Saturday, September 17, 2011

Lesson from a Legend

Jackie Burke’s putting stroke was as pure as love.

From 1950-1963, he won 16 PGA Tour events. He was an absolute wizard on the greens and got halfway home to the Grand Slam in 1956 when he won the Masters and PGA Championship.

Not many have ever putted
it better than Jackie Burke.
(Photo: Robert Seale,
A five-time U.S. Ryder Cup team member (and the 1957 U.S. captain), Burke has given putting lessons to some of best who’ve ever rolled it, including Ben Crenshaw and Phil Mickelson.

He recently gave one to the hack who writes this blog.

A couple days ago I was at Champions Golf Club, which was founded by Burke and three-time Masters champ Jimmy Demaret. The historic club was the site of the 1967 Ryder Cup, 1969 U.S. Open and 1993 U.S. Amateur and is home to more single-digit handicaps than any club in Texas.

I was there waiting to interview and shoot some photos of 17-year-old Kayli Quinton for an upcoming story in Texas Links. Back in 2006, Golf Digest named Kayli the most improved junior golfer in the state – boy or girl – and she recently won her third consecutive Greater Houston Junior City Championship. She has a great story. I look forward to sharing it with you soon.

While waiting for Kayli, I ran into the 88-year-old Burke in the pro shop.

“You’re strong,” he said, squeezing my bicep like he has done before. (My arms aren’t much bigger than Kayli’s, by the way. He was just being nice.)

“What’s your handicap now?” he asked.

I told him and he said, “Not bad, but we can get that number down with his club.”

He had a putter in his hand.

Then he gave me a lesson next to a rack of $100 golf shirts. He told me putting the ball isn’t any different than rolling it across the green with your hand.

“You roll it with your arms,” he said. “You don’t hit at it.”

With his open palm, he punched me in the shoulder.

“You can’t putt like that,” he said. Then he took the same hand and gently rubbed it up and down my arm. “You putt like this.”

It was like those old credit card commercials: Putting lesson from a Masters champion? Priceless.

The next day in a media event, I made almost every putt.  

One of my all-time favorite golf pro stories involves Jackie Burke. He was giving a tour pro a putting lesson. They were working on four-footers. When the pro missed one, Burke slapped him across the face – hard. The pro recoiled, and then asked why Burke did that.

“When you miss a four-footer,” Burke said, “I want it to hurt.”

They didn’t just break the mold after Jackie Burke. They destroyed it.

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