How I Play Golf
This helpful Bobby Jones downswing tip was 80 years ahead of its time
At the turn of the 20th century, golf was a game growing in popularity. The golden age of golf course architecture was underway. Yet even as the golf courses that we still treasure today began introducing themselves to the world, most golfers had very little idea how to play them.
Bobby Jones: How to break 90 (part 2)
That began to change in 1931 when Bobby Jones and Warner Brothers (Now Warner Brothers Discovery, the parent company of Golf Digest) launched a first-of-its-kind golf instruction series. Bobby Jones—just a year removed from his Grand Slam victory—tackled everything from equipment, to scoring, to the golf swing itself, in a way golfers had never seen before.
Here at Golf Digest, we’re re-issuing those iconic videos. Last week we took a deeper look Jones’ advice for golfers on the setup and backswing. This week, we’re diving into the downswing. His advice rang true then, and it holds true today.
A quick history lesson
Unlike the previous video, Jones opens his downswing episode with a quick history lesson. He makes the point that just as golf technology has advanced—in this case, from the feathery golf ball to the gutta percha—so, too, has our understanding of golf swing technique.
The ‘serious mistake’
Jones starts his downswing video with by outlining a simple—but severe—problem he seems amateur golfers make. Rather than transferring their weight from their back foot to their front on the downswing, their weight transfers from their front foot to their back. This mistake costs golfers consistency in contact, Jones explains and drains their move of power, as he shows with an average golfer below.
"The most serious single mistake the amateur golfer makes is in failing to start their weight moving towards their left foot before you begin to turn your hips. Watch how your body moves away from the ball as you hit it. Good form in golf means efficiency; the art or science of expanding upon the ball, all of the energy of the swing without waste. In order to accomplish this ideal, it is necessary that every movement of the swing contributes towards accelerating the clubhead. The swing can never be entirely efficient unless all parts are working together.”
Keep your right arm close
As unwelcome result of this reverse weight transfer is that golfers begin turning too soon. When this happens, Jones explains, their right arm begins moving out and away from their body. This sends the club over-the-top and is a common cause of golfers’ slices.
It’s a notion that still holds up today—so much so that you’ve almost certainly heard some variation of this before. But it wasn’t common knowledge back when Jones was saying it. He helped golfers understand the course and effect that we know so well today…
“The right hand can and very often does play havoc with a golfer’s intention to hit straight shots. The average golfer has difficulty in subduing this hand sufficiently at the top of the swing. When he turns himself loose to hit hard, the natural impulse is to hit with his right hand from the top of the swing. The correct movement keeps the right arm’s swing well inside the line of flight, where it can strike the ball squarely in the back instead of forcing the club to swing over and cut across the ball from the outside, the right arm should drop straight down almost as one piece, until the elbow is again close to the side of the body. There must be no attempt to throw the clubhead from the top of the swing with the hands and wrists. They must be saved for use later on.”
One fascinating nugget within this video is that Jones clearly and intentionally outlined that golfers should begin to shift their weight before they start their downswing, as they’re completing their backswing. This may sound like a small thing, but it’s a concept that modern day coaches call re-centering, and it’s something they’ve observed in the best players in the world. In short: The weight transfer, as Jones figured out, happens a lot sooner than most previously thought.
One clever way Jones referenced this was by placing two white discs either side of his hips, as reference points.
“The first movement of the downswing is a lateral movement of the hips forward towards the. The wind up of the hips during the backswing has turned the body around until the back is almost squared to the direction of play. The shift forward takes place before any turning movement is evident. It is only a matter of a few inches, but it serves to start the flow of weight in the right direction. The backswing turn starts with a turn away from the left foot, but the forward movement originates with a push off the right foot. The entire body moves a little bit forward before the hips begin to unwind.”
How to spot problems
Jones’ closing message is on this sequence of events to start the downswing (which you can learn more about here). It’s the pivotal move in both good golf swings, and for Jones, the first place he goes to troubleshoot.
“The order of movement is a part of the method of every first class golfer whose swing I've examined is defined by moving the hips first. And in my own case, I can say quite definitely that it is almost a determining factor in my game. When I'm playing badly, I can usually find the trouble right here. Under no circumstance should the weight be moving backward as the club is coming down.”