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One year on - Ross Fisher Swing Sequence

Nine holes on the bag with Ross Fisher at Celtic Manor was enough to discover that (1) yes, it’s heavy, (2) that the player who had compiled the best record of anyone in all of the four majors last year is a refreshingly unassuming guy to be around and (3) off the tee, he hits it out of sight. Richard Simmons.

Hard to believe it’s now almost 12 months since those memorable events at Turnberry. A week of extraordinary “What if’s”, not least for England’s Ross Fisher.With a two-shot lead early in the final round, he was in the thick of it on Sunday – quite literally at the 5th hole, where a skewed 2-iron led to a quadruple bogey eight.

Does he still lie awake thinking about it?

“Hardly ever to be honest. It’s history. It was disappointing, obviously. One bad shot cost me....well, not one shot. I gave myself a lot of chances over the final 10 holes – I think I missed one green and left one putt short out of those 9 birdie attempts. Even after the 5th I felt I had a shot at winning. You just never knowing the Open. But after playing well at Augusta and coming close at Bethpage [in the US Open] it was good to get myself into contention again, especially with all that was going on at home.” Fisher is reported to have paid £40,000 to have a Learjet on stand by during the week at Turnberry should his wife Joanna go in to labour. As it turned out, Eve Fisher was 10 days late, weighing in at a healthy 8lbs.

“Nothing could have prepared me for the feeling of holding my baby girl,” says Fisher as we embark on the outward nine at Celtic Manor in the Pro Am ahead of the Wales Open. “It’s a cliche, I know, but being a father really does put everything else into perspective. Golf is nothing more than a game. I love it, but holding up the Claret Jug wouldn’t compare to holding Eve the first time I saw her.”

After marking his Masters debut in a tie for 20th at Augusta last year, followed by a 5th place in the US Open at Bethpage [“heavy conditions suited him perfectly” says coach Denis Pugh. “Ross picks the ball cleanly off the fairway – you hardly ever see him take a divot”], Fisher followed up his exploits at Turnberry with a tie for 8th at Hazeltine in the US PGA. “When I look back on what made the difference last year, I’d say it was all down to my short game and putting – which is usually the case in golf at whatever level you play the game.”

For his improvements within 100 yards of the pin Fisher has the former European Tour player-turned short-game guru Mark Roe to thank. As for his full swing, he recently turned to respected coach and Sky Sports analyst Denis Pugh. “We started working together towards the end of last year and I like the way Denis puts things over,” says Fisher. “Denis is very good at spotting something fundamental in your game that he can correct without getting too technical – like him, I prefer feelings to thoughts.

“My tendency, when things are off, is to get a little too much inside the line going back, such that I then have to reroute my swing to get back on plane coming down, which can at times invite too much hand action. The main thing I’ve been working on with Denis is the takeaway – he wants to see it more straight back with the hands and arms. I practise with two canes on the ground to create a narrow corridor, place the ball between them and hit shots taking the club back straight back between the canes for the first two or three feet. You know immediately if you come too much inside.”

Among the more radical game-improvement avenues Fisher has explored of late is Performance Mouthwear from sponsors Under Armour. Essentially this is a specially fitted mouth-piece that has been developed following research by US partner BiteTech which suggests clenching the teeth in moments of stress – a natural reaction in the majority of athletic pursuits – triggers the production of hormones that produce stress, fatigue and distraction. Hunter Mahan is among golfers on the PGA Tour who have tried and enjoyed success with the product, which more than anything just goes to show the lengths to which modern athletes go in search of that decisive ‘edge’.

Whatever the research says, it’s has to be unlikely that a mouthguard will help Fisher driver the ball any further than he does already. Three hundred on the fly is comfortably within his grasp – surely a weapon that bodes well for his chances at St Andrews and surely a force that will strengthen Europe’s hopes at Celtic Manor in October.

Denis Pugh on Ross Fisher:

I started working with Ross the week before he won the World Match Play event (beating Angel Cabrera in the final) down in Spain last October. I had previously talked about his swing in my role as analyst on Sky Sports when he won the European Open at the London Club.

The on-air analysis showed that he took the club back very much on the inside plane in the first few feet away from the ball, and would then loop it up and over that plane coming back down. As a result he was susceptible to pulling a lot of his full shots, and to compensate for this he often aimed to the right of the target.

Interestingly, as someone who likes to (and indeed does) hit the ball a long way, Ross would release the club fully, and so his best shots were pulled a little with draw-spin. Which I felt was a dangerous way of playing because he never really knew exactly where he was aiming or where he was pull-drawing it to.

My comments back then, a year or so ago, were that Ross was very much a ‘feel’ player, and, rather like Monty, he was perhaps best left alone to continue doing what he did very well. However, during the time between that victory in the Match Play and when he approached me at The Wisley (where I am based and Ross has joined as a member) he had put in a tremendous amount of work with short-game coach and fellow Sky Sports analyst Mark Roe. Together they have worked hard on wedge technique, and on the range I noticed immediately that his action had become much more ‘up and down’ the plane line – i.e. it was much more neutral. Clearly, what Mark had emphasised in the short game had transferred into the long game, and this had made Ross a much better swinger of the golf club.

So full credit to Roey for what he has achieved – which proves yet again just how valuable working on your short game technique can be for your full swing. Every player can learn from this. By practising your short game – and specifically your wedge play – on shots up to 120 yards or so you actually improve your long game, because the fundamentals stay the same throughout.

However, what I discovered when we did get down to business was that, while his swing was getting more towards the neutral, all of his reference points were out in terms of his address position. So my advice from the start was that he had to re-focus on his pre-shot routine and his alignment in taking up his position over the ball, making sure that his feet, knees, hips and shoulders are parallel to the ball-to-target line. Great pro that he is, Ross made these adjustments very quickly – which is not always easy when you have ingrained bad habits in matters of alignment and how you basically ‘see’ a shot.

Looking at those basics and relating them to the swing, once the set-up was correct (i.e. neutral) it became quite easy for us to work on neutralising Ross’s vision of what a driver swing / shot should look like. When he’s playing well he likes to hit a draw, and the difference now is that he is able to draw the ball onto a target he is aiming at (as opposed to drawing it onto a target he wasn’t aiming at). On the range he practises for a straight ball flight with a neutral swing which he can then take to the course and ‘work’ the ball either way onto the target. It has been a swing evolution rather than change.

A natural swing that will only get better

Looking at his swing today, his set up is the model of good posture and alignment – the basics. As for the grip, Ross puts his hands on the club in textbook fashion.

Running through this sequence there are still some quirks in the swing that I hope will gradually fade away over time. His takeaway still gets a little fast and wristy, and as a result the club moves more on the inside (looking down the line). This is much less than it was previously, but with less speed from the wrists the takeaway will be absolutely on plane.

At the top of the swing, he still has a little more wrist action than I would like, but it’s more a reflection of the amount of wrist action he has in the takeaway. The start to the downswing is then much less ‘over’ the backswing plane, and as a result he has the appearance, correctly, of coming “down on plane” – which is the most important plane to find. And with less looping of the plane, Ross is able to be more consistent with his initial direction of ball flight, which leads us back to why it’s so important to be correctly positioned at address.

As he comes in to the impact area, Ross uses all of the modern fundamentals of opening his body to allow his natural hand and arm speed to power the shot onto the target. He now has no fear (or need) to manipulate with his exceptional hand-eye coordination through impact. This free hitting action is typical of a player who uses the leverage in his golf swing (i.e. hand and arm action) to generate phenomenal power. The way he supports his swing with his balance is also an area that I will look for further improvement. Looking at these images you can see he has a rather old-fashioned look about the leg action with left knee and hip movement in the backswing. As he becomes physically stronger and flexible in his body generally (which he will do working with his trainers on the Dale Richardson team) this can be expected to improve over the next year or so. And he will no doubt appear to be less ‘leggy’, both going back and through.

The full release, width and arm extension through the ball is as much a gift to Ross as it is a skill normal golfers have to learn. The overall result is a very natural golf swing and one that will get even better as Ross learns to improve the combination of movements between his body and his arms.

Overall, it’s important when working with a player of this talent that the natural skills are retained whilst adding beneficial new moves or feelings. The last thing you want to do is take away the natural ability that has already made Ross one of the top 50 players in the world. I’d also make the point that the quality of the swing itself isn’t the whole reason a player achieves world-class status; the ability to play his own game under pressure is more important than achieving some coaching manual perfection. Allied to his physical skills is his ability to perform on the big stage and take advantage of his short-game skills which really have flourished under Mark Roe.

At this stage I am learning as much from Ross as he is learning from me. Rather like Monty, Ross is able to make his swing work and improve his technique slowly but surely whilst playing tournament golf.

Good body angles – the absolute starting point for every golfer.

A hint of hand action sees the club just work a tad too much on the inside - I want the first move to be "one piece"

A little less speed in the wrists to this point will get the takeaway sequence perfectly on-plane.

This is where Ross is so good – body angles perfectly maintained as he coils up his backswing

A terrific body action – he has all the room in the world as he unwinds to impact

This free-flowing release of the clubhead down the line is common to all long hitters

Again, we can see from this angle the way the hands want to be involved early in the motion

Left arm provides the width and radius to the swing.

[Leg action from previous frame would be perfect here at the top – work in progress...]

You can see – and indeed sense – the tremendous leverage as Ross unwinds towards impact.

Nothing left behind – which is why Ross is one of the longest drivers of the ball in the game

Note the full extension of the right arm into the follow-through.

The wraparound finish – you need to be young and very supple to reach – and hold! – this position

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

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