During his heyday, Lee Trevino was heralded as having an ugly, unorthodox non text-book swing. Many commentators and players of that era cited that he won 6 majors in spite of his swing, not because of it. Ironically, the thinking within the swing industry now, is that Trevino had one of the most functional techniques in the history of the game, and that his swing had in abundance some characteristics we should all pursue!
I think this is the dilemma for elite players – both young and old – is that there is so much conflicting information out there – and now more than ever with the internet providing a platform for an information highway never seen before.
So, I want you to start to think not of ‘ideal swing models’ which is primarily position orientated, but instead of what I call ‘Swing Ecosystems’. In this sense the definition of the word ecosystem means ‘a community of interacting parts that sustain and assist each other’
I like to reverse engineer swing work with my players – so the first question is ‘what do you need to do to improve your shots’? Please note this is VERY DIFFERENT from ‘what do you need to do to improve your swing?’ And critical to add, and often this is the case with Tour Players, it is not about how to improve their shots, but how to get rid of, or minimise, a certain bad shot.
The next stage after clarifying what is desired from ‘improving your shots’, is understanding the changes necessary in impact geometry to craft the shot improvement. Then what factors are contributing to this impact signature – which are functional patterns (helping), and which are non-functional patterns (hurting)? Then from there it’s about building a Plan for Progress, which is very different from a Plan for Perfection.
We must understand that there are many different swing patterns that work, which is the fundamental concept of ‘swing ecosystems’ i.e. different factors that support each other to make it work. Just imagine if Butch Harmon had told Dustin Johnson to change his wrist conditions on his backswing? Or if John Rahm was told to set the club earlier and make a longer arm and backswing and get the club parallel at the top? Would they be better players, and hit better shots?
My own journey is that I worked with Denis Pugh for 5 years, who at that time (almost 30 years ago!) was a ‘model swing’ teacher. He had some success, but also some failure, even though all the players he was coaching were highly successful and talented. Denis cited that a watershed moment in his career was when a young Colin Montogmerie came to his lesson tee, with an ‘unorthodox’ swing – above plane, swaying hips, long overswing, disconnected arms and trunk - but then proceeded to flush shot and shot like he’s never witnessed before with any of the other, and many, distinguished Tour Players who had stood on the tee previously. Denis’ greatness, in my opinion, came after that when he was wise enough to not preach the same information to Monty in order to get Monty to fit into his model, but instead learnt the power of different swing patterns, or ecosystems, and then taught from a position of player individuality, whilst respecting several core elements for players to hit improved shots. And testament to Denis’s journey is that he has improved almost every player that he has worked with, and no finer reward for him was when long term student Francesco Molinari won the Open in 2019.
Let’s take the example of the evolution of Tigers swing – in many ways he had 5 distinct swing phases:
1997 when he won the Masters: Slightly across the line, very fast hips, incredible club head speed
2000 era after a change with Butch: A slightly muted version of the 1997 swing which meant he still had prodigious power and a great driver of the ball, but better trajectory control with his irons
2003 -2009 Hank Haney era: focused on a shallower arm plane, clubface more open and shaft more laid off at the top
2010 -2014 Sean Foley era: Tiger took on some principles of Stack and Tilt and had some good success. More of a left sided pivot than before, deeper arms on the backswing, and compressed style release
2015-17 Chris Como: More of a transition back to the 2000 swing, with chest a little more behind the ball on the backswing and higher hands on backswing
My opinion from a technical perspective is that Tiger’s swing of 2000, was his best version. His 1997 version had wonderful traits from a force’s perspective – and consequently incredible speed. But the negatives were too high flighted iron shots and poor trajectory control and consequently distance control.
For me, his Haney era was what every golfer must avoid – he’s gone and followed the positional model of a coach who has effectively forced his own ‘swing religion’ onto him. A flatter, more open-faced backswing, swinging parallel to the shaft plane line leading to a more laid off look. For someone who was coming from his 1997 swing – a little across the line, a lot of negative beta force in transition, this is almost akin to asking a right-handed person to learn to play left-handed. His driving went from an incredible strength – he was insanely long and straight when he came on Tour – to being shorter and way more erratic. It was testament to his phenomenal iron play, short game , putting and of course mental skills – effectively to Tiger’s greatness - that he was able to win with these swing constraints. But, and it’s purely my opinion, this is what may have stopped him from conquering Nicklaus’s record haul of 18 majors which at one time look as though it was going to be an automatic achievement.
I think we are in an emerging age in swing instruction. Now we can measure the forces in the swing more accurately, the positional biases are beginning to fade away and Coaches, and Players, are looking more at the swing in terms of function. Players like Mathew Wolf (a George Gankas client) and Victor Hovland who display distinct traits, are now grouped as a certain pattern. Scott Cowx refers to Hovland as the COBRA style swing as the right shoulder is externally rotated at top of the backswing, whilst the forearm and handle are more internally rotated giving the look of a standing Cobra snake. Coaches are working out WHY particular swings works, and through understanding common traits we can now have many different look swings, but within each the ecosystem are such that these swings work very functionally. In the past, a swing like Hovland would be labelled as funky and not able to work ‘under pressure’ (and how that phrase has been pedalled and mis-used by many a swing instructor). The fact that is when he played in the 2019 US Open, he hit driver more often than any other player and led the Driving Accuracy with a stat of over 80% on which most people would say is the hardest driving test of the year, it’s easy to see that there are a lot of false myths out there.
So as a player, look to understand why your swing works, what patterns and traits it possesses and look to understand its’ ecosystem’. Yes, work with a talented Coach – as opposed to Instructor – who is able to help guide you through discovering how you can improve your shots and your impact geometry so you can hit it straighter, longer and more consistent.
This is part of a chapter from Jon’s new workbook ‘Pathway to the Tour – a success manual for elite player’s. It is available from 31st May 2020 and it has over 25 chapters, 25 practical exercises, and there will be just 100 copies available in the first print. If you would like to order your copy please click HERE
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