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Nick Dougherty Swing Sequence
by Simon Holmes

A protege of Nick Faldo, England’s Nick Dougherty is beginning to deliver on the promise of a gilded amateur career and a place in Nick Faldo’s Ryder Cup side this September is eminently within his grasp.

One of the most stylish players in world golf, Dougherty is a man who, to some extent bucks the trend of going all-out for distance with a swing that is as controlled as it is crafted, many of the Faldo hallmarks underpinning a technique that delivers pin-point accuracy and the ability to manoeuvre the ball.

Over the following pages I will try to highlight the lessons to be taken from a sequence shot in Dubai during the week of the Desert Classic.

Textbook at address

At 6 foot 1” and with great proportions, Nick displays terrific body angles at the set-up. The flex in his knees helps him to engage the strong muscles in the thighs, and he keeps his hips forward so that he is able to maintain his spine in a 'neutral’ position, the shoulders back. The overall effect is that Nick sets his 'balance point’ a little more forward than most pros, which we have illustrate with the line drawn down from the middle of the shoulders, which you can see falls outside his toes. Overall, Nick sets his body in what I would term a very 'ready’ and athletic position - the ideal starting point for young players to copy

'Together’ in the takeaway

Nick turns his shoulders on a slightly flatter plane than we would expect given his set up angles; you can see that the left shoulder comes out to the ball a fraction, rather than moving down more and under his chin.With a coordinated hand/arm and body movement, Nick moves the club away from the ball into a classic 'neutral’ position, his left arm rotation keeping the clubface square to his body. At the same time, the resistance in the lower body helps him to keep the clubshaft on plane, the shaft destined to be parallel to the target line by the time it reaches horizontal with the ground.We know that Nick Faldo was a strong influence on 'Little Nick’and this is all very reminiscent of the Faldo swing at its best.

Right wrist 'loaded’

With the gradual cocking of his wrists during the backswing, Nick manages to keep his left wrist flat while setting a 'deep’ angle in the back of the right wrist as it supports the clubshaft. This is a really important key to power - the wrists are the fastest levers a player has, and 'loading’ them is vital for generating clubhead speed. It is interesting to note that by half-way back (or just past it in this image), Nick has completed his hip turn, and from here to the very top of his backswing it’s all about the upper body and the arms turning and swinging over the resistance of the lower body. It’s that dynamic that results in a 'coiled’ position at the top.

'Coiled’ at the top

Compare this with the previous image and you can see the lower body has remained pretty much stationary while the top half completes the backswing; the hips resist and Nick creates coil by winding up his upper body and armswing. We can also see that, as a result of keeping his left wrist flat and in line with his left forearm, Nick sets the clubface in a slightly delofted position at the top of his backswing. Almost all top players deloft the clubface somewhere in the swing, with only a few exceptions (Jose Maria Olazabal and Thomas Bjorn) adding loft in the course of making their back swing.

The transition

This is very interesting - we can see that Nick starts to 'fire’ his hips to initiate the downswing and that, simultaneously, he is able to resist the opening of his upper body (which is how the top guys create so much torque). At the same time, notice that he allows the distance between his elbows to widen a fraction; effectively, the left arm follows the drive of the body motion while the right arm lags behind. This causes Nick to lose a little radius in his swing, steepens the angle of attack and causes his right arm to get a little trapped behind him. This is perhaps a consequence of the upper body and arms finishing the backswing independently of the lower body, and also a consequence of allowing the shaft to shallow out so that the shaft plane now points outside the ball.

Timed to perfection

With the lower body rotating and clearing, we can see from the release of the right foot that Nick’s weight is moving forwards through the ball. The upper body has accelerated to catch up with the lower body and his arms have now caught up (despite being left behind during the transition). This is where the element of 'timing’ comes in - the quality we see in all good players that enables them to coordinate all the moving parts the plant the clubface squarely on the back of the ball. In Nick’s case he is able to synchronise the moving parts with such control that he can manipulate the path of the clubhead shape the ball. Faldo was much the same, his trademark rhythm and timing his strongest suit.

The 'Exit’

Further evidence of great timing and hand/eye coordination: we can see from the shaft plane, and from the angle of the clubface, that Nick has used his hands and arms to square the clubface through impact. Despite the fact that his right arm lagged momentarily during the transition (and that he shallowed the shaft noticeably approaching the ball) Nick has corrected this by slowing down the rotation of his lower half which has allowed the clubhead to catch up and overtake his hands and arms. It is this kind of hand and arm control that makes Nick so adept at controlling ball flights and also gives us a clue as to why his short game is so hot.

The Finish

Just as we would expect, Nick displays a total commitment to the shot with a full turn of the body all the way through to the finish. His chest has turned all the way through and now points well to the left of his target. Meanwhile, his long arm-swing to the wrap around finish comes from the release of the hands and arms as they caught up with the turning body to square up the clubface at impact. These are all the classic signs of a player who enjoys wonderful timing, a shot-maker who, on his day, can rise all the way to the top.

A balanced base

Let’s start from the feet and work up! Notice that both feet are placed perpendicular to the target line. This tells us Nick is a flexible guy, since this stance puts a lot of torque into both ankles. Nick sets his knees on top of his ankles and his hips on top of his knees to build the most balanced base. All good stuff for young athletic players to copy. The white stripe down the front of his shirt also reveals the way in which he sets his right side lower than his left, and also that his spine tilts gently away from the ball - the ideal posture with the driver. It also appears that Nick plays the ball off his left instep, with his hands set slightly behind the ball. This will give him a good view of the loft on his driver, which he will like since we know that during the swing he delofts the clubface a fraction.

The takeaway

The left arm and left shoulder are the two main engines at work here, and Nick encourages the clubhead to swing past the hands early on. If you look closely at his left elbow, and compare it to the address position, you can see that the gentle rotation of the left forearm controls the position of the club (and also sets the tempo of the swing). This is what Ernie Els does so well, and it’s here, in this first move, that Nick establishes the coordination between his armswing and body turn. Great balance, too, the lower body remaining as it was at the set-up.

Halfway back

The wrists are now starting to 'set’ - just look at the way Nick is 'loading’ the back of the right wrist as the hands swing up. Note also the dramatic amount of hip-turn between the previous image and this one taken at halfway back - the hips are really getting involved, and this assists him in turning his torso. But at the same time, look at the way he uses his right leg for stability. He expertly keeps his right hip inside his right knee and his knee inside his ankle. This is vital for creating a powerful motion ('collapsing’ your right leg, or swaying, is a huge power leak).

'Completing’ the coil

To the top and a terrific example to all amateurs of the way to complete the backswing with the rotation of the upper body. Nick really completes the backswing before he starts the downswing - a point that sounds so obvious but one that is often missed by club players. And it is so important in terms of the sequencing and timing of the golf swing. Another key feature to flag up here is the width of the armswing. This is a great position for control and again a key position for a 'timing’ player. A full upper body coil with a relatively short, wide arm swing is ideal for the consistent on-line delivery of the clubhead from the inside track (all you slicers take note!).

Shallow into transition

Nick is a true 'swinger’ of the clubhead, and the weight-shift through the transition is relatively passive as Nick stays loaded on his right side. The major movers are the head, which has now started to re-rotate back to the address position, and the drop of the right elbow. If you look at the difference between this and the previous image it is clear that, while the right arm has fallen into a great hitting position, the arms themselves have yet to start accelerating back down the chest - Nick is delaying their release as he starts to unwind his body turn.

The delivery 'slot’

This picture is taken right before Nick gets into the delivery slot, and we can analyse the sequence of motion. The weight shift is now level to the ball and the left leg is preparing to 'brace’, ready for the hands and arms to accelerate through impact. The upper body and head are rotating hard, catching up to the hips, but still the arms lag behind waiting until the latest moment to square up the clubface and release all their pent-up speed into the ball.

Full-speed release

The left hip and shoulder have raised up to 'brace’ for the powerful release of the hands and arms. The right side has waited and this is where Nick’s timing is so good; if his right side and weight shift were more aggressive, or he got ahead of the ball, then he would be hard pressed to catch up with the clubface and he could lose the shot to the right. So all the pieces work in harmony to come together at impact to give a consistent shot pattern. You can see from the slightly bent right arm at impact that the extra bend created in the transition is accelerating into a straight arm after impact (as we can see in the inset shot on the right) where the right arm has released over the left. This is the mechanism Nick uses very skillfully to square up the clubface.

Textbook finish

Having braced his body in readiness for impact Nick then waits for his hands and arms to catch up and he uses the momentum of the speeding clubhead to pull the rest of his body through to this very full finishing position. You can see how his right side, which was lagging behind the ball at impact, has now been pulled though and indeed overtaken the left side to finish in a very high and full position. Nick uses his excellent hand eye coordination and sense of timing to the maximum effect.

 

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