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How Scottie Scheffler’s Unusual Move Has Made Him Golf’s Hottest Player

The world No. 1 and Masters champion has a swing that challenges many golf instruction tenets, but parts of it compare favorably with some all-time greats.
Scottie Scheffler, pictured on Sunday at Augusta National, won the 2022 Masters.

Scottie Scheffler may have an unusual swing, but it's becoming recognizable to golf fans with the run of success the world No. 1 has had.

You can’t become the best golfer in the world without hitting good golf shots and you can’t hit good golf shots with a bad golf swing.

The truth be told, however, that today’s world No. 1 and newly crowned Masters champion Scottie Scheffler definitely has a swing that challenges many golf instruction conventions. At the same time, it also exhibits traits and qualities shared and expressed by many of the game’s all-time greats, though in a manner not visible to everyone’s eyes. For a little guidance let’s turn to “Golf’s Big Three,” Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.

Nicklaus has always said that “golf is a game of small adjustments.” Of course, Nicklaus should know having made perhaps the most famous small adjustment in a swing that realigned that motion into one of the greatest golf shots ever. We’re talking about his famous 1-iron shot on the par-3 17th at Pebble Beach during the last round of the 1972 U.S. Open, which he would go on to win.

“I took the club back a little too much to the inside, which closed the clubface at the top, so I held on to it more coming down and hold the face more open through impact and absolutely flushed it,” I can hear Nicklaus say, paraphrasing.

What remains emblazoned in my golf memory is seeing that shot take a single bounce on the green before hitting the flagstick, then falling to rest just inches from the cup. The question I keep asking myself whenever remembering both that shot and Nicklaus' description of his adjustment is “why didn’t he make a small adjustment like this one on every golf swing he ever made?”

Indeed, Scheffler seems to have successfully channeled the young Nicklaus swing in many ways, most noticeably in its very upright swing plane. This leads to his very high arms and hands position at the top of his swing, which both mirrors and echoes Nicklaus' own description of his top position (as presented in his landmark instruction book “Golf My Way”), that he tried to “reach for the sky.” Scheffler's active bent-kneed leg slide and the buttery-yet-powerful fade shape of his also resuscitates the great Golden Bear’s golf swing of yesteryear.

But to our point here, it looks like every one of Scheffler’s swings engages and incorporates an integration of slightly different small adjustments. The result is a free-flowing, sometimes freeform-improvisational golf swing that feels like a breath of fresh air. Do we have the specter of Nicklaus’s colossal 1-iron swing and shot way back when at Pebble Beach to thank for young Scheffler’s old-school-looking golf swing? Maybe so.

Next, Gary Player, to whom years ago I posed the following question:

“What is it about you great players that the average golf fan doesn’t know?”

Player said, “Everyone thinks we have one swing, which we repeat over and over again, but that’s not true. We’re always experimenting here and there and making small changes to it. To the naked eye it may look like the same swing, but we’re constantly trying something new in order to improve.”

This amplifies what Nicklaus said. However, rather than looking at the critical adjustments highly talented golfers like Tour players can make mid-swing, Player used the theme of making tiny swing changes as a constant principle that the game’s best players explored and experimented with during their daily practice sessions.

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I’m sure you’re familiar with the common expression uttered often by today’s TV swing analysts such as Nick Faldo, Paul Azinger, Gary Koch and others, that this or that player “has a lot of moving parts” to his or her golf swing. The truth almost all golf swings have the same number of parts, and all of them move both synchronistically and simultaneously during the golf swing. So, the point isn’t how many parts move in any one golfer’s swing, but just how efficiently and effectively they do so. After all, a golf swing is only the means applied to the end of producing the golf shot each golfer imagines or envisions before hitting it.

In Scheffler’s case, sometimes a swing looks like he’s experimenting with and doing something new. For example, on some swings his head doesn’t dip a bit, as did Trevino’s, Tiger Woods' or Justin Thomas’ today, rather it sort of swivels and bobs.

Now let’s look at the idea of the “swing plane,” which has become in the world of conventional golf instruction both a kind of “Holy Grail” and a fundamental whose correct execution is something few if any of the game’s respected teachers would question, challenge, or, disagree.

Simply put, this avowed and inviolable (up to now) component of all golf swings’ DNA convention refers to the angle at which a golfer swings his or her golf club in relation to the ground. A swing where the club moves at a steeper angle to the ground gains the name of “upright,” while the swing pundits call a club swung on an angle or plane more horizontally aligned to the ground “flat.” That said, we must add that it’s more common for a golfer to shift the angle of their club’s swing plane during their swings. This change can occur from a flat swing plane angle at the start of the backswing to a steeper one during the downswing as we see in the swings of John Daly, Rickie Fowler and Nancy Lopez, or from an upright initial backswing plane to a flatter one coming down through the ball exemplified by the swings of Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia and Inbee Park.

Now Scheffler’s swing … not all of them, mind you (which to us swing-geek-freaky types can feel something like a heart-warming salve of relief!), violates any concept of swing plane orthodoxy by waving around less often during his backswing but somewhat regularly post impact and into his swing’s finish like a matador taunting his bull with his swashbuckling sword. In other words, in a world of golf instruction dead set on eliminating each and every wobble from every and any golfers’ swings, Scheffler’s action seems at randomly occurring occasions to be constructed of nothing less than a glued together cat’s cradle-like construction of … wobbles.

Yet the single thing that makes his the “Worst/Best" Swing amongst today’s great Tour players is that despite its chronic oscillations, and because of his superbly skilled, talented and trained hands, he manages to get the clubface on the ball at the exact angle and along the precise path he wants swing after swing after swing. When asked recently about how the many surgeries on his aging body may have reduced the effectiveness of his golf swing, Tiger Woods said, “Maybe, but I still have my hands.”

Imagine having a young, healthy, flexible, strong body and a well-trained and gifted pair of hands? That’s Scottie Scheffler.

Let’s conclude with Palmer, whose now-famous command to “swing your own swing,” Scheffler has seriously assimilated. What differentiates the moves of these two is that while Arnie looked like he was beating a snake on the ground with his golf club, Scottie looks like he is trying to escape from one. One can credit Scheffler’s escape-artist look to his unusual hip, right leg and right foot action during his downswing. Unusual, yes; unique, no.

Nowhere in Scheffler’s swing do we notice more clearly Palmer's inducement to swing individually than in what I’m now calling his counter-hip torque.

Most noticeable in his driver swing, Scheffler’s massive clockwise hip action begins internally (and therefore difficult to see) at the start of his downswing, then snaps into clear and conspicuous focus as his club approaches impact. Scottie’s counter hip torque at once drags his right leg and knee in somewhat of a lateral straight line forward toward the target and rearward directly away from his swing’s plane line (sometimes referred to as the swing’s target line). I first saw this action years and years ago in Billy Casper’s golf swing, then later in Greg Norman’s and Mark Calcavecchia’s swings, and perhaps most noticeably today in the swing of the great young LPGA star Lexi Thompson.

As a golfer’s shoulders begin to turn to the left (for right-handed golfers) to initiate the movement of the golf club at the start of the downswing, the hips respond with a counter torque, or turn to the right, because as Sir Isaac Newton said, “For every acting force there is a reacting force that is equal in magnitude but opposite in direction.” It may not be the most beautiful thing to behold, but as none other than David Leadbetter, perhaps the world’s most famous golf instructor says, “The golf swing isn’t a beauty contest, because if it were next to Adam Scott’s swing every golf swing would look bad.”

Again, we most clearly see Scheffler's counter-hip torque when he is hitting his driver or on other full-out shots he plays with a fairway metal or long iron. We hardly see it at all when he’s hitting his short irons and wedge shots. This isn’t to say it isn’t present on these shots, but only that this torque transpires very much internally so that the smaller the range or length of the swing the more difficult the counter-hip torque is to see.

Taken together one might consider Nicklaus', Players' and Palmer's comments having congealed into the golf swing of the game’s No. 1 player today. How many golfers will head out to the range to try out and work on Scheffler's counter-hip torque? 

Probably plenty, and I was one of them recently giving it a good workout. Following Player, I was willing to try something new, and like Nicklaus, I found myself more aware of my body’s sensations adjusting and aligning themselves mid-swing toward solid impact zone success. Sorry, Palmer, while I was obviously trying out Scheffler’s swing and, therefore, not swinging my own, I was doing my diligent duty as a golf instruction writer to look seriously into whether certain aspects of the world’s newest No. 1 player and the reigning new Masters champion might indeed reveal something that could very well help us all.