Welcome back, Ernie Els. We sure did miss you, big guy.
Ten years after his last major championship victory, Els claimed major No. 4 at the 2012 Open Championship, outlasting a host of competitors to hoist the coveted Claret Jug at England's Royal Lytham & St. Annes. At age 42, the South African could be on the verge of a career renaissance.
When he won the Open Championship at Muirfield in 2002, Els was second only to Tiger Woods in golf's pecking order. He continued to play well until getting derailed by a 2005 knee injury, suffered while sailing with his kids. From 2006 up to his win at Royal Lytham, Els won just three events on the PGA Tour.
Nonetheless, Els' legacy was secure long before his comeback triumph. At 6'4” and 210 pounds, his remarkably fluid swing earned Els an endearing nickname: “The Big Easy Golfer.” Let's analyze Els' amazing action, and how you can emulate the hall-of-famer's key attributes.
Els' signature: A seemingly effortless swing that produces tremendous power.
What it looks like
No matter what club he's hitting, Els appears to be swinging at no more than 75-percent power(The Big Easy Golfer). Of course, the ball's flight says otherwise; while he's lost a little distance in recent years, Els can still crush it when he needs to.
Els' swing is very sound, technically speaking, so there's little or no excess motion in getting the club on plane and into a square position at impact. That's another reason it looks so pretty.
Why it works for Els: His size and athleticism certainly help. Els' muscular, supple build allows him to generate massive clubhead speed without exerting himself the way a smaller, less gifted player must. Without great fundamentals, though, all that talent would be useless.
Els sets up very relaxed, with no visible tension in his limbs, his knees nicely flexed and his balance poised on the balls of his feet. His first crucial move is “setting” the club before he reaches the top of his backswing; when his left arm reaches parallel to the ground, the shaft is cocked at more than a 90° angle to the arm. He simply maintains this wrist position while turning the shoulders to finish the backswing.
Els' other key move is nearly imperceptible: his lower body shifts toward the target a split-second before his upper body completes the backswing turn. Many top players, including 2012 U.S. Open champ Webb Simpson, share this move, which creates added torque that's released into the ball.
In fact, the real key to Els' success may be that he never forces the action. He relies on solid mechanics to position the club properly throughout the swing, using the large muscles as the engine that drives his arms and hands.
How it can work for you: Fortunately, you don't have to be an athletic giant to employ many of Els' methods. Here are a handful of tips to simplify your swing and remove wasted effort:
- Lighten your grip pressure: If you can feel your arm muscles tensing and see veins bulging, you're holding the club too tightly. On a scale of 1-10 (10 being extreme pressure), grip the club at about 5. Here's a great way to gain a sense of how hard to grip the club.
- Turn those shoulders: If the big muscles are to control the swing, you've got to make a full shoulder turn. This means about 90° relative to the target line as you finish the backswing with the driver. If your left shoulder is under your chin, you've made a nice, full turn.
- Let the wrists hinge naturally: There's no particular point where the wrists should begin hinging on the backswing. It happens naturally as an extension of your shoulder rotation and lifting of the arms. However, it's important to start back with a one-piece takeaway, keeping the triangle formed by the arms, wrists and hands intact for the first several inches away from the ball.
- Start the downswing with the left hip: Too many players initiate the downswing by throwing their hands at the ball. Big mistake. Instead, the left heel presses into the ground, activating the left hip's movement toward the target. The rest flows from there.
- Practice good tempo: While a certain natural rhythm is required to swing like Ernie, you can smooth out your tempo with this classic drill.
Ernie Els Big Muscles Power Effortless Swing
Ernie Els is one of the best golfers of his generation thanks to a powerful swing that appears to require almost no effort whatsoever. Els has long been known as 'The Big Easy', which is a perfect nickname to describe both his golf swing and his attitude on the course. Ernie has been a fan favorite for many years thanks to his friendly nature, not to mention his impressive golf game which has netted him a total of four major championships. Still highly competitive into his 40's, Ernie Els will certainly go down as one of the greats of the game when all is said and done.
If you want to learn from the swing of a professional golfer, you would be wise to pay close attention to the way Ernie moves the club through the hitting area. As a big man, Els doesn't need to change directions aggressively in order to generate speed. Instead, his swing appears to be slow and gradual throughout, as he stores up speed only to unleash it right at the last moment. Watching how easily he is able to swing the club, you would never guess that Els could launch the ball long distances down the fairway. In the same class as Fred Couples when it comes to an effortless swing, Els is able to generate power through efficient use of his big muscles.
So what does that mean for your swing? Most likely, you aren't going to be able to copy Ernie's swing exactly. After all, you might not have his large frame, or his incredible hand-eye coordination. However, with some practice you may be able to incorporate the same kind of fluid tempo into your game. All golfers can benefit from working on their tempo, and Els is one of the best examples of rhythm in the entire world of golf. Just watching his swing over and over again could help you make better swings during your next visit to the range.
The best way to learn from the example that Ernie has set is to gradually introduce elements of his swing into your game while maintaining the basic framework of your own swing. If you simply try to head to the range and copy his swing frame by frame, you are going to be left with disappointing results. You don't want to rebuild your swing completely from the ground up – instead, you should strive to improve on what you already have in place.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
Evaluating Your Current Tempo
It is the amazing tempo that Ernie Els uses in his swing which gives it the effortless appearance that so many people admire. If you can improve your own tempo, your swing will begin to take on the same kind of look. Of course, in order to improve your tempo, you need to know what kind of tempo you are using currently. It would be a mistake to try improving something that doesn't need improvement, so check your swing for signs of poor tempo before you get to work making changes to your technique.
The following three points are all signs that your tempo may need to be improved.
- Losing balance. This is an obvious sign that there is a problem with your tempo. When you watch Ernie Els swing the club, you will never see any sign of lost balance at any point during the swing. Ernie appears to be completely comfortable in his posture, and that posture is maintained all the way through to a balanced finish. If you are losing your balance during your swing, there is a good chance that an inconsistent tempo is to blame. Your rhythm should be steady throughout the backswing and downswing, and any change is that rhythm is likely to throw your center of gravity out of place. Effortless power will forever remain a dream instead of a reality if you fail to correct your balance issues.
- Pushed or pulled shots. No one hits the ball directly at the target on each shot, but a consistent pattern or pulled or pushed shots may indicate a timing issue. Players like Ernie Els are able to start the ball close to the target line time after time because they have such great timing in place. The club and the rest of the body arrive at impact at the same time, so the club face is consistently square to the target. When your tempo is out of whack, it becomes far more difficult to reach impact with your arms and torso still nicely connected. As you hit balls on the range, watch the pattern of your shots and notice if you are consistently pulling or pushing the ball away from the target line. If this is a problem, look to your tempo as the most likely solution.
- Poor contact. Another reason good tempo is so important is that it can help you to make solid contact with the ball – especially when playing iron shots from the fairway. One of the biggest challenges in golf is making solid contact, but that task becomes much easier when you swing the club with a great rhythm like Ernie Els. Since a rhythmic swing uses the big muscles of the shoulders and chest instead of the small muscles in your hands and forearms, your placement of the club head on the ball will be far more consistent. During your next round, take note of how many shots are miss-hit over the course of 18 holes. If you are miss-hitting the ball on a regular basis, it might be time to get down to work on improving your tempo.
Even if you are not a golf swing expert, it is easy to see that Ernie Els uses great rhythm to hit his shots. That rhythm has been a big part of his success, and copying his beautiful tempo can lead you to improved performance on the course as well.
Understanding the Big Muscle Swing
If you want to use Ernie Els as a guide to improve your swing, you need to have a clear understanding of what he is doing to move the club through the ball so effortlessly. While his swing may look easy, it has actually taken years and years of hard work to perfect. There are no shortcuts in golf, and you can be sure that Ernie Els has worked very hard throughout his career to master the impressive swing that he has built. With that in mind, you should not reasonably expect to take one trip to the driving range and suddenly start swinging the club like Ernie Els. Any progress you make will be gradual, and you will have to stick with the process until you start to see positive results.
There are three elements of a big muscle golf swing that you need to understand. By putting these elements into place in your own swing, you can gradually begin to improve the quality of your ball striking.
- Rotation in the takeaway. Getting started correctly is crucial if you want to make smooth swing that uses your big muscles to move the club. Many amateur golfers make the mistake of using mostly hands and arms to start the swing. If you do the same, you will be putting the club out of position right from the beginning. Instead, your hands and arms should remain quiet while you use the rotation of your shoulders to move the club away from the ball. Ernie Els starts his swing turn turning his torso away from the target, and you should strive to do the same thing. In fact, Ernie is able to keep his hands quiet throughout the entire backswing, as he uses his body rotation to take the club all the way up to the top and into the transition.
- Hips start the club forward. Another place many amateurs go wrong is the start of the downswing. Ideally, you want to use your hips to start the downswing by turning them to the left (toward the target). Unfortunately, many amateur golfers use only their arms to start the downswing while the lower body stays stuck in place. If you would like to build swing speed in your downswing, you will need to use your lower body effectively to rotate the club back toward the target. When done correctly, your lower body rotation will look smooth and natural, but it will be capable of creating tremendous power that can be unleashed into the ball at impact.
- Power from the ground up. If you watch Ernie Els' swing in slow motion, you will notice how engaged his legs are throughout the swing. His knees are flexed in the backswing, and they remain that way as the club heads down toward the ball. The power that Ernie is creating is really coming from the ground up, and his legs are pushing down against the earth to create leverage for the downswing. It is common for amateur golfers to give up the flex in their legs early in the swing, leaving them only to make a weak arm swing at the ball. Hold your knee flex deep into the backswing so you can use that stored up power to unload the club into the back of the ball.
You will notice that all of the points above have to do with big muscle groups in your body. Between your shoulders and chest controlling the takeaway and your lower body controlling the downswing, you will be relying on the biggest muscles in your body to do the bulk of the work – which is exactly how it should be.
The Mental Side of Choosing Your Tempo
A big part of the swing technique that Ernie Els uses comes back to his personality. His swing matches nicely with his demeanor, which is why he has been able to repeat the swing so consistently throughout his career. Ernie is a laid back person by nature, so using a laid back golf swing only makes sense. To that point, you need to think about your own personality and make sure you are creating a golf swing that matches with your own temperament. You can't change your underlying personality, so use that as a starting point and then craft your golf swing to match.
Does that mean that if you have an aggressive personality you can't use Ernie Els as a guide for your swing? No, not at all. However, you need to tailor your swing to match with your attitude on the course while also including some of the great fundamentals that Ernie uses in his game. It is certainly possible to make a swing that is guided by your big muscles while using a quicker tempo than Ernie. The importance of using your torso in the backswing and your legs in the downswing doesn't change regardless of what kind of tempo you employ.
It is important to make a distinction between a fast tempo and a bad tempo. There are plenty of players, even players on the PGA Tour, who use a fast tempo to great effect. A good tempo simply needs to be consistent and repeatable, regardless of whether it is slow or fast. Nick Price is a great example of a high quality player who used a fast tempo in his swing. His swing didn't have the same effortless appearance as Ernie Els, but it had great rhythm and was obviously very successful. If Nike Price tried to use the same tempo as Ernie Els, he likely would have had very little success. In the same way, if Els tried to swing with Price's quick pace, he would not have had the same kind of legendary career. Both of those players were successful because they matched their swing to the personality that they took with them to the course each day.
Getting back to your game, it is crucial that you are honest with yourself on this point. If you aren't sure what kind of personality you have on the golf course, ask your playing partners for their opinion. Do they see you as someone who is laid back and relaxed, or someone who is always ready to get on to the next shot? They will be able to offer you an objective opinion on the temperament that you have on the golf course, and you can use that information to properly construct your golf swing.
You can only be yourself both on and off the golf course. Trying to be something you're not is a recipe for disaster. Even if you love the swing of Ernie Els, it would be a mistake to try copying his swing exactly if you don't have the right personality for using such a slow and smooth tempo. You need your tempo to hold up even under pressure on the golf course, and it will never come naturally to you if you are trying to emulate someone else. If you happen to have a similar personality to Ernie Els, then by all means go ahead and replicate his rhythm in your own game. Otherwise, stick to what is comfortable, even if it doesn't have the effortless look that Ernie is able to present.
Implementing a Big Muscle Swing
Regardless of what tempo you are going to use to swing the club, you can use a big muscle swing to get into great positions and create a powerful attack down into the ball. Just like Ernie Els, your swing will be far more consistent and reliable under pressure when you utilize your big muscles rather than your small ones to swing the club. Of course, if you are used to using your small muscles in the golf swing, making this change is going to take some significant time and effort.
The first step in working toward this goal is to take your hands out of the takeaway. For most golfers, using their hands in the takeaway is a natural reaction to the beginning of the swing. Most people think is just feels 'right' to use the hands and wrists in the takeaway, so that is exactly what they do. Unfortunately, this motion typically puts the club inside the proper swing path, and sets you up for a potential slice (or at least a pull).
To work on getting your hands out of the takeaway motion, practice one handed takeaways with one of your short irons. Take your stance and drop either your right or left hand off of the club. With only one hand remaining on the grip, repeat the takeaway motion over and over again. Since you won't have as much control over the club with one hand as you do with two, you will be forced to use your bigger muscles to control the early part of the swing. Once you feel your shoulders and torso doing the majority of the work in the takeaway, put your other hand back on the club and try to recreate the same motion. Even if you change nothing else about the rest of your swing, simply improving your takeaway will be a great help in the pursuit of better ball striking.
The other main area of focus in a big muscle swing is the transition from backswing to downswing. When the club reaches the top of the swing, you want to initiate the downswing by turning your hips to the left (toward the target). It is important to get the timing just right on this point, as using your hips too early or too late will lead to poor results. Focus on having your left hip turn to the left just a fraction of a second before the club has finished the backswing. It will be difficult to nail down this timing at first, but it will be a powerful feeling once you get it right. The motion of your lower body will transfer on up into the club, and you will be generating more power than ever before. As you swing down, remember not to give up any of that speed prior to making contact with the ball. You want the fastest point of your swing to be precisely at impact, so swing down aggressively and complete the swing into a balanced finish position.
As you begin to make progress with this new and improved swinging motion, you will notice some changes in your ball flight. For one thing, you should be hitting the ball farther. With a more effective transfer of energy and a better angle of attack, it is almost certain that you will add distance to your shots. Also, you should be starting the ball on a better line with most of your swings. It is obviously a good thing to have more control over your starting line, but you will need to go through a period of transition on the course as you learn your new shot patterns. Over the years you have become comfortable with adjusting your aim to fit your swing, but you are going to need to change those habits quickly if you are going to get good results from this big muscle swing.
Ernie Els is one of the best golfers of his generation, and he possesses one of the best golf swings the game has ever seen. It isn't realistic for you to perfectly replicate his effortless power, but you can certainly learn from his swing to improve your own. It all starts with finding your own tempo. Once you are confident you have developed the right rhythm for your swing, you can move on to using the fundamentals of a big muscle swing to move the club around your body with ease. With enough hard work and plenty of patience, you can take the lessons learned from Ernie's effortless swing and use them to lower your scores.