“To waggle or not to waggle…”

Thirty years ago, when I was serving my PGA apprenticeship at a golf club near London, the standard training materials for teaching us to teach golf were drawn almost verbatim from John Jacobs’ excellent, no nonsense book ‘Practical Golf’. Long before the ‘Golf Channel’, Jacobs also used to broadcast golf lessons: black and white programs, which color my teaching to this day. He was mesmerizing. He could hit a ball without looking which was incomprehensible to me at the time. His stoop-shouldered yet effortless swing never missed and his reassuring tone helped the game to seem less daunting both for the students on the tee with him and for me in my living room. Until this point in the history of golf instruction- the late sixties, it was, with Jacobs and most other sources of instruction, customary to teach a ‘waggle’. Conventional wisdom held that this seemingly involuntary twitch relieved tension while alerting the various muscle groups of their impending deployment. Each golfer had their own interpretation, as personal as brushing teeth. With little variation, though, the ‘twitch’ was accomplished with the wrists, having lifted the club head to avoid inadvertently touching the ball. Then came ‘Jack’. Newly dominant on the tournament scene, Nicklaus’ archetypal modern swing- upright, open and with a self avowed avoidance of any conscious wrist involvement, was irreconcilable with his still traditional, wristy waggle. Newly unfashionable, waggles drifted out of golf instruction. A quarter of a century later, Justin Leonard won the Open sporting a new breed of ‘twitch’- wrist-free and accomplished by moving the lower border of the rib cage. This new waggle drives the club head to rise and maintains the clubface aligned tangential (no opening or closing) to the rising arc. Carrie Webb, Bob May, Mike Weir and a rash of others are reinterpreting the waggle in a way compatible with modern swings.

Though now rarely accompanied by any synchronized padding and repositioning of the feet (an unnoticed but integral characteristic of the old form), the new waggle does calibrate the distance and height of the golfer from the ball and previews the real backswing.

With both forms now shown to be helpful the choice is yours. Express yourselves! But match the waggle to the to the flavor of your swing- and keep it moving. It can be excruciating for your companions and ultimately ineffective to stall over the ball as Doug Sanders did toward the end of the 1970 Open constraining a wonderful BBC commentator, Henry Longhurst, to mutter, “Oh, just hit the ball”.

Franklyn Richards Director of Instruction Turkey Creek G C Lincoln California