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Sam Snead's Golf Swing

Online Golf Instruction By: Chuck Quinton, Master Instructor • FULL BIO •

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Sam Snead setupSam Snead setup

Today we're going to take a look at the great "Slammin' Sam Snead." Snead had an excellent golf swing that's been modeled after and discussed for many, many years. It's a silky smooth swing that Jim Hardy referenced as basically a model one plane golf swing.

We're going to examine it to see what's going on in this golf swing and what we can take away from it. We've got two swings to look at; an iron view from face on and a wood from the fairway down the line.

The camera angle is slightly off in the face on view, so you can't really get an idea of ball position here. His feet look pretty square, but the ball is probably not as far back in his stance as it appears in the photo, so take that into account.

We'll draw a couple of lines on the outside of his legs and the side of his head so we can see how much movement was going on in his swing relative to his setup position, and what we can learn from it.

Centered Through Takeaway

Very little movement from setupVery little movement from setup positions

As he moves the club back through the takeaway we see that his head stays very, very centered. There's no extraneous hand movement at this point, no big shift off the ball by any stretch of the imagination. His hips are really just turning. The lines we've drawn show that his right leg hasn't moved; he's not moving or shifting off the ball.

As we get close to the top, you can see in the photo at right that his head is staying right on that initial line. He did have a lot of lateral movement of his left knee toward the ball; that's one of the characteristics of his swing. He didn't have a lot of coil against that lower body like you see in a lot of golfers today. It's more of a free-flowing, fluid movement.

Finally at the very top of his golf swing, we see that his head hasn't moved a bit. It's exactly on the line we drew at setup. When we talk about staying centered and not making a big shift off the ball, this is exactly what we mean.

Top of the swingTop of the swing

His head stays right on that line, and his right leg hasn't really shifted either. It stayed right on its line, he just turned around - his body turned around his hips. It's a beautiful position at the top.

As he starts his transition down, we recall that one of the great things about Snead's swing was that it never looked rushed or hurried. A lot of that gracefulness has been lost in the modern power game. You see much quicker, more dynamic transitions than what we see here.

As Snead gets to the top, we see everything really arrive together. There's no big dramatic drive of the hips to the target, to get ahead of the body and create the "X factor." Everything simply starts back down together.

Moving Down in Sync

His hips and the club all basically start moving down right about at the same time, all in sync. It's a beautiful thing to see. There's not a dramatic drive or explosion from the top with the hips or anything leading like that. It's everything moving together in sync.

The The "Snead Squat"

As he moves down, you start to see the characteristic Snead Squat, shown in the photo at right. He doesn't drive that right knee toward the target, he really just gets centered. His head has moved a tiny bit laterally toward the target here and his hips have moved toward the target as well, but overall he stays very, very centered at this point.

What we do see in the downswing - and what you'll see in almost all good ball strikers - is that his head actually does start to shift back away from the ball slightly. It's not as much as golfers like Tiger Woods, who have a dramatic, pronounced shift of the head back away from the target as they get into this part of the downswing, but it's still there, ensuring that he stays behind the ball and allowing him to hit through the ball.

As he keeps going through the downswing we see a perfect impact position. There's really nothing to discuss; it's a great ball striking position. His hands are leading the club, the shaft is tilted toward the target, he's stayed really centered. He has moved a little bit laterally to get his weight onto the left side. He's got good axis tilt away from the target. It's just a great impact position.

Hit the Ball First, the Ground Second

Divot starts after the ballThe divot starts well after the ball position (shown in yellow)

You'll also notice, if we draw the ball back in just after impact, that the divot starts well after the golf ball. By the time he actually even starts to take a divot, that golf ball is long gone. It's already well up in the air before he starts to take a divot.

For golfers who aren't already familiar with this concept, one of the things that is really important to solid ball striking is hitting the golf ball first, and the ground second. You've got to make sure that you always take a divot after the ball.

You never want your divot starting in front of the ball, of course - that's hitting it fat - or even in line with the ball. You want it to be out, far in front of the ball, usually an inch or two depending on the club and other factors. You at least want to have a good inch in front of the ball.

As he comes through, we see a really smooth, graceful release. His hands start to turn over and he gets a fully released hand position. The club is completely toe up, and his head's still stayed back beautifully. It's an excellent follow through position. He gets his forearms crossed over, his weight fully onto the left side, and just releases into a very soft finish.

Driver Off the Deck - Down the Line View

Driver setupDriver setup

Now as we go to the down the line view, we're going to see some different things going on in Snead's swing. This is him hitting a driver off the deck and he actually didn't hit it very well, but you can still see the basics of what's going on in his swing.

The first thing we want to look at is his spine angle. With a driver, it's roughly 28 degrees, depending on how you measure it. His shoulders are obviously sloped a little more forward, but we'll draw a line representing his spine angle.

He's certainly not within that 35-45 degree range that Jim Hardy talks about, at least not at address, but he has his feet a little bit shut and his shoulders and hips square. It's a very classic setup position. Ben Hogan did the same thing with the feet closed and hips and shoulders square.

As he takes the club back, we see that he gives a little kick with his right knee. He kicks that right knee in a little bit to trigger the swing, then as he moves it back everything moves back along with it.

Shallow Backswing

Club outside hips, behind handsThe club is outside his hips, behind his hands

He takes it back pretty shallow. You can see in the photo that by the time the club is just about parallel to the ground, that it's moved out well outside his hips and well behind his hands. He's certainly not keeping the club outside of his hands.

You see the same thing in Ben Hogan. Hardy emphasizes keeping the hands in and the club out, but this is something you didn't see in either Snead or Hogan.

Another similarity between Snead and Hogan, even though their swings look very, very different, is that by the time their arms get about parallel to the ground the club is very close to being on the shaft plane established at address.

It's interesting that their swings look so very different, but they get into a very similar position at this point, where the hands are very deep behind the chest rather than being out in front and steeper. This is a much flatter position than what you see in most golfers today.

Getting back to Snead, as he gets to the top he gets some lift with his arms and gets well across the line. His club is pointing well out to the right, as you can see in the next photo.

Two Planes at the Top

Club out to the rightThe club is out to the right

The red line shows Snead's left arm plane and the blue is his shoulder plane. Looking at those two lines, we can see he would certainly not qualify as much of a one planer at the top.

Of course, he's made a very long swing here. He's gotten across the line and past parallel.

You'll see this in golfers that Jim Hardy refers to as "hybrids" - one planers with a longer backswing - because he certainly does have more of a deep, around swing than a classical two planer but at the top, because of this long movement, he's gotten very steep with that left arm.

He's definitely not on plane with his shoulders by any stretch of the imagination. He does have the right elbow back behind him, behind his shirt seam and out away from his body, like Jim Hardy talks about.

He's made a massive hip turn, with the left foot well off the ground. This big hip turn was a major part of his rhythm, although Hardy obviously advocates against it.

You can see a couple things contracting in Snead's swing a little bit, but overall if he unwinds smoothly from here he's going to be in a great position coming down.

ImpactImpact - good hip turn, shoulders square, elbow back

As he starts to come back down he gets his arms back down pretty well. He makes a pretty big hip turn pretty quickly, with the right arm staying back.

As he continues to come down and deliver the ball into impact you can see in the photo that he's made a great hip turn. His shoulders are almost square to the target and the right elbow stays back. This is very similar to what you would see in Ben Hogan, where the right elbow is right on plane with the shaft plane established at address.

It's hard to see the club head and shaft, but they're more or less right on the shaft plane he established at address.

Similarities & Differences

As he continues to rotate, he's going to get very open at impact. His chest rotates toward the target, his hips are very open, but he also releases that right arm. He doesn't keep his right arm behind his right hip into impact as long as Hogan did; that's something different in Snead's swing.

Club parallel to plane established at addressThe club is parallel to the plane established at address

As he continues to come around, the club works left. You see him in a classic position with the club; it's more or less parallel to the shaft plane established at address, and releases beneath the left shoulder. He's maintained his spine angle here, and coming up to a full finish.

Overall there's a lot to learn from Snead's swing. Even though the swings look very different, there are a lot of similarities between Hogan and Snead that are pretty interesting.

You can also see that, while Hardy references both Snead and Hogan as being the "ultimate one planer," there are some areas that don't totally match up between these two models of what Jim Hardy has laid out as a one plane swing.

Overall, Sam Snead had a fantastic golf swing and one that won a lot of golf tournaments.

Checkpoints for Practice

  • Sam Snead's swing has been called a model one plane golf swing; he stays centered through takeaway, reaching the top without moving his head at all
  • He squats into the downswing, moving head & hips toward the target but staying very centered
  • He hits the ball first, the ground second - the ball is long gone when he starts to take the divot
  • From down the line we see a relatively small spine angle of 28° and a shallow backswing, outside the hips and well beyond the hands
  • Snead's left arm plane & shoulder plane are very different at the top, partly because his swing is so long
  • He makes a great hip turn in the downswing, with the right arm staying back a bit and the club on the plane established at address
  • He finishes in a classic follow through position, parallel to the shaft plane established at address

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