Hit ‘Em Hard, They’ll Land Somewhere

Bobby Jones? Stewart Maiden? Harvey Penick? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Sometimes a golfer who is looking down a narrow fairway becomes overly cautious when striking the ball. The resulting golf shot travels off course or is too short. There is a popular piece of advice to counter this self-defeating tentative behavior. Here are three versions:

Hit ’em hard; they’ll land somewhere.
Hit it hard; it’ll come down someplace.
Knock hell out of them. They’ll land somewhere.

I’ve heard this credited to golfing great Bobby Jones, coach Stewart Maiden, and best-selling author Harvey Penick. Could you explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI believes this guidance originated with the prominent Scottish golf teacher Stewart Maiden whose nickname was “Kiltie”. Part of this advisory statement was recorded in a newspaper article printed in January 1928. Maiden was hired to instruct a “famous society woman” in the finer points of the game, and he used exuberant language: 1

She met “Kiltie” at the club and the ball was teed up for the first drive. She listened for the mystic words that were to mean “open sesame” to her in the world of golf. Maiden without hesitating, instructed:

“Get up there, Madam, and knock hell out of it!”

In September 1928 the top golfer Bobby Jones whose full name was Robert Tyre Jones Jr. wrote approvingly in his syndicated newspaper column about the counsel provided by Stewart Maiden during a major tournament. Jones contended that tight fairways and closely guarded greens were troublesome primarily because of their effect upon the player’s mental state. Anxiety and tenseness disturbed proper play. Hence, Jones endorsed maintaining an “aggressive frame of mind”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

Stewart Maiden expressed the whole idea in a characteristically brief telegram to Watts Gunn. Watts had had a very bad first round in the open championship at Oakmont last year, driving literally all over the course. Next morning he received this message from Stewart.

“Hit ’em hard, they’ll land somewhere.”

And that is a very splendid attitude to cultivate. Even the narrowest fairways are wide enough for a well-hit shot. The difficulty arises when we allow the sight of them to upset the manner of hitting.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1931 an article by Bobby Jones titled “The Fine Art of Putting” was published in “The Rotarian” magazine, and Maiden’s advice was curiously stretched to apply to the domain of the putting green. Also, the date of the telegram was moved to 1919 from the late 1920s: 3

I have never had any better advice in golf from tee to green than was contained in a telegram sent me by Stewart Maiden in 1919. It read—“Hit ’em hard. They’ll land somewhere.” You must not apply this advice literally to putting but, its application is obvious. Hit the putt as well as you can and do not allow worry about the outcome to spoil your stroke.

In 1934 Jones mentioned the maxim again in his syndicated sports column. But this instance of tale was slightly altered. It now stated that the telegram from Maiden was sent during a big tournament to Jones instead of Watts Gunn: 4 5

This reminded me of the telegram sent me by Stewart Maiden to the amateur championship at Oakmont. Stewart had read that I was having trouble hitting the fairways with my tee shots. He guessed that I had been trying too hard to steer them down the middle. So he sent me this message: “Hit ’em hard. They’ll land somewhere.” I got the idea and had no more trouble.

In 1971 the famous sports writer Red Smith presented an intriguing alternate version of the story. The year was shifted to 1925, and the telegram was received by Bobby Jones who was inspired to beat Watts Gunn: 6

The stories could go on forever, like the telegram Bobby received at Oakmont near Pittsburgh in 1925 when he was going for his second National Amateur title. He had been spraying his shots and this had him upset until the wire came from Stewart Maiden, the Atlanta professional whose style he had copied as a boy.

“Knock hell out of them,” the message advised. “They’ll land somewhere.” Bobby did and they did. He smashed Watts Gunn in the final match, 8 up and 7 to play.

A 1997 collection titled “The Wisdom of Harvey Penick” included a version of the adage credited to Maiden that employed the word “someplace” instead of “somewhere”: 7

Bobby Jones said two of the best pieces of advice he ever received from teacher Stewart Maiden are “You don’t hit it with your backswing” and “Hit it hard, it’ll come down someplace.”

A 2005 self-help book printed an instance of the aphorism that matched the one above: 8

“Hit it hard. It’ll come down someplace.”
—Stewart Maiden,
Instructor to Bobby Jones

In conclusion, Stewart Maiden should be credited with this advice, and the version in September 1928 is the earliest known to QI. Bobby Jones was the primary popularizer of the maxim, and the details of his anecdote shifted over time, but the advice was unchanging.

(Great thanks to Mike for suggesting an exploration of this golf adage.)

Notes:

  1. 1928 January 1, The Sunday Times-Signal (Zanesville Signal), Tutor of Champions Going Back to Native Scotland, Quote Page 11, Column 4, Zanesville, Ohio. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1928 September 19, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Narrow Fairways Are Mental Hazard to Jones, as to Others by Bobby Jones, (Article subtitle: ‘Hit ‘Em Hard, They’ll Land Somewhere,’ Was Stewart Maiden’s Advice), Quote Page 8, Column 6, Richmond, Virginia. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1931 September, The Rotarian, Volume 39, Number 3, The Fine Art of Putting by Robert T. Jones Jr., Start Page 24, Quote Page 24, Published by Rotary International. (Google Books full view) link
  4. 1934 June 24, Omaha World-Herald, Mental Side of Golf Odd by Bobby Jones, (Bell Syndicate, Inc.), Section B, Start Page 3, Column 4, (GNB Page 29), Omaha, Nebraska. (GenealogyBank)
  5. 1934 June 24, Salt Lake Tribune, “Mental Hazards Furnish Vital Problem, Says Jones” by Bobby Jones, (Bell Syndicate), Quote Page 8B (NArch Page 22), Column 1, Salt Lake City, Utah. (NewspaperArchive)
  6. 1971 December 20, Wisconsin State Journal, Bobby’s Bodyguards by Red Smith, (New York Times News Service), Section 3, Quote Page 6 (NArch Page 40), Column 2, Madison, Wisconsin. (NewspaperArchive)
  7. 1997 copyright, The Wisdom of Harvey Penick: Lessons and Thoughts from the Collected Writings of Golf’s Best-Loved Teacher by Harvey Penick with Bud Shrake, Quote Page 208, Simon & Schuster, New York. (Google Books Preview)
  8. 2005 copyright, Finding Your “A” Game: Golf, Investing, And Life by Neil Rinehart, Quote Page 169, iUniverse, Lincoln, Nebraska. (Google Books Preview)