Kevin Markham on a bucket list with a difference.
If you’re a passionate golfer then chances are you have a bucket list… and chances are that some of those goals are unrealistic, such as playing Augusta, going toe-to- toe with Rory McIlroy down the stretch, or building your own golf course.
If that’s the case then maybe it’s time to start a new bucket list, one with achievable targets that you can stick on the wall and cross out as you complete each one.
This may take you to places you never thought you’d go and do things you never considered doing but broaden the mind, chase the horizon, reach for the sky.
As Steven Brust, the American author, once said: “A young man without ambition is an old man waiting to be.” Here’s a list of 25 to get you started.
1. Go out with the sole intention of playing a round in under three hours. Agree it in advance with your golfing buddies and time yourselves. The score is secondary so get in gear and make it happen. Why have we slumped to four- and five-hour rounds as a matter of habit? It is embarrassing and entirely unnecessary. Start at 9am and you could be back in by 12pm… then have lunch… then go out for a second 18. Believe me, getting around in three hours will be a revelation. Then please pass this on to the rest of the people in your club. The thought of another five-hour round turns my stomach.
2. Learn a New Golf Rule. Most of us don’t know the rules well enough so here’s a thought — make a deal with your buddies that each of you learn a rule and that you pass on your new-found knowledge during your next round of golf. It’s a great topic of conversation and you will learn something that makes you a better golfer.
3. Play 18 holes and go for every shot, take on every pin, fly every bunker, tree, and lake. Imitate Phil’s flop shots, drive like Rory, and smash in every putt.
4. The complete opposite of number 3. Play every hole sensibly, hit sideways out of the trees, avoid every bunker, aim for the middle of the green, and never leave yourself a tricky downhill putt. Put course management to the fore. At the end of the two rounds, compare your scores and decide for yourself which style of game yields the best results.
5. Putting is the most critical part of the game and while some of us have a swagger when it comes to putting, most of us don’t. You do all the hard work by getting to the green to leave a 10ft birdie putt… only to leave it short. As the famous saying goes: Never up, never in, so make it your goal not to leave a single putt short during an entire round.
6. Still on putting, go with your gut. Forget plumb-bobbing, forget analysing the putt from two sides, forget lining up at all. Simply look at the green as you walk up to the ball and employ your instincts. You’ll be surprised at how often you nail a 4ft putt or leave a simple tap-in from 30ft — I speak from experience.
7. Footloose. Play barefoot. Sam Snead did. He once played nine holes at the 1942 Masters barefoot as he tried to regain that smooth swing and steady rhythm that was the benchmark of his game. He grew up barefoot and that’s how he learned to play. Go on, try it. It’ll get you closer to nature and it can be liberating for you and your swing.
8. Here’s one that will interest the historians… and perhaps the masochists out there. Play a round with hickories to appreciate just how skilled the golfers of old were. If you don’t hit the ball in the club’s tiny, tiny sweet spot the vibrations are likely to dislodge your teeth.
9. Unless you’re 85, like my dad, chances are you’re never too old to make a change to your swing. The average handicap is 16, so there’s room for improvement in everyone. Commit to it and visit a pro for a lesson… and then practise hard. My dad’s last swing change was when he was 84!
10. You may think club fitting is expensive (it’s rarely as much as you think) but if you have a set of clubs fitted to match your swing speed, angle, spin, and so on, you are more than likely to reduce your handicap and you will use those clubs for far longer.
11. Are you a talker or a walker… do you get on with it or do you moan and make a fuss after a bad shot, explaining to your playing partners what you did wrong, what you shoulda/coulda/woulda? If you’re the latter, then vow to play one round in silence. Contrary to what Lee Trevino might tell you, keeping your lip buttoned will not result in bad breath. You might even end up feeling better about yourself… and your playing partners will be delighted.
12. Go out to your garage and find that bag of clubs you put there last year. Give them away to charity or a youth organisation such as the First Tee), donate them to your club pro to hand down to a kid who could really use them, or see which of your nephews/nieces you can tempt to take up the game. That simple donation — which clears out your garage, by the way — is helping the future of the game.
13. Focus on your son or daughter or other relative by caddying for them. Leave your own game at home and concentrate on those who have a lifetime of golf ahead of them. They’ll be chuffed at your devotion! And let them ask you for advice… please don’t go filling their heads with unsolicited tips.
14. Sign up for a Pro-Am. They are very affordable and a lot of fun. Waterford Castle is celebrating 25 years of its Pro-Am on July 1, and it’s aimed at all of the family. Expect live music, clay pigeon shooting, and tasting sessions with Waterford-based Thin Gin. A Mazda 6 is up for grabs if you make a hole in one on the 16th.
15. Play Royal Portrush, Royal County Down, Ballybunion, Waterville, Lahinch… the list goes on. If you haven’t played one of the best courses in the world (that you can actually get access to) then you haven’t played golf as it is meant to be. Splash out and hire a caddie because it will make a huge difference to how you play and score… not to mention your bragging rights.
16. Play a round with four clubs and learn how to execute a variety of shots. The clubs you choose are up to you but look at your home course and decide which will best suit the task. Challenge your mates to do the same.
17. Play your course from the back tees… and then the following week play from the forward tees. Yes, the Red tees. Discover a world of difference and a whole new set of shot-making requirements.
18. Check out where the big Irish amateur events are being held in the months ahead and select one to go and watch. These guys are seriously good and imagine how all those people who watched Rory McIlroy win the West of Ireland in 2005, at 15 years of age, can brag about it now. Tom McKibbin from Belfast is just 14 and he’s definitely one to watch in the years ahead. The South of Ireland is at Lahinch (July 26-30).
19. Vow to go to the Open Championship… and go! Royal Portrush in 2019. What could be better — or simpler — than that! It is not every day that the very best golfers in the world play on your doorstep. That said, don’t forget this year’s Irish Open… there will be plenty of the world’s best at Portstewart, too!
20. Lee Trevino once said: “Columbus went around the world in 1492. That isn’t a lot of strokes when you consider the course.” Play somewhere different. Forget Portugal and Spain — go to Poland or Italy or Netherlands or Sweden. Blaze a trail.
21. Learn what ‘bounce’ means, learn how to adjust your driver correctly, find out why some golf balls are better suited to your game than others. All of these can affect your game so make the most of what you have at your disposal. Sorry, but if you’re an 18 handicapper the chances are you don’t need ProV1s. Save yourself the money and the heartache of watching another brand new Titleist disappear into the gorse.
22. Support your club. Yes, I know you pay your membership sub but this year make it your goal to contribute more. You don’t have to join council or a committee but you could volunteer when there’s a clear up or some painting to be done, you could offer to take fellow members to an away match for one of the club teams, or you could choose a green where you repair pitchmarks after the Saturday competition.
23. Start a competition for charity. Buy a trophy and invite friends/family and fellow club members to play. Start small… think big. There’s bound to be a charity you support so why not combine it with your love of golf and make a difference.
24. Beat your age. A meagre few will achieve this in their 60s, a talented handful in their early 70s, but, more than likely, it is the fittest, healthiest, and most determined among us who might achieve such an ambition as we sneak into our 80s. My father turns 86 this year and we have high hopes. “I’ll shoot my age if I have to live to be 105,” said Bob Hope.
25. Smile more. Golf is supposed to be about fun, relaxation and enjoyment. Take the rough with the smooth and don’t worry about how you score. “The first time I played the Masters, I was so nervous I drank a bottle of rum before I teed off. I shot the happiest 83 of my life” — Chi Chi Rodriguez.
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