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Opinion & Analysis

Bobby Clampett: Why I Could Never Go Back to My Old Swing

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In my last article, “Why Tiger and I Could Never Find a Golf Coach,” I described my journey of working with many of the top golf coaches in the world. They all wanted to change my “style” of swing without focusing on how the style change would affect my impact — the only thing that really matters in improving one’s golf game.

Times have really not changed since I began that journey midway into the 1983 PGA Tour season. Style-based teaching is still an epidemic in our game. Golfers rarely improve through traditional instruction because it isn’t focused on improving impact — just the “style” or preferred “style” of a given instructor. This epidemic has pushed countless golf stars right off the tour. David Duval, Ian Baker Finch, Mike Weir and many more all ran into style-based issues once they were influenced by this type of teaching.

In a previous GolfWRX article, one reader asked a very fair question: “Why didn’t you go back to your old swing”? He was referring to the fact that my original swing was good enough to be the No. 1 amateur in the world, earn two Fred Haskins Awards, win a record-setting 12 NCAA tournaments in three years and be a top-20 money winner in my first two years on the PGA Tour. I could write a book on this topic, but I’ll keep the discussion short for the purpose of this article.

The answer is that I probably could have, but in and of itself, it would have been quite a long process. I spent many years on the PGA Tour trying to build new golf swings. By the time the late mid 80’s rolled around, I was settling into one instructor’s style and was committed to it. I started to have a little more success and remember shooting a final-round 66 in Phoenix to finish T6 in 1987. In mid 1987, I decided to work less with a coach and be my own coach, but I still committed to the swing changes I made. I nearly won the Anheuser-Busch Golf Classic at Kingsmill in the summer of 1987. I actually set a new tournament scoring record, shooting four-consecutive rounds in the 60’s, but I was beat out by a shot by Mark McCumber.

I continued on that journey like Tiger is doing now without a swing coach, choosing to focus on scoring and playing. I wish I had my understanding of Impact-Based instruction back then to guide me, but I was still searching for the elusive perfect swing. I was a hard-worker, but I still struggled and my frustrations continued to mount. By the time the 1989 season was over, my energy for playing was waning.

There was a time that I could have made the decision to go back to my old swing, but the changes were pretty grooved after seven years of trying different swing styles and ultimately settling on one. It would have taken a herculean effort to revert back to the old swing, and it certainly would have looked different. My body had changed, and the “muscle memory” or brain mylan supporting the new swing was now engrained.

Fortunately, legendary television golf producer Frank Chirkinian came to my rescue and offered me an opportunity as a television broadcaster at CBS in 1991. The pressure to perform on the PGA Tour was off, and I could focus on studying the best players in the world through the lens of the CBS cameras. I was fascinated by what I saw. All the top players have very different styles of swings — some were even darn right ugly. Upright, flat, laid-off, across-the-line. Cupped, flat and arched left wrists at the top. Big and little hip turns. Short and long backswings. Stationery and moving heads… on and on and on. The best players in the world had movements in their swings that I was trying to remove from my swing. I was intrigued and had to figure out why.

When CBS developed the Bizhub Swing Vision Camera, I had the opportunity to study the golf swing very closely — and I did. It hit me like a 2×4 across the head. Impact was virtually the same for the world’s best players, but how they got there — their individual “style” — was completely different. All the instructors were teaching styles of swings that many of the best players weren’t even using. What if I started to work from impact and go backward with my swing? What if I could be released from worrying about my style and work on impact alone?

My energy for playing the game started to return. It was the late 90’s. I was raising three small children and traveling 30 weeks a year. I had almost no time to play golf. The U.S. Open was scheduled for Pebble Beach in 2000, so I gave myself a two-year goal to try to qualify since Pebble Beach was my home course growing up. I gave myself what time I had, 10 minutes a day to practice. I wasn’t hitting balls; I simply worked on grooving a style of swing that I could own, kind of a morph between my old swing and my new one that would be good enough to produce the kind of impact I knew I needed — the impact all the best players have. I gave myself the freedom to let go of my previously held convictions that there was an ideal style of swing.

This was the genesis of my five dynamics that are illustrated in my book, “The Impact Zone,” and the cornerstone of Impact-Based instruction. After taking months to groove my swing, mostly indoors without hitting a ball, I started to hit my first shots. I would allow myself one hour per week to hit balls and would start to play on the course one day a month. That’s all the time I had for golf. I focused intently on my impact, studying my divots and watching my ball flight. I didn’t have the luxury of the technology we have today like high-speed cameras, accurate launch monitors and force-plate systems that make studying impact so much easier.

I played a six-round golf marathon one day, helping to raise money for a friend. In the final round, I shot 63 playing in less than 2 hours by myself. Months later, I qualified for the U.S. Open. I led the tournament through much of the first round and made the cut, finishing T37. When I shared the story with the press after the first round, they were amazed that I could have performed this well on 10 minutes a day of practice, a bucket of balls a week and a round of golf a month after not having competed in two years. The key, I shared, was focusing on my impact and letting go of my swing style.

I’ve never looked back with regret, and I have learned so much through the process. I joined the PGA Champion’s Tour in 2010 and played 87 events, earning more money than I did in my 400 events on the PGA Tour. My biggest passion, however, is sharing my discoveries with others in hope that frustrated golfers will be a thing of the past and others will realize the lasting improvement Impact-Based instruction brings. That’s why I left playing the Champion’s Tour three years ago. I went on to become the only PGA Tour winner in history to attain the PGA of America’s highest level of teaching certification, Master of Teaching and Coaching. I’ve discovered that if you improve your impact, you improve your game. It’s really that simple.

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For students wanting to experience how improving their impact will improve their games, Bobby suggests coming to his next Signature Golf School, creating your own private school for your own group, and/or signing up for a private lesson. Simply go to: www.impactzonegolf.com or call 239-236-5536. For those instructors who want to learn "Impact-Based®" instruction, Bobby Clampett now has a fully developed Advanced Level One online training fully supported by the PGA and LPGA with continuing education credits. For those who complete, Bobby and Impact Zone Golf are developing a Certification Program and ultimately a masters Program. Impact Zone Golf is ready to build an army of good golf instructors and rid the epidemic of frustrated golfers victimized by "style-based" instruction methods. Bobby Clampett is a well-known PGA Tour Winner and Longtime CBS Golf Broadcaster, but perhaps he will be best known for his discovery of Impact-Based® Instruction. His two golf academies are in Naples, Florida: Indoor Performance Studio (1040 Collier Center Way, Unit 14, Naples, FL 34110) and at the Tiburon Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort. Bobby is the first golf instructor in history to be a PGA Tour winner and earn PGA Master Professional in Teaching and Coaching. He and his team of Impact-Based® Academy Trained instructors offer year-round Golf Schools, Private Lessons, Women’s Programs, Annual and Seasonal Coaching Programs, Competitive Junior Training and much more. He now offers Instructor Training and Certification approved by the PGA and LPGA. Visit: https://impactzonegolf.com or call: 239-236-5536.

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Billable Hours

    Jan 30, 2018 at 10:04 am

    Bobby Clampett loves himself some Bobby Clampett

    • gord

      Mar 6, 2018 at 11:35 am

      Is Bobby still a proponent of Homer Kelley and TGM.. the stupidest golf book ever written?

  2. SV

    Jan 30, 2018 at 8:13 am

    Studying divots and watching ball flight, pure John Jacobs teaching. It was good 40+ years ago and is good today.

  3. CB

    Jan 30, 2018 at 1:49 am

    Just gotta have bloody good and strong hands, is what I read from Clampett’s musings

  4. Mark

    Jan 29, 2018 at 11:35 pm

    Not only do I find the subjects of his articles to be interesting but I also enjoy reading them. His standard of writing is so much higher than the many others who write for GolfWRX (editorial staff most definitely included).

  5. Reeves

    Jan 29, 2018 at 11:19 pm

    Had you just watched Moe Norman for 10 minutes you would have seen clearly how you got to impact was up to you. add to that 2 minutes of John Daly and Lee Trevino in their prime and impact would clearly be the only similarity….

    • gord

      Mar 6, 2018 at 11:32 am

      Anybody who attempts to copy dopey Moe is a Moe-ron ….!

  6. Scott

    Jan 29, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    thank you for sharing

    • Ben

      Jan 29, 2018 at 5:01 pm

      I hope Bobby shares his thoughts on TGM as well.

      • Engineer Bob

        Jan 30, 2018 at 10:43 am

        I can tell you what I think of TGM: IT’S TOTAL RUBBISH!!!

  7. the dude

    Jan 29, 2018 at 2:02 pm

    ….and if you want to know more…..buy my Impact golf DVD…..all the secrets are in there…

  8. Brett Weir

    Jan 29, 2018 at 11:43 am

    Thank you Mr. Clampett for your philosophy of being impact oriented. For years and years I’ve been focusing on having the perfect backswing, downswing, and follow through and never broke 80. I almost quit the game until I came across your teachings and focused on impact. For the past 2 years I didn’t care what my backswing and follow through looked like and focused on impact (keeping the clubface as square through impact for as long as I can with a lot of shaft lean). Because of that, my scores are in the 70s. One day, I decided to video my new swing and to my shock, my backswing, downswing, and follow through were the most ideal I’ve seen in years. You will naturally have the ideal swing for yourself if you focus on having the ideal position at impact.

    • Ben

      Jan 29, 2018 at 4:59 pm

      ” For years and years I’ve been focusing on having the perfect backswing, downswing, and follow through and never broke 80.”
      This suggests to me that you were overly conscious about your swing rather than swinging free of swing thoughts. IOW, you were trying tho think your way through the swing. By focusing your thoughts on impact you liberated your conscious mind and went into automatic mode. Your swing became more natural and simply, worry free.

  9. Allan

    Jan 29, 2018 at 11:13 am

    Interesting insight into your swing evolution. Could you tell us how your swing was influenced by Homer Kelley’s The Golfing Machine. You were a proponent of TGM but now you seem to have found your own golf swing philosophy. What changed? Thanks

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Opinion & Analysis

An early look at the potential U.S. Ryder Cup Team

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With the Masters and the Players Championship complete, I wanted to examine the statistics of the current leaders in Ryder Cup Points for the U.S. Team. Over the history of the Ryder Cup, the U.S. Team has relied on pairings that were friends and practice-round companions instead of pairing players that were more compatible from a statistical standpoint. This has led to disappointing performances from the U.S. Team and top players such as Jim Furyk performing poorly at the Ryder Cup, as he is ill-suited for the Fourball format.

After a disastrous 2014 Ryder Cup where the U.S. Team lost by a score of 16.5-11.5, the U.S. decided to use a more statistical approach to Ryder Cup play. According to my calculations, the 2016 U.S. Team’s pairings were the closest to optimal that the U.S. Team has compiled in the last seven Ryder Cups. And not surprisingly, the U.S. Team won 17-11 over the Europeans.

Since there are several months to go before the Ryder Cup, I won’t get too much into potential pairings in this article. Instead, I will focus more on the current games of top-12 players in U.S. Ryder Cup Points Standings and how that translates to Ryder Cup performance.

About the Ryder Cup Format

In the Ryder Cup, there is the Foursome format (alternate shot) and the Fourball format (best score). There are distinctly different metrics in the game that correlate to quality performers in each format.

In the Foursome format, short game around the green performance is usually critical. In a typical stroke play event such as The Players Championship, short game around the green performance usually has a much smaller impact on player’s performance. But in a match play, alternate-shot format the opposite has been true. My conclusion is that with the alternate-shot format, more greens in regulation are likely to be missed. The team that can save par and extend holes is usually likely to come out on top. The European team has mostly dominated the U.S. team over the past 20 years in the Foursome format, and the European teams typically are stronger with their short game around the green.

Other factors involved with Foursome play are Red Zone Performance (shots from 175-225 yards) and being able to pair the right players together based on how they each play off the tee and with their approach shots from the rough. For example, a pairing of Phil Mickelson (who misses a lot of fairways) and Zach Johnson (who is not very good from the rough) would likely be a poor pairing.

In the Fourball format (lowest score), the best performers are high birdie makers and players that perform well on the par-4s, par-5s, and par-3s. Bubba Watson makes a lot of birdies and plays the par-4s and par-5s well, thus making him a good candidate for the Fourball format. The only issue with Bubba in the past is he has occasionally struggled on the par-3s. That can be resolved by pairing him with a player who makes a lot of birdies and is a strong performer on the par-3s. The reason for Jim Furyk’s struggles in the Fourball format is that he does not make a lot of birdies and is a merely average performer on the par-5s.

Note: All rankings below are based out of 209 golfers.

1. Patrick Reed

In the past, it has been difficult to get an accurate depiction of Reed’s game. He was notorious for either getting into contention or blowing up if he wasn’t in contention after the first round. He is now far better at avoiding those blowup rounds and remaining competitive regardless of how he well he performs at the beginning of the tournament. His iron play has been excellent, and since he is good on approach shots from the rough, short game around the green and he makes a lot of birdies and plays the par-4s and par-5s well, he should continue to be a great competitor in the Ryder Cup format. Given his inability to find the fairway off the tee, however, I would recommend pairing him with a quality performer from the rough in the alternate shot format.

2. Justin Thomas

On paper, Thomas should be Team USA’s toughest competitor as he has little in the way of holes in his game. He drives it great, hits his irons well from every distance, has a superb short game and can putt. He also makes a ton of birdies, plays every type of hole well and rarely makes bogeys. Like Reed, it would be advisable to pair him with a player that is a quality performer from the rough in the alternate shot format.

3. Dustin Johnson

DJ is the second-strongest performer on paper. The only thing that currently separates Justin Thomas from DJ is their Red Zone play. DJ has typically been a world-class performer from the Red Zone, however, and the data suggests that his ranking from the Red Zone should rapidly improve. He struck it well from the Red Zone in his last two events at Harbour Town Golf Links and TPC Sawgrass. And with his putting performance this season, he could make for a great competitor in this year’s Ryder Cup.

4. Jordan Spieth

Spieth has the metrics to be a strong Ryder Cup performer, as he strikes the ball well with his driver and his irons while having a superb short game around the green. His only weakness in the Fourball format is his performance on the par-3s, but that is due to his inability to make putts from 15-25 feet (198th). That is the crux of the situation for Spieth; can he get his old putting form back?

A look at previous great putters on Tour that inexplicably struggled with their putter shows that Spieth is going about his putting woes the correct way. He’s not making equipment or wholesale changes to his putting stroke. He is continuing to work with what made him a great putter just like Jason Day did last year when he inexplicably struggled with the putter early in the season… and then turned it around and regained his old putting form.

The question is, how long will it take for Spieth to regain his old form? Typically, players like Spieth that have a dramatic drop-off in their putting take about a year to regain their old form. He may not regain that form by the time the Ryder Cup takes place. If he does, Team USA is very strong with its top-4 points earners.

5. Bubba Watson

Bubba is off to a strong enough year to make the U.S. Ryder Cup Team, but the best bet for him is to stick to the Fourball format given his struggles around the green. Watson’s performance on the par-5s has not exactly been remarkable, but typically he’s one of the very best in the world on par-5s and can make a ton of birdies.

6. Rickie Fowler

Fowler has not been as strong in some areas of the game such as Red Zone, shots from the rough and putting as he has been in recent years. That makes him a little less appealing in the alternate shot format, but he still has a solid foundation to be a quality contributor in either format. The upside is if Rickie gets back to his old form with the putter and from the Red Zone, he should be a top-notch Ryder Cup performer because he is well suited to perform in either team format. At this time, he would be best suited to play with an accurate driver and very good performer around the green (i.e. Matt Kuchar) in the alternate shot format.

7. Brooks Koepka

There currently is not enough data on Koepka due to his wrist injury he suffered early in the season. Koepka is arguably the best bomber in the world who is also a great putter and a solid performer from the Red Zone. The main issue for Koepka has been his short game performance around the green. That would typically make for a weak partner in the alternate shot format, but Koepka was spectacular in the 2016 Ryder Cup. His combination of length and putting may make him a formidable Ryder Cup performer for years to come.

8. Phil Mickelson

As a statistical analyst for golf, I never quite know what I’m going to get from Lefty. This season Lefty has putted superbly, but his performance around the green has left a lot to be desired.

In recent Ryder Cups, he has been a quality performer in both the Foursome and Fourball formats. His recent success in the alternate shot format makes him a mandatory candidate, however, his inability to find the fairway means he would need a partner who is very good from the rough. The data suggests that his performance around the green should get closer to his old form as the season goes along.

9. Webb Simpson

Like Mickelson, it’s always a surprise as to what the strengths and weaknesses of Simpson’s game will be by the end of the season. Typically, he’s been a decent driver of the ball that is often a superb iron player and short game performer. With the anchoring ban, he has struggled with the putter up to this season. Lately, he has been an incredible putter that is struggling a bit with the irons.

Most of Simpson’s struggles with the irons have been from the rough, so a partner who finds a lot of fairways off the tee could be an excellent pairing in the foursome format with Simpson.

10. Matt Kuchar

Kuchar could be a very critical player for Team USA down the stretch. There are potential players on the team that could be valuable in the alternate shot format if they can find a teammate to find fairways off the tee to make up for their struggles on approach shots from the rough. Historically, Kuchar has been the most accurate off the tee of the players mentioned thus far.

This season, however, Kuchar has been underwhelming in his ability to find the fairway. The next most-accurate drivers of the ball that are near the top-12 in Ryder Cup points are Brian Harman, Bryson DeChambeau, Kevin Kisner and Andrew Landry, and none of them have nearly the experience in the Ryder Cup as Kuchar has. If Kuchar continues to miss fairways, his chances of making the team are not good unless he’s a Captain’s pick. If he cannot find the fairway, he has little-projected value as a member of the team. He is not making a lot of birdies, and his struggles on the par-3s and does not make him a favorable teammate in the Fourball format either.

11. Brian Harman

Harman’s value is that he has fairly decent Fourball metrics and his accuracy off the tee, putting, and iron play can work well with players like Fowler, Simpson, and Kuchar in the alternate shot format.

Harman has not performed that well from around the green using the Strokes Gained methodology, however; he ranks 15th on shots from 10-20 yards. I placed that metric in there as strokes gained takes into account all shots from less than 30 yards, but 10-20 yards is the most common distance range from which scrambling opportunities occur on Tour. Thus, Harman is an excellent performer from 10-20 yards and is only losing strokes around the green due to poor performance from 20-30 yards, and those shots occur less frequently on Tour. His struggles from 20-30 yards would also explain why his par-5 performance is roughly average, as that is the distance players typically finish from the hole when they go for par-5s in two and do not make the green.

And even though Harman is not very long off the tee (147th in Measured Driving Distance), he is a quality performer from the rough and thus he does not have to be tethered to another short-hitting, accurate driver in the alternate shot format.

12. Bryson DeChambeau

Dechambeau makes for a solid Ryder Cup candidate, as he has no outstanding weaknesses in his game this season as he appears to have rid himself of the putting woes that have hurt him in the past. I think he is better suited for the Fourball format, however, given how many birdies he makes. Pair him with a strong performer on the par-3s like Rickie Fowler or Phil Mickelson and it would make a very formidable duo in that format.

A pairing with Mickelson in the Fourball format would be intriguing given DeChambeau’s excellent driving. DeChambeau could hit first and — if he continues to drive it superbly — that would free up Mickelson to not worry so much about his woeful driving and focus more on making birdies. Perhaps a Fourball pairing with Bubba would make for a situation where DeChambeau could tee off first and pipe his drive, and then give Bubba a free rip to hit it as far as he possibly can and give them a sizeable advantage over their opponents.

31. Tiger Woods

I know I said I was only going to look at the top-12 players in Ryder Cup points, but the readers would inevitably ask about Tiger anyway. Furthermore, Tiger is an intriguing candidate for the team given his current game.

Tiger has struggled in both the Foursome and Fourball format. He seems to not play that great in alternate shot. In Fourball, it appears that he plays well by himself, but he is often let down by his teammates. The Europeans have always gunned for Tiger in the Ryder Cup, and it takes a special type of teammate to deal with the hysteria of having Tiger as their partner.

There are the makings of a very good alternate shot partner with Tiger, as his iron play and putting are still really good and his short game has been incredible this season. In the Fourball format, it would be advisable to find a strong par-5 performer, as Tiger’s performance on the par-5s has not been outstanding thus far. Having said that, I could see three excellent partners for Tiger in either format.

Patrick Reed has the numbers to be compatible with Tiger’s game, and he also has the track record of living up to the moment in the Ryder Cup. Dustin Johnson is can make up for Tiger’s possible big misses off the tee and can overpower a course with Tiger. And Phil Mickelson, whose game is compatible with Tiger’s, and could provide a symbol of the old guard working together to beat the Europeans.

There are certainly a lot of compelling possible pairings for Team USA, and there is still a long way to go before we start to see what pairings are available. The European Team looks like one of the strongest in years, and with all of the potential storylines for the 2018 Ryder Cup, it could be one of the greatest Ryder Cups of all time.

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