John Jacobs: Changing the Course of Golf Instruction

To say John Jacobs is a towering figure in golf is putting it mildly. Few others have had such a wide-ranging impact.

While the Englishman's fame is greater in Europe than in the U.S., Jacobs' influence reaches all corners of the golf globe. He's considered a genius; he's acknowledged as “the father of European golf”; and according to Hank Haney, he's “the greatest teacher in the history of the game.” No doubt many others share that view.

Jacobs, 87 years old as of this writing, enjoyed a brief and relatively successful playing career. The high point came with his selection to the Great Britain and Ireland Ryder Cup team in 1955. Jacobs aspired to greatness -- once saying he “ever so much wanted to be the best player that ever was” -- but eventually realized “that I taught it better than I played it.”

On his way to golf's pantheon of celebrated instructors, Jacobs served as the first Tournament Director General of the European Tour (1971-75). He's credited with bringing the nations of the continent together with Great Britain and Ireland to forge the unit that now rivals America's PGA Tour as the world's most competitive.

It's an impressive legacy, for sure, but Jacobs has left an even bigger mark on the teaching profession. His methods are based on a premise that seems obvious today, but which he was the first to employ: the idea that any diagnosis of a flawed swing should start by studying the flight of the ball. By contrast, most teachers of his time – and many today – analyzed the student's swing relative to a predetermined set of fundamentals, then altered the swing to match the “correct” positions.

Jacobs' insights were valued by everyone in the game, from the lowliest amateur to the top pros. (Jack Nicklaus half-jokingly pleaded for his help during the middle of a round at the 1969 Open Championship.) Jacobs worked with a galaxy of stars, including Gary Player, Tom Watson, Peter Thompson and Tony Jacklin, who appreciated Jacobs' witty, down-to-earth charm as much as his swing wisdom.

As an author, Jacobs turned out widely read books including Practical Golf and Golf Doctor (the latter a play on his nickname, “Doctor Golf”). In 1976 he founded John Jacobs' Golf Schools & Academies, now with 13 locations across the U.S. In 2000 he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in the Lifetime Achievement category – fitting for a man whose legion of admirers include fellow teachers like Haney, Butch Harmon, David Leadbetter and Jim McLean.

“John Jacobs wrote the book on coaching,” Harmon said. “There is not a teacher out there who does not owe him something.”

And probably not a golfer, either.

Famous students: Jacobs advised or worked with the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tom Watson, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Ernie Els, Greg Norman, Peter Thompson, Tony Jacklin, and Jose Maria Olazabal. Oh, and actor Sean Connery, too.

Core philosophy: In Jacobs' own words, “The flight of the ball tells all.” Basic cause and effect, really – Jacobs simply starts with the cause and works backward.

To wit: The ball's flight – left-to-right, right-to-left, high and spinning, low and running – stems from the position of the clubface at impact. Clubface position is rooted in the elements of the swing. Of course, the swing itself is the product of the body's movement. Working from that concept, Jacobs observes the player's shot pattern to gain an understanding of his swing, then sets about repairing the flaws that cause mishits.

How the club arrives at impact, be it through textbook technique or an unorthodox sequence, never mattered much to Jacobs.

“The only purpose of the golf swing is to move the club through the ball square to the target at the fastest possible speed,” he once explained. “It doesn't matter how this is done or what the swing looks like – this is of no consequence at all – as long as it can be repeated time and time again.”

While some teachers espouse a hands-first method and others preach a swing controlled by the big muscles, Jacobs believes these units are inseparable – the swing is “two turns and a swish,” as he told Golf Digest.

Classic Jacobs-style tip: Let's stick with the hands-and-body-must-work-together theme. Jacobs teaches students that a slice is often caused by the lower body outracing the arms and hands, leading to an open clubface at impact. On the flip side, a hook happens when the arms and hands get ahead of the lower body and the clubface closes too early.

This drill will help you synchronize the two parts:

  • Using a gap, sand or lob wedge, hit a series of short pitch shots (20-60 yards).
  • On the downswing, focus on your right knee and hands reaching the ball simultaneously.
  • Proceed by hitting longer shots with the wedge, then repeat the series with longer clubs.

John Jacobs Changing Course of Golf Instruction

John Jacobs Changing Course of Golf Instruction

Teaching the game of golf is a serious challenge. Sure, millions of people love to play this game, but very few can play it well. Why is that? Well, simply put, golf is one of the hardest games man has ever invented. Despite the incredible advances in technology that have made their way into the game over the years, golf remains just as difficult as it has ever been. For the golf instructor, of course, that means the job of helping the average player improve is a tremendous challenge. Fortunately, there have been plenty of talented teachers step up to that challenge over the years, and few have been as successful as John Jacobs.

If you spend any amount of time following golf – whether online or on TV – you have probably seen advertisements at one point or another for the John Jacobs' Golf Schools. These golf schools are some of the most successful golf instruction ventures in the history of the game, with countless golfers having improved thanks to the instruction received over the years. Established all the way back in 1971, this business is still going strong today, operating in several locations. If you are serious about improving the way you play golf once and for all, a trip to a John Jacobs' Golf School is an investment worth close consideration.

In order to lend your name to a successful golf school, you need to have impressive credentials within the game – and there is no doubt that John Jacobs has just that. Jacobs was an accomplished player in his time, with two professional wins to his credit, along with one appearance in the Ryder Cup. His best finish in a major championship was a tie for 12th in the 1955 Open Championship. In all, he competed in 14 Open Championships, while never playing in a major in the United States.

Perhaps more influential than his accomplishments on the course were his accomplishments in other areas of the game. Jacobs acted as the Tournament Director-General for the European Tour from 1971 – 1975. In fact, many credit Jacobs for bringing the European Tour together in the first place. To go along with his golf schools, Jacobs also wrote books on the topic of golf instruction, including Golf Doctor and Practical Golf. Many modern golf instructors credit John Jacobs for laying the foundation for golf instruction that they have been able to build on in their careers. As evidence of his overwhelming impact on the game of golf as a whole, Jacobs was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2000.

In this article, we are going to take a look at the influence that John Jacobs has had on the history of golf instruction. Much of what we take for granted today would not have been possible if not for Jacobs, so it only seems appropriate that as many golfers as possible are able to recognize and honor his achievements.

Taking the Game to the Basics

Taking the Game to the Basics

There are a number of different reasons responsible for the success of the Jacobs' Golf Schools, but the focus on the basics and fundamentals of the game has to be one of the biggest single factors. Where many other golf instructors and golf schools try to go deep into the technical aspects of golf, Jacobs' Golf Schools focus on the practical fundamentals that will help a golfer perform at a higher level.

This kind of focus on the basics and the fundamentals is something that is sorely missing from so much modern golf instruction. In an effort to show how much they know, and how different they are from the crowd, many golf instructors go too far in trying to show off for their students. The average student doesn't want to be impressed with unique swing theory or other technical points – he or she just wants to play better golf. This is a point that the Jacobs's Golf Schools seem to understand perfectly. Rather than trying to show off their own knowledge, the instructors at these schools are focus instead on helping the student play better – which is exactly how it should be with every student/teacher relationship.

When you take a golf lesson, you want to make sure that your teacher is focused more on your needs rather than furthering their own career. This is a subtle but important distinction to understand. You don't need to stand out on the range to be lectured on swing technique theory – rather, you need to be out there working on your own game in a practical and productive way. As an amateur golfer, it isn't the advanced methods that are going to take you to a new level. Rather, it is the time-tested basic fundamentals that have served golfers well for many, many years. If you can find a teacher that is willing to work with you on these basic fundamentals, as is the case with the John Jacobs' Golf Schools, you will be on the right track toward a better future on the course.

Even if you don't decide to work with a professional golf teacher anytime soon, you can still learn from this focus on the fundamentals. During your own practice sessions, it is a great idea to boil the swing down to its most-basic components. When you do this, you will realize that the game is not nearly as complicated as you have been trying to make it over the years. Which fundamentals should be your focus? The following list is a great place to start –

  • Balance. This is always one of the first fundamentals you will hear discussed when the topic of golf instruction comes up, and for good reason. There are few things, if any, in the game of golf that are as important as balance. If you can remain balanced during your swing – after starting from a balanced position – you will have a great chance to hit a solid shot in the end. Even if you are making some other mistakes during your swing, it will be possible to still hit a good shot as long as you have balance on your side. This is a point that should always be near the top of your mind when practicing, and you should address any balance issues immediately to make sure your swing doesn't get too far off track.
  • Grip. You need to make sure your hands are in a comfortable and reliable position on the handle of the club as you swing. If your grip is somehow getting in the way of your swing, or if your grip changes from shot to shot, it will be almost impossible to strike the ball with any level of consistency. You are free to grip the club in a manner that is comfortable and natural to you, as long as that grip encourages a good release through the hitting area. Spend some time experimenting with various grips until you find one that gives you the confidence and performance you desire.
  • Rotation. The golf swing should be a rotational action, as power is going to be developed more through the rotation of your shoulders and hips than it is through sliding from side to side. You want to take out most of the lateral motion in your swing as you work on getting a great turn from your shoulders going back and your hips going forward. The players who do the best job of rotating in the swing tend to be the same players who are able to hit long and powerful shots.
  • Swing path. As the club moves through the hitting area, you want to make sure that it is moving directly down the target line that you have picked out for your shot – or, at least, the club should be moving as close to that line as possible. When you swing dramatically from inside-out or outside-in during your swing, you will have trouble producing anything other than an extreme hook or slice. Either way, you will have difficulty hitting your targets when your swing is not holding to a relatively straight and repeatable path through impact.

While it is easy to think of the golf swing as being a complicated and complex motion, the fundamentals of the game are actually quite simple. That doesn't mean they are going to be easy to execute, but they are at least rather easy to understand. With a grasp on the basic fundamentals that you should be aiming to improve, you can spend your time on the driving range in a productive manner.

Building On Your Game

Building On Your Game

There is something of a myth that exists in the world of golf instruction, and it comes from the notion that you can somehow 'start over' with your golf game when you wish to get better. Simply put, that isn't possible, and it is a mistake to attempt to improve in that manner. The swing that you currently use to play the game is yours, and you need to take ownership of it for better or worse. Sure, you can improve it over time – that is the goal of golf instruction, after all – but you can't just start from scratch. Any improvements that you make in your game are going to be based off of the foundation that you have in place at this point.

This is a concept that is not lost on the instruction found at the John Jacobs' Golf Schools. Rather than pretending that it is possible to start with a blank slate, the instruction offered builds upon what it is that a golfer already does in their swing. Not only is this a smart way to approach instruction, it is really the only way to approach instruction that is going to be successful in the long run. While many golfers hate the swing the make currently, there are almost certainly positives to be found even within the worse swings. By looking for the positives and using those to build on, it is possible for golfers to improve quickly without having to attempt to 'start from scratch'.

Again, this is an important lesson for you to learn from as you work on your own game moving forward. Even if you decide to work on your game on your own rather than with the help of a teaching pro, you should now know that you need to resist the temptation to try starting over as if you had never played the game before. Many self-taught golfers will stumble upon a new swing method and then try to implement that method regardless of the current mechanics in their swing. This is a plan that is destined to fail, and it is a big part of the reason why many golfers never manage to improve.

The next time you head to the practice range to work on your game, make it a goal to pick out three things about your swing that you like. It is easy to focus on the negative in this difficult game, but focusing on the positive is actually a great way to build toward success. As you go through your practice session, find positive points in your swing that you can use as your cornerstones for improvement. For example, you might find that you already do a good job of keeping your balance, you have a solid grip, and you are able to keep your head down through the shot with all of your clubs. If those points were true, you would have three great pieces of the golf swing already under control. Even if your shots aren't very pretty at the moment, you can take pride in those fundamentals and then work on the complimentary pieces necessary to round your game into form.

Golf is one of the hardest games in the world, and there is no shame in having trouble along the path toward better play. Rather than beating yourself up over what you do wrong, be happy about the things you do right and commit yourself to making progress in other areas. By building upon your current swing instead of trying to tear it down in order to start over, you will stand a much better chance at success in both the short and long term.

The School Concept

The School Concept

John Jacobs might not have invented the idea of the golf school, but he – along with Shelby Futch – have certainly been highly successful in developing it as a valuable model for player development. Countless golfers over the years have benefitted from attending a golf school, whether under the John Jacobs name or through another instructional program. If you have not previously thought about attending a golf school to take your game to a new level, it is an idea that is at least worth some careful consideration.

So what is it about a golf school that is so appealing to the average player? Consider the following benefits –

  • Comfort of a group setting. Some golfers are intimidated by the prospect of taking a lesson one-on-one from a qualified professional. Despite the fact that most golf pros and friendly and happy to help players of any skill level, there is still a portion of the golfing population that is uncomfortable with this idea. However, much of that anxiety can go out the window when placed into a group setting rather than a one-on-one environment. There will be a handful of other golfers (usually) in a class, meaning the pressure isn't the same as in a traditional lesson. Learning this way is more enjoyable, and more effective, for many golfers. Also, the other golfers are likely of a similar skill and experience level, so it is not uncommon to make friendships through golf school that can carry on for years.
  • Learning by observing. In a one-on-one lesson, it will just be you and the instructor, with the instructor responding to your swings with tips and mechanical changes for you to make. While that can certainly work for plenty of golfers, it isn't effective for every player. Some golfers will actually benefit more from watching others be instructed, which is something that regularly happens in golf school. Seeing another golfer work their way through a swing problem may be able to 'unlock' something within your own game that you have been stuck on for a long period of time.
  • Having fun. Most of the time, there isn't a whole lot that is fun about taking an individual golf lesson. Sure, you will very likely learn some things that help you perform better on the course, but you might not exactly look forward to your lessons. That should change if you opt for a golf school. With a bunch of other golfers around you, the mood should be light and relaxed, and you will probably want the day to go on for as long as possible. Golf is supposed to be fun, after all, and attending a golf school is a great way to put the fun back in the game.
  • Taking a nice trip. There might not be a golf school located near to where you live, but that doesn't mean you can't take advantage of learning the game in this way. Many who go to golf schools travel to a specific destination to attend school – and most of those destinations happen to be in warm, sunny, beautiful places. For example, the John Jacobs' Golf Schools are located in Arizona and California. You probably don't need an excuse to travel to somewhere warm anyway, but golf school can give you motivation to book a trip you have long wanted to take.

You certainly don't have to attend a golf school in order to elevate your game, but you might want to consider it if the points above sound appealing to you personally. One of the best things about golf is the opportunity to strive for improvement round after round, year after year, and a good golf school can help make that improvement a reality.

A Love for the Game

A Love for the Game

Perhaps more important than any specific achievement within the game of golf, the legacy of John Jacobs can be seen in the love for the game that his golf schools have helped to foster within thousands of players. As mentioned in the previous section, golf is a game that is supposed to be fun – no matter how hard it may be. By offering golfers an opportunity to improve in a support, relaxed, helpful environment, there is no doubt that the Jacobs' Golf Schools have led to countless people falling even more in love with this great game.

Keep this thought in mind during your next trip to the golf course, whether you are going to play or just hit some practice balls. Ask yourself, 'Am I having fun'? If not, why? You need to make sure that you put the focus on fun rather than performance when you visit the course, otherwise the game will simply start to feel like a job. You have enough work to do in your life away from the course – the time you spend on the fairways and greens should be filled with enjoyment, no matter what kinds of scores are landing on your card. It is easy to get too serious about this game as you strive for a lower score each time you play, but do your best to keep perspective at all times. Golf will never be more than a game, and it is something that should bring you enjoyment each and every time you get to tee it up.

There can be no doubt that John Jacobs has had an incredible impact on the game of golf throughout his life. Whether you know it or not, much of the world of modern golf instruction has Jacobs to thank for his many innovations and ideas. Through his popular schools, this legacy seems destined to continue on well into the future.