Thursday, 10 November 2016

The Secret

If anyone ever figured out the secret to golf, it had to be Bobby Jones. He played in his first US amateur championship at fourteen. After seven years of barely missing in many of the open championships he entered, he went on a tear and won thirteen of them in the next seven years, including all four in his final year. With no more mountains to climb in golf, Bobby retired from competition and turned his attention to sharing his knowledge of the game. 

The real secret of golf, according to Bobby Jones, was learning how to turn three shots into two. In fact, more precisely it is the ability to figure out how to save strokes and how not to waste them by impulsive or reckless play. At the time he wrote his book Down the Fairway, Bobby was only 25 and four years into his seven good years. At that point he had figured out that the secret was to play consistently good golf, rather than trying to rely on flashes of sensational golf. He learned to try to play along with Old Man Par, rather than worrying about his opponents' play. Bobby wrote:

    "I've wasted some time wondering if I might qualify for the position of champion runner-up. I've been runner-up in seven open championships; three American nationals; one Canadian; two southern; and one Florida West Coast championship. All at medal play. That one little stroke a round certainly does make a difference in the records. The saving of one stroke per round would have won all these but the Canadian, when Douglas Edgar was a matter of sixteen strokes ahead of everybody. And there's always at least one stroke in every round you can figure (afterward) that you really ought to have saved. But I suppose it's all in the book, and if you had saved that stroke, you'd have dropped another.
     There are always a number of strokes in a round you might have dropped, too. But you don't think so much about them.
     Queer game, golf."

Later, when summing up the reason for his Grand Slam victory, Bobby actually admitted that he was not playing his best golf. What he did confess, however, is that he believed the reason he was able to accomplish this unbelievable feat was that he simply refused to give up. He believed that he simply tried harder and was willing to take more punishment than his opponents. That was about as vain as Bobby, ever the humble, or self-effacing, type, could be. 

So the secret to golf in a nutshell, again according to Bobby, was not some secret swing move. It was figuring out how to score even when you are not playing your best; because, at the end of the day, the score is all that matters. No points are awarded for style.

On the other hand, when writing about his "biggest year" of 1926--this was written before he won the Grand Slam--Bobby did write about a very important swing key when he wrote:

    "Golf is a very queer game. I started the year with one glorious licking and closed it with another. And it was the biggest golf year I'll ever have (he hadn't started thinking about the possibility of winning them all in one season at this point)...I fancied I was in for a good season, and then this drubbing (at the hands of Walter Hagen, who beat him 12 and 11 in a 72 hole match) came along and showed up glaringly the defect in my iron play which had started troubling me at Skokie, in the open championship of 1922. I set to work on that department, and I think it was Jimmy Donaldson, who was with Armour at Sarasota, who gave me the correct line--too much right hand in the stroke. I worked on the irons every time I had a chance up to the British invasion. And the irons served me fairly well the rest of the year... Whenever I could get the feel that I was pulling the club down and through the stroke with the left arm--indeed, as if I were hitting the shot with the left hand--it seemed impossible to get much off line. Curious thing. The older school of professionals always insisted the golf stroke was a left-hand stroke, you know."

That's why I keep preaching about top-hand golf. If there is one swing key that was embraced by virtually all the top players before Bobby Jones, and recommended by Bobby, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, and Jack Nicklaus, among countless others; it was the importance of the swing being controlled by the left hand for right-handed players. If that left hand and arm is pulling the club down and through the stroke along the target line, chances are the ball will not be far off line. It may be an old teaching, but it's an important one. It might just be the most important move you can learn. 

Don't believe me; believe Bobby Jones; and Sam Snead; and Byron Nelson; and...