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Friday, May 14, 2010

Backhand Control

Part of the Route 67 series

Ok, let's start by looking at the characteristics shared by backhand swings. Remember, a backhand swing is:
  • A swing that a right-hander controls with his or her left hand, or
  • A swing that a left-hander controls with his or her right hand.
A backhand swing is the classic way of controlling a golf swing. Most of the older instructional books automatically assume you're swinging this way. Some of the new ones will as well, but it's often not clear. Here is an incomplete list of things that characterize a backhand swing.
  • Softer shafts: This is an equipment difference. Since the backhand swing doesn’t load the shaft the way a forehand swing does, you use shafts that are more flexible. This can actually make you hit the ball farther, even if you aren’t a particularly strong person.
  • Pushing the club back: Obviously, the backswing moves away from the control side of the body, which meant the player had to push the club away from the ball.
  • Stronger grip: This may be a little less obvious, but pushing the club away puts more stress on the wrist of the pushing hand. As a result, strengthening the grip (turning the hand on the grip in the direction of the backswing) made the club feel lighter to the player, and therefore easier to swing. The typical grip would have the “V’s” formed by the thumb and forefinger of each hand pointed toward the support shoulder, but a very strong grip with the back of the hand almost on top of the grip wasn’t unusual.
  • Straight control arm: The “straight left arm” is a standard of right-handed golf teaching that has been argued quite a bit, but it’s a necessity in the backhanded swing. After all, if you’re going to push the club away and try to make as big an arc with it as possible, it only makes sense that you would keep the pushing arm straight. In fact, it’s hard not to keep it straight with a backhand swing.
  • Upright swing plane: Again, this is simple mechanics. You’re pushing the club away from you, you’ve got a strong grip, and the weight of the club is out at the very end of your arm. Your arm is turned so that your elbow points almost straight down toward the ground. The natural thing to do is lift the club; however, you’re turning your body as you do it, so it doesn’t go exactly straight up. However, it’s still going to be a steeper plane.
  • Starting the downswing by pulling the club down: “Tolling the bell” is a phrase I’ve seen used for this move. If your arm is straight and holding the club in a high, upright position, you’re in a perfect position to spin your body and fling that club “over the top” when your hips start to turn. As a result, many backhand teachers teach their students to pull the club down to start the downswing. This also causes the loopy “two-plane” swing that you’ve heard about. There’s nothing wrong with a loopy swing – Jim Furyk plays very well with one – but just recognize that it’s generally the result of a backhand swing, not a forehand one.
  • Pulling the club around: The arm that holds the club is stretched straight out; that’s not exactly a strong position. The most natural way to get that club back down is to pull that club around with your control shoulder.
  • High control shoulder at contact: The club is high in the air, and your control shoulder is pulling your arm around. Again, simple mechanics: That shoulder is going to have to move up as your hips and shoulders pull the club through.
  • Belly moves toward target: Hips are moving toward the target and the shoulder is moving up and even back a little to resist the momentum of the club. Of course the area between is going to flex toward the target!
  • Head moves slightly backward: As the hips and shoulders swing around and the belly arches out, the head moves back a bit to help overcome all the momentum threatening to make you fall toward the target.
  • Reverse-C finish: There are some other things that effect just how much of a “C” you get, but the combination of the last few tendencies mean you’re going to end up with your belly closer to the target than your head and feet.
When you see these things, there's a good chance you're looking at a backhand swing.

Tomorrow I'll give you a similar list on forehand swings, and you'll be able to see some important differences.

8 comments:

  1. I have never been able to get a feel for the pushing or pulling of the club on the takeaway. The club is in both hands, it always just feels like a turn to me. I can feel it doing one handed drills, but not with both hands on the club. My forward swing starts with me dropping the right elbow down towards the hip (a Harvey Penick move), but not a right arm/left arm thing.

    Oh well.

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  2. You're unusual in that way, Court. (Notice that I'm not going to take it any further than that! ;-)

    Personally, I think that's a great situation to be in. A unified feel like that actually makes it easier to perform the correct moves when you swing -- your feel is more balanced, and you're less likely to fall into extremes. I'm curious -- are you ambidextrous also?

    That may also explain why you had trouble feeling the swoosh drill as I described it a few weeks ago. When I do it, it feels as if only one hand is making the action. If you're feeling things equally in each hand, you probably wouldn't feel it the same way. I'll have to see if I can figure out how some of the stuff I'm covering feels when neither hand dominates the swing.

    And just for the record, Harvey Penick was a backhand-style teacher. If his stuff works well with your swing, that's a good indication that, regardless of how your swing feels to you, it's behaving like a backhand swing. I'm not saying you should try to change your feel -- DON'T! Just be aware that (assuming you're right-handed) you'll probably get more help from teachers who teach left-hand control.

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  3. does that mean I don't have to ride the golfing short bus ? :-)

    I'll stick with Penick and Harmon.

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  4. Well, that depends... just how far are you hitting the ball?;-)

    You'll find that a lot of what I say matches what they say. It's just that they tend to teach one specific way of swinging, while I'm trying to help players who may swing in several different ways. But one thing I've said repeatedly -- in fact, I did an entire post on it right here:

    http://www.ruthlessgolf.com/2009/09/do-you-have-filter.html

    -- is that everybody should have one teacher whose teachings they know work for them, and use that teacher as a "filter" for any other tips or teachings they may consider trying. It eliminates what Ernie Els called "ill-conceived tinkering" with your swing.

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  5. I've been reading/studying your fabulous notes through and through, over and over, for several months now, and I've got to say, you've really put together a first rate and comprehensive "program" and/or "method" for delineating between Swings Types and Personal Inclinations. GREAT for assisting one in really narrowing things down so that one can (finally) simplify What Best Works for Oneself and What Won't Work Consistently. Kind of like Tomasi's delineation into 3 Body Types and Flexibility Factors that essentially "predetermine" what will work and what will only work for a short while. Those of us who endlessly search and "tinker" can at least choose between "fun tinkering" and "effective tinkering."

    I, myself, consistently come back to ONE factor -- Left Hand and Left Arm control, usually with fairly quiet legs and hips (elsewise I have exasperating "jamming" and "stuckness" problems) and duckhook and otherwise push or block and hit "thins"). I continue to try "rounding" my swing, and last year I tried with some considerable success to use a more "single plane" and restricted wrist break swing, but I suspect that my best swings will always be more two plane, no matter how much I try to flatten my swing, if that is even worth trying. Just seems simpler to simply let my Left Hand and Left Arm and Left Shoulder/Back run the show and keep my right hand on board merely for "support."

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  6. Thanks for the kind words, Steve. I try to make things as simple and understandable as I can.

    The primary difference between instructors like Tomasi (I have his book The Laws of the Golf Swing, btw) and me is just a matter of approach. Other instructors try to differentiate swings by one or two unique factors -- Tomasi's body/flexibility types are one example. That seems to work well with many students.

    I come at it from the other side. I look for the most basic fundamentals that every player needs, that will give every player a sound swing, then I try to help those players understand the other techniques they can use to "fine tune" that basic swing around their own physical strengths and limitations.

    My driving belief is that a lot of the things we try to control in our swings should happen automatically as the result of good fundamentals. The reason those fundamentals sometimes look different from player to player is the result of the differences between our bodies. Golf only gets hard when you try to make your body do things it isn't built to do.

    And I think some people are naturally "one-planers" and some are naturally "two-planers." If you naturally make a two-plane swing and it works well, why change it?

    Thanks again for the kind words.

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  7. If this is the case, it would seem to make sense for a right-hander to swing "left-handed", using left-handed clubs. I have tried it, and I think if I had learned this way from the git-go, I would be a better golfer today.

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  8. As you've already learned, Ron, there isn't any perfect approach to golf. Players like Johnny Miller (leftie playing rightie) and Phil Mickelson (rightie playing leftie) have historically struggled with twisting their forearms too much during their swings, and that was likely because their dominant hand was at the end of the club rather than being stabilized by the other hand.

    You can see that often with Phil's driver; and though Johnny did pretty well adapting his full swing to the motion (he developed a sort of stinger shot with his driver) it did affect his putting throughout his career.

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