Sir Nick Faldo had no use for it. Throughout last weekend, as Matthew Wolff hovered at or near the top of the leaderboard in the 3M Open, Faldo’s comments about the 20-year-old’s swing alternated between “Wow” and “Oh my goodness” to “You can’t teach that.” Even after Wolff won in just his third professional start with a dramatic eagle on the final hole, Faldo couldn’t bring himself to praise Wolff’s action. “Has the most unique motion,” Faldo said. “We try to get the club on plane. This fellow has it pointed (well across the line). It’s quite incredible.”
David Feherty, in his usual quick way, said that Wolff looked like “a man being tased by a state trooper.”
As funny as that line was, it’s not entirely original, nor is Wolff’s golf swing. In comedy as in golf, there’s nothing new under the sun. It’s just a matter of reinvention.
Feherty’s line borrowed from an old driving range adage about Jim Thorpe, who fanned the club inside and then hung on for dear life after impact. “His action looks like he’s being tased outside a nightclub,” the saying went.
And Wolff’s swing, while different than anything seen on the golf telecasts of today, is by no means one-of-a-kind.
“I’m old enough to remember Miller Barber and Gay Brewer and guys like that who stood the shaft up,” noted instructor Billy Harmon said in discussing Wolff’s swing. “Calvin Peete had a unique backswing and got it well across the line at the top and he was one of the straightest drivers of the ball, maybe ever.”
In fact, Peete led the tour in driving accuracy throughout the 1980s. And his backswing did appear “homemade,” as was the common euphemism of the day. But so did the swings of Brewer and Barber.
In his heyday, Irishman Eamonn Darcy took the club out and up as much as or more than Wolff does now. Darcy won four times on the European Tour and beat Ben Crenshaw in singles in the 1987 Ryder Cup.
There are plenty of others. Before Deane Beman became PGA Tour commissioner he won the U.S. Amateur twice, the British Amateur once and qualified to play in the Masters 14 times. And he did so with a steep, long, outside backswing that got the club well across the line.
“We used to marvel at Gene Littler and Al Geiberger because of how easy they got the club to the top. Now almost everybody does it because that’s how they’ve been taught since they were kids.” – Billy Harmon
Granted Ed Furgol had to compensate for a withered left arm (as did Cal Peete) but the 1954 U.S. Open champion took the club back almost identically to the way Matthew Wolff does now.
Fred Couples, Kenny Perry, Jim Furyk: getting the club outside, steep and across the line is nothing new.
“I remember asking my dad (1948 Masters winner Claude Harmon), and this was back in the ’80s, I said ‘What has changed the most about the game?’” Billy Harmon said. “Dad said, ‘You don’t see as many unique backswings now as you used to.’
“We used to marvel at Gene Littler and Al Geiberger because of how easy they got the club to the top. Now almost everybody does it because that’s how they’ve been taught since they were kids.
“So, there’s a lot of old-school in what Matt does and I like it. I think what makes people think it’s so different from anything that’s ever been is that trigger move at the beginning where he opens up his hips.
“But I tell you, I’m a believer that it’s not a golf swing that wins. It’s what’s inside you. Can you get it done? And Matthew got it done. That was one of the most exciting finishes I’ve seen on the PGA Tour in a while and I think it’s great for the game. You’ve got guys like Matthew and Collin Morikawa, they’re fun to watch and they’ve come out ready. They almost make Bryson DeChambeau seem like he’s not a young gun anymore. The young guns keep getting younger and there’s another crop right behind the current bunch.”
Wolff’s trigger – a pronounced opening of the hips before taking the club back – is also nothing new. Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, almost all the greats pre-Nicklaus had a similar trigger move, some small (Arnold Palmer) and some exaggerated (Bob Toski).
“I think Matt and Bryson (DeChambeau) are the reasons a lot of golf courses are closed on Mondays,” Paul Azinger said. “Pros don’t want to teach their members the swings they saw win on Sunday.”
But Azinger, who has never been a model of conformity, is the first to admit that Wolff gets the fundamentals correct. As he points out, “There are only a few true fundamentals that deliver the clubface square to the ball with the speed in the right spot. Everything else is a fingerprint, unique to the individual.”
Wolff’s uniqueness, even if it’s not all that new, is a refreshing change from the modeled and molded swings that dominate the tours these days.
“The other thing I like with these younger guys is that they’re with the same teacher they’ve had since before they were on tour,” Harmon said. “Matt has had George Gankas (as his swing coach) for like six years and he’s just 20. Jordan Spieth has got Cameron (McCormick). So, the trend for these young guys seems to be not to jump from one teacher to another, which is good. Nobody knows Matt’s swing but Matt and his coach. And nobody needs to.
“My dad used to always say that the only real judges of a good golf swing are the back of the ball and the scorecard,” Harmon added. “I think Matt is 2-and-0 on that front.”
Matthew Wolff, winner last week of the 3M Open, has drawn as much attention for his swing as for his success. Photo: Bruce Kluckhohn, USA Today Sports
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