The Methods of Golf’s Masters By Dick Aultman and Ken Bowden
This is a puzzling book to categorize. While not exactly a book of instruction, you will learn more about the golf swing digesting Ken Bowden and Dick Aultman’s The Methods of Golf’s Masters than you will at the practice tee. It is a unique blend of astute analysis and historical exactitude, probing the origins and evolution of the modern swing, using 16-famous players, each emblematic of a particular nuance of style, for demonstrative purposes. The authors also have an exciting new premise: “A recurring theme in this book is the influence the master golfer’s personalities have had on their playing methods.” It is a curious viewpoint that can ultimately assist us in our own development. The authors’ theory is that the most influential factor determining both a golfer’s swing and his style of play is his temperament and that forcing technique outside of a natural comfort zone can only end in disaster. That personality should be so dominant a component is surprising, but the evidence they present is convincing.
“Unquestionably Vardon’s swing style and general approach to the game were born of his remarkably placid, easygoing nature,” while ““the attitudes that made Hagen a super stroke-saving, come-from-behind, escape artist on the golf course sprung from a bottomless pit of self-confidence.” Stocky Gene Sarazen played with an unorthodox grip but his dedication to practice, self-confidence, ability to focus and extreme competitiveness made him a great champion. O. B. Keeler (*) observed: ““Sarazen gives the impression of straining at the leash. When confronted by a tough and testing shot, he appears tremendously eager to get at it; not to ‘get it over with’ as are so many nerve-ridden players, but rather with a fierce inspiration to conquer; with a certain joy of battle and a grim delight at the chance to extend his powers.”
* O. B. Keeler is perhaps best known for contribution to Down the Fairway: The Golf Life and Play of Robert T. Jones, Jr., co-authored with Bobby Jones, and Keeler’s own story, The Autobiography of an Average Golfer. Both of these fine biographies are available in Classic of Golf editions.
Aultman and Bowden’s chapter on Bobby Jones is entitled Never Tinker with Talent. To explain how a “natural swing” means one that is uncontrived, they use Jones as an example at age seven years. “The striking thing about this picture is the similarity of the swing form between Jones as a rank beginner and as the man who later dominated major tournament golf as no one ever has or likely will.” Endowed with an unfailing sense of tempo, Jones played merrily around East Lake as a lad, emulating the best players he saw. Professional Stewart Maiden was the player to copy at East Lake. Later, when Jones grew to a size similar to Maiden’s, it was difficult to say from a distance, which of the two were swinging. Maiden “taught Bobby as little as possible,” knowing “it was a mistake to confuse him with too many things.” Jones’ success with putting was no different: “…the simplicity of his approach…gave full rein to his inborn natural talent, his excellent sense of rhythm, and his innate hand-eye coordination.”
For Henry Cotton, the game was all about fingers and hands, grasping the Claret Jug three-times as proof. If Byron Nelson(See Classics of Golf selection Shape Your Swing the Modern Way for a complete analysis by Nelson.) had been a physicist, he would have given Einstein a run for his money. Nelson did nothing less than revolutionize the swing. His discovery was a one-piece takeaway that was also on the target line considerably longer than anyone else’s, with a decreased hip turn but a full shoulder turn and a much shorter backswing. Nelson began his quest with a theory: “I had an idea to get the club higher and to keep the clubface square to the swing.” Nelson was only on the professional tour full-time for one year, 1945, when he won 19 of the 30 tournaments that he entered, 11 of them in a row. The next year, after winning the first two tournaments, he retired. The great Bobby Jones once said, “At my best I never came close to the golf Nelson shoots.”
Let us face it: most of us are do-it-yourselfers. Slammin’ Sammy Snead eschewed lessons too. Snead taught himself good golf purely by trial and error and “learned to play largely by feel.” The ‘wee ice mon,’ Ben Hogan, was precision personified. In an outstanding chapter, Bowden compares a 1939 movie of Hogan with one made about 1959, observing similarities and analyzing the significant differences. Unorthodox Bobby Locke is profiled for his putting, Dr. Cary Middlecoff for his preparation and attention to details before the shot. Peter Thomson’s mental attitude was second to none and it took him to five British Open titles. Likewise with the “King,” Arnold Palmer, who could rise to every challenge on sheer will power. Quiet Billy Casper (52-tour wins) took the process one step further, albeit seemingly backward, by playing more conservatively than any other top-level pro. Gary Player’s determination translated into the strongest work ethic of his day. Lee Trevino grooved his anti-hook swing while working at a driving range. With five distinct “faults” compensating and counterbalancing each other to produce an effective delivery at impact, his unorthodoxy works. Trevino set an incredible schedule for himself to achieve consistency: a daily routine of 18 holes followed by 1000 practice balls
The chronology of the book leaves us to conclude with the best of all, Jack Nicklaus. The most descriptive term for Nicklaus’ quest for perfection is self-hypnotic. He exhibited an unfailing power of concentration, above the level of all previous champions. He hit the drive longer and straighter than any one before, and he hit the ball higher, even the power shots. He could will the putt into the hole and his form was pure. Having authored several instructional books, Nicklaus easily dissects his swing into 21-notions and explains it in clear detail.
Investigation of the individual talent of Nicklaus and the others profiled in The Methods of Golf’s Masters proves how the personality of the golfer matches their style of play and, furthermore, how that particular golfer must play in their particular style to play their best. Throughout the book Aultman and Bowden demonstrate and explain how they analyze their subjects. You may want to try on some of their investigative techniques for size and see if they help in your own self-diagnosis. It is, at the end of the day, your own swing and no one else’s you are looking for.
Foreword by Herbert Warren Wind, Afterword by Peter Thomson.