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Friday, 28 August 2015

To Waggle or Not to Waggle

I played with Steve, Brian, and Tim again today at one of our favourite "away courses," Shelter Valley Pines near Grafton, Ontario.  A fun day was had by all.

Tim is an aspiring comedian who is something to behold on the golf course. His game is somewhat erratic, with the occasional birdie, followed by the inevitable sevens and eights.  We were saying afterwards that some of his antics on the course would be great for his act.  He is a great guy, but he's sometimes awfully hard to watch, particularly if you are having a bad day and just want to get on with it.  

Tim, after finally deciding on a weapon and the shot to play, sets up to the ball with murderous intent.  He takes a few waggles, eyeing up his target, digs himself in like a batter in baseball, and then freezes over the ball, staring it down like it's a venomous snake.  He's a lefty, and likes to set up right next to the tee marker on the left side of the tee box, likely in an effort to accommodate his fade, which is really more of a slice.  After this ritual, he sets his club behind the ball and takes a vicous swing.  It is only after the dust settles that you realize this was, in fact, a practice swing.  Your first thought is, "he missed it!"  The process then repeats itself, this time with the ball being struck.  The results are not very predictable, but his full finish is; even if the shot fails to get past the ladies tee, as it did on several occasions today.  You can pretty much count on Tim holding that finish.  He holds the finish like a champ.

At first, being one who likes to play quickly, I would find myself being faked out by Tim's routine, starting to move to my next shot, only to realize that this first, deliberately vicious, swipe was, in fact, only his practice swing. I've pretty much got it now, but tend to try not to watch this routine as much as possible in case some of it wears off.  If there is a real positive, in discussing Tim's pre-shot routine, it's that his practice swing certainly matches his regular swing.  Both swings are identical, and they are all business.  There's no patty-caking it where Tim is concerned.

This, eventually predictable, pre-shot routine by Tim got me thinking about all the ways in which players set up and prepare to hit the ball.  I must admit that I find it quite fascinating to watch the varied contortions and rituals most players will go through just to hit a ball with a stick.

One thing that was perhaps made popular by Ben Hogan was the waggle.  His book Five Lessons contributed to a generation of wagglers, but he was certainly not the father of the waggle as I discovered by reading Bobby Jones on Golf.  Tim's definitely a waggler.  But, come to think of it, we don't see as many waggles on the PGA tour these days, other than perhaps Jason Dufner.

The question is, therefore, should we waggle?  Is there any virtue in it, or is it simply an affectation that contributes very little to the success of the shot?  Bobby Jones saw some real virtue, not necessarily in the waggle alone, but in staying in motion prior to starting the swing.  In a chapter entitled Staying in Motion, Bobby wrote:

"The function of the waggle and the movement of the body preceding the actual beginning of the backswing is to avoid or destroy tension in the position from which the swing is to make its start.  Smoothness is an essential quality of the correct golf stroke, and since a smooth start cannot be made if the muscles are tense or the posture strained, it is of the utmost importance that the player should be completely relaxed and comfortable as he addresses the ball.  Provided the waggle and the player's manner of falling into his first position accomplish this, it matters little what form the movement takes.  Practice among first-class players varies from one waggle of the club to Sandy Herd's famous seventeen. (I once counted them.)

My own preference is for a manner of addressing the ball that wastes little time.  Having decided upon the club to use and the shot to play before stepping up to the ball, I can see no reason for taking any more time in the address than is necessary to measure one's distance from the ball and to line up the shot.  The more one fiddles around arranging the position, the more likely one is to be beset by doubts that produce tension and strain.

It is far easier to maintain perfect relaxation if one keeps continuously in motion, never becoming still and set.  It sounds farfetched, I know, bit I have have had a few players tell me that after forming the habit of taking great pains in addressing the ball, they reached a point where they simply could not take the club back...

I do not think it wise to prescribe any definite number of waggles. (Bobby wrote that, when he took more than one, he could expect trouble.)  That depends too much upon how long is required for the player to settle into a comfortable position; but it is important to make the movement easy, smooth, and comfortable, and to form the habit of getting the thing done without too much fussing and worry.  In many cases, it will help to determine for awhile to just step up to the ball and hit it."

I don't really think about my pre-shot routine.  I know I always step in from behind the ball, first aiming my club face.  I know I also tend to start every swing with a forward press, but I'm never really conscious of whether I waggle or not.  I don't really think Bobby would recommend some of the deliberately elaborate pre-shot routines we see these days.  Whether we choose to waggle or not, I think he would definitely prefer that everyone, especially amateurs, be resolved just to "miss it quick."  All I can say is, "Amen to that."

In the picture, below, Tim is on the left, Brian is on the right, and I stand, like a rose between two thorns, in the middle of the seventeenth tee at the Sanctuary Club on Cat Island, near Beaufort, South Carolina.