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The Little-Known Englishman Who Invented the Modern Golf Swing (Part 1 of 2)

Dogfish Head

Well-Known Member
Staff member
TEA is my HERO
Apr 8, 2012
Huntsville, AL
United States United States
By John Coyne

Bestselling author John Coyne became a caddie at Midlothian Country Club near Chicago when he was 10 and oversaw the caddie yard as a teenager. Learn about his golf novels at JohnCoyneBooks.com.

I HAD NEVER HEARD OF DOUG EDGAR and I have been following golf all my life. I'm not the only one who never heard of him. Former PGA Tour pro and U.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger never heard of him.

John Feinstein, sportswriter and commentator, wrote, "An English professional [James Douglas Edgar] of whom a great majority of British golfers have never heard was a player who might have been the greatest of the twenties, greater than Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen."


Well, thanks to an old college buddy and player, Bill Vicars, I now know it was Doug Edgar who gave me the golf swing I have. Yes, and Doug Edgar gave you the swing you have. None of us have heard of him or know that he created the golf swing that was first called the "Edgar Movement."

A few weeks ago my friend sent me Steve Eubanks' To Win and Die in Dixie: the Birth of the Modern Golf Swing and the Mysterious Death of Its Creator.

It is a biography of J. Douglas Edgar, telling his story from being the first pro at Northumberland Country Club in England, to his mysterious and tragic death after midnight on Peachtree Street in Atlanta, Georgia.

It is the story of the man who invented the modern swing, coached the great Bobby Jones, and Alexa Stirling, the finest female player of her day.

It is the story of a player Tommy Armour said was "the greatest of them all, and taught me the most."

It is also the story of a golfer who could drink you under the table and pick up any woman in the bar. And that, not his innovative golf swing, led to his death in America.

In his book, author and journalist Steve Eubanks tells how Edgar was born in 1884, a poor kid in the northeastern edge of England, and discovered golf when he was a precocious thirteen-year-old watching players at the Northumberland Golf Club.

Eubanks writes, "It never occurred to him that he would ever be any good. He had from birth a bad right hip and the game did not come easy. Standing close to him, you could hear his joints pop whenever he bent over to take his ball out of the hole. He felt pangs with every backswing, and the rotation of the backswing was like propping his right leg against a grinding wheel."

Nevertheless, by the age of fifteen, working as a caddie at Northumberland, golf had become his obsession, and to him, even with the pain of looping double, working at the country club was a better life than life on his family farm.

In the spring of 1904, the club members at Northumberland hired eighteen-year-old Doug as their first home pro, assuring him, Eubanks writes, of second-class citizenship in England,= and giving Doug the chance to play golf for the rest of his life.

"He saw the game," Eubanks writes, "as his way to stay off the farm and out of the mines. A chance to achieve glory and riches."

By eighteen, he already had a reputation, not for golf, but for being charming, charismatic and a bit mischievous. Members liked him, and he was especially popular with the women at the club and in town. The only place where he wasn't successful was with his golf game. While he was a great instructor, he wasn't much of a player.

At the time, the most famous golf pro in England was Harry Vardon (you've heard of the Vardon grip), who like Doug was a poor kid who came out of the caddie ranks to become, by 1903, the most important player in England.

Vardon revolutionized golf by changing the mechanics of the game. Prior to him, players gripped the club with all ten fingers, often splitting their hands apart as if holding an ax.

Through experimentation, Vardon realized that moving his thumbs down the shaft, gripping the club more in his fingers than his palms, and overlapping the pinky finger of the right hand with the index finger of the left, his big hands could work as a single unit, and he could generate a tremendous amount of clubhead speed with a light grip pressure. The "Vardon grip" changed the game forever.

Next time, in the conclusion: What changed Edgar? And how did he, like Vardon, change the game of golf forever?​

Source: The Little-Known Englishman Who Invented the Modern Golf Swing (Part 1 of 2)

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