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The difference between “ugly” and “unorthodox” golf swings

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I’d like you pretend for a moment that you were asked to name the five ugliest golf swings by players who had won a major championship. Who would you select, and what criteria would you use to make that judgment? You might say you’re not sure, but you would have no difficulty identifying an ugly swing if you were to see one, right? The question is, what factors would move you toward that decision?

I struggled with this exact question when it was posed to me and others who were members of Golf Magazine’s “Top 100” panel at the time. In making my decision, I was concerned that I did not confuse UNORTHODOX with UGLY. The fact is that some of the greatest golfers throughout history have been considered to have had unorthodox swings.

  • The word “unorthodox” is defined as that which is contrary to what is usual, traditional or generally accepted.
  • The word “ugly” is defined as that which is unpleasant or repulsive in appearance.

In comparing the two definitions, they are clearly quite different. The word “unorthodox” suggests something that is different from the norm, while the word “ugly” relates to the appearance of an object regardless of its status. The problem with labeling any golf swing as unorthodox is that the definition of that condition varies with time. What was once considered to be unorthodox may later be considered perfectly acceptable, and we’ve seen this happen over and over again in golf instruction.

Case No. 1

It was considered unorthodox when Harry Vardon moved his thumbs toward the top of the shaft and placed the little finger of his right hand over his left forefinger knuckle. The standard grip in his era featured both thumbs to the sides of the shaft. The club was held more in the palms of both hands and with all ten fingers, rather than more diagonally through the palm as in Vardon’s Grip. As Vardon began to win, however, his competitors copied his grip. What once was considered unorthodox became orthodox.

Case No. 2

Hogan and Nicklaus were paired together in the final round of the 1957 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills. The dichotomy between their backswings couldn’t have been more evident. This was due to the way in which they utilized their right elbows in the backswing. Nicklaus allowed his right elbow to work up and away, pointing more outward at the top. Hogan’s right elbow was closer to his body and pointed more downward.

At the time, Hogan’s backswing was considered orthodox while Nicklaus’ swing was considered unorthodox. As Hogan faded from the winner’s circle and Nicklaus began to emerge, what was once thought to be unorthodox later came to be considered orthodox.

There are some swings that most observers would agree are both unorthodox and ugly. For example, most observers would say that Jim Furyk’s swing is not pretty — they might even go so far as to categorize it as ugly. This is despite the face that Furyk has had an outstanding career and has a U.S. Open victory to his credit. What is it that observers find so offense in his swing? The answer is the differential in planes between the backswing and the downswing, or what might be referred to as a “loop” in his swing.

In Furyk’s case, the club is taken well outside what might be considered the traditional backswing plane. Then it is looped well to the inside and back into position on the downswing. This is is a perfectly acceptable way to play golf, which is evidenced by the size of his bank account and the number of trophies on his mantle. As you might surmise, because of his golf swing, Furyk has not been asked to write any full-swing instruction books.

The problem is that, in the eyes of the observer, the combination of the two distinctly different planes gives a disjoined appearance to the swing. Does it follow then that the variance in the backswing and downswing is the primary factor in determining if a swing qualifies as being ugly? The problem with reaching that conclusion is that it doesn’t hold up to comparison with other players who employ a similar pattern… beginning with Freddy Couples. He begins his swing by lifting his arms well outside the traditional plane line. With a delayed turn of his torso, he then brings the club back into a more traditional plane at the top.

In the case of both Couples and Furyk, their backswings operate well outside the traditional plane line with both players “looping” the club back into position prior to impact. And yet Couples’ swing is universally admired, while Furyk’s swing is in some quarters ridiculed. This begs the question of why Couples’ “looping” swing motion is considered more acceptable than Furyk’s. The answer to that question is two-fold.

  1. Furyk’s loop is created ostensibly by a change in plane with the arms and the hands, giving the swing a frenetic appearance.
  2. Couples’ loop is created with a graceful turn of his body with the arms following in perfect harmony.

And so, when taking the swings of Couples and other “loopers” into consideration, it would seem that the dramatic change in plane between the backswing and the downswing in and of itself does not warrant the classification of ugly.

Author Footnote: A point worth considering as part of this discussion is that there have been other accomplished players throughout the history of the game whose backswings have operated on the same principles as Couples. This would include perennial Champion’s Tour winners Kenny Perry, and earlier Jay Haas, whose swings were generally admired despite their unorthodox approach to the backswing.

What does this all mean? First, while a loop in the golf swing may be unorthodox, is not necessary considered ugly provided that the club is routed into plane with the turn of the body rather than just the arms and the hands. Second, as stated earlier, the definition of unorthodox can and does change depending on the era. And third, an unorthodox swing is not necessarily ugly. The two classifications are very different.

As you evaluate golf swings, remember this adage; an unorthodox swing is not necessarily ugly, but an ugly swing is always unorthodox.

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As a teacher, Rod Lidenberg reached the pinnacle of his career when he was named to GOLF Magazine's "Top 100" Teachers in America. The PGA Master Professional and three-time Minnesota PGA "Teacher of the Year" has over his forty-five year career, worked with a variety of players from beginners to tour professionals. He especially enjoys training elite junior players, many who have gone on to earn scholarships at top colleges around the country, in addition to winning several national amateur championships. Lidenberg maintains an active schedule teaching at Bluff Creek Golf Course Chanhassen, Minnesota, in the summer and The Golf Zone, Chaska, Minnesota, in the winter months. As a player, he competed in two USGA Public Links Championships; the first in Dallas, Texas, and the second in Phoenix, Arizona, where he finished among the top 40. He also entertained thousands of fans playing in a series of three exhibition matches beginning in 1972, at his home course, Edgewood G.C. in Fargo, North Dakota, where he played consecutive years with Doug Sanders, Lee Trevino and Laura Baugh. As an author, he has a number of books in various stages of development, the first of which will be published this fall entitled "I Knew Patty Berg." In Fall 2017, he will be launching a new Phoenix-based instruction business that will feature first-time-ever TREATMENT OF THE YIPS.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Mat

    Mar 25, 2018 at 2:33 am

    What wins on Sunday sells on Monday – especially with lessons.

    The ball doesn’t care how it’s propelled. The only thing you should be worried about is:

    #1 – Is the impact dynamic repeatable?
    #2 – Is the swing repeatable?
    #3 – Is the swing going to cause physical issues if repeated?

    The ball flight is always the best teacher. It never lies.

  2. acew/7iron

    Mar 24, 2018 at 11:49 am

    My swing just forgets who it is every other round…I can go from 77 – 87 overnight

  3. BIG STU

    Mar 24, 2018 at 4:28 am

    Exactly BD you get it– It is all about the position in the impact zone not how it gets there. I have said that about Furyk for years and no one listens

  4. Chris

    Mar 23, 2018 at 10:49 pm

    Example no 1 is not terrible well thought out, a grip change can hardly be seen at adress, and not at all during the swing.

  5. abba

    Mar 23, 2018 at 3:12 pm

    “ugly”… “unorthodox”… and the swing of 95% of all golfers worldwide… “abomination” 😮

  6. Brandon

    Mar 23, 2018 at 2:39 pm

    Im proud to say I have a ugly swing but its repeatable and playable!

  7. Brett Weir

    Mar 23, 2018 at 11:56 am

    The ball doesn’t care how ugly your swing is but it does care if it is hit solid and straight through impact.

  8. BD

    Mar 23, 2018 at 11:43 am

    As Arnie used to say, “Swing your swing”. I would rather have an ugly swing and play well than have a good looking swing and play poor. The look of the swing is irrelevant. It is all about impact. Hence, Jim Furyk. If you freeze frame his impact zone, it looks like most PGA Tour Pros.

    • BIG STU

      Mar 24, 2018 at 4:28 am

      Exactly BD you get it– It is all about the position in the impact zone not how it gets there. I have said that about Furyk for years and no one listens

  9. Tiemco

    Mar 23, 2018 at 11:03 am

    Tommy Gainey’s swing always looked terrible to me.

  10. Bruce Ferguson

    Mar 23, 2018 at 10:57 am

    I always thought Moe Norman’s swing was rather ugly. That said, I envied his consistency. To each, his own . . .

  11. Nack Jicklaus

    Mar 23, 2018 at 10:49 am

    My swing is both ugly and unorthodox.

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The 19th Hole (Ep 63): Valentino Dixon talks Golf Channel documentary; Marvin Bush remembers his father

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Valentino Dixon shares his amazing story in an exclusive interview with Michael Williams. Also in this episode: a tribute to George H.W. Bush, featuring a conversation with his youngest son, Marvin.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

featured image c/o Golf Channel

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Hidden Gem of the Day: Park Hills Golf Course in Freeport, Illinois

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These aren’t the traditional “top-100” golf courses in America, or the ultra-private golf clubs you can’t get onto. These are the hidden gems; they’re accessible to the public, they cost less than $50, but they’re unique, beautiful and fun to play in their own right. We recently asked our GolfWRX Members to help us find these “hidden gems.” We’re treating this as a bucket list of golf courses to play across the country, and the world. If you have a personal favorite hidden gem, submit it here!

Today’s Hidden Gem of the Day was submitted by GolfWRX member lawsonman, who takes us to Park Hills Golf Course in Freeport, Illinois. The course sits west of Chicago, and in lawsonman’s description of the course, he cites the immaculate condition of the track as one of the reasons he feels it’s a hidden gem.

“Always in pristine condition. 36 hole layout that is as hard as you want to make it. Trees (big) and water are everywhere. Pace of play is usually very good. Located about 90 minutes west of Chicago’s western suburbs.”

According to Park Hills Golf Course’s website, 18 holes around the course costs just $23, no matter what day you wish to play. There is a $16 charge should you want to use a cart for 18 holes.

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Check out the full forum thread here, and submit your Hidden Gem.

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Opinion & Analysis

Louisville Golf: Post time for persimmon

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“I knew I had to give it a shot. If I had tried and it didn’t work out, I would’ve been okay with that. But I had to go after my passion and see where it went.”

Jeremy Wright gets it. Taking over at Louisville Golf is not for everybody. This isn’t a multi-billion-dollar revenue generating machine with private research facilities and elaborate corporate complexes. It’s not about money…or fame…or 385-yard drives. Gerard Just, the youngest of the Just brothers who started Louisville Golf might have summed it up best:

“You know, I guess you could say we’re simple people. We don’t really go on vacations. But we work hard and we enjoy what we do. We don’t make a lot of money. I don’t think my kids could afford to work here to be honest, but they hate their jobs. We never really had that problem.”

Louisville Golf was established in 1974 by Elmore Just and Steve Taylor when they left Hillerich & Bradsby (crafters of Louisville Slugger baseball bats and Power-Bilt golf clubs). Elmore ran the business side of the company and Steve oversaw the manufacturing aspect. Back then, in the heyday of persimmon, the club manufacturers were on an allotment. Since persimmon (remarkably well-suited for golf clubs due to its strength and density) is a relatively slow-growing wood, there was only so much material to go around and upstart Louisville Golf had to fight for every block they got. Eventually, they built the business into a major player, making 800 clubs a day for the likes of Hogan, MacGregor, Wilson, Spalding, and others.

Master models for Louisville Golf persimmon club heads

Some of Louisville Golf’s more well-known woods that won on the PGA Tour were the Wilson Whale that Payne Stewart used to win the 1989 PGA Championship and the Hogan Apex that Tom Kite used to win the 1992 US Open at Pebble Beach. Then metal woods came into the picture and sales dwindled. When Callaway launched the Big Bertha, sales basically dried up overnight.

Though metal woods took off like a rocket in the 1990’s, there were some holdouts. Justin Leonard, Davis Love III, and Mark Calcavecchia held onto their persimmon woods into the late 90s. The last man standing was widely considered to be Bob Estes, who used his Louisville Golf Smart ProBE (a club Just developed specifically for Estes) in the Accenture Match Play in 2001.

When Elmore Just passed away in April of 2001, his brother Mike assumed control of the company. Elmore is actually buried at Persimmon Ridge Golf Club in Louisville, an Arthur Hills course he developed in the 1980’s. When Mike took the reins, though the company had successfully limped along through the metal wood revolution, the hard reality was that they needed to reinvent themselves if they were going to remain profitable. Mike left his mark on the company in 2004 by deciding to leverage Louisville Golf’s unique expertise into crafting period-correct hickory shafted golf clubs and restoring vintage specimens. That decision marked a resurgence of sorts, as the niche has served Louisville Golf well. Today, Louisville Golf and St. Andrews Golf Co. are the only large scale manufacturers of such equipment.

Louisville Golf club heads ready for final assembly

It’s a peculiar set of circumstances to be sure, but oddly enough, many golfers in the 21st century have found Louisville Golf through 100-year-old golf clubs. This is exactly how Jeremy Wright came into the picture. Jeremy was a medical sales representative in Houston, TX with a wife, three kids, and a serious golfing hobby. He had recently gone on a search for an exotic shaft upgrade for his Scotty Cameron putter. On a whim, he googled wooden shafts, stumbled across hickory golf clubs, and the rest was history.

“One of the things I learned in that search was that, when the golf industry transitioned from hickory shafts to steel, a lot of players either kept their old hickory putters or would fit their new putters with hickory shafts for decades after that transition because the feel was so much better.

“So I kept digging into hickory golf and tried to learn what it was all about. I discovered there were hickory tournaments and the winners shot like 75-78 and I thought, ‘I can do that. I’m going to get a hickory set together and figure this out.’ From that point on, I was hooked. There was no going back.”

So hooked, in fact, that when Jeremy heard the Just family was fielding offers for the company as a result of Mike’s passing in October of 2016, he put his name in the hat. It just so happened that Jeremy and his wife were both at a point in their careers where they were looking for more. Burned out and tired of the cyclical corporate rat race, they decided to go all-in on Jeremy’s passion, submitted an offer to the Just family, and ultimately were selected from multiple potential suitors to carry on the legacy of the company.

Sole plates for Louisville Golf persimmon fairway woods

As for where Louisville Golf goes from here, you can probably expect a lot more of what got them here in the first place. After all, one of the biggest reasons Jeremy was selected to take the reins at Louisville Golf was his commitment to preserving its heritage.  Louisville Golf may not be rubbing elbows with the major OEM’s anymore, but these days, they’re not trying to either. Just like the rest of us golfers, they’re getting by with grit, optimism, and respect for the game. They’ve also seen the fortunate bounces and bad lies that come with a life dedicated to golf, but as the old adage says, the most important shot is always the next one. Time marches on. And so does Louisville Golf. They remain committed to what has brought them this far and see that as a springboard into the future.

“We’ve got some products in the works that I think are really innovative and will show what persimmon is really capable of. I think if you’re a better player who can find the sweet spot on a consistent basis, you really should think seriously about persimmon. Especially if you’re looking to get a specific yardage out of your clubs like with a fairway wood or hybrid. There was a video circulating a few years ago with Rickie Fowler using a steel shafted persimmon fairway wood and he was getting a 1.49 smash factor. You can’t get much better than that. The way the bulge and roll is shaped on a persimmon wood and also the location of the CG allows for a bigger gear effect than modern titanium woods. Persimmons do impart more spin on the ball (especially on a mishit), so we acknowledge the ball may not go as far, but that spin also brings the ball back to the target, too. That’s one of the biggest advantages of persimmon. You’ll be shorter but in the fairway as opposed to long and in the trees.

“The people that find us are looking for a deeper connection to the tradition and the spirit of the game. They’re tired of paying for marketing fluff and silly catch phrases. We make viable alternatives for the modern golfer, we make classic reproductions of the steel shaft/persimmon head era of golf, and we make spot-on hickory shafted clubs as well, so we think we have a place in just about everyone’s bag depending on how you prefer to experience the game. Nothing compares to the joy of a purely struck golf shot with a wooden golf club. You just feel like you’re playing golf the way it was meant to be played.”

A visit to Louisville Golf reveals a group of people who have dedicated their lives to exactly that: playing the game the way it was meant to be played. Hard work, attention to detail, a commitment to quality, and having a lot of fun along the way are the hallmarks of their operation. One strike directly on that persimmon sweet spot will send all of those vibes straight into your bones. Playing golf with persimmon woods in the 21st century may be taking the road less traveled, but it could make all the difference.

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