Bob Carney is a Contributing Editor at Golf Digest, writing for the magazine, it’s web site and sister publication Golf World. He’s an avid golfer and single-digit handicap who has earned awards for his writing of the golf industry and recreational golf. He is co-author, with Davis Love Jr. and Bob Toski, of “How to Feel a Real Golf Swing.”
Examiner: What sports did you play growing up?
BC: I took up golf at about fourteen, when I began caddying at a country club near our house.
Examiner: What was your first introduction to golf? Did you fall in love with the sport early on or grow to love it?
BC: Caddying was scary at first. There were so many things to remember – where to stand, how to hold the bag, how to tend the pin, etc. With the help of empathetic members of the club, I got to be pretty good at it. The course was so beautiful, so well kept and the game itself so interesting. I immediately wanted to play. They let us play on Mondays at the club. We had to play from in front of the tees, rather than on them, so that we wouldn’t beat them up. (Pretty lame on the club’s part, but I understood). The first time I played I used clubs my uncle had given me, some of which were old wood-like shafts. I sanded the 3-wood he gave me and re-varnished it. It must have looked ridiculous to the members. But we loved playing. I can’t tell you how magical it was to be able to play Dearborn, CC, not a great course, but a good one in perfect shape. One Monday we arrived at six, teed off in the mist, and played four rounds, 72 holes. On days we weren’t able to play at the club my brother and I and a couple of buddies would take out a map, find a golf course icon, and drive to it sight unseen to play. I can still remember eating Twinkies in the car on the way.
Examiner: When did you begin writing professionally about golf? Did you have other sport writing jobs prior to your involvement in golf?
BC: I was hired by Golf Digest in 1984 after a temporary stint at Time Magazine as a reporter. I got that because the magazine I’d been working on, TV Cable Week, a Time Inc. start-up folded. Fortunately for me the editor of Golf Digest at the time was an old Time Inc. guy and we hit it off. Otherwise I probably would have taken a job at BusinessWeek, where I had a chance at an entry level position. Prior to TV Cable Week, after attending (not graduating) from Columbia Journalism School, I’d worked for another start-up that folded, Sporting Guide, a kind of TV Guide for sports. In between I worked at a strong suburban daily. The Record, in New Jersey, as a local reporter. It was great training. As far as writing about sports, I began in grade school, writing about school sports for the church paper, and then for the school paper in high school. I covered a variety of sports for the Michigan Daily at the University of Michigan.
Examiner: Many sports have altered their playing formats to speed up the sport or try to make the sport more exciting for spectators. I recently read one of your articles for Golf Digest, “Our games obsessions with fast greens is killing us.” In it you describe how fast greens are slowing down the game of golf. Explain the concept of fast greens, and how they effect the game. What are your thoughts on how to speed up the game and does the game need to be sped up?
BC: The greens on which golfers putt can be made very fast or very slow, depending on the grass, cuttings, rolling etc. Good golfers tend to prefer fast greens and clubs and courses try to imitate the courses they see on television, Augusta National being a prime model. The problem is, it’s expensive to do this. It requires more water and chemicals, and more care. These fast greens are also harder for most amateurs to putt, meaning they take more time and more putts. As an industry, golf is faced with some serious issues these days and greens have an impact on all of them: water conservation, enjoyment, and pace of play. Greens of moderate speed are fine for everyday ( as opposed to tournament) play, and can help on all of those issues. It’s another example of how the game is controlled mostly by accomplished players and how it’s having to find news to make itself more attractive to less accomplished ones who don’t want to be “tortured.” There’s lots of research being done on pace of play these days. Individual golfers need to be educated about how to play faster, but the pace begins with course owners. They need to space groups properly, maintain greens at reasonable speeds, eliminate extreme roughs and give everyone a chance to have fun by creating enough tee choices. I of course think caddies help too, but most courses have lost caddies to carts, which you’d think would speed up play but really don’t. Slow play is a huge problem. Consider our leisure activities these days – a movie, a book club, dinner a jog, a workout. None take more than two hours and most are far less. Golf, especially slow golf, eats up five or six hours. So the game needs to offer alternatives. More nine (or fewer) hole events or 18-hole events that move faster. The fifteen inch cup is one experiment that works, though you wouldn’t do it everyday. Smart course owners are creating “time par” for their particular courses, and then enforcing that time. So when a player begins a round he knows how long it’s going to take. Golfers like that. For my own part, golf is still a chance to walk and get some exercise. I want it to move as fast as possible. Three and a half hours if we can and I’ll stay away from places that go a lot longer. Finally, I think we tend to take score far too seriously in this country. We count every shot and worry about what we shoot (though breaking rules, taking mulligans, etc.) and that adds to round time. In Ireland my son and I played in a tournament that used the Stableford scoring system. You earned a point for a bogey, 2 for par, 3 for birdie. Worse than bogey scored zero so when you messed up a hole, you just picked up. I think kids should learn that way because it’s how they play other sports – score points.
Examiner: I think of the mental game of golf as being built around skill confidence and having an uncluttered mindset. What do you feel are the biggest psychological challenges of golf?
BC: The first is distraction. It’s so seductive and so easy to give into thoughts about what your score will be, how you’re swinging, what other people are thinking about how you are playing…when really there is only one thing to think about: How to get this ball in the hold. Period. The second is forgiveness. Golf is a game of mistakes. We tend to think it’s mature and honest and “tough” to criticize ourselves for mistakes…a huge waste of time, energy and focus in golf. Being your own best friend, as Bob Rotella puts it, is the goal. The third is expectation, usually of a particular score, but sometimes of how shots “should” feel when you hit them. Having a scoring goal is fine. Having a plan is ideal But once you start playing, you get what you get.
Examiner: Besides practice what are some of the mental preparations you know about that professional player’s utilize to prepare for tournaments?
BC: Player’s work with their caddies to map and chart courses. Michelle Wie said recently she was benefiting from the notes that Keegan Bradley and Rickie Fowler made on Pinehurst No. 2. Secondly, players create a game plan for a round, what club they’ll hit off a given tee, where they want to land the ball, what side of the green they want to hit, etc. They plan while not in the heat of the moment, and then can concentrate on execution when in it.
Examiner: You are preparing to write an article about how golfers improve. What are you learning about the process of player’s improving? When will the article be out?
BC:The article should be out in our October issue, about Sept. 1. It’s been an interesting research project. What I’m learning is that having a goal and seeing everything on the way to that goal as part of the learning process, having the patience to stay in that “learning” mindset, is key. Most golfers can’t do it. They think a certain result or defeat means they’ve failed and they’re done with that goal. In many cases, they’ve just begun. Failure is part of the process, a necessary part.
Examiner: Someone can go on-line and there are thousands of tips on the mental game of golf. What’s the best advice you’ve every heard about the mental game of golf?
BC: Enjoy the shot.
Examiner: What’s your favorite golf course and why?
BC: Cypress Point Golf Club. It is near the ocean, it is gorgeous, it is a great challenging design, it is walkable, and it’s not perfect. Though it’s 15th and 16th holes are among the most beautiful anywhere, the 18th is just ordinary, so after taking you to heaven, Cypress kind of sets you back on earth in the end. It’s an amazing place.
Examiner: Bob thank you for taking time out of your busy work schedule to share your knowledge and thoughts.