Walter Hagen and a Feel for the Game

When Bubba Watson hooked that spectacular wedge shot 40 yards around the trees and onto the green to win the Masters, he said simply “I got in these trees and hit a crazy shot that I saw in my head.”  He saw it, he felt it, and he hit it.  Walter Hagen would have been proud.  For Hagen, learning to control the swing by feeling rather than by thought was the only route to a sound golf game.  Feel, art, imagination, experience, and mental toughness were his requisite qualities that made a champion.  Hagen’s understanding of golfing artistry was marked by a tolerance for a diversity of styles, whether technically perfect or not.  For him, it all boiled down to “sensibility,” a concept he coined and one nearly lost in today’s era of mechanical golf.  “Acquire and cultivate the feeling of the swing, by visualizing it,” he maintained.  “The club generally follows the inclination of the mind.”

The great Henry Longhurst once poignantly noted that in spite of Walter Hagen’s 11 major championships “it is Hagen, the man, who will be remembered more than Hagen, the golfer.”  He was “the Haig,” “Sir Walter,” a larger than life figure in the game.  We remember Hagen as a swashbuckler, the guy with a sway in his swing that sent the ball into parts of the course unseen by most golfers, but possessed of a magical short game that saved him time and time again.  Few ever consider his theories for playing the game, or the ideas that made him a great teacher.

His theories have a historical context and had an impact on some of the finest teachers of the last 50 years – Harvey Penick, Bob Toski, and Jim Flick among them.  Moreover, his ideas of imagination and feel have been embodied by players of various generations – such as Seve Ballesteros thirty-five years ago and Bubba Watson today.  It is helpful to demonstrate the evolution of the game and politely remind people that the likes of Butch Harmon and Sean Foley did not invent golf instruction.

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One Response to “Walter Hagen and a Feel for the Game”

  1. Allan Andrews Says:

    What a wonderful, insightful, and well written little article says so much. I could not agree more regarding the necessity to remember that feel in the game of golf is more important then Rigid mechanics.

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