I do not think that it is necessary for me to add anything to my explanation of the push shot. I have referred to Vardon's explanation of it in How to Play Golf. I speak now from memory, but there was something in that book that has always been a puzzle to me. Vardon refers to James Braid as being the greatest master of the push stroke. He may be. I never saw Braid get his low ball except with a slight pull. I have never seen him play a genuine push stroke, I never heard that he does it, nor have I ever read of his doing so, and in Advanced Golf, where one might reasonably expect to find this stroke explained, he does not elucidate it, nor does he do so in How to Play Golf.
If Vardon is correct in his statement that Braid is the greatest master, amongst professional golfers, of the push stroke, he must recognize at once the hopelessness of his explanation of how to play the push, for Braid, in Advanced Golf, explicitly tells us that trying to do anything during impact such as that suggested by Vardon is quite futile.
Vardon's description in How to Play Golf of the manner in which the push shot is played is so remarkable that I reproduce it here. He says:
"While it is a shot for any club, the cleek is perhaps the best implement with which to begin practising it. Before proceeding to describe how it is done, let me explain in a few words the idea of the stroke. "What happens (at least, so I feel convinced, although nobody sees it happen) is that the ball is made to spin slightly up the face of the club at the instant of impact. The golfer has no need to worry about producing this effect; it will come if he accomplish the shot properly. That is the essence of the shot; it produces the back-spin while the power of the blow naturally sends the ball forward. Now as to the way to obtain the effect; a way that must be precise, although it is not nearly so difficult a problem as it may look on paper. The swing must be distinctly more upright than for the ordinary cleek shot. The club must go up straighter than for any other stroke in the game, and, that being so, nothing more than a three-quarter swing should be permitted. The uprightness of the swing will demand a closer stance than for the ordinary cleek shot. The player should be several inches nearer to the ball because, instead of swinging the club round to it with a purely propelling action, he is going to endeavor to come down on to the side of the ball, if I may so explain it. This sounds, I know, only about one degree removed from an incentive to topping. It is likely that the golfer will go through a period of that painful purgatory in his early efforts to execute the shot, but it will be solely attributable to his failure to use his body and wrists in the correct way at the time of impact. It is quite clear that the simple propelling influence will not produce the essential backspin. The face of the club must come down broadside on to the ball so as to make the latter run up the face of the implement, thus imparting the spin while the forward movement is in progress.
"We left ourselves standing closer to the ball than for the ordinary cleek. The stance, too, should be distinctly more forward. In no circumstances should the hands be behind the ball during the address; indeed, they must be an inch or two in front of it. Moreover, the eyes must be focussed, not on the turf immediately behind the object, but on that extremity of the ball itself which is farthest from the hole. During the address, our range of vision, so far as we are conscious of it, should end half-way down the ball-on the pimple that is protruding farthest away from the hole (if we are using a ball of pimple marking). When we play an ordinary cleek shot, we graze the turf several inches behind the ball so as to make the loft of the club do its work immediately. With the push-shot, we obtain the loft in a different way. In an infinitesimal period something happens which produces back-spin before the action of raising the ball has time to take effect. What we want to do is to bring the instrument down so that the hindmost part of the ball is struck at a point of the club's face which is rather nearer to the sole than the top. In a way, then, we want to come down half on top of the ball. We have seen that our hands are in front of it, so that when the contact is made at the rearmost part of the ball (not under it), more than half of the club as between the sole and the top is tilted, so to speak, over the ball. I need scarcely say that this position is of the shortest instant's duration. We are not going to stand and reflect on it; we have no time even to catch a glimpse of it. Nevertheless, the securing of it is the first essential of the shot; this is a fact upon which I imagine all good exponents of the push stroke have satisfied themselves.
"Now as to the simultaneous yet rhythmic movements which complete the shot. At the moment of impact (right at that instant; not the smallest fraction of a second earlier or later) the player should straighten the elbows, stiffen the wrists, and let the body go forward a few inches with the club. The quick action of the elbows and wrists will push the face of the club under the ball as both go forward, and the body moving slightly in the same direction will assist in the project. The ground will be grazed the smallest distance imaginable in front of the place where the ball was reposing. The follow-through should not be arrested; indeed, it should be encouraged, because the wrists and elbows must relax to the normal the instant they have executed the push; but, in the ordinary way, the follow-through will not be so full as in ordinary shots.
"I need scarcely say that the secret of success is to make the various movements synchronize to perfection. The arms must straighten, the wrists must tighten, and the body must move forward at the exact time when the club meets the ball. The
© Brown Bros., N. Y effect will be readily perceived. The club-face will be turned under the ball, while picking it up cleanly. The two will be in contact for a period not long enough to be noticed, but sufficiently appreciable for the ball to run up the face of the implement as it is being urged forward. Thus will be produced the back-spin. A tight grip is necessary, and I may perhaps repeat the warning that directly the impact is complete the elbows and wrists should relax so as to facilitate the follow-through. They will have done their work.
JEROME D. TRAVERS Bunkered.
"This description may make the shot appear like a piece of jugglery, but it is a faithful explanation of the stroke as I play it myself, and as I have seen others play it. From time to time I have observed in responsible papers articles dealing with the push-shot, and giving wrong impressions of its character. Thus I have read on more than one occasion that rudimentary mechanics prove beyond all question that, in order to raise a ball into the air and obtain an accurate and adequate flight, it is necessary for the club to make the impact below the center of the ball. I do not profess to know much about the science of mechanics, but I am sure that I know how the push-shot is played. If, at the outset, you were to strike the ball below the center, you would not impart much back-spin to it. You might obtain a little, but the effort would be hardly distinguishable from an ordinary lofting shot. What you have to do is to bring the face of the club down to the ball at the center of its mass, and then, by that simultaneous stiffening of the elbows, tightening of the wrists, and pushing forward of the body, make the face of the implement run almost half-way round the ball. It has been said that it is impossible for me or anybody else to observe what happens at the instant when the club and the ball come into contact. I am free to confess that it is impossible to see the club hit the ball. Let me, however, discuss the matter from another standpoint. A good player always knows what he is trying to do, no matter what club he has in his hands. If he repeatedly hits the shots just as he tries to hit them, he knows that he is using the club and striking the ball in just the manner that he has conceived for the occasion. Otherwise we should have to arrive at the conclusion that all his satisfactory strokes were flukes, because he had endeavored to accomplish the thing in a certain way and had obtained the desired result by unwittingly doing something else. That, surely, would be absurd. Consequently, although it is true that I do not see the club hit the ball, I know that the push-shot is obtained in the manner which I have described. I have dealt fully with the subject, and endeavored to correct wrong impressions, because I feel that the 'push' is now the master shot in golf, and the stroke which all good amateurs ought to practise if they take to heart the frequent reproach that the standard of their play is falling below that of professional golf."
One might perhaps be pardoned for asking, if the cleek is to "run almost half-way round the ball," what happens to the shaft of the club when the back of the club head, during impact, remember, is presented to the hole, and how it is possible, in such an event, for the ball to start its flight low, as this shot always does.
One would, out of consideration for Vardon, have omitted his wonderful description if he had not explicitly stated that the ability to play this shot well is the one thing that keeps the professionals ' golf superior to that of the amateurs.
It then became my duty to submit his explanation of it and mine. I must leave it to the intelligence of golfers to decide which is correct.