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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Lee Smacks a Tree

Yes, this is an instructional post. I know it sounds like a crazy idea since nobody wants to smack a tree, but it may help you understand what terms like "laying off the club," "dropping the club into the slot," and "two-plane swing" mean.

On Saturday Lee Westwood hit a bad drive on the first hole at TPC Sawgrass. It ended up against a tree and Lee tried to manufacture a swing that would let him reach the green in regulation. Here's the footage -- it shows the real time swing (hitting the tree made him completely miss the ball), followed by a slo-mo of the swing, then the chip out he had to settle for:



Lee looks to be in good shape on the backswing, and if he had a "one-plane swing" he'd have been fine since the club would have come down on the same path (or if you prefer, plane) that he took it back.

Here's where it can get confusing. When most people hear the term "two-plane swing" they immediately assume that, on the downswing, the player's hands drop down below the backswing plane. This results in a flatter downswing plane and in many cases that's exactly what happens. But if you place your mouse pointer over Lee's hands as they reach shoulder height, you'll see that his hands retrace the same path on the way down...

But the club head doesn't. You see, there's a second way to create a flatter downswing plane. Instead of dropping his hands, Lee merely pulls his trailing elbow in closer to his side on the way down. When he does, it changes where the shaft of the club is pointing -- from up over his shoulder to behind his back -- and that makes the head of the club swing in a loop behind him.

If you check his elbow position when his hands are at shoulder level on the backswing and then compare his elbow position when his hands reach shoulder level on the downswing, you can see quite a difference. Here, I've snagged stills from the video and marked the shaft in red. Compare his elbow positions to the white waistband of his pants:

Lee Westwood hits tree at THE PLAYERS

See the difference? Although his elbow is blurry in the downswing, you can clearly see that it's lower in the downswing photo than it is in the backswing photo. In essence, Lee has flattened his backswing by bowing his trailing (right) wrist a little bit. That's part of the reason he usually hits the ball so cleanly; that slightly bowed wrist helps him squeeze (or as some players say, trap) the ball against the ground more solidly.

Alright, let me try to sum this up so it's a bit clearer. There are two ways of flattening the downswing plane in a two-plane swing:
  1. Drop your hands. You do this by dropping both elbows straight downward a bit when you start your downswing.
  2. Bow your trailing wrist. You do this by dropping ONLY your trailing elbow straight downward a bit when you start your downswing. It feels like your lead arm stays in place at the top.
Both one-plane swings and two-plane swings are solid time-proven methods of swinging a club under normal conditions... but in this situation, the two-plane method cost Lee some strokes.

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