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The Real Secret is in the dirt – the Legend of Ben Hogan and George Knudson’s Golf Swings

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Ben Hogan was renowned for his tireless practice routines focused on perfecting every minute detail of his golf swing in order to achieve elite ball striking consistency. He spent hours upon hours hitting balls on the range, carefully analyzing each shot and making incremental adjustments until he grooved his textbook swing positions.

Repeatedly asked what his mysterious “secret” was, Hogan famously stated that he found it “in the dirt,” or that he would “dig answers out of the dirt,” referring to the practice tee. Hogan was known to arrive at the course at dawn and practice for hours into the afternoon, only taking short breaks. He would place a handkerchief behind the ball to see his impact position and dig holes to check elements like his divot pattern and swing path.

Similarly, George Knudson’s fluid swing that was often compared to Hogan’s was born out of persistent practice. Knudson idolized Hogan and frequently picked his brain when they established a friendship. As a young up and coming pro, Knudson travelled from his native Canada to Pebble Beach and the Crosby Clambake in order to study Hogan. He then took his learnings back to the practice tee at home.

The key commonalities between Hogan and Knudson were their tireless work ethics focused on sound swing techniques. Through countless repetitions grooving key positions and feels, they shaped textbook swings that produced unmatched consistency and ball striking ability. Both golfers exemplified the power of proper practice to create elite games. They also shared a distaste for putting, preferring to focus on their long games. In this post, we’ll look at how we can follow their lead in order to find our own swings “in the dirt.”

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Ben Hogan

Ben Hogan was renowned for his unrelenting work ethic focused on perfecting every minute detail of his textbook swing technique. Hogan was known to be obsessive about practice, once saying he only took 1-3 days off every few months because it took him that long to get his sharpness back. His dedication was unmatched among peers, with his close friend Byron Nelson stating that “nobody had to work as hard as Ben to play golf. Nobody.”

Hogan’s practice sessions were extremely focused and purposeful. He would visualize each shot and then hit countless balls while carefully examining ball flight and divot patterns to self-diagnose any issues. Hogan was constantly making micro adjustments and grooving positions like keeping his right side braced, shallowing the club, and pronating his hands. His diligent, repetitive training allowed him to shape his textbook swing and pinpoint ball-striking accuracy.

Hogan’s tireless sessions focused on fundamentals dazzled peers who marveled at his dedication. Fellow pro Billy Maxwell said nobody matched Hogan’s work ethic, describing his range routines as almost artistic. Others were awed by Hogan constantly grinding away rather than relaxing after tournaments. His relentless drive to improve set him apart even from elite players. Legendary rivals like Sam Snead may have had more fluid natural swings, but lacked Hogan’s endless capacity for practice.

Even into his later playing years, Hogan’s obsession with perfecting his swing continued. As late as his 60s, he spent hours on the range. Hogan’s single-minded dedication through a spartan, repetitive practice routine allowed him to hone techniques no one could match.

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George Knudson

George Knudson, owner of what was referred to as “a million dollar swing,” prioritized rhythm and tempo, swinging the club with a smooth, unhurried motion that he described as “maple syrup pouring out of a bottle.” He was obsessive about proper footwork, spending significant time ensuring he maintained his posture and balance throughout the swing. This emphasis on fundamentals through diligent training allowed Knudson to achieve pinpoint accuracy and become one of golf’s greatest ball strikers.

Knudson was such a dilligent worker that he would often go to the range while his playing partners tee’d off on their round, and catch them on the back nine. He felt that for every hour he spent on the course, he needed to spend an hour practicing. On the aforementioned trip to Pebble Beach, he picked up that Hogan finished balanced with his front foot flat on the ground, and spent 18 months working on this until he owned it as well.

After his playing days, he became a distinguished instructor, with the goal of helping others to reach their potential and find joy in the game. He taught his students, “you don’t play golf to relax, you have to relax to play golf.” Knudson co-wrote his instructional, “The Natural Golf Swing,” with Canadian golf writer Lorne Rubenstein (author of “A Season in Dornoch,” one of my favorites). You can check out our post “George Knudson: Canada’s Coolest Champion,” for more on Knudson, the book, and his philospohy on the swing.

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Four Keys You Can Apply

Here are four key lessons we can learn from Ben Hogan, George Knudson, and other dedicated practitioners about how to grind away and improve our golf swings through tireless, focused practice. Consult our further reading section for more tips from Hogan and Knudson, as well as Adam Young, Jon Sherman, and Josh Waitzkin.

Adopt a Growth Mindset

The most critical element is cultivating a growth mentality centered around measured adjustments and improvement through deliberate training. Like Hogan, view your swing as an ever-evolving work in progress to be honed through analysis and micro adjustments.

Measure progress in small wins like ingraining a key position or feel – think of Knudson’s determined pursuit of Hogan’s flat left foot which indicated a balanced finishing position. Sustain motivation through the journey itself rather than the end result. Fundamental to a growth mentality is an incremental view of progress – rather than seeking an immediate end result, the focus is on small wins that gradually build skills over time.

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Focus on Sound Fundamentals

Hogan and Knudson achieved greatness through monk-like devotion to perfecting textbook techniques. Isolate swing flaws and dedicate significant time to drills targeting root causes rather than just making full swings. Master essentials like grip, alignment, posture and key positions piece by piece. Be willing to break down and rebuild your swing around proper foundations.

Recently, I decided to do just that, tearing down my leverage-based swing that was full of excessive body movement, and an overly strong grip. To be fair, even though I make it sound awful, it did work for me. I felt as if I’d plateau’d and was willing to put the work in to rebuild it.

If you follow this site, you’ll know that I opted for a Club-Focused (CFI) approach, based on the teachings of Manuel de la Torre and others. My favorite moment from the first four months of operating this site, was when I sent my posts on CFI to Ed LeBeau of Heartland Golf Schools, and he replied with positive feedback on my interpretation and adaptation of their content and philosophy. That helped with my daily grind on this site, as my own small victory.

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Employ Purposeful Practice Routines

Mindless repetition breeds complacency; purposeful training stimulates growth by forcing adaptation outside your comfort zone. Vary clubs, targets and trajectories. Introduce pressure through competitive games, read the books by Adam Young and Jon Sherman and learn about random practice. Also check out our post on finding the flow state and how it can help you stay focused and get the best out of your abilities.

Analyze and self-diagnose after each shot. Constantly challenge weaknesses within a deliberate practice framework tailored to your improvement goals. Purposeful practice incorporates several key principles:

  • Focused attention: Each rep must have an intentional purpose, not mindless repetition. Stay mentally engaged on every shot.
  • Gradually increasing challenge: Seek out progressively difficult skills/situations that are just beyond your current ability. Stay slightly uncomfortable.
  • Immediate informative feedback: Critically evaluate each shot and make adjustments. Video can help identify swing flaws.
  • High repetition: Drill proper technique to ingrain motor patterns. But avoid fatigue – quality over quantity.
  • Simulate real conditions: Practice like you play – introduce pressure, consequences, and variability.
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Persist Through Plateaus

Sustaining motivation during lulls in visible progress tests one’s grit and mental resolve. But transformation happens in the struggle. Trust that sticking to the tireless repetitions and micro adjustments will ultimately yield dividends, however gradual.

Remember that even the legendary Ben Hogan at times dug for days without answers. What separates the best is embracing the journey. The path to maximizing our potential winds through the dirt of the practice tee, not some swing gimmick. Like Hogan and Knudson, we must commit to the daily grind – focused, purposeful, and resilient.

Sometimes improvement comes slowly but surely through the compound effect of relentless, dedicated training. As we put in the hard work, we increase or resilience and mental toughness as well. Plateaus will come and go, but seeing them as opportunities to grow rather than obstacles is key. Stay patient and trust the process. The breakthroughs will come in their own time.

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Further Reading

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Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf 

Summary: Ben Hogan’s “Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf” is a classic that outlines his building blocks of winning golf. The book focuses on the five fundamentals Hogan believed were essential to a powerful and accurate golf swing. Each chapter of the book explains and demonstrates a different fundamental with clear illustrations, making it easier for readers to visualize the proper techniques and positions. The book has endured the test of time and is still relevant today.

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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.

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The Practice Manual
by Adam Young

Summary: The Practice Manual is an acclaimed golf instruction book by coach Adam Young that provides golfers an A-Z guide for effective practice by integrating techniques based on motor learning research and neuroscience. It sets out optimal methods for engraining skills long-term, structuring productive training sessions, and hacking the brain for faster improvement with drills, theory and concepts useful for any player or coach. The manual’s action plan establishes achievable goals within a practice regime through its holistic and thorough techniques transferable on and off the course. This innovative guide has become an international bestseller for its groundbreaking approach marrying science and quality instruction to foster lifelong golfing success.

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The Four Foundations of Golf
by Jon Sherman

Summary: Elevate your golf game by mastering the four foundations outlined by John Sherman. This transformative audiobook covers:

  • Manage Expectations: Master setting realistic goals and understanding the scoring system. It will improve your golf game and increase your happiness.
  • Strategy: Strategic thinking is essential in golf. Use a framework to select the best targets for each club and improve your score.
  • Practice: Receive detailed, step-by-step guidance to enhance your skills and seamlessly transition from range practice to the course. Improve your swing without fixating on technique.
  • The Mental Game: Mental techniques like staying calm, building routines, and being confident can help golfers improve their performance.

With these four foundations, this audiobook is more than a guide; it’s your roadmap to becoming a more complete golfer.

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The Art of Learning
by Josh Waitzkin

Summary: In The Art of Learning, chess prodigy and martial arts champion Josh Waitzkin shares the principles behind his success in two very different competitive arenas. He argues that excellence comes from adopting a growth mindset focused on long-term learning, practicing deliberately outside one’s comfort zone, and attaining a state of relaxed concentration he calls “presence.” Waitzkin emphasizes embracing failures as learning opportunities on the journey toward mastery rather than focusing on outcomes. Ultimately, he conveys that the art of learning requires grit, resilience, and trust in the process of incremental improvement through deep practice.

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The Hogan Way
by John Andrisani

Summary: The Hogan Way “is a book that analyzes every aspect of Ben Hogan’s golfing techniques to help readers improve their game. Andrisani reveals secrets about Hogan’s techniques that have never been shared, including how he shaved strokes off his score and hit his trademark power-fade shot. The book also provides insights into Hogan’s golfing mind, practice approach, and course-management skills. Of course, it emphasizes the importance of connection in the golf swing, specifically in the arms.

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Ben Hogan’s Secret Fundamental
by Larry Miller

Summary: Ben Hogan’s Secret Fundamental by Larry Miller focuses on Hogan’s mysterious “secret” that he never publicly revealed about the golf swing. The author, Larry Miller, was mentored by Tommy Bolt who was Hogan’s protégé, and shares Hogan’s secret as he learned it which involves the geometry of the swing relative to the target line. Miller breaks down Hogan’s secret into two aspects and explains it using full-color photos and illustrations to help average golfers implement Hogan’s teachings to improve their games. The book provides insight into Hogan’s intriguing and legendary golf techniques and competitive record.

Videos

Hogan/ Knudson – Secret’s in the Dirt
How Hogan Practiced
Million Dollar Swing – George Knudson

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