WHEN the iron-headed clubs come up for discussion, the golfer's first thoughts turn instinctively to the cleek. It is not an easy implement with which to obtain good results, but once the player feels confident of his ability to use it properly, he is equipped with a tool which is invaluable. It can be employed with profit for many kinds of strokes. In these days of the rubber-cored ball, it is possible to get very nearly as far with the club in question as with a driver or brassie, so that to the player who hesitates to attempt a full wooden-club shot when the lie is indifferent, the cleek presents itself in the nature of a providential saver of the situation. Far better, too, is it to play a half shot with the cleek than a full swipe with the iron. Here, then, we have an agent capable of doing much good. Now as to the best way to become on friendly terms with it. The best way is, I think, to obtain an introduction to it through the medium of the iron.
Let us assume that the aspirant to success is master of the swing. That is essential. He is making drives and brassie shots of eminently respectable extent and direction. On the hard ground, he may be even merging himself in the general conspiracy to spoil the courses by driving unreasonably far. He is swinging properly; therefore he can turn with self-reliance to the task of learning the peculiarities of the cleek and iron. Those peculiarities are few.
I said earlier in this book that the easiest shots in golf were those made from the tee with a brassie and from the fairway with an ordinary iron. The latter club is a general favourite. Its loft is not stinted like that of the cleek, nor accentuated like that of the mashie. It is a rational, attractive sort of loft; just the kind required to pick a ball up cleanly from the turf and send it hurling through space. Without a doubt, the iron, in addition to being a useful implement, enjoys immense popularity, and is quick to win the confidence of its owner. It might almost be described as the pet of the bag. Nor is it often a spoilt child. One seldom hears a golfer complaining that this particular club is not what it ought to be. From time to time he may fancy another iron, and buy it, but only because he is devoted to irons just as some people have a passion for foreign stamps. It is not because he feels that his first friend has played him false.
This widespread sentiment is alone a sufficiently good reason for recommending an early course of study with the iron to the beginner or the person who is endeavouring to rise superior to long-standing mediocrity. He can intersperse such practice with that which he is obtaining with the wooden clubs. Just as he will be able to use the driver if he become competent with the brassie on the teeing ground, so will he be able to do good work with the cleek if he can make satisfactory shots with his iron. In each case, it is a matter of beginning with the easier article and so lessening the difficulties of the harder one. The manner of swinging by turning from the waist and pivoting on the left big toe without turning the heel outwards is - or should be - precisely the same for all four of the clubs. By all means grip a little tighter with the cleek or iron than with the driver or brassie, but the chief differences in the methods of executing iron-and wooden-club shots are matters of stance and length of back swing. The slightly strengthened hold is desirable lest the implement turn in the hands at the moment of impact, a disaster which is apt to occur through the contact with the ground; but I cannot support the advice which I have seen given in some treatises that the grip with iron implements should be so tight as to make the blood run out of the knuckles.
The person who clutches the handle with that degree of grim desperation is likely to get himself into a state of uncomfortable tautness. Just grip with such firmness, more especially with the thumbs and forefingers, as to prevent the club from twisting in the hands. If you remember the thumbs and forefingers, the other fingers will generally supply of their own accord the desired amount of pressure. Or, at least, they will very soon come to know what is required of them.
Whatever shot the player may be practising, he should adopt the simple means which I have already mentioned of training his head to keep still; for the head that does not move during the swing belongs to the man who is going to succeed on the links. I may be accused of labouring this point to excess, but I am convinced that, for the person whose ability is now moderate, the rigid head until the beginning of the follow-through is a necessity the importance of which cannot be overrated.
A first-class player knows whenever he moves his head, and realizes that he must bring his club down differently from the way in which it went up. Moreover, his knowledge of the game is such that he can recover during the swing. I do not for a moment urge that a champion never moves his head, but I do say that he very seldom shifts it in anything like the same degree as a bad player. For the latter to change the position to the extent of twelve or fifteen inches during the back swing is one of the commonest sights in the world. It is a mortal offence to the art of golf, and the prime determination of the indifferent performer should be to repress it. When the first-class player moves his head, the change is, as a rule, so small as to be almost imperceptible. Yet he personally is aware of it, and his errant head retrieves the situation by thinking to work the club back into the proper position during the downward swing. It is too much to expect the average golfer to recover in this way; therefore it is a more important matter for him to keep his head still than it is in the case of the accomplished player.
Up to the present, we have observed no great dissimilarity between wooden-club shots and iron-club shots. The first difference is in the matter of the stance. As a rule, the cleek is two or three inches shorter than the driver or brassie, while the iron is a little shorter than the cleek. These variations are desirable, and the point to remember is that the shorter the shaft the nearer to the ball the player must stand. Sometimes one sees a person standing as far off for an iron shot as he would do for a drive, and reaching the ball by stooping down to it. It is an impossible way of executing the required stroke. The toe of the club is cocked up in the air, the body is cramped, and an easy swing is out of the question. The proper method, as it is certainly the simplest, is to get a trifle nearer for every inch that the shaft is shorter than that of the wooden clubs. You simply close in on the ball, so to speak, in order to be able to reach it without undue bending. For the cleek, the feet are drawn just a little closer together than for the driver or brassie; the ball is distinctly nearer to the player. For the iron, the stance is closer still. The arms should have just sufficient room to swing through freely as the club descends to perform its work. They should not be allowed to touch the body; but in no circumstances should they be stretched forward, because it is necessary to preserve a perfect balance. However, if you remember not to stoop more for these shots than for drives, you will naturally take up a position the proper distance from the ball, and then the arms will not be induced to do wayward tricks.