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

 By John Coyne

James Douglas Edgar was an undertalented English golf pro who won the admiration of his famous peers: Tommy Armour, Harry Vardon and Bobby Jones, to name a few. This is the conclusion of a two-part series about how Edgar created the golf swing still being used a century after his death. (Read Part 1.)

WHAT CHANGED DOUG EDGAR’S LIFE was marriage and a child. He came to realize he couldn’t drift along as a home pro, not without improving his game. And he focused on how to outplay the great Open champion Harry Vardon. And he did.

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

Even Vardon agreed, saying of Doug Edgar at the peak of their careers, “This is a man who will one day be the greatest of us all.”

While both Vardon and Edgar were alike as poor kids, that’s where the similarities ended. Vardon was big and strong; Edgar was short and physically handicapped. Vardon’s forearms were the size of Doug’s calves. His shoulders as wide as a doorway. 

Watching Vardon play in a match at the Northumberland course, Edgar was left in awe. He would never be as big and strong as Vardon. He could not overpower the Northumberland course with 200-yard drives in the age of hickory. If he was going to be the best golfer in the world, there had to be another way for Doug Edgar. And there was.

It was not until 1910 that he discovered “The Movement” while hitting mashies around a gate, hitting one curving to the left, landing the other to the right. His hip was giving him trouble, so he didn’t take full swings. In fact, he didn’t move his hips on the backswing. Distance wasn’t an issue. He only wanted to catch the ball solidly on the clubface without collapsing in pain.

On a lark, Edgar decided to take an abbreviated swing, locking his upper arms against the muscles in his chest. He wanted to see how well he could hit it without turning his ailing hip on the backswing at all.

The moment the club clicked, Doug knew it was solid. What he didn’t know until a second later was just how remarkably he had hit it. Not only did the ball fly exactly as he had intended, it went farther than any shot he’d hit in a year. 

Doug tried the shorter, tighter swing again, and again, and again. 

The restricted hip turn was not a detriment: it was the catalyst, the Rosetta stone that had finally decoded the golf swing for him.

A bad hip led to the birth of the modern golf swing, a swing so out of place in its day that the nicest thing people called it was “unusual.”

Today it is the swing seen on every tournament driving range in the world, the swing that has been taught by every top-shelf pro since World War II. It has been called “the coil” and “the X factor,” the “swing connection” and the one-plane swing. Doug called it “The Movement.”

“The Movement,” as Steve Eubanks writes in his book To Win and Die in Dixie: The Birth of of the Modern Golf Swing and the Mysterious Death of Its Creator, “was actually an elimination of movement from the conventional swing. By cutting down on the hip turn and restricting the length the club traveled on the backswing, he was able to store energy like a wound catapult; energy that would be unleashed at the moment, as he put it, ‘when the clubhead meets the ball.’

“To help restrict the hips, he widened his stance a few inches beyond shoulder width, well beyond normal for the day, and splayed his left boot counterclockwise. Such simple adjustments caused the ball to spring off the club with jarring velocity.”

The rest is history. Golf history.



J Douglas Edgar is buried in Westview Cemetery, Atlanta. His epitaph was quite an accolade from his peers in the world of professional golf.”

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

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 aet

Photo of author
Neil Sagebiel

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.