top of page

Abe Mitchell-Ryder cup icon and swing genius

Abe Mitchell- a man of character. Acrylic on canvas-40x50cm

“No matter how good you are in the practice spells, you can only be called a golfer when you have proven your skill under the stress of competitive golf.”

Abe Mitchell

The short film I have made of Abe Mitchell tells a little about his life and analyzes one of the long-hitting swings of the past.

Intelligent, knowledgeable, and able to do what he preached, Abe Mitchell is one of the cult figures of the past. Much of what he wrote in his two books "The Essentials of Golf" and "Down to Scratch" can still be found in the golf teachings of today.

Abe`s swing thoughts:

The pivot

Abe made a point about not making a pivot. In his books, he explains:

"As the shoulders go round there is a twisting of the trunk which drags the left hip round." "The left knee bends inwards towards the right and the toe is holding and fighting against the tendency of the body to swing away from the hole."

Abe went on to say "The left leg will then be a powerful ally in bringing the trunk round again."

Despite advising the normal golfer not to deliberately focus on pivoting Abe did make clear how important it was to twist the body so that an adequate source of power was available. It was important to give the body momentum to "freewheel past the ball going forward." - Which perhaps meant you should pivot with good lower body resistance.

The waggle

"The waggle and start back"-watercolour and pen on 300g art paper.

Per most of the top players of his day, Abe stressed the importance of the waggle. He was particularly interested in its effect on the rhythm.

"I know of no first-class player who does not waggle, except the young American, Horton Smith."

The backswing and start forward

"At the top."Pen and ink sketch-22x30cm on 300g paper

Abe was very exact concerning the backswing and was even aware of the mechanics of swing plane before Hogan`s magnificent book `Five Lessons." He was particularly concerned with the takeaway. "The wrists should not break too early, the process should begin as the arms pass the right leg. It is also important that you avoid stiffness."

"Make a left-arm swing from the shoulder socket and you will get width."

Of all the brilliance that Abe showed in his understanding of swing mechanics and how to explain his thoughts, I find the following description concerning the change of swing direction to be the most impressive.

"The unwinding of the body starts the club on its return journey and there is, for a moment a feeling of relaxation."

Abe Mitchell

As demonstrated by Sam Snead

The long drive king.

Fortunately for us, Abe took part in several long-drive contests (which have always been popular) while he was in the United States.

Abe Mitchell won a long drive championship held directly after the 1925 Texas Open. His three drives were 310 yards, 305 yards, and 270 yards (using hickory shafts and non-responsive balls).

Abe swing analysis-watercolor/pencil sketch on 300g watercolor paper. 21x30 cm

The list was part of an article provided by Jeff Martin. Click on the chart for an enlarged version.

What 1951 British Open winner Max Faulkner had to say about Abe:

Portrait Max Faulkner. "A gentle soul." Acrylic on board.

"Abe had the fastest hand action I`ve ever seen. It was like a flash of lightning, despite the fact he played with heavy hickory shafts. He never hit the ball higher than a double-decker bus." Max Faulkner

Why did Abe Mitchell not win the British Open? While Abe Mitchell was in his prime his relatively modest success became a matter of concern and frustration for the golfing press. At one point the comments and articles spilled over into some fairly mean judgment.

Even famous golfers and respected personalities in the sport were unable to fathom how such a superior talent was unable to produce results when it mattered.

Part of the reason for the frustration was the ensuing onslaught the Americans wielded during the twenties and thirties on the best that Britain could offer. It was difficult for the British to comprehend that their top players were not able to compete with the "Yankees" from across the sea. "After all, they`ve only been playing the game for a couple of decades."

In 2005, Darwin was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame, in the Lifetime Achievement category

Without a doubt, the greatest writer on the golf sport or anything else he took his hand to was Bernard Darwin. Yet even the Times journalist and Charles Dickens authority could only make the exasperated observation. " He did not really...believe he was going to win."

Probably the biggest part of the frustration for the news media was the suffering the Great Britain and Ireland teams had to endure in the Ryder Cup. Walter Hagen, who loved a challenge and poking a bit of fun took to the matches like a duck to the water.

Walter Hagen "The Babe Ruth of golf."

So when, in 1926, the Americans were offered an extra event before prequalifying for the Open at Lytham, Hagen was there. The match at Wentworth ( Americans losing handsomely) was unofficial and not considered of interest to the overall statistics of Ryder Cup history, but it marked the beginning of the biennial event. Hagen enjoyed it all so much that he stood fully behind future matches and could be seen as one of the fathers of the contest. One of the more important matches was the drubbing Hagen was given by the home hero Abe Mitchell. Partnering `Long Jim` Barnes he was beaten 9&7 by Abe and George Duncan, much to the delight of the sponsors and British press who fully seized the moment.

Before the match, Mitchell, Hagen, Barnes and Duncan

In all likelihood, Hagen, known for enjoying a little more than a tipple in the evening, had not been in any way prepared for the ensuing exaltations of the Brits for an insignificant friendly match. So when an extra challenge to play the British hero was offered in the form of a 72-hole match play Hagen seized the opportunity to dampen this "excessive joy." In addition, Golf Illustrated advertised the challenge as a game between the two "greatest match players" in the world with a 500-pound prize going to the winner. To put that amount into perspective the entire purse for the British Open of that year was set at 200 pounds with only 75 allocated to the winner!

The money incentive was nothing new to a player who had built his game on such ....and an entire nation's enthusiasm for its champion made him even more focused. Having trailed by 4 holes after the first day at Wentworth the crowd was gathering at St. Georges for the second day's play in full expectancy of their hero to finish "Sir Walter" in style.

Unfortunately for the Abe Mitchell fans was that the American had done his homework regarding the Englishman`s weaknesses, and losing composure on big occasions was the point he decided to focus on.

So it was then that the Haig strolled onto the first tee of the Sandwich club a full 30 minutes late. Sure enough, Abe completely lost his composure and the following crowd had to watch him crumple under a barrage of long putts sunk by the re-energized American. Abe surrendered his lead inside six holes. The match finished with Hagen trouncing poor Abe Mitchell 2&1 and leaving him to be the victim of the disappointed nation.

Yet the woes of Abe Mitchell shrouded a much deeper secret than the public was aware of.

Abe was the child of an unmarried mother.

In the Victorian era, this would be a scandalous story. To give the young child a chance in life he was passed off as one of several siblings in a family brought up by the grandparents.

All was well in the family and the young boy grew up blissfully unaware of his status in society until he took up golf with all the other kids at the local golf course (Ashdown Forest).

Abe was a natural from the start and could easily outplay all other siblings who were sharing clubs and playing about. Unfortunately, this drew the wrath of one of the jealous family members who cruelly let slip the real truth of Abe's background. The young boy was now made aware of why he had always felt a slight alienation and even worse, that he had been abandoned by his mother as a baby. Thereafter the young Abe searched for more and more distance from his surrogate family, and it was golf he turned to.

While one of the young Abe`s chores as a family member was to chop wood for the stove, he quickly realized that he gained benefits from swinging the axe for his golf swing. The biggest positive was gaining muscle to stabilize his ferocious arm speed.

When Abe left the family homestead and followed his career in professional golf he carried the scar of his illegitimacy deeply. Any child who suffers such a negative experience will inevitably be traumatized, and it is this event that may have given Abe Mitchell a lifetime of mental struggle. It would therefore at least partly explain why Abe always failed in the most important games.

Hagen's `sporting` maneuver left a lot of those who witnessed it with angry feelings. None more so than Abe`s benefactor and Pupil Sam Ryder who was seething with anger as a result. So it was that Ryder answered the misdeed by putting the figure of Abe Mitchell on top of the donated trophy while ensuring he preserved the legacy of Abe and making sure his teacher and friend would never be forgotten.

Although Abe Mitchell was denied the immortal fame that comes with winning a Major Tournament he will always be remembered for his contribution to the Ryder Cup. It is also likely that being a coach to the rich and famous, including royalty gave him a fulfilling career. He died suddenly in 1947 from a heart attack.

Mitchell putting 1930

"I owe golf a great deal to Sam Ryder," said Mitchell. "being putting me on top of the cup, is more distinction than I could ever earn."

190 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page