Open and Shut: No one is snickering at radical golf swings anymore

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October 4, 2020 6:00 AM

In case you missed watching the US Open that was played at Whistling Woods last month, I’m talking about the two gents who battled it out on the final day and their tremendously powerful, effective, and bizarre-looking golf swings.

US Open Champion Bryson De ChambeauUS Open Champion Bryson De Chambeau

And just like that, the modern golf swing has been taken to the cleaners. Golf swing coaches are scratching their heads on what to do with the spate of youngsters who want to learn US Open Champion Bryson De Chambeau’s golf swing. Others want to give Matthew Wolff’s radical action a go: not since David Leadbetter’s shortlived ‘A-Swing’ fad have driving ranges borne witness to such unorthodox golf swings.

In case you missed watching the US Open that was played at Whistling Woods last month, I’m talking about the two gents who battled it out on the final day and their tremendously powerful, effective, and bizarre-looking golf swings. If you don’t know what I’m talking about then I’d recommend you have a quick look online at these two gents doing their doing their thing with the golf club—try slow motion for maximum effect.

Take that, you golf swing snobs. It had to happen; the golf swing has gone through multiple iterations over the years. From the old Scots who talked about ‘swinging in a barrel,’ to Jack Nicklaus’s brutally powerful action powered by that ‘flying left elbow’. From the mirroring ‘thumbs up positions’ that players like Greg Norman propagated with a severely neutral grip, to the modern action that uses a very strong left hand grip and de-lofts the clubface at impact, the golf swing has gone through evolution and devolution, recalibration and deconstruction.

Not that there haven’t been outliers: Moe Norman, widely acknowledged as the most consistent ball striker of all time had a single plane action in which his hands and club were set in a straight line at address, and stayed that way through the swing. Lee Trevino stood very open to the ball, took the club way outside, and then dropped it on the inside on the downswing to hit that trademark fade. Arnold Palmer with his ‘helicopter finish’ threw conventional swing technique out of the window. Then came Jim Furyk’s ‘frog-in-the-blender’ action that brought the wiry Hall-of-Famer 16 PGA Tour victories, including a US Open. On the women’s circuit, Ai Miyazato and Paula Creamer have played successfully with dramatically flat backswings, while Natalie Gulbis had a golf swing all her own. Closer to home, pioneering golfer Jeev Milkha Singh has an inscrutable swing that he worked with by getting clubs fitted to suit his action (and not the other way round). Former world-number-one, Lee Westwood continues to scrape the ground on his downswing (even with the driver), and Thai legend Thaworn Wiratchant never gave any quarter to what others thought of his indescribable golf swing. Fred Couples with his pretty stand-and-swing action has been hitting that push draw for decades now.

The modern golf swing that promotes a tightly coiled upper body against a stable lower body has slowly being acquiring its share of detractors: there are just too many players getting injured as a result of the tremendous strain this golf swing puts on the human body. So we’ve seen players like Cameron Champ and Bubba Watson who’ve returned to some of the tenets of the old ‘square-to-square’ swing: allowing their hips to turn freely in the backswing and using swing length, leverage and momentum to give the ball a good lash. Interestingly most of the players who hit it longest off the tee today, do it with golf swings that are a departure from the norm. But the scales haven’t tipped; these players are still considered, well, golf swing freaks.

Until now that is. At the US Open, that prides itself on being ‘the toughest test in golf,’ two players in the their twenties, not only took the battle away from an established and experienced field, but marauded a brutal golf course with their own versions of the golf swing. In an interview last year, Wolff sounded, almost Bubba Watson-like. “It all works as one,” he said. “I think a lot of people get really mechanical and feel like they have to be in certain places in their swings. For me, it’s more of a natural movement. I don’t really think of things when I swing. I just swing.”

As golfers attain levels of fitness associated with professional athletes, we’re going to see more individuality in golf swings—the idea is to play the game freely, and for a talented few, straying from the classic notions of a golf swing brings creativity and instinctive ball striking into play. DeChambeau, given the moniker of ‘Mad Scientist,’ by fellow players on the PGA Tour for his penchant of using advanced biomechanics to alter his golf swing has had plenty of detractors. First he went to that Moe Norman-like single-plane setup, and then decided to use the same shaft length for all clubs—attracting more than his fair share of ridicule. “People think I’ve got all these crazy theories, but when you really break it down to the root principles of what I’m trying to do, it’s a lot of common sense,” he says. No one’s laughing now.

During the Coronavirus lockdown DeChambeau decided to embark on an ambitious plan of strength building motivated by long-drive champions, and, well, ‘Happy Gilmore.’ “Eight months ago I said, you know what, I want to try and get stronger, because I know there’s an advantage to be gained,” he says. “If I could be like Happy Gilmore or Kyle Berkshire, hitting over 400 yards and hitting it straight? That is a massive, massive advantage. So I set out to do that, and I’ve been healthier and stronger ever since.” That has meant working out every single evening, with no rest days.

The results certainly speak for themselves. DeChambeau topped average driving distance from the 2020 PGA Tour season at 322.1 yards followed closely by Cameron Champ. And the US Open Champion isn’t done yet. “I don’t know the endgame for me,” he says. “I’m going to keep working out every day and keep getting stronger, and keep speed training as long as I can tolerate it. As long as everything is growing proportionally, I really don’t know how fast I can go. So I’m going to keep pushing the boundaries.”

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