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Monday, 13 February 2017

How Bobby Jones Played his Irons

In his book, Down the Fairway, Bobby Jones devoted one of the final chapters to the subject of iron play. He loved playing the irons; especially the long irons. Here's what he had to say about how he played them:

"In a general way this is my method with the irons. I try to hit the shot straight; that is without fade or drift to the right or draw to the left, except when a cross wind indicates the desirability of what is known as 'holding up' the ball. Even in that case the result is a line shot."

It's interesting to note that Bobby did not consider the straight shot to be a virtual impossibility, like Hogan and Nicklaus. He also did not believe in trying to be overly fancy, trying to fade or draw his iron shots into the pin. He believed the average golfer should be even more inclined to hit the plain, old, straight shot.

He went on to write:

    "My stance for the irons is approximately square; that is, with my feet equidistant from the line of play--not from the ball, which is opposite my left foot. My left arm is straight, not theoretically but actually, from the moment the turning motion away from the ball is well started until some time after impact. I try always to turn well away from the ball in the back-swing. In this motion I am conscious that the left side is pushing the right side away from the ball. At the risk of becoming tiresome let me repeat that this free body-turn seems to me the most important factor in my swing.
     With no wind to consider, I try to play a straight and simple shot, using a club a little more than adequate to get the distance, rather than taking a full crack with a club just strong enough. I rarely knock the ball down with an iron or play what used to be called the push shot; very popular with many players formerly."

This is great advice for amateurs to follow. Try to play the simple shot with a club that will easily get there, rather than trying to hit a club that is just strong enough. Most amateurs press with their irons, trying to max out a seven iron when an easy swing with a six would work much better. Hitting fancy fades and draws, and knock-down shots, are best left to the experts. In fact, Bobby pointed out that, with championships at stake, you see even the best players playing the easy shots. Bobby goes on to write:

    "With the wind off the right or against, I like to take a club appreciably stronger than the range warrants. It is a curious fact that a slower hit causes the ball to bore better into a head-wind, perhaps by reason of carrying less backspin. And when the wind is off the right, the tendency being to impart a bit of cut to a shot with a stronger club, the ball is held up, in a manner of speaking, into the wind and proceeds in a straight line.
     With the wind off the left, I like a weaker club than the shot indicates and a harder smash in the stroke. I play the ball a bit farther from me and hit it hard, with a slightly freer turn of the body. My right shoulder, too, comes in a little higher, inducing a slight draw; that is, a faint curve to the left, which holds the ball up into the wind. It should be remembered, however, that unless the wind is very strong it has little effect , right or left, on a properly struck iron shot; and these refinements are not often essential. Of course, the wind will increase or curtail the range of a shot, and that is taken care of by the selection of clubs. As stated, I like a stronger club with a slower stroke against the wind, with a lower trajectory and relatively more wind-jamming power. You are shooting against a fine cushion, so you don't need to worry about stopping the ball.
     With a following wind I like a weaker club, swung harder. This adds elevation to the stroke, which is needed, as a following wind seems to take spin off the ball or at any rate minimize its controlling effect on landing.
     I am aware that these minor variations are likely to appear as an affectation, and I trust the reader to believe that my game never was built up and developed with any such things in mind. I suppose they came along subjectively, instinctively; and I know that most of them are performed with perfect unconsciousness in playing a round, just as an outfielder in baseball cuts loose for the plate with no thought of position of his feet or the juncture at which his wrist snaps, or anything beyond sending the ball on a proper hop to the catcher. It is impossible to describe most of these little refinements of the golfing stroke. You just do them, when your subjective experience tells you to, mostly without objective thought. It is a fascinating sort of thing to try to analyze, and I hope earnestly that my analytical efforts will not result disastrously for some confiding reader."

Once again, Bobby Jones offers his analysis on how he plays the game with a certain amount of fear and trembling, realizing that golf is an individual game; and that guaging iron shots correctly comes from subjective experience on what works for you. We have to have a bit of the outfielder in us, seeing where we want to land the ball, and then letting it go without too much thought about how we do it. Still, I think there is some great information for all of us in this information from one of golf's greatest players.