The Hero's Journey: In Search Of The Mechanically Perfect Golf Swing

Forget your Tigers and Leadbetters, here's how a Canadian blogger nailed down the elusive perfect swing...
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Forget your Tigers and Leadbetters, here's how a Canadian blogger nailed down the elusive perfect swing...

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“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

Or so wrote the mythologist Joseph Campbell in his seminal tome “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, in which he posits the notion that all traditional narratives, myths, and fairy tales, essentially follow a single innate structure. His suggestion- drawing heavily from the psychologist Carl Jung’s theory of archetypes- was that all myths are borne of patterns of individual transcendence which bring benefits to the individual and the collective in their everyday world, this was “the hero’s journey”.

And, if one were of a similar mind, it would be easy to look to a litany of examples where instances of this heroism has inspired and improved the world. From the great explorers who have conquered the poles and the planet’s highest peaks; or the Wright brothers, who proved manned flight was possible, or the thousands who performed extraordinary feats in order that man could walk on the moon. These achievements, however, pale into insignificance for certain men- and women- compared with the ongoing and illusive search for the perfect golf swing.

Anyone who has played the sport on more than a handful of occasions can identify with the frustration of being unable to perform a simple repetitive action which will propel a stationary ball forward, straight, and consistently. And, yet, many strive for years- often with minimal or intermittent success- to master what logic would dictate is a straight-forward task. Even the best golfers in the world are not immune, many spending tens of thousands of dollars on tuition, and hundreds of hours in practise, in an effort to tweak and refine swings with which they are dissatisfied.

With so many minds and bodies devoted to this problem, and the billion dollar industry which has grown up around it, it would be something or a surprise if an enthusiastic amateur had solved the problem, largely by himself. And, yet, a Canadian blogger named DJ Watts announced a few short weeks ago that he had done just that. DJ set up his blog seven years ago with the purpose of detailing his research into discovering the best possible golf swing, and evaluating the swings of the greatest players in history as a means to achieving that.

He describes the method he finally settled upon as the “Mechanically Perfect Swing”, or MPS; an action which will strike a ball further and straighter more consistently, with less chance of injury, and which can be taught with a fraction of the complexity and practise demanded by currently approved PGA tuition. It’s a hugely bold claim, one which has the potential to change an entire culture, but what convinced an amateur Canadian golfer to try and succeed where so many before him had failed?

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“It was a fluke, really”, says Watts, “- a work acquaintance was a new golfer and very enthused, and managed to convince me to come on a holiday when we weren't working, to try it.  I was 25, and I was hooked immediately.  What I didn't like was that I had no idea what the golf swing being taught was, or how it worked.  It was maddening.  But I'd always been a better than average athlete, so I knew it wasn't me.  By 2005, I had decided that I was going to figure it out once and for all.  How to swing a club properly.  The rest, as they say, is the history of my journey.”

Initially, of course, Watts began his research looking at swings he instinctively admired, but he didn’t look to the biggest names, or the most successful players of the modern era. Rather, it was a cult figure from the Canadian tour known for his unerring accuracy; a man described by Tiger Woods as one of few who “owned his swing”, the eccentric- and much missed- Moe Norman:

“I'm Canadian, so naturally Moe Norman became a topic long before I decided to figure out the swing… his life story and swing action fascinated me.  I also was very partial to Ben Hogan, who was considered the standard in the 90's before Tiger and other modern swing golfers began to change the way the swing is taught - simply by winning tournaments swinging the way they swung.”

But, like the hero of Campbell’s monomyth, Watts has been led down many a rocky path fraught with dangers and false dawns before he realised that, in fact, the mechanically perfect swing had, in essence, already been discovered,

“Yes, I've said "I've got it!" a million times, usually preceding an extended funk where I had no idea what I was doing anymore.  It has not been an easy road, I can assure you.  I've gone down blind alleys more times than I've found something useful.  The true essence of the golf swing is to remove all but the necessary motion.  All else is superfluous and interferes with the natural swing motion.”

The swing model he settled upon was that of Mike Austin. Another cult figure, Austin’s name is firmly ingrained in the imaginations of serious students of the game as someone who, in 1974, and at 64 years of age, hit the longest drive in the history of competition golf. At the United States senior open he shocked playing partners with his length off the tea, hitting several drives almost 400 yards. Encouraged, somewhat jokingly, by one of them to try and “really hit one”, he swung at his tee shot as hard as he could. With a 20 mile an hour tail wind, using a persimmon driver with a balata ball, Austin drove through the green, achieving a distance of 515 yards- a record which still stands today.

Austin was a remarkable character, one who never won a tournament, held back by terrible putting which may be in part attributed to his body producing too much adrenalin. As a result, he spent little time on tour, devoting his life to teaching, invention, and the study of kinesiology and physiology. His ball-striking was the stuff of legend, but so was his inability to get students to understand his methods. He recorded several videos in which he used all sorts of analogies and discussed many concepts. Watts believed he had the swing, and understood it, but found it maddeningly difficult- borne out by a notorious temper- to convey it. Watts believes that, after all his research, he can practise and articulate the mechanics Austin failed to completely convey.

“I could explain the mechanically perfect swing in less than a minute.  It's making people understand why things are so simple, and why they are required (people are always taking something, saying "I'll use this, but I don't have to change this," and that's what makes it difficult or impossible to learn a proper swing.  If you try a math problem and decide that your way of lining up the columns is better, you're not going to get the same answer, if you arrive at one at all), that takes the time.  The golf swing is a kinetic chain, and you can't take out a link here or there and think it's going to work.  It won't.  The swing isn't hard, people make it hard.”

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Indeed, Watts has been extremely outspoken in his criticism of modern teaching methods. The game’s many gurus including the likes of David Leadbetter, Butch Harmon and, especially, Sean Foley, have all drawn his ire. The “modern swing” and its variations are, according to him, the consequence of the rise of video teaching at the time of Ben Hogan’s success with his post-car crash swing. Hogan made a number of alterations to his action after his car accident to alleviate pain, alterations which kept him straight off the tee, but left him, in the words of Mike Austin, “A very short hitter”. As Watts explains,

“The key differences are that I use and teach a swing that is the way the body is made to move.  There is a certain technique in throwing, walking or running that is considered "orthodox," or mechanically-correct, right?  Sure, there is. There is also a way to swing a golf club, if you are looking for it, for maximum power and speed and accuracy and repeatability, without causing injury to oneself.  There's a reason 99% of NBA players shoot free throws with the same technique - it's the best way to do it.

The PGA has gone to the horrid "modern swing," which essentially says that you can swing using half your body (the upper half) to swing a golf club.  This is the source of all the younger players' increasing incidences of lower back, knee, and sundry injuries that you just didn't see twenty years ago.  Golfers hurt themselves back in the day, sure, but not the young, athletic swingers you see now weekly going down with a neck, back or knee ailment.  Maybe they'll figure it out one day...

There's no other sport in this world that not only doesn't criticise faulty technique, but actually celebrates it. Bizarre.”

Of course, the notion of a “Mechanically Perfect Swing” may be considered, not only suspicious, but anathema to the dogmatists which guard the gates of modern golf theory, and- if the claims Watts makes are correct- may prove the greatest hurdle to achieving the fame which by rights should come his way. Indeed, in the mythical hero’s journey, it is not enough for the hero merely to seize his prize- in this case, the perfect swing- in fact, he may now be at his most vulnerable as he returns to his homeland of the golfing fraternity with this, seemingly remarkable gift to impart.

Watts’ blog can boast some glowing testimonials, and has a positive teaching relationship with PGA Pro “Jerry Big Toilet Crowell”. Some of his tips even found their way to Ryan Winther- widely regarded as the best long driver in the world- who said the advice made his shots, “Much straighter and faster!” Ultimately, however, it will likely take the testimony of one or more tour pros to alert the world to the benefits of his work, something which Watts’ seems confident will happen in time.

Watt’s long and turbulent journey may not yet be over, but it seems, at long last, he can see the lights of home burning in the distance.

Watt’s blog is located at www.waxgolf.com

Watts’ “Perfect Drive”: