This article first appeared on Golfshake.com in Jan 2016.
We often watch our friends on the first tee through our hands, so bad are their swings. There is a common belief that everybody who plays at the highest level has come off a production line that produces perfectly orthodox golf swings, but the truth is rather different. Some of the following golfers have also been watched through spectators’ hands…
Everything about Jordan Spieth looks pretty normal: he has a very solid technique, and is one of the best iron players in the world. Despite what he may say, he also drives it pretty long. But you don’t get to be world number one and win majors unless you can putt. There were a few raised eyebrows when the young man emerged with a putting grip that saw him position his left hand below his right, but the likes of Padraig Harrington and Thomas Bjorn have done this all their lives. But, as Spieth prepares to putt from 10 feet and less, just before he begins his stroke, he turns his head to look at the hole – and keeps it there until the ball has stopped rolling. Very, very strange. Or at least, very, very strange that we are not all trying it!
Annika Sorenstam is arguably the greatest woman golfer of all time, winning everything there was to win, usually several times over; she remains the only woman to shoot a 59 in competition. The Swede was the complete golfer – a long and accurate driver of the golf ball, superb with fairway woods, a great long-iron player and a genius around the greens. However, all logic dictated that she should never have even been able to hit the ball. Why? She moved her head and eyes towards the hole long before making impact with the ball. Have you ever tried it? Go on, have a bash. If you make solid contact with the ball, you may well be the next Annika, or David Duval (he used to do the same thing, but we all know what happened to him)
Was there ever a player on the PGA Tour who possessed a more, um, agricultural swing than Tommy Gainey? Or “Ungainly Gainey” as some prefer to call him. It is beyond description, so we are not even going to try. Suffice to say that it wouldn’t look out of place on the first tee at most municipal golf courses. Asked to guess at his handicap, most of us would probably plump for something around the 24 mark. And yet, for Tommy it works. Oh yes, and what about the two gloves. Not golf gloves, mind you, but a type of baseball glove, apparently. Bizarre. Bizarrely brilliant!
Brewer was the original Jim Furyk, in an age when Gay was simply a name; a name that brought to mind thoughts of happiness. The American, who was a contemporary of Billy Casper, Arnold Palmer and Gene Littler, won The Masters in 1967 and several more tour events besides, so he could play golf. He had a loop at the top of his backswing that was reminiscent of an angler casting his line. Brewer may not have caught too many fish, but he certainly landed a lot of trophies.
They laughed at him when he was hustling for survival as a teenager. How could anybody with a swing like that possibly take the money? They also laughed at his constant wisecracks. However, the smile was wiped off their faces when Lee Trevino disappeared into the sunset with their money in his back pocket. They also laughed at him when he joined the PGA Tour. Again, they were not laughing for long as Trevino won the US Open, The Open (twice) and the US PGA championship. But how did he do it? He stood with his feet, hips and shoulders aiming miles left of the target, took the club back way outside the line and cut across his body, hitting everything with a slice (nowadays, they call it a power fade – trust me, though, it was a slice). Astonishing.
Nobody could ever describe Bubba Watson’s golf swing as a thing of beauty. In fact, everybody could describe it as being a thing of ugliness. To be fair, Watson has never suggested that we go out and copy him. He claims never to have had a lesson – and that is a huge relief because if any professional was responsible for teaching that technique then he or she should be taken to the nearest driving range and be used for target practice. Don’t you just love it when Watson really goes for it with his pink-shafted driver, swinging himself off his feet and propelling the ball 350 yards with a huge slice?
Thorpe was jailed in 2010 – if you have ever seen him play, you would be forgiven for thinking he was imprisoned for crimes against the golf swing. Those charges haven’t been brought yet, as he actually served time for tax evasion. Thorpe’s swing is…just plain awful. We defy anybody to watch it and disagree. And yet, he won three times on the PGA Tour and 13 times on the Champions Tour. And, at 65, he still hits the ball a long, long way. He once said: “I’ll stick with this old loop I’ve got and keep collecting checks.”
The Canadian had a swing that was all his own, but the mystery remains that nobody tried to copy it. Norman was so straight that he once played in a tournament and came to a hole which had a stream at about 240-250 yards and while every other player laid up, Norman hauled out his driver on all four days and on every occasion managed to hit his drive across the small bridge in the middle of the fairway. Sam Snead described him as the best ball striker he had ever seen.
Jason Palmer qualified to play on the European Tour after finishing as one of the top 15 on the Challenge Tour in 2014. He won twice on the Challenge Tour, but the Englishman failed to retain his card last season. Palmer has been around for a while. His ability has never been in doubt, but he has a major handicap, something that has held him back throughout his career. He can’t pitch or chip to save his life – or anybody else’s. From 50 yards and in, he is hopeless. Useless. Awful. A hacker. Basically, he developed the yips with a wedge. He was about to quit competitive golf and demonstrated to a colleague that he was better with one hand than two. Then came his Eureka moment. “Why not give it a go?” he thought. And he did. And he does. Jason Palmer is the European Tour’s only one-handed chipper. For the record, he uses his right hand to play anything less than 50 yards from the green – even from bunkers!