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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Whack It Like Bubba?

I know... you were expecting a look at Martin Kaymer's swing, weren't you? Surprise!

Bubba Watson says he's never had a lesson... and doesn't want one, because that would make this a job and he's having too much fun. (You gotta love Bubba!) For that very reason, I think Bubba's a good example for weekend golfers to study; he's great proof that you don't need a textbook swing to be a scoring machine.

Here's a face-on shot from the 2010 Travelers:

And a down-the-line shot from the 2007 U.S. Open:

I wish I could have found a more recent slo-mo for that last one, but it's good enough for our purposes.

The first thing that jumps out at you is that Bubba breaks a lot of "rules." He sets up more open than the line he launches the ball on; his takeaway looks awfully stiff; his backswing is too upright; he overswings à la John Daly -- too much leg action and club too far past parallel; and he raises his front foot on the backswing, then replants it in a different place on the downswing, and then he's up on his toes during his followthrough, which is really upright too.

I'm not advising you to break all these rules... but Bubba proves that many of the things we obsess over may not be as critical as we think. Let me point out a few things that he does really well but neither Kostis nor Miller mentions. (I should point out that Michael Breed compared Bubba and Dustin Johnson -- whose swing is quite good technically -- and it was amazing how similar many of their positions are. You don't need a perfect swing to make good shots.)

Even with all that movement, Bubba still stays balanced. Look at the first video and watch his left hip during his backswing. It doesn't move backward, not one little bit. Kostis is talking about him getting behind the ball, but he's not moving his body to do it; he's just turning his shoulders so a line drawn across his back would strike the ground behind the ball. (Note: He's hitting a driver. This wouldn't be true with a shorter club.) This is something Ben Hogan taught which applies to almost every player, no matter how they swing. (Another note: Stack & Tilters actually move this hip a bit forward on the backswing. You simply don't want it to move away from the target.)

While it has been pointed out repeatedly that Bubba gets a little steep sometimes, that doesn't mean that the currently popular "neutral" swing -- where the swing plane runs through the shoulders rather than above them -- is automatically the best way to swing. Nicklaus was upright, so it can't be all bad, huh? For many players (I'm one of them, although I'm only 5'10") an upright swing plane allows them to develop more power. I know you've heard that upright swings result in "over the top" swings, but that's only true if you have some major swing fault -- a bad takeaway motion is the most common culprit. (If you read Dexter's blog, you know I think that this is his problem as well. He's trying to make some "down the line" video so we can be sure, and I'll do a post on it once he does.)

Because Bubba gets in a good position at the top, he can just let it all go and still return the club to the ball on-plane... and he gets in that position because he has a solid takeaway motion. Again, I'm not going to go into detail about the proper motion until I hear from Dexter, but the key move (which you can see clearly in Bubba's swing) is that he makes his takeaway with his shoulders. Too many weekend players lift their hands to waist level, THEN they turn their shoulders. This is where you get into trouble, folks! The shoulders, hands, and arms have to move together or you'll screw up your swing -- even if your swing is as flat as Texas.

The last thing I'll mention is that Bubba's upper and lower body stay in sync. Unlike Bernhard Langer, you can clearly see that Bubba's lower body starts before his upper body... but it never gets so far ahead that he ends up tilted backward. This is because of Bubba's "overturn" combined with his extremely upright swing; his lower body simply has to do more work to get his shoulders turning back toward the ball! It takes a lot of flexibility and strength to make this move consistently. The key thing here is that his hips are always centered beneath him -- they don't slide so far forward that the club gets stuck.

There are other good things I could point out in Bubba's swing, but these three -- stable back hip and leg, solid takeaway, and an "in-sync" downswing -- highlight some of the really important things in any swing. And that powerful upright swing he uses, once so popular during the Nicklaus years, is beginning to make a comeback; don't be surprised if it becomes a mainstream teaching again.

Of course, Bubba may never find out when it does. He doesn't plan to take any lessons, you know.


  1. yes - all you have to be is super flexible, wirey strong, and most annoyingly, left handed. Face it - we righties just can't get into that position. :-)

  2. This is how Bubba practices at home:

  3. Like I said... you gotta love Bubba! ;-)

    I wonder if people are terrified to get in his hot tub now? He's forever shooting these videos, you know.