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The secrets of Moe Norman's golf swing

By T.J. Auclair
Published on

The late Moe Norman was an enigma.

Or, as three-time major champion Vijay Singh once referred to him, "God's gift to golf."

You may have heard of Moe Norman. If not, here’s the one-sentence scouting report: he was an eccentric Canadian professional golfer with an odd-looking swing who could make a golf ball do anything he wanted. Any discussion of the game’s greatest ball-strikers has to include Moe Norman.

The legend around Norman has grown since his death in 2004. You can watch his swing on YouTube and see hints of it on professional golf tours around the world.

We’ll break down his swing in this story to find out exactly how he did what he did. Can average players learn something from his metronome-like effectiveness? They sure can.

First, some more background on Moe.

In January 2005, Tiger Woods, told Golf Digest's Jaime Diaz that only two golfers in history have "owned their swings." Those two players? Moe Norman and Ben Hogan. Woods said he "hoped" to be the third.

It's no surprise that Hogan -- with his nine major victories -- is the name that resonates more with golf lovers than Norman (Photo below of Norman courtesy of John Haramik).

But Norman was a hell of a player. Good enough to collect 55 victories on the Canadian Tour. He played just 27 events on the PGA Tour -- he felt more comfortable north of the border -- but made the cut 25 times in those starts

And while his swing might look funny to many, few in the game’s history wielded a swing quite as repeatable and accurate as Moe Norman. Here it is in slow motion:

It’s a simple, single-plane swing that he repeated

Let's break down a little bit of what he did.

Moe Norman at address

1. Here’s where it starts to get weird. Moe Norman does something you never see at address -- he places the clubhead a foot or so behind the ball. The reason? This was the secret to setting the swing in motion . Norman had his hands ahead of his club head relative to his target. He was already setting up the ideal impact position he wanted to return to on the swing. With the club a foot behind the ball, he was forced to keep that position into impact.

2. Check out Moe at impact. He kept both feet on the ground. Todd Graves is a professional golfer and the co-founder of Graves Golf Academy. He exclusively teaches Norman's single plane golf swing. To Graves, Moe’s position at impact shows the spine can keep its angle and position all the way through the swing. That’s one way to make a swing more easily repeatable.

But... yes, quite different. Or, in the words of Norman's favorite Frank Sinatra song, "My Way."

Check out the diagrams of Norman at address provided to PGA.com by Graves:

 
 

What the experts think about Moe Norman

2013 PGA National Teacher of the Year Lou Guzzi was so intrigued by the move he hit ball after ball to see what the swing felt like. His takeaways:

"One, the swing looks weird, " Guzzi said. “"A lot of people will refuse to make a swing that looks weird even if the ball goes dead straight. Moe wasn't super long, Guzzi said. "He was straight and dead center. As far as the move, he said, 'Give me five years with (a) kid and hundreds of thousands of balls, he'll hit it like me.' You don't get it overnight and dedicating five years to something so eccentric doesn't work for everybody."

Graves, however, was one of those people with the time and the desire to learn what made Norman's swing produce such accurate results. He sought out Moe after getting frustrated with the big-name instructor he was working with.

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I met Moe in 1994 after a stint on the Asian PGA professional golf tour," he said. " After watching him do a clinic in Chicago I walked up to him and told him he was the best in the world that I had ever seen. He said 'I know, I'm the best in the world.' Our friendship ensued and I spent the next 10 years playing and practicing with him to learn more about him and his swing."

 
Canada's Richard Zokol, winner of the 1992 Greater Milwaukee Open on the PGA Tour, was a friend of Norman's. He believes -- as do Graves and Guzzi -- that the closest swing to Norman's on Tour today belongs to Bryson DeChambeau.

 

 

Zokol said that unless you fall into the "obsessive" category like Norman and DeChambeau, he wouldn't recommend the single-plane swing.

"A 'logical' method doesn't always translate into better performance," he said. "I also don't believe the average golfer is physically strong enough, in their core region -- an area where most golfers are horribly weak and out of shape -- to use the one-plane method."

We talked to Lorne Rubenstein, an award-winning writer from Canada who penned the book, “Moe and Me.”

“Moe would be more widely accepted today,” Rubenstein said. “I’d think this would lead to more golfers trying his methods. I wonder what the data off Trackman would show concerning his swing?”

In his time on Tour, Zokol remembers two players -- Sandy Lyle and Tony Sills -- trying to implement Norman's swing when their conventional swings betrayed them.

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"It was blatantly noticeable that both Sandy and Tony were trying Moe's method," Zokol said. "The one-plane swing set the shaft plane in the palm of the hands rather than in the fingers of the hand, which eliminates the hinge of the hands in the swing (cocking of the hands … It was quite noticeable that both Sandy and Tony lost power with this method. I don't think this method would work on Tour, especially with today's requirement for power on Tour."

And the power? Well, that’s the deal breaker for players today on a bomb-and-gouge PGA Tour.

“Moe didn't need visualization,” Guzzi said. “It was like a cannon on a ship. He points it, aims, fires. He was very fast. He didn't need to process all those things to get set up … He wasn’t long off the tee and didn’t spend much time on the greens. He just loved hitting balls.”

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