At Yellow Jasmine comes golden swing insight

Carl Lohren enjoys an annual trek to Augusta National's eighth tee, where he studies the swings of the world's top players (shown here during the 2007 Senior PGA Championship).

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – One of my traditions at the Masters is to mosey on down to the eighth hole, the one they call Yellow Jasmine, and sit with Carl Lohren, a 76-year-old PGA professional and longtime teacher in the Metropolitan PGA section who has spent a lifetime studying the golf swing.

There’s an old story about the time the car Lohren was riding in stopped at a traffic light. Lohren stepped outside to experiment with a new idea about his swing. The driver didn't notice this. When the light turned green the car sped off and Lohren was left standing there at the top of the backswing.

“That’s been exaggerated,” Lohren said, waving a hand at my face to dispell the story. “Sure, I’d look at my swing in a mirror when I was waiting around but never anything like that.”

Writers hate it when the truth gets in the way of a good story. It is fact, though, that even when Lohren was pursuing a career as a touring pro, he was always interested in the mechanics of the swing. Few know it better. The eighth tee at the 570-yard, par 5 hole is Lohren’s domain. For the past dozen years, Lohren arrives in time for the gates at Augusta National to open at 8 a.m. and hurries to the eighth tee so he can drop anchor in the front row and analyze every golf swing.

This is a tee shot where players attempt to avoid a pair of fairway bunkers on the right, but otherwise can grip it and rip it. Speaking of the grip, Lohren loves to rate them. He described one current Tour pro as having a plumber’s grip, and wondered how the player ever made it. As a general rule, he finds Europeans such as Francesco Molinari and Asians like Sang Moon-Bae to have textbook grips. Americans? Not so much.

The first group we watched together included Dustin Johnson, who flared a drive right of the bunkers and into the trees.

“He starts the swing with a forward press,” Lohren said shaking his head in disgust. “He’s got his arms and hands ahead before he’s loaded.”

Next up was Henrik Stenson. Bad right hand, Lohren chirped. Stenson’s got his thumb on top. “That’s a Hogan no-no.” Stenson gets away with it because he’s really a lefty, Lohren mused. What made Lohren think Stenson was left-hand dominant or at least ambidextrous? “He wears his wrist watch on his right wrist,” Lohren explained.

This led to a longer discussion on how modern-day pros are all left-side dominant. “Look at what hand they use to grab the ball out of the cup or to grab a club from a bag, or twist off a soda cap,” he explained.

The analysis kept coming fast and furious. Stewart Cink, he of the strong grip, managed to keep his right side out of the swing until late. “The grip is that of an 18-handicap. He makes it work but he’s still a little out of position at the top,” Lohren said. “He fights that.”

Of Lee Westwood, Lohren said, “He may have the best move on Tour.” But even Westwood had a bad right hand in Lohren’s opinion.

Tim Clark’s move was another to earn Lohren’s seal of approval. “He took what I call ‘the long route,’ in that his hands don’t shrink and get closer to you than at the start (of the swing),” Lohren said.

During our time together, Bubba Watson belted the longest drive by a good 30 yards. Ben Crenshaw hit the shortest. Phil Mickelson was the only player to bring more than one club to the tee. He opted for driver over his 3-iron and found the fairway. But overall, Lohren wasn’t too impressed with today’s players. Of the Justin Rose, Ernie Els and Mickelson group, Lohren noted that all three players squared their hips up at address. Kevin Stadler, Jonas Blixt (another Euro with a good grip), and Hunter Mahan all had their shoulders pointed left rather than down the target line.

“These guys ought to watch Hogan and Trevino,” Lohren said. “Those guys knew how to hit in the fairway, and they had swings they could repeat.

Interestingly, Lohren used to decline attending the Masters. At the 1960 U.S. Amateur in St. Louis, at a time when quarterfinalists used to earn Masters invites, he was one victory away from playing at Augusta National. But he lost to Charles Lewis III, who had defeated Jack Nicklaus one round earlier. “I never had any interest because I thought it brought back the memory of not getting in,” he said.

But once he came, he realized he had been making a big mistake. He’s been ever since. Spectators know him and call him “Pro,” and seek out a swing tip or two between groups. When he was a little late arriving to the eighth tee on Thursday and ended up in the second row, another regular with six front row seats squeezed them together to make room for Lohren. After all, the judge and jury of the grips of the Masters needed an unobstructed view.

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