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Friday, November 19, 2010

Creating Power, Part 2: J.B. Holmes

Today I'm continuing my look at how sometimes contradictory teachings are more a matter of how they are presented than of actual technique differences, and I'm looking specifically at how such teachings say you should swing to hit the long ball.

Yesterday I looked at some things teacher Carl Rabito said about generating power. I've mentioned in several previous posts that Carl taught me back in 1990, and when I stumbled over some teaching videos he made for a device called the Perfect Connextion while looking for this J.B. Holmes footage, it seemed a perfect way to look at this "contradictory teachings" problem.

I pulled these five points from Carl's videos for comparison to J.B.'s swing:
  1. 76% of your speed comes from your wrist cock and another 11% comes from your elbow movement.
  2. The majority of your range of motion comes from your spine and upper body.
  3. The power triangle is how you "keep your arms in front of you" and basically just return to your setup position when you hit the ball.
  4. To make your downswing, you turn your shoulders back to your setup position, which pulls your arms and hands down to your back leg, and then you drive your legs.
  5. To hit the ball solidly, you want to keep your elbows parallel to the ground throughout the swing.
So here's the video from J.B.'s appearance on Golf Channel's "Playing Lessons with the Pros." The first apparent contradiction shows up at the :31 mark, when Stephanie Sparks notes that J.B. doesn't cock his wrists at the top of the swing:

J.B. doesn't seem to follow the rules at all, does he? He and his teacher Matt Killen sound light years away from Carl Rabito -- and there are some differences, but they aren't anywhere as big as they seem. Let's start with the most obvious difference, his wrist cock (or lack thereof).

Carl says a good 3/4 of your clubhead speed comes from your wrist cock, and J.B. doesn't cock his wrists at all at the top of his swing. Carl also said you don't want to try and "hold" your wrist cock as you swing down (that was in the more complete discussion of Carl's point #5 in the previous post). How can these two views possibly be describing the same movement?

If you've read my Route 67 posts (there's a link to a complete listing at the top of the page), then you're familiar with the "Secret Move" that gives your swing its power. The Secret Move is how you get your wrist cock from the top of your backswing down to the hitting area, and there are several ways to do it. I've done posts on 3 of them so far, but one I haven't covered yet is cocking your wrists on the way down. That's what J.B. does. Take a look at this sequence of J.B. swing positions taken from the video -- I've added white lines to show the clubshaft and his arm:

J.B. in 4 positions

Matt Killen's talk about the hands leading the club into the hitting area also refers to my Secret Move and the wrist cock; most weekend players lose their wrist cock before they get to the ball, hence his explanation that you need to "exaggerate through the hitting area" and "feel like the hands are way ahead." He and Carl are saying the same things here, except they're focusing on different positions in the swing to get there.

I'll be honest, I wasn't ready for just how much this matched what Carl said. See, Carl said you get over 10% of your power from your elbows (it's in point #1) and I didn't realize J.B. was bending his elbow so much until I started drawing the lines. If you just connect his hand to his shoulder with a straight line, it looks like J.B. has cocked his wrists. Some of J.B.'s extra power comes from his bent elbows! As he straightens his elbows on the way down, it cocks his wrists -- you can see that happening between the first and 2nd positions in the sequence.

And you can see that "power triangle" Carl talked about in the 3rd and 4th positions as J.B. prepares to hit the ball. Killen demonstrates that position repeatedly during his explanations. Again, the two teachers teach the same thing -- same positions, just with different wordings.

Now, not even Carl teaches this exactly the way J.B. does it -- Carl would have him cock his wrists at the top. But as J.B. says, he's been swinging this way since he was very young. Bending his elbows and keeping his wrists straight are exactly the way a small child would have to do to swing a club that felt heavy to him. Give Matt Killen kudos for not trying to change it in an effort to "improve" his swing.

However, J.B. doesn't try to keep his elbows parallel to the ground throughout his swing -- his tilt is pretty noticeable in the 3rd and 4th positions above. The irony is that this doesn't contradict what Carl said at all. If you go back and check Carl's video, you'll find that he says that tilting that way results in a fade or slice... and J.B. says he is trying to do exactly that, to "eliminate the left side of the course." In fact, if you watch J.B.'s swing from behind, you'll see that his left arm is quite far from his chest -- which makes it much harder to draw the ball -- while Carl is trying to get his student to keep both arms close to his chest. J.B. is making these "mistakes" on purpose, to get the result that Carl says it will give... a guaranteed fade. Again, no contradiction -- just a difference in purpose.

Which just leaves points 2 and 4. Killen and Holmes both make a big deal about starting the downswing with the legs, while Carl says the upper body starts the downswing. They can't both be right, can they?

If you speed ahead to around the 1:40 mark J.B. says "From this position [that is, the top of the backswing] I just pull down, basically" and he moves his hands down in front of his right leg, the same position Carl referred to as "the bus" in his explanation of point #4. He then says that from there he just turns his chest. And in none of these demonstration moves does he make a big hip turn. In fact, if you look at the slo-mo footage I took the position photos from, you'll see that his "hip drive" looks more like a squat to square up his hips. There is no "hard" driving by his legs; starting the downswing with his legs simply means returning them to his setup position or slightly more open.

Around the 1:12 mark Matt Killen says J.B. has to rotate his chest to get his hands to stay ahead of the ball at contact, and at the 2:25 mark he makes it clear that J.B. "starts with his lower body and then rotates his chest."

While Carl says the shoulders start the swing, if you watched the second video I referenced in yesterday's post, Carl says the first thing that happens in the downswing is that you "open your left side." He says this is an opening of the left shoulder -- returning it to its setup position -- but the video clearly shows the left hip also returning to its setup position! These two teachers are describing essentially the same motion with different emphases.

I've been a big proponent of simply feeling that your hips and shoulders start at the same time because I know that physics require things to happen in a certain sequence. Killen is describing the actual sequence of events as they happen -- he calls it the "kinematic sequence" -- while Carl doesn't want you to try to drive your hips hard from the top of the swing because you'll tend to lean backward and tilt your shoulders -- which he wants to avoid (point #5) -- so he focuses on the shoulder movement.

Apparently Matt Killen and Carl Rabito aren't too far apart at all, despite how different their teachings sound. So what useful tips can we draw from their apparently contradictory explanations of how a powerful swing should work?
  1. Starting your downswing with your hips doesn't necessarily mean driving your hips hard (which can cause back problems). Rather, simply returning them to their setup position can be enough.
  2. Rather than focusing on what you do with your hands and wrists (the cocking motion), focus on getting your arms and chest to turn together. If your forearms are relaxed, your wrists should cock naturally -- whether that's at the top of the swing or on the way down.
  3. Once your chest and arm "triangle" gets your hands down near your back leg, that's the time to start driving your legs. Now your chest and legs will work together without straining your back as much.
Personally, although he gets a lot of wrist cock down into the hitting area by cocking his wrists on the downswing, I think the real key to J.B.'s power here is that late drive with his legs after his hands reach his thigh. It's like a second-stage booster rocket kicking in when he's in a powerful position to use it... and it's a technique that should adapt well to almost any kind of swing. If you decide to experiment with it (that late leg drive), I'd really like to know if it helps increase your distance.

And hopefully you've learned a little about comparing the actual moves a teacher describes with the words he uses to describe it. When teachers appear to contradict each other, a picture (or video) really can be worth a thousand words.


  1. So what you're saying is that Carl needs to add your name to his credits page. :-)

    If there's a swing in the game that shows that natural talent has a whole lot to do with these guys' ability to play this game as well as they do - it's JB Holmes. Not completely traditional mechanics, but solid where it counts - yet he develops incredible swing speed and has the strength to control it.

  2. I'll take credit wherever I can get it... as long as it's good credit. ;-)

    I'd add one thing to your thoughts about J.B. -- he also demonstrates that there are fewer "requirements" to a good golf swing than many teachers would have us believe. You need good balance and rhythm; you need a good shoulder turn; you need to have some wrist cock going into the hitting area; and you need to turn your body so you can keep your arms "out in front of" your chest. Most of the other "essentials" of the swing seem to vary from player to player.