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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Robert Karlsson: Swinging Tall

Robert Karlsson does everything tall -- the man's 6'5", for Pete's sake! But I'm sure some of you reading this are taller than average, leaving you with relatively few models after which to pattern your swing. You could do a lot worse than the big Swede.

I want to focus on how Robert swings his driver, because that club seems to give tall players the most trouble. I'll take a quick look at this iron play later in the post. According to his stats at, Robert drives the ball around 290 yards, which isn't that far considering his height. (By comparison, Mickelson at 6'3" averages right at 300 yards.) Since Robert matched that far back in 2003 -- and matched Mickelson's horrible driving accuracy stats as well -- I assume he gave up some yardage to improve his accuracy by over 10%. (Note to self: Distance isn't everything...)

I hate it when YouTube won't let me embed videos! But you can watch the video of the face-on view of his drive here; the best thing I could post is this sequence photo I made:

Sequence of Robert Karlsson hitting his driver

The main things you'll see in the video (and in this photo sequence) are that:
  • Robert stays pretty well centered throughout his swing
  • He drops his head quite a bit (it moves slightly backward at impact) but his shoulder height stays relatively consistent
  • His hips move quite a bit toward the target on his downswing
We'll come back to these in a moment. I want you to see his swing down-the-line first:

Of note in this video:
  • He stands very tall with a very upright swing (look at how high his hands are!)
  • The shadows obscure his feet, but his stance is closed to help him draw the ball
  • His spine stays very tall until his hands reach the hitting zone -- that's when his head dips and his spine rounds over a bit
There are several interrelated things going on in these two videos; that's why I wanted you to see both of them before we discuss them.

That upright swing is very common among tall golfers. If you drew lines on the video the way some TV teachers do, you'd find that he stays pretty much on plane all the way through his swing -- what some call a "one-plane swing." Sometimes players with upright swings merely lift the club rather than getting a good shoulder turn, but Karlsson has no problem with that at all.

And yes, just lifting the club on the backswing is a common problem you should be aware of if you have an upright swing. A lot of my "preferences" for a good swing take that into account. (All players struggle with it from time to time, but upright players tend to struggle with it more often.) The one-piece takeaway that I keep bringing up helps make sure you get your shoulders turning early, among other things; that's one reason I make such a big deal of it.

Because he stands so tall -- and because of that closed stance -- Robert has to move his hips a lot and "roll his spine" a bit to make room for his hands to stay in front of him as he comes down and through. The head movement is probably just the way he was taught -- to "stay behind the ball," Nicklaus style -- because he doesn't dip his shoulders the way many players do. He probably wouldn't do it as much if he didn't stand quite so tall, but that could also cause back problems down the road. Although it looks like a lot of movement, Robert's so tall that I suspect it doesn't feel like a lot to him. And in this video from the 2009 Masters, we're slightly behind him -- that is, more on the line of his feet -- and you can see the movement is much less pronounced:

As for generating power, Karlsson is a Stricker-wannabe. By that I mean he keeps his hands fairly quiet at the top of his swing like Stricker... but he does drop his hands back and down just a bit. You can see that clearly in the Masters video, right around the :07 mark.

And now (drumroll, please) we have the iron play video. As you watch, you'll see that Karlsson and Stricker both approach this part of the game pretty much the same way, although Karlsson's knees and hips move a bit more. This is just a function of his more upright swing; Stricker, at a mere 6' tall, chose to use a noticeably flatter swing. Nevertheless, if you check Karlsson's stats for his breakout year of 2008 (before the eye problems), you'll see his GIR stats are very similar to Stricker's. That's just a function of that simple deadhanded approach shot they both use. (And you can find my series about that swing on the "Some Useful Post Series" page.)

So there you have it. They used to say tall players couldn't play well, but players like Robert Karlsson have proven that's just not so... and now that his eye problems have healed, he's getting another chance to prove it. Unfortunately for his competitors, his play stands almost as tall as he does!


  1. oh - so now you're a Heightist, eh ? Well I'm just going to go dig out my 1980's platform sole shoes and add 50 yards to my drives ! :-)

  2. Just make sure those babies have soft spikes. Things have changed a little since then, you know...

    Although I'm sure you'll find plenty of Loudmouth pants to wear with them. ;-)

  3. Loudmouth lime green leisure suits !

  4. I watched him at the 2012 Q School, 2nd Stage. He was firing on all cylinders and was the medalist at -18. The man is 43 years old but he looks 30. Amazing athlete.

  5. Part of that comes from having a simple swing. It's easier to be athletic when you aren't making a lot of unnecessary moves.