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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Some Thoughts on the Search for the Perfect Swing

Jean Luc left a comment on Sunday's post (about the baseball drill) where he mentioned a problem that many of you have -- namely, that you have spent a lot of time trying different swing methods and now find yourself confused. I wrote him an extended reply, most of which I'm going to repeat in this post (with some extra thoughts) because I know many of you are in the same boat.

Perhaps it will help some of you find peace with your swing.

I learned the basics of the game over 25 years ago from Master Teaching Pro Carl Rabito. (There's a link to his site in the sidebar, if you're interested.) And around a decade later I also spent time trying a lot of different swings, just to test what he had taught me and make sure it was the best way for me. It didn't harm me at all -- in fact, I now have a better grasp of what will and won't work for me, so I don't waste time now practicing tips that won't help me.

Your time trying different swings should have taught you that, for the most part, every swing has a handful of things in common. My absolute basic list of fundamentals has 3:

  • a one-piece takeaway, because an inside takeaway generally leads to an over-the-top swing;
  • you reach the highest point of your swing before you start your downswing (over-the-top swings are generally still moving upward when the downswing starts); and
  • your trailing elbow stays bent from the top of your backswing until your hands are around waist high, because you lose power if it doesn't.
Occasionally you find an exception to my first basic; Bobby Jones is an excellent but rare example. (It causes him to violate my second basic as well. It works for him, but I've never even been able to duplicate the move!) However, these basics will pretty much guarantee you'll come into the impact zone in good position to hit the ball solidly and with control.

The way you work your hands to aim the shot can vary -- some will work for you, and some won't -- but you'll still be close if you can do those three things.

And there are other things you can do that will improve your ability to hit the ball farther or straighter
-- some will work for you, and some won't -- but you'll still be close if you can do those three things.

You will sometimes read things on this blog that seem to fly in the face of my own fundamentals. That's because everybody's body is different and sometimes I get questions from players who clearly have a need for a different approach. For example, if you have an unusual arm motion that you've had since you were a child, often it's better to incorporate that 'quirk' instead of trying to change it.

Sometimes your physical make-up dictates a different move in different swing methods. Take me, for example. If I try to make a Hogan-style swing, my trailing elbow points down toward the ground at the top of my backswing. But if I try a more classic swing, like Harry Vardon, that elbow has to fly. I have learned, purely from experimentation, that if I switch those elbow movements, I'll push the ball badly. That's because each swing makes my body move differently and that affects what my elbow has to do if I'm going to stay 'on plane'.

My advice is to pick the swing you tried that feels best to you, that's easiest for you to repeat without pain. There's almost always a way to 'tweak' a comfortable swing so it works better. And that's really all you want to do -- find a swing that works and make minor adjustments that fit your physical abilities. Use the things you learned from your experimentation to help you understand how your body should move to give you the most control over your ball flight. None of that 'play time' was wasted.

In the end, there's no perfect swing. Each one has its own strengths and weaknesses; each method was originally developed to solve a different swing problem; and the key to success is realizing that no swing can do everything. The legends are the guys who accepted the limitations of their swings and simply learned how to get the most out of them... and sometimes that has more to do with strategy than with technique.

Remember: As long as you can predict -- with some degree of accuracy -- where your ball is going to land when you hit it, you can learn to plot your way around the course and post a score. It doesn't matter whether that swing is pretty or not, or whether you can hit any shot shape you want. As long as you can say, "I want my ball to land somewhere around THERE" and then get it close to that spot, you can play this game... and play it well.

And learning to control your shots isn't all that difficult once you realize that you don't need a perfect swing to play this game. That's what I try to do with this blog -- help players find a swing they can score with. And that's not beyond any of you, as long as you aren't obsessed with becoming the next Jack or Tiger. That kind of pressure even gets to our new Big4 on occasion!