Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Thomas Dickson Armour embodied the greatest melding of playing and teaching talent the game has ever seen. After immigrating to the United States in 1923, he turned professional and went on to win the 1927 U.S. Open, the 1930 PGA Championship, and the 1931 British Open — accomplishments that are all the more remarkable considering he lost the use of his left eye during World War I.
After establishing himself as one of the game’s finest players, Armour began to cultivate a reputation as a keen student of the swing and eventually as one of the game’s most successful teachers. He was legendary both for his fee and the large sun umbrella he sat under, drink in one hand, golf club in the other. He charged $50 per hour, during the Depression no less; it was by far the highest sum commanded by any teacher at that time.
Even though he only offered a few minutes of hands-on instruction during a lesson, he was often booked solid six months in advance.
For those who couldn’t afford a lesson, Armour produced three well-received texts on the game and appeared in many magazines and newspapers discussing the swing. How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time sold an unheard of 400,000 copies in 1953, the year it was printed.
Armour, who was prematurely gray, became known as “The Silver Scot” on the banquet circuit, where his talent for telling stories and his magnetic personality became legendary. His students ran the gamut from the greatest golfers in the world to celebrities and politicians. Folks from Bobby Jones to Richard Nixon spent time next to Armour’s umbrella.
The New York Times exclaimed in Armour’s obituary that “his impact on the sport for four decades was rivaled by few and surpassed by none.”
How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1953
A Round of Golf With Tommy Armour, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1959
Tommy Armour’s ABC’s of Golf, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1967
“My contributions to the very satisfactory progress of pupils have been made primarily on the policy of sound simplicity. This gives results,” explained Armour. “Your golf must — and will — be improved when you realize that our objective is to get a complex mortal to simplify the positions and actions in good golf as much as possible. I’ll tell you how, but I can’t do it for you.
“Possibly you have been made a victim of the great delusion in golf, that of believing that the answer lies in tricks rather than in mastery of the alphabet of golfing knowledge. I will have no part of catering to that fond and fantastic dream of the gullible.”
Sound simplicity is why, 45 years after the publication of How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time, the volume remains a classic. In all of Armour’s teachings, he focused on putting the body in position to allow the hands to deliver the club with maximum speed at impact while maintaining consistency.
Armour believed there wasn’t a first-class golfer in the world who didn’t have excellent hand action. He told students to “always have your mind made up that you are going to whip your right hand into the shot.” His main caveats to this instruction were that the body be in the proper position and the grip be correct. In particular, the right thumb and forefinger must be in a position to keep a firm hold on the club and the last three fingers of the left hand must not come loose at the top of the backswing.
The following thoughts are taken from excerpts of How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time, reprinted in GOLF MAGAZINE 25 years ago.
Keeping Control of the Club
“What very few golfers — outside the experts — understand is the difference between holding the club tight and not letting it get loose at the top of the swing. When I see a player hold the club tightly at address, I know that the odds are about ninety to one that the firm grip of the last three fingers of his left hand is going to open at the top of the swing, and he will never be able to regain control of the club for his downswing.
“The big idea — the essential one — is to hold the club at address with easy security rather than grim, tightening intensity. You can keep that kind of hold on the club throughout the swing. The last three fingers of the left hand hold the club firmly. The right-hand grip is relaxed, and not at all tight throughout the backswing and the early stage of the downswing.
“When your right hand grip does get firmer, just before and at impact, the tightening action will be spontaneous and without conscious effort.”
“The basic factor in all good golf is the grip. Get it right, and all other progress follows.
“To hold the club properly, let the shaft lie where the fingers join the palm of the left hand. The last three fingers of the left hand are closed snugly to the grip when the fingers of the left hand close around the club. The illustration shows where you should feel the firm points of pressure. You should keep the left-hand grip as near as possible to the root of the fingers.”
Pause at the Top
“One simple tip will infinitely improve the timing of most golfers. Merely pause briefly at the top of the backswing. This cures the worst fault in the golf swing, that of starting to hit from the top of the swing (creating an outside-to-in path through impact, causing a pull or slice depending upon the clubface angle). The hacker does this invariably.
“In practice, count as you swing ‘One-Two-Wait-Three.’ ‘One’ and ‘Two’ are counted as you swing back. ‘Wait’ at the top. Then, on the count of ‘Three,’ start your downswing.”
Keys for Crisp Irons
“To hit a good iron shot, your club must contact the ball before the sole of the club gets to the bottom of its arc. This puts backspin on the ball, eliminates hitting behind the ball, and gets the hands ahead of the ball as the shot is hit. Having the weight borne more on the left foot than on the right as you’re coming into the ball is the way of getting the correct downward path of the iron.”
“To let you in on one of the great secrets of good golf, which really isn’t a secret at all, one golfer gets more distance because he uses his hands for power, while the other fellow is trying to get distance by using his body.”
Eye on the ball?
“No other item of the volumes of golf advice given by the unknowing to the unsuspecting has been as fallacious as the urging to ‘keep your eye on the ball.’ You can move your head far more than enough to ruin your chance of playing a shot successfully, and yet, continue to be looking at the ball.”
“The waggle, which to most of the uninformed appears to be merely an expression of nervousness or indecision, is one of the very important parts of a successful attack upon the game.
“The purpose of the waggle is to get the muscles relaxed, and to give you a positive advantage in shot-making that you wouldn’t have if you were to start from a frozen position. The waggle is to a large degree the hand action of the swing in miniature.
“You see preliminary actions of a nature similar to golf’s waggle when you watch good players in other sports. Baseball’s good hitters pump their bats with their hands in preparing to meet the pitch. The receiver in tennis doesn’t stay still as he prepares to receive the serve, but keeps moving slightly. The muscles must be loose for instant and accurate response.”
Hit With the right Hand
Armour is often remembered for his advice to “whack the hell out of the ball with the right hand.” This swing key included the caveats that the grip must be correct (as explained earlier) and that the body must first be in the proper position.
On the backswing, a steady head and good lower-body action is required, which Armour said comes from working the left knee behind the ball. If the left knee gets into the correct position, the hips will turn, which coils the upper body and cocks the wrists.
“On the downswing, keep your head still. Your lower body is triggered by shooting the right knee toward the ball, which drops the club down into the ‘late hit position’ — the hands well in front of the clubhead. The longer you delay the hit, the more power you can apply ‘whacking the hell out of it’ with the right hand.”