Toski and Rotella are pairing that put you 2-up with good advice

GOLF

December 08, 1991|By John W. Stewart

A local golf version of baseball's Hot Stove League had a great doubleheader the other day -- teaching professional Bob Toski and sports psychologist Bob Rotella. And it doesn't take long for either one to warm up to his favorite subject.

"Golf is a simple game made complex; a non-violent game played by violent people," Toski told a small gathering.

"Think about it -- you have a light hold on a light implement and a heavy body. It's 200 pounds [body] against 13 ounces [club] against 1.62 ounces [ball]. Basically, we're mentally unprepared to play physically.

"We swing our arms in a normal motion when we walk, but put us beside a golf ball and we get the most excessive, contrived motions. We are mechanical idiots."

From there, it was an easy pitch into some basic fundamentals.

"You've got to like to play golf. You can't say play, then go work at it," Rotella began. "If you treat it as work, you'll find it worse than your real job. Remember, work and play are opposites."

On hand to help Caves Valley Golf Club open its new indoor teaching facility, Toski and Rotella presented the physical and mental sides of the game during an afternoon-evening program.

Talk about holding an audience spellbound; these giants of their chosen professions could have given the wildest ideas of their respective specialties, and the group would have bought it.

Instead, there was enough expertise dispatched to provide food for thought for the rest of the winter . . . and beyond.

"There are only two ways to play this game -- on the ground or in the air," Toski said, getting more animated in his demonstrations as he went along. "The ball is on the ground and the hole is in the ground, so where do you want to start?

"The heartbeat of the swing is the hands and feet, and you build up to the arms and legs. I don't teach turn. Swing, and the body will respond."

Actually, he teaches swing, a word he considers misused and undefined. "It's swing-turn-shift, and you have to have them in that order," he said, referring to swinging the club, turning the body and shifting the weight.

There were words about indoor practice: "Outdoors, everybody thinks distance, but indoors, you don't have to worry about that," Toski said. "You can concentrate on the target, working on basics that will help you focus."

And there were Toski's catch phrases to help the listeners retain some of what they'd heard: "Can't control action without traction [feet]; weight moves to support motion; feel the force, don't force the feel."

Although he didn't realize it, Toski provided the perfect lead-in to Rotella when he answered a question regarding today's players as compared to his day (he was the leading tour money-winner in 1954 with $65,819.81). "Today's players are bigger, stronger and hit it farther on better courses with clubs and balls that are better -- all conditions for lower scores," Toski said.

Rotella will tell you there are others.

"The game is played from 120 yards in, or from whatever distance you hit something less than a full wedge shot," he said. "For that entire distance you must be absolutely, totally decisive on every shot. You must eliminate the errors of indecision. The game tries to beat you down, knock it out of you, and you have to work at being decisive.

"Most importantly, though, from 120 in you are trying to make every shot. In basketball, if you have a 15-footer, you're not aiming at the backboard [and being satisfied if you hit it], you're aiming at the basket.

"Same thing here, but I take no credit for it. For what? Thinking if you want the ball to go in the hole, you think about it.

"The only objective is to score as low as possible. How about the guy on a water hole? He asks, 'What will the others think if I hit a 3-wood? They'll know I'm scared.' I say, 'Well, what will they think when you hit it in the pond?' "

Continuing in this vein, he said: "People think they are not good enough -- and spend the rest of their lives trying to prove it. Great players, though, learn to be the best they can be, to win the battle with themselves."

He cited an old Ted Williams story: "In 1941, when Williams was chasing a .400 batting average, he got to .39967 on the next-to-last day, and a doubleheader was scheduled for the last day. Reporters congratulated him, saying this was great because that average rounded off to .400 and he'd be the first in several years. They figured he wouldn't play the last day.

" 'Wadda you talking about?' Williams jabbed them. 'I got a doubleheader tomorrow. You guys don't get it. This is what it's all about. Tomorrow will be the most exciting day, because I get to find out if I'm a .400 hitter. If I make it, fine; if I don't, it's simply that I wasn't good enough to hit .400.' So, he went 6-for-9 and finished at .406.

"It's a case of so many people getting lost in the result, they don't enjoy the process. Still, if you love the game, you have to admit it is a game of mistakes. If you think it's a game of perfection made to be played perfectly, you're dead.

"This game is the ultimate challenge. You have to make it simple because you are the one who has to go out there and play it."

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