Tom Watson Spine Angle Drill Correct JPG

The Key To Tom Watson’s Secret Golf Move

Tom Watson ‘found his swing’ during a practice session at a driving range in 1994. Up until that moment, he had yet to discover a truly repeatable way to swing a golf club. Prior to his eureka moment, Watson failed to appreciate the importance of maintaining your spine angle throughout the swing. After he discovered the secret’, it became the foundation of his swing, an evergreen swing thought that he will keep for the rest of his life.  

How Did Tom Watson Discover 'The Secret'

Tired of hitting it to right field (excessive in-to-out follow through) and struggling with hooks and blocks, he spontaneously decided to copy Corey Pavin’s pre-shot routine.

This proved to be his eureka moment. His body and his mind came to understand that swinging left after impact (instead of out to right field) while maintaining his spine angle was the swing thought that he had been searching for his entire life.

Unlike other swing thoughts which tend to be powerful for a while before fizzling out like a temporary elixir, Watson’s focus on spine angle has been the key to his golf swing ever since that faithful day. Even now, almost 30 years since that moment, Watson still relies on this concept to power his golf swing, despite the fact that he no longer plays competitive golf. 

What Did Watson Struggle With Before He Started Fixating On Spine Angle

  • Reverse C Position At Impact
  • Excessive Spine Tilt away from the target 
  • Swinging Out To Right Field (In-to-Out rather than In-to-In)
  • Excessive lateral movement toward the ball
  • Getting the club stuck behind him, which forced him to flip the club to make good contact (the ultimate recipe for inconsitency)
  • Early extension where you break your spine angle ‘come out of the shot’ too early

Shifting From A Jack Nicklaus To Corey Pavin Inspired Swing

Watson basically changed from trying to emulate Jack Nicklaus’s actual swing to trying to emulate Corey Pavin’s practice swing. He’s been fixated on spine angle ever since.

If you take a look at Watson’s post-secret swing, it should be clear that he transitioned from swinging in-to-out, to swinging in-to-in. Most efficient golf swings actually follow this pattern, especially the modern golf swing. 

Key Concept: Where Is The Weight of The Club Going After Impact

In his DVD, Watson provides a great visual demonstration of how to rotate around your spine, by placing a white cylinder on the back of his shoulders. 

Tom Watson Spine Angle Drill InCorrect JPG
In this image, you can see what happens if you don't maintain your spine angle. Your shoulders get too steep, and it's easy to get the club stuck behind you.
Tom Watson Spine Angle Drill Correct JPG
Here you can see Watson maintaining the spine angle that he established at address, during the backswing and the follow-through. It is a very good visual demonstration of Watson's 'Secret'.

The only weakness of the demonstration above is that fails to acknowledge the relationship between your body, and the weight of the golf club that you are holding. 

You don’t simply turn your shoulders around your spine. You turn your shoulders around your spine while holding a bottom-heavy object with a long shaft. In other words,  you have to establish the balance between your body and the weight of the club at address, and you also need to maintain this balance throughout the backswing and follow-through. 

Tom Watson changed his perception of where the weight of the club should travel after impact. This made it possible to maintain his spine angle, almost effortlessly.

It was the notion of swinging left after impact that preceded his emphasis on spine angle. Instead of throwing the weight of the club out to right field, he attempted to throw the weight of the club left after impact. 

In my opinion, it is better to think of throwing the weight of the club left, and upwards, after impact. If you focus exclusively on throwing the club left, you may struggle to release the club efficiently, which could result in big slices and the occasional snap hook. By swinging the clubhead left (and up) during the follow-through, you are more likely to release the club efficiently and consistently. 

In other words, swinging the club left and upwards after impact can make it much easier to:

  • Complete your follow-through
  • Maintain your spine angle during the downswing and follow-through
  • Maintain the balance between your body and the weight of the clubhead

Can Tom Watson's secret be applied to everyone?

To some extent yes. Virtually every golfer on the planet can benefit from maintaining their spine angle throughout the golf swing. This is something that almost all professional golfers do, regardless of whether they are consciously aware of it. 

However, there is a certain type of golfer that will gain the most benefit from experimenting with Watson’s ideas, namely, golfers that:

  • Have too much lateral movement during the follow-through
  • Swing the club too far from the inside during the follow-through
  • Have a tendency to get the weight of the club stuck behind them
  • Struggle with blocks and hooks, the dreaded two-way miss

Personal Revelation

For me, focusing on ‘folding my left arm’ after impact is the key to ‘swinging left’ as Watson would say. Ultimately, it all boils down to ‘feeling’ an efficient release that is easy to emulate.

For Watson, that means swinging left (almost over the top left). He has to overcompensate for his natural tendency to swing under the ideal plane and way too far right. 

For me, it means ‘swinging through the ball’, folding my left arm (after impact) and finishing with the shaft of the club actually making contact with the back of my left shoulder (ie a lot like Jack Nicklaus and Fred Couples).

Personally, I think you should experiment with the following ideas if  you really want to get a feel for Tom Watson’s secret: 

  • Swing left (and up) after impact
  • Maintaining the spine angle you set at address throughout your golf swing
  • Try folding your left arm after impact. You might unlock that Fred Couples effortless power if you do. 

The Irony of Watson's Secret

Given that Watson only found his swing in 1994, you might expect that his career trajectory went from extremely impressive to borderline amazing aftwarward. However, the simple reality is that Watson won all of his 8 majors before he discovered the secret to his swing. 

In my opinion, there are two primary reasons he didn’t win a major after finding his swing:

  • He was already past his prime as a professional golfer. Watson peaked in the 1970’s and 1980’s. He only found his swing in the mid 90’s. You could say that he discovered the secret 20 years too late. Who knows how many majors he would have won if he found this swing thought earlier in his career. 
  • His short game actually got worse after discovering the secret to his full swing. You can always trust the golfing gods to giveth and taketh away in equal measure.