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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

That Tricky Change of Direction

First, let me save myself some typing. When you see "COD" that stands for "change of direction."

It might seem a bit strange to tag this as a "mindset" post, but there's a very real mental aspect to the COD. Tempo is largely what you think about during the swing, which is why we have so many ways of referring to it. That ephemeral aspect of your swing that you call "feel" is really all about tempo; when your tempo is good, your swing "feels" right. It's an interaction of mechanics and feel. We sometimes call it "timing" because that feel tends to be felt as an unconscious tick-tock, which is very much a mental thing.

It's fair to say that tempo really is a "head game."

I've written some about the mechanics of the COD already. If you pop over to the "Route 67 Posts" page and look for the posts about the "Magic Move" (and that series isn't finished, folks -- I'll be picking up on it again as the year winds down), you can learn about some of the different ways the mechanics can be accomplished. That's part of why tempo is so difficult to get a handle on -- the mechanics often vary from player to player, so any description of tempo that includes mechanics will vary also.

For that reason, I'm going to try and focus on the mental side of tempo in this post. However, since it's almost impossible to separate tempo from mechanics, I'm going to use the simplest mechanics I can -- in this case, a deadhanded swing like Steve Stricker uses. (I've done quite a bit on the mechanics of that too -- just check on the "Some Useful Post Series" page.) There are no attempts to get great distance or do anything fancy; all we do is cock the wrists about 90 degrees at the top of the swing and try to get most of that down to the hitting area.

Good tempo is the key for performing this desirable little bit of mechanics.

Actually, we don't actively cock our wrists as much as we just let momentum cock them for us. That's why we're always told to keep our wrists and forearms relaxed during the swing. If you don't have relaxed wrists and forearms, you won't have good tempo. Your wrists need to be relaxed so they can feel the tension in those muscles change at the point where you change direction at the top of the swing.

And what exactly are you trying to feel at that COD?

When you feel the COD, what you feel is the pressure of the clubhead's weight continuing to move in the same direction as the backswing after your hands and arms have stopped. The weight of the clubhead causes the shaft to bend or "flex" slightly, increasing the pressure on your wrist joints. Relaxed muscles are much more sensitive to this pressure.

You can make this pressure easier to feel by using softer shafts in your clubs. Extra flex exerts more pressure against your wrists as they bend slightly, making it easier to feel that pressure. In a sense it slows down the COD so you can feel it easier. But here's the trick: If they're too soft, it's hard to control your ball flight. You can get the same effect by increasing the swingweight of your clubs -- in fact, players like Lee Trevino have recommended the practice for a long time. Heavier swingweights make it easier to feel the COD, but they also make your clubs a bit heavier. In practice, clubfitters use a little of both -- they help you find a shaft flex soft enough to feel but stiff enough to control, then fine-tune the clubs using swingweight adjustments.

This is also why some teachers recommend a late wrist cock, where the wrists stay pretty much at the same angle they had at address until the club is nearing the top of the backswing (and the COD). A late wrist cock creates more pressure, making it easier to feel that moment when your hands stop at the top but the clubhead tries to continue going back.

Feeling that pressure is your cue to start your downswing. You don't want to jerk it down; rather, you want a smooth start. (Remember that Bobby Jones created 113 mph by swinging downward just barely faster than if his hands were free-falling. You don't have to be fast at the start -- so long as you're fast at the end!) Because the clubhead is still trying to continue the backswing as your hands start down, it causes your relaxed wrists to stay cocked. Sometimes they even cock a little more!

How do you know how fast to start down? If it hurts you're probably swinging too fast, and if you don't feel any pressure keeping your wrists cocked then you're swinging too slow. That's the simplest description I can give you. When your tempo is correct, the feel of the COD is a gentle pressure against your wrist joints and the club feels almost weightless as you swing it down. Why weightless? Because "weight" is gravity pulling against a body "falling" at a different speed; when you fall with the same acceleration as gravity, you don't feel much weight at all.

By the time your hands are back down to waist level, the clubhead has "caught up" and started to fling outward because of centrifugal force. At this point your tempo is already established -- all you think about is finishing the swing and hitting the ball.

Tomorrow I'll show you how to start developing a feel for the correct tempo.

2 comments:

  1. If it hurts ? I've never met anybody who experienced pain changing directions at the top. (personally, my pain from a bad transition is more from watching the ball fly off into the woods) :-) I'm trying to train myself to have a fairly pronounced pause at the top before starting down so I don't get jerky.

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  2. Maybe "hurt" is too strong a word, but it doesn't feel good. If your wrists aren't particularly strong, you might describe the sensation as "pain," but I suspect most people would just say it's "uncomfortable." It certainly feels out of control when it's too fast.

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