If you have read my story, I used to be a PGA professional in the late 1990s and tried to compete part-time on UK mini Tours for the early 2000s before hanging up my clubs in 2005 until May last year. Since my return I have been watching in awe the carry distances being achieved now, by almost all good amateurs and professionals.
I never really struggled for distance, for sure I was never the longest, but I held my own and on occasion could even send out the bomb myself. However, since my return to the game, despite the modern equipment, I have been struggling to fly driver more than 250 yards through the air.
I have put this loss of distance down to technique and have started the process of working on my swing again, but what really stands out, is that 300 yard plus carries are now the norm, rather than the reserve of the handful of power players like John Daly.
In fact for any aspiring youngster if you can’t hit it that far consistently, then I sorry to break the news to you, but you just won’t have a chance of competing in modern professional golf.
I have dedicated this page to sharing learning about the modern golf swing.
The Idea of a Perfect Swing
This was the Utopian search for many players of my generation. We grew up admiring Nick Faldo and how he dominated the game following the re-building of his swing with David Leadbetter. He was so dominant through his consistency that he had most beaten just by being in the field.
During this time many other professionals were also held up as having perfect swing mechanics like Faldo, Steve Elkington, Ernie Els, Mark Davis, Frank Nobilo and the common themes of discussion were single plane golf swings with neutral club faces, hitting the right positions.
Many of us were seeking out coaches to help try to build this idea of perfection with our swings.
A new way of thinking
On coming back to the game, I was pleased to see that today’s leading professionals all have individuality with their golf swings and they are playing golf rather than swing. There are motions and movements on tour that as a PGA professional we would have tried to coach out of technique 2 decades ago.
The advent of trackman and the data from impact, means that the top players now are able to understand their own unique styles much better and to make subtle changes to enhance what they have.
There are however some consistent themes that they all adopt and the is no question that today’s game is based on ball striking!
The modern golf swing is based on producing power. All the top players these days are athletes in their own right. The hit the gym, they dead lift as a warm up to playing, strength is a key part to playing golf in this day and age.
The power they create is generated predominantly by the legs. They talk of using the ground, but like a baseball player they all start the transition and downswing with a squatting motion. As the weight shifts to the left and they start to rotate the hips they squat into the ground creating an incredibly powerful position. This squat also shallows the club and you’ll see players like Dustin Johnson, John Rahm, Sergio, Rory all have a flatter swing plane on the way down than they did in the back swing. (Images 1 & 2 below)
Next they unload all this power by rotating hard to the left and turning as hard as they can through the ball. (image 3 above) The left leg straightens and again they are using the ground to generate this massive power. (Its like jumping and turning 90 degrees towards the target from the squat position) This allows them to really hit it hard! Gone are the days of playing within yourself and 80% power, they genuinely try to crush it!
The other consistent attribute is then what they do with their hands through impact. As they rotate through the ball they move the handle of the club around them to the left. They hold onto the wrist angles well through impact and use the body rotation to square up the clubface. Ben Hogan used to call this supernation of the left wrist and a few decades ago you really only saw Tiger with this pronounced wrist position. Now they all adopt it to some degree. This is a real power move!
This move produces the maximum amount of compression onto the golf ball, releases all the lag created in the shaft by the rotation and means that the ball flight is predictable because the wrists are very quiet through the hitting area. The result is a fade and most of the real power hitters today only see the game with a left to right ball flight, but this also gives them the advantage of eliminating the left-hand side of the course.
Ease of Execution
So how easy is it to implement this new way of thinking? For anyone new to the game, or juniors, this is great for them to adopt. It does however require a degree of physical flexibility and strength.
For an established player like myself, who spent years trying to hit positions and releasing the clubhead through the ball, it’s a real challenge tho change these habits. It feels like I’m trying to play a cover drive in cricket. If I turn hard onto the ball but don’t hold the wrist angle, it’s just going left! I mean properly left it’s a pull hook.
Hold the wrist angles but don’t turn and I’m lucky if I don’t hit it with the hosel.
Over time I will add tips and drills on how to develop these fundamentals.
The Perfect Golf Swing
The good news is there is no one way. A perfect swing is one that delivers the clubhead back to the ball square to your target line, with maximum speed and energy transfer into the ball.
The ways to do this will continue to be debated and theorized for years and decades to come. Watching the seniors at the Seniors British Open, it’s also pleasing to realize that this modern power golf swing isn’t essential to play good golf. The game has so many facets you can still play and score well without monstering the ball 350 yards.
For sure accurate length makes it easier as I discovered playing Championsgate from the Blacks earlier this year. (Its pretty demoralizing not reaching par 4’s in 2 and hitting a 3 wood into a par three). However, if you don’t have the physical attributes or athleticism then I would avoid trying to hit it like Brooks Koepka.
I wonder what the longevity of players will be? Wen you see the physical problems Tiger has today compared to the longevity that Tom Watson has displayed, it begs the question on whether the professional game is becoming too much about raw power and less about the skill in manufacturing shots and course management. I have my own view, but I encourage you to leave your comments below.