I’m often asked who has the best swing of all time and my response is always the same: "Under what criteria?"
For example, I argue that Calvin Peete had a better swing than Tom Purtzer and people think I am crazy – which is probably true – but what is the purpose of a swing if not to give one control? And nobody knew better where their golf ball was going than Calvin Peete.
If one asks who had the “best” swing and they really mean “prettiest” then of course they will be shocked by my answer. However, when I hear best, I think first of control and then of control with power and finally a marriage of control, power and beauty.
Hanging in the Louvre in Paris is a painting known to some as La Giocanda and most as the Mona Lisa. It was the favorite work of its author Leonardo de Vinci and he carried it with him everywhere he went and never stopped working on it from the time he started in 1503 until his death in 1519.
Over time it became the most widely recognized, caricatured and most sought-after painting at the Louvre and has become the most famous painting in the world. Similarly, there exists in the game of golf, now in faded videos, the lifelong work of a man who’s sole purpose was to conquer the mechanics of the game. A mission to reduce the swing to its base elements, to gain control of it, to own it and in the process he left the game a gift just as Leonardo did the art world.
The greatest swing in history was masculine, elegant, powerful, balanced and repetitive and it belonged to Ben Hogan.
Hogan had control – his record in the U.S. Open and his consistency speaks to that. He had power – the anecdotes and the faded videos speak to that. He had elegance – as there is the reaction of all who watch the videos and are shocked by the symmetry of Hogan’s swing from start to finish.
The choreographed nature of his every move, from the time he pulled a club from the bag, to the unmistakable confidence of his waggle, to his finish that was his and his alone that left no doubt that those years of toil had been rewarded.
Just as there are other paintings worthy of our awe, there are other swings that come to mind but only one continues to infest the minds of teachers and players alike with a desire to know what Hogan knew.
What both Leonardo and Hogan understood was that innate ability was a gift to be respected and what they did with it was their gift to us.
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