Editor's Letter: Swing Tips For The New First Golfer

December 25, 2008

Cinderella story: Obama, a left-hander, mimics his stance last October at the Maumee Bay Resort in Ohio.

It's not exactly been a state secret, but Barack Obama follows in the grand and often closeted tradition of 14 past U.S. presidents -- and plays golf. Basketball might be his first love, but golf is a solid second, as investigative reporter Don Van Natta Jr. writes. The president-elect shoots in the 90s, counts every shot, prefers to walk and enjoys the trash talk that goes with a little wager. He played about a dozen times during the presidential campaign, most notably when he vacationed in Hawaii last year and his swing was captured on video. Three of our top teachers -- Butch Harmon, David Leadbetter and Jim Flick -- analyzed his swing, which you can watch while listening to their lessons.

All three agreed he's a pretty good athlete with a decent setup. "He moves well and doesn't look tense or stiff," says Leadbetter. Flick concurs: "I like the bend at his hips with the back nice and straight. His arms hang softly and relaxed from his shoulders." But Obama's fundamentals break down when the swing begins. "The problem is, he's got no body turn at all," says Harmon. "It's a hands-and-arms swing. He lunges at impact. His head lifts, his spine angle pops straight up, and he pulls the club across the ball. I wouldn't think he has much consistency."


Leadbetter observes: "He doesn't rotate his body very well going back; he kind of picks the club up. As a result, I'd suspect his grip is too weak. His right hand is probably a little too much in the palm, being a left-handed golfer, and he gets a very bowed position at the top."

Flick is a bit more generous: "He has plenty of shoulder turn and arm swing, but not quite enough wrist hinge. On the transition, his club moves in a nice line back to the ball. But his upper body out-races the swinging of his arms and the club, and he gets past impact with his upper body before the club gets there, forcing the face to be open."

So what's their one-minute tip? "Focus on rotating his torso going back and rotating it coming through, feeling a little more extension through the impact area," says Leadbetter. "If he could do that, he'd generate a little more speed, and certainly the clubface would be squarer through impact."

Harmon's advice is similar: "I'd have him make a better turn going back with his hips and shoulders, so that when he comes down, everything doesn't unwind so early. He needs more windup."

Flick's tip focuses more on swinging the arms: "My suggestion is a drill that Jack Grout gave Jack Nicklaus as a youngster: letting his feet roll but keeping the inside of both heels on the ground, even at the finish. Which would help Obama feel as though his arms and club are going faster, and give him a chance to square up and keep from slicing."

One final tip for the Leader of the Free World. It is the Equipment Issue, after all. We asked a highly placed source what clubs the president-elect plays. "The P.E. uses Callaway irons and Titleist woods," came the e-mailed reply. "They're at least five years old, or more."

The P.E. obviously needs to read the Hot List.