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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Not Quite Hamlet’s Mortal Coil

When Hamlet, in his famous “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy, lamented the fear of what lies beyond “when we have shuffled off this mortal coil,” he wasn’t talking about golf. According to Wikipedia, Shakespeare’s 16th Century audience would have understood the word “coil” to mean trouble and “shuffling off this mortal coil” to mean dying.

Given the amount of trouble golfers have with coiling, though, maybe things haven’t changed much.

Coiling isn’t a difficult concept, nor is a proper coil difficult to learn. Getting a good coil on your backswing can not only increase your distance, but it can actually eliminate strain on your body and make it easier to swing the club. The one-piece takeaway I’ve been writing about the last few days is extremely easy to do when you coil properly.

At its simplest, a coil is simply a turn of the shoulders. When teachers tell you to try and get your left shoulder under your chin on the backswing, they’re trying to get you to coil. But getting that left shoulder around is the result of a good coil, not a cause. The error made by most players is lifting and tilting the shoulders; in fact, if a player focuses on that word “under,” they can end up making the very mistake they were trying to avoid.

A proper coil is felt mostly in the waist. In today’s post I just want you to learn what a real coil looks and feels like. Don’t worry, you don’t need room to swing a club for this; you don’t need a club at all.

All you need is a wall, even one in a narrow area like a hallway. This doesn’t take much room, and it will teach you what a coil feels like.

Here’s how you do it:

Setup for coil practice

Set up next to a wall as shown in the diagram, feet about shoulder-width apart. Squat slightly, and I do mean slightly―I just want you to bend your legs a little, not do deep knee bends. The flex in your knees will allow your hips to move a little as you coil. Your upper body should still be straight, as it normally is when you stand.

Now, read this entire paragraph before trying this! While still facing in the direction your toes are pointed, I want you turn your upper body at the waist and place both hands on the wall at shoulder level or slightly higher, and about shoulder-width apart. Turn at the waist. Don’t turn your hips any more than necessary, but be aware that they’ll turn a little. And try to keep your feet flat on the floor if you can, but don’t strain to do it. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD THIS HURT. If it does, stop; you need to work some more on your flexibility before you can do this.

Assuming you felt no pain and were able to get in this position, you should be able to hold it for a while, since your hands are taking some pressure off your back. Note that your left shoulder probably didn’t get completely under your chin; it shouldn’t because we aren’t finished yet.
  • By the way, this is a good gentle stretching exercise that can improve your flexibility. Just take this position and hold it for maybe 30 seconds, then change position and do it on your other side. If you have trouble doing this with your feet parallel to the wall, just point your toes a little more toward the wall to make the coil easier. You can gradually work your way back to this position.
Now make one simple change: Move your left hand over beside your right hand. Your left shoulder should move beneath your chin now. This is a much bigger stretch, and almost the same as when you coil during your swing… except you’re still standing straight up.

Well, it’s time to remedy that. Return to your starting position, hands at your sides, and bend over as if setting up to hit a shot. Your knees are slightly bent again, right? Now turn your upper body at the waist again and place your hands on the wall about shoulder-width apart, just like before… except that this time the left hand is lower on the wall than the right hand. (That's because you're bent over. Du-u-u-h! This angle should match your shoulder plane.) You may or may not be able to keep both feet flat on the floor, but your hips will twist a bit more. Your left knee will bend more and move toward your toes, while your right knee will straighten a little. (The right knee should NOT straighten out completely. If it does, you’ll have trouble starting your downswing. This is a big problem for a lot of players, so be aware of it.)

It’s a bit harder, isn’t it? But it shouldn’t be overly difficult. Again, you can use this as a stretching exercise to improve your ability to coil… even when you can’t get out and play! (Note to self: Things to do during the off-season… check.)

Finally, from this position, move your left hand over beside your right hand. Your left shoulder should move under your chin, and you probably feel really stretched out.

This is the basic feel you're after. You can take this position with a real club to see how close you are to making a good coil. If this feels very different from your normal swing, you probably haven't been coiling properly.

Tomorrow I’ll show you a bit more about how the shoulders work during a coil.


  1. I only had time to read a little bit of this to day. Do I have stay 'coiled' until tomorrow or can I 'uncoil' before my girl friend gets back from pilates...???

  2. For you, Vince, I suggest perpetual coiling. It'll make your girlfriend jealous. ;-)