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Michael Kim Q&A: The tour winner on why the modern swing could be hurting your game

August 17, 2023
USA's Michael Kim tees off the 5th during day one of The Open at the Royal Liverpool, Wirral. Picture date: Thursday July 20, 2023. (Photo by Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images)

Michael Kim has the rare distinction of being elite at two very different skills.

The first, obviously, is golf. Kim was a standout at the University of California-Berkeley, winning both the Jack Nicklaus Award, the Haskins Award, and low amateur honors at that year's U.S. Open (he finished 17th). He turned pro later that year, and after earning his PGA Tour card in 2016, won the 2018 John Deere Classic by a record eight shots.

But more recently, Kim has become an elite Tweeter (or X-er, or whatever it's called these days). He's gotten into it more over the past year, he says, and he's become something of a sensation in the golf corner of the platform. His follower count is at 60.9 thousand and growing rapidly, thanks to his stream of insight he drops at a near-daily clip.

Kim is, by his own admission, a golf-swing nerd. He thinks deeply about his game and has some helpful pieces of advice for the rest of us. So, with a few weeks of offseason before his 2024 season gets underway, we caught up with Kim for a quick golf-swing-nerd-out session with one of the most insightful voices on tour.

This Q&A has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Luke Kerr-Dineen: One of the themes in your advice to the rest of us is that they should chase more swing speed. Why is that?

Michael Kim: When I see amateurs, they get really caught up with looks, especially where their hands, club and the shaft points on the ‘plane’ of the swing. Obviously, correct lines and proper technique are important, but some amateurs think they’re so important that other important aspects get thrown out along the way. Speed is one of them.

Working to get your speed up is one of the most important things you can do for your game. You'll start to understand how your body should move to generate speed, because your body is really good at knowing a good place to hit the ball from. The more you train for speed, the more you’ll eliminate some of those bad techniques in your swing that are limiters to distance, and the more you'll use good technique to unlock more speed.

It won’t make your technique perfect, but you’ll at least get some turn and torque on your backswing. That’s the basis of a good golf swing. It’s much easier to reign it in from there with proper technique and with the correct lines than being boxed in with swing limiters which slow you down.

LKD: The concept of 'swing limiters' is an interesting one. Are you speaking from personal experience there?

MK: When I first turned pro in 2014, I didn't have a whole lot of hip turn. My right knee stayed bent throughout the entire swing, and I used to have a lot of wrist cock on the backswing. That’s a great example of why you should beware about trying to make a swing look good.

When you have so much wrist cock going back, it actually makes the swing look pretty good. It puts the club in an Adam Scott position at the top. It also makes it look like you get more turn than you actually are. The club looks like it’s gone a long way even when you aren’t turning your body all that much. If I actually did get a good turn, my swing looked really long, and so I would be hesitant on getting a full backswing turn.

Those were big limiters in my own swing. The no hip turn, the adding of wrist angles which led to me getting less turn. Yet, when I looked at it on camera, it looked pretty good.

LKD: It’s funny, because lots of golfers would hear something like “wrist cock” and think, “lag” and “power.” But for you, it wasn't.

MK: For some people it can be. If you're a long drive guy, I could totally see it helping, because you’re trying to release every angle that you can to maximize distance. If you can get rid of those wrist angles in time, that's extra speed. But for me, I’m either not strong enough, or I just can't get rid of it quick enough. You only have a split second to get rid of those angles in your wrists by the time you hit the ball. When I don't have as many wrist angles, I don't have to worry about trying to get rid of all that wrist cock in such a short amount of time.

LKD: You've talked about different golf swing principles that work for you. That sounds like one. What are some other principles of yours?

MK: I spent years and years trying to figure out what was important in my swing. It’s only recently, working with Sean [Foley], that I've really felt like I've got a handle on these things. They're different for everyone, which is the tough part.

My principles are getting a good full turn, staying really wide with my arms on the backswing which helps me load my right side, and having a good tempo. Those are important for me because early in my career I started missing the ball really far right, and to this day I hate missing it right.

So many of my principles are to give me enough time to release the club and hit a draw. Getting a full turn; getting a good full weight shift; staying wide; having good tempo; all these things give me as much time as I can to release the club.

LKD: You’ve mentioned a few times the importance of using your hands, and giving yourself time to release, why is that so important?

MK: With the driver, I'm trying to hurl this metal thing at 120 miles per hour at a golf ball in a short amount of time. Sean always tells me: ‘I've never had a player complain to me that I had too much time to hit the ball. It's always, 'I don't feel like I have enough time to release it.' That's what the feeling of being stuck is. Not having enough time to release it." My swing principles, all these things help buy myself time so that I can release the club.

LKD: But as you’ve said, golf is hard because everyone is different.

MK: It's all about what you need to work on with your own swing. For my swing, I realized that I do better with a neutral club face at the top, or even a clubface that is slightly open. I do terrible with the shut club face like Viktor Hovland or Dustin Johnson.

I spent two years trying to figure out how I can play with the shut club face because if you're missing it right and you're afraid of missing it right, what's the easiest thing that you can think of? It's to shut the clubface at the top. I would see Viktor Hovland whale at his driver, and hit these powerful cuts with no fear. That was basically my dream.

If I sat at a desk all day and tried to swing like Hovland, I’d hit hooks. I do much better when I feel that release with my hands as opposed to the feeling of a hold.

LKD: You've mentioned Hovland's golf swing a few times. Any golf swings that you like?

MK: It's funny. When I was going through my slump and playing so much bad golf, I would look at all these swings that I wish I had and pick out these qualities that I was envious of. I would be really envious of Viktor's or DJ's swing because they're able to turn so freely, with no worry of the ball going offline. That kind of bowed left wrist—it just seemed like their ball is always going to start a little left and cut back.

My swing is still kind of old school in comparison, so I still love that Adam Scott, Tiger Woods 2001 look. But these days, I've realized that the swing needs to be so individualized that there's not a swing that I'm just totally obsessed with anymore.

LKD: That feels like good advice for the rest of us.

MK: If you were to try and find a model that you really want to copy, I think the only advice I can say is you really need to find the attributes of your swing. Most notably, look where the clubface is at the top of the backswing. Is it neutral? Is it more shut? Is it more open?

Also, look for the hand position relative to his head. Are you more upright like JT? Are you a little flat like Rory? You need to find the guy that you think looks as close to you as possible, and then pick certain things up.

If your swing looks a little bit like JT and then you try to copy what Viktor Hovland does, you'll fail 100 percent of the time. But if you try and find some similarities with the pros to copy, then maybe you have a chance.