Editor’s Note: This instructional piece from 2007, Tips From The Tour With Brady Riggs, centers on several players who were in their prime in the mid-2000s. Some of them are still active, some are now out of the picture, but Brady’s analysis of their swing methods and styles is forever relevant to the game improvement goals of any generation of players. Parts of the piece have been updated for clarity and continuity. Apologies for the blurred photos.
All of us who love the game of golf have, at least once in our lives, dreamed of playing at the highest level against the pros. Of course, it’s a dream that very few get to actually live out, but it’s also a dream that drives us all to try and improve.
In reality, golf is one of the few sports that actually allows amateur participants to use the same tools and play on the same tracks as the world’s best, and as a result, we all probably feel more kinship with the elite than enthusiasts in other disciplines.
Even neophyte players have brushes with greatness when they strike one solid iron shot or hole a long putt, an experience that tends to get them hooked on the game for good.
There is, however, a good reason to not only admire, but also study the techniques of Tour pros, and it goes well beyond the impressive natural skills they possess. The best players in the world have reached the top of the game in large part because they’ve mastered the fundamentals and spent untold hours honing their mechanics.
Let’s face it, you just don’t see too many guys playing on Tour with homemade grips and funky swings. To be able to hold up under the stress of big-time tournament play, you have to have reliable tools to work with, and these guys have them. For this reason, they’re probably the best people on the planet to study if you hope to get better. Let’s take a good, hard look and see what there is to learn.
Shigeki Maruyama’s ballstriking prowess is no surprise after taking a close look at his swing. Notice how his left foot is firmly planted on the ground while his body appears to be comfortably balanced as the club gains speed in the delivery. His right heel is off the ground and his right knee is kicked in slightly, pointing at the ball. This shows that Shigeki is leveraging the right side of his body against a firm left side, a great way to produce power. But his quality ballstriking is largely due to his ability to keep his shoulders level while his lower body is rotating out of the way. This is particularly critical with the irons because it helps create a descending blow into the ball. Learning to maintain level shoulders while your hips are rotating to the left of the target is critical for solid strikes.
Pitching the ball softly around the green is something a lot of amateur players struggle with, but most pros find relatively simple. Here you can see that Charlie Wi has maintained his spine angle and his knee bend as the club has passed through impact. This keeps his body quiet and promotes a solid strike and better distance control. The key is to allow the left elbow and wrist to bend immediately past impact, just as Charlie has. This way, the face of the club will stay open, creating a very soft shot. Want to learn to hit soft pitch shots that stop on a dime? Be sure to let your left elbow bend just after impact.
Anthony Kim is the youngest player on the PGA Tour this year, but he can roll the ball like a veteran. Check out how he has allowed the blade of the putter to release through impact—this is an absolute key to rolling the ball smoothly. Anthony does this by keeping the butt end of the putter grip pointing at his belt buckle during the entire stroke, which is a technique you should try if you’re not rolling the ball well. Probably the biggest mistake most amateurs make on the putting green is trying to keep the putterhead square to the target line all the way through the stroke. Good putters almost never try to keep the face of the putter square to the target during the stroke.
Jesper Parnevik is a good example of a player who knows his swing and shot tendencies well enough to make the proper compensations. Jesper is lanky and very flexible and is able to rotate his hips and shoulders out of the way of his upper body very quickly, which is a great way to produce a powerful release of the clubhead. However, he also has a very strong grip, which will produce a hook when the clubhead is fully released. The answer to this problem for Jesper is to prevent the clubhead from rotating through impact. Put your swing on video and learn how it works—it’ll help you play better. Jesper knows that his strong grip creates a lot of hooks. He combats this by holding off the release.
A very common mistake made by amateur players when chipping is to place the ball too far back in the stance and lean the clubshaft too far forward. Notice how Heath Slocum is keeping the shaft straight up and down through impact without taking any sizable divot. This technique provides considerably more consistent results because it allows the club to strike the ball with its true loft, rather than with the much stronger loft created by forward pressing. Also notice how Slocum keeps his feet close together with his weight evenly distributed. This helps him keep his balance and feel comfortable as he strikes the ball. Remember, these shots are all about touch, and balance is key. don’t forward press when chipping. Instead, try to keep the sole of the club flat on the grass.
Eric Axley is a relative newcomer to the PGA Tour, but his swing technique is definitely worth a look. Notice how his arms and legs are fully extended through impact, so much that he’s actually standing on his toes. This is a result of a strong push against the ground as he leverages his entire body and cracks the whip into the ball. This effectively releases all the energy he’s stored during the swing, creating a ton of clubhead speed and power. Don’t make the mistake of comfortably cruising through impact because it will cost you distance. Launch yourself into the ball! Transfer all your energy into the ball by pushing down against the ground through the impact zone
Everybody wants to hit the ball longer off the tee, and Tommy Armour III is a great player to emulate if you’re looking for power. You can see how his body weight has passed into his left heel as his hips have rotated open to the target—this is a very basic power move that just about all good players make.
In addition, notice how perfectly his right hand and forearm have been driven on top of his left hand and arm by a powerful drive of his right shoulder. This technique is one that professional golfers have been using just about forever because it’s a great way to produce a lot of clubhead speed as well as a distance-optimizing right-to-left shot shape. Crush the ball by getting your right arm and shoulder on top as you fully release the club.
Big Hitter, Great Mechanics
While most amateur players probably think there’s not much they can learn from studying the swing of an extremely fit, 21-year-old professional golfer, that’s simply not the case. In fact, there’s a lot to be learned from checking out Anthony Kim’s technique, because while he does have outstanding physical skills, his swing is simple and fundamentally sound.
Most importantly, Anthony’s swing features the perfect sequence of movements, a trait that can help any player hit it longer and straighter. When studying Anthony’s swing, it’s important not to focus too much on the static positions of the club, but rather to try and appreciate how his swing is being driven by the proper loading and unloading of his body rather than the muscles in his arms and hands.
AK (as he’s often called), has a swing based on building torque through stretching his body against itself and unwinding at the optimum time to produce a cracking of the whip through impact. Anyone who’s ever watched videos of Ben Hogan’s swing knows that while he wasn’t a physically big man, he could create tremendous clubhead speed and power through a combination of strength, outstanding flexibility and awesome mechanics. AK utilizes almost the same exact attributes to hit the ball prodigious distances with accuracy. A key to both accuracy and distance is driving the club with the pivot of your body, not the muscles in your arms.
(l-r) Anthony’s core is tight, his knees are flexed and his weight is poised in the balls of his feet—a great athletic position. The chest, shoulders and arms move the club away from the ball, not the hands. The lower body is quiet; his torso turns against his legs while he fights to maintain the angle between his stomach and right thigh.
(l-r) Anthony’s body is now in full stretch. His feet remain steady, his knees flexed and his posture is near perfect. Now the lower body takes the lead as the feet help the knees rotate all the way back around to the target. The majority of his body weight remains in the balls of his feet as the legs drag the upper body—and the club.
(l-r) The rotation of the hips begin to throw the arms and club out to the ball. There’s no independent motion here! The drive from the lower body now stops as it collides against a straight left leg and firm left side. This is power!
(l-r) Both arms have completely straightened, thrown outward by the powerful pivot of the body. The momentum of the arms and club are now dragging the body around to the finish. The right arm and club are on plane. His right side is perpendicular to the ground, his arms are relaxed and his right foot is on the toe. A great finish to a great swing!
Drive For Show
A critical part of driving the ball accurately is starting the shot on-line to the intended target. The two drives seen above by Tour players Kevin Na and Sean O’Hair clearly illustrate the difference between a dependable driver swing and one that will produce erratic results.
Kevin Na (at top), tends to swing the club on a much more inside-out-path than O’Hair, and as a result, must use his hands to try and square the clubface through impact. This technique requires a great deal of timing and a lot of practice, and can be extremely difficult to reproduce in pressure situations.
On this particular drive, Na was unable to get the clubface squared in time and blew his shot well to the right of the fairway.
In contrast, O’Hair swings the club on a more neutral path into the ball, which requires much less timing and manipulation. He can simply let the clubface release naturally with the pivot of his body because he knows the shot will tend to start on-line to the target more times than not. This particular shot, for example, split the middle of the fairway.
Although it probably sounds a bit simplistic, the truth is, if you currently have to aim off the right or left side of the fairway in order to get the ball in play, you’re never going to be able to drive the ball with any consistency or accuracy. If this sounds like you, it’s definitely time you learned to swing the club on-plane and on the correct path.
Remember, good players don’t swing the club on an overly inside or outside path, but generally try to keep the club in a neutral and predictable position.
Brady Riggs is a Golf Tips Top 25 Instructor. He’s located at Woodley Lakes, G.C. Check out his entry in our Top 10 Best Swing Tips Ever.