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Friday, November 20, 2009

Why We Start with a Punch

(PAY ATTENTION, RIGHTHANDERS! Normally I describe things as a righthander, and lefties have to transpose it. But Brian is a lefty and this is his project, so you righties will have to substitute “right” for “left” and vice versa. It will give you an appreciation for what lefties have to go through when they learn the game. But here’s a hint that will help: View any diagrams as if you were looking in a mirror.)

So how did you do with yesterday’s little puzzle? Did you figure out how a punch shot can teach us to use our shoulders properly? I gave you a hint: Wrists are shock absorbers.

If you swing to the top of your backswing with no wrist cock and then cock your wrists, you’ll feel all kinds of movement and flexes. You won’t feel them just in your wrists, but through all the joints and muscles in your arms and shoulders. Each of these movements represents a place where your swing can be altered a little, mostly without your notice. A little twist here, a slight flex there… and suddenly joints are bending in slightly different planes, and the club is being pulled a bit to the side rather than straight.

By keeping the wrists uncocked with the punch shot, we eliminate a lot of little things that can alter our shot; that allows us to focus on one particular aspect of our swing.

In this case, the punch allows us to focus on our swing path.

Brian, you said you’re having problems with pulling your shots, which means you have an outside-to-inside swing path. During your downswing, the club swings out over your target line and then cuts across it on the followthrough; some teachers call this “coming over the top.” The shots start to your right and often curve farther right – a duck hook. (Some of you may pull the shot but leave the clubface open; you end up hitting a pull slice.) Some of this was caused by overactive legs, which we worked on “toning down” in the last series of posts. Now we can work directly on your swing path.

Because the punch doesn’t allow the joints and muscles to cover things up as much, we can track down the cause of this problem much quicker. I suspect you’re starting your shoulders too soon in the downswing. We could call this lunging or jerking or twisting or any number of other things, but it simply means you start uncoiling your upper body a little faster than you should. If you do that with the punch shot, you’re going to hit a huge pull because there’s no way for the joints and muscles to absorb any of the movement.

How do you stop this problem? Again, the punch makes it easier to learn the correct move. Because you can’t use all those joints and muscles as much, you’ll have to let your arms drop a little before your shoulders start to turn. (“Drop” is the correct word here; your shoulder joints are the only place movement can happen with the punch shot, and tensing your shoulder muscles in an effort to generate power will just cause them to hurt.) Your arms start to drop as your lower body begins the downswing; a split second later, your upper body begins to turn in reaction to your lower body. (In other words, your lower body will start pulling your upper body around.) That may sound tricky, but it actually feels pretty natural once you do it a few times. You may need to do it slowly at first to get used to it, especially if you’ve been jerking those shoulders around to start the downswing.

Brian, even though the golf courses are closed up there, you might try swinging a club in your backyard to get the feel of the punch shot. That will give you a basis for tomorrow's post, when I’ll try to answer some of the other questions you had about timing and mechanics.

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