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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Look at Byron Nelson's Swing

Byron Nelson had a relatively short career -- from 1935 and 1946. In 1945 he had arguably the greatest year in golf history:
  • Won 18 total tournaments
  • Won 11 straight (no weeks off), plus 7 seconds
  • Set the scoring record of 68.33, which was finally broken by Tiger in 2000
  • Set the record for 18 holes (62) and 72 holes (259), both broken since
In addition, Nelson had a cut streak of 113, which is second only to Tiger's 142. But that's not the whole story. Since the PGA defines a made cut as a made check, and only the top 20 finishers made a check in Nelson's time, that gives him a record 113 Top 20 finishes in a row.

In all, he had 64 total wins, 52 of them on the PGA Tour, and 5 of those were majors -- 1 Masters, 2 US Opens, and 2 PGAs. Not bad at all! (Thanks to Wikipedia for the figures.)

A side note: I find it ironic that Nelson never won an Open Championship, yet his most famous student -- Tom Watson -- is considered the "King of the Open."

But his influence on the golf swing is sometimes overlooked. The changeover between hickory and metal shafts happened during his era -- he played with both -- and Nelson was the first player to figure out how to truly utilize the strengths of the metal shafts. I'll show you how in the YouTube video I found. (One of the swings in the middle of the video is paused, so there's nothing wrong with your computer.)

Nelson didn't get to parallel at the top of his backswing, even with the driver. But he was accurate and surprisingly powerful, as you can see by how blurred the club is, even in slo-mo!

The distinctive move in Nelson's swing is how much he bends his knees. Notice that his left knee doesn't straighten until the ball is long gone, and his right knee looks as if it's collapsed! By dropping his body this way, Nelson loaded the metal shaft much more forcefully than was possible with a hickory shaft. Coupled with his upright swing, he developed an amazing amount of power with a relatively short swing and used it to trap the ball. That let him hit crisp, accurate approach shots.

Essentially, Nelson put the "down" in "hit down on the ball."

Otherwise, Nelson's swing is nothing special, although his hands are so close to his body that it reminds me of Jim Furyk. In fact, Nelson doesn't even get a good shoulder turn! Instead, he bends his right elbow and lifts his hands. He'd come over the top if it wasn't for two things:
  • He doesn't get to parallel at the top, so he doesn't spin his shoulders toward the ball when he starts down. (That does cause him to lose some distance, though.)
  • Look at how he dips his right shoulder at impact! (See the picture below.) That also forces his hands more down than out.

Byron Nelson's shoulder tilt at impact

Although you won't see it taught to the degree that Nelson does it, he changed the golf swing when he started using that knee flex. "Hitting down on the ball" is now a basic tenet of every golf swing... and you can thank Lord Byron for that.

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