The golf swing is changing as
you read this. There is no such thing as the perfect swing, but the
influence of human sports performance sciences has given us a powerful look
at a biomechanically efficient motion. Some say this
represents a "standard model". The author of this website agrees with
this view. Others demand a need for individuality. Here we see
both similar techniques and individual swing features. These images
are not a representation of the greatest players in history, but a quick
look at "swings that work".
The swing has changed for many
reasons which include: weather/clothing, turf management, course
design, ball construction, equipment and technology.
From the ancestral home of links golf in Scotland to the modern courses
in the sun, clothing has played a critical role in the evolution of the
golf swing. When you can't move, you adapt your swing motion.
As clothing became less limiting to your movement, the swing motion
became more free flowing. Turf management has also changed the style
of the golf swing. On hard turf, most players are inclined to sweep
the ball off the turf. Well watered, softer turf encourages a steeper
angle of attack which aids in the compression of the ball which in turn
creates better control and power.
The evolution of the golf ball has also influenced the shape/style of the
swing. As balls got softer, players began to swing with more force
generated from a longer, more precise yet free swing motion.
Visualize your swing when playing off of hard turf, with a hard ball with a club
without any off center forgiveness and throw in some cool weather. Can you say "alligator arms"? Steel
shafts may have brought some consistency to the results, but it also more
effectively transferred the "sting" of off center hits
The style of the swing is closely
associated with both pre-swing and in-swing fundamentals. What we call
fundamental today was not considered standard form in past eras. I
might be appropriate to remember the generally accepted definition of what
constitutes a fundamental. A fundamental is a generally accepted
principle of the day which can evolve over time. A fundamental is also
a cause of another effect. Fundamentals are reduced to opinion when
teachers incorrectly practice or teach the art. Important pre-swing
considerations include stance alignment (open or closed), ball position
(forward or center), weight distribution at address (balanced or favoring
one or the other foot) and grip strength (strong or weak). In-swing
considerations are directly influenced by pre-swing fundamentals.
In-swing considerations include: dynamic weight transfer on the backswing,
transition and foreword swing, swing plane on the backswing and swing path
into and through the ball.
The original Feathery balls were
expensive, limiting the number of players who could afford to play.
There were also hard. A mis-hit was a thing to avoid because of the
harsh feel. Adding a padded grip increased the size of the handle
which required a shortened swing motion. The "St Andrews" style dominated
the game until the introduction of the "gutty" ball and the Vardon grip.
The St Andrews style featured a closed stance alignment, a centered ball
position and a strong grip. All producing a flat swing plane and an
inside to outside strike of the ball, producing a low hooking shot. A
low trajectory ball is all you could get from a feathery ball. The
fierce winds also demanded a low trajectory. It allowed the Scots to
generally play a "ground ball" game. With the freedom to swing
more efficiently with lighter clothing, new problems were introduced.
The changing to softer and higher
flying balls allowed the grips to be reduced in size causing the swing to
have a longer motion. Long nosed clubs with long shafts gave way to
shorter nose length and shaft lengths. The large amount of torque in
the hickory shafts of the era required a longer motion to maintain control
over the whippyness and inconsistency of ash then hickory shafts.
Using the hands was a primary way of controlling the club. Vardon,
Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen and others used this style to produce championship
results. An accurate, relative comparison of the skill of players of
this era to modern players is impossible due to the changes in equipment,
playing conditions and knowledge/application of biomechanical principles.
The introduction steel shafts and
players taking a closer, more scientific look at the mechanical properties
of their swing motion caused a very dramatic change in swing styles. The swing continued to evolve from the generation
the Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen era which ended the hands and
arm dominant motion required to control the high shaft torque in the hickory
shaft period. With the coming of the steel shaft around 1929, the
swing motion was again shortened. The introduction of shorter and
lighter clubs produced more accuracy and control. The consistency of
the shorter shafts changed the typical golfer's posture and allowed a more
powerful body swing to enter into the game. The role for the the use
of the hands gradually evolved as a primary factory in the swing. The
hands became more of a passive connector rather than an active controller or
hitter. The leading swing styles belonged to Sam Snead, Byron Nelson
and Ben Hogan. Snead and Nelson used a stronger grip and more upright
swing plane as they blended the earlier motions of late hickory shaft
players with a more rounded motion of the torso considered to be an early
fundamental of the new steel era. Snead and Nelson were transition
players who "worked" the ball in both directions.
End of the Hickory era, into the Transition Era ...
Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead
Early Power Era ... Mike Austin, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer,
Of the "modern" era of players, the first true body swinger was Ben Hogan, Hogan
used a flatter swing plane and weaker grip to fight a devilish hook. He
generally played a power fade. Ideas about how to best hit a ball were being
refined and the player skills were improving. The concept of
"keep the head still" remained from the Jones era. Keeping the
head still meant there was a strong look of a forward leaning at the top of
the backswing. In a poorly skilled, current player, this position might be
called a "reverse pivot" error. Being in this position required the player
to make a backwards "tilt of the T" (spine and two collarbones) to initiate the
transition from the backswing to the forward swing. This small movement
required some athletic ability and hand-eye coordination many recreational
golfer did not possess and had a difficult time learning.
Since the Reverse C era, the modern swing has evolved with
the introduction of quality video analysis which was followed by
computer analysis which was coupled with the application of solid
biomechanical principles. Video allowed everyone to see how the words in
the books and magazines did not always match the pictures. More
people of different backgrounds looked at the videos and saw different
things. Traditional, often wrong concepts began to soften when compared with
new ideas. The addition of motor learning
science refined teaching concepts/methods even further. Technologies like computer
digitization and analysis, force platforms and electromyographical
analysis provided new information that had to be digested.
Opinion began to give way to measured fact. The largest obstacle
to growth has been hardhead golf pros with an investment in their old
ways of doing things.
Current Era ... John Daly, Tiger Woods, Stack
and Tilt, Natural Golf and Model Biomechanical Composite
With the introduction of quality
video capture, computer analysis and internet technology of the current era,
there has been a proliferation of "expert" golf pros. It is more clear
than ever ... there's more than one way to hit a golf ball. This said,
there is also a biomechanically efficient model which produces professional
results. Thankfully, along with this technology, there has been both a
tightening of fundamental concepts ... with a stubborn persistence of
individuality. This can be observed by the current crop of European
and players from South Africa, Indonesia and Australia. Player from
these regions seem to have a more defined swing motion while American
players demonstrate more individuality. A small change in technique
which produced good results for both professional and recreational players
came from the teaching of Jimmy Ballard "connection" technique. In
this technique, the head was allowed to move laterally on the backswing.
This small detail produced much more freedom and reduced the need for high
level coordination. It also widened the swing arc for more power