Jimmy Thomson, Monster Long Driver

Originally posted on DJ Watts Golf blog Feb 15, 2012

I dug this old post up from the former blog, as looking at JT’s address and swing motion here are nearly bang-on with the MCS model and address position, especially the current MCS as shown in the MPS “B” or Playing Swing video.  

Hello to JM, who sent me this book to look at back then!


I was delighted to receive an instructional book yesterday from a friend who sent it to me on loan.

It’s a vintage (and by vintage, we’re talking published in 1940) magazine-type book (kind of the size of a Rolling Stone magazine) called “Hit’Em a Mile!” on the long-driving Jimmy Thomson, with tons of photos and sequences taken from the four major angles (front, back, up the line, down the line).

I had never heard of Jimmy Thomson before my friend told me about the book, but this guy was apparently well known in golf circles and not only a good golfer (he won or placed second in a number of tournaments) but a prolific long driver (Byron Nelson named 10 Master Golfers by the club they used, and he chose Jimmy Thomson for the Driver).

J.T. was a Scottish-born (1908) golfer who won the North American driving championship in 1936. Get this, he averaged 324 yards on ten drives and his longest drive was 386 yards!

He actually took 2nd place at the 1935 U.S. Open at Oakmont, placing ahead of such luminaries as Byron Nelson, Walter Hagen,  Gene Sarazen and Harry “Lighthouse” Cooper.  What’s just as amazing was that he twice reached the 610 yard 12th in two, with a spoon (3-4 wood) for his second shot.  This is in the days of persimmon woods and balata balls.

Thomson had Top-10 finishes in 3 of the 4 majors in his career, with a 2nd in the ’36 PGA and a 6th place finish at the ’37 Masters, and a T-8 in ’38.

Jimmy Thomson Swings With Bing Crosby Looking On

I have couple of pics from the book that I’m going to show below, and the resemblance to the MCS swing is uncanny only if you forget that most of the golfers of the old days had much more mechanically-sound swings than the players today.

It’s just a fact that golf techniques have become less and less sound, in contrast to all other sports where technique advances rather than regresses.


Look at Jimmy’s Address Position here.  That’s a virtual carbon-copy face-on of the MCS Fundamentals Trifecta.

At the top, there’s not much more that can be said other than, how MCS is that top position?

He also said that the left arm is extended but not rigid, which kind of goes with what I have said about my own left arm not being ramrod straight, just extended.

In the book, Thomson talks about the back swing starting with the body turn and not the arms.

He obviously was a “full body turn” guy, not a rubber band separation guy.

That technique didn’t exist until just a few years ago.


At impact, there are several MCS principles that match with Jimmy Thomson’s swing as well.

The left hip has shifted toward the target with a nice tilt, plus you have the increased spine tilt to the right and the head moving down and to the right.

There are so many cool pictures in this book, and what astounds me is that this gentleman was not only a great player but could absolutely hammer the ball. Yet, he was never widely emulated.  Bizarre.

It was said actually that he would have won more tournaments if he hadn’t been such a long driver because the shorter clubs (like the niblick) in those days were not as accurate in terms of controlling direction as the mid-irons.

He was driving it way past everyone, but they were hitting their approaches closer to the pins by virtue of having mid-irons to his niblick in hand.  Of course, if golfers back then had been as obsessive with numbers as they now, he’d likely have realized what was happening at the time.

Anyways, thanks to my friend for loaning me this awesome piece of golf history.  I promise to return it to you, safe and sound, when I’ve had my fill of reading it.

17 thoughts on “Jimmy Thomson, Monster Long Driver

  1. pwerban

    The modern golf swing is insanity. Watching JT’s swing is art in motion. If he was that long back then, I wonder what he would do now. The PGA and USGA really need to re-visit what they are teaching. Just a side note. I wonder if it was a bit easier to hit a driver back then given their specs (shorter shafts, more of an iron lie angle, etc..).

    1. D Watts Post author

      “The modern golf swing is insanity. Watching JT’s swing is art in motion.”

      pwerban, you couldn’t have said it better if you’d tried. And you are correct, it’s poetry to watch the old time swings, especially of the longer hitters, as they would have had to have good technique to hit persimmon and balata that far…

      I think personally, yes, the persimmon clubs were easier to swing, just harder to control with the tiny sweet spots and the gear effect of the curved face, combined with the high spin-rates of the balata balls.

      But I’ve got a persimmon driver that I hit with the same club speed that I get with the modern driver, so I’d likely have enjoyed out-driving my contemporaries if I’d played back then as well… 🙂

  2. Buddhabob

    This is Thompson hitting for Bing Crosby. I expected him to be bigger but he was good size and good athletic swing. Keep in mind they may have exaggerated the distance measurements to attract crowds though, golf was in its infant stages in America back then.

    1. D Watts Post author

      lol, that’s the clip from which my clip in the posting was taken, buddhabob – but remember he hit some serious drives in the long drive contests, and I doubt they would have been lying about the numbers at these contests…

      Here’s another clip of ol’ Jimmy T:

      No doubt some of the numbers may have been juiced, but you can see them doing that now on the PGA Tour with their downhill, downwind “measuring” holes (they pick two long holes on the course each tournament for getting distance stats on average drives, etc) with the runway-firm fairways… that’s another form of juicing the numbers.

  3. Buddhabob

    Thompson must have been around 6ft. since Crosby was 5’7″, a standard height back then. He looks to be choking up on his driver in this demo and does something different with the grip, can’t tell. Good shoulder turn though, no flying elbow and strong hip motion. Gotta love those skinny belts they wore. They were in style in the 50s too. Its why the counter culture of the 60s came up with such big ass leather belts.

    But I think the distances were exaggerated back then. They were not a technology dependent and obsessed culture yet and folk stories were the thing, especially in sports. A lot of the distances on the home run shots then were exaggerated to attract crowds and sell tickets. Mickey Mantle’s supposed 600 plus home run was completely exaggerated by hungry reporters. The only sport where there was a semblance of statistical accuracy was track and field and Jesse Owens would not even qualify today.

    1. D Watts Post author

      He’s listed in his book at 5’10” and 188 lbs, which is a good size for men back then, it’s actually today’s average ht for American men…

  4. pwerban

    I agree that there is an issue today with the TV broadcast of the PGA. They sensationalize length and I’d say they exaggerate there too. Justin Rose hitting a 3 iron 270 to reach a par 5 in 2 for example. If you ever watch the Tavistock cup, the distances are way down. Drives of 260 – 290yds. 7 irons going 180yds. That’s vastly different then tournament golf where they step on a 9 iron to go 180yds. My golfing buddy and I use to talk about this topic regularly.

    1. D Watts Post author

      Here’s one for you, pwerban – they juice the numbers by changing the lofts on clubs as well.

      You’ve heard me talk about my iron distances. My 4 iron is a Tommy Armour Silver Scot original model, stainless steel, with 24 degrees loft. My old Hogan Apex irons have the same lofts, so my 5 iron is 28 degrees.

      Watch this Dustin Johnson commercial, allow yourself to be impressed, and then go check the lofts on those irons.

      The other DJ’s 3 iron is 19 degrees, and my 2 iron is 18 degrees. The 6 iron that I’ve said I can hit 230 yards – 32 degrees loft. DJ’s 7 iron is 31 degrees, even stronger than my 6!

      So lots of juicing going on, and I don’t know how they get away with it, marketing wise…

      1. Brandon

        Dustin always hated the distance irons. I still remember when the first rocketbladez came out. he was hitting the 3 iron 270 and he was asked if he would play the tour version and he said no. when asked why he replied, “why would I want a 3 or 4 iron to go that far? I have no use for that out on the tour.”

        He wasn’t the only TM player to say that either. it really is sad that the lofts are getting to be so jacked. I have even had to rethink my set make up in order to deal with vanishing loft disease. I like the way the new Tour Preferred irons feel and look but instead of going with a traditional 3-PW set, I will most likely do 4-PW mixed set(MC, MB) and may get the 3 iron in the full CB since its loft is either 18 or 19 degrees and use it like a 2 or 1 iron or do the same thing with a set of Mizuno irons.

        Its sad that the only way to increase iron distance is to strengthen lofts and its silly that equipment manufacturers are duking it out to see who can get a 200 yard 7 iron in your hand even though it has the length of a 6 iron from the 50s and the loft of a 4 iron from the 40s.

        If they were really so technologically advanced, they would figure out how to make a 24 degree 3 iron go as far or further than a 20 degree iron. That would be a real breakthrough.

        1. D Watts Post author

          I’m pretty conservative as well on the course, Brandon – I can hit my 6 iron 230 yards on the range, but I can’t remember using it on a distance to a green greater than 210 or so, and that’s pushing it when a smooth five carries much less risk of mishitting it.

          I used it once on a hole that measured 218 to the hole, but it was a back placement with lots of room to come up short, and there was a following wind.

          I can’t imagine ever needing an iron that long for anything other than a par-5 approach or very long par-3 anyways, and for both, I’d swing easier with more club. Off the tee, sure, I could take my 4i and put it out there 250 or more with no worries, there’s much more room for error than when going at a green.

          But this game of ever-decreasing lofts, you don’t have to wonder why the pros are missing greens all over the place with what you’d think was an easy club – but when you’re hitting an 8 iron closer in loft to a 6… you’re going to miss more greens. Just as you’ll miss more greens with a regular 6 over an 8…

          They should eliminate numbered irons and just go back to lofts, but then they couldn’t juice their numbers that way 😉

  5. Buddhabob

    agree about all that nonsense. Its a marketing gimmick to suggest that these pros hit so much farther and are so much stronger, this is what’s behind it. Irons are for accuracy and scoring.

    Brandon what is the deal with the 4-5 degree lofts vs the 7-8 lofts in long drive? I have read that the lower lofts are for top speed swings but I hit my 6 degree much better than a 7.5 or 8 and I am not a top speed swinger. I like to Tee high and address the ball in line with the far side of my leading foot or thereabouts but when I do that with a 7.5 I tend to hit risers that are too high. I hit high with the 6 but its a boring trajectory with good carry.

    The SMT I just ordered is a 5 and I thought it was all about position at address and launch angle that determines the best loft for you but all this is so detailed that I really don’t know what the variables are. Could you fill me in? The ultimate would be to get a high, boring, canon like launch and carry that lands at a shallow angle and then runs like a scalded dog.

    1. Brandon

      It is true about the highest speed players. Winther, I believe, uses 3.5-5 degrees and Burke won with a 3 degree driver this past year(I think). I also believe it has alot to do with the release. If you are a severe lagger(Sadlowski) with a ball position that is in line with your big toe, you can get away with less loft because you will create enough spin to keep the ball airborne even with so little loft, but the earlier you release the club coming down, the more loft you will need to create the spin in order to keep it airborne to max the carry.

      In the SMT line, the Indio is the highest launching and highest spinning head(it still launches just about .5 degree higher than its stated loft and spin is maybe 1000 rpms higher than the lower launching and spinning Spectrum and Encore). That is why I picked that head. when I first was improving my swing, I really made sure I had lag in my swing(90 degrees or less angle) and because of this I hit my driver high and with alot of spin so I picked the Spectrum at the time to decrease launch and spin and at 8 degrees of loft, I was getting 14 degrees of launch and 2000 spin and I was hitting the driver mid-high which is what I wanted. 25-40 yards of roll wasn’t uncommon for me, but now I swing with an earlier release and 5.5 degrees of loft and my launch dropped down to 11.7-12.5 degrees, which is fine but, because of the shallower angle of attack, my spin dropped to like 1500 rpms. Because of that, My ball doesn’t fly as high which means I can’t carry the ball as far even though I may be getting 50 yards of roll, my carry doesn’t justify the benefit of the roll. My options, to fix this, are to increase loft or swing a softer shaft. That is why Sadlowski can use low loft but it was more beneficial for David Mobley, even in his prime, to use 7-8.5 degrees of loft. They can both put it out there beyond 400 yards but too much loft will make Jamie’s ball balloon and too little loft will make David’s ball not carry because of the spin rates. Ball position is irrelevant to an extent when you are talking about AOA at +0.5 vs +2.5 degrees. Doesn’t matter if the spin rate isn’t right.

      THere are many other variables that influence loft choice but if you find that you don’t get the launch and spin you want with that Spectrum, try going to a softer flex or a more tip soft design to bring up your spin rate to maximize carry. It doesn’t matter what you do, that head will be flat and boring and will run like a scalded dog trying to get out of hell.

      This is one of the reasons I believe that Mike Austin advocated an early release is because in the persimmon and balata ball days, spin rates were closer to 3000 rpms instead of 2000 like today. If you have a 2900 rpm rate with a -1 degree AOA, you will increase carry and roll by moving your AOA 3 degrees to +2 by about 30 yards(Andreas, please confirm) with the same ball speed.

      1. Andreas

        Its hard to say how much you gain by getting more positive AoA, but yes, its usually more than enough to justify it. Jamie is usually not using as low a loft as the others. Not sure atm as he uses an adjustable head but he has always been +3 to +4 in AoA and used to have a 6.5* Adams. Maybe he is at around 5* now with Callaway but he has never had the big AoA. The other mentioned all use 3-4*. The spinloft of those guys are usually high as many flip it and need that low loft not to get too much spin.

        They learn but habits die hard. Both Burke and Winther cuts the ball but when all comes together it goes miles. Thankfully not everytime:-)

        If you get 1500 spin you leave lots of carry on the table, try for at least 17-1800. At 1500 and lower the ball will sometimes just fall out of the sky very short of the potential. But it will run like……alot:-)

        1. Brandon

          You are right Andreas on that 1500 rpm. For my ballspeed(187 mph), my spin needs to be1900-2100 with about 13.5 degrees of launch. When your parameters are correct, you can hit drives that will shock you.

  6. Buddhabob

    You guys are great, I am humbled. I appreciate the detail and I didn’t know there was that much to it. Thank you for taking the time. Andreas what do you mean when you say they flip it? When I first got the 6 degree I was hitting it low to mid with good roll out. Now I am hitting it very high with good carry for myself anyway and probably not as much rollout. So I am experimenting on the way especially since the Diamond line is so inexpensive.

    The Krank 5.5 Formula Five I hit a few months back as a demo was no big deal. A very expensive club but it sounded like a plastic toy when I hit it. I recently had a HOF shaft tipped 3/8″ by a guy at GolfSmith who did not spine align it. It then hit slicing way to the right. He aligned it again but poorly and it does something similar. I am wondering if he didn’t just ruin the shaft. I will try putting the Spectrum 5 degree head on a softer shaft that has not been tipped and see what happens.

    Thank you Brandon. I naturally release from the top with the hips and hands pretty much in synch. I found for me only that delaying the release could lead to ballooning and it certainly did not improve swing speed either as so many claim. Alot of this is going to be trial and error apparently as there are so many variables its mind boggling.

    Thanks again for the education.

    1. Andreas

      If you get 15* launch and AoA +7 you spinloft is 8. Many big hitter get about 12-15* launch but have 0-+3 AoA. Spinloft at 10-15*. That much spinloft will make you spin the ball slot. Likely 3000+. The flip add spinloft. They get more launch at the cost of more spin. Not good at explaining it but roughly so.

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