Friday, February 27, 2009

Tight Wrists

Now pay attention to the wrists. They should be held fairly tightly. If the club is held tightly the wrists will be tight, and vice versâ. When the wrists are tight there is little play in them, and more is demanded of the arms. I don't believe in the long ball coming from the wrists. In defiance of principles which are accepted in many quarters, I will go so far as to say that, except in putting, there is no pure wrist shot in golf. Some players attempt to play their short approaches with their wrists as they have been told to do. These men are likely to remain at long handicaps for a long time. Similarly there is a kind of superstition that the elect among drivers get in some peculiar kind of "snap"—a momentary forward pushing movement—with their wrists at the time of impact, and that it is this wrist work at the critical period which gives the grand length to their drives, those extra twenty or thirty yards which make the stroke look so splendid, so uncommon, and which make the next shot so much easier. Generally speaking, the wrists when held firmly will take very good care of themselves; but there is a tendency, particularly when the two-V grip is used, to allow the right hand to take charge of affairs at the time the ball is struck, and the result is that the right wrist, as the swing is completed, gradually gets on to the top of the shaft instead of remaining in its proper place. The consequence is a pulled ball,—in fact, this is just the way in which I play for a pull. When the fault is committed to a still greater extent, the head of the club is suddenly turned over, and then the ball is foundered, as we say,—that is, it is struck downwards, and struggles, crippled and done for, a few yards along the ground in front of the tee. I find that ladies are particularly addicted to this very bad habit. Once again I have to say that if the club is taken up properly there is the greater certainty of its coming down properly, and then if you keep both hands evenly to their work there is a great probability of a good follow-through being properly effected.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Addressing the Ball

In addressing the ball, take care to do so with the centre of the face of the club, that is, at the desired point of contact. Some awkward eccentricities may frequently be observed on the tee. A player may be seen addressing his ball from the toe of the driver, and I have even noticed the address being made with the head of the club quite inside the ball, while in other cases it is the heel of the club which is applied to the object to be struck. The worthy golfers who are responsible for these freaks of style no doubt imagine that they are doing a wise and proper thing, and in the most effectual manner counteracting some other irregularity of their method of play which may not be discoverable, and which is in any case incurable. Yet nothing is more certain than that another irregularity must be introduced into the drive in order to correct the one made in the address. To the point at which the club is addressed it will naturally return in the course of the swing, and if it is to be guided to any other than the original place, there must be a constant effort all through the swing to effect this change in direction, and most likely somewhere or other there will be sufficient jerk to spoil the drive. In the case where the ball is addressed with the toe of the club, the player must find it necessary almost to fall on the ball in coming down, and it is quite impossible for him to get his full distance in such circumstances.

A waggle of the head of the club as a preliminary before commencing the swing is sometimes necessary after the stance and grip have been taken, but every young golfer should be warned against excess in this habit. With the stance and grip arranged, the line of the shot in view, and a full knowledge of what is required from the stroke, there is really very little more that needs thinking about before the swing is taken. One short preliminary waggle will tend to make the player feel comfortable and confident, but some golfers may be observed trying the patience of all about them by an interminable process of waggling, the most likely result of which is a duffed shot, since, when at last the stroke is made, the player is in a state of semi-catalepsy, and has no clear idea of what he is going to do or how he is going to do it.

In addressing the ball, and during the upward and downward swings until it has been safely despatched, the sight should be kept riveted, not on the top of the ball, as is customary, but upon the ground immediately to the right of it. To the point where the gaze is fixed the head of the club will automatically be guided. That is why you are told to keep your eye on the ball. But you do not want to hit the top of the ball. So look to the side, where you do want to hit it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tightness of Grip

We must now consider the degree of tightness of the grip by either hand, for this is an important matter. Some teachers of golf and various books of instruction inform us that we should grasp the club firmly with the left hand and only lightly with the right, leaving the former to do the bulk of the work and the other merely to guide the operations. It is astonishing with what persistency this error has been repeated, for error I truly believe it is. Ask any really first-class player with what comparative tightness he holds the club in his right and left hands, and I am confident that in nearly every case he will declare that he holds it nearly if not quite as tightly with the right hand as with the left. Personally I grip quite as firmly with the right hand as with the other one. When the other way is adopted, the left hand being tight and the right hand simply watching it, as it were, there is an irresistible tendency for the latter to tighten up suddenly at some part of the upward or downward swing, and, as surely as there is a ball on the tee, when it does so there will be mischief. Depend upon it the instinct of activity will prevent the right hand from going through with the swing in that indefinite state of looseness. Perhaps a yard from the ball in the upward swing, or a yard from it when coming down, there will be a convulsive grip of the right hand which, with an immediate acknowledgment of guilt, will relax again. Such a happening is usually fatal; it certainly deserves to be. Slicing, pulling, sclaffing, and the foundering of the innocent globe—all these tragedies may at times be traced to this determination of the right hand not to be ignored but to have its part to play in the making of the drive. Therefore in all respects my right hand is a joint partner with the left

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Driving Stance

It will be noticed, in the first place, that I have my toes turned well outwards. The pivoting which is necessary, and which will be described in due course, is done naturally and without any effort when the toes are pointed in this manner. While it is a mistake to place the feet too near each other, there is a common tendency to place them too far apart. When this is done, ease and perfection of the swing are destroyed and power is wasted, whilst the whole movement is devoid of grace. It will be seen that my left foot is a little, but not much, in advance of the ball. My heel, indeed, is almost level with it, being but an inch from the B line at the end of which the ball is teed. The toe, however, is 9½ inches away from it, all measurements in this case and others being taken from the exact centre of the point of the toe. The point of the right toe is 19 inches distant from the B line, and while this toe is 27½ inches from the A line the other is 34 inches from it, so that the right foot is 6½ inches in advance of the left.

After giving these measurements, there is really little more to explain about the stance, particularly as I shall show shortly how variations from it almost certainly bring about imperfect drives. Theoretically, the reason for the position is, I think, fairly obvious. The right foot is in advance of the left, so that at the most critical period of the stroke there shall be nothing to impede the follow-through, but everything to encourage it, and so that at the finish the body itself can be thrown forward in the last effort to continue the application of power. It would not be in a position to do so if the left foot were in front to bar the way. The position of the ball as between the right foot and the left is such that the club will strike it just at the time when it is capable of doing so to the utmost advantage, being then, and for the very minute portion of a second during which ball and club may be supposed to remain in contact, moving in as nearly as possible a straight line and at its maximum speed.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Distance From the Ball in Driving Stance

First, then, as to distance from the ball. The player should stand so far away from it that when he is in position and the club face is resting against the teed ball, just as when ready to strike it, the end of the shaft shall reach exactly up to his left knee when the latter is ever so slightly bent. In this position he should be able, when he has properly gripped the club, to reach the ball comfortably and without any stretching, the arms indeed being not quite straight out but having a slight bend at the elbows, so that when the club is waggled in the preliminary address to the ball, plenty of play can be felt in them.

I must now invite the player who is following me in these remarks to give his attention simultaneously to the photograph of myself, as I have taken my stance upon the tee for an ordinary drive , with the object of getting the longest ball possible under conditions in all respects normal; and to the small diagram in the corner of the picture giving all the measurements necessary to a complete understanding of the position. I may point out again that my height is 5 feet 9¼ inches, and that the length of my driver from the heel to the end of the shaft is 42 inches. My stature being medium, the majority of players who desire to follow my suggestions will be able to do so without any altering of the measurements given in these diagrams; and, indeed, until any variation in height one way or the other becomes considerable, there is no necessity to vary them.

Remember that in this and all subsequent illustrations the line marked A points to the direction in which it is desired that the ball should travel, and that the B line over which the player stands is at right angles to it.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Tee the Ball Low

Tee the ball low, rejecting the very prevalent but erroneous idea that you are more certain of getting it away cleanly and well when it is poised high off the ground. The stroke that sweeps the ball well away from the low tee is the most natural and perfect, and it follows that the ball, properly driven from this low tee, is the best of all. Moreover, one is not so liable to get too much underneath the ball and make a feeble shot into the sky, which is one of the most exasperating forms of ineffectual effort in the whole range of golf.

Another convincing argument in favour of the low tee is that it preserves a greater measure of similarity between the first shot and the second, helping to make the latter, with the brassy, almost a repetition of the first, and therefore simple and comparatively easy. If you make a high tee, when you come to play your second stroke with your brassy, you will be inclined to find fault with even the most perfect brassy lies—when the ball is so well held up by the blades of grass that the best possible shot with this far-sending club should be the result.

If you are favoured with an ordinary brassy lie, you imagine the ball to be in a hole, exclaim that you are badly cupped, and call out vexatiously for an iron. This is the regular result of playing from a high tee, whereas, when the low one is systematically adopted, the difference between the play with the driver and with the brassy from a good lie is inconsiderable, the brassy is used more frequently, and the results are regularly better. As I have already suggested, one of the principles of my long game is to make the play with the brassy as nearly similar to that with the driver as possible, and a low tee is the first step in that direction.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Choosing a Putter

In the matter of putters, of which there is an infinite variety and a new one invented almost every month, I believe in a man playing with just that kind that he has most confidence in and which he fancies suits him best. Whether it is a plain gun-metal instrument, a crooked-necked affair, a putting cleek, an ordinary aluminium, a wooden putter, or the latest American invention, it is all the same; and if it suits the man who uses it, then it is the best putter in the world for him, and the one with which he will hole out most frequently. In no other sense is there such a thing as a best putter.

The only semblance of a suggestion that I will presume to offer in this connection is, that for very long putts there is something to be said in favour of the wooden and aluminium putters, which seem to require less exertion than others, and to enable the player to regulate the strength of the stroke more exactly. For the shorter ones, I like the putting cleek best.

But even these are matters of fancy, and what a great deal even the vaguest, most unreasoning belief in a putter has to do with the success with which it is manipulated I have as good a reason as anyone to understand, since I owe my first Championship largely to the help of a putter which I had never used before, and which was really not a putter at all, but, as I have explained elsewhere, simply a little cleek which I picked up accidentally in a professional's shop on the eve of the struggle, and in which I had a new shaft fixed to my own liking. On that occasion I putted with this instrument as the winner of a championship ought to putt, but I have never been able to do any good with it since, and in these days it is resting idly in my shop, useless but quite un-purchasable for any money.

I do believe that it is a good thing to be the possessor of two putters, with both of which you have at one time or another done well, and in which you have unlimited confidence. Don't carry them both in the bag at the same time, but keep one safe in the locker, and when the day comes, as it surely will, when you are off your putting, take it out on to the links for the next round and see what you can do with it. Your weakness on the green may no more have been the fault of the other putter than the tourist was the cause of the clergyman missing the little one at Glasgow, but very much will be gained if you can persuade yourself that it was.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

No One Stance in Putting

For the proper playing of the other strokes in golf, I have told my readers to the best of my ability how they should stand and where they should put their feet. But except for the playing of particular strokes, which come within the category of those called "fancy," I have no similar instruction to offer in the matter of putting. There is no rule, and there is no best way.

Sometimes you see a player bend down and hold the putter right out in front of him with both wrists behind the shaft. This is an eccentricity, but if the player in question believes that he can putt better in this way than in any other, he is quite justified in adopting it, and I would be the last to tell him that he is wrong. The fact is that there is more individuality in putting than in any other department of golf, and it is absolutely imperative that this individuality should be allowed to have its way. I believe seriously that every man has had a particular kind of putting method awarded to him by Nature, and when he putts exactly in this way he will do well, and when he departs from his natural system he will miss the long ones and the short ones too. First of all, he has to find out this particular method which Nature has assigned for his use. There ought not to be much difficulty about this, for it will come unconsciously to his aid when he is not thinking of anybody's advice or of anything that he has ever read in any book on golf. That day the hole will seem as big as the mouth of a coal mine, and putting the easiest thing in the world. When he stands to his ball and makes his little swing, he feels as easy and comfortable and confident as any man can ever do. Yet it is probable that, so far as he knows, he is not doing anything special. It may happen that the very next day, when he thinks he is standing and holding his club and hitting the ball in exactly the same way, he nevertheless feels distinctly uncomfortable and full of nervous hesitation as he makes his stroke, and then the long putts are all either too short, or too long, or wide, and the little ones are missed.

Advice for Your First Driver

The question of the whip or suppleness of the shaft must generally be decided by individual style and preference; but I advise the beginner against purchasing a whippy driver to start with, whatever he may do later on. He should rather err on the side of stiffness. When a man is well on his drive, has a good style, and is getting a long ball from the tee every time, it is doubtless true that he obtains better results from a shaft with a little life in it than from a stiff one. But the advantage is not by any means so great as might be imagined, and many fine players drive their best balls with stiff clubs. It must always be remembered that when the stroke is not made perfectly there is a much greater tendency to slice with a supple shaft than with a stiff one, and the disadvantages of the former are especially pronounced on a windy day. It is all a matter of preference and predilection, and when these are absent the best thing to do is to strike the happy medium and select a shaft that is fairly supple but which still leaves you in the most perfect command of the head of the club, and not as if the latter were connected with your hands by nothing more than a slender rush.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Upward Swing

In the upward swing the right shoulder should be raised gradually. It is unnecessary for me to submit any instruction on this point, since the movement is natural and inevitable, and there is no tendency towards excess; but the arms and wrists need attention. From the moment when the club is first taken back the left wrist should begin to turn inwards (that is to say, the movement is in the same direction as that taken by the hands of a clock), and so turn away the face of the club from the ball. When this is properly done, the toe of the club will point to the sky when it is level with the shoulder and will be dead over the middle of the shaft. This turning or twisting process continues all the way until at the top of the swing the toe of the club is pointing straight downwards to the ground. A reference to the above photo will show that this has been done, and that as the result the left wrist finishes the upward swing underneath the shaft, which is just where it ought to be. When the wrist has not been at work in the manner indicated, the toe of the club at the top of the drive will be pointing upwards. In order to satisfy himself properly about the state of affairs thus far in the making of the drive, the golfer should test himself at the top of the swing by holding the club firmly in the position which it has reached, and then dropping the right hand from the grip. He will thus be enabled to look right round, and if he then finds that the maker's name on the head of the club is horizontal, he will know that he has been doing the right thing with his wrists, while if it is vertical the wrist action has been altogether wrong.

My Own Set of Clubs

My own clubs seem to most golfers who examine them to be on the short side, and this is a convenient opportunity for giving a few details concerning my favourites, which may prove of interest to the readers of these notes. I should prefix the statement with the observation that I am 5 feet 9¼ inches in height, and that normally I weigh 11½ stones. Young players who might be inclined to adapt their clubs to my measurements should bear these factors in mind, though I seem to be of something like average height and build. Here, then, are the statistics of my bag:—

Driver 42" 12¾ oz.
Brassy 42 " 12½ oz.
Driving mashie 38 " 14½ oz.
Driving cleek 37 " 13½ oz.
Light cleek 37 " 13½ oz.
Iron 35½ " 15¼ oz.
Mashie 36½ " 5¼ oz.
Niblick 37 " 19 oz.
Putter (putting cleek) 33½ " 15 oz.

Each measurement was made from the heel to the end of the shaft.

I have two explanations to make concerning this list of dimensions. I have included the driving mashie, of which I have said nothing in this chapter. It is an alternative club, and it is better that it should be discussed exclusively in its proper place, which is when cleek shots are being considered. Again, on making a critical examination of these measurements, the golfer of a little experience will promptly ask why my mashie is an inch and a quarter longer than my iron. It is longer because one has sometimes to play high lofting shots over trees and the like, and in such cases the loft of the mashie is necessary and a considerable amount of power as well—hence the extra stick.

Reserve Drivers

I am a strong believer in having reserve drivers and brassies, even if one is only a very moderate golfer. Everybody knows what it is to suffer torture during the period when one is said to be "off his drive," and I think there is no remedy for this disease like a change of clubs. There may be nothing whatever the matter with the club you have been playing with, and which at one time gave you so much delight, but which now seems so utterly incapable of despatching a single good ball despite all the drastic alterations which you make in your methods. Of course it is not at all the fault of the club, but I think that nearly everybody gets more or less tired of playing with the same implement, and at length looks upon it with familiar contempt.

The best thing to do in such circumstances is to give it a rest, and it will soon be discovered that absence makes the heart grow fonder in this matter as in so many others. But the reserve clubs which are taken out while the first string are resting should be in themselves good and almost as exactly suitable to the player's style as the others. It is a mistake to take up a club which has been regarded as a failure, and in which one has no confidence. Therefore, I suggest that so soon as the golfer has really found his style and is tolerably certain about it, and the exact kind of club that he likes best, he should fit himself up with both a spare driver and a spare brassy, and give them each a turn as occasion demands.

It is hardly necessary to add that whenever an important game is being played, considerable wisdom will be exercised if the reserves are taken out in the bag along with the clubs with which it is intended to play, for though breakages are not matters of everyday occurrence, they do happen sometimes, and nothing would be more exasperating in such a contingency than the knowledge that for the rest of the game you would be obliged to play your tee shots with your brassy or your brassy shots with your cleek.

Choosing a Driver

Take the driver to begin with, and the preliminary word of advice that I have to offer concerning the choice of this club is at variance with the custom of the present moment, though I am confident that before long the golfing world will again come round to my view of the matter—not my view only, but that of many of the leading amateur and professional players. One of the problems which agitate the mind of the golf-club maker deals with the best and most effectual method of attaching the head of the club to the shaft. For a very long period this was done by what we call scaring or splicing, the neck of the club having a long bevel which was spliced with the shaft and bound round for several inches with black twine. Latterly, however, a new kind of club has become the fashion with all but the oldest and most experienced players, and it is called the socket driver. The continuation of the neck of this club is shorter than in the case of the spliced driver, and instead of there being any splicing at all, a hole is bored vertically into the end of the neck and the shaft fitted exactly into it, glued up, and finally bound round for less than an inch. This club certainly looks neater than the old-fashioned sort, and the man who is governed only by appearances might very easily imagine that it is really more of one piece than the other, that the union of the shaft with the head has less effect upon the play of the club, and that therefore it is better. But experience proves that this is not the case. What we want at this all-important part of the driver is spring and life. Anything in the nature of a deadness at this junction of the head with the shaft, which would, as it were, cut off the one from the other, is fatal to a good driver. I contend that the socket brings about this deadness in a far greater degree than does the splice. The scared or old-fashioned drivers have far more spring in them than the new ones, and it is my experience that I can constantly get a truer and a better ball with them. When the wood of the shaft and the wood of the neck are delicately tapered to suit each other, filed thin and carefully adjusted, wood to wood for several inches, and then glued and tightened up to each other with twine for several inches, there is no sharp join whatever but only such a gradual one as never makes itself felt in practice. Moreover, these clubs are more serviceable, and will stand much more wear and tear than those which are made with sockets. Sometimes they give trouble when the glue loosens, but the socketed club is much easier to break. On club links generally in these days you will probably see more socketed drivers and brassies (for these remarks apply to all wooden clubs) than those that are spliced; but this is simply the result of a craze or fashion with which neat appearance has something to do; and if you desire to convince yourself that I am right, take note of the styles of the drivers used by the best players at the next first-class amateur or professional tournament that you witness. The men who are playing on these occasions are ripe with experience, and so long as they get the best results they do not care what their clubs look like.

A First Set of Clubs

A beginner may at the outset limit himself to the purchase of six new clubs. He must have a driver, a brassy, a cleek, an iron, a mashie, and a putter. At an early opportunity he may add a niblick to this small set, but there is no need to invest in it at the outset, and as this club is one which is least likely to require change, it is best that it should not be bought until the player has some ideas of his own as to what is wanted. By way of indicating what will be needful to make this set complete for the purposes of good golf, when the player has obtained a fairly complete experience, I may mention the instruments that I take out when playing an important match. I have two drivers, one brassy, a baffy or spoon, two cleeks (one shorter than the other), an iron, sometimes one mashie, sometimes two (one for running up and the other for pitch shots), a niblick, and sometimes two putters (one for long running-up putts and the other for holing out). This selection may be varied slightly according to the course on which the match is to be played and the state of the weather, but in general principles the constitution of the bag remains the same, and a player who is equipped with such a set ought to be able to play any hole in any way, and if he cannot do so it is his own skill that is lacking and not an extra club. We may now consider in order a few of the points of these clubs. I shall have occasion, when dealing with the method of play with each of them, to call attention to many points of detail which can only be properly explained when indicating particular objects which it is desired to achieve with them, so for the present I shall confine myself chiefly to general features.

Difficulty in Choosing Golf Clubs

The good golfer loves his clubs and takes a great and justifiable pride in them. He has many reasons for doing so. Golf clubs are not like most other implements that are used in sport. A man may go to a shop and pick out a cricket bat or a billiard cue with which he may be tolerably certain he will be able to play something approaching to his best game when he is in the mood for playing it. The acquaintance which is begun in the shop is complete a few days later. But a man may see a golf club which he strongly fancies and buy it, and yet find himself utterly incapable of using it to good advantage. He may purchase club after club, and still feel that there is something wanting in all of them, something which he cannot define but which he knows ought to exist if his own peculiar style of play is to be perfectly suited. Until he finds this club he is groping in the dark. One driver may be very much like another, and even to the practised eye two irons may be exactly similar; but with one the golfer may do himself justice, and with the other court constant failure. Therefore, the acquisition of a set of clubs, each one of which enjoys the complete confidence of its owner, is not the task of a week or even a year. There are some golfers who do not accomplish it in many years, and happy are they when at last they have done so. Then they have a very sincere attachment to each one of these instruments, that have been selected with so much difficulty. It is not always possible to give reasons for their excellence, for the subtle qualities of the clubs are not visible to the naked eye. Their owners only know that at last they have found the clubs that are the best for them, and that they will not part with them for any money—that is, if they are golfers of the true breed. In these days I always play with the same set of irons. They are of different makes, and to the average golfer they appear quite ordinary irons and very much like others of their class. But they are the results of trials and tests of more than one hundred clubs.

Working with a Professional

Therefore, when the golfer has become possessed of his first set of clubs, let him proceed to the shop of a good professional player—presumably it will be the shop where he bought his clubs—and let him place himself unreservedly in the hands of this expert in the game. Most professionals are good players and good teachers, and the golfer cannot go far wrong in this matter if he allows himself to be guided by his own instincts. I say that he should place himself unreservedly in this man's hands; but in case it should be necessary I would make one exception to this stipulation. If he thinks well of my advice and desires to do the thing with the utmost thoroughness from the beginning, he may request that for the first lesson or two no ball may be put upon the ground at which to practise swings. The professional is sure to agree that this is the best way, though he encounters so few beginners who are prepared to make all the sacrifices that I have suggested, that he might have hesitated in recommending this course of procedure himself.


Now I know what severe temptation there will be to all beginners to disregard the advice that I am about to offer them; but before proceeding any further I will invite them to take the opinion of any old golfer who, chiefly through a careless beginning (he knows that this is the cause), has missed his way in the golfer's life, and is still plodding away as near the limit handicap as he was at the beginning. The beginner may perhaps be disposed to rely more upon the statement of this man of experience and disappointment than on that of the professional, who is too often suspected of having his own ends in view whenever he gives advice. Let the simple question be put to him whether, if he could be given the chance of doing it all over again from the beginning, he would not sacrifice the first three or six months of play to diligent study of the principles of the game, and the obtaining of some sort of mastery over each individual shot under the careful guidance of a skilled tutor, not attempting during this time a single complete round with all his clubs in action, and refusing all temptations to play a single match—whether he would not undergo this slow and perhaps somewhat tedious period of learning if he could be almost certain of being able at the end of it to play a really good game of golf, and now at this later period of his career to have a handicap much nearer the scratch mark than his existing one is to the border-line between the senior and the junior? I am confident that in the great majority of cases, looking back on his misspent golfing youth, he would answer that he would cheerfully do all this learning if he could begin again at the beginning. Now, of course, it is too late, for what is once learned can only with extreme difficulty be unlearned, and it is almost impossible to reform the bad style and the bad habits which have taken root and been cultivated in the course of many years; and if it were possible it would be far more difficult than it would have been to learn the game properly at the beginning.