Wednesday, November 4

Timeless Swing Advice From the 'Peckerwood Kid'

By John Coyne

Copyright © John Coyne. Used with permission.

THE GREAT THING ABOUT READING GOLF BOOKS is that we can still keep learning from the pros, even if those great players are now playing in the hereafter and not on tour.

I recently picked up a copy of The Education of a Golfer by Sam Snead, who passed away in 2002. The autobiography was written by Sam with Al Stump and published by Simon and Schuster in 1962. The subtitle reads: He tells how a young hillbilly (himself) became golf’s biggest money winner. He passes his education along to you in the most practical -- and enjoyable -- golf lessons ever written.

True enough.

Take, for example, the first chapter entitled the "Peckerwood Kid." In this opening, Sam writes: "I was a hill kid. They called us 'peckerwoods,' and I could run a coon or a fat bear up and down ridges until he was ready to drop and then shoot him for the table."

At 23 he gets his first real -- paying -- job at the Greenbrier Hotel at White Sulphur Springs across the state line in West Virginia. Soon after being hired, he gives a playing lesson to Alva Bradley, then president of the Cleveland Indians.

At the time, Snead recalls in his book, he was still experimenting with his own swing and often used what he taught others to help his game. Such was the situation then with Bradley. We can all learn from what and how he taught Alva Bradley.

What I noticed first, just by reading the book, is how simple and direct Snead's instructions are. Using plain language, and not a lot of complex theories, he taught his student the fundamentals of the swing.

Teaching a Middle-Aged Baseball Man

Snead (and most pros) understand that aging golfers -- and Alva Bradley was over fifty -- have a restricted left side that keeps them from pivoting freely. Also, Bradley had a short back swing and because of his sizable paunch, swung so that the clubhead came back to the ball on an outside-in angle, a cut-across, that resulted in a banana-ball slice.

Still young Sam knew, and writes in his book, "Older men can't make as full a golf pivot as young players, but they can turn to a far greater degree than they suspect. First, they should loosen and relax their left side. Then they should use plenty of shoulder-turn action. Their hips may not be so supple, but they can still get those shoulders around and set themselves for a good cocking of the wrists."

With Bradley, Snead used baseball references, so the club's owner was comfortable with the lexicon that he knew, and told Alva, "Baseball players keep their shoulders practically on the same level when they swing….Now a golf swing's anything but flat: you want the right shoulder going up and the left shoulder coming down around under your chin on the backswing. On the downswing, it's just the opposite. Like a teeter-board."

Of Bradley's other problem, the loosening fingers of the left hand, Snead asked, "Would any of your ballplayers change their grip while in the middle of throwing to a base?"

By making these two swing adjustments Snead said, he corrected Bradley's slice and added 40 yards to his tee shots. Bradley broke 90 for the first time and began to play consistently in the low 80s.

Overjoyed by his success, Bradley gave Snead a $100 tip (no small amount in the late '30s), and told Sam to buy new clubs.

"But I needed clothes and transportation even more than clubs," writes Snead. At the time, Sam said, "All the clothes I owned could be packed in a shoe box." His wardrobe consisted of two white shirts, a sweater, and a pair of gray wool pants.

So the Peckerwood Kid went out and bought "a tin-lizzie jalopy, a dark suit, and a sports jacket."

Snead's book is full of good advice, sweet nostalgia of a simpler world, as well as an entertaining narrative of how a kid from the most unlikely of backgrounds could not only make the tour, but dominate it as well. The Education of a Golfer is golf history about a great player, and for all of us who love golf, it is also an instructional book that can help our game. It is really two educations in one: Snead's and ours.

John Coyne is a bestselling author of three golf novels and more than 20 other books. Pay him a visit at John Coyne Books.

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