LINKS LETTER, 2009 ANNUAL EDITION
THE RHYTHM OF THE GAME
A conversation with top teacher Jim Hardy
By Jim Hiskey
Over a Sunday lunch after church last fall, it didn’t take me long to discover that Stan Thirsk was still
teaching several days a week and playing regularly. I had heard he still played well and asked, “Are you shooting your age?”
He smiled, but didn’t answer.
“You do it all the time, don’t you?” I said. “What’s your best round lately?”
He still didn’t answer. I rephrased my question, “You break 80?”
“Had a 70, but I couldn’t putt a lick.”
I shook my head.
Thirsk, a PGA National Hall of Fame member and the long-time mentor to one of the game’s greatest players, Tom
Watson, was being far too humble. After all, he is in his 80s. A round of 70 is far better than his age.
On the way out of the restaurant, his dear friend Harold Barris confirmed my thoughts, making it a point to walk next to
me and say, “You will never find a finer, more humble man than Stan Thirsk.”
“That’s what I’ve heard.” I said. “He’s also got a good sense of humor.”
After lunch, Stan and his wife Audrey invited me to their home, a split-level brick house on a wooded, dead end street. A
male mulberry tree canopies the driveway.
Audrey sat me beside Stan at their two-by-three foot kitchen table, topped in wood-like Formica with gray and blue flecks.
Our hour together flew by like a Titleist off the face of a well-hit driver. We agreed to talk further by telephone. What
follows is a portion of our conversations.
Hiskey: Stan, is it true that you learned golf by mimicking the pros that came to your home in Wichita when you
were a young boy, pros like Byron Nelson and Sam Snead?
Thirsk: Yes. And Hogan and McSpaden. They all came and played at different times in exhibitions.
Hiskey: What age were you then?
Thirsk: Had to be 12, maybe 13.
Hiskey: And you tried to mimic their swing?
Thirsk: That’s what I did. I just watched their rhythm. The way they went back smooth. Started down smooth. And acceleration through the ball.
Hiskey: Can you talk about rhythm in a golf swing, something of what you’ve learned in the last 60 years?
Thirsk: You can’t do any good without it. You can go fast only once on every swing. But it isn’t starting away and it isn’t starting down.
You accelerate through the ball.
Hiskey: So what does rhythm do for you?
Thirsk: Lets you play well. You can’t do well without it.
Hiskey: What does it have to do with balance?
Thirsk: Everything. That’s what amazed me about Watson. The first time I saw him was when he was six. We had this pitching, putting and driving contest.
When he was driving he never lost his balance. Not one time. For a child six years old that was amazing, because usually they try to kill the ball and lose their balance.
Hiskey: Fall back, like a baseball player. But he didn’t?
Thirsk: He did not.
Hiskey: And you thought he’d be a good student?
Thirsk: Well, his parents were members of the Kansas City Country Club and this was when I was at Mission Hills as the assistant. So I didn’t see him
again until I took the job there in 1961. Then I saw him when he got out of school.
Hiskey: Ever thought of the golf swing like that of a concert—high, lows, sometimes quick, sometimes slow?
Thirsk: Tempo and rhythm are two different things.
Tom Watson’s tempo was rather brisk, still is today. But it has rhythm to it. You can have a song that has a slow tempo that has rhythm or it can have a
fast tempo but it still has rhythm. So his golf swing was on the brisk side. Not slow like Freddie Couples or Ernie Els.
Hiskey: What did you teach Tom Watson about the rhythm of the golf swing?
Thirsk: To go at a speed that he could feel. Like I told you earlier. You get to go fast at one time during the swing, and that’s through the ball. You
don’t start away fast, and you don’t start down fast. It doesn’t mean you have to creep at either spot. But you’ve got to feel you’re starting right and feel the change of direction
when you start down.
Hiskey: Some people have a slow demeanor about them. They walk slow. Others walk fast. Tom Watson moves quickly.
Thirsk: When he gets ready to play a shot he goes through his routine. Once he gets over the ball he just takes a look, sees what he wants to do, figures the
shot out in his mind, sets the club down and takes a whack.
Hiskey: Did you tell him anything about the speed of his swing?
Thirsk: “You’ve got to feel it,” I said. “Get the pressure right in your hands so you can feel the weight in the clubhead.”
Because that’s what you’re going to apply to the ball. So when you get over the ball, you can’t have an extreme grip pressure. Your grip pressure has to be light enough to feel the clubhead.
That’s what helps you. If you have tension, I promise you, you’re not going to start away slow.
Hiskey: Stan, do you believe there is any parallel between rhythm in golf and life?
Thirsk: The thing that’s good about golf, especially for kids, is it teaches you about life and about honesty, perseverance, patience, all those good
things. That’s what I learned when I was a kid. The best way for me to describe the rhythm in my life is live by what the Lord wants me to do. Go by His ways and walk in the paths of righteousness, not mine.
If I do what He wants, everything is going to be fine.
His rhythm is perfect. It never changes because of His grace and His forgiveness. When we mess up, He’s there to take care of us. That’s also what
we feel inside, and it makes us want to keep doing things His way, not the way of the world. To me, that’s what’s important.
Hiskey: Do you believe in a swing plane?
Thirsk: I never thought much about a plane for a long, long time. The plain truth is your plane is kind of set when you stand up to hit your ball. The way I
was taught was a two-plane—when you drop the club slightly inside the path from what you went back on.
Hiskey: Do you teach two-plane or one-plane now?
Thirsk: I do whatever the person is capable of doing. To do the one-plane you’ve got to be young and strong. That’s what a lot of the guys are
doing now. An older person can’t do that. They are not capable of doing that. I know.
Hiskey: You follow Jesus. He helps you stay in plane, right?
Thirsk: That’s the plain truth. I remember listening to Charles Stanley one morning. He was talking about reading God’s Word daily. He said if you
don’t read God’s Word, then you’re not going to be close to where you need to be. That meant a great deal to me. That’s what keeps me going and keeps me on the right track.
Hiskey: Was there ever a low point in your life?
Thirsk: Right here is a good answer. (He picks up the large black Bible on the table.) Mark 4. You know, I accepted the Lord as my Savior when I was a little guy, about 12 years old. My dad was a deacon in the church then, but for some reason we left the church. And like the Bible says: “When trouble or persecution comes because of the word they quickly fall away. And others… hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.”
I never did become fruitful. I got away from Sunday School. After Audrey and I married, we were active in church in Wichita. When we moved to Kansas City, she
continued going to church with the kids. I thought I needed to keep working and do my job. So that was not good for me.
Hiskey: Did you find out later you could have gone to church if you really had want wanted to?
Thirsk: Yep. I just copped out.
Hiskey: So from the verses you read from Mark 4, you found you were not rooted deeply. The cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches and the lust of
other things choked the faith you had as a child?
Thirsk: I know I didn’t get off to a good start. I didn’t mature until later on. Which was unfortunate, but that’s what I did. And thanks to
the Lord and His mercy I finally got around to where I should be. Or try to be.
Hiskey: Was there a turning point?
Thirsk: Yep. Twenty-four years ago. I was drinking too much and one night embarrassed myself. The next day Audrey told me what happened. I haven’t had a
Hiskey: And that’s when you learned you needed to be more deeply rooted in your faith?
Thirsk: The Lord gave me the strength to resist putting my hand up to my mouth with that glass.
Hiskey: So now, Jesus has taken you from a low note to a high note in life, and what is the acronym you live by?
Thirsk: It’s a little word called FAITH. F is for Forgiveness. A is for Available. I is for Impossible for God to allow sin into heaven. T is for Turn
and go the other direction, then trust the Lord to go into... And H is for Heaven.
I put my FAITH in the Lord. I remember His Forgiveness is Available, and it’s Impossible for God to allow sin into heaven. When I was drinking I realized
there’s no good end to it. I knew in my heart to Turn from it and trust the Lord to go to Heaven.
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