We are seeing all kinds of weird varieties of golf swings on the PGA Tour, to the point that you wonder whether it’s better to be taught or untaught. There is Kevin Na’s neurotic stutter swing, Rickie Fowler’s hit-the-throttle accelerator swing, and Bubba Watson’s uninhibited big-door-on-a-small-hinge swing. Then there is Tiger Woods’s confused multiple-personality swing. What that ought to tell you is that there’s no “right” technique, and you should fire your instructor if he insists there is.
The real lesson weekend amateurs should take from pro golf’s most recent events is that we’re being oversold, over-studied and over-confused by a consultant class. For some the golf swing is a manufactured move, and for others it’s a more natural move. For Na, it’s a highly counterintuitive motion, self-conscious to the point of phobia.
“There’s a lot going on in my head,” he admitted during the Players Championship this past weekend. For Fowler, it’s an entirely different game — loose and fast and unthinking — but it led to first and second place finishes in the last two weeks. “If you asked me to discuss the mechanics of my swing, I’m afraid it would be a short conversation, I’m a feel player,” he once said.
Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee has been complaining for a couple of years now about “the cookie cutter, scientific approach to teaching” which he calls a cancer in the game, and he’s being proven entirely right. The idea of that there is one superior swing theory or teaching method — that Hank Haney’s “shaft plane” will result in a better ball flight than David Leadbetter’s $119 “swing setter” video — is strictly a modern commercial notion. You’re better off taking the advice of sports psychologist Fran Pirozollo, who once said, “A physicist can describe the perfect golf swing and write it down in scientific language, but the smart golfer doesn’t read it. The smart golfer gives it to his opponent to contemplate.”
Or better yet, why not take the advice of some of history’s most consistent winners, who cautioned against over-tinkering. Nancy Lopez refused to apologize for the flaws in her swing and never made the mistake of trying to fix them. “My swing is no uglier than Arnold Palmer’s, and it’s the same ugly swing every time,” she said. Jack Nicklaus believed that “all golf shots should be played with one basic swing,” as he was taught by his instructor Jack Grout, who preached self reliance over eternal tampering by teachers.
Watson, the self-taught wonder and reigning Masters champion, believes no player should adopt a technique that goes against comfort out of some misguided adherence to “theory.” He told Golf Digest, “Find your strong point physically, and take advantage of it. And be careful that an instructor doesn’t try to build your swing around a part of you that isn’t your strongest point.”
Which is not to say that all instruction is bad. Matt Kuchar is a self-taught “home made” player who won the U.S. Amateur back in 1997, yet after he went through years of struggles and the loss of his playing card, there’s no question he needed Dallas teaching pro Chris O’Donnell. He put his swing back together beautifully and simply, and it led to the biggest victory of his career at the Players Championship on Sunday.