By Matthew Rudy
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but that’s not exactly true when it comes to tour player swings. A golf swing is a complex combination of moving elements, and how those elements work together separates major champions from 90-shooters. We asked Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher Mike Jacobs to help break down some close-up images of eight great players to explain what exactly you can see in the swing—and what’s hidden below the surface.
1. Fairway Bunker Exit Strategy
Many players try to change their technique to get it out of a fairway bunker because they think they need to stay still and “pick” the ball the clean. In reality, you should stay with your regular swing, like Rory McIlroy does. The precision clean contact on any shot requires comes from using your normal body turn and swing shape. Look how Rory has rotated his shoulders and hips and moved the club around his body.
2. Splash It Out
The best players use the right tool with the most skill. Jim Furyk keeps the clubface way open all the way through the shot, and splashes the sand and the ball out. Most weekend players line up very square with their body and club and make it almost impossible from the start. Splash the sand where you want the ball to go and you’ll dramatically improve your bunker game.
3. Brace For Landing (Part 1)
These Tiger Woods and Brooks Koepka photographs go together very well—and not just because both players bomb it. Both players understand that you have to be able to support swing speed with your body. Look at Tiger’s front foot, and how the edge of it is braced into the ground like a post. He’s whipping against that stable front leg to sling the club through the ball.
4. Brace For Landing (Part 2)
Koepka’s arm’s show both the strain of making the club move fast and how strong you have to be to resist the effective load on the club as it moves through the ball. Because of the speed he generates, Brooks’ driver effectively weighs almost 150 pounds as he gets down to the ball. It’s not a surprise that you hear more and more about arm and wrist injuries at the highest level of the game.
5. Choke Up
For years, 43 inches was the standard length of a driver. Now, the driver you buy from the store is more than 45 inches—which is designed to help you hit it farther. But the longer the club gets, the less responsive it is to your effort to make it swing. Choking up on the handle like Brooke Henderson is doing brings the balance point closer to your hands and increases the response you get to your swinging effort. Just be careful not to choke up too much, because you start to lose response again.
6. There Is No One Swing (Part 1)
I love these photographs of Bernhard Langer and Henrik Stenson because they show that there are so many different ways to get it done. To start with, Stenson is 15 years younger, not to mention taller and stronger. But Langer has had one of the best careers in golf because he understands how to get the most out of his swing. He hasn’t rotated his lower body as much, so he uses much more rotation of the club to produce speed.
7. There Is No One Swing (Part 2)
Contrast that to Stenson’s swing, which has a tremendous amount of body rotation and arm lift. As a result, he doesn’t need to twist the club as much to produce speed. He’s also known as one of the best ball-strikers in the game—a result of being able to deliver that club the same way over and over again with a square clubface.
8. Relative Turn
The top of the backswing pose is an image you see all the time, and your eyes usually go to the hands. But I believe the real action here is around Rickie Fowler’s ribcage. You can see how much he’s turned his shoulders, what he’s really done is turn his ribcage relative to the rest of his core. Rickie’s turn is a “real” turn, not the “fake” one many players achieve just by lifting their arms more.
Matthew Rudy is Golf Digest’s senior instruction writer. He has co-written more than 20 golf books with teachers like Hank Haney, Dave Stockton and Stan Utley, but he still can’t get off the tee on the 9th hole at his home club.