Golf legend Tom Watson set aside his five iron to pen The Timeless Swing, an instructional guide reflective of the author’s storied career. From grip to follow through, Watson (The Rules of Golf, 1996, etc.) meticulously explores every facet of the game, laying out biomechanical fundamentals for both beginner and pro alike. Here, he speaks with Kirkus about the innate qualities of good golfers, what he’s learned from golf legend and friend Jack Nicklaus and where his own game could use a bit of tweaking.
To the uninitiated golf can appear daunting, but this book—or at least the pictures—makes it seem easy. How is that?
The objective is simplicity. Each chapter is simple in and of itself. The lessons are as clearly defined as possible so that anybody can understand what I am talking about. These lessons were all learned by me, some by trial and error in the practice range. The secret to my golf swing was more or less discovered out of frustration, because I wasn’t hitting the ball very well for a long period of time and I said “I’ve got to try something different,” and I had to think outside the box with my golf swing right now.
But most of the other ones were learned from books, observations and lessons. These are just reconstituted lessons that I tried to put in the proper order to make the chronology of learning the game very simple for people. You must start from the proper grip and proper posture. You must understand how hard you grip on the golf club, and then you take it from the waggle, to the beginning of the backswing to the top of the swing to the start of the downswing, to the impact area to the follow through. You don’t think about things like that when you’re swinging the golf club. You don’t have enough time to think about it, and if you did, you’d quit the game before you started because rigor mortis would set in.
Who did you write this book for?
The basic target audience is anyone who needs help with their golf game, and if you’re being honest about it, that’s everybody. I think everybody can get something from this book, including me. There were certain things about my golf swing that I hadn’t thought about, and I wasn’t doing properly that I went in and made some adjustments doing it.
Are good golfers born—or can Tom Watson make a better golfer?
I think there are certain innate abilities that make a golfer—the ability to read a green, to feel the speed of a putt, to hit the ball the right distance. Those are innate. You can practice all you want, but if you don’t have that feel or that putting touch, you’re not going to be a great golfer.
It helps to have the innate ability, but isn’t there plenty of room for improvement?
If you do the fundamentals correctly, then you can be taught. I’ve been with [golf icon] Jack Nicklaus many times at exhibitions where Jack would say, “If you have the proper grip and the proper set up, I can teach you. If you don’t, I can’t teach you to be your best. I simply can’t.”
You were a psychology major at Stanford. What would you say is the “golfer’s disposition?”
Well there’s a conflict with golfers—that’s the beauty of the game. You want to try to be perfect, but after playing for a little while you understand that there’s no way to be perfect—but that shouldn’t stop one from trying to be perfect. But you should also try to understand that in playing the game, you don’t have to aim at the flagstick all the time, you don’t have to hit a driver off the tee every time. You should be satisfied with a bogey or a double bogey, sometimes, given the situation. And you also have to understand the psychology of anger. It's OK to be angry—anger sometimes heightens your ability, but you can’t let it cloud your ability either. You can’t let it get in your way. And for many people, anger gets in their way.
Jack Nicklaus wrote the forward to your book, and he’s written several of his own. Why should people read your book?
Well, I'm younger than he is. I’m not saying my book is any better than anyone else. I wanted to do it to my thoughts about the golf swing down for posterity. After playing pro golf the years that I have, not to sound arrogant, but I think I’ve learned something about the golf swing and I think that applies to anybody who wants to swing the golf club properly, and I hope that message is conveyed by reading the book. My dad used to say, “Do as I do, not as I say.” I’ve kind of turned the tables. In this book, it’s “Do as I say, not as I do.”