Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Bobby Jones' Swing

It's interesting, at least to me, that we tend to study the swings of the great players in order to hopefully improve our own.  It is natural to want to imitate our favourite player's swing.  The problem comes, however, when we don't necessarily appreciate what it is we should be looking at, and what it is we should be trying to imitate.  For instance, a swing like Bubba Watson's, or Rory McIlroy's, should probably come with a warning that says, "Do Not Try This at Home."  These top players tend to be gifted athletes who have developed their own action after hitting thousands of balls.  But that is not to say that the great swings aren't worthy of being studied, if not actually imitated.

I must say, when watching video of Bobby Jones' swing--and admittedly I haven't watched all that much--I don't see a swing likely to be ever imitated, or seen again for that matter. 

This is certainly not because it was a mechanically unsound swing.  Obviously, it must have been a very good swing.  But, as the equipment has changed and players have become bigger and stronger, and instruction has become somewhat more advanced thanks to the assistance of technology, the golf swing has evolved and looks quite different from the swing Bobby used to win an almost unbelievable 62 percent of the Major Championships he entered over an eight year period prior to his retirement at 28.

Bobby's swing, like all good swings, relied on timing and rhythm.  Because it was a long swing, with plenty of moving parts, one might argue that timing and rhythm was very important to his success.  And Jones always favoured a long swing, not only for himself, but especially for amateurs.  Nowadays, there seems to generally be a move towards a shorter swing, with fewer moving parts.  After all, for the majority of us, particularly those of us who might not be physically gifted, there is probably less that can go wrong with a more compact, efficient swing; provided that is that shortening our swing doesn't affect our rhythm.  The fact is, so long as humans are designed as they are, as Bobby Jones aptly pointed out, the essence of a good swing will remain the same.  In golf there really never will be something that is truly "new."  The more things change, the more they remain the same.

I am already saying too much.  In my mind, the less a mug like me says, the better.  I prefer to pass along the wisdom of the great players and teachers.  However, in this article we will see what Bobby had to teach about rhythm and timing in his book Golf is my Game; and see that he actually quoted from a writer who called himself "the Roving Player."  So, occasionally, it appears a lowly roving player can write something worth reading and even repeating.  

About the swing, and rhythm and timing, Bobby wrote: "Since the immediate purpose is to provide a broad, general appreciation of the golf swing as a whole, I think it may be helpful and perhaps add conviction if I quote impressions of other writers, going back to the beginning of the century, and add a very emphatic declaration on my own part that nothing in modern-day golf has operated, or can operate, in any manner to affect the validity of these descriptions.
  Beginning in the middle, I shall quote first a description of my own method, written in 1927 by a writer who signed himself 'A Roving Player'... I present it as a very good description, if not of my own swing, certainly of that for which I strove, and one which I recommend without qualification.

  'St Andrews' people, who have golf in their very blood, are shrewd judges of players, and in Mr. Jones they see one who is a purist as regards style and method.  They are elusive because no other player has been able to copy them.  I have met golfers from all parts of the world, but none, for example, stands with feet so close together or quite so near the ball.  The effectiveness of the method is perhaps due to the fact that it is essentially natural.  Mr. Jones stands to the ball just as if he were engaged in ordinary conversation.  There is no straddling of legs, no tying of the muscles into a knot, no extravagant poses, nothing to suggest he is thinking of or doing anything in particular.  The clubhead is placed at the back of the ball, and the swing commences, so slowly in fact as to suggest that it is indolent.  Of the millions of golfers in the world, I do not suppose there is another who swings the club back so smoothly or so sweetly.  It is the very poetry of motion.
  But there is nothing indolent about the downswing.  The suggestion it gives of power, speed and momentum is majestic, while the quality of the blow itself suggests the force of an explosion.  It is not a blow in the sense that immediately it takes place it is over and done with.  There is the glorious follow-through, with the clubhead finishing around the neck and the hands high up.  These are things that denote the master golfer and in giving expression to them in a way that reveals the touch of genius, Mr. Jones has become the idol of St. Andrews....'"

Bobby goes on to write:  "The other quote I mentioned, written in 1903, was used in an article I myself wrote in July 1932.  In order to reveal my thinking on the subject at the time, I am going to set down here the quote from my own article.  It was as follows: 'I have chanced upon a thing written by Harold Hilton in 1903 which so closely parallels what I myself have written and said so many times that the similarity is startling.  A comparison of this and present-day utterances on the subject shows that the rhythm of the well-timed swing has not been altered much through the change of implements and balls.
  Mr. Hilton wrote of S. Mure Fergusson, one of the long drivers of that era:
  'On the upward swing, Mr. Fergusson always appears to take the club up in a most leisurely and deliberate fashion, and maintains this leisurely method at the beginning of the downswing; in fact, he always appears to be swinging slowly and well within himself, and this probably accounts for the fine, free action of the body when following through; but by the length of ball he drives, it is manifest that the clubhead must be travelling fast when it reaches the ball.'
  Of this passage, the most important part is to be found in the statement that Mr. Fergusson 'maintains this leisurely method at the beginning of the downward swing.'  We hear 'slow back' on every side, but 'slow back' is not enough.  There are numbers of players who are able to restrain their impulses to this extent, but who, once back, literally pounce upon the ball with uncontrolled fury.  It is the leisurely start downward which provides for a gradual increase of speed without disturbing the balance and timing of the swing. 
 The steel shaft has made it possible to produce a golf club that is better balanced, and hence more easily manipulated.  It is, therefore, possible that in the hands of a competent player it can be swung somewhat more rapidly without sacrifice of control.  Nevertheless, the inexpert player or average golfer will still do well to take to heart the descriptions quoted above.  Let him always strive for rhythm and make certain that both backswing and the start downwards are made at a leisurely pace.  And let the player always swing the club back far enough so that there will be plenty of space and time for the clubhead to gain speed between the top of the swing and contact with the ball."

That is what, it seems to me, we see and appreciate in the great swings.  Some swings have a faster tempo than others, but all good swings look leisurely.  There is never any rush.  You don't see good players snatching the club back, or lunging at the ball from the top.  They aren't in any hurry.  After all, the ball isn't going anywhere. It's relatively easy to take the club back slowly, and smoothly.  As Bobby said, many golfers have mastered that part of the swing.  But it's the change of direction, or the move from the top, where most swings, including my own, are likely to seriously go wrong.