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Swinging on Fifth Avenue
Charles Price
April 21, 1958
Controversy and success are Golf Pro Ernest Jones's twin rewards at a New York salon
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April 21, 1958

Swinging On Fifth Avenue

Controversy and success are Golf Pro Ernest Jones's twin rewards at a New York salon

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The professional golfer who probably conducts more lessons than any other instructor in the game, a scholarly little man named Ernest Jones, does his teaching exclusively in a midtown New York office building. His studio is on the seventh floor of a Fifth Avenue skyscraper, two doors from 43rd Street, in an area given over to chrome and glass bank buildings, high-priced music stores and slow-paced shoppers—an environment with which Jones's studio is thoroughly out of fashion. Dusty, disheveled, totally lacking in fresh air and sunshine, it looks like an abandoned pool hall.

In this unprepossessing habitat Jones gives perhaps five times as many lessons as any other golf pro in the world. What is more, this tireless anomaly has only one leg, can drive a golf ball a hundred yards while sitting in a chair and believes that everything taught by all other pros is bunkum. He has the results to prove it.

In taking your first lesson from Jones you are requested to forget everything you ever heard about the game. It is generally conceded that in order to hit the ball you must keep your eye on it. Jones thinks you can hit it with your eyes shut. It is also conceded that, in order to gain momentum, you should apply footwork. Again he disagrees. He lost his right leg in World War I and has broken par on championship courses while balanced on his left foot. In fact, Jones disputes all the usually accepted tenets of golf. If you want to know what's wrong with your swing, Jones is not your man. "There's nothing wrong with any golf swing," he says. "The trouble is you don't swing."

Jones's teaching schedule starts promptly at 9:30 every morning, Monday through Friday, and he allows half an hour to each pupil. Now 67, he arrives at his studio wearing a double-breasted blue serge suit, with a boutonniere from the garden of his Long Island home. Of conservative English background, with a heroic military record in the Royal Fusiliers, he hasn't a sports shirt to his name.


In beginning work, he removes his coat and teaches in his suspenders. Leaning on his cane and speaking with a slight trace of a lisp, as though he hadn't complete faith in his dentures, he delivers his instructions to students, along with quotations from the works of such other liberals as Galileo, Thomas Jefferson and Oscar Hammerstein II. On the floor of the studio there is a rubber mat from which students hit balls into a canvas backdrop, situated about the length of two billiard tables away. The student is told to assume his normal stance and, utilizing only his hands, to swing the clubhead back and forth across the rubber mat, as though dusting it off. Lengthening the arc, he soon begins to feel the centrifugal force of the clubhead. Then Jones points out that the pivot and the shifting of the weight, to name two of the more complicated contortions of executing a golf shot, are actually normal reactions to this force. "Swing the club-head," Jones commands. "Swing it, and you can forget everything else."

This is what Jones calls the "indivisible swing," and on it he will commit his reputation to the ages.

When the student is really swinging, Jones starts playing Viennese waltzes on a portable phonograph. For the golf club he substitutes other implements he keeps on hand. One is simply a length of one-inch rope. Another is a ball of wrapping paper tied to a string. His favorite is a penknife tied to a handkerchief.


Jones made his discovery of the indivisible swing as a result of his war injury. Born in the suburbs of Manchester, England, he was apprenticed to a clubmaker at 12, following his father's death. At 16 he owned his own shop but he soon gave that up to become an assistant professional at the Chislehurst Golf Club, which had a near-championship course and a fine old clubhouse that had once been a retreat for the Empress Eugenie. He became a talented player, making consistently good showings in the British Open, and in 1913, when he was 25, he was made head pro at Chislehurst. In March 1915, while he was serving with the Sportsman's Battalion in France, he was hit with a grenade, and his right leg had to be amputated. On his first day out of the hospital he attempted a round of golf.

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