We must be patient, however, and see what James Braid has to say. On page 119 of How to Play Golf we read: "It happens, unfortunately, that concerning one department of the game that will cause the golfer some anxiety from time to time, and often more when he is experienced than when he is not, neither I nor any other player can offer any words of instruction, such as if closely acted upon would give the same successful results as the advice tendered under other heads ought to do. This is in regard to putting."
This surely is becoming more wonderful as we go on. A little later in the same book Braid informs us: "Really great putters are probably born and not made."
This certainly is not encouraging, but let us have courage, for we shall require it to withstand the cumulative effect of what J. H. Taylor has to add to our already somewhat discouraging information.
At page 83 of his book, Taylor on Golf, in the chapter "Hints on Learning the Game," he says: "Coming back to the subject of actual instruction. After a fair amount of proficiency has been acquired in the use of the cleek, iron, and mashie, we have the difficulty of the putting to surmount. And here I may say at once it is an absolute impossibility to teach a man how to put."
This is going from bad to worse, but there is yet worse to follow. Taylor seems so determined to impress on his readers that the teaching of putting is a hopeless impossibility that he proceeds to ram his despairing ideas home in this manner: "Even many of the leading professionals are weak in this department of the game. Do you think they would not improve themselves in this particular stroke were such a thing within the range of possibility? Certainly they would. The fact is that in putting, more than in aught else, a very special aptitude is necessary. A good eye and a faculty for gaging distances correctly is a great help - indeed, quite a necessity - as also is judgment with regard to the requisite power to put behind the ball. Unfortunately, these are things that cannot be taught; they must come naturally or not at all.
"All that is possible for the instructor to do is to discover what kind of a putting style his pupil is possessed of, offer him useful hints, and his ultimate measure of success is then solely in his own hands.
"It is easy to tell a pupil how he must needs hold his clubs in driving or playing an iron shot, but in putting there is hardly such a necessity. The diversity of styles accounts for this, and in this particular kind of stroke a man must be content to rely upon his own adaptability alone."
Taylor has much more of this kind of thing to say, but it is all so false, so misleading, so very disheartening that I shall cut out a great deal of it and give just one final quotation in this particular matter. He says: "Putting, in short, is so different to any other branch of the game that the good putter may be said to be born, not made."
Now here you have the combined wisdom of Braid, Taylor and Vardon with regard to half the game of golf, and that, as Taylor himself says, the more important part of it. They, at time of writing, have between them won sixteen open championships; their profession is to teach and play golf. They absolutely confess that they cannot teach the more important half of it, and they do not stop at that, for they say that one cannot learn it; that one must be born with the accomplishment. To all of which, without any excuse or apology, I say "Nonsense!"
It is just nonsense of the most pernicious character. The same journalist who was hired to put Vardon's instruction into writing had the job for Braid's book. I am afraid this accounts for their strong family likeness and much of the nonsense that is now tacked on to the famous names of the two great players. Possibly Taylor's assistant was influenced in some way by these weird ideas. If this is not so it is indeed hard to see how so shrewd a man and so good a golfer as J. H. Taylor could allow such futile stuff to be associated with his name.
One will see at once the importance of the matter I have quoted. I am producing, one may say, almost the authority of the world to prove that I cannot teach you putting, that nobody can, that indeed it cannot be taught. If perchance I should fail surely I have soft ground on which to fall; but I shall not fail. I brush aside with contempt and indignation such hopeless nonsense and tell my readers that putting is surely the easiest thing in golf to learn, provided only that one has the patience to carry out proper instructions and to practise. That is the secret of good putting - practise, and practise, and practise.
Above everything forget about Mother Nature having given you a special putting style. That is simply journalistic stuff which Vardon probably never even read. Nature no more attends to such trifling individual matters than she concerned herself with giving me a special style for my niblick shot or my push stroke.
Forget all this nonsense. Know that you may be a good, an absolutely first class, putter if you have two wooden legs and have lost your left arm, though I am prepared to wager that these trifling deficiencies would interfere a good deal with