A Modern Classic: Davis Riley’s key move evokes great swings of the past
Photographs by Dom Furore
Davis Riley's silky smooth, graceful-looking swing is one that many admire. One tweet from an overzealous fan described it as “borderline erotic.” Um, OK. That aside, the former Alabama star does seem to have a move that generates accuracy and power.
One of the top rookies on the PGA Tour last season, Riley, 26, finished second to fellow newcomer Cameron Young in top-10 finishes (seven to six) and ranked eighth in total driving, hitting 62 percent of fairways and averaging nearly 308 yards off the tee. Riley’s effortless power results from “the freedom and rotation of his pelvis and spine” on the backswing, says Jeff Smith, Riley’s swing coach the past two seasons. Riley no longer tries to restrict the movement of his lower body relative to his upper body, which used to handcuff one of his greatest assets—his athleticism.
“Note how his left knee is internally rotated and behind the ball at the top of the backswing,” says Smith, the director of instruction at Spring Creek Ranch in Collierville, Tenn. “That’s a classic move you’ve seen throughout history with some of the greatest players, including Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead. It allows him to create a huge amount of turn with his lower body, without swaying off the ball a whole lot.”
As Riley transitions forward into the downswing, his pelvis moves ever so slightly toward the target while his head remains centered, creating a modest side tilt to his torso. This allows Riley to feel like he’s more level and on top of the ball through impact, Smith says, so he can start the ball more on line instead of slinging it right to left. Previously, Riley had too much lateral motion with his hips, causing his spine to tilt back too much. As a result, he would have to slow down to keep the ball in play.
“Now that he’s learned how to turn and tilt his body correctly, he can absolutely let it go on every swing,” says Smith, who also coaches tour pros Viktor Hovland, Aaron Wise, Patrick Rodgers and Brandon Wu.
This freedom is evident at impact, when Riley’s club shaft is in line with his left arm and “he’s throwing the daylights out of the club,” Smith says. In the very next frame, Riley’s right hand is crossing over his left, and his left hand is going into full extension, like he was flinging a Frisbee. That’s the throw. “There’s no ‘hold on’ to the club,” Smith says.
Couple that with the ground reaction force Riley initiates by pushing down with his left leg, and he is able to create clubhead speeds up to 125 miles per hour. “He’s not a giant, so to be able to create that much speed, it’s because his technique is so sound,” Smith says.