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Opinion & Analysis

Avoiding the “Athletic Swing”

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When Amy Schumer’s nude photo exploded on the internet she expressed laughing disappointment with the public reception: “When a nude photo of yourself goes viral, the word you don’t want people to use to describe it is ‘brave’.” Just as Schumer was wary of the “brave” modifier, there’s an equivalent adjective that golfers need to accept with caution: “athletic.”

Before we go further, we should be clear: few things are more athletically challenging than hitting the golf ball solidly and consistently. Hall of Fame baseball sluggers have been brought to their knees by stationary spheres of dimpled rubber in ways that 90 mph fastballs or wicked curves never could. However, it is because the striking of the golf ball in an effective and consistent manner is such a daunting feat that we must not make it any more complicated than absolutely necessary.

A few years ago I set a goal of becoming a single-digit handicapper, and I began the journey by crowd sourcing my golf swing and posting videos of my swing on social media along with requests for feedback. Nothing pleased this former all-conference hoopster more than to have some of the most accomplished golfers I knew describe videos of my swing as “athletic.” Surely that had to be a good thing. Months later I would learn, not so much. I found that when it comes to golf, “athletic” can be a way of saying that a swing is encumbered by more movement than necessary. Charles Barkley’s golf swing is athletic. In contrast, while Dustin Johnson may be strong and agile, athletic in multiple facets, when it comes to his swing, we see only smooth efficiency. Barkley’s swing looks like a circus act, a miraculous feat he performs each time he strikes the ball. By comparison, Johnson’s swing is a funnel of pragmatism, a vehicle for reliably utilizing his gifts to strike the ball in a consistent and repeatable fashion.

When I first crossed paths with master teacher Brad Clayton, he watched me hit a 7-iron for several minutes before stopping me and forcing me to make a choice. “Win, you can dance the merengue, or you can play golf, but you can’t do them both at the same time,” he said. I couldn’t believe what I saw when he played back some of my swings. What I had pictured in my mind as a Nicklaus-esque swing was in reality a spastic thrusting of the lower body, where knees and thighs expended energy that in no manner contributed to the physics of hitting the golf ball. By the end of the lesson he had settled my lower body; he had me focus on “smooth feet.” The next day I broke 80 for the first time. That single lesson was the biggest stepping stone in my eventually reaching the golf goals I had set for myself.

If an “athletic swing” is a problem for the casual golfer, it’s an even greater obstacle for someone who wants to play competitively. Intricate swings that can awe onlookers on the range are the first to break down under pressure. Conversely, efficient swings whose components are spare and utilitarian can be put on auto-pilot when the heat is on. Back in 1951, the legendary Byron Nelson convinced the fairly accomplished amateur Ken Venturi, winner of the California State Amateur title, to discard his swing and start from scratch. Nelson maintained that the young Venturi’s swing was too wristy and unnecessarily complicated. Venturi eventually capitulated, sticking with the new swing for months in what was a difficult and winless transition period. The effort paid huge dividends, however, and Venturi went on to be a Walker Cup hero, an accomplished professional and U.S. Open champion, and later in life, a mainstay in golf broadcasting booths.

So while it might be initially pleasing to hear one’s golf swing referred to as athletic, we should not be satisfied with such a description. Just as Schumer smiled at those who called her pics in the buff  “brave” and then moved on with her career, we should realize that an “athletic” swing is a starting point, not a final destination.

Note: Of late, Mr. Barkley has been working hard to streamline his swing and seems to be on the way to a much more effective approach to hitting the golf ball.

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Win Neagle is a novelist, freelance writer, and college instructor. He and his wife, Rebecca, live in Raleigh, N.C.

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Opinion & Analysis

What does it really take to play college golf?

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Much has been written and speculated about this question, both in popular media and by junior golfers and their parents and coaches. However, I wanted to get a more definitive answer.

In collaboration with Dr. Laura Upenieks of Baylor University, and with the generous support of Junior Tour of Northern California and Aaron R. Hartesveldt, PGA, we surveyed 51 players who were committed to play college golf for the 2021 year.

Our sample was comprised of 27 junior boys and 24 junior girls. Most of our respondents were either white or Asian. As for some other notable statistics, 67% of boys reported working with a coach once a week, while 100% of girls reported working with a coach at least once a week. In addition, 67% of boys were members at a private club, while 100% of girls were members of a private club. Here are some other interesting findings from the data:

-The average scoring differential for a boy who committed to college golf was -1.48
-The average scoring differential for a girl who committed to college golf was 3.72
-The majority of the sample reported having played over 100 tournaments
-The average boy was introduced to the game at 7 years old
-The average girl was introduced to golf at 12 years old
-The average boy first broke par at 12
-The average girl first broke par at 17
-67% of boys and girls who responded reported having won at least 10 tournaments

One of the most interesting findings of the survey was the amount of competitive golf being played. The data shows that 67% of players report playing over 100 tournaments, meaning they have close to 1,000 hours of tournament experience. This is an extremely impressive amount given all respondents were teenagers, showing the level of dedication needed to compete at the top level.

Another interesting showing was that 75% of boys surveyed reported receiving “full scholarship”. At first glance, this number seems to be extremely high. In 2016, in a GolfWRX that I did with Steph Acosta, the data we collected estimated this number was between 5-10%. This number is seven times greater, which could be due to a low sample size. However, I would also speculate that the data speaks to the extrinsic motivation of players in the data set, as they feel the need to get a scholarship to measure their athletic success.

Finally, boys in the survey report playing with a mixture of elite players (those with plus handicaps) as well as 5-9 handicaps. On the other hand, no female in the study reported playing with any plus handicaps. It also stood out that 100% of junior girls report that their fathers play golf. In ongoing research, we are examining the reasons why young women choose golf and the impact their environments have on their relationships with golf. The early data is very interesting and we hope that it can be published by the end of this year. Altogether, we suspect that girls hold lower status at golf courses and are less able to establish competitive groups to regularly play with. This could impact how long they stay in the sport of golf as well as their competitive development.

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Club Junkie: Callaway Jaws Raw wedge review and Strackaline’s yardage and green reading books

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Review of the new Callaway Jaws Raw wedge and the new Z Grind sole on the lob wedge. Great spin and improved shape make it my choice over the Jaws MD5. Strackaline’s yardage and green reading books are highly detailed and catch all the slopes on the green.

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Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: An in-person guest visit from the Dominican Republic

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Shawn and Munashe tag team their efforts with Roberto. Whom we have had the pleasure to host in the last Month.

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