Bobby Jones published golf tips in several newspaper columns back in the 1920’s. Fifty of these columns were compiled and printed in a book entitled The Best of Bobby Jones on Golf, published in 1996. Jones was quoted: “Stay behind the ball is a splendid maxim. Should your head ever get ahead of the ball, at any point in the swing, a poor shot will no doubt result.”
In Harvey Penick’s, The Little Red Book, published in 1992, page 75 is entitled “Stay Behind the Ball” “All great golfers move their head slightly backward before and during impact, but never forward. A golfer must stay behind the ball. I mean set up with your head behind the ball and keep your head behind the ball. If you move your head forward during your downswing or through impact, you will hit a wee, ugly shot, probably a pulled slice.”
Tommy Armour, in How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time, (1953) emphasizes: The cardinal principle of all golf shot making is that if you move your head, you ruin body action. In his 12 key points summary to his book, Armour lists key points 5, 10 and 12 identically as “keep your head steady.” Interestingly however, in all pictures of golfers’ swings throughout the book, the head is seen as behind the ball through the impact area.
David Leadbetter in 100% Golf, 2004, states: “the head and upper body stay behind the ball as you unswing and accelerate into impact.” Try to maintain your spine angle from the set up all the way to the moment of impact and don’t worry if your head has a little lateral movement. Your head and spine are behind the ball at impact.
Jack Nicklaus is the most steadfast about head movement. In his book Golf My Way (2005), Nicklaus offers this warning: “If you are hoping to improve your game through these pages, but can’t or won’t learn to keep your head steady throughout the swing, read no further. There is nothing I, or anyone else, can do for your golf game. Any shifting of the head, at any point from address to impact, will alter the arc and plane of the swing, which, if not a totally destructive factor, is certainly a complicating one.” All swing pictures of Jack show his head to be held steady, but also well behind the ball until after impact.
Like many golfers, I have tried dozens of tips and instructional techniques, all to little or no avail. It was not until I focused on this aspect of the swing, did I finally break 80, and that was at age 65. Since then, I have broken 80 several times and I am finally able to enjoy the game. Learning to keep the head back was not easy. It required considerable practice, much of which was done without hitting balls. New muscle memory had to be learned and such was not easy, particularly at my age. But with tactile feedback to the head, the bad habit of “looking up” could be overcome.
Tiger Woods published his book, How I Play Golf, in 2007 and already it has become a bestseller. He writes: “Impact should look like address. My spine angle is the same and my head is in virtually the same spot.” The accompanying picture shows his head to be well behind the ball. He concludes: “It proves how uncomplicated the golf swing can be.”
What makes the golf swing complicated is the often contradictory instruction that can be found in print and by word of mouth. Some pros will teach that the head should remain steady throughout the swing. Some will preach that it is OK to have some backward or lateral movement on the backswing and just before impact. Others will say to keep your eye on the ball. But NONE will suggest that the head come up, or move forward of the ball until after impact. As written above, most if not all pros will agree that the head MUST stay back and behind the shot through the impact zone.