Conscious Control and the Lofting Shot

By John Duncan Dunn

John Duncan Dunn (1874-1951) was a course designer and teacher of golf. He wrote many magazine articles and several books, including Natural Golf: A book of fundamental instruction which shows the golfer how to develop his own personal style, 1931. He was also a great fan of F.M. Alexander, as the following article shows.

Reprinted from Golfers Magazine, Vol. 36, No. 3 March, 1920. pp 17-20

In golf, more harm comes from wrong teaching than from not being taught at all. This leads to many fairly successful players priding themselves on the fact that they never had a lesson at all. In a general way this leads to trouble unless the golfer starts very young and has the advantage of seeing a number of good players, in which case he will, no doubt, either consciously or unconsciously, have imitated those good players. One of the most striking examples a successful golfer teaching himself after he had become an adult is W. J. Travis, but most people would not care to make golf their life’s work.

In those days golf teaching was in an embryonic stage. Now we know all there is to know, thanks to action photography and the number of men who have made golf a study from every aspect, and it is possible to save a great deal of time in learning. What is the use of taking several years to discover certain things when by the going to the right kind of teacher you can learn them immediately? One of the best books for the beginning golfer and the older player is Man’s Supreme Inheritance, by F. Mathias Alexander. Here is a man who has studied out conscious control and has given it to us in book form so that we can really understand just what is required of us. Furthermore, as Mr. Alexander is himself a golfer, his views on conscious control are explained so that any player can carry them into effect.

The beginner who has grown up has certain things to unlearn, even if he has not played golf at all before. If the beginner did everything right from the start there would be no use for a golf instructor, but he does not. Moreover, one lesson at the start is worth dozens later on because many things that are seemingly impossible to correct and are also very uncomfortable, and are so easy to change when the wrong method has not become a habit.

Most beginners hold the club wrong, generally showing the fingers of the left hand, instead of hiding them and unless it is explained to them why they should not do it they do not want to change. All beginners rise up in the act of hitting. The older golfer will have a harder time overcoming such faults but it is worthwhile. Alexander says, on page 357 of his book:

“We must therefore make him (a pupil) understand that so very frequently in re-education the correct way to perform an act feels the impossible way. There is only one way out of the difficulty. He must recognize that guidance of his own sensory appreciation (feeling) is dangerously faulty and he must be taught to regain his lost power of inhibition and to develop conscious guidance.”

Conscious control is one of the absolutely necessary requirements of the golfer. If he is driving the ball all over the lot, first to the right, then to the left, sometimes too high, sometimes too low, he wants to know why he is doing this thing.

The best way to learn how to correct such a fault is to learn to do the thing wanted, at will. When my pupils have arrived at the stage where the hitting of the ball is more or less of a habit and comparatively easy, I take them out to a part of the course where there is trouble on either side and I mark the position of their feet for driving the ball straight down the middle of the course. Then I have them drive a ball down the middle.

Next I have them, without altering position, drive a ball to the right into a bunker placed to catch the slice. This ball will not be sliced but will be played to the right just as a baseball batter knocks a ball to right field. The golfer, like the batter, does not show by any alteration of position what is in his mind, namely to hit the ball to the right hand side of the course.

It assists him very much if during the preliminary waggle he takes a steadfast look at the bunker to the right. This helps him to direct the ball there and if you can play into a bunker at will, you can certainly keep away from it at will.

We again take up the position as for driving down the middle of the course and the player looks at the bunker on the left hand side. He is now going to play the ball into that bunker, just as a baseball batter knocks a ball to left field. You may say “I never played baseball so how can I tell how the baseball batter does it,” but there are so many baseball players in the United States of America that you can easily get anyone of them to show how he hits to left field. It is simply that his bat goes around in that direction. So does the golf club.

I am not talking about a pronounced hook in this movement, simply playing the ball to the left of the line so that it will make you immune from doing that thing unconsciously. If hitting it to the left of the line is your trouble, then hit it to the right of the line.

Whatever you do, do not lie down to a fault. Fight it, get it out of your system. You do not have to have it. You have a will power. Use it. If you haven’t a will power the sooner you acquire one the better it will be for your golf and for your general welfare.

I have had many pupils congratulate me after a course of lessons that they got a great deal more out of the golf lessons than the golf, not only that they had better health but that they felt they could do things they never dreamed of before, that they could concentrate better and that they knew they had not reached the age when it was impossible to learn things. We are almost entirely what we make ourselves.

There is no place where conscious control is more required than in the lofting shot. In learning to play this shot the first necessity is to be able to drop your right shoulder away down without hitting up the ground a long way back of the ball or without removing too much of the sod.

Quite the easiest club for the lofting shot is the mashie-niblick which I described in a previous article as the one more like a mashie than like a niblick. All mashie-niblicks are not necessarily good ones and they unfortunately vary somewhat in loft. Some day these clubs will probably be standardized so that a mashie-niblick will definitely mean a certain type of club. The only variation it will have will be in the weight of the head. The right kind of a mashie-niblick is one of the easiest clubs to use when you have to loft over something, but a difficult club to use over dead level ground, which is largely because of mind influence.

The sooner the player begins to realize that golf is a mind game, the quicker he will get results. This applies to people who take up golf when they are grown up. The caddie boy can do these shots without knowing why, he has simply watched a scratch player and imitates, like a monkey. But you cannot turn the clock back; the child does the golf stroke by imitation, the adult by intellect.

In playing the high loft over trees you size up with your eye the extreme top of a tree and if the putting-green is the other side, go out of your way to have a look at that also. Then expect to make the shot, expect to loft over the tree and lay the ball on the green. Don’t think how silly you would look if you hit the trees half way or ploughed up too much sod.

A good way to help to overcome the latter difficulty is to stand away from the ball and practice the shot once without a ball. I don’t do it, personally, because I do not like to do it. With others, on the contrary, it might help to bolster up their confidence.

In Figure 1 of the illustrations you will notice that the shoulder is very much depressed. The ball is nearer the right foot and there is a decidedly open stance. The position of the ball to the right foot and the open stance is not essential but the majority play the shot that way. You could play it equally well with the square stance or with the ball midway between your feet. I have even seen good players play it off the left foot. But I have what is known as the orthodox stance, as that position enables one to be better balanced with the right shoulder so much depressed. Observe that the blade of the club is lying slightly off, by this I mean that the club is rather more lofted than usual. This enables you to get a quick rise to the ball and a dead drop. Note in Position 2 that the club is raised more vertically than it would be for the ordinary approach shot. This gives one a swing more like the letter U. The ordinary approach shot swing is more like a crescent with the ends up in the air, with the part of the crescent nearest the ground flattened out a little. Everything else in Position 2 conforms to what has been written in previous articles. If the shot was to be over very high trees and to go as far as you could make it go the swing might be a little longer. But it will never be a full swing, that is, back to the horizontal, because this would make the shot more difficult.

In Position 3 (see below) observe how much the right shoulder has come under. It is noticeable that the shot is practically a right arm push. The ball can be seen going over the top of the trees. One of the important things in playing this shot is to know how much turf to take. Too large a divot means a foozle.

Position 4 was a higher loft than is necessary to go over the trees, so the ball is not in the picture, but it illustrates that considerable dip to the right shoulder is necessary to get a high loft. It should also be remarked how the back muscles have obviously been very much used in making the stroke.

Figure 5 was taken at some risk to the photographer as he was not far away from the line of play. This picture is one the best object lessons of this particular shot that the golf student can have because it was taken with such a fast shutter that the detail of the shot is very clear. When the shot is actually made by the player one does not get anything like such an accurate conception of what is required and it is only the camera, moving at 1/2000 of a second that unfolds to us the exact method of the shot.

Mr. Alexander, in the paragraph from Man’s Supreme Inheritance which I have quoted above, finishes, “The teacher must with his hands move the pupil’s body for him in the particular act required thereby giving him the correct kinesthetic experience of the performance of the act.” The last sentence, of course, in a golfing application could apply only to pupils who are taking lessons from golf instructors. This is quite the best thing for the beginner to do, particularly if he will first post himself on what constitutes correct golf instruction.

In anything that I may write I want make it clear that my ideas are constructive, not destructive. I particularly do no want to make pupils lose faith in their local instructor and if anything I may write may be of benefit to my brother professionals, so much the better. The fact that I quote Mr. Alexander’s book shows that I do not consider myself above learning. In fact, I am learning all the time and I propose to go on learning. There is no sun thing as finality; when a man believes he has reached it in anything he is ready to be retired.

Other people may have views and if their views are better than mine I am quit ready to adopt them. I believe in that form of plagiarism, if you can call it such. I am always ready to quote the source from which I receive an idea in teaching. Palman qui meruit ferat.

Correct Method of Making the Lofting Shot

Illustration at the top shows the address. The back swing is shown at the lower left, and lower right shows the finish of the swing.