1930 Magazine Article:

A Lesson from Harry Vardon   BY OWEN BROWN

An Interview with the Father of Modern Golf

"No," said Harry Vardon, "Never 'throw' the clubhead. Swing it all the way through. Above all do not make a 'hit' of it. The deliberate, premeditated flick or throw of the club --- either from the top of the swing, waist high as some advocate, or just when coming onto the ball --- is wrong. It results in mediocre golf, not the finished play of the expert. This holds equally for the iron shots as for shots with the wood. Aside from putting, there is no purely wrist shot in the whole realm of golf."

The Old master, founder of the modern school of golf technique as opposed to the erstwhile St. Andrews' method, winner of seven open championships and fifty eight other major tournaments, was still going strong when we played at Totteridge, England. Vardon was well on his game and hitting them straight to the pin nearly all the way. A week or two before, using only a putter and one other club, and that a niblick, he had played the Totteridge course in an even 80; and any member of the South Herts Club will tell you, 72, or even better, is still no infrequent accomplishment for him. Still clear of eye --- he does not wear glasses --- sure of swing and steady as a balance wheel on both upswing and downswing, he lashes into his tee shots with all the vigor of a 20 year old, and with the same undeviating compact grace and control, putting direction always before mere length, that made him the recognized model of form on two continents.

"Do you begin your downswing by a 'pull down,' with the hands, or do you simply transfer your weight from right back to left and speed up automatically as you come around?" I asked.

The answer came without a second's hesitation: "The downswing starts by a dropping of the elbows. What you term the 'pull down',  but even more so where the downswing follows a movement begun by a purely body action, such as a full shifting of weight from right to left before the club gets under way, would surely be putting the cart before the horse. The club and arms must lead on the downswing, just as they should on the upswing. Not the hips and body first, which means shifting the weight as a preliminary to body turning, and then the arms and club as so many teach. That would be good advice to follow, if you wanted to cultivate body sway; but it is body action of every sort you want to keep down to the minimum. There may be the slightest shifting to the left, or bracing movement, on starting down, but it should be very slight indeed. The erroneous notion of a complete weight shifting from right to left, which so many golfers are overdoing nowadays, as they start their downswings, before they have scarcely got to the top of their upswings, is no doubt an exaggeration of the popular idea of getting the left heel back on the ground as soon as possible. The left heel, of course, must be back and firm at impact, but if you will only swing correctly, you don't have to think about your left heel, or anything else but the increasing speed of the club.

"As a matter of fact, there is no reason why the left heel need ever leave the ground but a very little, and those who cultivate a pivot upon the left instep rather than on the toe or ball of the left foot, seem to get the best results."

"That's quite interesting," I broke in here, and I see your point very clearly; but exactly where and how do you apply your main hitting effort? That is, let us assume the left leg has become braced on the downswing, which as you would say, was begun by a simultaneous action of the elbows, arms, and club and not by a sidewise movement of the hips in the act of weight shifting.  You are now 'hitting against the left' as we say. At just what point in the arc do you apply the main punch --- or 'throw' --- of the clubhead?"

I was trying to make myself as clear as possible, so that Vardon's reply to my question would answer one of the most perplexing and and debatable points in the whole gamut of present-day golf instruction. Vardon simply said, "I don't throw my clubhead; I don't think about the action of the head or any other particular part of the club, if that is what you mean; and it is my opinion that anything in the nature of a throw or flick, commonly termed wrist action --- a sort of swing within a swing --- could have but one result. It would retard and not accelerate the speed of the club by interfering with rhythm and by communicating a certain amount of body action into a movement that ought to be performed, as nearly as it is humanly possible to do so, by the arms and club alone. The wrists are a kind of hinge, but they should do their work automatically. If both hands are grasping the shaft as they should, and in the manner I advocate in my two books --- that is, mainly a firm thumb and forefinger grip --- you don't have to think about the where the power comes from. You'll get it allright, but you must get it through a proper swing of the club through the ball --- not by any forcing methods associated with wrist action. What you want is freedom and looseness at the wrists, not the tenseness and stiffness that would result at once if you tried actually to make the shot with your wrists."

"I know that the motion pictures are supposed to show how the wrists 'uncock' and perform in the act of sweeping the ball away, but I still say that all this is automatic; quite beyond the conscious effort of the golfer who is swinging cleanly and smoothly. The golfer himself cannot possibly control it to any good effect. The whole downswing is over in the part of a second. There is no time to think of the wrists; such as what to do with them at a given instant. Not that you cannot, after a fashion, play what might be termed a 'wrist shot' by the throwing or flicking method, but you'd hardly expect to win big tournaments with that type of swing.

"Now, as to hitting against the left leg," he continued, "any first rate golfer swings against an axis and that axis is the center of his pivot or balance. He isn't particularly hitting aginst anything, but just swinging the club. It is leverage that he wants, and must maintain, clear through the stroke. I won't attempt to say just where the center of balance is, for it shifts somewhat as the golfer does, but it certainly is not the left leg or any other definite part of his anatomy. A fine golfer may tell you that he hits or swings aginst his left leg, because towards the end of the downswing he is bracing most of his weight upon it; but he is probably a better golfer than he is an explainer as to exactly how he does it."

Although I had played but one game since leaving the California Coast previously, I was soon swinging in at least something resembling the manner indicated by the incomparable Harry. With scarcely half my usual expenditure of effort, I brought of many shots that were the result, entirely, of his brief but very explicit directions.

When I outdrove him on one of the long holes, a long straight ball, and my best of the round, he seemed to take it as a matter of course. "You see --- that time you outdrove me; and there is no reason why you can't do as well on all your strokes; if you'll just remember how you swung on that one.

"The golf swing must be regarded, primarily as an action of the club. It describes certain movements in the air, and, on returning to the point of address, proper 'whip' by means of leverage only, having been applied, it slashes through the ball of its own accord, without let or hindrance, except the final power which a finished player may apply by letting his weight come around behind the shot at the very instant of follow through. But not before, mind you; and none of these movements will come off correctly, if body action --- and I might say wrist action --- is permitted, in ever so slight a degree, to get into the downswing proper, which is largely executed by the clubs, aided and abetted by the arms and hands. The main function of the body is to furnish leverage, but not power; of the wrists, a connection only, like a 'universal joint', between the club and golfer. They should not be used for propulsion.

"Now if you could only think of yourself as a spectator --- not part of the swing itself but just looking on --- and give everything over to the club (assuming that your other movements have been in accordance with recognized principles), you may be able to swing truly and cleanly, without that apparent effort I see you putting into some of your shots. That's the best advice I can give you. Just say to yourdelf: "The club must do it: I must obey the cluband what it wants me to do, not what I want it to do. If I do this swing myself, the club being simply a means to an end, and get no sense of satisfasction from the shot. But if I simply swing, largely with the arms and club, letting all effort be the natural result of the swing, and not the thing that produced it, taking care that the club is leading all the way through and not the body or any part of it, the ball will be struck with the finest degree of delicacy, but with enough percussion at the clubhead to whisk it away two hundred and fifty yards or more."

"One other thing," he added a little later on. "From observation I am convinced that the great difficulty of most golfers is not so much in learning how to swing, strange to say, but in their lack of command or control to keep right on swinging as they know they should swing. They 'weaken' on their downswing and soon fall right back into the old way of doing it. They simply won't trust anything to the club, which would never fail them, if only they would let it lead all the way through.

"When about halfway down on a perfect swing --- perfect to that point, I mean --- they become suddenly obsessed with the notion that the swing is coming off too slowly and they fear the clubhead won't come through fast enough to give them the long ball; so they feel they must apply some special forcing or whippin action, upsetting both leverage and rhythm, with any of a dozen results --- all unsatisfactory. Or as it seems to me, recalling my early golfing days, they become seized at this point in the swing with the idea that as the clubhead is still so far back from the ball, as yet travelling so slowly and with the face quite 'open', it won't catch up in time to meet the ball squarely at impact. In other words, they're afraid their old enemy the slice, and feel, instinctively, that something must be done, in a hurry, to guarantee the desired result. They won't wait for the club to come through naturally and smoothly but must endeavor to sling it, or hurl it, or even to poke it through with a sudden clenching of the fingers of the right hand and a jamming of the right arm, tensed as a ramrod.

"As speed seems to them the thing mostlacking up to this point, and as most people feel capable of injecting more power into their swings by right hand domination, they learn to rely on this right hand action --- a thing apart from a pure golf swing --- instesd of relying on the correct swing itself to produce the correct result.

"There now, I guess you've had quite enough instruction for a while, and if you will just remember to let the club lead --- and really let it --- all the way through, you won't need any more instruction from me or anyone else!"

So saying he gave one look toward the eighteenth pin, brough his club up horizontally --- very horizontally --- over his right shoulder, and before the eye could analyze what took place after that, the ball went travelling through the air on the straightest possible line to the center of the green. But with such ease and grace was the whole effect and result attained that one took only momentary notice of the ball, while marvelling, rather, at the rhytm and poise and virility of this sixty one year old golfer, who, long after those memorable days when "golf was golf" and Vardon was Vardon --- the golfing byword and model on both continents --- can still reel off birdies and eagles, who with his marvellous command of the "push shot" and every other stroke known to golf, was perhaps, in his prime, the greatest shotmaker of them all.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson wrote the following three paragraphs to begin chapter 14, Going Ballistic, from his book, Space Chronicles. They form, in my mind, half of the basis of how I teach golfers to acquire consistently effective golf strokes.  I will explain and demonstrate the other basis half on the next page.

”In nearly all sports that use balls, the balls go ballistic at one time or another. Whether you’re playing baseball, cricket, football, golf, jai alai, soccer, tennis, or water polo, a ball gets thrown, smacked, or kicked and then becomes airborne before returning to Earth.

Air resistance affects the trajectories of all these balls, but regardless of what set them in motion or where they might land, their basic path is described by a simple equation found in Isaac Newton’s Principia, his seminal 1687 book on motion and gravity. Some years later, Newton interpreted his discoveries for the Latin-literate lay reader in The System of the World, which includes a description of what would happen if you hurled stones horizontally at higher and higher speeds. Newton first notes the obvious: the stones would hit the ground farther and farther away from the release point, eventually landing beyond the horizon. He then reasons that if the speed were high enough, a stone would travel Earth’s entire circumference, never hit the ground, and return to whack you on the back of the head. If you ducked at that instance, the object would continue forever in what is commonly called an orbit. You can’t get more ballistic than that.

The speed needed to achieve low Earth orbit (affectionately known as LEO) is just over seventeen thousand miles per hour—sideways—making the round trip about an hour and a half. Had Sputnik I, the first artificial satellite, and Yuri Gagarin, the first human to travel beyond our atmosphere, not reached that speed, they simply would have fallen back to Earth.”