If you're lucky enough to find yourself at a PGA Tour practice area, your gaze is inevitably drawn to Nick Watney. Among the delicate shades of excellence at a tour range, his swing just pops. It's one to watch. In the struggle for world domination, nearly every player has reached a practically flawless efficiency, but with Watney's swing there's something more -- a pure rhythm that makes you forget about mechanics. But his teacher, Butch Harmon, No. 1 on Golf Digest's 50 Best Teachers in America, knows they're there. "Every position in his swing is just so good. Nick's is the prototype modern swing for a big, strong young man. But what I like best about Nick is his eagerness to learn and get better," says Harmon, who always knows where he can find his star student. At the range, of course.
Watney's is a modern swing in that he makes a tremendous shoulder turn with a restricted hip turn, according to Harmon. On the backswing, his weight shifts to the inside part of his right leg, and overall he's very quiet with his footwork. The club stops just short of parallel, and by starting down from this controlled position he's able to maintain his wrist hinge and store power. At impact, his spine is right in line with the ball, never caught behind.
Averaging 302 yards with a little draw, "Nick's just a beautiful driver of the ball," Harmon says. "He works out a little bit, but really he's just naturally strong. Looks like he grew up working on a farm." There was a time when Watney's strong grip -- meaning the back of the left hand is highly visible to the player at address -- would cause him to whip the club inside on the takeaway and get it pointed right of his target at the top of the swing. But that's a fixed issue that player and coach now only monitor. For the 2012 season, Harmon's advice is mainly psychological.
"Nick really enjoys the heat of the moment, but he didn't play well in the majors last year because he put too much pressure on himself," Harmon says. "He knows he has the game and knows you're ultimately judged by how you do in majors. He gets emotionally wrapped up and over-prepares. I want him to accept the fact that he's playing beautifully going in, look at what he needs to do on the course and go."
The old-fashioned obstacles of the game endure. Perfecting his swing will prove to be just one step of many toward greatness for young Nick Watney.