The genius of Jim Hardy

With the publication of his third book Solid Contact the Texan teaching professional Jim Hardy now stands, in my opinion, at the very summit of his profession.  I would add that I don’t think he’s just the best golf swing theorist of his time, but the best of all time and it’s hard to imagine anyone surpassing his achievements in the future.

His idea’s first came to a wide audience with the publication of his first book, The Plane truth for Golfers. I remember reading it for the first time and have written before likening the experience to that scene in The Matrix when Keanu Reeves Neo first sees with total clarity the computer program that has been masquerading as real life. As I read about the one and two plane swings it was if a veil was lifted from my eyes and instead of seeing a foggy soup of conflicting information, confused teaching pro’s and even more confused students, I saw how all golf swings worked, or didn’t and how some elements just weren’t designed to go together.  I saw why I had failed at times with my own golf and with my students and why at other times I’d succeeded with both. I like many others breathed a collective sigh of relief at the brave new world which suddenly presented itself. 

In that seminal tomb Jim asserted that in golf there was not one essentially correct way to swing a club, but two, and that the key elements of both actions were so disparate as to actually be opposite.  What you thought, felt and tried to enact with a one plane swing was the complete polar extreme of a two plane action.  It was a stunning example of original thought brought about through painstaking research, personal trial and error and rigorous intellectual effort.

The problem was that for a couple of hundred years most instructors, for the sake of what they thought was simplicity, had been trying to make the two swings one.  Inadvertently they’d ended up making swinging a golf club, which can be a relatively simple and natural action to learn, the most frustrating and confusing in all of sport.  In fact after reading that first book I started to think of the two swings as so different as to be almost two separate sports! 

His idea’s made such logical sense, especially when I thought about the great players I’d seen both past and present. In a nutshell Ben Hogan didn’t look like he swung like Jack Nicklaus; Arnold Palmer didn’t look like Tom Watson and in the present day Matt Kuchar doesn’t look remotely like Luke Donald.

The separate models also kept cropping up in every generation of elite players, so the differences we saw were much more than just the product of evolution, equipment changes, body types or pros who worked out more!

Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Luke Donald and Bubba Watson all have similar elements in their actions, their arms somewhat separate from their bodies and swing up onto a more upright plane than their shoulders turn on: two plane swingers.

Conversely Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, George Knudson, Mickey Wright and Matt Kuchar all also share similar swing traits. Their arms move more around their bodies on a similar plane angle to that which their shoulders turn on: one plane swingers. Sure with both camps there are variances in swing length and tempo but those are cosmetic rather than intrinsic elements.

After seven years of thinking about Hardy’s theories this is the way I would personally define his proposed models.

One plane: The more natural you feel swinging your arms around your body baseball style, the more you will need to need to have your trunk inclined towards the ground, to have the club head working down enough at impact to achieve solid contact.  In this action you will create your power by a winding of the upper body against the lower which, when rapidly unwound, catapults your arms, and in turn the golf club, from around behind you,  through impact, then back around behind you again. Additionally the club is moving on a more pronounced “in to in” arc so you don’t need a rolling action of the hands and arms to square its face at impact.

Two Plane:  The more you feel at home swinging your arms in an up and down manner, the more you’ll need to keep your shoulders turning on a level plane, providing enough roundness for the club head to come around and forward, as well as down into the back of the ball at impact. In this action you create power by a free swinging and swishing on the downswing of the arms and club that were swung up on the backswing; and a body turn which moves along in time with this. Because the arms separate somewhat from the body and move the club on a straighter path through impact some rotation of the hands and arms can be needed to square the club face.

With the subsequent publication of The Plane truth for Golfers Master Class Hardy addressed an audience that had probably recognized their general swing pattern and had tried to make it a more defined one or two plane action, or had tried to do so with students – but had sometimes run into difficulty. In this book Hardy presented a number of the most common faults encountered by  one and two plane golfers and suggested some fixes that would make their actions more pure one or two plane.

I thought the first two books were ground breaking and innovative and could understand the logic behind the two models. In their purest forms, the one plane swing of Ben Hogan, the two plane swing of Tom Watson were things of beauty to behold.  But I was becoming increasingly aware that most golfers, my students, myself, and even the tour pro’s I watched were not, and were never likely to be, pure one or two planers but were in fact hybrids; and that to disregard this and try to try to strive to dogmatically toward achieving a model action was unrealistic and potentially harmful to good golf.

Hardy I think also realised this and his latest book, Solid Contact is I think his best so far and the work that addresses this issue. In it he identifies the elements of impact that create the various contacts and ball flights: the position of the clubface at impact, the path of the club, the angle of the club and the width at the bottom of the swing. Hardy see the last as being the most influential, but least discussed of the elements. He asserts that all ball flight and contact errors can be traced back to a swing which is either too wide and shallow at its bottom or too steep and narrow.

Through the book he goes on to outline key elements that make a swing wide/shallow or narrow/ steep with his unique plus and minus system. Hardy then divulges a system of adding plus and minus elements to different areas of one’s swing or set-up to balance out faulty impact conditions and improve shots.

It’s compelling in its clarity, logic and most importantly that it just plain and simple works. Just as one and two plane are now everyday terms in analysing golf swings, I believe Hardy’s plus and minus correction system and the width at the bottom of the swing will soon also be part of most golfers and teachers vocabulary.

Well done Jim you’ve made an invaluable contribution to the learning and teaching of this game.

Now, what next?