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The long drive Kings 3- and the steel shaft

The Long Drive Series Part 3

This is the second entry of the series, to read The Long Drive Kings - Before the Steel Shaft, click here.

With the advent of the three-piece Haskell ball at the turn of the century and the disappearance of the traditional St. Andrews swing, the mechanics of the golf movement became more athletic.

As the century slowly moved on into the twenties and beyond the new steel shaft began to take hold of the game. It was at the right time as the prominent players were asking more and more from their golf clubs.

Also, the durability and strength of steel shafts allowed the great players to apply a more forceful change when initiating the forward action. The return to ball movement became more dominated by the body revolving at a higher pace, leaving the arms and wrists more passive to the forces that be.

With the faster return activated from the body, a later release of the clubhead was achieved. The steel shafts were not susceptible to excessive torsion like hickory (steel had only 2° torque while hickory could twist 20°), resulting in less hand and wrist activity; this, in turn, helped to create more speed at impact and less penalty on off-center hits. As the nineteen-forties became the nineteen-fifties, a new breed of long-hitter started to gain notoriety. Players who generated huge clubhead speed as a result of both physical strength and swing quality now appeared. Of those candidates, three were more notorious than the others. George Bayer, Jimmy Thomson, and to a lesser degree Sam "slamming" Snead.

Sam Snead

Born 1912 - Height 5ft 11 inch and 185 pounds.

"The person able to get the greatest possible distance with the least possible effort is the man who has used his swing with the greatest efficiency."

Irv Schloss

Sam Snead was famous for two forms of longevity, a long career span and a more than average length off the tee performed with silky smoothness.

Snead's career covered six decades and he won 82 PGA Tournaments.

Sam may not qualify for real long-hitter status but anybody who achieved more than 250 yards in the first half of the century would be classified as long. Sam averaged about 270 yards. The smoothness of the Snead swing was famous. It was a beautiful combination of rhythm and acceleration. Snead was an expert at using his optimum speed without effort. Irv Schloss titled this PROGRESSION OF POWER.

The Snead Swing filmed in 1960 by Irv Schloss using his famous background canvas.

Jimmy Thomson

Born in 1908 in Scotland

"A wonderful swing to watch and well worth studying."

Bernard Cooke

Jimmy has to be seen as an American pro, but his roots were very Scottish, and so was his swing.

He made what Irv described as "a flat-footed twist." A common method used on the sandy turf and strong winds of Scotland. (I am not advocating deliberately keeping the right foot on the ground and restricting the swing, even Jimmy has a slight lift at contact).

He gave the key away when he reminisced about his teaching father, who was a great believer in balance. To quote Jimmy, " When I was 13 or 14 years old I began with a 9 iron and stood very quiet with my feet together, I was able to work up enough hand speed to get normal distance with the club. When I was 16 or 17 I got so I could hit a drive 225 yards with my feet together." The films show a wonderful combination of a solid base and an effortless graceful flow. A teaching concept that has become so emphasized today, holding finish for several seconds, is also clearly to be seen in Jimmy`s swing.

In 1937, Jimmy became a long-hitting legend when he won the North American long-driving contest.

To quote his own reported words " Everybody hit 20 drives, they averaged the ten best, my average was 316 yards and my best 386

To his credit, Jimmy Thomson supported the African/American professionals and regularly played on the UGA Tour, which was a separate tour set up for blacks who were not given access to the regular tour.

More about African/American professionals

George Bayer

Born 1925 - Nickname "The Human Howitzer"

George Bayer- muscles bulging and sinews stretching George "whips" one for the crowd

George Bayer was -VERY LONG

He was seen by the media as the most massive tour professional player in the history of golf.

At 6ft 5 inches and 230-250 lbs, he was close to the "incredible hulk" in appearance.

The crowds were eager to see those 350 yard drives.

George only took to golf relatively late in life and started his sporting career as a football player, unsurprising with his physique.

Seen as the longest hitter in the history of golf George pulled big crowds in and had a full agenda on the side of his tournament golf career demonstrating his hitting prowess.

Bayer had a good short game and could play the finesse shots as well as anybody.

But Bayer wasn't all that enamored of his prodigious length. He was angry with people, fans, and the media, for only focusing on one aspect of his play. The attention his power got didn't help his game, he was trying to develop rhythm and an even tempo to improve his accuracy, but he was followed by large galleries who constantly urged him to go all-out.

As a teacher with over 40 years of experience, I am a little sad when I study the swing of George Bayer. As a long hitter and with so much talent, he was following the wrong principles at the time. The most basic of faults(a narrow stance) held him back from using his huge pool of potential energy. The knock-on effects of an overly soft left wrist at the top of the backswing and a tendency to lose center would have both been negated by a wider base. Of course, that is my opinion and we will never know what might have been.

As we travel into the latter half of the 20th century playing professionals who brought power games with them started to become more common. It was clear which way the game was developing even in the early fifties and sixties as the advantages of length continued to give the hard hitters an advantage.

The great welsh player Dave Thomas was capable of hitting the ball huge distances. Three-time British Open winner Peter Thompson claimed that for a while he was the longest and straightest hitter in the world.

As in the first post about the long hitters, this series focuses on the longer players on the tour. For the specialist driving experts, there is another series in the process.

The interesting characters of the Long Driver kings before Steel Shafts are to be found here

80x100 Acrylic on canvas- "THE BIG HIT."

Find stories like this and more in my book The History of the Golf Swing, an artistic exploration of golf dynamics throughout history. Full of illustrations, paintings and photographs, this book is the perfect gift for those who wish to understand the evolution of this riveting sport.

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One more thing about Thomson. The face-on swing that appears first is from a 1938 film promoting Pinehurst. The down-the-line clip is from a 1947 Grantland Rice "Sportlight" film titled "All American Swing Stars."


You're correct that Jimmy Thomson has the reputation for being longer than Snead, but that isn't what the data shows. In my driving contest database, I have Snead winning 17 times with a median drive of 300 yards, Thomson winning 13 times with a median drive of 290 yards. The driving contest you mention from 1937 was held at the General Brock tour event in Niagara Falls and had a whopping $1,000 purse. The players teed off a cliff to a valley well below, exaggerating the length of the drives, so I exclude the results from this contest from my analyses. Thomson's recollection is a bit off: his ten drives averaged 341 yards. Ben Hogan came in second with a 335…


John Mule'
John Mule'
Jun 03, 2022

Great presentation Bill. I always learn so much with each one. I am familiar with Dave Thomas. He nearly won the Open twice losing to Peter Thomson and Nicklaus (in '66). I had an old instructional that he did...very closed clubface at the top and hit the ball miles (for his day). Very interesting stuff on George Bayer. I liked the trigger he used to begin his swing by lifting his right heel and then placing it down to start the backwing. Also, great film on Jimmy Thomson's powerful swing. A lot of those players had a lagging clubhead takeaway didn't they?

William Knowles
William Knowles
Jun 09, 2022
Replying to

Sorry to take so long John. Your comment on Dave Thomas is excellent, it was the closed clubface at the top that I will always remember about his swing. I am looking for some swing material in the Bernard swing films over the the next couple of weeks. I hope something turns up. Yes I agree that starting a swing with a small movement to begin the whole process is sometimes good-sort of injects an extra flow into the motion. Jimmy Thomson came from an era when the start back often had this almost closed clubface element. I still see it taught today.

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