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Vintage Monty
Denis Pugh

You probably don't need me to tell you that Colin Montgomerie's swing is a very personal piece of work. As his coach, I understand why and how it works for him, but it's not a swing that I teach wholesale to any other players. Monty is a unique talent, and, like most great players, he has found a style that works and one he has stuck to it - with fantastic results.

From an instructional point of view, what you have to realise is that the swing you are about to look at is what we term a 'two-dimensional' action - i.e. it goes straight back and it goes straight up. Simple. In contrast, a three-dimensional swing goes back, up and around on a more inclined plane (the blending of the three giving the swing width, height and depth, whereas Colin really only has height and width).

But there are many qualities in the swing of Europe's No.1 that you should definitely copy. If you are losing width in your swing, for example, then you should look closely as Colin's sequence of moves away from the ball, where he establishes a wonderful width and silky rhythm. Anyone prone to swinging the hands and arms a little too flat and around the body can learn from Colin's position at the top, as he swings his hands high above his right shoulder.

Perhaps most valuable of all - especially for those of you who are too impact-oriented - is that you try to get a sense of the way in which Colin sweeps the clubhead through the ball, as opposed to hitting violently at it. This is probably the thing that has impressed me most about the way Colin plays this game; in all the hours we have spent together out on the range, it is absolutely clear to me that from the moment he starts his downswing to the moment he arrives at the finish he has no concious awareness of actually striking the golf ball.

As he says, he starts the 'hit' as he starts down and finishes the hit as he arrives at the followthrough. It's one long sweeping action - not the typical 'wait...wait...wait...fire!'. And this is why he is such a pure and consistent ball striker. The ball simply gets in the way of the accelerating clubhead.

The other point I would like to make is that when you look at a swing sequence it's so easy to look at the parts in isolation that you forget the essential rhythm of the motion. And Colin displays a wonderful 'syrupy' rhythm. And this is a quality you tend to find in players who stand tall at address, who turn the shoulders on a fairly level plane and swing the arms quite high - think of Fred Couples, or the late Payne Stewart.

So let's take a look at one of the most recognisable swings in world golf - one that has earned its owner a record eighth European Order of Merit title.

In anyone's language, that's some endorsement.. . .



Stay relaxed, and create width

From a relaxed set-up position, Colin makes no effort to swing the club back inside the line; he takes it straight back, as the shoulders, arms and hands work pretty much as one to get the clubhead sweeping away on a wide arc. Rather than turning, the hips are in the process of sliding away from the target, enabling Colin to turn his left shoulder behind the ball.

Looking at the backswing sequence, the first thing that strikes me is just how relaxed and comfortable Monty is over the ball. Out on the course you can spot him a mile off - he has this distinct, easy posture. There are no false positions. He stands to the ball with a straight lower spine and a gentle curvature of the shoulders. One of his foibles is to hover the club above the ball and adjust his hold a couple of times before he settles, and in doing that he is simply reaffirming the lightness in his grip - Monty himself reckons he has one of the lightest grips in golf (something I personally recommend to all players with a view to improving the rhythm and flow of the swing generally).

What he is doing here is getting comfortable over the ball. This is not a 'high tension' position. You often here a player talk of being 'athletic', or 'keyed up' at the set-up, but to me that kind of language suggests tension in the body. Which stifles motion. Colin is totally relaxed, ready to create a swing.

The objective as he then starts the club away is to keep it as low and as slow as he can those first few feet back. He makes a wide sweep with the clubhead, and, as he does so, his thoughts are focused on trying to get his left shoulder and his right hip as far behind the ball as possible. He plays the ball relatively far back in his stance for the simple reason he has this lateral slide in the hips that enables him to get behind it. With the wide and the slide he loads up his backswing like a catapult.

Late 'setting' loads the wrists

High hands at the top is one of Monty's trademarks - and one that provides a useful swing cue for those of you who are prone to swinging the arms and hands too flat around the body. Try to visualise swinging your hands up and over the tip of your right shoulder in the backswing. Do that and you will find that your swing is on a better plane, making it easier for you to return the club on a consistent path into the back of the ball.

The second part, or completion of the backswing is very interesting. Having already established the width and the slide [of the hips] behind the ball, he lifts his arms and cocks the wrists. And there's a tremendous amount of wrist cock taking place in the space of the final two frames you see above (the arms have travelled only a short distance while the clubhead has reached the extent of its journey, beyond the horizontal).

It's actually very hard to do this.

There are few players who have Colin's flexibility, and who are able to extend the left arm so fully, the wrists fully hinged to achieve the top-of-the-backswing position. This late setting of the wrists is idiosyncratic to Colin, and not something I would necessarily recommend to all golfers. But for those of you who perhaps cock your wrists very early, narrowing the swing, I would point to this action and suggest using this image of Monty's backswing to help you work on taking the club away from the ball on a wider arc in an attempt to encourage this later hingeing or 'setting' of the wrists.

Looking down the line confirms the two-dimensional nature of Colin's action: from that tall, easy posture, we can see that he takes the club straight back in line with the target (left). It's a wide takeaway, and he makes no attempt to take the club behind him on the inside. Colin doesn't see a third dimension of swinging the club behind his body - to him it's a case of taking the club straight up and then swinging it straight back down and through the ball.



Good footwork, great rhythm

During the Open this year Colin was concerned when he saw a newspaper photo of himself on the 18th tee in exactly the position you see here (above left). He looked at it and asked me if his swing was too flat. The reality is that he has simply shallowed the plane of his swing with a subtle shift in the lower body (as all good players do). Because Monty swings his hands to such a high position at the top, the club is a little higher through the transition than most world-class players would have it. ["Oh, that sounds very technical," said Monty. "You better worry about that, not me."]

The first thing that strikes me about this downswing sequence is that it actually does give you a sense of Colin's wonderful rhythm. It's almost a dance move, the way he swings and accelerates the clubhead from the top of his backswing all the way through the ball. He has a terrific empathy with the clubhead. From the moment he re-plants his left heel to signal the change in direction, it's a smooth sweeping action, and while he is using a driver here, his technique is pretty consistent with every club in the bag.

Over the years Colin has been one of the straightest hitters in the game, and the reason for this is that he is not turning as he hits the ball, he is simply throwing the clubhead towards the target. The pre-impact position down the line (left) shows this perfectly. Players who rotate their body very aggressively through the ball would appear with their hips wide open at this point, while Colin's hips are more or less square to the target line. It's not a powerful body movement, but it's certainly a very reliable arm movement. Colin relies on leverage to create power - he is able to maintain a fairly straight left arm in the backswing and through the ball both arms are superby extended, maximising speed and the width of his arc.

In fact, on the day this sequence was shot (for his shoe sponsors, Ecco) he explained to the group that he carries a 4-wood in favour of a strong 3, because as and when he needs distance off the fairway he simply hits his 10.5 degree Yonex Cyberstar Nanospeed driver off the deck.

Sweep it all the way to a finish

Only once the ball is hurtling its way down the fairway does Colin aggressively rotate his body towards the target to complete the follow-through. With his weight then fully supported on the left side, he maintains balance on the toe of the right shoe - classic.

With wonderful footwork, Monty changes direction from the ground up and demonstrates a classic weight shift towards the target. This really is the key to his downswing. Having moved laterally away from the target on the backswing, the hips now move laterally towards it to prepare the arms and the body for the delivery position - they are sliding, not turning. Only in the final stages of the swing are you aware of a turning action, as Colin emerges through the impact area and comes through to face the target. Then he has a massive turn as he clears his hips and turns his shoulders to the finish.

Another point to note is the way Colin keeps his head behind the ball as he sweeps it off the peg. The ideal combination (with the driver) is weight forward, head back. The quality of the last two frames above is revealing: good ball-strikers have this rotation of the hands and forearms and I am sure that if we looked at images of the likes of Tom Watson and Seve Ballesteros we would see a very similar position through the ball. As it happened, Colin popped in to my office at The Wisley as I was putting the finishing touches to thus article and went through the pictures one by one, and we both agreed that these images showed the best shape his swing's been in ever. He was that positive about every single image.

The one thing that has really improved is this sweeping action through the ball - as you see above. He makes a great weight-shift towards the target and maintains terrific balance. Let me tell, you, Monty was just killing his drives on the day we shot this sequence. And I hope there have been some pointers in this article that will help you to go out there and do the same.

 



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