September 30th, 2016
A review of Brandel Chamblee’s book – The Anatomy of Greatness.
The year 2016 will stand out for, amongst other things, the release of a book which Golf Magazine termed the “Holy Grail” of the golf swing. This statement was reinforced by Forbes’ Lifestyle writer calling Brandel Chamblee’s book, “The Anatomy of Greatness”, the most important golf book of our generation, one which would remind readers of the lost secret to hitting the ball further. This is a book in which Chamblee “dispels myths of modern instruction with scientific precision and accuracy.”
When a Golf Channel analyst who has won at all levels – amateur and professional - writes a book on the golf swing, everyone sits up and pays attention. Why? Mainly because a good analyst’s job is to comment on the games and swings of the very best players, and so he or she has to become a keen observer of swing patterns. In addition, Chamblee has met, spoken with, and interviewed, every great player of every recent generation, to get more information on what the players themselves like or dislike about their games.
Any “expert” (instructor or analyst) has knowledge typically based on years of observation combined with personal beliefs based on an individual’s personal history within the sport This is no small achievement, as it takes years to master the art of knowing what to look for.
While observation is a vital tool, it is not, in science enough. The reason being that it often involves what is known as a “post hoc” fallacy. This fallacy in logical deduction takes place when one believes that just because one event preceded another, the first caused the second. For instance, one might say, “the group in front played very slowly, which is why my score was terrible.” While there might be a correlation between the two events, one cannot say in an incontrovertible fashion, that someone’s slow play caused one’s poor scores!
In science, in order to establish causation, not only must the cause precede the effect, and be correlated to it (that is, the same result is seen for countless people), but the effect should have no other cause besides the one proffered. The “sample size” too must be adequately large (that is, the findings should not be based on a small group of people). Finally, the sample population should be very varied (for instance, not merely involving Alex Morrison who passed on his knowledge to Jack Grout and thence to Jack Nicklaus), because a “connection” makes the golf swing practiced by those with the same influencing factors one of many that might succeed.
According to Chamblee, 99% of the great players of yesteryear used a move no longer taught in the golf swing. How different are the swings of those 99% great players (in evidence-based terms) from the original golf swings of the shepherds who played insouciantly in the fields of Scotland? With time, each famous instructor or player added to the basic movement patterns small subjective bits of information, which were mimicked by each successive generation. Whether the rounded posture, the “crucial” right knee trigger or the raised left foot during the backswing, to establish causation, it would be important to study two or more groups, each with different patterns, and show that only the one produces the desired effects. An even better research design would be if the same group of persons made different styles of golf swing to study which one did indeed produce better results that another.
The best research studies are those which can be termed either “experimental” and which actually manipulate some aspects of the topic being studied, in this case the golf swing. Observational studies are not good enough to establish causation and, in fact, only three-dimensional observation can give details about a statement such as, “The start of the backswing begins with the entire body moving back the distance that the right knee has been set towards target.” In which direction should the body move back; how much rotation and how much translation, and of which body part is involved; how does knee position affect body motion, and the list of unknown factors goes on.
Bottom line, there are golfers who tout the “classic” golf swing as Chamblee does, and there are those who swear by the “modern” swing used by many Tour players today. Which group is right? Actually, neither. Both swings have movements which are prone to cause a lack of consistency. The ideal (such as The Minimalist Golf Swing) is a scientifically devised combination of the two, with a lot of pelvis rotation (which the modern swing does not advocate), but also no unnecessary backswing movements such as trail knee kick-in or a waggle to start the backswing, or any lead foot rise which the classic swing promotes.
Should one buy this book? Absolutely. It is a collector’s item, with an introduction from the inestimable Tom Watson, and photographs and anecdotes to interest even the most jaded golf book reader. It is a great attempt at looking at the anatomy of the swings of the greatest, and one looks forward to the day Chamblee looks at the anatomy of greatness of the golf swing itself, not just of the great golfers. Lessons from the best golf swings in history could evolve to lessons from tried and tested golf movements, which would help to bring a great golf swing to the general population of golfers, in a completely scientific manner.
Adapted from my article of May 2016 in My Avid Golfer Magazine.