Losing half his right leg in World War I may have ended Ernest Jones' playing career, but it gave him insight about the golf swing that would profoundly impact how the game is taught.
Jones, a native of Manchester, England, was beginning a promising pro career when the war broke out. While he was stationed in France in 1915, an exploding grenade sent a mass of shrapnel into Jones' right leg, which had to be amputated below the knee.
Jones returned to the golf course after a four-month recuperation period. Walking on crutches but swinging on one leg, he fired an impressive 83 in his first round back, adding a 72 a short time later. Perhaps no one was more amazed than Jones, who wondered how he (or anyone) could play so well despite missing a critical body part.
His answer: When the brain consciously conceives a desired result, it will unconsciously work out how to achieve it and coordinate the muscle movements accordingly. It's an accepted concept now – and the basis of visualization techniques -- but Jones' idea was quite advanced for the time.
So, too, was his other revelation: That the golfer should focus on the simple act of swinging the clubhead, not the complex motions of the body involved in the process. “The more you practice trying to sense what you are doing with the clubhead itself and the less you know about what your muscles are doing,” Jones said, “the more pleasure you are going to get out of the game.”
Jones moved to the U.S. in 1924 as head golf professional at the Women's National Golf and Tennis Club on Long Island. He also set up a teaching studio on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, where he would give some 3,000 lessons per year – about five times as many as the average pro.
Ironically, Jones' philosophy caused some backlash among his peers, who feared its simplicity might hurt their business. Nonetheless, Jones gathered his share of acolytes, most notably Spanish pro Angel de la Torre. Manuel de la Torre, Angel's son, would later teach Jones' principles to legions of modern golfers.
One of the first teaching pros to promote his ideas through the media, Jones contributed to The American Golfer magazine and published two books, most famously Swing the Clubhead. Originally published in 1937, it's still regarded among the best, most influential golf books ever written.
Jones was honored with World Golf Teacher Hall of Fame induction in 1977, 12 years after his passing.
Famous students: Glenna Collet Vare, Lawson Little, Virginia Van Wie (three-time U.S. Women's Amateur champion)
Core philosophy: “The most amazing thing about the game is the fact that the poorest players are the ones who try to do the most,” Jones marveled. “I am not speaking of the rank beginner, but rather of the golfer who has been struggling along for years trying remedies suggested by every person with whom he plays... I believe, rather, in simplifying the game by giving the pupil one definite and positive axiom to keep in mind every time he plays a golf shot. That is, 'swing the clubhead.'”
In essence, Jones flipped the standard theory – that one must learn mechanics in order to swing properly – upside-down. His belief was that the golfer who concentrated on developing a feel for swinging the clubhead would naturally develop the correct mechanics.
Jones also insisted that because they're the only part of the body to actually touch the club, the hands were the primary movers in the swing. Everything else – hips, shoulders etc. – merely played a reactive role as “admirable followers,” in his words.
Indeed, Jones diverged from conventional methods in many ways. For example, he preferred to teach indoors so that students would not get caught up watching their ball flight. He intently assessed the finish position to determine whether a golfer successfully achieved three keys: control, balance and timing.
To get his point across, Jones often compared hitting a golf ball to the act of hammering a nail. Carpenters, he explained, think only about driving the nail, not the technique of swinging the hammer. He felt golfers should do the same.
Classic Jones-style tip: Unlike the vast majority of today's instructors, Jones didn't advocate pulling the club downward from the top of the swing, believing the leverage this created worked against the centrifugal force he sought to enhance.
To feel the swing as Jones taught it, take a handkerchief and tie a small object – he used a pen knife – to one end. Then do this:
- Hold the free end of the handkerchief as though you're gripping a club.
- Try to swing the handkerchief so that the heavy end passes through the impact zone in the same manner as the clubhead.
- If you pull the hands down abruptly, the heavy end will stay in place momentarily, instead of following the hands in an arc toward the bottom of the swing.
- Experiment with the drill to gain a feel of the proper swinging motion, then recreate the sensation with an actual club.
Ernest Jones Personal Hardship Revealed Secrets to the Swing
As a golfer, you are used to overcoming adversity on the course. Whether it is a bad bounce that puts your ball into a bunker, or a strong headwind that makes it impossible to reach the green in regulation, there are always challenges to be dealt with in golf. The best players are those who can take on these challenges and find a way to still shoot a good score. If you are looking for a game that provides you with smooth sailing each day, golf is not for you.
While the adversities that you will run into during the average round of golf might seem difficult to overcome, they are nothing when compared to the story of Ernest Jones. Jones was a golf professional from England in the early 20th century. A well-respected teacher and player, Jones is now a member of the World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame. However, his path to that honor was anything but easy. In 1915, during World War I, Jones was injured by a grenade and lost his right leg from just below the knee. After he had returned home, Jones went about the task of relearning how to play golf, and incredibly, he found that he was still able to play at a high level. In fact, in his first round without his leg, he shot an 83, which is a score that the majority of two-legged golfers would be proud to claim.
Jones didn't let the loss of his leg dissuade him from having a highly successful and notable career in the golf business. He moved to New York in 1923 and would spend the rest of his life teaching the game in the United States. Instead of dwelling on the fact that he had been injured in the war, Jones used that experience to shape how he would teach others to play golf. His teaching methods would be formed specifically by what he learned about golf in the process of teaching himself to play without the use of his right leg. In the end, the golf world as a whole would be better for the knowledge that Ernest Jones would bring to the game throughout his distinguished career.
Although Mr. Jones died more than 50 years ago, his impact on golf can still easily be felt to this day. If you are interested in learning how the golf swing works, or if you are simply interested in improving your own game, you would be wise to educate yourself on the teachings of Ernest Jones. He influenced many modern-day golf teachers, including Manuel de la Torre, who is one of the most prominent figures in golf instruction. In the content below, we will cover some of the basics of what Jones taught about the swing, and hopefully you will be able to apply those lessons to your own technique.
All of the content below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
The Club is King
Rather than focusing on the movement of your body during the golf swing, Jones believed that you should instead focus on the movement of the club itself. On the surface, of course, this makes perfect sense. After all, it is the club that is going to be hitting the ball, so why wouldn't you focus on how it is moving throughout the swing? Your body never touches the ball during the swing, so paying too much attention to the positions that your body occupies during the swinging motion seems like something of a waste of time. As long as the clubhead is moving through the ball correctly at the bottom of the swing, the shot will be a success regardless of what the rest of the body has been doing.
Of course, this kind of teaching was somewhat 'controversial', as it flew in contrast to the commonly held methods of teaching golf at that time (methods which remain in use today). Most golfer teachers instruct their students on how to move their body in order to move the club through the hitting area correctly. Those teachers believe that if the body is doing the right things, the club will have no choice but to follow in suit. In fact, prior to his injury, Jones himself may have ascribed to that method of teaching the game.
However, after he was injured and was forced to change his swing to adapt, he found that the only thing that really mattered was the movement of the club. If most golf teachers taught players to use the right leg in a certain way, yet Jones was able to play well without having a right leg at all, was that leg movement really important? Was any specific body part important, as long as the club was movement correctly? In Jones' view, the answer was clearly no. As long as the player understood how to move the club through the hitting area properly, a good shot would be the result regardless of what the body was doing during the swing.
Thinking about your own game for a moment, do you know what the club is doing throughout your swing, or are you more concerned with the movement of your body? Most players think about how their body is moving, and they trust the club to get into the right spot based on what they do with their arms, legs, shoulders, etc. While it is certainly possible to play golf successfully this way, it is also easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer number of things you need to think about during the swing. The golf swing takes less than three seconds to complete from start to finish, so you don't have time to process very many thoughts. If you are trying to tell your body to do four or five different things within that span of just a couple seconds, you will likely run out of time. Overloading your mind with too many thoughts is never a productive way to swing the club, yet that is exactly what many amateur golfers do each time they take their stance.
You don't have to be a complete 'believer' in the Ernest Jones method of focusing on the club rather than the body to see some merit in this approach. Every golfer should have an open mind when it comes to opportunities to improve, even if the ideas that are being presented come from a unique perspective. If you have always focused on your body rather than the club, it would be worth your time and effort to come at the game from a new direction – at least for a short period of time. You never know what will happen when you take a different approach, and moving your focus from your body to the club could leave you with the best golf swing of your life.
A Universal Method
One of the inherent problems with teaching a swing that is based on body movement is that no two bodies are exactly the same. Each golfer – and indeed, each person on the planet – is unique, so it is basically impossible to tell all golfers to move in the same way. If a golf teacher has a specific method for how each student they teach should move their body, that method is bound to work better for some students than others. If a specific player lacks the flexibility to move in a certain way, for instance, the overall method could quickly fall apart and the lessons may fail. On the other hand, if a teacher focuses on instructing the student on how to move the club correctly, that is advice that can apply to each and every player. Once the student knows how the club needs to move, they can set about the task of learning how to make that happen. In the end, the player should be left with an effective swing that works for their unique body type.
By teaching the movement of the club instead of the movement of the player, a golf teacher should be able to have success with a wider range of players. Some golf teachers are able to successfully teach a select few players to reach their personal best, but it is rare to find teachers who are able to help nearly all of their students improve. Among those who fit in that category, you will find many who choose to focus on the club instead of the body. Since the swing theory that focuses on the club is going to apply to more players, it only makes sense that teachers who use that method would be able connect with a longer list of students. Ernest Jones successfully taught countless players throughout his long career, and others who have followed along with his methods have done so as well.
There is another reason to be drawn to this method of teaching and learning the game, and that has to do with your ability to maintain your level of play over a lifetime. As your life goes on, your body is certain to change in a number of ways. You may get stronger or weaker, thinner or heavier, more or less flexible, and more. The only thing certain in life is change, so you can expect that your body is going to have different capabilities in a few years' time than it has today. With that in mind, you could begin to struggle with your golf swing as you age if you are used to focusing on the movement of your body. Once your body can no longer move as it does today, you will be at a loss for how you can produce good shots.
You could avoid that fate, however, if you learn to make a swing that is based around the club. The club isn't going to change over time, so you can plan on using it the same way throughout the rest of your golfing life. While there will naturally be adjustments that are made as the years go by and your body changes, those adjustments should come much easier when you are club-focused. You won't need to relearn an entire new swing when you come at the game from this perspective, meaning you can continue to build on your successes to hopefully shoot lower and lower scores well into the future.
Clarity of Thought
Golf is a mental game. For as challenging as golf is from a physical perspective, it is even more difficult mentally. The game has a way of getting in your head, and the 'demons' that run around inside your mind during a round of golf can lead you to make mistakes that you would never make on the range. Keeping a clear mind and having plenty of confidence in your swing is absolutely essential to success in golf.
Unfortunately, for golfers who focus on the body rather than the club, clarity of thought is nearly impossible to achieve. When your mind is full of various instructions for different parts of your body, you will be left to process all of those thoughts while swinging the club. As was mentioned previously, there really isn't time during the golf swing to think about everything your body needs to do before impact arrives. Most likely, you will become overwhelmed and your swing will fall apart in the process. Not only is this not an effective way to play the game from a scoring standpoint, but you probably won't be having much fun, either. Trying to think about four or five different swing keys at the same time is nobody's idea of fun, and it likely to lead to frustration and stress before it leads to good golf.
Many golfers have been deceived over the years by this point due to the fact that you might be able to keep your swing thoughts straight while on the driving range. If you are body-focused in your swing, it is possible to sort through all of your swing thoughts in time to produce some good results during practice. However, it is the task of taking that swing from the range to the course that trips up so many players. You have probably heard the complaint many times before, and you have maybe even made this complain yourself – 'I can't play as well on the course as I do on the range!'. If that sounds familiar, it is likely due to the number of thoughts that you have in your head. Those thoughts may not cause too much trouble while standing on the range, but they are likely to be a major problem once you arrive at the first tee.
The problem stems from all of the other things that you need to think about on the course. On the driving range, you can just pick out a target and swing away. There really aren't any consequences to the shots that you hit on the range, so you can hit the ball aggressively and watch it fly with little concern for the outcome. That line of thinking will change on the course, however. Once you stand on the first tee, you will have a long list of thoughts in your head that simply weren't present on the range. You will need to pay attention to the wind, the club you are going to hit, any hazards that are present, and more. The game gets much more complicated when you walk from the range to the tee, and when you add those complications to the many thoughts in your head about the swing, the results can be ugly.
Playing golf with a clear head is a great experience. When you are sure of how you are going to swing the club, you can keep your mind free to simply make good decisions and focus on shooting low scores. Unfortunately, most amateur golfers never get to experience the feeling of playing with a clear mind, as so many of them are caught up in thinking about how to move their bodies during the swing. This is one of the biggest contributions that Ernest Jones was able to make to the game of golf – the idea that you can free up your mind to focus on the rest of the game by simply swinging the club instead of manipulating your body to hit shots.
Find Your Own Way
One of the great features of the game of golf is the fact that there are so many different ways to accomplish the same goal. Every golfer stands on the first tee with the goal of shooting the lowest score possible, but each has their own way of getting that job done. Toward that point, swinging the club instead of focusing on your body will free you up to find your own personal style. You will only reach your potential as a golf if you are able to trust your own style and your own method, and the Jones teaching style really gives you room to do just that.
If you were to work with a golf teacher who tries to force you into specific positions throughout the swing, you will never really 'own' that swing. Sure, it might be able to produce some good shots here and there, but will you ever really trust that you can count on that swinging motion when the pressure is on? Probably not. Under pressure, people naturally revert back to what is comfortable and natural – meaning your body is going to want to swing the club in a natural manner when you get nervous. Your produced and rehearsed swing might work well on the range, and even for the first few holes of a round, but don't expect it to hold up when the nerves settle in to the bottom of your stomach.
There is also something to be said for the fun of finding your own way on the golf course. If you simply move your body in a way that you have been told to by a golf teacher, is that really an exciting accomplishment when it starts to work? Maybe, maybe not. However, if you are instructed on how the golf club should behave, and then you find your own way to make your body accommodate that kind of swing, you can feel real pride and ownership over what you have done. A swing that you feel like you own will hold up better under pressure, it will give you more pride in your game, and it will stand the test of time. The club will be moving in a way that has been proven to work effectively, but your body will be moving in a way that is unique to you.
When you watch golf on TV, you likely notice that there are major differences in the way that the players swing the club, yet they are all capable of quality play. The unique way that each professional golfer goes about the swing only furthers this point. They are all using the club in a very similar manner through the hitting area, yet each moves his body in a way that is unique. That should tell you one thing – you don't need to copy the body motion of other golfers to be successful. You need to use the club correctly, and your body will follow in line.
Ernest Jones might not be a household name, but that shouldn't take away from the profound impact that he had on the game of golf. Despite suffering the hardship of losing part of his right leg in World War I, Jones went on to have a highly successful career in the golf world. His influence can still be seen in golf instruction to this day, and your game would likely be improved if you would take some of his lessons to heart.