Bobby Jones – Going Old School

Golf Lessons from Bobby Jones in the Distant Past

One of the difficulties in taking lessons, whether up close or online, from modern day greats is that they have gone far past the basics in their own swings.That means we can’t see the basics so easily. A pro can bring extra relish, ferocity, adaptation and risk to an already well established foundation, but if most of us try it, disaster is likely. For our benefit, we need to have it slowed down and see it in its purest form. I recently revisited the videos of the legendary Bobby Jones, and realized that I couldn’t find it in a purer form than this.

What am I supposed to learn from a golf legend 100 years in the past? The clubs were wood, and the balls were made of caveman material. The flat swing at the top was just falling out of vogue. and men wore ties when they played, for crying out loud. What do these guys have to do with me? We should be reminded that in certain areas, distant history is worth emulating We might not want to practice Medieval medicine anymore, but if one is a violinist, Stradivarius, Guanarius and Amati made the best ones hundreds of years ago. Houses and temples built by ancient Italians are still standing, where wood houses of the 20th century  are ready to fall to kindling.  So, science isn’t the answer to everything yet. Where Bobby Jones is concerned, I’m going to go with the Stradivarius model, since none of my internal organs are at risk.

Watching Bobby Jones is like watching most of those early interview or documentary style movies. The dialogue is not Hollywoodish, the film is grainy, and everyone looks like they stepped out of a Fitzgerald novel. But, man oh man, could that guy play golf. Talk competition, pro versus amateur, technology all you want, but Jones took on everything and everyone there was to take on, and beat them repeatedly.

At first, the slo-mo video was a little disturbing to one used to modern golf. Jones made it a priority to “keep the right arm out of the shot.” I guess I’ve heard modern versions of that in part, but I never heard it said so strongly as an all encompassing directive. When he addresses the ball, he has a little duck stance, or for you ballerinas, second position. He is so relaxed that one worries the club will fall out of his hand. At the beginning of the takeaway, the club appears to wobble like a loose tooth, but perhaps that’s an illusion of some sort. Within a millisecond, that moment is gone. Jones is a master of angles, especially the ones that make him so at ease in the address. He also has amazing control over rotation and weight shift. He can tell when anything is too much or too little, too early or too late., The filmed shots include a 243 yard fairway wood that acts like I wish my chips would. The ball couldn’t be more straight if you fired it form a gun.

Asked about a slice, or any other persistent problem, he always answers with “this comes down to three possible problems,” then analyzes all three, succinctly and with clear instruction. The mystery and novelty is taken away, and viewers are left with the basics only, precisely what we need. The Bobby Jones swing speed is around 113 mph. The old clubs wouldn’t take a whole lot more. With a modern club, he would have swung a lot faster, but the principles are the same, and he bought into straight, repeatable shots rather than obsessing with a distance addiction.

Things don’t necessarily improve because they are modern. If Bobby Jones were alive today, and equipped with modern tools, I believe he would compete regularly, if he could bring  his mechanical purity along. I recommend giving these funny old Bobby Jones movies a look to preserve the beauty and simplicity of what one is trying to achieve. And if that doesn’t work? Well, we could all try wearing ties.

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