We have now finished with the putter for the present. Naturally we look for the next stroke. It is the shortest stroke that we have to play with a mashie. That is a stymie near the hole.
Quite frequently, on account of the defective construction of the mashie, a niblick or a mashie niblick is a better club for this shot than an ordinary mashie. For the most delicate work on the green it is however obvious that these clubs are too heavy. The fact is that the modern golfer has not in his bag a club really suitable for playing short stymies. A special stymie mashie is required. It should have about the loft of the niblick, the same angle of sole with the face so as to give the sharp edge to go in under the ball, about the same weight as an ordinary mashie, if anything a little lighter, and no marking whatever on the face. In addition to this the sole should start curving up a very short distance from the face.
The ordinary mashie has a sole that is too broad. It is so broad that frequently when one turns its face back a little to get under the ball the back edge grounds first and so, cocking up the front edge, robs the stroke of any delicacy. If the sole is run off at an angle like a niblick and then quickly curved upwards it improves the club considerably. Also it must be remembered that many cut shots, especially with back spin, are played with the mashie. The amount of spin on the ball is regulated by the pace at which the club passes it. An unduly broad sole on the club cuts off the pace directly the club touches the earth much more than the curved sole does.
I had one particularly serviceable little mashie of this type once. Stymies had no terror for it. I showed it to George Duncan and dwelt particularly on the importance of the curved sole. Duncan told me that he always had the back edge of his mashies rounded off.
I have said that a stymie mashie should have the face perfectly smooth. Unless I had found this out in the most practical way I should have doubted it. One can get a more sudden rise with a smooth faced club than one can with any club that takes a grip of the ball whether it be by lines, dots, holes or otherwise.
My light mashie taught me this. It had a perfectly smooth face. I had a shot with it that I often set up as an exercise for people who thought they could use their mashies on a stymie. I put one ball half an inch from the hole and the other six and a half inches away from it-a dead stymie. Sherlock says it is the hardest stymie in the game. Certainly it is not the easiest. With my light smooth-faced mashie with the curved sole I could get this shot three or four times in succession. One day I took it into my head that perhaps I could play the stroke better if I got a better grip of the ball with the club. I had the face of the club covered with a thin film of soft solder. It ruined the delicacy of the shot. With a smooth-faced club the ball starts running up the face directly it strikes the club. With a marked club it grips more and stays lower. That is why a smoothfaced club is better for a sudden rise. I had never thought of it in this way before but probably the same holds good of the niblick; in fact, it is almost a certainty that it does.
I obtained a fine grip with the soft metal facing. I am inclined to think that this idea is superior to rust and it certainly looks much better. There can be no doubt that some better medium of contact is wanted between the iron clubs and the ball than now exists. The chalk for the cue is missing. This soft metal may supply it.
We must now consider the best way to play the stymie that I have set up. This is by means of a stroke that I introduced into golf myself. I had known it for many years, but I first published it in 1908. George Duncan was the first professional to whom I showed it.
What Duncan cannot do with a mashie is hardly worth troubling about. The enforced idleness of a wet Saturday afternoon led to my "putting one over" on him. The rain was coming down in tanks. I was filling in time knocking a couple of balls about the mat in Duncan's shop at the Hanger Hill Club. I started practising stymies. Presently I said, "How would you play this stymie, George ?"
"Just in the usual way," said Duncan.
I set it up for him then, and he played it "just in the usual way."
"They all play it like that, don't they?" I said.
"Yes," replied Duncan.
"Then it isn't the best way," I replied; "I'll show you a better."
Duncan's face moved a trifle, but he smothered the smile, and I showed him the stroke. He was on to it like a cat after a mouse. As he said afterwards, it isn't every day that any one teaches him a new stroke in golf. He got it after a few tries, and then he could hardly wait until the rain stopped to get out on to the green.
The essential difference between my stroke and the old stroke is that the regulation stymie stroke is, like every stroke in golf, an arc. My stroke is a perfectly straight stroke. It goes back parallel with the green. This is all the difference, but it means everything in delicacy, in accuracy, in quick rise and sudden stop.
It is almost incredible, yet is the fact, that many people said that this was a foul stroke when I published it first in The Daily Mail, London. Others were equally sure that there was nothing new about it, that in fact it had been played since golf was golf!
The difficulty in teaching this stroke to any one lies in the fact that from time immemorial, even in the shortest put, the moment the club came away from the ball it began to ascend in a curve. One may, and often does, keep the club low; but the curve, or arc, is always in the stroke. In my stroke there is no curve. Eight throughout the stroke, swing back, swing forward and follow through there is no curve. The line of travel of the club's head is as nearly as may be the same as the green.
There must be no idea of hitting the ball or of taking turf. The endeavor must be to insert the front edge of the mashie sharply between the ball and the green. The result of this is that far less force goes into propulsion and much more into elevation than in the ordinary stymie shot where the ball is frequently hit as the club is coming up. It seems curious to many people, but it is sound golf nevertheless, to warn one against trying to get the ball up by hitting up. The great secret of getting a ball up well is to hit down enough. So in this delicate shot the straight travel of the club head is much better than the curved movement of the ordinary stroke.