GolfDigest.com regularly highlights golf books we find of interest to readers. This week is:
The Single Plane Golf Swing: Play Better Golf the Moe Norman Way
By Todd Graves, with Tim O'Connor, Brown Books, $29.95, hardback, 196 pages
The limitless potential each golfer possesses, no matter the unique nature of his or her swing, was never more evident than in the distinctively individual style of Canadian legend Moe Norman. Before he died at age 75 in 2004, he had for decades been the greatest player the public didn't know. He won 55 times on the Canadian Tour, but his infrequent forays outside his native land made him virtually unknown. His record shows he played just two majors -- the 1956 and 1957 Masters, listed in its media guide by his given name Murray Norman -- and in those two he missed the cut. He made a minor attempt to play the PGA Tour in the late 1950s. He was shy and believed to be afflicted with a social disorder, displaying odd mannerisms on the course that, coupled with his unusual swing method, made him an eccentric curiosity, tended to be appreciated mostly by fellow players who often considered him one of the greatest strikers of the ball ever.
Among those who label Norman a genius are devoted authors Graves and O'Connor. This is their second joint effort on Norman, having flipped the author order from 1995's The Feeling of Greatness -- The Moe Norman Story. While that book was more biographical, this one is mainly instructional. Norman was a one-planer; his club swung on the same plane from start to finish. Graves and his brother, Tim, began the Graves Golf Academy in 2000, and there "Norman swing style" is taught exclusively, making Todd Graves one of the world's major experts on the one-plane swing.
For all the mystery around Norman, when his swing is broken down, there is brilliance and even beauty to the method. As Golf Digest first revealed in a revelatory Norman cover story in December 1995, the swing produces great accuracy in spite of the funny appearance. Norman stood with his legs spread wide and his arms and legs stiff, the clubhead soled about a foot behind the ball. He gripped the club in the palms of his hands rather than fingers, and he appeared to take half of a backswing and follow-through, somewhat like a punch shot. All in all, quite unconventional, and amusing to the gallery. But Norman's style allowed him to swing the same with every club in his bag and each shot was struck solidly and flew with deadly accuracy.
This is a great-looking book, part homage to Moe and the rest a well-illustrated explanation of his swing method under the "single-plane swing" moniker. Some swing experts would say that Norman was a quirk of nature, with as a unique swing as Jim Furyk has and you can't teach their method. In Norman's case you see great reason to swing the way he does as opposed to conventionally, and this book does a marvelous job of explaining both and helping you decide if you want to make the single-plane leap.
If you get hooked on the Moe Norman story, I'd also recommend you try Lorne Rubenstein's 2012 book Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf's Mysterious Genius, and Natural Golf: A Lifetime of Better Golf, the latter written by Peter Fox and Golf Digest in 1998.
I particularly liked: The many biographical segments on Norman, along with the use of him from time to time in the instructional imagery demonstrating positions along with Graves. The color images are engaging and graphic elements pinpoint key instruction points quite well.
The world of golf has always seemed blessed by wise minds who bring sense and keen perception to the game's daily events as well as its overall development. Instructors have been a constant supplier of enlightened individuals through the years. Texan teacher Harvey Penick, mentor to Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite, oozed wisdom as well as anyone ever did. But joining the Little Red Book author in a shrine to the all-time sagest minds in golf would be his English counterpart, John Jacobs. It could be argued that they would be the two prominent faces on a monument to teaching brilliance.
With Jacobs turning 90 on Saturday, it's a good time to celebrate the man from Yorkshire County and son of a golf professional.
Jacobs was modestly successful as a playing professional, with two victories in 1957 and a 2-0 record in his lone Ryder Cup appearance in 1955 for Great Britain. That was the year he had his best finish in a major, a T-12 at the British Open, which he played in 14 times (while never playing the other three).
But it was Jacobs' astute mind and ability to study and analyze the swing that made teaching and leading, rather than playing, his more suitable roles. He was European Ryder Cup captain in 1979 and 1981, back when the U.S. was the team that couldn't lose. By then Jacobs had been a huge force behind the European Tour's growth, as founder and first tournament director, thus earning the moniker "the father of European golf." And in 1971, he and Shelby Futch had opened the John Jacobs Golf Schools and Academies, which still operates today. Jacobs delighted in teaching both pro and amateur.
Inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2000, Jacobs at one time was a Professional Teaching Panel member of Golf Digest, and authored 12 articles. He has written nine instruction books, but two stand out as his most astute and useful and worth trying to track down as a used book (go to alibris.com). Practical Golf, with Ken Bowden, came out in 1972 and can still be found in paperback. And 2006's 50 Years of Golfing Wisdom, is Jacobs' Little Red Book-type tome on all things golf.
An illustration of how Jacobs could communicate so logically is this passage from a February 1972 piece in Golf Digest called, "What Causes What in Your Swing and Why":
"Do one thing right in the golf swing and it will lead to another right. Do one thing wrong and it will produce another wrong. In this sense, golf is a reaction game. Never forget that fact. The world is full of golfers who say, 'I know what to do but I can't do it.' They can't do it because, whatever their conscious desires, their actual swing actions are reactions to basic major faults If you can turn your shoulders and swing a straight—but not stiff—left arm in the backswing, then unwind your hips while swinging your arms freely in the downswing, you won't be far from a very good golf game. If you can then add the feeling of hitting through the ball on an extended right arm, you'll be very close to exceptional golf."
GolfDigest.com regularly highlights golf books we find of interest to readers. This week is:
Your Short Game Solution: Mastering the Finesse Game from 120 Yards and In
By James Sieckmann (foreword by Dr. Greg Rose of the Titleist Performance Institute), Gotham Books, $27.95, hardback, 171 pages
Not only are golfers bombing it longer off the tee than decades ago, the distances at which they can be proficient with the short game seem to be increasing as well. That's if you use the 30-year evolution of short-game books as a measuring stick.
First was Tom Watson's 1983 classic, Getting Up and Down: How to Save Strokes from 40 Yards and In. Within the decade in 1989 came Raymond Floyd's From 60 Yards In: How to Master Golf's Short Game, and in the years after Floyd there were a few books that said you could be a short-game expert from 100 yards in. With James Sieckmann's new book, you can be good with the short game from 120 yards in; but he was beaten to 120 by Ted Hunt in his 2010 book, Ben Hogan's Short Game Simplified: The Secret to Hogan's Game from 120 Yards and In.
Watson and Floyd wrote from their careers as World Golf Hall of Fame players with a pair of the best short games in history. Sieckmann played professionally, and also soaked in playing knowledge from older brother Tom, a 17-year tour player with one victory. But James Sieckmann, who lists several dozen tour players as students of his, gathered his knowledge from studying great players -- including Seve Ballesteros and Floyd -- and devising a methodology he says takes the best features of great short-game players while going against some of the long-standing beliefs about short-game technique. He disagrees with such common thoughts as "don't let the club head pass the hands" and "lean toward the target at address." The operator of an academy at Shadow Ridge Country Club in Omaha, Neb., and prior to that a Dave Pelz School staff member, Sieckmann is insistent that hard work and diligence be a part of the learning process or improvement can't be achieved.
The focus of Sieckmann's method, which he professes to have been teaching since 1994, is the "finesse wedge system," which can be used for any wedge and for any shot situation. The system is a way to practice and learn based on what he observed from short-game artists. Some shots are named after a player, such as "The Raymond Floyd" for shots on an upslope. With its many charts, journal assignments and training plans, Short Game Solution reads more like a textbook or manual than a step-by-step, large-photo instruction book.
Being proficient at short shots is not a quick fix, it's a serious all-out effort, and Sieckmann's book gives you the blueprint to short-game proficiency if you're as serious as he is to learn. (Interestingly, Sieckmann presents the short-game swing as a different swing than the full swing, something that contrasts with what Tiger Woods has referred to with the recent work he has done with swing consultant Chris Como, where Woods says he is having trouble trying to match his short-game release patterns and impact points to those of his full swing.)
I particularly liked: The healthy number of drills spotted throughout. A good drill is often an amateur's best chance to understanding a technique and then master it. Also, many of the black-and-white sequence photos are run thumbnail size, making it tough to see details at times. An eight-page section of color sequences is a nice break from the smaller images and makes you wish every image was in color.
Practicing cack handed or left below right is great for setting your right arm in the correct position. Just don't hit the guy to your right— Lee Westwood (@WestwoodLee) February 23, 2015