David Leadbetter insists that Nick Faldo, in his prime, was a feel player. That flies in the face of outward appearances, given Faldo's intense attention to every detail of his swing.
Artist or mechanic, there's no doubt Faldo was one of the best players of his day. From 1987-96, he won the Masters and Open Championship three times each, besting his contemporary Seve Ballesteros for the most majors won among Europeans in the modern era.
Faldo and Ballesteros couldn't have been more different on the course. Where Ballesteros was wild and creative, Faldo was calculating and controlled. In fact, the Englishman's repertoire included a 1-yard draw and fade – meaning they curved a single yard in flight. Now that's control.
Though a very large man at 6'4” and more than 200 pounds, Faldo was never a long hitter. In fact, he retired from competitive golf in his 40s, unable to keep pace with young bombers like Tiger Woods. Faldo has found a home in the announcing booth, where he's free to analyze other golfers' swings in minute detail.
Faldo's signature: A compact, rhythmic swing that produced incredibly consistent ballstriking.
What it looked like: Faldo's grip was a little on the strong side (positioned to the golfer's right on top of the club), and he turned his head to the right, a la Jack Nicklaus, before taking the club back. Faldo quickly got the club on plane in the backswing, and stopped the shaft short of parallel at the top. He also exhibited great “width,” meaning his hands were well away from his head as he swung back.
While many pros achieve a powerful “downcock” to start the downswing – where the angle between club shaft and left arm becomes smaller – Faldo had what's called a wide release. That is, the shaft began separating from the left arm immediately. This is one reason he was never a big hitter.
Faldo drove his legs laterally toward the target coming into impact, with the left leg straightening and the right continuing to rotate. His head and chest were in an extremely stable position, right over the ball, at the moment of contact. Faldo kept his head down, his eyes focused on the ground, long after the ball was gone.
Why it worked for Faldo: His primary goal was to remove the hands from the swing, relying on the big muscles to do the yeoman's work. In this way Faldo was similar to many of golf's most consistent performers. Conversely, “handsy” players are often streaky – hot when their timing is on, cold when it's off.
Of course, none of Faldo's well practiced technique – he hit 500-800 balls each day according to Leadbetter – would have meant much if not for his beautiful rhythm and balance.
How it can work for you: A compact swing includes a few key features:
- The hips, torso, shoulders and arms work as a unit.
- The right elbow stays close to the body on the backswing; the left elbow is close on the follow-through.
- On the backswing, the arms stop moving up when the shoulders stop turning.
If more control is your goal, Faldo's method is a great one to emulate.
Nick Faldo Compact Control
You have to move in order to swing the golf club – that much is obvious. However, too many moving parts can lead to big trouble in your swing. So how to you balance the need to move the club around your body with the desire to not move too much? You work on building a compact golf swing, much like the one Nick Faldo used throughout his impressive, Hall of Fame career. Faldo owns 41 professional victories, including six major championships. He was the #1 ranked golfer in the world for a total of 97 weeks in his career, and has gone on to have a successful broadcasting career. To say Faldo has made his mark on the world of golf would be a serious understatement.
If you take a moment to watch a video of Nick Faldo's swing, simplicity is the first word that will likely come to mind. There just isn't a lot going on in his swing – and that is a good thing. Golfers with complicated swings tend to go through streaks of good and bad play depending on their timing and tempo. On the other hand, a player like Faldo who possesses a compact and repeatable action is able to play great golf week in and week out. As you work on improving your own swing, you should strive for this same model. Build a swing that is compact and controlled from start to finish and you will notice your consistency improve dramatically.
Many golfers think they need to have big, powerful swings in order to hit the ball great distances. That simply isn't true. Achieving distance in golf is more about efficiency than it is raw power. As long as you are using your body in the right way throughout the swing, you should be able to generate plenty of speed while remaining in control the whole time. Big golf swings lead to big misses – and no golfer wants to see big misses out on the course. If a controlled, compact golf swing can lead to a Hall of Fame career as it did for Nick Faldo, it can certainly help you play your best golf.
The benefits of a simple golf swing extend beyond the ball flight that you produce. There are also mental game benefits to be enjoyed when you teach yourself to make a compact and controlled swing. By keeping your swing under control, your mind will feel more at east as well as you go through the round. The results of your shots will be more predictable, so you won't have to be worried about various hazards and obstacles that you need to avoid. In all, using a compact golf swing makes for a more relaxing, enjoyable day on the course for most players. You should have more control over your game as a whole, which means more time will be spent looking at birdie putts as less time is used picking through the trees trying to find your golf ball.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
Elements of a Compact Swing
What does a compact golf swing look like? How do you differentiate between a long swing and a compact one? While there is no set-in-stone definition, there are a few things that you can look for which would indicate a player is making a controlled, compact swing. Also, even without looking specifically, you can just take an overview of a swing and decide if it looks compact to your eye. For example, if you watch Nick Faldo's swing just once or twice, you would almost certainly come to the conclusion that it is compact and fully under control.
Before you start making any actual changes to your swing, review the list below to better understand what elements typically make up a compact golf swing.
- Tight right elbow. As the club swings up to the top of the backswing, your right elbow should stay in tight to your right side. This is a hallmark of a compact golf swing. Players with longer swings allow their right elbow to lift up and away from their body during the backswing, meaning they will have to make some sort of correction later in the swing to get that arm back in position. It is possible to play good golf with a flying right elbow, but it is easier to simply keep that elbow down and in near your side. If your goal is to create a compact golf swing, keeping your right elbow down in the backswing is a requirement.
- Quiet lower body. Since a compact golf swing is one that is nice and short, there isn't a need to move your lower body dramatically in the backswing. While you are swinging up to the top of your backswing, focus on maintaining the lower body position that you established at address. You want your lower body to establish a stable base for your swing, and that won't happen if either leg is moving around excessively. Sit into your stance at address and maintain the flex in your legs throughout the swinging motion.
- Stable head position. One of the biggest keys to making a compact swing is keeping your head as still as possible. There is bound to be a little bit of movement in your head position, specifically during the downswing, but try to keep it to a minimum. As you are swinging back and through, make sure your eyes remain focused on the ball. Watching the ball will help in two ways – it will make it easier to strike the ball cleanly, and it will also make it easier to hold your head steady. If you are having trouble with stabilizing your head position, work on hitting some soft wedge shots and gradually work your way back up to full swings with the longer clubs.
- No lateral motion. A great way to simplify your golf swing is to remove any lateral movement so you can focus solely on rotation. Watching Nick Faldo swing, you see a beautiful shoulder turn with essentially no lateral movement to either side. This is a great way to swing the club because it keeps you right over top of the ball throughout the entire backswing and downswing. Therefore, it is easier to create a solid strike, and you will be able to maximize your power because your rotation will not be slowed down by a useless lateral slide.
Not surprisingly, a compact golf swing is a simple golf swing. By keeping your right elbow down as you turn your shoulders back away from the ball, you can put your body in a great position from which to strike. As long as your head stays steady and you don't slide toward the target, your compact swing should lead to positive results.
The Benefits on the Course
It only makes sense to use a compact golf swing if there are going to be actual benefits when you are out on the course. Fortunately, there are a number of benefits that you can experience by altering your swing technique to tighten up your mechanics. Of course, not every golfer will enjoy each of these benefits, but hopefully you will see at least a couple of them appear in your game over time.
- Consistent starting line. The line that your ball starts on when it leaves the club face is very important. While the ball can obviously curve to the left or right in the air, getting it started on the proper line is half the battle when it comes to hitting your targets. If you can hit your intended starting line time after time, you will find that you have a high level of control over your golf ball. A compact swing will help you reach this goal as there are not very many moving parts to get your club face off line prior to impact. When your swing stays tight and controlled, you can expect the club face to be returned to the ball in the same position shot after shot.
- Performance under pressure. One of the best things about using a compact golf swing is the way that swing can hold up under pressure. For Nick Faldo, his compact swing is probably one of the big reasons why he was able to handle the pressure of winning tournaments on the biggest stages in golf. As he went about winning six major championships and numerous other significant titles, Faldo was able to control his ball and deal with the immense pressure that comes along with the global stage – thanks in no small part to the compact swing that he employed.
- Dealing with conditions. Golf would be much easier if it were always played under warm, sunny skies with little to no wind. Of course, that isn't the case. Golf is an outdoor game, and the elements will always play a part in the outcome of your round. By using a controlled golf swing, you can limit the effects that those elements have on your score. For example, players with long and loose swings might have trouble maintaining their rhythm in the wind, but you should have no such issue. Also, playing in wet conditions can be challenging, but golfers with small and compact swings are usually better able to manage the flight of the ball even when it is wet. You don't want to only play good golf when the weather is great – you want to play well all the time. With that in mind, making the change to a compact golf swing is a worthwhile endeavor.
- Trajectory management. Controlling the height of your shots is something that many golfers neglect to think about, but it can be a powerful weapon in the battle to get the ball close to the hole. Players with compact swings are usually more capable of altering their ball flight because there are fewer variables in the swing to worry about adjusting. With a simple swing, you should be able to move the ball up or back in your stance slightly to alter the flight. This skill will take some practice, but it will be far easier to master if your swing is completely under control.
As you can see, there is a lot to like about building and using a controlled golf swing. Hopefully, you will enjoy all of these benefits after making your swing more compact, but even just one or two of these gains should be enough to make it worth your trouble. Golf is all about making incremental progress, and tightening up your golf swing will give you a chance to take some substantial steps forward in your ability – and in your scoring.
Making a Compact Swing of Your Own
While Nick Faldo is certainly one of the most accomplished golfers in history, it would be a mistake to simply copy his swing mechanics frame-by-frame. Why? Because he is a unique individual, just as you are. There is no reason to think Nick Faldo's swing would work perfectly for you, because you are not Nick Faldo. You have your own personal characteristics that define you as a golfer, including height and weight, eye-hand coordination, balance, tempo, rhythm, and much more. You will succeed only when you use a swing that is suited to you as an individual – not one that has been copied from one of the top golfers in the world.
With all of that said, you can certainly use Faldo as a guide to outline your plan for improvement. You don't want to copy his swing, but you can look for specific elements in his swing that you would like to incorporate into your own. Remember, you aren't building a new swing from the ground up, you are simply trying to improve your current swing by making more compact and controlled.
When you are ready to work on a compact golf swing, head to the driving range with just your pitching wedge. Of course, you can bring all of your clubs if you would like, but you should only be hitting your wedge during this first session. You want to be able to focus clearly on the changes you are making, and trying to hit longer clubs will only distract you from the task at hand. Save the long clubs like the driver for later – right now, work on mastering a compact swing by using just your pitching wedge.
Now that your pitching wedge is in hand and you have a bucket of balls ready to be hit, follow the steps below to tighten up your swing successfully. It should be noted that all of these steps may not apply to you specifically. For example, if you already do a good job of keeping your left foot on the ground throughout the swing, step one isn't going to be an adjustment for you. However, it is important to work through each step to confirm that you are on the right track before moving on to the next.
- The first point to work on (as mentioned above) is the behavior of your left foot. Ideally, you would like to see that left foot remain flat on the ground throughout the golf swing. If you can make your entire swing – backswing and forward swing – while keeping your left heel on the ground, that's great. However, if you need to allow the left heel to come up slightly in the backswing in order to finish your turn, that's okay too. The real key is the downswing. As the club is coming down into the ball, focus on keeping your left heel planted on the turf. Keeping that heel down will not only simplify your swing, it will also help you rotate toward the target faster. To summarize – it's okay if your left heel needs to come off the ground in the backswing, but make sure it is on the ground as your club approaches impact. Hit a few balls while only focusing on your left foot before going to the next step.
- Moving on, the next step in building a compact swing is to watch the movement of your right elbow in the backswing. As was mentioned earlier, that right elbow should remain down and connected to your side throughout the backswing and into the downswing. To work on this technique, place an extra golf glove under your right armpit and make a few practice swings. If you can keep the glove in place, you are doing a good job of keeping your elbow down and in place. After some practice swings, go ahead and hit a few more shots, this time thinking only about your right elbow. If you would like, you can even hit these shots while continuing to do the glove-under-the-armpit drill.
- With your left foot and your right elbow under control, now is the time to check on your head position. The best way to check the movement of your head during the swing is to ask a friend to record your swing on video. As you are hitting a few shots, have your friend record your swing on your cell phone video camera. Watch those swings back and focus on your head position – is it moving all around during the swing? Specifically, make sure your head isn't moving up or down significantly. As long as your head is remaining mostly in place, and your eyes are looking at the ball, you can move on to the last step.
- Finally, hit the remaining practice balls in your bucket while focusing on eliminating the lateral movement from your swing. You should be comfortable with the other fundamentals of a compact swing by this point, you turn your attention to how your center of gravity is working while the club moves around you. Hopefully, you are rotating while your weight stays centered. If not, work on keeping your weight comfortably between your feet from the time the swing starts until you are down near impact. Only after the ball has been sent on its way should your weight be fully moved over onto your left foot.
The steps you need to take in order to make a compact swing might seem easy – and that's because they should be easy. You are trying to make a simple swing that produces repeatable results, so you only want to make simple actions. Go through the four steps above during your next trip to the range and you should walk away a better player than when you arrived.
The most common problem to encounter when trying to learn a compact golf swing is losing all aggressiveness through the hitting area. Many players, when trying to simplify their swing, become afraid to really turn the club loose through the ball. While you want to make simple motions in your compact swing, you still have to give it everything you have when impact arrives.
As you are working on this style of swing on the driving range, or even on the course, remember to have an aggressive attitude at the bottom of your swing. Rhythm and tempo are great things, but there comes a time in every swing when acceleration needs to occur. Think about it this way – your backswing and transition should be balanced and smooth, while your downswing should be 'full speed ahead'. Get through your transition with a nice tempo and then speed the club up as quickly as you can down through impact. If you have done it correctly, this technique will allow you to benefit from your new compact swing mechanics while still hitting the ball impressive distances.
Nick Faldo owns one of the great careers in golf history, and his accomplishments are due in no small part to his beautifully compact golf swing. Playing the game as proficiently as Nick Faldo probably isn't in the cards for you, but you can certainly learn from the way he swung the club. Tighten up your golf swing using the tips above and you may find that it soon takes you fewer shots to work your way around the course.