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The Golf Bogey Number One

Dec 12, 2007
I have christened it Golf Bogey No. 1 because it is the most seductive and destructive medium in the game. It took me most of the years of my golfing life to discover it and even then I could not formulate my ideas about it or counteract it effectively in my teaching until I had come to a proper understanding of the relation between the physical and mental in golf.

Now I can present it to you properly. Golf Bogey No. 1 is the natural urge to act in the obvious way to achieve the desired result.

The seductiveness of the idea is clear; its destructiveness lies in the fact that in golf (as in many other affairs in life) the obvious way is not always the right way. Frequently the obvious way is the wrong way and unless the urge to follow it can be inhibited the right way cannot be taken.

To use Professor Alexander's excellent phrase, the man who follows the obvious way is an end gainer. He is so keen and intent upon gaining his end (getting his ball onto the green and into the hole) that he concentrates upon that rather than upon the employment of what he knows to be the correct technique or the means whereby the end can best be gained. He is so intent upon his end that he tries to take short cuts to it--or, to put it more accurately, he no longer remembers that it is necessary to go round by a certain road to get there.

That the obvious way is often in conflict with the right way in golf is clear on the slightest thought. The most effective swing is artificial rather than natural, and even more closely relative to our point--any experienced golfer knows that it is impossible to make a good drive when thinking of hitting the ball a certain distance in a certain direction on to the green.

But that is where it has to be hit, you say? Agreed. But the point is that it cannot be hit there with any certainty unless the end in view is inhibited--or at least made secondary--and the whole system is concentrated upon performing a proper swing, i.e. upon the reasoned means whereby the desired aim may be achieved. In short you must not think about and calculate distance and direction; you must feel the swing that will give you the desired distance and direction.

This may seem a simple point, but it is so basically important that I will illustrate it by relating the experience of one of my pupils.

I had in Paris a golf school where five or six assistants worked under my guidance. So most of my personal work was in perfecting the ground work which my assistants had built up in beginners, or in the more difficult and trying re-educational work for pupils who have got down to 6 or so and then stuck. It was one of these re-educational cases which gave me an unusually clear revelation of the machinations of The lady, an International golfer nearer fifty than forty years of age, was in a thoroughly bad patch.

Her handicap was 3 but she could not play anywhere near it at the time. She came to me and asked me to "overhaul her swing." I asked if she realized what that meant and whether she would have the pluck and perseverance to carry through what might amount to a complete re-formation of a swing which had, when all was said, brought her considerable success. I suggested that she should think it over for a week.

During the week I inquired of her friends, who assured me that she was persevering and intelligent. I knew she was of good physique. That was enough for me, for though I did not feel that she had any great natural gift for the game, I knew that intelligence and perseverance were qualities which could call others to their aid. So I was willing to take the case on, and after thinking it over she decided that she would like me to take her in hand.

She proved to be a most delightful and receptive pupil and in a short time was sweeping the ball away magnificently with all her clubs. I admit that I began to think I was something of a teaching genius--and indeed my delighted pupil told me I was! But then came disaster.

Like all good mothers, my pupil took her children to the mountains for the Winter Sports and being an all-round sportswoman--she is a good yachtswoman too-- she tried a few easy slopes herself. I have never been on skis, and probably never shall, as I can't afford to risk my limbs, so I cannot say from personal experience how skiing should mix with golf--but I know how it did in this case! My pupil came back physically undamaged, fit as ever, mentally happy and untroubled, yet her swing--! What a mess! Completely slowed up, I told her.

As is my habit when things go seriously wrong, I began all over again: pivot, width, etc. Yet nothing happened except a further crop of half-tops, scoops, and all the lifeless, hopeless shots that a poor swing produces. In a sense, we both knew what was wrong without being able to cure it--we knew her club was coming down "outside" the ball every time. Yet to save her life my pupil could not prevent it!

So it went on until one day in what proved to be a moment of inspiration I said, "You seem to be trying to guide the ball down the middle."

"Well," she replied, "that is where you want me to hit it-isn't it?"

"If you insist on putting it that way--yes," I said. "But I would rather you felt that that is where toe want the ball to go, not where we want you to hit it. Certainly you must not try directly to hit it down the middle, by making your club head take the line down the middle."

"But surely," she complained, "the ball goes where you feel the club head goes."

"By no means," said I. "From experience I know that unless I feel my club head goes out to the right my ball will not go down the middle--it will be pulled or horribly sliced. I know--by experience again--that if I want the ball to fly straight down the middle I must feel that I swing my club not in the direction of the hole, but at an angle to what I want to be the line of flight."

"Then you feel you swing your club in one direction to make the ball go in another?" she said.

"I do. And why? Because I could not be a good golfer if I did not!"

So much for the immediate cause of the trouble, but I wanted to dig deeper. Why had the trouble arisen? Before she went to die mountains my pupil was playing beautiful in-to-out shots--sweeping the ball away gloriously with every club. Why, oh why the breakdown?

We puzzled over it a great deal, but she could suggest no reason for it. But one day she said: "I do remember faintly that when you took me in hand first you did tell me to swing from in-to-out. You even sketched a line on the ground for me to follow.1 But I did not realize that was fundamental--I thought it was a stunt of yours to cure some personal fault of mine."

I was angry! All that trouble because my pupil had taken me for a stunt merchant! Whatever I tell a pupil is considered, as are the phrases I tell it in. I told that pupil to swing the club head from in-to-out because that is an essential feel of good golf--and for no other reason. At least, all's well that ends well--and I am happy to say that since that day my pupil has never looked back.

What has that to do with Golf Bogey No. 1? Everything. We see the stimulus to put the ball near the flag ruining the lady's game because she became so intent upon reaching that end that she overlooked the means whereby it might be achieved, the correct in-to-out swing that sends the ball down the desired line of flight.
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