The Waggle

In the last essay, I made the point that the golf swing is a lot like dancing. In that essay, the sequencing of the backswing was explained as H.A.S.H., which was the Claude Harmon idea. It starts for hands, arms, shoulders and hips. It is my opinion, that the waggle is a lost fundamental of the golf swing. All of the stand out players in the ‘30’s ‘40’s and ‘50’s employed a unique (all their own) waggle to connect the static beginning of a shot…when the club begins swinging away from the ball. It’s a long video but watching for a few minutes will give you the idea of what a good waggle looks like. In the ‘60’s, ‘70’s and 80’s, many of golf’s stars also used a waggle. In the ‘90’s and today, many of the PGA tour players don’t have much of a waggle at all. Here’s a Claude Harmon story from my days WFGC, and a little about what I think the waggle accomplishes,


When I worked at Winged Foot Golf Club in Westchester County in New York for Claude Harmon in the ‘70’s, everyday was a great day because I got to spend so much time with The Boss… I had breakfast and sometimes lunch and teed up the balls in every lesson he gave, but my favorite day was Saturday. It began with breakfast in the grillroom. The boss always had a big round table in the corner that held 10 or 12 people, and over breakfast he would tell many of his classic stories so those in the know, including me, didn’t miss a Saturday breakfast. The boss was the best storyteller I have seen in my life, they were funny and full of gestures and even sound effects. Depending on who was at the table, after lunch The Boss would get his golf cart and take me, as he called it, to go “check on the boys.” On one particular Saturday we drove up to the second tee of the east course and stopped some 20 yards away from the tee, so the players on the tee couldn’t see us. The boss looked at me and said, “Look at ole Bob squeezing the grip to death with his veins popping out on his neck, frozen still like a sphinx…I can guarantee his tee shot won’t be a beauty.” When Bob topped the ball off to the right in the bushes, The Boss drove his cart to approach the tee and said “Bob what’re you doing standing up there for 10-15 seconds over the ball frozen like a sphinx?” To which Bob shrugged his shoulders. The Boss then said, “I’ve got some of those long yellow legal pads in my office and tomorrow is my day off. If I took one of those pads home with me and spent my day writing down what you could be thinking about standing up there over the ball all that time, at the end of my day I am sure I could fill up a page or two. But if we reviewed the list next Saturday over breakfast, I can assure you one thing, there wouldn’t be a single good thought that would help your golf.”


The Boss was fond of Jackie Gleason and would often slide into Jackie’s dialect when he was telling a story. He would begin or end with Jackie’s classic phrase “who, who, who, whooooo!” And he said to Bob in a perfect Jackie Gleason accent, “Bob, you’re fond of music. Did you ever see the leader of the band or the conductor of the orchestra when the musicians were about to play, stand before them frozen with his arms stiff, beads of sweat forming on his forehead, all of sudden saying ‘GO’? No, here’s what he does… he goes one and a two and one, two, three tapping his foot and moving his arms. In a relaxed way, his arms approach the band and they know its time to start. In golf this is the equivalent of the waggle. The waggle is essential for removing tension to begin the swing in a rhythmic way without tension.” The hall of fame golfer Tom Watson says “don’t freeze: in addition to waggling the club, you should waggle with your feet. I see too many amateurs start the backswing from a static position.” So, the waggle is an important part of your swing. Having your own practice waggle before you start is important to avoid tension and establish a good rhythm for your swing. It really doesn’t matter how you do it (except for it shouldn’t last too long), just establish yours and use it!


Before I say anything else, watch the majesty and poetry and brilliance of Ben Hogan taking his waggle. ( Ben Hogan says “as a golfer looks at his objective and figures out the kind of shot he’s going to play, his instinct takes over: he waggles the club back and forth. During the waggle, as he previews his shot and attempts to telegraph his mental picture from his brain to his muscles.”


Things to Know About the Waggle:

  1. The Waggle gives you a feel for the weight of the club in your hands and the connection therein
  2. During the waggle, you establish the grip pressure that you’ll be using for the shot you’re about to play.
  3. You should waggle looking at your target and the greater you can connect with the target, the better off you’ll be.
  4. The waggle is a little dry run of how the backswing is going to go, the rhythm, the speed and the path. Many instructors say the waggle allows you to feel the synchronization of the backswing. I prefer the word “harmonize” for obvious reasons: Firstly I’m a music guy, and secondly because it uses the last name of the man who taught me most of what I’ve said.
  5. Lastly, here’s a 33 second clip on one of the most distinctive waggles in the game today. I include this because Dufner uses his waggle to great advantage. (


And a beauty to the waggle,


Some thoughts on golf.

I just looked at the long-range forecast and it looks bad for my Sunday golf game. Too bad! But its wintertime and I have a back-up plan if I don’t get to play. Here’s something that I wrote a while ago, but I’ve never posted it, so here it is …

To keep my expectations low, I have been approaching golf as a beginner, because that’s what I really am; having to re-learn the game after my stroke nearly a year ago. As a golf instructor I’ve taught a lot of beginners, and so I remember how hard and frustrating the game can be. There’s a quote by Mac O’Grady that talks about the only antidote to the emotional humiliation the game brings is the antidote of humor, but I must confess I’ve never met a single golfer who has been able to find their poor play funny, or laugh in the face of the desperation you feel when you’re playing really, really badly. Most of a golfer’s humor when the game is going badly is self-deprecating. I believe self compassion is the only antidote.

The quote goes like this: “Golf is a frivolous comedy of errors. Anybody who has played the game long enough, especially on the competitive level, has learned that an unpredictable array of events may sabotage your emotional equilibrium at the most unwanted moment. The only immunity to destruction is to inoculate yourself with the antidote of humor. Humor balances the spirit, the mind, so that we may forget the unbelievable, the brutal, the bizarre, the atrocities and all those crazy events that adventuate from the womb of golf.”

There have been plenty of people who have simply thrown their clubs away and walked away from the game because of the emotional frustration. My father, Ralph, quit one day cold turkey when I was twelve, and never really played again. And I have a friend who used to play before work each day, and one day he put his clubs in the dumpster and never played again. Mark Twain said golf was a good walk spoiled, and in Ron Green, Jr.’s article after the British Open, he had a great quote about the game, about why anyone would choose the game after being slapped in the face over and over again.

I want to try to describe part of why I think golf is so frustrating. In most games, the ball is moving, and so you simply react. You don’t have time to think. But in golf, the situation is totally different: the ball is stationary. So you have really too much time to think and plan what’s going to happen. And you often end up playing your shot with your tension up in your head, thinking how to swing. This takes away most of your athleticism, and when you miss it poorly, you think, “how could I have done that! The ball was sitting still!” You can’t blame it on the ball as you can in other games, like with baseball when you can blame the pitcher, or in football when you can blame the other team’s defense. With golf, the ball is just sitting there waiting for your swing.

My most humiliating golfing experience of late came the day after Adam Scott’s defeat at Royal Lytham in St. Anne’s. I hit shot after shot after shot where my club went into the turf behind the ball. I was hitting at the ball rather than swinging through towards the target, a very common mistake amongst golfers. The harder I tried, the worse I did. And finally I had to call it a day and come back the next day. Happily, I was much better the next day.

When I tell people I’m a beginning golfer, they say, oh but you hit shots that a beginner couldn’t hit. This may be true, but I also hit bad shots that all beginners hit. But I’ve seen beginners improve and my hope is that if I keep at it I can keep getting better.