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Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Sam Snead: Loose as a Goose

Tension, both in body and mind, is a killer in the game of golf.  Sam Snead, still golf's most prolific winner on the PGA tour, said that when he was playing his best, his body was "loose as a goose." He wrote:

"Tension is the product of technique or temperament, or both, and it just eats up the golf swing.  Without going into detail at this point, there is a big difference between my relatively free swing, which, "loose as a goose," minimizes tension, and the swings of my fellow tourists and numerous handicap golfers, where force, restriction, and inhibition seem to be at the core of the action."

Sam goes on to talk about the "force-type" swing verses a syrupy-smooth, free flowing swing like his.  He said:

"The force-type swing tends to severely limit, or exaggerate, the participation of certain parts of the body.  On tour, for example, certain players turn their shoulders fully but their hips hardly at all.  What that does is coil a lot of leverage into the upper body muscles that can be delivered to the ball in the form of club head speed coming down.  Fine.  But the fact is that only the supple muscles of youth can repeatedly execute such a stressful action--and even then only after a lot of training."

It's interesting that Harvey Penick wrote that he preferred watching the swings of the guys on the Champions Tour--the swings that had stood the test of time--to the modern swings on the PGA tour that he maintained would not last as the players aged.

When talking about the force-type swing, Sam went on to say:

"After thirty, that kind of backswing (in my kind both hips and shoulders turn in tandem) feels more like weight lifting than golf.  And remember that anything based on tension, as this paricular approach is, tends to dissolve in tension.  When the chips are down, the force-type swing is not an easy swing to hold together, even for a youngster...

Of course, some of these fine young athletes out on the tour can do just about anything with their bodies and still make the golf swing work.  But I, personally, believe that over the years the free-type swing has produced many more top players and consistent winners than the force-type swing.  And I know that a freer swing would be better for the great majority of golfers who play, not for a living, but for pleasure.  The swing made freely is not only longer lasting than the force-type swing, since it involves less physical and mental wear and tear, but it is one of the main reasons I'm still in the thick of things.  It is also, swing for swing, a far more enjoyable experience when you're out on the golf course."

Clearly, there are very few individuals who can produce a flowing, rhythmic swing like Sam Snead, Ernie Els, or Fred Couples.  But to avoid tension in the golf swing will surely help even us mere mortals, especially as we get longer in the tooth and weaker in the back and legs.  

Even on the tour today, if we consider the swings of top young players, we see a force-type swinger like Jason Day, and, to a lesser degree, Rory McIlroy, compared to the freer swings of Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth.  While the body is able, and the swing is in the groove, those force-type swingers can  produce some real magic.  But, over the long haul, I suspect we will see Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth playing at a higher level for a longer period of time, with fewer injuries.

With a ruined back and neck, I know I am now paying for having been a force-type hitter of the ball, instead of being a free-swinger of the club. Hopefully, a leopard can change his spots and I can learn to ease it up, get "loose as a goose," and let the club do more of the work.  It would certainly be easier on my old body, and probably my mind.