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A Golf Controversy Regarding the Swing

The question, “How do you swing a golf club?” , has no simple answer today or in the past. Almost 70 years ago, J. A. Hammerton wrote this verse that appeared in The Rubaiyat of a Golfer:

Myself when young would hopefully frequent
Where Pros and Plus Men had great argument
On Grips that overlapped, on Swing and Stance
But came away less hopeful than I went.

As golf became popular in the United Kingdom and then in the U.S. and other countries around the turn of the 20th Century, golf books became the primary source of swing instruction. Books were written by the major golf professionals of the time and by other self-proclaimed experts as well. One of the most prolific writers on golf and golf instruction in the early 1900’s was a New Zealander named Pembroke Adolphus (sometime Arnold) “Percy” Vaile.  Joseph Murdoch’s book, The Library of Golf, lists eight books by P.A. Vaile. (worldcat.org includes 130 entries for Vaile including a number on Tennis about which he also claimed expertise! See illustration above.)

In one of Vaile’s golf books, The New Golf, published by E.P. Dutton & Co. in 1916, Vaile almost lashes out against the idea that the left hand is dominant in the golf swing:

“The hoariest old tradition that ever fastened on to golf was the power of the left. It was more than a tradition. It was a fetich. Authors and journalists worshiped at its shrine.”

Vaile goes on to attack Vardon, Taylor and Braid (“The Great Triumvirate”) as well as Horace Hutchinson, the great amateur and leading golf writer of the day for their “moldy old idea[s].” Vaile first put forth his ideas in a newspaper article maybe eight years earlier. At that time he was attacked. In his words,

” I was in the thick of it. Anybody who bursts up any useless old tradition, or even gives it a bump, in London, is a fool, a faddist, a theorist, or a revolutionist. If he does not recognize this before he disturbs any of the dust of centuries, and if he is not prepared to accept the position kindly and patiently-and temporarily-he deserves all that is coming to him-and that is much.”

And in those days, attacks were not limited to prose:

THE LEFT HAND’S LAMENT
(Picked up on the links at
St. Andrews)

Since first by Heaven’s august decree
The Royal Ancient Game was planned,
I always was allowed to be
The Master Hand.

To Me did text-books all allot
The part of propulsative strength.
The raking drive, the brassie shot–
I gave them length.

The Right Hand was –poor thing!–designed
To guide the club, and that was all;
Mine was the power that lay behind
The far-hit ball.

Now come there one upon the scene,
Whose heresy fair turns me pale–
The Arius of the golfing green–
A wretch name Vaile.

He says our Vardons, Braids, and Whites
Don’t golf’s dynamics understand;
Their view of Me’s all wrong; the Right’s
The Master Hand.

If Fate would let me but devise
Some torture for this villain bold,
Who thus would revolutionize
Golf’s credos old–

Oh! then to ball of rubber core
I’d change him for a tidy spell,
And drop him in “The Swilcan” or
“The Burn” or “Hell”;

I’d lose him in the rock-strewn sand
Whence few topped spheres ejected come,
Of Musselburgh’s notorious Pand-
Emonium.

Clearly, todays controversies  – one plane vs. two; stack and tilt; Tee It  Forward – are mild in comparison.

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