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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Clarke VS Watson: A Comparison

I haven't done a swing comparison in a while, but this one was too good to ignore. Here we have two players with widely divergent swings -- Darren Clarke with a swing built on the windy links of Northern Ireland and Tom Watson with a classic swing built in the heartland of Kansas -- and yet both excel in that tricky Open Championship.

As it turns out, while searching for YouTube footage to use in yesterday's post about Clarke's swing, I discovered some footage of both Clarke and Watson taken at the same tournament!

First, here's the footage of Darren taken at Dubai in February 2010 (I also used this footage in yesterday's post):

Now here's some footage of Watson from the same tournament:

Both men are playing irons, so it's a pretty good comparison. There are a few fundamental things both men do:
  • They both use one-piece takeaways, which is why they get those big shoulder turns.
  • Both men cock their hands fairly late in the backswing. While a late wrist cock isn't necessarily a fundamental, it does indicate that they're keeping their arm muscles relaxed during the swing. That helps with both accuracy and clubhead speed.
  • Both turn their bodies fully to the finish, so their belt buckles face the target or even a bit to the left of it.
  • And both have good rhythm to their swings.
None of these things are enough to explain good wind play. After all, fundamentals belong in every swing.

But you don't need an educated eye to see some very noticeable contrasts:
  • Tom's swing is much longer than Darren's. Tom gets the club all the way to parallel at the top while Darren has almost a 3/4 swing.
  • Tom's hips turn a lot more on the backswing, his left knee breaks more toward the ball, and his left heel comes much more off the ground.
  • Darren's head moves a lot more during his swing, especially on the downswing.
  • Darren finishes standing straighter than Tom.
  • Tom releases his hands much more in his finish, so Tom gets a higher ball flight.
Despite these differences, both men play well in the wind. Why? Simply enough, both hit what some call a "heavy ball" -- that is, they consistently hit the ball solidly in the center of the clubface. When you do that, the ball will bore its way through the wind like a mole through turf. You can play decent golf even if you don't hit the ball that solidly... but you won't be a good wind player.

Ironically, you can't learn to hit the ball that solidly without good fundamentals. Good fundamentals don't make you a great player, but you can't become a great player without good fundamentals.

Lesson: There's always more than one way to play this game. Darren and Tom have very different swings -- and Tom hits the ball higher than Darren even when playing in the wind -- but both are great wind players. Just as good wind play is a function of more than just low ball flight, good golf is more than just tricks and "secrets." But without the fundamentals of a good swing you'll never develop the real skills that distinguish the great players from the merely good ones.

Focus on your fundamentals. That's the key to developing useful skills with minimal practice.

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