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Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Bobby Jones on "Ease and Comfort"

In his book, Bobby Jones on Golf, Bobby tells an entertaining story about playing golf with his father.  It provided an apt illustration about a struggle that so many of us have.  He wrote:

  "One day my father and I were playing together, he was driving last from the back of a very long tee.  With a swing that could only be described as labored, he bashed the head of the driver into the turf so that the ball popped almost straight up, and dropped just in front of the teeing ground.  As we started forward, he called to me, 'Come back here a minute.'  Then, with as graceful a swing as I could imagine, he clipped a dandelion from the grass.  Glaring at me, he said in a strangely challenging tone, 'Now what's wrong with that swing?'  'Nothing,' I said, 'why don't you use it sometime?'
  There is no golfer in the world who has not at some time thought how fine it would be if he could swing at the ball as freely and as smoothly as he swings at a clover top or a piece of paper lying on the grass.  Some, indeed, do not even then have to others the graceful and effective appearance they conceive themselves to have, but there is no denying, except in the case of experts, that the practice swing is, almost always, far better than the swing made with the intent of striking the ball.  The player himself senses and admits the difference, often recognizes the reason, yet fails to understand that there is a sensible way to overcome it.
  Most persons accept it as one of those things that must be suffered.  The necessity for the existence of this difference is lamented, accepted, and we pass on.  The entire business is attributed to a mental condition, a sense of responsibility, anxiety, fear, or whatnot, setting up a tension that cannot be overcome.
  This much is true, but it so happens that it is only part of the story.  The difference in the state of mind of the player when taking a practice swing and when playing an actual stroke is easily understood and its affect appreciated; but what is neither understood nor appreciated is that the elimination or omission of some of the frills of the actual stroke that are not present in the practice swing may work a complete change.  The expert is not afraid of the ball, because he has learned to have confidence in his ability to hit it.
  Watch a moderately good average golfer take a practice swing prepatory to making a shot.  He swings the club easily, rhythmically to and fro, there is proper balance throughout and a commendable relaxation.  The stance is always conservative and comfortable--one into which he has stepped without fuss or bother.  Now watch him as he steps up to the ball.  He first sets his feet wide apart--at least further than they were before.  This, he thinks, is to assure good balance and a firm footing.
  Then he gpbegins to waggle, and the more he waggles the more he bends over the ball and the more tense he becomes.  Instead of sensing the correct position, or of falling naturally into a comfortable one, he attempts to set himself before the ball with perfect accuracy, attempting to see that everything is placed just so.
  I have no quarrel with anyone for taking pains with a shot nor for making certain he is ready to play before he starts the swing.  But most golfers lose sight of the fact that in the first position it is ease and comfort that are to be sought, and that a strained or unnatural posture was never recommended by anyone...
  It is very rare that tension is observed in a practice swing, and this is so because the player, not feeling the necessity of being entirely correct, comes closer to assuming a natural posture.  Let him take this naturalness into the actual shot; let him simplify his preliminary motions as much as possible; and let him start the ball on its way without hurry, yet without setting himself on point before it like a fine bird dog on a covey of quail.  In this way, he can go a long way, on the physical side, toward overcoming the understandable mental disturbances that must arise when he is confronted with the responsibility of hitting the ball.  Mental tension--that is, keenness--never does any harm when it is accompanied by physical relaxation."

So, there you have it.  Perhaps our practice swing really is better than our "real" swing.  But it isn't really the swing, it's the ease and comfort with which we approach our practice swing that makes the difference.  Perhaps, if we allowed ourselves not to worry about being so careful, and so precise, when standing over the ball, we might just see some improvement.  And, even if we don't, at least we'll be comfortable and at ease.  Comfortable is good.  

That Bobby Jones was something special.