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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Swing of Mr. September

He's #4 in the world and #4 in FedExCup points. He earned the nickname "Mr. September" because of how well he plays in the playoffs -- even when paired with Tiger. In fact, it's no secret that he's Tiger's partner of choice in team events. And he's one of those "nice guys" on Tour who just doesn't believe in finishing last.

Steve Stricker is one of my favorite comeback stories. He was one of those "can't miss" kids who lost his game but didn't give up, and now he's one of the game's elite players. Not only that, he did it without being a big hitter; Stricker averages just over 282 yards off the tee, 4 yards under the Tour average... and this is a guy who's 6' tall. Where he kills everybody is consistency -- he's a classic example of my Rule of 67. For those of you who've forgotten it, my Rule of 67 says that if you can hit 67% of your fairways, 67% of your greens, and get up-and-down (scramble) 67% of the time, you're better than the average Tour player. Here are Stricker's stats:
  • Driving Accuracy: 69.69%
  • GIR: 68.14%
  • Scrambling: 64.62% (ok, he's a couple of percent short, but he's still 7% ahead of the Tour average)
Stricker's definitely better than the average Tour player. The funny thing to me is, he's only slightly better in any individual category... but he's better in all of them, and that makes him a dominator on the course. Best of all, he did it with a swing that anybody can learn.

Ironically, despite the number of videos I found, there's aren't many recent ones that really capture what Stricker does... and the only SwingMotion video I found was from 3 years ago, and not very complimentary. But we'll try to make do. Here's a face-on view from the 2010 U.S. Open:



Here's something very unorthodox about Stricker's swing: He has a fairly flat backswing but an upright finish. Compare his hand position at :26 (the top of his backswing) with his position at :37 (about the same position in his finish). You'll be able to see this better in some of the down-the-line videos, but it's evident even here.

I have a short series about Stricker's "deadhand" approach shot listed on the "Some Useful Post Series" page, but you can see here that he doesn't even use a power technique with his driver. The club basically coasts to a stop at the top of his backswing. You can't see his wrists cocking any extra as they start down, the way some of the power players do it; a motion like that would indicate that he started his downswing before the backswing completely stopped. (If you check out some of the other players featured in this blog's "pro swings" category, like Ryo Ishikawa, you can see that action as they start the downswing.) Add that to a swing that stops short of parallel at the top, and it's no wonder that he doesn't blast his tee shots. But he's playing from the fairway most of the time -- giving up 10 yards to be in the fairway isn't a bad trade-off at this level. You can't win the tournament with your driver, but you can sure lose it!

Here's a slightly odd angle from the front with Johnny Miller's commentary. Johnny hit it right with this one:



Although he doesn't call it a one-piece takeaway, that's exactly what Johnny describes: Quiet hands with a good shoulder turn early in the swing. "Not a lot of moving parts" is Dan Hickman's assessment, and it's a good one as well; look at how quiet Stricker is all the way through the swing! There's not a lot of wasted motion, and because of that Stricker makes consistently solid contact.

Another video, this one a down-the-line from the 2009 Masters:



Compare this video to any other pro from this angle and you will be shocked by how much most players move in comparison to Steve Stricker. The club simply comes back, then goes down and through -- no ducking, lurching, twisting, getting stuck, or any other extraneous moves. Stricker simply steps up and hits the ball. Look at that ball fly straight where he aimed it!

And one last video, this one from the 2009 Open Championship:



This is another odd angle, but I'm including it because it really emphasizes just how quiet his body is when he swings.

The real beauty of Steve Stricker's swing is how simple it is. On a personal note, I feel it backs up my contention that you should build your full game swing from your putting stroke; Stricker's always been considered a great putter (he's nearly a full stroke below the Tour average), and his putting technique isn't really that different from the rest of his game now. He's eliminated the excess movement and come up with a swing that's as easy to repeat as his putting stroke.

I think Johnny Miller's right. The smart players will be copying Steve Stricker's swing... and maybe for more than the next 30 years.

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