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Footage of JFK's golf swing shows how the best golfing president compensated for back pain

By Luke Kerr-Dineen

Boasting a single-digit handicap, President John F. Kennedy is widely considered the best golfer to have served in the Oval Office. Amidst so many other retrospectives on his life and legacy, we at Golf Digest do what's only fitting for us to do: analyze his golf swing.


For that, we enlisted Jason Guss, a Senior Academy Instructor at Rick Smith Golf Academy and one of Golf Digest's Best Young Teachers, to talk through what he sees in the nation's 35th President.

"This is great," Guss said. "Being a golf instructor, you don't really ever study presidential golf swings."

Setup

JFK suffered from severe chronic back pain for most of his life, and at times it was debilitating. With the spine being the integral part of the golf swing that it is, JFK was forced to compensate for it in a number of ways. At address he has a narrow stance, his upper body is hunched over and his hands are all very close to his body. These are all things that are common among players with back problems, Guss said.

"There are a lot of things going on here where he's protecting his back," Guss said. "You can tell he's trying to get comfortable."

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Backswing

According to Guss, a number of key moves here -- the short backswing, the loose lower body, the large amount of turn with both his upper and lower body -- are again all the product of JFK's back problems. Kennedy turning his upper and lower body turns quickly and early, for example, helps him avoid any pain by reducing body torque, as does his short backswing -- something not commonly associated with such a large turn.

"If you were to put him in a modern backswing position...creating torque by twisting the lower body against the upper body, I think he'd be in a lot of pain," Guss said. "His backswing would probably also get so short that he wouldn't be able to hit the ball anywhere."


Through-swing

This is where you can tell JFK was a good player. 

"He's got really good path on his swing, shifts his weight and has a great extension of his arms through the ball," Guss said. "His post impact is beautiful."

But while his back doesn't look to bother him in the final moments before he strikes the ball, it's evident once the ball is gone. JFK's arms and upper body collapses during the follow through, Guss said, and he visibly falls onto his back foot to prevent putting too much pressure on his spine.

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What you can learn

"JFK has great tempo," Guss said, adding that players with short backswings tend to get quick, but not Kennedy. "He just looks like he's always in control of his golf swing. He's not trying to overpower anything, he's just trying to keep his golf ball in front of him."

JFK's rhythm reportedly stems from his youth, when he would go play golf with just four clubs, forcing himself to use his imagination to hit a variety of different shots. That's something golfers of all levels can learn from, Guss said.