JOE NORWOOD The Semi-Mysterious Golf Instructor
Joe Norwood became a golf professional in 1910. He was in the era of Harry Vardon, Francis Ouimet, Walter Travis Jr., and other greats. He gained his fame by teaching Horton Smith, Charlie Sifford, Marilynn Smith, Mac O’Grady, and many present and future pros. To the men and women pro golfers of that era, he was very well known. Strange as it may seem though, he was not that famous to the general public. Back then, golf teachers were not as well-recognized as they are today. Somehow, he seemed to have been bypassed in recognition.
Late in Norwood’s life, Stanley Blicker wrote a book on the “Norwood System.” Unfortunately, the book was scrambled with a lack of progression in the skill process. The book seems to be written in code, and may well be the reason Norwood did not receive the recognition he deserved. If willing however, the reader can receive valuable information on the golf swing as his teachings were well ahead of his time.
Basis of the Norwood swing
The golf swing of his era was into a big body turn or rotation with strong hand action. Joe’s swing philosophy was to eliminate body rotation and hand action. Joe claimed that 90 percent of golfing errors were caused by body rotation. He wanted little or no body rotation. The body is to enter into the swing after impact by following with the follow-through. The body is to be still at impact for better precision to the shot. Passive hands and no body rotation are the basis of the Norwood swing.
The grip is the same for all clubs, even the putter. In fact, Joe desires a round grip on the putter for a consistent feel to all clubs, driver to wedge to putter. The thumb and forefinger of each hand control the club. This helps to give a light feel to the grip as opposed to the squeezing action of the hands; particularly, the palms. By griping with the thumb and forefinger first and then letting the remainder of the fingers take their positions lightly, the grip becomes lighter in feel. The thumbs are pulled up to a short position and are not lying long on the shaft. The short thumb helps to give a firm or locked grip. By keeping the last three fingers of the hands light on the grip with the thumb and forefinger firm, the right elbow is freer for strong swing action. Norwood teaches the overlapping, interlocking and baseball grips. His placement of the hands is the important factor. The left hand is strong by being well turned to the right, so that the left wrist is concave. He then wants the hands lowered closer to the ground more than usual. He claims the position of the left wrist, being low at address and concave, should give the left arm and hand a look similar to a golf club, as if the arm is the shaft and the hand is the club head sticking out. He then places the right hand high on top of the shaft. Remember, the grip is still firm with the thumb and forefinger of each hand.
The feet are the base of the swing. The legs hold the body for the often-called “quiet” position. The feet and legs give power to the golf swing, by stabilizing the body movement into a still position for the strong arm and shoulder action. Body movement is detrimental to power, consistency in shot making, and accuracy. Norwood also places the right leg from the knee to the foot in a straight line, perpendicular to the ground and holding 70 percent of the body weight. The inward knock of the left knee puts the right hip higher than the left hip. The right leg maintains this position for the backswing. The right foot (back foot) is perpendicular to the target line while the left foot (front foot) is pointing out at a 45-degree angle. Oddly, there is no mention of ball position for the shots. Passive hands in the swing are achieved by lowering the hands at address more than usual, so that the toe of the clubhead is slightly up. This sets the arms in a hanging-straight-down position, with a strong angle at the wrists from the straight left arm and golf club. This means the arms are not out in front of the body, but fairly close to the body. The hands are now locked into a preset position for the swing. With no hand movement, the arms swing to the top and the wrists will be in a cocked position, with no movement of the wrists to achieve this position. The cocking was present at address. Take a club and try it. There is no wrist movement, and the wrists are cocked at the top and ready to go.
Joe preaches that the golfer must stay down on the shot. This means staying down for the backswing, as in the address position, and going even lower on the downswing. The golfer must not come up on the shot. The legs are not moved in starting the swing, except the left leg is knocked in slightly into a backward press. There is no forward press. This backward press of the left leg will let the right hip raise slightly on the backswing, and then lower on the downswing, as the left hip rises. The famous Mike Austin, who still holds the longest drive in competition, stresses this move.
Most golfers over-swing in trying for distance. Norwood demands a three-quarter backswing, as the three-quarter swing will give the same distance as the long over-swing power stroke. Don Trahan did a study and verified the accuracy of this statement.
Joe wants the right elbow close to the body throughout the swing as Ben Hogan did. The right elbow is the key to power and accuracy. For the backswing the right arm is swung back to a horizontal and not a vertical position. The right elbow is at a 45-degree angle.
Norwood loved baseball, especially the baseball swing, as he felt it was a variation to the golf swing.
The hands and arms control the club while the feet provide the balance. All the moves down to the ball are with the arms and shoulders. Hit down, or “hit doon,” as Joe says, to use your arms and legs. Leave your body at home. This may be a slight exaggeration, but it does give the essence of the swing. Pulling or pushing the golf club are the only two ways to hit a golf ball. Norwood recommends the push. Pulling the club with the left arm causes a rotating action by the body. With untrained legs, the body easily rotates and feels natural. Despite this natural feel, it is a poor stroke. Practice, and more practice, is essential to prevent pulling the swing.
First Move Down
The first move on the downswing is the Vardon move of dropping the hands down towards the right heel before any other movement. This is a short move, but it is important in preventing hitting over-the-top and cutting into the ball. Make this dropping move and the swing takes care of itself. In the downswing the golfer swings down and under his hips.
Solid Left Side
Modern thinking is to hit against a solid left side. If a golfer takes a golf stance in a doorframe with his left leg and upper body against the frame and swings his arms like a golf swing, he will feel the body swing into the left side, a solid left side with no rotation or swaying forward. Adrian Gideon, a biomechanics scientist (the study of human movement) with the USA Olympic teams, reinforces this hitting into the solid left side in his video, The Biomechanics of the Golf Swing. With no body rotation, Joe wants the golfer to hold the left arm and hit it with the right arm. Tommy Armour, of playing and teaching fame, stressed the same procedure. Joe claims that some body rotation will occur but it is not a conscious move.
Stay Back For Impact
Norwood wanted the body to stay behind the ball at impact by staying on a flat right foot at impact. This helps to keep the body still at impact. This procedure leads to the famous “sit-down” position, where the knees seem to separate wider at impact as the body lowers into impact. Sam Snead and Ben Hogan were highly noticeable with this sit-down or “squat.” This sit-down position also helps the body in being still for impact. Joe stresses this position, as he claims the body at impact is lower than at address. This position lowers the hips into the thighs to aid in balance.
From the hands dropping into the slot, the right hip drives down into the right leg, which does not move. During the backswing, the left shoulder goes down to put solid feeling into the right hip. The right hip is now ready for its move, and the feeling of the move is as follows: take the stance. Place the right hand on the right hip or hip pocket. Now push down and forward with the butt of the right hand, and you should feel the hips go down into the squat position like Hogan and Snead for impact. The right leg does not move forward and stays in position with the right heel flat on the ground.
It is interesting to note that Norwood uses the hammer action of hitting a nail. Kuykendall used this image and feel in inventing his Natural Golf swing. Hammer a nail and you should feel how the wrist is locked as you hit the nail with the arm. The elbow extends, the wrist stays locked and the nail is struck. Try hitting the nail with the wrists and you will notice how difficult it is to hit the nail square and with power. Use the wrists and the nail may well be struck on an angle to bend the nail. Some recent teachings have even stressed to hammer the ball (like a nail) with the image in the mind of a nail through the center of the ball. You strike the “nail” to the target.
There is a controversy on whether the golf swing is mechanics or feel. Norwood sums this up easily: you have to learn the mechanics and then you get the feel. Relying on feel can be elusive, especially when one loses the feel for the swing during a round of golf. Feel must be acquired by learning the knowledge of the mechanics of the swing. This is like a piano player who must learn the scales and other procedures to acquire a feel for playing. Regaining the feel process can be difficult, as one will often start thinking too much and pressing the action. Norwood recommended to always go back to fundamentals and knowledge in order to regain feel.