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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Swing of the Hole-Out King

Of course we have to take a look at Rocco Mediate's swing! How can we ignore a guy who holes out four days in a row?

Seriously though, I think Rocco is a great example for weekend golfers. Why? Because Rocco is one Tour player that most folks can relate to. He fights back problems, and he's never been a power player -- his Tour driving average is a whopping 278 yards (168th on Tour), which isn't that long for a guy who's 6'1" tall. That means he has to find other ways to score.

He's always been considered a ball-striker, and his stats bear that out as well --  his Driving Accuracy is 67.96% (35th on Tour) and his GIR is 69.15% (31st on Tour). Both of these exceed my Rule of 67 -- that you can be better than the average Tour player if you score better than 67% in Driving Accuracy, GIR, and Scrambling. Rocco has struggled because he's only 56.99% in Scrambling (115th on Tour), and that's been largely because of his putting. His real breakthrough last week was in putting, and that was enough to put him over the top.

Even with the poor putting, his scoring average has been 71.10 thus far this year. Most weekend players would just love that! So let's see what we can learn from the Rock. This YouTube footage is actually from last week's Open:

The first thing to note here is that Rocco has a "closed" setup, which means his feet are on a line pointed to the right. This not only helps him create his signature draw, but it helps take pressure off his back. With his hips "pre-turned" toward his backswing, he can get a full shoulder turn without putting stress on his lower back. It also effectively gives him a longer backswing, so he picks up a little extra distance. In addition, it looks to me as if his weight is set a bit more on the left side, which keeps him from moving so far away from the ball on his backswing. (More on this in a minute.)

Rocco stands taller to the ball and he stays taller throughout his swing -- again, taking some pressure off his back. That's also why his left elbow is bent slightly, his right elbow "flies" a bit (that is, it goes higher than normal at the top of his backswing -- Jack Nicklaus did the same thing), and his swing is more upright. Each of these little moves takes a bit of pressure off his lower back.

Although it looks like he sets up with his weight toward his left side, he does make a weight shift to the right on his backswing. I want to call attention to this move since it trips up many players who want to use a closed setup. Although Rocco moves to the right on his backswing, he does NOT move backward away from the ball. His left knee moves on a line that is almost parallel to his target line, which keeps his body relatively centered in his stance.

He dips his head and shoulders a little when he starts his downswing, which helps him start moving back to his left side. Remember, his stance is closed, so his tendency will be to hang back; he has to move forward, toward the ball, so he can transfer his weight properly. He doesn't drive his right hip like most players -- again, this is because of his back. His hips are pretty much parallel to his target line when he actually hits the ball, but that's still a good hip turn when you consider that his right foot is farther from the line because of his closed stance. And of course he finishes with his back as straight as he can.

Rocco moves quite a bit in his swing, but he still hits the ball very accurately. That's because the extra movements don't stop him from staying centered over the ball. Rocco has found a way to move that relieves the pressure on his back without moving him off the ball.

And here's a driving tips video Rocco did:

What I particularly want you to pick up from these tips is that Rocco doesn't try to stay behind the ball when he drives. That's a standard driving tip, but Rocco -- one of the best drivers on Tour -- doesn't do it! Staying behind the ball can put extra stress on your lower back, something Rocco wants to avoid at all costs. Sometimes the right way for most players isn't necessarily the best way for you. (And remember when you watch this video that Rocco is using a closed stance. That ball is positioned farther forward in his stance than it may at first appear.)

I can't promise that copying Rocco will make you a hole-out king. But you could find much worse models to use as a pattern for your swing... especially if you have a bad back.

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