Sunday, October 18, 2009

Matt Kuchar Can “Flat-Out” Play

Ok, bad joke. But Matt Kuchar is in contention again this week, after winning just a couple of weeks ago at Turning Stone, so that super-flat swing he’s adopted is getting a lot of attention. Here are my thoughts on the matter.

I wanted to include a photo of Kuchar’s backswing position, but the only one I could find is here at ProGolferDigest.com (made over a year ago) and the plane lines that have been added to the picture are terribly misleading. Matt’s hands are probably no more than six inches below his shoulders, at most. It’s the third picture down; you can take a look at it if you haven’t seen the Kuchar Crunch before. (Yeah, that’s what I’m calling it. Live with it.)

The big question is, of course, should a weekend player even consider a swing as flat as the Crunch? Flat swings are nothing new; players like Rosie Jones and Paul Azinger made good careers for themselves swinging that way, and Chad Campbell is a current player who plays very well by keeping things “below the plane.” But Kuchar is 6’4” and needed about four years to make this swing work well enough to win with it. Because of these facts, his swing has drawn considerable criticism. Tall players generally adopt more upright swings, in order to take advantage of the huge arc they can create on the backswing.

Flat-swingers keep their right elbows very close to their side on the backswing, thus causing their hands to be below the traditionally-accepted position of a proper swing plane. (That elbow position is why I call it the Crunch; that’s how it feels to me.) It’s often said that upright players are longer and flat players are more accurate; I think you can understand how this idea got started. While it’s harder to develop a lot of power with your elbow so close to your side, it makes sense that it’s simpler to keep the club on-line when the elbow doesn’t have a lot of leeway to move on the downswing.

Where flat swings can cause problems is their low angle of approach to the ball. Any sort of rough can prevent clean contact between clubface and ball. As tall as Matt Kuchar is, his flat swing is probably on about the same plane as a typical 5’10” player with a so-called “proper” swing; as a result, Matt probably doesn’t have that problem. And with his long arms, he can still get an acceptable amount of swing speed to play against the other pros.

Don’t discount height when we talk about the Crunch. The other flat-swingers I mentioned, Campbell and Azinger, are 6’1” and 6’2” respectively. Rosie Jones, at 5’7”, was always considered a short hitter. But when these players are playing well, they’re extremely hard to beat. I wouldn’t rule out the Crunch just because you might give up some distance; all of these players are known for their accuracy, and their low ball flights make them deadly in windy conditions.

The big question concerns that four-year stretch Kuchar needed to make the swing change. Obviously I would never recommend such an effort-intensive change to a weekend player. But the key word here is CHANGE. If you have a “standard” swing and it feels good to you, don’t change it; just learn how to use it properly.

But is the Crunch your natural swing, the one you automatically use when you take the club back? Then don’t change it just because somebody tells you it’s “wrong.” All swings have advantages and disadvantages. You’ll be best served by a natural-feeling swing that you can repeat time after time. You’ll just need to develop a game strategy that minimizes its shortcomings and maximizes its strengths.

There’s no reason you can’t take a page out of Matt Kuchar’s book and use the Crunch to “flat-out” beat your opponents.

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