Travelers Championship

TPC River Highlands



Instruction

Wyndham Clark's common sense golf swing approach can teach us a lot

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Ezra Shaw

LOS ANGELES — It was two years ago at the Travelers Championship. Wyndham Clark had just missed the cut at the U.S. Open, and on the 15th hole of his practice round at TPC River Highlands, his ball was sailing left.

"Did you get that on video?"

I did. Clark came over and studied the footage on my phone. I'm not sure what, exactly, he was looking for, but he wasn't happy with whatever he saw.

"Dammit," he said as the club approached impact.

His caddie, John Ellis, pulled a second club out of his bag and held it close to Clark's hands as he set up to another ball. It was a drill Clark and his coach at the time had been working on to help him turn the club through the ball. The ball sailed left once again.

Three days later Clark shot 77, and missed the cut.

"I worked with some great coaches and they were very good at what they do," Clark said. "But I didn't know where the ball was going. I didn't own it."

When Clark returns to TPC River Highlands next week, he'll arrive with two wins in his last four starts, the latest a U.S. Open trophy which he secured with 10-under total, staving off a Sunday challenge from World No. 2 Rory McIlroy along the way.

It's not quite fair to call Clark a comeback story. Until this week, he was more of a talented player whose potential always seemed to surpass what he was actually achieving. Either way, stories like these often run on similar plots: Player meets coach, coach coaches player. Sparks fly, swings change, putts drop, trophies get lifted. Happily ever after.

Clark's story took a different turn.

Information overload

When Clark assessed his game, he didn’t see a need to to tear his golf swing down and start again. After all, people kept telling him his golf swing was good! His issue was not understanding how to use it. He didn't know what the golf ball was doing, or why. The cause-and-effect of it all. So, he wiped the whiteboard clean. No more coaches. He’d figure this out himself.

"My first few years on tour it actually really bothered me because people would say, oh, you have such a great swing," he said. "Yet I didn't know where the ball was going, and that was really frustrating."

Golf Channel's Brandel Chamblee often speaks of the athletic genius on his Live From broadcasts. That players on tour have an innate gift, but that many of them — through some combination of fear and confusion and good intentions — suffocate that gift to death with excess thought, upon the advice of experts.

On Saturday before the final round, Chamblee said most modern professional golfers are enshrined in a kind of “cult mindset.” Doing only others tell them to. Dependent on others. Following, rather than finding. It's a point that's perhaps overstated, but one with a truth at its core.

Those around Tiger Woods would often describe him as a sponge: Soaking in the information he needs, and discarding the rest. At no point in history do golfers have access to more information about their own games than right now. Acquiring and using that information is only half the battle. The true art, in the modern era of golf, may not be in the soaking, but in learning how and when to turn the tap off.

That's what Clark's did.

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Andrew Redington

"I learned about my game and my swing," he said. "That's what I did when I was younger. I knew how to hit shots and I got away from that when I was with a coach."

These days, Clark takes a blessedly minimalist approach to his own game, and one the rest of us can learn a lot from.

Learning to do the opposite

He keeps a close eye on the ball flight. If it starts moving too severely one way or the other, he'll intentionally try to overcorrect, and do the opposite. He doesn't care how it looks. He doesn't care how it feels. He doesn’t care how others do it. He only cares about figuring out how he can steer his car back to the right when he sees it veering left.

"When I'm in practice, I'm always trying to get back to neutral," he says. "If one day it's really cutty, I'm hitting huge draws on the range. And then some days it gets kind of too draw-y, I hit huge cuts and get it back to neutral. That's what I've done for the last year and a half. I've kept my swing in those parameters to where regardless I can play good golf if I'm hitting a little draw or a little cut, and my stats have improved immensely by doing that."

Immensely is right.

Clark went on to finish 155th in SG: Tee-to-Green the year he sent those two balls wildly left, and 188th in SG: Approach. So far this season, he's 19th in SG: Tee-to-Green, and 25th in SG: Approach. And now, the 2023 U.S. Open champion.

The lesson to learn from Clark's story isn't to retreat to some kind of golf swing cabin in the woods. Living off the land, forgoing all information about the golf swing. But rather, remembering the only essential rule in golf: That the golf ball never lies, and it doesn't care. Not what your swing looks like, or what route it took to get there. Not your golf swing tendencies or anything else. The ball just travels where the ball tells it to, no questions asks.

Certainty is the rarest of currencies in golf. Hold tight onto whatever gives you some measure of that. Coaches can and often do often help. So do tips and feels and thoughts. But each has their own limitations. At the end of it all, and as Wyndham Clark showed on Sunay, true genius lies within the golfer.