Interview with James Lythgoe
James Lythgoe (2011)
Reviewed by Richard R. Blake for Reader Views (2/13)
James Lythgoe is the author of “The Golf Swing: It’s all in the Hands,” a golf instructional manual on how to use your hands during the golf swing. James played at the Canadian national level three years straight during his teenage years and attended the Canadian Tour Qualifying School. He resides in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Tyler: Welcome, James. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Your book title probably says it all, but tell us, when there is already a lot of information about golf out there, what made you decide to write a book for others wanting to improve their golf swing?
James: You are correct; there are a lot of golf books on the market. I believe each book contributes to the golf literature in its own special way. As you read my book, you will come across references to other books—clear evidence of the interdependence of one golf book on another.
I really struggled with my golf swing until I discovered the hand action of the golf swing. Once I discovered how to use my hands and I learned to coordinate my shoulder turn with my hand action, I was hitting pure golf shots. What an experience it was too. It is this experience and how I got to this point that I want to share with readers and thus, my reason for writing this book. The only other book I am aware of on the topic of the hands and the golf swing is a book written by Eric Prain, called “Live Hands” first published in 1946. I can’t tell you why more books on the subject haven’t been written. It is a mystery to me.
Tyler: I understand the focus is really on correct hand-action—do you think most people don’t hold the golf club properly, or is it the movement of the swing itself that is the issue?
James: It is the movement of the swing itself that is the issue and is the focus of my book. Conventional golf teaching states that the golf grip is the most important lesson in all of golf. However, what I have observed, as had the late Moe Norman (one of golf’s best ball strikers), is that proper hand action is missing from many golf swings. The way I see it, a good golf grip is important but it doesn’t guarantee proper hand action. Therefore, I saw a need to write the lesson on the hand action of the golf swing.
Tyler: Why do you think golfers have not focused more on proper hand action, and why did it take so long for you or anyone else to figure this out and write about it?
James: The body of knowledge exists among the touring pros. They all use correct hand action. There is a video on YouTube of Sam Snead giving a lesson on the hand action. Why it hasn’t been presented in print is something I can’t answer.
Tyler: Will you tell us a little about how the book is organized? Is it a step-by-step guide?
James: The book is organized into four chapters: The Golf Grip, Addressing the Ball, The Hand Action and Adding the Shoulder Turn. Each chapter represents a separate golf lesson. Before you can take the lesson on the hand action, you need to know how to hold the club and stand to the ball. Chapters one and two teach the reader how to do this. Chapter three teaches you how to pivot your hands and chapter four provides instruction on how to match your shoulder turn to that of your pivoting hands.
The instruction is given in a detailed step-by-step manner accompanied by color photographs. The colored photographs give the book a good first impression but the real value of the book is the direction in which the instruction points the golfer. If you take the time to really become familiar with the instructions in this book, you should be well on your way to learning proper golf swing motion. Despite its short length, one hundred and sixty pages, the reader may feel overwhelmed by the amount of detail presented. To overcome this feeling, take the instruction and turn it into action. I felt this way as I read golf books as I was learning the golf swing.
This is a book you read for information and instruction not for leisure. It is aimed at the serious student of the swing, the person who is willing to spend time implementing the instructions on the practice range.
Tyler: Who do you think will most benefit from the book—is it for beginners or more seasoned golfers?
James: Beginner golfers will find chapters one and two very useful. The more seasoned golfers will find chapters three and four useful. I think a beginner’s golf swing would benefit tremendously by the instruction written in chapter three. Whether a beginner golfer or a seasoned golfer, it is intended for the serious student of the swing.
Tyler: Is the book based solely on your own golf experiences or did you include advice from any other golf professionals?
James: My golf experience and learning definitely incorporates the advice of many other golf professionals, in addition to what I learned on my own during the hours I spent on the practice range learning the golf swing. My book without a doubt reflects these experiences, both my own and what I learned from other golf professionals.
For example, if you read pages 65 to 70 of Ben Hogan’s book, “Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf” and then read chapter three of my book, you will realize my chapter is a continuation of what Ben Hogan says on pages 65 to 70. I was able to learn the hand action of the golf swing from the information Ben Hogan wrote on these pages of his book. This is where I got the idea to experiment with my hands, which eventually led me to learn the proper hand action. There really aren’t many sources of information instructing the proper hand action of the golf swing. Hogan’s book was my sole source.
I am delighted to see that Jason Dufner, a PGA tour professional, has copied Ben Hogan’s waggle. His waggle is the best modern day example of the Hogan waggle that I know of and is exactly what I have instructed in chapter three of my book.
I also draw upon the experiences I had in using Paul Runyan’s chipping technique. Paul Runyan wrote the book, “The Short Way to Lower Scoring.” He was a touring pro who had a reputation for having an above average short game. As a teenager, I bought a copy of his book and began implementing his instruction. It didn’t take me long to realize how effective his technique was. By pure accident I discovered it was a great technique—slightly modified—to monitor and adjust my shoulder turn so that my shoulders were coordinated with my hand action. This is what chapter four of my book is about. Chapter four really answers the question, “How do the shoulders turn during the swing?” I don’t explicitly state this question in the chapter nor provide an answer as if it was asked, but the instruction written in this last chapter addresses this question. I don’t know of any simpler method for troubleshooting and adjusting the shoulder turn than what I have written in this chapter. I have Paul Runyan to thank for this experience.
Tyler: James, when there are so many incredible professional golfers out there, what about your own experiences do you feel make you most qualified to write this book?
James: You can’t write a book like I have written without actually experiencing pure ball striking. You need that first hand experience in order to write what I have written. I spent approximately thirteen years pursuing the golf swing. In other words, I took the time to learn the golf swing. This qualifies me to write this book. Additional experiences that confirm to me I am qualified to write such a book were the improvement in my game, the time spent on the practice tee with Alvie Thompson (a Canadian pro icon who played the Masters in 1963), attending the Canadian Tour Qualifying School, private observations of fellow touring pros, seeing Moe Norman hitting balls and a few other observations I prefer to keep to myself.
There are many incredible professional golfers out there today, but the principles of the golf swing haven’t changed and won’t either. The equipment may change and this may change the game but how a person moves his or her body to swing a golf club remains the same. The golf swing of the modern day professional golfer confirms this point.
Tyler: What kind of feedback or endorsements have you received so far about the book?
James: As the author and publisher of this book I’ve received the full spectrum of possibilities with respect to feedback. The book connects with some people while it doesn’t with others. It really depends on the need of the reader and it is all part of offering a book to the public.
I do exchange emails with a person familiar with the teachings of the book, “The Golfing Machine.” This individual has picked up on the significance of the instruction I have written and is relating it to what is written in “The Golfing Machine.” I like it when someone realizes the importance of the instruction I provide in my book. It is rewarding to know I am helping someone else and that someone appreciates what I have written.
I am really not looking to sell the book based on who endorses it. I really want the reader to decide if the book is worth reading based on the content and not on who endorses it. The ultimate endorsement is having a reader decide the book is worth reading.
Tyler: Well said, James. What would you say was the most difficult part of writing “The Golf Swing: It’s all in the Hands”?
James: Writing is hard work, plain and simple, and writing a book is time consuming. It takes passion for the subject, discipline, organization, determination and commitment to start and finish a project of this length. I spent three years writing this book. Finishing it was rewarding and something I am proud to offer to the public.
Tyler: One thing about the book I commend you on is that it can lay open flat so people can look at it while practicing their swing. What else about the book do you think makes it stand out and be user-friendly?
James: This book has a strong visual component to it. There are two hundred and forty-five photographs over one hundred and sixty pages illustrating the instruction. That works out to one and a half photographs per page. Many photographs show a check mark or an “X” indicating if the photograph is depicting something that is correct or incorrect. I think this is a very useful aid for the reader.
Accompanying the photographs are numbered step-by-step instructions that guide the reader through the steps required to learn the lesson.
A glossary is also provided at the back of the book to define the language particular to golf.
Tyler: Speaking of photographs, I think the images are extremely useful. One thing that really impressed me was the photographs of a hand that have colored dots on them to illustrate exactly where to hold the club. What more can you tell us about the importance of the illustrations, and while I know you’re a photographer, you’re in most of the photos so I assume you had someone else do your photography—what kind of process did you deal with in taking the photos and getting the right shots and incorporating them all to make a book?
James: I wanted to write this book in 1987 but back then we didn’t have the digital cameras we have today so I had a bit of a wait before writing this book. I started this book in 2008 and finished it in 2011.
My photography experience began when I walked into a camera store and purchased a camera to take the photographs for this book. I tried hiring a professional photographer but we couldn’t coordinate our schedules so I decided to do the photographs myself with the help of my sister and my father. I took as many photographs as I could myself and for the others I sought their help.
I found that I was very picky about how the instruction was shown in the photographs. If something wasn’t quite right in the photograph it was deleted and retaken. Proceeding without a professional photographer allowed me to take as much time as I needed and to reshoot as often as I needed to get the shot I wanted.
As far as the actual photo shoot, I would arrive at the golf course between 4:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. Sometimes the gate to the golf course was closed and so I would walk the mile to where I would set up and wait for sunrise. At this hour, the lobster fishermen were tending to their traps. I encountered any number of red fox on my walk and many mornings I saw bald eagles flying over the ocean and beach, a nice setting for a photo shoot. On sunny days, by 7:30 a.m. the light was too harsh for photography and so I was finished. On overcast days—my preference—I shot any time during the day.
You might notice I have used a Titleist golf ball in my photographs. The Titleist golf ball is second to none. The Acuhnet Company granted permission to use its ball. I am very impressed with the way they handled my request and it has left me with a positive impression of the Acuhnet Company.
The photographs were color corrected for consistency within a page and across opposite pages. The number of photographs made it difficult to keep the relevant text and photographs together. During lay out, it was a constant struggle to place text and photograph as close as possible to each other. The reader may have to turn a page to view the appropriate photograph for the text being read. Ultimately, it is more important to include as many photographs as possible rather than leaving them out and unavailable to the reader.
It was no small feat to capture and produce these photographs. The term “digital asset” has new meaning to me now having gone through the process of producing these photographs. Preparing for a photo shoot requires organization. A checklist of everything required for the shoot is very useful and diligently going over all the equipment before each shoot is a must. Having two of everything is a good idea because if it can go wrong out in the field it will.
I learned a lot about photography, a lot about the digital work flow, and now I think I am ready and prepared to do it a second time.
Tyler: Besides playing golf and writing about it, what else do you enjoy doing?
James: The first image that pops into my head after hearing your question is one of Ted Williams (former Boston Red Sox, hitter extraordinaire) fishing Atlantic salmon on the Cains River in New Brunswick. Watching Ted fish and seeing how much he enjoyed himself as he fished taught me that life is simple; find something that you like to do and then go do it. Salmon fishing is a favorite pastime of mine and has been for many years. My latest interests are photography and reading about the Battle of Gettysburg. My goal with photography is to produce a seven foot wide landscape photograph of something I really like and hang it on my wall. I have a ways to go before achieving this goal but I am enjoying the journey.
I’ve spent a lot of time reading about the Battle of Gettysburg and when I am ready, I will make the trip to the battlefield to walk it and then to photograph it. I think it was a fascinating event not to mention its historical significance.
Tyler: Do you plan to write any more books, and if so, could you tell us about them?
James: Yes, I am currently working on my second book. The second book will describe the interactions that occur within the body during the golf swing. Essentially, this book will give meaning to the instructions of my first book. I don’t have a deadline in mind. I predict it will take me approximately three years to complete.
Tyler: Thank you again, James, for the opportunity to interview you today. Before we go, will you tell us about your website and what additional information we can find there about “The Golf Swing: It’s all in the Hands”?
James: Thank you for having me. My website URL is http://www.thegolfswing.ca. I offer a free download of chapter one so readers can evaluate my book. I also have a contact form where you can send me your question or comments. I welcome inquiries so please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Tyler: Thank you, James. I wish you much luck with your book and your golf game.