Striking Distance
The powerful swing of Sergio Garcia
by Gregg McHatton with Andy Brummer

The year 1999 was a banner year for the then nineteen-year-old Spaniard Sergio Garcia. He not only won the British Amateur championship but was the first reigning British Amateur champ to win low amateur honors in the Masters. He turned pro soon after Augusta and quickly revealed his spirited personality and bold style of play with his now legendary shot hit from behind a tree with his eyes closed during the PGA Championship. Garcia finished second to Tiger Woods in that event, his first major as a pro,and it seemed that these two gifted young players might forge the kind of rivalry absent from the game since the days of Nicklaus and Palmer.

While his record hasn’t yet challenged that of Tiger, Garcia’s ball-striking prowess certainly has. Many Tour players, golf writers and commentators consider him to be the finest striker in the game today. Of course, that talent cannot be separated from his swing. In that respect, I do believe Garcia comes closer to Ben Hogan than any golfer since Hogan stopped competing in the early 1970s. It is far from a coincidence that Hogan, even today, is thought of as the greatest ball-striker ever.

It is also interesting to note that while golf pundits admired the tremendous amount of lag in Ben Hogan’s swing, this very same quality in Garcia’s has provoked the most controversy and criticism. Lag simply describes the condition of the clubhead trailing the clubshaft, as well as the angle created between the leading arm and the clubshaft throughout the entire downswing motion. How people can credit lag as the secret of Ben Hogan’s success and simultaneously identify it as the problem area Sergio Garcia has to weed out of his swing is a paradox to me. More times than not, golf teachers or swing theorists explain it by saying that Hogan had an "old-fashioned" swing. Perhaps, but a golf swing is basically physics in motion, and I’m not aware of any major changes in the laws of physics since Hogan’s time.

I am a strong believer that it is impossible to have too much lag in the golf swing as long as the wrists remain supple and soft, the arms hang and swing freely from their shoulder sockets, and the head remains behind the ball through impact. Can you have too much of a good thing? I don’t think so.

Garcia creates his lag in part through a remarkable "downcocking" motion from the top of his swing. Not only has he cocked or set his wrists normally as all golfers do to one degree or another by the time they reach the top, but he also adds more wrist cock and load to the swing as he begins his downswing. It is this downcocking action that gives Garcia’s swing its rhythmic yet powerful whiplash look. But far from being solely cosmetic, it generates both tremendous energy and clubhead speed, and stores it until the last instant when he delivers it into the ball.

I have been told that the young Sergio developed his lag thanks to a couple of drills his father, Victor, a teaching professional at The Club de Golf de Mediterraneo in Valencia, had him practice. The rumor suggests that Victor had Sergio swinging full-sized clubs at a very young age. With the supervision of his father, Sergio used these otherwise too heavy and too long clubs to develop his now incredibly dynamic and efficient golf swing. That is because it is easier for a child to initiate the downswing with heavy clubs by dragging or pulling the butt or grip end of the club lengthwise down toward the ball in a motion resembling the action of pulling an arrow, feather end first, lengthwise out of a quiver attached behind the archer’s shoulder. We call that "accelerating the club lengthwise." Another drill his father used with Sergio featured elastic tubing wedged between the top of a door and the doorframe. Once the tubing was attached, Victor had Sergio grip the end of the tube nearest the ground and make a pulling action to simulate a downstroke with a club. This drill produces the feeling of maximum downcocking.

Once Sergio developed lag this way, he went on to learn the most difficult thing of all—how to let the club "freewheel" through impact. The great Bobby Jones often spoke and wrote about this sensation, reporting that the club swung so freely it was as if the clubhead were fastened to a string.

I frequently hear people saying that the Garcia lag will lead to an inconsistent swing because his timing has to be flawless and his hand action aggressive in order to "square the clubface" into the ball. But I think these experts are missing something. If Garcia needed to provide such a minutely timed and clever wrist action to square up the clubhead and clubface, I am certain we would never have heard of him in the first place. The fact is, inertia makes the clubshaft want to seek or line-up with the lead arm automatically and all on its own. Once this lining-up action begins, it completes itself almost instantaneously and, best of all, requires no voluntary or extra muscular involvement. This is what Bobby Jones meant when he talked about the club freewheeling into the ball.

Because Garcia has all but perfected this whiplashing action, he actually uses his hands less than other players do through the impact zone. Far from needing super-skilled timing, Garcia’s swing, powered by centrifugal force, times itself.

It’s true that Garcia has made a well-publicized swing change over the last couple of years. He has reduced some of his wrist cock at the very top of his swing, giving his backswing motion a shorter and more compact look. What this has done for him, in my opinion, is smooth out his transition from the top of his backswing position into his downswing. It still displays that same wonderful downcocking action that it had before, but it is a bit more difficult to detect with the naked eye now (though slow-motion video certainly bears it out) because it is encased, so to speak, well within his entire downswing motion.

This adjustment has not altered the essential nature of Garcia's swing. It remains very much like that of Hogan. And remember as Hogan worked tirelessly to improve and upgrade the element of lag in his swing, his ball striking skills got better and better. I have a feeling we will see this same pattern emerge in Sergio Garcia as his career progresses.