Bob Jones famously said of Jack Nicklaus: “He plays a game with which I am not familiar.” I’ve heard a lot of folks repeat that phrase in recent years when they talk about Bubba Watson and his “unique” swing. While there’s no question that Bubba’s swing has some truly individual elements, it’s not exactly unique. For example, the way he uses his lower body is very similar to a move made by someone with whom we’re all familiar: Jack Nicklaus.
Some of you raised your eyebrows when I made this comparison on CBS Sports’ coverage of the Memorial Tournament (above). We flipped an image of Jack’s swing to make him appear left-handed, which revealed that both players generated amazing power from the ground up, and with a huge turn.
At the top of the swing, both Bubba and Jack (in his prime) have their lead leg well behind the ball, their lead heel raised well off the ground and their hands very high over their head. (By the way, I’ll never be able to figure out why keeping the left heel on the ground became a “fundamental” of modern instruction. It’s a back injury waiting to happen.)
During the downswing, both players replant their heel, clear their hips and drive to their lead side. One of Bubba’s “unique” qualities is how much his lead leg moves during his follow-through, but Nicklaus also had a lot of movement in his lead leg.
Jack's backswing looks suspiciously like Bubba Watson's.
Let’s face it: There really isn’t anything new in golf -- just different wrapping paper on the same gift. I’m always hearing that the forgiveness inherent in modern equipment lets everyone swing hard at the ball, while pre-metal-woods players had to focus on solid contact. Sorry, but Nicklaus swung as hard at the ball as anyone I’ve ever seen. So does Bubba. The recipe for their power is to build from the ground up and trust your swing.
I once said that Bubba’s swing looks like a 6-year-old’s because the club looks a bit too long and heavy. I received lots of videos from parents, proud that their children’s swings resemble that of the Masters champion. My memo to parents? Don’t ruin it!
When I say Bubba swings like a child, I mean it as a compliment. Before we used video and photography in golf instruction, it was far more likely that you’d keep your childhood swing into adulthood. Now people are embarrassed by the individual qualities of their swing. Instead, they try to emulate a “perfect swing,” become robotic and lose all their natural movement. If Jack Nicklaus came on the scene now, I would bet that someone would try to make his swing more “correct,” and who knows what would become of the game’s greatest player! The only thing that matters is where the ball goes. As Bubba and the Bear will tell you, that lesson will never change.
Peter, if I can't swing like Bubba, who is a good player to emulate?
Vijay Singh’s backswing is a near-perfect mirror of Sam Snead’s, in terms of his length of motion and left-heel lift. If you want to copy anything from a top player, follow Vijay’s lead: Emulate the size, freedom and rhythm of a top player’s turn. If your turn is good, your swing has a great chance of being good, too! Got a swing question for Peter Kostis? Tweet him at @peterjkostis.