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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Swing of Luke Donald

I wanted to take a quick look at Luke Donald's swing today because of a little conversation Court and I had via some of the comments in the weekend posts. It had to do with a remark Brandel Chamblee made about Donald's swing, which basically came down to "his swing is so good that anything can go wrong with it." It sounds silly on the surface, but it makes sense once you understand what Brandel meant.

I'm putting this up because I want all of you to understand that having "the perfect swing" isn't all it's cracked up to be. In fact, it can be quite a headache! The swing videos I chose were made during 2009, and basically show just how good Donald's swing is.

This first is part of a EuroTour broadcast during the Alfred Dunhill Cup, and shows Donald down-the-line:

I believe that's Julian Tutt who remarks, "Well, that's pretty much textbook." And it is... but if Donald's swing is so good, why is he ranked 80th in the All-Around stat? All-Around is based on 8 stats, including his 21st position in Putting Average, 6th in Scoring Average, and 2nd in Sand Saves. How can a guy who's so textbook be 112th in Driving Average and 129th in GIR? It makes no sense, does it?

It will in a minute; hang on.

The other video is from a tournament in Munich, and shows both face-on and a view from down-the-line but slightly behind him:

The angle is a little weird, but it shows just how steady and on-plane Donald is. It really is a beautiful swing.

So what's the big problem? Why doesn't Luke Donald have more than 2 wins on the PGA Tour? Why isn't he tearing fields to shreds on a weekly basis?

You have to understand that "textbook" swings are designed to be the perfect balance of power and accuracy. Somebody (don't ask me who) decided that swinging on a certain swing plane gives a player the most versatility in his or her swing. Donald has what is called a "single-plane" swing -- that is, his club goes back and comes down on essentially the same plane -- and many consider this to be the most accurate way to swing. So why does it seem to give Donald problems?

I've talked before about how extremes in a swing can make it more predictable. Matt Kuchar, for example, has a single-plane swing but it is very flat. Because of this, his right elbow stays very close to his side during the swing and, if he makes a mistake, it's most likely to be an "inside-out" swing, which means he'll push the ball to the right. So Matt knows his ball is most likely going straight or right... and virtually never left. He can allow for that.

Likewise, a mess-up during an upright swing is most likely to create an "outside-in" path, which means the ball will start out to the left. If you know the ball is going straight or left, you can allow for that.

(A quick digression here: An outside-in swing is NOT the same as an over-the-top swing, although they both go to the left for a right-handed golfer. The main difference between the two is that an over-the-top swing goes UP and forward at the top of the swing, while an outside-in swing goes DOWN and forward at the top of the swing. An outside-in swing is very playable, but an over-the-top swing is not. Don't confuse the two; go back over the "Dexter's Coming Over The Top" post series listed on the Some Useful Post Series page if you don't understand why the two are different.)

But for Luke Donald, his swing isn't "most likely" to do either. It's on what you might call a "neutral" plane, where he can make it do anything he wants at any time. This makes it very versatile but also very sensitive to his tempo, which can get a little wonky when he's under pressure. Basically, it works like this: If he gets a little "quick" and turns his lower body a little faster than normal, he tilts a little backward and ends up hitting an inside-out shot to the right. However, if he tightens up a bit and turns his lower body slower than normal, he tilts a bit forward and pulls the club to the left (an outside-in shot). Under pressure, he doesn't have a single miss; he can miss it both ways, depending on whether he gets quick or tight.

Missing both ways is a big problem when you've got to miss trouble spots.

Now, this isn't to say that there's anything wrong with Luke Donald's swing. But I want you to understand that a "perfect swing" like his takes a lot more practice in order to make it do what you want. A less-than-perfect swing that has a consistent miss is going to be much easier to play with, even when you haven't practiced much, simply because it's predictable. Just to give you a couple of examples, Kenny Perry has won 14 times on the PGA Tour by using a swing that always gives him a little hook, and Craig Stadler won 13 times on the PGA Tour (including the 1982 Masters) with an outside-in swing that gave him a consistent little fade.

If you've been trying to develop the perfect swing, maybe you'd be better served working to get a predictable one. I can promise you one thing -- that's what Luke Donald is looking for.


  1. Wait - an over the top swing is supposed to go LEFT ?? Oh geez - now I have to go back to the drawing board because all of my over the top swings go right ! Gee - thanks Mike ! (lol)

    You left out the point of Chamblee's incredibly bad analysis job the other day. What he was trying to say is that there is very little that can go wrong with Donald's swing - his problem is tempo. If he is off a little too fast, he loses balls to the right. Too slow and he loses them to the left.

    Maybe he should take drumming lessons in the off season - learn to keep time and his tempo should improve.

  2. Yeah -- over-the-top swings cause you to pull the ball. If you're leaving the face wide open so you hit a huge pull-slice that ends up on the right side of the course... whew! That's the worst of both worlds! ;-)

  3. oh no - not a pull slice - there are days I should change my name to Chiquita. I guess it's like the old advice that hitting with the ball below your feet always goes right and above the feet always goes left...except when it doesn't. (lol)

  4. Been there, done that... except I once suffered from that monstrous pull-slice that gets bigger with each attempted correction. Forget Chiquita -- they called me Plantation!

  5. Cool to see Luke handle the pressure, keep his timing perfect, and triumph in Tucson this weekend. Maybe a perfect swing ain't so bad?

  6. There's absolutely nothing wrong with a perfect swing... as long as you know how to score with it. Plenty of guys have textbook swings, but they don't use 'em the way Luke Donald does.

    That's what make Cool Hand Luke so deadly.

    BTW, if you remember my post on the January Ruthless Golf World Rankings, you'll recall that I predicted a breakout year for Luke Donald and said, "I'll be really surprised if he doesn't post at least one important win this year."

    As Bubba would say, you're welcome. ;-)