Byron Nelson’s Nearly Flawless Swing Action

bn topAs per P.A.’s request:

It may be a bit harsh describing any part of Lord Byron’s swing as a “flaw,” but there is no other word to describe a part of his setup except perhaps “change this to that, and it’s virtually perfect.”

So with apologies to one of my favorite swings of all time, let’s have a look at the swing that is historic for the following reasons:

Byron Nelson:

  • Had the first swing action modified from a lazy, rhythmic swing used to hit balls with whippy hickory wood shafts to one that was suited to swinging steel shafts,
  • Was the man who first used a grinder to round the faces of his drivers, which helped create the “gear-effect” that would put spin on the ball (on slightly off-center hits) to shape it back to where it had been intended to be struck,
  • Won 18 Tour events in one season, a record that stands today,
  • Won 11 straight events in that season, another record that stands today,
  • Really still holds the consecutive cuts made record, as Tiger Woods played in a bunch of no-cut events when he broke that record of playing 4 rounds out of 4 to break that mark,
  • Retired at the beginning of Ben Hogan’s march to dominance due to a bad stomach that made travel difficult, and also because he’d earned enough money in the last season he played (’45, the 18 win season) to buy a ranch, which was his first love – golf was just a job, and there may not have ever been a Ben Hogan of today’s fame had Byron played into the 50’s, as he always bested Hogan head-to-head,
  • Had the “Iron Byron” swing machine named after him – say no more!

Here is that action in all its glory:

byron nelson swing


Of course, you want to slow it down a tad to really appreciate the beauty of this action:

byron nelson swing slo mo


You can see how this swing action wouldn’t have worked with the whippy hickory shafts, as he loaded that steel shaft superbly on the down move.

As far as mechanics, Byron:

  • shifted perfectly into his right hip with a free and full hip turn,
  • had a very simple and basic turn around the C7 on the pivot,
  • full shoulder turn & a tight leading arm to the chest,
  • used great leverage shifting back into the leading leg and foot to sweep the leading arm and club down & through the swing bottom,
  • had a superb weight shift on that down swing, just like stepping into a side-arm throw,
  • watch the matching shoulder & knee action in both the leading shoulder/knee (back pivot) and trailing shoulder/knee (down swing), showing a perfect sync of a “full body” pivot, both back and forward, simply as good as it gets.

He wasn’t a long hitter, being a rhythm player, and he didn’t have to be any longer than he was, in addition to never really getting hard after it due to the one thing I would have changed in his setup.

The only thing I would change, if not for Byron Nelson but for anyone emulating this model, would be to remove the big head shift on the back pivot, as this is certain to bring inconsistent results to most people swinging in this manner.

You don’t see how big a head shift there is, because of that rhythmic rocking action he likely held over from his hickory shaft days, until one marks the head position at address versus the top position before transition:

byron nelson head shift


This, I would call a setup flaw for anyone else in the world but Byron Nelson – but you know what?  It worked great for him, and as for consistency, there are two things about Lord Byron that you can know:

Byron himself, when asked how the more modern equipment would have benefited him, said, “Not at all – I always hit the ball on the sweet spot, and the new equipment is to make imperfect shots longer and more accurate.  They wouldn’t have helped me any…”

Another note is that Tom Watson, who idolized and played many, many casual rounds of golf with him, said that he never played a round with Lord Byron where he didn’t smack a flagstick once or twice per round, so unerring was his accuracy.

So, far be it for me to have told the man to change his setup, as it was perfect for him, especially if he were already a great swinger in his hickory shaft days (which he was), in which case changing the setup would more likely have thrown his rhythm off.

When you look at the top position and down swing however, it is a great down swing action and he nailed that ball:

byron nelson down swing


Notice that “short-stop slide” action in the trailing foot, whereas today’s players all anchor the trailing foot through impact and finish, which is why so many of them have the “flying foot syndrome” of the leading foot jumping and snapping off the ground – if anyone tells you that the former is a swing flaw, laugh long and hard, as it was a signature move of the most accurate man ever to play golf, barring perhaps Hogan at his best or Moe Norman on an average day.

Hogan, as it goes, used to complain about events that featured two rounds in one day because, he griped, he was liable to be at times hitting his 2nd shots from the fairway in the 2nd round out of the divots he’d created with his 1st round tee shots.

Moe Norman, by the way, once walked off the course during a non-Tour event (I can’t remember where, likely on the Canadian Tour) after hitting 3 flagsticks in a row.

“I couldn’t play any better than that,” he shrugged, “So I went home.”

However, Hogan and Norman were OCD ball-strikers who spent far more time hitting balls on the range than playing, whereas Byron Nelson built a swing in his 20’s and never really had to tinker or practice long hours.

That is the mark of true genius. My opinion.

So…

If one were to measure one’s setup exactly (as you should do anyway), and if one were able to stay relaxed and calm enough to make that full shifting pivot without cutting it short or rushing it (which happens under pressure), then it would be a perfect way to swing for anyone else.

I can tell you this because I’ve tried his left-biased setup after measuring my setup to the ball and then making a nice and slow back pivot with the shift – at the top, I’d be in the exact same position with my own setup or Lord Byron’s, so it is possible to swing this way and stripe the ball as the great man himself.

My Change For This Swing

bn head


I just like to take out the element of shifting head and swing with a “floating pivot” or one in which the head (in the setup) is already where it will be at the top, thereby eliminating a component of potential error in the back pivot:

byron nelson head shift


2 thoughts on “Byron Nelson’s Nearly Flawless Swing Action

  1. Mr. McJohn

    It’s odd because I’m an exceptional ballstriker. I curve the ball both ways, at exact trajectories, and can do whatever I want with the ball. I hit 70-78% fairways, and at least 12 greens a round. My proximity is usually around 22 feet from the hole ftom 145 yards or so. I have a mostly MCS swing. My length is around 290 average driver.

    I notice a strange trend with the likes of Hogan and Moe Norman, even Knudson. We don’t like putting.

    I always thought putting as a result of just being close to the hole. If I hit it close enough, putting was supposedly easier. I’m learning that, even though I’m scratch, I could be +7 if I could just hole something. I mean during some rounds, I average 15 feet proximity (rare, but happens sometimes), hit 13 greens, and barely shoot par. It gives you perspective, hits you square in the jaw. I’ve been putting more in practice as a result.

    1. D Watts Post author

      That’s the game part of the sport, MMJ – half the scorecard shots for par are putts. Can’t get around that, to shoot par or better, gotta have the short game on point!

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