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Saturday, November 21, 2009

That Fuzzy Feeling at the Top, Part 1

(PAY ATTENTION, RIGHTHANDERS! Normally I describe things as a righthander, and lefties have to transpose it. But Brian is a lefty and this is his project, so you righties will have to substitute “right” for “left” and vice versa. It will give you an appreciation for what lefties have to go through when they learn the game. But here’s a hint that will help: View any diagrams as if you were looking in a mirror.)

Yesterday I promised to try and answer some of Brian’s other questions about timing and mechanics. Specifically, these are the questions he asked, from his comments on this post:
  • What should be the first action to trigger the downswing?
  • I've read much in the past about the "bump" of the hips forward. Does the sensation of the door jamb drill amount to the "bump" and if so, should that be the first movement from the top?
  • Are the hands still going back as the hips open up? Hank Haney seems to believe that.
  • Does the club ever stop on the backswing? (Actually, Brian never asked this question, but it’s more common way of asking the Haney question and we need to answer both to avoid confusion.)
I’ll answer the “theory” questions (the last two) today; I’ll answer the others tomorrow.

Does the club ever stop on the backswing? In a word, yes… unless you loop the club at the top. It makes sense if you think about it: The club is moving away from the ball, and it has to change direction to come back. Unless it loops (makes a U-turn) at the top, it’s going to have to stop at some point. BUT…

Are the hands still going back as the hips open up? Technically, yes… but for the majority of players, that knowledge won’t help them one single bit. Haney’s not the only one who teaches this; my hero Bobby Jones does as well. In fact, for one of his filmed lessons in the How to Break 90 series, they actually shot a high-speed sequence where you can see his hands continuing to make a backswing while his lower body clearly starts moving toward the target.

But here’s the rub: It is a HIGH-SPEED sequence. When you shoot a golf swing at hundreds, even thousands of frames-per-second (fps), you can mislead people badly. (For those of you who don’t know, the standard film speed of a movie is 24 fps, and TV is 30 fps.) For example, Discovery Channel’s show Time Warp, which shoots high-speed footage of events like a balloon popping, uses cameras capable of 325,000 fps… which would take three hours to replay at normal speed, according to this New York Times article. It can take several tenths of a second for a person to blink an eye, yet a tenth of a second at this speed would take over 18 minutes to play back. That can distort how you perceive the action.

Most golf swings aren’t shot at that high a speed; CBS Sports’ Swing Vision claims only 40,000 fps and typically uses 10,000 fps. (You can read about it here.) Obviously, CBS doesn’t show us all the frames they recorded when they replay the swing for us. Still, the replay takes around eight seconds, which is far longer than the original. We can now analyze movements in the golf swing that happen too quickly for us to control directly! And that can distort our perceptions, because we can’t accurately equate the movement we see in the slow motion replay to the actual time required by the original move.

For example, I can detect when this lag happens in my swing, but not soon enough to do anything about it. If I were to say “Now!” when the lag happened, it would be over long before the word could get out. (And “lag” is the word generally used to describe this disconnection in the change of direction.)

From a practical standpoint, most players will swing better if they simply act as though there is no lag. Lag happens automatically when you swing properly… so just let it. Rather than trying to control the change of direction, which happens too quickly and feels a bit “fuzzy” because… well, remember the whip image I suggested in the Practice BRAINge? The pulse runs up the length of the whip, affecting each portion at a slightly different time, but too quickly for each portion to be specifically identified. Since the pulse will affect every portion on its own, without any interference from us, it’s easier to just think about cracking the whip…

And instead of trying to control the lag, it’s much easier to just think about smacking the ball. As I said in the image, starting the downswing corresponds to moving the whip handle. So tomorrow, we’ll look at how we start down.

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