Big Play Teenager Natalie Gulbis has star quality, but she must fix her unorthodox swing to avoid meltdowns like the one she suffered on Sunday

May 19, 2002

I've coached more than 20 LPGA players and have a pretty good
feel for a player's potential, and the sky's the limit for
19-year-old rookie Natalie Gulbis. But to fulfill her promise,
Gulbis has to smooth out the rough edges of her homemade swing or
she'll be prone to breaking down under pressure, as she did
during the final round of the Aerus Electrolux USA Championship,
outside Nashville. Leading by a stroke after 54 holes, Gulbis
butchered the first six holes with a bogey and two doubles and
faded to eighth, eight strokes behind winner Annika Sorenstam.
Afterward, Gulbis admitted that she had been overwhelmed by
nerves, saying, "I shanked about 10 balls on the range." Nobody's
immune to butterflies, but a more technically sound swing
would've helped Gulbis to play through the jitters.

IN PLANE SIGHT The images above illustrate Gulbis's problem. At
the beginning of the backswing she makes a huge shoulder turn
away from the target, which is fine, but her arms fly away from
her shoulders instead of remaining in sync with them (2). This
causes the club to go too far outside the target line, and Gulbis
remains off-plane throughout the swing. Notice how her driver has
crossed the target line at the top of the backswing (3). To
compensate for her jerky tempo and disjointed movements, Gulbis
must manipulate the club throughout the swing to square the club
face at impact. This leads to the kind of inconsistency that can
be fatal.

GOOD AS GOLD Another wide-eyed rookie, Ben Crane, 26, thrived in
the Sunday crucible at the PGA Tour's Byron Nelson Classic,
finishing second to earn $518,400 and secure his card for 2003.
Crane followed my golden rule: Never try to fix your swing
mid-round unless you hit three bad shots in a row and each miss
is the same. (Three hooks would qualify; a hook, a slice and a
wormburner would not.) Despite hitting only three fairways and
five greens on the back nine of the final round, Crane was smart
enough to know his problem was nerves, not his swing, and he
scrambled to a two-under 33. "I made a couple of bogeys and
could've been frustrated," he said, "but I kept my swing thoughts
consistent all day."

HEADS UP Like Gulbis, Sorenstam had a significant swing flaw early
in her career: She didn't have enough body rotation. To fix that,
she began turning her head toward the target at impact. Sound
crazy? It's not. Keeping your head down too long is an incorrect
concept that far too many beginners are taught.

Hardy, 69, teaches at two California courses--Pelican Hill and The
Vintage Club--and is one of Golf Magazine's Top 100 Teachers.



To visualize swing plane, imagine a sheet of glass stretching
from your eyes down to the ball. During the swing, the club
should travel just inside this glass. I often use the Stik swing
aid to illustrate this plane. (You can also stick a pole in the
ground.) With the rod mirroring the imaginary sheet of glass,
the clubhead should graze the outside of the top end of the rod
during the backswing and the inside of the same spot in the
downswing (yes). The top picture (no) shows an improper plane,
like Gulbis's. Here's another swing-plane drill: Stand in the
address position with your buttocks touching a wall. Swing back
until your hands touch high on the wall, and then swing through
until your hands touch the wall again.