Ernest Jones was one of a handful of instructors during the 1920s and ’30s who earned a worldwide following. Until World War I, Jones was one of Great Britain’s leading young players, with aspirations for a successful tournament career. But he lost one of his legs during the war. One week after returning home from the hospital, he shocked the golf world by posting a remarkable 70 at his home club.
His loss turned out to be a gain for golfers everywhere as Jones focused his keen mind on teaching. In 1924, he moved from England to New York, where he taught for more than 40 years. Many of his lessons were given at an indoor studio in Manhattan, where he was based for 20 years. He also was the professional at the Women’s National Golf Club on Long Island.
Jones was one of the first instructors to use the available media to disseminate his theories. He was a contributor for many years to the magazine The American Golfer, and he wrote two instruction books.
Jones tutored Virginia Van Wie for many years, including during her stretch of three consecutive U.S. Women’s Amateur Championships from 1932-34. He also worked with Glenna Collett Vare, Lawson Little, and other top players of the era.
Jones is best remembered for his central theme: “swing the clubhead.”
Swinging into Golf, Nicholson & Watson, London, 1946
Swing the Clubhead and Cut Your Golf Score, Dodd, Mead and Co., New York, 1952
Jones’s teachings revolved around his thesis that by swinging the clubhead rather than worrying about what all the body parts were supposed to do would provide the straightest and fastest path to a golfer reaching his or her potential.
“The most amazing thing about the game,” said Jones, “is the fact that the poorest players are the ones who try to do the most. I am not speaking of the rank beginner, but rather of the golfer who has been struggling along for years trying remedies suggested by every person with whom he plays… I believe, rather, in simplifying the game by giving the pupil one definite and positive axiom to keep in mind every time he plays a golf shot. That is, ‘swing the clubhead.’
“The more you practice trying to sense what you are doing with the clubhead itself, and the less you know about what your muscles are doing, the more pleasure you are going to get out of the game.”
He was the first well-known teacher to sell the idea of a pure centrifugal force action. He based his teachings on the “feel” of a true swinging motion in the belief that the correct mechanics will follow. Jones said that the hands control the swing, with the large muscles of the body — upper arms, shoulders, and legs — performing as “admirable followers.”
Jones (like Boomer) never told his students what they were doing wrong, preferring to repeat what they did right. “I have invariably found,” he explained, “that the worst players are those who know almost everything that is wrong, and still want to know more of their faults.”
Jones also believed that the most valuable instruction pictures are those that depict the finish of the swing. He said that a careful study of good finishes was bound to result in the sensing of the three fundamentals he held sacred: control, balance, and timing.
The following instruction was delivered in Jones’s books and magazine articles written during the 1920s and ’30s.
HANDS DETERMINE SPEED
“Let us ask ourselves a few pertinent questions relative to the swinging of a golf club:
“First of all, what force causes the ball to swing away in its flight? We must inevitably come to the conclusion that it is the force applied by the clubhead itself — and that force alone.
“What type of force, then, can the clubhead develop? Careful thought will lead us to the discovery that centrifugal force answers our question. Centrifugal force can be developed only by swinging a weight through an arc or circle.
“What parts of the body affect the speed of the clubhead? The hands — and the hands alone. They are the only parts of the body which touch the club, and hence it is their action which determines the speed of the head as it comes into contact with the ball.
“All other motion of the body is related to the action of the clubhead only in the sense that it facilitates the work of the hands. Remember this the next time someone tells you to keep your left arm straight, to employ a lateral hip slide, to pivot fully. All these things may take place as responsive motions, but they are not primary actions.
“You will get a good deal further if you think only of swinging the clubhead with your hands.”
FOCUS ON THE ENTIRE MOTION
“Hitting a golf ball is not very different from driving a nail into a plank insofar as both involve the control of a swinging implement. Watch a carpenter as he swings his hammer so that the head acquires its maximum speed at the moment of impact with the nail. You can be perfectly sure that his mind is not cluttered up with thoughts of wrist cocking, pausing at the top of the swing, correct hand action, and the hundred-and-one other individual motions that make up the complete action of driving a nail into a board.
“If it were, the chances are that he would seldom, if ever, hit it at all. He has one thought in mind: Hitting the nail by swinging the head of the hammer in the most efficient manner possible. The rest takes care of itself.”
A SEQUENCE TO POWER
“Of course you have to hit, and hit as hard as ever you can. An expert axeman has to hit, but he has to learn to swing the axe to hit with. First you must know what the movement of the tool is. If you are trying to get the maximum force in the head of it, it must be a swinging motion, and, as I have explained, that can only be done through the medium of the hands and fingers.
“Next, get as much power into the motion, without overpowering the motion, of swinging, then get as much weight into that power, without overcoming the power you are trying to use.
“A blow must be in that order: motion, power behind the motion, and weight behind the power.”
FEEL THE RHYTHM OF A SWING
“Swinging in a golfing sense means moving the clubhead in a rhythmic manner under control through the sense of feeling in the hands. Learning to swing means learning to sense this control, so that you are able to know from the sense of feel whether the movement is a swing.”
CONTROL IS INTUITIVE
“Where do we get control to swing the club? Obviously once more it is possible to feel what we are doing with the clubhead only through the points of contact between ourselves and the club, that is the hands and fingers. If we have control, it means we can feel what we are doing with it. Mostly control is intuitive.
“For instance, in writing, we feel control of the point of the pen on paper, or in tossing a ball, we feel control to throw with the thumb and fingers. Thus we have to feel that we have the sense of moving the club in a pendulum motion, through or by means of the hands and fingers.”
SWING THE CLUBHEAD As indicated earlier, Jones’s central theme was “swing the clubhead.” He explained that using the swing’s centrifugal force built control, balance, and timing. He believed most players fought centrifugal force by pulling the club down instead of letting the clubhead swing. He taught swinging the clubhead with the hands, letting the body follow their lead.
Jones employed a pocketknife tied to a handkerchief to explain the feel of the proper action. Swing the hands and the knife follows. But try to apply what Jones called “leverage,” fighting centrifugal force, and the knife remains still and is then “pulled” into motion.
Try Jones’s experiment and swing a suspended object with your hands. This will give you the feeling of a pure swinging action, which you can repeat later when holding a club.