This article was written in the middle of the nineties when Payne was at his best. It was written (but never published) for Golf Monthly
by Bernard Cooke.
Apart from the quality of his writing Bernard Cooke was years ahead of his time as a golf teacher.
I am often asked who I think has the best swing in professional golf. For years it was not too difficult to trot out Sam Snead, and while that may seem a bit “old hat” now, I still proclaim slamming Sam as having the exemplary golfing movement, with Hogan having the best mechanics.
However, for many younger readers, who may not even have heard of Sam Snead, although, in his mid-seventies (died in May 2002) he is still making his presence felt on the U.S. senior tour;
I will concede that amongst the current U.S. tour players, Payne Stewart`s swing impresses me most as the best example of swing shape and rhythm and would improve most handicap players if they learned and understood the same simple mechanics he used.
Now I know most of you are going to say: “But Payne Stewart is well over six feet tall. He can surely be only used by players of the same physique?”
Not so, although tall players will relate better to him in direct simulation. Actually, the physique is not so important when you are considering the common factors of the star professional players, regardless of physique, and applying these methodically, to your own technique.
Payne’s success in the U.S. Open in 1991, removes any doubts about his claim to being a star player; all the ingredients are there. A close study of his assembly (address) reveals a wide stance. The operative adverb would be “comfortably.”
Both his toes are slightly splayed out. This affords more effective turning and returning together with a better-balanced centering.
His shoulders are naturally hanging down, as opposed to the “tense hunching” which afflicts many handicapped players. His hands pull his arms downwards and the slightly sunken wrists suitably allow for the “arching effect of” centrifugal forces through contact. Arching in address can bring in its wake a tendency to striking on the toe of the club face. Note also how both his upper arms are grooved to his body. There is not too much space between the heel of his left arm and his left thigh.
His knees are flexed forwards a little toward the ball, and a similar amount toward each other. This in turn exerts pressure all along the insides of his shoes and creates a hugging centripetal effect, whereby his body hub will retain its axis more easily. His spine is angled from his hips in confirmation of the length and lie of the angle of his club. At the same time, his spine is straight and not curved. He is looking into the back of the golf ball with the left side of his face held fractionally to the right side of it.
His completely conventional grip, showing two or three left-hand knuckles and a triggered right forefinger/thumb shows no appearance of excessive pressure. It could be described as, “ light without being loose and firm without being tight.”
There is a springiness about Payne’s start position which creates a feeling he is alert and ready for the off.
The first movement away from the ball is a one-piece-all-together movement. The trunk has responded to the swing back of his arms or, vice versa, the arms have responded to the turn of the trunk, interpretations will always vary on this point.
Not for him however the so-called pre-set wrist cock. His wrist angle collection is gathered as the swing gains in continuity and complies with the law of inertia. The pre-set wrist cock merely short-circuits the hands from the shoulders which results in a restricted shoulder turn.
NB: The pre-set wrist cock was an ‘in vogue’ teaching theme at the time this article was written.
With the middle of his shoulders pointing to the target and his lower body turned to the limits the resisting right leg pillar will allow, he has reached the summit of his backswing and collected all the potential energy he needs to generate enough club head speed on the forward swing to fly the ball as far as is possible with the club he is using.
Perhaps a note of interest for some swing students is the position of Stewart’s face, which is not where it was at the start, and should remove any idea that the head remains still. It is another of those common star swing factors that the head must move on the backswing in accordance with allowing a full turn of the shoulders against a resisting hip coil.
He has conformed to the precept of a fully expanded swing while remaining on the plane his address position and club determined in the beginning.
His left heel has left the ground a little so that the knee has semi-circled to point at the ball.
There will be only a minimal weight difference from that of his fifty-fifty start position. The pressure will however have changed within both feet to be more towards the ball of his left and the whole sole of his right.
All the great swings initiate the directional change with a weight shift to the left. Payne is an expert at this.
Notice how his hips are, to all intents and purposes, already opening to his target, while the shoulders are in much less haste to return. This is one of the critical phases of the golf swing movement. It is far too easy to let the right shoulder move down, out, or both ways first, which all means disaster.
His wrist angle is intact and he is looking once again into the back of the ball. Through contact, the hub continues to turn and takes the swing with it. That provides arms and hands swinging promoting a cross-over and pronation effect. All this is managed without the least sign of effort, one of the great qualities a professional swing possesses. The amateur is far more likely to put that horribly destructive bit of unnecessary extra into it.
The arms will continue on to a maypole-like finish around his head as a natural result of all that has gone before. Stewart completely and methodically adheres to the principles of the wheel while expertly using the advantages of a flail.
FRAME ANALYSIS( See film above)
1) Using a middle iron (7 or 8), Payne holds his left arm and clubshaft in a continuous (straight) line, thus establishing his swing arc radius.
2) There is no change of the “shoulders, arm to hands” triangle, at the assembly, as he moves away from the target. The left shoulder, hip, and knee are already responding.
3) Note the wrist angle collection and the maintained extension of the left arm.
4) Payne’s club shaft is allowed to pass the parallel, with no sign of “sloppiness” at this point.
5) The gap between his right arm and the right side will be closed by the next frame. This segment contains the ‘flail within the wheel.’
6) Contact and his triangle remain intact. 6a, using another photo, will mirror the backswing position at hip high.
7) Illustrates what is popularly called the high finish while…..
8) This “closing in” of the arms, is perhaps described as recoil, although I like to call it the maypole finish.
My shoes-watercolour and ink on 350g art paper
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