The material presented in this series of articles, as I said at the beginning, amounts to a sifting of the knowledge I have picked up during my 25 years as a professional golfer. I am hopeful that these articles will accomplish two things. First, I trust they will greatly increase the average player's enjoyment of this incredibly fascinating game by enabling him to become a real golfer with a sound, powerful, repeating swing. I feel sure they will do this for any player who gains a clear understanding of the fundamental movements (which we went into in the first four articles) and who will then continue to practice and familiarize himself with these fundamentals throughout this golf season. In this final article we will be putting the whole swing together as we review these modern fundamentals of golf.
And second—I hope that this series will serve as a body of knowledge that will lead to further advances in our understanding of the golf swing. Every year we learn a little more about golf. Each new chunk of valid knowledge paves the way to greater knowledge. Golf is like medicine and the other fields of science in this respect. In another 15 years, just as there will be many new discoveries in medicine based on and made possible by present-day strides, we will similarly have refined and extended our present-day knowledge of golf. A golfer, as I see it, has 15 or 20 really productive years—years in which his efforts to realize his full potential as a golfer lead him to speculate about and experiment with every phase of technique, continuously and intensively. He can only find out so much. There are only so many days in a week and only so much daylight in a day. Had I, as a young man starting out in professional golf in 1931, known then what I have managed to learn by 1957 and been able to start my experimentation at this more advanced point, I would have been privileged to have possibly made more advanced contributions during my best productive years. Other younger men will have that immense pleasure and privilege.
I was thinking the other day, "What a long time I have been learning about golf!" I must have been about 13 when I started to work on my game conscientiously. I was caddying then at the Glen Garden club in Fort Worth, and I took a member named Ed Stewart as my model. A very fine amateur, Stewart was a workingman who couldn't afford to play too often, and none of the other boys wanted to become his regular caddy. That suited me fine. I caddied for him whenever he played and studied his swing and his shotmaking technique closely. Then I'd go and compare my swing with his and try to improve mine by copying certain of Stewart's movements that were obviously correct and desirable.
The first really important change I effected was the action of my left knee. Mine used to shoot straight out when I took the club back. Ed Stewart's knee, I noticed, broke in nicely to the right. I practiced correcting my knee action on the lawn at home until there was no lawn left. In the neighborhood where our family lived, each of the houses had a small lawn that was separated from the others by hedges. The grocery store was about six houses or six lawns away. Whenever my mother sent me to the store for a loaf of bread or a pound of butter or whatever it was, I never walked to the store, I always played to it, sometimes chipping from one lawn to the next, sometimes setting the lawn two or three hedges away as my "green," sometimes hitting to the farthest "green" with a full nine-iron shot—all the time checking my left knee action or whatever phase of my swing I was working on. I doubt if my practice improved the looks of the neighborhood, but it was awfully good for my game.
In golf, you know, you learn some things very early and other things surprisingly late. For example, take just three of the several elements I now regard as absolutely fundamental to any and every good swing: the proper waggle, the proper hip turn, and the proper backswing plane. I came to understand the value of the waggle comparatively early: I was just starting to follow the circuit in 1932 when I learned from observing Johnny Revolta and talking with him that this genius of the short game geared himself for the different demands of each shot around the greens by modifying his waggle to suit that particular shot. Say he had to pop the ball over a bunker and have it put on the brakes immediately. He'd waggle with sharp, staccato, jabby strokes, a "coming attraction" of the stroke he'd use to clip the ball the way it had to be clipped to produce maximum bite. Or say he was pitching the ball to land on a selected point on a slippery green and was going to let the ball trickle the rest of the way to the cup down a side slope. He'd gear himself then with delicate, little pencil-stroke waggles that seemed to be all finger tips. And so on and on—an individual waggle for each different chip shot in his marvelous repertoire. It struck me that it would be a very intelligent thing to use this method of Johnny's not only for my short shots but to adapt it also for my full shots. I began to do so immediately.
Not long after this—in the middle 1930s, I would say—I got the correct hip-turn action clear in my mind, mainly from studying newsreel movies of the best golfers in action. It wasn't until 1938, though, that I grasped the concept of the plane. I'd been thinking sporadically about the plane for some time before that, examining the plane on which the batter swings in baseball and making some tentative suppositions about the golfer's plane. Yet it wasn't until I really began to worry about the unreliability of my back-swing that I was driven to conduct a serious investigation of the plane. Long before I fully understood what the plane did for you and why it worked out that way, I realized that I had hit on something of tremendous significance for me. On the winter circuit, as we traveled from tournament to tournament, I would be up in my hotel room night after night studying my backswing plane in the full-length mirror, trying to memorize it so well I would instinctively swing back the same way time after time.
In the seasons before the war, as I learned more and more about the golf swing and how to play golf, I enjoyed increasing success on the tournament circuit. Nevertheless, I never felt genuinely confident about my game until 1946. Up to that year, while I knew once I was on the course and playing well that I had the stuff that day to make a good showing, before a round I had no idea whether I'd be 69 or 79. I felt my game might suddenly go sour on any given morning. I had no assurance that if I was a little off my best form I could still produce a respectable round. My friends on the tour used to tell me that I was silly to worry, that I had a grooved swing and had every reason to have confidence in it. But my self-doubting never stopped. Regardless of how well I was going, I was still concerned about the next day and the next day and the next.
In 1946 my attitude suddenly changed. I honestly began to feel that I could count on playing fairly well each time I went out, that there was no practical reason for me to feel I might suddenly "lose it all." I would guess that what lay behind my new confidence was this: I had stopped trying to do a great many difficult things perfectly because it had become clear in my mind that this ambitious over-thoroughness was neither possible nor advisable, or even necessary. All you needed to groove were the fundamental movements—and there weren't so many of them. Moreover, they were movements that were basically controllable and so could be executed fairly well whether you happened to be sharp or not so sharp that morning. I don't know what came first, the chicken or the egg, but at about the same time I began to feel that I had the stuff to play creditable golf even when I was not at my best, my shot-making started to take on a new and more stable consistency. THE BASIS FOR THIS PROGRESS, LET ME REPEAT, WAS MY GENUINE CONVICTION THAT ALL THAT IS REALLY REQUIRED TO PLAY GOOD GOLF IS TO EXECUTE PROPERLY A RELATIVELY SMALL NUMBER OF TRUE FUNDAMENTAL MOVEMENTS.
Now that we have gone into the swing, stage by stage, from the grip to the finish, I think it would be extremely instructive to "wind the swing back" and see what are the key fundamental actions a golfer performs to move correctly from one position to another.
To begin with, what does a golfer do to arrive at the correct position at the finish of his swing?