A few years ago I was bouncing between different instructors, trying to find some consistency in my game. One teacher, Chris O'Connell out of Dallas, said something that really threw me: "I want to take the athleticism out of your swing." I didn't know how to take that. The one thing I knew for sure was that being athletic was keeping me on tour. He said that was the problem: I was relying on it too much. That conversation changed everything.
What Chris meant was, my swing required perfect timing, because I had too many things going on. If I flipped my hands just right at impact or got my weight in the right place, I could play great. But I was streaky. So we went to work on simplifying my swing, taking out the moves that are tough to time. Our goal was to make it as easy as possible to repeat. If you struggle with consistency, you probably have timing issues, too. I bet the changes we made can help you.
KEY NO. 1
A STEEPER SHOULDER TURN
I used to turn my shoulders pretty level, which a lot of golfers think is correct. But that made my swing too shallow coming into impact, so my contact was picky, especially off the turf. We worked on a couple of things to make my shoulder turn steeper. First, I try to stay centered as I swing back, not letting my head move to the right. Staying over the ball allows me to turn my left shoulder downward on a steeper angle. That sets up a steeper downswing for better contact.
Next, I keep my left arm pinned against my chest. This helps me get my arms and body working back together. At the top, you can see my left arm matches the line of my shoulders (below). This connection means I don't have to realign anything before impact. It's the simplest way.
Another good feel for me on the backswing is to pinch my right shoulder blade in toward the middle of my back. This is my way of keeping my shoulders turning on a steep angle and making a full windup.
KEY NO. 2
CLEARING THE HIPS
Another major area we've worked on is my hip action. Like my shoulders, my hips now turn on a steeper angle to the ground in the backswing. It feels as if I'm sticking out the right side of my rear end as I turn to the top. This move counterbalances my left shoulder turning down: If I didn't stick my rear end out, that steep shoulder turn would put me out on my toes. On the downswing, it's all about my left hip—actually, the left knee, thigh and hip. I want to feel them clearing out, or turning to my left, so my right side can drive hard. From the top, my hips used to thrust toward the ball, which dropped the club too far to the inside and led to pushes and hooks. Now I think about pushing my left hip out to left field and then turning it behind me (above). That keeps the club coming in steep so I can really pinch the ball off the ground.
KEY NO. 3
THE FULL-BODY RELEASE
As I said earlier, our goal was to take the timing problem out of my swing, including my hands having to roll over at just the right instant to square the clubface. Now, once I shift to my left side to start the downswing, I can turn hard, and my body will bring the club around. That's because I've kept my left arm pinned against my chest. With this connection, turning my body squares the face without any hand action.
With the body leading like this, my arms track back to the inside quickly after impact. I used to have too much "chase" in my swing, with the clubhead swinging straight down the line or even out to the right. My new swing shape proves that my arms and body are working together, like concentric circles, with my arms moving in orbit around my body.
When I'm really puring it, I feel as if my whole left side—from knee to hip to shoulder—is turning behind me as I swing through the ball. As Chris likes to say, we took the need for athleticism out, and my performance has exploded.
*Matt Kuchar, 32, had 11 top-10 finishes last year, including his third win, and led the PGA Tour in money with $4,910,477.
Chris O'Connell, 38, a Golf Digest Best Young Teacher,
works for Plane Truth Golf, Frisco, Texas.*