performance.

While the majority of my time is spent coaching golf, I do spend some time speaking to people in all walks of life and business regarding enhanced performance whatever their endeavour.

Many years ago, when I first started working with my good friend and co-author of The Lost Art” books Karl Morris, I started to understand the importance of “Attention”.

Karl has been banging the drum of the significance of what appears to be a fairly simple word for a long time now and I am eternally grateful that he has.

What you are about to read is from our best selling book – “ The Lost Art Of Putting”.While initially written with putting in mind, we have had feedback from dozens of people around the world about how this simple but profound concept has helped them in a variety of areas of their lives both on and off the golf course.

ATTENTION

What are you doing right now? Yes, you! Are you really here with us? Or are you just glancing at this book and scanning the information waiting to see if you find something that will instantly fix all of your putting issues?

How quickly could you be distracted and taken away from us?What if your phone beeps with another one of those oh-so-important alerts?

Would you be able to stay with us or would we lose you to another video of a cat playing with a ball of string?

Unfortunately, most of us are in a constant state of low-level distraction. Our attention is literally hopping from one thing to another all through the day. Then we attempt to play a game like golf which absolutely demands our attention to be here and now on the task at hand.

What do we find so engaging about things that don’t really engage us? Why do we treat this wonderful piece of machinery we have between our ears with such little respect and more importantly, are we any happier for it?

What has gone so wrong with the simple ability just to be present in something for a period of time?

In his wonderful book, “The Hijacking of the American Mind”, Robert Lustig explains how we can gain a rush of the neurotransmitter, dopamine to the brain when we go on Facebook and get a like.

The problem being, dopamine can become addictive. We crave the hit it gives us and like all addictions, we need more and more to fuel the sense of need. It is as if our brain begins to crave these short-term hits and fixes of instant social media gratification. The more we get, the more we want. But what price are we paying for this?

This craving for attention from others and the distraction this causes actually plays havoc with the attention that really matters – your own attention to what is truly important to you.

Lustig talks about the difference between dopamine and serotonin.Dopamine is the pleasure driver and the more we get the more we want. Serotonin however, is more of a driver of happiness and contentment. Serotonin paradoxically, isn’t an instant hit but tends to create a sense of satisfaction because you have been absorbed in a challenging activity like a gym session, solving a complex problem or being fully engaged in a practice session.

The reason we mention this is we firmly believe great putting and indeed great golf, comes from your ability to pay attention.
I hope you found this little excerpt helpful, even if you don’t have issues with your putting (which puts you in the minority) or even if you don’t play golf.

Whatever you choose to do in life for business or pleasure, please be aware of the power of attention and pay it the respect it deserves.

Until next time, have fun, take care and do your best to make every day a good one.

Gary Nicol.

Thoughtful Thursday: Collin Morikawa, the major champion who played to learn.

We may have had to wait a long time for the first Major Championship of 2020 but it was certainly worth all the anticipation.

Personally, I didn’t manage to see the back 9 live, way past my bedtime, but I have since seen it on catch up. If a dramatic ending to a Major Championship is your thing, you would not have been disappointed. What a finish!

I think I am correct in saying that at one point there were seven players tied for the lead and it would have taken a braver man than I to predict the winner at that point.

As we all now know, Collin Morikawa emerged triumphant and his only minor blip on Sunday was almost dropping the famous Wanamaker Trophy during the prize giving.

He showed such amazing maturity and composure all week, so much so that is would be easy to forget that despite having won three times on the PGA Tour already, including a Major, he has only been a Pro for 14 months. Astonishing.

Much has been said about Morikawa having only missed one cut in his professional career so far and made his first 22 consecutive cuts, a feat surpassed only by Tiger Woods. That in itself is some achievement.

Over and above that, he is one of only 4 players to have won the PGA by the age of 23. The others being Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus. Pretty lofty company.

The young man from Los Angeles is a former number one ranked amateur in the world but beyond that, until recently, I knew very little of his background. That was until I listened to a podcast hosted by my good friend and co-author of “The Lost Art” books Karl Morris.
Karl’s guest on this particular podcast was Rick Sessinghaus who has coached Morikawa since he was 8 years old.

During the 44 minute podcast, Rick talked in depth about how most of their coaching and learning was done on the golf course, not on the driving range trying to perfect backswing positions. For those of you who know me, you will understand that this was music to my ears. Sweet music at that.

Sessinghaus, who is a Certified Mind Factor coach (something else we have in common) talked about how the young Collin played to learn rather than learned to play. Again, that resonated strongly with me as I have been banging on about it for years!

From what I could gather from the podcast, Sessinghaus wanted the young Morikawa to learn how to adapt and adjust to the ever changing environment that the golf course provides every time we step on the first tee. He taught him how to be creative and that golf is not about making the same swing time after time but hitting the right shot at the right time, whatever that particular shot may be.
He also taught him about decision making, course management, the mental aspect of playing golf as well as the basic fundamentals. Essentially he created a fantastic environment to enable him to learn how to play golf on the golf course, something that all and I do mean all golf coaches should encourage their students to do.

Play to learn not learn to play. Something I strongly recommend everyone who plays golf should consider.
Morikawa is now being touted as the next big thing in golf by some and who am I to say he won’t be. Time will tell. I do however know that golf at the highest level appears to be in very good hands and with two more Majors to look forward to this year, it will certainly be interesting to see if the young guns continue to walk away with the silverware or whether some of the more seasoned campaigners will have something to say about that.

Either way, this year’s US Open and Masters will no doubt make for exciting viewing despite the lack of spectators or “patrons”.

To find out more about Collin Morikawa and his coach Rick Sessinghaus, check out Karl Morris and his Brain Booster podcast, which is always well worth a listen.

Until next time. Take care, have fun and keep on playing to learn.

Gary Nicol

Thoughtful Thursday: Goodbye Gordon

Just over a year ago, I received a phone call from my good friend and business partner Andrew Coltart at 7.30am one morning asking if I was alone and sitting down. Alarm bells!

Numerous scenarios ran through my mind but nothing could have prepared me for the news Colty was about to share with me.

Our close friend, Gordon Brand Junior had died. Hammer blow!

The initial conversation was short. Very short. We both had to hang up as we literally couldn’t talk for crying.

What you are about to read is something I wrote a year ago and wanted to share once more on the anniversary of his passing.

A year has come and gone and I still wait for the phone to ring with Gordon’s name appearing on the screen.

Gordy was the ultimate prankster and part of me still wants to believe he was having a bit of fun at my expense. He was very, very good at that!

12 months on, I raise a glass of Mateus Rosé (he liked that) in his honour.

As I sit here writing what I hope will be a fitting tribute, I am literally holding back my tears.

Gordon Brand junior was a very fine golfer who won 8 European Tour titles, 2 Senior, now Staysure Tour titles and played on 2 Ryder Cup teams in 1987 and 1989.

If you want to find out more about his outstanding playing career, there are numerous other sources where you can discover all you need to know.

I want to talk about Gordon the human being. The real Gordon.

They say you should never meet your heroes as you might well be disappointed. With junior that was definitely not the case.

I grew up watching and idolising Gordon Brand Jnr. I loved the way he played. He knew what he wanted his golf ball to do, selected the club and created the appropriate shot. Done. No messing about, he just got on with it. Gordon was one of the true creative shot makers. High, low, fade, draw, you name it, he could play it.

Having watched him as an aspiring young professional in the 1980s, I later got to know Gordon during my 16 year spell coaching on the European Tour.

The first thing that struck me about him was his cheeky smile and his sense of nonsense. Not just humour but nonsense.

Gordon couldn’t help but find the funny side of anything and everything. His quick wit could diffuse any awkward situation. He was a straight talker, brutally honest and never afraid to voice his opinion. As I got to know him, I soon started to understand that when Gordon had something to say, the smart thing to do was to listen.

As a golf coach, I can quite honestly say that no other person on the planet taught me more about how to play the game than junior.

Many years after first watching Gordon play in the 1983 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, I received a phone call from him asking if I would like to coach him. I think it was the winter of 2002/2003.

The conversation went like this – “Gary, it’s Gordy here. I want you to coach me next year.” Wow! One of my golfing heroes wanted me to help him. I was kind of surprised but I was bursting with pride that as great a player as he was would ask me to be his coach.

He continued by asking what the financials were including percentages etc… which took all of five seconds to agree. I then asked what he wanted and expected from me. His answer was typical Gordy, “I want you to make me a better player over the next 12 months or you get fired.” Brilliant! Not one of the dozens of Tour Pros I have worked with was ever as open or frank.

Did I mention he was a straight talker and brutally honest?!

We worked together, traveled the world, ate dinner together, went shopping together (more of that later), had water fights, were rude to each other but most importantly, we laughed together. Sometimes I laughed so hard my sides literally hurt. Gordon was a very, very funny guy.

One Monday morning during the summer of 2004, we were traveling from Sweden to Denmark, going from one tournament to the next. I think there were about six of us, all a little bit jet-lagged (hungover), having quenched our thirst in Malmo the night before. We decided the best way to get to Copenhagen was to jump on the train that crosses the Öresund on one of the most spectacular bridges in the world.

The journey was relatively short and uneventful, apart from being “invited to leave” the quiet carriage for giggling like schoolboys. I don’t remember what we found so amusing but that is irrelevant. The fact we were laughing is what is important.

On our arrival In Copenhagen, we commandeered a mini bus, loaded up clubs and cases and headed for our hotel. Half an hour later we arrived at said hotel which was slap bang in the middle of an industrial estate. None of us liked the look of it, so we decided to cancel our bookings there and then.

Gordon had the number for one of the other “official” hotels and took it upon himself to book six rooms for us. Good lad Gordon, well done. Having said that, I do remember looking at Andrew Coltart and asking him if trusting Gordy to book the hotel was a good idea. We agreed it probably wasn’t but it was hot and we were tired so we decided to go with the flow. What could possibly go wrong?

Twenty minutes later, we arrived at our new hotel and passports in hand, approached the front desk. Almost an hour later, five of us were still trying to check in. Not Gordon, he was checked in, had dumped his bags in his room and was sitting in reception drinking coffee.

Why did it take so long? Were the hotel staff useless and unhelpful? Not at all. What we didn’t realise was that when Gordon had called the hotel to book six rooms, he had given the following names – Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Johnny Miller, Lee Trevino, Eric Brown and Gordon Brand.

Naturally he had “forgotten” to share this information with us, so when I went to check in as Gary Nicol, I was met with a blank look. “Could it be booked under another name perhaps Mr. Nicol?” That is when the penny dropped. I turned round to see junior doing his utmost to look innocent and not to choke on his coffee! “What?”
This was Gordon at his best.

Another time, Coltart, Brand junior and I were staying in a hotel near Staines for the PGA Championship at Wentworth. I think it might have been Wednesday after practice / Pro-Am day. We were back in our hotel after a long day on the course and range and I was trying to get a half an hour snooze before dinner. Not happening. A very loud knock on my door put paid to that. “Piss off Gordon, I’m trying to sleep.”

“You can sleep later, we’re going shopping” replied Gordon. Despite my protestations that I neither needed nor wanted to go shopping, I buckled and off we went. Our first port of call was a clothes shop. Gordy decided he “needed” a pink polo shirt. He asked the young assistant what size of shirt he thought would fit him. The shop assistant suggested large would be appropriate. Gordon agreed but pointed at me and said with all the campness he could muster “He prefers me in a medium as it shows off my sexy body soooo much better.”

For the record, he didn’t buy the shirt, in fact he had no intention of buying it, he was just feeling mischievous and wanted to have a bit of fun at my expense. He was good at that. Gordon was was an expert in trying to embarrass his friends and took great delight in trying to embarrass me at every opportunity.

Life on Tour could be a lonely place. Missing family, friends and home comforts was commonplace. Gordon understood that better than anyone and made life so much easier for those around him with his sense of humour and love of nonsense.

He always said please when asking for advice and always thanked me for my input, regardless of how well or badly he had played on any given day.

At the European Open at the K Club one year, Andrew Coltart and I were drinking coffee having just had lunch in the clubhouse when Gordon joined us. After asking how much salt we wanted in our coffee, he poured in a good spoonful to both our cups, despite us telling him we generally preferred it without salt!

I congratulated Gordon on shooting an exceptional 66 (6 under) on a particularly wet and windy morning. “Thanks, do you know how I did it?”

I remember saying “No but I’m sure you’re going to tell me.”

“It was pretty simple really. I basically forgot everything you ever told me, did the complete opposite and bingo, 66.” Again, Gordon at his finest.

After all, these years, we kept in touch and met up whenever circumstances allowed. He would send me text messages asking “why can’t I fade it?” I would ask him to send a video and explain what he was trying to do. His response was generally the same “You don’t need to see my swing, you know it better than I do and I’m trying to fade it!”

This would then lead to a long phone conversation about how our respective lives were and what he needed to do to hit a high fade with a five iron.

When Karl Morris and I were writing The Lost Art Of Putting, I naturally asked Gordon for his thoughts. In his prime, he was a magnificent putter and possibly had the best collection of Bullseye putters on the planet, including a few that used to be mine!

Rather than telling me over the phone, he said he would have a think about it and get back to me. Within 24hours, I received an email with some of the most insightful yet simple advice I have ever received. Gordon often joked that the book was pretty good but Page 81 was outstanding!

Two days before he passed, I spoke to Gordon and arranged to catch up with him in a couple of weeks when he was due to play in the Scottish Seniors. Unfortunately that isn’t going to happen.

I will never again be greeted by his infectious grin and his customary bear hug. No more conversations. No more water fights. No more salt in my coffee. No more nonsense. I’m going to miss that. We’re all going to miss the wee nutcase that he was. He will be missed by more than he could ever have imagined.

Goodbye Gordon. Sleep well my friend and rest in piece. Save me a seat next to the fire and I’ll see you on the other side.

Gordon Brand junior, great golfer and exceptional human being.

Thoughtful Thursday: Are 350 yard drives really the way forward for golf?

The great debate relating to that question appears to be incredibly divisive. Some think it is the future of the game while others think it signifies the beginning of the end.

Those who believe that modern equipment – ridiculously strong lofted irons, oversize titanium head drivers and hot, low spinning golf balls – tend be be a younger generation who have perhaps never known golf equipment and the game itself to be any different.
I honestly feel sorry for them.

Not because of the way they think about the game but because they have never experienced the sheer pleasure of what it feels like to hit balata balls with blade irons and persimmon woods. That for me is truly a tragedy.

The fans of the hit it for miles variety of golf, seem to think we should just accept that things have moved on in the last 20 or 30 years. Yes, golf has become a more scientific, athletic game but it has to a large degree become to quote 2006 US Open Champion Geoff Ogilvy, a “dumbed down” version of the game I personally oved and learned as a kid.

Hitting the ball a long way is a skill and one which I have had the good fortune to witness close up on a regular basis over the years. However, it should not be the only or most important skill.

The ability to create a wide ranging variety of shots, high, low, draws and fades, knuckle balls into the wind etc… is becoming far less important at the very highest level. Not only is that creativity becoming less important, personally I find it less interesting to play and to watch.

If Lee Trevino, Seve Ballesteros and Tiger Woods (the most creative and exciting players of their respective generations) were on one channel and Dustin Johnson, Bryson de Chambaux and Brooks Keopka’s were on another, I would have very little desire to watch channel 2. I get that some people love to watch “bombs” but it does not hold my attention for long.

I haven’t included Rory McIlroy in either of these groups because I think he sits somewhere in the middle. Yes he hits it miles but as I heard him say in a recent episode of the MacKellar Golf podacst, “the artist will always win in the long term”. Rory has a deep understanding and respect for the game, both past and present and reading between the lines, believes that the great debate needs to be addressed by the powers that be, sooner rather than later.

R&A Chief Executive Martin Slumbers is well aware of the fact that something needs to be done and has said as much publicly. With the risk of some of the great old golf courses of the world becoming all but obsolete in terms of hosting tournament golf, that is a real concern.

Having been fortunate enough to recently play Muirfield, which is internationally regarded as one of the best in the world, I believe it would be a crying shame to see that reduced to a “drive and flick” course by today’s big hitters, which on a calm day, it would be. It is a truly magnificent golf course that demands and encourages imagination and creativity and as a result, delivers on enjoyment in abundance.

There are too many great courses to mention who will never see the tournament golf they deserve. All too often, professional golf is played on relatively modern, soft golf courses of the extra long variety. The courses these men and women play on have pretty much dictated that the only way to be competitive in today’s world is to hit the ball the proverbial country mile. Their hands have been forced, the option of playing creative golf has all but been removed.

I know I am not the first and will definitely not be the last to talk about bifurcation but at no point in the history of the game has amateur and professional golf been so far apart in terms of how it is played. Bifurcation already exists in reality just not officially.

I am all for progress, which is inevitable in today’s world, however the powers that be have a responsibility to protect the integrity of some of the world’s finest golf courses and the game itself.

Golf has become very much a power game as a result of science and technology but I sincerely hope that artistry and creativity aren’t compromised any more than they currently are.

In my humble opinion, golf is more interesting to play and to watch when golfers have to create a variety of shots that test their skills in every department.

If you honestly think that 350 plus yard drives is the way forward, that might just influence golf courses architects and developers and have them building 8,000 yard golf courses to “bomber proof” them.

Is that really the kind of golf course you want to play? Would that be fun or enjoyable? Be careful what you wish for.
Essentially, golf is in danger of becoming too scientific at the expense of creative artistry which would be a real travesty.

Gary Nicol