— #WomensAusOpen (@WomensAusOpen) February 16, 2017
So idiosyncratic were the swings of players generations past you could pick most from two fairways across without a thought. In Australia we were so familiar with Greg Norman’s huge wide backswing and the sliding right foot, Peter Senior’s body pulling up after he hit the ball, Rodger Davis’ exaggerated forward press with both hands and right knee or Kel Nagle’s old-man bump with a three quarter backswing which never missed a shot.
Walk on the range at any event now and you will find any number of fine swings all of which would have qualified as the ‘best swing’ on tour thirty years ago.
Orthodoxy is the way of most in an age when kids can check every swing on their mobile phones and ensure their backswing and what follows imitates the lines of Adam Scott or Louis Oosthuizen or In Gee Chun, the fine Korean woman with a move reminiscent of Ernie Els.
This week at Royal Adelaide the Canadian Brooke Henderson returns to the Women’s Open hoping to improve on her tied 9th last year at The Grange. It was the beginning of her first full year on the tour and within months she had won a major championship when she beat Lydia Ko in a playoff at Sahalee in the LPGA Championship.
Henderson is a throwback to the days when players developed swings through train and error – ‘digging it out of the dirt’ as Ben Hogan once famously said.
Her driver is inches longer than most of her contemporaries but she grips down three inches from the top leading one to wonder why she doesn’t just use a normal length club. No doubt she has a perfectly good reason – probably something along the lines of ‘it just feels right’.
By the time she gets to the end of her backswing the clubhead is down close to where John Daly had it and from there the club lags and drops as it comes back in the fashion of pre-accident Hogan and Sergio Garcia. Arguably both Hogan and Garcia were the premier ball-strikers of their respective generations and Henderson despite her unusual swing plays beautifully and hits as well as anyone on the LPGA Tour. She hits the ball hard, many would say ‘compressing it like a man’ and she plays a wide variety of inventive shots. Such is the way of players who learn by trial and error and who avoid the teacher who wants to change the swing to make it conform with the norm.
Of course there is nothing wrong with orthodox or the norm. Who wouldn’t want to watch Scott or Oosthuizen play golf all day? Or swing like them?
But watching the Canadian reminds us of Lee Trevino or Jim Furyk, players who did it their own way and prompt us golf should always be a game of variety.
It’s the same with golf courses. The game is over-burdened by the conventional and predictable but it is places like The Old Course at St Andrews, North Berwick, The National Golf Links of America or Arrowtown in New Zealand all of which, like Henderson, show there are many ways to do it.