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Friday, November 23, 2018

Bobby Jones on "Staying Down to the Ball"

I found this paragraph in one of my favorite "old" books, Bobby Jones on Golf. In a section entitled Staying Down to the Ball Jones talks about some of the frequently-given advice that actually causes players to swing badly. I'm going to put one sentence from this paragraph in boldface print because I think it's something most of us need to be reminded of quite often.
The average golfer would be a lot better off if no one had ever said anything about the necessity for keeping the eyes glued upon the ball. There is infinite virtue, as so many have pointed out, in maintaining some sort of anchor for the swing. I always think of it as "staying down to the ball." But when a person begins to think about keeping his head immovable and concentrates upon keeping his eye fixed upon the ball, trouble is being invited. The very act of trying to do something that is natural to do anyway sets up a tension that is hard to break. It is perfectly natural to look at an object one is trying to hit, and ordinary observation and awareness of its presence and location are sufficient. When a man gazes fixedly at a golf ball, he is doing something wholly unnecessary and destructive of the rhythm and relaxation he has striven for. I have found little value in the maxim, "keep your eye on the ball," except on the putting green and in playing very short approaches. The longer shots that are missed are usually caused by something else. [p116]
Think about that for a moment. "The very act of trying to do something that is natural to do anyway sets up a tension that is hard to break." There's some real wisdom in that! Does the phrase "getting in your own way" sound familiar? That's what's Jones is talking about here.

Things that you do naturally tend to have, as he says, a natural rhythm and relaxation about them. They come to you so easily that you may even do them and then, a few seconds later, ask yourself whether you did them at all. One good example for me is locking the door when I leave the house. I may do it, get in the car, and suddenly go, Wait a minute... did I lock the door? That's because it's so natural that I do it out of habit.

But in order to make sure I remember I did it, I have to do something unnatural, something I wouldn't normally do as part of locking the door. In my case, I consciously look at my fist and clench it around the key after I lock the door. That way I consciously register the fact that I locked the door...

It's nowhere near as effortless as when I just lock the door and don't worry about it, however.

That's what Jones means. In his example, the effort of consciously keeping your eyes on the ball (or holding your head still, or keeping your head down -- take your pick) adversely affects the natural motion of your swing and makes it that much harder to do correctly.

And he even references the most frustrating aspect about doing this: "The longer shots that are missed are usually caused by something else." Our fixation is often on the wrong problem anyway!

My point for today is simply that, when we're having a problem with our swings, before we start making changes, we should probably take some time to try and just swing naturally -- as hard as that may seem because we're so sure we're making "this" mistake and we don't believe it will stop unless we "take more control" of the problem. I've written about the importance of trying to use our practice swing as our actual swing (most recently in this post); I think that's at least part of what Jones is talking about here.

Personally, I take some comfort in knowing that even the legends of the game have struggled with this problem... and successful beat it. (At least, some of the time!) It's a good thing for us mere mortals to remember and use as well.

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