Teaching Philosophy

My Teaching Philosophy…

Let Your Body Determine Your Fundamentals

By Dr. Jim Suttie

“No matter how technically proficient our swing, we all have a tendency to hit the golf ball a certain way. At our training centers, we concentrate on working with each student’s natural swing pattern, not against it.” –Dr. Jim Suttie

Having an extensive background in bio-mechanics and golf instruction for over three decades, I have played a role in revolutionizing modern golf instruction through the use of video and computer technology to help teachers become more proficient at identifying the root cause of swing errors.

Early in my career I explored the use of a computer-generated model swing to teach golf. I found that the model would provide a good concept, but the “one swing fits all” idea was very limiting when faced with different body builds, flexibility levels, timing patterns and ball flight preferences. I began to search for a better way to teach. Because all human bodies, musculatures and power sources are different, I found that a different set of fundamentals based on the physical characteristics of each golfer is required.

I call these fundamentals “Matching Swing Elements”. An example of a matching swing element would be a strong grip and an address position with the ball placed farther back in the stance. Another example would be that a more vertical swing plane matches up with a lower body slide, while a more horizontal swing plane matches up with a lower body that has more rotary motion. Matching swing elements can also be “hook fundamentals”, or “fade fundamentals,” depending upon the golfer’s desired ball flight. Problems occur when “fade” and “hook” fundamentals are mixed into one swing.

In addition, most golf swings can be classified into fundamentals based on the golfer’s body type and flexibility level. The title of a book I co-authored, “The L.A.W.S. of the Golf Swing,” stands for Leverage, Arc and Width swings. Rarely is there a pure leverage, arc or width swing, but it is a starting point from which other swing types can be identified. Some fundamentals that fit the arc swing would be disastrous for the leverage swing. This is an example of what we call a “mismatch.”

I have further expanded and developed the LAWS model to include other acceptable, repeating swing styles. All swing styles are based on what the golfer is physically able to perform, and which of his physical attributes are the most prevelant. For example, under the pressure of competition, all golfers tend to revert to their dominant power source. If that is the upper body, the golfer must be taught an upper body, right-sided swing. If the player has quick hands, telling him to keep his hands out of the shot would be futile. Telling a golfer with a strong lower body to keep his feet planted at impact would convert his swing to one that is powerless.

The position or “slot” at the top of the swing has everything to do with the success of the downswing. Every golfer will have a dominant dimension at the top that allows for a direct route to the ball. When the golfer is not playing from his dominant dimension, he must compensate to get back to impact. We know that all golfers play with compensations, but it is the teacher’s job to minimize them. After all, we don’t want to encourage compensations, but to develop solid fundamentals that fit each person’s individual swing style.

In almost every instance your body shows you how you can swing optimally. Craig Stadler cannot swing like Davis Love. Obviously both methods work for Craig and Davis, but they swing according to their physical capabilities. If a five-year-old child were allowed to learn golf on a desert island without the influence of teachers, golf magazines, or the latest fad in swing methods, he might well learn to hit the ball more naturally, based on his physical attributes.

There are many successful ways to swing a golf club. The challenge we have as teachers is to determine how or whether a particular swing style fits the individual golfer. The best way to determine this is to observe the impact zone. Is the impact repeating and consistent? If so, then the task of customizing that person’s swing should not be too difficult.

The problem with most golfers’ swings is that they contain mismatched elements. Many one-time great touring professionals completely “lose it”, and their careers go downhill. In trying to revive their abilities, they often go to a swing that doesn’t fit. This is not the teacher’s fault, but the player’s. For example, a recent major championship winner has gone from being ranked the best in the world to an average tour professional who has difficulty making cuts. His swing at one time had all of his fundamentals matched. His strong grip, low plane, and short swing matched well with his fast rotary hips. He repeated a nice left-to-right fade. Now, he has a weak grip and longer, higher and slower body rotation.

Can you imagine changing all of this just to hit a higher, safer shot? Stories like this persist as players make choices that don’t work with their physical characteristics and natural timing. Putting a swing together is a matter of knowing how to get the body and the pivot to work with the hands and arms to produce the best impact. Finally, the upper body must be synchronized to work with lower body.

When asked which teaching method I use, my answer is always, “I teach golfers, not methods.” Any single method is too limiting. I believe in customizing each student’s swing to fit his body strengths and desired ball flight. I often say, “No one swing fits all, but each person has his own perfect swing.” The search for your perfect swing can be found through my theory of “Matching Swing Elements” which are detailed in my latest book “Your Perfect Swing”.