Golf swings are fingerprints that travel 120 miles an hour.
Idiosyncratic as voices, personalized as passwords, a golf swing can be identified from 400 yards away and may shape a golfer’s life as surely as DNA.
Matthew Wolff looks like he’s trying to kill one snake while stepping on another. He rotates forward, resets, swings the club outrageously upright, drops it into the hitting zone known as “the slot,” lifts his left foot like an Irish dancer, then unfurls like a flag in high winds.
Hideki Matsuyama pauses in his backswing as if pondering changing clubs or careers, then pounds the ball like he’s hammering a nail.
Tony Finau swings like he learned golf in a basement with an 8-foot ceiling. His backswing has barely begun when he begins his downswing, yet somehow he averages about 312 yards per drive.
Bryson DeChambeau embraces science and putts like his arms are in casts. His swing is Pi to Wolff’s Picasso.
Saturday at the 3M Open, the 20-year-old Wolff played alongside 60-year-old Tom Lehman, and their swings were more contrasting than their hairlines.
Lehman’s swing is short and smooth, visual advice for spine health and longevity. Wolff seems happy to ignore it.
When the TPC Twin Cities hosted the 3M Championship, senior players displayed swings they had honed over decades of trial and error, or swings they had been forced to adopt because of sore joints and surgeries.
What’s been fascinating about the return of the PGA Tour to the Twin Cities has been the destruction of the notion that young golfers are robots, their swings programmed by video analysis and modern instruction. This week has proved that theory as wrong as John Daly’s wardrobe.
Wolff’s odd, explosive swing helped him into a tie for first with Collin Morikawa, whose swing is traditional and beautiful, along with DeChambeau, at 15 under at the TPC Twin Cities.
To paraphrase golfers everywhere and Duke Ellington once upon a time:
It’s not how, it’s how many; and you ain’t got a thing if you ain’t got your own swing.
“I mean, obviously every time I play with somebody it’s a different swing than mine,” Wolff said of walking with Lehman. “But it’s awesome to see. It was just an honor playing with him. I didn’t even really think much of swings or anything. The way he manages a golf course and how he plays is pretty exceptional for the age he is.”
Lehman dated himself by comparing Wolff to a young Daly, who took a tremendously long backswing and produced tremendous power. “His style of play is really exciting and fun to watch,” Lehman said. “He reminds me, in a different way but in similar ways, to John Daly, when he first started playing golf, that really aggressive style of play where he drove the ball way past everybody else.
“He had no fear. Great putter. Both similar that way.”
The PGA Tour has always highlighted different swings. Jack Nicklaus’ upright plane and power, Ben Hogan’s flat swing and control, Tiger Woods’ constant tinkering.
Arnold Palmer hit and twitched. Lee Trevino faced 40 yards left of the target, as if he was trying to fake a linebacker out of position. Jim Furyk foreshadowed Wolff’s looping action without the initial shoulder trigger and the foot stamping.
Along with a variety pack of swings, there are almost as many putting strokes as there are putters. There’s The Claw, left hand low, toe up, toe down, flowing strokes and popping motions.
There will always be a place in the game for prototypes. Morikawa shot a 64 on Saturday with a swing that is functional art, while DeChambeau shot a disappointing 70 with a swing that looks intentionally robotic.
Did Morikawa model his swing after anyone in particular?
“No,” he said. “You know, it’s just kind of been a work in progress. And I love it.”