Instruction: College stars Braden Thornberry, Matt Wolff find success with unique golf swings

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Instruction: College stars Braden Thornberry, Matt Wolff find success with unique golf swings

Instruction

Instruction: College stars Braden Thornberry, Matt Wolff find success with unique golf swings

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Golfweek

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STILLWATER, Okla. – The golf swings of Ole Miss junior Braden Thornberry and Oklahoma State freshman Matt Wolff won’t win any beauty contests.

“People might even rank it as bad,” Wolff said, “but it works, so …”

For amateurs who feel pressure to chase the perfect swing, Thornberry and Wolff are proof that not everyone has to swing like Louis Oosthuizen or Adam Scott to shoot low numbers. Thornberry, the second-ranked player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, won the NCAA individual title in 2017, and Wolff, ranked fourth in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, is likely to win the Phil Mickelson Award as this season’s top freshman.

“We’ve both embraced it and just don’t care,” Thornberry said. “People say stuff about your swing, but when they see it work they think it’s more cool than anything.”

Wolff started working with instructor George Gankas about five years ago and immediately gained more confidence when Gankas told him that his swing was “one of the best he’s ever seen.”

It was a far cry from Wolff’s past critics, who told him his swing never would work.

“That scared me at first, to be honest,” Wolff said. “I didn’t know what to believe. I didn’t really have anyone to look up to.”

Thornberry has heard similar chatter and has ignored it. As long as he starts the ball on the proper line and it ends up where he’s aiming, he said, then the aesthetic of his swing means nothing.

“The result is all that matters,” Thornberry said.

OXFORD, MS – APRIL 20: Braden Thornberry hits his tee shot on the 15th hole during round two of the North Mississippi Classic at the Country Club of Oxford on April 20, 2018 in Oxford, Mississippi. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Thornberry’s homemade swing is built on rhythm and a little loop move that keeps him from coming over the top. He gets steep at the top of his backswing, to the point where his shaft is perpendicular to the ground. He then drops his club back into the slot.

“It’s not just straight back and straight through,” Thornberry said. “It’s about getting that rhythm down instead of a very stagnant up, stop and then down.”

Thornberry sometimes gets quick with his swing and comes into the ball too much from the inside. This causes him to flip his hands over and hit a hook. To correct it, Thornberry brings his right foot back and takes a practice swing. He’ll use this in his pre-shot routine during rounds, too.

“It keeps my hips in sync and keeps them from spinning out too early,” Thornberry said.

Wolff crosses the path significantly with his club at the top of his backswing, but like Thornberry uses rotation and rhythm to bring his club back on plane. Once he gets the club back on plane, he fires his hips and shoulders, creating torque and power. (Wolff’s swing speed is consistently 120 mph, while his ball speed hovers around 180 mph.)

“As long as I keep my rotation up, it usually drops back right on plane every time,” Wolff said. “It’s more of just a natural feeling swing instead of something that I work on. I don’t have any swing thoughts.”

Wolff has two other noticeable unique characteristics of his swing. He uses a left leg kick he learned from baseball (this helps him rotate) and really uses the ground to generate power.

“Every time I hit balls I have marks on the ground from not only my club but my feet,” Wolff said. “I tear up two parts of the tee box.”

Matt Wolff’s swing, in two sequences (Courtesy of OSU Athletics/Bruce Waterfield)

Wolff also uses what he calls a trigger to get his swing started, in which he quickly opens his hips and shoulders before returning to address and starting his swing. (Think of it like a sprinter setting himself at the start of a race.) Wolff broke his left collarbone three years ago, and it affected his shoulders. He started missing left, so he would aim farther and farther right.

The trigger move helped Wolff get back to a proper pre-swing alignment, and even after correcting the problem he kept the move.

“It’s a trigger for me to start my swing under pressure,” Wolff said. “There’s no standing over the ball and waiting. As soon as I do that little move, I’m ready to hit it and feel confident that I’m going to hit a good shot.”

And he usually does. As does Thornberry. Arnold Palmer used to preach: “Swing your swing.” And Thornberry and Wolff, two of the best amateurs in the sport, are two shining examples of how owning one’s swing can be rewarding.

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