The swing philosophy of Bobby Jones
Bobby Jones argued that the ideal for most golf situations is a ball being struck by a club head moving precisely along the intended line of flight with its face square to the objective.
“In the absence of wind," Jones said, “the only possible result is a straight shot directly on target.”
For Bobby, the great fault in the average golfer was that he considered the shaft of the club as a means of transmitting actual physical force to the ball, whereas in reality, it is merely the means of imparting velocity to the club head.
“It is a matter of well-timed acceleration,” he said, “rather than of physical effort of the kind that bends crowbars and lifts heavy weights.”
In the late 1930s, Dr. Harold Edgerton’s photographs of his golf swing revealed that the velocity of Jones’ swing increased up to the moment of impact while that of the ordinary golfer was falling off at impact. Also the acceleration of his swing started earlier than in the average golfer’s swing.
Over the decades, Jones' swing has remained the epitome of rhythm and timing, the perfect, smooth-flowing movement that could culminate in a maximum effort and a maximum club-head speed when the face of the club contacts the ball. As Bernard Darwin wrote, Jones’ swing had a touch of poetry.
Jones’s definition as well as understanding of golf was put to words in poetical maxims. We encounter the oldest of these maxims in Ernest Jones’s detailed analysis of the game.
For the action of swinging a club produces centrifugal force and most of the weight of the club is in the club-head. The better you learn to swing, the greater force you will develop: force is speed squared times weight. You must swing the weight (or club-head) at the ball with speed in order to generate the greatest centrifugal force.
Ernest Jones concluded, “Control, which is a combination of balance and timing, can be attained through a swinging action in wielding the club. We sense control through a feeling in the hands of what is being done with the club-head. This, I submit, is a positive way to learn golf. To learn what we are doing when we are playing well, instead of worrying about what we are doing when we are playing badly.”
To that extent Jack Nicklaus could assert that the single most important factor of the game is swinging the club-head. It is worthless to attain a particular position during the swing, as ideal as it may seem, if it interferes with the free use of the club-head.
“Thus a final tip,” Jack said, “always side with motion over mechanics when you’re not sure if a particular concept is working for you.”
He liked to think of the head of a golf club as acting in the manner of a free projectile as it strikes the ball. At the point of reaching the ball there occurs a very definitive feeling of releasing the projectile, of a complete cessation of effort as if the flailing action of the hands execute a launching and a complete surrender of control.
The three simple movements all present in a proper backswing are:
- First, from the position of address, by employing only the hands and arms, to lift the club directly over the right shoulder, assuring a full cocking of the wrists;
- Second, to execute a full rotation of the trunk to the right, keeling the head immovable by using the spine as an axis;
- Third, to lift the hands and arms straight up to the normal to-of-swing position.
- The sole purpose of the downswing is to get the player to a proper position for striking.
Jones said, “A golfer should strive for the feeling that throughout the down-stroke he is continually building momentum until his club-head reaches the maximum possible speed, at which point he should turn the whole thing loose and allow the weight of the club and the effort of swing to carry him along to a proper finish.”
He taught these principles for learning golf:
- A good instructor can be helpful at all stages of a player’s development. But it is most important that the doses of instruction should be simple, direct and practical.
- It is foolish for either teacher or pupil to expect that any swing can be made over in an afternoon, a week, or even a season.
- It is important to pick up the one point in a swing at which the making of a small change would work an improvement in the performance of the whole.
- Never once try to remake a swing or to create one from scratch precisely along copy book lines.
- Golf is not taught as it is learned. It is taught more as a science or as a prescribed set of callisthenic exercises, whereas, it is learned as a game.
UP NEXT: The quotable Bobby Jones