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. Seriously, stop right here, go online, have a look, and watch the club (and your jaw) drop. Wolff, a 20-year-old rookie teed it up last week at the 3M Open in what was only his third tournament as a professional. He heaved the club skyward, crashed it down on a path never before seen in pro golf, and swashbuckled his way to a nail-biting win.
In case you need a commentary to that action: 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 try 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 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. 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.
For Wolff, validation from peers came last week, when he scripted the most exciting finish on the PGA Tour in recent times. Trailing another quirky swinger, Bryson De Chambeau, by two shots going into the 573-yard, par-5 18th hole on the final day, Wolff hit his second shot to the far left of the green. From the fringe, 26-feet away from the hole, he holed the the eagle putt in dramatic fashion to win by one. “I had no idea he would make that putt,” said DeChambeau who’d walked off assuming that he’d get into a playoff. “It’s so competitive now. Anyone can win on any week. It’s absolutely impressive,” rued Chambeau.
Once the brouhaha about Wolff’s swing died down, then commentators were quick to notice the young man’s confidence, and the fact that, well, he seemed like he was having fun—something most amateurs lose once they hit the money circuit. A flashy kid, with a flashy golf swing and a big smile—not since Rickie Fowler burst on the scene has a young player generated so much interest.
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 learnt to play with them. The focus was always making a repeatable action that worked, rather than adhering to convention.
Now, with the rise of stars like Bubba Watson, lesser golfers like us, hopefully, can be more forgiving toward our swings. Watson, self-admittedly, has no idea ‘what his body is doing,’ and focuses single-mindedly on what he’s trying to achieve with ball flight. That commitment to the task at hand has brought Watson 14 wins that have included two green jackets. Watson is long and pulls off shots that most pros have difficulty even visualising. Not just the pros, we’re all somewhat straitjacketed by notions of how to play this game. There are many ways to do it folks, just look at Wolff’s swing. “If I never saw what my swing looked like,” he says, “I’d think that I swung it straight back and straight through.” We all know that feeling.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game