The Driven Foursome

Any golfer who has achieved a level of excellence, to the point that he plays professionally, has put in long hours and been consumed by the game. There are others who have reached a level of scratch but never put: their game on display in tournaments. Their love of the game and pursuit of excellence is what drives them.

We have become familiar with those golfers we see on TV or in person, those we read about, and those we hear about. With in any group of performers there are those who stand above the rest. They are the DRIVEN FOURSOME: Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and Tiger Woods.

Ben Hogan

No one has ever filled the job description of the Driven Golfer better than Ben Hogan. Nicklaus credited him with being “the best technician and with the most control of the golf swing and the golf ball.” What is our purpose when we put a golf club in our hands anyway? It is interesting that, despite the many accolades given Hogan by his peers,  he felt like, when speaking of good shots, there was only “one or two per round,  seldom more, which come off exactly as, intend they should.”

Wanting to build a swing that would hold up under pressure, Hogan was legendary for his work on the practice tee., think the term “1000 balls a day” came about with Hogan in mind. When you read of his colleagues speaking of the crack or sizzle of a Hogan iron shot, or how they would gather to watch him work, you know he has left a lasting impression on anyone who was fortunate enough to be around him.
Another aspect of Hogan’s drive was his pursuit of his method.

Where he ended up as a ball striker was the result of struggling with a hook. The violent sidespin characteristic of a hook was unacceptable to someone with the makeup of Hogan. His understanding of the golf swing came about after “having devoted the bulk of my waking hours (and a few of my sleeping hours) for a quarter of a century to the pursuit of the answer.” Forgive him for having little patience for someone looking for the quick fix or a shortcut to greatness.

Think of what hitting 1000 balls means. You would have to hit 75 balls, (a medium bucket at most ranges), with every club in your bag. Then you must do it every day., doubt if most people could do it for a day or a week. Hogan spent years doing it. He loved doing it. He said, “I wanted to make the game my lifework.” Like those who go to the gym every day, Hogan hated to miss a day of practicing, feeling like it was taking a step backward.

Another characteristic of Ben Hogan was his demeanor while playing. Called “the Hawk”, his intense stare and lack of discussion with playing partners, were the window to his soul. He was consumed with the task at hand and single minded in its completion. You can realize the weight of a Hogan remark when you read a young Nicklaus reflect with pride on the simple statement of “good shot” given him by Hogan in the 1960 U. S. Open. Someone who dealt so sharply with his own ball striking certainly would not be given to flowery accolades and false flattery. This type of workmanlike attitude draws the highest level of honest respect from those who play golf and become champions. At this level a nod of approval from the right person is something that may never be forgotten and cherished forever.
If work ethic, technical excellence, and intense concentration were not enough, Ben Hogan showed his driven nature the most by surviving a horrible, head on, car wreck. Injured to the point where many felt he wouldn’t survive, he recuperated to the point of playing some of the finest golf of his career. To know that he played many of those rounds (36 hole final rounds) in pain and on wobbly legs, is the greatest testament to this man.
When you read of Hogan being “absorbed by the spirit of the game,” you start to understand the commitment of the Driven Golfer. Hogan wrote, “I couldn’t wait for the sun to come up the next morning so that, could get out on the course again.” It is this thought you must have to join this wonderful fraternity, a group proud to be led,, believe, by Ben Hogan.

Jack Nicklaus

The greatest test an accomplished golfer faces is that of a major championship. It will be played on courses set up with the most difficult layout and with fields of all the best players. It is the truest test of shotmaking ability, course management, and pressure.

To date, no one has won more events of this type than Jack Nicklaus. Although some of the reasons are obvious, the things that make Nicklaus part of the driven foursome are not as easily detected.
The type of golf shot that works best on hard, fast, greens is one that flies high and lands softly. Jack Nicklaus immediately comes to mind as the best at this type of shot. He could play that type of shot with any club in his bag. Because of his upright swing, a standard ball position played forward in his stance, and his trademark steady head, Nicklaus stayed behind and “under” the ball better than anyone. The ability to land high shots from anywhere upwards of 250 yards was unique to the era he played in.

A method is only as good as the athlete using it and Nicklaus was physically dominant. With a powerful frame supported on huge legs, he was able to generate tremendous clubhead speed through the ball. He was able to play out of the rough with success while many others just pitched out onto the fairway. His upright swing was ideal in keeping a minimum of grass between clubface and ball., believe it is important to fit the method with the physical capabilities of the player and Nicklaus is the greatest example of this.

While power golf is a Nicklaus trademark, pressure putting won him the majority of his tournaments. He was the best at making the putt to keep the round going or to seal the deal in the face of someone, s comeback. Nicklaus embraced putting and looked forward to the challenge it presented. At that time no one had a more complete package of power, shot shape, and putting prowess. The ability to hit long, accurate shots that landed softly, and then deftly roll putts to complete the hole, made championship golf something that suited Jack Nicklaus perfectly.

Again, while his abilities were obvious, the thing that makes him a member of the driven foursome comes from within. What is unique to Jack Nicklaus was his attitude while in the heat of pressure. Certainly many of us benefited from the things taught in his book, Golf My Way, but, feel like a real treasure is his book from early in his career called The Greatest Game Of  All. This is Jack Nicklaus in the prime of his career, revealing himself as a championship golfer and an honest person.

In some sports success is thrust upon a participant as part of a team. In golf, at the highest level, you must pursue success and respond well to pressure and challenge. Accepting that nervousness was a good and necessary thing allowed Nicklaus to be able to step outside of a situation and have the presence of mind to give good counsel. He wrote, “You’re doing something you enjoy, so enjoy it.” Many golfers dread the coming round, but Nicklaus met it with an acceptance and confidence. He knew he had prepared well, could play the required shots, and had paced off the yardages.

A common Nicklaus statement was, “I enjoy competing against fine holes and players.” He enjoyed a “course that tests your ability to play a variety of correct, intelligent, and subtle golf shots.” This welcoming attitude allowed him to focus on the task at hand, which was to use fewer strokes than anyone else in the tournament.

Nicklaus was also aware of the dangers of “ifs and buts” that many fall into. He stated, “What didn’t take place didn’t take place, and that’s the end of it.”Nothing keeps us in the present better than to dismiss the past with honesty”, an invaluable lesson all golfers are bettered by learning.

Jack Nicklaus reveals himself again as a driven golfer when he states, “scarcely a day goes by when, do not find myself thinking about the golf swing.” He distinguishes himself among his peers by his ability to look around, see clearly what is going on, choose to embrace the challenge, and then make a decision to be successful. His competitors knew that: if Jack Nicklaus put his mind to playing a round of golf, few could approach, if only for a short time, the level he lived comfortably at.

Gary Player

When thinking of the driven foursome, Gary Player came to mind as quickly as anyone else. A gentleman, first and foremost, Player is as driven in every area of his life as he is in golf.

It is always interesting to me to think of where someone has come from to get where he is now. Being from South Africa, Player has traveled more miles than any golfer in history. Along the way he has amassed more world wide victories than any other professional golfer. During the course of this journey he has acted as the finest ambassador South Africa could have. It is quite an obligation to have a nation depending on you to bring respect and legitimacy to them and have them living through your successes.

Known as the “man in black” for his habit of wearing black, Player is a fierce competitor. He has the unique ability to channel his inner fire into something that produces positive results. Most golfers melt down under the heat of their internal battle.

Player had a Hogan like stature and his swing, in some ways, resembled Hogan’s. He was known to hit the ball very straight and during the course of his career on tour won all four majors. He also practiced for long hours to achieve the level of excellence he is still known for today.

Driven in so many ways, Gary Player will leave lasting legacies in not only travel and world victories, but in fitness and bunker play.

Player was the first to speak out about the necessity to work daily on physical and mental conditioning. His sit-up regimen is legendary. When, hear of the golfers of today going to the fitness trailer or using their personal trainers, I think he gets the nod as being their leader. His longevity in the sport, as he still plays to a very high level, is without doubt a product of his personal attention to his physical fitness.

Gary Player is regarded by most as the finest bunker player ever. His understanding of the wedge, and how to get the desired result, has no doubt saved him many a round. You are under much less pressure while standing out in the fairway if you have no fear of the bunker fronting the pin. Most people don’t ever go in the practice trap to understand sand and certainly not to master it as Player has.

Another Player passion is breeding horses. He is certainly someone who treats all things with respect and would understand all of the things necessary to bring about horse racing excellence. It is interesting to me to see the look of pleasure when he is around or speaks of horses. He radiates the best of life and his role as an ambassador to many things fits him perfectly.

Gary Player is best understood when he speaks of family. Whether it is his wife of many years or his parents, he again speaks, with voice cracking with honest emotion, of love of life and those things he is grateful of.
I was once at a Senior tour event and watched as Gary Player walked up onto a tee. As he walked up the center of the tee, from the front to the back where the tee blocks were, he politely acknowledged the growing cheers from those few people who were (lucky enough to be) there. When the fairway cleared he calmly striped his drive down the middle, picked up the tee and gave it to a little boy who was there with his dad. Then he walked off into the distance., thought to myself, “how many miles must he have come, so that, could witness that tee shot?”, also realized that he was the only pro, in the two hours, had been standing there, who was given a hand not only because of his record as a golfer, but because of his stature as a person. He was applauded when he came on to the tee, when his ball went down the middle, and for sharing this time with the gallery as he walked off. All who were there benefited.

Tiger Woods

The final member of the driven foursome is, to no one’s surprise, Tiger Woods. No golfer has been chronicled, studied, and has lived with  expectation like Tiger Woods. Since being touted as a child prodigy at a very early age, golf has been waiting for Tiger Woods to fulfill his promise.

Like Jack Nicklaus, the physical attributes that allow him to play the shots he does are obvious. His powerful body supports a big, full arc that travels at an amazing speed. No golfer has ever been able to grab a championship course by the scruff of the neck and shake it senseless the way Tiger Woods can.

The ability to hit the ball very high and far, combined with today’s technology, has changed the game. Woods is the most talented golfing package, all around, that we have ever seen.

While making use of his power, Woods also has shown an imagination for shot shapes and a flare for the timely, dramatic and crucial shot.

His mental fitness and will to win are things instilled from his early days and have brought about a driven nature with a single goal of success and victory.

In keeping with his nature, Woods is known for his practicing long hours and on every type of shot. A student of the game, as are all truly driven golfers, he has cultivated an imagination to rival his shotmaking skills. The result of this is a fantastic short game.

Tiger Woods will go down in history as the greatest in several aspects of the game, but the most valuable is putting. He is the best overall putter, (short, long, slow, fast, incredibly breaking), the game has seen. As Jack Nicklaus has said, great putters simply make the putts you must make to win a tournament.

Today’s golfers are as fit, on the whole, as any group of tour pros ever. As is true with most other aspects, Tiger Woods is a leader in that trend. He has pushed the bar to the point that anyone hoping to compete with him must adopt a regimen that is probably out of their character. So then how long can they maintain it?

No other professional golfer, since Byron Nelson, has had the chance to bury most of the records associated with professional golf. Earnings and all-time victories with undoubtedly fall and major victories will probably be Woods’ record also.

At several points in this book, have spoken of “Peaks and Valleys” and the attitude we must have to overcome them. In this context, golf has been the example, but you must know that, believe the same for our lives and the way we conduct ourselves. No one enjoys the worst that life has to offer, whether self-inflicted or by accident. Ben Hogan overcame a situation many would have fallen to. Gary Player came many miles (literally and figuratively) to be the person we respect so deeply. Tiger Woods now faces adversity few have faced. He was once given a level of respect few have enjoyed. As a leader, we rested comfortably in where he was taking us and the generations to follow. As is most times true, though, giving the plaque of perfection to someone only sets us up for the harshest of reality.

It shows our good nature as a people, to want to honor someone so gifted and to give someone hero status. As we rise, along with them, in their successes, we then fall with them when adversity knocks on their door. We know these things happen but we would rather believe this person is different. Although we are never happy with the revelation and, for a time, reel in its brutal honesty, we eventually pick ourselves up, along with our fallen hero, and set about righting the ship.

It has been said that, “many times we find our destiny on a path we would have taken to avoid it.”, believe Tiger Woods will rise from this valley, to a peak higher than he has ever been. When the story is over and looked back upon,, think it will be a valuable lesson we will have learned. We will have benefited, to a much greater level, because of the “humbling bump” in the road to greatness. We have many examples in the past, of the greater love we felt for a hero, once we got over our disgust for their human nature. This example will be no different. Isn’t Tiger Woods still our best bet to succeed at a difficult task?
He could be something of a Pied Piper in that respect. Many will follow his lead. In a time of “instant gratification and get rich quick schemes,” a sobering return to old-school success stories is sorely needed., have always enjoyed pointing to Tiger Woods as an example for my young students., now know that they will learn far more in fact, the lesson, hoped they would learn all along. In understanding his ups and downs and how he handled himself as a result, they will see a clear path to being the  Driven Golfer.

I hope we understand the chance that is before us. We get to witness a student of the game, perhaps as driven as anyone that has ever played golf professionally, with the heaviest dose of talent God has ever given. This is an old-school golfer fully equipped with everything modern. Tiger Woods is the reason many children have taken golf as their first love., believe this will flower, based upon those things that build character intrinsic to golf, into something that will have a lasting affect on our society and bring about an overall rebound in those things we consider the best of life.

Adding It All Up

When you study the driven foursome as a group, some things stand out as similarities and others are different.

POWER: Although Player and Hogan were not short hitters, Nicklaus then and Woods now are the standards for power golf that produces an advantage in major tournaments. It allows them to stop balls on hard greens, take on long carries to par 5′s, and dig balls out of the deep rough.

ACCURACY: Again, although Nicklaus and Woods have been accurate, Player and certainly Hogan are recognized as players who curved the ball very little and maneuvered around a golf course.

PUTTING: When the pressure is on, few people can remember Nicklaus missing a putt that mattered and the same can and will be said of Tiger Woods when it is allover. These two embrace putting with a zeal that allows them to rise above others in the field.

PRACTICE: Hogan is the gold standard for practicing, with Woods and Player following closely behind. Nicklaus practiced with a definite purpose and was willing to do what it took to make himself comfortable with his game.

IMAGINATION: Woods and Player would have to rank highest in this area due to their work with the wedge. Woods probably has more shots in his arsenal than anyone we have known.

FITNESS: Player is the leader in physical fitness and the model that Woods and others have benefited from.

BUILD: Woods is the tallest, with Nicklaus slightly under 6 feet tall, while Hogan and Player were shorter.

CLOTHING: Hogan wore simple grays and Player black. Nicklaus and Woods show more flare for trend and fashion., see this as a definite reflection of their on-course demeanor.

WORLD TRAVEL: Player, Nicklaus, and Woods have all traveled and attempted to bring the game to all parts of the world.

This short list gives a little bit of the differences between each great champion. The things common to all, that define them as driven golfers, begins with a competitive nature. Each has fully understood the obligation and based their life on the pursuit of golfing excellence.

Each has the respect of their peers for their level of concentration and mental fitness.

In building their method to withstand the pressures of championship golf, each has been willing to make changes over the course of their careers to bring about a higher level of understanding. Hogan made changes to eliminate a hook, Nicklaus flattened his swing over the course of his career to bring about a better ball flight, Woods has done the same to add more shots and control of a draw, and Player once changed his putting method from a jab to a stroke and had a series of victories that included a Masters.

This willingness to refine and constantly live for golf is the profile of the driven golfer. The most telling trait common to these four greats is their eyes. The way they fix on a target or another person reveals their heart and soul. This look common to them leaves no doubt as to what they are made of and what they are there for.

We also see it in their eyes when emotion spills over. We have seen Jack Nicklaus spend poignant moments accepting British Open trophies or hugging his son after winning the Masters. We have seen Tiger Woods weep in his fathers arms after winning his first Masters, or realizing that this major victory was the first since his fathers passing. Gary Player is certainly touching when he accepts induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame and credits his wife and parents for his successes.

And then there is Ben Hogan. He is the only player of this group, have never seen play golf in person., remember one Sunday afternoon, was home watching golf on T. V. My father didn’t play golf because he worked hard six days a week and Sunday was a day of rest. He held only a passing interest for golf because, was completely absorbed by it. On this day Ken Venturi was doing an interview with Ben Hogan. The lead-in spoke of how rarely Hogan ever opened up about his life. He began speaking of being poor and the opportunity it was to learn to deal with tough things. With as serious a look as you’ll ever witness, Ben Hogan shared, “I’ve had a tough day all my life.” , realized my dad had put his paper down and was listening. As Hogan talked about how close he had come to running out of money and how he “had” to make this thing (professional golf) work, you could see the emotion in his eyes. Then to be injured that badly in the car crash.

As the words fell from his lips, in the kind of dead honesty common to a man’s man and felt by those of like spirit,, realized my dad had raised his paper again, this time to hide his own tears. Overcoming adversity is what puts Hogan atop my list of driven golfers. He was giving us his “Secret”: the joy of the day by day pursuit, the appreciation of success after hard work, and willingness to do whatever it takes, no matter what obstacles are presented.

It is much more than swing feel and mechanics. The qualities from within are the well we must draw from if we hope to ever see those things hidden in plane view.

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