November 9, 2002

Dow Finsterwald - A study of consistency

I had the good fortune to work for and become friends with Dow Finsterwald during the summer and fall of 1977 when I was the teaching pro at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. His reputation as a player and a gentleman made being in his presence something special. His persona on the golf course was "Mister Conservative", but away from tournament golf he enjoyed his friends and living a full life. His passing last week was sad, but he did have a full 93 years that was filled with many accomplishments.

Dow was blessed with an exceptional mind. He graduated from Ohio University and had to choose between a law profession and professional golf. I think he made the right decision. At a PGA tournament early in his career, he received a poor rules decision that went against him; he decided that would never happen again, so he studied and became an expert on the Rules of Golf. He served on the USGA and The Masters Rules Committees for many years. Winning the 1958 PGA Championship was his only major victory, but he was runner up the year before and lost in a play-off for the 1962 Masters to Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. He had nine other top ten finishes in major championships. Dow won 10 other PGA Tour events, but his special talent was his consistency. He made money in 72 straight events, and finished in the top 5 in fifty tournaments! Dow also captained the winning 1977 Ryder Cup team and played on four Cup teams compiling a 9-3-1 record. If there was one criticism of his golf game, it was that he was too conservative. His game was "down the middle and to the middle of the green". When he got a wedge in his hand the strategy changed, but everything up to that point was very calculated and conformist. If he had a little more of Arnold Palmer's go for everything style, his record would even have been better, but that wasn't his personality on the golf course. His style fit him well and it was richly rewarded.

Dow liked consistency in his life. Rain or shine, Dow was at his Broadmoor office at 8 o'clock sharp every day. He read his correspondence and usually wrote one or two letters every day. Then at 9, he would take his special yellow golf cart (the others were green) that could go 30 miles per hour and go to the range and hit his new Maxfli golf balls for about an hour. He then would go on the golf course and play up to nine holes. This was a time that I got to join him. During that time we talked about golf and a lot of things, but mainly my education was watching how he went about setting up his golf shots and the types of shots that he would hit. He was an artist. Mechanics were secondary. His vision and shaping the shots was his purpose.

The first time that I played with Dow, we played the East course at the Broadmoor. I wanted to make a good impression with my new boss, so I was centered on my game. I played well shooting around par on the par 72 challenging golf course. The first thing I noticed about Dow was his routine. IT NEVER CHANGED! Every shot was the same as the one before. You could set a stopwatch on his routine and it probably was within milliseconds each time. At the end of the round, I thought Dow had played well, figuring he was a couple under par. I was wrong by four shots. That was the easiest six under par 66 that you could witness. Nothing was exceptional, but down the middle, irons to the right place on the green, wedges that were inside six feet and a couple of made fifteen foot putts. All shots were hit with the same intention and devoid of drama or extra effort. I witnessed how the game should be played by a true master.

The game lost one of their best last week. Dow played a big role in my life as a golf professional in Colorado. I thank him for his mentoring and support. RIP


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