SI Vault
Derek Hardy
May 20, 2002
Teenager Natalie Gulbis has star quality, but she must fix her unorthodox swing to avoid meltdowns like the one she suffered on Sunday
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May 20, 2002

Big Play

Teenager Natalie Gulbis has star quality, but she must fix her unorthodox swing to avoid meltdowns like the one she suffered on Sunday

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I've coached more than 20 LPGA players and have a pretty good feel for a player's potential, and the sky's the limit for 19-year-old rookie Natalie Gulbis. But to fulfill her promise, Gulbis has to smooth out the rough edges of her homemade swing or she'll be prone to breaking down under pressure, as she did during the final round of the Aerus Electrolux USA Championship, outside Nashville. Leading by a stroke after 54 holes, Gulbis butchered the first six holes with a bogey and two doubles and faded to eighth, eight strokes behind winner Annika Sorenstam. Afterward, Gulbis admitted that she had been overwhelmed by nerves, saying, "I shanked about 10 balls on the range." Nobody's immune to butterflies, but a more technically sound swing would've helped Gulbis to play through the jitters.

The images above illustrate Gulbis's problem. At the beginning of the backswing she makes a huge shoulder turn away from the target, which is fine, but her arms fly away from her shoulders instead of remaining in sync with them (2). This causes the club to go too far outside the target line, and Gulbis remains off-plane throughout the swing. Notice how her driver has crossed the target line at the top of the back-swing (3). To compensate for her jerky tempo and disjointed movements, Gulbis must manipulate the club throughout the swing to square the club face at impact. This leads to the kind of inconsistency that can be fatal.

Another wide-eyed rookie, Ben Crane, 26, thrived in the Sunday crucible at the PGA Tour's Byron Nelson Classic, finishing second to earn $518,400 and secure his card for 2003. Crane followed my golden rule: Never try to fix your swing mid-round unless you hit three bad shots in a row and each miss is the same. (Three hooks would qualify; a hook, a slice and a wormburner would not.) Despite hitting only three fairways and five greens on the back nine of the final round, Crane was smart enough to know his problem was nerves, not his swing, and he scrambled to a two-under 33. "I made a couple of bogeys and could've been frustrated," he said, "but I kept my swing thoughts consistent all day."

Like Gulbis, Sorenstam had a significant swing flaw early in her career: She didn't have enough body rotation. To fix that, she began turning her head toward the target at impact. Sound crazy? It's not. Keeping your head down too long is an incorrect concept that far too many beginners are taught.