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The Unusual Move That Made Scottie Scheffler Golf’s Hottest Player

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You can’t become the best golfer in the world unless you hit good shots, and you can’t hit good shots if you have a lousy golf swing.

Scottie Scheffler, the current world No. 1 and newly crowned Masters winner, does, however, have a stroke that defies several golf instruction conventions. At the same time, it displays traits and attributes shared and displayed by many of the game’s all-time greats, albeit in a way that is not visible to everybody. Let’s go to “Golf’s Big Three,” Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Gary Player, for some inspiration.

“golf is a game of small adjustments.” Nicklaus has long remarked. Nicklaus should know, having made perhaps the most renowned tiny modification in a swing, realigning that motion into one of the finest golf shots ever. We’re talking about his iconic 1-iron shot on the par-3 17th hole at Pebble Beach in the final round of the 1972 US Open, which he went on to win.

“I took the club back a little too much to the inside, which closed the clubface at the top,” Nicklaus says, quoting. “So I held on to it more coming down and held the face more open through impact and absolutely flushed it.”

The sight of that shot taking a single bounce on the green before hitting the flagstick and landing inches from the cup stays etched in my golf memory. “Why didn’t he make a small adjustment like this on every golf swing he ever made?” I keep asking myself whenever I recall both that shot and Nicklaus’ description of his tweaks.

In many respects, Scheffler appears to have channeled the youthful Nicklaus swing, most notably in its unusually upright swing plane. This results in a very high arms and hands position at the top of his swing, which both reflects and echoes Nicklaus’ own description of his top position (as detailed in his seminal instructional book “Golf My Way”), in which he aimed to “reach for the sky.” Scheffler’s aggressive bent-kneed leg slide, as well as his buttery-yet-powerful fade form, resurrects the renowned Golden Bear’s golf swing of the past.

But, more to the point, it appears like each of Scheffler’s swings engages and includes a combination of minor tweaks. The outcome is a golf swing that is free-flowing, sometimes freeform-improvisational, and feels like a breath of fresh air. Is young Scheffler’s old-school-looking golf swing due to the phantom of Jack Nicklaus’s enormous 1-iron swing and shot at Pebble Beach? Maybe so.

Next, Gary Player, to whom I addressed the following question many years ago:

“What is it about you great players that the average golf fan doesn’t know?”

“Everyone thinks we have one swing, which we repeat over and over again,” Player explained. “but that’s not true. We’re always experimenting here and there and making small changes to it. To the naked eye it may look like the same swing, but we’re constantly trying something new in order to improve.”

This supports Nicklaus’ assertion. Rather than focusing on the critical adjustments that highly skilled golfers such as Tour players can make in the middle of a swing, Player used the theme of making small swing changes as a constant principle that the game’s best players explored and experimented with during their daily practice sessions.

I’m sure you’ve seen TV swing analysts like Nick Faldo, Paul Azinger, Gary Koch, and others say that this or that player’s golf swing “has a lot of moving parts.” The truth is that practically all golf swings have the same amount of elements, and they all move in unison and synchrony during the golf swing. T he question isn’t how many elements move in each golfer’s swing, but how efficiently and successfully they do so. After all, a golf swing is just a tool used to achieve the goal of delivering the golf shot that each golfer envisions or imagines before playing it.

In Scheffler’s example, a swing can appear to be him experimenting and trying something new. On some swings, for example, his head does not sink as much as Trevino’s, Tiger Woods’, or Justin Thomas’ does nowadays, but rather swivels and bobs.

Now consider the concept of the “swing plane,” which has become something of a “Holy Grail” in the realm of traditional golf instruction, as well as a fundamental whose proper execution is something few, if any, of the game’s respected teachers would question, debate, or argue with.

Simply said, the angle at which a golfer swings his or her golf club in reference to the ground is the acknowledged and inviolable (until now) component of all golf swings’ DNA convention. The term “upright” refers to a swing where the club swings at a steeper angle to the ground, whereas “flat” refers to a swing where the club goes at a more level angle to the ground. However, it is more normal for a golfer to change the angle of their club’s swing plane during their swings. This can happen from a flat backswing plane to a steeper one during the downswing, as seen in the swings of John Daly, Rickie Fowler, and Nancy Lopez, or from an upright initial backswing plane to a flatter one coming down through the ball, as seen in the swings of Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia, and Inbee Park.

Now, Scheffler’s swing… not all of them, mind you (which can feel like a heart-warming salve of relief to us swing-geek-freaky types!)… defies any concept of swing plane orthodoxy by waving around less frequently during his backswing but somewhat regularly post impact and into his swing’s finish, like a matador taunting his bull with his swashbuckling sword. In other words, in a world where golf instructors are dead intent on eradicating every single wobble from every single golfer’s swing, Scheffler’s movement appears to be nothing more than a glued-together cat’s cradle-like construct of… wobbles.

Despite its recurrent oscillations, and because to his extraordinarily skilled, talented, and trained hands, he manages to get the clubface on the ball at the exact angle and along the precise route he needs swing after swing, making his the “Worst/Best” Swing among today’s best Tour players. “Maybe, but I still have my hands,” Tiger Woods stated recently when asked if his many operations on his older body had diminished the efficacy of his golf swing.

Imagine having a physique that is young, healthy, flexible, and strong, as well as hands that are well-trained and gifted. Scottie Scheffler is his name.

Finally, there’s Palmer, whose now-famous instruction to “swing your own swing” Scheffler has taken to heart. What sets these two apart is that while Arnie appeared to be whacking a snake on the ground with his golf club, Scottie appears to be attempting to flee from one. Scheffler’s escape artist appearance can be attributed to his peculiar hip, right leg, and right foot action during his downswing. Unusual, yes; unique, no.

Palmer’s incentive to swing individually is more clearly visible in Scheffler’s swing than in what I’m now calling his counter-hip torque.

Scheffler’s tremendous clockwise hip motion, most visible in his driver swing, begins internally (and thus difficult to detect) at the start of his downswing, then bursts into clear and conspicuous focus as his club approaches contact. Scottie’s counter hip torque simultaneously drags his right leg and knee forward in a lateral straight line toward the target and backward directly away from his swing’s plane line (also known as the swing’s target line). I first noticed this action in Billy Casper’s golf swing, then subsequently in Greg Norman’s and Mark Calcavecchia’s swings, and most recently in the swing of Lexi Thompson, the brilliant young LPGA star.

Because, as Sir Isaac Newton said, “For every acting force there is a reacting force that is equal in magnitude but opposite in direction.” As a golfer’s shoulders begin to turn to the left (for right-handed golfers) to initiate the movement of the golf club at the start of the downswing, the hips respond with a counter torque, or turn to the right.  It may not be the most attractive thing in the world, but as none other than David Leadbetter, arguably the world’s most famous golf coach, puts it, “The golf swing isn’t a beauty contest, because if it were next to Adam Scott’s swing every golf swing would look bad.”

Scheffler’s counter-hip torque may be seen most clearly when he hits his driver or other full-out strokes with a fairway metal or long iron. When he hits his short irons and wedge shots, we barely notice it. This isn’t to suggest it isn’t present on these shots; it just means that the counter-hip torque is more difficult to detect the smaller the range or duration of the swing.

When taken together, Nicklaus’, Players’, and Palmer’s opinions could be said to have shaped the current golf swing of the game’s best player. How many golfers will visit the driving range to practice Scheffler’s counter-hip torque?

There are probably a lot of them, and I was one of them recently. I was willing to try something new after Player, and like Nicklaus, I noticed my body’s feelings shifting and aligning themselves mid-swing toward strong impact zone success. Sorry, Palmer, but I was doing my duty as a golf instruction writer to investigate whether certain elements of the world’s newest No. 1 player and the reigning new Masters champion would indeed indicate something that could very well help us all.

Original article posted on SI

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