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Golf Instruction in 20th Century


History of golf in 20th

Although both the first golf magazines and the British and American Professional Golfers' Associations appeared early in the 20th century, barnstorming professionals and Bobby Jones would continue to dominate golf instruction right up to the Great Depression. Huge crowds flocked to see Jones and Walter Hagen on both sides of the Atlantic, learning such secrets as Hagen' straight-line putting: drawing the clubface back from the ball in a straight line rather than a slight arc popular at this time. His innovation was important in the 1920's and allowed him to win many tournaments - but it is even important today with the increased emphasis on fast difficult putting surfaces.

The modern sand wedge and bunker techniques were also a by-product of the era - this popular innovation the work of several golfers, most notably Gene Sarazen. But the Great Depression had a devastating effect on touring professionals, and the age of coast-to-coast exhibition tours came to a close. The years between 1932 and 1956 are not celebrated in golf instruction lore, but that isn't to say that the instructors of the era weren't any good. In fact, club-level and local instruction were better in this era than at any time during golf's history, as aging tour pros such as Tommy Armour retired to club jobs while young pros like Tom Harmon decided not to join the nascent PGA tour, owing to it's low purses and often appalling conditions.

Ernest T. Jones was at his studio on Fifth Avenue in New York City, preaching the virtues of "swing the clubhead" at five dollars a lesson to all comers. In addition, the best northern pros would travel to Florida in the winter and pick up new teaching styles and techniques in winter teaching meetings, or on the winter tournament circuit. Finally, modern golf range equipment began to appear, eliminating the need for a ball-shagging caddie, and sparked a boom in driving-range construction. College-based instructional programs were also adopted by many major universities during these years, attracting future stars such as Arnold Palmer.

In the mid-1950's, largely due to television, a new golf boom began, and with tournament purses soaring and golf acquiring a certain cachet, younger amateurs and club pros abandoned careers in insurance, or on the practice tee, for glory on the PGA Tour. Prize money and endorsement income made millionaires out of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, and with thousands of dollars now resting on the success of this putt in the Masters or that five-iron in the Open, leading professionals began to openly seek the advice of golf gurus such as Gardner Dickinson, Bob Toski, Harvey Penick, and Jack Grout. In 1957 Ben Hogan's published his book Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf - a classic that has stood the test of time.

At the same time, Palmer, Nicklaus, and Gary Player parlayed their tournament success into an empire of instructional publications- magazine articles, television tips, and ghost written, handsomely illustrated books. National magazines such as Golf and Golf Digest capitalized on the newfound popularity of the game to achieve relatively mass circulations and a national forum of cutting-edge instructional techniques. Golf instructors too, found that golf magazines, and their increasingly visible work with touring professionals, brought them more business than they could handle on a local level. So, although golf schools had existed since just after the war, in 1968 the first national golf schools would evolve.

In the mid 1960s, researchers from the Golf Society of Great Britain, including authors Cochran and Stobbs, Produced "The Search for the Perfect Golf Swing." This was the first thorough scientific research into the intricasies of the golf swing as performed by British professionals, and the relative influence of driving length, driving accuracy, long and short approach shots and putting on score. They also discovered that all good golfers fall into one of two classes: "pushers", who minimize hand action and derive their power from body coil, and "rollers" who manipulate the club with their hands and arms, letting their bodies passively accommodate to the making of the stroke. They concluded that neither method was superior.

In 1969 Homer Kelley published the first edition of his book The Golfing Machine, having spent 28 years researching it.

Golf did not sustain in the 1970's the same level of popularity it had enjoyed in the 1960's, but significant changes were looming for the game as golf's expansion had created a large enough golf economy to allow for substantial investment in research and development. The groundwork was laid in the 1970's for radical transformation of turf preparation, golf club technology, and instructional technique. The cavity-backed iron, the metal wood, the graphite shaft, as well as revolutionary changes in irrigation technique and turf-laying, date to the 1970's. All would have substantial impact on the game as golfers achieved better and better control over the golf ball (in flight direction, overall distance, and spin characteristics.)

Golf instruction, particularly golf schools, would not enjoy a real economic boom until the 1980's but the influential theory of connection, video analysis of the golf swing, and the emphasis on big-muscle leadership date to the pioneering work of David Leadbetter, Jimmy Ballard and others in the late 1970's and early 1980's. Golf instruction also became more specialized, as teachers by the mid 1980's began to emphasize their expertise with "practical instruction" (John Jacobs), "short game instruction" (Dave Pelz), "women's instruction" (Penny Zavichas and Linda Craft), or "mental conditioning" (Bob Rotella and Chuck Hogan).

The 1990s has witnessed the proliferation of a whole slew of golf training aids. Some aids, like David Ledbetter's Swing Setter purport to serve in the place of an instructor's knowledge and advice. The Medicus, a swing tempo trainer has sold over a million units. Training aids have turned into a multi-billion dollar business with the products often pitched in half hour informercials on late night television. But the low-brow nature of the selling pitch does not necessarily reflect the utility or effectiveness of the products. For example, the Swing Jacket, a full swing trainer is used by over 40 Pros on the PGA Tour.