I am fortunate to have witnessed virtually all of the great male players of the last 30 years in the flesh. From Faldo to Seve, Norman, Langer, Couples, Woods, Rose, Koepka and the rest there is something awe inspiring about watching them compete live.
For students of swing technique, course strategy and mental preparation, the digital age has brought about a huge depth of statistical information, biomechanical analysis and psychological evaluation of these great players to try to figure out what makes them so good and to help the average golfers game.
Go back a bit further into golfing history however and such analysis is harder to come by – limited to old YouTube videos and written literature. Fortunately, many of the great players of history have committed their thoughts to paper. Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus in particular have offered significant contributions to instructional writing. For me, however, the greatest contributer in this area was the one and only Robert Tyre (Bobby) Jones.
‘ Jones was great because he had the finest mind of any competitive golfer. He was a brilliant student in college and was an extremely able lawyer and businessman. Jones had a natural genius for hitting a golf ball – Robert T. Jones is emblazoned on all the major trophies because he had, along with a great golf game and great fortitude, great intelligence. Jones was able to master his temper and every other problem that stood between him and consistent superlative performance.’
Fortunately for all golfers, Jones wrote beautifully about the game. His thoughts and tips are presented here without filter because, of course, they are as relevant now as when he wrote them 90 years ago.
On the fundamentals:
Golf is played by striking the ball with the head of the club. The objective of the player is not to swing the club in a specified manner, nor to execute a series of complicated movements in a prescribed sequence, nor to look pretty while he is doing it, but primarily and essentially to strike the ball with the head of the club so that the ball will perform according to his wishes.
It is always important in playing golf that there should be in the mind of the player a definite picture of what he intends to do with the clubhead. It is safe to say that a vast majority of the struggling multitude are able to conjure up no very accurate conception of the swing.
The picture which I like to have in mind is one of hitting directly along the line of flight, with the face of the club exactly squared to the hole.
I cannot see how one may avoid the conclusion that any player must swing and play better when he makes every move of his stroke with the aim of getting himself into position to strike in a clearly defined way, and delivering the blow in this way.
Smoothness is the keynote of the successful golf swing. The man with a faulty swing ties himself up to an extent that makes a smooth stroke impossible. The expert swings smoothly because his successive positions are easy and comfortable, and are such that the movement from one to the other is not hampered by unwilling muscles.
The main thing is that the backswing should be long enough so that there be no need to hurry for the downstroke. The aim should be to blend the backswing and the early part of the downstroke into one smoothly flowing movement culminating in maximum effort and a maximum clubhead speed when the face of the club contacts the ball.
On long hitting:
We have been told often enough that relaxed muscles and a rhythmic swing are two essentials for the execution of a successful golf shot. More particularly these are the essentials of any stroke which is intended to drive the ball any considerable distance.
It is a fine thing to be able to produce a few extra yards when they are needed. But this additional can never be had by stretching or slugging. On the contrary, it is obtained more easily by increasing the turn and use of the hips and shoulders.
On pitching from the rough:
I think Harry Vardon was the most complete master of this stroke that I have ever seen. And Vardon always played it in the gentlest way imaginable, in contrast to the quick, jerky stroke employed by the average duffer.
My first principle of putting is to resist the inclination to look up to the hole while in the act of striking the ball. Different players have devised for themselves different ways of guarding against this tendency. It makes little difference how long the head is kept down so long as one makes certain that the ball has actually been struck before the eye leaves it.
We speak of putting as a game of confidence, I think, because on those days when we are able to see the line to the hole and when our judgement of speed is good, we have no particular worry about the result. It is then a simple matter of striking the ball along the selected line.
I have rarely run across a club in any man’s bag to which I could not accommodate myself. But I regard this as a phenomenon which by no means alters the fact that shaft lengths are to be determined wholly on the basis of individual preference. My chief warning is to avoid the idea that height and reach, or either, are the controlling factors. Comfort is the main thing.
On Course Management:
I finally arrived at a sort of measure of expectancy that in a seasons play I could perform at my best rate for not over a half-dozen rounds. If one should have confidence in such an appraisal, the following conclusions were inescapable:
- I must be prepared for the making of mistakes.
- I must try always to select the shot to be played and the manner of playing it so as to provide the widest possible margin for error.
- I must expect to have to do some scrambling and not be discouraged if the amount of it happens to be more than normal.
Golf is My Game – Robert T. Jones
Bobby Jones: Golf Tips Secrets of the Master – Edited by Siney L. Matthew
Classic Instruction – Bobby Jones & Ben Crenshaw