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  • Alistair Tait

The hill walker's approach to golf

It’s doubtful if any hill walker has ever made a step on a hill and then analysed the step. I can honestly say I’ve never made a step on any Munro, any Corbett, I’ve ever climbed and then said to myself:

“That was an awful step. Why did I step that way? What can I do differently that will make the next step better?”

No. When I’m out on the hills I just put one foot in front of the other until I reach the top. The last hills I climbed before lockdown were Tolmount and Tom Bhuide near Braemer. It was a beautiful, long day with the family covering 28.41 kilometres that took eight hours, 53 minutes and four seconds. My step count was 44,204.

Not once did I analyse any of those 44,204 steps. I just walked. Yet I can go out on the golf course and analyse every other shot – Every. Single. Round!

"Maybe if I aim slightly left, if I tuck my right elbow in at address, keep my left arm straight, maintain the height I had at address through the swing, brace myself against my right leg on the backswing, turn the shoulders, keep the hands out of the hit….."

Sound familiar?

As Ernest Jones once said:

“Those who think in terms of golf being a science unfortunately have tried to separate from each other the arms, head, shoulders, body, hips, and legs. They turn the golfer into a worm that’s been cut into bits, with each part wriggling every which way.”

I spent years cycling and never once thought, why did I pedal that way? Ditto for running. When I played football, I didn’t receive a pass from a team mate and think:

“Now, how should I kick this ball? What positions do I have to put my body, my legs, my feet in in order to make this a perfect kick?”

No. I just kicked the ball. Now I walk up hills without thinking about the technicalities of each step. I'm more focussed on the scenery, the weather, being in wild places, the joy of being on top of hills like the Buachaille Etive Mòr in Glencoe (below).

Yet the last round I played it felt like I’d reached swing thought number 67 by the 9th tee! BTW, that one worked; I hit it a 5-iron to 10 feet – missed the putt, obviously – and then decided it was time for swing thought number 68 when 67 let me down on the 10th tee.

Many years ago, I had the privilege of eavesdropping on a conversation between Seve Ballesteros and Fred Couples during the 1996 Dubai Desert Classic. It was one of those moments that made me proud to call golf my sport: fellow competitors helping one another is one of the most edifying aspects of this great game.

Ballesteros had just shot a third round 74 after a couple of decent rounds and was clearly in the doldrums. Couples spent half an hour with him just talking. I wasn’t close enough to hear every word. The gist of Couples’s advice was Seve should get back to just swinging the club instead of searching for technical answers.

Arguably no one has a more lackadaisical approach to golf than the 1992 Masters winner. The American once said:

“As far as swing and techniques are concerned, I don’t know diddly-squat. When I’m playing well, I don’t even aim.”

I doubt Seve never even thought about aiming during in his prime either. The most charismatic golfer Europe has ever produced invented “grip it and rip it” long before John Daly made that a catchphrase by winning the 1991 PGA Championship.

If only Seve had been able to ditch all the technical stuff he’d acquired by that stage of his career and copy Couples.

Colin Montgomerie won that Dubai Desert Classic. Another player in the Couples mode whose swing hasn’t really changed much since amateur golf.

Of course, for every Couples, every Montgomerie, there’s a Nick Faldo, a Padraig Harrington, players who seem to analyse every aspect of the swing to the nth degree. Works for them, but maybe we’d all play better if we took the hill walker’s approach to golf.

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