An in-depth analysis of Matthew Wolff's unorthodox swing
For the remaining few who argue that the modern golf swing is in a slow creep toward production-line sameness, July 2019 was a rather disastrous month. That’s when Matthew Wolff, then a 20-year-old PGA Tour rookie starting as a pro for just the third time, lifted, looped, squatted, jumped and powered his way to victory at the 3M Open in Minnesota. Never mind that he blithely rolled in a bomb on the last hole for the win. It was his full swing that had everyday fans—and more than a few smart teaching traditionalists—hitting rewind on their DVRs, squinting and smiling as they tried to comprehend what they were seeing.
Those unorthodox moves have put Wolff in position to accomplish some history at Winged Foot. Wolff is the 54-hole at Winged Foot at the 2020 U.S. Open, and sports fans around the world are witnessing golf's most unique swing.
What fans are witnessing is an unorthodox power player who, unlike previous weird-swing wonders such as Jim Furyk, Miller Barber and Eamonn Darcy, delivers a blazing 132 miles per hour of clubhead speed with the driver. Wolff is as straight as he is long, with no glaring weaknesses through the bag. His swing coach, George Gankas, says that Wolff scored an impressive 92 on the TrackMan Combine, a launch-monitor challenge that tests ball-striking from 10 distances (84 is the tour average). His short game and putting have been called “spooky good.”
Wolff’s swing, the outline of which was in place at age 14 when he began working with Gankas, has been refined, but not dramatically, from the action he adopted intuitively as a child. The curious-looking aspects are in his golf-DNA, comfortable and familiar. Conversely, the parts that matter most—his enormous turn, awesome sequence of motion and method of squaring the club—have been perfected over a decade of practice. Though most swings of players barely out of their teens are works in progress, Wolff’s swing is where he and Gankas say they want it permanently. It’s a low-impact swing physically, as natural to Wolff as walking. And judging by his ball flight when you watch him in person, it could make him a force in the years to come.
It’s so effective, it begs the question: Should you swing like Wolff? “Sure you can, but it comes with some qualifiers,” Gankas says. “If you can turn on the backswing like Matt, it’s a great way to go, loop and all, because you’ll be able to position the club beautifully on the way down. But let’s be honest, not many people have his flexibility or athleticism.
“But you definitely can copy his posture at address, which is ideal. You can copy his sequence of motion on the downswing, which happens from the ground up regardless of your technique. And you definitely can learn to bow your left wrist on the downswing, which will make for a very effective impact.” Take a look at the unique stroboscopic photographs and marvel at his unique method.
THE STRANGEST IGNITION IN GOLF
At 16, Wolff broke his left collarbone crashing to the turf in a game of touch football. After he healed, in an act of self-preservation, he resisted rotating his shoulders aggressively through the hitting area, which produces the slightly open position most good players have at impact. The result was square shoulders, a swing path that was excessively in to out and a clubface slightly open. That meant blocks, shots that fly straight but right of the target line. Wolff began rehearsing the position he wanted at impact—shoulders open, hips clearing, right knee angled toward the target—before returning to a conventional address position. During the rehearsal move, Wolff also reminds himself to rotate everything freely to obtain that shoulders-open look. Call it what you like—an ignition move or swing trigger or an old-fashioned sashay—but the quirky action has improved his swing path and ability to square the clubface at impact. He performs the move even on half-wedge shots.
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A LIFT, THEN ENORMOUS TURN
Starting back, Wolff takes the clubhead well outside the target line, and the clubface remains closed because he doesn’t rotate his forearms. Until the club is halfway back, it’s an arms-only swing with no wrist cock and very little motion of the torso. Then the fun begins. Wolff lifts his arms abruptly, his upper right arm flying away from his side, his left arm on a near-perfect vertical. At the same time, he turns his hips as far as he can, his left foot rising up on its toes and his right leg straightening to accommodate. His shoulders turn enormously, too, which helps transport the club well “across the line,” the shaft aligned noticeably right of the target. The lift-and-turn action makes the club feel light. His posture and spine angle remain unchanged from address. Another tradition-upsetting element of Wolff’s backswing is the huge hip turn. Gankas believes the hips should turn considerably, which runs contrary to the idea that the pelvic rotation should be at least somewhat limited to create resistance between the lower body and upper body. The unlimited turn—notice that Wolff remains in perfect balance—also sets up a more flowing transition into the downswing.
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FROM THE TOP
RE-ROUTING WITH A LOOP
What happens from the top is unorthodox and the gasp-inducing signature of Wolff’s swing. Early on during the downswing, the club traces a loop as it moves from across the line into a more classic “slotted” position halfway down. The loop might look odd, but it’s rational. Gankas says that baseball players (Wolff’s favorite sport until his early teens) start with the bat vertical and then drop it onto a shallower plane so it’s moving horizontally as they stride into the pitch. Like a baseball player, Wolff starts the forward motion by shifting his weight to his left and unwinding his lower body as aggressively as possible. His upper right arm returns to his side, carried there by the unturning of his hips and shoulders. His body rotation is sequenced from the ground up and happens so well, the hands and club move onto the correct plane and path with no conscious thought. Despite the incredible speed he’s generating, there’s no tension in his arms. His hands are just holding on.
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THE IMPACT ZONE
POWERING THROUGH THE BALL WITH HIS LEGS
As this downswing progresses, Wolff performs a Sam Snead-like squat, his knees bending and separating as he applies downward pressure to the ground with his feet. Gankas calls this deliberate move “digging” and says that Wolff does it in concert with his hips unturning furiously. “I love the way he squats and lowers himself,” he says. “I call it ‘eating the golf ball.’ It sets him up to deliver unbelievable power.” The unturning of the hips as Wolff squats is so aggressive, he twists and grinds his feet into the ground. “Matt is a range destroyer,” Gangkas says. “He tears up the turf with his spikes. I can always identify the spot where he’s been practicing.” Then, as Wolff nears impact, he thrusts upward from the balls of his feet, his body still turning. The combination of movements, along with his remarkable arm and hand speed, produces a ton of raw power. Wolff, a feel player who unlike Gankas isn’t inclined to dissect the mechanics of his swing, has one thought through impact. “I think, clear,” he says. “It’s a feeling more than a thought. I want to feel unrestricted, to keep swinging even after the ball is gone. It’s a sensation of freedom, like nothing is in my way.”
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
“It could change people’s perceptions of what a great swing should be. In golf, it’s not what it looks like, it’s the results. At the tour level, the question is, Will the swing work under pressure? Matthew has proven that it can. I think [teacher] George Gankas has done a terrific job working with him and not changing what he does naturally. That’s always been a big thing in my teaching: Take what players do, and help them improve on it. There are a lot of different-looking swings in the Hall of Fame—Palmer, Trevino, even Nicklaus. Bottom line is, this is Matthew Wolff’s swing, and it works great.”
“I’ve been advocating this steep-to-shallow move from backswing to downswing for a long time. It was the basis for my ‘A Swing.’ A lot of great players have had a steeper look going back. If you think about Matt’s swing, it’s kind of like a more dynamic version of what Calvin Peete did. And Calvin’s ball-striking and accuracy were off-the-charts good. It cuts out so much frivolous movement in the swing and guarantees that his club approaches the ball on a shallow path, which we all strive to do. As long as he rotates hard out of the way, he’s going to hit it well. I’m sure you’re going to get people trying to copy his swing. And you can’t blame them. It’s very effective.”
“If Matthew Wolff showed up on my doorstep with that swing, I wouldn’t try to change it. He knows how to repeat it and does a great job of shallowing the club into the ball. That being said, I don’t think it will change golf. That would be like saying 25 years ago, is Jim Furyk’s swing going to change golf? The guys who take the clubhead way outside, it forces them to do a radical shallowing move in the downswing. Miller Barber, Lee Trevino, Calvin Peete, Moe Norman—they were all great ball-strikers. But it’s not something I would teach. Why? The more you take players off plane, the more compensations you need to make to get the club back on plane. And timing could be a real issue for someone trying to copy what Matthew Wolff has been doing for years. It’s much easier to keep the club on plane.”
“I don’t know how much of a trendsetter Matt Wolff is. There have been players who swung like him before. It’s been done before, and he won’t be the last. There’s nothing truly new in golf, because there are obviously only certain combinations of ways the body can move. What he is is the new role model for doing it your own way and not being so caught up in what other people do. As for it being good or bad, how do you not like 330 yards off the tee? He hits it forever. What else is there? I think a lot more average players should try to swing like him, because they loop the club the opposite way. They take it back way inside and shallow and then re-route the club steep and across the line. A classic slice move. If they tried to do it like him, their swings would probably look a lot more textbook, and they would hit it way better than they do.”
“I absolutely think it’s starting a trend. It’s blowing up conventional swing theory. Matt’s a charismatic guy. Interesting to listen to, great personality, and he hits it forever. There’s a lot of sizzle to the whole thing. But this isn’t the first time somebody has had a swing like that. You don’t see it very oſten, so it feels new. But it’s very close to what Miller Barber did, and he won almost a dozen times in the 1960s and ’70s. Miller was one of the best ball-strikers who ever lived. He just wasn’t as powerful as Matt Wolff is. I also knew Calvin Peete very well, and he took the club back that same way, outside the hands going away. It’s just that Matt is producing so much more speed. Like Bubba Watson or Fred Couples, he gets his trail elbow super high. That produces a lot of leverage. Everybody is trying to hit it high and far, and this is just one more step in that direction.”
“What Wolff does is the trend that teachers are adopting, but not everyone should do it. George Gankas is an Internet sensation, and teachers are trying to tap into that success. But not everyone is predisposed to move in that fashion. One size fits all is not the way to teach. Measure every student, and from the measurements, design the swing that best matches the person standing in front of you. Following any particular swing flavor or method automatically is going to cause you frustration, because your mileage with it will certainly vary. But what Wolff does obviously works very well for him. He generates a ton of torque and vertical force with his lower body. Dr. Scott Lynn, a biomechanist, had him on the 3-D force plates, and his verticals and torque were off the charts. George is a very instinctive teacher, and he has a sense for what the student needs. It’s obviously working for Wolff.”