The decline of the cookie-cutter, TrackMan-perfected swing? Here's how Matthew Wolff's unique swing might influence golf
(Photo by Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)
It's hard to imagine a more varied collection of swing styles than the ones we saw win tournaments in 2019. From the perpetually-reinventing-himself Tiger Woods at the Masters to Cameron Champ, Matthew Wolff, Shane Lowry and even Justin Thomas last week at the BMW Championship, players are showing that we're entering an era where there's no such thing as a "stock" tour swing anymore.
We asked four top teachers from Golf Digest's national and state rankings to discuss how (or if!) this new "freedom" will trickle down into the amateur player's weekend game.
What does a player like Matthew Wolff mean for golf?
Rick Silva (Movement 3 Golf, Highland Park, Ill.): If you had walked down the range at a tour event the past 20 years, you'd have seen a lot of the same swings—almost robotic ones. I think the resurgence of individuality on tour is a great thing, and a real opportunity. It's going to give tour players and recreational players permission to go beyond the numbers they see on a launch monitor or the images in a video to find what works for them.
Kevin Weeks (Cog Hill Golf & Country Club, Lemont, Ill.): It's great that we're seeing players who haven't had the athleticism coached out of them. They have teachers who have been wise enough to take what the player had and shape it instead of trying to force it to conform to a certain idea of what the swing should be.
Nick Clearwater (GolfTEC Vice President of Instruction, Denver): If I was a casual observer of golf from my couch, I'd be excited about the future of the sport. There are all these young players with fresh attitudes and different swing styles. It's exciting. But how some of the swing stuff moves down to the average player is going to be terrifying! There are still plenty of people who think that the most noticeable thing is the most important thing, and the starting point for what you should be working on.
Terry Rowles (Metedeconk National, Jackson, N.J.): It's like bookends. In the old days, they looked at ball flight, and the style didn’t matter. In the intermediate age? Players were video-obsessed and tried to swing according to a method as defined by video. Now, kids are coming out who have grown up on TrackMan. They want to crush it and produce speed, and they have less constraints. The style doesn’t matter at much.
(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
On the influence tour players have on amateur swings:
Clearwater: Matt Wolff is exciting, but if you come to the range determined to copy his left-hand grip position, for example, 95 percent of the players in the country will end up essentially hitting a bunker shot. You need a framework for what you're looking at, and understand why what a player is doing works for him or her, and why it might or might not work or you.
Weeks: I don't encourage players to copy anybody. I quit putting up those swing comparisons in my teaching software because people are different and their bodies work different ways. If you insist on comparing yourself—and every kid wants to—at least do it with somebody that fits your style. If you're tall and long-limbed and flexible and you have a really upright swing, you're not going to want to make Sergio Garcia your model.
Clearwater: I use video and composite data that shows what the average of all tour players' movement is, but use those things in different ways. It's always going to be valuable to understand exactly what the best players in the world are doing, and then you try to get amateur players to at least move in that direction. Video lets you see very specific things—like where Rory McIlroy's club is just before it gets to the ball when he's hitting a draw—that are very useful. The composite data is a great starting point. If you're going to do something dramatically different than what the best players do, you better have a way to account for it later in the swing.
Silva: One of the negative influences tour players have had on the average student is how reliant the tour guys have been on kinematic data—a reporting of what just happened on a launch monitor or a video camera. Those devices have heavily influenced swing styles, and the effort to "optimize" the way a swing looks. But all kinds of "looks" work!
The biggest misconception about tour swings:
Clearwater: That players are necessarily trying to tweak things all the time to get "better." For players who already have speed, they're not interested in anything except trying to hit predictable shots. When you're Brooks Koepka, maybe you don't have optimal launch on your driver, but if you know you're giving up seven or eight yards to get a miss that at worst is going in the right rough, you're happy with that. But if the average player picks the wrong change, he or she might end up hitting grounders.
Weeks: Tour players are magicians who can change something immediately. They're incredibly talented, and they can change something dramatically from one swing to the next. But winning on tour means being able to rely on your technique. When it gets tight, you're going to revert to what's comfortable. That's the hardest barrier for any change.
Rowles: That swings are consistent. They’re searching for it every day. They’re just better at searching and have more skill. It’s always a balancing act. Compensations one way, then another. Tour players have robust golf skills that make their scores relatively consistent, but the way they put it together is variable.
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Is golf instruction changing?
Clearwater: I think we're finally coming out of the archaic, dogmatic era where you absolutely have to do something one way or another way. You'd always hear teachers say that you have to keep that right leg bent in the backswing, for example. Guys like Wolff and Viktor Hovland couldn't be farther from that, and they're playing great. On their short iron shots, they're keeping their arms pretty straight and almost punching it. That's different than what a lot of teachers would say is ideal, but the way they do it is amazing, how they keep the face from closing relative to the path.
Silva: Now that a few teachers can measure kinetics—how forces are being created in a swing—we can start to get down to the real reasons why certain things work or don't work, and how to put the puzzle together.
Rowles: Being able to measure is huge. From this point forward, swings are going to become more unique because they can. They can literally be customized, instead of produced on an assembly line. The other element that is gong to be a fundament part of teaching is coaching people on how to actually play the game. Shane Lowry won the Open by hitting the right shots at the right time. Viktor Hovland? He has a beautiful game. He’s not especially long, but he’s a wonderful striker. It’s a unique swing, and he knows it, and he knows how to play.
Weeks: Our highest-level PGA junior league team here at Cog Hill has a whole bunch of different swing styles and putting styles. Teachers who are going to succeed helping people going forward are going to have to be able to help students who have a ton of information from YouTube or TV or the magazines sift through what they've heard and find the pattern that works best for them from a variety of choices.
Silva: Instead of just knowing that a player is swinging 125 miles per hour with a swing path plus-four, teachers can put that in context. How did they do it? What did they do or not do (or do more of) to actually make that happen? You're not just changing things randomly to see what happens next.
Rowles: When a player comes in asking to change to a style of a player they like, I say, “There are more successful right handers in the world than left handers. Are you going to switch to right handed because of that?” That’s just as absurd. You need to find a favorite swing that fits what you’re predisposed to already do—that fits your body type. Good teachers know how to do that, or at least they better.
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