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Dec 31

Sam Snead, the Swing Model

Sam Snead Greatest Swing Model

Ask the greatest golfers who ever lived about who is the greatest, and they’ll all include Sam Snead in the conversation, without exception. When the talk comes down to the golf swing, and the individual you’d want to use as the perfect model for a young player, Snead “is” the conversation, with a little Bobby Jones, Byron Nelson, and Ben Hogan sprinkled in. It is said that Sam Snead did for the drive what Roger Bannister did for the four-minute mile, and John Anselmo, Tiger’s teacher, says that he hit it a country mile while looking as if he were out for a Sunday stroll.

snead 1Sam Snead had a thing about over-swinging. He saw it everywhere, and just shook his head. All those frustrated golfers trying to play like King Kong, instead of maximizing their own assets. Nicklaus played with Snead once as a teen, and after watching him for a day or two, slowed it all down and shot a 60. Palmer cites anyone who doesn’t consult Snead as a great swing model as “ignorant.” Trevino, possessing one of the oddest professional swings among the greats, would absolutely introduce a child to the videos of Snead from the first lesson.
What was Snead’s secret, this enigmatic legend of what has been called the “romantic” age of golf? What made him Anselmo’s choice for the “all-time model swing?” And why should we consult him now?
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Among other things, Snead had a light grip on the club, as if he were “holding a little bird.” This prevented all sorts of irrelevant muscles from interfering. He teed it high – why should the ground get any of the torque from the club-head. He moved through the ball on a flat plane, making him a spectacular wind player. Snead’s swing had no visible change of gears, no jerks, jolts, or obvious transitions, what he called an “oily” or “musical” swing. He spoke of the “press down, rhythm” preparation, so that the takeaway would be uniform, moving hands forward, and pressing down before “inhaling” in a set tempo, then moving forward through the ball without fear or unnecessary aggression.

snead 2 The other facet that caught my attention was Snead’s “musical” rhythm for the swing, in his case, “The Blue Danube,” or “waltz style.” On his instructional videos, he demonstrates this characteristic, but is not far from tone deaf, so I had to assume that the tune was “Blue Danube.” As far off as the notes might have been, though, his rhythm was perfect. He drove without proving. Drive to “prove” yourself, and you’re going to spend the afternoon in the bushes. Strategize, put the backswing where your swing wants it, follow through with efficiency and confidence, and you’ll hit it a mile. Snead also mentioned that he practices barefoot, because the feet and lower leg muscles won’t tolerate what it takes to over-swing. A little “Blue Danube,” some barefoot practice and, according to Snead, you’re going to play some surprisingly good golf.

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Sam Snead was a pretty interesting character, introducing the idea of the sand wedge around the green, with or without sand, suggesting that one putts to a specific dimple to guarantee striking the rearmost portion of the ball, and concentrating on a certain amount of detachment from what happens to you on the course. He reminds us that detachment is not indifference, and that it keeps a person in a ready state to recover from whatever happens.

Of course, I don’t have the stature as a golfer to pass the details of these items on, but I can urge you to visit Snead on youtube whenever you can. It’s gorgeous to watch, and he speaks at length about the details. It’s hard to say how conscious he is, or what is purely voluntary and natural. Ben Hogan said of Snead, “Sam doesn’t know a thing about the golf swing, but he does it better than anyone else.” I’m not sure whether I agree the first part.

Nevertheless, Sam Snead, for most of the greats, is the model. We should all revisit the legend before we go off over-swinging in the next round.
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About the author

G.F. Skipworth

has spent every available moment playing golf or studying the greats since the 60s, in between world tours as a classical musician, Harvard studies in Government or as the author of a dozen novels. Nicklaus and Snead may be the statistical greats, but Skipworth is a life-long devotee of Gary Player, and considers meeting the South African at the Jeld-Wen to be an unforgettable milestone. His driving passion in golf these days is to raise viewer interest in the LPGA.