The Swings At The Top __A look at the swings of the Masters leaders__

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The Swings At The Top __A look at the swings of the Masters leaders__

April 09, 2011

RO-RY! RO-RY! RO-RY!People are always amazed by how far I hit the ball off the tee. I'm not the biggest guy out here, at 5-feet-10 and 160 pounds, but I've always been long for my size. I have a lot of natural speed. In the gym I work mostly on core stability and flexibility, which has helped make me longer. Plus, I like to swing with no fear. I'm a grip-it-and-rip-it guy. I've always played that way, and I've quickly found that nearly everyone on tour does, too. Over the ball, I think about nothing other than the target. I don't focus on technique. But, under pressure, I do use one simple swing thought: I pick a spot a foot in front of the ball and hit over it -- hard. That takes my mind off the outcome of the shot and keeps me in the process.--Rory McIlroy*

Not since the arrival of Sergio Garcia a decade ago has a young European golfer made such a dramatic and immediate impact on the world of professional golf. Less than two years after leaving the amateur game, Rory McIlroy has won on the European tour (the Dubai Desert Classic in February), tied for 20th in his first Masters (with a final-nine 31), and has performed consistently well enough to be ranked among the world's top-20 players.Not that anyone is surprised, really. The young Ulsterman -- he turned 20 in May -- has been a star at every level of the game. At 16 he was Ireland's Amateur champion. A year later he had added the European Amateur title. And before he turned pro he was the No. 1 amateur in the world.The most striking aspect of young McIlroy is not his list of victories or achievements, however. It's the rhythm of his swing and the ease with which he hits the ball. "Rory's swing does have a wonderful flow to it, always has," says Michael Bannon, head professional at Bangor Golf Club in Northern Ireland and McIlroy's only teacher. "You can tell how comfortable he is by the speed at which he plays. All he needs is a couple of looks at the target before he hits."Such instinctiveness is the result of hard work as well as inborn talent. "We've always focused on Rory's posture, alignment and ball position," says Bannon. "They are where we want them, but we keep a constant eye on them. If he's been playing in windy conditions, he sometimes lets the ball creep back in his stance. He also has a tendency to narrow his stance a wee bit too much for the short irons.I like the width to stay constant so he can stand into his right leg on the backswing."How good is Rory's move? Says Geoff Ogilvy: "He might have the best swing out here."

Good, athletic posture; Rory looks ready to swing the club. We never go a session without checking his setup fundamentals.Good, athletic posture; Rory looks ready to swing the club. We never go a session without checking his setup fundamentals.

Rory's takeaway is very much one-piece, the club-head, arms and shoulders moving together. With the club at parallel, his wrists start hinging.Rory's takeaway is very much one-piece, the club-head, arms and shoulders moving together. With the club at parallel, his wrists start hinging.

Halfway back, his right elbow starts to fold and his wrists continue to hinge. He has already made a big shoulder turn. No part is working without the others.

I love that his left arm has stayed so straight and his turn is so full, about 110 degrees. Also, you can see the clubface is parallel to his left arm -- that's square.

As Rory turns back to the ball, the club is lowered into a "holding" position by the movement of his lower body. He's making a very strong move here, with the wrist angle between the club and his left arm retained.As Rory turns back to the ball, the club is lowered into a "holding" position by the movement of his lower body. He's making a very strong move here, with the wrist angle between the club and his left arm retained.

Like a natural throwing motion, his left side has cleared so his right side can complete the "throw" to the target.Like a natural throwing motion, his left side has cleared so his right side can complete the "throw" to the target.

Just after impact, his right leg tends to lock up -- that's something we're working on in his driving. I'd like to see it stay softer, as it does with his iron shots.Just after impact, his right leg tends to lock up -- that's something we're working on in his driving. I'd like to see it stay softer, as it does with his iron shots.

This is a lovely finish, reflecting his great balance and rhythm. He does this on every swing, from a pitch to the driver. You'll never see him fall back off a shot.This is a lovely finish, reflecting his great balance and rhythm. He does this on every swing, from a pitch to the driver. You'll never see him fall back off a shot.

WELL-AGED WONDER

As a young man I was extremely flexible, and my swing was very long -- perhaps too long. I could drive the ball great distances, but sometimes I would turn my shoulders and hips too far, and my accuracy would suffer. As I got older, I lost some of that flexibility, but none of my strength. My swing became shorter and -- strangely -- much better. My only goal is to have the clubface square at impact. I won the 2007 U.S. Open and 2009 Masters in my late 30s, largely because of my confident driving. Today, at 40, I believe there are more victories in my future, especially in the major championships. You should welcome getting older in golf. With greater knowledge of your swing, you too can keep improving.--Angel Cabrera
__AGE:__40 | __HEIGHT:__6-feet | __DRIVER:__Ping i15, 8 degrees | BALL: Titleist Pro V1x | DRIVING DISTANCE (RANK): 302.1 yards (1st) | __DRIVING OVER 320 YDS. (RANK):__20.86% (2nd)

COLLISION COURSE

A stable lower body sets up a powerful explosion at impactAngel Cabrera is the last of the true caddie-yard players, his swing a rough-hewn, self-invented action steered mainly by instinct and desire. Cabrera walked three miles each way, seven days a week, to the Cordoba Country Club in Argentina beginning at age 10. He got his first set of golf clubs at 16 and turned professional at 20.His story is compelling, but no more so than the golf swing that has evolved into one of the most powerful and reliable in golf. His technique is grounded by massive, superbly conditioned legs that anchor a mighty winding and unwinding of his upper body."Angel's swing is like watching a duck on water -- effortless on top but working like hell underneath," says his instructor, Charlie Epps. "His lower body is stable and efficient with excellent footwork. It's like Claude Harmon said: You can't shoot a cannon off of ice skates."Cabrera is thick around the back and shoulders, with preternaturally fast arms and hands. Impact is a freight-train collision, his swing speed clocking in at 125 miles per hour, his ball speed upward of 195 mph. His natural ball flight is a towering fade, but he can adjust his trajectory on command by tweaking his ball position."Anyone who thinks a fade can't go as far as a draw should see Angel," Epps says. "His power and artistry are amazing."--Guy Yocom

Angel has no swing thoughts. His waggle is a wiggle of his right thumb, nothing more.

He swings the club out and away. It can only go inside from here.

Angel grew up playing soccer barefoot. No wonder he has such great footwork.

A big shoulder turn often means a bent left arm at the top.

Shoulders aligned to the right keeps the shaft on plane.

Great drivers like Angel have a passion for hitting the ball hard.

Right palm facing forward, turning down, shows upper-body flexibility.

Try to expose your right side to the target at the finish, as Angel is doing here.

'POWER IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER'It seems as if every golf course we play on tour is getting longer and longer. Given this trend, if you can't hit it 300 yards when you need to, you can't put yourself in a position to win. So I've been concentrating on increasing my driving distance and making my body a little more flexible so it can adapt.Since I started working with Steve Bann (who also teaches Stuart Appleby) in 2006, my main focus has been my address. With the correct setup, my power at impact increases. My ball flight--now a fade--is more consistent.I'm pretty much driving it as well as I was last year when I won twice. In fact, I'm hitting the ball more accurately and maintaining my distance.→AGE: 38 / HEIGHT: 5-feet-8 / DRIVER: Nike SQ sumo2 5900 / BALL: Nike One Platinum / DRIVING DISTANCE (RANK): 286.7 yards (58th) /__ GREENS IN REGULATION (RANK):__ 72.73 (2nd)'POWER IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER'It seems as if every golf course we play on tour is getting longer and longer. Given this trend, if you can't hit it 300 yards when you need to, you can't put yourself in a position to win. So I've been concentrating on increasing my driving distance and making my body a little more flexible so it can adapt.Since I started working with Steve Bann (who also teaches Stuart Appleby) in 2006, my main focus has been my address. With the correct setup, my power at impact increases. My ball flight--now a fade--is more consistent.I'm pretty much driving it as well as I was last year when I won twice. In fact, I'm hitting the ball more accurately and maintaining my distance.→AGE: 38 / HEIGHT: 5-feet-8 / DRIVER: Nike SQ sumo2 5900 / BALL: Nike One Platinum / DRIVING DISTANCE (RANK): 286.7 yards (58th) /__ GREENS IN REGULATION (RANK):__ 72.73 (2nd)

MADE WITH A FADE

Choi's recent success begins with his left-to-right ball flightBy Ron KaspriskeWhen swing coach Steve Bann met K.J. Choi in September 2006, it did not surprise him to learn that Choi got a lot of his golf instruction from reading a Korean version of Jack Nicklaus' book Golf My Way. Choi was doing some things with his swing that Bann felt did not suit his body type, and Bann suspected it was a case of something getting lost in translation."I don't know whether he misinterpreted it or got bad info, but the first thing we did was set him up right," says Bann, who has helped guide Choi to four of his seven PGA Tour victories and to No. 7 on the World Golf Ranking as of early April.Bann says they started by improving Choi's address posture, making him stand taller with his left hip higher than his right. This setup helps provide effortless power. Then the two focused on the takeaway."He was starting the clubhead away first and keeping his right arm straight as long as possible," Bann says. "That's a fairly unique thing to do. He often hit a pull or a weak cut because of this. Now I'm trying to keep his left arm connected to his chest as he takes the club back. I want him to use the big muscles on his turn."Then came the most important ingredient to Choi's recent success (three wins and a second in a 12-event stretch from 2007 to early '08): With Bann's help, Choi started playing a power fade by allowing his body and arms to work in sequence on the downswing and through-swing. Bann correctly assumed this type of swing would come naturally for Choi, who has a very strong core and lower body and can use those muscles to power the ball down the fairway. The power fade also gives him consistency because Bann believes it requires less coordination to repeat."We've eliminated all the things that didn't need to move," Bann says. "And combined with the earlier changes, the fade gives him all the distance he needs. Now when the shot calls for a draw, K.J. many times still plays the fade. He trusts it so much, there's no course that's too narrow."

MADE WITH A FADE

Choi's recent success begins with his left-to-right ball flightBy Ron KaspriskeWhen swing coach Steve Bann met K.J. Choi in September 2006, it did not surprise him to learn that Choi got a lot of his golf instruction from reading a Korean version of Jack Nicklaus' book Golf My Way. Choi was doing some things with his swing that Bann felt did not suit his body type, and Bann suspected it was a case of something getting lost in translation."I don't know whether he misinterpreted it or got bad info, but the first thing we did was set him up right," says Bann, who has helped guide Choi to four of his seven PGA Tour victories and to No. 7 on the World Golf Ranking as of early April.Bann says they started by improving Choi's address posture, making him stand taller with his left hip higher than his right. This setup helps provide effortless power. Then the two focused on the takeaway."He was starting the clubhead away first and keeping his right arm straight as long as possible," Bann says. "That's a fairly unique thing to do. He often hit a pull or a weak cut because of this. Now I'm trying to keep his left arm connected to his chest as he takes the club back. I want him to use the big muscles on his turn."Then came the most important ingredient to Choi's recent success (three wins and a second in a 12-event stretch from 2007 to early '08): With Bann's help, Choi started playing a power fade by allowing his body and arms to work in sequence on the downswing and through-swing. Bann correctly assumed this type of swing would come naturally for Choi, who has a very strong core and lower body and can use those muscles to power the ball down the fairway. The power fade also gives him consistency because Bann believes it requires less coordination to repeat."We've eliminated all the things that didn't need to move," Bann says. "And combined with the earlier changes, the fade gives him all the distance he needs. Now when the shot calls for a draw, K.J. many times still plays the fade. He trusts it so much, there's no course that's too narrow."

This is a powerful setup: His upper body is behind the ball, so he can now use his mass to hit it.Swing analysis by Steve Bann, Teaching Professional

His left shoulder is working underneath his chin. The big muscles are taking the club back.

He keeps his left arm connected to his chest as he takes the club back.

Great sequencing: The arms, shoulders and club reach the top at the same time.

K.J. has dropped the club into perfect position, the shaft pointing at the ball.

His right side is still turning toward the target even though the ball is long gone.

To release the club fully, K.J. turns and thinks shake hands with the target.

MY DRIVER STRATEGY? SMASH THE BALL

By Fred CouplesDriving it a long way has always come naturally to me, but now I'm hitting it straighter than ever. Some of that's the new equipment, but I've improved my mechanics with Butch Harmon. My swing is less dependent on timing these days, and that's made the driver probably my best club.I'm also more comfortable hitting the driver at different speeds. I might bomb it on a par 5, but on a tight par 4, I'll smooth one out there at 80 percent. One thought that has helped me with the driver is, Smash it. I don't mean swing hard; I try to compress the ball with a dead-solid hit. That image works at any speed. →Age: 48 / Height: 5-feet-11 / __Driver:__Bridgestone J33R, 9.5 degrees /Ball: Bridgestone Tour B330 / __2008 Driving Distance (Rank):__300.5 Yards (17) / __Clubhead Speed (Rank):__118 MPH (19)

SWING EASY,

HIT HARDAt 48, Fred Couples still makes it look effortlessBy Jaime DiazIt's hard to believe it has been 16 years since Fred Couples won his Masters, and the fact that his golf swing looks as smooth and powerful today as it did then only adds to the confusion. In a word, his action is relaxed, starting at address and remaining so all the way to his perfectly balanced finish.Working with Butch Harmon, Couples has lessened the distinctive lift in his takeaway with a lower and wider sweep back that starts the club more along the target line, rather than outside. This allows him to accomplish a deeper, fuller turn."We had him setting up with the clubhead a foot behind the ball, getting a head start on the takeaway," says Harmon. "He even played some rounds like that."Couples' improved takeaway also has reduced the amount his driver shaft goes across the line, pointing right of the target, at the top.The result of these changes is that Couples now swings down on the correct plane, with the club more in front of him, not trapped behind his right side. When Couples was prone to dropping the club behind him, he had to release his hands aggressively through the hitting area to square the clubface. That pronounced inside-out action held the threat of a hook, which he counteracted by opening his stance and playing a fade. But he still missed too many fairways.Now with a more on-plane swing, Couples clears his left hip -- a move he still executes as quickly as anyone in golf -- and he's free to fully release his body and swing the club down the line. He hits one fearless draw after another."We also watch his ball position, keeping it back, which squares his shoulders to the target," says Harmon. "From there, he can turn it over for more distance."For the guy who has always made it look ridiculously easy, it seems easier than ever.

AT ADDRESS

His action is relaxed, starting at address and remaining so all the way to his perfectly balanced finish.

THE TAKE-AWAY

His clubhead used to move outside, but this is perfect.

THE BACKSWING

Working with Butch Harmon, Couples has lessened the distinctive lift in his takeaway with a lower and wider sweep back that starts the club more along the target line, rather than outside.

AT THE TOP

Very athletic here: a huge rotation and still flat-footed.

DOWNSWING

The club's pointing at the ball -- that's right on plane.

Now with a more on-plane swing, Couples clears his left hip -- a move he still executes as quickly as anyone in golf -- and he's free to fully release his body and swing the club down the line.Now with a more on-plane swing, Couples clears his left hip -- a move he still executes as quickly as anyone in golf -- and he's free to fully release his body and swing the club down the line.

FOLLOW-THROUGH

Fred's rotating the clubface closed for a power draw.

THE FINISH

So loose he looks like he could hold his finish all day.

FACE-ON VIEW

Working with Butch Harmon, Couples has lessened the distinctive lift in his takeaway with a lower and wider sweep back that starts the club more along the target line, rather than outside.

Couples' wider takeaway gets his shoulders turning.

Even at full stretch, his arms look as soft as in the setup.

The result of these changes is that Couples now swings down on the correct plane, with the club more in front of him, not trapped behind his right side.

Now with a more on-plane swing, Couples clears his left hip -- a move he still executes as quickly as anyone in golf -- and he's free to fully release his body and swing the club down the line.

For the guy who has always made it look ridiculously easy, it seems easier than ever.

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