Editor's Note: GolfDigest.com has asked Kevin Hinton, one of its Top-20 Teachers Under 40 and the Director of Instruction at Piping Rock Club in Locust Valley, N.Y., to analyze players competing in this week's PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. His next installment looks at Matt Kuchar, whose dramatic swing overhaul revived his professional career. At eight-under par, Kuchar has the 36-hole lead at Whistling Straits.
Matt Kuchar is a great example of how a player's swing can evolve over time. In 1998 he was the low amateur in both the Masters and the U.S. Open, finishing T-21 and T-14, respectively. At the time, Matt had a much more upright backswing and has since lowered his arm swing considerably. He may now have the flattest backswing on tour, with his left arm well below his shoulder plane. So the question bares asking: Why did Kuchar make such a dramatic change, and what can the average player learn from his decision to do so?
The simple answer to the first part of that question is that Kuchar obviously thought he could become a more consistent ball-striker, otherwise he wouldn't have done it. Many instructors and tour players feel that one benefit of a more rounded backswing is that the arms and club are no longer required to drop as dramatically in the downswing. This can lead to better consistency, as well as avoiding an excessive inside-to-out swing path that results in pushes and hooks.
Kuchar's first-round 67 at Whistling Straits is a testament to the work he has done. You don't shoot five under at a major without being comfortable with your golf swing.
The decision to make dramatic backswing changes is particularly interesting to me. There are about 150 players on the PGA Tour, with 150 different backswings. We do not hit the ball in our backswing. The only thing the golf ball knows is impact. It is the downswing where the best players look the most similar. My advice for the average player is to pay the most attention to your downswing and how the ball is flying. Start here first, resisting the urge to make significant backswing changes. The majority of your focus should be on producing a better impact position. Once you have accomplished that, the ball will react accordingly
When embarking down the road to improvement, you should manage your game like you would a long-term portfolio. Ignore the dips and valleys in the short term, as long as the general trend is upward. Be sure to remember, just like the stock market, progress in your golf swing will never be a straight line up, so be patient.
*-- Kevin Hinton