"Golf Digest" - Perfect Your Swing

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Golf Digest magazine's instruction sections have helped make the magazine market leader on both sides of the Atlantic. With an archive of instructional swing sequences going back to the days of Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan, it is a veritable treasure trove of golfing secrets. Now updated, Golf Digest: Perfect Your Swing analyses the technique of over 40 of the greatest players ever to have played the game and who number a total of 139 major titles between them. With technical analysis from Golf Digest's instruction editor, Matt Rudy, it is a compelling read for all golfing fans.

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About the Author:

Matt Rudy is instruction editor at Golf Digest magazine. He has written instruction manuals and swing analysis stories with golfers from Johnny Miller to Justin Leonard. He was the ghostwriter for Calloway's Breaking 90 with Johnny Miller and also ghosted The Complete Idiot's Guide to Golf with Michelle McGann. A former golf reporter for Sports Illustrated magazine, Matt graduated with a degree in journalism from Michigan State University in 1994.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

The History of the Swing

When Bobby Jones said, "He plays a game with which I am not familiar," he was talking about Jack Nicklaus winning the 1965 Masters by nine shots. But Jones, who played his own incomparable game in 1929, could have been a player of any generation, looking on with appreciation at how things have changed over the years.

The tools used to play golf even as recently as 1850 are barely recognizable when compared to those used today. They were thick-shafted, one-piece poles with extended heads -- more like hockey sticks than Great Big Berthas. The balls were barely-round leather pouches stuffed with feathers. The men using them wore woolen jackets that kept them from moving their arms much above waist level. A player who could hit one of these featheries 150 yards was considered a man of great strength. It should come as no surprise, then, that the first regular swing "style" in the game's history was a low, slow-moving, "handsy" swipe from a crouched stance that kept the ball low (below the Scottish winds) and rolling along the ground. Willie Park won the first British Open in 1860 using this combination of equipment, shooting a three-round score of 174 on a 12-hole course with a par of 48.

It wasn't until Allan Robertson devised a different way to build a club -- with a slender wooden shaft and an iron head -- that players could control the ball with anything more than a rudimentary degree of accuracy. It is a story that has repeated itself many times through the years. A smaller, weaker player needed some other way to compete with bigger, stronger golfers. Robertson built clubs that were lighter and more flexible -- ones he could buggy-whip through impact. The combination of new materials and physics helped him to hit his shots not only longer than his bigger competitors, but also with more accuracy. It provided the impetus for a new kind of swing -- the prehistoric ancestor of Harry Vardon's upright, "modern" golf swing. Ball technology still had to catch up, though, and soon enough it did.

By the mid-1850s, balls made of gutta percha (a natural, balata-like substance) had all but replaced featheries. The gutties were manufactured by machine, which made them nice and round -- and also far more consistent. When golfers could see consistent ball flight from a certain kind of strike, they started to experiment with ways to change that flight, curving shots to the right and left and imparting backspin to make the ball roll less after landing. One golfer who tried to make the most of the available technology was Tom Kidd, who won the 1873 British Open at St Andrews using irons he had built himself. They had spines of metal running across their faces, which created much more backspin than the common, smooth-faced irons that were being used at the time. They were quickly banned by the game's first ruling body, the Royal and Ancient -- and even today, clubs must have nothing protruding from the face to conform with the rules.

Now that the game had developed the tools to perfect a swing that could dictate shots, it was time for a player to come along with enough talent to do the same. That player was Harry Vardon.

Vardon grew up caddieing for players who used the old-school technique, and he tried all kinds of varieties of that swing in his own game. But, like Robertson, he found that the lighter, shorter clubs gave him much better results, and he started experimenting with those. The shorter clubs forced him to make a much more upright swing. The photographs that remain of that swing show that it was indeed the precursor to the "modern" swing. Vardon was much more concerned with a rhythmic transition from backswing to downswing than anyone else in his day. Even with the limitations of his dress (those wool jackets were still de rigeur), Vardon made a full backswing, getting the club back over his right shoulder and turning his hips aggressively. His finish -- aside from the bent right elbow -- looks like one you might see today. Vardon was also the first player to popularize a grip that linked the hands together. Before, when the wooden clubs were heavier and stiffer, a grip that had all ten fingers on the handle was critical to keeping the swing under control. But Vardon, using these lighter, whippier clubs, overlapped the little finger on his right hand on the groove between the index and middle fingers on his left hand. That grip, the Vardon grip, is still the preferred way for 95 percent of the world's touring professionals to hold the club today.

As innovative as Vardon's ideas about the swing were, they wouldn't have had nearly the same impact if he hadn't had such an impressive record as a player. He won six British Opens between 1896 and 1914, and, as a result, was the premier ball and club endorser of his day -- sort of like a Tiger Woods in a wool coat and knickers. One of those deals (with his sponsors, A.G. Spalding) was directly responsible for the infusion of Vardon's ideas on the other side of the Atlantic, in what would become the biggest golf market in the world. In 1900, Vardon made promotional trips to the United States to play in exhibitions (he covered almost 20,000 miles during the year) and to compete in the fledging US Open (which he won by two strokes). Vardon cut an exotic, dashing figure, setting course records wherever he went and inspiring average Americans to pick up the game. And when they did, of course, they copied both Vardon's grip and swing. One of those who watched and learned from Vardon was a kid trying to decide between a career as a golfer or a professional baseball player. Walter Hagen chose golf.

Thanks to Vardon, golfs popularity increased steadily in the United States throughout the first two decades of the century. Americans were thirsting for instruction -- and had the money to pay for it. This caused an exodus of talented (and some not-so-talented) Englishmen, Scots and Irishmen to the practice ranges and resorts across the Atlantic. One of them, Jim Barnes, won the first two PGA Championships played, in 1916 and 1919, and the 1921 US Open. He capitalized on those successes by producing one of the game's first golf instruction books, featuring slow-motion photography of Barnes' swing, detailed photographs of the equipment he used and advice about playing the game. Another of those emigrating Scots was Donald Ross, who relocated to North Carolina and built dozens of courses -- including Pinehurst No. 2 -- that still rank among the greatest in America. A third was Stewart Maiden, who came to East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta and taught a young man called Bobby Jones.

In the 1920s, a professional golf tour had yet to be established. Stars like Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen played exhibitions around the country, competed in national events like the US Open and PGA Championship, and, in Sarazen's case, taught lessons at a home club in the off-season. As a result, an entire generation of instructors received their education in the game directly from the most accomplished players of the era. Henry Picard, a great player in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, taught Jack Grout, who would in turn go on to develop Jack Nicklaus' game. The great players of the 1940s and 1950s -- Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Jimmy Demaret -- all got into the game as assistant teaching professionals.

Professionals in the 1940s were also the first to play with steel-shafted clubs -- the first quantum leap in equipment design since the guttie had been replaced by balata-covered balls filled with windings in 1905. Before steel, clubs had been made with hickory shafts -- the same material used to make baseball bats. But hickory was expensive and it warped when it got wet. Added to that, it took an incredible level of craftsmanship to fit the shafts into a set of clubs. On the other hand, steel was cheap, it didn't warp, shafts made from it could be mass produced and it didn't whip and torque like hickory. Good players quickly realized that they could keep their wrists cocked longer in the dow

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9781552979860: Golf Digest Perfect Your Swing: Learn How to Hit the Ball Like the Game's Greats

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ISBN 10:  1552979865 ISBN 13:  9781552979860
Publisher: Firefly Books, 2004

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