If you were to look at Matthew Wolff’s downswing, without seeing what preceded it, there’s no way you’d be able to guess the path his clubhead took to get there. Wolff stands open to the target at address, much like Lee Trevino did back in the day; lifts the club out and up, a bit like an exaggerated Nicklaus move; allows the weight of the clubhead to cock the wrists at transition and loops it in like Jim Furyk. On the downswing though, with the ‘over the top’ position eliminated on account of that backswing, he slots it beautifully from the inside, and looks, well, like any other young athletic professional golfer. Wolff’s glittering college golf career is littered with stories of well-meaning coaches trying to change his action. The kid sought validation for years before running into George Gankas, his current coach, who has no intentions of rebuilding Wolff’s swing. “It’s basically a more athletic motion,” Gankas told Golf Channel. “We’re not putting him in positions and trying to make it perfect, like a math equation, or trying to make him like a machine. He’s not a machine. He’s an athlete.”
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.” Not that it’s not happened before: back in the day Arnold Palmer with his ‘helicopter finish’ threw the 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.
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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 had 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. Irrespective of what swing gurus might say, Fred Couples’ and John Daly’s swings will always feature in the greatest golf swings of all time. It helps, of course, that all these players achieved stupendous success armed with their individual swings.
It’s good for the game, if you ask me. In this age of video analysis, everyone (your columnist included) is always working on getting that perfect action. But all the great players of yesteryears did nothing of the sort. They never ironed out the kinks in their swings but rather learned to play with them. The focus was always making a repeatable action that worked, rather than adhering to convention.
My own golf game has been on the back-burner after what was, possibly, the most gutting round I’ve ever played—a true contender for the hacked round of the year, possibly of all time. And it happened as it always does, just when I thought ‘I’d figured it out.’ I won’t go into details: suffice to say that when fellow golfers clear even your peripheral field of vision on the tee, caddies in the distance duck behind golf bags, and people in the adjacent fairways nervously stop what they’re doing while you take your shot—then you can accurately conclude that the wheels have come off.
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Golf isn’t prejudiced. No matter what level you play at, and no matter how good, or mediocre a player you are, this game will mess with your head. And you’ve got to go with your natural tempo, natural abilities, and mental makeup in golf. You can’t go against your grain, not in golf. Motivated, I pulled out the clubs I played with as a youngster out of cold storage. Surely, I thought, those must retain some mojo from the time I played my best. To cut a long story short, it worked. My pre-historic beryllium copper irons worked, and how. What this triggered, and even though it’s too early to say yet, was questioning my wisdom in changing my clubs. I thought about Jeev Milkha Singh who still keeps a vintage Ping Zing wedge in his bag. And what about Adam Scott? The Australian superstar still plays with one-off remakes of the clubs he’s used most of his career. Scott plays Titleist blades, and the manufacturer has finally run out of stock of the irons it introduced in 2003.
These are specially made for Scott using 3-D models of his clubs. There’s no moral of the story here (although you’re free to come up with one). The ‘if it’s good enough for Adam, then it’s good enough for me,’ doesn’t apply unless you play blades. If you ask me, we’re lucky to be playing at all. The pandemic’s resurgence in China, by all accounts, appears to be contained within that country. In the NCR, the relatively lower incidence of crop fires this year appears to have somewhat diluted the noxious smog that envelops the capital every winter. The blighted corporate golf season, which, for the last couple of years, has been well and truly stymied, is showing signs of revival. We’re golfers, and those of us afflicted by the game live on slivers of hope—of a better swing, a better score, and better days.