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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Swing Like the Prince of Darkness

Darren Clarke got his nickname "the Prince of Darkness" from his physio coach because of his tendency to get down on himself when he didn't play up to his expectations. Because the last few years of his career have been sidetracked by his late wife Heather's battle with cancer, it's easy to forget that Clarke was a major force on the golf scene 10 years ago. Some of you may not know that he bears the distinction of winning 2 WGCs during Tiger's most dominant years, including an Accenture Match Play win in 2000 where he beat Tiger 4&3 in the 36-hole final.

It's hard to believe Darren could ever play badly enough to get down on himself, given how simple his swing is.

I had decided to do this post (and tomorrow's) early Monday before Michael Breed covered some of the same material on The Golf Fix. As a result, I'm not going to rehash everything he said. Rather, I just want to point out a couple of important things I see in Darren's swing. To that end, I've included 5 different videos so you can just watch it. I think that's the most stunning evidence of just how good his swing is.

First, a driver face-on:

From this angle you can see how relaxed he is. He moves slightly away from the ball on the backswing and slightly forward on the downswing, but it's not a huge move. He doesn't dip his head and he doesn't get quite to parallel with the driver, although he proved at the Open he could move that ball out there a bit.

Next, a driver down-the-line:

Darren does bend his right elbow a bit early, but that's because he has a flatter swing than many players. Note that this doesn't keep him from getting his hands so his club shaft nearly crosses his shoulder as it points toward the target. And there are no fancy moves on the way down; it reminds me of someone throwing a Frisbee hard. There's no wasted energy.

I chose this 3-wood shot because of the unusual angle:

That's just a simple move toward the target. Notice how he turns fully toward the target. Although Darren's a big guy, he still gets quite a bit of shoulder rotation both away from and through the ball. He holds nothing back.

Here's an iron face-on, a similar angle to the 3-wood:

Note that although the swing is almost as long as the woods, he doesn't move away from the ball as much on his backswing. Look at how stable he is as he moves into the finish!

And finally, an iron down-the-line. The plane line that's been added is interesting -- it shows the flat plane he swings down on, not the plane he swings up on:

Notice that, although Darren has a fairly flat swing, his hands actually move in a very upright manner -- from below the line to above it, then down that plane to hit the ball. That means that there's just a little downward loop at the top -- that seems to be quite common in the swings of Scottish players, probably because they need to keep the ball under the wind. Breed pointed out that the club is taken up pretty upright as well -- notice that the head of the club never drops below that line as he swings up to the top.

This is a swing that was built on Scottish links courses. It takes the club up quickly but keeps a fairly low profile as it actually hits the ball. To hit it low, all you need to do is shorten the followthrough, as Darren did often over the weekend. One reason his swing held up so well in the wind is because there's so little excess movement to catch the wind. A simple swing for a simple man.

Only the players he beat are calling him the Prince of Darkness this week. I think Darren feels more like the Light Bearer right now.

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