124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2

Golf Digest Logo From The Archive

These brilliant Bobby Jones swing tips still work nearly a century later

August 30, 2023

Bobby Jones did so many amazing things as a competitive golfer, it's easy to overlook another massive contribution to the game: He quite possibly invented the idea of How To golf instruction content.

Golf tips existed before Jones came along. But the man who won the Grand Slam in 1930 sought to organize, and popularize those pieces of advice for a wider audience. In 1931, he paired with Warner Bros for a series of short films designed to be shown before feature films. They were "designed as instructive" he said, but also not "so complicated that a non-golfer can't understand them."

Bobby Jones: How to break 90 (part 1)

Fast forward more than 90 years, and Golf Digest decided to dig those films out of the archive of our parent company, Warner Brothers Discovery, to see what advice we can glean all those years later.

The great Bobby Jones may have rose to prominence in a bygone era, but his advice lives on — and can still help golfers today.

A Jones essential: A relaxed and balanced setup

Players are shaped by the era in which they played, and specifically, the equipment they used. Bobby Jones' tools were made of hickory. Unlike the finely tuned instruments of today, hickory clubs weren’t tailored to the golfer swinging them. It was the golfer's task to adapt and mesh their swing to their club.

Considering these clubs were so stiff and unforgiving, Jones learned the only way to do this was to free his body of all tension, especially during the early part of the swing. Though our clubs may be more customized today, it remains good advice: Tension robs golfers of speed, and feel.

“Your first position should be as natural and comfortable as he can possibly make it. Relaxed muscles can move quickly and easily, taught muscles cannot.”

“The weight should be evenly distributed on the balls of the two feet. The knees should be slightly bent and the whole attitude should be one of lightness, from which easy movement in any direction.”

“The golf swing requires quick muscular responses in order to produce a smooth flow of movement, and to assure a perfect balance of the body, even when the action becomes very rapid.”

It's worth noting there's a feel vs. real element at play within Jones' words. Golfers' muscles do contract on the downswing — that's what creates speed. But in order for your muscles to forcefully contract, they must first relax and stretch. That's the first step of the stretch-contract cycle which powers golf swings, and underlines the intuitive genius of Jones' words.

Bobby Jones 3-step pre-shot routine

Jones realized, though, that a tension golf swing starts long before you begin your swing. The goal of the pre-shot routine, in Jones' mind, was simple: to free your body of tension; to aim at your intended target; and to mentally connect with that target. These are the hallmarks of every good pre-shot routine, and many tour players today still emphasize these qualities.

1. Set the club, then step

“It seems a little thing, but it is a fact that a player's approach to the ball can assist him greatly in falling comfortably into a relaxed posture. Continued movement allows no time for the muscles to set. Having approached at just a specific distance so the club can reach it easily, the club is grounded, so it will finish a measure of a distance from a player to the ball, allowing him to step into position.”

2. Look towards the hole as you set your feet

“A look towards the hole or down the fairway leads the left foot as it swings into position. The proper line has been determined. The placing of this foot sets a player's location in respect to the ball. The stance is completed when the right foot drops back into position.”

It's interesting how Jones sets his feet while looking at the target. Modern tour players often talk about being athletic, and connecting with the distant target. This was Jones' way of doing that.

3. Relieve tension by starting your swing with a hip trigger

“One leisurely waggle, and a quick twist of the hips to break up whatever tension may have crept in, and away we go.”

“It is easier to continue a movement once it has begun, than it is to make the begin. In order to encourage the hips to turn during the backswing, they are called upon to originate the movement. Just as the swing is ready to start back there appears a little movement of the hips and legs, which is usually referred to as a forward press. This is usually referred to as a forward press. the hips twist forward before beginning their turn away from the ball. This is added insurance against tension, and a means of starting the hips to move.”

The fascinating thing about truly elite players is that regardless of eras, they figure out the important stuff. Golf swing triggers are trendy in golf instruction nowadays both because they relieve tension, and promote a more powerful movement. Jones was doing it long before anyone realized those benefits.

Bobby Jones’ advice against the common backswing “fault”

The engine of every golf swing — good or bad, then or now — is a proper sequence: transferring your weight to your lead foot on the downswing as you turn through. It's a law of the golf swing, and Jones recognized it as a key to his move, too.

“A tremendous amount of power can be generated with a full wind up of the hips, and this is only possible when the stance and posture are so arranged that there's perfect freedom around the waist the leg and foot movement, which makes this full turn possible.”

"The most common fault is leaving too much weight on the left foot during the backswing, so that when the downswing is attempted, all the weight goes back to the right foot."

Jones has a such a beautiful, free-flowing move. It's unsettling—but quite funny!—to see him imitate an average golfer's move.

"I find it very helpful to feel the weight roll off the left foot, into the inside of the left foot on the backswing. At the same time, the left knee bends and moves over to the right, and the right knee begins to straighten, as the hip on that side is thrust backwards. Not all the weight is transposed to the right foot, but the player has stayed back of the ball, where he can move his body into the left side if the swing as he swings through."