Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the Sept. 9, 2011 issue of Golfweek.
DALLAS – Cameron McCormick won’t let Jordan Spieth watch video of Spieth’s old swing. It’s a way to block out the bad memories. Spieth’s swing has changed in myriad ways since he and McCormick began working together in 2006.
“There was some idiosyncratic movement that went on there,” McCormick said with a hint of understatement. “It was something to look at.”
Or not, apparently.
Spieth’s old swing was steep, and he had a pronounced reverse pivot, requiring a dramatic change in his swing plane between his backswing and downswing.
He became an accomplished player with that old swing, but only because of raw talent and good timing. Spieth, then 12, won his age division at his last event before visiting McCormick – the Starburst Junior, one of Texas’ top junior events – by 19 shots.
There were some tough times as McCormick made dramatic changes to Spieth’s swing, which is now a traditional, on-plane action.
Spieth started the change by performing just one drill – swinging with a rubber ball between his arms – for several weeks. This helped him swing his arms on the proper plane, but the early results weren’t pretty.
“I was chunking it, skulling it,” Spieth said. “I was just trying to find the ball. I’d get so many stares when I hit balls on the range. I would literally go down to the range and hit 50 balls and not get one of them off the ground.”
Spieth’s shots are airborne again, and his revamped swing has made him one of golf’s most promising young talents.
Student: Jordan Spieth
Height/weight: 6 feet, 1 inch; 180 pounds
Accomplishments: Won 2009 and 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur (only player other than Tiger Woods to win multiple U.S. Junior titles); T-16, 2010 Byron Nelson Championship; T-32, 2011 Byron Nelson Championship; 2009 AJGA Rolex Player of the Year; AJGA first-team All-American (2008-10).
What’s in the bag: Titleist 910D2 driver (9.5 degree), Titleist 910F 3-wood (15 degree), Titleist 909H hybrid (21 degree), Titleist AP2 irons (4-PW); Titleist Vokey Spin Milled wedges (52, 56, 60 degrees), Scotty Cameron by Titleist R&D Proto Concept 1 “Tour Rat” putter; Titleist Pro V1x ball.
• • •
Teacher: Cameron McCormick
Title: Director of instruction, Brook Hollow Golf Club, Dallas
Other notable students: Former President George W. Bush, Nationwide Tour players Jason Enloe and Chris Parra, Carolyn Creekmore (2004 USGA Senior Women’s Amateur champion), Anna Schultz (2007 USGA Senior Women’s Amateur champion)
Honors/awards: North Texas PGA Section Teacher of the Year (2007); North Texas PGA Metropolitan Chapter Teacher of the Year (2006)
Backswing: Turn, don’t slide
Spieth used to slide his hips, not turn them, in his backswing. This was one of the major flaws that needed to be addressed.
Players slide their hips on the backswing, for two reasons, McCormick said: Immobility and weakness in the muscles surrounding the pelvis or a misunderstanding of how to shift their weight.
Spieth’s improper hip turn was because of immobility, which he addressed by strengthening his glutes, quads, hamstrings, core and lower back this past winter. While practicing, he uses an alignment stick to deter himself from sliding his hips.
Spieth places the stick in the ground at a 45-degree angle behind his right hip. “If I slide my hips, I’ll stab myself,” Spieth said.
Said McCormick: “When Jordan slid his hips, he wasn’t able to swing his arms on the proper rounded plane. That sway limited the ability of his pelvis and torso to rotate. That led to his shoulders turning steeply and the club traveling on an upright backswing plane.”
Proper path: Keep rotating
Pure talent allowed Spieth to hit good shots from a poor position at the top of the backswing. In his old swing, his upper body was tilted left – toward the target – at the top, and his arms were in a high, steep position, the result of his hip slide and a wristy takeaway that closed the clubface.
From this position, many amateurs fall back to their right during the downswing while swinging “over the top” – coming down on a steep plane and approaching the ball on an outside-to-inside path.
Spieth rerouted the club in a style reminiscent of Jim Furyk’s distinctive swing. He hit the ball on an in-to-out path because he had to swing the club on such a flat plane during the downswing. This made it difficult for him to play any shot other than a draw. Changes to Spieth’s backswing helped address his downswing issues.
“His torso rotates in the optimum window now, which means he can load his torso over his right side and his arms just follow, pretty connected to his torso, on a similar plane,” said McCormick, who noted that Spieth likes to feel like his sternum is over his right foot at the top of the backswing. “This allows his path through the ball to be more down the line, which allows him to hit draws or fades by making slight adjustments to his path.”
Putts: Cross-handed grip helps at address
Many players putt cross-handed so that the alignment of their shoulders is parallel to their target line. This makes it easier to swing the putter on the proper path. A standard grip often causes a player’s shoulders to aim left of the target.
The cross-handed grip also causes the left shoulder to be lower than in a standard grip. Spieth’s left shoulder was too low when he began using the cross-handed grip. This caused the putter to strike the ball on a downward angle and didn’t allow Spieth to swing the putter on the proper arc. He used to take the putter back outside the target line, then cut across the ball through impact.
“With the lower lead shoulder, the putter would swing up in the backswing. We’ve tried to get him to feel like his shoulders are level, when in reality it’s OK to have that lead shoulder a bit lower when putting cross-handed,” McCormick said. He wants Spieth to feel like his hips are more level, with his right hip sitting lower than before.
Spieth’s shoulders also were open at address when he first started working with McCormick. This improper alignment caused Spieth to swing the putter too far inside on the backswing, a common compensation. Switching to a cross-handed grip also helped improve Spieth’s shoulder alignment.
Chips: Let it run
It’s a shot that may not be useful on the firm, fast greens of the U.S. Open or Masters, but the low, running chip that Spieth uses could be added to most players’ repertoires.
The shot involves some extreme alterations to stance and setup. To hit a chip shot from deep rough that rolls after hitting the green, Spieth sets up with his body aligned well right of his target, and his clubface shut. He’ll aim his body as much as 45 degrees right of his target, then aim the club back at the target (so the club is approximately 45 degrees closed in relation to his body). He hits the shot by cocking his wrists and using very little arm swing, then “popping” the club onto the ball.