Most of us, if we practise at all, go in for what may be called the two extremes of golf, driving and putting, and leave our iron play to take care of itself. This it does, as a rule, in a highly inefficient manner, for though we are bad drivers and bad putters, we are worse iron players. That we are thus lazy about working at our iron play must be put down to pure wilfulness, because we know, if we know anything about it at all, how intensely important these iron clubs are: we know that there is nothing by which we can so swiftly tell the professional from the amateur as the firm, confident, crisp way in which he uses his irons. We know, too, that there is no sensation quite so exquisite as that of a really difficult iron shot really well played. So, with the knowledge of this besetting laziness, it is well to start with the statement, made with all possible emphasis, that alike for profit and pleasure, iron play is enormously well worth the cultivating.
Now anybody who professes to teach another erring human being to use his iron clubs is faced straightway with one considerable difficulty, a difference of opinion between learned authorities. The question is whether it is ever right to play a full shot with an iron club, or, as it is sometimes expressed, whether it is ever right to swing an iron club. It may savour of putting the cart before the horse to place an apparently abstruse discussion on the differences of sages before elementary instruction for the learner, yet the difference is so fundamental that some mention of it seems necessary in order to clear the way.
The point shortly is this, that various very fine golfers have said that for a man to take a full swing with an iron club as he does with one of wood must always be a crime, and that nothing more than a half-shot should ever be played with an iron club; needless to say, they add that they themselves practise what they preach. Now, in the first place, I must with the greatest respect join issue with these authorities on a question, not of law, but of pure fact. That they do make great and splendid use of the half-shot is patent, but when they say they never take anything approaching a full swing, I firmly believe that they deceive themselves as well as other people. 'The devil himself knoweth not the mind of a man,' remarked Chief Justice Holt, and certainly I cannot tell what is going on inside a champion's mind when he is playing a cleek shot. Doubtless he may feel some difference from his driving swing, but that the cleek whirls round his head much as does his driver, it is surely difficult for any one gifted with a pair of eyes to deny. I would go further and say, that many very great players play on occasions full shots with their irons. Not all, I must admit. Braid, for instance, when armed with any club short of a cleek, seems content to play his so-called 'dunck,' which is really a tremendously powerful half-shot, but he is, I think, decidedly the exception; and unless appearances are strangely deceptive, I have on occasions seen the great Alexander Herd swing freely round his head a club bearing a strong family likeness to a lofting-iron. So, on the mere question of fact, I cannot believe that full shots with cleeks and driving-irons are never played by the greatest masters of these clubs.
Some time after I wrote these words I went down to Milford in order to see taken the photographs by which they are illustrated. As this point is rather an interesting one, I will state as exactly as I can what happened. I told Robson to play both with his cleek and his mashie-iron the longer shot that he would normally play in a game with either club, and I particularly emphasised the fact that he was not in any way to force the club or the shots. He appeared to play both shots - it is, I trust, superfluous to say that they were real shots - well within himself, the full iron shot being a particularly easy one. The results speak for themselves. It will be seen that with the cleek Robson has swung well past the horizontal. If that is not essentially a swing, and a pretty full swing too, then I give the whole thing up as a bad job. With the mashie-iron the swing, which is portrayed on a later page, is perceptibly shorter, and there is less freedom of foot-work, but the swing is a tolerably free one nevertheless.
A FULL CLEEK SHOT: THE TOP OF THE SWING.
[To face p. 80.
Without, then, for a moment denying the supreme value of the half-shot as played by the best golfers, I am prepared on theoretic grounds, as well as on practical experience, to commend, within limits, the full shot with an iron club; that is to say, I commend it in the case, not of young champions in embryo, but of the ordinary elementary golfer of pedestrian attainments. One of the very greatest of iron players has said that it is always easier to cover a specified distance with a half-shot with a powerful club than a full shot with a weaker one. Here again I respectfully join issue. I have no doubt in the world it is easier for him, but I do not believe it is easier for the commonplace golfer. For this latter there is no shot half so difficult to master as the half-shot, because there is no shot which demands so perfect a control of the club, a control which a great many golfers will never obtain as long as they live. Moreover, to hit the ball any real distance with a half-swing demands a strength of wrist and forearm which is not given to everybody. With a full swing they can, as it were, get up a reasonable amount of steam and hit the ball a reasonable distance; but if confined to a half-shot they lack the strength to get any appreciable length with their iron clubs.
So much for the cart, and now for the horse that comes after it. Iron shots are generally divided, in colloquial language, into full shots, half-shots, and wrist-shots, to which there must now, I suppose, be added, as a kind of corollary, the fashionable and mysterious push-shot. I think that what are loosely called half-shots and wrist-shots will be found to join naturally on to one another, so that the dividing line will hardly be discernible; but the heretical full shots may at any rate be put in a class by themselves.