14 May 2010
May 14, 2010

1960s RADICALISM

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DICK AULTMAN

1960s RADICALISM

“Eventually, most serious golfers discover The Secret—
at least a half-dozen times each summer.”

The 1960s were a time of upheaval in America, an era marked by widespread racial unrest, an unpopular war in Vietnam, and the assassinations of John F Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr. The Woodstock Generation led a counterculture revolution in music, art, and fashion while a tide of rebellion swept through the nation’s universities.

It was the most turbulent decade of the twentieth century, a time when everything was questioned and challenged, from religion to politics to sexual orientation. Nothing was sacred—not even golf instruction. In fact, it was the game’s leading publication, Golf Digest—long a bastion of traditionalism—that led the insurgency, by endorsing something called the square-to-square golf swing.

For decades, conventional wisdom had held that golf was a right-sided game, that the proper swing was a sort of throwing action of the club through the ball. This was essentially the way the first golfers played, using their hands, arms, and wrists to wield flexible- shafted hickory clubs for the low-trajectory wind-boring shots that the early British links demanded.

The square-to-square merchants, led by noted instructor Jim Flick, claimed that the major advancements in golf equipment— chiefly the advent of the steel shaft— demanded a new and better method, namely a pulling action of the left side, led by the muscles of the legs and back, that produced the longer and higher-flying shots required by the hefty, hazard-strewn courses of modern America.

The older method may have seemed more natural, especially to those who had played throwing games as youths, but the square-to-squarer argued that “the idea of pulling 10-15 pounds of hand and arm with 150 pounds of body is more logical than pushing 150 pounds of body with 10-15 pounds of hand and arm.”

At the 1968 Masters, Flick met with Golf Digest’s editors and put together an article that became the first of a lengthy series on the square-to-square method. The new swing captured the attention of not only readers but of PGA professionals across America who began teaching its principles. Virtually overnight, square-to-square inveigled thou¬sands of golfers. Dick Aultman, a left-handed three-handicapper who was then the Editor of Golf Digest, spent an entire summer revamping his own game—without much success—until a three-hour session with Jim Flick brought him to full enlightenment. “I discovered more about the golf swing in that period than at any other session in my life,” he said. “But, what’s more, I saw how the square-to-square swing could be put on paper in a way that would be applicable to the average golfer and easy for him to grasp. It was one of the most exciting things that had happened to me in my golf-writing life.”

The Square-to-Square Golf Swing: The Model Method for the Modern Player appeared under Aultman’s byline in 1971 and swiftly became one of the largest-selling instruction books in history while also establishing Golf Digest as a leading force in the teaching of the game. The Golf Digest Golf Schools appeared soon thereafter, with Flick as their leader and square-to-square as their foundation.

Over time, how-ever, the evidence showed that square-to-square hampered more people than it helped. The reason: It was a highly unnatural method that called for radical change—actually retraining the weaker muscles of the left side to dominate the stronger muscles of the right. As such, it required hours of practice and months of patience. Students usually got worse before they got better, and some never made it back to square one. Still, even today the method retains its dedicated devotees, and the logic of its teachings cannot be denied.

In putting together The Square-to-Square Golf Swing, Aultman showed a fine editor’s sensitivity, using simple, straightforward language—aided by illustrations by the incomparable Anthony Ravielli—to make a convincing case for an ill-fated idea. The excerpt is from the book’s most important chapter, on the back swing.

reprinted from The Secret of Golf  by George Peper (Workman Publishing/New York).