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Friday, August 4, 2017

Bobby Jones on the "Smooth" Short Game

There are a lot of opinions about how long your backswing should be relative to your downswing, especially in your short game and putting. The great Bobby Jones -- who was no slouch at any of it -- wrote some of his opinions in a 1930s newspaper article called Importance of a Smooth Short Game.

Here are a few thoughts from that article, which is reprinted in a book called Bobby Jones Golf Tips: Secrets of the Master, on pages 33 and 34.
One of the qualities most to be desired in a golf stroke is smoothness, and smoothness becomes impossible unless the backswing is amply long to allow for gradual acceleration of the club in coming down. A backswing that is too short brings about the necessity of making a sudden effort in the act of hitting. Bridging the gap between zero velocity and maximum in the shorter space implies hurry and effort, which can very easily destroy the rhythm of the stroke. Such a procedure is directly opposed to the motion of swinging the clubhead.

Nowhere is the disastrous effect of a short backswing more easily noted than in the play on and around the greens.
He says that some players do become good at holing out their short putts if they practice a lot, but that they will lack the touch necessary for long putts. And after noting how important touch is, not just on short putts but on the long ones as well, he adds:
The man who takes a short, sharp rap at the ball will never be able to compete in these respects with the putter who swings the club.

Almost always I am able to trace my putting troubles to an abbreviated or too rapid backswing. Whenever I am swinging the club back smoothly and in a broad sweep without hurry I am confident of putting well. When I am not doing so I know I will putt badly.
Yes, I know that Brandt Snedeker has a short quick stroke. But can you name anyone else who is known as a good putter with a similar stroke? No. That's because Brandt has a magnificent sense of rhythm, and the length and speed of his swing complement each other. Sneds is the exception that proves the rule.

Then Jones adds this little bit, which I think is a very useful short game tip:
The same thing applies with equal force to chipping and other short approach work. Billy Burke, one of the finest short-game players in the world, has said that he makes a point of swinging back even a little farther than necessary when playing the first few chips of any round. He recognizes the importances of an ample backswing and feels that it is easier to make sure of it at the start than to work into it from the other direction. [my emphasis]
That's a simple way to find your rhythm early on in a round. Your work on the range doesn't always translate directly to the course. This is a nice trick to help you make that transition.


  1. Another great short game post. Thanks, Mike. I have been using the Bobby Jones putting stroke you describe in Ruthless Putting. Outstanding! It provides a lot more feel for longer putts. I'm a big fan. Keep up these observations from the masters.

    1. Thanks, Dana. Most people forget that short game technique is based more on classic technique than modern technique. That's why the pros have to practice so much -- they have to learn two different swings.