How do you hit a ball 300 yards with just one hand?
Ask Fred Couples, who is so loose he sometimes lets his right hand come completely off the club through impact. In fact, the distinguishing characteristics of Couples' swing are fluidity, rhythm and balance. Sometimes it's hard to believe that a swing so seemingly effortless can produce such long drives. But his can, and a big reason is that unlike most of us, Couples doesn't have swing thoughts that clutter up his mind. In fact, when he's over the ball, his main thought is simply the target.
What enables Couples to be so free is his intuitive action, which he developed as a youngster without any formal instruction. Instead, he figured out the game at Jefferson Park, a nine-hole public course in Seattle where he quickly came to appreciate the value of length. To keep up with older players, Couples had to hit the ball as far as he could. "I learned when I was a kid, the faster I get my hands on my left shoulder, the farther it goes," he says.
Helping matters is that Couples is a great athlete. After high school, he pondered signing a professional baseball contract before deciding to attend the University of Houston on a golf scholarship. At 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, Couples is built like a running back. Although PGA Tour regulations prevent shorts, a look at Couples' well-developed legs would reveal the solid base of his swing.
And his flexibility is astounding. Despite possessing one of the biggest turns in golf, Couples is able to keep his left foot on the ground throughout the swing. Golf convention says the left shoulder should rotate 90 degrees and the left hip 45 degrees. Couples turns his upper body more and his hip less. When he releases the resistance he has built up, he produces phenomenal clubhead speed.
Couples does everything he can to set himself up comfortably for a free swing. One noticeable idiosyncracy of his preshot routine is adjusting the sleeves of his shirt. "It's just a habit," he says, "I could never hit a ball with my sleeves down. I just try to feel as free as I can."
So while you may not have Couples' natural ability, you could benefit from trying to imitate his approach to the swing, according to the late Harvey Penick. Many players suffer from thinking too much. Their heads are crammed with distracting swing keys and analyses. A much better way is to take Couples' swing thought to heart.
Actually, it's not even a thought; but it says more than any complicated swing theory ever could. "I just take the club back and hit it," he says.
This article originally appeared in Golf Digest's 1996 Special Edition: Lessons from Golf's Greatest Swings.