I grew up at a golf club in central Georgia that had a fair number of good players. There were scratch golfers with homemade swings and Pinnacles, chain-smoking World War II vets who built the club and played poker there, and middle-aged night-shift workers from the mills and power plants who spent their days in heated money matches. There was a Wednesday crowd of bankers, doctors and pharmacists, and a handful of teenagers and recent college grads who hung out around the practice green all day to keep from working.
The best of the bunch was Sonny Trammell, a tall and lanky fellow, who had played on the Georgia Southern golf team in the early 1980s with the former PGA Tour player Jodie Mudd, who won the 1990 Players Championship. Though he never actually turned pro, Sonny's daddy gave him the financial freedom to play golf full-time.
One day I asked Sonny who he thought had the best swing in golf. Allen Doyle was the best golfer in our state, but it couldn't be him. He had a swing so ugly that it was hard to believe he was serious about the game. The two Nicks, Price and Faldo, had good swings one so fast you couldn't see it and the other too studied for it to be any fun but they could barely hit it out of their shadows. Tom Purtzer, Payne Stewart and Davis Love III had rhythmic, perfectly balanced swings, but they didn't inspire awe. Nicklaus and Palmer were winners, but you didn't want to get within a 10-foot radius of their eccentric swings. Hogan's move was old-fashioned.
"No," said Sonny. "It's Greg Norman, the best player in the world."
Being the best player in the world doesn't automatically give you dibs on the title for the best golf swing, but Norman had as good a case as anybody.
He had a swing that was both athletic and fundamentally sound. Up to that time, no one in the history of the game was as long and straight as the Australian. Though he preferred a draw, he had all the shots. Some would say he put too much spin on the ball with his irons, but he was one of the purest ballstrikers the game has ever known.
He had a flat left wrist, an upright or flat swing plane, and great lag in the swing, which enabled him to compress the ball and control it while hitting it a mile. Best of all, Norman combined his solid move with speed and rhythm, and he did it consistently. Today, players who can hit 300-yard drives and 150-yard pitching wedges are common on the PGA Tour, but Norman was the model for the modern power player.
Tiger Woods could surely claim the title of best golf swing ever, but he likes to tinker with it, as if it were a classic car. Norman had the goods, and they were always finely tuned.