It’s an interesting, not-so-coincidence that almost all of golf’s recent slate of major winners have an extremely stable relationship with their swing coach.
Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson have been operating under the wing of the Harman family since arriving on tour.
Wyndham Clark, Cameron Smith, Shane Lowry, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Hideki Matsuyama are either their own swing coach, or lean solely on the light-touch advice of a trusted advisor.
Justin Thomas (whose father is his swing coach), Scottie Scheffler, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa and Matt Fitzpatrick have known their respective coaches since they were junior golfers.
It’s become something of an ironclad trend in golf, which perhaps bodes well for golf’s newest rising star: Ludvig Aberg.
Aberg has been working with Hans Larsson ince he was 15 years-old, which makes it nine years. The pair first linked up as part of the Swedish Golf Federation, the academy which produced Alex Noren, David Lingmerth, Pernilla Lindberg, Madeline Sagstrom, and Linn Grant, among others.
Not long after Aberg’s astonishing Ryder Cup performance as a rookie, and shortly his first PGA Tour win at the RSM Classic last week, I called up Larsson to pick his brain about his latest protege—and what the rest of us may be able to learn from him.
Focus on ‘performance’, more than ‘swing’
It’s hard not to stand in awe of Ludvig Aberg’s golf swing.
“When he came as a 15-year-old, I would say he had really good basic fundamentals,” Larsson remembers.
But for as pretty — and effective — as Aberg’s move is, Larsson says Aberg’s progression came courtesy of a more holistic approach to his golf game. It’s why Larsson himself prefers to think of himself as more of a “performance coach”, rather than a “swing coach.”
“I like to coach players in all aspects that actually improve their score,” Larsson says. “[Ludvig] loved playing golf, but he didn’t really want to practice that much and he didn’t really like the gym. Over the years, he’s learned to develop those other areas.”
It means not getting off the range, resisting the urge to think improving your golf swing is going to solve all your ills, and instead thinking about how other areas can improve your bottom line score.
Larsson says he’ll often run down a list of questions with Aberg, that the rest of us can adopt, too:
Is your physical training assisting the moves you’re trying to make in your golf swing?
- How was the nutrition on and off the course?
- What was your thought process before the goodv (and bad) shots?
- Did you get enough rest before your rounds?
- How were the social and mental elements?
- How did your course management do?
Work backwards from the golf ball
But of course, you can’t avoid swing stuff forever — and nor should you. But when you do tackle the task of improving your golf swing (ideally under the watchful eye of a golf coach), Larsson offers a helpful starting point.
“My philosophy is look at the golf ball, listen to the sound. Does the golf ball do what it needs to do?” he says. “Always look at the ball flight first. You want a golf swing that can produce a ball flight without too much curve, and gives a good sound of contact.”
By working backwards from the golf ball, Larsson explains, you’re avoiding falling into the trap of worrying about how your golf swing looks. That doesn’t matter; golf is a results game, and the ball doesn’t lie. Paying attention to the golf ball will help you focus on the substance, not the style.
“There are different ways of saying the golf club,” he says. “Your goal should be to make your ball flight more effective and repeatable, not on what your swing looks like.”
Create your golf swing emergency checklist
Even the best golf swings, like the best cars, will break down when they get out on the track.
“Most of those guys or girls can hit it very well on the range, but a lot of them hit it differently when they start playing in different conditions,” he says. “I want to see what happens with a swing when the pressure is on, when the wind is on the left, when they have not a full shot and it’s like there is an out of bounds to the right?”
Ludvig is no exception. The difference between Aberg and the rest of us is that Larsson and Aberg work hard on nailing down a kind of golf swing checklist that he can consult on the course, when things aren’t going right on the course.
“He has a little bit of a tendency to sit down and back at setup, which can get [his spine] a little too rounded,” he says. “He also has a little swaying tendency with his hips on the backswing, and to aim a little open with his knees, hips and shoulders.”
The solutions will no doubt be different for the rest of us, but the process should be the same. Knowing how your swing breaks down on the course is more than half the battle.
Protect against injury (especially your spine)
Larsson always pays close attention to golfers’ spine, both in Aberg’s golf swing and in his other students. He and Ludvig have worked hard on reducing the amount of side bend in his golf swing, which is a common injury-inducer for junior golfers.
“Where there’s a lot of side bend, it creates a lot of pushing against the spine and the vertebrates in a small area,” he said. “That’s a red flag. In general, you want to compress the spine as gently as possible.”
Larsson doesn’t believe in a one-size fits all approach, but if there’s one belief that unifies his philosophy on the golf swing, is that injury prevention is the central goal.
“Golfers have different minds; different bodies; different strengths and limitations,” he says. “Some are tall, some are shorter, some have longer arms, some have shorter arms. You have to match a swing with the golfers’ body.”
Doing that gives golfers their best chance of avoiding injury, which Larsson says is the key to every good golf swing.