Course of Style: Watson's New Instruction Book, "The Timeless Swing"

Course of Style: Watson’s New Instruction Book, “The Timeless Swing”

Tom Watson signing copies of "A Timeless Swing" Tuesday in New York.
Joe Schildhorn/

Tom Watson stole some time from his Masters preparations to attend a
cocktail party for his new book, “The Timeless Swing
(Atria Books/Simon & Schuster), Tuesday at the Rhinelander
Mansion, the newly renovated Ralph Lauren flagship store on
Madison Avenue in New York. (Watson wears Polo golf clothes
on tour.)

While debonair waiters distributed champagne in bubbling flutes and
dots of caviar on teeny-weeny blinis, Watson held forth on the profound
importance of … divots.

“It’s something that is not mentioned a
whole lot,” Watson said, relaxing on a sofa in one of
the store’s clubby, wood-paneled rooms.
“I mean, the divot itself, where it occurs in your
stance. When you make a swing hitting off grass, you have to catch the ball first. Your divot should start at the center of your
stance and go forward.” In the book he refers to
Ben Hogan’s divots, which he said were as a clean and
symmetrical as a dollar bill.

Golf instruction books tend to lead off with the grip. This
one begins with the importance of finding the “bottom of the
arc,” the point in your swing arc where the clubhead hits
ground. Watson then stresses hitting the ball just before this point
(with every club except the driver), to produce a semblance of that
magical Hogan-like, dollar-bill divot. He returns to this ball-striking
key again and again, like a leitmotif, throughout the book.

“The Timeless Swing” is a title that has specific credibility
when associated with Watson, who narrowly missed capturing the British
Open for the sixth time in 2009
at age 59. He also led the first round of the 2003 U.S. Open at 53.
Last year at the Masters, Watson posted an
opening round 67
, one
shot off the lead (he eventually finished 18th).

“I also start off the book with the spine angle,”
Watson continued. “If you keep it straight and consistent
you’re not going to mishit much.” For example, he
said, it practically eliminates the incidence of head bobbing.
“Recently, even a guy like Tiger, you see the head bobbing up
and down,” Watson said. “He wasn’t doing
that when he won all those majors.”

Written with Nick Seitz and with an introduction by Jack Nicklaus,
“The Timeless Swing” has sections on everything
from swing basics to shotmaking to developing a good,
rhythmical “waggle” (he says your final
swing thought should be “a rhythm thought”). For
the technically savvy, there are small icons, or Microsoft Tags,
interspersed throughout the text, which you can aim your smartphone
camera at, to take you to a video of the author giving a lesson. As you
might expect from Watson, a serious, modern instructional book.

While signing armloads of them, at $30 a pop, Watson, a
two-time Masters winner, was of course thinking about Augusta. His book
tour definitely takes time away from his preparation, he said, but
that’s not such a bad thing. “I don’t practice nearly as much as I used to,” he said. “Before, I used to just hit balls.”
In the book he stresses the idea of not practicing aimlessly, without
purpose. “One secret of Jack Nicklaus’s
greatness,” he writes, “is that he never hit a
careless practice shot. Never.”

His expectations for this year’s Masters Tournament are not
overly grand.

“I know my iron game has to be spot-on to succeed
at Augusta.” Watson said. “I don’t hit
too many short irons there. My mindset is to play as well as
I possibly can. That goes with my understanding that the course is at the outer limits of my capability right now, because of the length.”