Category Archives: books

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

A Small Golf Reference Library

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’re a golf reader.   (Not everybody is.)   You might have more than a few golf books at home, too.   Nothing wrong with that.   I have several score.

These are the ones I have found to be most useful in teaching technique, diagnosing problems, and just plain having fun with golf.

On Learning Golf, by Percy Boomer, 1946. The original book on how to be a feel player.   This book still has influence.

Advanced Golf, by Vivien Saunders, 1995. Saunders goes into detail on points that barely get mentioned in popular instruction books.   Once you get the hang of the basic swing, this is how you elevate it.

Golf Doctor, by John Jacobs (also published as Curing Faults for Weekend Golfers), 1979. Jacobs describes twenty-five errant shot patterns, explains why they happen, and tells what to do about them, in detail that no other book even approaches.   Whatever is going wrong, it’s in here.

The Elements of Scoring, by Raymond Floyd, 1998. This is absolutely the best book there is on both the mental game and the art of getting the ball in the hole.

The Complete Golfer, Herbert Warren Wind, ed., 1954. Great fun.   Fiction, humor, memoirs, history, instruction, and fold-out maps of great courses.   This book is for people who realize there was golf before Tiger Woods, or even Palmer, Player, and Nicklaus, or want want to find out about it.

A few others:
The Golf Swing, by Cary Middlecoff, 1974.
Play Golf the Wright Way, by Mickey Wright, 1990.
The Short Way to Lower Scoring, by Paul Runyan, 1979.
A Golfer’s Education, by Darren Kilfara, 2001.
How to Play Golf on the Low 120’s, by Stephen Baker, 1962.

My Adventures With The Golfing Machine

This is a post I was going to have to write sooner or later. I thought I would wait until I had some idea of what The Golfing Machine says instead of none. The “none” meant trying three ties to read it and getting nowhere.

But with help from a few online blogs, and a careful re-reading, I can finally talk to you about the book without being completely ignorant. Just unignorant enough.

A comprehensive overview would take the length of three blog posts, so I’ll just allude to a few highlights, and hope you’ll hunt up a copy and see what you make of it.

The Golfing Machine (TGM), by Homer Kelley, is not really an instruction book. It’s a compendium of swing features and components, broken down in a way that allows a golfer to build a swing from the very start, based on the particular physical characteristics and movement preferences of that individual.

It does not teach one swing. Someone calculated that if all the possible combinations of catalogued features were considered, TGM offers 446 quadrillion possible swings. One of them is right for you.

Actually, that’s not where the book goes. All the book is meant to do is take the way you swing, eliminate the parts of your swing that work against you, and substitute a different part at that same point that is compatible with what you do in the rest of your swing.

Instead of learning a new swing, you take the swing you have and make a few changes here and there so the whole thing works together. Who could argue with that?

It sounds so good that you want to pitch right in, but the problem is first you have to know what those parts are that need altering, and then you have to know which alteration to make with anywhere from three to fifteen variations per part, and after you have figured all that out, it really gets complicated.

You might need professional help with that, and there are certified TGM instructors if you want to go that route. But you can do it yourself if you consider matters carefully.

My swing is now emphasizing a matter I have brought up in the blog, the hands leading the clubhead, too much. My right arm and hand are now almost completely out of the swing. TGM is helping me put the right side back in without disturbing what I have accomplished with the left. That’s what this book can do for you.

Jim McLean wrote a article on TGM, praising it in general, but saying this about it. It is good for beginners and intermediate golfers, but Tour pros who latched onto it regressed. That would mean TGM is ideal for recreational golfers, but the problem with that is the book is so hard to read that you need to have a fair grounding in swing theory already to understand it and pick out the parts that might apply to your swing.

TGM is something of a cult book. If it was the be all and end all, every teacher would be using it and every pro would be teaching out of it. Clearly, that’s not the case.

You might want to hunt down a copy, though, to find out what all the fuss is about. You might find some bits of wisdom that help you tremendously. The rest of it you can forget about, and that’s all right, because that would be just what the author intended.

A Round of Golf With Tommy Armour

One of the first books on course management, and certainly the most famous, is A Round of Golf With Tommy Armour, published in 1959. Armour was a champion golfer from the 1920s and 30s, who became a well-known instructor and the author of several instruction books that were definitive in their day and are still valid in many respects.

Armour takes a mythical player, Bill, who is about to give up the game because nothing he tries seems to work out. Armour agrees to play nine holes with him and his two playing companions during which time Armour will give Bill careful counseling on what shot to hit and how to hit it.

He won’t offer advice on golfing technique, just on how to play the game.

The points below are the ones Armour emphasized (page references to the 1959 edition of his book).

1. Tee up from the correct side of the tee box. (15) This means to tee up on the side of trouble and hit away from it.

2. Do not play shots with high risk and little reward. (25) Do I have to explain?


3. Miss putts on the high side of the hole. (32) See Is the High Side of the Hole Really the Pro Side?

4. Use the right club chipping into a slope. (44) Generally that is a lesser-lofted club than you would normally use.

5. Play two easy shots instead of one difficult one to cover long distances. (74) See The Mathematics of Club Selection.

6. Play your mulligan first. (78) Be prepared to hit the ball right the first time, not on your do-over.

7. Have a plan, for every shot, that leads to the hole. (82) Don’t play hit-and-hope golf. Know what you want this shot and the next one to do.

8. Don’t hit the shot until you feel right about it. (95) If you don’t back off and re-set yourself, or choose another shot.

9. Think of where you want the ball to go, not where you don’t want it to go. (102) When you say to yourself, “I hope I don’t hit it into the water,” it goes into the water because that is the last order your mind gave.

10. Hit short putts firmly into the center of the hole. (104) We miss very short putts because we get too delicate with them. Hit them with authority and they’ll go in.

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com

Vector Putting

Most people will tell you that reading greens is an art that can never be reduced to science.   While that is mostly true, there is more science in it than you might imagine.   Say you’re on an idealized green that is perfectly flat, but a bit tilted.   It is entirely possible, knowing the speed of the green, the amount of its tilt, and the speed of the putt, to calculate the exact path to the hole.

In 1984, H.A. Templeton published a book titled Vector Putting, that lays out a plan which shows you how to analyze a green in just those terms.   The keys are what Templeton called the zero-break line, and the gravity vector.   I will explain them in a simplified, but still accurate way, retaining the term, “zero-break line”, but replacing “gravity vector” with “aiming point”.

The zero-break line is the line that follows the slope of the green straight downhill.   The aiming point is the spot on this line, extended now above the hole, where you aim your putt.

Find the zero-break line on a sloping green by walking below the hole in its vicinity.   You will at first sense that you are walking downhill, but when you sense you are now walking uphill, you have crossed, and thus found, the zero-break line.

The aiming point for your putt is a spot on the green on this line but on the uphill side of the hole.   The precise location of this spot, as said before, depends on the speed of the green, the slope of the green, and the length of the putt.

The aiming point (the X in the diagram) will be closer to the hole along the zero-break line when: the green is slower, the slope is less, and the distance is shorter.   The aiming point will be farther from the hole along the zero-break line when: the green is faster, the slope is greater, and the distance is longer.   The one constant is the speed at which the ball approaches the hole.

For a 10-foot putt on a medium speed green (normal daily fee course) that slopes two degrees, the aiming point (the X on the diagram) would be six inches above the hole on the extended zero-break line.   A ball putted toward this point with enough speed to finish one foot past the hole will go in the hole — regardless of where the ball is in relation to the hole.   If you imagine a clock around the hole with the zero-break line running from 12 to 6, it does not matter at what o’clock the ball is.   A ball 10 feet away will go in the hole if it starts out toward the aiming point with the right speed.

The chart below shows you how to find the location of the aim point on medium greens, as used in the example above. Read down the right-hand column to 10 feet, across to 2%, the slope of the green, and you will find the aim point be 6 inches above the hole along the zero-break line.

This method works best for putts of 10-12 feet or less.   Over that short distance, the slope of the green is usually constant, making the green act like a tilted plane.   Longer putts that might have several different breaks between the ball and the hole do not lend themselves as well to this technique.   But for the shorter putts, this method is like money in the bank.

There is a refinement built into the chart, which shows you the aiming point for putts at 90 degrees to the zero-beak line. Putts like in the picture above, played from below 90 degrees, or others played from above the 90-degree line will spend a different mount of time rolling across the green.

The little numbers in the boxes show you how many inches to add for putts played from above the hole (superscript) or to subtract for putts played from below the hole (subscript), to the basic aiming point to compensate for this effect.

Play with this on the practice green. Remember, you are not trying to figure out how far outside the hole to aim your putt, but how far up the zero-break line you are aiming for. You could have one putt that would pass four inches to the side of the hole, and another one passing six inches to the side of the hole, when both times you would really be aiming at a spot ten inches above the hole on the zero-beak line.

You might also enjoy Geoff Mangum’s extended discussion of this technique.

Groove Your Golf Swing My Way by Lee Trevino

A few weeks ago I said in the Wedges–Swing Speed post that I was trying an experiment that I would let you know about a little bit later, if it worked out. This just in. It didn’t work out, but I want to tell you about it anyway.

I got into a spell where I couldn’t hit my driver very well. My irons were OK, but that driver just didn’t want to behave.

I was browsing around a few golf forums I keep up on, and saw a thread about the Lee Trevino golf swing. What I read was quite intriguing. It’s extracted here  if you want to check it out for yourself.

I’ll try anything once (in golf), so I tried this swing, and then bought Trevino’s book, Groove Your Golf Swing My Way to get a fuller explanation.

His swing is unique, and breaks down like this.

1. Set up 30 to 40 degrees open.
2. Take a strong grip.
3. Bring the club back along the target line, not the stance line.
4. At the top of your backswing, you are lined up to the target line.
5. Start your downswing by sliding your left hip toward the target. Do not turn yet.
6. Drop the club into a slot that heads straight along the flight line.
7. Hold off the release until well after impact. Now you can turn.

Intriguing. I practiced it for a few weeks, and started hitting the ball straight, straighter, and very straight. Wow. I played nine holes with it and hit the ball straight as could be almost every time. My hook disappeared.

I thought that it might be worth switching to this swing entirely, but there was one thing about it that changed my mind. It’s pretty hard on your back.

I never ended a practice session without feeling my lower back had had a workout. That’s not a good sign. Not to mention, hasn’t Trevino had about three back operations? That’s not a good sign, either.

I did get my driver going again, because of the two little adjustments I described to you the Two Swing Things post. But I had fun with this little detour. If there is a time when I just have to hit the ball straight, I have this swing in reserve to get the job done.

Lesson: don’t be afraid to try something new. Maybe you’ll discard it just about as fast as you pick it up, but the search for a better way is a lot of the fun of golf, and you can always get something of value out of the effort.

The Golf Swing by Cary Middlecoff

One golf book I read through once every year and then browse through continually is The Golf Swing, by Cary Middlecoff. It is a review of the development of the golf swing from Harry Vardon to Palmer, Player, and Nicklaus.

The meat of the book, though, is what he says about developing your own swing, advice contained in the chapter titled, “Your Swing.” He says little about the particulars of the swing, save a few fundamentals, but much about how to practice your swing for maximum return. I’ll summarize his advice for you.

– Every session should have a purpose, every shot should have a target, and every swing, good or bad, should be analyzed afterward. Accepting good shots without question is, Middlecoff says, “a tendency that should be resisted.”

– Keep a notebook so you can start the next session where you left off the last one, so you can take your last session’s successes and carry them forward.

– Make every shot real. Imagine a spot on your home course and hit this ball to that spot.

– Make sure you grip the club consistently. Subtle variations in the grip cause more mis-hit balls than you might realize.

– Work on the backswing alone in order to bring the club back to the same spot time after time.

– From there, learn how to start the downswing with the turning of the hips alone. “Get it clearly in mind that the hip movement automatically lowers the hands to just above hip level and starts the shoulders moving.”

– Practice without a ball so as to learn how to free-wheel the club through the “hitting segment of the swing.”

– “Program into the swing” that both arms will become straight only a few feet past where the ball was. At impact, the right arm is still bent and the right wrist has not fully released.

– Practice the parts so they become automatic. Then put them together into a full swing that allows you, when playing, to forget about mechanics, and concentrate solely on hitting the ball.

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com

On Learning Golf by Percy Boomer

This is the title of a book published in 1946 by Percy Boomer. You have never heard of him, have you? He was British teaching pro who did most of his work in France, and had moderate success as a tournament player in the 1930s.

On Learning Golf is the first book written on how to feel the golf swing. Boomer’s instruction is based on two principles.

First, learn basic swinging movements and apply those movements to as many shots as possible. That makes all shots fundamentally the same. Second, the golfer must develop a set of controls, or feels, so the swing is governed by the remembered feels rather than by thinking.

This is not an easy book to read, in that comes at the golf swing from a completely different point of view than you are used to. You have to learn a new conception of movement and how that conception is applied to the golf swing.

The effort will be worth it. What you will happen if you build your swing along the lines Boomer suggests is that you will get the details right automatically because you will be moving in such a way that you can only get them right. You don’t have to put together pieces. The controls will result in the correct movements emerging.

If you read this book, study it, and apply it, over time you will realize how easy golf can be and wonder why everybody else made it so hard for you.

See more at www.bettergolfbook.com

Five Lessons by Ben Hogan

There are so many books of golf instruction that it seems hard to know where to start. Actually, the choice is easy. Get a copy of Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf.

Read it, study it. As Hogan’s swing was in a league of its own, so is this book. I have read countless instruction books and can say that no other book speaks with such authority on the matters it covers. No other book is even close.

Five Lessons is about the golf swing, nothing else. There’s one chapter on the grip, one chapter on stance and posture, and one chapter each on the backswing and downswing, and a review. Five chapters, five lessons.

Every step is illustrated with crystal-clear drawings by Anthony Ravielli that are works of art in themselves.

Warning: Hogan’s instruction concerns what worked for him. It’s not for everyone, and Hogan was the first to admit that. That means in many places you have to take his instruction as a point of departure.

That will be easier to do if you acquire a companion book, The Fundamentals of Hogan, by David Leadbetter. Hogan’s teaching is explained, and modifications for golfers lacking his strength, flexibility, and stature are suggested.

Five Lessons is the only book I trust concerning my swing. I relearn the fundamentals every year by going slowly through this book. You should, too.

See more at www.bettergolfbook.com.