When Henrik Stenson swings a golf club there is a sound that comes through not unlike a speeding freight train. His hands are so positioned on the grip that, in Buddhist terms, there seems to be no separation between fingers and club, so that when he waggles his club–and he does waggle his club–he reminds me of one of his Norse ancestors wielding a battle-ax. His entire swing seems to flow as a unit, with everything in sync, like a well-tuned automobile–pistons and cylinders perfectly timed and tested. I instinctually brace the arms of my easy chair when I watch him swing that three-wood of his. He’s like a ballet dancer in flight, or a non-stop break dancer wedded to the ground. And in 2016, Stenson rose to the top of world golf by winning the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, preceded by his decisive win at the Open Championship. The Swede is golf’s equivalent to the Warriors Kevin Durant: He can do it all.
So is there anything we mortals can learn from Henrik the Tall? I mentioned his powerful grip on the club which is held mainly in the fingers, with an emphasis on the left hand for strength and stability. The waggle sets his swing in motion setting him up for an athletic result. I can see Henrik excelling in just about any sport. He makes a full turn backswing at a fast pace. The transition from backswing to down towards the ball starts from the shoulders, connected of course to the core. Notably, the right shoulder kicks it off with a movement towards the ball, while the head remains steady, and the left arm straight and measured as it was at address.
The movement of that right shoulder (left shoulder for a lefty, of course) is what we amateurs should strive to emulate in Stenson’s swing, for this a power move that we can all benefit from. It helps maintain lag, fosters an inside out plane, and, generally, keeps the club on plane as it descends towards the impact zone. This move keep the hands and arms in front of the body, delays the bumping of the left hip, while moving the weight forward, helping to post up on a firm left side and leg, and keeping the proper sequence intact. This swing sequence is most effective for a driver or three-wood off the tee, as you have more margin for error.
Henrik’s swing helps insure the ball will strike the sweet spot at impact more than any other method I’ve observed. You’ll need to experiment how far you stand from the ball at address, making sure the club is aligned with the sweet spot. This will depend on your height, your particular swing plane coming back, and how straight you can keep your left arm throughout the backswing and into impact. Stenson has a pretty fast pace throughout his swing. I would recommend a slower paced backswing to set yourself up properly for the increased speed required for the downswing, but this requires experimenting on your part.
One of the most important elements of this swing is a relatively still head, at least until after impact. This is where mindfulness comes into play. We Westerners are not accustomed to being conscious of keeping our head still during high speed action, which is what a downswing in golf is. But we have our eyes (or mind’s eye if you are vision impaired) and our consciousness to actually observe if our head is moving or not, even at the height of the downswing’s speed. One of my teachers, Jim Knego, at Bennett Valley in Santa Rosa, suggests using your shadow to check your head movement during the swing, and I think this is excellent advice in the never ending challenge of self analysis involved in game improvement. Just observe your shadow as you swing. The sun, of course, needs to be behind you so you’ll need to pick a place and time of day where that’s possible. But it’s a sure-fire low-tech way of checking your head position at different phases of the swing. For a model, just watch Henrik’s head through and just past impact. If I were giving out awards (which I’m not!), he’d be, along with Champion Golfer of the Year, Mindful Golfer of the Year.
Now you might ask does Stenson’s swing hold for irons as well? In many ways irons are tougher to hit solidly and on target than woods. To make them work properly you must compress the ball with the clubhead in relation to the ground. This requires a counter-intuitive move of hitting down on the ball to make it go up. Mid and high handicap amateurs have a lot of difficulty with this concept. But from my estimation, the only adjustment one needs to make from hitting an iron or a wood is ball position at address. With irons, and that includes hybrids, you move the ball more to the center of your stance. With woods, both driver and fairway woods, you position the ball more off the left heel of your flared out left foot. That’s really the only difference. With the ball played off the middle of the stance, if you shift your weight properly, the club will naturally strike the ball first then the turf, taking a divot, beyond the ball, of varying depth and length. With the ball positioned off the left heel with a wood, you will naturally strike the ball on the upswing at impact, taking no divot.
Of course, there is more variation involved: We all have different bodies, ages, flexibility, time to play, goals, and outside (of golf) obligations. But one thing all golfers have in common is the desire to hit the ball solidly on the sweet spot as much as possible. We all want to hear that special whoosh, see that missile-like take off and rising to an apex, and that dropping nicely on a fairway or green. That of course takes practice, lots of practice, to get to a point where we consistently experience those sensations. Golf certainly is a challenging sport in that respect, and no one, including Henrik Stenson, has achieved perfection. But it sure is fun testing ourselves and giving it a try. Don’t you think?
With Black Friday behind us, and Christmas and Hanukah on the way, I hope you’ll consider giving my books, The Mindful Golfer: How to Lower Your Handicap While Raising Your Consciousness, and The Mindful Hiker: On the Trail to Find the Path as gifts. Thank you.