There is no such thing as "the mystery of golf." One might reasonably ask, "If there is no such thing as 'the mystery of golf,' why devote a chapter to it?" But "the mystery of golf" should really be written "the mystery of the golfer," for the simple reason that the golfer himself is responsible for all the mystery in golf - in short, "the mystery of golf" may briefly be defined as the credulity of the golfer. Notwithstanding this, at least one enterprising man has produced a book entirely devoted to elucidating the alleged mystery of golf, wherein, quite unknown to himself, he proves most clearly and conclusively the truth of my opening statement in this chapter, that the mystery of golf is merely the credulity of the golfer; but of that anon. There really is no mystery whatever about the game of golf. It is one of the simplest of games, but unquestionably it is a game which is very difficult to play well, a game which demands a high degree of mechanical accuracy in the production of the various strokes. It is apparent from the nature of the implements used in the game that this must be so. All the foolishness of nebulous advice, and all the quaint excuses which have been gathered together under the head of " the mystery of golf," are simply weak man's weaker excuses for his want of intelligence and mechanical accuracy. Until the golfer fully understands and freely acknowledges this, he is suffering from a very severe handicap. If, when he addresses his ball, he has firmly implanted in his mind the idea that he is in the presence of some awesome mystery, there is very little doubt that he will do his level best to perform his part in the mystery play.
We do not read anywhere of the mystery of lawn-tennis, the mystery of cricket, the mystery of marbles, squash racquets, or ping-pong. There are no mysteries in these games any more than there are in golf, and the plain fact is that the demand of golf is inexorable. It insists upon the straight line being followed, and the man who forsakes the straight line is immediately detected. In no game, perhaps, is the insistent demand for direction so inexorable as in golf. Perhaps also in no game is that demand so frequently refused, and, naturally, the erring golfer wishes to excuse himself. It is useful then for him to be told of the mysteries of golf - the wonderful mysteries, the psychological difficulties, the marvellous cerebration, the incredibly rapid nerve "telegraphing," and the wonderful muscular complications which take place between the time that he addresses the ball and hits it, or otherwise.
Now, as a matter of fact, this is all so much balderdash, so much falseness, so much artificial and indeed almost criminal nonsense. It would indeed almost seem as if the people who write this kind of stuff are in league with the greatest players of the world, who write as instructions for the unfortunate would-be golfer things which they themselves never dreamed of doing - things which would quite spoil the wonderful game they play if they did them.
If there may be said to be any mystery whatever about golf, it is that in such an ancient and simple game there has grown up around it such a marvellous mass of false teaching, of confused thought, and of fantastic notions. No game suffers from this false doctrine and imaginative nonsense to the same extent as does golf. It is magnificently played. We have here in England the finest exponents of the game, both amateur and professional, in the world. If those men played golf as they tell others by their printed works to play it, I should have another story to tell about their prowess on the links.
HARRY VARDON'S GRIP. Showing the overlapping of the first finger of the left hand by the little finger of the right. This is now the orthodox grip.
Golf, in itself, is quite sufficiently difficult. It is quite unnecessary to give the golfer, or the would-be golfer, an additional handicap by instilling it into his mind that golf is any more mysterious than any other game which is played. The most mysterious thing about golf is that those who really ought to know most about it publish broadcast wrong information about the fundamental principles of the game". Innocent players follow this advice, and not unnaturally they find it tremendously difficult to make anything like adequate progress. Naturally, when some one comes along and explains to them in lengthy articles, or may be in a book, about the psychological difficulties and terrific complications of golf, they are pleased to fasten on this stuff as an excuse for their want of success, whereas in very truth the real explanation lies simply in the fact that they are violating some of the commonest and simplest laws of mechanics.
Here, indeed, I might almost be forgiven if I went back on what I have said about the mystery of golf, and produced, on my own account, that which is to me an outstanding mystery, and labelled it "the mystery of golf." This really is to me always a mystery, but I should not be correct in calling it "the mystery of golf," for it is more correctly described as the simplicity of the golfer. This mystery is that practically every writer about golf, and nearly every player, seems to labour under the delusion that there is a special set of mechanical laws for golf, that the golf ball flying through the air is actuated by totally different influences and in a totally different manner from the cricket ball, the ping-pong ball, or the lawn-tennis ball when engaged in a similar manner. That is bad enough, but the same delusions exist with regard to the conduct of the ball on the green.
Now it is impossible to speak too plainly about this matter, because I want at the outset to dispel the illusion of the mystery of golf. There is no special set of mechanical laws governing golf. Golf has to take its place with all other games, and the mechanical laws which govern the driving of a nail, a golf ball, or a cricket ball are fixed and immutable and well known, so that it is quite useless for any one to try to explain to intelligent persons that there is any mystery in golf or the production of the golfing strokes beyond that which may be found in other games. Some people might think that I labour this point. It is impossible to be too emphatic at the outset about it, for the simple reason that it is bad enough for the golfer to have to think at the moment of making his stroke about the things which actually do matter. If we are going to provide him with phantoms as well as solid realities to contend with, he will indeed have a sorry time. As a matter of fact, about seven-tenths of the bad golf which is played is due to too much thinking about the stroke while the stroke is being played. The golf stroke in itself may be quite easily learned; I mean the true golf stroke, and not the imaginary golf stroke, which has been built up for the unfortunate golfer by those who never played such a stroke themselves, and by those who write of the mystery of golf; but it is an absolute certainty that the time for thinking about the golf stroke, and how it shall be played, is not when one is playing the stroke.