By Tommy Armour
There are several reasons why Tommy Armour’s book was an instant best seller when released, none of which have altered over time. Armour is straightforward, almost in-your-face, from the very beginning. “Understand that this is not a book about a soft way to great golf. This book is, frankly a textbook and as such requires intelligent study if the reader is going to pass the examination on the golf course.” While this sounds like heavy work, it is not. There is no confusing clutter of extraneous or conflicting instruction. This “textbook” is more like a schoolboy’s dream. The book is relatively short, uses a large typeface, has numerous space-consuming illustrations and is discerningly written in a lucid style. Furthermore, the author states “There are simple and certain key positions and actions that I have indicated by having them printed in red in the following pages.” Great! It is like having Cliff Notes incorporated into the book: very useful for reference before that “examination on the golf course.”
It was with some trepidation that Armour finally agreed to write this book. A successful and internationally regarded teacher, he knew, without reservation, that the best instruction takes place on the lesson tee. There the master teacher will study the student and tailor the instruction accordingly. This partnership is not possible through the medium of the written word. However, Armour is satisfied he has done his share and puts it in our hands, literally: “It is a book to be studied with a golf club along side you, so you can pause while you are reading, take the club (the eight-iron is strongly suggested) and work out the point the text is covering.”
We have all heard “Keep it simple, stupid,” but Armour makes it out to be more like “Keep it simple by acting stupid.” It is a unique take. Humans are amazingly complex beings and we try repeatedly to make the simple complicated. Armour wants us to relax our natural propensity to think all the time, understand the essential things he has reduced the swing to, and no more. It is a formidable challenge, or is it? Once into the attitude of eliminating any superfluous thoughts, the swing can be seen as simple, and performed simply. This attitude is not limited to the swing but carries into course management: “Play the shot you’ve got the greatest chance of playing well, and play the shot that makes the next shot easy.” Armour teaches you how to use your brain, but sound advice aside, only you can engage yours: “There are at least six people who want to be taught golf to every one who wants to learn.”
Check your grip against the ideal model; it holds your swing together. How do you stand to the ball and how do you repeat it? Are you conscious of your footwork, the foundation of the swing? What is your particular “miniature swing,” or waggle? Is it smooth and rhythmic and do you practice it? Do you swing without delay when the waggle is completed, or do you rest the clubhead behind the ball for two or three seconds thus destroying its purpose? Learn why “The advice to swing back slowly in many cases is about the worst advice that could be given.” Deny or ignore at your peril that “there is some psychological mystery about the rushing at the top of the swing.” Learn how to pause at the top, whatever the pace of your swing, to obtain consistent timing.
Key to Armour’s philosophy is economy of movement and effort. He instructs with positive notions: “Think what to DO. That’s concentration in golf…I never try to teach by telling what NOT to do.” At the end of the book is a page with Armour’s 12-step program of the Simple Routine of an Orderly Golf Shot, often found in many a pilgrims' golf bag. Finally we come to putting, and the man who invented the term “yips” has the floor. Armour makes a point of saying that, although he holed plenty under tournament pressure, he cannot instruct how to make three-foot putts. Since putting is “feel” and difficult to teach, observations are useful tools: “bear in mind that you usually miss the hole farther by being short or past than you ever miss it one side or the other.” He cautions against over-reading on greens and explains that when a pro looks at an important putt from four or five angles, he is for the final two or three views, just verifying the line he has already chosen. “The majority or short putts are missed by looking for imaginary slopes and hitting the ball softly, trying to ‘baby’ it into the cup.”
Armour cannot resist telling a few stories throughout the book. They may complement an instructive point, or just break the tedium of the “study.” For example, there was an elderly Australian woman who only played putting golf. She was so good she beat Walter Hagen in a putting contest. Joe Turnesa won the Met Open once putting one-handed. The great player Harry Cooper had a pair of spectacles made so the hole appeared elliptical. The last two are from Armour’s own experiences. “I won the U. S. National Open with a putter I’d got a week before that event. A couple of weeks later it began disappointing me, and I gave it away.” Meaning he couldn’t sink a thing with it; go figure. Armour won the 1931 British Open at Carnoustie defeating the brilliant Argentinian Jose Jurado by a single stroke. Bernard Darwin wrote Armour “nonchalantly” sunk the final putt. Armour replies: “‘Nonchalantly?’ I couldn’t tell you, but my wife, who was in the gallery, says I went up to that three and one-half foot putt, laid the putter behind the ball, changed my grip from the putting grip I’d used on every other green of the championship, stiffened up and rolled the ball into the hole. I don’t recall seeing the putter hit the ball. ‘Nonchalance’ or almost paralyzed by terror?” At one time or another, we are all equal on the golf course for good and ill.Foreword by Herbert Warren Wind, Afterword by Herb Graffis