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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Classic VS Modern Swing: Telling the Difference Part 3

Today let's look at a few golf swings and see if we can tell whether each swing is more of a classic swing or a modern swing. We'll use the criteria I mentioned in the last two blog posts as guidelines to help us. The reason we want to learn how to do this is so we don't waste time trying to copy players who don't swing the same way we do... or so we can find the best players to copy if we want to make changes.

Remember, the key thing we're looking for here is separation -- the hips getting ahead of the shoulders at the start of the downswing. The more a player is influenced by the modern swing, the bigger that separation will be; the more a player is influenced by the classic swing, the smaller that separation will be. Sometimes you can see it from any angle but sometimes it's clearer from one angle than another.

Before we start analyzing swings, I want you to see a true classic swing in action. This is the great Henry Cotton, way back in 1934 when he won the first of his three Open Championships. Cotton believed that the hands swung the golf club and that it was necessary to "educate the hands" if you really wanted to be successful. I read somewhere that Cotton was able to hit one-handed shots nearly 200 yards; I finally found this newpaper article on Cotton's training techniques that confirmed it. (It's in the fourth column of the scan.)

What I want you to see is how much the lower body can move with a classic swing. The legs aren't held as motionless as is typical in a modern swing, and the hips don't create a large separation from the shoulders. In fact, it looks as if the shoulders and hips start the downswing at almost the same time. And the upper body doesn't tilt backwards away from the target as much as in a modern swing. You can see why I say it's much easier on the back.

Now that you have a decent idea what a classic swing looks like -- you don't see the pure original version on Tour much these days -- we have something we can compare to our more contemporary players.

Let's start with the Machine, Annika Sorenstam. You can see her move clearly from almost any angle:

This is a classic-style swing. See how smooth her swing looks? There's a fair amount of knee movement, even though her stance is fairly narrow -- most modern swings use wider stances and less knee movement -- and her hips and shoulders seem to move together. Since Annika learned her game in Sweden and instructors in Europe seem more likely to teach a classic-style swing, that's not surprising.

By comparison, here's Tiger at the Honda Classic earlier this year. You can see the difference almost immediately, but the first slo-mo at :24 shows it very clearly:

This is a more modern swing. When Tiger reaches the top of his backswing and starts down (at the :28 mark) you can clearly see his hips and legs pushing toward the target before his shoulders start to turn at all. With some players, this move will look almost as if the hips jump forward before the shoulders move. Tiger's teacher Sean Foley teaches the modern swing but Tiger was using modern technique the very first time we saw him.

Here are a couple of interesting ones -- Ken Duke and Stacy Lewis. I wanted to look at these because both of these players have fought scoliosis, the back disease that causes a curved spine. Check out these slo-mo videos -- Ken's shows two views while Stacy's shows one:

Now these two players are interesting because... well, at first glance it looks to me like both players use classic-style swings. They have relatively narrow stances, even with woods, and their shoulders and hips don't show much separation. In addition, Ken's teacher Bob Toski is well-known for teaching classic technique. Yet I found video where Ken and Toski clearly seem to be working with modern technique (the error Toski describes at the beginning is the characteristic twisting action of an over-the-top swing, not classic technique):

while Stacy and her instructor are clearly working to minimize the separation, a more classic technique:

You can see that both players keep their shoulders and hips working together pretty closely. But Ken is clearly trying to be more modern -- he keeps his legs very quiet during his backswing and gets that little "hip jump" I mentioned to start his downswing, but with such a narrow stance it's apparently not big enough to bother his back -- while Stacy is clearly trying to be more classic. There's a lot of leg movement during her swing but if you look at the slo-mo near the end of that last video (right at the :55 mark) you'll see that there's no hip bump to indicate that she wants to create separation; rather, her shoulders and hips are turning almost in unison while her legs move her whole body slightly toward the target. (That's how she gets her weight shift.)

And while watching the Swinging Skirts event this week, I've noticed that Stacy's stance with the driver seems narrower than it is in that last video. But this video is around 16 months old, so Stacy could have gone to a narrower stance through the whole bag. It might explain why she's picked up some extra yardage off the tee in the last year -- less effort spent moving her body means more effort put into swinging the club.

Although Sergio Garcia occasionally gets help from Pete Cowen, who teaches what I call a "power classic" swing, there's no question that Sergio's dad taught him a modern move. Look at how fast his hips start moving but how slow his shoulders are to follow!

Sergio has a lot more leg movement during his backswing than many modern swingers, but I don't think he could get that huge shoulder turn or massive downcock in his wrists any other way.

And finally, let's take a look at Jack Nicklaus. This video shows Jack hitting a number of shots with different clubs, from wedge up to driver. While Jack's leg action is very classic, with a lot of knee movement, his basic action is modern. Unlike the Stacy Lewis footage above, Jack's legs are moving only his hips, not his entire torso. In fact, as the clubs get longer, the separation gets noticeably bigger:

Hopefully this gives you an idea how you can identify what type of swing a player is working with. And why is this important? Because some of the techniques that work for Annika wouldn't work so well for Sergio, and vice versa. Modern and classic swings share most of the same fundamentals, but that separation move makes each swing feel and behave a little differently.

So if you're a classic swinger trying to copy Sergio, you're going to make things harder on yourself than they really need to be. Learn to tell the difference and save yourself some grief.

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