All Fired Up
Jose Maria Olazabal
This year at Augusta I hit my irons about as well as I ever have. These are the keys that I work on to maintain the shape and the tempo of my swing and to guard against the tendencies that I have to be aware of.
The swing thoughts Chema is about to share with you are the very same thoughts he was taught in Spain when I first saw him as a promising 13-year-old. He remembers the fundamentals clearly, and, like you, I have marveled at the way in which he has used them to become one of the world's great iron players.
Much has been made about the difficulty he has with the driver - a problem that stems from the fact that he has a tendency to hang his weight on his left side with a hint of a reverse-pivot as he makes his back swing, which leads to problems clearing his body on the way through. I have made no attempt to change this action (although I am sure that other coaches would have) for the simple reason that I don't want to disturb his ability to strike iron shots with such precision. In this respect I put him in the context of a
Peter Thomson or Bobby Locke - fine iron players who would not change their swing for the benefit of the driver.
My own opinion is that if Chema used a more lofted driver, more tolerant to his natural swing and tendencies, as both Thomson and Locke did, it would save him off the tee. Perhaps one day I'll persuade him to change. Until then, enjoy the thoughts and the action of a great champion.
All set for action
I believe the address position must achieve two basic objectives. First, it must set both the club face and your body square to the target, and second it must put your body in the correct posture in order to make a good turn.
Alignment speaks for itself: like all good players, the lines across my feet, knees, hips and shoulders are parallel with the ball-to-target line for a full swing with a mid- to long Iron. A good posture takes more work to get right. For me, the spine angle is the important thing to monitor. Standing with my knees slightly flexed, I bend easily from the hips and let my arms hang from the shoulders.
If anything I may be a little cramped over the ball, and my hands are inclined to get a bit too low. My coach John Jacobs is always reminding me to stand tall, to keep my chin up and my hands up. His good advice usually applies to amateurs, too.
Create width from the start
The first move really does set the tone for the whole swing. I think about keeping the the club head low to the ground for the first two or three feet away from the ball, extending my arms fully into the takeaway. This gives a good width to the back swing, and also gets the club moving along the inside track.
A good point to note (and a useful image to have in mind when you practise) is the way the arms and shoulders maintain this triangular relationship until the club head passes the right knee. My upper body is turning while the arms maintain the shape they were In at address. You will see that the legs have not moved much at all, though the muscles in the right thigh are flexed as I turn and shift my weight away from the target.
Let wrists hinge naturally
Some players work on hingeing the wrists early in the swing. I do not. From the takeaway, I concentrate on turning my shoulders and creating width, keeping my arms extended - see how straight my left arm is here. But now the wrists must hinge to complete the back swing, a process that occurs naturally. I do not think about the wrist action at all.
Coupled with a good shoulder turn, moving the club inside away from the ball gets me into what John would describe as the correct position at the mid-point in my back swing - my hands clearly opposite the middle of my chest looking from this angle. This is a good checkpoint for all players to make. It proves that the co-ordination between your arms and body is good at this stage.
In the slot at the top
At the top of my swing I like to see the back of my left hand, the left forearm and shoulders in plane. If I can get into this type of slot I am confident that unwinding my body will return the club face squarely at impact. I am also aware that my head has turned to the right to enable a full shoulder turn - this is perfectly OK, as it helps you get your weight to the right side.
If you compare my back swing with the set-up position earlier you will see that my spine angle has increased slightly, causing my upper body to be more over the ball than it was at address. The culprit here is the left leg, which has kinked in a little too much, to the extent you can see daylight between the legs.
This is a problem I have to guard against - and seeing my swing in pictures helps me just as much as I hope it helps you. As John Jacobs says, the legs must resist the turning motion of the shoulders, but at the same time they should be seen to remain 'quiet' throughout the swing.
Shifting through the gears
Once you have wound the body spring and set the club, the downswing is really going to happen automatically, and the momentum of the movement is now clearly evident. My weight has shifted on to the left side, working towards the target, and the delayed effect (what we refer to as the 'late hit') creates this angle between the wrists and the club shaft.
When I look at these pictures It pleases me to see the back of the left hand and the shoulders again perfectly in plane. I am on track to strike the ball squarely and hit it straight down the line to the target. I also like the way that my head is still as the upper body is unwinding, the legs supporting the motion. The club is tracking the ball from the inside and there is a huge amount of energy about to be unleashed on the ball.
Swing through the ball
Amateur golfers often make the mistake of trying to hit 'at' the ball, which destroys the rhythm and the timing of their swing. The key is to swing through the ball - just let the ball get in the way of your swing as you release the club head towards the target. That will give you a much better strike and keep you swinging smoothly.
Notice how well my body has turned through the shot. This is important to copy in your own swing. You don't stop turning at impact; in your mind you must think about rotating your body to clear the way for the arms to swing the club head into the ball.
My problems occur when I leave my body in the way, and I'm forced to cross the hands over, which results in a bad push or a pull, particularly with the driver. When I am having difficulty clearing the body through the shot, John Jacobs reminds me to let the club return to the inside early in the follow-through. If you tend to block in the hitting area, this tip could help you to release the club more freely.
Let it fly to the finish
With long irons it is absolutely vital that you complete both your back swing and your follow-through. Try to get a sense of freewheeling on the downswing, and let the momentum carry you all the way to a full finish, with the club across your shoulders like this.
Total commitment to the shot is the only way to strike the ball well with these demanding clubs. You must race to take care of getting the ball into the air and concentrate on completing your swing in good balance. Make sure that you turn your body all the way through the shot so that your right shoulder points towards the target-your chest even left of the target at the finish.
All the energy your swing has created is now spent, your body is relaxed, weight on the left side. And the ball drilling its way towards the target..
Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine