The powerful swing of Sergio Garcia
by Gregg McHatton with Andy Brummer
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 hasnt yet challenged that of Tiger,
Garcias 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 Hogans swing, this
very same quality in Garcias 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 Hogans
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 Im not aware of any major changes in the laws of
physics since Hogans 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 dont think
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 Garcias 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 archers 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 allhow 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, Garcias
swing, powered by centrifugal force, times itself.
Its 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.