Can We All Be Wrong?

Yesterday I mentioned that Padraig Harrington had made major swing changes during the off-season and that there were implications in them, questions about their necessity and “what they might say about his state of mind.”

All of this came to mind because of an article at the Irish Golf Desk, “Harrington Fingers His Trigger.” It speaks about how Harrington had worked with his coach and a biomechanics expert for four weeks in his indoor practice facility.

His purpose, generally, was to change the way he began his swing. Instead of using his hips to get his arms swinging, he was using his arms to get his hips turning. Both of these, arms swinging and hips turning, are integral to the swing, so it was sort of a chicken-or-the-egg kind of thing. Most players start by sequentially swinging the clubhead away with their hands and arms.

There was a method to his madness. But his intention to, “eliminate some of the issues that cause him to lose focus or alignment…,” devolved into this bizarre concoction (you don’t have to understand it all, just appreciate its expansive approach):

– “I changed the actual grips on my golf club. Most people would think ‘well, what’s that’. I have a reminder in my grip – I’ve taken it out. I’ve gone to round grips. That’s a big, big change.

– “I’ve knocked all the clubs a degree flat – that’s a little change.

– “I have weakened my grip, lowered my hands a bit and pushed them a bit further forward … small things.

– “Probably the biggest one (and this is partly why I’ve changed these other things), I’ve changed my trigger to take the club away in my routine. I used take the club away from a moving position. I now take the club away from a static position.

– “Part of that, I used to have a big squat to take the club away, so that’s gone. There’s a little one. I’d love to get it all gone but it’s hard to change your trigger, full stop.

– “I’m taking the club away without my hips so there’s a much smaller hip turn – a much bigger coil but a smaller hip turn.

– “Obviously, that changes my plane in the back swing.

– “I’ve changed my chin position at the top of my backswing.  I used to try and swing my shoulder under my chin, so I’d poke my head out to do it, which we think has contributed to my neck issues. So now I’m tucking my head in at the top of my backswing.

– “The trigger probably is the biggest thing. Through impact I’m going back to squatting quite a bit at the start of my downswing, as I used to. So I’m going back to that.

– “I’m going back to trying to get my chest more down through impact to get my hands lower through impact and reduce the lateral through impact.

– “From seven feet out I probably was 150th in every putting stat so I’ve changed my putting routine as well.

– “I’m not standing off the ball when I’m taking my practice putts. I’m practice putting over the ball … when you see a raw beginner, they often do that. When they take a practice putt, they lift it up and do it over the top of the ball. I’m doing that so when I put the putter back down, I’m not adjusting anything. I used to line up and get a feel for the putt, which you see a lot of guys do, then I’d take the putter inside an try a practice putt. But when I take the putter inside, I move my eye line, so the practice putts I’m getting a feel for are not the same as the putts I actually have. So I’m not changing my eye line.

To which the IGD opined, “Wow.”

A reader commented, “Yikes, after he changed things up over the last year or two, all these new changes are going to leave him in an even bigger state of confusion IMO.”

Another opined, “Poor guy, he played like crap last year because of his coach………his swing was awesome, when you are one of the best in the world you do not change you maintain……”

Yesterday, over at Wei Under Par, Conor Nagle titled his take on this, “Harrington Still Insane.”

And truth be told, that was going to be the drift of my post today, albeit, a little more polite and a little more respectful. It was going to be less about his sanity and more about the confusion all these swing thoughts engender when you’re under the gun.

There is a broad range of prescriptions for what it takes to play high-level professional golf anchored by the two extremes, playing by feel or playing like a technician. Rickie Fowler’s swashbuckling lashing with little coaching represents the former and Nick Faldo’s compulsive work with coach David Leadbetter to manipulate his body to always have the club in the right position everywhere through the swing is the other.

My bias is that it is extremely useful to have a low-impact coach who can lead you through fundamentals—grip, alignment, posture—that would take you much longer to learn by trial and error. And then to move on quickly to allowing your body to hit the ball to the target because the target orders everything. Somewhere in there is my fascination with Tim Gallwey’s “Inner Game” philosophy that recognizes the bifurcation between our “natural” genius and our “intellectual” interruptions of that genius and seeks to free the genius.

But in the first round at Abu Dhabi today, Harrington shot a flawless, 7-under, 65 to finish in second place by himself, one stroke behind Charl Schwartzel’s spectacular 64. Could the technical naysayers like myself all be wrong? It will be very interesting to see if Padraig can keep it going through Sunday or if the extreme mental concentration required to play at that level will be degraded by trying to keep track of all of his new swing thoughts.

But whatever Sunday may bring, this first round is, once again, a cautionary tale about pre-judging what might be possible for another human being. We are all magicians.

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