George Knudson was one of Canada’s greatest golfers, possessing a swing that was revered for its fluidity and grace. Over an 11-year span on the PGA Tour, Knudson won 8 tournaments, including the Phoenix Open in 1969. His ball-striking ability was considered among the best of his era, with Jack Nicklaus once describing his swing as being worth “a million dollars.”
Knudson’s swing was admired by the likes of Lee Trevino and Ben Crenshaw, and compared favorably with iconic moves like Hogan and Nelson. A love of practice kept him motivated, often preferring to stay on the range and meet his playing partners on the second nine, rather than going out and playing. Knudson felt that there was no substitute for hard work and that if he had not practiced enough, he was not prepared to play his best.
Though he didn’t win as prolifically as some of his peers, primarily due to “an unfaithful putting stroke”, Knudson left behind a lasting legacy through his book The Natural Golf Swing, which he co-authored with Lorne Rubenstein. The book espouses a swing philosophy centered around balance, rhythm, and allowing the body’s natural athletic motion to shine through. It sounds very familiar to the John Redman and Paul Azinger lesson that we posted about last week, right down to the title. Also a lot of similarities with the teachings of Manuel de la Torre and Ernest Jones, that we documented in “Manuel de la Torre: Swing the Clubhead.”
Knudson’s teachings continue to influence golf instructors and players around the world today. This post will explore Knudson’s history and career highlights, the genius of his swing, and the wisdom he imparted in The Natural Golf Swing. We’ll review his bio, the footage we have from his appearances on Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf, and see what the average player can take away from his teachings. Of course, we want you to get the book and see for yourself.
George Knudson Bio
George Knudson (1937-1989) was a Canadian professional golfer who is considered one of the best ball-strikers in golf history. Knudson, along with Mike Weir, holds the record for the most PGA Tour wins by a Canadian golfer with 8 career victories between 1961-1972.
Known for his textbook swing mechanics and nicknamed “The Mantis”, Knudson learned to play golf at St. Charles Country Club in his hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba. He won back-to-back Manitoba Junior Championships in 1954-55 before turning professional in 1958. After early success on the Canadian Tour, Knudson joined the PGA Tour where he won his first event at the 1961 Coral Gables Open. His best major finish was 2nd at the 1969 Masters, one stroke behind champion George Archer.
Though his playing career was cut short by health issues, Knudson left a lasting impact on golf in Canada. He won the Canadian PGA Championship five times and represented Canada alongside teammate Al Balding in winning the 1968 World Cup. After retiring from tournament golf in the late 1970s, Knudson became a renowned golf instructor in Toronto, developing teaching methods adopted by the Canadian PGA. He was inducted into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame in 1988 and made a Member of the Order of Canada the same year.
Wonderful Word of Golf
George Knudson was featured in several matches on Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf during the 1960s and 1970s, and it remains some of the best footage we have of him. There are some great video montages and documentaries that have been assembled using this footage, and all of the matches are thankfully available on YouTube and linked below.
Knudson’s appearances on the series gave viewers a chance to witness one of Canada’s greatest ball-strikers at the height of his powers. Though he didn’t have the tournament victories of Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer, Knudson earned respect from his peers and a loyal following from fans who were captivated by his swing. Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf provided a platform for Knudson to showcase his incredible golf skills against the best in the world. His performances on the show cemented his legacy as one of the sweetest swingers to ever play the game.
Appearances and Performance
Knudson faced off against some of the best players in the world at renowned courses across North and South America. One of his most famous matches came in 1970 against Roberto De Vicenzo at Saint Charles Country Club in Winnipeg, Canada (Knudson’s home course). Though De Vicenzo emerged victorious, Knudson dazzled with his fluid swing and masterful ball striking ability.
Knudson also battled Gene Littler at Royal Ottawa Golf Club in 1966, with Littler winning by one stroke due to Knudson’s lack of touch on the greens. Knudson also dueled champions like Al Geiberger and Al Balding in entertaining matches that displayed his ball striking prowess and unfortunately highlighted his hit or miss putting skills. He won some and lost some, but always left an impression with his graceful, rhythmic swing that Golf Digest once called “a study in elegance.”
Knudson’s best performance on the show came in a 3 way match in Shell’s 12 man Tournament format. He travelled to Brazil to take on George Archer (who had bested him at the Masters by one shot) and newcomer Lee Edler. Knudson birdied 3 of the first 5 holes and hit his irons like a machine en route to shot course record 67, enough to win by 3 and advance to the semi-finals (where he lost to Di Vicenzo). Host Gene Sarazen greatly admired Knudson’s graceful, rhythmic swing, preferring it over others who had gotten “all fouled up in the mechanics of the game”,
Bradley Hughes, a former PGA Tour Player, current coach, and inventor of the DownUnder Board, is a huge fan of Knudson’s swing. Writing on his blog, he speaks at length about Kundson’s footwork, how he utilized the ground, and “closed the gap” during the downswing. He quotes Knudson as saying “Footwork is so important, if we move our legs, the rest of our body moves. Harvey Penick told me, Son, if you are going to play this game for a living, you’d better learn how to use your legs.”
Hughes is also one who draws a parallel between the swings of Knudson and Hogan, telling Lorne Rubenstein, “It’s no mystery that George was a huge Hogan fan. His swing was in many ways a carbon copy of Hogan. My friend Al Barkow (a well-known golf writer who has written many fine books, including Getting’ to the Dance Floor: An Oral History of American Golf and Sam: The One and Only Sam Snead) who walked the fairways with both Hogan and Knudson, said George had the most Hogan-like swing of any player ever.”
Hogan and Knudson were very similar indeed, both finding their swings “in the dirt,” considering the driving range their “classrooms.” They shared a love of practice, dislike of putting and lack of touch on the greens. It’s said that Knudson spent 18 months mastering a flat left foot position in the finish, copying a move he felt benefitted Hogan.
Hughes concluded, “One of the things I love most about George’s approach is that he was completely living the truth that the golf swing is a dynamic flowing motion. He rarely talks about positions and keeps everything moving as it should.”
Bullwhip or “Passive Hands” Drill
Knudson was known for his graceful, fluid golf swing that relied on letting his arms swing freely while pivoting his body starting from the feet up. The goal of the Bullwhip Drill is to feel like the club is being “whipped” around by the body rotation, with minimal hand or arm action. This drill helps golfers get the feeling of an athletic, freely-swinging motion centered on solid lower body rotation and can lead to more consistent ball-striking.
The main elements of the bullwhip drill are:
- Keep the arms and hands very relaxed, letting them hang down loosely at address. The arms should feel like a “bullwhip”, loose and free to swing the club.
- Focus on rotating the body starting from the ground up, using the feet as pivot points. As Knudson said, “my pivot points are in my feet.”
- Make an aggressive turn away from the ball by rotating the shoulders and hips back, while keeping the arms passive.
- Initiate the downswing by firing the hips and letting the arms be “dragged” through impact by centrifugal force.
- Allow the club to release naturally through impact, without manipulating the clubface.
- Finish in a balanced position with weight on the front foot.
The Natural Golf Swing
by George Knudson with Lorne Rubenstein
Summary: The Natural Golf Swing espouses a philosophy of allowing the body’s natural athletic motion to shine through when swinging a golf club, rather than overanalyzing mechanics. George Knudson argues the golf swing should be a natural, balanced motion driven by the laws of physics like centrifugal force and inertia. Knudson breaks down the swing into simple components like the grip, backswing, and downswing to create an easy-to-emulate technique for golfers of all skill levels. The book provides practical instruction, debunks common golf myths, and aims to help golfers improve their games by finding their natural swings.
Gene Sarazen & Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf
by Al Barkow, Mary Ann Sarazen
Summary: Behind-the-scenes story of this ground-breaking golf show from the birth of televised sports, as witnessed by the show’s writer, Barkow, and host Sarazen’s daughter. Includes 50 historical photos and 15 private letters to the legendary Bobby Jones.
My Mulligan to Golf: The Hilarious Story of Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf & the Beginning of the Senior Tour
by Fred Raphael
Summary: Fred Raphael was the producer and director of the Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf Series from 1960 to 1970, and this book reveals his experiences in that role. The book also tells the story of how the Senior Tour, now called the Champions Tour, was born with Fred’s creation of the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf Tournament.