I may explain in the first place how Vardon plays the shot in so far as regards those portions of it that are not the subject of controversy. According to one of his regular chroniclers he uses a cleek that is somewhat shorter than his ordinary club and with a more upright lie and greater loft. It is also somewhat deeper in the face. The upright lie naturally brings him in more over the ball. He addresses the ball so that his hands are several inches in front of it. At the top of the swing his weight is well forward. Then he comes down on the ball and hits it very hard so that it bounces off the ground!
I am not responsible for any of this description, but it is practically correct until we come to the last statement-which we may kindly forget.
The storm of controversy centered about what happened at the moment of impact. I must try to explain that as simply and shortly as possible and then show the result of the stroke.
The master stroke in golf, which is called the "push," when played with a cleek, and a "wind cheater," or something else, when played with a wooden club, although it is essentially the same stroke, is simply a descending blow. The ball is struck by the club before it has reached the lowest point in its swing. That really covers the whole ground, and had it not been for the wonderful statements that have been made about the stroke it would hardly be necessary to amplify it.
Although the stroke is a descending blow the club must reach the ball in such a manner that the loft can act on the ball by hitting it beneath the center of its mass and with the face of the club inclined backward. It is obvious that unless this were done the ball would not rise.
The loft of the club is lessened by the fact that one addresses the ball with the hands forward of the club by about two or three inches. The object of this is to regulate the swing of the club so that it reaches its lowest point about where one usually addresses the ball. This means that it passes across the back of the ball on its way down to the lowest point in the swing and cuts or should cut or graze the turf an inch or so in front of where the ball lay before it was struck. The finish of the stroke is low and the head of the club should follow out down the line to the hole as much as possible. The stroke is in fact a chop. It is if possible more of a hit than other iron strokes. A player might get a better idea of it if he were told to " rap" it. I heard that somewhere once, and the underlying idea seemed good to me. There probably is no stroke in golf where one seems to finish on the ball more. This is no doubt on account of the force which goes into the downward hit. One must hit this ball for all one is worth and leave the earth or anything else that comes in the way to absorb all the shock that is not taken up by the ball.
The flight of this ball and the run thereof are truly remarkable. When one realizes what there is in them for the ardent golfer, if one is an ardent golfer, one is indeed stupid not to try to cultivate the stroke.
The ball goes away from the club, when the stroke has been properly played, with a lot of back-spin. On account of the forward position of the hands and the consequent reduction of the loft of the club the first part of the flight is very low.
It maintains this low path for a considerable distance, rising very gradually until the pace begins to decrease. Then the backspin begins to exert its influence. In this case the lower portion of the ball is naturally the forward-spinning part. Therefore most of the friction is underneath. This friction now begins to force the ball gradually upward in a beautiful curve. Soon the power of the spin is diminished and as the force of the blow is also dying away, the ball, still with some back-spin on it, begins to fall. The friction on the underneath side of the ball is now if anything shifted a little farther backward on the ball on account of the change of direction. This tends to keep the ball edging onward.
Now the backspin is almost exhausted, and when the ball finally pitches all that remains of it is probably instantaneously killed, for the trajectory of the ball, notwithstanding its rise toward the end of the carry, is always low. There is nothing therefore in this ball, notwithstanding its back-spin, to prevent its being a good runner, which it frequently is.
An analysis of the beneficial qualities of the backspin and its application in this stroke will I think be found to justify my old-standing claim on its behalf. Firstly, its low carry is always a great point in its favor even in calm weather. Against the wind it requires no recommendation. It was its great ability to face a wind that got this stroke, off the wood, its old name of "wind cheater." Now one hears ad nauseam of this stroke as "the push," but one may search any book on advanced golf for an explanation of this great drive or brassy shot and get but little for one's pains.
Off the tee it is a splendid stroke and it may with advantage be played from a high tee. This was regarded some years ago as a fanciful notion. A high tee for a low ball! Whoever heard of such an idea? Now one of the most famous of the continental golfers gets a consistently low ball from a high tee. It is obvious that if one tees high for this stroke one has a greater distance wherein to pass down across the ball. It is this passing down that gives the beneficial backspin of golf so those who want extra distance and a low ball from the tee may take a little more sand. This is merely another case of loft. If the face of the club is right at the moment of impact it will not matter if the ball is three-eighths of an inch off the ground or five-eighths.
After the low flight has served its purpose we see the backspin getting to work and assisting to raise the ball to the top of what one might almost call its secondary trajectory, and when the force of the blow and the spin together are no longer enough to keep the ball up we see it, still with a low flight at the end of its carry, approaching the ground at an angle that will surely, on its striking the fairway, be sufficient to kill the remains of the backspin and ensure a good run. If any one can show me a ball that possesses the same ideal qualities for golf as this I shall have to readjust my ideas, but until then I shall remain loyal to this stroke and indeed to this class of strokes as the master strokes of golf, and this I believe is true of the strokes be they off iron or wood, half, three-quarter or full, for when we get into the restricted shot we find the influence of the backspin asserting itself on the ball's pitching, and thus giving the skilful player an amazing control of his approach shots.