I keep finding myself thinking about the golf swing. I can't seem to resist. It's an endless topic of interest and discussion, even if the results of these discussions tend not to be particularly helpful. Despite all the study of the swing, even with the benefit of current knowledge and computer technology, the average golfer still remains average. Our swings may, on the whole, be more mechanically sound as a result of all the swing instruction available, but our scores don't seem to be significantly improving on the average. This is because golf really isn't about the swing.
As usual, I like to go back to Bobby Jones when I get thinking too much about swing mechanics. Bobby Jones continues to be my favourite teacher, despite the fact that he never actually claimed to be one. Not only was he the best player of his generation, if not all time, he spent much time and energy trying to impart the sort of advice designed to help everyone enjoy the game more, and play better. Unfortunately, a crippling disease left him incapable of playing golf at a relatively young age. But Bobby, rather than sinking into a mire of depression or self-pity, used his time to study the game and write about it. We are the beneficiaries of the wisdom he shared in his books.
Bobby wasn't a big proponent of teaching the golf swing. Bobby learned the game by playing and observing the pro at his club, Stewart Maiden. Maiden did not spend time on the practice tee giving Bobby swing instruction. In fact, Bobby claimed that, to the best of his knowledge, Maiden never allowed himself to be drawn into a discussion about the golf swing. To Stewart Maiden, golf was all about striking the wee ball. Bobby might have been convinced to write about the swing, but I suspect he did so with mixed emotions. He was not a man who believed in playing the game in a mechanical way. He was not a fan of what he called, "rigid adherence to prescribed routine," in the teaching and learning of the golf swing.
Bobby wrote: "Even if a person may not have begun to play golf at an early age, I believe that he may gain much by emphasizing naturalness in his learning processes. I think he has the right to convince himself that an effective golf swing can be made without rigid adherence to a prescribed routine and that there is room for differences in physical structure and capabilities. No matter how nearly equal in performance the top-rank players may be, yet they are as recognizable by their swings as by their faces.
"What the average golfer needs more than fine spun theories," Bobby wrote, "is something that will give him a clearer conception of what he should try to do with the clubhead... When we speak of sound method or good form, we mean nothing more than that the possessor of either has simplified his swing to the point where errors are less likely to creep in and he is able consistently to bring his club against the ball in the correct hitting position."
Speaking of those who are caught up in the mechanics of the golf swing, Bobby wrote: "We think, talk, and write so much about the details of the stroke that we sometimes lose sight of the thing that is all-important--hitting the ball. It is conceivable that a person could perform all sorts of contortions and yet bring the club into correct relation to the ball at impact, in which case a good shot must result. The only purpose of discussing style and form at all is to make it easier for the player to maintain this correct relation. In a crude way, he may do it only occasionally. In a finished, sound, stylish way, he will be able to do it consistently and with assurance."
Bobby, like Henry Cotton, believed that golf was played with the hands, and a golfer with nothing more than a good pair of hands could play good golf. He wrote: "Let it be known right here that many acceptable golf shots and drives of good length can be produced by players who have nothing more than active hands and a good sense of timing. These players will never achieve the consistency nor the extremes in length attainable by the expert with good form, but they will, nevertheless, be able to get a lot of fun out of playing golf."
And, at the end of the day, golf should be fun. As I get older, weaker, and less flexible, I take some comfort in knowing that I will still be able to use my hands to play and enjoy this game as long as I remain on the right side of the grass. I've still got some ugly great maulers, even if my back isn't worth a hoot. I've got hands of stone. If you don't believe me, just watch me putt sometime!