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Friday, April 26, 2019

George Knudson on the Flowing Golf Swing

Canadian golfer George Knudson died in 1989 but his book The Natural Golf Swing is still in print. Given that he is a Canadian legend -- he's one of the golfers whose PGA/LPGA record was tied by Brooke Henderson this past week -- that's no surprise.

George KnudsonI'm going to quote a short section from his book today because I think it has some very important ideas in it. This material comes from near the end of the book and, while he refers to all the things he has talked about in the book, the important thoughts don't require you to have read his book in order to understand them.

One thing he says is:
The natural swing motion is not a new tip or a quick fix. It is an overall view of the swing that is based on fundamental laws of motion and on fundamental considerations in any physical activity.
It's easy to overlook that little word "any." We tend to treat golf as if it's some bizarre form of sport that behaves differently from other sports. We talk about how athletes struggle to learn the motions, as if that proves how tough this game is... and yet most teachers will note that hockey players seem to take to the game quite easily. The fact is that we have a vested interest in making the game harder than it is, because that way we can justify our struggles to play a decent round.

A large part of our problem is that we don't approach golf as if it were any other sport -- sports which we learn pretty easily as kids -- so we don't have the same success with it. If we stopped making it so hard, we'd start to see some improvement in our games. That's one thing we learn from Knudson.

There's one other section I'd like to quote here. You may need to read it a few times to understand exactly what he's saying, because it's written with the assumption that you've read his whole book. But as I said before, you don't need to have read it in order to understand the important points:
The swing motion is a whole-body motion. You can now appreciate that every aspect of the motion is related to every other aspect. I could describe the motion from the point of view of the arc, for example, and show that by arranging for a maximum arc we also design the conditions for weight transfer. That is, we could not produce a maximum arc unless weight transfer were the means of moving the club. If we initiated the motion by picking up the club instead of transferring weight, we would compromise the integrity of the arc. It would shrivel, become smaller and choppier, not a genuine arc at all.

Similarly, I could describe the motion from the perspective of good posture. If we allow ourselves to get out of posture, we change the arc; and of course we also alter the plane. That natural swing motion, then, operates as a feedback loop. Every element can be the central point from which we discuss the motion. Balance is THE central fundamental.

For interest's sake, let's examine the motion from the point of view of clubhead control. It's fair to say that if we are confident that the clubhead is moving properly, then we will allow ourselves to make the motion. Golfers who try to control the clubhead by manipulating it destroy all other components of the motion. We want to set up a situation so that we need not worry about the clubhead because we know it is flowing properly.

The best swing is one that is uninhibited while under the control that ensues naturally from balance.
Yeah, that seems like a lot to digest, given that you haven't read the book. But you don't need to in order to understand why we get so twisted up with the golf swing.

Knudson says that the golf swing is a unit, not a bunch of separate movements that have to be mastered one at a time. If you mess up one part -- say, the arc or your posture -- you automatically mess up the other parts, like weight transfer and the plane of your swing.

Knowing that, you can start with any of these pieces of the swing and use it as the basis for how you view the entire swing. This is largely why we have so many different swing methods... and why each of them works for some players while others don't. It just depends on how you can best understand the swing motion. If you tend to use your legs a lot, there's a good chance you'll respond to a method that focuses on leg action and therefore on things like weight transfer.

This is also why methods that work for you initially may cease to be as effective later on. You can only do so much with your legs and once you get the basic leg action down... well, something else is probably out of whack. Now you need a teaching method that focuses on that problem.

Note that Knudson simplifies this whole thing quite a bit. He says that balance is the central fundamental, and then he spends the last few pages of the book looking at the swing in terms of clubface control. Let me break this down just a bit more, and you'll see how this works.

When you swing the club freely -- when you swing in balance, because balance allows you to relax and swing without undue tension -- the club makes an arc around you. As you swing the club around you, and if you don't twist your forearms to make it happen, the clubface will be open relative to your target line at the start of your downswing, square (pointed at the target) at impact, and closed at the end of your finish. That happens simply because your body is turning as you swing. And Knudson says that this should happen automatically if you simply swing in balance, because then you aren't leaning in five different directions during your swing. (That erratic movement comes from tension, caused by trying to regain your balance.)

Even if you aren't a particularly good tennis player or baseball pitcher, I bet you can swing a racket or throw a ball and get reasonably close to your target if you just stay in balance. The ball goes toward your target because (when throwing) you have your palm pointed at the target when you release the ball or (when playing tennis) you have the face of the racket pointed at your target -- and the racket points at the target because you're holding the racket so it's pointed at the target when your palm is pointed at the target.

Do you see a correlation here? If you hold the club so its face is pointed at your target when your palm is pointed at the target, you'll hit the ball toward the target. You just need to find out where the ball should be when your palm is pointed at the target. That's where you should position the ball when you set up for your shot.

Balance, grip, ball position. Just focus on getting those correct and a lot of the problems vanish. But it's a different way of thinking about the game, one that your brain may insist simply won't work. It's hard to believe that something we've struggled with for so long can be solved merely by consistent practice of a few simple basics.

But that's how it works. You need to focus on a few simple drills that let you practice hitting the ball at your target. As usual, I'd recommend the L-to-L drill as your basic motion. Then just pick targets - close ones at first, and practice hitting the ball to them. And as you get better, move the targets farther away until you have to make full swings. Before too long, you'll be hitting all of your shots closer.

As I said, this is a dramatically different way of thinking about your game. But if you try it and stick with it for a couple of months, I think you'll be surprised at the positive changes you see in your game. Knudson didn't become a legend without understanding how to play the game. Learn from his example.


  1. Thanks Mike... time to re-read the book. haha

    Seriously, a good book.

    I liked his saying: "Don't play golf to relax... relax to play golf."

  2. It have to let go and trust it. Hovering the club and the toe helps a lot and don't care. Lol it will amaze you

  3. this breakdown makes so much sense to me. i'm very new to golf (3 months) and my swing is very unorthodox (combination of Knudson's lower body movement with Doug Sanders upper body motion) and i use vintage wood clubs as well(its so satisfying). people give me all types of tips like newer clubs & get lessons but it dont work for MY swing. i just realized when i put my awkward swing in one continuous balanced motion i hit so much better. but when i think too hard about my grip, arm placement, swing speed, head down, etc. i hit terribly. Your breakdown makes wanna find the book and read it as well as Doug Sanders 'Compact Golf'. Excellent post!!

    1. I'm glad this helped, Rob. The golf swing isn't as difficult as we make it. We just need to approach golf the way we approach any other sport.

      Have some great times on the course, my friend!