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Monday, 7 September 2015

Stewart Maiden

I was thinking this evening about just how much time I've wasted, and how many lousy shots I've hit and rounds I've played because I've been thinking about my golf swing instead of hitting golf shots.  Paralysis by analysis can happen to anyone.  It happens when we get caught up in thinking about how we want to hit it, instead of where.  It's when, instead of picking a target and taking dead aim at it, we stand up to a shot thinking about keeping our left arm straight, or keeping our head down, or whatever other tip, or idea, we've latched on to.  Paralysis by analysis; it's been the ruin of many a man's game.  

It got me thinking about what Bobby Jones had to say about his teacher, Stewart Maiden.  In his book Golf is my Game, Bobby, when speaking about learning the game, wrote:

"I do recall that as I became a little more aware of the general object of the game, I began also to be aware that some people played better than others, and I began to swing my clubs as nearly as possible as the club professional, Stewart Maiden, swung his.  I was fortunate, I suppose, that Stewart was a good model.  His method was simple.  It seemed that he merely stepped up to the ball and hit it, which to the end of my playing days was also a characteristic of my play.

Although Stewart Maiden has quite properly been known as my first instructor and the man from whom I learned the game, it is true that I never had a formal lesson from him while I was in active competitive play.  In fact, it was not until he had returned to Atlanta, only two years before he died, that I ever went on to a practice tee with him.

Although neither Maiden nor I ever saw much point in spending laborious hours on a practice tee, there were many times when I required a few words from him to put my game back in the right groove.  I suppose we didn't wear out the practice tee because it was never necessary, and Stewart never liked to waste his own time.  There was, however, one lesson that was memorable, and at the same time typical.

I had been having a most trying time with my long irons, and some sort of tournament was in the offing.  I had tried to work the thing out for myself, but could not do so.  There didn't seem to be any pattern to work on.  I would hook a few and then hit one a mile out to the right.  Indesperation at last, I told Stewart of my troubles while he was at his bench planing down a hickory shaft.

At first he said nothing, which I had long before learned was for him a normal response.  After a while, though, he took the club out of the vice, squeezed the grip end as no one else could ever do, so that barely a perceptible tremor agitated the whole club, appeared not wholly displeased, and set it aside for further attention later on.

'Let's go,' he said.  With no more conversation my caddy with my clubs and I followed Stewart down the first fairway to a spot some two hundred yards from the green.  'Hit a few,' he said.  I hit two.  As I stepped up to the next, he said 'Wait.'  With the grip end of a club he was holding in his hands, he rapped quite sharply on my left arm just below the shoulder.  I moved back.  Again he rapped, 'Move back,' he said.  I moved back some more, then looked up to see where I was aiming.  'Stewart,' I said, 'I'll knock this ball straight into that left-hand bunker.'  'Never mind,' he said; 'back some more.  Now, that's good.'  'What do I do now?' I asked, trying to be bitterly sarcastic. 'Knock the hell out of it,' said Stewart.  I did.  The ball almost landed in the hole.  I hit another and another straight at the flag.  I looked up for Stewart, but he was on his way back to his shop to finish that club.

All this may seem a pointless discussion, but it does have a purpose.  By this means I am trying to show how I think instruction in golf can be most useful.  A good instructor can be helpful at all stages of a player's development, but it is most important that the doses of instruction should be simple, direct, and practical.  It is folly for either teacher or pupil to expect that any swing can be perfected in an afternoon, a week, or even a season.  It is significant that Stewart did not try to fill my head with theories.  He merely put me in position to hit the ball and then told me to go on and hit it.

Stewart Maiden was a successful instructor because his eye went always to the point of basic disturbance.  He seemed always to be able to pick out the one point in a swing at which the making of a small change would work an improvement in the performance of the whole.  I'm sure he never once thought of trying to remake a swing or to create one from scratch precisely along copybook lines.  Throughout all the years I knew Stewart he never once allowed himself to be drawn into a discussion of  the golf swing.  To him, the game of golf consisted entirely of knocking the ball towards the hole, or into it, and that in the simplest manner possible."

Bobby Jones learned a great deal from Stewart Maiden.  He even developed his swing by watching and to some degree copying Maiden's swing.  But, perhaps more importantly, he copied Maiden's practicality when it came to the game.  He believed that golf was about knocking a ball from the teeing ground into the hole in the fewest strokes possible.  Golf was not about trying to swing a golf club in a prescribed manner.  It was all about the strike.  I sense from his writing that he dearly loved and respected Stewart Maiden.  That old Scot was one hell of a teacher.