Editor's Note: We are approaching the end of this blog book. I should have included the last chapters in the 2nd half of last year, but life, work and golf itself got in the way.
I intend to upload the last chapters of the book this month (January 2011). After that, I will continue adding golf swing research materials. I have not decided yet whether that research will be included in this blog, or whatever other format. I will keep you posted. For now, though, I hope you enjoy the remaining chapters of On Learning Golf.
I ASTONISH my pupils when I tell them, as I sometimes do, that for the first twenty years I was teaching golf, I taught it all wrong.
They think I am simply decrying my early efforts as a teacher. Actually I tell them this to suggest what an extraordinarily difficult game golf is to analyze and to teach.
You must analyze before you can teach. It is useless just to develop a fine swing yourself and say to your pupil, "Now copy me!"
So we must analyze and base our teaching upon what our analysis reveals. But here is a warning-unless your analysis is very deep and close and based upon wide experience, it may mislead you.
Now this is a matter of immediate concern and interest to every advanced golfer whether he wants to be taught or to teach himself.
So in this penultimate chapter I will give you a few examples of golf paradoxes which will show you what I mean and point out the sort of traps that golf analysis holds for the unwary. I will start with a question: Why do you sometimes top your ball?
"That is easy," I can hear you say. "I top my ball when I take my eye off it, because this raises my head, which fetches my shoulders up, and they pull up my arms-with the natural consequence that I either hit the top of my ball or swing right over it."
Now that or something very like it would be the answer of nine-ninety-nine players out of a thousand. It would have been my answer for the first twenty years of my teaching life, but I now know that it is wrong. You do not top the ball because you pull up your body just before impact but because you drop it.
You may think that that will take some explaining. It will! Also I can tell you that it took some analyzing to discover.
The first thing to get clear in your mind is the difference between pulling up your body and stretching up through your body.
This latter is essential to one of the most important feels in golf-the feel of down through the ball. And it is relevant to note (since it suggests where the ball is contacted) that the higher you want to pitch the ball the more essential is this down feeling, a feeling which is the opposite of scooping the club head up.
Now here is another relevant collateral point.
When they study film pictures or flickers of great golfers, many people are intrigued and some made quite indignant to see that some of them are right up on their toes during the impact period.
And some of the very greatest golfers-Vardon, Bobby Jones, and Miss Joyce Wethered-are the worst "offenders."
Some years ago Mme Lacoste came to me with a photograph of herself driving. She was as far up on her toes as ever Miss Wethered had been. But fortunately by this time I had begun to study and understand the question; so when she asked me what I thought of her picture, I said I saw nothing wrong with it.
"But look," she said, "I am right up on my toes." "I know you are/' said I, "but is that wrong?" "Every expert I have shown it to says it is." "Well," says I, "here is one who says it isn't. If you take my advice, you will forget that picture and any idea it has produced in you, and go on playing as you played that shot."
"But it seems all wrong."
"It is not all wrong," said I.
"Look! your head and shoulders are beautifully down and that's all you need to have down.
Then see your stretch up through the body it's marvelous; that is what gives you your wrist snap and makes you such a long hitter for such a little dainty lady."
Now, how does this up-on-the-toes position work in with that point I am always harping on-that the first movement on the return is to bring the left heel solidly and squarely back to the turf?
The return of the left heel to the ground is neces-sary in order to have an equal balance between the two feet.
By the time this balance is achieved, we are nearing the impact-and the stretching up through the body necessary to fling the wrists open reacts as a ris-ing-on-the-toes movement.
You can say that the up-on-the-toes is a reaction to the stretching up through the body or that the effective flinging open of the wrists is a reaction to up-on-the-toes. But whichever way you like to think of it, you will find that the prominent golfer is up-on-the-toes in the region of impact.
Now let me explain the difference between lifting up the shoulders and head and stretching up through the body from the feet and legs.
You have only to shrug your shoulders to lift them, the stretching is rather more complex.
It is an established feel in all good golfers that they stretch down through their arms as they come into contact with the ball, but you cannot stretch against nothing; so they have to stretch up from the feet to set up the necessary resistance in the shoulders.
We have to fix the top of our swing by giving it something to pull against; otherwise we cannot stretch tautly down from it. We fix the top end by bracing and stretching up to hold our shoulders firmly in place.
If we relax our brace and stretch and let our body sag down ever so little, this top fixing "gives" a little and we no longer keep the feeling of stretching down through the ball. That is where the topped shots come from.
There is a clear difference between lifting the shoulders and holding them up. If we lift our shoulders, we lift our arms out of position, but if we push up from our feet, we may be using equal or greater muscular force simply to hold our shoulder in position against the terrific down-pull of the club head.
Consequently, we may even feel that we are rising up when actually we are doing no more than resisting in an upward direction the force of the club head which is pulling down.
That is why you may find, if you study a whole film with an up-on-the-toes finish, that, in spite of the up-on-the-toes movement, the head and shoulders have not been raised even a fraction of an inch.
If you wish to analyze these movements in yourself by feel, do not try it with your long clubs first.
The difference between the feels of lifting the body and of holding the shoulders up through the feet is subtle, so subtle that it is easily lost in the violence of a long shot. You will recognize it much more quickly with a mashie-niblick.
The feeling you want is not a gross one, but a feel that we stretch upward against the ground with our legs and feet-gradually and without haste. The push of the ground opposes the pull of the club head.
End of Golf Analysis Part 1.
In the next entry we shall talk about the importance of your body position when swinging your club.