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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Field-Stripping "Stack and Tilt"

If you read spent any time on the "Stack and Tilt" instructional articles at Golf Digest's site yesterday, you may be scratching your head and wondering what I could have possibly found in this quirky little swing that normal golfers could use. I am so glad you asked!

"Field-stripping" is a term most often used in the military to describe the disassembly of a weapon for cleaning or inspection. That's what we're going to do to "Stack and Tilt" today! And in doing so, I've found a few potentially useful tips for solving some common swing problems.

First of all, I want to thank Rob Roth for letting me know that Charlie Wi is the "official" Stack and Tilt model now. You may have caught some of our exchanges on Twitter yesterday. It appears that Plummer and Bennett have made some changes to their swing since doing the Golf Digest posts -- perhaps to end some of the back problems the swing is accused of causing -- but none of the new teaching has shown up on the web. I was able to comfirm that their book focuses on Charlie as their model as well, so those of you interested in the full swing method may be best served by checking out the book. It's just called The Stack and Tilt Swing. In addition, I found this recent footage of Wi's swing from April this year, and it also uses the less-tilted posture. This newer Stack and Tilt swing doesn't look so oddball now, does it?

Before I pass these on the tips I discovered buried in this swing, let me tell you something that may or may not affect how well these tips will help you. I'm a right-handed golfer, and my right hip is a little less flexible than my left one. It always has been, and even two years of Tae Kwon Do (which focuses on hip mobility) failed to increase its range of motion. Because of that, I don't drive my legs quite as hard as some of you. But this inflexibility also causes me to have a bit more trouble with sliding my hips, which many of you out there in Readerland struggle with as well, so you may find these tips useful also.

Ok, on with the tips...

First of all, I like the concept of stacking. Having your spine vertical to the ground at setup is always a good start to a swing. In addition, almost all instructors recommend standing taller at address. We can use that without any alteration at all.

Andy Plummer and Mike Bennett say they wanted to help players learn to hit the ball first: "Keeping your weight on your front foot is the simplest way to control where the club hits the ground, which is the first fundamental of hitting the ball" (quoted from The New Tour Swing). Now before you start yelling "Heresy!", bear in mind that this is actually a common teaching. Aren't you taught to put more weight on your front foot when you want to make a short game shot, like a chip? Of course you are... because it helps you hit the ball first.

When you strip away all the strange-looking moves, the "Stack and Tilt" is little more than a full swing made from a short game setup. Is there a way to adapt this to a more conventional swing? I think so.

However, I'm not so sure that you need to put as much weight on the front foot as Plummer and Bennett suggest. Here's a guideline I like: Hold a club vertically, with one end on the ground and the other extending up in front of you. Now, using your pants zipper or belt buckle or even belly button as a guide, slide your weight toward your target while keeping your spine vertical; unless you are over 6', I doubt you'll need to move more than a couple of inches. I move between 1 1/2 and 2 inches. Don't straighten your back leg! Keep it flexed like normal. We don't want to purposely change our normal swing, just our balance point.

A little experimentation at making my normal swing from this new setup position caused my swing to behave a little differently:
  • My hips stopped sliding to the right on the backswing. I guess this is just because I was braced a little better.
  • I got a little bigger shoulder turn than normal. I suspect this is because there was less tension in my left side because it took less effort to stay steady. Less effort = less tension = more flexibility.
  • I stopped sliding toward the target on the downswing. This is a no-brainer! Since my right leg was already angled more toward the target, it couldn't push me as far to the left. I could still rotate my hips, but the straight-line motion was limited.
  • Since I stayed more centered in my setup position (what the "Stack and Tilt" is designed to do), I stayed down on the downswing better, which means better ball contact.
  • And as a result of less pushing toward the target, I finished my hip rotation in a more vertical position.
Again, this may be a function of my right hip being less flexible, but this tip might be useful if you've been sliding a lot on either the backswing or downswing. (Or both!) I was still able to make my one-piece takeaway and swing to the top of my swing normally. It's certainly not something Hogan would have done, but I think it works very well with his backswing concepts.

One other possible tip (which I would NOT combine with the short game setup, because I think it could cause some of those rumored back problems) is that downward tilt of the shoulder on the backswing. Ironically, Michael Breed was talking about Matt Kuchar's swing on The Golf Fix Monday night and alluded to Kuchar actually using a steeper shoulder plane, even though his club plane looks flatter. (An interesting concept!)

Stack and Tilt-style shoulder dip without the forward tilt

Why would you want to dip your shoulder when you make your shoulder turn? It sounds like a sure way to screw up your swing, doesn't it? But "feel" is a strange thing. For many of you, "feeling" as if you dip your shoulder may merely keep you from lifting up on the backswing... and that's the reason many of you hit thin shots. And again, I found that "dipping" my shoulder on purpose also eliminated some of that swaying on my backswing. (I believe it's because it makes my swing feel more vertical, so I don't move off the ball.) And again, the dip isn't a huge move -- your head may drop an inch or so.

In my own experiments, I found that just dipping my shoulder seemed to get me into about the same position as Charlie is in the video above, but without either setting my weight forward or trying to stay "stacked." It may be that the shoulder dip is the key move in the Stack and Tilt swing and you can get decent results using it without the rest of the movements.

In short, although I didn't feel as if I was getting a bigger shoulder turn (note that Charlie's shoulder turn doesn't look that big either) I did feel that I got the other benefits I listed for the short game setup, as well as unwinding quicker on the downswing. If you have trouble feeling as if you are "going down after" the ball on your downswing, you might want to try the "dipping" swing thought.

So there you have it -- three useful swing tips from the "Stack and Tilt" swing that might fix some of the problems that plague us more traditional swingers:
  1. A stacked spine position to improve your address position
  2. A short game setup for the full swing to reduce sway
  3. A more upright shoulder turn to help you stay down on the shot
Any swing that gains fairly widespread popularity, even for a short period of time, usually has some good ideas at its base... it's just that sometimes that base gets lost in the shuffle. Don't miss these useful tips just because you're skeptical of the package they came in.


  1. I am not "speaking" for Andy & Mike but in all the schools I have attended Charlie is always brought up in videos and pictures not Aaron.

  2. From what I could find after talking to you, Charlie really is the "official" model for the swing now, so I'm not surprised to hear that.

    Thanks again for the head's-up on the change.

  3. One of the things that I have taken from the S & T swing is the straight arms, which you described in the deadhanded approach swing.

  4. Lefty, most "new" swings develop to solve certain problems. Because of that, they usually have something... "unusual" designed to solve that problem. That something becomes the focal point people debate about.

    But a golf swing is still a golf swing, and all golf swings try to do certain things. If you can look at other swings without judging them, and try to understand what they are intended to do, it's amazing how much they end up having in common.

  5. i love the stack and tilt but i think its just an extention of a ;one plane swing;but it does work with minimal practice to start with,can anyone tell me do you havr your head nearly on your chest and let the arms turn outside your chin or up and let your arms turn under your chin,(i'm confused about this part????????

  6. PMC, if you really want to get into S&T you might want to look at the book they've got out. My posts were only intended as a brief overview of the swing.

    But I think you may be getting a bit too technical in your thinking. The big thing about S&T is the stacking -- that is, keeping your weight a bit forward throughout the swing, just like you do on a short game shot. When you make a full swing from this position, you'll immediately find that your body needs to move in certain ways... and that includes your head position.

    Personally, I don't notice any real change in head position when I try this. Trying to keep your head down is almost always a bad idea! If you're raising up when you swing, that's not a head problem -- that's using your legs and body incorrectly.

    Your arms always turn beneath your chin, no matter how you swing. Trying to hold your chin too close to your chest will just cause strain and eventually neck pain. A good setup position for S&T is the same as a good setup for any other swing; your weight is just a bit more on your left side, and it stays there throughout the swing. (For you lefties out there, set your weight a bit more on your right side.) Watch Charlie's swing in the video on this post -- he's very balanced and relaxed all the way through his swing, with his weight slightly more on his left side at setup.

    And please note that it's "just a bit" on his left side. This isn't some huge change to your setup. Again, watch the video a few times and pay attention to how Charlie's legs move. Despite the name, his teachers have made some changes to the swing since it first came out, so there isn't much "tilt" to it at all anymore.

    And the key to making a good swing with minimal practice is simply this: Try to make a swing that uses your natural moves as much as possible. S&T isn't a strained position, and it shouldn't feel unnatural to you. Almost any swing feels odd when you first try it; but if it still feels unnatural after you've made a dozen swings or so, S&T probably isn't for you. That's why Mike Weir said he stopped using it, btw -- he said he learned a lot from it, but it just never felt natural to him.

  7. S&T devotees are now deflecting criticism of S&T with "Oh - but was the instructor a CERTIFIED S&T instructor?" If a golf swing is so complex it needs certified instructors, I'd have to question it's viability, as well as to question whether its real purpose is just to sell DVD's / certifications.

  8. That may be a bit harsh, Wade. The fact is that some players have won Tour events using it, so it does work. The trick is that what seems complex to some people is fairly easy to others. We all have different types of problems, and not all swings are suitable for all players. I suspect S&T does feel natural to many players, and not so much to the players who struggle with it. I always think of Jim Furyk -- it would be hard to teach his swing to someone, but he says it just feels as if he swings straight back and straight thru.

    But I agree with you that there's no sense making the game harder than it has to be. My personal rule is this: If I try a new technique and it doesn't immediately fit in with my existing swing -- a swing that I know is solid -- then I don't use that technique anymore.

  9. I've been playing golf for nearly 60 years, have had lessons and advice from great teachers, guys on tour even Ryder cup players. I've read tons of books and changed my swing many times, trying everything from Ernest Jones 'Swinging the Clubhead' through Lee Trevino's 'Swing My Way' even Mindy Blakes 'Golf Swing of the Future'. No matter which method or teaching I always had a slight sway and was forever trying to create a perfect turn into a resisted right leg to store the energy for the big hit. One day that energy ripped all my left sided gluteal muscles and nearly totalled my golf forever. Several years of recovery ,more lessons and thousands of practice shots failed to improve my ball striking which remained inconsistent, particularly my driving as I couldn't create any consistent lower body position to get back to the ball. During this time I retired and became a coach for kids. The teaching manual reinforced all of the ideas I had been taught over the years.
    Finally I decided to give stack and tilt a try. Nobody teaches it where I am so I decided to teach myself. As Mike says it's an extension of a short game swing so I started with that keeping all my weight over the left leg. Initially I used my hands and arms to to take the club back and this resulted in a no turn swing and a pull hook to the left but boy was that strike so much more powerful. I then adjusted to bring the club on an inside plane and kept my right leg straight which made my turn take place round my left leg/groin. I also stopped using my hands and arms, rather concentrating on stretching my left lower back to complete the turn. The turn stops when the shoulders are at 90 degrees to the target and and the feeling is that the hands don't go above the shoulders. Thereafter I just think of turning the hips to the target and its all go.
    I hit it straight or with a slight draw. My driving and ball striking are now consistent and I've added 50-60 yards to my driving distance.(I'm hitting it further that I did 10 years ago). I think its a great technique and really easy to learn. Certainly its brought joy back to my golf.

    1. Thanks, Marcel. Just another example of how different players often need different types of swings to succeed. Each body creates limitations and opportunities for that player. There is no one correct way to swing. The correct way for each of you is the way that gives you consistent results without pain.