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Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Little Swing Experiment

Over the past few months I've written quite a bit about different swing methods and how we can learn from them, even if we don't use the full swing method itself, and how we can borrow ideas from different swings and create a "new" swing specifically suited to our own strengths and weaknesses. (Not that any swing is really "new," you understand.)

It's time we recognized that specific swing methods become popular not because one swing method is necessarily better than another, but because certain players rise to dominance in the pro ranks using that swing. And what have those pros done? Merely adjust a "standard" swing to better suit their own strengths and limitations. That's what makes them better than the guys who just learn to make a "textbook" swing.

For example, everyone wanted to copy the relatively flat swing of Ben Hogan during his heyday... but it fell out of favor once that kid Nicklaus showed up on the scene. His swing, which was much more upright than Hogan's, became all the rage as soon as Jack became the man to beat. Such "new" swing methods rise and wane with amazing regularity, and that's not going to change any time soon.

Well, I decided that it's time to post an example of how you can do the same thing. Today we're going to take a few bits and pieces of the teachings we've looked at and put them together in a new way. Let me give you this one warning: You can't just mix and match techniques with no regard for the mechanics that make them distinctive. Some bits and pieces just don't go together, like mixing Hogan's practice of "tucking" his right elbow quickly on the downswing with Jack's upright swing plane. Unless you have perfect timing, that combo tends to result in a huge loop and a lot of fat shots.

As a general guideline, the easiest workable combinations usually involve pairing an upper body technique with a lower body technique. When you combine two upper body techniques or two lower body techniques, you have to use a bit more care. Got it?

Since I did the post on swaying a couple of days ago, I'm going to "create" a swing method that also tries to address the swaying problem. It should also help those of you who are having trouble getting solid shots because you can't hit down on the ball consistently. To show you how it's done, I'm going to combine an upper body and a lower body technique.

For the upper body technique, I'm going to use the shoulder motion Carl demonstrated in his video. By turning your upper body around your lower spine so it leans away from the target at the top of the backswing, your shoulders stay mostly parallel to the ground and you eliminate a lot of the stress in your lower back. See, part of the reason you sway is because your coil puts a lot of stress on your back, hips, and legs; unless you're very flexible, your lower body moves to prevent back damage. That's a good thing, but it can hinder your attempts to make consistent contact.

Now let's see if we can't find a lower body technique that works with it, to help eliminate the need for that movement while also improving our stability. I have an idea that just might work...

Back in September I did a couple of articles looking at "Stack & Tilt" for usable techniques. In the second article, I noted that "'Stack and Tilt' is little more than a full swing made from a short game setup." I think that may be just what we need!

When we make short game shots, one of the key things we do is set a bit more of our weight on the leg closest to the target. So let me take give you a couple of simple diagrams -- similar to the ones I made for to illustrate Carl's move to stop swaying -- and show you how it looks with the short game setup. (Yes, it's Mr. Pinhead again!) In the first illustration, the arms and club are pointed down in a typical setup position; and in the second one, they're at the top of the backswing and the shoulders are turned 90 degrees:

                         \-------         CLUB 
                          \               ARMS
        O                  \O             HEAD
      XXXXX                 \X          SHOULDERS
      \ X /                   X
       \X/                     X
       XXX                     XX         HIPS
     X  | X                  X   X
   X    |  X               X      X       FEET

Using Carl's "spine angle coil" with a standard setup puts the player's shoulders very nearly over the back foot at the top of the backswing. By using the short game setup instead, the shoulders are well inside your stance, which should make you feel much more balanced during your swing. And remember, you don't have to lean way over on the backswing -- just enough to lessen that back and hip stress. That helps your balance even more.

With your weight more forward in your stance at setup, your back leg is in a stronger position to resist the swaying movement. (Remember: Swaying is a hip and leg problem). And I think a lot of you will be surprised at how much hip and back tension is relieved when you coil from this position.

The reason for all these improvements is simple: With a standard setup, your weight moves over your back leg. Yes, yes, I know teachers keep telling you that's what you should do... but don't you ever ask why? You supposedly need a backward weight shift to create the forward weight shift on the downstroke... but the short game setup is supposed to eliminate all that movement, isn't it? If you're eliminating the forward movement, you don't need the backward movement! So don't worry about creating movement you don't need.

Anyway... when your weight moves over your back leg from a standard setup, most of your arm weight is outside of your stance. That's what puts the stress on your lower back. From the short game setup, your weight is more centered between your feet, which means more of the weight of your extended arms is between your feet as well. This reduces the stress on your back and hip, which means those muscles aren't contracted as much... so some of you will get a bigger shoulder turn from this setup as well.

But that's not all. You get all the advantages on the downswing that you would expect from a short game setup -- which means you're going to be more stable over the ball and be better positioned to hit down on it. Result: Solid contact when you hit the ball.

So maybe you'll want to experiment with this swing variation if you have trouble with your balance or hitting inconsistent shots or struggling to get a full shoulder turn or simply feeling too much stress in your lower back and hip during your backswing. And hopefully you'll begin to understand why some of the best players in the world have some of the most unusual swings... it's all about capitalizing on your strengths and minimizing your weaknesses.

And it helps if it keeps your swing from hurting. That's always a big plus in my book!


  1. So you're saying that Stack and Tilt probably isn't going to come back with a vengence and take over the game in huge numbers ? (lol)

    I dug out the Perfect Connexion on Friday and spent a few minutes a couple of times a day working on that level turn with a good shoulder turn (left shoulder over the right knee going back - right shoulder over the left knee at the finish). Managed to shoot an 82 even with back to back triples. (yes - the sway came shining through on those holes)

    It's going to take some work to straighten the driver out, but it wasn't as bad as it had been.

    Best par of the day ? 371 yard par 4, temperature somewhere around 50 and a pretty strong wind in the face. Pulled out the driver - hit it...180 yards. Pulled 4 iron just hoping to get it somewhere around the front of the green from a squirrelly lie - nutted the 4-iron and hit it 192 yards maybe a foot right of the flag and 9 or 10 feet past. Lipped out the birdie, but loved the par !

  2. If Charlie Wi becomes a dominant player, SnT just might become the next big thing...

    I'm glad you saw some quick improvement, Court -- shoulder turn was one of my big problems before my lesson with Carl. Although I talk about it a lot (and Dexter has echoed this in his posts), it always amazes me how making one fairly simple change to your swing can have big results. Of course it takes time to make the change "stick," but you can see it work pretty quickly and know if it's right for you or not. One think I learned from Carl is that, if you start doing the correct things in your swing, you should see rapid improvement -- not perfection right off, but rapid if not immediate improvement. Proper mechanics are simple, not so complicated that you need a Ph.D. to use them.

    We can rag Tiger and Phil for saying "I'm almost there" while they're spraying the ball everywhere, but I'm convinced they've realized the truth of this "single change / big results" approach. They know their swings are "mostly right" and they just need to find one move that addresses a primary problem.

    The advantage for "the rest of us" is that we don't have to work on that problem while 1 billion people watch us on TV. I imagine that makes it a bit harder. ;-)

  3. wait - when did Phil ever say "I'm almost there" ? I don't think he's happy unless he has some monumental impossible shot to pull off every week. :-)