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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Jim Furyk's Elbow

After doing yesterday's post on how your right elbow (left elbow for you lefties) should behave on your downswing, it occurred to me that Jim Furyk might be a good example of how important this is. One thing every commentator points out is how close Jim stands to the ball, and how close his hands come to his body on his downswing. I got to wondering: Where does Jim's elbow go, given how crunched up he is when he gets to the ball? Here's an analysis from Peter Kostis, done at the 2007 Colonial (don't worry, it's extremely short):

Kostis says that Jim's elbow goes into his ribs, but that's not entirely true. If you watch carefully, you'll see that Jim does make the move I advised against -- that is, dropping your elbow to your side so that your upper arm is parallel to your spine. (You can see this in the "down the line" portion of the video.) In fact, if you look really closely, you'll see that his arm is actually angled backward, so his elbow is behind his hip!

So why doesn't Jim get stuck? Part of it, as Peter Kostis points out, is that Furyk really turns his body. If he doesn't, he'll get stuck BIG TIME like I mentioned in yesterday's post. However, there's more to it than this. Kostis says that Jim's elbow "comes right into his rib cage"... but again, that's not quite correct. If you watch the face-on view closely, you'll see that his arm is behind him when it first drops down, as I mentioned in the "down the line" view. (Stop the video at the 55 second mark -- you'll see Jim's upper arm appears to point straight down toward the ground, but his hips are angled maybe 30 degrees toward the target. His arm is clearly behind him.) However, a mere 2 seconds later (don't you love video?) he's turned enough for you to see a very clear GAP between his arm and his side. And another 2 seconds after that, it appears that he has flung his elbow out from his body as his wrists finish uncocking.

Now, you might think this contradicts what I said in yesterday's post. I said that moving your elbow properly is important for accuracy, and Jim is certainly accurate as long as he rotates his body "perfectly," as Peter Kostis puts it in his analysis. But the reason certain golf moves become "standard teaching" is because they represent a good compromise of all the things you want to accomplish in a swing; and any time you get away from those moves, you risk losing in one area what you gain in another.

What does Jim gain here? As long as he turns well, he's extremely accurate and consistent. According to, this year Jim has a Driving Accuracy of just over 71% (6th on Tour) and his GIR is just under my magic 67% (64th on Tour). That GIR average is down because, as you'll remember, he lost his swing for a while earlier this year and missed the cut at the Masters. Even with that, he's won twice this year.

But what does Jim lose? Jim has made it clear he's given up trying to gain distance. His Driving Distance this year is a tad over 271 yards. Jim is 6'2", people -- that's a ridiculously low driving average! Our other two-time winner, Ernie Els, at 1 inch taller, is nearly 18 yards longer -- and he's lost some distance this year!

If you try to duplicate Jim's positions at the bottom of his swing (from the 55-second mark on) you'll see that, in order to make consistent contact with the ball, Jim can't uncock his wrists normally. He doesn't uncock his wrists early in the swing because he uses a rather dramatic two-plane loop to get his cocked wrists down to the hitting area. But because he has to turn his body so rapidly and basically throw his shoulder around (that's why his elbow appears to fling outward at impact), he ends up locking his hand speed to his hip speed. Ironically, it's a twisted version of Tiger's "getting stuck" problem -- Tiger turns his lower body so quickly that his arms can't keep up, so he can't get the club on line. Lots of hand speed, pitiful accuracy.

Jim, on the other hand, keeps his hands so close to his hip that they get to the ball just fine; however, his hips have to turn almost all the way to their finish position before his wrists are in position to hit the ball. As a result, his wrists don't have a chance to uncock until after his hips have nearly stopped, which takes away a lot of his arm speed when he needs it most.

As a result, a 6'2" golfer with loads of skill hits a very accurate 271-yard drive. Bummer.

A club attached to your hip will never develop as much speed as a club swinging at the end of your arms. That's why free arm movement -- and elbow room -- are so important.

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