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A Golf Conversation


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I wanted to split this golf conversation into 2 or more parts because it is very long. However, I could not find appropriate parts to break it without losing the "momentum" of the golf lessons to be learned from it. Consequently, today's entry is longer than usual. I hope you enjoy it.

When my boys at St. Cloud found a particularly annoying pupil, they usually managed on one pretext or another to pass him on to the Boss!

So when one day I was told that Old Zambuck insisted upon having a personal lesson from myself, I suspected trouble ahead!

However it turned out to be an entertaining and thought provoking experience.

Of course he had not been christened Old Zambuck — except by my boys! He was a retired Advocate; in his time he had been a good sportsman and a successful second-class tennis player.

Now he was mad about golf and spent a lot of time at it, though up to the day of which I write he had never been a direct pupil of mine.

On our way to the sheds he informed me that he would have come to me before but for the fact that he understood that I had certain fixed ideas and considered myself "something of an impressionist."

I gasped at that! Impressionism in golf was a new one on me. I certainly have studied deeply many impressionist pictures, without understanding a thing about them, and if I have the same effect on my pupils as the pictures have on me — well, may heaven help my pupils!

"Now who told you I considered myself an impressionist?" I asked.

"Oh, Mr. So-and-So. You told him you tried to give a mind impression of how a shot was played, that the pupil had to translate into feel."

"Well I suppose that if trying to make you see in your mind how a movement works or what it feels like is impressionism — then I'm guilty! But I had never thought of it that way."

"I'm glad to hear it. I thought it was an attitude you assumed to impress people — knowing what snobs they are about such things.'

"Oh you did! — Well, get that right out of your (silly old) head," said I somewhat piqued.

"Now don't get angry," he said. "Flaring up over nothing is another of your reputations!"

I said that he seemed to have gone around the village raking out my skeletons—and suggested that as it was a golf lesson, we might stick to the subject.

"Right," he answered. "Then how would you describe a teacher who told his pupils not to trouble about looking at the ball?"

I knew at once what he was driving at. "Well," I said, "if it were not I who had said that, I should say the teacher was a damned fool."

"But you did say it, to Mr. So-and-So!" he claimed in triumph.

"Of course I did, but as an individual prescription for an individual and very unusual case.

He had got his eyes so glued to the ball, he was staring at it so rigidly, that he simply could not relax. In order to relax him I told him not to look at the ball."

"Did it work?"

"It did—very well, because the expression I used gave him the right impression of how he should view the ball."

"Ah, I see. You think that different pupils need different phrases to give them the same impression—and you use look at the ball 'peep at the ball/ or 'stare at the ball accordingly?"

"Certainly. The difficulty in teaching golf is that what we have to teach is a correct feel, and neither demonstration nor words can do that directly. Some' times it is almost a chance word or movement that gives the pupil the right impression — and then he picks up the feel in a flash."

"You must need a pretty good vocabulary for that," he suggested.

"Good in the sense of accurate, yes. But not necessarily extensive. You need a variety of words conveying more or less the same idea. And there are difficulties with lessons which, like this one, I give in French.

For thirty years I have tried, and failed, to find the French equivalent for the English word 'swing' — and there isn't one!"

"By Jove, that is curious, but you are right."

"I know I ami But what can I do without the word 'swing? The opposite of swing (in golf) is scoop. But no one will get the right idea of a sweeping swing by being told not to scoop!"

"Now I am enjoying this' said my pupil, warming to it. "So let us clear up some other 'teachers' phrases' that I may not have the right idea of. For instance, what about 'resist?"

"As a matter of fact," said I, "I use the word 'resist* as little as possible. I prefer 'oppose'.'"

"You do? And why?"

"Because 'resist' gives the impression that you stop the left side — for instance — in order to resist the blow. 'Oppose' suggests opposition during movement which is the correct conception."

"So! You mean that we must not feel the left side stop as we set our resistance on our way through the ball?"

"Certainly, most certainly, we must not. If you feel that it fixes your resistance on a certain spot, but if you feel you oppose the weight of the club head you can oppose it all the way up, down, and through — which is what you should do."
"But do you mean I must oppose the club head on the up swing?"

"Yes, if you will think of 'opposing' as 'force in the opposite direction' — which is the way to think of it. It is that and that alone which keeps the controlled swing taut and controlled."

"Good, so far! Now to the next. I have some difficulty in comprehending the word 'wait’ when you tell us to wait for the club head."

"Well 'wait’ gives a fairly good impression if you take it simply in relation to the left heel.

When you are told to 'wait for the club head' you are meant to delay your sweep through until your left heel has come well back to the ground. So the phrase is not well chosen.

And also I do prefer the word 'delay' because 'wait’ somewhat suggests stopping the whole swing — which is entirely the wrong idea. Stopping the whole swing is just as bad as not waiting at all — because in each case you will 'come down altogether. "
"Which is wrong?”

"Certainly. The idea is to start up all movements together hut to come down one after the other. The club head must follow the body down. If you 'wait' for the club head to complete the up swing, it will catch the body up and you will come down altogether."

"Let me ponder over that a bit. Now that is quite true and interesting to me because I used to wait all over, as you say, and however long I waited it never got me over the mistake it was supposed to correct, 'coming down altogether'— and in consequence outside. You have made me see why. If I delay the club head — not my whole swing — I shall feel the club head coming in after it.

"I am very pleased with your deduction, which shows that you have absolutely grasped the idea. But just another word about resist and oppose. Arising out of a pretty jeu de mots with which some pupils tried to trip me one evening — I evolved the following: When I resist I will become tight, When I oppose I will become taut.

—And from that anyone who has any sense of finesse with words can see how we poor golf Pros can go all sideways in our teaching! We must be neither tight nor slack at golf — we must be taut."

"Good! That is clear. Now there is another question I want to ask you. What is this 'lateral movement'?"

"So far as I know, it is a movement set up by the hips which allows the right hip to go to the right as we swing up and the left to the left as we go through.

According to theory the closer the movement is kept to the line of flight, the less pernicious it is likely to be.""The less pernicious? You do not like lateral movement?"

"I am totally opposed to it. How it arises you will see from the chapter on Golf Bogey No. 1 in my book."

"But I have not got your book."

"Well, hurry up and get it!"

"I will — but one more point first. Must I keep my wrists down as I address the ball?"

"You must not. If you do, the toe of your club will be off the ground. Also it is better to keep your wrists up with more or less a straight line through your arms,"On the way down! Surely you mean at the top of the swing," he protested.

"Well," I said, " 'At the top' will do for anyone but the topnotcher; so as you don't aspire that high you can keep it! But do remember anyway not to lift the club head up with your hands, or to cock your wrists actively."

"Then again—must I keep my left arm straight as I go up?"

"Certainly. But there again if you feel wide as you go up, as you should, your arm will be straight. Make the straightness an effect rather than a cause."

"Is the idea of keeping it straight to be able to pull down with the left arm from the top?"

"Oh dear no, no! Your left arm is straight to give you a wide swing so that your club head will come in from behind the ball, not from above it.

But you do not pull down with your arms, you pull down from the legs and left side.

If you start the swing down by grounding your left heel the rest of the body, shoulders, and arms, being reactive, will respond to this pull from the leg, and your arms and hands will be started down slowly and quietly — to gather speed as they get down behind the back of the ball."

"I congratulate you, Professor. That is a most eloquent and excellent explanation of how not to scoop — and in French too! Now, finally, what is back-spin? And is it the only way of stopping a ball from running over a green when it pitches on it, giving it a spin like the screw-back shot at billiards?"

"That is a fair comparison of golf back-spin. But what you people do not understand is the amount of back spin to put on a ball in various conditions."

"Do you mean I can vary the amount of backspin I impart? That must be terribly difficult."

"Exactly. It is, if you try yourself to put the backspin on. Personally, I practically never try to put backspin on the ball; I leave it to the club to do so."

"But I love to see the ball pitch on the green, jump one bound forward, and then pull up dead — or even run back."

"So do I," said I. "But such shots are usually played out of a near bunker and the sand on the face of the club has something to do with them — as well as the fact that the soft sand has allowed us to get well under the ball. You can't play shots like that so well off a hard road!"

"But if you say I should not try to put back-spin on the ball, how can I stop it on the green?"

"Ah . . . There must be back-spin, but it must be only what is put on by the loft of the club."

I continued, "Did it ever occur to you that the degree of 'run* is practically independent of anything you may do?

Try and get 'run' on a ball struck properly with a No. 8 iron. You can't do it. So do not bother about backspin — leave that to your club, and the experts!

Rely on accurate hitting, and then the fact that you have a lofted club will give you what you want." "Why will it?"

"Because you have taken the ball below its center to give it height, you have automatically given it a certain amount of back-spin as well. You then have a combination of height and backspin to stop the ball. The ball drops almost vertically out of the sky and would not run much even if it had no backspin."

"You mean I ought to aim not at pure backspin but at a kind of 'drop-shot' to stop the ball?"

"Exactly. It is the difference between throwing a ball overhand onto the green and tossing it on with an underhand lob. It is really a lob shot you want to develop. And let me tell you that the short shot played with a delicate lob is the most effective scoring shot in golf."

"Well I thank you, Professor — for a most illuminating half-hour. Good-day to you!"

And so we parted, each of us having learned something.

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