Swinging on Thin Ice
Peter Jacobsen, who has clearly been the best player in the world in 1995, credits many things for his improved performance: a dairy-free diet, weightlifting, keeping his head steadier when he swings, extra work on his short game and the urgency and perspective he gained by turning 40. But how about thinking that he is on thin ice? Jacobsen has used that image to create the almost robotic consistency with which he is striking the ball.
Always a solid tee-to-green player, Jacobsen would lose his groove when his lower body became overactive in his forward swing. That's a flaw common among players who shaped their swings in the late '60s and '70s, when emphasis was placed on "driving the legs" through the hitting area. Johnny Miller, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf were the model members of this generation of players whose swings featured sliding hips, knees bent through impact and finishes in the so-called reverse C position.
Such a swing generates plenty of club head speed and is still used by stylists such as Fuzzy Zoeller, Bruce Lietkze and Payne Stewart. But the prevalent belief on the Tour today is that it is too dependent on timing and is prone to occasional wild shots, particularly big blocks to the right. These days the prototype forward swing features quiet legs and vigorous rotation of the upper body. While this action does not generate as much power as the old swing, it is deemed more accurate and virtually eliminates wild shots. Among the first to trade in the old swing for the new were Curtis Strange, Nick Faldo and Price, and their success has led many more to follow suit.
Jacobsen has been in transition between the two swings for several years, and his efforts started to pay off last season. He employed visualization to cement the change. Imagining his legs to be a fixed base, he aims slightly left of the target and rotates over the ball with his upper body. To further ensure that his legs act as stabilizers and not initiators, he imagines himself swinging on a frozen lake, with only a one-inch layer of ice. "I know if I push off hard with my lower body, I'm going to go through the ice," Jacobsen says.
Instead his earnings-$873,317 through last week-are going through the roof.
A Healthy Challenge
Until last week European and American players had been mostly mum about this year's Ryder Cup matches, to be held Sept. 21-24 in Rochester, N.Y. But Ballesteros and Olaz�bal broke the silence last Sunday after teaming up to win the Paris Pairs, an unofficial European PGA Tour event.
Played in St. Cloud, a tony suburb just west of Paris, the four-round tournament employed three different stroke-play formats—foursomes and four ball, which are also used in the Ryder Cup, and an alternate-shot match known as greensomes. Ballesteros and Olaz�bal shot 256,24 under par, to beat Australia's Mike Clayton and Peter O'Malley by three strokes. European Ryder Cup stalwarts Ian Woosnam and Colin Montgomerie finished in third, four strokes behind the Spaniards.
The golden Ryder chalice has been on American soil since 1991, when the U.S. won the biennial competition for the first time since 1985. But Ballesteros and Olaz�bal—the winningest tandem in Ryder Cup history, with an 11-2-2 record over the last four competitions—are on a mission to get the cup back on their side of the Atlantic.