Do you waggle when you swing? Paying attention to this may be the difference between being a low handicap golf player and being an accomplished golfer.
This is a rather large entry. I originally intended to divide it into 2 or 3 entries, but decided to publish it in one go so that you have something to read between Xmas and new year.
Most of you are in the northern hemisphere, and would be experiencing near freezing conditions as I type this. Nobody but the most avid golf players would venture out in such wheather! What is there to do then? Well, read more about golf in the meantime!
Enjoy, and have a Merry Xmas!
By the way, if you have not gotten a complete copy of The New Four Magic Moves to Winning Golf, maybe you should consider buying it for yourself (or another fellow golfer) as a Christmas present!
THE most difficult lessons to give are those to players with handicaps around 5 and 6.
They are in the "near scratch" class, and when they come to us it is either because they realize they have come to a full stop or because they have struck a thoroughly bad patch which they cannot get themselves out of.
The attitude of these players is very rarely that there is anything wrong with their game. Oh no! It is just that they miss an odd drive or two which puts them in the rough; two or three times in a round their iron shots miss the green, and then maybe a couple of putts that should go down don't, and that (they figure out in the smoke room) is why they are not scratch.
I always start off by telling these people that you have to be a very good golfer to be scratch. Talent and skill are not enough to get you there; your golf must be built on the right foundations.
The trouble with many 5 and 6 handicap men is that they have become as good as their conception of the game enables them to be. Because their swing has not been developed about the correct centrifugal principle, it is unreliable, and they have to depend upon a tip being given or an idea coming to them just when they need it.
This is a dangerous state of affairs, and the natural result of trying to learn golf by trial and error that is by trying one thing one day and another the next with no basic principle to back it up. It is true that that is the way most of us Pros learned, but it takes immense perseverance and a long time!
Well, one day I had one of these 5 handicap fellows come to me for help. I made him hit a ball or two, and he asked me what I thought of his swing.
"Very good indeed," said I. "But you waggle badly. That is all there is wrong with your golf."
"Oh!" said he, a little astonished and more than a little disappointed.
You see he neither expected nor liked what I told him. Because of my reputation as a teacher, he thought that I would have a "cure" for his trouble, and I had none.
I still have no cure for it. Any pupil of mine can cure himself as well as I can cure him by referring back to first principles.
If one of my pupils comes to me as to a doctor, not as to a teacher, I just run over the ground work with him, just to make sure he is setting his mechanics in motion properly, and, when we have done this, it is quite easy to put our finger on the trouble.
But to come back to the lesson.... This pupil had a particularly fiery waggle, so fiery that its violence threw too much action into his hands which remained active throughout his swing and so made him a direct hitter.
I explained this to him and continued, "The essence of rhythmic swinging is to be smooth, for only the smooth swing can be rhythmic. But if you get undue club head agitation into your preparatory movement (which is what the waggle is) you will get all the feel in your hands, arms, and shoulders, not in your legs, hips, and back, which is where you should feel that you swing from."
"But I don't see why I can't feel my back and legs when I waggle my way?"
"Well, to put it as briefly as possible, when you waggle your way, the club head sets up movement to which the body must react.
The club head is pulling the body; the tail is wagging the dog.
It should be the other way round: you need to be subdued and waiting for the action of the body to set up club head movement."
"I see that."
"That is why the preparatory movement of the good golfer is smooth and tiny and controlled.
I remember once taking a pupil of mine to see Henry Cotton play, and he noticed the beautiful way Henry prepared his swing.
As he said, 'You feel as he looks down the fairway that he already has the sense of how he is about to perform you can see him feeling the club head through his pivot.
Now that was a shrewd analysis, and I was interested to hear what my pupil would say about Henry's methods on the green.
His comment was, 'Not much preparation there!' 'No,' said I, lie does not putt as he drives. If he did, we would see the finest scoring machine yet known in golf."
"Yes, that is interesting. But tell me, if I must not waggle my club with my hands what may I do with them?"
"As nearly as possible nothing," said I."
The hands are not direct agents in producing the power of a golf shot; they are a connection between the lower part of the body (where the power comes from) and the club head, and they must remain nothing more than a connection. If you use your hands, consciously or not, you break connection."
"Must a good swing be 'connected?"
"Indeed it must. The great player is great because his swing is connected and therefore reliable. He makes an indifferent shot only when he does lose connection. The reason why he uses only a three-quarter swing is because that is as far back as he can go without the risk of breaking the connection."
"Exactly what do you mean by ?breaking connection'?"
"Here is a gross example. If I intentionally 'open' my hands at the top of the swing, I lose connection and have to put in compensatory movements on the way down, to try to correct the results of the error which they cannot fully do. The result is unreliable and at its best unsatisfactory."
"Is a 'connected? swing the same thing as a 'compact' one?"
"Yes. How would you define a compact swing?"
"Well, a swing which seems to be working as one, without loose parts and yet free to work."
"Good. That will do for a 'connected' one too. And I assure you again that you will never develop a compact and connected swing as long as you waggle so fiercely."
"But my swing cannot be so bad. I'm 5 handicap and was 2 once."
"I did not say you could not play reasonably effective golf with a disconnected swing. Ninety-nine swings out of every hundred are disconnected, but the odd one per cent belong to the scratch and plus men."
"But do you tell me there is all that difference between say a 3 handicap and a plus 3?"
"Indeed I do. I will narrow it down further and say that there is more difference between a plus 3 man and a scratch golfer than there is between a 3 handicap and an 18 handicap man."
"And you seriously think that the main thing which keeps me out of the top class is the use of my hands?"
"I do. I want you to feel your hands only as a connecting link in the whole mechanism, not as a separate working part. Try to play a short chip shot guiding it and giving it its power entirely from the knees. When you can do that you will know what it is to feel connected."
"But I cannot bring the club head forward without bringing it forward with my hands."
"Yes, you can! And you must because until you have learned to do that you will never swing 'connectedly' "
"But I would be more than satisfied if I could play like R. A. Whitcombe, who says he hits the ball all with his right hand"
"Surely you would! But in my view Whitcombe is confusing an effect with a cause if he ever used that phrase, which I doubt. We know what he means. Of course, my best shots all feel right-handed too because the right hand is the one behind the center of force, so it has to do most of the transmitting.
But do not confuse something that happens with something which you have to do. Whitcombe gives you an impression of what happens; I am telling you how it happens. And I assure you that if you or Whitcombe or anyone else tries to hit with the right hand (or the left or with both for that matter), the shot will be ruined.
"Yes, I see that, and I think you are right about my hands. But I still do not see what my violent waggle has to do with my swing as a whole."
"Well your own phrase suggests the answer to that one! The basic trouble with a violent waggle is that it sets up too intense local reactions and actually prevents us feeling the swing as a whole. Always keep in mind that the swing is one and indivisible and must be balanced. If any part of it becomes too active (as it will if you exaggerate any phase of it), the swing is thrown out of balance and you can no longer feel it as a whole. The good golfer rarely loses the feel of the whole; when he does, he makes bad shots like the rest of us.
"Putting it another way," I continued, "any extraneous movement we perform, any strain we put on our swing, will push the whole out of shape. There will be a dent where there should be a smooth curve. As soon as we feel the dent we begin to make compensatory movements and before long the rhythm of our swing is completely broken up by the original dent and our subsequent efforts to correct it. The simpler the swing, the better. The ideal is to bring it down to a one point center of feel."
"Why?" he asked.
"Because the correct golf swing is the application of centrifugal force, the center whirling the periphery around. So we must have a firm center for all shots. The shorter the shot, the lower down in our body do we feel the center to be. Fundamentally the whirl around is always the same, but while in the drive we feel we whirl mainly from the hips, in chip shots we feel the whirl comes chiefly from the knees. Actually the power of a golf shot comes out of the ground through its resistance to the feet. The hands have nothing to do with it What sort of a shot could you make if you were suspended with your feet off the ground?"
"Good for you! So ... ?"
"Well, you begin your swing with a big dent in it - made by your excessive waggle. All through your swing you are trying to straighten that dent out by compensatory movements. When the compensations are coming off, you play to your handicap; when they are not, you don't. And you will never be scratch until you get rid of the dent and so can afford to throw the compensations after it. You see, you will never beat fellows like myself while you have all that extra work to do, all those extra things to go wrong. Sometimes you seem to be playing as well as we do but it doesn't last! Our art is not to play 9 holes well, but 18 or 36. I call you a 14-hole golfer which is not a bad rating! I have a hole handicap' like that for all my pupils - having no use for the other sort of handicap, the pothunter's glory."
"Now I begin to see what you are getting at. I agree that I start my swing jerkily as you say, with dents in it, and I don't doubt that if I could start more smoothly and keep going smoothly right through, I should be able to keep pegging away with a much better average day in and day out. But surely there must be more wrong with my swing than that."
"Perhaps there are some minor mechanical faults; that we cannot know at the moment. You see, you cannot eradicate or work on a minor mechanical fault if you have a fundamental fault which impedes you feeling the whole swing. And who knows, when you get your preparatory movements smoother, some of those so-called faulty mechanics may smooth themselves out; they may be an effect of the strain in your swing. As you know, you do not have to throw much sand into a machine to put it out of order."
"So I must begin by waggling smoothly with my pivot, instead of jerkily with my hands. Is that it?"
"Exactly. That is why I use the term 'preparatory movement* instead of waggle when I can. It suggests a quiet diminutive movement of the club head far removed from violent activity."
"But can I change my waggle if I want to? They tell me that Sandy Herd never could."
"True; but Sandy's case was not in the least like yours. He had an excellent, finely responsive waggle or he could not have played the golf he did. All that Was troubling him was the abnormal number of times he had to waggle (actually it was fourteen times) before he got his feel settled and could make his shot. It is quite true that he never did succeed in reducing his fourteen to a more normal number. Your trouble is quite different. No matter if you make four waggles, fourteen, or forty, you will never get the settled feel that enables you to make a shot with certainty because your conception of the waggle has been wrong and, far from settling you, yours has unsettled you."
"Yes, I see that. And you have given me quite a different idea of it. But now tell me a little more of what you mean by a connected swing, please or rather how I can be connected."
"Well the two extreme points of the golf swing are the feet (drawing power from the resistance of the ground) and the club head (free to travel through the air). Now if we are to control our swing, there must be an unbroken chain of connections between these two points. One end of the swing is fixed; the other is free but connected; but, if on the way back I (1) open the club face, (2) bend the left arm, (3) relax the right knee, and ( 4) open the hands my swing will be completely disconnected. My club head will feel lost."
"If I start a swing in that way, I have to repeat all these breaking-up movements in the reverse way on the way down; otherwise I cannot connect with the ball. 'Some operation' as you may imagine! But if I do none of those things on the way back, if I do not open the club face, do not bend the left arm, or relax the right knee, or open the hands, I shall not have to make the corresponding corrections on the way down and in consequence my swing will become simple and connected instead of complex and disjointed."
"Yes, I see."
"The return movement of the swing starts with the left heel returning to the ground, and this reacts on the legs, hips, pivot, and shoulders to produce the centrifugal sweep of the club head. Every part of the swing reacts naturally and immediately to the rest of it but, if you introduce breaks and disconnections, this natural certain reaction is lost and the whole swing becomes uncertain."
My pupil took a few swings and drove a couple of balls.
"Are those four points you mentioned the only ones where I may lose connection?" he asked.
"No. They are the main points, where the crude breaks occur. As you get those corrected and improve and subtilize your feel of the swing, you will discover other and more subtle ones which break the swing up not coarsely but delicately. It is all a question of degree of sensibility and control."
"Now look here," my pupil said, hitting more balls down the fairway, "I've taken note of what you said, and yet I have more mistakes in my swing than ever. What do you say about that?"
"I say fine! People spend too much time building up swings as per the copybook. A man's swing is largely the result of his conception of what a swing should be, and the best way of correcting a faulty swing is to get the correct conception. Now this lesson has altered your conception; so you can recognize faults in your swing that you could not recognize before apart from probably introducing some new ones!"
"But I want to get better not worse."
"True. But you came to me because you were at a dead end. You may now go much further back and become really bad, because your swing was full of compensatory movements which will not work now you have a proper conception of what a swing should be. Your choice is plain; you can either (1) go on compensating and remain 5, or (2) Start working on the new conception."
"Well, if I do the latter, what are the chances of real improvement?"
"It's up to you," I said. "I never knew anyone who worked on those lines without making progress. But it means work and it means that at first you must not trouble about results."
"Is it worth it?"
"It is. One day the curtain that has been obscuring your view will be pulled back, and you will play a real golf shot. Then you go on, probably losing that real shot almost as soon as you find it but never mind. The good shots will recur and become more frequent and just as one day you found you had played a good shot, later you will play a good hole. Then it is only a matter of patience and work until 68 appears on your card. Is it worth it? I should say it is!"