"Why is it that they like to swing so much and waste so much power, unmindful of the fact that the shorter the swing the greater the accuracy?"
This is a question that is well worth while pondering. He who asks it is Harry Vardon. Certainly he is speaking about the cleek and the driving mashie, but the question may just as pertinently be asked about the wooden clubs.
I have already set out the principles and practise of the drive as played in what is considered the most perfect form by men who have spent their lives on the links, and there can be no doubt that the golf drive when well played in the manner described is a very satisfying hit, but to play a good game round about the eighties and occasionally quite a little lower it is not necessary to do it that way.
I myself always had a very free swing, partially due in all probability to the defective teaching of the old days, which encouraged the bad habit of relaxing the grip with the right at the top of the stroke. The teaching then was: grip for all you are worth with the left and play about with your right-or "words to that effect," as the constable always says when he is giving evidence. At the top of my swing I could see the toe of my club out of the corner of my left eye, without trying, and at the finish it was knocking about my right knee. When you get them well with a swing like that they go; but I protest that there is about twice the necessary energy and half the requisite accuracy in such swings.
In no other game that is known do men use such a length of stroke as in the golf swing. If we regard the striker as a vertical pillar coming out of a horizontal plane we shall find that in almost every field sport the blow is struck from about an angle of forty-five degrees above the shoulder, that is to say the arm and the striking implement are raised to an angle of about forty-five degrees with the vertical. In the golf stroke the club is carried back at least to the horizontal and often below it, making in some cases a half circle over and above the stroke usually required in athletic games.
I know the answer that golf is a law unto itself -which it is not-and I am not going to argue the matter here. I am merely going to set out, for the benefit of those who cannot do the full swing, a few things that I know about the short swing and some things that I have seen done with it.
Firstly, be it known that a man can get all the length necessary for a very good game with what is generally called a three-quarter swing, and without lifting his heels from the ground. This three-quarter swing goes up about as far as a tennis racket does in an ordinary stroke. The arms go little if any beyond the angle of forty-five degrees I have already referred to.
The stroke is in all ways played as nearly in conformity with the rules for driving as may be. It is a very upright stroke. It ceases when it begins to be inconvenient by pulling at the left heel. The left heel does not, as in the proper golf stroke, rise at all, or if at all, very little. As the heels do not move the weight remains at the top of the swing equally distributed.
The stroke is, if anything, more of a hit than the ordinary drive. Being so short and upright, and the player using very little foot work, there is a great tendency to hit downwards. This gives the greatest of all drives the wind-cheater, the drive with back-spin.
This stroke is not an obsolete stroke. It is a stroke of which no man need be ashamed. It is specially suitable for old men and stout people; and when playing it they need not pity themselves for their lack of form. Rather let them congratulate themselves on being pioneers, for ere long many thousands will be following their example. This is a method of execution that one would want much courage to recommend in preference to the orthodox, but there cannot be any doubt whatever that many a man who takes to the game late in life, who would otherwise never be any good, may by this means become a very proficient player.
There is one man in New York to-day who blesses the short swing. He is well along toward middle life and a few months ago he was dubbing around in a hundred or thereabout. One of my disciples whose girth absolutely prohibits him from playing anything but a short swing coaxed him into giving up his erratic stroke and using the short swing. He is a long limber chap who ought to be able to play the usual game well enough, but I suppose it was starting late that bothered him. Well, he took to the short swing. It acted like magic. Within a few weeks he was down to eighty and how far he goes below that, and what he occasionally does now I am not going to tell you. It sounds too good and it might cause disappointment. The change may not suit every one so well; but it certainly worked wonders in his case. Any golfer, who is really in trouble, and wants to abandon the orthodox swing for the short swing, may know at first-hand how great a change was made in this case.
It must not be thought that because one takes to the short swing one needs to abandon all foot work, because this is not so. In speaking of the flat-footed method I have in mind those elderly or stout people for whom much foot and ankle work is inadvisable.
Many years ago, before I ever thought of writing a book on golf or anything else, I had a useful lesson on the value of the short swing. The champion of our tennis club was one of those men who have a particular faculty for games. He was not robust but he had a splendid eye and a wonderful sense of touch. He was also a fine billiard player.
About this time golf was introduced into our town. He stood the talk about it for a year or two, then said that he must get after them in self-defense. He joined the golf club. They chortled in their glee at his swing. He simply played his tennis stroke at the ball. His club was practically never off the line. They said he was all wrong. He was in the habit of thinking for himself. He directed their attention to the fact that with much less effort and fuss he was getting further than their strong men-and much straighter. He gently explained to them that his theory of the golf drive was that it was an exaggerated put and that he intended to get his results with the least possible exaggeration and exertion. They laughed much, but he went on his way unperturbed. One by one he took their scalps, and soon he was the local champion. This, bear in mind, was not the case of some poor old man. It was that of a man who at the time was good enough, and young enough, to win the tennis championship of New Zealand, one of the finest players who ever handled a racket. Certainly his style was not so pretty as some of the others, but it got the results - and that is what most golfers want.
"Short swingers" are very often" put tappers." I do not know if it is a matter of stroke affinity. There is such a thing. What one's service is in tennis that almost invariably is his smash. That is to a certain extent natural, for one's first stroke is the service and the service and the smash are virtually the same strokes.
My reason for mentioning this is that very often the elderly golfer can improve his game very much by swinging less in his drive and more in his put. This reversal of things has rescued many a man from the abyss of golf despair.