If there is one sport that doesn’t seem to fit in with “modern”, it is golf. Visions of Scotsmen in plus fours and collars playing with hickory clubs well before the advent of anything as recent as the Open championship sit pleasantly in the mind’s eye. Surely golf is golf and its essence hasn’t changed over the last couple of hundred years, has it? Find your ball, play it where it lies and take a swing. Ah, that might be it. Has the golf swing changed? In many ways, it has. What is the modern golf swing all about?
Is There Really A Modern Golf Swing?
Well, clearly there isn’t just one swing. This is as true on tour as it is at your local municipal course. Going from John Daly to Jon Rahm is going to show two radically different swings, even to the layman. And yet many golf commentators regularly talk about such-and-such a golfer having a modern swing. What do they mean and does this mythical beast really exist?
Perhaps the easiest way to see what has changed is to look at some of the classical swings that have dominated golf over the years and see how golf has changed since then. This should give us a few clues as to why a different, more modern swing was actually necessary at all.
Until really fairly recently, perhaps the last 40 years or so, almost all swings in tour were long, flowing things. Actually, that isn’t completely true because nobody would accuse Arnold Palmer (or maybe even Jack Nicklaus) of having smooth flowing swings. However, there was a sort of swing idea that was taught and that most golfers aspired to. It involved a long, smooth swing going back usually beyond parallel and then down through the ball finishing in that famous ‘reverse C’ position. A great example of this would be Ben Hogan or maybe more recently the absolute joy to watch that is Ernie Els.
This was, and still is, a fine way to swing a golf club. Quite apart from Els, someone like Colin Montgomery has built a fantastic career on a long, flowing swing.
So what has changed? Essentially, golfers have become athletes. Comparing many of the players on the professional tours, whether in Europe or the States, with previous generations illustrates this point perfectly. The out-of-shape pro golfer is actually pretty rare. I would guess that there are very few people earning their crust on the golf course who don’t include strength training and flexibility as an important part of their day to day preparation.
3 Clubs and a Putter
One of the most popular ways to end the season at my club is with a 3 clubs and a putter tournament. It is often the only time that most golfers even think about going out with less than 14 clubs. As a minimalist golfer most of the time, it isn’t really a big surprise… Read More »3 Clubs and a Putter
The results of this are obvious when you look at something like the distance pros are hitting the ball. I don’t just mean someone like Bryson dechambeau either. As well as his use of single length irons and extremely upright swing, he also hits it probably as far or further than anyone else on tour currently. For me, the real distance difference happens further down the field. If you take the middle of the table pro of the last few years, I will bet he is outhitting the equivalent level pro of 30 years ago by a huge amount.
What Exactly is this Modern Swing?
Essentially, a modern swing tends follow two guidelines: it is compact and powerful. The current generation of golfer athletes are able to generate tremendous clubhead speed without long swings which means that they are also making it easier to hit the ball well. A golfer like Tony Finau has the same length swing as some those older guys you might be stuck behind on a Sunday afternoon on your local course, but he accelerates into the back of the ball with a huge amount of power and sends it an absolute mile. He is a very tall guy, but his swing is the definition of compact and powerful.
In essence, the aim is to have something that has relatively few moving parts. This is actually great advice for most of us. Of course, we can’t all generate the same speed and power as the top players, but thinking short and simple can really make a difference in terms of ball-striking.
This doesn’t need to be a short-hitting swing either. The other reason why we can think about a modern golf swing at all is the improvements in club tech that are available to everyone from tour pro to weekend hacker. As regular readers know, I am not always convinced by the marketing jargon of some manufacturers. Sure, your seven iron goes 20 yards further, but doesn’t it also have an inch longer shaft and 7 degrees less loft? Congratulations, it’s a five iron!
Computer Designed Golf Clubs
However, there is no denying that club tech is hugely more advanced in some areas. Things like computer aided design and modeling have been complete game-changers in terms of designing clubheads. Whereas something like the ping eye 2 iron was a fantastic design almost despite the process and perhaps with an element of luck, the big golf companies now know exactly what is possible. Everything from shaft-profile to weight distribution in the clubhead mean that club design is on a different level.
This means that even someone who is trying to adopt a shorter, modern swing without the athletic prowess of a pro can still get a lot of benefit by using the latest technology.
At the very least, it makes sense to consider where your weight distribution is. traditionally, golfers swayed away and then moved back to the ball. This requires good timing and if you move away but don’t come far enough back, hitting ball first is not going to happen. Fats and thins tend to be more common as well as flipping at the ball to compensate.
A modern swing generally involves staying over the ball rather than moving away and in my experience makes it a lot easier to develop solid ball striking and the famous divot after the ball which is generally key to playing good golf.
Is the Modern Golf Swing Bad for Your Back?
There is something of a vicious circle in the modern golf swing though. This short, aggressive move into the ball works with modern equipment and fitness training to try to overpower golf courses. The result is that course are made progressively longer and golfers have to step it up yet again trying to get even more distance through more strength and an even faster swing. At what point to does this simply become counter-productive? It is always fairly clear that there is a disconnect between the highest level and the rest of us.
I do also worry about the injury potential of this sort of swing too. This is ironic really, because the shorter swing without an exaggerated reverse C finishing position really should be a lot less stressful on the body. I know that for me, shorter does tend to reduce wear and tear on the joints that become far more of a concern as I head towards senior tour age (but without their skills!)
There is very little of the relaxed, smooth swinging approach in this recent swing. It is all about trying to create torque, and have more ‘x-factor’ This really means almost working the top and bottom of the body independently and once again, the real dangers of excessive shearing force can be a problem. I don’t know if injury rates at the highest levels are greater than before, but seeing some of the very hardest hitters of a golf ball does make me wince a bit. The hips staying in place or only turning slightly while the upper body turns away is very different to the complete turn of a couple of decades ago. It certainly creates power, but this can also come at a cost.
That being said, perhaps it really is no more dangerous than any other traditional swing. Back health has been an issue for generations of golfers and is, in all probability, unlikely to end any time soon. There is an interesting comparison on this site that looks in more detail at the forces involved.