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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Out of Africa, onto the Tour: Charl Schwartzel

Alas, I found no usable swing footage of Mark Wilson for our weekly look at winning swings. Fortunately, Charl Schwartzel has received more attention... and since I've been touting him since early 2010, perhaps it's time to look more closely at the two-time Joberg Open champ.

Something I'd like to point out before we start is that Charl (pronounced "Sharl" unless I'm mistaken) looks much taller in these videos than he really is. The European Tour site puts him at 5' 11", although he swings more like he has the 6' 3" frame of Ernie Els. This is certainly something you can learn from Charl: If you have the ability to do it, an upright setup and an upright swing can be very powerful. Charl bangs his drives out there around 290-295 yards, which is better than average for his height.

Although he's not as accurate as I'd like to see -- he only hits around 60% of his fairways -- I've decided to focus on his driver since everybody wants more power. (His GIR is much better, usually 70% or more. This is probably a function of a noticeably shorter swing when he hits an iron.) Here's a face-on view of his drive:

Charl uses a relatively early wrist cock, which means the club shaft is nearly perpendicular to the ground when his left arm is parallel to the ground. You'll also note that he looks as if he's leaning just slightly toward the target at the top of his swing. That's not an illusion; if you check his left foot, you'll see that it's still flat on the ground! That's a combination of flexibility and "lean." The fact that he gets his hands so high (an upright swing) also helps.

Two important things here: Charl stays very steady, which almost all of us can learn to do, and (as mentioned) he gets his hands very high... which many of us can't learn. Unless you're very flexible, it's hard to get that full upper body coil and still get your hands up that high. The result is the same as an over-the-top swing, except it's caused by inflexibility instead of poor technique. Rather than trying for height, focus on getting a full shoulder turn; for most players, that's a better route to gaining distance. If you're capable of the upright swing, there's a good chance you do it naturally.

And just as a note, Charl's right foot comes off the ground much more quickly than the typical player's. I suspect this is a reaction caused by staying on his left foot so long... and it probably affects his accuracy with the driver. It stays on the ground much better when he plays his irons.

Now let's take a down-the-line look:

Charl's downswing plane drops slightly below his backswing plane, for those of you who obsess over such things. For my money, the two are very nearly the same... and that helps him hit the ball solidly, even if he's not hitting it accurately. The math goes like this: Solid contact = more distance. I don't care whether you use a "one-swing" or a "two-plane" swing, as long as the backswing and downswing planes are close. If a wildly-divergent swing is natural to you and produces consistently good results, like Jim Furyk does, then do what works. Otherwise, just try to keep the two planes somewhat close together; that should help you be more consistent.

The best thing you can learn from Charl Schwartzel is to stay balanced throughout the swing. I don't think he's quite as steady as his fellow countryman Louis Oosthuizen, but he's pretty darn good!

This is Charl's first year on the PGA Tour and I fully expect him to win at least once. (He nearly won last year at Doral, finally falling to his mentor Ernie Els.) At any rate, you should have plenty of chances to watch him play during 2011. He already has a win and three other Top 5s in the last month, so I have no reason to doubt this big game hunter will do great things in the jungle we call the PGA Tour.


  1. Pretty amazing that he managed to win last weekend. He didn't hit a fairway from the 12th on, and missed most of the greens - but he got up and down for pars, and holed out a bunker shot for birdie on a par 3. He tried as hard as he could to give it away, but none of the other guys could put anything together.

  2. He's a good example of how important a good short game is... provided you can get near the green in regulation, that is. ;-)

    It just amazes me how good the South Africans (as a whole) are at bunker play. I guess it's something about the soil there.