Sometimes, it seems as if big men have taken over professional golf. Many of the world’s top players are quite tall and/or muscular – see long and lanky Dustin Johnson, fitter-than-you-think Phil Mickelson, or NFL safety body-double Tiger Woods.
But there’s still a place for the little(ish) guy among the pay-for-play set. And the pipsqueaks aren’t necessarily banking on sensational short games to overcome a lack of length. Exhibit A: Canada’s Graham DeLaet.
DeLaet stands 5’11” and weighs just 165 pounds, yet averaged nearly 299 yards off the tee in 2013 to rank 19th in driving distance on the PGA Tour. His average clubhead speed with the big stick was an impressive 120.96 mph, good for seventh place – ahead of burlier types like Robert Garrigus and Angel Cabrera.
Here’s the most impressive (and encouraging) part: DeLaet doesn’t sacrifice accuracy to gain extra yards. Far from it. He found 65.8 percent of fairways, 34th on tour, and finished first in total driving (distance plus accuracy). He also ranked third in greens in regulation to earn the No. 1 spot in ballstriking.
So DeLaet hits it long and straight. We’re most amazed by the power this 31-year-old generates with his wiry frame. Read on as we analyze DeLaet’s marvelous golf swing.
DeLaet’s signature: Unusual foot positioning at setup; left heel planted on the backswing; right heel raised on downswing.
Who else does it: Many tour pros keep the left heel in place on takeaway and lift the right heel swinging into and through the ball. Few, however, exhibit foot placement like DeLaet’s.
What it looks like: In a standard-issue setup, the left (lead) foot is flared toward the target, typically about 20°, with the right foot approximately square to the target line. DeLaet practically reverses this fundamental. His left foot is angled only slightly outward while his right foot points well to the right.
DeLaet’s left heel remains firmly planted throughout the backswing, a sign of great flexibility. As he starts the downswing, his right heel begins to lift almost immediately. By the time he reaches impact, DeLaet’s right heel has raised a good 3”; he finishes on his right tiptoes, with the top of his right foot facing the target.
Why it works for DeLaet: Many modern instructors preach that golfers should restrict the hip turn during the backswing to create tension or coil between the upper and lower body. Hence, golfers are taught to keep the right foot square, which prevents the hips from over-rotating. By adopting a wide stance and staying centered over the ball, DeLaet limits his hip turn (in spite of the flared toe) while keeping his weight on the inside of his right foot/leg at the top. He’s coiled and loaded for power.
As for the left foot, flaring it outward allows the hips to rotate easily toward the target on the downswing. DeLaet manages to do this with his left toe practically square by driving hard off his right side. Unlike many tour pros, his left leg doesn’t straighten at impact. Instead, his left hip continues rotating continuously – DeLaet’s hips are wide open, his left knee and ankle bowed noticeably outward, when clubface meets ball
With such vicious hip rotation, why doesn’t DeLaet get “stuck” on the downswing and hit massive pushes or hooks? Because he keeps his chin up, off his chest, and his arms away from his body. These positions allow his shoulders to work without restriction and keep pace with the hips, while the arms aren’t impeded on their path to the ball.
How it can work for you: While DeLaet’s footwork may defy the textbook, some of his methods may be worth emulating. For example, a wide stance promotes good balance and stability while keeping your hip turn in check. Paired with a flared right foot, widening your stance could help you find the sweet spot between too much rotation and not enough.
Amateurs would also do well to copy DeLaet’s right leg downswing drive, which can boost power and help you get through the ball for solid contact. Focus on finishing with your right foot turned toward the target, with only the toes touching the ground.
Indeed, slender types can learn a lot by studying DeLaet’s setup and swing. Pound for pound, he’s one of golf’s strongest players.