Yeah, that’s right.  Throwin’ a little German down on y’all today.  (No need to open another tab and check out Wikipedia: it means ‘spirit of the time’ or something like that.  You’re welcome).

We all understand that technology has changed and is continuing to change the game.  At least we all hope it’s continuing to change the game, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many of us with white-headed drivers and hybrids in our bags these days.  Golf instruction on the other hand seems less malleable.  It has the flavor of eternal wisdom handed down and consistently ignored over the ages.  But if you look at a sample of golf instructional literature from preceding decades you notice that something is going on.  Golf instruction has evolved over time and teaching approaches tend to reflect the zeitgeist of that time.  (Remember, when building your vocabulary it’s important to look for opportunities to use new words in a sentence!)

To prove my point I have selected quotes from four different golf books.

The first, and oldest of the lot, is “Winning Golf” by Byron Nelson, published in 1946.  First off, you’ve got to love the title.  This ain’t about enjoyment or self-actualization (a concept not yet invented when this book was written). This is about winning.  You can’t get more forties than that.  There are a lot of photos of Lord Byron and they’re great.  In the picture of the proper grip there is no glove, just his tanned calloused hands and in the other photos he’s wearing high-waisted khakis and a white long-sleeved button-down shirt.  The bleached grass and leafless trees in the background suggest some course in Texas in the middle of winter.  The photo of his finish is like something from the portal to the Parthenon, simply classic.

But here’s our sample quote from Chapter 2, titled  “Concentration”:

“…a high degree of concentration must be invoked consistently in playing WINNING GOLF….It is laudable to be chatty and sociable on a golf course, but don’t permit your mind to be carried away on some distant train of thought.”  If this isn’t a stand up straight and fly right piece of advice I don’t know what is.

Our entry from the 50’s  is “Par Golf in 8 Steps” by Joe Novak. Already there’s a subtle shift.  Now it’s about doing things the proper way or performing to a standard.  It’s not as much about defeating your opponent as it is about following the proper procedures.  There are lots of photos of Joe looking  like Broderick Crawford in a button down shirt, lurid tie and wide brimmed Fedora. My favorite is this one of him leading a bunch of UCLA students in ‘swing practice’.  There’s Joe in the big hat and dapper get-up but what I’d like to know is how things worked out for the guy second from the left in the first line of students.  That is raw athletic potential folks.

“Only after long study of my difficulties in trying to teach ‘feel’…did I discover that a sound platform of American golf instruction could be established by a routine of position, rather than by vague references to ‘feel.’…This emphasis on the ‘mechanics’ of the golfer accounts for my formulation of a method of instruction….All the player has to do with this American-style routine is make his next shot strictly by the numbers…”

You couldn’t write a better parody of what golf instruction from the era of the gray flannel suit and the tract home should sound like.  We’ve done away with feeling because, well, that’s just not American, and replaced it with a play-by-the-numbers process. We’ve automated it because that’s the way we do things now that the future has arrived!

Next post: the 60’s and their aftermath

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