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Saturday, 2 January 2016

Bobby Jones on the "Modern Game"

OIn the chapter entitled "Then and Now," in Golf is my Game, Bobby Jones gave an appraisal of the modern player and whether or not there was what could be termed a modern golf swing.  It's interesting--at least I find it interesting--to listen to this great, and thoughtful, golfer give a very objective analysis of what had changed in the game in the twenty-some years since he had retired.

He wrote:
"With all these changes in equipment and golf course upkeep, it is not unnatural that the question should often occur, 'What changes have come about in method?  Is there a modern method, a modern golf swing which is essentially different from that of twenty-five or thirty years ago?'  Actually, I think not, and I believe that so long as a man is constructed as he is--which seems to be a fairly reasonable prospect for the predictable future--the order of the movements necessary to the complete, sound golf swing are not likely to change.  In two respects only am I able to find any difference, and these are not of the nature which can be called fundamental.
  The first difference I note is in the length of the backswing, and perhaps in the speed of it as well.  In my day and before, the virtues of a long, leisurely swing had come to be fairly well accepted.  Writer and players alike extolled the value of rhythm.
  I still think that the long, leisurely swing is best for the average player.  I think he should always try to make certain that he gets the club back far enough and that his change of direction at the top of the swing should take place in a leisurely manner, because nothing can so upset his timing and execution as hurry at either one of these points.
  If there is a new method in golf, it seems to involve a more careful, even meticulous, 'sighting' of the shot.  While we still have many graceful, comfortable-looking players, there are a number who have the appearance of being excrutiatingly stiff.  In some cases the traditional waggle of the club designed to promote smoothness of movement has been replaced by a waggle of the player's behind as he strives to place himself in precise alignment for the delivery of the blow.
  Some of these players are very effective.  Once they have settled into a satisfactory position, the quick, convulsive stroke seems to send the ball very straight indeed towards the objective.  But the method involves a complete disregard of the amount of time consumed, and so is most trying upon the nerves and patience of any who may be watching.  I must admit that I do not find the performance of these players pleasing to the eye, even though the figures they produce may leave little to be desired.
  It is not my intention to imply by what I have written that there has been no improvement among golfers themselves in the past thirty years.  Indeed, I should regard it as very sad if this were the case.  Men have learned to run faster and to jump higher and farther.  It would be strange if they had not learned to play better golf.  Every generation learns from those that have gone before, and so progress is made."

Bobby also goes on to speak about the modern professional player having more time and opportunity to practise and compete in lucrative tournaments, so the modern professional is more seasoned and experienced in tournament play than the players of old who held club jobs and competed in a short winter-circuit.  That is even more the case today.

As for whether the top players of old could hold their own against the modern players, Bobby concluded:
"So while I think it is true that the best of the old-timers could play all the shots as well as anyone around today, I think it cannot be denied that the top few in any tournament of today will make fewer mistakes than their counterparts of earlier days.  This may be attributed partly to the fact that the game of golf today, because of improved equipment and grounds, is a more precise game than it ever was before, but also because the modern player has attained a more complete control over his own physical shot-making machinery.  He has also, through increased experience, learned a lot more about the management of himself and his game in tournament play.
  In golf, you know you can't rely on the old adage that there is safety in numbers.  Indeed, it works the other way.  In a close finish, if there are only two or three players a couple of shots away, you may hope  that all three may be off a bit that day.  But when you have a dozen or so on your heels, you know that some of them will stick with you to the finish."

The game of golf seems to be in a great place.  I'm sure Bobby Jones would be most impressed with some of the new stars of today.  But, I daresay he'd likely be less impressed by the time it takes many of them to get the job done. But that, of course, is another story.