Sergio's Switch

June 09, 2003

Sergio Garcia turned pro four years ago, when he was 19. Since
then he has won three Tour events and six times worldwide, and by
the end of last season he had risen to fourth in the World
Ranking. Garcia achieved this success despite a swing--taught to
him by his father, Victor--that can generously be described as
unorthodox.

This year Garcia decided that he needed an overhaul. Major swing
changes are fraught with danger, and Garcia's game is now in a
tailspin. Heading into the Memorial, he had yet to place among
the top 20 in 10 starts on Tour and had fallen to 13th in the
World Ranking.

We asked six Golf Magazine Top 100 Teachers to analyze before and
after pictures of Garcia's swing, identify the key adjustments he
is trying to make and answer one simple question: Is a player of
Garcia's caliber crazy to change his swing?

Robert Baker
Miami Beach Golf Club
Miami Beach

Garcia needs to change his swing, and he has the talent to do it.
His problem: He is the only world-class player who folds (or
cocks) his right elbow and wrist so late in the backswing that
his right arm stays ramrod straight two thirds of the way to the
top, as in frame 6 (below). Most pros begin cocking the right
elbow one third of the way back. Garcia's delay causes three
problems, all of which he's trying to correct: He doesn't bring
the club inside enough in the takeaway; his backswing is too
short; and his club is laid off (and off plane) at the top. To
fix his swing, Garcia should focus solely on his right elbow and
wrist, and try to cock them earlier. One way to work on that is
to swing an overweight driver with only the right arm. Garcia
still has a long way to go, but his swing has improved slightly.
In frame 2 (below) the club is fractionally more inside at the
start of the takeaway than in frame 2 (above). His new swing is
also a bit longer and less laid off.

Mitchell Spearman
Manhattan Woods Golf Club
West Nyack, N.Y.

Garcia will emerge from his swing rehab a better player because
he has always been willing to analyze and modify his action,
which he knows is quirky. Before he turned pro, he told me about
a photo of himself at a British Amateur and noted how different
the top of his backswing was even then. Now Garcia wants to
upgrade his motion by getting the club more on plane and in
balance throughout the swing, especially at the top. To do that,
he is focusing on his takeaway, which already looks better than
it used to. In frame 4 (below) his hands are closer to his torso
and the plane is flatter than in frame 3 (above), so he's now
more apt to keep the club in balance and on plane throughout the
swing.

Ron Gring
TimberCreek Golf Club
Daphne, Ala.

Garcia is trying to get the club on plane from the end of his
backswing to impact and to reduce his lag. (On plane means that
at least one end of the club--either the clubhead or the
grip--points at the target line. Lag is the angle formed by the
forearms and the shaft.) Frames 11 and 12 (above) and 12 and 13
(below) show that his club was not on plane and still isn't. To
get the club's shaft on plane, especially from the end of the
backswing to impact, Garcia should focus on having his right
elbow, forearm and shaft trace the same plane down to impact. To
decrease his lag--Garcia has so much lag, timing his release is
extremely challenging--he needs to make two modifications in his
grip: slightly increase the pressure and move the hands closer
together so the right palm rides a little higher over the left
thumb. Since starting his overhaul, Garcia has played poorly, but
that's to be expected. Replacing ingrained swing patterns is a
huge challenge. Garcia is wise to make the changes, though,
because superior mechanics can make all the difference in
competition.

John Elliott Jr.
Cog Hill Golf Club
Lemont, Ill.

Garcia is definitely doing the right thing, because his ball
flight tended to be too low and his bad shots usually went low
and left, a kiss of death on Tour. The cause of his low ball
flight and wayward shots is what teachers call a classic flat
backswing with a laid-off shaft. Translation: At the top of the
backswing Garcia's arms are lower than normal and the shaft
points left of the target. From that position he must make
compensating moves in the downswing to make solid contact. Garcia
is already showing signs of improvement. For example, the club is
less laid off in frame 10 (below) than it is in frame 9 (above).
Because Garcia is playing while undergoing his overhaul, it'll
take him two to three years to really learn the new swing and how
to trust it under pressure. I hope he has the perseverance to
endure the bumps along the way, because the payoff will be a
swing that could make him a major champion for the ages.

Jim Suttie
Green Garden Country Club
Frankfort, Ill.

Garcia will have a hard time making the changes because he
is--unknowingly, I think--taking the naturalness out of his
swing. His swing used to be shorter and lower, and his arms were
closer to his body, but now his action is much longer and higher
at the top. His problem is not the changes themselves. Rather,
the changes require him to learn a new timing system, which is
very difficult. Garcia's new longer and higher swing requires him
to switch from being what I call a fast rotary player to someone
who rotates back and through the swing much more slowly. This
means he must slow down his body rotation so his arms can catch
up, because if he rotates at the same speed as he did before the
changes, the longer swing will leave his arms and the club
trailing too far behind his body, as happens in frame 15 (below).
Garcia's old swing wasn't pretty, but it was effective and
repetitive, and that's what counts.

Michael Hebron
Smithtown Landing Country Club
Smithtown, N.Y.

Garcia can try to rebuild his swing, but he shouldn't. Before he
began his recent overhaul, he already was a Ferrari. What he
needed was a simple tune-up. My tune-up would involve opening his
stance, like Lee Trevino's, and asking him to initiate the
downswing with his right shoulder rather than his hands, arms or
hips, as he often does. These adjustments may improve his
consistency by keeping his shoulders on a plane in the downswing
that's closer to the plane of his backswing. If Garcia goes
through with his big changes, however, he could be in trouble. I
see problems with his new swing. Most notably, his arms and club
are now out of sync with his body. In frame 17 (below) his chest
faces the target after impact but his arms are traveling out, a
little behind and away from his chest. In frame 15 (above)
Garcia's arms are more connected to his chest.

COLOR PHOTOMONTAGE: SEQUENCE BY DAVID BERGMAN TWENTY COLOR PHOTOS: SEQUENCE BY JIM SUTTIE SERGIO'S OLD SWING COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN COLOR PHOTO FRAME 6, below COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL SUGRUE COLOR PHOTO FRAME 4, below COLOR PHOTO: KARIM SHAMSI-BASHA COLOR PHOTO FRAME 12, below COLOR PHOTO: TODD ROSENBERG COLOR PHOTO FRAME 10, below COLOR PHOTO: TODD ROSENBERG COLOR PHOTO FRAME 15, below COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL SUGRUE COLOR PHOTO FRAME 15, above TWENTY COLOR PHOTOS: SEQUENCE BY DAVID BERGMAN SERGIO'S NEW SWING

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)