Understanding the Golf Swing by Manuel de la Torre

Manuel de la Torre, born in Spain and located professionally in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was a teacher of the Ernest Jones method, with a worldwide reputation. His book, Understanding the Golf Swing, reduces that method to its simplicity.

The fundamental concept of this approach is that it is the movement of the club that is important, not the movement of the body. Once the movement of the club is understood, the body will respond in a way that allows that movement to occur.

We don’t learn technique to make the club move in a certain way. We learn how the club should move in order for us to learn how to move our body. The method is simple, because there is less to learn, and hence think about, and hence get confused about.

The method also has the benefit of taking our mind outside ourself, which is the external focus that Gabrielle Wulf has shown to be much more effective than thinking about what the body is supposed to do (internal focus). Jones wasn’t, and de la Torre likely wasn’t aware of Wulf’s work, but it confirms of their conception of the golf swing.

Because the Jones method does not emphasize technique, this book reads differently than almost every other instruction book you have read. It takes a few readings to discern the depth of the message and understand exactly how to do what de la Torre is suggesting.

For example, he says that the club is to be taken back with the hands, but swung forward by the arms. By arms he means the anatomical arm, the upper limb from the shoulder to the elbow. The forearm, from the elbow to the wrist, is not involved.

There are chapters on correcting swing faults, short game, putting, playing from special lies, and a chapter on power, which starts off this way:

“If golfers could play the game of golf without concern for this word power, everyone could improve his or her game at least 50%. For so many individuals power is the destroyer of the swing and thus their golf game.”

Other quotes I like are,

“You should always take the grip while looking at your hands to see how you’re placing them on the club.” (Slight variations in the grip from shot to shot are the major cause of inconsistent ball-striking)

“Everyone has a tendency to try to help the club as it reaches the golf ball—The swing will never accept this help.” (See the quote on power, above.)

“When observing a good player, study not what the player does with his or her body, but the player does with the golf club, and the latter is what the observer should attempt to duplicate.”

“If you miss a shot it simply means that you did not do what you were supposed to do. It does not mean that you did something wrong. So get back what you should do.”

(On putting) “Roll the ball on the line you select, as far as the hole.” (Focus on your task, not its outcome.)

In addition to this book, there is a series of YouTube videos in which de la Torre teaches a clinic to a group of young golfers. They are all fairly long (30-45 minutes) but I strongly encourage you to watch them nonetheless. Start with this one: Intro to Concept

Today’s Round

I guess what I’m doing, and will do this year, is make a report on every round I play and tell you what I learned and gloat over my outstanding shots, like this one:

186 yards, par 3, 18.5° 3-wood. Started right, slight draw back toward the middle. Landed short, rolled on, toward the pin, looking good, looking REAL good, just grazed the hole going by. When I got to the green, it was four inches past the hole. I sank the putt. (The guys I play with don’t give par putts or birdie putts. We have to earn our good scores.)

A few days before I had looked at Phil Mickelson’s short game DVD, in which he talks about the “hinge-and-hold” method of chipping. I use that method on occasion, but he said to use it all the time. So, I used it all the time and got some really good shots out of it from sticky situations, like having to fly a bunker from in close but with little green to work with on the other side. I’d suggest you find a copy of that DVD and study it. It’s the same stroke that I call the Air Chip on page 63 in Better Recreational Golf.

My putting wasn’t as deadly as it was last week, but it didn’t hurt me. I played with just one other guy and we left the pin in the whole time. I love that new rule.

Throw the Golf Club

In their book, How to Become a Complete Golfer, Bob Toski and Jim Flick tell this story:

“There was once a pupil at our golf schools who, when he was instructed to release the clubhead through the ball, threw the whole club down the practice range. So we have to be very careful to define what we mean by release.”

Well, releasing the club is one thought, but today’s thought is throwing the club and it isn’t a bad idea. Or, at least, swinging as if that is what you were going to do, but not letting go of the club.

This does four things for you:

1. It gets you off your trailing side and onto the leading side during the forward swing,

2. It guarantees the hands will lead the clubhead into the ball,

3. It gets your mind off hitting the ball and puts it on swinging the club,

4. And because of that, it evens out your rhythm and tempo.

Those are four very good things to have built into your swing because they are the solutions to four prevalent swing problems.

If you would like to give this a try, it is easiest to do at first with a driver swinging at a ball on a tee. You don’t want the ground in the way on this one right now.

The idea is to feel like the function of the forward swing is to throw the club directly at your target downrange, but without actually doing it. Get the feeling of a smooth throwing motion and then try hitting a few balls.

Shawn Clement has a really good, and short (for him) video on this very idea.

So try it out. It’s a different way of thinking about how to swing the club, and maybe something will click for you.

Today’s Round

I played nine holes at the OGA Golf Course in Woodburn, Oregon. It was the first time I have played on a full-sized course since 2015. I lost a few strokes because I had forgotten how to play from unusual lies, but all that will come back.

I played with a friend and a guy they paired us up with. On the green, no one made a move to take the pin out. No one even brought it up. We got off the greens pretty fast.

Also in that regard, I sank five putts from 6 to about 12 feet because the pin gave me a positive target to aim at. I know that if I had putted at a hole, I might have made only one or two of those putts.

How about the new drop rule? I hit a ball into a bank that was full of yellow jacket holes. They nest in the ground. Fortunately it has been too cold for them to be active or I wouldn’t have gone near the place. But the ball was embedded, so I took an unplayable, marked off my two club lengths, bent over, and dropped the ball from knee height.

Some touring pro (Ricky? Justin?) needs to explain to me why that is so hard to do or so hard to remember.

At one point, I thought to myself why we love golf. It’s because on occasion we can play with the pros. We can all hit shots a touring pro would say, “Can I have that shot?” But I know that if I picked up a baseball bat and stepped in against major league pitching I would probably mess my pants.

Practice Like You’re Going to Play

I was at the range today, trying out my “hit it a long way” swing, which works most of the time. At the range.

But I was there to get warmed up for a round tomorrow, and I got most of the way through the bucket and thought to myself,

“You’re not going to swing this way tomorrow. You’re going to make a slower, more controlled swing that you know hits one good shot after another. Aren’t you?”

So when you go to the range, practice your “play” swing. The one you’re going to use when you can’t rake another ball over and maybe do better.

That’s your best swing. Practice that one.

My Conception of Golf Technique

Over the years I have sprinkled certain themes throughout my posts. I say them over and over because they work—not only for me, but for everybody.

To save you the trouble of searching for what you might not know is even there, here it all is. This post summarizes my thoughts. If you do all these things (and there aren’t many) you will play better golf.

The Swing

When you’re standing over the ball, think of the swing as one unit from takeaway to finish. Impact is an event like another other along the way—do not give it extra importance.

Swing at a tempo which allows you to hit the ball on the center of the clubface consistently.

Your hands must lead the clubhead into the ball. They must arrive back to the ball before the clubhead does.

Short Game

With a chip and a pitch, think of sliding the sole of the club underneath the ball. Do not hit down on the ball.

With a chip, use one swing and several clubs to regulate distance.

With a pitch, use two or three lengths of swing (your choice) and several clubs to regulate distance.

Putting

Hit the ball on the sweet spot of the putterface.

Let the length of the backswing be the sole distance generator.

Technique is less important than mentally bearing down the hole.

Dan Jenkins, 1928-2019

Renowned golf writer and member of the World Golf Hall of Fame (2012) Dan Jenkins passed away on March 7 at the age of 89.

Read his obituary in the New York Times and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

And this tribute from Golf World.

Read also his hilarious “interview” with Tiger Woods which the then imperial personality did not find to be amusing. Be sure to listen to his monologue below the end of the article.

Jenkins’s novel, Semi-Tough, about pro football, was made into a movie starring Burt Reynolds, Kris Kristofferson, and Jill Clayburgh.

Another of his novels, Dead Solid Perfect, about professional golf, was filmed as well, starring Randy Quaid and Kathryn Harrold.

And finally, read his account of the stroke-play qualifying for the Greatest of All Time Invitational, played starting March 20 at the Augusta National Golf Club. It’s in the April 2109 Golf Digest, with Jordan Spieth on the cover. The article is likely Jenkins’s final piece of golf writing. It will leave you in stitches. What a gift to leave to us.

How to Swing the Golf Club Faster

This is a little post.

I have said in recent posts that you should slow your swing down to ensure contact on the center of the clubface. Once you have accomplished that, swing in a way that feels the same, but in less time. Like this:

1. Before you address the ball, feel a fast, smooth, effortless swing in your mind.

2. Hold the club LIGHTLY at address. Relax everything else, too.

3. Think that it is the sole of the club that is moving fast, not your body, your arms, or your hands.

4. Relax even more during the swing.

Remember, though, you do have a red line. The key to distance is hitting the ball on the center of the clubface. Never swing faster than you ability to keep doing that.