There weren’t many downsides to being Arnold Palmer, but one tiny one might have been being seen swinging a club for more than 60 years.
If you were watching golf in the 1950s (or you dig through the archives on YouTube), you remember what Palmer’s swing really was – a powerful, purposeful lash at the ball that wasn’t the least bit awkward. In his prime, he hit it long and straight off the tee – as his US Open record attests – and had complete control over his ball.
Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Jack Nicklaus have become three of the most popular classic swing avatars to compare and copy, but Palmer’s action is the one that is arguably the most accessible to the average player – and the best one to take from.
“Everybody talks about how he had this unorthodox swing, but it was only the finish that was unorthodox,” says 50 Best Teacher Hank Haney. “He was so solid through the ball. To him, it mattered where the ball went, not what it looked like.”
That substance over style started with Palmer’s grip [above], says Haney – and how he put it on the club. “He had a great grip, but even after playing for 70 years, he really took care in how he put his hands on the club every time,” says Haney. “That’s the main thing to copy. A good grip is one that matches what you’re trying to do in your swing. You wouldn’t want to necessarily copy Arnold’s grip, but you can make sure you’re putting your hands on the club the same way every time.”
Arnold Palmer knew what his greatest strength was – his strength – and built his own swing in a way that harnessed it. “He was taught by the ball,” says 50 Best Teacher Brian Manzella. “He didn’t move off the ball very far. He turned his hips without sliding them, and let his feet come off the ground. He really got on top of it with his upper body. There was no fake trying to ‘lay it down’ like Hogan in what he did. Physically, what he did is something much easier for the average player to copy, and it really worked.”
Palmer’s signature finish covered up one of the prime reasons he was such a great driver of the ball. “The best are really free-wheeling the club down through impact and up towards the finish,” says Manzella. “Look at black-and-white Arnold’s swing and when the club comes around and is first up by his head, he got the butt of the club pointing at the target. Only Nicklaus and McIlroy are that good and that free. The helicopter stuff he did came afterward.”
The golf world came to a stop to honour The King, but it isn’t hard to imagine what Palmer would have really wanted as a tribute. This weekend, go out and play nine holes with your mates. Set your grip carefully, give it a whack, and go find it again.