With the help of my coach, Gavin Christie, focusing on the transition into the downswing with the emphasis on retaining and increasing clubhead ‘lag’ has enabled me to compress the ball for a lower and more penetrating flight.
By Roger Chapman
I was very lucky to be taken on by George Will as a 13 year old – he saw something in my swing he believed he could work with, and my progression as a player was down to his guidance.
I always wanted to be a pro, but as far as George was concerned it was a ‘work in progress’ and he mentored me through the amateur ranks before telling me I was good enough to make it as a pro.
Thanks to George, I’ve always had what I regard as a ‘low maintenance’ swing – day to day it all boils down to a little fine-tuning here and there. [In fact, George got to know my swing so well that I could phone him from just about anywhere on tour, tell him what sort of shots I was hitting, and he’d suggest this and that to fix whatever the problem might be. I’d ring him back half-an-hour later and tell him that it was sorted! That’s how good he was.
That ‘fine-tuning’ has recently involved maximising the ‘lag’ in my swing with the help of coach Gavin Christie. Throughout my career on the regular tour I had always been a high ball player, and when Gavin and I first began working together in 2010, during the Senior Open at Carnoustie, he explained that I didn’t compress the ball as well as I could, and that I needed to focus on retaining and indeed maximising clubhead ‘lag’ in my swing to flight my shots with a lower trajectory.
From the top of the backswing, Gavin taught me to ‘lag’ the club to the extent it felt like I was delivering the butt-end of the club to the ball way before the clubhead. The inset photo (far right) gives you a pretty good idea of the feeling that he wanted me to have – which is exactly what I worked on out hitting balls on the range.
‘The later you can hit it, the better,’ says Gavin. ‘You cannot get enough lag and hit it late enough.’ He likes to refer to the game’s all-time great ball strikers, such as Ben Hogan and Tony Lema, and sure enough when you look at old photos of these players this quality is evident in their swings.
One of the drills that I do on the range, using a 5- or 6-iron, is to shut the face down quite dramatically and then try to hit a straight shot. If you can imagine a shut face at the set-up, the key is then to lag it so far behind that you actually square it up for impact – to do so requires that you get your hands way ahead of the clubhead, the exact feeling Gavin prescribes.
Since May this year my ball striking has been as good as its ever been – my control of trajectory noticeably better. especially in the wind. Gavin was at Benton Harbor for the PGA (he also coaches Mark James and Gordon Brand Jnr) and I was swinging so well that he didn’t have much to say! The same thoughts on clubhead lag may help you to discover a new set of feelings that spark an improvement in your game.
A simple blend of arms and body – oiled with rhythm
Looking at the sequences here I like the fact that my lines and body angles are all pretty good and there is a real sense of flow in the swing as I wind and unwind. I’m not a big hitter, but I do consider myself a solid hitter of the ball, and this is largely due to the gathering of momentum as I rotate my body and swing the clubhead freely through the impact area to a committed finish.
One of the tendencies I have to be aware of is getting a little too flat at the top of the backswing, and so I keep my eye on that aspect of things, but here it all looks in pretty good order and the plane of the swing is nicely maintained as I work through the transition and get into the hitting position.
One thing I would say to all golfers out there is look at how simple I keep the movement of the club in the initial stages of its journey away from the ball. This goes all the way back to my junior days with George Will at Sundridge Park. He was always reminding me of the importance of a good grip and set up position, and the chain reaction you then enjoy in the swing if you are able to initiate it with a smooth rhythm. For me, the key is to get the club working away in harmony with the hands, arms and stomach for the first few feet – up to about waist high – before the rotation of the torso completes the backswing.
“At Benton Harbor I did get a little tight coming down the last few holes, but at the US Open I knew I could win. I just felt so in control of my swing and what I was doing. The 5-iron I hit at the 71st hole at the US Open was the greatest shot I have ever hit under pressure. I think I always knew I had the swing to play like that, but winning the PGA gave me the belief.”
The big muscles are then in control, which is vital for the quality and consistency of your downswing and the delivery of a square clubface at impact.