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Sunday, August 16, 2009

How a ‘Classic’ Swing Differs from a ‘Modern’ Swing

Just what is the difference between a ‘classic’ swinger like Tom Watson and a ‘modern’ swinger like Tiger Woods? With so many swing theories going around today, it can be hard to tell the two apart. The one thing most people will agree on is that classic swingers ‘swing the club,’ while modern swingers ‘hit the ball.’ This is the difference I mentioned a few posts back, using rhythm versus using muscle; you might also think of it as using centrifugal force versus leverage. At any rate, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. A modern swinger can be more rhythmic and a classic swinger can use more muscle, with varying degrees of success.

So what other possibilities are there?

Well, lately there’s a great deal of talk about one- and two-plane swings. In a two-plane swing, the backswing is on one plane and the downswing is on a different one; you may have heard the term rerouting the club, and this is what is meant. Usually the downswing plane is underneath the backswing plane, although some players reverse that; Bobby Jones was a classic example, swinging back and up before starting his downswing. In a one-plane swing, the backswing and downswing planes are the same.

Some people think that a two-plane swing is a classic swing while a one-plane swing is modern, but this isn’t entirely true. Most players believe Ben Hogan created the modern swing, as described in his book Five Lessons, and that book clearly teaches a two-plane swing. The fact is, a modern swinger can use a one- or two-plane swing, and a classic player can do so as well.

The real difference between the classic and modern swings is where the club shaft gets ‘loaded.’ What does that mean? Sometimes, when a player’s swing is shown on TV in slow motion and analyzed, you can see the club shaft bending backward as the club comes down, then bending forward toward the hole after the ball is struck. This is the ‘loading’ and ‘unloading’ of the club shaft. The shaft is like a spring that stores energy on the way down, then releases it at impact. This affects both the distance you hit the ball and the accuracy of your shot, because the shaft twists (or torques) as it flexes.

This is why it’s so important to have your clubs fitted to your swing. Stronger players generally need stiffer shafts to help their accuracy, while players with less forceful swings can use more flexible shafts to add distance. So a second step to getting more distance is this: Make sure your clubs have been properly fitted to your swing.

This flexing is also the key to understanding the difference between the classic and modern swings. The modern swing loads the shaft at the top of the backswing, while the classic swing loads it halfway through the downswing. This may seem counter-intuitive, since the later loading sounds like it would take more strength, but it actually takes less strength… or rather, it is done at a point in the swing where a player is better able to use the strength they have.

Most teaching these days focuses on the modern swing. Because of this, I focus more on the classic swing; I believe it has more to offer the weekend player who has less time for practice. And to be honest, unlike the modern swing, it uses movements that you’re already familiar with, so they shouldn’t be hard to incorporate into your existing swing. Over the next few posts I’ll look at the classic loading technique more closely.

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