Everything helping the development of good control must be encouraged, everything hindering it avoided. Their building up is largely unconscious and unnoticed, in-deed even a successful pupil will often feel that little progress is being made—until perhaps quite suddenly he will be surprised to find himself playing effective, confident golf.
I remember with special pleasure how that happened to a young pupil of mine.
She had been in my hands since her childhood and her first experience of a major tournament was when she went over to England for the Ladies’ Open. She actually led the field in the qualifying rounds and was only put out on the last green in the semi-final..
On her return she said to me, “I did not know I could play like that! No one was more surprised than I was. I just played—and everything went right.”
I was delighted, but not so surprised. I knew she had the golf in her and that sooner or later the controls we were building would enable her to play it. But I was delighted, because you would not normally expect a young pupil to play a bit above her best on such a nerve-testing occasion.
So when a golfer says to me, “I must learn to concentrate—concentrate—concentrate!”
I counter with: “No, you must build controls—controls—controls!”
Now I claim that the right way of learning golf has almost nothing in common with the “learning” we did at school; it is an entirely different process. Memorizing the capitals of Europe or a Latin declension, or ‘learning” chemistry or mathematics, are purely mental feats and depend exclusively upon mental memory, whereas I contend that to learn to play good and consistent golf you need muscular memory.
What you need to learn (or memorize) are not the technical or mathematical details of a good shot but the feel of it. If you and every component muscle in you can remember the feel of a good shot, you can make it—and you have become what I term a reflex golfer. That is to say, the good shot has become your “reflex,” or automatic response to the sight of the ball. But please remember that this golf memory is a memory of a cycle of sensations which follow and blend into one another quite smoothly.
Each sensation must be connected up with those which precede and follow it; it cannot be considered independently. The truth is that it cannot even be felt independently. You cannot, to take a crude example, feel the top of your swing as such; you can only feel a sensation between the sensations of the back swing and those of the down swing.
For that reason you must never in golf say, “I’ve got it!” when you think you have found the secret of some shot that has been evading you—unless what you have “got” fits into your cycle of sensations or, as we shall now call them, controls. Because, unless it does so fit in, it cannot become a reliable part of your game. And why do I call sensations controls? Simply because I want you to control your golf by these sensations instead of by thought.
There is another reason why your memory of a golf shot must be a memory of a cycle of sensations, not of a number of separate sensations. It takes an exceedingly skilful juggler to juggle with six glass balls at once, but if the six balls were threaded onto a string most of us could manage them—and the memorizing of sensations as a cycle (instead of as independent items) does thread them up for us very much in this way.
To turn for a moment from learning to teaching. Most of the teaching of golf is completely negative— and a purely negative thing can have no positive value. Why do I say that golf teaching is negative? Well we can all find faults in each other’s game, millions of them, and we all start off to teach golf by pointing out these faults and “curing” them.
I did this for twenty-five years, but I have now discovered that the right way to get a pupil to hit the ball satisfactorily is to watch for any good natural qualities that may be there and to build up the swing around them.
We all hit a good ball sometimes. Maybe with the beginner this is an accident, but the good teacher will use such an accidental shot, photographing it in his mind and starting away to build up controls around the qualities which made it possible.
In this way the beginner can retain his natural capacity to hit the ball and will gain confidence in his ability to do it—and so go on enjoying his game and improving it. But if the teacher merely points out to him a dozen or more faults in his swing he will become perplexed, confused, and fed up. For that reason I never tell a pupil his faults (which is negative teaching).
I notice the faults, of course, and suggest the necessary corrections (which is positive). So I never tell a pupil that he over swings and breaks his left arm, I explain width to him. That is to say I give him a positive conception and by working on it he actually cures his faults without even being aware that he had them.
Now there is another point about teaching which I would like to emphasize. You will find that in this work I have not tried to set down a set of controls in one way and leave it at that. I have tried to set the same things down and explain them in many different ways. So when you find me repeating myself do not think it is carelessness!
All good teachers must repeat, but never in exactly the same words or with just the same connections. I want to give you a clear idea of the controls which will enable you to produce an effective swing, and I do not mind if I have to say the same thing in a dozen different ways so long as one of the twelve gets home with you. I hope you will not mind either, because you should be able to pick something new out of the other eleven also.
I learned golf by the long way—trial and error—and I want to lead you away from that to a method which is methodical and is effective whatever your age or your handicap may be.
If you accept my method of learning you do not need a lot of practice on the course to improve; you can assimilate the principles in your armchair and put in useful practice on the hearth rug—where you need no club because ye»u can feel your muscular movements without it. You must learn to feel the sensations through your intellect and then forget them intellectually and leave them to your muscular memory or control system.
How long does it take to “learn golf”? Well I am still learning after forty-five years of it!
I have known pupils who hit the ball very well after only four lessons and others who have taken a year or more to do even moderately well, but time is apt to level things out a lot. Golf is a curious game in being easy of comprehension but (sometimes) very long in realization. There is much darkness in the early stages, and it is only after a few years at the game that we really come out into full daylight and can assess our own possibilities.
Early difficulties are often emphasized by age or physical make-up. While I was writing this I had just started two young ladies—one of sixteen who is still at college but weighs about one hundred and seventy pounds and another in the early twenties who weighs less than half that.
Apart from the weight of their clubs the conditions will be the same for both, yet obviously their problems will work out very differently. And we have all got our physical individuality and peculiarities in the layout of bones and development of muscles.
But I have found by long experience that these things usually level themselves out in the end—I have seen many gifted and precocious beginners fail simply because they would not put in the hard work which is essential before the elementary stage is passed, and only when the elementary stage is passed can golf genius come to the surface.
On the other hand I remember one pupil of mine who started very young and at times could hardly get the ball off the ground; yet at eighteen she was scratch and Champion of France. And as I have already told, I started another lady at forty and though she was not gifted she was a worker and ten years later she eliminated Mme Lacoste from the French Open!
If you work in this way your golf will be progressive. You will still (being human) get bad patches, but each bad patch will tend to be less bad and each good patch will tend to be better, because you are building up your game.
So do not despair if you are trying to learn golf, or better golf, and getting no results. It may be that you have been trying to learn too many things (like juggling with too many balls) and when you have tried to add just one more, your whole game has broken down on you. We will simplify the things you have to learn by stringing them together into cycles of sensation because they are then easier to remember and easier to add to.