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There’s a simple move you must make for bigger drives. In his controversial new book, The Anatomy of Greatness, Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee reveals what legends like Snead, Nelson and Nicklaus knew — something most teachers won’t tell you. Get ready to launch it longer and straighter than ever.
When it comes to pursuing higher education, the first choice is often Harvard. But where is the Harvard of golf? In Bobby Jones on Golf, Jones wrote: “There is one best way to learn this game and to play it, and it can be found in the commonalities of the greatest players of all time.” These commonalities are the Harvard of golf.
In writing The Anatomy of Greatness, I went to “Harvard” for a year, studying the commonalities of the game’s greatest swings. I read hundreds of books, watched scores of videos and analyzed thousands of photos. In a sense, my co-authors were Hagen, Jones, Sarazen, Snead, Nelson, Hogan, Player, Wright, Palmer, Nicklaus, Casper, Trevino, Watson, Sorenstam and Woods, among others.
On this journey, I noticed something surprising: Almost all of the greatest players — 99 percent of them — make an essential swing move that’s now rarely taught. In the backswing, they lift the lead heel off the ground and rotate their hips, letting the shoulders make a full, power-rich turn. From that spot, they’re perfectly positioned to hit the shots that made them legends. This freedom of movement creates time, rhythm, speed — the keys to power and creativity in shotmaking.
What do the great players not do in their backswing? Resist with the lower body, as has been taught since the 1980s. If you’re like millions of golfers, you fail to lift your lead heel and fully rotate your hips, inhibiting your turn and costing you clubhead speed. You lose time and space that a full, wide backswing affords. I should know. I was guilty of the same swing deficiency.
Back in the early 1980s, I played at the University of Texas. I was one of the top-ranked amateurs in the country, making first-team All-American my junior year. At 5’10” and 150 pounds, I knocked it farther than almost everybody. I often hit brilliant shots — sky-high long irons, big ol’ 3-wood hooks around trees. My left heel came off the ground, I had plenty of hip and shoulder turn, and my hands were high at the top. Shades of Johnny Miller.
I turned pro in 1985 and soon fell down a rabbit hole of swing theory. In an effort to get better, I listened to just about every top teacher. I made changes. I planted my left heel and resisted with my hips. Hey, that’s what the smartest people said to do, and I wanted to improve. I went from being a long hitter to average. Yes, my contact became more consistent, but those brilliant shots grew all too rare. My swing was impoverished, and I didn’t even know it. I played that way for 30 years.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m proud of my career. I won a PGA Tour event, and I cracked the top 100 on the money list seven years in a row, once reaching 37th. But as a pro, I never recaptured the power and creativity of my amateur days.
I didn’t realize I’d lost my way until I started this book. That’s when the traits of the greats became clear. It’s funny. Every legend’s swing is unique — Snead doesn’t look like Nicklaus who doesn’t look like Watson — yet they all lift their lead heel and fully turn their hips and shoulders. The best players of all time put their fingerprint on commonalities. My mistake was letting others put their fingerprints on my swing. I asked myself, “Why the hell did you ever go away from this?” My eyes were open.
It takes time and space to generate swing speed. But so much teaching today espouses lower-body resistance. That’s like telling a sprinter to reach peak running speed at the 10-yard mark, when he’d be much faster at 50 yards. Guys like Jason Day and Rory McIlroy employ minimal hip turn, but unlike most weekend players, they can generate a lot of clubhead speed with sheer athleticism.
So what modern players swing like the greats? Three names come to mind. Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson are two of our longest, most creative players, and the only multiple-Masters winners since 2004. And Tim Clark is one of the world’s straightest hitters. Take Bubba. His arms are like Styrofoam cups — heck, I could probably whip him arm-wrestling. Yet in 2015, he averaged 315 yards per drive. That’s 20 yards more than Billy Horschel, who looks like an Olympian but who leaves his left heel on the ground and has minimal hip turn.
I’m not saying today’s top players have bad swings; they just force their bodies to work harder than necessary, making up for a lack of lower-body rotation with tremendous thoracic movement. It takes great effort and tension to resist the turning of the lower body. Muscles in the legs, hips and lower back get stressed to their limit, then must accelerate to their max — the recipe for lower-back and hip injury.
This all started in the 1980s. It became fashionable to try and build torque and speed by resisting with the lower body while turning at the top — like the loading of a spring, we were told. This premise is massively incorrect and its problems so numerous that for over 30 years, it has almost completely divested the PGA Tour and LPGA players of their ability to build on the methods of a previous generation, not to mention their athleticism, rhythm and health.
The body is not a coiled spring, and no matter how much torque one thinks they create with resistance, there’s not enough energy release to offset the loss of turn. This capital swing crime has been packaged and sold to amateurs and pros alike, and it’s pure myth. In other words, “resistance” is futile.
When you resist with the lower body, you impair or eliminate your naturally athletic moves, often resulting in a disastrous buildup of full-body tension and stress. This can cause the premature firing of the lower body, leaving the upper body behind, and you “get stuck” in the downswing. Shorter hip turn limits shoulder turn, robbing you of the time and space needed to create speed. You compensate, and there goes your rhythm.
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If lower-body resistance worked, then why has almost every Hall of Fame player turned their hips far more than what’s taught today? The best players tend to look plagiaristically identical at the top. To restrict the lower body is to say that the greats didn’t know what they were doing.
And they knew. Seventeen of the 19 men with five or more majors lifted their lead heel. Forty-six of the 50 men who have 17 or more Tour wins lifted their heel. Seventeen of the 19 multiple Masters winners lifted their heel. The woman with the most major wins (Patty Berg), second-most major wins (Mickey Wright) and most LPGA wins (Kathy Whitworth) all lifted their heel.
And let’s not forget the greatest player of all time. Could Jack Nicklaus have hit that 1-iron (238 yards, from a thin lie, uphill) at Baltusrol in 1967 without that ferocious, full-body turn, his left heel off the ground? His swing was pure beauty, and it held up. Jack won the Masters at 46. Snead won on Tour at 52. Watson nearly won the British at 59. They all lifted their left heel and made a big turn. I wonder how today’s 20-something pros will be doing when they’re Not So Young Guns.
So my advice? Swing like the greats. You don’t need new, “better” theories. A thousand years ago, you’d skip a stone on a pond the same way as today. It doesn’t take state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment to reveal the truth of the swing. The Holy Grail is already out there.
Trust me. I rediscovered my swing while working on this book. My creativity and clubhead speed is back. Not long ago, I teed it up with guys I’ve known most of my life. They watched me launch high, long shots, like I used to. “That’s how you hit it in college,” a buddy said. It’s like I’ve been reunited with an old friend.
So here we go! I’m gonna put you in a powerful position. Golf is about to get fun again.
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