Michael Bamberger: My Favorite Swing

Thursday December 20th, 2007
Ian Woosnam
Morry Gash/AP

For pure aesthetics, you can't beat the tall swings and the tall swingers, not when they have all the moving parts in synch. Close your eyes and picture Sam Snead, Tom Weiskopf, Davis Love III, Ernie Els, Michelle Wie, Mickey Wright, Payne Stewart, Steve Elkington. Imagine Al Geiberger in his old Cybervision tape. Syrupy and elegant and powerful, all of them. Drool city.

But the ruthlessly efficient swings have all come from shorter players: Ben Hogan, Tom Watson, Annika Sorenstam, Jeff Sluman, Se Ri Pak and especially Ian Woosnam. Golfers with shorter arms and shorter legs, standing closer to the ball than most, have many fewer things that can go wrong.

For almost any golfer good enough to make his living playing golf, doubt is the thing that makes the swing go awry. Doubt is often a function of not being able to get the swing to repeat. The shorter players have more repeatable swings simply because they have a shorter road to travel. The longer you're on the road, the greater your chances of getting in an accident. It's a myth that there's no room in professional golf any more for shorter players, like the teenager Tadd Fujikawa. Many have shown that, Woosnam chief among them.

In his prime, Ian Woosnam — a shot glass over five feet — was nearly as long as anybody. He won the Masters in '91 and dozens of tournaments all over the world. He should have won more majors, but the ease and comfort of the pub life were a major draw for him. The swing was never the problem — it was the solution. If you look at freeze-frame pictures of Woosnam's swing, at every point along the way his position is close to perfect. A very natural swing, with no hand manipulation, no funky, unnecessary moves.

Golf teachers talk of "setting" the club in the first foot or two of the backswing with an exaggerated cocking of the wrists or the equally exaggerated "one-piece takeaway." Woosnam blended both together, taking the club back the only way his stubby arms would let him.

He had big, heavy thighs — Jack Nicklaus did, too — that prevented him from overturning his lower body. That caused his upper body to coil powerfully against his lower body. The beauty thing, for him, was that he didn't even have to think about it. His body type dictated what his swing would do. His arms were so thick and heavy they didn't look like they could get far offline, and they didn't.

Woosnam was a superb athlete who delivered the clubface squarely to the ball time and time again, with the clubhead shutting gently immediately after impact. He could fade it at will, but his natural flight was a baby draw that moved about five yards with the driver and about five feet with the wedge. His balance was perfect; his left foot barely came off the ground, and you could see every spike on his right foot when he was done.

Woosnam walked fast and he played his shots fast, too. He knew what he wanted to do and knew he had the swing to do it. Watching it, on the driving range or on the golf course, was pure joy. A truly natural action and pretty close to perfect. A close second for all-time greatest swing would be Tiger Woods, swinging for Bob Hope and Mike Douglas in 1978, two years old and about three feet tall.

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