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Idiosyncracies in Golf

The 18th Secret

One of the minor vices of some golfers is to believe that an idiosyncracy (a deviation from orthodox form) of a good player is a major element of a successful stroke or swing. Some idiosyncracies are really minor adjustments to a flaw in the swing, and are only necessary for a given golfer. Some idiosyncracies develop because the owner "falsely" believes that they are essetial; by giving him confidence, these then become "genuinely" essential.
Many idiosyncracies in older golfers date back to mannerisms picked up as youngsters, and have no meaning except that they are long-time habits without which they would feel uncomfortable. Some such habits border on the superstitious. I know one golfer who, when he was 17, won a tight match from a better player. It happened that he had a full bladder at the time. The further the round progressed, the more tension developed in his bladder and the better he played. To this day he will not relieve himself during an important match.
Some idiosyncracies develop out of emotional involvement. A golfing friend of mine used to aim as much as 30 degrees to the right of his target. A person whom he disliked had been the first to tell him of his error. He therefore denied that there was anything wrong with his stance, and then got into the habit of defending it. When this player heard that Hogan played with his right foot back, he stated, "I actually anticipated Hogan's theories." When I questioned him about it, he seemed to get excited. Suspecting an emotional problem, I took a picture of his swing with a Polaroid camera. When he saw himself, he agreed to take a lesson.
Another acquaintance has had the fortunate experience of a long friendship with a great golfer. He goes through a preliminary ritual in taking his stance and making his waggle, which is calculating, quite deliberate and impressive. As his backswing begins, however, there is a contrasting frenzy of uncoordinated motion directed at a ball that, like a surprised quail, heads for the nearest cover. Here again we have an emotional involvement—and one I haven't the courage or the heartlessness to attempt to enucleate. What could or should I say if he, with dignity, should say, "That's how Byron advised me to swing!"?
Psychologically, the trouble in both of the above instances was that the players had acquired an emotionally vested interest in supporting an incorrect position—a common cause of error among intelligent golfers.
Idiosyncracies in poor players do no damage to others, but when they belong to one who plays well, it is apt to confuse his imitators into believing that the peculiarity (or the shadow) is the chief reason for his playing well, whereas it might be excessive practice (the substance) which has produced a noticeable skill.We had an example of this in the realm of billiards. Willie Hoppe deviated from standard form. Instead of sighting from directly behind the ball, with the cue close to his side, he stroked the ball with the cue held away from his body. This was considered quite an unusual idiosyncracy. Hoppe learned to play when he was a child. In order to reach shots otherwise unplayable to him, he had to stretch his arms away from his body. After years of play, this became a part of his form, and he was playing too well to begin over.
Although it is possible that his unorthodox form contributed to his success, it is safer to assume that he had such great talent that he was able to carry a burden that would have handicapped those with less ability.
We are now posed with a problem. How can we distinguish between unorthodox form as such, and unorthodox form which may be equally as good as the standard methods or may even constitute our personal discovery? In my experience, the characteristic of a basic improvement in method has been dramatic and sudden improvement in the behavior of the ball. When this occurs, the chances are that something useful has indeed been discovered and should be tested well. Generally speaking, such attempts at discoveries should only be tried by those who are already completely saturated with an orthodox knowledge of the game or a particular shot.