Numbers tell us nothing

jjw-san-lorenzo-golf-course-online-scorecardNo pictures on a scorecard…

What is your score ? Well your score is the addition of the number of strokes taken. Numbers followed by arithmetic . In the old days it was a pencil mark for every shot taken, now it is a number per hole. So where do statistics come in to the equation? Statistics don’t lie, but liars use statistics. They distract you from the task in hand. Get the numbers down and lower your score. Now that is an interesting formula.  But it is hardly rocket science.

How on Earth could I make an industry out of that? ‘Do the Maths’, they say: but hang on a minute, it is only arithmetic. Add up the numbers.

But the numbers don’t tell you anything, because they are just numbers, they are not words or picture . So logically, and if we think clearly and carefully, statistics are made out of numbers. So what can they tell us? If statistics were made from words or pictures, then maybe we would have a clearer view about our performance.

Numbers tell us nothing, numbers do not measure performance, numbers add up to a score and then we post our scorecard

This is down to earth stuff so give the scientists the rocket.

Ben Hogan and the fundamentals of golf

by Ian Butcher, PGA Teaching Pro

“Some measures, long esteemed to be of paramount importance in the swing, are really not that important at all. On the other hand, some measures considered only to be of secondary importance seem to me as invaluable.”  (Ben Hogan)

It may seem self-evident, but actions that cause the results you are after are the only true fundamentals of golf. And what golfers are seeking is a correct, powerful and repeating swing. That’s it. That’s all.

As an advocate of the kind of teaching that allows the player to learn the exact feeling of movement, I’m going to make available to you the things I’ve learnt about developing a correct and powerful and repeating swing, and from here on, when I talk about the golf swing, it’s the correct, powerful and repeating I’m talking about.

There are those who would have you believe that learning, understanding and using the golf swing is impossible, but this is simply not so. However, in order to develop the swing it is absolutely essential that your thoughts are focussed in the right direction. You may well need to take on board that every natural instinct you have to accomplish your objective is wrong – absolutely wrong.

The golf swing is counter-intuitive and probably against every natural instinct you may have.  The probability is that, for most golfers, doing the precise opposite of what they are inclined to do is likely to bring them much closer to having a perfect swing. While every good golfer learns this the hard way, some find it a little more readily.

There is no such thing as a perfect golf swing – don’t believe anyone who tells you that there is, don’t strive for it and, most importantly, never get frustrated if one day you think (wrongly) that you’ve found it only to discover that the next day you’ve lost it again.

If you are serious about your game, you need to study the true greats of golf. Of these some, but not all, have been able to describe how they developed their game and how they arrived at a golf swing which was was correct, powerful and repeatable in all conditions. Foremost of these in both his game and his unique ability to describe it is Ben Hogan.


Ben Hogan

Hogan’s view was that good golfers learn, by laborious trial and error, a set of fundamentals or moves that are right for them because these fundamentals stand up under pressure. He said that he had never seen a successful player who does not adhere to their fundamentals.

Hogan also expressed the view that muscular freedom is probably more important in golf than in any other sport. So the key is building a swing you can depend upon; one that can withstand all conditions, and also the vagaries and conscious interference of the mind.

Ben Hogan won the first of his nine major championships in 1946 and his Power Golf was published in 1948. Strangely, Hogan started golf playing left-handed, then shifted to play right handed, then tried cross-handed, before becoming established as the right-handed player we know and remember. In the first chapter of his book Power Golf (called The Evolution of the Hogan Grip) Hogan said that he made a radical change in his grip in 1945, arriving at this as a result of a series of trial and error experiments which commenced when he first took up the game.

“Contrary to anything you may have read on the subject, there is no such thing as an individual born golfer; some have more natural ability than others but they’ve all been made.” (Ben Hogan: Power Golf)

While Power Golf was written over 60 years ago, I think it is important for anyone serious about improving their golf swing to listen carefully to what Hogan said in this early book. What he says in his early works are of as much relevance now than they were then. I also think that his early thoughts have more  insight and therefore more relevance than his later, and more famous, Fundamentals as it is possible that by 1957, when that book was written, he had become more than a little fed up with people asking him about his ‘secret’. (The elements Hogan regarded as fundamentals to every good swing are the proper waggle, the proper hip turn and the proper backswing plane.)

It was as early as 1947 that Hogan made the startling statement that he had discovered the secret of hitting a golfball correctly and that he would no longer have to work at his game as hard, nor suffer the doubts about how his swing would function from day to day. How golfers throughout the years have longed to be able to make a similar statement!

However it was not for another eight years (1955) that he was prevailed upon to reveal his secret to Life Magazine and, of course, another two years before the publication of Fundamentals. In order to really understand why it took him so long to reveal his secret we need to understand the sequence of Hogan’s development.

The writer Herbert Warren Wind said that Hogan was about 13 years old when he started working on his game conscientiously. The first thing he worked on and changed was the movement of his left knee. However it was 1932 when he learnt the importance of the waggle by observing Johnny Revolta and not until the mid 30s before he got the the correct hip turn by studying movies, and 1938 when he grasped the concept of the plane, by analyzing the plane on which a baseball batter swings.

So it wasn’t until 1946 that Hogan felt confident about his game – confident enough to expect that whenever he went out for a round of golf it was reasonably predictable how he would play. Clearly his scores could vary, but Hogan felt that he could pretty much play in the same way as the day before. Prior to 1945, Hogan says that he had no confidence that his game one day could be the same as the next.

His confidence was gained by not trying to do a great many things perfectly, but by grooving his fundamental movements.

‘All that is really required to play good golf is to execute properly a relatively small number of true fundamental movements.’  (Ben Hogan)


Jack Grout and Jack Nicklaus

It is revealing that, a couple of decades later Jack Nicklaus said that his teacher, Jack Grout, had also formulated an approach based, not on achieving the perfect swing, but on a handful of fundamentals. Two of these were keeping your head still and proper foot action. Grout also told Nicklaus that Hogan used to practice keeping both heels on the ground and would slide his right foot into the shot as he hit it.

Hogan believed that how you look and how you think you look during a swing are two different pictures. While you can learn some things from watching, he said that imitation is a flawed approach. What golfers actually need is to be able to feel the sensation which is associated with a properly made swing.

Hogan says that it took him years to work out the muscle memory system and be in the habit of performing the proper routine drills and duties. He understood that the problem for any golfer is getting the muscles to be aware of what they should do (muscle consciousness). However, muscles can, through repeated swinging of the club, be trained to perform properly in making the golf swing. Also we need to understand that there is a huge difference between tension and tensity. Tensity is a stiff and joint-locked whereas tension is a spring like coiling as is essential to the powerful swing. Only by repeatedly practicing the correct swing will you get the correct feeling  – a feeling that Hogan suggests that a waggle is vital as a trigger to the series of feelings that will then continue without conscious effort throughout the swing.

Henry Picard had helped a struggling Hogan with game in the late 1930s. Picard’s was often quoted as saying that, if the club is not in plane, you can ‘quit talking about what you are doing down at the ball’. Picard had himself learnt a lot from Alex Morrison, and Picard says that what Morrison had taught him was about the coordination of arms and body as a unit, and how you get this organised is critical – this includes footwork, the rolling of the ankles, posture, balance, and the plane of the swing. Picard strongly felt that the vast majority of golfers swing out of plane.

Picard believed that Hogan could really bend around, and that he had ‘great posture, footwork, everything’. It was Picard who, in the 30s, had told Hogan to weaken his left hand grip. This was necessary because of Hogan’s flexibility and the amount of counterclockwise motion with his left hand and arm in the downswing. It was Picard who told Hogan to ‘wheel it’ and to ‘turn it loose’, because he believed that if you have a true swing (as he believed Hogan possessed by then), ‘the harder you hit it, the better you hit it’. If you return the club at full capacity to the ball, the club head will true itself up at impact.

It is significant that Henry Picard and Jack Grout also worked together because these underlying fundamentals link Nicklaus with Hogan.

At the 1953 Open Championship, Ben Hogan had a discussion with Bob Halsall, Pro at Royal Birkdale. Both agreed that controlling the right elbow and forearm, and not allowing them to overpower the left, was key to a successful swing. Joe Norwood, who was Pro at Los Angeles Country Club, has previously said that Hogan had ‘the greatest left arm in golf’. Hogan told Norwood that he had spent two years working on his left arm.

In 1955, Hogan gave a key speech at a PGA meeting on how to develop a swing that repeats.

“Here are the fundamentals I think are applicable to everyone: 1. Grip, 2. Posture 3. Arms 4. Swing 5. Follow-through. As you swing through the ball the right arm straightens and, most important, the body follows the swing.”  (Ben Hogan)

Hogan went on to say that he has noticed one other vital thing; that good golfers have their left wrist leading at impact. ‘It seems a small thing, but I have found it universally true’. At impact the left wrist of a good golfer is slightly convex, while that of a poor golfer is generally concave.

The Walsh brothers, both Professionals, studied top players. They were interested in left-handed tendencies and observed a loop in Hogan’s swing. They discovered, by studying hours of movie footage, that when the downstroke was started the initial club head motion was towards the right hip pocket. This produced a looping effect.

Al Watrous

Al Watrous

Al Watrous, another famous player, reckoned that Hogan had some sort of special sequence. He observed, by watching live, Hogan’s apparent ability ‘pass’ the club through the ball. He noticed a delay of the club head but also terrific speed. Watrous said he didn’t know how to initiate the movement but was convinced that it was somewhere in the body. He reckoned there was something in what Tommy Armour had talked about with hitting with the righthand, and also observed a ‘heaving action’ with the body. This seems to relate back to Joe Norwood and his comment about ‘using the body as a counter weight’.

Alex Morrison stated that ‘once you have mastered the correct swing, the excellence of your game will depend upon the the extent to which your mind takes charge and the nicety with which your body responds to its commands.’

Finally, according to Hogan’s contemporary Jimmy Demaret, Hogan’s game took roughly 30 years to develop.  Demaret famously said that Hogan ‘dug his right foot in and used a swing which is power-jammed at the base’ and that a good deal of his control secret lay in his understanding of the spin of the ball. Hogan himself also said that he wanted to know how the ball would react and how it would behave upon landing.

So, as these great players, teachers and analysts have all found, when improving your swing, you need to understand that there are fundamentals and moves. And you will discover that these fundamentals accumulate, both in what they describe and how they are described. Demaret said that Hogan could tell you what fundamentals and moves he used and how he used them but would understand that a different set may be right for someone else.

And for Hogan, a total package was always the goal: Fundamentals and moves, along with the integration of fine technique, clarity of thinking along appropriate lines, and a predictability and understanding of shot making, what happens to a spinning ball and how to play each hole.

‘Standing to the ball takes little talent, but does take a great deal of knowledge.The most difficult thing about the golf swing is staying bent over for two seconds.’  (Ben Hogan)



Matteo Manassero

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Retief Goosen

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Chad Campbell

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A (tall?) Tale of The Old Course

An economist friend, who is also an accomplished golfer, recently told me the following story.

He and two friends had made a pilgrimage to the birthplace of golf: the Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland. They had managed to secure a tee time and were just about to tee off when the starter stopped them and told them to wait — he had a fourth player who would be joining them. The three friends were disappointed; what sort of schmuck were they going to get stuck with?

After brief introductions, the fourth player asked them what their handicaps were. A handicap in golf more or less corresponds to how many strokes you shoot over par on average. They told him their handicaps, which were three, four, and seven (which by the way, means they are exceptionally good recreational golfers).

The fourth player, who was standing on the tee with a set of right-handed clubs, said “O.K., great, I get my left-handed clubs” — the implication being that if he instead played left-handed, it would be a more even match. He headed back to his car, grabbed a set of left-handed clubs, and true to his word, proceeded to shoot a three over par 75.

Who was this mysterious fourth player? None other than the dashing Spaniard Seve Ballesteros. Golf fans everywhere have been saddened by Ballesteros’s shocking recent battle with a brain tumor.

Ballesteros, who retired last year, was a brilliant golfer who won three Open Championships, two Masters, and 82 other titles. He is best remembered for his flair and creativity: like hitting a shot from a car park in the 1979 Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St Annes.

My golfing friend conjectures that maybe playing left-handed on occasion helped Ballesteros learn to hit those creative shots which won him so many championships.

For instance, when your ball stops right next to a tree trunk, sometimes the only option is to flip a club around and try to swing left-handed. It is extremely difficult, because not only are you swinging left-handed, but you are using a club meant to be hit right-handed. My accomplished golfing friend has practiced this shot quite a bit, and says he once hit it 60 yards this way, but he averages about 20 yards.

He asked Seve that day how far he could hit it when in that situation. “About 150 yards,” Seve said. “It depends if I want a fade or a draw.”

Gambling on the Golf Course

It was my junior year at the University of Tennessee. I was playing the best golf of my career and one Sunday I went to practice at Pine Lakes golf course. Pine Lakes was a public course with a driving range that we were able to use any time we wanted to. The pro and owner, Ray Franklin was a Southern boy who used to bea great player in his day, until he got into a car wreck that ended his career. He would always tell us stories that seemed so astonishing that I would have bet he was fabricating them, but I knew better.

Anyway, I was on the driving range in the afternoon working on some short irons when this scruffy looking guy approaches me and asked, “Are you on the Tennessee golf team, boy?” I smiled and said “Yes I am.” It was pretty obvious since I had an orange Tennessee golf bag plus I had a white golf shirt that had Tennessee Golf printed on it. I was wondering what the hell this guy wanted.

He extended out his hand and introduced himself as Bill White. I told him my name and the next question he asked almost floored me. He looked me in the eye and said, “Do you want to play me for some money”? I stopped for awhile and thought to myself, hey, you can certainly beat this guy, go for it. So I told Bill, sure, I’ll play you for some money.

We stood on the first tee and made the bet. We were playing a twenty dollar Nassau with automatic two down presses and one down presses when asked, plus I had to give him seven shots each nine according to the handicap from the scorecard. Well, I had no idea what I was in store for. He was kicking my butt, because he was a gambler and knew the course pretty well and pressed every time he was one down when the next hole was a stroke hole.

I was standing on the seventeenth hole, down two hundred and forty dollars, thinking to myself, what am I going to do. I only had thirty dollars in my pocket and my checking account probably had another hundred in it. The only thing I had was my father’s 1972 Buick LeSabre. I certainly was in a bind, so what did I do, I asked if he would play me the last two holes for three hundred dollars. Plus I had to give him one stroke. I know I was stupid, risking my dad’s car, but I had no choice. I some how birdied the seventeenth hole and Bill made a bogey so we headed up the eighteenth with more money on the line than I ever dreamed of. I hit my tee shot on the short 395 yard par four down the right side of the fairway about 275. Bill hit his normal drive, 240 down the middle. He put his second shot just short of the green with an apparently easy chip shot left. I got to my ball and pulled out a nine iron and was so nervous that I almost couldn’t pull the trigger. I somehow kept thinking about losing my dad’s car. I looked at the pin placement and slowly took the club back and tried to focus on the flag.

Well, somehow I made one of the best swings of my life, the ball landed ten feet past the pin and since it was into the wind and I had a lot of juice on the shot, it spun back to within two feet of the hole. I turned to Bill and smiled, he also smiled and said, “Helluva Shot”

I made birdie and he paid me the sixty bucks. I was overcome with a sense of relief. He asked me what I was doing later that night? I told him that I had a date. He handed me his business card and told to stop at his restaurant for dinner. The business card said ‘Cherokee Supper Club’.

So I pick up Tammy at 6 o’clock and told her we were going to a new place for dinner. We arrived at Bill’s restaurant at 6:30 and when we got to the door, it was locked with rusted iron gates. I pressed the buzzer and this guy who looked like Lurch from the Adams Family show opened the door and said, “What do you two want?” I told him we were guests of Bill and he immediately opened the door.

We were seated in the corner of the place and were listening to a Country band playing on stage. All of a sudden, Bill strolls to our table and I almost didn’t even recognize him. He was dressed in a white suit, white lizard cowboy boots and a white hat. He sat down and told us that he would order dinner for us. He got up and left. I told Tammy that I was certain that this dinner would probably cost me a couple hundred dollars. Fifteen minutes later our dinner arrived, Filets and Lobster and a bottle of French wine. It was pretty amazing for a college date. After the wonderful dinner, Bill came back to our table and asked if we were pleased with the food and service. I told him everything was great, but that we needed our check, since there were only a few people in his place listening to the band. Bill smiled and told me that dinner was on the house.

I thanked him and asked, “Bill, I don’t want to sound strange, but you have a six member band, three bartenders, four waitresses and you have only a few people in here, how the hell do you make any money?” Bill stopped for a moment, looked me in the eye and said, “I thought you would ask me that, follow me!” We got up from the table and he took me through a long hallway and opened a door. My eyes almost popped out of my head, he had a full-fledged casino right in Knoxville, Tennessee.

I was laughing so hard. I stayed there till three in the morning playing blackjack. I became a member and went there every time I had a few extra dollars. Bill became a great supporter of the golf team and even threw a party for the entire golf team and had ten pounds of shrimp and steaks for everyone.

Bill, if you are out there and happen to read this, Thank You. I will never forget the Cherokee Supper Club.

Tom Watson’s Open

Where does Tom Watson’s Turnberry achievement rank in the great events in sport generally and in golf in particular? If Watson had holed that put on the 18th green on Sunday afternoon, would his achievement been the greatest ever for a golfer of his age – or should we not be surprised?Gene Sarazen, in his 1950 book “Thirty Years of Championship Golf’ says “there is no reason why a golfer should not be able to play acceptable golf almost indefinitely – until he is 65, let us say – as long as his health is good and his game has been built on sound principles” Sarazen believes that “good golf is simply a matter of hitting good shots consistently and a player can do this for many years as long as his swing is fundamentally correct”.

Sarazen was often asked to rate the players who were his contemporaries (between 1919 and 1949). He said that he rated players according to how many major championships they won and how long their period of success pasted. Top of Sarazen’s list are Bobby Jones and Walter Hagan. Jones often said that the hallmark of a truly great player was the ability to carry on as a successful golfer into a new generation.

Also on Sarazen’s ‘list of golfing greats’ are Jim Barnes, Tommy Armour, Henry Cotton, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan. It is interesting to note that, while Sarazen  also rates Harry Vardon very highly, Sarazen believes that Vardon belongs to an earlier era. Strangely, Sarazen never said where he would place himself on that list according to his own criteria. Sarazen won the US Open in 1922 and was joint winner in 1940. He may have won more had international sport not been interrupted by the Second World War.

So, where does Watson’s achievements place him in the all-time greats, bearing in mind that he won his first major in 1975? In an earlier era, he may have been awarded joint first place instead of having to endure that terrible four hole play-off.Tom Watson’s Open

My Visit to The Butch Harmon Golf School

Don Callahan

Earlier this year I spent nine days at the Butch Harmon School of Golf in Rio Secco, Las Vegas.

This was my second visit to the school which is a great learning environment with high quality facilities, a great atmosphere and a policy of inclusiveness still rare in modern day golf.

All in all, the facility is a credit to Butch Harmon and his team.

For the majority of my time at the School, I was with Shawn Callahan and his father Don.

Shawn has worked with Butch Harmon since the School opened and has worked with many successful players including Darren Clarke and Mark Calcavecchia.

At present, Shawn is helping Chalie Hoffman to his most successful season on Tour.

Don Callahan was Head Professional at The Country Club, Brookline for 32 years and has had an unrivaled opportunity to observe the top players of his generation.

Ian with Don at The Butch Harmon Golf School

He is a remarkably knowledgeable and inquisitive student of golf technique and of the game in general.

Don and I spent hours debating the game and, in particular, the huge range of shot-making styles throughout the years.

We attampted to work out the  fundamentals of successful players from Seve Ballesteros to Tiger Woods (who, of course, was under Butch Harmon’s tutelage for seven years until 2003).

To find out more abut the Butch Harmon School, visit the website at

Bruce’s Castle at Turnberry

Turnberry, Ailsa Course on the west coast of Scotland will host the 2009 Open. The course was originally laid out by Willy Fernie in 1902. During the war, the course was used for military training and destroyed. In 1951 the golf course architect Philip MacKenzie Ross rebuilt the course as it is today. The 9th Hole “Bruce’s Castle” is the best known tee shot, set on the cliff edge with views across the Clyde to Ailsa Craig, the Isle of Arran and the Mull of Kintyre. The Lighthouse is situated on the remains of the Castle of Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland 1302 till 1329 . Best memories of the course are the “Duel in the Sun” in 1977 when Tom Watson beat Jack Niklaus by one stroke after playing the final 2 rounds in 65. Another highlight was the final round 63 of Greg Norman in 1986 to take the title.