Watson’s swing wasn’t perfect, but a stop at the top propelled him to major wins

Watson at the 2011 Masters.
Robert Beck / SI

Tom Watson is one of the greatest players of all time. but there’s more to his legend than what you read in his stat sheet. Watson was the guy who finally gave Jack Nicklaus a run for his money, unseating him as the No. 1 player in the world in 1977 and establishing a rivalry between the two that elevated the game’s popularity to the level that we all enjoy today.

Tom had a reliable, albeit unique swing. He did things that elite players typically shy away from, like crossing the line by pointing the shaft to the right of the target at the top of the backswing (photo). And he had a noticeable pause in his transition—the shaft sort of hung in the air before he whipped it back down. It was a move Watson learned from Byron Nelson: “Rock the club up, pause, then rock it down.” The pause, in my opinion, is what helped Watson dominate in his prime and remain competitive on the pro circuits well past his 60th birthday.

I wouldn’t say pausing at the top is a must move for every golfer, but let’s face it: Swinging badly and fast is much worse than swinging badly and smooth. In fact, a common factor I see in all “strange-looking” swings is a pause at the top. Pausing gives you just that much more time to reroute the club into the correct position if it falls off plane in the backswing. Watson did this to perfection, and he used it in his chipping motion, too.

A good way to practice Watson’s pause is to swing to the top, stop, turn your head to see if everything is where you want it to be, and then swing down. Stop, check, boom! If this sounds weird, then consider that I’ve seen Tiger Woods do this on the practice tee and during his warm-ups, and that Tom Watson used it to win eight majors in the span of nine seasons when he—and his pause—were tops in the world.