In this third and final installment of my interview with the legendary Bob Toski, the Master drives home his point about the simplicity of the golf swing. And why, if Tiger wanted his help, he’d have to visit Bob. Bob doesn’t do house calls!
If you missed Parts 1 & 2 of the interview, you can find them here:
Golf Conversations: How did you meet Jim Flick?
Bob Toski: Losantiville.
GC: Pardon me?
BT: Losantiville. Ask him about Losantiville.
GC: That’s the country club in Ohio?
BT: I want you to call him … I’m not going to tell you the story. Call Flick and tell him, “Toski wants you tell him about Losantiville.” I forgot to show up for this appearance. I didn’t show up. I blew it. I had the wrong date. He was in Ohio, I forget just how we really met but I liked him as a person, the way he talked. I said, “I want you to help me with the golf schools. I want you to start running my golf schools for me.”
And we would pick the people that we thought would … Peter Kostis, Hank Johnson, Tom Ness. And Golf Digest would pay them. But we would select the people who we thought were the best communicators … who had the best understanding of the simplicity of teaching the golf swing: a circle, a straight line.
[Bob’s voice goes up a few octaves, à la Julia Child] Oooh, it’s that simple!
Just think of how simple that is! It’s like a hammer – it goes up and down.
GC: So if someone didn’t agree with your philosophy, they weren’t hired?
BT: They had no choice. We’d already proven this concept to be successful. If you’d like to join us, good. And then we found guys that started trying to change it.
GC: Oh, really?
BT: Yeah, Jack Lumpkin was one of them.
GC: How’d that come about?
BT: I’m not going to go into that. I could be here until doomsday talking about all these people that have come up with what they think is a better idea of how to make a golf swing happen.
Just remember: the turning force and shifting force are responsive to a swinging force.
GC: You know, they have that senior tour event up in Hickory?
GC: This year, they have a new title sponsor called Ensure.
BT: Hickory? I was in Blowing Rock. I had a club in Blowing Rock: Hound Ears. It was run by the Tweetsie Railroad.
GC: Yes, yes.
BT: I was the first pro there.
GC: Well, Hickory is not that far from there. I was at the tournament’s media day three days ago and was talking to Jim Correll, the tournament director. He was saying how on Tuesday of that week they were going to have a Super Seniors pro-am. Don January, Bob Goalby, Charlie Sifford, and Gene Littler were all going to be there. So my question to you is: why aren’t you going to be there?
BT: You know what? I could have had a law suit. I’m not eligible.
GC: You’re not eligible?
BT: They’re all being paid good money to go. And I wasn’t eligible. Because I didn’t play long enough on the tour.
GC: Oh, for crying out loud! That’s absurd.
BT: Well, let’s not ruin my day.
GC: Ok. Now I’m going to do the word-association thing: I’ll say something and you react to it. Satellite distance finders.
BT: I can’t relate to what you’re saying.
GC: It’s a gizmo you can take with you on the golf course and it gives you yardages.
BT: You want me to give you one word?
GC: You can give more than one word.
BT: We played by what our eyes conceived and what our mind received. So you had to judge distance without the aid of anything.
GC: Yeah, I know. That’s why I am asking you!
BT: Well, that’s the way golf should be played!
GC: You’d like to see them go back to that?
BT: No, they don’t use that on tour.
GC: Not during a tournament, but in the practice rounds their caddies are using them.
BT: Well, that’s fine! But we never had that. We eyeballed it and in no time at all we learned to adjust through our eyes by trial and error. When you look at a putt…
GC: I know, you don’t use a range finder. I’m just curious to know your…
BT: Well I know you’re curious! Everybody’s curious!!!
This is the problem with golf: everybody’s curious!
You’re curious to find out what’s right and what’s wrong. And what’s good and what’s bad. And I already know the difference.
GC: Ok, next! Sports psychologists. Your reaction to them.
BT: A sports psychologist that’s never played on tour … or played the game under pressure, I don’t know how he can relate to a player that’s played under pressure. I’ve been there. I know how it affected me. And I can tell him how it might affect him. So I can psychoanalyze what I did and help him psychoanalyze what he should do. I can be a good sports psychologist because I’ve experienced that.
Bob Rotella is a helluva sports psychologist. He’s good. Because he’s a good player. And he’s probably the best playing sports psychologist, so he can probably relate better than most.
GC: Are you familiar with that Medicus training tool? You know, if you take it back too fast, it unhinges and so on.
GC: What’s your opinion of that type of device as a training aid?
BT: Well, that only proves one thing: in the golf swing, you push-pull, instead of pull-push.
GC: I’m not sure I understand.
BT: Stand up, please. If I were to move your body that way, what would I have to do?
BT: And when you swing a golf club, we move it that way, right?
BT: We push it and then it makes a …?
BT: Stay there! Don’t change that! Because that’s simple, don’t screw it up by thinking XYZ.
GC: No, I wouldn’t do XYZ.
BT: Now if I were going to move you forward, what would I have to do?
GC: Well, you would have to…
BT: NO! Just watch! Don’t start analyzing!
What am I doing?
GC: You’re pulling.
BT: That’s all the golf swing is. If I’m moving something backward, I’ve got to push it. If I’m moving it forward, I’ve got to what?
GC: Pull it.
BT: Is that a fact?
BT: Then why don’t we teach that? The golf swing is push-shift-pull. Most people pull and then…?
BT: 90% do it the wrong way. Now, where were we?
BT: The Medicus, it’s teaching you to do that. You push and pull.
GC: So you think it’s a good training aid?
BT: It’s the best teaching aid. That’s why it’s been so…?
BT: Well hasn’t it been?
GC: Yes! But I wanted your opinion.
BT: Well, I know that but you don’t need my opinion. You know if they sold that many …
GC: No, that doesn’t mean anything.
BT: Well, it proves a fact.
GC: Just because something sells a lot doesn’t mean…
BT: You can have my opinion but the facts are, if you get a product and sell more of it than any other product, there must be some reason why it sold more. Unless you have a helluva marketing program.
GC: Which often happens.
BT: Well, we know that.
GC: You can sell crap as long as it’s dressed up.
BT: There’s a lot of crap out there in teaching aids.
GC: That’s right.
BT: There’s a million of those.
GC: Your opinion of today’s equipment and golf balls. Have they gone too far?
BT: No. Why not “too far”? Let’s give you the reason why: why is the golf ball driven so far today?
GC: Well, the ball is better than the old balata balls. The equipment is much better with metals such as titanium.
BT: What percentage of that has increased the distance in which the ball is going to travel? What facts can you cite?
GC: Well, they have determined that say, 20 years ago, the average driving distance on the PGA Tour was, let’s say, 280 yards and now it’s maybe 295 yards.
BT: But they haven’t proved cause-and-effect. Go to your driving contests. There’s a Polack that just won – 380 yards. You know how fast his club head speed was?
GC: 135 miles an hour?
BT: 145. Now, did the weight of the club change while it was swinging?
BT: Did it change in length?
BT: Did it change in loft? Did the shaft change?
GC: No. No.
BT: Well why did the club hit the ball so far?
GC: Swinging faster?
BT: Mass times velocity squared. When I played on the tour in the 50s, if somebody swung 120 mph, that guy was really long. Now, the question is: why is today’s player swinging 145 miles an hour versus 120? Is it the technology of the ball and the club … or is it the size and the strength and the speed of the player swinging the golf club? Think about that a minute, sir, and give me the answer.
GC: I know what you’re saying … [I pause to think of how to respond]
BT: You can’t give me the answer because you don’t know the answer and you don’t want to guess!
GC: No, I’ll guess.
BT: Are you with me, Blumenthal? Is it Blumenthal?
GC: Yeah. I’ll guess.
BT: From a good Polack to a good Jew, ok?
GC: Ok! I would say it’s the player who’s swinging the club.
BT: When I hold court, I hold court!
GC: You certainly do!
BT: I’m General Patton. When it comes to fighting a war: this is the way you’re gonna fight it and win. If you don’t like it, get your f***ing ass out of here!
GC: Let’s see the pearl-handled pistols!
[Mac Schwebel, owner of Sherbrooke CC, stops by our table]
BT: Hey, Mac!
Mac: I was under the weather and in the hospital for five days.
BT: You were not! What was wrong? [to me]: This is the owner of the club.
GC: How do you do? Robert Blumenthal.
Mac: Mac Schwebel. Indeed a pleasure, Robert.
GC: I like your tie; it’s got all the NYC subway stations on it.
Mac: I was under the weather and everything turned out beautifully.
BT: You know what? They did the same thing to me last week. I went through all these tests and the doctor said, “It’s all in your head.”
Mac: That’s a nice feeling – “it’s all in your head.”
BT: You look great. Hey, good to see you again.
Mac: Thank you sir, you keep your head down.
BT: I’ll keep my head down.
GC: Nice meeting you, sir.
Mac: He’s always telling me to keep my head down.
GC: Noooo, he wouldn’t say that! That’s the last thing he’d say.
BT: I tell him to keep his eye on the ball longer.
GC: That’s not bad. Yeah, you could say that.
BT: What do you mean? I said it!
GC: Ok, you said it!
BT: Do I have to have your approval?
Mac: Are you with the Golf Channel?
GC: No. I have a web site about golf called Golf Conversations.
Mac: Well, all I can tell you is this man is the greatest.
GC: You don’t have to tell me that – I know that. That’s why I’m here.
BT: Now, where were we?
GC: We were talking about driving distance…
BT: Ok, here’s a formula that you can’t argue with: the average tour player is 6 feet tall, ok?
BT: The average player on the tour weighs 200 pounds. Now 6 feet is 72 inches, right?
BT: When a player puts a golf club in his hand, say a driver – what is the normal length of a driver?
GC: 43 or 45?
BT: Well, you’ve already gone too far …
GC: I think it’s 43.
BT: No. That was in the 50s. Back in the 50s, the average length of a golf driver was 43 inches. Now it’s 45.
GC: I almost said that.
BT: I’m interested in facts, not opinions that are wrong.
GC: Sorry! Sorry!
BT: Do you have any idea what your sleeve length is?
GC: Yes, 32.
BT: The average tour player, his sleeve length would be 34. So we’ve added a 45-inch lever system – a club – to a 34-inch arm. Which is a total of 79. And the player is 72 inches high. So he has a lever system that is 7 inches longer than his entire body. And if that lever system gets longer and higher, it has a greater chance to build more…?
GC: Club head speed. Well, if that’s the case, then how do you account for some of these shorter guys who hit the ball so far … like Jason Zuback, the long distance champion.
BT: They have quick strength and quick speed. It’s a quickness. Let me answer your question this way: did you ever see a midget on tour?
GC: We’re not talking about Corey Pavin?
[Bob shoots me a faux hard stare]
BT: Did you ever see a midget on tour???
BT: Now give me the answer why. You know in a heartbeat that…
GC: He’s not long enough.
BT: Well, he could be long enough. But he doesn’t have enough what?
GC: Arm length?
BT: No. If I dropped a golf ball on a piece of concrete from arm’s length, how high would it bounce? If I dropped the ball from the height of the ceiling…
GC: Obviously, it will go higher than when you drop it from arm’s length.
GC: It had more velocity.
BT: It had more time to…?
GC: Fall. Accelerate.
BT: Accelerate. Why do you think the players today hit the ball so far? Because their height and weight and speed contribute more to the distance the ball travels than the ball and the golf club. The fact is, if my hands are way up here and your hands are down here, which of the two are you gonna have the greater chance to…
GC: So are you saying that a flatter swing is not going to propel the ball as far as a more upright swing?
BT: The flatter swing can develop more speed but it depends on the strength and the velocity of the individual! It depends on the character of the person, like Hogan. But the point, the point that I’m trying to make – that you’re getting away from because you’re trying to be a scientific expert that doesn’t understand the golf swing…
… because you’ve been duped by all these guys that have these machines and don’t know what they’re talking about… the fact is, look at all these guys that are in these driving contests. Where is the shaft when they complete their back swings?
GC: Pointing down like John Daly’s, right?
BT: So the handle is that high and building speed and containing angle – Conservation of Angular Momentum. And then they’re getting more speed at and to and past the point of impact. Well, then if you don’t believe in fact, look at all the driving contests they’ve had for the last ten years, and look at all the golf swings: there’s not one that was short of parallel.
BT: So what does that prove, Mr. Blumenthal? That Toski knows what he’s…?
GC: Well, we always knew “Toski knows what he’s talking about.”
BT: No, no, I’m trying to prove a point, Mr. Blumenthal!
GC: Yes, sir.
BT: And we’re getting away from the fact that the club doesn’t know how heavy it is. The club doesn’t know how fast it can move. The club doesn’t know how high it travels.
GC: Well, let me ask you another question: Jack Nicklaus has been saying for the last 15 years that the ball is going too far. How would you react to that?
BT: He didn’t say that the players are hitting the ball so far because of the velocity that they’ve created. The golf courses are too short. Why do you think they’re making the golf courses longer?
GC: Because the ball’s going so far.
BT: When we played on the tour, 7000 yards was out of the question. A 500-yard hole was not a par-4, it was a par-5. ARE YOU WITH ME???
BT: Why are they making the courses longer and the par 3’s are 200 yards? Because the velocity of the club … These guys talk on TV and they say, “He just hit an 8-iron 180 yards” … I get so goddamned pissed off at these guys – they never tell you how fast the club head was traveling!!!
“Oh, he hit that 8-iron 180 yards!!!”
Well then, that club head must have been traveling a lot faster. And why don’t they tell the public how fast it’s going? I can’t swing that fast, so how far is my 8-iron going to go? 130 yards.
GC: So because these guys are better athletes…
BT: Well, isn’t that true in every sport?
BT: Did they say that the bat made a big difference and the ball made a big difference in baseball?
GC: Well, there was a time there when…
BT: Whoa! Because they didn’t understand…
GC: Ok. Next subject. Plumb bobbing and putting.
BT: I think it gives you an idea of the break of the putt. Relative to a straight line. And which eye is trained to see which way the ball is going to break.
GC: Ok. Your favorite swing of all time. Besides yours.
BT: I can best answer that question, Mr. Blumenthal.
GC: Yes, sir.
BT: The favorite swings that I see are the ones that are the simplest. If I see a letter “C” – which is all the golf swing is, sir. [Bob starts drawing on the paper tablecloth] It’s difficult to explain in golf how something simple can be so complex because we make it more complex. We think the more we learn, the better we can execute. We actually get worse. Paralysis by analysis.
This is a simple circle, that’s all it is. It’s a straight line from this circle. All it is an inverted “C.” When you push-pull… [Bob sees me taking notes] What are you doing?
GC: I’m writing down “push-pull.”
BT: Good! Good. You’re getting smarter.
GC: I don’t know about that.
BT: Something you haven’t heard before.
Just remember now: you move something back, you’ll always push it. You move something forward, you’ll always pull it. Why do they put a handle in front of a red wagon?
GC: To pull it.
BT: Why didn’t they put it on the other side?
GC: Can’t push it.
BT: You can push it.
GC: But it doesn’t go straight.
BT: Ohhhhhhhh! What’s the shortest distance between two points?
GC: A straight line.
BT: Have I made my point?
GC: You made your point when I walked in!
BT: I’m going to keep making my point!
I’ve got to get you to believe how important this is.
GC: I believe!!!
BT: Then you better tell this to the world!
GC: I will!!!
BT: Good! Thank you. Every golf swing moves slightly inward and downward and then comes right back to the line of play. How to apply the force, how to feel the force instead of forcing the feel … and understand how fast the force moves and how the body parts move to support and feel … this must be done by a trained, intelligent instructor. TII.
GC: One last question: the phone rings at your house. It’s Tiger Woods: “Bob, I need you to come on tour with me and be my coach.”
BT: “Sorry, I can’t do it.”
I’m not a traveling doctor. You want to learn how to play golf? Come see me. I have my office, I’m a doctor. I’m not one of those old-fashioned doctors that got in a buggy and traveled. These coaches today do that because they pay them so much.
GC: You know, in that recent Golf Digest interview with Hank Haney, when he talks about leaving Tiger … they asked him about that and he was very cagey about the compensation issue.
BT: Why was he cagey?
GC: I got the impression that he doesn’t get paid. I got the impression that he’s doing this for marketing reasons…
BT: You’re missing the psychological point, Blumenthal.
GC: What’s that?
BT: Because he knows he didn’t get paid enough. So he’s cagey to tell you that he was underpaid. Well, that’s his fault. You know what I would tell Tiger if he came to see me? “I want a percentage of how much you make.” I’ll gamble.
GC: You’re on commission! You succeed, I’ll succeed.
BT: Now I’m gonna give you another story that cannot be printed.
GC: Ok, I’ll turn this thing off.
EPILOGUE: And off went the digital voice recorder. Bob proceeded to tell me a story about a compensation issue with a tour player. It was quite amazing. Some of these tour players are pretty spoiled … not to mention cheap. I will honor Bob’s request and not divulge the player’s name. However, if he/she/it is reading this, you know who you are. And shame on you!
After our interview, we went out to Sherbrooke’s practice putting green to take some photos. Bob, always the teacher, couldn’t resist giving me another lesson. So he got down on his hands and knees and stroked a few golf balls into the hole by flicking his hand. “What does this prove?” Bob demanded. Before I could answer, he told me: “This shows that the golf swing is a hand-and-arm swing. And a putt is just a shorter version of the full swing.”
Then Bob posed for a few photos. I think you’ll agree that he looks great. Then I asked him if we could get a photo of the two of us. He agreed and then proceeded to set up the shot: “Ok, you look at me like I’m telling you something.” LOL! It was a great honor and privilege to be in his presence for two hours. [Note to Jim Flick:] And I didn’t pay for lunch, either! Thank you, Bob Toski. Keep on swinging!