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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Another Old Guy Wins: John Cook

Surprise! Instead of looking at this week's PGA event winner (no good video available) or the ET winner (I think I've looked at Kaymer's swing before), I chose to go with an old guy. Tiger's buddy John Cook won the Mitsubishi Electric Championship this weekend, which gives him two wins in his last two starts. (He also won the Schwab Championship at the end of 2010.) Cook generally doesn't win until late in the year, but said he worked "about 10% harder on everything" during his break... and came out firing on all cylinders.

It's ironic that a player with as many wins as Cook has so little video available on YouTube. Instead of a driver swing (none of which were slo-mo), I've gone with these two long iron shots. Though separated by the better part of two years, they're close enough for our purposes.

An important note here: John Cook is not a long hitter. Year in and year out, he averages around 275 yards off the tee. Nevertheless, as he starts his 5th year on the Champions Tour, he has at least one win each year and has been Top 5 on the money list every year except 2007, his first year. Cook is an everyman player that we can all learn from.

This down-the-line shot is from Cook's win at the 2010 Schwab Championship:

First, I want you to note that Cook uses a slightly closed stance. Cook has a very upright swing, and upright swingers have a tendency to slack off on their shoulder turn. Given his ball flight in this video, it's obvious he closes his stance for exactly that reason -- to increase his body turn. He also has a good one-piece takeaway, which helps him get that body turn going early...

But his hands never get above his head! I guess you'd call Cook's swing a "three-quarter swing," which isn't unusual for any player using a long iron. However, if you watch him swing a driver, you'll see that his swing is a bit flatter but not any longer. This is about as long as a Cook swing gets. Because of that, he's always in balance and always in a strong position to make his swing. That's why he's so accurate -- well over 70% in Driving Accuracy most years, and over 83% last week. His GIR stays right around there as well.

One thing you'll notice that's different from, say, Steve Stricker is that Cook doesn't use a deadhanded motion at the top of his backswing. Even with that long iron, you can see it clearly in this video. I think it works for him mainly because of his shorter swing, which helps him stay steady all the way through his swing.

This face-on view is about a year-and-a-half earlier but still looks about the same:

Note that his weight looks to be a bit more to his left side at the top of his backswing. This helps him hit down on the ball a bit better. And you can really see that "downcock" at the top which is noticeably missing from guys like Stricker, especially with an iron. Cook actually carries quite a bit of wrist cock down into the hitting area... so why doesn't he hit the ball farther? One possibility is that his three-quarter swing simply doesn't allow him to get the clubhead speed other players do. But I think there's more to it than that.

If you've seen the commercials for that new practice club that's supposed to teach you to keep your hands ahead of the clubhead through the hitting area, you know the commercial shows what it calls a "flip" motion. The sellers say it will cost you some distance. John Cook makes that flipping move; you can see it very clearly in this video, and it probably does cost him some distance.

I want to point this out because Cook is an excellent example of why this move isn't necessarily such a bad thing. True, Cook loses some distance because this flipping move causes him to hit the ball higher, and a higher ball flight usually results in less distance. However, that higher ball flight also allows him to stop the ball more quickly on the greens. That means this flip move also improves Cook's GIR!

Golf and life are alike in this way: Everything's a trade-off. To gain something in one area, you often have to give something in another. Cook is giving away a little distance to gain some accuracy, a trade-off that works very well for him. This is the biggest thing I think you can learn from John Cook -- that everybody has some strengths and weaknesses, and just because somebody tells you such-and-such constitutes a "weakness" doesn't mean it has to be a weakness for you. Cook's learned how to accept what he has and score with it, which means it's not really a weakness for him, is it?

When you decide to get better, you'll be faced with decisions over what to try and improve, and what to leave alone. Make those choices based on your own game, not somebody else's. John Cook plays just fine with his "weakness," thank you very much; you can learn to do the same.


  1. Good to see him get out to an early start this year. Since you gave me my last drill on cocking the wrist at waist high during the takeaway, I have been paying particular attention to where the club head is at waist high when the pros make their swings.

    When Cook's left arm is parallel to the ground, his club shaft is almost at a 90 degree angle in relation to his left arm in the face on video. In my video, my clubs shaft is still pretty much parallel to the ground at the same point. Big difference.

    So the "flip" isn't that bad if you use it to your advantage or make it a strength? All I have been focused on is keeping the wrist cocked as long as possible on the downswing, but really all it does is make me flip the club at impact in a bad way.

    When I focus on your drill during the takeaway and let the rest happen naturally, everything works pretty well. This is probably why you told me to "focus on one thing first" when you gave me the drill.

    I think I have to switch the station during commercials on The Golf Channel. Because of my new "flipping" problem, I thought about purchasing that "product" you eluded to. Then I remembered how we first met(The Medicus fiasco), and decided not to, as I was just looking for a quick fix instead of continuing to study and learn the golf swing. Why do we as humans always look for the shortcut?

  2. That's exactly why I try to get you to focus on just one thing at a time. Most players don't realize just how much of the golf swing is a reaction to a few movements they make. A good example is the one-piece takeaway: By learning to do that properly, you not only eliminated your over-the-top move but you also changed your swing plane, started hitting the ball more solidly, improved your trajectory, and picked up some serious distance. And as a result of all that, you found you started hitting your mid- and long irons better, which had been a real stumbling block for you. It's like a game of Jenga or Pick-up Sticks -- when you pull one piece out of the stack, it can cause everything to collapse.

    There's two reasons we look for the shortcut, Dex: We're an impatient species and we always want more. Remember the McDonald's commercial where the guy says "Moderation is good... as long as there's a lot of it"?

    While Cook turns that flip to his advantage, that doesn't mean it's a desirable move for most players. He's 6' tall and yet, even though he has that extra cocking at the top (what I often call a "downcock"), he's a good 10-15 yards shorter than Stricker... who's also 6' tall but doesn't have that downcock. Stricker has a deadhanded swing, which you would expect to make him the shorter player, but Stricker does other things that work well with his chosen approach and thus gives him more distance than you'd expect.

    As I told you before, you can get 90-95% of your distance without that downcock, so I don't think you need to bother with that at all right now. But I think we need to talk a bit more about wrist action, so I'll do a new post about it for Thursday.