By Dr. Gerald A. Walford USGTF Certified Golf Teaching Professional® The Villages, Florida
Swing The Clubhead by Ernest Jones, 1952
Better Golf in Five Minutes by J. Victor East, 1956
The Golf Swing of the Future by Mindy Blake, 1972
Ernest Jones was a British golf pro who came to America, where he became a famous teaching pro. In working with Babe Zaharias, he told her, “I watched you. The day you can stop experimenting is the day you will be a great golfer, maybe the greatest of all.” And it was true. This comment is the basis of his teachings.
Jones taught the golf swing as a pendulum, a simple pendulum. Jones lost his right leg during the war and played off his left leg. Four months after his amputation he scored a 38 on the front, and despite fatigue, a 45 on the back nine for an 83…remarkable.
His theory was that the swing was everything and that golf was overwhelmed with paralysis by analysis. His basic feeling for the swing was to clip his jackknife to a handkerchief and then swing it like a golf club. He taught the golf swing and not body positions. To Jones, it was all in the swing being directed by the hands.
His theories are still taught by some.
J. VICTOR EAST
J. Victor East made his fame in Australia as a golf teacher and golf club designer. In 1922, he came to the United States, where he continued his fame.
To East, the swing consisted of one inch behind the ball and one inch in front of the ball. It did not matter what the backswing or the follow-through did, providing the clubface scraped the ball to the target within the one inch in front and back of the ball. Get the impact position correct. Impact determined the flight of the ball. The backswing and follow-through were secondary to impact. His practice method was simply swinging a golf club back and forth, scraping the grass to the target with a very short backswing and follow-through to acquire the position for the feeling of impact.
Mindy Blake was born and raised in New Zealand. He was an exceptional athlete as a golfer, gymnast and pole vaulter. He was also an engineer with a strong background in physics.
Old swing. The body rotated as much as the shoulders, a complete body turn rotating around the right leg. Strong hip turn about 70° while the shoulders rotated about 76° as measured by the leading arm, usually the left arm, forming the angle with the line of flight.
Modern swing. Restricted hip turn resisting the full shoulder turn.
More modern swing. Hip turn 45° while the angle of the leading arm with the target line about 46° inside the target line. This brought in the trend of the more compact golf swing.
The more recent modern swings. The hips are restricted to about 10° and the club is swung back almost in line with the flight to the target, where the leading arm is about 14° inside the target line.
We must remember not everyone played exactly to these standards, but it is evident as to the trend towards the modern swing of less hip, shoulder and body rotation.
Mindy Blake was way ahead of his time in teaching the restricted hip turn and less rotation of the body.
Years ago, the above teachers exemplified teaching by feel in a very simplified style.
They were successful. It is amazing what they accomplished when we look at the equipment they were using in comparison to the modern game.
These early methods were attacked when the high-speed camera became available to study the golf swing. The hips, the wrists, the shoulders, the feet, the knees, the head, etc., now became the focus on how to teach golf. Teaching now stressed body positions. Achieving these body positions would make the clubface scrape the grass under the ball to the target with the face square to the target. This was the beginning of more paralysis by analysis and too much thinking.
Now the teaching changed from feel of the swing to body positions. Teachers began teaching body positions in the hope that if you achieved these body positions, the ball will go straight to the target.
Then came the launch monitors and other ball-tracking devices. These devices give immediate shot data: ball flight, ball speed, launch angle, backspin, club speed, sidespin and side angle, carry distance, offline and total distance. Butch Harmon, considered one of the top golf teachers today, has said he does not use these devices as the ball flight tells him all he needs to know.
Is this detailed analysis needed? Golfers on the senior tour did not have these devices. They learned by watching the ball flight. If an error happened, they experimented and learned to correct it.
Youngsters learn in a similar fashion called self-discovery. They try, and if it does not work, they try again, experiment, and soon they get the feel of what works for them. Some people say the younger golfers are better than the older golfers, but this is debatable.
The older golfers never had the equipment the younger golfers have today. The older golfers worked the ball more so than the golfers today. Many believe the older golfers were more talented. It is unfortunate there is no way we can prove this because the game the old seniors played was different than what the younger players play today. Improved equipment, improved golf course maintenance, improved greens, etc., have greatly enhanced the younger players.
“Swing your swing. Not some idea of the swing, not a swing on TV or swing you wish you had” is the famous quote from Arnold Palmer, who had a swing considered not to be taught (Golf Digest, July 2017, article by Joel Beall regarding Palmer’s often-played commercial). Lee Trevino and Moe Norman, considered along with Ben Hogan the best ball strikers in golf, never took lessons. Calvin Peete made his fame on the pro tour with an arm injury that forced an unconventional swing. Bubba Watson and J.B. Holmes, also famous tour pros with many wins, were also self-taught. Watson claims that all you need to know is just prior to impact and just after impact. This is a J. Victor East teaching philosophy.
Research by the American Psychological Association has shown that “self-discovery” is perhaps the most effective way of learning (Golf Digest , July 2017, Beall). Self-discovery is the natural way to mold your swing to your mental and physical capabilities.
Isn’t it amazing how these high-tech devices tell us what we can see if we hit a golf ball? Their value has been determined by the proven fact that the average handicap of golfers has not changed for the better over the years. Are we in information overload?
Modern technology has made the golf swing too technical and confusing, as well as grooming the student to conform to a molded pattern of robotic maneuvers. Individuality is being lost in some teaching. How many young golfers have had detrimental effects in trying to swing perfectly like Tiger Woods?
Good teachers take the student’s individual characteristics and refine that to a level required. Good teachers have to take the complex and simplify it for the students.
Good teachers do not try to impress their students with their knowledge and ability. Good teachers impress their students with the simplicity of the golf swing.