Some persons who have made golf their career devote the major portion of their working hours to teaching the game. In contrast to the "home pro," other members of my profession are, first and foremost, tournament golfers who follow the circuit. There are a few professionals (but not many) who combine serious teaching and serious competitive golf but, for the most part, keeping himself tuned up for tournament golf takes all of a man's time nowadays because the competition is much keener. Today you have to be a specialist in golf.
In any event, that has been true in my case. Preparing myself for tournaments and participating in them consumed practically all my time and energies. Far from leaving me with extra hours for teaching, it left me only with the regret that the days were not longer so that I could spend more time practicing and preparing.
I have often wondered whether, if the demands of being a tournament golfer had not been so all-encompassing, I would have been a first-class teacher of golf. I really don't know the answer. Certainly I didn't and don't have the ideal temperament for teaching, not compared to such natural teachers as Henry Picard, Claude Harmon and Al Watrous (who were champions when they were playing tournaments). However, I think I was a pretty fair teacher, providing the pupil was seriously interested in improving his game. Quite early in my career when I was serving as the professional at the Century Country Club in Purchase, N.Y., I did a great deal of teaching. It strikes me now that my general approach to teaching was on the very right path: don't simply tell a player what he's doing wrong—that's not much help. You must explain to him what he ought to be doing, why it is correct, and the result it produces—and work like blazes to get it across so that he really understands what you are talking about.
Generally speaking, a teacher is no better than his pupil's ability to work and to learn. There was a young businessman at my club, Fred Ehrman, who had this ability to learn, and we did a very satisfying job together. He was a 90-shooter in April. Five months later he was playing in the 70s and won the club championship. It was no fluke. The next season, although he was beaten in the final of the club championship by Carl Loeb Jr., his game kept on improving. This took place back in 1938 and 1939. While it is undeniable that the more you know about golf the more you can keep on learning, almost indefinitely, I believe that by 1939 I knew quite well what were the true fundamentals of the golf swing. My knowledge in those days, though, was less integrated than it later became. While I sensed quite clearly the things that were important, I would have had a much harder time in 1939 explaining the reasons why they were. By 1946 I think I truly understood the dynamics of the golf swing.
Beginning in 1946, moreover, I was able to win some of the big championships, and being able to win was the proof I needed that what I felt was correct was indeed correct. It worked. It stood up to the test it was designed to meet. Frequently, you know, what looks like a fairly good golf swing falls apart in competition. Sometimes this is due to the player's temperament—not everyone is built for tournament golf. Much more often, though, the harsh light of competition reveals that a swing is only superficially correct and cannot be schooled for competition because it isn't really correct. It can't stand up day after day. A correct swing will. In fact, the greater the pressure you put on it, the better your swing should function, if it is honestly sound. I feel confident that what I tell you about the true fundamentals is right because the crucible of competition, in which those fundamentals were put to the test, proved to me they were right.
It should be added, of course, that every golfer, no matter how sound his game, must expect to experience some ups and downs. Being a human being, he cannot always be at the peak of his game. He will win his share of tournaments, but there are bound to be occasions when he cannot keep pace with some of his wonderfully talented colleagues who that week happen to be at the peak of their games.
The fundamentals of golf, as I see it, fall into four natural groupings: those that relate 1) to the grip, 2) to the stance and posture, 3) to the first part of the swing (from address to the top of the backswing) and 4) to the second part of the swing (from the start of the downswing to the finish of the follow-through). In this chapter we will be discussing the first part of the swing. This phase of the swing requires some instinct, a sense of organization, some thought and a fair control of muscular action. It is, however, much less involved than this makes it appear. Learning the backswing actually consists of getting a few movements clear in your mind and then learning to execute them. This is where the golf shot begins to be played.
The first point about the backswing (and the swing in general) I want to emphasize is this: if his body, legs and arms are properly positioned and poised to begin with, any golfer with average physical equipment can learn to execute the proper movements. This is why you must build on a correct grip and stance, for the golf swing is an accumulative thing. All the actions are linked together.
For instance, when your grip is correct you will have the proper live tension in the muscles which run along the inside of the arms all the way to the armpit. These are the arm muscles you want to work with—they tie in with the muscles of the body that should be used in the golf swing. Coordinated movement results. Same thing with the legs. The inside muscles which stretch from the ankle to the thigh are the right ones for golf. When a player uses them—to cite just one illustration—his left knee is bound to break in correctly to the right on the backswing. It won't shoot out straight ahead and, as it buckles, cause his whole body to buckle over with it. Just as one faulty movement leads to others, each correct movement makes it that much easier to execute other moves correctly. With practice, these movements will all blend harmoniously together and fuse into one smooth over-all movement. A bad swing is tiring drudgery. A good swing is a physical pleasure.
The bridge between the address and the actual start of the backswing is "the waggle." As a golfer looks at his objective and figures out the kind of shot he's going to play, his instinct takes over: he waggles the club back and forth. Possibly because the word waggle suggests that any aimless kind of oscillation fills the bill, many golfers have the mistaken idea that it doesn't really matter how you waggle the club. To put it another way, they think the only purpose in waggling is to loosen yourself up so that you won't be tense or rigid. There's a great deal more to the waggle than that. It is an extremely important part of shotmaking. Far from being just a lot of minute details, it is a sort of miniature practice swing, an abbreviated "dry run" for the shot coming up. As the golfer takes the club back on the waggle, he accustoms himself to the path the club will be taking on his actual backswing. As he waggles the club forward, he adjusts himself so that the face of the clubhead will be coming into the ball square and on line.