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Lessons Learned from Some of Golf’s Greatest

Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson—yes, most of us know much of these individuals’ playing styles, practice habits, and personal lives. Thanks to technological advances and social media, perhaps we know too much. However, the sport has known many other exceptional golfers. Each one had his trademark approach to the game. Every student of the game would be well served to learn from these all-time greats that played before the advent of modern media. The following discusses three such individuals, providing some biographical information and one or two takeaways about their game for readers looking to gain a winning edge, as exemplified by the best.

Walter Hagen

Hagen was born in Rochester, New York in 1892. He became skilled at the game of golf while working as a caddy at the local country club. Though there to help support his family, Hagen found time outside of work to play golf. Eventually, he developed such a strong game that he was hired to give lessons to club members. He made his professional debut in 1912 and by 1914 had won his first U.S. Open.

Confidence may be the most valuable takeaway for a student learning from this master’s. Hagen was particularly dominant in match play, even though he often found himself trailing after the first nine holes. As reported by Real Clear Sports, Hagen’s “confidence kept him from ever getting down,” insomuch that his penchant for battling back earned him “a permanent place in the history books.”

Although none of our games are perfect, try storing up some Hagen-like self-confidence by logging away in your memory the time you hit a long putt, struck the ball well, or snagged a sand save. Then, when you stand over that “knee-knocker” putt or sandy lie, or aim for a green surrounded by water, maintain your confidence by envisioning your strong shots. Hagen would approve.

Sam Snead

Twenty years younger than Hagen, Snead was born in Ashwood, Virginia in 1912. Like Hagen, he found his way into the game by working as a caddy. Although he turned professional in 1936, Snead served for the U.S. Navy in World War II from 1942 until 1944.

Snead is well known for his beautiful golf swing, but perhaps more so for his longevity. Indeed, Snead won 82 PGA tour events over the course of his life. He also became the oldest person to ever make a cut in a U.S. Open in 1973 at age 61. Snead simply never stopped playing. Believe it or not, he even shot a 78 at The Greenbrier course in West Virginia at the age of 85. His passion for the game of golf is a trait that not only should be admired, but also emulated.

Golf is a sport that demands commitment. Those who have played regularly and then taken a hiatus from the game can well speak to the impact such a break has on his or her game. Take a page out of Sneads’ book on sticking with it, and make this great sport a consistent part of your life. You should see an improvement in your game and health.

Moe Norman

Although not a fixture on the PGA Tour, Norman was an extremely skilled golfer best known for his accuracy. Norman was born in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada in 1929. He caddied and learned the game at a local municipal golf course near his home. In 1955 and 1956, Norman won back to back Canadian Amateur Championships, turning profession in 1957.

Norman emphasized the accuracy of his swing when playing a hole with a creek hazard. While his playing companions were said to have laid up, Norman intentionally bounced his drive across the bridge crossing the creek to the other side! Norman’s ability to strike a golf ball well and accurately is attributed by many (including Tiger Woods) to the fact that he “owned” his golf swing, which was somewhat unconventional, but produced amazingly accurate shots.

While one should never cloak mediocrity with excuses, neither should one be embarrassed about his or her approach to the game. One should be ever improving and ever learning, but at the same time, ever owning his or her swing. A lesson from Moe Norman would be that a golfer should stick with what works well and trust his or her swing.

Find Your Game

Many golfers have played the game and played it well. Walter Hagen, Sam Snead, and Moe Norman played in a different era, but they represent the longevity of the sport. All three born close to one hundred years ago, their legends and lessons live on. It would be wise for all golfers to study the games of these predecessors and ensure that their legacies are not wasted.  You can get started with some lessons from one of our Golf Pros now.