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Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Arnold Palmer on the Golf Swing

I happened to come across Arnold Palmer's revised edition of the book My Game and Yours in a thrift shop.  I'm just starting to read it, but am really impressed with some of the things Arnie has to say. Of course, it should come as no surprise that I should be impressed.  Arnie was one of golf's greatest and most exciting players.  It should be little wonder that he should have an interesting and somewhat unique take on how the game should be played.

In the first chapter, entitled Golf is Easier Than You Think, Arnie begins by writing what has to be one of the best explanations I've read as to why golf is the greatest game:

"GOLF is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated.  A child can play it well and a grown man can never master it.  Any single round of it is full of unexpected triumphs and perfect shots that end in disaster.  It is almost a science, yet it is a puzzle without an answer.  It is gratifying and tantalizing, precise and unpredictable; it requires complete concentration and total relaxation.  It satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect.  It is at the same time rewarding and maddening--and it is without doubt the greatest game mankind has ever invented."

Arnie was never known as a teacher.  And I suspect he would never claim to be one.  I also suspect that his simple view of how the game should be played, and how the club should be swung, remains shaped by the instruction he received from his father as a boy.  My view continues to be that we should always look to the great players to learn how to best play this game.  I think the best teachers also happen to be those who have been the best players.  They have been the ones who have most successfully put theory in to practice when it comes to golf.

From what I've read so far, Arnie's simple view of the "endlessly complicated" game is what is most appealing.  This is particularly the case when he talks about the golf swing.  Arnie might not be the guy you might think of if you were to talk about the ideal golf swing.  He was perhaps more of a hitter than a swinger.  But it is interesting to see that his views are very similar to those of Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, and Sam Snead when it comes to swinging the golf club.

In chapter 4, entitled HOW TO SWING HARDER WHILE TRYING LESS, Arnie talks about his swing and the two rules that he believes will make anyone a better swinger of the club, provided they have developed a sound grip.  He first talked about his big turn, which, until injury and age modified it, caused him to rotate his body to the point that his back was turned to his target on the backswing.  When speaking of that huge turn, Arnie said:

"Did I plan my swing that way in the early years?  No, I never did.  Neither did my father when he was teaching me the game.  In fact, at one of my early professional tournaments when many of the other pros we're seeing me play for the first time, one of them nudged my father, who was also watching me, and asked, 'Did you teach him that turn?'  My father replied, 'Now wouldn't that have been a silly thing to do?'

What he meant was that a teaching pro should never urge his pupils to think one way or the other about the turn, and the golfer himself should never worry about whether he is making a large turn or a small one.  I certainly never worried about it.  I had this kind of turn because it came natural to me... A big turn is a wonderful asset in golf, for the turn generates your power, and the bigger the turn the greater the power.  But it's not something you should plan or worry about.  If your leg, torso, and shoulder muscles have the strength and agility to give you a big turn, you'll have a big turn.  If not, you'll have to settle for a little less.

As a matter of fact, almost everything that has been written or discussed about the golf swing--all the millions of words devoted to the turn, the pivot and the weight shift--have been unnecessarily complicated and confusing.  I urge you to forget them and start your thinking all over, for the truth about the swing is just this:

The swing is the easiest part of golf.  Once you've got the right grip, and if you hold your head steady, it is almost physically impossible to swing badly.  There are two rules, and two rules only, that you have to remember, and they are so simple and natural that you can make them part of your second nature in a mere half hour on the practice tee."

As I read this, I could just imagine how all the golf teachers, who make their living teaching the golf swing, might react to this statement from Arnie.  The swing is the easiest part of golf?!  That sounds almost sacrilegious.

And just what are the two rules--and only two rules--you must follow? According to Arnie:  

"Rule No. 1 is to take the club back, as you start your backswing, smoothly and without breaking your wrists.  You have to take it straight back 'in one piece,' as they say around the golf course, without any wrist action at all.  Do this for the first twelve inches that the clubhead moves...and you've got the swing practically licked."  

Okay, sounds easy enough to me.  What's rule number two?  Arnie says:

"Rule No. 2 is to keep the club under control at all times or, to use a phrase that I like, to keep the swing compact.  It's an easy, natural rule to follow--at least it should be.  Yet, strangely, even many pros violate it at times, and most amateurs violate it most of the time."

No way!  It can't be that easy, Arnie.  What about my right knee?