Throwers and Draggers!
It was a Golf Digest article I wrote in May of 2012.
This is a review. It’s the first transcript of notes I sent in to be edited for the magazine. It’s the first rough draft.
For Sept 2015 Blog…a look back at what I wrote….lots of recent comments on divots.
There are obviously two swing camps teaching on different sides of the spectrum. I know both work, but one swing is better for short irons and the other is better for driving. You can use a combination of the two and that’s where I feel golf is going. Right now the two swing camps diverge into strict method teachers who insist their method is correct for every shot and every person. I’ve never been a method teacher, but I do believe in the two swings.
What’s really crazy on the PGA tour is one player will be working on a strict version of the drag swing, while right next to him will be a player working strictly on the throw swing. Interestingly one player will finish first and the other second that week. Obviously you can play great golf either way.
How can there be two basic swing actions and both work?
The answer is that each player has found a way to swing best for them. There is a major clockwise and significant counter clockwise twist to differing releases of the most extreme swing camps. Players may get better results using one extreme over the other because they find a method that suits their natural swing pattern. On the negative, if you work on the wrong swing pattern you can and likely will get worse at ball striking. In fact you can totally lose your natural swing working with a strict method teacher. You might even quit the game. On the other hand, by finding a method teacher or a teacher that understands your best release pattern you might find magic and a very big improvement.
Method teaching relies heavily on belief. A strict method teacher has to ignore a lot of inconvenient research which obviously shows different ways of hitting a golf ball great. A method is like a strict religion or perhaps better, a cult. Despite huge evidence to the contrary a method teacher will stubbornly instruct every detail in their method to everybody. They have the same perfect swing for everybody. It’s definitely something I’ve been amazed to see so often. “The uniformed teacher instructing the unsuspecting student” is a line the great Jackie Burke once told me. It can come from a mesmerized golf method teacher or often an uninformed parent.
A good method teacher will eventually get great at delivering their powerful fire and brimstone sermon. If you have met one of these method masters you will agree that it’s hard to dismiss the certainty they have in your ability to attain the perfection they teach. It’s very addictive.
So let’s look closely at the two divergent swing camps and classify some current tour players into those different swing camps. The first is the rotary, drag camp. As you go to the extreme in this camp you will identify these teachers by the use of more “mechanical terms”. They will use engineering terms and scientific evidence. The love the term “a leaning shaft”. They will talk about zero weight transfer or even teach a reverse weight shift keeping the weight forward in the backswing since you obviously want to be forward at impact. That makes sense to a lot of people. You will definitely hit down on the ball with this methodology. Some will get that great feeling of compression for the first time. They will perhaps actually feel a no hands body release and holding off the shaft. These teachers will always emphasize lag and drag forces. You can usually always depend on them teaching zero head movement and an early wrist set, too.
This is not new teaching. It’s as old as golf itself. This style of golf was taught by the old Scots when they played golf in a coat and tie on the wind blown links of Scotland 500 years ago. Don’t forget that the Scots brought golf to America and don’t forget golf was much more of a “ground game” back then. That meant scuttling the ball low to the ground in heavy winds and rock hard fairways. It certainly encouraged a hook. The Scots played on very firm and fast fairways. Later, in America, courses would get much longer and lusher. The game became more up in the air, with hazards to carry and shots into greens that required a much higher trajectory. Now there is a move to a return back somewhat to less water and more British/Scottish type courses. When playing in these conditions the drag swing is perhaps preferable and certainly staying more “on top of the ball” is a very good thing. It’s likely the superior way to play in high winds and rock hard fairways and it’s definitely great for short irons and wedges. So today it is still widely taught and current players like Brian Gay, Hunter Mahan, Stephen Ames, Zach Johnson, Justin Leonard, to name a few are classic Draggers.
The opposing idea of hitting a golf ball is what I term a Thrower. This player is a full release swinger and may even think of releasing the club very early as made famous by the great Jack Nicklaus. Contrary to lagging the club more, Jack advocated releasing the club head right from the top of the backswing. Going through the ball Jack had a full release of the club head with no hint of holding on. He rarely took divots, of which he writes about in his most famous instruction book “Golf My Way”.
That book would later become the lesson manual for a young Aussie named Greg Norman. It was the only book he read. Greg would go on to win over 100 worldwide tour events and become the number one ranked player in the world. He would also be acclaimed as the greatest driver in golf history. Like Jack he had a wide takeaway and late wrist hinge delaying the set of the wrists. Greg also made a significant lateral shift off the ball similar to other great players like Byron Nelson, Ken Venturi, Bruce Lietzke, Hal Sutton, Annika Sorenstam, and young Tiger Woods. All took small divots and all drove it great. Modern players in this category include Rory McIIroy, Henrik Stenson, Luke Donald, Gary Woodland, Keegan Bradley.
So both Throwers and Draggers can play great golf. Which should you be?
I would love to see a combination of the two swing camps. A hybrid player. The lower trajectory drag action for the short irons and the higher trajectory full release throw for your long irons and driving and for more distance.
I think the greatest players use an amazing amount of sensory perception and they are hybrids of the two extreme swing camps. The extremes get most of the attention, but in golf, talent plays a far bigger role than most people want to accept. The top players are always making adjustments, changing feels, and upgrading small things in their set up and swings. Like a great musician they have a tremendous amount of “let go”. The see the shots and they allow the body and hands to adjust for that special shot. There is a ton of inspiration. They are not trying to hit each note. The hear the song in their head and then unconsciously play it. So for sure there is no “one way” for everybody to swing a golf club.
I’ve written extensively on this subject in The Eight Step Swing. I know it’s very important for my teachers to understand. Same thing with The X Factor book and DVD’s.
The real keys to great ball striking are in those books and I listed off the fundamentals that all great ball strikers have in common. This article is focused on the opposite swing camps, but in my mind no matter which way you grip a club or swing a club you need a very neutral swing path, speed, center contact, and a good angle of attack for each club, and a big belief or trust in your swing. You can be a complete dragger or a complete thrower, but you can’t get away from those fundamentals listed above.
Who should drag more?
If you hit high weak shots, if you cannot take a divot, if you hit behind the ball often, or hit too many thin shots you can definitely use dragger principles.
Who should throw?
If you tend to spin out, if the club gets stuck behind you, if you take deep divots, if you consistently hit low on the driver face, and if you hit off the back leg. Get more throw principles.
In conclusion I would say that the draggers are good wind players. They are shorter hitters with the driver, but with tour fairways getting firmer and faster they can run the ball out there a very long way with their lower trajectory. The great Lee Trevino was a classic example. Zach Johnson is another. The throwers will have more lateral motion and more flow. Think of Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Bubba Watson or Freddie Couples. They will be the longest drivers and will have the ability to hit soaring long irons. Some will have the bottom hand off the club through impact because they have so much release.
I do know that a top teacher has to identify his students. Be careful if you jump into a dragger camp or a thrower camp unless you know what to expect.