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Bursting the Vardon Bubble

Even today, the Vardon Grip remains one of the greatest fantasies of the golfing public. I say this not to question Vardon’s art. Nor do I say this to question any professional who employs and teaches the Vardon Grip today. Yet by proving the Vardon fantasy, we can ferret out the essence of pure action from among the variety of styles we may use to connect with the club. This is altogether necessary since mechanization threatens to extinguish any hope for art or transformative experiences in golf. Intuition is key if we are to destroy our illusion that form exists apart from action.

Before I set out to prove my hypothesis, one vital point must be acknowledged. The question of "How" alone, creates a conflict. We could call this conflict the "tension of consciousness." This tension is what destroys intuition and true swing. The tension of consciousness can be likened to holding a wakeful child as opposed to holding a sleeping one. The weight of the child seemingly diminishes when the child clings. If true swing is to emerge, that is, if true gravity is to emerge, the arms and hands must be like the sleeping child immersed in the gravity of unconsciousness. When we question the nature of our grasp on the club we awaken that sleeping child. Golf is truly an open-handed martial art with the unfortunate distractions of an implement to grasp and a goal to pursue. So underlying the question of proper grip is the problem created by the nature of question altogether. When we wake the sleeping child any style is corruptible.

To burst the Vardon bubble we need to look no further than the forty-eight inch, long shafted putter. With this putter the hands are split; the left hand (for the right-handed golfer) is drawn up along the shaft toward the breast bone with an overhand grip and the right hand remains in the "normal" position. With this action we are drawing the mass of the left arm in toward the axis of movement and replacing it with a length of shaft comprised of less mass. This works just fine for putting. The dynamic system of swing doesn’t need all that extra arm mass for putting. But as we move back from the green, the mass of the left arm must be called upon by the system of swing to propel the ball greater distances. Connection alone is not sufficient. This is what the Scott Robertson grip made so obvious. For those of you unfamiliar, Robertson is the Northern Ohio golfer who improved his handicap by fully extending his left hand and placing it on the club as if he were grasping a long-shafted putter. His left thumb rests on the butt end of the club with the four remaining fingers assuming an overhand position and the right hand assumes the normal position (See Golf Digest Aug. 1994 pp. 10-11). The swing, with the left hand upside down, looks like a contortionist’s day dream. Yet he was able to hit shots with it because he extended the mass of the left arm down to the proximity of the right hand. The form of his connection, though goofy and awkward, proved to be irrelevant. The style of the left hand connection is far less important than the fact that the left arm is connected. In this respect, Robertson’s claim that he had found the "One True Secret" of golf proves to be yet another example of "Pet Theory" delusion.

Having said all that, we now understand why we can swing putters with a split grip but not nine irons from one hundred and twenty yards out. We simply need the extension of mass for the full shots. This is not to say however that we cannot use a split grip on a nine iron for say, pitching around the greens. Here’s an experiment you may want to try around the practice green. Take that nine iron and set up to a ball as if you were going to pitch the ball up to the green. From the "normal" grip position slide the right hand down off the grip and toward the head of the club. The left hand and butt end of the club should now be up against your belly and your right hand somewhere on the shaft. Set up to the ball and swing the club with the right hand. You will find it works very, very well. You will also note that fine shots can be had with the left hand in either an underhand or overhand position. The only difference between the styles is that with an overhand left grip it will become easier to extend the left elbow in the direction of the target. It will also help extend some of the left arm mass out toward the circumference of the swing sphere. This will help add distance. I encourage the golfer to try both methods.

In fact, a wonderful training club can be made by epoxying a forty eight inch putter shaft into the head of a nine iron. You will want to wrap it with a long, symmetrical and continuous grip to make it USGA legal. This club is being made available under the trade name "Spalding Niblick". I recommend this club be used primarily as a practice tool, and secondarily as a play club in a two club tournament. The primary goal is to transfer the instinctive action promoted by the Niblick to the full extension required by the conventional clubs. Practicing with the Niblick will help the short game most profoundly. Here conventional wisdom actually holds true; the short game is the area where we can save the greatest number of strokes. This training club is useful because it is a kinematic device; it fosters pure swing motion.

To see a demonstration of this device, click here.

In summary: For full shots, it is only necessary that the mass of the left arm and its terminal point, the left hand, be proximate to the right hand and that the right hand have a "proper" intuitively square relationship to the face of the club. The Vardon Grip is therefore only one of many styles we may employ to accomplish this. Whether or not the hands are actually touching each other is an issue that’s far overdone. The question about the hands "working together" is dependent on the stability of the pendulum swing, regardless of whether the hands are touching. If the right hand is making contact with the connected pendulum, so as to properly phase the pendulum(clubhead), motion will take care of itself. Pure, instinctive and individual mechanics in turn emerge. You see, in golf there is always more than one right answer. That’s why intuition is so vital if we are to learn the un-teachable action of the pure golf swing.

Taylor Spalding is the founder of Golden Barefoot Golf, an organization dedicated to evolution in golf.


An abridged version of this article was first published in the May, 1996 issue of the Cleveland Area Golf Guide.

Now it easy to read this article and quickly descend into arguments over the dualism regarding the roles of the hands and their relationship to ideal forms. But here I only mention the hands to describe the roles of the hands as they are connected to the action of "Waning." A wide variety of physical forms are acceptable so long as they are subject to the purified form of motion. See "The Secret of the Waggle." There is a secret link to this article somewhere on this site.

Copyright 1996, Golden Barefoot Golf



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