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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Bobby Jones Talks About Feel

Today I have another bit of instruction from Bobby Jones -- yet another of his short newpaper columns written in the late 1920s - early 1930s. This one is from the book Bobby Jones on Golf, which is probably the biggest collection available (and also considered the best collection of instruction by many people).

This article is simply called The Feel of a Golf Club and because it's only three paragraphs in length, I'm including the whole piece. (It's a very small piece of the book, only taking a half-page.) I've boldfaced a few of the lines, and I'll add a couple of thoughts about them at the end.
There is nothing occult about hitting a golf ball. In fact, although the application may be a bit more complicated, we use no more than the ordinary principles of motion we encounter numberless times every day. Once started upon a correct path, the club will tend to hold to its course until outside forces cause a change.

The great fault in the average golfer’s conception of his stroke is that he considers the shaft of the club a means of transmitting actual physical force to the ball, whereas it is in reality merely the means of imparting velocity to the club head. We would all do better could we only realize that the length of the drive depends not upon the brute force applied but upon the speed of the club head. It is a matter of velocity rather than a physical effort of the kind that bends crowbars and lifts heavy weights.

I like to think of a golf club as a weight attached to my hands by an imponderable medium, to which a string is a close approximation, and I like to feel that I am throwing it at the ball with much the same motion I should use in cracking a whip. By the simile, I mean to convey the idea of a supple and lightning-quick action of the wrists in striking – a sort of flailing action.
Now obviously this piece was written when hickory shafts were still popular -- indeed, steel shafts had not been approved for tournament use by the R&A until a few years after Jones finished his career -- but these concepts continued to be used by dominant players like Snead and Nelson (to name only a couple of prominent golfers) even after the steel shaft "took over." It wasn't until Hogan's techniques -- with their emphasis on controlling every aspect of the swing motion -- became dominant that "feel" became such a difficult concept for golfers.

I boldfaced a few of the lines that were prominent teachings of great instructors like Harvey Penick -- who, I should note, taught players to swing steel-shafted clubs. Think about them for a moment:
  • We worry so much about plane when a properly-swung club creates AND MAINTAINS its plane without extra help.
  • We focus on creating power when the real issue is club head speed, and that isn't a matter of strength.
  • Most importantly, this club head speed is created by a flick of the wrists at impact. That's exactly the opposite of what we're generally taught nowadays.
Now all of these things may sound a bit strange to you. The reason for that is the fourth thing I put in boldface but haven't mentioned yet -- namely, that the feel of the shaft during your swing is more like the feel of swinging a weight on a string. This is a dramatic departure from modern teaching, and you'll miss it if you don't think hard.

Modern teaching says you have to "use the ground" to make your golf swing work. Modern teaching says you push against the ground with your feet and legs, and you push the club back with your hands and arms. You push, you push, you push.

You can't push a string back, folks. The weight at the end of the string has to pull YOU. Jones is talking about a swing where the weight (club head) at the end of the string (shaft) pulls you back to the top of your backswing. And it's this pulling motion that allows you to feel the club head during your swing.

It's the same way we swing tennis rackets and flyswatters, and even the way we swing hammers and baseball bats. It's just that those last two are so heavy that we tend to think more about the effort of getting them started. (Think about what Jones said in relation to the bat or hammer, and you'll better understand that line that says "Once started upon a correct path, the club will tend to hold to its course until outside forces cause a change.")

Once we get these different types of equipment started swinging, their momentum carries them back to the end of our "backswing," and we learn to feel where that backswing is or we hurt ourselves.

For now this is just something I want you to think about. But the players with the longest careers use swings that focus more on feel, and even Tiger is moving back to a swing that focuses more on feel. It's something worth considering.


  1. This article is the best article I have ever read for getting and learning
    how to get the feeling for just "Swinging the Clubhead". Thank you.

  2. You're welcome, Jim, And if you want to learn more about feel, the "old guys" from the early 20th Century are the best sources. That's because the old hickory shafts were very soft, and you had to be able to "feel the clubhead" in order to make a smooth swing.