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Howard Clark, Henry Cotton, car tires, and the British small ball swing.

Three-time winner of the Open Sir Henry Cotton was one of the most successful and outspoken players in the history of British golf while Howard Clark was one of the best English players of the nineteen seventies and eighties.

Henry Cotton in the nineteen-thirties Howard Clarke-Born 1955 in Leeds

It might seem irrelevant to talk about players' movements of the past when they belong to a different age of swing evolution. Howard Clarke is not going to be thankful or interested in being told what he could have avoided or improved 40 years ago.

But because the swing film of Howard Clark reveals one of the biggest flaws in European teaching from the second world war until the 1970s, when the 1.62 " size ball was finally banned in all professional golf tournaments, I decided to use it as an example. The inferior teaching method resulting from caused the top players of the period to struggle against their American counterparts, while the normal club golfer had difficulty understanding the mechanics that traditional teachers of the time were passing on.

Howard Clarke

Howard Clarke was an extremely good ball striker who possessed a wonderful rhythm. I always enjoyed watching him practicing on the range, but it was when I saw the film below I realized why he had some serious ups and downs in his career. Of course, we have to put this into perspective, he won 11 tour events and represented Europe three times in the Ryder Cup.


Although a teacher will be naturally drawn to the reverse "C" form at the finish it still takes second place to the early loss of power caused by the conscious application of the hands.

...the statistics show Howard had some huge drops in form, sometimes for years, and perhaps it would have been less turbulent had he used the mechanics that was advocated on the American Tour.

This film shows the rather misled thoughts of the wonderful Sir Henry Cotton, who in fact did not do what he preached. He made his argument with enthusiasm and belief but subsequent developments show he was encouraging the wrong approach.

Films and still photos show that Henry Cotton had a very firm left wrist at contact and continued through the ball without breaking down.

It is not uncommon for players to explain their feelings about a movement and actually not be creating the same movement.

The great Irishman John OLeary and U.S Masters winner Fuzzy Zoeller were perfect examples of the contrasting techniques.

The Europeans of the second half of the twentieth century were more inclined to flick, hinge, and lever their small ball away. The golfers of the new world, taught by the European professionals before the first world war, swung, swept, or drove the larger ball away in an unbroken unit.

Cotton demonstrating his skills with the left arm. He would hit a consistent gentle draw with a seven iron 120 yards.

Sir Henry Cotton was a golf pioneer in many respects. One of the first professionals to emphasize the importance of fitness and flexibility, he would regularly perform cartwheels and backward flips.

The famous rubber car tire may have been more gimmick than a serious training method, but it became a common feature on many driving ranges in the seventies.

Howard Clarke using superior mechanics at this time with the "American method."

The idea of using the hands would cause deceleration before ball contact. The softer left arm was an effect caused by the deceleration. In addition to this effect, the left arm would hang limply on the side of the body as the clubhead continued to the finish. In the accompanying photo, we can see Howard Clark driving the ball instead of `flicking` as in the earlier photo/film sequence film.

Emotions. Howard Clark, by his own admittance, was prone to losing his temper and control of emotions on the golf course. The old saying says: "High emotions mean low skill. Low emotions high skill." This would also be a clear reason for his inconsistent results, although how much temper loss was frustration as a result of a faulty swing is impossible to say.

The British ` small ball` and American `big ball`

From the early 1900s, at the end of the gutty ball era, the two governing bodies on each side of the Atlantic, USGA, and R&A agreed on a common weight for the ball. It was decided that the ball should have a weight of 1.62 ounces. Unfortunately, they remained undecided concerning the size. While the R&A's rule was that golf balls had to have a diameter of at least 1.62 inches, a size of 1.68inches was common in the United States, In 1930 America made the preferred larger size their minimum.

So, in effect, at this time there were two different golf ball sizes being used around the world. It would be another 60 years before the differences would be finally officially removed and the larger 1.68 would become the minimum for everyone.

It was in 1974 that the R&A gave in to the general view and made the small ball illegal in the British Open of that year (won by Gary Player, an established star who was used to using the bigger size) in Lytham St.Annes

Click on the image to see the high-speed film.

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John Mule'
John Mule'
Dec 08, 2021

My only exposure to Tony was reading his wonderful book 'Golfer's Gold' and the Shell's Wonderful World of Golf match between he and Peter Alliss in Bermuda. Really wish I had gotten to see him play in person.

William Knowles
William Knowles
Dec 24, 2021
Replying to

Yes- He is one I would love to have seen as well.

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