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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Swing Like a Supermodel

Let's take a look at the swings of both of the South Korean players in the U.S. Women's Open playoff. Today we'll look at runner-up Hee Kyung Seo, aka "the Supermodel of the Fairways."

Seo's picture from LPGA.comFirst I'd like to address something Johnny Miller pointed out during the broadcasts -- namely, that Seo didn't hit the ball very far. Seo's stats say she averaged around 255 yards off the tee last week while eventual winner So Yeon Ryu averaged about 270 yards. Of course, most players were hitting the ball 5-10% further at the higher altitudes of the Broadmoor East Course, so Seo would be really short. However, this stat is somewhat misleading.

Seo's season driving average on the LPGA is 250 yards, virtually identical to her Open stat! I think this is because of differences in the two players' swings. I couldn't find Ryu's season stats, but I suspect her swing allowed her to get more yardage in the thin Rockies air than Seo's did -- you'll see why in today and tomorrow's posts.

Since Seo normally averages around 250 yards, is she really that short off the tee? In a word, NO. Wikipedia lists her at 5' 7", and it's true that several shorter players -- Cristie Kerr, Ai Miyazato, and Jiyai Shin, for example -- all hit the ball about the same distance although they're 4-6 inches shorter. But it's also true that several taller players -- like Paula Creamer and Anna Nordqvist -- also hit it about 250. In fact, 250 seems to be about average for LPGA players, just as 280 seems to be about average for PGA players.

Besides, I bet that even a lot of you men out there can't consistently hit the ball 250 yards... especially not if you keep it in the fairway. Seo's hit the fairway 76% of the time this season.

Enough said. Let me show you a swing well worth copying. There are quite a few videos of Seo, both with a driver and an iron, but I'll focus on the driver in this post:

Brandel Chamblee (who agrees with me that the women are better models for most weekend players than the men are -- SHOCK!) made a big point about the consistent rhythm and solid fundamentals of Seo and Ryu's swings. Look at how relaxed and fluid her movement is! There isn't much movement "fore and aft" -- she stays pretty centered over the ball. Her lower body stays relatively quiet while she turns around her spine -- it may look like her shoulders move off the ball, but see how steady her head stays? That's because her spine is nearer the surface of her back, not the middle of her body, so it looks like her body moves more than it actually does.

Seo cocks her wrists very early in her swing. Because of that, she doesn't increase her wrist cock on the way down, which many of the bigger hitters do. (You can see Cristie Kerr delay her wrist cock and increase it during her downswing, which is why I dubbed her "the Blonde Bomber" in an earlier post.) Seo gives up a bit of distance by doing this, but gains some accuracy; that "downcock" is another opportunity for your swing to get off-kilter.

Golf is a game of trade-offs, folks. To get an advantage in one area, you pick up a weakness in another. Seo has chosen to sacrifice a bit of distance to gain some accuracy, and it nearly paid off last week.

Now let's check out her swing down-the-line:

See how relatively flat Seo's swing is? (A reminder: A flatter swing means her left forearm is about shoulder-height at the top of her backswing.) I think that's why she didn't see much gain from the altitude. A flatter swing gives her a lower shot, so she doesn't get all the advantage of extra hang time. The trade-off here is that normally her shot would have a lot of roll, but that was also offset by the wet fairways. As a result, her distance was about the same as it's been all season.

It's not a question of being good or bad. It's simply the way it is.

A big key to Seo's accuracy is how she unwinds in her downswing. Although her lower body starts her downswing (it can't happen any other way from her position at the top), she doesn't push her hips out ahead of her body. It looks almost as if her upper and lower body start in unison, so she doesn't lean backward on her downswing. It gives her a very smooth unwinding motion that enhances her accuracy. She makes a very full swing and she finishes it balanced on her left side.

Very simple, very smooth, and very repeatable. That's why she nearly took home the trophy.

So often we talk about model swings. This is truly a "Supermodel" swing.

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