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What you can learn from Rory McIlroy’s two different golf swings

March 4, 2020

Editor’s Note: Baden Schaff has been a PGA teaching professional for 17 years and is the co-founder of Skillest, a digital platform that connects golf students with golf coaches across the world for online lessons. To learn more about Skillest and to book a lesson of your own with Baden or with Andreas Kali, head over to Skillest.com or download the app in the app store.

Last week I talked about the two very different swings of Rory McIlroy: His driver swing vs. his iron swing. He is the master of adapting his motion to the club in his hand. But is having multiple swings the correct strategy for mere mortals, or even elite golfers?

I would suggest not.

So, if you are wondering which one of Rory’s swings you should choose, here’s a breakdown to consider:

Rory’s driver swing is what I call a back axis swing. It has lots of shift into his right leg, rapidly moving hips on the downswing and a top half that stays a long way over his back leg as he moves the club into impact. His top half is effectively moving away from the target and staying behind the ball. We call it a back axis swing because most of his mass stays over his right leg as he hits the ball. His top half stops as he makes contact and he requires a lot of hand release to close the club through impact.

What are the disadvantages of his driver swing?

  • It puts a huge strain on your back. The compression on the right side of the body on the downswing puts huge strain on the lower vertebrae of your spine.
  • As your top half moves further away from the target during the downswing it moves the low point of your swing backwards as well. If you struggle with your low point as it is this motion will be even more damaging.
  • This swing requires a lot of timing and hand release through the ball. If your top stays back through impact your hands have to come into play and consequently you can hit both hooks and blocks on your bad days. It doesn’t work well with irons

What are the advantages of his driver swing?

  • It’s hugely powerful; you can hit it miles if you can match up everything that is required.

The subtle differences between Rory McIlroy’s driver and iron golf swing

Rory’s iron swing is what we call a front axis swing. He stays on top of the ball as he takes the club away and has almost no visible weight shift. His hips are much more passive on the downswing and he predominantly uses his shoulders and top half to move the club around into impact. He is not trying to stay back with his top half, he is pushing it forward and around. His mass and weight are over his front leg as he pushes his top half around to face the target. This brings the low point forward and allows him to trap his irons catching the ball first every time.

What are the disadvantages of his iron swing?

  • His driver swing has lots of leg action, fast moving hips and body mass that gets further behind the ball through impact, which isn’t ideal for irons.

What are the advantages of his iron swing?

  • It’s repeatable and requires little to no timing to match everything up through impact.
  • Staying on top of the ball during the takeaway means that you have a small transition to get back to where you need to be at impact.
  • Rather than using your hands to release the club you maintain constant wrist angles and use your shoulders to release the club.
  • It’s easier on your back.

There is one very famous player who has, over the past couple of years, tried to move his swing more and more towards a front axis: Tiger Woods.

It’s all come through necessity. After spending years hitting balls with a back axis swing the physical toll finally caught up with him. So, especially over the past few years, he has reduced his leg action and pushed his top forward and around. This takes all of the pressure off his back and guess what? He no longer has the “big miss” with the driver. His new action keeps the club more in front of him and requires less hand action to release the club.

So when you look at Rory’s driver swing admire the beauty, rhythm, timing and flow but just be aware that behind the beauty is hidden peril, and choose his iron swing instead. Hit balls around your front leg, not off your back leg.

To learn more about Skillest and to book a lesson of your own with Baden, head over to Skillest.com or download the app in the App Store.

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