It’s taken more than a decade for former Australian Tour player Bradley Hughes to become the latest overnight sensation in golf instruction.
Bradley Hughes boasted a swing that incorporated crucial elements of the most revered ball-strikers to ever play the game long before he ever had a lesson.
Among the throng of Aussie touring professionals in the 1990s, the strike Hughes delivered to the back of the ball was the envy of many, and he had no real concept of how he was doing it.
“I was a good player when I was younger but I had no idea what I was doing,” Hughes admits.
“I have very little footage of myself when I was younger. I have a few photos here and there but I don’t know what my swing looked like.”
Now 52 years of age, the resurgence of American PGA TOUR player Brendon Todd in the past 12 months has thrust the two-time Australian Masters champion into the domain of golf instruction’s newest ‘it’ coach, but it’s been a journey more than a decade in the making.
Winner on the Nationwide Tour in 2004, by the end of 2008 Hughes was charging $40 an hour to conduct lessons at an Edwin Watts Golf store in South Carolina, regurgitating what he thought were golf’s golden tenets, the lessons he was given when he finally sought professional guidance at age 26.
“I thought I knew something about the golf swing but initially I went down a different route than what I wanted to teach,” Hughes tells Australian Golf Digest on a rare day off from what has become an increasingly crowded calendar.
“I taught what I got taught in my mid-20s. It was your basic stuff.
“Because it was so successful, the work David Leadbetter was doing with Nick Faldo and Nick Price was the rage around that time but it just didn’t gel with me and my game because it took away some of my naturalness.”
Adamant that the cookie-cutter approach to a golf swing was fundamentally flawed, Hughes stopped teaching and instead went searching.
He had seen swings over time that defied conventional thinking yet delivered extraordinary results.
They each went on a circuitous route to get there but he ultimately observed a uniformity that became the basis for the first drill in his program, ‘The 4.30 Path to Impact.’
“Jim Furyk, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Lee Trevino, Peter Senior, all these guys had what people would say were funky-looking swings, but they were good. Really good. And they were consistent,” says Hughes.
“If they had a flashlight on the end of their club they’d be shooting up the sky in all sorts of directions. But if you took away the backswing or follow through or whatever it was people thought wasn’t fundamentally correct, there was obviously a key thing that they all did in the swing.
“Once I saw something in those swings then I looked at some better swings and saw the same things. That’s when I rewrote my own fundamentals on what I thought the golf swing should work around and how to learn it.”
The simplest way to describe the ‘4.30 Path to Impact’ drill is to picture a clockface superimposed over a golfer looking from above. If the stance happens at 6 o’clock and ball position sits in the centre of the clockface with the target line at 9 o’clock, the shaft lines up with 4.30 on the downswing, “the club coming from behind us with cocked wrists and rotated forearms” Hughes wrote in his e-book titled ‘The Great Ball Strikers’, a collated and expanded collection of his thoughts on the golf swing.
“The 4.30 line gives us a much better general reference for the path of our hands and the delivery of the butt-end of the club into the release area,” Hughes wrote. “It also reminds us that our hands need to get busy firing via the forearm rotation and wrist angles we have maintained. And this is what uncocks the wrists and rotates the clubface into the back of the ball.”
“Most people teach what you can see,” says Hughes, whose growing stable of Tour players currently includes Todd, Russell Knox, Ollie Schniederjans, Michael Kim, Scott McCarron and Aussies Greg Chalmers and Nick Cullen.
“Most people teach the takeaway, the top of the swing and based on getting into a couple of certain positions you should hit a pretty good shot.
“At the top of the swing, everything can change. Imagine if Jim Furyk’s dad put Jim on video when he was 15 and said, ‘Look at that.’ He may have tried to change it and not become the player he is.
“The backswing is overrated in the golf swing. It’s obviously important but a perfect backswing doesn’t mean anything because there’s going to be a perfect backswing for everyone.
“People get too involved with the backswing because technically, once you get to the backswing, everything changes. Your knees flex, your body moves, your wrists start to cock, the club can flatten or get steeper so having the best backswing in the world doesn’t matter.
“But if you can have the proper release and through-swing, your backswing will go where it’s got to go to suit that.
“You’ll pay less attention to what’s behind you and worry more about what’s ahead of you.
“When I teach people the first three drills their backswing changes and I don’t have to deal with it. It goes to where they need it to go to get back to that 4.30 path.”
In January Hughes retweeted a video of Tiger Woods being asked where he likes his speed and replying, “Past the golf ball”. After those in attendance stifled their giggles, Woods added, “The majority of my speed is post impact.”
“When there’s something in the way you’re going to hit, kick, punch it. You want to get their focal point somewhere down the road so post-impact is key,” Hughes explains.
“In other sports everything is out in front of you. When you’re running hurdles it’s all out in front of you. When you’re doing high jump you’re looking at the bar. When you’re throwing or kicking you’re looking at the target out in front. That’s harder to do in golf because of the way you’re set up.
“You’re looking down and out in front of you and the target is to the left. You’re not really looking at your target so people’s mind’s eye gets focused on the wrong thing, on the backswing and the impact rather than where you want to send it.”
The Humpty Dumpty Instructor
Less than 12 months before winning consecutive PGA TOUR tournaments in November last year, Brendon Todd was ranked 2,043 in the world and at a complete loss, on the verge of quitting the game for good.
At the urging of a former University of Georgia teammate he read ‘The Great Ball Strikers’ and sought a meeting with Hughes shortly thereafter. That Todd has climbed some 1,945 spots on the Official World Golf Ranking inside the past year has been good for the Hughes instruction business.
“His words have sold me a lot of books lately,” Hughes admitted in a podcast with Golf Digest.
But well before Todd’s tear, Hughes was seeing real-life examples that his methodology could be applied to any level of golfer with great success.
“I had a guinea pig who I tested it on,” Hughes reveals of the early implementation of his instruction ideologies.
“He went from a 130-shooter to shooting in the 80s within 30 days. Within a year his best score was 74. He dropped nearly 60 shots.
“There was a guy in Sydney who was 70 years old when he undertook my drills.
“He was lost, playing off 16 and thinking that his best golf was behind him. Within nine months of doing the drills he was down to 7. He more than halved his handicap at 70 years of age.
“They’re the cool stories because that’s why I teach what the great ball strikers did and there is a difference. There’s a difference to what they did compared to everyone else. That’s why they were so great.”
A member of the inaugural International team at the 1994 Presidents Cup, Hughes was once ranked as high as 98 in the world and has no doubt his own process of rediscovery makes him an appealing alternative to those drowning in swing theory.
“Brendon summed it up beautifully. He said he was being taught paint by numbers; put the club here and here and you’ll get a good shot. But he was doing that and not getting a good shot. It didn’t make sense to him,” says Hughes.
“When someone has lost their game, it takes something extra special to get them back to where they were. And it’s not that hard. I spoke to Michael Breed and he laughed when I said it was easy to teach tour pros because he found the opposite.
“But the fact that I played and they recognise I could hit the ball, they want to listen to what I’ve got to say and work on it because they trust me.
“Tour pros, for the most part, you’re pointing them back to something they once did at some point.
“I’m like the Humpty Dumpty guy. Everyone can see me putting guys back together again.”
“To me, it feels a bit more old-school. To me, it feels more what I used to do,” says Nick Cullen, tied 15th at the Australian PGA Championship in December and echoing Hughes’s summation.
“The stuff I was trying to do just wasn’t converting. I’d been trying to get my backswing better and this and that and it just wasn’t working.
“He’s a lot about impact and pressure into the ground and it’s working a bit better for me.”
At 46 years of age Chalmers insists with the help of Hughes he is hitting the ball better than at any other time in his career and Hughes himself says his first “guinea pig” is proof that anyone can enter the mythical realm of ‘ball-striker’.
“To go from having 130 to shooting 74, you’ve got to be hitting it pretty good to be able to do that,” adds Hughes, whose Down Under Board training aid is now available online.
“When you learn what it feels like and how to use your forearms and the angle of your wrist and your leg support and how your body pulls, you’re getting into the realm of more repeatability.
“Your best shots are better and your poor shots aren’t as bad. And that’s the essence of being a good golfer.”
Superstars of Swing
They are among the most revered figures in world golf. Here Bradley Hughes shares his thoughts on what made the swings of these greats of the game well worth emulating.
Greg Norman: “I based my swing on Greg Norman. I love his swing. I went and saw him hit a ball and thought, That’s how I want to hit a golf ball. It’s not the greatest swing of all-time, he had his difficulties with some shots but he was very aggressive. When he wasn’t as aggressive some of those shots tended to sneak in because he didn’t have the pressure and force in his swing that worked so well when he was swinging flat-out.
Gary Player: “I love Gary Player’s swing, which people think is pretty weird because he falls over sometimes and does all these crazy things but you don’t win that many times with a bad swing. People talk a lot about his desire, the will to win, his physical fitness but you don’t win as often as he did without also having a very good swing. He once flew into Sydney for an Australian Open the night before the tournament started and after a 40-hour flight went out and shot 65 the next day. That’s pretty impressive and testament to the quality of his swing.
Ben Hogan: “I love Hogan’s swing because it’s still a mystery to a lot of people. People see all these angles and things but don’t really know how it all happens. I’ve done a lot of study of his swing and the dynamics of his swing are unreal, what I would try and teach people. Not the look of his swing, but the dynamics of it and forces were unreal.
Peter Thomson: “Can’t go past Peter Thomson. His was pretty simple. Funny thing is that he had a great looking swing and apparently the first time he saw it he almost threw up, saying that it didn’t look like how he felt he swung the golf club. There is the old ‘feel vs real’ thing but he obviously trusted the feel and the ball flight and didn’t care what it looked like. Ultimately it looked pretty good anyway.”