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Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Quick Look at the Haig

One of the pros Bobby Jones is most often linked with was the great Walter Hagen, also known as "the Haig." He was one of the first touring golf professionals, and he did a lot to make the gig respectable. We know he won at least 52 tournaments -- 45 of them were PGA Tour events -- and he won 11 majors. Only the Masters escaped him... but since he turned pro in 1912 and only played the Masters once in 1936; I think we can let him slide on that!

Hagen won 2 US Opens, 4 Open Championships, and 5 PGA Championships. This last is particularly amazing because the PGA was a match play tournament back then; he won it in 1921, and then won 4 straight from 1924-1927. And according to Wikipedia, some golf historians debate whether he should be given credit for 16 majors, since the Western Open was considered an elite tournament on the level of the other Opens... and Hagen won the Western 5 times. His legend was well-earned!

I couldn't find much video on Hagen, but I found a couple of interesting bits that I thought you might be interested in. Hagen was renowned as a wild driver of the ball. Some people attribute a quote something like this to Bobby Jones, talking about Hagen:
Give me a man who hits his drive down the middle, his approach to the green, and two putts for par. That's a game I understand. But when a man is wild left with his drive, wild right with his approach, and chips in for birdie... that's a game I don't understand at all.
Nothing makes this point clearer than this brief piece of video showing a typical Hagen drive:



It looks pretty modern, doesn't it? It was, and it gave Hagen a lot of power. But it wasn't particularly accurate for one simple reason: Hagen is playing with hickory shafts! This swing is much better-suited to steel shafts. You rarely see such a wide stance used by any other players of his time, because it results in more of a hitting motion, not the swinging motion more common with hickory shafts. (A classic example is Jones himself.)

If you're determined to hit the ball hard, you could do a lot worse than copying Hagen. You'll note that he uses a setup similar to the Stack and Tilt swing; his weight is set slightly on his left side, so he stays down on the ball through impact. He uses a limited hip turn with a huge shoulder turn, and if you stop the video when his left arm is parallel to the ground on the downswing, you'll see he has as much wrist cock as any modern pro coming into the hitting area. Finally, he ends up with his weight completely transferred to his left side -- there's no hanging back in Walter Hagen! He attacked the golf course... and did so very successfully.

Here's one of his iron shots. Note how much more restrained it is, compared to his drive:



Note that he uses a much narrower stance with his irons. However, if you can stop the video when his left arm is parallel to the ground on the downswing, you'll be able to see just how much flex he gets in those hickory shafts. The part of the shaft near the grip points almost straight up... but the shaft is bent so much, the head of the club is behind his head! Imagine how many tournaments he could have won if he'd had steel shafts in those clubs...

Hagen is proof that nothing is really new when it comes to golf. The Haig was using a modern swing before modern equipment even existed! Consider this my last instructional thought for the year: Just because players played in a different time period and used different equipment, it doesn't mean you can't use some of the same techniques they did. This is especially true since graphite shafts came into vogue, because they often perform like hickory... only more consistent.

You can learn useful techniques from any player of any era. The Haig is one that many of you would do well to study.

3 comments:

  1. Come on, Mike - that iron swing is the Roy "Tin Cup" MacIvoy "Unfinished Symphony" swing. :-)

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  2. ...but with a wooden baton, not a steel one. ;-)

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  3. Easy now - Cup is old school - he could play with the hickory, too !

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