Revisiting an old classic

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I stumbled upon this book when I was an assistant pro just starting out my career at Lilleshall Golf Club in Shropshire.

My boss had a copy of the book, one he’s had for years. During those winter months, when there was little to do, it gave the perfect opportunity to research and investigate all the different techniques and methods on how to play the game. So, I passed a lot of my time by reading.



In doing this, I found that there were a lot of things within the Hogan book that were simple for me to understand. As someone who found the game quite natural, I didn’t want to make it any more complicated than it needed to be. I just felt there were a lot of things in the book that addressed the technical aspects of the game in a language I could understand. There’s no doubt the book has stood the test of time.



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I know there have been a number of tour players who have had a copy of the book in their bag and have always referred to it. And despite the book being over 50-years-old, there are still players out there, whether it’s as a reference or a bible, who still go back to it.



As a coach, I feel we are being introduced to too much technology which can often be overused. Let’s not forget, around 500 years ago a golfer stood on the first tee at St Andrews and somebody said, ‘Look, the object is to get from tee to green in the least number of shots’. Today, that’s still the same job.



Whilst technology and knowledge has increased, I do feel, at times, the information on how to play the game has become too much for people to handle. Whilst I think technology is great for the game, sometimes simple lessons like these from Hogan’s book is enough of what we need to do.



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Lesson 1: There’s no excuse for a bad grip

One of the biggest influences on controlling the ball is the clubface, and the closest thing to the clubface is the grip. You would be surprised, however, that on the European Tour there are a lot of different grips, but most are fairly textbook.



For me, there’s no excuse for a poor grip. Hogan said your grip should be neutral, whether you’re interlocking or overlapping. The important thing is that the ‘V’s on both hands should point between the chin and right shoulder.



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If you can do one thing right, and stablise the clubface, you do it through having a good grip. That’s key for me. Grip the club well. It’s habit. If you don’t grip the club well, there’s really no excuse. You can say ‘it doesn’t feel comfortable’ but the benefits of a good grip far outweigh the disadvantages of a bad grip!



The right hand is always determined by the position of the left hand. Keep it very simple. Hogan talks about where you should place it in your hand and that’s fine.



DO THIS: Grab the grip. Make sure you can see two knuckles on your left hand and get the ‘V’ to point somewhere between your chin and your right shoulder. That allows you to put your right hand so you can see the ‘V’ points in the same place. Now you’ve got a very neutral grip but also a very natural grip, with the clubface square.



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Lesson 2: Don’t get lazy with your set-up

Hogan’s book says: ‘The proper stance and posture enables the golfer to be perfectly balanced and poised throughout the swing.’ Again, taking that advice and moving into today, the swing basically revolves around your set-up.



Nine times out of ten, when I’m dealing with a new golfer, whether that’s a top end amateur or a tour-proven professional, invariably most flaws will be found in the set-up. If I look at my coaching, I will tweak someone’s set-up regularly.



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No matter who I am working with, rarely does time go by where I’m not making a comment on set-up, whether it’s a positive reinforcement or something that needs to be improved.



DO THIS: People get lazy with set-up. Don’t be one of those golfers. It’s far more interesting to look at the technical aspects of the swing, the fancy bits - but they all revolve around poor grips, stance, posture, and that all leads to poor movement. People tend to try and fix the movement but not the cause of the movement.



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Lesson 3: Get the golf club parallel

Hogan always talked about the waggle and free-flowing nature of the takeaway, the first movement being with the arms connected and your elbows pointing inwards. For me, though, I think once you’ve got your set-up right - good grip, alignment, stance and posture - you’re ready to take the next move.



If you can keep the club shaft parallel to the feet in the early stages of the takeaway, you have given yourself a much better chance of keeping the clubface and club moving online.



Now, at the end of the day, you could probably pull up a number of pictures of players on tour who swing it too much outside, or some who swings it too much inside - but these guys are highly skilled and are able to make key compensations within their swing.



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What I’m saying here is that if you’ve got the opportunity to work on your movement, remember that the golf swing is not about perfection, it’s about being within the parameters.



DO THIS: If you can swing within a parameter where the clubface is close to parallel with your feet, you’re on to a good start. Remember that your takeaway sets the tone for what happens elsewhere in the swing.



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Lesson 4: Get to know your swing

‘The golfer’s execution of the backswing... his legs, hips shoulder arms and hands will be properly poised.’ What Hogan is saying is that if you get the club into the top of the backswing correctly, you’re poised to then deliver power into the ball.



Whilst I think it is important to remember that we swing through positions in the swing, it is sometimes useful that, when improving technique and developing better habits, you stop in various stages of the backswing to help improve your understanding, awareness and feel of what you’re trying to achieve.



You can see midway that my lower body has remained stable with the hips starting to turn. My good grip has allowed me to set the wrists correctly, creating a strong platform from which to continue to the top of my swing.



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At the top, you can see my left arm has covered my right shoulder and the butt of my club is still pointing down on the target line.



DO THIS: You can see that my club shaft isn’t parallel at the top of the backswing, like Hogan’s would be, but I’m not as flexible as him. My advice is not to go looking for perfection. My physical size, compared to Ben Hogan, is quite different. Whilst I use the book as a reference, I can’t swing like him. I’m a different build, a different shape, with different flexibility. I can use some of the areas as reference but I’ve got to remember I can’t swing the same as him. That’s important when you look at a tuition book. Pick the bits out that you can do and don’t try to strive to do the things that are physically impossible for you to do.



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Lesson 5: Learn to release the club

Hogan talked about the second part of his swing, the correct motion of the right hand at impact, that it resembles a throwing motion. It’s all about how you release the arms. If you look at it, you can’t pose this position because it happens when the club is travelling at its fastest. So, I often think that impact is a reflection of what else has gone on.



There is one common denominator you see amongst all good players at this point in the swing, and that’s how the right arm extends fully with the club after impact. It’s not bent. If you watch golf every week, you’ll see hundreds of different swings and styles.



Look at the recent European Tour win by Kiradech Aphibarnrat. Compared to someone like Jordan Spieth, they are both very different... but the one thing they both do the same is that their right arm extends when the club is travelling on a neutral path.



The lower body opens up with the weight on the left side. Whether you look at Hogan, Aphibarnrat or Jordan Spieth, the one thing you will notice is that specific movement.



DO THIS: If amateurs could get better at this tip, they would make big moves forward in their game. But remember that it’s an outcome of a good stance, a good grip and good preparation.



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..And a final thought

My advice would be to get a hold of this book. It’s in a language you can understand. Despite being written in 1957, it’s still relevant to today’s times. It talks about the grip, stance, posture, stages in the swing, but it’s addressed as ‘fundamentals’.



Having coached now for over 25 years, I’ve come to realise that it’s much easier to repeat a good swing if your fundamentals are correct. The more complicated you make your movement, the harder it is to repeat. If you’ve got these things under control and repeatable, you’ve got a good chance, providing that the 15th club in the bag - your head - is pretty decent.



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Kevin Craggs coaches a large number of tour players and amateurs. To book your own lesson with Kevin, call 08451 303433. Follow him on Twitter @kevincraggsgolf.

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