Difference Between Swinging & Hitting

By Mike Southern
Gary Woodland is a typical hitter, capable of a 123-mph golf swing.
Gary Woodland is a typical hitter, capable of a 123-mph golf swing.

One of the great debates in golf concerns swinging vs. hitting. Swinging focuses on the movement of the arms to create speed and is usually associated with the classic players of years past; it was difficult to play any other way when clubs had hickory shafts. Hitting focuses on using the whole body to create angles and appeals to modern players, many of whom are young and strong and perhaps eager to prove they're athletes. Teacher Manuel de la Torre says that hitters try to create club movement while swingers merely respond to the club's movement. But both swinging and hitting are valid ways to play the game. The key is choosing which method is better for you.

Physical Strength

The goal of both playing styles is the creation of clubhead speed. What you want isn't really "power" – after all, golf clubs aren't that heavy and it doesn't take much strength to swing one. Clubhead speed, on the other hand, can be created by anyone capable of holding a club and making a decent body turn. But hitting requires more physical strength than swinging to create the same clubhead speed.

Leverage

Both hitting and swinging create clubhead speed through leverage. That simply means you use levers – the angles between your arms and clubshaft, as well as between your upper and lower body – to create that clubhead speed. But hitters focus on generating the most leverage possible by creating extreme angles. They turn their shoulders as much as possible while rotating their hips as little as possible. They cock their wrists as much as possible. All of this takes physical strength and strong equipment, such as stiffer shafts.

Gravity

Steve Stricker's pitch shot mimics the classic penknife-and-twine drill.
Steve Stricker's pitch shot mimics the classic penknife-and-twine drill.

The golfers of the past found that the softer hickory shafts they used flexed too much if they created too much leverage. As a result, they focused on using gravity – a technique that swingers still use today. The angles they create are not as extreme. Their hips turn more freely; their wrists don't cock quite as much. A classic method for learning this technique involved a penknife tied to the end of a piece of twine. Golfers would hold the twine and swing the knife as if they were making a pitch shot with a club -- back and forth from waist-high, down to near the ground, then back to waist-high -- swinging at a speed that always kept the twine in a straight line with their arms. When they made the same swing with a club, they didn't overstress the softer shafts. Likewise, modern swingers use softer shafts in their clubs -- when compared with hitters -- to create clubhead speed.

Results

You might expect hitters to produce higher clubhead speeds than swingers. At the upper edge of the pro ranks, that might be true. Although unproven, it sounds unlikely that someone swinging soft-shafted clubs could approach the 123 mph clubhead speed of someone like Gary Woodland. However, several years ago Dr. David Williams did some research using a Bobby Jones instructional tape from the 1930s. Williams determined that Jones had a 113-mph clubhead speed – well above the modern pro's average of 110. Likewise, Jones researcher Sidney Matthew found that Jones had built a prototype driver during the winter of 1923 that sounds conspicuously like a modern big-headed driver. Jones recorded in his notes that he hit that driver as far as 340 yards. So despite their different approaches, hitting and swinging may provide similar results.

About the Author

North Carolina native Mike Southern has been writing since 1979. He is the author of the instructional golf book "Ruthless Putting" and edited a collection of swashbuckling novels. Southern was trained in electronics at Forsyth Technical Community College and is also an occasional woodworker.

Photo Credits

  • Stuart Franklin/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
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